They wait for a few minutes, listening. But there is no rush of aid coming up through the trees – no panicked response. The people below have not heard, and silence catches in the branches of the trees like some vast spider’s web.
Moses leaves the other two to wash the gore from their faces with melted snow. He goes a long way around through the trees to where he can see the main road in the distance, the extended line of parked vehicles that is Fletcher’s caravan. Then he returns to the cabin.
We’re stuck, Abraham says. Ain’t we? We ain’t trekking through the woods, and we ain’t got a car.
They’ve got cars, Moses says. There’s one at the back, away from the others. One man at the wheel, sleeping. We go through the woods, come up from behind. Quick, before anyone knows.
They’ll see, says Abraham. They’ll give chase.
Let em, Moses says. They track good, but they’re slow. We’ll outrun them.
Abraham nods. He massages his stiffening leg with snow.
But he can’t hardly walk, the Vestal says and points to Abraham. How’s he going to tromp through the woods and make a dash for a car?
I ain’t, says Abraham, looking at his brother. I’m stayin here.
What? says the Vestal. They’ll kill you.
Naw. They’ll be too busy huntin you two. I’ll go up in the trees a ways and hide out a couple hours till they’re well gone. Moses’ll drop you where you’re going. Then he’ll come back here for me. Ain’t that right, brother?
Moses says nothing for a moment. His eyes meet Abraham’s, and something passes between them.
Can you conjure a better plan? he asks Abraham finally.
I surely can’t, says Abraham, grinning a little.
It’ll be a few days, Moses says. Can you last it?
I can last it. You for certain you can find this place again to come get me?
If I don’t, he says, there’s someone in the pond out back could use some company.
Moses smiles and chuckles a little, and Abraham laughs with him.
You ain’t much of a brother, Abraham says. Are you?
Ain’t neither of us anything to make a daddy proud.
Abraham squints up at the sky, as if in remembrance of something profound.
It don’t matter, he says. Our pap is long gone. Likely he was the first slug that ever was. The one that started this whole thing. Just one stubborn prick refusin to stay dead. Don’t that have a ring of truth to it?
Moses smiles and nods down at his feet.
It does, he says. It surely does.
For a while again they are quiet, kind of kicking their feet in the snow and looking everywhere in the world except at each other.
Hey, Moses says at last. Do me a favour.
What’s that? says Abraham.
They won’t come for you. But if they do – if they do come for you, then kill em good, okay?
You got it, Abraham says, a smile spreading across his face like that of a child who has garnered the approval of a difficult parent. I’ll kill em real good. I’ll make tobacco pipes out of their bones and be smoking em when you get back.
The man at the wheel of the small car is still sleeping when Moses returns to it with the Vestal Amata. The caravan sits idle along the road. Towards the front of the line, many of Fletcher’s people have got out of the vehicles and are tromping playfully through the snow. One woman with a bandana around her head is making a snowman and decorating it with the eyeballs and nose and scalp cut from a slug. Fletcher himself is there, too, standing atop the truck at the very front of the line, his wide sombrero perched on his head and a bottle of wine in his hand. He drinks and laughs at the antics below him and then drinks again. Every now and then he glances up towards the cabin. He wonders, perhaps, why it is taking his three soldiers so long to return. But he is reluctant, no doubt, to go up there himself after he was taken hostage last time.
Moses and the Vestal climb down through the trees to the road twenty yards behind the end of the caravan. They creep up behind the small car with the sleeping man. Moses is about to make his attack when the Vestal stops him.
Let me do it, she whispers. We don’t want to raise the alarm just yet, and I’m willin to bet my touch is just a wee bit more delicate than yours.
Try not to kill him, Moses says, if you don’t have to.
She shakes her head and smiles at him.
You and your notions, she says. It’s like you’re livin in a different time. And not even the one we lost but a different one altogether.
He’s sleeping is all I’m sayin.
I hear you. Give me your belt.
He gives it to her, and she tears a strip of fabric from the hem of her skirt.
Moses watches her as she creeps up behind the car on the driver’s side until she’s at the window, which is rolled down. She reaches in and touches the side of the sleeping man’s face, caressing his cheek lightly with her fingers. In her other hand, Moses can see she has the belt and the wad of fabric.
The man wakes suddenly to see the redhead’s smiling face hovering before him.
It’s you, he says.
It’s me, she says and kisses him.
He must wonder if he is still asleep, or if he has fallen into death and heaven by the back route of somnolence. He is old, his hair thin, grey and wispy. This man is no fighter. He closes his eyes again and relents to her kiss, which is deep and long and, Moses notices with disdain, undeniably professional. It is longer than it needs to be. The man is subdued – he is acquiescent, and still she continues to kiss him, one hand gripping the back of his head as though it is still possible to draw him closer, as though she would consume him, as though her appetites are the same as those of the dead.
Moses sees the other hand reach up with the wad of fabric.
She stops kissing him suddenly.
I always liked you, she says to him. You were always nice to me.
He smiles a little.
Then she takes the fabric and jams it into his mouth.
An expression of tragic betrayal comes into his eyes – and so surprised is he that he doesn’t even struggle against her for a moment – not until after she has already got Moses’ looped belt around his neck like a leash.
Then she opens the car door and pulls him out by the end of the belt. He reaches for the fabric in his mouth so that he can cry out, but Moses is there, taking his hands and holding them still.
In such a manner, they drag the man through the snow and into the trees by the side of the road and tie him to one of the trunks using the belt and strips of torn fabric. He does not struggle much, for he is set upon by the woman he once knew, who kissed him even, and a man he does not know but who is a Paul Bunyan of a man who looks like he would brook no resistance. Besides, the Vestal Amata keeps reassuring him they aren’t going to kill him.