The Coyote Smile and the Red Horse Cry by Bobby Minelli
WHEN I AWOKE, after the first time Dixon Halbauer shot me, Ann’s was the first face I saw. I had passed out from the pain and when I came to, there was a pale face floating above me. Though she wore a pinched, worried expression, her eyes struck me as brown storm clouds, cosmic in their depth and beauty. Immediately next to her face was her brother’s. Aiden was also very concentrated on the task at hand, which happened to be saving my life, but I noticed his eyes too, similarly stormy, but darker, the swirling deep brown of stained wood. I felt myself floating in and out of that moment. I kept seeing a staticky TV, and I thought I heard a gravelly, molasses, country voice calling out “hoedown”, and somewhere far off, a coyote was howling. If I floated too far, Ann would press down on my shoulder, near where I was bleeding, and the pain would snap me back to a more appropriate place and time. This is how I came to know Ann and Aiden Armstrong, the two best friends I ever had.
They helped get me from the floor of a public bathroom in a rest stop on the side of a Montana highway to a small hospital outside Billings, where I would have a bullet removed from the area just beneath my collarbone. Dixon Halbauer, the Hell’s Angel who revealed himself to me in an expectant, would-be sexual offering, and who shot me after my failure to fulfill my role in that rendezvous, was gone. Aiden had hit him in the back of the head with an antique torque wrench, but he had hurled Aiden into the sinks, shattering one and leaving water spraying everywhere. The angry grizzly of a man had left, bloody and dazed, on his Harley. Aiden was thin, but possessed of a visible fierceness and was also, despite being odd, terribly likable – so when he explained the circumstances to the local police, they were not only satisfied, but grateful for his intervention. I was deeply grateful to Aiden for handling most of the police business as local law enforcement aren’t always inclined toward hospitality when it comes to lone motorcyclists. He told me the locals had immediately identified Dixon Halbauer, a Captain in a Hell’s Angels gang, as the man responsible. Apparently, the Billings’ P.D. had seen incidents like mine three separate times in the county that year. Aiden said the police suspected that Dixon had split town, but they were damn sure it was him, and would let me know if they got their hands on him. I said I never wanted to see his giant ugly ass again.
I stayed overnight at the hospital, but was discharged the next afternoon. I sported a heavy bandage, a heap of gauze that wrapped and held me beneath the white tee that Aiden had leant me, along with my worn bloody jeans and my beat-up leather jacket. I looked like I’d been run over by a truck, whereas I had only been shot by a man the size of one. The police had asked that I stay in town for at least a day or two, although they admitted they couldn’t insist. Aiden and Ann were god sent during that cloudy medicated time, but as soon as we were well and truly alone, I resisted their continued care and told them they that they had already been far too kind. They ignored me and rented a room at a Motel 6 at the edge of town for the three of us.
“Shut up, idiot, the stars brought us together. Would you defy the universe itself, boy?” That’s what Ann said to me when I tried to really argue the point. After that, there wasn’t much else to say.
My bike was a Honda CB77 Super Hawk that I’d bought used from a Teacher’s Assistant in a Literary Grad Program at Boston College. He had been disgraced by his participation in an affair with a famed professor’s wife and, after a thorough bender – and an even more thorough hangover – he had found himself wallowing and broke and finished on the East Coast. So, Holloway Lovett, brilliant and unclaimed literary mind of his generation of scholars, sold his Super Hawk (for a third of what it was worth) to a lonely kid who worked in the cafeteria at the student center. I left on the bike two days later. During our brief collision, Holloway told me he was going to either buy a Greyhound ticket and head back to his family ranch in Texas, or kill himself. I told him Texas was quite a sight.
We walked into the Motel 6 room one at a time, tentative, and saddled with the weight of strangers forced into intimacy. I had promised the nurses I wouldn’t get back onto my bike right away and had then done so immediately upon discharge. I touched my hands to the leather like one might love on an old dog that had run away, but skirted dangers and found its way back home. I cherished every bolt of nasty that spiked through my left arm as we rode the short distance from the hospital to the hotel. It’s not that you’re more alive on a bike, it’s that you’re more aware that you’re alive. On that short ride, I gave Mother Earth glory for the awareness, the life, and even the pain of the resplendent landscape. I was, as Aiden had pointed out when they burst into the bathroom and saw me bloody and wet and shot, one lucky son of a bitch.
“We’ll have to eat something at some point,” Aiden said. He tossed the keys onto the nightstand. “How you feel? I could just take a ride see what our options are, pick up something.”
I shrugged, “You two have been more than kind. Whatever you want, it’s on me.”
“Yeah, okay,” Aiden said. “So maybe I’ll just go look then…”
“I’m starving,” Ann said.
“Well, maybe they got a burger spot or something,” Aiden said. “You eat burgers, kid?”
“Whatever it is, it’ll be perfect,” Ann said. “Just, trust
Aiden nodded and grabbed the keys he had just tossed down.
He walked back to the door and left.
“It makes me feel really strange, you doing all this,”
I said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No, I get it,” Ann said, and she walked to the window and
pulled the curtain back, seeming to watch her brother go. “He’s happy to have another guy around. He misses our little brother.”
“It’s the least I can do, literally.”
She looked back at me. “What’s that?”
“Be a guy,” I said.
She smiled at me, like she got a kick out of that, and we stood there, about ten feet apart, as she bathed in the late afternoon orange-gold.
“Oh goddamn,” I said.
“I didn’t give him any cash.”
She looked bored for a moment, and then, with a sincere lack of modesty, she took off her shirt, pulled it right over her head, while staring at me in my puddle of shock. She unclasped her bra, and her breasts fell slightly just before her bra hit the floor.
She unbuttoned her blue jeans. “You worry a lot, right?” She shimmied out of her jeans, hopping for a second on one foot. She stood looking at me, awaiting a response. She shrugged and pulled down her underwear to stand as naked as Eve.
“You were traveling alone, fell into trouble and we helped. That’s tough, right?” she asked.
“What’s tough?” I asked.
“Oh. Yes. I mean, right,” I said. “I guess so.”
“Well, are you gonna take off your clothes or are you going to shower in them?”
“You need a shower, and so do I, and I know damn well
you’re not going to be able to reach behind your ears with all that limited mobility and all, young man.”
