Four weeks into my solo life on the mountain, the need for human contact got the best of me. Despite the dangers, I found myself going into town for Swap Meet Sunday out of pure loneliness more than the need for anything in particular. I swapped one of Ozzy and Harriet’s kids for six more chickens and some heirloom tomato seeds and half a jar of instant coffee. I traded water filtration drops for a big bunch of sweet red beets and a pair of night-vision goggles for a bushel of peaches. The woman who made delicious goat cheese was always willing to swap for wine.
The atmosphere in town has changed somewhat for the better. The Sheriff and his men have things under control, at least by the light of day. The laws are upheld with an iron fist now, and violators are subject to pay the ultimate price for their crimes. Thieves and looters are shot on sight, and their names posted on the old community bulletin board at the entrance to the park, along with “missing person” notices. The board has also become a place for drifters to pin notes and letters that they’ve carried from other towns since there is no other organized mail system. I find nothing there with my name on it, which plunges me just a wee bit deeper into depression. I was hoping to at least hear that Pete and Shirlee had made it safely to Pasco.
There’s a curfew now. No one is allowed on the streets after dark except for Sunday nights, where the church hosts bible study and a barn dance. Violators are shot, Monday through Saturday, but the law in these parts are a religious crew, I suppose, and they make the one-night a week exception in the Lord’s name.
Pete and Shirlee had been gone for another six weeks or so when I broke down and made the long walk towards town again. I swore I wouldn’t, I told myself that I was safer on my own, but the loneliness was overwhelming. I was hoping for news of my friends and desperate for companionship. Again, there was no news on the community bulletin board. I checked and rechecked three times. The only new information was the names of eight more citizens that killed in the process of committing crimes on the shame wall.
Today, I finally let the nice church ladies talk me into sticking around for the sundown barn dance. “You need to meet a nice young man, Miss Lotus.” The sweet grey-haired granny declared.
“It’s not safe to be up there on the mountain by yourself.” Her equally ancient friend insisted. I smile and nod, but I doubt it will measure up to dancing naked around a blazing fire like in my youth, but at least I won’t be alone tonight.
I cleaned myself up in the powder room of the church hall. Removing my plaid flannel shirt and stuffing it into my backpack, I left on a black wife beater with my jeans and combat boots. I washed the dust and sweat from my face in the basin and combed out my hair. Braiding it tightly, I pulled a few strands loose and let them fall on the sides of my face. A quick whore bath and fresh deodorant completed my dance look.
The celebratory atmosphere reminded me just a bit of the ranch, minus the constant presence of marijuana smoke and, of course, the nudity. It didn’t take long for me to relax and enjoy the night. A classic country band was composed of half a dozen guys from age eighteen to about eighty that played a variety of string instruments, drums, spoons, and a washboard. They took turns singing lead and were off-key more than on, but the music was still a welcome relief from silence. It was wonderful to be around other people. I struck up a few conversations with the cheese lady and some of the locals. Mostly we talked about canning recipes, gardening, and edible plants.
There were more men than women present, perhaps as many as three to one. The ladies got quite a heavy work out on the dance floor. It was probably about eight o'clock, and I’d already received two marriage proposals and more cheesy pickup lines than I could handle. The preacher had a flask of rum in his jacket and offered me a swig after a rollicking two-step to a Garth Brooks song. It didn't escape my attention that he was looking down my shirt when he gave me a few more. I'm not much of a drinker. Just a few little sips and I was feeling no pain.
Even the sheriff was starting to look good. He looked dignified and sexy in his khaki uniform, hat, and gold six point star pinned to his muscular chest, while pacing the room, on the prowl for trouble makers. Unfortunately, he’s married. She's very pregnant and hovers next to him the entire night, scowling at any ladies that get too close to her man. That and the fact that he’s an enormous douchebag took him off of my list of possible partners.
My current dance partner is a twenty-something-year-old farmer with a dimple in his chin. He’s young and handsome and virile and has enormous calloused working man’s hands, and he’s wearing skin-tight faded Levis that make me want to sink my teeth into his tight little ass. It’s such a shame when he opens his mouth because he was perfect until he spoke, “I’ve seen you at the swap meet, you know.”
“Oh, really?” I respond, curious to see where this conversation is going.
“Yup. I told my friend Bobby over there.” He pointed to his similarly dressed friend who smiled and winked at us before he continued, “That I’d eat you good. You seem like a woman that knows how to take care of her pussy. Nothing worse than dirty pussy. I bet you still shave.” He leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “Most women stopped shaving their poontang when the lights went out.” Fuck. Ew. Revolting! Not happening. Hottie McFarmer has successfully obliterated any sexual fantasy from my dirty mind. I need a good man and not a horny boy.
“I need to use the ladies' room.” I excuse myself leaving the good looking redneck in the middle of the dance floor, all alone.
