By Andrew Sharp
Gunpowder Trails is a serial novel. It debuted online with chapter one in November 2015, and is slated for release chapter by chapter over the coming months.
Sometime during the third night of the storm, Charles woke up to a strange sound. Or rather, to the lack of one — the rain had stopped pounding on the droopy little hut, and the eternal drips from the roof seemed to be meeting their end after all.
By morning, clouds still covered the sky, but all was quiet except for scattered droplets from the leaves when the dry breeze gusted out of the west.
All around the camp smugglers crawled out of their huts, stretching and grimacing. A number of them stripped off their clothes, wrung them out, and draped them over branches to dry. They would not have done this back home in mixed company, but in the woods, you did what you needed to, without making a fuss about the niceties.
The water in the stream flowed muddy and brisk, but it had already retreated far down the hillside, leaving behind a litter of muddy leaves, piles of sticks and boulders.
“Phew, now that was wet,” Dan said, slapping his hat on a log and then wringing it out. “I could live a long and happy life without ever being in a storm like that again.”
“Well you’re in the wrong business if you don’t want to get rained on,” Henry said. “A little rain never hurt anybody.”
“I’d of hurt somebody if I had to stay in that hut one more day,” Eileen said. “That was horrible. I’m wet right down to the inside of my skin.” She held out her arms and turned to let the breeze catch her from all sides.
“If I laid down in the sun right now,” James said, “I’d steam.”
“The sun!” Dan said. “I remember that. It was really nice. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again someday.”
George was eager to leave right away, but Warren convinced him to let the smugglers start a fire to warm up and dry out.
“Won’t take more than an hour, and you know what they say, ‘Happy smugglers hike farther.’”
“I never heard anybody say that,” George said.
“My old mother used to tell me that when …”
“Oh, shut up,” George said, but he grinned. “Start your damn fire if you want. But we’re not going to sit around here all morning, we’ve been sitting around for days and we’ve got to start making time if we want to get back to Easton before the snow starts.”
Despite his grumpiness about the fire, George stood as close to it as anyone else once they got it going. They all had to gather close, because the wood was soaking wet and James was the only one who could make the fire catch. Even then, it was mostly smoke and sputter.
It was funny, Charles thought. Like the stream, once the fire was back in its proper place it was their ally again and they all loved it. It was when you let it do whatever it wanted that it became an enemy.
Packed up and on the trail again, Charles had time to think, which meant time to worry. What would Warren say when he found out about George offering Charles a job? Being more intelligent than a fish, he would leap to the conclusion that Charles did not plan join the Builders. That would lead him to the unpleasant speculation that Charles no longer needed him, and from there, his suspicious mind might jump to the idea that Charles had told George who the traitor was, or was planning to soon.
Charles had to find Warren as soon as possible to try to explain things. If he did not, Warren might come to see him when Charles’ back was turned, or late at night, and cut the conversation short before it started.
Even if Charles did talk to him before Warren took unpleasant steps like that, it was going to take some fancy persuading to convince him that he had no reason to be suspicious. What made that persuasion more tricky was that Charles hadn’t truthfully decided he was going to turn down George’s offer.
What George proposed would bring security, whereas with Warren’s idea, security might or might not arrive after an unwelcome amount of hair-raising risk — either escaping the band and trying to survive in the wilderness alone, or staying with the band and pretending to be loyal, with the ever present possibility their companions would discover their double-crossing, tie them to a stake and torture them to death.
Charles jumped. Warren had been sitting by the trail, apparently waiting for a chance to catch him alone. His eyes were wide and they darted up and down the trail, and sweat beaded on his forehead. Charles, who had marveled many times before at Warren’s unshakable calm, took a step back.
“Oh … hello,” he said.
“What’s this I hear?”
Charles willed himself to respond with confident ease. “I d-don’t know, ah, w-what do you hear?”
“You know damn well what,” Warren said, stepping closer. “I should probably be running for the woods right now to, instead of talking to you.” He kept his voice low, but it was a shout nonetheless, and he seemed barely able to keep the words coming out in the right order.