She turned and went into the bathroom, but before she did, she clicked on the bedside radio and it was Bob Dylan, some AM station playing his Royal Albert Hall concert from Nineteen Sixty Six. That was twelve years earlier, but goddamn if I hadn’t sat with my Pops and listened to it on some weird hippie college AM radio before Pops had died. And so, as it was all over now for Baby Blue, I followed the strange girl into the motel bathroom.
“Well, that’s just downright funny,” she said, nodding at the radio. I was silent as I took off my shirt and revealed my mess of bandages. “Because your name is Blue,” she said.
I nodded again and took off my bloodstained jeans as best I could with my good arm.
“Why are you called that?” she asked.
It was true… people had called me “Blue” since I was a small boy. I had no idea how she knew that. “Well,” I said, “you may be shocked to learn that it isn’t my real name.” She had begun carefully unwrapping the dressings around my shoulder, and collar, and mid-section, and our bodies brushed and blushed.
When she was finished, she gasped in cartoonish exaggerated fashion and asked scandalously, “What’s your real name, Blue?”
“Would’ve thought the hospital would have at least mentioned it,” I said.
“The biker took your wallet, and my brother and I told them true when we said we were strangers. In that post-anesthesia haze, you did say that you were called “Blue”, but all parties were happy to name you a John Doe.” She pulled me into the hot hotel shower, which was an odd bit of heaven. “Less paperwork if you’re a John Doe,” she said softly as she pushed my hair back out of my face, “and more mystery.”
I closed my eyes and let the hot water run across my face, back past my cheeks and onto my neck. “My name is Jean,” I said. “Jean Haverty… That’s why I’m Blue.”
She looked up from my midsection, which she had begun to lather, astonished and delighted, and not even the smallest bit embarrassed. She looked right into my eyes, the stormclouds parted. “Like, ‘Blue Jean’? You mean… that’s where it comes from? Blue Jean?”
She looked over at my crumpled pants on the floor. “Oh, that’s just too much,” she marveled. And the she leaned into me, and we were hot and wet and being made clean, and she kissed me.
I thought we would make love then, but that was the extent of her desire – one perfect kiss. It was quite enough.
After I had finished washing, and dried off, and, with her help, reapplied some of my dressings, we got into the matching pajamas her brother had purchased for all three of us at a local store (yet another example of their excessive hospitality). I went to my jacket and pulled out a pack of Camels. I handed her one. She waited for me to light it and I did. There was a chill, so I handed her my old black leather bike jacket.
“Does it feel amazing to be alive? Considering how close you got, to being not?” she asked as she shouldered it on.
I thought about it. I knew what she meant, but I felt like being an ass. I took a drag. “Actually, being alive hurts like a son of a bitch,” I said. She laughed and looked lost for a moment. “How’d you and Aiden come to be on the road?”
She gave me a look I had not yet seen. “Running away from one thing and running toward something else I guess.”
I laughed. “That’s kind of a shitty answer.” She smiled coyly. “What is it exactly you two were running toward?” I asked, looking right into her eyes. “Do you know?”
She breathed the smoke deep and her eyes looked back, certain. “Seems it was you Blue… doesn’t it?”
I smiled and it felt good. “Yeah, but I’m running too.”
“So?” she said.
“So…” I said, “moving target.”
She put out her cigarette, as Dylan’s Visions of Johanna meandered from the radio, singing “Ain’t it just like the night, to play tricks, when you’re trying to be so quiet?”
“Now you’re just being contrary,” Ann said.
She went to lay down in one of the beds and put her feet up straight in the air, looking at her bare toes. My jacket gave a lovely leather purr. I lay down next to her and it didn’t seem out of place. We listened to the radio and were asleep before Aiden returned with the burgers. He didn’t wake us.
The next day, we were on the road. I had dreamt of the black and white hotel TV flickering on and off; there were cartoons on it. We cruised down I90 where the green and the blue that were Montana’s hills and rivers were so bright, so truly themselves, that it was like seeing color for the first time. In Buffalo, Wyoming we stopped for fuel and lunch. The spot where we ate was called The Occidental Saloon and there were several horses out front – marched right out of time – to stand unconcerned and click in the breeze. One of the beasts, copper and spotted with white, looked at me like it knew me.I touched its side softly and then we left.
There’s nothing like a highway to make a person feel alone, even when they have companions, and while cruising south on 25, we would go hours without seeing another vehicle. Hill after green hill, and I felt like a bead of sweat rolling down God’s perfectly sorrowful face. My mother and I, we never really fell in sync after my father died. She had worked hard to give me a life where I didn’t have to work as hard as she thought she had to, and while she may have missed me when I left for Boston, I knew there was also relief. Yet there, dripping down the face of God, I missed her, and her simple grace. I was in awe of grace and its ability to exist here, on this land we stole, that was, perhaps as indifferent to us as the face of God itself. Or maybe, I thought, staring out at the hills, we are the reasons God’s face is so full of sorrow, that really wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
We pulled into Denver at sundown and found a bar that had a fair amount of bikes outside, but no horses. Aiden went to the bar to get us beers and ask about music, and Ann and I sat in a booth.
“How ya feel?” She asked.
“Yeah, guess so,” she said.
We were quiet for a minute.
“Whattya think about?” she asked.
“Whattya mean when? When you’re out on the road for five hours, nothing between you and your thoughts and the clouds in the sky?”
“Oh,” I said, “well today I was thinking about my Mom.”
“Oh,” she said.
“What do you think about?”
“I think a lot about our little brother, Georgie. Aiden and I, we left him at home. I worry that he’s lonely.”
“Oh yeah?” I said. “How old is he?”
“Almost ten,” she said.
“Well, he sounds like a fine young man,” I said for no damned reason.
She smiled weakly. “He’s sick.”
Neither sibling had ever mentioned their younger brother being ill. “Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
She didn’t look at me.
“Why do you ride?” She said after a second.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. I guess it’s as simple as, well, if I can’t find peace here, maybe I’ll have a shot at it someplace else.”
She smiled, “That’s good. I like that.” She reached out and took my hand.
Aiden showed up then with three mugs of beer and was wearing his usual furrow-browed, wary yet also mischievous scowl.
“Beers are cheap here, no music though, and don’t get too relaxed, it seems fairly rough.”
“Oooh rough,” Ann kicked me under the table and he ignored her.
“What type of music do you guys like to see? I mean, what are you looking for?” I asked. I had been asking these strange inane questions the whole time we had been together in order to, I think we all knew, keep from addressing the largest question of how we had all non-verbally decided that I would continue travelling with them, or that they would continue travelling with me.
