The New History of Concord
By: Ronny Mills
Age: 9 ¾
Ronald Mills, Sr., was down at the shop doing Good Honest Work, and Terry Mills was next door Grabbing Coffee at The Worcheszkcis(?)’ house when the Bad Stuff happened. Let the record show that Grabbing Coffee sometimes was actually drinking wine, but always smoking cigarettes and talking real loud on the back porch with Mrs. Worchezschis(?). Also the record should know that Good Honest Work was fixing cars (and other stuff that people needed fixing, like vacuum cleaners, and sometimes sewing machines, or garbage disposals). Ronald Mills, Jr., knew about the Bad Stuff first, on account of because he was watching cartoons on Saturday morning, and the TV stopped playing cartoons to start talking about News that was happening in Charlotte, which was close to Concord, but not so close you could walk.
There were lots of Fucking Maniacs (that’s what Ronald Mills, Sr. said they were called) on the TV, which was being filmed from a helicopter, or sometimes from people’s phones. The Fucking Maniacs were hurting all the people they could see, and there were fires, and a bunch of police ready to break it up, but some of the police started shooting other police instead, and then Ronald Mills, Jr., got up to tell his mother, Terry Mills, about the Bad Stuff. There was no fence between the Mills’ yard and the Worchekskis(?), so he could have just yelled, but Terry Mills was In The Middle Of A Conversation, and told him to go back inside.
I put the pencil down and shook out my hand. Whenever I wrote importantly I grabbed the pencil too hard, and my hand got tired fast. Mrs. Davis told me to stop doing that, but the problem is that when I’m doing it, I’m so focused on the important writing that I don’t realize I’m doing it. Anyway, that was probably enough History for the day. It was important to record the History, because mom said that if you don’t remember History, you get doomed to repeat it, and I really didn’t want to repeat any of this. So I was writing it all down, because I didn’t think anybody else was. Concord used to be so full of people you had to wait in line at the grocery store, but lately there was just me, mom, and dad. And you couldn’t really count mom and dad as people anymore.
I clicked off my camping lantern and let my eyes get used to seeing in the dark. Then I unpinned the black curtains from behind the grate of the air conditioner, and watched the outside. When I was sure nobody was looking, I put on my Bandaliero, and took the grate off super quiet. I checked again, and there was still nobody. I put the grate back, and walked all sneakily until I was behind the ducts. I unclipped my binoculars from the Bandaliero — which were supposed to be kind of a toy, so they weren’t really super good, but still worked okay — and I looked at all the rooftops, the windows, and the street below. I did not see anything moving. I put the binoculars back on the Bandaliero, and headed towards Means Street, because the corner store there still had some food in packages, which was the only food that was good any more.
Most of the buildings in downtown Concord were actually all connected. It was only the one street, so if you got on the roofs like I did, you could walk to the others without getting down. There were a couple gaps, though, but for those I left boards nearby that I could walk across. I kind of hid them, or threw them around so they didn’t look like anything, and nobody would know somebody was living up on the roofs. It had been a while since I saw anybody in Concord except mom and dad, but that didn’t mean the others were all gone.
Some of the Fucking Maniacs didn’t move much, or make any noise at all… unless you got close to them, and then they moved so super fast, and pulled all your parts off like you were a bug. But even if it was just me and mom and dad in town, I sure didn’t want them coming up here, either. So I had to be fast and careful.
I practiced my climbing on the roofs that were different heights, and I practiced my somersaults for when I had to jump back down. Somersaults were good for dodging things – I learned that from every video game I ever played – so I practiced them extra hard. When I got to Means Street and the roofs ran out, I had to climb down the fire escape, which was scary. The stairs go right past all the dark windows of the offices and apartments and stuff. You don’t know what’s behind them, watching you. Plus, no matter how much stealth you use, the fire escape still makes some noise. I got to the bottom part, where you had to kick a bolt or something to make the ladder fall, but I didn’t know how to do it, so I never did it. Plus, also, it would make a lot of noise, and then there would be a ladder up to the roof for mom, or dad, or the other Fucking Maniacs to climb up.
Instead, I unwrapped my rope from around my waist, and I tied it to the railing. Dad taught me a lot of good knots, and mom taught me a lot of good climbing. I climbed down, and when I was sure nobody was looking at the street, I ran across. It wasn’t very dark outside, like maybe it was a full moon, but ever since the Bad Stuff happened, the black spot in the sky had grown and grown, until you couldn’t see the moon, or most of the stars past it. But you could still see their light, and that was weird. I stopped at the doors of the corner store and waited, so I could check it out first.
That was a good rule: You should always check things out first.
And it was a good thing I did, because after a minute, I thought I saw something moving inside, and then I heard something plastic fall. Then a person crossed in front of the doors, and I saw that it was mom.
I was really hungry and I wanted to go in and eat that food, but another good rule is: Don’t do things just because you’re hungry.
That’s how you get killed.
Instead, I inched around to the edge of the store — away from the windows — and crossed the street, out of sight. I stayed in the shadows until I reached my rope, and I climbed back up. I pulled my rope up after me, and tied it back around my waist. I started to go back up the fire escape. There were still other places that had food in packages that hadn’t gone bad, but the store on Means street had beef jerky, which was what made it my first choice. I hoped mom didn’t eat all of the beef jerky, so I could come back and have some tomorrow. But even if she did, that was still better than her finding me.
I was only two floors up when the stupid fire escape made a loud metal noise, and I froze. I looked at the store, and I checked it out. Nothing happened for a while, but then the doors started to open, and mom came out. She looked around, and I guess the shadows weren’t as good as I thought, because she saw me.
She waved all big and happy, like she was glad to see me. I mean, she was always happy these days, but it was a mean kind of happy.
“Ronny,” she called up. “You want some beef jerky?”
I ignored her and started to climb back up the stairs.
“You don’t have to come down,” she yelled. “I’ll toss some up to you.”
That made me stop and think.
“No way,” I finally said. “You poisoned it.”
I have seen people use traps a lot on TV, so I am very wary of traps.
“Nuh uh,” mom said, and she did that head-tilt thing just like she used to do, when she was pretending to be serious, but secretly making fun of me. It made me sad to see it.
“Look,” she said, and she shook a plastic package around. “It’s still sealed. Poison-proof!”
I walked back down a flight of the fire escape stairs and leaned over the railing to look at her.
She hucked the bag of jerky up to me and it started to go over my head, so I had to turn to catch it and take my eyes off her for a second. I got scared and looked back immediately, but mom hadn’t moved.
