Our soundtrack for this episode: Skillet’s Hero.
Hunkered down on the guardhouse roof, Sondra shouldered Johnny’s carbine and waited. Clouds skidded east, racing from the afternoon sun. Some of that wind filtered down to the ground, hissing through trees and chilling her face, making her glad for the jacket. Pilfered from one of the smelly houses, it almost perfectly matched the color of the shingles on the guardhouse. With any luck, the bashers — if it were really them — would never know she was there.
Just like we did it in practice, her dad said. He’d talked to her before, that first Saturday when the bashers came, but she had never told anyone about it — not even Cody. She sighted down the barrel, then lifted it away, thumbed off the safety and worked the bolt.
“Locked and loaded, Dad,” she whispered.
Good. What’s the motto?
“One shot, one kill. Don’t waste ammo, you might not have time to reload.” She had another full clip tucked into the back of her jeans, cold against her back, but didn’t expect to need it.
“There they are! Get ready!” Cleve called to the others, hunkered down in a ditch just inside the fence. She couldn’t see the bashers yet; most likely, they were working their way around either the burger joint or the LubeJob place across the street, using bushes, trees, and buildings for cover. Stay down, her dad said, it’s not your time yet. Cleve, Tim, Johnny, Cody, Charles, and Max were both the foot soldiers and the bait. She worried about Cody — he’d never been in a gunfight — but she’d only been in one, and both she and Cleve had told him what to expect. She and Cody of course had told each other to be careful several times. He had Sondra’s revolver, and could use it, but the bashers would have to be crossing the street before he had a chance for more than a lucky shot. Her friends had more handguns than rifles, so they were both slightly outnumbered and outgunned, but they had a “fairly defensible position,” as Cleve put it, and Sondra was their little surprise…
The bashers didn’t wait to cross the street before opening fire. Bullets and buckshot thumped into tree trunks, spanged off the iron fence, rattled through the branches. Tim and Cleve returned fire, popping up to shoot then moving; the others stayed down and waited.
Only two? Frank thought. That’s the nigger what shot J.D. all right. Is that other one the skinny dude? “It’s them!” he yelled.
“Their settlement is devoted to destruction!” Worleigh shouted. “Destroy all they have, and spare not any one of them, but kill man and woman, child and infant, and all their animals!”
“Not gonna happen,” Sondra muttered. The gunfire continued from both sides. She eyed the shouter through the trees: tall, thin, white-haired, a ridiculously long chrome pistol in one hand; the other clutched an enormous book, probably a Bible, to his chest. He, and that one guy with a deer rifle, seemed like the two most dangerous men on that side.
Bide your time, her dad said. It’s a good trap your friends are setting. Let the enemy spring the trap, then take ’em down.
Frank looked around. Something smells here. If they had any sense, they’d give the skinny queer a rifle and a sniper position. Maybe he got AIDS or something. Then he saw a line of trucks approaching from the freeway. He caught Worleigh’s attention and pointed; Worleigh looked and nodded. Maybe this would work out after all…
Tim stopped firing; Cleve fired his sixth shot and ducked down. “The time is now!” Worleigh shouted. He stepped away from the tree that he’d used for cover, and off the curb. Let ’em commit, then take him first, Sondra heard. But that book is good as armor. Cut off the serpent’s head.
“Right. Then the rifleman.” She looked through the trees and saw a line of trucks approaching. The bashers were watching them too — they were going to use them for cover, all right. They might not realize that bullets would go right through them…
Now. The attackers started across the street as the trucks passed, some running to the left turn lane, others taking their time. Sondra rose, kneeled. Pick your target, pull the trigger.
She fired. The white-haired dude sprouted a third eye; he fell back and stumbled over the curb, firing one shot into the air from that gigantic pistol; the recoil threw him to the ground.
Sondra’s friends heard the carbine bark to their left; the shouter fell and lay still. “Now!” Cleve yelled to the others; they all peeped over the top of the ditch and began shooting.
Frank saw Worleigh go down, looked around, finally saw the skinny dude seem to emerge from the guardhouse roof with an old rifle as more of them popped up across the way. He pointed, the muzzle turned ever so slightly, and Frank froze. He could only stand pointing at the guardhouse and think We’re fucked.
Steven screamed and clutched his leg, his shotgun hitting the pavement. He grabbed up his gun, balancing on his good leg, and fired blind at the embankment. He dropped to the pavement to reload.
Pick your target, pull the trigger. The rifleman spun and fell short of the left turn lane.
Rushing to the left turn lane, Jered saw Worleigh on his back, Frank dropping, Steven’s bloody leg. Two dead, one wounded, just like that — and now there were seven enemies shooting from cover, and them out in the open. We’re in for it, he thought. Damn that preacher anyway. He dropped prone, a few feet from Steven, and started shooting at the embankment. Will stood confused, pointing his rifle every which way but not firing. Ray-Ban shot, racked, shot again.
The Bobs saw Frank pointing, saw the sniper on the guardhouse. Go-Big Bob racked his shotgun and let fly at the guardhouse; Go-Home Bob took aim with his rifle, ducked as a pistol round whizzed past his head, took a quick shot at the embankment, took a quick shot at the guardhouse. Go-Big Bob racked and fired again. Shot rattled through the bare tree limbs, thumped into the siding, shattered the window below her. Sondra ignored it.
Pick your target, pull the trigger.
A shotgun-toter fell next, his mirrored sunglasses tumbling across the pavement. Three of the remaining five were shooting anywhere and everywhere, spraying the landscape with lead. Cody stood and emptied his pistol at the two firing in Sondra’s direction, ducked down cursing to reload.
Pick your —
Go-Big Bob’s shotgun clicked; he turned and ran. Go-Home Bob emptied his rifle at the guardhouse then followed.
“Retreat!” Jered yelled, “Get to cover!” He and Steven got on their feet and backed up, trying to cover each other, Steven on one leg, Will just standing there. A rifleman stood, fired, Will dropped. The nigger finished Steven. Jered turned and ran — right in front of a pickup. His rifle banged into the grille as the truck ran him down, then fell through and clattered to the pavement, torn from Jered’s hand. The truck braked for a moment, then rolled away, dodging the other bodies in the street.
Cody slapped the cylinder into place, popped up, looked around. “It’s over?”
“Yup,” Johnny said. “The two you were shooting at ran.” They all moved to stand together at the fence, watching the bodies in the street. None of them moved. A truck swerved around the bodies and ran over a cheap pair of mirrorshades that had tumbled away from their owner. The crunch seemed to put a period on the hostilities.
Cody gave a relieved sigh, then looked at his watch. “Jeez. Two minutes? It felt like an hour. Is everyone okay?”
“I got winged,” Cleve said, wrapping a strip of cloth around a bloody left arm. “Hurts like hell, but that’s a good thing. It’s what you don’t feel that’s bad.”
“Good… I guess,” Cody said. “Sucks you got hit, but good it’s not bad.” He turned to the guardhouse. “Sondra! Come on down… Sondra!”
Tim jogged over to the guardhouse, then sprinted away. “I’m getting Rita!” he yelled over his shoulder.