You are on page 1of 71

1

THE SUN MUST have been sitting on my shoulder, that or it


ruptured finally. It felt like a full liquid of everything inside of
it was pouring out of it on top of me. It was that hot and there
was no sunscreen or a canopy to duck under and I know
these are the kinds of things you never think of until they
happen. The kinds of things that you can’t ever be prepared
for. Those little things you always miss.
You just know there’s no way to stop them and all you can
do is press forward and try to outmaneuver them until they
fall away with the rest of it. The days, the hours. The little that
you have. Watch while it slips away.
I guess what I mean is that you can sit by the pool all day
long and watch your kids slap each other into a shoving
match and slip and glide all over the place where the shade’s
had it with you as well.
Left you the box shelter of your shedding middle class home
to keep everything on schedule for enduring the heat and
stumbling toward that cool something you hope everyone
will accept as your completely normal, functional family. But
they never do.
The kids shriek the way you feel when you remember
there’s nothing left to do but lie to them and you know
everything isn’t going to be alright. The sunscreen doesn’t
cover it, no matter how much you spread it around. No
matter how thick a coat you put on it.
But they’re playing and you’re always one move away from
melting into a scream that never ends.
It’s easier just to play around with them, let the dishes pile
and the overflowing toilet water seep into the floorboards to
settle on your forehead at a later date when you crawl into the
basement to try and undo the pipes.
Because nothing in life ever gives you the means to change
it. No matter how many times you try to work around that
ball of fire in the sky, it has an agenda all to itself. It comes
closer to burning you away entirely, every moment. And yet
it also seems to be trying its hardest to leave you as little good
light of it as possible the more you try and catch those fine
hours for getting everything done.
We settled in Boise, Idaho where nothing ever quite works
out right. If it ever does anywhere else.

2
Our family was once something a little more together, now
it’s just me and all the boys.
I don’t know there’s much of me in it, come to think of it.
More so it’s them and all the things my fingers do to keep
them moving along and growing.
Floatable toys pop from a good pinch and you run to the
store for another. And that can of propane you remember
when you rub your fingers together where the heat from the
broiler’s melted your finger tips off and the tang of char
stamps a sharp sting on the top side of your tongue. You miss
the sunscreen at the store and the guns locked up behind the
counter and the bullets, you know, will always roll under
anything. The moment you need them in the barrel, they run
off. Like your wife and your job and all the liquid inside of
you that dries up faster than the sheer velocity you use to
return to the sink with on your way back to the rusty falling
off faucet handle to take another heaving gulp of the same
reminder that something else is now coming at you from
behind. Ready to pounce, to bite, to drain out everything you
put inside it.
But it’s always the sun chasing you worst. Right up until it
stops.

“PA!” HE YELLED at me loudest. I couldn’t measure the


length or depth of each of their yells but his was by far the

3
loudest. When four screaming children all yell the same thing
at once you move to the one who screams it worst.
“Pa! He’s cutting us off over there!” Danny yells out the
loudest again. The rest of the yells are a garbled pile of echoes
that swell up my heartbeat and I slide my way into a full stop.
First I check that all of them are still intact. Then I scan the
horizon for any signs of movement.
I’m poised for a leap in any direction of threat, ready to hop
between me and my boys if the demon comes from any
direction other than from in the middle of that blinding sun
above us.
There’s no blood on them or they’re ghosts, I think, and then
I remind myself that as long as there’s no blood then I might
as well take another moment to figure out which way to head
in.
I rub my neck, it’s like a mass of oil’s been dumped out on
my head.
The embankment that Danny’s swearing the demon is
headed toward is at a good distance and I know it’s best we
think this one through before we move on further in any
direction.
I pause to check my neck for a longer rub. Just to make sure
it wasn’t blood I was soaking up from the sun coaxing out all
the remaining moisture from my skin into one wet hat press
of all my hair matted and dripping behind my head.

