How it happen like this. Listen: Melissa Jim say Rayburn can carry flag.

The good flag? say Rayburn.

Melissa Jim laugh. Same for Bubba and Jon-Jon. Even Grandpa snicker. Rayburn grit teeth and squeeze handle of pistol-gun in waistband.

What you gonna do with that peashooter? say Melissa Jim.

They’re all good flags, Grandpa say. Which one you want to carry?

Bubba say, How bout T-Rambo?

Rayburn feel face stretch and glow. Old Ginny waddle over lick Rayburn hand.

Or this one, say Jon-Jon, waving big blue flag on wood pole.

Rayburn sound it out: Fuh fuh fuck—

Fuh fuh fuh, say Melissa Jim.

Your fuh fuh feeling.

Bubba and Jon-Jon crack up. Grandpa try to swallow smile.

Rayburn feel face stretch so wide it hurt. Fuck your feeling.

Melissa Jim heehaw and fall out of squeaky swivel chair.

That’s enough, Rayburn, say Grandpa.

Fuck your feeling!

Rayburn, say Grandpa. Enough.

Laughing peter out. Bubba crack another Blue Ribbon. Rayburn look around basement for good flag.

Rayburn wanna carry Mr. Snakey, say Rayburn. Do what? say Melissa Jim.

Yellow with rattler.

Hell’s he talking bout, Dale?

He means the Gadsden, Grandpa say.

Melissa Jim nod and go to corner. He unroll big yellow flag with Mr. Snakey in middle. Coiled like Slinky with fang. So good. Melissa Jim point to word across top. Know what that means?

Rayburn sound it out: Duh duh don’t—

That’s our sacred vow, say Melissa Jim, our rally cry. He stare at Rayburn. Lotta responsibility, son. Think you’re up to it?

Rayburn nod and nod and nod. Grandpa whisper something to Melissa Jim then take flag by wood pole and pass to Rayburn. Bubba burp. Jon-Jon wave away onion stink.

Now Melissa Jim shout: A ten chun.

Rayburn got Mr. Snakey, stand straight and tall. Everybody got rifle or pistol-gun, also stand straight and tall.

Okay, say Melissa Jim. Let’s move out.


Outside in drizzle Melissa Jim lead what he call maneuver. That mean marching single-file up and down long dirt driveway outside empty house. Same as every time. Special occasion maybe shoot off gun. Everybody got gun even Rayburn. Melissa Jim aim .30-06, Bubba shoot AR-15, Jon-Jon fire Glock, Grandpa unholster Smith & Wessen. Rayburn got pistol-gun. Pump lever ten-twelve time then shoot. Sight broken but Rayburn alway hit target.

Today after marching everybody shoot at hay people all got same name: Damn Antifa. Rayburn shoot and wave Mr. Snakey and shoot some more. Hit Damn Antifa square between eye. Rayburn officer in Navy Seal before commando in Special Op so shoot way better than everybody else though they got better gun. Melissa Jim state trooper in Idaho before retire and move out to rainy coast. Think he good shot but not good like Rayburn.

Rayburn not understand why anybody choose this place. Too cold. Too old. Rayburn want to go back to Antler California for all friend plus girlfriend Christy Turlington. She beautiful model. Lonely and lonesome all alone at Rayburn mansion hunting lodge. She take care of Rayburn truck: Ford F-350 Super Duty SuperCab, Ram 2500 4×4, GMC with fifteen-inch lift. Wash wax lube drive around property to keep battery charge. Rayburn got ten acre. Rayburn go back to old job as Sandwich Artist only to buy whole business for $40 cash on barrelhead. Up here nothing happen. Cloudy night and day, rain more in one week than whole year in Antler California. Rayburn bored to tear.

After marching and shooting, Melissa Jim holler: A ten chun.

Everybody make sideway-file line facing Melissa Jim. Hold gun with both hand out front like Melissa Jim taught though Rayburn know better from Army Ranger time. Rayburn got Mr. Snakey and pistol-gun so do best how possible.

Alright, Troops, say Melissa Jim.

That mean everybody.

Good job on maneuvers. We’re looking strong. We’ll know how to hold our ground when Damn Antifa attacks.

Hooah, say everybody.

Hooyah, say Rayburn.

Grandpa give Rayburn look but Rayburn keep on waving Mr. Snakey.

Big Rally’s in a couple days, Melissa Jim say. We’re gonna show ’em how it’s done. Am I right?