She was really fast and she was good at climbing. She liked climbing rocks and stuff for fun, but not like I did. Not rocks like The Mountain, which was what we called the big boulder in the middle of the woods over by Myers Park. Back when things were normal, me and my friends would climb up it and pretend to push each other off, or dare each other to jump, which was scary. But even if you did jump, you probably wouldn’t get hurt real bad. The rocks that mom climbed were taller than even the big buildings in Charlotte, and you could die if you fell. That was both really cool and kind of stupid, I thought. But she liked it, and she was good at it. Still, even she couldn’t climb the brick wall all the way to the fire escape before I could run up the stairs and get away. So I told her so.
“Ronald McDonald,” she laughed, because she knew I hated being called that. “If I wanted to chase you down, I would have done it already. That’s not the game we’re playing.”
“We’re not playing any games,” I said.
“Sure we are!” She smiled up at me real big.
She smiled real big a lot these days, all teeth and gums — but mom never smiled big back when she was normal. Her smiles were small and kind of crooked.
“In the game we’re playing, I win when you choose me,” she said.
“Choose you for what?” I asked.
I stuffed the bag of jerky in the pouch on my Bandaliero, in case I needed both hands to get away.
“Choose me over your dad,” she answered. “Come with me, let’s get out of this boring town. There’s nothing fun left here, anyway. Let’s go to Charlotte! We can stop by the Speedway – they might still have race cars. We could steal a race car!”
“I don’t wanna,” I said.
“You wanna stay here with dad?” She asked, like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She puffed her cheeks out after ‘dad,’ and held her arms out wide like she was big and fat.
I kind of laughed.
“See? I’m way more fun,” she said.
“You would hurt me,” I said.
“Never!” She said, then after a second: “Well, not unless it was really, really funny. I promise!”
“I don’t understand why it would be fun to hurt me,” I said, backing away from the railing.
She saw me start to leave and got extra convincing.
“It probably won’t ever happen,” she said. “Honest! And if it did happen, you’d laugh!”
“I’m gonna go now. You better not try to chase me, because you’ll never catch me before I jump back down and get to my hiding place in the park,” I lied.
I have seen a bunch of espionage on TV, and I know it’s important to do espionage at times like this.
“The park, huh?” She echoed, and she did her head-tilt again. “That sounds like a really good hiding place.”
“It is, and you’ll never find it,” I espionaged.
“That sounds like a challenge, pal,” she said. And her voice was still happy, but it had more of that new, mean kind of happy behind it. She took a step toward the fire escape, and I got ready to run.
There was a distant whooshing sound, like a jet starting up, and then a huge boom, and a bunch of little chimes, like lightning had struck the next block over, and then it started raining metal.
Mom and me both jumped, and looked in the direction of the noise.
We could see pale blue light coming from around the corner, on the other side of Spring Street. It was so bright it made giant shadows of everything it touched.
“You better go,” I yelled down. “Dad’s coming.”
Mom thought about coming after me for a minute, I could tell. But I was already climbing the stairs, and she saw dad’s lights start to shift in our direction, so she finally turned to run.
“We’ll talk again soon, Ronald McDonald,” she called, jogging across the street and disappearing between buildings.
The New History of Concord
By: Ronny Mills
Age: 9 ¾
Ronald Mills, Sr., and Ronald Mills, Jr., and Terry Mills had been hiding in the basement for a long time. History doesn’t know how long, because there were no windows or calendars, but toward the end, Terry Mills did tell Ronald Mills, Sr., “We’ve been down here for weeks, we have to at least try!”
Terry Mills was talking to Ronald Mills, Sr., about leaving the basement, and getting some supplies, and then leaving town. Ronald Mills, Sr., did not think it was a good idea, and that’s why they were arguing about it. Adults sometimes think that because kids don’t know much, that they can’t hear much either. And that’s dumb, because kids hear plenty. Especially when adults are arguing in the far corner of the basement, using angry whispers that are practically as loud as normal talking anyway.
Ronald Mills, Sr., was saying that the Mills family were still alive because they had a finished basement that had carpet and was warm. There was a bathroom down there, and also a pantry, which was where they put extra food from Costco trips. Electricity had stopped pretty soon after the Bad Stuff happened, but the Mills had camping lanterns, and blankets, and it wasn’t that cold yet anyway. They had the Costco food, and the water still worked — which Ronald Mills, Jr., thought was weird, because he always thought the government used electricity and motors to push the water into your house, but Terry Mills said that it was just gravity fed from the reservoir.
Anyway, that’s why Ronald Mills, Sr., thought they should stay in the basement: because they had survived down there so far. But Terry Mills thought that wasn’t enough, and she called Ronald Mills, Sr., “short-sighted,” and that made Ronald Mills, Sr., really mad. So mad that he did the thing where his voice doesn’t even sound angry anymore, but just really flat, and clear, and careful, and that’s when you’re really in trouble.
Terry Mills said that it had been forever since they heard the Bad Stuff happening outside. She was right. It had been a long time since the gunshots, and the screaming, and sirens. Then there was a while where it was mostly quiet, but every once in a while somebody would yell, or laugh, or break something. But lately even that had stopped, and there had been no noises at all. Terry Mills wanted to at least go check it out, but Ronald Mills, Sr., explained that the Bad Stuff could be waiting out there for her to do exactly that, and they stopped arguing, and went to bed.
Neither Ronald Mills, Sr., nor Ronald Mills, Jr., heard it, when Terry Mills woke up extra early, and snuck up the stairs, and left the basement.
My eyes were all dry and itchy from being so tired, but I couldn’t sleep, because dad was still out there on the street making loud noises. I didn’t know what exactly he was doing, but he had been doing it for a long time now. He started out close to our house, and mostly stuck to our neighborhood at first. Then he just kept getting farther and farther out, until he’d finally reached the edges of downtown, where I was hiding. He was still a few blocks away, and I couldn’t see him past the tall trees on the other side of Union Street.
I had watched him for a little bit, once. He was just driving around and looking at houses. He had a bunch of weird machines on the back of his shop’s old flat bed truck. He taught me to drive that truck one time. It actually wasn’t super hard. Adults make such a big deal of driving, but really you just pull a little lever until it says ‘D’ for ‘Drive,’ and one pedal makes you go, and the other makes you stop, and you steer it with a wheel — just like the old, stand-up style car games in the arcade. There are lots of rules to learn about driving, and some switches and stuff that do different things, but it sure isn’t harder than math, and they make kids learn that.
