The night was still, quiet, scented with the pungent odor of fresh pines and the musty smell from the station wagon’s lived-in interior.Squeezed into a corner of the “bed” that magically appeared by laying the seats back, I could make out the sky if I pressed my face against the plastic siding of the car. The stars peeked through the trees, the sky darkened to the almost-purple of a bruise. My brother moved in the front seat, rustling, getting comfortable. All six of us could sleep in the car, somehow, laid down like sardines in a wheeled can, a feat I marvel out now from my life of king-size beds and life in houses with more rooms than I use. No-one could move, but we were used to that. You pressed your arms down by your side to claim your space, and you were very still. You didn’t want to piss dad off, and for anyone to sleep we all had to be still.
I flattened on my stomach, Mom pressed beside me with her arms around the baby. We all held our breath. POP! Zinggggg, again. Now, an answering thunder from the 30-ought-6 dad had held in his hands as he slipped into the trees. No zing this time, the bullet was not flying over our heads now. At the time I thought someone really was shooting at us, that someone was after us, but now I imagine the shock on some redneck’s face as he shot randomly into the forest and then heard a zing as a bullet flew over his head. Or did the bullet hit his truck, shattering the windshield? There was a pause, then an excited POP! POP! Zinnnggggg! Zinggg!! Someone was definitely shooting at us now. Boom! Boom! The bigger gun answered, then there was a roar in the distance as a truck started up and sped down the road. Someone had gotten the picture.
Minutes later, panting, Ed arrived shirtless, the gleam of his eyes reflecting the stars, the sweat beading his forehead belying the cool mountain air.
“He got the picture,” he said. “Mary, get our shit, let’s get out of here before he comes back or the cops show up. Let’s go kids, roll up the sleeping bags.” A flurry as we pushed the seats up, arranged ourselves into our traveling formation, got the baby in the car seat. Our few crates of belongings on the top of the car were settled, and before panic could set in the cat was there. She knew. We all knew he would leave her in a second if she wasn’t there on time. I breathed relief, cuddling her in my arms as we coasted out of the forest with our lights off. No-one on the road. It was as empty as it had been when we drove in to find our spot. Huddled together in the back, us kids looked at each other with our wide gleaming eyes and finally breathed.
“Why was that guy shooting at us?” Rowdy whispered, no hint of a stutter when he talked to me, his fuzzy hair sticking up in clumps.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back. Reno grinned from the front seat between mom and dad, sitting back and not moving, not making a sound, not waking the beast. The baby in her car seat was relaxed, watching us, never opening her mouth.