“I had to do it,” Charles said. “George had me cornered. I had to agree to it, but I’m just lying to him.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” Warren kicked a stone, then winced. “You’re just lying to him, of course you are. And why not? Adds to the fun. You know, you’re putting me in an impossible spot. If you weasel out of our deal, I’m a dead man. And if you’re not weaseling out of it, what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m telling you, I had to say that stuff,” Charles said, edging a little further away. Somebody was coming along behind them now, so Charles lowered his voice and started walking again, and Warren stamped along beside him. “What was I going to tell him?” Charles said. “‘No thanks for your generous offer, I’d rather beg in the street for my food?’ He’d really be suspicious then.”
“Fine,” Warren said. “Fine. Then you need to prove it.” He wiped the sweat off his face. “We need to leave right away. You shouldn’t have any problem with that if you’re telling the truth.”
“But … we can’t! It’s not safe!” Charles said, almost stopping and then remembering he had to walk along naturally. “It’s practically suicide to try to make it back to Easton through all that wilderness, just the two of us.” Also, there was that little matter of making up his mind on what to do.
“It’s sure not safe staying here,” Warren said. “They could figure things out any time. Frankly, I’ll take our odds with the wilderness.”
“We’re just as safe here as we were yesterday. Why won’t you trust me?” Charles said. Shame swirled in his stomach.
“I don’t have any reason to trust you, Charles. No, don’t go pretending to be all hurt, you know it’s true. I’ve just heard secondhand that you’re pulling deals behind my back, and you just want me to settle down and be calm. Well, I’m not going to settle down. You can either come with me, and prove you’re not bluffing, or I can leave without you. And you can forget ever being a Builder.”
“Yes, I will forget it, because you’ll be cat food and you’ll never get home,” Charles said.
“My odds are better with the cats than with George. And they’ll be even better if you come along.”
Maybe Warren was planning to just leave, then, not get rid of him. His respect for the man rose again.
“No, our chances are better here, with everyone else,” Charles said. “That’s just what I’m trying to say. And if you don’t trust me, why do you want me going along with you, anyway?” His tone switched to pleading. “Let’s please just stay with the group. I can’t just walk away into the woods, I can’t. Maybe you’re OK with getting chewed to bits, but I’m not.” He stopped, and swallowed. “Anyway, even if we do that, we need to plan a little first.”
There was a pause, filled only by Warren’s fast breathing.
“I was going to tell you about all this,” Charles said. “But when did I have the chance? You tell me that. And while you’re at it, you can tell me what you would’ve done in my shoes.”
Gravel ground under their feet as they splashed across a shallow stream. Up ahead, somebody laughed.
“I’ll think about it,” Warren finally said. “And get back to you. Soon.” He stopped holding himself to Charles’ pace then and sprang forward into a fast walk that bordered on a run. He was soon far ahead.
Well, if he didn’t want to trust Charles, that was his fault. He could just wander off into the woods by himself, see if Charles cared. He remembered then that a few minutes ago he’d been fearing Warren would slit his throat some dark night. He realized any of the other smugglers would have, in the same situation. Even Charles might have. Shame replaced indignation. He really couldn’t blame Warren for being upset.
Still, Warren had Charles in a tight spot, too, with his ultimatum about leaving. If he couldn’t talk Warren out of it, he’d be forced to make a decision he wasn’t ready for. It was like being a steer funneled into a corral, and Charles hated it. Soon the corral might be too tight to turn around in and any decision-making would be done for him.
He was not in the mood to talk to anyone after that, but after the band stopped for lunch, Gary and Marguerite caught up with him. Gary probed him with questions about his time with the Appalachies as if Charles had been on some kind of grand adventure and had brought back souvenirs he could show off.
Charles told them the same curated tale he’d told the leaders, but remembering the damaging conclusions the smugglers had drawn about Roger, Charles steered well around him in the story this time. Now that he thought about it, the question finding the traitor was still eating at everyone, Gary included, and he’d seize on any clues. He’d also revel in the glory of being the one to figure out the mystery. But it was tricky to leave Roger out of the story, since the man had been his translator and guard.
“But how did you know they said that?” Gary interrupted him once. “Did they teach you the language?”
“Uh … oh, no, those were the signs they were making,” Charles said. “I’m just telling you what I guessed.”
“Oh,” Gary said, nodding. “Right, of course.”
When Charles finished his tale, even though he’d made it as short and boring as he could, and left out key parts, Gary said, “That sounds like it was so exciting. What a great chance to prove yourself. You’re lucky. I kind of wish the Appalachies had kidnapped me instead.”
Charles glared at him. “Being kidnapped sounds fun to you, does it? They could’ve killed me.”
