The woods around me were dark and quiet save for the faint hooting of an owl now and then. It was full on summer now and the night air was warm on my face and neck. Sweat trickled down my back as I sat quietly on the old fallen oak tree beneath the starry sky waiting for my friend.
My friend had gone hunting earlier that day. When he hadn't returned by noon, I began to search for him. Abandoning the small camp near the shallow creek, I left a message in the sand. Wait for me here, I wrote with the toe of my tall, heavy snake boot.
My mind was occupied with thoughts of what's to do tomorrow and where shall we camp when winter comes around again. It was a way of being optimistic. Perhaps Florida or even east Texas, but never Mexico again. Maybe the men folk like running around shooting guns at each other while escaping capture, but as a woman, I hated it. Had I killed that man that made me shoot at him with my rifle as we fled like deer into the heavy thorny brush? Never again would we travel with the nomadic groups of free walkers that we were labeled. Everytime we had, there had been trouble.
The chirping crickets went unnoticed as well as the croaking of a small frog in a long, shallow weed-covered gully nearby. The hot bugs buzzed in monotone for mates still asleep in the ground.
I feared getting too close to the trickle of brackish water in the dark gully nearby because we were in the deep south. Summer's heat meant water moccasins and copperheads would also hear the little peeping creature seeking a companion.
Overhead shooting stars would appear as long spears across the heavens then burn out just as quickly as they came. Sometimes there would be two or maybe three, but after a while, they stopped. I wished for a watch to know how long I had been waiting.
"I hope they didn't get you." Panic wanted to rise in my mind, but I refused to give it room as I whispered to the warm breeze flowing over me. "No. You are naturally equipped for escape and evasion. I...I just feel better when you are around though."
My used store-bought military backpack and the Ruger .22 semi-automatic rifle leaned against the tree I sat on. How long had we been on the road now? One year? Two? No, going into three autumns in a month or so. Three years of looking up at the heavens on clear nights around campfires wishing on falling stars for a home to call our own.
"What are you doing to be so late?" I grew irritated with you like you cared. "You know I worry about you, so don't be so late."
After taking a sip of flat tasting boiled creek water from my canteen, I whistled out our signal. High and low tones with the final long drawn out one. The sounds drifted across the dark starlit broomstraw field below me and into the forest. I waited holding my breath for a reply that didn't come.
"Come back to me." I whispered into the darkness with eyes closed in prayer.
He's dead. They got him. Tore him to pieces, too, just like his brother last winter.
My mind would do that to me sometimes. It could be incredibly cruel reminding me of what had happened to my other friend back in December.
Yeah, they got him.