It was important that I learned to drive the truck, because it said “Mills and Son” on the side in fancy, faded writing. I wasn’t old enough to be the “son” part yet. That was actually dad. At some point, he had been his dad’s son, when his dad owned the shop. And they were Mills and Son. And I guess even his dad’s dad had owned the shop way, way back in the past.
Dad was pretty sure I was also going to work at the shop someday, and be The Son. The idea made me kind of proud, and excited, but also scared, and sad, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be The Son. I mean, I wasn’t really good with engines, or at fixing stuff. It seemed like every time I tried, I forgot a spring, or I didn’t tighten a bolt enough, and the whole thing would rattle when you turned it on, or else it just wouldn’t work.
Plus, I didn’t really like cars and stuff. I pretended to like them, partly because of dad, and partly because all the other kids really did like NASCAR and race cars. I even made mom think I liked race cars – even though mom hated race cars — just so she wouldn’t get mad someday, and accidentally tell dad the truth when they argued about me. I just thought racecars were boring. They went around in circles, and they were loud. And they smelled. But I wasn’t supposed to think that, so I tried not to. And so lots of weekends we drove just outside of town to the Speedway, and watched racecars go in circles, until somebody got hurt, which I guess was everybody’s secret favorite part.
I never told anybody what I really liked, because it was stupid, and they would have just made fun of me.
I liked dinosaurs.
I wanted to help them. Not dig up their dead bones or anything, but actually help them, like the lady in Jurassic Park. But you’re supposed to like stuff that you can grow up to work on, and nobody fixes dinosaurs. That’s not a real thing.
So I was going to be The Son any way you cut it, and I would drive that flat bed truck around town, and talk to people about the weird noises their car was making. I mean, the way things were going, I probably wouldn’t wind up doing any of that. One of the Fucking Maniacs would get me eventually, or it would be just by getting sick, and not having any medicine. But one thing was for sure: I wasn’t ever going to fix any dinosaurs.
The New History of Concord
By: Ronny Mills
Age: 9 ¾
Ronald Mills, Sr., made Ronald Mills, Jr., promise not to leave the basement, no matter what. And also not to make any noise, or undo the big bolt on the door for any reason, except for if somebody knocks two times, pauses, then knocks three times more. That was the secret code that Ronald Mills, Sr., was going to use, to let Ronald Mills, Jr., know it was safe to open the door. Ronald Mills, Jr., was very good about secret codes, so he remembered it.
After Ronald Mills, Jr., promised a whole bunch of times to not leave, and not make noise, and remember the secret code, Ronald Mills, Sr., left the basement. He went to look for Terry Mills. He was gone for a very long time. Long enough for Ronald Mills, Jr., to fall asleep a few times, even though he tried very had to stay awake. Then there was banging on the door, and screaming. Ronald Mills, Jr., went up to the top of the stairs to listen for the code, but the person on the other side didn’t knock right, so he didn’t open the door. But Ronald Mills, Jr., could tell by the voice that it was Ronald Mills, Sr., knocking. So Ronald Mills, Jr., reminded him to use the code. Ronald Mills, Sr., didn’t remember the code, and said to open the door anyway. Ronald Mills, Jr., said he wasn’t supposed to, and they yelled at each other about it until Ronald Mills, Jr., started crying, which he also wasn’t supposed to do, because he was a boy. Finally Terry Mills, who Ronald Mills, Sr., had gone out and found, told Ronald Mills, Jr., that it was okay to open the door just this one time, so he did.
Dad was still out there doing his weird, loud thing. He’d drive the truck a little bit, and then stop, and then there was that flat sort of paddling sound, then it would be quiet for a long time, and then a big, airy boom, like a whole storm happening all at once. Afterward, it sounded like wind chimes – lots of tinkling and ringing. He did it again and again, basically all night.
I was so thirsty that I was getting kind of dizzy, and eating the beef jerky only made it worse. Now, it’s no good to wait so long to drink or eat that you’re too weak to find stuff to drink or eat. That’s a good rule: Find stuff to drink or eat before you really, really need it.
I’d never gone out looking for supplies when both mom and dad were so close to my hiding spot, but it seemed like they were each busy doing their own things. Maybe if I was really small, and used all my stealth, I could get out and back without them noticing me. I unpinned the heavy black curtains from behind the AC grate, and checked out the roof for a while. When I was sure it was clear, I moved the grate aside, and snuck out, and moved really quick and small.
Dad was close. Just on the other side of Union Street. And he was in the flat, thwacking stage of whatever he was doing. That was the part that took the longest, and it had just started, so he would probably be busy a while. Just to be safe, I went the other way from when I’d last seen mom, over by Means Avenue. That meant going toward Carrabas, and even though I’d picked a lot of the stores on that side clean already, I knew there was a whole case of Peach Iced Tea in Scotties, back in the hidden area behind the drink cases. I had left it because Peach Iced Tea is really gross, but I was so thirsty now, I didn’t even care.
There was no fire escape on the Carrabas side of downtown, because the building at the end wasn’t very tall. So I just tied my rope to an aluminum chimney sticking out of the roof, and climbed right down. Across the street and through the doors, quiet and fast like a squirrel. It was dangerous to not really check out the inside before going in the store, but it was more dangerous to say on the street where dad could just peek around the corner and see me.
I snuck around the aisles, careful to dodge the trash, and the bits of metal from broken shelves. I pulled open the heavy metal door to behind the drink cases, and felt around in the mostly dark until I found the case of Peach Iced Tea. I punched a hole in the plastic with my finger, and pulled one out, and opened it. The cap made a pop sound that felt really loud, but probably wasn’t. I listened for anything that might be listening for me, but I didn’t hear them, so I drank the Peach Iced Tea. It was still gross, but it was also the best thing I’d ever had. I drank a whole one, and then half of another. I put four more in the pouch on the back of my Bandaliero, which was all it would hold. They clinked together when I moved, so I took off my socks and wrapped them between every other bottle. That was gross, since I hadn’t washed my socks in a really, really long time, and they smelled terrible, but it was better than making noise and getting caught.
All geared up, I pushed open the heavy metal door real slow, and slipped back out into the store. I started toward the exit, and the street outside exploded in light. I went blind instantly, even though I threw my hands over my eyes and jumped to the side. I landed between aisles. I hoped I hid in time, because I couldn’t run anywhere when I couldn’t see. When I pulled my hands away from my stinging eyes, there was a big, blue orb right in the middle of everywhere I looked. I guess with the heavy metal door of the drinks case shut, I didn’t hear dad’s truck pull around the far side of Union Street, and park in front of the store. I could hear it now, though: engine low and growling, like a mean dog. I knew what came next. The huge wind, and the metal rain.