Damn straight, Bubba say.

Hell, yeah, say Jon-Jon.

Hooyah hooyah, Rayburn say.

Grandpa not say something.

Everybody got uniform for Big Rally from military surplus store. Camo pant, camo cap. Camo Rayburn favorite color. Plus combat boot and matching t-shirt say Northwest County Melissa. Look good. Look sharp. Everybody make good impression at Big Rally.

Melissa Jim scratch fat chin. We’ll assemble here at oh-eight-hundred, then pile into Dale’s pickup and head into town together.

Slight problem, say Grandpa. Bessie’s currently indisposed.

Damn, Dale, say Jon-Jon, you need a new truck.

Don’t I know it.

How the hell’d you get over here today? Melissa Jim say.

ATV, say Grandpa.

Then Rayburn say: Everybody take Rayburn Dodge Ram 2500 Cummin Diesel 4×4. Got Crew Cab and color-match canopy so everybody stay dry. Plus—

Rayburn? say Grandpa.

Got leather interior touch screen smart feature. So good.


Let him finish, Dale, say Melissa Jim with funny face to Grandpa.

Jet black as night with stealth paint so nobody can pick up on radar.

Bubba chuckle. Jon-Jon hack. Grandpa face look pale.

How long you owned it, Radon? say Melissa Jim.

One week.

And how you like it?


Handles okay?


Not underpowered?

No no so overpowerful.

Melissa Jim suck teeth. Sounds like a keeper. Where you parking her these days?

Antler California.

Got your own spread there, do you?


Property and a nice house, type of deal?

Ease up, Jim, say Grandpa.

Can’t I ask the boy about his pride and joy?

Rayburn not boy, say Rayburn. Rayburn man.

Melissa Jim whistle.

Bubba and Jon-Jon heehaw.

Guess the joke’s on us, say Melissa Jim. How old a man are you, son?

Twenty-one in four day.

Butter my hocks and call me Wilma, say Melissa Jim.

That make Rayburn laugh laugh laugh.

We about done here? Grandpa say.

What’s your rush, Dale? say Melissa Jim.

Stick around, Bubba say.

Got Blue Ribbons on ice, say Jon-Jon.

Think we better call it a night, say Grandpa.

That’s a shame, say Melissa Jim, but have it your way. Then he puff chest out and say: Dis. Missed.

Grandpa holster Smith & Wessen. Rayburn stuff pistol-gun in waistband, then grip Mr. Snakey pole with both hand on way to ATV. Grandpa climb in buckle up. Rayburn stand in drizzle waving Mr. Snakey.

Melissa Jim follow through dark. Gonna need that flag, son.

Not your son.

It stays here.

Who made you boss man? say Rayburn.

Give it to him, Grandpa say.

Rayburn shake head. You got girl name.

Melissa Jim smirk. Date a lot of Jims, do you?

You Melissa Jim, say Rayburn. Meemaw say so.

He shoot Grandpa mean look. Better get your hearing checked, boy. Then he steal away Mr. Snakey.

Grandpa fire up ATV.

Rayburn climb in buckle up. Bye-bye, girl-man, say Rayburn.


Rayburn sulk downstair all evening. Little while, Meemaw come down carpet stair with tray of meatloaf mashed potato and rhubarb pie. Rayburn favorite. Smell so so good. Rayburn got door with lock to keep out trespasser but Meemaw don’t gotta knock she got all key and welcome any time.

Rayburn? say Meemaw. Want some supper?

Rayburn not hungry got pit in stomach from missing Mr. Snakey but say yes anyway. Meemaw make supper from scratch, get sad if Rayburn not eat.

She set tray on TV. Except no, TV eighty-six inch wall-mount flat screen, so she set tray on desk. Then she take seat on bed next to Rayburn.

What’s eating you, son?

Rayburn not like being called son by anybody except Meemaw.

And don’t tell me nothing, she say. It’s written all over your face.

Rayburn go to maneuver, say Rayburn.

Meemaw sigh and shake head. What’d I tell you about hanging round Militia Jim and those others?

Rayburn think hard. Tube light in ceiling hum hum hum.

What about Grandpa? say Rayburn.

What about him?

He not one of other?

Meemaw fold hand in lap. Rayburn wish to put head there like back when little boy. Listen, say Meemaw, your Grandpa’s a good man. Usually. But sometimes he can’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground.