“Good music,” Aiden said, before taking a huge pull from his mug, “and we like to see it in a place where we can get fucked up.”
“Any leads?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think I gotta place,” he said as he smiled like a goddamn devil.
The place was nameless with the exception of a neon arrow, not a “this way” arrow, but a Native’s weapon, meant to slay, but betrayed, lost and buzzing in time, electric and midnight blue. We took drugs and went inside.
And inside… Oh! The deliverance of the torn youths whose bodies live, but live and jump and water each other to do nothing but grow roots deeper in soil that prefers to look the other way! Oh! The imprisonment of desperation to escape the furtive mad-men drooling all over their cigars who make you put your money banks and your semen in tissues, and who can say what joy is the hermit’s joy and what joy is granted to the genteel conductor of the evening, who surfs, upon a riot, like Elijah, awesome, soaring above you in his chariot of fire. Oh indeed! What a hoedown!
The music was righteous, blues and jazz and rock ‘n roll all knotted together and the band leader, boy he was a bad man. He and his vagabonds had opened for the Allman brothers twice, and they seemed to plan on riding that wave as far as it would take them. His name was Jack Billups and his band was called “The Holy Knights.” It was an okay name, and he an okay guitar player, but man, he could really sing. He was taken with Aiden, but most who met Aiden were taken wherever he wanted to take them. I was quite taken myself. When one has the rare opportunity in life, to come upon a perfectly capable, perfectly confident, reckless youth, it’s like seeing a shooting star, they never seem out of control.
Aiden never gave too much away, but in the moments he looked at me and smiled, “You keepin up kid?” Well, it made me feel about as good as I’ve ever felt in my whole damn life.
Jack Billups and his Holy Knights wanted us to stay out all night. He wanted to explain why Van Morrison was punk and why Coltrane dwarfed Bach. He wanted to tell us about the legends in this particular hall of Valhalla, but Aiden broke his heart when he insisted that we had to leave and find a hotel. Ann and I were not a lot of help, on any front. We had grown accustomed to seeing things from the back of a bike, in passing.
Through a stumbling faceless conversation, we ascertained that “The Ross” – a legendary hotel, which had played host to Duke Ellington and Count Basie and other titans of a better age – was nearby, and most likely had rooms. We headed in that general direction on stilting, drug addled, shadows.
When we arrived at the hotel, there was a very thin man in a uniform behind a desk, and he smiled hungrily as Aiden and Ann and I entered. His smile was like cold wind in my heart. There was a child on the couch in the lobby, the couch’s back was to us, and I could see that the television was on.
“Hello, children,” the slight man at the desk said. “You’re a bit early.”
“Do you hear that?” Ann asked sharply.
“Do I hear what?” The man said.
“What are you talking about?” Aiden asked.
“It sounds like a dog howling,” Ann said.
The attendant smiled wider. “Will the three of you need a room then?”
“Yes, if there’s a room available,” Aiden said.
As far as I can recall, I said nothing, but the man behind the desk held my gaze the entire time. I realized that I had been hoping there would be jazz playing, at the hotel I mean, because of the history of the place that had been conveyed to us. However, what actually wafted from the old lobby speakers was Native American flute. It actually didn’t seem out of place. The old man adjusted his spectacles and handed Aiden a key to a room on the third floor. They had worked something out I guess. I wanted to be out of his presence, and the presence of his grin, both of which I hoped would not follow me upstairs. Ann seemed to be on another plane, listening to something that wasn’t there. It had been a very long day.
As we left the lobby, disjointed beneath the thin old attendant’s gaze, he spoke to me softly. “Blue…” he said.
I turned, not entirely surprised that the specter of a man knew my name. “Yes?”
“You should ask Ann about their Daddy, down by the creek. Will you do that for me?”
“Maybe,” I said.
He smiled, and it frightened me, so I left, but because I did so in a hurry, I wasn’t able to confirm that I was mad. I wasn’t able to console myself with the promise that I was seeing things, so I remained convinced that his smile was, in fact, growing too wide to be human.
The next day we rode to El Paso. Our hotel was called “El Excursionista” and when we arrived, we were soaked and dressed in leather, which made us seem so heavy with the weight of where we’d been. I had been sleeping in Ann’s bed, and each night, we held each other in some strange, but sensible, defiantly organic manner. Each room we had rented out had housed two beds, and Aiden had developed the incredibly gracious habit of sleeping alone. The mud and wet dust of the highway had caked us so thoroughly that each of us felt birthed from clay, risen like demi-god children of the great mother that we were all destined to betray. And on the road, the thunder had spoken to each of us.
As we parked our bikes, I shivered and I looked out at the desert’s rise and fall. A barefoot little brown girl ran up to me and offered me chewing gum for change. I gave her a full dollar and took nothing from her – somehow, it made me more guilty, rather than less.
As she walked off confused, Ann watched. “You lifted her up and let her down.”
“She’s been shaken by the white man,” Aiden joked.
“You should have just paid what she was asking and taken what she sold,” Ann said. I couldn’t decide whether Ann was joking or not. I decided not to care. The little girl was rich.
“Isn’t the first time, won’t be the last,” I said to Ann, but my comment on the situation seemed to have arrived too late and I could feel the awkward cadence.
“What?” Ann said, pushing her wet hair out of her face.
“It won’t be the last time you see me let someone down,” I said.
“Oh, fuck you,” she said, still playing with her hair, a brown a glorious wreck. “You’re so dramatic.” She went inside and left her brother and I standing there.
“You can’t sleep with her, you know?” Aiden said.
“That up to you?” I said.
“Yes,” Aiden said, matter of fact.
“Do I seem like I’m kidding?” He didn’t.
“Tell me about your father,” I said.
He smiled and seemed aloof for a second, “I like you so much, Blue,” he said. “You’re a real son of a bitch.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I said.
He then pushed the wet hair back from his forehead and they looked so similar it was frightening, “It means, under the right circumstance, you’d eat my goddamn heart.”
“All that makes me is resourceful,” I said laughing, “one has to be, in the Great American West.”
He lit a cigarette and so did I, and we stood there in the dirt lot. “He was a descendant of some sort of military hero, my Dad was. His family is the reason we own the ranch. Mama only turned it into a bed and breakfast when they got married. It was lots of other things before that. He’s dead now though, our Daddy. I don’t even know where to start it’s so fucking batty…”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Mine’s gone too.”