The doors and windows exploded inward, and shards of glass flew around like stinging insects. Small metal bits bounced across the tile, and ricocheted off of the walls and ceiling. They caught the spotlights shining from dad’s truck: Screws and washers and bolts glinted among the glass, like stars reflected on the ocean.
I couldn’t hear very well. The noise had been too loud, and now everything sounded like I was wearing earmuffs. But I felt the thwacking through the floor. I saw the smaller screws start to rattle across the tile. It was starting again.
“Stop!” I said, and I stepped out from my hiding place.
Looking right into the lights was like staring at the sun, if the sun was idling across the street. I couldn’t see anything behind or around the spotlights, and could only guess at the things in front of them by their long, twisty shadows. Something moved to block the lights, and its shadow settled over me. Shielded in its darkness, I could see its outline clearly. I already knew who it was, of course. I’m not a dummy.
It was dad.
He had always been big. Tall and strong, but also kind of fat. Just big, in every sense of the word. His shoulders were big. His belly was big. His arms, and his head, and even his beard was big. And standing like he was, with the lights at his back, making everything else impossible to see except for his silhouette – he looked positively gigantic. Like something out of a fantasy book. He should have been holding an axe or a magic sword.
He reached out and pushed something on the truck. The lights pointing at me died down. I blinked hard, and a lot, trying to clear the spots and sparkles from my vision. I could hear dad walking closer, his boots crunching on the glass and kicking around bits of metal.
“Don’t!” I said, and I backed up, but I tripped over something — I couldn’t even tell what it was — and I fell on my butt. I scraped my hands on the glass and yelped, even though I knew dad would tell me to ‘suck it up,’ or ‘be a man.’
But he didn’t.
“Are you hurt?” He asked.
It didn’t sound like he was worried about me, which was a whole different tone. When he was actually worried, he didn’t like to show it, so he made his voice extra tough. The way he asked about me now, it sounded more like when he talked about politicians, or sports teams he didn’t like.
“Not really,” I lied, trying to hide my bloody palms.
He was still mostly just a shadow to me. An outline against the headlights of his truck, which were still on, and pointed away from us. I was still dazzled from looking into the spotlights. All the black spaces in my vision were shifting and dancing, making fake colors, like oil on water. Dad stooped down and grabbed something off of the floor. He held it up to the light to examine it, and I could see that it was a big shard of glass. He turned it this way and that for a second, then brought it down hard into his own arm. So hard, I heard it hit bone. Then I couldn’t see what he was doing anymore, but it sounded like he was grinding it around inside his arm.
“Stop!” I said. “Please don’t!”
I sounded whiny and I knew dad would hate it, but I couldn’t help it.
“I hurt you,” he said.
And again, his voice was wrong for the words he was saying. He didn’t sound sorry, but more like he just remembered a chore he was supposed to do, after he already sat down and took his shoes off.
“I’m okay,” I said, but he didn’t stop doing the grinding thing.
“I have to keep you safe,” he said. “It’s the only rule, and I broke it. I have to pay for that. You remember, Ronnie? You remember how I told you a man always pays for his mistakes, even if nobody makes him?”
I did remember that. He told me that after I accidentally (I swear!) stole a pack of comic book cards from the grocery store. He made me take them back and apologize for stealing, even though it wasn’t stealing — I just forgot I put them in my pocket, when I had to use both hands to bend down and pick up cat litter off the bottom shelf for mom.
“It wasn’t you,” I said. “I tripped and fell. You didn’t do it!”
Finally, the grinding sound paused.
“You sure?” He said.
My vision had mostly come back – only some tiny suns that moved wherever I looked – and I could see that dad didn’t look so great. His eyes were all tired and hollow. His beard had always been pretty crazy, and stuck out everywhere, but now it was also dirty and kind of braided on itself, like a homeless person. His clothes were greasy and bloody, and he had left the glass shard stuck in his arm. Blood poured down his arm and from his fingers, pooling around his boots.
“This is exactly the kind of thing I promised to protect you from,” he finally said. “You need to come home with me.”
He took a step forward and I took a step back.
“Don’t,” he warned. He used his mean warning voice, like when you’re arguing back and you’re not supposed to. “You’ll fall again.”
“Don’t come towards me,” I said, “or I’ll run again, even if I do get hurt, and then it’ll be your fault, ‘cause you could’ve stopped it.”
“You need to come home with me,” he said, and he jerked his thumb back at the truck.
“No,” I said. “You’ll tie me up again.”
“Of course,” he said, and he laughed a little bit, like I’d said something dumb. “That’s how you’re safest. You can’t move, you can’t leave, you can’t get hurt. Don’t you understand that?”
I didn’t understand it.
I could practically still feel the ratchet straps he used to bind me to the bed in my room. He put towels and blankets under them, so they wouldn’t dig into my skin and hurt, and he’d come in once and a while, and undo them to turn me around – which is when I got away in the first place — but other than that, he wouldn’t let me move at all. Not even to go to the bathroom. I had to go in a pan, and he fed me, and made me drink water, and washed me, and everything. I didn’t even have a TV to watch. Just the ceiling in my bedroom. Looking at the dots and scratches from the plaster, imagining them as different things. If you don’t think boredom is a kind of hurt, then I can tell you’ve never been ratchet-strapped to your bed for a few months.
“I can’t,” I told him. “I can’t go back to the bed.”
“Ronnie,” he commanded.
Just that. My name and nothing else. Because he knew that I knew what he wanted me to do, and just wasn’t doing it.
“It’s going to get cold soon,” he said, when I didn’t move. “And I’ve been going all over town, using that sucker back there to knock out all the windows.”
I looked in the back of the truck: at his air compressor, and a big cannon looking thing, and some generators he’d rigged up, and bunch of other stuff.
“There won’t be anywhere warm left,” he explained. “Except for home. You don’t want to freeze to death, do you, Ronnie?”
I sure didn’t, but I also kind of didn’t believe him. He couldn’t have gotten everywhere in town. Plus maybe some spots without windows would still be warm, like my grate hideout — and anyway, wasn’t he supposed to keep me safe? That was his rule; so letting me die would be breaking it. And if he couldn’t hurt me…
I turned and ran. My shoes skated on the glass, and the ball bearings, and the garbage, and all the other things dad had knocked down with his air cannon, but I didn’t fall. I yanked the back door open and ran across the open street, toward the old courthouse, which wasn’t a courthouse anymore, but a theater — only I guess it wasn’t that, either.