“But they didn’t!” Gary said. He stopped to heave himself up over a huge log that blocked the path. On the other side, he brushed bark and moss off his shirt. “Any of us could die, any time. That’s just the risk you take when you’re a smuggler. And besides, it’s the dumb ones who get themselves killed. People like you and me, we’re smart enough to survive. Usually.”
“Bull shit,” Charles said, dropping down from the log to land beside him. “It’s not about being smart or dumb. All it takes is a little bad luck at a bad time. I didn’t choose the smuggler’s life, the smuggler’s life chose me. And as soon as I can get away from it, I will.”
“It’s easy for you to say,” Marguerite said, sliding down from the log. “You’ve got your special deal.”
Gary looked blank. “What deal?”
Charles explained George’s offer to let Charles manage his estate once he was free.
“Ha,” Gary said. “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job. Boring. Just sitting around at home all the time, counting money and making sure somebody plants the corn and pulls the weeds and washes the windows. I’d die of boredom. This, now,” he said, gesturing in an arc around them, “the woods, the great outdoors, this is the life.”
“For you!” Marguerite said, with vehemence. “Oh, it’s great for you. You’re a man. All you have to do is haul firewood and water. Yes, it’s a great life, isn’t it?”
“Well, what do you … how is it …” Gary trailed off. He and Charles glanced at each other.
Marguerite stormed away.
The slaves hiked together again the next day, as they often did, but mostly they kept an awkward silence.
In the late morning, the smugglers came upon neat rows of crumbling foundations among the trees, the bones of a dead city. It was enormous. They crossed street after street, enough house sites to accommodate 10,000 people at least, Charles figured, so it was bigger even than Easton. How had they supported so many people up here in the mountains? Where did they grow their crops?
Plastic and glass shards crackled under their feet as they made their way through the mossy rubble. Here and there, a whole brick wall was still standing, and holes filled with rainwater made unnaturally shaped pools.
Derelict plastic pipes poked through the walls in places. Those were probably for getting water inside the houses, Charles thought. Or taking sewage out.
Mysterious metal wires, some with cracked plastic clinging to them, crisscrossed the ruins. Ghost traps, the smugglers called them, because from time to time they tangled their feet in wires covered by leaves, as if the long-dead residents of the town had hidden them there to catch intruders.
Getting caught up in the wires could cause a nasty sprain, a possible death sentence in the wilderness, so the smugglers stepped gingerly.
Shards of a tar-like substance, with tiny gravel embedded in them, were scattered everywhere in the house sites. Warren had told Charles once that these were remnants of the shingles people had put on their roofs. Thinking about it afterward, Charles had wondered why anybody would want a mess of tar and gravel on their roof. No matter how you imagined it, the gritty black gunk melting in the heat of the sun must have looked horrendous.
He tried to picture the families who would have lived in these houses, and what the buildings must have looked like when they were standing. But the houses his mind built ended up looking pretty much like houses at home, except with gritty tar on top and wires coming out of them at odd places.
High over the smugglers’ heads, a long steel track ran through the trees, held up by towering metal pillars and an orderly crosswork of supporting beams. The smugglers often passed under these kinds of elevated structures in the wilderness. In civilized areas most of them were long gone, torn down and salvaged for the metal, with only the concrete bases marking where they had stood.
Here and there above them, the track seemed to run right through massive trees, whose bark bulged around it. In places, sections of supporting pillar had given way and the track sagged like a lizard with a broken back.
Scholars said people had traveled on these mysterious tracks in carts of some kind, conveniently high over the clogged streets of the towns and the fields of crops. The archeologists had found some of these vehicles, but so far their fierce debate over what made the carts go hadn’t produced any plausible explanation. A few secretive crackpots boasted of solutions, but got cagey when anyone asked for a demonstration.
Under the shadow of the track, the slaves paused at one house foundation to contemplate a collection of statues of short bearded men with pointy caps, grinning in a way Charles wasn’t sure he liked. Some were still standing, one pushing a wheelbarrow, but many were scattered around on the ground and some were in pieces.
“Those things are creepy,” Gary said. “I feel like they’re just waiting for me to turn my back.”
