“Rochelle, get some sleep.”
“Yes you are,” he said with a leer I could barely see in the dark and despite everything I gave an unexpected giggle.
“Thor, I swear … you are such a … a guy. How can you … I’m mean in the middle of all of this … honestly …” And I gave another unwilling, bashful, yet really appreciative giggle.
Thor was possibly – no likely – the only other person besides my dad who could actually make me giggle. It looks and sounds weird when I do it so I avoid it like the plague but he managed it nearly every time he tried, and a few times he didn’t.
And what on earth had us sitting together on the wagon seat acting like a couple of loons? It was the second night of being in line to get across that blasted bridge. We couldn’t camp because if we left the line we’d lose our place. We couldn’t really even unhitch the horses because doing so would mean we were unable to move forward in case someone was pulled out of line. We couldn’t sleep because if we did someone would try to steal you blind. We learned that the hard way the first night; and some learned the hard way that we weren’t your average travelling caravan.
Thor, Pilbos, and I entertained ourselves that first night scaring anyone that came too near the wagons or animals. I know it sounds adolescent but it actually saved us some trouble. I supposed you could say the caravan walked softly but carried big sticks … and the three of us were the biggest sticks in the pile. Thor and I even managed to teach Pilbos to growl. On the other hand Chuckri gave us an irritable look and then said, “I don’t need that boy’s head to get any bigger.” Thor just laughed and said, “Then put him to work at something that makes him feel like one of the men instead of one of the boys. Have you forgotten what it was like to be that age?”
Privacy was nonexistent so when it finally got completely dark I told Thor to take the reins. He grabbed my arm as I was getting down. “Be careful. Keep your knife out. I’d come with you but ...”
“Thor, I love you, but there are some things that a girl needs a little privacy for. Besides, you are going to have your hands full controlling the horses. I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
Every tree and bush nearby was already fouled; it was disgusting and you had to watch where you put your feet. In fact I’m fairly certain most of the greenery was going to be dead by the time they could clear up the road somewhat. You just don’t dump that much nitrogen and manure on a plant … even a tree … and expect it to remain healthy; not gonna happen unless you get enough rain to dilute it significantly and then you are looking at the fun of having human waste run off into above ground water sources.
I was many yards away by the time I finally found some privacy that didn’t already reek. I was just righting my clothes and happened to bend down to grab my knife out of my boot top where I had put it to snap my pants when I was grabbed from behind and a sack dragged over my head. My Bowie made short work of the guy behind me and the little noise he made before running away bleeding like a stuck pig was drowned out by the noise of the long line waiting to cross the bridge that despite the hour was still quite loud.
I wiped my blade on the dew dampened stand of bushes before I tried to go back to the wagon looking as natural as possible. Once I got there I got into the back of the wagon and told Thor that I was going to try and rest for a few minutes. I actually fell into a sort of sleepy stupor for a couple of hours before startling awake and climbing back into the wagon seat to give Thor his turn.
The noise of the line had gone way down but was still there. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep now? Your leg has to be sore.”
“I will in a minute, just as soon as you tell me what spooked you out in the bushes.”
Crud. I was caught and knew it. “About what you would expect and exactly why you told me to keep my knife handy,” I said trying to keep my voice low.
I felt Thor stiffen up in distress. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine. Your advice was good. Thank you.”
“Don’t give me that Rochelle, you know what I’m talking about.”
I sighed, “The guy was no match for me. It seemed like he’d had some practice but he couldn’t get any leverage to take me down. I hurt him bad. How bad I’m not sure but it was bad. He wasn’t going to get far with his leg tore up like that. And before you ask I didn’t want to drag you into it because we can’t afford to lose our place in line and I didn’t say anything to anyone else because I dealt with the threat and didn’t want to drag it into being a caravan problem … or having to watch the crew try and back me up. Better to stay low and pretend so that no one else would have to. You would have done the same thing.”
“Likely. But that’s not the point. Don’t treat me like I’m no one.”
I tried to see his face in the dark but since I couldn’t I scooted over close to him and finally loosened up his stiff arm enough to snuggle under it. “You aren’t no one, you are someone. Even more than that you are someone that I trust … and trust enough to let me handle some things. I just wanted us both to have an alibi. Under any other circumstances I would have screamed so that you could come running and save this poor damsel in distress.”
Ignoring everything else he asked, “It was enough to make you scream? Details. Now.”
