Another little snippet from the second draft.
Nights were getting colder still, and in the slanting morning sun the mountaintop trees were faded to ghosts with a layer of frost. He’d turned north again, climbing the circling hills around the brick ruins of a small town, when he saw movement.
Grey settled behind a fallen tree, and checked to make sure the sun was at a safe angle before peeking through his rifle’s scope. He twisted the magnification to maximum and sought the flicker of motion that had caught his eye.
The town had been built on a long straight main street, probably the old highway, and was crossed by a handful of side streets. Trees and hedges had run rampant over the years and many of the streets were choked with foliage going autumn-yellow and brown. Near the center of the town another road came in from the west, and a concrete traffic circle marked the intersection with the old highway. It took him a moment to spot the men sitting at ease in the circle, enjoying the afternoon sun.
Even with the telescopic sight, it was too far to make out much detail. There were eight or ten people he could see, all adults. They wore a mix of clothes; most had hooded jackets, at least wore a deerskin duster not unlike Grey’s. They had horses, too, he realized after a minute. They were tethered to a longline back under the branches of some crowded cottonwood trees. Two chocolate brown dogs circulated, and Grey discarded the notion of finding a closer vantage point.
If they’d had a few hundred cattle with them, he’d have written them off as drovers; maybe gone down to see if they had trade to do. There weren’t any cattle, though.
Grey watched until the sun set and darkness rose up the walls of the valley. Below, campfires began to glow; five of them. The fires pinpointed groups he hadn’t seen for the trees, and he realized there were probably two dozen men, maybe more, camped in the ruins.
The temperature fell as dusk passed and full dark came. Grey unrolled his blanket and draped it around his shoulders, then settled to watch and nap. Overhead, bolides drew hairline ghosts in the night.
The predawn sky was pale rose when the distant rattle of hooves and the single bark of a dog woke Grey. The men below were packing up. The watcher shifted a bit, settling sore legs into a different position. He left his rifle propped against the log, and watched the hurried scramble of a camp getting ready to move out.
By the time the sun had cleared the far mountains, the group was making its way south, six or so horsemen leaving every fifteen minutes. He could hear raised voices as each group departed, but the distance was too great to make out what was said. The dogs went with the first group. Grey squinted at the sun, riding into a faultless blue sky, and stayed in his cover. The ruins were quiet within two hours. Grey made his way down the hill an hour later.
He moved through the ruins, staying in the thick brush of yards gone to seed. The streets were still in fair shape. They had been frost-heaved into swells and sudden dips, but much of the pavement remained. The first yellow leaves lay drifted atop the mulch of past years in the gutters.
Calling crows led him to an old garage. Three corpses, a man, a woman and a little girl, were piled inside, the bodies nude and a pale blue-white. Their eyes were gone, and each had a section of electrical wire twisted into the flesh of their throats. Their hands had been bound behind them with more wire. The bodies bore the marks of other abuse, but Grey didn’t pause to study them.
He found each of the fires he’d seen. The riders had camped in buildings that were still roofed and built their fires in the streets before them, leaving charred circles. He moved through each of the campsites. Most had been homes; some still had a few sticks of furniture. All smelled of rodent piss. One group had camped in the stone shell of an old store. Empty shelves lay tipped like dominoes within, but the counters at the front had been cleared to make space for bedrolls. An old jam jar sat on the floor near the store’s entrance, a scrap of paper tucked into it. Grey grunted to himself, walked around the jar once, then stooped and picked it up. He spun off the lid and fished the paper out. He scanned the note, stopping and re-reading it several times. He unzipped his coat and tucked the paper into a shirt pocket.
"Well, shit," he murmured. He heard the crow's rusty complaints begin again in the garage down the street.
He left the shop and headed north.
25-pound Editing Cat is fatigued by the monkey's insistence on posting rough second draft hunks of a thriller, and refuses to let him post any interesting bits. So he's going to nap until it hits late third draft.
Songs you might enjoy while reading Behind the Ruins one of these days. I don't recommend all the YouTube videos, just the songs. Which you should buy. And yes, each (in my mind at least) fits best with a specific character at some point in their arc.
I was going to provide YouTube links but EMI scares me, so:
Cage The Elephant: No Rest for the Wicked
Snake River Conspiracy: Oh Well
Steve Earle: Copperhead Road
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Follow You Into The Dark
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Have You Seen the Rain