The rumbling reminded me of something but I couldn’t remember what. “Carmine?”
By the time I had turned my head to ask him if it was an avalanche the man that had just been talking to me about the difference between intimacy and sex had transformed into the man that had spent years as a sec boss in the Wastelands. Technically they were one and the same but I’d only briefly dealt with this facet of his personality. “Off the street,” he rumbled without regard to my personal wishes. His voice reminded me uncomfortably of the strictest of the SEPH enforcers, the ones that not even I played fast and loose with.
He wasn’t exactly pushing me to go the direction he wanted but he was very in my space. I managed to check my automatic response and realized he was actually doing his best to hide me behind his much larger target area. I turned to tell him to knock it off when I saw them.
Something on my face obviously caught his attention and he stopped and looked back. A weird sort of noise somewhere between a sigh of awe and a groan of consternation came out of his open mouth. Then he grabbed me by the scruff of my jacket and started pull me at the nearest large tree. “Up!”
Buffalo. Not thousands of them, not even a hundred of them, but if you’ve ever had buffalo running at you it doesn’t really take all that many to get you to move as fast as you can. One would have been sufficient; the few dozen coming our way was way on the other side of that.
We were up the tree in good time and I expected them to just keep on running passed but apparently the open square that was the center of the small town seemed like a good place for them to decide to slow down and wander around in circles for a bit until they determined which way they would go next.
“What made them run like that? I’ve only seen a handful in town at a time; never this many and never running full tilt like they were,” I asked Carmine. Then a cold wind blew and caught me off guard. I inhaled a good heavy dose of it and started coughing hard; hard enough that I had to hold onto the tree to stay in it. Hard enough that holding onto the tree meant that I couldn’t stop coughing.
I couldn’t catch my breath and Carmine saw I was in a bad way. He made his way over and pounded me on the back until the gunk that I had started to cough up came far enough that I could spit it out. “Nasty.”
Carmine shook his head and said, “No. Out is better than in. Nasty is what that buffalo is thinking with that crap on his head you just spit out.”
He said it with such a straight face I couldn’t help it. I honestly didn’t mean it and was horrified when it escaped. I could have just died of embarrassment right there.
Carmine gave me the strangest look and then asked, “Did I hear … a … a … giggle?”
I was so upset I drew back my arm to punch him but then there was an even more awful sound. CRACK!!
The limb we were sitting on suddenly dropped about four inches. Carmine yelled, “Move!”
I was already in motion, moving farther up the tree to the lighter branches so he could have the thicker one next to the one that was breaking all to himself. He never made it.
Four turned to fourteen and then he rode the branch to the ground; and all the other branches the huge limb took with it. Only it hit the buffalo I had spat on before the ground, making the animal jump backwards, snort, and do this twisty little spin like the rodeo broncos used to make in the old vids of the west. Carmine was dazed; apparently the limb had grazed him though I didn’t know it at the time. All I could see was that he wasn’t moving much.
To my utter horror I saw that mangy looking buffalo trying to decide what to be more irritated at … the tree limb or the groaning man on the ground. I was pulling out my sling shot and shouting for Carmine when he suddenly sat up drawing the ire of the buffalo; they don’t care for sudden movements. I’ll give Carmine high marks for coming around fast. He was up and running for another tree faster than most men would have been.
I remember when reading up on the American Bison when I still have the faint idea of trying to kill one for my winter food, that they can easily run thirty to forty miles per hour and jump six feet. Basically if one hits you it will be like being run over by a large truck shaped like a battering ram … with the same basic results.
There wasn’t any time. I loaded, cocked, and released and that Some One that watches over me and gives me a hand on occasion guided the ball baring straight and true. I didn’t stop the buffalo – I knew I wouldn’t – but a steel marble sinking into your eye will have an effect. The huge animal stopped fast enough that his hindquarters came off the ground for a moment and then started shaking his head. He was still rampaging around but not directly at Carmine which gave him time to get on the porch of a house and inside.
Carmine came right back out real fast, followed by some crashes and sounds of destruction coming from inside. He skinnied up the posts and made it to the roof of the porch just as a cow came bucking and snorting out of the house wearing what looked like a piece of plaster wall. The female buffalo took out enough of the supports that the porch started leaning and Carmine just made it to the roof proper before it gave way entirely and came crashing down.
Between the pain and noise the bull that I’d hit was now plenty fired up as was the rest of the small herd. They were agitated and getting set to run again when some loud cracks resounded from down the street. I knew that sound and it was not a tree limb. Neither was it any of the animals crashing into other stuff. Those cracks were the sound of rifles.