Just an empty building. You could call it whatever you wanted.
I knew dad was following me, even though I didn’t look back to check. I could hear glass breaking and stuff being tossed aside, then the metal door slam open and bounce closed again. I didn’t want to look back, because I didn’t want to see him like that – all angry and crazy like the Fucking Maniacs, or worse: Just sort of cold and disconnected, like he had been lately. It reminded me of something mom used to say, when I’d done something wrong: “I’m not mad at you, just disappointed.”
Just Disappointed was supposed to be worse than mad, on the scale of how much trouble I was in.
Dad never said that, though. He was always okay with being plain ol’ mad. But not lately. Lately he was Just Disappointed too, but for reasons I couldn’t understand.
The courthouse had big glass doors, and floor to ceiling windows, but the glass wasn’t broken yet, so I had to pause to grab the cold brass doorhandle, and heft it open. It was an old metal frame, and it was so heavy that I only got it open a little bit, before I just gave up and shoved myself inside through the tiny gap. With the weak light of the moon – or whatever was lighting up the night since the black spot took over the sky – I could see just enough to make out the tall, dark rectangle of an open doorway. I tripped over a few things I didn’t see on the way there, crawled through on my hands and knees, then bunched myself up against the farthest wall. My hand brushed soft fabric, which I thought was curtains at first, so I slid behind them, to hide. After a minute, I realized it must have been costumes for the actors though, because I felt all sorts of things, like feathers and metal, which I don’t think curtains usually have. Past the fading spots of light blindness, my eyes were getting more used to the dark. I could only see certain pieces of the dark room, but there was a big, low thing that I thought might be a table, or a bunch of desks, only these had mirrors above them. I knew that because I saw the shadows change in the reflection of one, when dad slammed open the heavy metal door like it was nothing.
“Ronnie,” dad called. Loud, but not mad. Just impatient. “You’re going to get hurt out there. That can’t happen.”
He waited for me to answer, but I didn’t.
I looked around more, trying to see if I could find an exit, or at least a better hiding spot, since some of the clothes on the rack were shorter than others, and you could probably see my knees, if you were looking.
That’s when I saw the figure, and knew I wasn’t alone in the dark room.
My chest got all tight, because I thought they were people at first, or worse: Fucking Maniacs. But I checked them out for a while, and they didn’t move. That’s when I saw that they didn’t have legs – just chests and heads on poles. A few were wearing big clothes, like robes or dresses, so you were fooled at first. I think they used dummies like that to work on clothes – I learned that from a show about designing dresses that mom used to watch, and I didn’t pay much attention to.
“Ronnie,” dad called out again. “Come out now, and get back into your straps without struggling, and I’ll leave the curtains open on your window, so you can look out.”
When I didn’t take the bribe, he tried again.
“I’ll feed you soda when I find it – through one of those bendy straws you like.”
One time. One time, I said I thought a bendy straw was cool, at a McDonald’s or something – it had a dinosaur on it – and for some reason everybody ignored the dinosaur part, and just thought that I thought bendy straws were the best thing on Earth.
Obviously, I didn’t answer that one, either.
But somebody else did.
“He doesn’t even like those,” mom called out, from somewhere farther away.
“Terry,” dad said, all super casual, like they had just bumped into each other at the supermarket while out running errands. “Come down here.”
The courthouse had another level – one that looked down at the main lobby below — but you couldn’t get there without going up some stairs somewhere else, so I guessed mom was up above, and dad couldn’t get to her.
“No, thanks,” she said. “I don’t feel like fighting right now. I think it’d be more fun if I picked the place. And the time. And the weapons. In fact, I think it’d be the most fun if you didn’t know about it at all.”
“Why would we fight?” Dad asked.
“I guess you don’t have to,” mom laughed. “But I was hoping you’d struggle, at least a little bit…”
“I don’t want to hurt you any more than necessary,” Dad called up.
His voice didn’t echo like mom’s. It was like the walls and the ceiling just swallowed it up.
“Oh? And how much hurt is necessary?” Mom said, sounding fake sexy, like Bugs Bunny does in the cartoons where he dresses up like a girl bunny.
“We promised to keep the boy safe,” dad said. I hated how he called me ‘the boy’ when he was talking to other adults. “I know you’ve hurt him.”
“Only a little, now and then,” mom purred. “Just to keep the game interesting.”
She wasn’t lying. One time, she caught me scavenging in the school cafeteria, and she cut my belly with a piece of glass — but not very deep – and let me go. Then another time, at the camping store, when I was stealing a sleeping bag and a thermos, she hooked me with a fishing rod, and it pulled some of the skin off my back when I jumped through the windows. There were a couple other times like that, too, but she seemed to only want to hurt me a little, and then watch me run.
“I think,” dad said, “since you hurt your own kid, it would make the most sense if I cut out your womb, and had you hold it. I think that would really help you learn.”
It wasn’t even like a threat to him, it was like a decision he had come to, after some real careful thought. It made my guts turn to hear dad talk like that, but mom didn’t care.
“Boo,” she called down. “That’s boring! It’s so… ugh, poetic. You know how I’m going to kill you, when I get the chance?”
Dad didn’t answer. Maybe he shook his head, but I couldn’t’ see it.
“Neither do I!” Mom said, and she laughed, loud and bright. “That’s what’s so great about it: It’ll be spontaneous.”
“Terry,” dad said, kind of stern, but also very reasonable. “Come on down and let me cut out your womb, so we can be a family again.”
“Pass,” mom said quickly, like she wasn’t really paying attention to the conversation anymore.
“This can’t last forever,” dad said, and he started lecturing her about responsibility, and following the rules, and knowing your place, so at least that hadn’t changed.
I slid deeper into the clothes rack, creeping along the wall. I hoped that I would feel a door, or a window, or something else, and could get away while they were distracting each other. I bumped into something metal that was heavier on the bottom, and it wobbled a little, but mom and dad didn’t hear it over the arguing.
The mannequin did, though. The mannequin heard it just fine.
I could only see its outline. I couldn’t see if it had legs, or just a pole, because it was wearing some kind of long dress. But it was next to the other mannequins, so I assumed it was a mannequin. There’s another good rule: Don’t assume things, because sometimes you’re wrong, and if you’re really wrong, you could die.