4
This wetness, it always happens when you’re forced to run.
Never when you want to run or decide to run, you can’t fool
the body like the body is so adept at fooling you.
Most days I run like this. It really isn’t so strange, all this
running. From the sink to the fridge to the garage, I run. I run
to the car, to the ball field, to the store and back to the car
again. And maybe to the bar.
When the sun goes down and if there’s a break in the
running and if I can fit it in.
It’s just right when I run to that bottle and I know we get cut
off entirely by the big man if we try and cut out the drinks
and the smoking and the porn and somehow try to measure it
all up as something better than the big mess he’s paying us all
to make. Or try and run from it all.
The kids and all their running around are his best solution to
have it always something that runs out, and so I obey the
calling.
That’s how God works and in this world I could know
nothing else.
We consume what’s on the table and follow the calendars
and cycles and our customs, knowing fully all the math is
wrong. You really can’t outrun the sun.
Running hard and near empty of all my water and all I want
is a cold beer and a safe place to stop at to make the exchange
of my blood for the alcohol an even switch and maybe knock
me into a better frame of mind to deal with the mess we’re in.

5
No matter how much you drink, I remember, it’s never
enough to make the sun leave you the hell alone. And the
hangovers, well I guess I’ll settle with the thought of the beer
and cross my fingers we’re all still alive.
You look like you’re drunk, Mikey says to me.
“Yeah,” Danny agrees. “Or stoned on something good.” He
hocks up and spits something dark on the ground. Something
else he learned from his older brother and I debate giving him
a smack to the back of his head.
“Like when mom went out with the FedEx guy,” he says.
“That night you guys were supposed to go to Reno for your
anniversary and instead you came home and threw up in
Cally’s closet and then beat up the bathroom.”
It was the UPS guy, not FedEx, Max cuts in to join in this
rundown of reminding me how bad I am at being a husband,
if not an outright terrible father to all of these kids.
No, Danny butts in. It was a FedEx guy, for sure.
No it wasn’t! Max is fast with his rebuttal. I remember, he
says. He used to give me cherry bombs and licorice and I
remember the patch on his arm.
Hey, hey, hey, I quiet them down. Stop making things up. I
never did anything like that. Now get over here in front of me
and let me make sure the coast is clear, alright?
When I turn, I see Cally’s coughing up hard behind me. He’s
this white coughing phantom smeared in a bundle of dust.

6
Small enough to be mistaken for a jackrabbit and just as quick
to kick his legs about, try and clean himself off.
I turn all the way around to give him a small pat on his back
to stop with the coughing.
Stop, he pushes me off. I’m alright, he says.
Soon they’re all huddled together in front of me. My arms
could hug them up into one big heave and toss them into the
endless sky scattering all the light it’s absorbing. A blast of
light sometimes, it comes from the sun and it’s ten thousand
times brighter than it should be. As if it stopped in the middle
of the sky to collect all its heat and put it back on the earth in
one big final attack on us all. I can’t not grab onto my
shoulders to try and shade me from its fury.
The desert is swelling up all around us and the heat from the
ground now has a cloud of blur swarming around our ankles
and for the moment it looks like the demon is gone. Thank
god something is going our way.
We’re all gassed a bit and panting, but so far there’s no harm
been done.
I can’t assess the real severity of the situation, but there’s a
dead body about a half mile behind us and nothing but scrub
brush and hills of rocks and sand traps and dead branches
and who knows how much crumble of life turning to dust
and soil beneath our feet.
Are you sure he went up over there? I ask Danny who’s now
bent over and tying his shoelace.

7
It’s a she, not a he, Max, the smartest of my boys says to us.
We all turn and look at him. He’s rubbing dust from his eyes.
What makes you say that? I know his answer but I need
some reassurance here. Some reassurance that things are still
sane, together, somehow or more so not completely without
the reason that seems to have run off with the wind since this
demon came to put us all on our toes.
The cubs, Max says.
Obviously, Danny says, followed by Mikey. Obviously, I
add in last.
We all pause for a moment to listen to the wind howl and
the sun passes behind a cloud to throw us into a state of
deeper respire.
The moisture we make, it’s slipping back inside our pores.
Then, Do you think he got Jesse? Cally asks the question on
all of our tongues, the one question none of us want to ask.
Jesse is Jean, my runaway wife’s eldest son. He’s sixteen
years old, a runaway also.
And he’s also the reason we’re all in this mess. If we could
boil it all down to one reason for us to be in it.
No, I say with a groan. My arms come down around the
boys. I’m leaning, mostly on Danny, the tallest, and then I
slouch back to rub my hands through Mikey and Cally’s hair.
One hand on each of their heads. Their heads are nearly as
wet as mine and it’s a sticky mess but nothing is bothering