One of the strangest artifacts Charles had ever seen stood near the little grinning men. It was a short pillar, with a steel ball on top. Charles peered at it and a face only a little like his leered back at him, with a gigantic nose and tiny chin and forehead. He knocked on the globe. It seemed to be hollow. But why would anyone own such a thing? Was it an idol? Did it serve some mysterious scientific purpose? Maybe it foretold the weather, if you knew how to read it. All Charles could read from it was that Gary and Marguerite were looking over his shoulder.
He would have liked more time here to dig among these ruins and look for clues about who these people were and how they had lived.
A shard of brittle white plastic on the ground caught his eye, and Charles picked it up and examined it. He broke the piece of plastic between two fingers. It was hard to imagine something so fragile being of any use.
All the glass here seemed to be smashed. Once when he was younger, he’d gone along with his master’s children to one of the Builders’ museums, where ancient glass bottles lined a shelf. Some of them had elaborate designs on them, or some kind of script. Of course, glass blowers could make you a bottle now if you wanted one, but modern glass vessels were much simpler than these, and more functional. Why, for example, Charles had wondered, would you want so many glass bottles that couldn’t hold much liquid, but had tiny openings? How would you fill them again? He’d put this to the guide at the museum, who had seemed irritated by a question she couldn’t answer and had expounded at length about Middle Period china tea sets instead.
Partway through the ruins, the slaves came upon a massive foundation. Next to it, one pillar stood tall, and others lay toppled around. Among these fallen pillars a stone horse and rider stood. The rider wore tall boots, a shirt with two rows of buttons up the front, a pistol on his hip and some kind of decoration on his shoulder. His headless body faced the world defiantly as if such a handicap were only a flesh wound. The rider raised a sword in one hand, daring someone to come for the last standing pillar.
Charles wished he had time to look around in the rubble for the head. The face could tell him a little bit more about what kind of person this was, although perhaps not much. Faces in statues always looked so bland, as if they’d been carved in a moment when the subject was thinking about socks.
“It seems like such a shame,” Charles said. “All these people just wiped out. Although I guess maybe they were terrible people. Maybe it’s a good thing they’re gone.”
“They obviously were a great civilization,” Gary said. “I’d have loved to be alive then.” He wandered over for a closer look at the statue.
“I wonder if we’ll ever be able to get it all back?” Charles said, half to himself.
“Get what back?” Marguerite said.
“Ah, nothing. Just this. All this stuff they could do. So many people. Big cities. Machines to make life better.”
“Why would anybody want to?” Marguerite said.
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Well, obviously what they built didn’t work,” she said. “It was actually a pretty amazing failure. Why should we go to all that trouble to build it up so it can all fall apart again?”
“That’s a depressing way of looking at it,” Charles said. “Why not see if we can do it better this time? We could learn from their mistakes. Come up with new ways of doing things.”
“Could we?” she said.
“Now that’s a rosy way of looking at it,” Marguerite said. “This time around, people will be different. They’re magically not stupid anymore, even though it just seems like they’re stupid most of the time.”
“Well I guess,” Charles said. “But it, well, should things just stay the way they are?”
“Because things are awful,” he said. “People starve whenever there’s a famine. Nobody has much to look forward to except hard work and being hungry, and then in the end some kind of sickness will get them anyway. But it used to be so much better.”
She shrugged. “So they say. But like I said, look how it worked out for them. What do we have now? You live, and you die. You just get through as well as you can, and then you die.”
“That’s really grim.”
“What’s grim about it? Death’s not so bad,” she said. “No more troubles.”
A short, painful life, then the sweet embrace of death. Somehow Charles did not find this vision inspiring.
“What if the Builders get it all fixed, a wonderful world for everyone, with sky trains and nice little statues of bearded men in everybody’s yard?” Marguerite asked. “Then what? Will you be happy then?”
“Probably. I don’t know,” Charles said. “I guess I’ll be dead by then.”
Marguerite snorted. “A lot of good it will do you then, won’t it?”
“Well, I guess as much good as sitting around not caring,” he said. Marguerite’s cynicism chilled him. He wasn’t an optimistic ray of sunshine, but how did she get herself up in the morning, thinking like that?
“I don’t want to hear it from you,” Marguerite said. “Things are great for you. George is rich and he pays for everything you need. You’ve got it made. And after we get back, you’ll be George’s right hand man —”
“I’m not sure I want to do that.” He wasn’t sure why he’d said that. He was being honest, but it wasn’t the sort of opinion that was healthy to be spreading around. Maybe he was embarrassed by her envy, and wanted to somehow convince her he had his problems too.
