Amid the Green Corn: Part Eight

by Cooper Young

“Saturn High.”

“Village Idiot.” He placed another armload of boxes on the pile. That would cost him, but after tonight’s episode he couldn’t help himself.

There was a pause so long that Saturn assumed the man at the edge of the firelight had gone, and then “Perhaps, for tonight, yes.”

“What do you want?”

“Who says I want anything?” Fire in the Field stepped forward. Saturn turned away, pretending to focus on transferring ammunition to the cart. “You and I are friends, aren’t we? Not…well, perhaps friends is a strong word. We’re on friendly terms, let’s put it that way.”

“I’m more on your side than his, if that’s what you mean.”

“I didn’t mean anything.”

On his next pass from shed to cart he looked over at him. Fire in the Field was watching him–not standing casually by, chatting–watching. Waiting. “Well, good, I guess. Because when you tolerate that kind of back-talk, I assume you want something.” No response. “When I’m given reason to assume you want something an hour after my father publicly humiliated you, I assume that thing is revenge.”

“What purpose would that serve?”

“You tell me.”

“Don’t play dumb.”

“Am I?” He dropped the next armload harder than he meant to and scrambled to catch a box that tumbled off the edge of the cart. “I don’t play these games. You know that. If you two want to fight over petty crap and divide the clan between you, I can’t really stop you. I can think it’s stupid. I can wish you wouldn’t. I can lament the young men and women who’ll die tomorrow and the next day and the next because they don’t know who to listen to. I can do all that, and I do. But I can’t stop it, so I don’t do anything about it. I don’t get involved.”

“Oh, but you could.”

He straightened, clutching the box, but didn’t set it down. “Nope.”

“Listen to me.” The three-fingered claw with its melted skin settled on the edge of the cart. Saturn turned away again. “What’s in your hand could change all of this. Could stop the in-fighting in the blink of an eye.”

This again. Surprising himself, Saturn relaxed. “Nope.” He crossed his arms. “We’ve been over this. He and I have our problems, but as deep as they run–and believe me they run deeper than you’ll ever know–I’m not doing it.”

“Doing what?”

“Now who’s playing dumb?” He set the box on the cart. “I’m not shooting my dad.”

“I never…”

“You’re a greasy little pig, you know that?”

Fire in the Field blinked twice and said nothing. That was two now, and without any other sign than the chill which Saturn suddenly felt hit him through the scarred man’s stare he knew a third wouldn’t be tolerated. He stepped back into the shed for another armload. “Not him.”

“I’m not shooting my uncle either.”

“How sweet. Such loyalty to a  man you’ve never met. A man who could well be…”

Saturn froze. “Yeah, say that. Say that about my mother and see what I give you. I guarantee it won’t be what you came here for.”

His antagonist held up what was left of both his hands. “Granted, granted. I’m sorry. How is your mother?”

“Still dead.”

“Right. Right.”

“Look.” He threw the last of the ammo onto the cart. “I’m busy. I’ve also heard this all before, so I’m not likely to fall for it. If you want someone shot–that is why you’re here, right?”

“One could reasonably infer that.”

“Then find some kid to do it. Somebody who’s still got that wild edge to them, who you can paint a pretty picture for and who’ll wind themselves into a frenzy when you call it ‘The Cause’. What else are kids like that good for, except to execute their elders’ stupid decisions?” He padlocked the shed. “I’m going home. I have to shoot some people to feed my family tomorrow, and I can’t aim right if I’m up past eleven. Goodnight, sir.” He stalked past, shaking, waiting for his leader’s retaliation. It came surprisingly quietly.

“How’s your wife?” Fire in the Field asked behind him.

“Quite ill, thank you. Same as she has been,” he managed to say casually over the sound of the alarms sounding in his head.

“Oh, such a pity. And you take such excellent care of her.”

“I try to.”

“You do very well. Considering your own condition, I mean.”

“What condition?”

“Your propensity to take after your uncle.”

He stared at the fire for a long time, waiting for the world around him to unfreeze, waiting for his vision to show him more than tones of buzzing lavender washing back and forth across the darkened campground to the rhythm of his heartbeat. He shut his eyes. He was going to Hell.

“Who?” he asked, his throat dry.

“Told me?”

“No. You’ve wasted enough of my time tonight, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Who?”

“Star Between the Peaks.”

“Shit. Alright. Well, goodnight.”

“Was it really that easy?” Fire in the Field called after him as he walked away.

“If this is easy, I’d hate to see what you call difficult.”