Rayburn feel mouth make big O. Same with both eye.

Don’t give me that, son. You know exactly what I mean.

Uh-huh, say Rayburn. Ass is hole in ground.

Meemaw laugh. Rayburn laugh. Laughing laughing laughing.

That’s enough, son. Meemaw stand from bed and go to door. Now eat your supper before it gets cold.

When it dark Rayburn sneak upstair and out back door. Meemaw in kitchen washing dish to loud violin from radio. Grandpa out in shop working on Bessie alway break down. He need brand-new blue-like-ocean F-250 4×4 SuperCab like Rayburn buy. Only $250 this morning. Rayburn park back home in Antler California so no rust from sea salt.

Melissa Jim house all dark inside. Only security light flash from motion sensor. No wife no kid because they still in Idaho where they live without Melissa Jim. Old Ginny bark once twice but no more she know Rayburn smell.

One time Grandpa show Rayburn where hide Northwest County Melissa Headquarter basement key. Rayburn look and look but can’t find because security light not stay on and Rayburn forget infrared night-vision goggle from Navy Seal time back at Meemaw house. Rayburn take log from firewood pile and chuck through window. Glass crackle and crunch but Ginny not bark again. No siren make Rayburn disappear ninja-style. When Rayburn reach through unlock and open window Ginny come over lick Rayburn hand.

Too dark to see so Rayburn flick on light. All flag on pole roll up in corner next to gun cabinet. Rayburn see Star and Stripe Star and Bar For President 2020 T-Rambo. Fuck your feeling, say Rayburn to empty basement. Rayburn laugh and laugh till laughter fizzle out. Many good flag but Mr. Snakey so much better. So yellow like Antler California sunshine with coil fangy snake in middle. Rayburn stare at flag in dirty light. Mr. Snakey hiss and slither coiling uncoiling coiling, tongue flicking pink.

I get you outta here, say Rayburn.

Roll up good flag and tuck under arm.

Rayburn turn deadbolt and open basement door. Flip off light switch and stand in amber security light. Gun cabinet locked but key right there in slot. Rayburn know all gun from Army Ranger Navy Seal Special Op job. Rayburn already got pistol-gun so skip Glock Beretta Sig Sauer.

Focus on Remington Smith & Wessen Winchester Browning. Rayburn reach in and grab pump- action .12-gauge. Already loaded but take box of shell anyway. Then outside into the damp moonless dark.

That night Mr. Snakey tell Rayburn how it is. At first Rayburn think maybe dreaming but wake up in yellow nightlight glow sprawl across big basement bed. Mr. Snakey slither up tangle sheet to pillow next to Rayburn head. His tongue flick, he hiss hiss hiss, but Rayburn not even think to be scared. Feel face stretch and glow in weird yellow light. Then Mr. Snakey say:

You shouldn’t let them speak to you like that.

He hiss all the s.

Who you mean? say Rayburn.

Mr. Snakey give Rayburn look with glassy eye. You know exactly who I mean, Radon. Then he snicker.

No, Mr. Snakey, say Rayburn. It Rayburn.

Then why do you let Militia Jim and the others call you that?

Sometime even Grandpa, say Rayburn.


It no good.

You must demand respect, Rayburn.

What you mean?

Don’t tread on me.

Rayburn not do anything bad to Mr. Snakey.

Or else!

Rayburn lean up on elbow.

It’s figurative, Rayburn.

Figger what?

Mr. Snakey hiss writhe slither. Your so-called friends don’t treat you so well.

Rayburn feel face tighten. Stare across musty basement to wall where nightlight glow. Clock tickety-tock. Light through high window turn gray. Mr. Snakey sit still on pillow, fork tongue licking air, waiting.

No, say Rayburn, they not nice.

In what ways?

Make joke. Treat Rayburn like clown. Think dumb dumb dumb.

That’s exactly right.

Rayburn sit up and lean against wall. No noise come from outside since this place boring nothing happen.

So what are you going to do about it?


Because they’ll keep treating you like a dumb clown. They’ll keep making jokes as long as you let them.

Rayburn shrug. Mouth pucker like suck on lemonade with no sugar. What can Rayburn do? say Rayburn.

Mr. Snakey slither circle on pillow till coil up. He flick tongue couple-three time, then stick fang out.

Woah, Mr. Snakey, say Rayburn. So good but too scary!

Now repeat after me: Don’t tread on me.

