Home > I am Just Junco #1 - Clutch

I am Just Junco #1 - Clutch
Author: J.A. Huss

J.A. Huss - I am Just Junco #1 - Clutch

Clutch (I am Just Junco #1)
J.A. Huss

sf/fantasy/romance/new adult/young adult



Chapter One

Picture yourself standing on the edge of a dock...

I shake my head.

Fuck that.

I'm standing on a dirt road barefoot, exhaust from the Goat swirling dust up my funeral dress, trying to make some sense of things.

The closed stop-gate in front of me signals the entrance to the Stag, but the antlered skull in the middle of the arm spawns a moment of pause. My eyes linger on the decorations only long enough to log them. Blood-red paint on the antlers, an old wooden arrow sticking out of one of the orbits, and a crown of acacia thorns draped around the tines.

A child's prank.

The cigar slips between my lips. I cup my hand to block the wind, touch the cigar to the striker, and suck in deeply as the end glows bright orange. They stink and they make me stink, but I don't care.

Today, I don't care about much.

I slam the Goat's door and walk towards the skull, then hear the tell-tale crack of a sonic boom and turn to squint at the sun as it loses its battle with the rotating earth. Peak City has been out of my sight line for hours but I know where it should be on the horizon. I find the contrail of a suborbital coming out of the north pointing back to my home.

Turning back to the gate, I watch as the wind picks up the strip of wood hovering across the sorry excuse for a road and makes it dance. A stray magpie lands and rides the skull with a rhythm that reminds me of better days. It watches me, tilts its head to the side, and squawks, "Away!"

I flick the cigar and chase the magpie away.

There is nothing here to stop my progress into the Stag but since this is a forbidden zone in the Rural Republic, I pause before taking this final step into disobedience. Consequences tend to mean less with the loss of precious things, so they mean nothing to me now.

Reaching up, I release my long auburn hair from the tie and let it flap around my face as the wind tries to carry it across the grasslands.

If only the wind would carry me across the grasslands.

My cold toes scrunch into the dirt and I remember my funeral shoes are in the backseat, discarded hours ago. I walk over to the Goat and fish around until I pull together a pair of field boots and some black thermals. I hike the warm leggings up to my hips and then sit on the edge of my old Humvee and meticulously lace up each boot so they are snug, but not tight.

A sheathed hunting knife is in danger of dropping through the rusted-out floorboard and I rescue it, stashing it inside the boot. Then I slide my shotgun onto the front seat and drop my little pistol into the crap box along with other items one usually finds in a vehicle. The lid drops closed with a snap.

In the end I didn't need to waste all this time in front of the gate. It was never a question of if I would go. Only when. I climb back into the front seat, jam the Goat in gear and veer off the road, pressing up against the low-hanging branches of cottonwoods that have crept up from the dry riverbed. I brace myself as my vehicle bounces down into the ditch and then jolts back up. I gun it as the tires lose a little traction in the rain-softened earth, swing her around the ominous gate, and surge back onto the dirt track that still thinks it is a road.

On the other side I stop once more to check for Peak City in the distance, but all I see is the magpie, back on the skull, riding it out. I flip it off and gun the Goat again. We lurch forward, sputtering out a cloud of smoke that could get you hanged in some parts of the world.

But not here.

The Rural Republic might officially be part of the United Republics, but that's pretty much where it ends. Our national motto is quaint. Simple Serves. A reference to the throwback life we are supposed to be leading. But if you're not from around here and need help, (which is strictly theoretical, we're a closed campus, kids) the answer you get is disinterest. If you're lucky.

The drive out to Stag Camp is a stretch of open road, peppered with the occasional falling-down farmhouse or small herd of antelope. So I settle in, light another cigar, and slide the window down even though the warm November afternoon has given in to the cold November evening.

Nothing to do now but think about the job. My eyes track to the passenger seat, past the shotgun, and come to rest upon the thick envelope pressed into my hands as I left the funeral several hours ago. The label on the front is machine-printed, but it doesn't say Junco. It says Dale. Resident of one Stag Camp in the middle of nowhere.

I push the funeral from my thoughts and allow the dying light to seep out of my world a little at a time. The eye-shine peering back at me from the side of the road as I take a wide turn clues me in that twilight is gone. The two glowing dots are far enough apart to estimate size and my body gives up an involuntary shiver as I run down the short list. Nightdog or prairie lion. Either one would eat me alive.

If they could catch me.

The sky is filled with stars long before I spy the dark shadow of the landmark hill in the distance. It's a slow climb that turns into a nightmare halfway up, then a flat patch to gather some steam so you can push your vehicle to its limit and struggle up the final grade that will plunge you over the other side.

I watch the approaching ridge with some trepidation. Once over it, I'll be more in than out. A sigh escapes my lips and I push the Goat until her body shakes, getting ready for the ascent.

We hit the hill going about 110, but the steep initial grade checks us and we lose speed quick. I downshift, then again, and by the time the grade evens back out for several hundred feet we are barely skimming 60. I gun it so we can gain some momentum to get over the hump and catch a little air as we clear the summit.

The buck in the road never has a chance. The Goat slams into the animal midair and the tendons and bones snap loudly in the cold night. The lower half of the deer slips under the tires, creating a slick mess of tissue and blood on the road. The head flies straight at my face and the bloodied antlers crash into the glass.

I slam on the brakes and the head loses its hold on the window and flies off out of sight. I hit a patch of greasy mud left over from the last rain and slide sideways, towards the edge of what may be a cliff, or just a gently rolling embankment.

I quickly correct, not waiting to find out, only to discover I'm now sliding backwards. I swing the wheel around, body parts flipping out from under the tires, and hit the brakes again. The Goat and I slip sideways into the ditch and I use the bounce to straighten out the wheels. When she comes down hard we're moving forward into a sparse grove of pines.

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