“Mama was just trying to make a few bucks off Mount Rushmore tourists. My youngest brother Georgie, well, him being sick took up all her time. Haven’t had a guest in years.”
Later on, as I drifted into sleep next to Ann, and thought of how the skinny clerk at The Ross had frightened me so, I saw the dry wooden roof flick away musically, panel by panel, until we three travelers were exposed to the grinning moon and all its dominion. A horse bucked and skated across the heavens and it soared and thundered. Its hooves kicked up stardust of pink and blue and silver. It was a cosmic stallion and I was on its back. I saw the world from above, and we were a Mark Twain novel. We were a Miles Davis’ melody, we were a midnight light in a New York City apartment where a couple was arguing, we were a single mother praying at the foot of her children’s bed, we were painted and we were the moving pictures, we were the rhapsodic crack of a home run swing and a negro wife weeping beneath her husband’s swinging body. We were the snap of permanence, the canons and banners and uniforms, of an advancing army, we were the swift thud of death that came moments after the ground vibrated beneath the hooves of Crazy Horse. The television was hissing.
In the morning, I opened my eyes and pulled the sheet down around my waist. I was perspiring. Ann pulled it back up and I batted it back down and we wrestled like that for a bit. Aiden was gone.
“How long do you think we can keep this up? I asked.
“As long as it takes,” she said.
“As long as what takes?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
We kept at it for another five weeks.
Four days after El Paso, Ann and I were on a beach in Corpus Christi on horseback. Aiden knew of a couple who lived in New York. He was deflective when I asked how he knew them, but either way, they had a home on the beach in Corpus that was empty nearly always. It was large, and painted white and a pastel yellow, and it seemed constructed by the ocean breeze. We were, Aiden told us, staying for a week, to rest, so I could properly take some time to heal. I expected we were trespassing. Ann and I paid five dollars apiece to a neighbor about ten houses down who kept horses and rented them to beach-goers. It was, we had been told, the quiet season, and the horses were happy for the company. It was our second day in Corpus, and our first time on the horses. It turned out we had both ridden as children. The horses walked slowly, splashing in the rising tide, and I was asking her all sorts of questions, as I was deeply in love with her. Then I asked her about her Georgie. I asked if he liked rock ‘n roll because there was a truck nearby parked on the beach that had a local rock radio station blaring from it. There were no people in sight.
“What?” Ann said looking away.
“Georgie,” I said, “maybe I shouldn’t ask, but, if it’s okay, I would like to know.”
“Know what now?” Ann said defensively.
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to be charming. “What’s his favorite band?”
She was far from me, but I waited. “He likes the Righteous Brothers, or I don’t know, he loves my mother’s old records, but he’ll also listen to anything that Aiden and I take down to him, so you know, he has the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, and he loves Neil Young.”
“What do you mean take down to him?” I asked.
I loved Ann’s face. For weeks I had done little but watch it change like the sky. When I asked that one innocent question, I just didn’t understand what she had meant when she had said, take down to him… When I asked that question, the sky broke. At the time, on the beach, on the horses, on the journey, I couldn’t have understood where we were going.
And then she was back to normal.
“Oh his bedroom’s, not on our floor. Aiden and I stay on the second floor.”
“Do you hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what?” she said, covering her brow with her hand and looking both ways.
“The dog howling,” I said.
“You must have super hearing, mister.” She smiled.
“Probably a beach stray,” I said.
“You’re probably a beach stray,” she said, and she turned and urged her horse into a bit of a trot, and then nearly a gallop. I went after her.
“I’m sorry if I upset you,” I offered into silence, “when I asked about your brother.”
She waited for two full waves to crash before she said, “Oh you’re fine. It’s just hard to talk about him. He’s always been sick, so he’s stuck at home with our mother while Aiden and I are out gallivanting around the whole damn country. Everything about the situation makes us feel guilty. It isn’t your fault.”
I waited on two waves of my own. We had only just dropped the horses back at the neighbor’s place, but I missed them for some reason. Mine had looked nearly identical to the horse in Wyoming days earlier, another oddity of my surrealistic odyssey.
“When do you plan on going home?” I said.
She slowly reached behind her back, up into the flowing oversized men’s T-shirt she wore, and unclasped her bikini top. She threw it to the sand and then set about removing her shorts. And then the bikini bottom. And then the men’s shirt, which was from the Mosler Safe Company’s annual picnic in Hamilton, Ohio in 1972. She ran toward the waves and I ran after her, shedding my clothes as I went like so many pieces of the past.
I think about that moment on the beach nearly every day, and I have for coming up on forty years. Ann and I, two people entering and exiting each other with all the perfect reckless beauty of a beach and its waves. I heard everything like a symphony of disaster, the whimpers, the laughs, the screams and the howls. She cried when we finished. Most days, when I think about it, I’m still unsure where she stood. But on good days, I think she really loved me.
“Ask me again,” she said, lying on top of me, breathing heavily.
“Ask you what?” I said.
“What you asked me before,” she breathed.
I stared at her. Her hair was wet and salty and
hanging in my face. “When do you plan on going home?”
She smiled and looked young, and I felt horribly sad for her, for reasons I didn’t understand. “Whenever you plan on coming with me,” she replied.
My heart broke and filled and broke again.
“We can’t tell Aiden yet,” she said, but caution was behind me, a distant memory. She could have told me to walk into the ocean and keep walking until I was a drowned fool, I wouldn’t have even looked back. That may have been best, actually.
The long road leading up to the house where Aiden and Ann had grown up was dirt and dust and accompanied occasionally by stumbling twisted wire fence.
“It’s stunning,” I said.
“It sure is,” Aiden responded. I took it as a victory, because he had only been speaking to me for the last day or so – and very sparsely at that – although he seemed cheered to be home. We had gone from Corpus Christi to Oklahoma City, then to Kansas City, through Omaha to Sioux Falls, and had finally done the long heavy drive down Highway 90 toward the place he and Ann called home. We headed south on 83 through White River, to Mission, onto the Rosebud Indian Reservation. By the time we were in Mission, Aiden and Ann were in a state such as I had never seen. Ann wouldn’t speak to either of us, and looked as though she may murder either of us at any point. That didn’t make much sense to me, because since the moment of collapse on the beach, she and I had been pressing our tanned bodies together nearly every time we had five minutes to ourselves. We had set ourselves on fire. Aiden had caught us multiple times, and in Kansas he had gotten up and slept in the bathtub, but strangely, he had only said one thing to me about my betrayal.
