To Hide Beneath the Stars
by Erich Forschler
It was hard enough to listen to those hills and those woods when it was dry and sunny. Then the rain came and it came down hard, slapping the gold and brown leaves that still clung to the trees, and otherwise dominating his ears with the sound of the downpour. The boy had complained about having to “make water” so they finally stopped halfway up the hill so the boy could make water while his father crouched and listened with one hand on a tree trunk, and the other hand on the musket that lay across his knees.
“Hush!” he interrupted the boy, who was putting himself back together as he emerged from a nearby bush. “I’m listening,” he whispered, pointing a finger in the air.
And on the rain fell.
The land below was a grey haze of stone trees. He watched it, slowly turning his head from side to side while the boy stood frozen, watching him. Eventually he stood and, grabbing the boy at the elbow, made for the top of the hill.
“Why ain’t we goin’ home, Pa?” the boy asked.
“We’d lead them back to the house.”
“Well what do they want?”
“Nothin’ good.” He paused and listened and watched.
“But you can’t make their language,” the boy said when they started walking again.
“I know that.”
“Well how do you know what they want?”
“Some things don’t have to be said, son.”
They continued up the hill, winding around the bushes and trees with the father slightly ahead and holding the musket in one hand and the boy’s elbow in the other. The boy glanced back each time he saw his father glance back.
And the rain fell on around them.
Before long they had crested the hill, and the father made a left turn at the top, taking a course along the wooded ridge high above the valleys on either side. He let go of the boys arm and hurried along the top, bent at the waist in a half crouch with his head turning this way and that way as he held the musket tight with both hands. The boy scuttled on behind him, staying close and mimicking his father’s mannerisms. They soon came upon a granite outcrop, and he told the boy to stay put while he cautiously moved around the rocks and down the slope, occasionally disappearing from view beneath the jutting boulders. The boy stood and watched through squinted eyes and wet lashes, with one hand against a Pine trunk as the fat drops of water fell on and around him.
Down at the rocks the man found a cave that went deep into the hill – too deep for the light to reach inside. He knew night was coming on quickly and the cave would be a nice shelter from the rain, but when he stood at the mouth of the cave and sniffed the darkness that escaped it he found a new fear, causing him to creep silently back up the rise and out of the rocks to where the boy was waiting.
“What’s the matter, Pa?” the boy asked.
“Oh… nothin’,” he replied.
“Maybe we should just make for the house?”
“Can’t do that.”
“I don’t see nobody followin’ us.”
“You won’t see them, son.”
“What do we do then?”
The father sighed and his shoulders sank as he shook his head. “I knew we went out too far,” he said.
“But you said we had to come back with somethin’.”
“I did. I did say that. But we went out too far and we didn’t even get anything for it.”
“I think you did right, Pa,” the boy said, nodding.
“Well,” he said, before pausing and listening again. Only rain and heartbeats broke the silence. “Well,” he finally said, “it ain’t about right and wrong.”
“Ma always says ‘this is the right thing,’ and ‘this is the wrong thing,’” the boy said, putting a fist into his hip and shaking a finger like his mother would.
“Your Ma ain’t here, boy.”
They started walking again in silence after that.
The dark grey around them grew closer to purple with each step as they hiked along on the top of the hill, and then the purple soon faded into thick, wet darkness when they reached a point where they could either go down the hill or back the way they came. The man stopped and listened and watched. Then the voices came from all around them in yips and howls and chants of rain-soaked ghosts that haunted the valleys unseen, unafraid, numerous and, most importantly, close. Through the darkness the boy could barely see his father crouch down and check the musket, and he could hear him say something about “high ground,” and he could hear the voices and the rain until the voices faded, and then all he could hear was the rain and the sound of his eyes turning side to side in the blind black of night.
Erich Forschler is an Air Force Security Forces veteran from Georgia. After spending ten years working in the military, law enforcement and private security fields, including three trips to Iraq, Erich decided to leave the jetset life behind and follow his dream of being a writer. His books and other works can be found on his blog: http://www.erichforschler.wordpress.com/.