I don’t even know how to respond to that comment. On the bright side, I suppose that it’s a good thing that I present myself in a manner that clearly says, “I wash my crotch.” The entire conversation cracks me up, and I’m still giggling to myself when I slam the door of the wooden outhouse behind the hall and head back inside towards the music.
“Hey, pretty lady. How about a dance.”
There were three of them. All older men, maybe in their forties and up with greasy hair and tobacco-stained teeth. They could have been younger and just aged by hard-living and homemade crystal meth. It’s tough to say for sure. Regardless, they were all wearing jackets with rebel flags on them like some kind of semi-geriatric street gang. I have no idea where they came from because I completely let my guard down. Fear, I found out, sobered me up faster than a pot of Maxwell House.
“Maybe later.” I said calmly, trying my best to sound braver than I was feeling, “I left my friend on the dance floor. I need to get back inside.” I tried to slip between them, but they blocked me in between their sweaty bodies and the outhouse.
“Nah baby, you don’t need to go back in there with the Jesus crew. We can have our own little party out here. You can be the guest of honor.” He ran his fingers up my arm and grabbed my braid, bringing the tip of it to his nose and inhaling deeply.
The one that I assumed to be the senior member by his grey hair and deep wrinkles grabbed a handful of my ass and squeezed hard enough to take my breath away. Bile rose in my throat. “Be nice to us, and we’ll be nice to you, lady.” He hissed in my ear. He planted a wet, slurpy kiss to my neck that made my skin crawl. The smell of tooth rot and tobacco filled my nose, and his fingers dug into my arms, leaving hand-shaped bruises.
Panicking, I twisted and fought with everything inside of me. My black hiking boot made contact with the older man’s kneecap, which only succeeded in pissing him off even more. He wrapped one arm around my neck, capturing my throat in the crook of his arm. “Keep fighting, girl. It makes it all the sweeter.” He growled. Gasping for air, I wasn’t able to push enough from my lungs to form a scream. My nails clawed at his forearms, drawing blood and leaving long red lines. Another pair of hands grabbed a handful of my breasts and twisted them painfully, while yet more hands gripped my ankles and tried to subdue me from any further counter-attack.
I sank my teeth into the hand closest to my mouth and clamped down, which earned me a sharp backhand and a dirty bandana stuffed in my mouth, “This one has a little too much sass. Get her pants down, boys. I’m gonna teach this little cunt some manners.” Slightly dazed from the bitch smack, and completely under their control, I felt a cold rush of air on my thighs and the scrape of denim over my bottom. I heard the jingle of his belt buckle, and I knew what was coming next. My blood ran ice cold through my veins.
A fresh wave of adrenaline surged through my body and twisted my wrists free. I wasn't going to lie there and let it happen. I was going down fighting. Growling with pure hatred, I swung my fist with every ounce of strength I had, but the younger man quickly caught my hand before my knuckles made contact with his grinning face. The leader of the pack laughed at my feeble attempt to fight them off and dropped his pants to the ground. Standing over me, he hocks up a loogie into his mouth and spits into the palm of his hand. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, he rubbed his semi flaccid penis, “Hold her open for me, Clint. Gotta make sure the pussy isn’t diseased.”
His friend cackled, “You’d fuck it if you had to chip off the scabs.” I closed my eyes and squeezed them tight, like it would keep out the horror that was coming my way, and swallowed down the bile that was rising in my esophagus.
My attacker dropped to his knees, which pressed into my thighs, holding them open for his assault. The brown juice from the gob of chew in his mouth dribbled down his beard and landed on my face. I wanted to shut my brain off from everything that was happening to my body. I tried to block out my rape by visualizing the ranch and pretending I was there.
The heavy metallic click of a bullet being chambered in a very large caliber handgun brought me back into the here and now, “I don’t think the lady is interested. Hands off boys.”
It wasn’t the sheriff, but one of his sworn deputies that had instantly become my hero. All three men put their hands up, and I darted out of their grip and hid behind the officer’s legs, spitting out the dirty bandana and struggling to fill my lungs with clean fresh air. “Are you ok?” He asked me, looking down on me. I nodded quickly because I was still shaking uncontrollably and too stunned to use my words. My heart was threatening to hammer it’s way out of my chest, and I struggled for control.
“Run along now, boys. And stay away from the lady, or I’ll shoot you myself.” They grumbled and bitched under their breath while they walked away in the direction of Main Street. I know I heard, “asshole cop” and, “motherfucker ruined our fun”.
When words finally formed, I was outraged. “Aren’t you going to arrest them?” I panted, “They were about to rape me.” I realized that I still had a death grip on the pantleg of his neatly pressed uniform and forced myself to let go. My jeans were tangled and twisted. Brushing the grass and twigs out of them, I pulled them up over my ass with shaking hands. Deep breaths. I kept telling myself. Just take deep breaths and get a grip. I struggled to calm myself as the adrenaline wore off.
“Can’t. I’m Emory, by the way. Deputy Emory Lang.”
“Lotus McClean. You’re not going to arrest them?” Anger, shock and disbelief, or some lethal combination of all three surged through my system.
