Batresh finds the boy's home
A black, triangular shape glided across the sky. Turning north, it slid against the night over wilderness, fields, and creeks. Its destination, a wooded area near a small house. The vehicle’s systems mapped the area and knew where to land. Silently, it descended in the Mississippi woods towards a sandy clearing. The craft touched down on soft, red clay. Its engines powered down. Restraining belts slid from around her shoulders and waist allowing her to move freely. She leaned forward, looking through transparent coverings at the dark shapes of trees and brush. She would stay here for the night. Her chair unfolded and flattened into a bed. Reaching around behind her and unzipping her dress, she pulled it off her shoulders. She remarked on the difficulty of unfastening her stockings from the garter belt. She slid her fingers under the tops of the stockings, and pushed them down from her upper thighs, onto her calves. Reaching behind her, she unhooked her bra and sighed with the relief of not feeling the binding around her chest. She thought again of the little men she had seen in the restaurant, and of the work ahead. She sighed, wishing she had not acted rashly.
Now, they knew she was here. She wasted any advantage she may have had in keeping her presence a secret. She tried to forgive herself, knowing this was her first mission. She wondered how long she would be here, how long until the danger. How could she tell? How would she know? The presence of the small men would complicate matters. Or could they be its cause? She bowed her head down, holding her forehead in her hands. Why did the Elders choose her?
She raised her head, peering into the darkness outside. Her eyes adjusted. She could see moonlight reflecting off the surface of a pond. She breathed in deeply, deciding, after all, she may have done the right thing. She couldn’t simply sit there and allow them to claim more victims. She lay down and stretched her arms upwards, allowing blonde hair to toss loosely about her face. She closed her eyes and brought her palms together, praying to the Goddess. She had been warned the enemy’s biological weapons were growing stronger. She thought of the innocent people in this isolated community.
In front of her vessel, an ancient pathway, worn bare by native people, crossed the forest. Paths used for hundreds of years cut inches into the ground. Shallow banks arched above well-worn patches of sand. As she slept, she dreamt of a man wearing a loin cloth, carrying a bow, running along the path in front of her. This wilderness was once populated by the Chickasaw, their lands governed by Chief Piomingo. In a few short years, the pathways, black oak trees, and forests would be covered by a reservoir named after him, Lake Piomingo.
The Chickasaw were gone, their habitations, villages, and encampments were long lost to the wilderness. The pathways were now used as shortcuts by more recent inhabitants. Descendants of those who arrived after the Chickasaw Session, the boy, his family, aunts, uncles, and grandparents lived around these woods. They took ancient throughways from their poor homes to visit each other. Early that day, the boy’s grandfather had come to the pond to go fishing.
The next morning would bring new tasks. Her vehicle began the work while she slept. During the night, the craft dispatched tiny, invisible sensors to a nearby frame house, the house where the boy and his parents lived. They made copies of themselves, so that by morning, they would be scattered in and around the house.
When she awoke, she gave a vocal command, and a rectangle of light materialized in front of her. Her bed divided and transformed back into a chair. A rectangle of light resolved into a display on which she could see the boy. He was sleeping in a narrow bed. A cardboard square, displaying an image of a woman in a cowboy hat, hung on the wall above him, the only adornment in the room. Using other sensors, she saw the area around the house, a wire cage holding three chickens, a burnt pile of garbage, and a swing hanging from a frame built to hoist motors out of cars. Changing sensors, she saw the father sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. But something was different. There was a transparent darkness around him. It moved as if it were an animal. It encircled him and squeezed him, pulsing. Even though this creature was invisible to humans, she could see its cold, dark throbbing with her viewing technology. The transparent biological weapon, or beast, as she called them, pulsed with energy. The father’s face was closed and drawn. The small men at TKE’s intended to release seedlings for these weaponized creatures, the night before.
Checking the placement of sensors, she resolved to return to town after nightfall. Looking back at the father, she saw him rise from the table and go to the room where the boy slept. Scanning around the room, she saw a bottle of red liquid on a makeshift nightstand. A spoon lay beside it. She zoomed closer and saw it was a bottle of medication. Red syrupy liquid ran down the side of the bottle and was dried on the spoon. She saw a name on the bottle, “Dennis Shields.” Just under the name, “3 times daily,” and under that “Juvenile …” something she couldn’t make out. Sticky liquid smudged the text. She assumed he must have an illness. That could explain the dark circles under his eyes.
The father stood in the doorway. He flexed the fist of his right hand, then, turned and left the house. As he walked out to the road and turned north, Batresh saw lettering on the mailbox, “Mr. and Mrs. Edward Shields.” The sensors attached to the boy’s father, made copies of themselves, dropping duplicates along the dirt road as he walked. On the display in her vehicle, she saw the environment around him clearly. Dust covered blackberry bushes grew along the edge of the road, along with cattails and tall grasses. To his right, a red clay bank rose two meters high. Dry grasses thrust out over the edge. Water-oak trees grew in clusters, while to his left, small pines grew in bunches. Edward’s red face, shaded by the bill of a cap, glistened with perspiration.
He had not walked far when he came to another small house, this one was covered with black tar paper. The black covering was attached to exterior boards by short tacks. Their wide, circular heads, gave the house the appearance of being decorated by sparsely spaced sequins. He walked up the rutted clay driveway to the house. Edward Shields’ brother, Dennis’ uncle, lived here. A tall, thin man, walked from the kitchen to the small living room. Batresh could see another beast attached to the uncle, almost as strong as the one feeding off the father. Both men were unhappy, blaming failures on wives and children. She wondered how long beasts had been attached to these men.
The tall man, wearing worn coveralls and a faded shirt, sneered, exposing brown, ruined teeth, “I done told ye, I ain’t got ‘na more!”
Edward turned quickly, slamming the door as he left. A rusted car passed in front of the house, leaving a thick cloud of dust in its wake. The clanging of gravel against the undercarriage of the car popped and crackled. The uncle opened the front door to see who was driving by, but the vehicle had already disappeared around a curve. Batresh wished her technology could show a map of beasts in the area. She wondered how many here were tortured by these weapons.
The boy’s father continued north. He walked around a curve, past the ruins of a burnt house. To his left, on a small hill, was an abandoned driveway, overgrown with weeds and washed out by rains. Among the ashes glistened ruins of flowered tea cups and delicate plates. Flower beds had turned to weeds, and a peach tree dropped its fruit, unmolested by humans. The father looked towards the house and the beast around him dimmed. This was the house where his parents had lived. He remembered his mother, aged beyond her years, her mind dimmed with pain as she rested on a sofa. She lay there for months in the tiny living room. Open lesions on her sun-browned skin exposed tissue beneath. She died from an unknown disease. Unknown, because she had not been to a physician. He looked back towards the road, his forehead creased with regret and shame. As he walked past, Batresh saw bits of charred wood washed into the road.