The second I bumped into the microphone stand, the figure straightened up real quick, like somebody had shot electricity through it. Then it froze again, with its head tilted toward me. I couldn’t see its face, but I recognized the motion. The Fucking Maniacs moved like that. The really quiet ones that dad called ‘the Sleepers.’ They stayed perfectly still unless they heard something get close, or you stepped past their invisible border, then they got very alert. That was the bad phase. I didn’t see many people get away once the Sleepers woke up, because if you moved or made any sound, they’d spring on you so fast, like a cat on a mouse. They’d get you before you could even think to run, and then they’d rip you apart like a mean kid pulling the legs off a beetle. I had seen them do it a few times, before I moved my hideout downtown — back when I’d tried to get out by following the highway. That’s where the Sleepers stood guard, mostly. There, and in the woods, and on some back roads. Just waiting for somebody to try to pass.
When I saw the Sleepers standing there, all slumped over, like they were so tired, but for some reason they couldn’t lay down — I knew better than to get too close. But nobody else wanted to be near them, either. I could use that. So I curled up in a pipe not too far away, and I made that my hideout for a few days.
Not everybody was smart, though. I saw some people try to get past the Sleeper’s line. Once, in the real early morning, when everything was wet and cold, a big woman tried to run right past the Sleepers. She froze when they got all alert, and didn’t move for a real long time. But finally she must have breathed wrong or something, and they tore her apart like sharks do in documentaries.
One guy in a camouflage vest, but wearing a bright orange hat – which I thought was weird, because it ruined the camouflage – did something really smart: He got his rifle from his truck, and he shot a few of the Sleepers. They didn’t even seem to care. They didn’t move, or scream, or fall down. The angry Fucking Maniacs — you could shoot them if you got the chance, and though they didn’t care about pain much, they’d still die if you got them in the right place. Plus you could blow them up, or light them on fire, or probably even stab them if you were good at that kind of thing. But then, the angry ones couldn’t move faster than you could see. The Sleepers could. And the other Fucking Maniacs were real strong, but not so strong they could just pull your arms off. The Sleepers could. My guess was that, since the Sleepers didn’t move much, they could save all their energy and use it up all at once in a short burst. And maybe their insides were really still, too, so their blood and stuff doesn’t leak as much, so wounds don’t do as much damage. But that seems like the kind of thing that makes sense in my head, but that teachers would think was dumb if I asked about it.
None of what I knew about Sleepers was good. And I knew I had one listening now, so quiet and still in the dark. If I made one little sound, it would scramble over and pick me apart, like pulling flowers off a bush.
And even if I did get away from it, mom and dad were still in the next room, arguing about which awful things they should get to do to me, and why.
There wasn’t a lot I could do but think, and remember things, which is how I came up with a really great idea. That’s a good rule: If you come up with a really great idea, you should do it, even if you’re scared, or it might go wrong, because you never know when you’ll get another really great idea (it could be never!).
See, I was thinking about how weird it was that mom and dad were fighting – I mean, they fought a lot back when they were normal, but they were Fucking Maniacs now, and I hadn’t seen any other Fucking Maniacs fighting each other. The Fucking Maniacs mostly seemed to work together, or at least ignore each other. I even saw mom walk right by those Sleepers on the highway (which is when I knew it was time to find a better hiding spot), and they didn’t care about her at all. They didn’t even wake up for her. So why should mom and dad be fighting? And why was dad being so careful about protecting me from the other Fucking Maniacs, if they were all on the same side?
I was also pretty sure the Sleepers couldn’t see better than normal people. Maybe this one had its eyes closed until I made a noise and woke it up, but if it could see in the dark now, why was it listening for me, instead of just looking over and getting me?
So okay, I know what I just said about assuming things, but sometimes you have to assume anyway, when it gets real bad. I assumed two things: I assumed the Sleeper couldn’t see in the dark, and wasn’t very smart. And I assumed that dad and the Sleeper might not get along.
Here was my really good idea: I reached up so slow and careful even I couldn’t tell if I was moving or not, and I found my small LED flashlight. It was clipped to my Bandaliero. I tried not to use it too often, because it’s not the dark you should be afraid of, but things finding you in the dark, and nothing helps them find you like a big old spotlight in your hand. I didn’t want to risk making a sound when I unclipped the flashlight, so I left it attached to the Bandaliero. I pointed it at what I hoped was the right place, and I clicked the light on.
Everything happened at the same time: The Sleeper bounded across the room in a heartbeat, following the source of the light. Coming straight for me. It was really creepy, how fast they were, but it was really extra creepy that they were also so quiet. This one was dressed in a long black judge’s robe, and had a silly white wig on, like the guys you see on money. I guess it used to be an actor here. Its skin had gone all white, being in the dark for so long, and dust clouds puffed off of its clothes when it moved. It reached out one of its milky white hands and sunk its fingertips deep into my face.
That’s when the mirror broke.
That was my good idea: I had aimed the flashlight at the big mirrors above the table across from me, and the Sleeper went for my reflection. I shut the light off as soon as the thing crashed into the glass, and I used all the noise it was making to hide my own noises, as I plunged, blindly, deeper and deeper into the pitch-black room.
“Ronnie!” Dad thundered.
He loomed in the doorway, his shoulders practically touching the sides, his head practically brushing the top.
More breaking noises: wood, and glass, and metal things hitting the floor – followed by fast, light footsteps. A shadow broke away from the black and tackled dad. All tangled up and just silhouettes, the two of them fighting looked like one crazy, thrashing monster with a bunch of limbs. I ran into what felt like a bunch of barrels stacked in a corner, and I wiggled myself into the tiny spaces behind them. I wormed around the edges, burrowing deeper into the stack, until I couldn’t go any further. I found just the right angle to see through the gaps between them, and from there I watched dad fight the Sleeper.
The fight didn’t last very long. Dad was huge and strong, and the Sleeper was only half his size. But the Sleepers were something else besides human, and whatever that was, it was as strong as it was mean. The Sleeper had dad turned over in an instant, one beefy, hairy arm all pulled up and twisted back. The thing yanked and yanked, still dead quiet, stubbornly trying to separate dad’s limbs from his body. Then dad yelled some nonsense sounds.
“HET NO HARUK!” Dad said, and his voice was very different. It was like metal hitting metal. It barely sounded human.
The Sleeper just dropped him. It took a few steps back. It looked kind of confused.
Dad got to his knees slowly. His arm was clearly hurt.