Even more annoying is Deputy Lang’s blase attitude, “Ha, well, I would, but there’s no room at the jail right now. Can’t arrest anyone on an, “attempted” anything anymore. Sheriff’s rule. Has to be an actual crime. You don’t live in town, do you?” I still can’t stop my hands from trembling enough to button and zip my fucking jeans but at least my ass is covered. I take a few more deep breaths and try to pull myself together.
Emory offers me a hand, which I take and he pulls me to my feet. Eye to eye, I get a good look at him. He’s not a bad looking man. A little skinny for my taste but not hard on the eyes. He has a weak chin. I never really knew what that meant before, but now I understand completely. I’m still pissed off. Maybe even more pissed off that those assholes are just going to walk away. “Un-fucking-believeable. So if you were a minute later, and one of them stuck their dick inside of me, then they would be arrested? And no, I don’t live in town!”,I intentionally answer vaguely.
He picked a dried up leaf out of my hair, “I know it sounds bad, but we only have three cells and they are full. If it makes you feel any better, I probably would have just shot him if he stuck his dick in you.” He winked at me, like it was our little secret joke or something. He fucking winked! I’m sure he would have shot the guy. Law Enforcement has certainly changed since the lights went out. “We do a damn fine job of keeping the peace, under the circumstances. We’ve got the looting under control at least and we do what we can to protect the law abiding citizens. What brought you into town today, Miss McClean? It is Miss, isn’t it?” He hadn’t yet released my hand from where he helped me stand, so I pulled it away from his grasp under the pretense of brushing dust and gravel off my backside.
I know what he means when he explains that the Sheriff got the looting under control. The “Looting or stealing equals a bullet to the head” policy is posted all over town and strictly enforced.
I’m too stunned that a law enforcement officer would minimize the fact that I was physically assaulted and almost raped for it to register in my mind that he’s flirting with me. Awkwardly, but still flirting with a victim. “Um, yes. I came to town for the swap meet and the church ladies talked me into staying for the dance.” My heartbeat is slowly returning to a normal rhythm and my knees aren’t knocking together anymore.
The deputy grins, “Probably Gilda and Ida. There’s an over abundance of single men in town now and not enough beautiful women to go around.”
“I noticed.” He led me back towards the lantern light of the church recreation center but my feet won’t move any further than the door. I can’t go back in there. Not now. I can’t listen to bad pick up lines and half-hearted marriage proposals from men who are just as lonely as I am. The truth is that I’m too fucking scared to walk home in the dark, all alone right now. I’m simply in need of comfort in the form of strong masculine arms wrapped around my shaking body. “So, Deputy Lang.” I stop in my tracks and turn towards him, close enough so that I can smell his powerfully strong aftershave. Blinking back the tears that are threatening to fall, I force a tight smile to my bruised lips, “I'm finished with dancing for tonight. How about we go over there behind the church rectory, and I’ll show you just how much I appreciate your intervention during my bad situation with the boys from Deliverance?”
Emory wasn’t hard to convince. “Well Miss McClean, I do believe you’re trying to seduce me.” He leaned into me and brushed the hair that escaped my braid in the tussle securely behind my ear.
“Is it working?” I ask him, already knowing the answer to my question by the growing tent in the front of his chinos.
I wish I could say that the encounter was gratifying. It might have been, had it lasted more than two minutes and I didn’t have tears rolling down my face. Emory was a soft kisser, with a tongue that seemed to explore every tooth in my mouth. Still reeling from the assault, I wanted to be held and cuddled more than I wanted the sex, but that wasn’t to be. I wanted more and settled for much less.
Bending me over the cement steps to the back door of the minister’s residence, I let him take me. Sadly, Deputy Lang finished the race and I was barely out of the starting gate. I’ll give him credit where credit is due, he did provide nearly five minutes of spectacular post-coital cuddling, before he pulled up his pants and buckled his tactical belt. “I’ve gotta get back to my patrol. I hope we can get together again Miss McClean. Sometime soon.”
I let him kiss me goodbye, before he tipped his hat and disappeared into the dark streets. I walked home in the darkness crying silent tears and with my loaded pistol cocked in my hand. My heart skipped a beat at every little sound in the night for the entire three hour walk up the mountain. The lonely Inn was my safe haven. I curled up on the sofa and hid underneath the patchwork quilt that Shirlee made and sobbed until the morning light illuminated the great room. In the safety of the light of day, I slept.
That’s the first and last barn dance I’ll be attending.
I’d made my peace with being lonely and turned my focus back towards winter prep. I was doing my best to keep Pete’s traps and lines set, but with hunting, caring for the livestock, canning, gardening and foraging, there was barely enough daylight to get all of the work done. I kept hoping and praying to whatever deity would listen for Pete and Shirlee to make it home, but as the summer wore on with no word from them, my hopes diminished.
Resolved. That’s what I was. I resolved to survive the winter on my own.