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SEBASTOPOL by Myles Boisen

SEBASTOPOL by Myles Boisen

by Grant Flint

Uncle Seth and I are out west, bringing in the cows for milking.

Uncle Seth is thirteen, but tall as a man. Long, long legs. He is skinny with yellow hair, skinny voice, and he is playing some kind of game, maybe, which I try to smile about, but it's too scary.

"Hiss," he goes, pretending to be a snake. The cows are moving slowly in front of us, toward the farm. We are crossing over the bogs in the marsh. We have to jump from one bog to another.

"Hisss," he goes. "I'm a snake. A rattlesnake." He comes slow and hissing over the bogs. I try to grin and hop from bog to bog, faster. I try not to act scared.

Long shadows. The western sky is red and yellow. The bogs smell bad.

"His-s-s-s! His-s-s! I'm going to get you and poison you!" he says. He is bent over and acting like a snake, his arms clawed out, yellow hair blowing, his face screwed up like he is crazy. "Don't," I say. I stoop and balance myself on a slippery bog. My stomach hurts. "Don't." I'm afraid. He keeps coming. "His-s-s! His-s-s!” Uncle Seth's eyes are rolling crazily, spit dribbles out of his mouth. I pick up a heavy water-logged stick to protect myself and start hopping the bogs as fast as I can, the cows hurrying ahead of us. I make a leap for a bog and it sinks under the water. The slime gets into my shoes.

"Wait!" I beg. "Stay away! Stay away!"

"His-s-s," goes Uncle Seth. His body comes slinking over the bogs, his face crazy and mean.

"His-s-s!" I jump to the next bog and the next. I hear him gaining on me. At the edge of the marsh where the bogs are harder, I turn my ankle, but I can't stop, the cows aren't supposed to run before milking, I begin to cry, the cows thump over the irrigation ditch bridge, I take a quick look back, the sun blinds me, he is close behind, making noises and looking like he's in a fit, going to kill me.

"Stop!" I yell at him, I am crying hard, getting dizzy. "Stop!" He's almost on me! I throw my stick right at him, hear him yelp, I run faster, gasping for air, the cows are running wildly ahead, wet white with sweat, the dogs are snapping wildly at the cows' feet, the crows shoot noisily up from the cornfield, I hear him pounding nearer, we are near the corral, the cows skid to a stop at the closed gate, I run, lungs bursting, left into the walnut grove, run, run, run past the old, rusting, farm machinery, run, run until I come to the walnut tree, and I climb fast as I can, up, up, find a big limb high up, crouch there. Am nearly blind. Can do no more.

After a while my breathing slows down. I can see again, but am trembling, shaking. Uncle Seth isn't here yet. But he will get me.

I wait. At sunset now the trees are fearful. The wind stirs on, always the same, always lonely and old. The trees look like monsters.

I wait, keep waiting.

"Dinty?" Grandma calls out from the back porch. "Din-ty? Din-ty. Come on in." My Grandma calls me "Dinty," not my real name. I don't remember why. She always does.

I wait until I hear my mother's car coming. My daddy bought that car three years before he died. I hear the car rumble over the culvert. I climb down fast, run through the walnut grove. My legs ache. I run around the back of the house, climb over the fence, run to the car as it pulls up in front of the house, the tires crunching the green walnuts on the ground.

Mother gets out, looking tired. She is thirty-four years old, tall, wavy brown hair, glasses, reddish-brown dress for her job in town, has a sack of groceries.

I grab her around her legs.

"Wait!" I beg.

She looks down at me. "What is it, what's wrong?"

"Don't go in — wait — don't go in!"

"What's the matter?"

"Let’s just leave here," I say. "Please! Now! We don't have to stay here!"

"What...! What's happened? Has Seth been at you again?" She looks angry and worried.

"Can't we just go?!"

She sets the groceries down on the car’s running board and has me sit down with her next to the groceries.

She puts her hand on my shoulder. "We can't go yet. I know it's bad — but you can wait a little longer, can't you?"

"But why?" I beg. "Why can't we just go?"

She looks away. A little car is slowly going up over the eastern sand hill where the sun comes in the morning. "Grandma needs us now," she says. "They wouldn't have enough to eat if I didn't bring home groceries. You've got to understand — be my big man — you've got to wait a little while longer."

"But how soon? How soon will we go?"

"Later," she says. "A little later on, we’re going to leave here."

"You always say that," I tell my mother, "but we just keep staying. It's always the same." But I listen for the next part. I want to hear the dream again.

"We'll go over that road," my mother says, pointing to the eastern road. "We will go east and keep going 'til we’re way, way on."

"Later?" I ask. "A little later?"

"Yes, later. Later."

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