There were three cracks and three buffalo fell to their knees; the bull that I had already half-blinded, the cow that had startled Carmine, and another cow that was not too far away from those two. This was the excuse the buffalo had been waiting for and they took off again as a herd, thundering away but leaving three of their number behind.
There was an odd call and then a still odder reaction from Carmine. He startled then smiled before giving a piercing whistle and coming down from the roof. A dozen men and boys rode down the street on Mustang horses. They were in a mixture of styles but overall it was for warmth and comfort. Some looked like they obviously descended from Native Americans but not of them did. The man in the front called, “Brother!”
I’m thinking that either Carmine hasn’t been telling me the truth or there was a story there. I decided to change position and jumped to another tree where the higher branches laced together. When I fixed my new position I noticed that one of the boys was looking in my direction and grinning; but, on closer inspection realized the “boy” was actually a girl. She kept looking and grinning when she said, “E-du-ts, I don’t think your friend likes you on the ground. She is holding something in her hands that made the ya-n-s fall.”
Carmine told the young girl, “She’s like you Bina – a little half-wild thing - but she’s been hurt and doesn’t trust easily so leave her be. She’ll come down when she is ready.” Carmine’s voice had a different quality to it; it was the same but it wasn’t. He turned to the man and said, “Not that I don’t appreciate it Jerry but do I want to know what you and yours are doing around here? Last I heard you were setting up a settlement much further west.”
“I was just wondering the same thing about you Wa-ya. I had heard you were dead. I did not believe it. And so, here you are and I am right … as usual.”
“Smart aleck. And drop the Wise Indian act; you’ll give my friend the wrong impression.”
The man laughed and then in a much more normal cadence he said, “Seriously Carmine, it was hard news to hear you were dead. Father refused to believe it.”
“That’s because your father is a smart man. I’d tell you but it’s a long story and I don’t want to interfere if you’re on a hunt.”
“Not a problem. As you can see the hunt is over, now comes the rest of it. You got any objections if we bring the rest of the family in so we can get these animals taken care of respectfully?”
“I don’t have a problem.”
“Your … little tree friend have a problem with it?” I could tell the question was just a formality.
Carmine walked over to the tree I was up in and I looked down at him through the branches. He didn’t tell me to come down, didn’t even offer his hand, but by the look in his eyes I could tell he wanted me to come down. I thought about it and then swung down. I landed and the shaking broke more junk loose. I tried not to cough but it was a battle already lost.
Several of the people backed away but Carmine said something and that’s when I saw the man named Jerry raise the radio to his lips. I wanted to run as soon as I saw it but Carmine must have felt me tensing up because he whispered, “Relax. Let them do their thing and they’ll be gone. Besides, I’m hoping Jerry is calling his mother and that she has something for that cough of yours.”
That did not make me feel any less like running … but it was too late. Up the road came several large transport trucks and RVs. The girl named Bina walked over and I could see she was about Rosie’s age but without Rosie’s issues. She took one good look at me and sighed, “Aw, I thought you were my age.”
Rather than answer I shrugged.
“Can’t you talk?”
A stately, silver-haired woman stepped down from one of the RVs and said, “Bina! I said you could ride with your father until they brought the animals down. Now it is time for you to help your sister.” Bina didn’t quite go so far as to roll her eyes at the older woman’s words but she was thinking it; nevertheless she obeyed.
I could tell, that despite the conversation Carmine was having with the man he called Jerry, he had his eye on me. I didn’t like being in the midst of the crowd that was forming. It was making me twitchy like I needed to find a hole to watch from safely. Everyone was polite enough but at the same time I was getting more looks of interest than I cared for.
I was seriously debating my next move when Carmine called me over like I was something to be brought to heel. I didn’t care for his tone and let him know it as I sighed and asked, “You bellowed your Majesty?”
I caught everyone off guard and even Carmine’s mouth hung open for a few seconds before saying, “Why yes I did. How kind a you to notice … m’lady.”
A boy chose that moment to run up and hold a bloody hand out to me. “You want it back?”
I did and by the time Jerry and the other men and boys took a look at what I had done I was accepted. The male species is so strange. There wasn’t time to go into just how strange because apparently because I put the first “bullet” into the large bull Carmine and I would be getting a good portion of the animal so long as we helped process it.
A large, amazingly smokeless bonfire was built to provide light and ward off the bone numbing cold and we all set to work trying to beat the storm that one of the elderly men of the group swore was on its way.