It was the morning after the Kansas bathtub incident. He was covered in a comforter, reading in the tub, when I came into the bathroom. I brushed my teeth while simultaneously moving to the toilet to urinate.
“My, how bold you’ve grown,” he said to me.
“Yeah,” I muttered through toothpaste, “I’m a real hero this morning.”
“You know,” he said staring into my soul, ”this was never going to be easy on you, but I was going to try and be there for you, for most of the way. I haven’t had the luxury of many true friends. But now, after what I know it’s going to do to her, I don’t really care how hard it is on poor precious Blue.”
“Aiden-” I started.
“No,” he said standing in the tub and reaching for his bathroom kit. “You’ll have plenty of time to wonder what may have happened if you had fucking listened to me, but don’t waste your time right now. Enjoy your last days as a free man. Don’t waste your time wondering what I mean.” I turned to leave. “Hey Blue,” he whispered and cocked his head to one side, “you hear that? Sounds like coyotes howling, don’t it? You hear it?” He spat in the sink and laughed, then raised his head and howled. I think about that day a lot too, Aiden had been dealt a terrible hand, and still he played the game so well. It was the only time I ever saw him crack.
“Will Georgie be wild to see you guys? I bet he’ll be so excited,” I asked in Ann’s direction, kicking dirt up in front of me. We were walking, as both Ann and Aiden had quietly insisted that we park the bikes at the end of the long drive and not ride them up to the house. I had no objection, but felt left out. They were speaking their own language, which they did on occasion. It reminded me of when we first met. Aiden seemed giddy, Ann sullen.
No one answered me.
We walked in silence and all around us the country was rhythmic and alive. The breeze was hot and sweet and offered a caress. It was beautiful. About twenty miles from their ranch, we had passed through a sea of buffalo, and their heavy swaying natural grace had brought me to tears.
I had agreed to go back to their home, to the ranch they grew up on that they called the “Smile and Cry”, as soon as Ann had asked me. I could tell that Aiden missed their brother and thought he would be relieved to redirect our ambling there, but his mood surprised me. With each mile, his smile grew wider and more manic. It was unfamiliar.
“What’s with the name?” I asked Ann as we walked. I was surprised I hadn’t asked before but it had something to do with the easy way the spoke it, it never occurred to me to ask, “Why The Smile and Cry?”
“Daddy’s family kept the Indian name for the place – The Coyote Smile and the Red Horse Cry,” Ann said without looking at me.
A large white house had become visible in the distance.
“You know,” Aiden said, “the Indians believed that there is a spirit world, just beneath ours, where you can see the true form of things, a world more real than our own.”
“Stop,” Ann said.
The raw beauty of the countryside had aroused a small waking awareness in me, and it occurred to me, despite loving Ann and all of her exquisite peculiarities, how little I knew about these two people and their family. I looked down at the dirt road and felt as if the past weeks had been a trance, an enchantment leading me into the forest. But then I looked up, and at Ann, and I knew I was where I was meant to be.
“There she blows,” Aiden said, looking fondly toward the old white house, “The ol’ Coyote Smile, the Red Horse Cry. Just like the lady said.”
There were small rundown buildings adjacent to the main house – guesthouses, I assumed – and even from that distance, I could see that the place was not well maintained. The whole sun-faded grey and white collection of buildings looked like a pile of bones. The forest behind it was flat for a ways, and then peaks rose into the distance, stony and wind-worn.
“Ann can take you up to some of the peaks this week,” Aiden said. “She knows that forest like her own body.” He paused. “And you know her body. So you should know the forest. Only makes sense, right?”
“Please stop,” Ann said again.
“She can give you all the highlights… Bride’s Wail Canyon, Tearfall Falls.” He looked at Ann and poked her, mocking playfulness. “Ann, you could even take him out to Kill Himself Creek.” He looked back at me. “That’s where our Daddy hung himself, but it had that name long before he died out there.”
I stopped walking and stared at the two siblings. We were about two hundred yards from the house. I could see the paint was peeling and the porch was rotting a bit. There was a rocking chair and a screen door. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a figure standing on the roof, but when I turned there was nothing there.
“You know I love you guys, right? That I’m grateful for what you did, and these past couple weeks…” I waited and they were silent. Ann had tears in her eyes. “So what’s going on? Everything feels different.”
We stood there in the hot breeze, the two of them with their backs to their home, facing me. Eventually, Aiden spoke, and when he did, he was my friend again, not the manic stranger he had been moments earlier. “The Smile and Cry, it’s sort of a real holy place. That’s part of the reason we opened the place up to guests, as like a retreat, you know?” I nodded. “But things have been bad for a while, and we don’t have people here anymore. Our Dad hung himself a year after George was born, and Mama, she never much got over that. What with George being sick and all, it’s been a lonely place. There’s a fella who helps out around the place, but we just aren’t used to strangers. I’m sorry it’s weird.” I looked at his handsome hardened face and his deep brown eyes. I had always known, whatever we were doing – the road, the drugs, the fierce intimacy – that it couldn’t last, but in his face, I saw an end that I couldn’t have predicted, something dark and forever. “Just come meet Georgie. He’s never really had a visitor.”
“He doesn’t have friends from school?” I said. Ann stifled a sob and I turned to her. “What is it?”
She dried her eyes a bit with the heels of her hands. “I’m just really grateful you’re here. This is hard. We’ve never brought anyone home.”
I reached out and held her hand gently. “Okay,” I said, “it’s okay. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s go see your little brother.”
We walked toward the house like water running down a drain.
“Did you know that the soul has features?” Aiden asked, as if I had nothing else on my mind. “A quality to it, I mean.”
“Did you know many Natives growing up?” I asked.
“We mostly kept to ourselves,” he said, “but you can’t help but learn this stuff. It’s part of the land.”
The ranch, as far as I could see, was littered with all sorts of rusting equipment and there was a rotted wooden sign in the front yard that said “The Smile and Cry Ranch” in chipped paint. Ann reached out and touched it as we passed. Despite the heat, a chill ran through me as we approached the porch. The front door was open, exposing a screen door, but the whole place looked just a few inches off center. I tried to put my finger on it, as Aiden walked up the few stairs and pulled the door open. Ann followed behind him, and I paused for a moment at the threshold of the home. It occurred to me then that the house looked as if no one had lived there for years. I looked back out at the field and the dirt road, and briefly considered bolting back toward my Honda, which was out of sight and somehow impossibly far away. I thought about Ann’s tears and her smile, and then I entered the old wreck, following my friends into their home. As I did, a howl echoed across the valley and I knew that whatever it was that howled had been following me for a long time.
