Joseph gasped, “Yep, you won.” trying to catch his breath. “A bet’s a bet and I’m a man of my word. You get my bacon.”
In front of them, several of the men were watching and laughing. A large man with a long bushy gray beard turned to Joseph. “That boy of yours is getting faster every day Joseph. Won’t be long, he'll reach the finish line before you.”
Joseph walked over to the fire to soak up the warmth. There were several old pots and pans on the large fire. “Where’s the bacon, Tim? It smells so good and I'm hungry.”
“Yeah! Bacon! Been forever since we’ve had bacon.” Jeremiah exclaimed as he ran to his father’s side.
“Maria asked the same thing half an hour ago. Thought I smelled some early this morning when I got up to stoke the fire and get the coffee and food going. Not sure where it’s coming from, but it’s not from here. There’s smoke rising to the North. There might be bacon there. That’s a bunch of smoke though. Gotta be a huge fire.”
Joseph’s eyes widened, “You saw Maria? Where is she?”
“She and ten others went to investigate.” Tim said, pointing to the pillar of smoke in the distance. “They left twenty minutes ago. I’d say it’s two miles away. If you leave now you might get there when they do.” He smiled and ruffled Jeremiah’s hair, “Jeremiah here will get there ahead of them.”
Joseph looked towards the pillar of gray smoke in the North rolling and coiling its way up like a living thing trying to breach the heavens. It moved as if it had a purpose - a dark purpose. A cutting breeze blew through the camp sending chills through Joseph. Or was it something else? The hair stood up on the back of his neck and arms. It was familiar. He’d been aware of it before several months back when the neighbors came to remove them from the neighborhood. An overwhelming anxiety filled his heart. Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t put a name to it or pinpoint what it was, he just knew something was wrong. They needed to find Maria now.
Joseph didn’t let Jeremiah know anything was wrong. The boy had suffered enough emotional damage the past several months. He looked over at Jeremiah; his only child. He’s been through so much. God, help me protect him.
“Let’s race to see who can catch up to mom first? You up for that?”
Jeremiah's eyes widened, and a smile appeared stretching from ear to ear. “Yeah! And when I win I get your bacon for the rest of the week.”
Joseph smiled and hugged his boy. “It’s a deal. If you win.” Looking at Tim, Joseph placed his hand on the giant man’s shoulder and said, “Something doesn’t feel right. Tell everyone to arm themselves and be on guard. Jeremiah and I will find Maria and the others. I hope I’m wrong.”
“Joseph, in the few months I’ve known you I’ve never known you to be wrong when you get these feelings. We’ll be ready should anything happen.” Tim placed his hand on Joseph’s shoulder and nodded. “Go get your wife and come back home safe.”
Joseph turned to Jeremiah, “You ready little man? It’s two miles so if you need to stop and catch your breath it’s okay.”
Jeremiah walked to his father, “Oh I’m ready. Are you?”
“Okay. Let’s go then. On your mark… get set… GO!” Off they ran down the path made by those that passed ahead of them, Jeremiah in the lead.