Say again?

You can do it, Rayburn. It’s just four little words.

Don’t tread on me?

Now with conviction.

Don’t tread on me.


Don’t tread on me!

Mr. Snakey hiss hiss hiss. Then he slowly uncoil and slither off bed deep into shadow.


Morning come Grandpa hammer fist on Rayburn basement door. Rayburn struggle up to surface from way under. Grandpa yell but not make sense.

Go away, Rayburn sleeping.

Don’t you give me that, boy. Grandpa thump door again, thump thump thump. I just got off the phone with Jim. He told me all about it.

His voice muffle from talking through door.

Open up, Rayburn. I won’t let you make me a laughingstock.

Now footstep come down stair and Meemaw say, What’s all this fuss about?

You tell that boy to unlock this door right now or I’ll kick it down.

Like hell you will, say Meemaw.

Sound of scuffle, rattle thud grunt. Picture fall off wall.

That kid’s an abomination, June.

You lower your voice this instant. I’ll not have you poison our grandson any more than you already have.

Footstep climb stair, voice get faraway. Rayburn think about Mr. Snakey, feel face stretch and glow. Then pull cover over head and go back to snooze.

Rayburn stay downstair all morning. Grandpa smash around house till Meemaw chase outside. Then he fiddle in side yard outside Rayburn high window, water grass trim bush squint through glass Rayburn cover with paper bag and duct tape. He not see nothing. No Rayburn no Mr. Snakey no pump-action .12-gauge. All hidden from peeping Grandpa.

After while he give up and stomp across gravel drive to tinker with Bessie in shop. When Grandpa not mad, Rayburn buy him new truck, Ford Chevy GMC Dodge Ram. Even Jeep Gladiator 3.0L EcoDiesel V6. Anything. Rayburn pay with pocket change probably $85. Easy-peasy.

Grandpa must have rabbit foot in pocket since old pickup turn over once twice three time then catch. Rayburn hear it gurgle pop grind as Grandpa rev engine then put in gear and heave out of shop down driveway. Spozed to be Rayburn ride with Grandpa to Big Rally. Different now since Grandpa leave without Rayburn.

Big Rally start here just a few minute. Rayburn not walk or miss whole thing. Have to take ATV. Roll .12-gauge up inside Mr. Snakey then sneak upstair. Listen for Meemaw. Loud violin come from radio in bedroom. Rayburn listen real hard, not hear any other sound from entire house. Squeeze shotgun inside Mr. Snakey and tiptoe down creaky hall to back door. Some thrill-joy swell in Rayburn chest so almost not stop from whooping. Sprint across gravel drive to Grandpa shop. ATV key in ignition like alway. Rayburn stow good flag good gun strap on safety harness fire up engine. Gravel crunch and spray while Rayburn tear down driveway to road.

Just ten-fifteen minute to town. Rayburn know how to find Big Rally no problem. Start at fairground then parade single-file down Main Street to courthouse. Still, more truck at fairground than Rayburn think. Many many more. Every kind of truck big bigger biggest. Dodge flatbed diesel, F-350 long bed, Chevy Silverado 4×4 Double Cab dually. More than Rayburn got in Antler California for Christy Turlington to wash wax lube drive around ten acre to keep battery charge.

Whole time Rayburn keep eye out for Melissa Jim and other. Air stink like fried chicken and firecracker. Some Kind of Monster blast from somebody truck. Place pack with different army guy, some with beard some with mustache, all with army pant army boot army gun. Rayburn got camo pant camo cap. Mr. Snakey in one hand, .12-gauge in other. Fit right in. Rayburn grin and hoot waving good flag on pole. Other give mean stare. Rayburn check out all truck, try to tell big beard guy with Ford F-250 Lariat about better one at mansion hunting lodge in Antler California.

Beard guy say, Think you’re at the wrong rodeo, cowboy.

Not rodeo, say Rayburn. Big Rally.

He take two step at Rayburn. Got big army vest and AR-15. Go home, son, say beard guy. This ain’t the place for you.

Rayburn feel face glow hot, then remember what Mr. Snakey say. Point .12-gauge at beard guy beard. Maybe you like hole in head, say Rayburn.

Now other beard guy in same outfit turn to Rayburn. All got vest and assault rifle. Rayburn not see anybody with matching t-shirt of Northwest County Melissa.

Move along, boy, say beard guy.

Rayburn wave Mr. Snakey and laugh laugh laugh.