The foyer was painted blue, there was a maroon-carpeted staircase leading to the second floor, and here too, all of the paint was chipped and peeling away. The furniture was ancient and dusty and there was a sweet trapped sort of odor. There were no signs of life.
“Mama!” Aiden yelled. “Hey Mama, we brought our friend Blue with us.”
“She’ll be with Georgie,” Ann whispered as Aiden moved into a long hallway. At the end of the hallway was the kitchen, which also looked and felt abandoned.
“You want a glass of water?” Aiden asked me absentmindedly as he filled one for himself.
“Sure,” I said. He handed me a smudgy glass and then passed one to Ann. I drank it in three long gulps. I was thirsty. I was sweating, but the old house felt cold and my body seemed confused. “Ann…” I said quietly. She looked at me, she could barely hold my gaze. “Where is everybody?”
Her voice quivered when she responded, “They’ll be down with Georgie.” Then she said, “Blue, you’ve got to know we’re sorry.”
“Down?” I said.
“You have to understand, he’s our brother and we love him.”
“Ann, what do you mean down?”
“George doesn’t like it upstairs,” Aiden said, moving to a closed door on the far wall of the large kitchen. He opened it up with all the familiarity of someone who was in their childhood home. “Ann, we did the hard part. He’s here, right? Don’t go frightening him.” Aiden stood with his back to us, framed in the basement doorway. “Hey Mama, we’re back and we brought our friend Blue!”
A light rose up from the doorway and I could hear the sounds of a television.
I looked at Ann and said, “I don’t want to go down there.”
After several seconds a soft gravelly voice rose out of the darkness, a woman’s voice, “We’re watching teeeeeevee.” And Aiden looked back, not at me at all, but at Ann.
“Okay, Mama,” he said. “Our friend Jean is gonna come down and meet Georgie.”
I made the decision to give in to the panic that gripped me, but just as I did, the panic slowed, like it had been slathered in tar, and then it sank out of sight. I felt a hook in my guts, a weight pulling me toward the basement stairs, and I moved to the doorway and looked down. My feet felt oddly heavy. Old wooden stairs and a concrete floor were below me and I could see the edge of a faded dirty rug. The floor was bathed in the blue of the television light, although I couldn’t make out what was being said. My ears were full of a panting sound, like an overly excited dog. I realized that Ann and Aiden had both backed away from me and I stood alone at the top of the stairs. With effort, I looked back at them, working against the magnetism of the basement. Ann was sobbing. I hadn’t even noticed. Aiden looked frightened too.
Ann mouthed, “I’m sorry” and a split second after that Aiden seemed to say “Thank you”, but for some reason, I couldn’t hear them anymore.
When the boot of my right foot hit the first of the rotted descending wooden stairs, the whole house creaked and seemed to sag under my weight. My panic made a dash for the surface, but again was pushed back down. The second stair bent a little and then straightened under my left foot. As soon as my right foot moved onto the third, the basement door slammed shut behind me. Somewhere inside myself I was screaming – to Ann, to my parents, to anyone I had ever met – IDONTWANNAGODOWNTHEREIDONTWANNAGODOWNTHEREIDONTWANNAGODOWNTHERE, but my feet – my terribly heavy, leaden feet – kept moving. In fact, my feet became heavier with each step, so that the stairs became bent and misshapen under my staggering weight. Four stairs from the bottom, I could hear cracking and snapping, the third from the bottom broke entirely, and the last two stairs were instantly demolished, splintered by the hideous gravity pulling me into that dark place. I felt my feet one at a time through the broken wood reach concrete and behind me, the entire staircase fell away into a dusty rotted pile. My submersion was complete. I was down with Georgie.
The first thing I noticed was one light bulb on a chain moving slowly back and forth above the couch. Below it was the back of a child’s head. The child was sat upon an old brown couch and was a watching a T.V. that I couldn’t really see. The basement was huge, cavernous, and I realized the house must have been built above a cave. There was odd furniture and plumbing and the ceilings were high and I knew I was somewhere sunken.
“You must be pretty scared,” a man’s voice spoke to me. It was a deep voice and I recognized it from some other life. I turned to my left, and sitting at an old card table, with its metal legs and green faux leather, was a big man, very big. He looked like a grizzly in leather. “It’s okay if you’re scared,” Dixon Halbauer said. “You’re right to be.”
It seemed to take forever for me to pin down this beast to a time and place. But when I did, I heard myself say curiously, “You shot me.”
He sighed, “And for that, I am sorry. Bet it hurt like a bitch. No real damage though, right? Hell of a scar, but that’s all I suspect.” He had a can of beer next to him, and he reached for it and drank, then wiped his beard. “The twins thought I should just beat on you, but I knew it would take a bullet. Knew I could put it in the right spot too. Busted up Aiden a bit when I threw him into the sink, but he’s always been a bit of a punk, so I didn’t feel to bad in the end.”
I just stared at the man. I couldn’t make any sense of him, or the moment. He seemed to expect this. “My Daddy worked the land before Mama over there inherited the place. And his Daddy before him. We been working for the Armstrong’s, well, for as long as this old heap has been here.” He turned to me and smiled and I could see he was lost to madness. He saluted me. “Dixon Halbauer. Glad to make your acquaintance again. Under right fearful circumstance, twice in a row.” He took a long pull of beer, “I’m sorry we lied to ya… had to get you here somehow.”
I had become faintly aware of two strange noises. The first coming from the television, a staticky opera. The second sound was a wooden scratching. I looked around, and off to the side of the couch, in a corner, there was a rocking chair moving back and forth. In it sat a heavy grey-haired woman wrapped in quilts that looked to be rotting. She stared straight ahead and breathed heavy. Was it her panting I had been hearing? The voice of soft gravel emerged from her again. “They want to hoedown.”
Dixon looked alarmed. “Aw Mama, not so soon. Tell ‘em no.”
Her head snapped unnaturally around at the man and I could see whatever madness had touched Dixon had long ago strangled his employer. “You know damn well I can’t tell ‘em nothing. They want to hoedown with their Blue Jean!”
