Chapter One: Ramaeumptom
The little boy ran out of the twilight, stomping clouds of dust from the road.
“Scoot ‘em, Pa!” he yelled as he ran. “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”
He ran it seemed at random, weaving, bouncing from one side of the street to the other, here turning a block, there returning, darting down a side street, reappearing on the main, darting again, all the time calling “Scoot ‘em, Pa!” he shouted into cellars, through open kitchen windows, through the half-moon on the privies.
And where he shouted, where he had been, men slipped from shadow to shadow, hastily donning hats, hastily shucking shirts on over their nightgowns.
The sunset, a smear of light behind the hills, brighter at the end of the long valley.
Other small boys – and even small girls, tucking their hair into caps borrowed from older brothers, took up the call, running through town until from above it appeared as if the crickets were invading, little bodies darting all over town, shouting into every barn and rain barrel.
More footfalls, more explosions of dust. Quieter, heavier footfalls. Men. Men with bundles, leaving homes, latching gates catching eyes, speaking in nods and shrugs and feet.
Men with dark lanterns, some running, some walking swiftly; walking, running from the town, up to the canyon, up to the canyon called Skutumpah.
From the direction the first boy came, two men rode into the town.
“You hear it, Thomas?” one asked the other.
At the other end of the tiny town, voices still shrilled in the darkness: “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”
“Damn,” the other said. A badge on his lapel caught a bit of moonlight.
“They run like rats,” the first said. “Ever chased them?”
“Yeah,” the other said. “Doesn’t do much good. They know the land. Chased one up the canyon a few weeks ago. Was on horseback and lost him in a stand of brush you couldn’t hide your mustache in.”
I leaned against the side of the Fort, in shadow provided by the roof and rain barrels. The two men sat on their horses not thirty feet from me. From where I stood I could see two, no, three, men of the order also hiding in shadows. Priddy Meeks hunched on the porch of the Big House. President Chamberlain watched the Big House – his house, home to his five wives – from the Relief Society Hall. Why he had not fled I could not know – but he’d been giving Harlow Wilcox a blessing and said even the devil himself couldn’t stop a man performing God’s will. And Alma Porter lay in the shadows near his forge. From the smell of it, his leather apron was beginning to char.
“Ready here, Amos.”
That was HK – H. Kimball Leithead, my best friend in the priesthood and in devilry. We blessed the Sacrament on Sundays and the rest of the week, well, did things. That tonight’s thing should involve white robes we made from linen we stole from the laundry and a few pounds of gunpowder probably should tell you something about the things we did.
I pulled the robe from my vest, put it on. The men on horseback moved to the far end of the square, chasing shadows. From other odd corners I could hear the flap of linen and a few immature bits of stifled laughter.
Then I heard the snap of a crackling fuse. HK, of course. No one else would handle the gunpowder. No one else had eyes like his that caught the spark of the fuse.
I clambered to the top of a barrel of flour HK and I had moved to the square. The marshal with the mustache must have heard my feet scrape the barrel as I climbed it, because he turned to look at me about half a second before HK set off the first pile of gunpowder. They turned their horses.
“Holy, holy God,” I shouted – it would have been better had my voice not cracked, but the marshals didn’t seem to notice – “we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy!”
The burst of gunpowder rattled the glass in the Big House windows, and I could feel the heat of the fireball on my hands and arms, raised to the sky.
“Holy God, we believe that thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by the wrath down to hell; for which holiness, O God, we thank thee!” I shouted.
More gunpowder. More balls of red and black fire. The marshals’ horses were jumping in panic. They tried to rein them.
“Hell’s bells!” the marshal with the mustache shouted as his horse whinnied and pranced, backing slowly out of the square. “Thomas, we –“
Marshal Thomas’ horse had already bolted. The marshal with the mustache wheeled his horse around and they pounded out of the square.
The air was full of smoke, and there were smaller explosions still going off.
“Amos,” HK said.
“Wait, HK, wait until we know they’re gone!”
“Shut up, HK!”
Someone pushed me violently from behind. Rough arms grabbed me by the armpits and dragged me across the square.
An explosion that would have woken Alma the Younger a day early blew the three of us off our feet. Bits of charred wood rained from the sky.
I turned to look.
The barrel I had been standing on was shattered in pieces, most of them burning.
“Sorry, Amos,” HK said. “That last bit of gunpowder caught the barrel on fire. Flour inside it blew up.”
President Chamberlain and Priddy Meeks appeared in the square with buckets. They doused some flames, calling “fire!” all the while, and soon others came with buckets, forming a line from the well to the square, dousing flames. A few of those with buckets, I noticed, had white robes stuffed into the backs of their trousers.
I still had my white robe on when President Chamberlain stomped up and ducked me with a bucket of water.
“Amos Cox,” he said, “That was a foolish thing to do. And nigh on blasphemous! The Rameumptom speech! Amos, if those marshals knew the rest of it, why, they’d think we’re more devils than they think already!”
I smiled despite his anger, despite the water dripping from my hair.
“They’ll tale more wild tales, down in Kanab!” he shouted, angered a bit by my smile. “‘Those wild Mormons in Orderville, they’re the worst of the bunch! Polygamists and devil-worshippers besides!’”
“Don’t they say that already?” I asked.
President Chamberlain sucked in a great breath of air and his face grew even redder. Then he expelled his breath and a smile cracked the corners of his round face. “I suppose they do,” he said. Then laughed, slapping me on the back. “Yes, I suppose they do.”