The only light to be seen was the wash of white from the half moon in our faces. Any shadows we cast could not give us away to the horses in the corral nor to the sleeping family in the farm house.
“You know if they see us they might shoot us for this, right?” I said to Will.
“Yep, and if they catch us, they’ll shoot us, or hang us. Or maybe they won’t see us or find us and we’ll have horses to get out of this county and head someplace where there’s food and water and not so much law,” Will said.
“Or outlaws,” I said.
“Yep. Now be quiet. You know what to do.”
Will was new to this stuff. Who wasn’t? But he figured we could, gentle as angels, drift close to the corral, slide open the gate, coo our way close to a couple of the horses, tie the ropes we carried stuffed inside our belts to their halters and lead them out to freedom. Our freedom.
It actually went pretty much to plan until we saw a small light inside the farmhouse window turn into the bigger light in a lantern, and that lantern moved toward the back door of the place.
“Damn it,” Will hissed. “Someone’s up. Probably headed to the outhouse.”
That was when a couple of horses got real nervous and started to snort and cut up, their ears all pricked forward. I tugged mine, a gentle little thing, over toward the gate and stood her between me and the house. But Will had trouble with his, its ears flat back, and it gave out a roaring sort of sound and that was that.
It gave Will a kick and started a chorus of squeals with the other four horses. Will was on the ground when his horse kicked him again, this time in the shoulder, just as the back door opened and the farmer came running out of the kitchen with his drawers at half staff because he held the lantern in his left hand and a shotgun in his right.
“Who’s there? Show yourself, ya thievin’ bastards,” he yelled. As he grabbed for his pants with that his right hand, the shotgun under his arm, I tugged my filly out of the gate and ran like hell toward the woods with her. Didn’t look back until we were about ten yards out of the light.
I heard Will yell, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.”
“Get up. Show yourself,” I heard the farmer say.
“Yessir, here I am,” Will said, his hands up and his rope in one of them.
By this time another couple of armed figures ran out of the house toward the corral and I figured it’d be a good idea if Misty——I’d already named the filly——and I put some distance between ourselves and the scene of the crime.
About a minute later was when I heard the shotgun blast.
Misty jumped a little and I did, too, but we didn’t have time to worry about what was behind us. I fashioned a set of reins from my rope and hopped from a tree stump onto her back and we trotted out of the woods and onto the moonlit country road headed south.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Will and I were farm kids, lifelong friends and schoolmates when the war began. Will was in the agriculture school and I was in what he called the “aggravatin’ culture” school. He meant I was studying literature and mathematics and stuff he found, you know, aggravating. On mathematics, we agreed.
When the war broke out, there was nothing anyone could do but try to fend for themselves and their loved ones. It was harder than anyone expected. Barely anyone knew what to do, could never imagine such a situation that could place them in such a state.
There was no way for Will and I to contact our families, so we decided, since the school wasn’t doing much schooling anymore after the first or second major battle, to find a way to get home. Or at least a way to get somewhere we could fend for ourselves, protect ourselves, just survive.
We heard that the government was shut down and communication was next to nothing. I guess you could yell from one hill to another. That was almost how bad it was. Will said, since nobody knew anything of what was going on and had no idea what the hell to do, we should find ourselves some food and water and a way besides shank’s mare to get where we had to go. Wherever the hell that was to be.
We stole some knives, containers for water, cheese and ham from the school kitchen. Then we tossed what we thought we could carry into our school bags and lit out south, headed for home or wherever we could get before the war turned the world crazy.
It didn’t take long.
Just like it didn’t take long after dawn for Misty and me to run into another band of travelers on the road, only headed north. I saw a couple of them point at me and then their leader sort of shushed them. They came walking toward us as smooth as you please, saying. “Hey, pal,” and “‘Morning,” from about fifty yards away. I knew they were up to no good and kicked Misty in the ribs just as they came running right at us.
I always figured even the bravest or stupidest of folks don’t want to take on a galloping horse coming right toward them. These boys were something else. Their leader pulled a pistol from his coat and aimed it at me, while Misty and I rushed into the middle of them. I heard the gun go off and felt a sharp pain in my leg. Misty squealed, too.
In two jumps, we were through and past them. I looked down at my leg and saw a knife sticking out of it. Peeking behind us, I saw three of those ramblers lying down on the ground, but one’s face was just a smear of red. We must have hit their leader’s arm and—BANG—one of them was down for good. I pulled Misty up when we were a mile or so down the road.
I slid off Misty’s back and pulled the narrow bladed knife from my leg. It wasn’t in too deeply but bled a lot, even down Misty’s side. When I swiped the blood off her coat I saw the cut across her flank and I didn’t know what to do. Before the war, I knew what I’d do, but now…?
I washed my own wound off with some of my water and then wrapped it up with my only clean shirt from my school bag. But Misty? She was hurting and I felt horrible for taking her away from her home. Hell, I felt horrible about everything since the damn war began.
I was Skyping with my mom, talking about my next visit home, taking the Southwest flight out of Baltimore to Dallas, when…nothing. Then the lights in the dorm went out. I grabbed my cell and it lit up, but there was no phone, no internet, just a fancy flashlight.
People up and down the hall were flying out of their rooms as the battery operated emergency lights went on. I heard someone say they heard the news that the threats finally came to a head between our country and the other guys——the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and some wild-ass cyber-terrorists from who-knows-where and what-does-it-matter-now.
The whole Earth’s gone black. They’d all blinded and crippled the world’s transportation, financial, communication, electrical, you-name-it systems. In essence, the politicians and hackers had cast us back into the 18th Century. And for what?
So people ended up roaming the countryside of every continent, I’d imagine, trying to stay alive and most of us not knowing how without a computer to tell us.
I held Misty’s face in my hands and she nuzzled me with her soft nose. It was then I realized that’s what was missing. What we’d been missing since I was born and maybe before. The touch of another, the face-to-face expression of ideas, feelings, emotions between beings instead of through some artificial means.
I think it was when I felt the tears on my face and Misty gave it a good lick that I knew what I had to do. I took the reins off Misty and just let her go. But instead of me telling her where, I let her tell me. If it was back to that farm, fine. I’d tell them I found her on the road running from where her thief got shot by one of those roaming gangs like the kind that cut my leg.
I’d ask them if I could stay with them for a while until my leg got better.
And if she just wandered off to a stream, a field, I’d follow her lead. She knew to take care of herself. Maybe she’d find others of her kind to support her, protect her, bring her along on their journey. I figured she was hard-wired to do what horses did for millennia to survive, instead of what a dumb, unplugged millennial didn’t know what to do.
Who knows? Maybe tomorrow the grid might go back up, or maybe our new world might finally come to a real end, instead of this virtual one.
This is the short, dashed-off first draft I wrote this evening of a story idea I had over the weekend. What if all this world-wide Internet manipulation and grand-scale hacking turned into an all-out war. It wouldn’t be The Bomb that would take us down. It’s be something as simple as switching everything off, over and over, until finally our modern world broke. Still a lot of work to do with this premise and story, but I thought I’d share it with all of you folks I only “know” through this silly machine you’re reading, as a reminder of what really counts in life.