Whooboy. “Thor …”
I was too used to a patriarchal life to be able to ignore the command that was in his voice. “I was … er … straightening my undergarments and taking my knife out of my boot top when this guy came in behind me and threw a plastic bag over my head. I stabbed backwards and deep and twisted the blade when it was in. He turned loose and ran. No noise from either one of us and I never left my feet. It was over so quick I could almost pretend it didn’t happen.”
“You put a hurt on the guy?” Thor asked after a few minutes of dead silence that radiated some serious anger.
“Yeah. Even in the dark I could see he was bleeding pretty bad and barely able to run off. I had a hard time getting my blade clean.”
In a clipped voice he asked, “And you didn’t go after him?”
“Do I look crazy? It was dark. Too much farther away and you wouldn’t have heard me if I did get into a serious pickle. If I went after him it could be taken as something it wasn’t and I could have gotten caught by the patrols and brought trouble on all of us. Besides, all I was thinking of was to go in the opposite direction that the guy had gone.”
Another few moments where he felt like a statue and then he loosened up and gave me a bruising, one-armed hug. “I hope the little @#$%@# bled out.”
“What? You want me to hope he sought medical assistance and survives to a nice old age?”
“No but geez, you don’t need to say it like that.”
“I won’t candy coat it Rochelle.”
I sighed trying really hard not to make things worse. “Thor, I don’t expect you to be anything or anyone other than who and what you are … just … for my sake if nothing else can you pick a different word?”
“Trying to change me already?”
“No,” I told him and then hugged him around his waist. “I just … look, I’m a female and it is genetically encoded that we try and civilize our men somewhat. A little Neanderthal is a good thing and keeps life interesting; too much isn’t so good. Same with machismo or whatever it’s called around the world. Just pick a different word to express that particular sentiment … please?”
I thought I’d blown it until he spoke and I could hear a small bit of cunning in his voice when he asked, “So you find my … machismo … interesting do you?”
“I find it all kinds of interesting and then some,” I told him teasing him right back. “In fact I find it too interesting and I’m going to wind up getting us both in trouble one of these days soon. So use it sparingly because it does strange things to my insides.”
“Hmmmm. Sounds like a problem we should explore more.”
I couldn’t help it, I giggled again despite my best intentions. “I swear Thor. Look, tone it back a bit. We are out in public and I’ll wind up embarrassing both of us and it just plain isn’t fair.”
“Now you know how I’ve been feeling for months. That’s some nice seat you have there and it was awful hard not to stare when you were supposed to be a young man.” After a couple of moments he said, “I think I will lay down for a while but if you see that … person … you sing out.”
“Of course. But I don’t think I will. Thor … I really did, you know, hurt him and … and …”
“Hey … you did what you had to and probably prevented someone else from getting hurt tonight even had you been able to break free without damaging … him.”
I nodded in the dark even though he couldn’t see it. “I know … just thanks for being so understanding. I’m not squeamish … I just hate when it comes to being forced to be bigger and tougher. I hope …”
“Just that when we get to the farm we can … can take a break from this type of life, have some peace. I’m just getting so tired of always having to look over my shoulder and around every corner.”
He sighed, part in understanding and part just from being tired. “We’ll do what we can but the world is a different place than it was. You talk about civilizing me and I know you were joking … or mostly … but the truth is Hon that civilization as we knew it is on vacation. Now, pay attention and don’t let me sleep too long. We should be able to cross the bridge today and if we move at the same rate we have been going it should be about mid-morning.”
I let Thor sleep until an hour before sun up at which time he went off to find his own bush. Food for our group had been a real problem until we work a kind of solar oven to heat water with and then used it to make some instant food up. Breakfast was an oatmeal like candy that didn’t require cooking but all of us where running on fumes and were anxious to get away from the bridge and make camp so that we could clean up, cook, take care of the animals, and rest.
It was closer to lunch when we made our way onto the bridge with our caravan intact. About fifty yards before that was the old metal highway sign posts and tied to these poles were … bodies. They had been hung and each corpse had a sign attached to it. The newest one said “rapist” and it was the man that had attacked me. I don’t know how he had been found, if he fit a description that had already been given, if he had tried again or just what but it was deeply disturbing to see the man I could barely recognize as my attacker hanging there with the crows pecking at him.
“Was that him?” Thor whispered while staring straight again.
I whispered back disgusted, “Yeah.”
Nothing else was said but Thor obviously wasn’t bothered by the man’s fate. I just prayed there was no more like him where he came from.
Then I got my first good look at bridge and the little bit of breakfast I’d eaten decided it was going to rethink whether it stayed where it was at.