8
me. It feels good just to know that we’ve all made it through
some other catastrophe without a scratch on anyone’s head.
Then I move to the others. The boys are ducking and
dodging and soon they’re laughing like we’re back home by
the pool again and ready to dive in the water and not in the
middle of this nowhere desert below a hundred degree sky of
skin melting vapors and a sun that’s roasting away our
cheeks.
Just as the laughing turns into a few yells and some
meaningless threats, Max is roughhousing with Danny,
there’s a piercing shrill echoing from behind us.
It’s a cry so loud all of us jump and turn and start to run off
into the void in front of us.
And then there’s some more screams, growls, it feels like
they’re coming from right behind our feet.
The demon, the she-bitch of a giant cougar, it’s obviously
right on our tail.
I turn to look over my shoulder and I see that it’s running
right at us. Gaining ground, it’s running, growing closer.
Yeah, it’s running and coming upon us like it’s a shadow of
the sun itself.

9
10
2

THESE FINGERS, THEY know every inch of my entire


family. Their very existence hinges upon these hands. I’ve
buttoned them in their little britches and stitched their
bleeding fingers from the booboos to scrapes and bruises.
With a sewing needle and thread.
I’ve even washed their mouths out to a clean paraphrase of
sweet choir songs once or twice with a bar of soap.
These hands are good for little else.
No, I wasn’t there for their circumcisions. You got that
wrong if you thought that I was.
Don’t think I could use a pair of scissors like that. But I
stepped into the role of caregiver long before their mother up
and ran away from home. A few cuts here, a few cuts there, I
sort of trim things out of my memory. Without my fingers, of
course.
But then, they always reappear.

11
If what you remember becomes what you do and everything
you become is what you’re always remembering, this is who I
am, who I’ve become. Some kind of wannabe super dad to all
of these boys. Or so, that’s how I remember it.
So I guess that makes the family mine. Certainly more than
hers, it’s been months now since any of us have seen her or
heard a thing.
“When’s mom coming back?” Cally makes the mistake of
asking a question he already has an answer to.
He’s too young to completely get it, and so I forgive these
small wastes of his words.
I pause for a moment to look at him. To see if he’s really
serious.
I see that he’s got a tear in the corner of his eye and so I give
him the best lie that I’ve got to give.
“Oh, one of these days I’m sure she’ll be back. Maybe
tomorrow,” I say, “Maybe next week. You know mom.”
Cally points over at Danny who’s kicking a small hacky sack
up in the air by himself. His foot moves like a caterpillar
dangles his tail from a branch and he catches the weightless
bag of rocks on the side of his heel. Then he kicks it up again
and repeats the process. It kind of reminds me of using
chopsticks to pick up one measly grain of rice, but this is the
kinds of stupid stuff all of these kids nowadays like to
challenge themselves with. Why? I can’t really say. As if life
isn’t already challenging enough.

12
“Danny said she’s not coming back until she’s sucked every
dick in town but yours.” He looks up at me with button
brown eyes and says, “Is that true, pa?”
“Stop pointing,” I swat his hand away, “I thought I told
you,” I point a finger of my own at him, I shake it. “Don’t
point at other people,” I let my finger down. “It’s never ok to
point.”
“Like it’s never ok to forgive a woman,” Danny butts in, “No
matter how many dicks they go and suck.”
Danny! I yell, but it’s too late. I’ve got a hacky sack flying at
me and Danny’s way beyond me grabbing hold of him. Gone
for now, safe for the time being. You can delay certain things,
but others need tending to right away.
“Go get your brother,” I put a hand up on Cally’s shoulder,
“Tell him it’ll be better he gets back here now rather than
later. That much I’ll promise him,” I say.
And yet things don’t ever make total sense, no matter how
rigid I am with my rules.
Cally’s still standing there, his eyes are searching deep
inside of his mind. More tears come, his voice breaks to a low
wheeze. “First mom, then Jesse. Now Danny, and you want
me to run after him. Nobody wants to come back to you pa!
Don’t you see it?”

