I eyed each person as I approached them, my stomach turning in nervous anticipation of unknown possibilities, looking for any sign of immediate danger. The first person I passed I had not seen before, a stocky, dark-haired man with a fat face and thick forearms that stuck out of the torn-off sleeves on a faded plaid shirt. He grunted with every breath, his nostrils flaring and sweat running down his forehead. Then came a couple I was also unfamiliar with, both of whom glowered at me from behind identical pairs of horn-rimmed glasses. Than Mr. Overalls and a short, thin woman with a ruddy face and poorly dyed, but very bright red hair. He stomped a foot down as I approached, causing me to jump, which seemed to amused Red Hair. Another man, greasy and grimy from top to bottom, emerged from the auto parts garage behind them and spat in my direction. A few more steps up the road stood what I figured to be my real threat. Shotgun and the man standing with him. It could not have been his father, as I had learned he was dead, but maybe an uncle or other close relative. They looked remarkably similar, and equally threatening.
I have to admit that I almost lost my nerve at that point, almost turned and ran back toward Brown Suit, back down the gauntlet of people who seemed like friends compared to what I now expected to encounter. A brief wave of nausea passed over me and I clenched my mouth, purposely biting my tongue to give me something else to think about. The billowing colors up near Clyde Forks Road caught my eye again and now I could see that it was Eyebrows who was standing with the reverend. Would she really let something happen to me? Would these people actually do something terrible to me with those two watching them? Were the reverend and Eyebrows even on my side, or were they simply the final part of this community action? I was not sure but thought it a bad sign that neither her nor the reverend seemed willing to walk down the road to be with me.
I resumed walking, a quiver in my knees, taking four steps before Shotgun moved the weapon from its resting place in his arms and leveled it at the ground off to my right. It did not move from there as I approached him and the man who was with him did not move either. Both sets of their eyes locked with mine and the message was clear. Don’t come down this road again. As I passed them, Shotgun starting swinging the weapon, keeping it aimed at the road just a little bit behind me. I could feel my stomach clenching and I was soaked in sweat by the time I had moved twenty feet further. Finally the weapon stopped tracking my progress and a wave of relief swept over me. I paused, bending over to rest my hands on my knees. Before I could think about it, I promptly threw up in the road, my mind taking that moment to be worried about what kind of impression that was leaving on these people. Wiping my mouth, I glanced back and saw the man next to Shotgun start to move the weapon off of his hip. I took off running immediately and did not stop the rest of the way, passing about ten other people at whom I did not even look. As I approached the sinking brick house, the last one on the road, I noticed that Window Man was there, leaning on his mail box but seemingly noncommittal about being involved in delivering the community’s message to me. He settled for a short nod in my direction and then turned back toward his house. Ten feet later I staggered to a stop in front of the reverend and Eyebrows and sunk to the ground, breathing heavily.
The two of them were silent as I recovered, my breathing finally settling down although a tremor remained in my body, some residual effect of the fear I had felt coming up Cemetery Road. Finally, about three minutes after I had collapsed, Eyebrows reached down and took my arm, a gust of wind swirling her multi-colored shawl around my face. With a little extra effort I managed to stand up and she kept hold of me, guiding me out of the intersection and east toward the church. I could hear the reverend a few paces behind us, his shoes crunching against the road gravel. I started to protest.
“My truck, let me get my truck.” I pulled my arm but Eyebrows tightened her grip.
“We need to get you away from here. I will come back and get it in a minute, once we have you inside,” the reverend replied, his voice soft but insistent.
“Just let me, well, ok, I guess.” It did seem like a good idea to get inside somewhere safe. “What the hell, sorry, heck, was that all about anyway?”
“I would call it a fast application of my warning to you,” the reverend answered while patting my back, “a very fast application.”
“You mean about the evil thing, the kaleidoscope?”
We were almost out of the intersection of the two roads, and I turned my head quickly to look at my tormentors one more time. The shawl was still swirling in the breeze and I had to reach up with my left hand and push it away. I felt better, just a little bit defiant, making up for my fear I suppose, and I thought about flipping the bird to the people who had made me feel that way. As I pulled the shawl down, ready to face them, I was surprised to see that Cemetery Road was empty.
…to be continued