The Sleeper didn’t move, necessarily, but kind of thrummed in place — like it was trying to move, but its muscles just weren’t responding.
“Ronnie,” dad called again. “Come out now. Right now. We have to go. It won’t hold for long.”
I guess me and dad were stupid in the same kind of ways. Because, see, we had both forgotten about mom.
She was fast, and good at climbing, and for some dumb reason I always think that means “good at going up things real quick.” But she can climb down things quick, too. Like the second story balcony she’d been standing on. I guess she saw her chance when the Sleeper attacked, because she had scampered down and now stood behind dad, laughing.
“See,” mom said, sort of to dad, but mostly to me. “That was fun! You couldn’t have foreseen that. This is why you shouldn’t make plans, Ron. They’re just guesses that you count on.”
“HET NO HARUK!” Dad shouted again, struggling to stand with his bad arm.
“Come on,” mom said. “You know that doesn’t work on my kind.”
“I was talking to the other one,” dad said, and gestured at something behind mom.
She turned to look, and as soon as she did, dad bashed her in the head with his giant bear-paw fist.
I did not think dad would – or could – use tricks, so I guess me and mom are dumb in some of the same ways, too.
Mom went sprawling, but she didn’t stay down long, and dad’s bad arm was slowing him down. Mom’s hair was wet with blood, but she was still giggling. Her smile was so wide it looked like it hurt. It looked like she had too many teeth, like the skin at the corners of her lips would split apart and there would just be more teeth back there, a bigger smile, marching all the way around her head.
She danced away as dad sent out another punch. The blow looked slow and clumsy, but he hit a wooden box thing full of Historical Stuff and it basically exploded. He probably only needed one more good hit to finish mom off. But he couldn’t manage to get it. Dad swung, and mom danced and nipped at him like a playful puppy. The Sleeper, frozen, followed both of them with its eyes, waiting for its turn.
Mom picked up a sharp piece of wood from the exploded box and threw it at dad. He swatted it away like an annoying fly, but that wasn’t the point: As soon as he moved to block the wood, mom charged in real quick and kicked him in the chest with all her weight. Dad went to one knee and seemed to be choking on his own air, but he still managed to grab mom’s wrist. She twisted and pried at his fingers, but he wouldn’t let go. Still, he was winded, and he only had the one good arm. You could see him trying to figure out how best to hurt her without risking her getting away. Meantime, mom jabbed, and clawed, and kicked. Dad bore it all patiently. It was like watching hyenas attack a rhino on a nature documentary, which I have seen a lot of.
But finally dad got his breath back, and he twirled mom around and threw her to the floor. He bent down to grab a big chunk of something heavy, I don’t know what. Mom had skidded awkwardly and kind of hit her head when she fell, so she was slow to get up. Dad was all set to smash her brains in, when the invisible leash came off the Sleeper, and it leapt across the room. It didn’t make a sound. It clambered around dad’s body like an excited monkey, until it found his bad arm and continued what it started. Dad grunted and swatted at the pale thing, in its judge’s robes, and its dirty wig, but he didn’t yell out – not even when the Sleeper pulled his arm right off, and blood throbbed out everywhere.
It seemed fake. Something you think the movies get wrong: Blood doesn’t really shoot out like that, and arms don’t just come off. But I guess sometimes the movies get things right, too.
The Sleeper tossed the limb aside like it was garbage, and started reaching for dad again, but he brought the chunk of something up and folded the Sleeper’s face in on itself. Its nose and mouth mostly went away, and its eyes drowned in blood that looked three shades too dark. Like it was oil that needed changing. The Sleeper only staggered for a second, before it blindly reached out for dad again. He hammered it with the stone over and over, and didn’t stop until there was just a bunch of mush atop the Sleeper’s neck. Its head looked like chili. But not the good kind you get at the fair – the gross stuff the school served in the cafeteria, that you just knew was made out of yesterday’s meatloaf and the leftovers from Taco Tuesday.
Dad was tired, or maybe just out of blood. It looked hard for him to stand. But he did, and he looked all around for mom. Mom was real quick, and pretty good at stealth when she wanted to be. She was gone. Now, if a mean pretend-judge had just pulled my arm off and thrown it away, I would have called it a night. But I guess that’s why I’m not dad. Weaving like he did when he came home late on weekends, dad turned away from the heavy glass doors leading outside, and instead stumbled through a small brick arch that led deeper into the building. Going after mom.
I probably wouldn’t have a better chance to escape, and that was another good rule: Take your chances when you get them, not when you’re sure it’s safe to take them.
I slipped out from behind the barrels and crossed the dark room – I was super careful about watching the dummies this time – into the lobby. I only paused a second at the front door, to check out the street before leaving. I learned my lesson about not checking places out before you go into them. It looked pretty clear, so I yanked on the heavy brass handle.
“Hey, Ronnie,” mom said, from behind me. “It just got funny. Heads up!”
I turned and saw that she was standing up on the balcony again. I guess she just climbed right back up there and hid, in order to trick dad. Or me. Anyway, it worked on both of us.
Even though mom’s head was all cut up, and there was blood getting in her mouth and eyes, she looked so happy it might have been her birthday. She had just tossed something at me, and it was real pretty: dark glass with all sorts of colors dancing around inside. Then it turned around in the air, and I saw it was a bottle with a burning rag stuffed in the neck. I actually went to catch it at first, just because of reflexes, but at the last second I remembered not to be stupid and jumped out of the way.
Actually, maybe that was stupid — because maybe I could have caught the bottle, and it wouldn’t have broken, and spread flames everywhere like fire was something you could just spill on the floor. But there was no room for maybes anymore. I did what I did, and what I did was kind of hop back and throw myself away from where the bottle landed. I wasn’t quick enough. Drops of fire caught on my pants, and my forearms, and my hands, and I just watched them burn there for a second before I turned and pulled at the heavy door again. It felt like it took forever to open, and even longer for me to wiggle myself through the gap to outside.
I started to run away, but then I remembered to Stop, Drop, and Roll first. They made us watch a dumb video about that in school, where these two white guys tried to make it into a rap, but I guess it worked, because I remembered to do it, and it helped. The grass outside the courthouse was kind of wet with the nighttime, and the fire went out quick. I could tell there were all sorts of real bad burn spots on me – even through the jeans, which I guess aren’t fireproof at all – and though I hardly felt them now, burns always feel worse later. Through the glass, I saw mom pointing and laughing at me, like I’d just slipped on banana peel. Then she tossed down another bottle, and another. Neither of us had seen dad come out the upstairs door and sneak up behind her. I didn’t even see his face. Just his one big remaining arm, as he wrapped it around her neck, and pulled her down. Then some of the flames licked up the far side of the glass, and I couldn’t see anything any more.