Hell’s going on here? say Bubba with funnel cake from somewhere. Matching t-shirt too small so fat hairy gut hang out. He tap shotgun barrel down to ground.

Sorry, gents, say Bubba. My idiot cousin. He’s harmless.

Best keep him on a tighter leash, say beard guy.

His gun’s not even loaded, Bubba say, shoving Rayburn down path between truck.

Don’t tread on me, say Rayburn.

Shut up, say Bubba. You’ll get us both killed.

You shut up, fatso.

Hell’s gotten into you?

Rayburn not say something, just wave good flag back and forth in gray drizzle.

Bubba lead to Melissa Jim and other. Grandpa not look happy when spot Rayburn. Jon-Jon grin and shake head.

Look what the cat dragged in, say Melissa Jim.

Dumbass was picking a fight with some Oath Keepers, Bubba say.

Rayburn make Mr. Snakey flap and pop.

Cut that out, say Grandpa. You’re already in enough trouble as it is.

Somebody truck backfire. Only Grandpa flinch.

It hurts my heart to see you here, say Melissa Jim. After breaking into headquarters and helping yourself to private property.

Rayburn feel face tighten. Fuck your feeling, say Rayburn.

This time nobody laugh.

Melissa Jim fold arm. You’re missing the point, Radon.

Rayburn think Meemaw right about Melissa Jim. He not good man. Should listen better when Meemaw talk.

Maybe you deaf, Melissa Jim? say Rayburn.

Do what? he say.

Everybody laugh. Bubba Jon-Jon Grandpa, laughing laughing laughing. Melissa Jim fake like he make joke on purpose.

Rayburn name Rayburn, say Rayburn. Got it?

Listen here, boy, say Melissa Jim. I don’t give a good goddamn what your name is or how you justify breaking into my place and stealing my personal property.

Not only for you, Melissa Jim. Belong to all everyone.

Melissa Jim scan face for backup.

Hate to say it, say Jon-Jon, but he’s got a point.

Bubba say, True.

Now Melissa Jim look to Grandpa.

It is our flag, Jim, he say.

Melissa Jim look like he get slap. That may well be, he say, but that shotgun belongs to nobody but yours truly, Radon.

Mr. Snakey say, Remember what we talked about.

Rayburn stab Mr. Snakey pole into soft never-stop-raining ground. Name not Radon, say Rayburn, then work pump action.

Look who’s full of piss and vinegar, say Melissa Jim.

Rayburn? say Grandpa.

Don’t worry, Bubba say, it’s not loaded.

Somebody truck backfire again.

Jon-Jon duck behind Ford F-150 SuperCab. You sure bout that? he say.

Melissa Jim laugh laugh laugh. Even if it is, this simpleton couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

He knows how to shoot, Jim, say Grandpa.

Yup, say Rayburn, pointing double-barrel.

You gonna put a hole in me with my own gun? say Melissa Jim. Hit me with your best shot.

Don’t antagonize the boy, say Grandpa.

Put the gun down, Jon-Jon say from near truck bumper.

Somebody gonna take this halfwit out? say Melissa Jim.

Show ’em who’s boss, say Mr. Snakey.

Rayburn click off safety.

Bubba tumble behind wheel well of dually. Grandpa shuffle two step and ball fist. Highway to Hell blast from somebody truck.

Melissa Jim look over to where Jon-Jon hide, maybe ten yard away. Toss me your sidearm, he say.

My what?

Your weapon.

Jon-Jon hold up his pistol-gun like he never see before. You want my Glock?

Give it here.

You ain’t gonna shoot the boy? say Bubba.

Melissa Jim catch weapon, chamber round, click off safety. Real smooth, no hurry. Then aim at Rayburn heart.

Rayburn think about every truck park at mansion hunting lodge in Antler California. Christy Turlington spray down truck with water hose before lather with soap, dry with shammy, rub with wax. First one then other then other. She take break drink ice tea on porch with Meemaw. Rayburn put head in Meemaw lap, she caress hair say, You’re a good boy. Rayburn feel face stretch and glow.

Last chance, say Melissa Jim. Set that .12-gauge on the ground and step away.

Grandpa say, Do what he tells you.

It’s now or never, Mr. Snakey say.

Don’t tread on me, say Rayburn, then squeeze.

J. T. Townley

J.T. has published in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, and dozens of other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from the University of Oxford.

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