“Ask Georgie to tell ‘em!” Dixon burst out. “Blue’s our guest! He just got here! IT’S NOT POLITE!”
But the woman, Mama, wasn’t listening. She was rocking and laughing, slow at first, but then she started to speed up. She started to grunt, “Hoedown. Hoedown. HOEDOWN!” Her speed became rapid, too fast for the old chair, but still she went on, and began to shout hoarsely, “HOEDOWNHOEDOWNHOEDOWNHOEDOWNHOEDOWN-”
“Blue,” Dixon whispered, “they can’t hurt you less you let ‘em. They can’t hurt you less you let ‘em take your mind!” The room had begun to spin, and each time the couch flickered into view, I could see the yellow eyes of a little girl, dead and peering over the couch at me. She seemed to be touching the boy. I could still hear Dixon’s voice, but I couldn’t see him. The room was spinning too quickly and the opera had gotten very loud. He said, “YOU GOT A FINE-FEATURED SOUL! A QUALITY SOUL, A QUALITY MIND! THAT’S WHY! STAY STRONG!”
My whole state became translucent and forces pushed and pulled at me. I would become solid just long enough to think I would be smashed into a bureau or a corner sink or Dixon himself, who could no longer see me, and then at the last moment I would become ghostly and immaterial again and I would pass through the obstacle. This dance, this wringing my physical being out like a dishrag, lasted I’m not sure how long, but by the time I could see and feel their hands on me, I could feel my mind beginning to go. And then, my spinning slowly stopped and I was on all fours, next to Dixon’s chair, behind the couch. It was then that I first saw them.
The whole room, the whole house, the whole universe became a syrupy azure, and Dixon and Mama were gone. The lost souls were packed into the basement cave, hanging off rafters, beneath Dixon’s card table, sitting on the bureau, crouched in the sink. Their grey flesh was missing in chunks, jaws distended, their smiles, their eyes, but worst by far… their arms, like slender trunks reaching all the way to the ground and further still. They fell to the cold stone floor, the arms of the dead, and like trees with roots intertwined, they slithered over each other, thousands of writhing boneless arms, all headed in one direction.
When my eyes found the back of Georgie’s head, I wanted to scream, but there was no scream within reach. Next to him was the dead girl, still peering. There was pink barrette in her hair, although most of her scalp was bald. She was petting him. She was petting Georgie. They all were. The hands caressed him, stroked him, all of those arms, stretched and slithered to reach the boy. I could feel my mind bending under the weight of the horror, like the stairs beneath my feet. The opera had stopped.
“Aiden and Ann used to bring me records,” Georgie’s voice was like that of a normal little boy on the surface, but there was a dark tremble below. “But that was before they stopped being able to come down here. Dixon, they let him come and go as he pleases mostly, but he uses the storm door.” He pointed to a folded storm cellar door I had not seen to his left. “But once Ann and Aiden got to be not so young anymore, it got harder and harder for them to get back upstairs. I don’t know why. They never said.”
“Ann said you liked Neil Young,” I said, it was desperate grab at sanity. I saw his shoulders shrug.
“I like it all really, but he’s pretty good. Better than this opera I have to listen to all day. It comes through the T.V., but not much else. The cartoons are bad.”
“Georgie,” I said, “where are we?”
“It’s an in-between sort of place,” he answered.
“And why am I here?” I asked.
“Because you’re like me. Your soul, it’s so bright, it’s like a magnet for lost ones.” He held up his pale little finger, “The thing is though, Blue…”
He propped himself up on the sofa and turned to look at me, an action that excited the lost souls in the room. As his face turned to meet mine, so too did every wasted face in that forsaken place. His face was that of a young boy’s framed by golden blonde locks. He was maybe nine.
“What’s that Georgie?” I said.
“The thing is they’re heavy. They weigh you down.”
“When was the last time you were upstairs, Georgie?” I asked.
“I can’t remember ever being to the up-top,” he said. “I remember that Mama stopped going upstairs when I was six. And she went crazy and all when I was seven.”
“Are you keeping us here?” I asked.
“No, no… I want to leave. What keeps us here is the weight of them, that and Old George.”
Something changed on the TV, like the static got louder, like panting electronic breath.
“Georgie, man, I’m very scared. Are you scared?”
“Not so much anymore,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at the TV set.
“Georgie, can we go? Can you and I go?”
He looked back at me. He was quite beautiful when the long leather hands weren’t petting upon him. “No, I’m sorry Blue, but you have to stay now. Old George says no. He says my body can’t leave unless there’s another soul like mine to keep all of these lost ones here.”
I heard an echo of my drowned panic. “Georgie, bud, I have to leave.”
“He says you don’t get to, he says he needs my body. He says you’re here, so we can switch. That’s why Ann and Aiden found you. Why the teacher, Holloway, had all that trouble in Boston and sold you his bike, and why Dixon had to shoot you. We needed you here, at the Smile and Cry. Old George says you have a fine-quality soul.” The little boy looked back at the television again.
“Is Old George on the TV?” I asked. When I did, the myriad lost souls began to yip and laugh and cough in excitement. “If he is, I need to talk to him. Tell him I’m not staying!”
I watched little Georgie put both of his hands on his head and sink down into the couch. As he did, he whispered, “Now I remember what being scared is like.” I moved forward and the boy became hysterical, screaming and convulsing, yelling two things, one of which, ethereal state or not, I understood. He screamed, “Don’t look at the TV!” The second however, was a full cosmic mystery. As he alternated, he wailed, “Please let him come, please send him, please send him!”
I thought of Ann’s tears, and her smile, “GEORGIE!” I had not yet looked at the television, nor seen what it held, and instead demanded that my life be my own. “Georgie”, I yelled sternly, “OLD GEORGE DOES NOT OWN YOUR FAMILY! HE DOES NOT OWN THE ARMSTRONGS! HE IS FALSE! HE IS A COWARD!” As I was screaming, the snake-like arms went wild and the grey leather hands twitched and fingers snapped and the caressing hands consumed Georgie, covered him, until he was just a writhing ball of boneless limbs and digits on the old brown sofa.
The television was laughing. It was a deep rich laugh, delighted by its own cadence. And it was enchanting, so I looked. On the television was a cartoon coyote head, resting upon a small boy’s body. It finished chuckling and stared at me smiling.
“Is something funny?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” the Coyote replied from the TV, “but don’t be embarrassed, it isn’t much your fault at all.”
