Jack was the man of the house now, so when the ranger came by to inquire about their fire, it was Jack he talked to. The ranger was a serious sort of human with a pinched brow and piercing stare.
“I could see this fire from miles away,” the ranger said.
“We are burning off our waste from the fall,” Jack said
Jack’s father was a farmer all his life and the whole family was in the process of taking over the farm. Only now, because of the terrible state of the world, the family farmed primarily to sustain itself and a few neighboring families who needed assistance. There was no more commerce, but Jack knew it would return someday and was determined to keep the farm operational until it did.
It was spring, but the landscape was every shade of brown. Even the newly budded leaves on the trees that would eventually be a bright magenta, were brown.
“So, you make it through the winter and get rid of the excess?” asked the ranger.
“Exactly, yes,” said Jack, who was beginning to dislike the ranger.
“Aren’t you worried about the marauders being drawn to the fire?”
“We don’t see them out this far,” Jack assured the ranger.
Strong and tall, stood the ranger, at least a head taller than Jack. He walked up closer to Jack as the breeze swirled dust about their feet and kicked the tails of the ranger’s long, leather cloak into the air for a moment. It was a moment long enough for Jack to notice a particular tattoo on the ranger’s left calf. It was the tattoo of a crescent moon and Jack knew that was supposed to mean something.
“What would you do if the marauders came your way?” the ranger asked.
“I suppose I would ask them to leave,” Jack said. “I think I will soon be asking you to leave. I know you are sworn in by the King to protect the land, but I can’t say I like the tone of your questions.”
Just then, gunfire rang across the brown landscape and Jack snapped his head to see where it was coming from. From the East, rode a gang of marauders, recognizable to Jack only because they rode the horse dogs he heard tell of from more widely traveled folks. There were six of them, galloping across the dirty plain, heading right toward Jack and the ranger.
What looked like large, hard-backed books were flying through the air between the galloping marauders and they were shooting at the objects, it appeared. They were far enough away to pose no great threat, but close enough to make Jake turn for his house and warn the family. When he turned his gaze back toward the house, the ranger was gone. As Jack reached his house, his parents and siblings were gone as well. He ran all around the structure and found no one.
Jack wasn’t the type to panic, but he was sensing the emotion in full force in that moment. He must have searched the house for longer than he realized, because the next thing he knew, the marauders were upon him. Their horse dogs slowed to a trot as the leader of the sextet holstered his smoking pistol. Jack hid behind the house, not sure if they knew he was there.
The leader of the marauders was small, what Jack thought was once referred to as a midget in old times. His evil eyes scanned the house and his crooked nose sniffed the air. He looked over the large fire and waved at his crew to go check it out. The five other midgets rode their horse dogs over the fire, which was a few hundred yards from the house. They started to pick apart the pile of crops and old food. If they had been traveling long, the burnt and rotten food would still be better than no food. The marauders were said to be immune to many illnesses due to hard living in many climates.
The evil-looking leader sniffed the air again and turned his head directly toward Jack, who could not see this, because he was behind the West corner of the house, trying to breathe as quietly as he could. He couldn’t see the leader, but he heard the footsteps begin his way and Jack knew he was left with one option.
West of the house, or “out back” as his family referred to it was a cliff that protected them from the world’s dangers. The house was strategically built near the cliff for days like this. Jack knew his parents and siblings must have seen the marauders and headed over the cliffs without him. He knew they would believe in Jack’s ability to catch up and would expect Jack to survive any encounters with evil. As the evil midget approached, continuing to sniff the air, Jack wasn’t so sure his family’s faith was correct.
If Jack could reach the cliffs, he knew he could out maneuver the horse dogs and the marauders. Jack was blessed with powerful legs and a quick mind. The wings he was born with would also be a help, once he got far enough down over the cliff and could glide away undetected.
The leader of the pack stopped just six feet away from the corner of the house where Jack crouched. Jack slowly reached down and picked up a shovel that lay against the side of the house. He took a good grip on the tool he had never done harm with before and readied himself to kill with it if necessary. Just as he was ready to deliver a murderous blow, the leader of the crew was called away by one of his men.
Jack took the opportunity to bolt for the cliff. He made it about 50 yards when the lead marauder saw him. Jack needed to go another hundred yards to get out of sight and out of reach of bullets. The evil midget drew his gun and started firing the pistol. The bullets struck the ground behind Jack and made him speed up. His heart boomed inside his chest as Jack lunged for the cliff’s edge. As he rolled over the side of the cliff and found footing below, he could hear the horse dogs hoofing it his way.
He carefully picked his way down the rocks as he and his family had practiced many times. As he did so, he wondered what happened to the ranger and wondered if the ranger was part of the marauders. Jack couldn’t dwell on the subject long, as he was reaching the toughest part of the cliff’s wall.
He took off his jacket and tied it around his waist. His wings sprung out into view and the lead marauder was there in time to see them as he peered over the edge of the rock wall.
“He’s a flyer,” the leader shouted to his men.
The men all looked at each other and smiled, because they knew if they could kill a flyer, the trophy would be worth a lot of money, not to mention the source of plenty of fame. Their brains flashed with images of women and riches and their hustle toward the cliff’s edge increased.
Jack knew he had no time left. He would have to take to the air and hope he was far enough away. If a bullet pierced his wings, he would fall to his death. Jack leapt off the rock and fell into the abyss, trying to fall far enough to make himself tougher to hit. When he felt he was, he spread his wings and sailed across the canyon.
He could hear the bullets whizzing by, at first close and then further away from him with each passing second. He knew he wasn’t safe until he couldn’t hear the bullets anymore.
The evil midget was the first to stop firing. He knew better than to waste bullets on a flyer who clearly had escaped. He let his men empty their guns and then ordered them back to loot the house. He stared into the canyon with his black eyes and watched until the little speck of a man in the air disappeared completely. He knew, somehow, that their paths would cross again and next time, he would be the one to catch the rare flyer.
To be continued…