13
THIS IS ALL like how yesterday Cally, my youngest boy, hit
the jackpot when he went into my wallet. But only to replace
the two hundred he took with an IOU written on a napkin
soaked in some blood. This was all right after he lost his
tooth. An early advance on the tooth fairy, he claimed, and
the baseball card collection he came home with from town
had a no return policy and this was all well before we knew
we were headed into the tundra to try and find Jesse who’s
been gone now also for months.
Hours, minutes, whatever. Time happens on its own
schedule. Never yours.
Like Jesse, my son who ran off like his mother when he
found out time isn’t giving anything back.
They always run when they find out what’s going on. That
all we can do is lie and move forward toward more and more
of it. That the world is so wrong and nobody cares. Not
unless there’s something for someone’s personal gain, time
running out on us all.
We’re about to leave here ourselves, little do I know.
And then I know it, the phone is ringing, Cally’s crying and I
can’t find the ringing goddamned thing in any one of my
pockets.
I’ve got these low cargo shorts on and no matter where I
reach, I just can’t seem to locate the phone. I keep grabbing,
patting myself down. Cally is tugging on my arm and wants
my attention, now Max and Mikey have come in from the

14
porch and the cleaning I had them doing, of course it got out
of control. Way out of hand, Mikey’s wearing the top of a
mop like a wig and Max is wet up to his shoulders, soaking
and spilling a sea of suds across the floor. Both of them point
at the other. Then, Mikey plops down on the couch, too many
other places I need my fingers than trying to stop him from
turning our sofa into a sponge.
I finally get the phone out of my pocket. It squirms sideways
and pops up out of my grip. A fast grab, a good save and it’s
up at my ear.
“Hello?”
“Oliver Henderson, please,” he says.
“This is him, me,” I say.
“Oh, hi, Mister Henderson. This is Carey James, with Angel
Outfitters. About your son.”
“Yeah.” It’s all I can say, “Go on.”
“Well, I don’t know how good the information is, nor what
else we can do for you,” he sort of breathes a bit heavy into
the phone. Then he continues, “But we got word there’s
another one of these festivals. It’s happening up near
Gooding. I think it starts today.”
I pull back from the phone to check the date. It’s Friday, the
third. These are the little things I should know. Always
something there to forget at the end of my hands that they
want on the phone to have control over what I know.
“Ok? And Jesse? Has anyone called in? Or anything else?”

15
The guy pauses to wheeze some more. “No,” he says,
“That’s all I have,” he pauses again. Just when I think he’s
about to say his goodbye and hang up, “But,” he goes on,
“Like I told you, last time we spoke. If he was following that
same group of partiers, you know they travel around to the
same festivals and camp out in the same tents and who
knows what else,” he continues. “But the point is, if he was
headed there, that same bunch is having a show up at the
Rock City, or City Of Rocks, or the Rockidoodad whatever the
place is called. It’s somewhere north of Gooding, you can find
the info on that website. That’s all I have. Hope it helps, I’ll
call you again if anything else comes up. Take care now,” he
says and then the phone clicks and it’s back in my pocket.
When I get a look around I see Danny’s returned and Cally
has stopped his crying. The others are sitting around in a sort
of semicircle. All of them are looking right at me, waiting to
hear what I know.

AS SOON AS I take in a breath and sigh, “Lets go boys,” I say


to them all. “Get yourselves packed. We’re going to Gooding
for the weekend.”
They all trip into a moan in their own little ways.
“I have practice later,” Danny reminds me the world can’t
come to a stop for all this.