“What amuses you so?” I asked.
Inside the television, he used a real child’s hand to scratch his cartoon head, “Well, I suppose it’s your righteousness, but also an error you made that you had no way of avoiding.”
“Are you about to enlighten me?”
His smile widened. “As a matter of fact,” and then the smile became wider still, and the cartoon coyote had real teeth, “it just amused me that in your indignation, you mistook their last name. I’ve long gotten a chuckle out of that name.”
“The Armstrongs?” I said.
He smiled still. “Yes. They took his middle name. Four generations ago, his wasn’t a name you wanted to have in these parts.”
“What name?” I asked.
“Custer,” the Coyote said and began to push its cartoon head off like a Halloween mask. He continued to speak as he did so, “George Armstrong Custer. Fumbling white engine of death and patriarch to this pitiful herd who has scraped away for generations, smiling and crying beneath the moon.”
“I am leaving here, you beast.” I said with all the power I could summon. The rotted hands shrunk back at my voice and a small hole was created in their hand womb that held Georgie.
The boy looked at me and whispered, ”Hold on.”
The Coyote was singing as he pulled his cartoon head off in his hands. The bottom half of his actual face matched Georgie’s, but it was rickety and looked as though it could fall apart with each operatic howl. He was singing America the Beautiful, in three-part harmony. The lead was carried by his mouth, while the other two parts were carried by the toothy mouths resting in the eye sockets of his childish skull. As Old George sang, the lost souls coughed and yelled and yipped and the only word I could ever make out was “hoedown.” The cartoon coyote head was tossed aside.
The singing carried on, but all three mouths in Old George’s head grinned, teeth closed. I could still hear his rich patronizing voice though, and he said, “Just so you know, I’m going to eat Ann’s heart raw, and drink a glass of her tears. Her eyes, the storm clouds, will be dessert.”
The weight of circumstance had reached the last few stairs of my mind. I began to break, and even as I did, there was a hint of pride at how long I had lasted. I watched a hand detach itself from Georgie, leave the couch and writhe its way toward me. Then I felt its dead touch, the back of the hand, soft but hungry, brushing my cheek. And then there was another, and another, and another. The three-mouthed coyote child was howling, and now he was standing in the room, between the couch and the television, dressed as General George Armstrong Custer. I was blanketed in damnation and covered in the caress of lost souls.
And then, a very peculiar thing happened. A horse, giant and stamping and wild and beautiful, burst through the storm doors and slid down the rough concrete incline. It was an enormous cellar, but not nearly large enough for the giant beast, which bucked and kicked and sent the dead flying. The horse was copper and spotted and massive, and I recognized it immediately as the horse from Buffalo, Wyoming, and from the Corpus Christi beach, I had seen it thunder across the western sky.
I did not hesitate, I jumped to the back of the couch and pushed off to land gracelessly on the horse’s back. I clutched the beast tightly, but it didn’t move, and I knew why. I reached back and a lightning burst of energy shot from my extended hand, scorching the dead and burning the coyote devil. It also briefly freed Georgie from the hands still left clinging to him. The rich deep voice of the evil that he called Old George was gone, now it was a shrill high scream, angrier than any sound I had ever heard. I pulled Georgie onto the horse and was stunned to see that a man had appeared on the couch. He was not one of the dead. He was slight and bespectacled and wearing a suit, and I recognized him too, but couldn’t place him. The basement was shaking and still drenched in the blue of the other world and chaos was everywhere.
“If they leave the ranch, that will be most unacceptable, George,” the thin man said with authority to the raging evil monster. “The Sha would be very disappointed.” The horse was already moving up the incline through the wreckage of the cellar door. Georgie clung to my back. The dead arms were slithering by the thousand towards the great horse and it stamped and snorted as they attempted to clamp on to its hindquarters. As we rose from the basement cave, I could tell that the sun was setting and while I screamed and urged our savior forward, Georgie just gasped at the sight of the sun.
The high shrill of the Coyote now resemble a child’s tantrum as he screamed and stomped from behind us, trapped by forces unseen, below the ground.
With a final powerful push, the horse pulled us free from the underground and into the back yard. Reality was rattling, and with a thunderclap the storm cellar doors slammed shut.
Ann burst from the back of the house and stopped on the back porch, shaking, her hand covering her mouth. “Oh Blue, oh Blue… you did it.”
“Hi Ann,” Georgie said.
“Hi Little Man,” she offered.
“Come on. Get on,” I said.
She looked back. “Aiden… I can’t.”
She stood there frozen, I knew what I was asking her, just as we both knew in our hearts that the madness of the place had started to bloom in her brother. She ran to us.
The three of us held tight to each other as we rounded the side of the house and the horse began to build speed. As we passed the chipped sign that said Smile and Cry, Aiden burst from the screen door on the front porch.
“AAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNN!” he wailed. “YOU CAN’T LEAVE THE RANCH WITH HIM! WE PROMISED!” I saw Dixon barrel onto the porch with a rifle.
The horse thundered down the dirt road toward the setting sun, and though I could still feel the nightmare dead hands on my skin, I looked at the burnt orange glow covering the country and I smiled. Then the scene was punctured by an unnatural crack.
The second time Dixon Halbauer shot me, the bullet tore through two other people first, and just barely broke the skin beneath my right shoulder blade. The horse did not stop.
“ANN!? ANN! GEORGIE” I called over my shoulder.
“Keep going,” Ann said.
The horse slowed and then stopped near the three motorcycles parked at the edge of the property and I slid down, pulling Georgie down with me. There was blood at the corners of his mouth and a pool in his chest. I laid him on the grass and pulled Ann down as well. She reached for him and they held each other as her hand touched his face. I stood above them and the horse nickered.
I was weeping and touching their wounds, “Oh Ann, oh Ann, I’m so sorry.”
“Shut up you idiot,” she said, “the stars brought us together.”
“Blue,” Georgie said gazing toward the sky, “the up-top is so pretty.”
His sister held him gently, and hysterical I touched both of their faces and wept.
Ann looked up at me through tears, the storms were parting in her eyes, “Maybe we’ll have a shot at it someplace else.”
They both died as the sun set. All three of us in a pile beside the road, smiling and crying. The horse reared up on its hind legs and stomped back down, and then shot into the forest. I got on my Honda and didn’t stop until I reached Sioux Falls. I kept driving for a long time after that.
Fall deeper into our weird world in SN10: The Green Issue – available on Amazon!