She stared at him. “What’s that?”
“I mean, don’t tell anyone this, but, George is being very generous and all, and I said I’d do it of course, but … I’m just not that excited about it.”
She looked at him as if insects were crawling out of his nose. “You’re not that excited about it? An easy life like that?”
Now he really felt like an ass. “It’s not that working for George would be so horrible. But,” he dropped his voice, “he’s just getting rich by selling stuff to people so they can kill each other.”
Since when had he been bothered by the ethics of smuggling? Was this Warren’s fault?
“I guess I just want to do something with myself,” he said. “I mean, I’d like to have some kind of goal in life.”
“A goal?” she repeated. “How about living in a huge, magnificent house that somebody else pays for? How about having every summer with nobody to boss you around? How about having good food to eat every single day? Do you know what your problem is? You’re spoiled!”
He laughed, but without any humor. “I’m a slave.”
“I’d kill to be in your position, you ungrateful little shit,” she said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me.”
“So let me get this straight. You think my life is great.”
“Yes.” Her voice lost its stridence and she looked away.
He’d always thought of his life as a hard and bitter one. But now he seemed to be standing outside as if he were out in the snow peering in through a lighted window, looking in on himself, seeing the good food and the warm bed in the winter and the master with too much to do to bother his slave much. Shame prodded at him.
“Well, I guess it’s not as bad as it could be,” he said.
After an awkward silence, Charles decided to hike by himself that afternoon.
His thoughts jangled around his head and he tried to chase them down and have a good look at them. Something about what Marguerite had said nagged at him. Maybe he was a little ungrateful; there could be worse things than being a rich man’s slave. But there was something else. Her lack of purpose. She was just waiting to die. It was as if she were already dead.
It was a terrifying thought, that there might really be no point to life. He stood on the edge of that reality and looked over, down into a vast blank, a tumbling void with nowhere as up and nowhere as down. Smuggling, in that emptiness, would be as good as it got. Live the high life once in a while, answer to nobody (except George) and die before you got old and poor. Or, if you were especially ambitious, amass power, fight to keep it, and then die. He shrank away from the vision.
The village of Harper’s Ferry, a scattered collection of huts and a few trading posts, was not far away now. The tiny town was the last outpost of civilization. Beyond it to the west were no settlements, only wild mountains that few people explored. Most of them never came back. Those who did come back were usually on the edge of starvation, ribs showing and cheeks hollow, and some were slashed up by cats. And for their troubles, they could only tell of finding more mountains.
That didn’t stop anyone from giving a detailed answer if you asked if they knew what lay beyond the mountains. Unfettered by facts, the answers flourished and grew in vivid color.
Some would tell you the mountains never ended, they just went on and on forever, but they always got taller until they reached into the clouds. Up there was heaven, or the home of the gods, depending on the religion of the person explaining things. Others swore if you went far enough, the people there had wings and could fly. In some tales, the population expanded to include animals that could talk, gremlins, trolls, dwarves or elves. If you went very, very far, some said, there was a land of plenty where the people had never lost the old ways and lived in luxury and prosperity, in great numbers, hundreds of thousands of them.
If you asked the Builders what was out beyond Harper’s Ferry they would go into the library and bring out an old map, and show you a drawing of a huge continent with rivers and city sites and mountain ranges, ending in another sea. But the map didn’t show the sorts of things you would want to know before you traveled there. Did the winged humans bite? Were the talking animals short-tempered? And nobody could know for sure if the map the Builders had dug up was a real one, or if it had just been a drawing in a storybook.
The smugglers knew somebody lived out in the west, because much of their sulfur came from that direction. But from Harper’s Ferry, they mostly traveled north, not much to the west, and they were too preoccupied with getting the sulfur and getting out alive to ask a lot of questions about where it came from. They only knew the sulfur had changed hands many times by the time it got to Scranton, and what kind of hands it had gone through, nobody could say. Charles had asked George once, and he had just shrugged. “Somebody with sulfur who wants to trade it.”
From Harper’s Ferry, the smugglers were a few weeks out of the kingdom of Easton at most. They weren’t to safety yet, but the worst was behind them. The mountains shrank down to hills and then to flat land the closer they got to the Chesapeake Bay, so the hiking would only get easier.