I ran halfway to the rope that led up to my rooftop hideout, before I thought better of it. Dad’s truck was idling right where he left it, next to the corner store. I looked at the rope, and I looked at the courthouse, and the flames inside, and I looked at the truck, and even though the truck had always kind of scared me before – it was too tall, and old, and loud — it didn’t seem so bad anymore. I had to jump and climb to get into the seat, which was really high off the ground. Then I scooted forward as far as I could go, and I touched the pedals with just the tips of my toes, which were all that could reach. I put the lever into ‘D,’ and I pushed the gas pedal as far as I could, which wasn’t very far, but I guess it was far enough. I wasn’t super careful about steering, because the lines you’re supposed to stay between didn’t mean anything any more.
I didn’t stop at all. Not even for the signs. It took so much of my concentration to keep the truck going where I wanted, that I didn’t even worry about the burns, or about mom and dad, or about the town, or about anything. I just drove as fast as I could toward the highway. And you know what? I didn’t stop at all for the Sleepers, either. I just drove right through them.
That doesn’t always work out: When I was hiding in the pipe, I saw a few people try to run over the Sleepers. Sometimes they made it through the first one, or even two, but then one of the Sleepers would grab onto their car and pull them out through the door or the windshield. But that was back when there were lots of Sleepers waiting at the edge of town: Lines and lines of them like soldiers in a real loose, lazy formation. I probably wouldn’t have made it through all that, but they were spread pretty thin these days, and I had a big truck that was real high up, and heavy, and metal, and it had my name on the side — even if I wasn’t the Mills it meant, or even the ‘And Son’ — so I figured I had a better chance than most.
I found a spot with only one Sleeper, and I hit her head on — her sunken, sickly face highlighted right between the prongs on the hood ornament, like the sight on a gun in a video game — and a bunch of red sprayed up, and rained on the hood, and a little bit on the windshield. The headlights were tinted a bit red, too, but they still lit up the road pretty good. I kept driving until I reached an exit that didn’t really go anywhere in particular, and I drove, and drove, until I was on top of a hill outside town with nothing on it. I stopped there, because I could see for a long time, and nobody could sneak up on me. I killed the engine, and I rolled my burns in the cool grass some more, and I tried not to think of them, because they get worse when you think of them. I wanted to cry, but I wasn’t supposed to, because I was a boy, so I dug around in the glove box and found a paper pad and a greasy pencil, and I wrote some more History, so I wouldn’t have to repeat it.
The New History of Concord
By: Ronny Mills
Age: 9 ¾
After Ronald Mills, Jr., opened the door for Ronald Mills, Sr., and Terry Mills, there was a whole bunch of yelling, and Ronald Mills, Sr., ordered Ronald Mills, Jr., around.
First, Ronald Mills, Jr., went to the sink, and wet some towels for Terry Mills to put over her eyes, and then he got a blanket to put over her body, and then Ronald Mills, Sr., held her like she was sick, or very hurt, even though it only looked like she had a few scrapes, and had gotten dirty. Ronald Mills, Sr., promised Terry Mills that she was going to be okay, and when she laughed kind of sad, like she didn’t believe him, Ronald Mills, Sr., told her that she was going to be okay because she had to be.
Terry Mills said she wasn’t going to be okay, because she looked at the black spot in the sky, even though she didn’t mean to at all. She only looked because there were still some people outside, even though it had gotten very quiet lately, and those people were more like animals. They could barely talk, and their faces were crazy. They grabbed Terry Mills, and held her eyelids open, and pointed her face toward the sky so she would have to look. Ronald Mills, Sr., interrupted them, and fought some of them, but after Terry Mills looked at the black spot, it was like the people were a little normal again, and they said they were sorry, and that they had to do it, and then they ran away.
Ronald Mills, Sr., kept saying it was okay, but Terry Mills did not believe him. She said she could already feel things in her brain changing. Let the record show that Terry Mills didn’t actually say “changing” — she said very weird things about gifts, and about losing them — but Ronald Mills, Jr., got what she meant, so he wrote down “changing” instead.
Terry Mills rested for a while, and it even seemed like she might get more better eventually. But that was all a trick, so that when Ronald Mills, Sr., and Ronald Mills, Jr., fell asleep, too — on account of because they thought Terry Mills was asleep, and it was okay to go to sleep — Terry Mills could sneak out.
Ronald Mills, Sr., and Ronald Mills, Jr., went looking for Terry Mills upstairs, out of the basement, which Ronald Mills, Jr., wasn’t allowed to do normally, but Ronald Mills, Sr., was pretty distracted at the time. Ronald Mills, Jr., found a note from Terry Mills, and in it Terry Mills said she loved him, and she loved Ronald Mills, Sr., and she was very sorry, but she had to leave them before she hurt them. Terry Mills was going to “end it” herself, but let the record show that she did not, or maybe did not get a chance to before her brain changed. The note from Terry Mills also made Ronald Mills, Sr., promise two things: That he would never look at the black spot, and that he would keep Ronald Mills, Jr., safe, no matter what. Ronald Mills, Sr., laughed, even though nothing was funny, and he said that he already broke one of those promises, but he could keep the second. Then he knelt down to look Ronald Mills, Jr., right in the face, which he only did when he was super serious, and told Ronald Mills, Jr., that he couldn’t go outside anymore: “There are no more people out there,” Ronald Mills, Sr., said. “There are only Fucking Maniacs.”
When I was writing, I didn’t feel the burns, but I also didn’t feel myself crying, and how are you supposed to not cry if you don’t even know you’re doing it? Some of the tears got the words a little blurry. I would have to be careful not to cry anymore, especially not when I wrote History. The History must have took a long time, because when I looked up, it was bright out. Well, as bright as it got through the black sky. The town was far away, and really small, like a train model, but I could see it pretty good from up on the hill. I could see that the courthouse was still burning, and that the stuff around it was burning, too. There were no more firemen to put it out, so I imagined it would burn forever.
I got in my truck — there probably wasn’t any other Mills left, so I guess that made it mine — and I wrestled with the gear lever, and I pumped the gas, and I hauled on the steering wheel, and I drove toward nowhere in particular, as long as it was away from Concord, North Carolina, which was just History now.