16
“And I’m supposed to go to Kevin’s house to sleepover
tonight, you promised,” Cally is tugging on my hand.
“It doesn’t matter what happens,” Max, perhaps the
brightest of the bunch, says from the couch, “We’re not going
to find him.”
I already sort of guess that he may be correct.
It’s been months now we’ve been searching for Jesse.
Following him around to these musical festivals where
everybody gets high on drugs and jumps in these pits of mud
and fucks whoever they can find that has an open hole on
them that whines as bad as the music.
I’ve been all over trying to find him in my spare time. Got
in touch with the organizers of the damned thing and a
private outfitters group that tracks down missing kids. The
cops, I’ve contacted them also. They do nothing, nobody
seems to care. This counter cultural group of idealistic rabble
moving about across the wilderness of the great northwest,
they have some savvy ways around our government and
they’re certainly well skilled at destroying the future of our
youth. So if he gets away again, I wouldn’t be the least bit
surprised.
“We’ll find him.” I know to keep everyone’s spirits up
regardless.
“Like we’re just going to go find mom and bring her home
without all of those cocks in her mouth,” Danny says. “After

17
we get rid of Jimmers and his big purple one, of course,” he
adds.
Jimmers is Jean, my wife’s new lover, but who knows how
many more of those lovers she has now.
You don’t have to get rid of Jimmers, Max says from the
couch.
Everyone is silent for a moment.
Oh? My curiosity is peaked. And why is that? I ask.
She left him, Max says without a care in the world.
And how do you know this? I wait a moment, then ask. A
little bird flew in and told you about it, I guess it was, right?
No. Max shakes his head. She called the other day and told
me.
Jimmers is an evil bastard, Mikey says. Good riddance.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say about Jimmers,” I’m
quick to respond.
Not that I’m defending him, and not that I like the guy. I
actually can’t stand him one bit. A horse breeder, he was sort
of an old acquaintance of mine and now he’s her perfect fit.
Or was her perfect fit, if Max is telling us all the truth. As
smart and serious as he is for a ten year old, he’s known to
joke around from time to time.
Jimmers though, he has money, a big house. Everything Jean
wanted I couldn’t provide. But still, something tells me
there’s retribution in the making. Good thing I know how the
world really works.

18
“You know boys,” I say with a sly smile, “The great paradox
is that evil people are often much more correct about the
world, and good people are usually wrong about it.” This is
what I say to Mikey, say to the rest of my boys. My wisdom is
often short sighted, not always a hundred percent. Usually
they still listen and today is no exception, “And so it’s the evil
people that run everything using money to spread their evil
hierarchy. Just evil enough to always torment the good while
sucking them dry in the process, part of the torture and ways
in which things actually work.” I throw Cally a little wink,
about the money he stole from me. “No, they don’t ever get
rid of the good, they need them to be good and do what
they’re told. For without the world of goodness, there
wouldn’t be any service and the rotten evil people wouldn’t
be able to own anything good at all. So, I’ll change my mind
on that and I’ll agree with you.” I’m pointing my finger, like
it’s the last one in the world, all I have left. Nothing else to do
with it but point.
“It wouldn’t be correct any other way. So, good riddance,” I
say.

19
20
3

THAT DAY JESSE left home, I guess I got a little too straight
with him. So then maybe it was my fault, I guess.
“I just need a ride halfway,” Jesse says to me. “Alex and
Javier are going to pick me up at the depot downtown and I
promise, I’ll be back tomorrow night.”
The garage we’re in is a pile of tools that hide each one you
want and can never find. It’s always the one you don’t want
that ends up in your hand.
Boxes are torn to pieces for wiping up the cat shit, the feral
bastards are nesting under the porch. Anything in this room
should be roped up as off limits, a warning posted below a
biohazard sign.
But I’m in here cleaning, none the less.
“No can do,” I say to him, my boy, “You’re going there to
smoke pot with your little idiot stoner buddies and like hell
am I endorsing it. Even if your mother’s went and joined a

21
commune to smoke crack with the Dali Lamma.” Then I start
to whistle a bit as I rummage through the old paint cans, a
box of rusty nails falls to some clanking on the ground.
“C’mon Oliver. You know I’m just going to go there
anyway.”
“Why don’t you call me dad? Or pa?” I turn to look at him, a
sort of wince is dripping off my cheeks. “Danny calls me pa, I
think you can handle it.” I hack a bit inside my chest and clear
my throat, “As like a sign of respect or something.”
“I’ll tell you what, Oliver,” Jesse says after a pause. He’s
leaning back in his sunshades, the counter is wobbling, near
collapse. It’s seven at night and the sun is almost completely
down, and still, he wears those shades. “I’ll make you a deal,”
he goes on. My eyebrows lift, like I’m really playing along
here, “You give me a ride to the depot and I’ll call you
whatever you want me to. From now on.”
“From now on, is that right?” I ask, my voice is low and I’m
acting like it’s really something I’m mulling over.
“That’s right. From now on.”
Then, after a short pause, “I wouldn’t give you a ride to that
fucked up orgy for your sissy buddies to ruin your life if they
cut off your feet with a rusty chainsaw and left them in the
desert to rot away.” I get real close to him and point a finger,
“Now get your ass inside and help with your brothers. We’ve
got twice the work now that your mother’s decided she needs