The woods were far from safe, but fewer enemies prowled in its shadows. Appalachies stayed further north, up in the mountains. Only a handful of backwoods farmers and backward villagers lived between Harper’s Ferry and the metal mining region next to the bay, but they shot as many cats and other predators as they could to protect the game and their livestock. Unwary travelers could still end up eaten, but their odds were far better.
The vast forest would still have terrified a city dweller from Easton, but to the smugglers it was the beginning of civilization. A muddy road or two cut through the woods, including a road that ran along the Potomac River from Harper’s Ferry into the mining region.
Civilization had its downsides for smugglers. Like most traffickers, this band avoided social interaction when they could help it, and so they usually stayed off the roads.
Nearing Harper’s Ferry and the beginning of the end of their journey, the leaders gathered to plan.
“I’d say it’s about 150 miles from here to Trappe,” John said. “Give or take, following the river. Of course the last few miles are the slowest, going through those swamps down in Dorchester to get around the navy.”
“Now I’ve always said,” Old Harry said, sticking a chaw of tobacco in his cheek, “that you could save days by just going right up the bay to the Choptank River. That navy is nothing, we all know that. A few ships here and there.”
“But they know we’re coming,” George said. “And they know about when we’ll be coming. And they definitely know where we’re going to be.”
“True,” James said, “but our navy friends keep them from looking for us too hard.”
“They try,” George said. “The problem with a system like we’ve got is it only takes one do-good navy captain who’s not in on it, and then all of us are hanging from our necks off the city wall at Easton. And they’re sure as hell not going to let us know ahead of time what they’re thinking. But I’m tired of arguing this out every time.”
“But if we’d just —“ Old Harry started.
“Nope,” George said. “You can try it by yourself if you want. You can even have one of the boats. I’ll pick it up later when it washes ashore.”
“Think we can make it to Trappe on the food we’ve got?” Warren asked.
“Eh, I don’t know,” George said. “Probably, but maybe not, and we’d get pretty hungry. And I really don’t want to take the time to stop and do any serious hunting again.”
“I agree,” Old Harry said around his mouthful of tobacco. He spat a brown splotch on the leaves. “Hunting as you go drags it out forever.” He wiped his mouth on his shirt.
“No problem,” George said. “We can get anything we need in town with our leftover tobacco if you guys quit smoking it. Or chewing it.”
Old Harry grinned, his teeth stained dark.
“I never like it, going into that town,” Warren said. “They’re a rough bunch. No loyalty to anybody. They’ll smile at you and sell you a beer and then stick a knife in your back and sell the beer to somebody else.”
Old Harry hooted. “We’ve still got more able bodied smugglers than they’ve got people in that little dump.”
“They can try something,” James said. “I’d like to see them try.”
“It is a risk,” George said. “Warren’s right, it’s best not to take unnecessary risks, but we can’t really do anything about this one. We have to have food. And they’re just a bunch of roughnecks, not soldiers.”
As Charles listened, he realized how he and Warren could get away from the band. It was simple, and nobody would notice they were gone for at least a day, giving them a valuable head start. He was surprised to realize that he was thinking as if he’d already decided to run away with Warren. Somehow since his talk with Marguerite he’d started to think that way without meaning to.
And yet, the money would be easy, working for George. It would be so peaceful at the estate, so familiar.
Well, as peaceful as it could get when there was the constant threat of the army swooping in, or some rival ambushing you. But George had secured himself as well as he could. He made sure that as many people as possible in the town of Trappe owed him something, and he also helped protect the town from marauders. If Easton tried to send the army into Trappe to get George, it could start a civil war. Easton would win the war, of course, but so far the capital city had refrained from that option.
But at the estate, Charles’ safety would depend on George. He would be safe as long as George thought he was useful.
He had no guarantees with Warren, either, if he wanted to be honest about it. What if the Builders decided you weren’t of use anymore? They sold you off as a slave. Or let you be sold off, anyway.
Charles snapped off a twig and scraped away part of the bark to reveal the light wood underneath. He was tired of waffling. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind, so he’d flip for it. If the twig landed light spot up, he’d take George’s job offer. If it landed spot down, he’d take Warren’s offer and run.
He flipped the twig into the air. It arced out, end over end, bounced on a rock, and landed, barkless spot pointing sideways, halfway between each decision.
But he already knew how he had wanted it to land.
To be continued