Our first night outside was really something. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before, spoiler, they’re spectacular. I mean sure, the fact that we’re seeing the aurora borealis from Sacramento County is probably not a good sign for the health of planet but that doesn’t make it any less pretty. It’s the kind of thing that makes you understand why religion exists. A caveman sees something like that and they’re going to get ideas.
When the dust in the air clears for a minute, if you squint, you can see them during the day too – which really doesn’t seem like a good sign for the health of the planet. Although for my betting dollar, the fact that there doesn’t appear to be moon anymore is a lot more concerning than the not-so-northern lights. Don’t we need that for the tides? I don’t know why the tides are important but some nerd told me (at length) that without the tides all life would break down.
As wonderful as the lights were, what really made the night memorable was the murder.
When we were too tired to want to do any more walking, we sat down. Martialla and her husband used to go camping so I expected her to do something camping-like but she just sat there. In the movies don’t they always make a camp? I guess to do that we’d have to have blankets or a tin of beans to cook over a fire or a rope to put around ourselves to keep snakes away. Instead we have a couple of energy bars and some wads of “food” that look like dirty rags with mold on them and taste even worse than dirty rags with mold on them. My stomach has never been this cramped for this long. I haven’t puked this much since I was a freshman. I feel like I’ve already drank half our water. Possibly because I have.
I didn’t think I would fall asleep because it was still daylight when we stopped, for one, and because I was still having a coughing fit every few seconds for two, but next thing I knew I was startled out of a dead sleep. That’s when I saw the aurora. It takes your breath away. It’s like waves in the sky, waves of colors that you wouldn’t expect to exist in nature. When you hear about the northern lights you think “oh, some lights in the sky, kinda neat” but when you see it yourself it blows your friggin’ mind.
I was distracted by that for a moment but I realized that I was awake because Martialla had stepped on me. I turned to scold her for not watching where she put her giant feet when she clomps around like a plow horse but those words died on my tongue when I saw that the reason she had stomped on me was because she was struggling with someone. He was almost as tall as her, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but it made him a giant among the men we’d seen so far. His elbows stuck out like the back legs of a grasshopper and instead of normal hair he had patches of white scrub like a shaved poodle, not just on the scalp but also on his face where there should have been eyebrows and eyelashes.
They had their arms locked together like it was an Olympic wrestling trial and I saw that the reason she hadn’t called out to wake me up was because another smaller guy had wrapped himself around her like a backpack and also happened to be throttling her like a chicken. And that’s when I noticed that there was a third guy, all elbows and bobbing Adam’s apple and wet eyes, looking on holding a scrap of metal that was something like a knife and nervously looking for a stabbing angle.
I won’t lie. For a second I was immobilized. In that second I could no easier have moved a single inch than Jennifer Lopez could have won an Oscar. When she was alive I mean. Martialla was literally fighting for her life and I just sat there. Maybe I should be proud of myself that it was only a second? That I did act instead of being frozen while she got killed. But I don’t think so.
When I did finally move, my muscles were so stiff and cramped that I almost screamed in pain just from sitting up. When I reached for my gun, my shoulder and lower back sang with pain so intensely that I thought that I was going to pass out. But I didn’t. Sitting on your ass is probably not a recommended firing position that would be advised by even the most lackadaisical firearms instructor, but that’s what I went with. When I pulled the trigger and nothing happened, I felt something seize up deep inside me. I wonder what organ that was. It was down low, under the beltline, could it be the uterus? Does the uterus constrict when you’re scared out of your mind?
My first thought was that despite all Martialla’s cleaning and brushing and bland assurances, a one hundred- and thirty-year-old Beretta 92S with one hundred- and thirty-year-old ammo was never going to fire. That it was jammed or broken or something and I was sitting there with a three-pound paperweight in my hand. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, all I thought was “Well, I guess I should throw this fucking thing and then go die with Martialla.” Good thing I remembered the safety.
I’ve never fired a gun before without ear guards on. I wouldn’t recommend it. I was worried that the muzzle flash would blind me but I didn’t see anything. Maybe it’s because the lights in the sky were so bright? It was about the same amount of ambient light as a cloudless sky with a bright moon. Is that enough to smother a muzzle flash? I wish I could say that I picked my target and shot at the knife-holder because that was the safest way not to risk hitting Martialla. The truth is he just happened to be who I was looking at. If I hadn’t seen him I’m sure I would have fired into the scrum.
I think the two guys wrestling with Martialla were more shocked by the noise of the gun than the guy I shot was by being shot. They jumped away from Martialla like frogs off an electric fence and looked around like they had no clue what had just happened. The guy with the knife stood there gaping at me accusingly like he couldn’t believe what I had done. His face had a hurt look on it like that of a little kid, as if he was saying “What did you do that for? Why did you kill me? We were just trying to kill you.”
The knife tumbled from his hand and he put his fingers to his neck and started to stumble around in a little zig-zag, like he kept changing his mind on which way to go. Martialla did not freeze. She seized that moment to grab one of the weapons from our stockpile. I don’t even know what it would have been used for in the real world. It was a titanium rod about two feet long with a metal piercing nub about finger length on the end, kind of like one of those sticks for picking up trash but in an L-shape. Honestly my thought was that it was a “high-tech” version of a board with a nail in it. Where does something like that come from? A slaughterhouse?
She clubbed one of her attackers in the side of the knee and when he went down she smashed the “blade” into the side of his head. I had a flashback to the Applied Cryogenics guy getting an axe in the face. I should have saved that flashback though because the third guy ran and Martialla chased him down with a hatchet and hit him in the back what seemed like fifty times. The guy I shot eventually fell to his hands and knees but he kept crawling around for what seemed like a full five minutes before he stopped moving.
But the horrorshow wasn’t over yet because the guy with the metal rod in his head wasn’t dead. He laid face down in the dirt and burbled and burped and slobbered like a hungry baby until Martialla stomped on the back of his head a few times. When she looked down at me her face was so pale I thought I would be able to see right through her skin. I’m not sure if she was panting or hyperventilating or both.
She managed to gasp out “Good shot.”
Eventually I managed to croak back while I looked at the green and purple skies shimmering above us “Lovely evening isn’t it?”