The Goddamn Story
• • •
It’s a long walk along the rugged bank of Shit’s Creek between the jumpover point and the crib he shares with Cletus Hickins, but Sylvester takes it in stride. One foot in front of the other he makes his way home, occasionally stopping to check over his shoulder for an unblinking bird fluttering a couple dozen yards back. That bird is a robin an’ it’s there until it isn’t; when it isn’t, there’s an alternate bird in its place. First it’s a grackle with its blackish-teal head, then it’s a bright scarlet cardinal, then it’s a blue jay weaving ‘tween the branches. It’s not always the same bird, but there’s always a bird hanging back a few dozen yards behind Sylvester every time he looks over his shoulder. Cletus better have that toaster ready.
Sylvester and Cletus live in a brick house in desperate need of a power-washing. Their driveway is roughly two miles long – it’s safe to say they’re set back from the edge of the Wuester suburbs – and in place of a front, side-, and backyard, they just have woods. There’s a lil’ screened-in porch out back; Sylvester pulls the shoddy door open and walks in to find Cletus sat low in a chair, his hands tucked into his hoodie’s big center pocket, his jeans just as dirty as Sylveter’s.
“Cletus,” he says.
“‘Vester,” Cletus answers.
“You got the toaster?”
“Sure do,” he says, then pulls a device roughly the size of a baseball if a baseball were a half-cube with a button on it out of his pocket. “You sure about this? Could blow the fuses.”
Sylvester snatches the device out of Cletus’s hand, “Yeah, buddy, I’m sure,” and presses the button.
Nothing happens… as far as Cletus and Sylvester perceive, at least.
“Did it work?” Cletus asks.
As though to answer him, a small leafy thud sounds off just outside the porch’s shoddy screen door. Sylvester goes outside, then waves Cletus out behind him.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Cletus sighs. “I’ll just be God-damned.”
Twitching at their feet in a robotic sort of way, with small arcs of blue electricity dancing over its black and white wings, is a chickadee.
“I knew it.” Sylvester hocks a loog off to the side, then wipes his bottom lip dry. “Damn bird didn’t look right, I knew it was a fuckin’ drone. Ain’t never seen one like this before, though.”
“What’re you speakin’ on? The government used chickadee drones all the time before these sons of bitches were outlawed.”
“Wasn’t a chickadee when I first noticed it.”
“No? When was that, when I called you?”
“Yep. It was a robin, I’m sure of it. Had the orange belly, and it was much bigger than this. Changed a few times on the walk back here, matt’a’fact.”
“What the hell?” Cletus exhales, then shakes his head. “You reckon we’re being watched, ‘Vester?”
“I think that much is obvious,” Sylvester nods. “By whom, though? That is the question.”
“Must be TICC, as far as I could guess. But why would they want your number? You’re not causin’em any trouble. Hell, you just took out that whore-slaughterin’ son of a bitch Nerandum the other night, you should be on their nice list. Hell, both of us should.” Cletus shakes his head, nonplussed all the way to hell. “Why would TICC be after us?”
“They wouldn’t be, Cletus,” Sylvester finally says after a few moments of watching the bird drone writhe. “I don’t think this is TICC. I wouldn’t’ve made it home if TICC was lookin’ to chat with me.”
“The government, then?”
“Can’t be. TICC recalled all the drones for decommissioning back in oh’twelve, scrapped ‘em for parts. I think this is a new player, hombre, and I’d be fibbin’ if I said I thought it had nothin’ to do with the Jonathan Knox business.”
The bird twitches with vigor at the invocation of Jonathan Knox. The Hickins boys watch it flop an inch, maybe two up off the ground, crash right back down.
“I don’t like this, ‘Vester,” Cletus says as he anxiously cracks his knuckles. “I don’t like this one bit.”
“Me neither.” Sylvester lifts a boot and brings it down hard on the chickadee. All sorts of crossed wires and rank fluids and busted bits of microchip leak out. “Whoever sent it ain’t gettin’ it back now.”
“Damn straight,” Cletus says, nodding neurotically over and over again.
They stare at the wreckage for a moment. Then, “So you get the intel’r’what?”
“Yeah. Parcel arrived a few minutes ago, I didn’t open it.”
“Good ‘man,” Sylvester commends. “Let’s go check it out.”
They go check it out. Sylvester studies the photograph for a good long minute before folding it and slipping it into his back pocket. With cusses flying out beneath his breath, ‘Vester goes to the gun cabinet and throws a pump-action shotty to Cletus, takes a semi-auto chromed-out handcannon for himself.
“What?” Cletus asks, holding the boomstick like he hasn’t a clue what to do with it. “What is it, ‘Vester?”
“That thing loaded?”
Cletus checks. “Sure is. Speak to me, ‘man, what’s goin’ on?”
“What’s goin’ on is we’re about to kill ourselves a Jonathan Knox.”
Sylvester makes for the porch. Cletus follows, stops him out there.
“Slow your roll, ‘Vester. We ain’t just about to waltz out into Wuester and find our ‘man eatin’ flapjacks at Sally’s, the ‘man’s a ruthless killing machine. He’s got to be in hiding some–”
“Oh,” Sylvester growls, “he’s in hiding, all right. He’s at The Hut with that son of a bitch Cody right now!”
“Whut?! ” Cletus says again, this time italicized.
“You heard me!” He pulls out the intel, unfolds it, jabs it with a dirty finger. “Cody had this fucker at The Hut when I popped in just now! He said he was a private dick named Nick Bee-lane who came to Wuester in search of a broad called Lady Sparrow, and our friend the rat fuckin’ bastard went right along with it! Liars, both of ‘em! Fuckin’ liars and dirty thieves!”
“Well I’ll be God-fuckin-damned,” Cletus says, pumping the shotgun. “What’re we still standin’ here for? Let’s get a move on a’ready!”
Locked and loaded the Hickins boys barrel out the shoddy porch door en route to the bank of Shit’s Creek. They move with such stolid purpose they fail to notice the absence of pulverized chickadee drone stomped into the fallen leaves.
This has been the fourth subchapter of the third chapter of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
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