22
a bigger fool to fill that endless hole inside that sloppy heart
of hers.”
“Fuck you Oliver!” he explodes, pushing me back against
the counter.
Everything comes crashing down on top of me, I’m sliding
into the door. “You aren’t my dad! You can’t tell me what to
do!” he yells.
From the floor I just look up at him and shake my head. For
once the kid’s gone into some kind of a rage and he’s sort of
got a little bit of my respect.
When I get back on my feet he sees there’s going to be an
apology or there’s going to be a fight.
The tears come streaming next, he storms right out of the
room.
Haven’t seen nor heard from him since.
Couldn’t see alls I’m doing is trying to save his god damned
future. Sometimes I wonder why I even try.

23
24
4
SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, Max says to me, but I’m a slap
away from a lawsuit and the deadbeat hippy I have my hands
all over suddenly puts his teeth through the flesh around my
ear.
All I can hear is the high-pitched sound of my piercing
shrieks.
He’s Mike Tyson, without all the oomph.
Another left hook puts me back in the running to come out
on top.
As quick as I can find it, I bring my bad right elbow around
to headlock him into a tighter position. The blood is blinding
my every swing.
A few more thumps to the side of his head, the kid finally
rolls up off of me.
Please! he yells out. Panting hard, he squeals again. Don’t hit
me anymore! We can work this out!

25
I’m just about to tackle him for another go. Instead, I put my
hands on both my hips and match his breathing, puffing,
inflating, deflating my expanding flesh.
He’s panting, heaving, coughing out dry gags and a few
hurls of blood and his drooling spit.
The dreadlocks I tore off from the side of his head are still
stuck inside my knuckles. I drop them and flex my wrists.
“Please,” another wheeze. “I don’t know where your son is.
That guy over there said he’d make it worth my while if I lied
to you.”
His finger points through a crowd of spectators sitting off in
the distance, kicked back on their fold up chairs. They crowd
around this rusty truck like it’s the only oasis in the entire
wasteland and they sip on their beer from cups and throw me
dark eyes behind their shades. Laughing, being total dicks.
I turn back to look at this little hipster. Barely more than a
kid and here I am joining him with this behavior.
My entire family is watching. Cally’s got the worst look
smeared across his face. His mouth is open slightly and he’s
blinking, non stop. His flutters are near out of control.
Danny, Max, Mikey! I yell. Cally! I turn and look at my little
guy and I throw him the hardest wince. A finger up, my
thumb is shoved inside my chest.
Don’t any of you ever do what I just did, no matter what.
Got it?

26
Then, in one quick spinning hop, I move back towards the
guy and I backhand him once, right across the cheek. With
absolutely everything I have.
The kid falls to the ground on one knee and I think that slap
might have left something weighted in his pants. He’s star
struck, stunned, still trying to figure out how I caught him
with that slap.
“That’s for what you’re doing to my son and there’s plenty
more where that came from if you don’t run along and warn
your friends. There’s people out there that know what you
idiots are up to, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. You little
druggy wimp.”
He’s nodding along, his fingers are inside his mouth. I think
he’s pulling out a tooth. But I’m already long gone from here.
Running across the tundra, I’m more so leaping into a long
gallop.
I’m jogging toward the idiots in their little deadhead
powwow of fold up chairs positioned around a fire pit and
the truck. I guess I should be one to talk, it’s not the drinking I
have a problem with though. It’s the fact there’s drugs and
problems headed toward me, problems I won’t even be
getting into, or out of, if I don’t catch my son and turn his ass
around.
So, I guess it’s my future I’m looking out for also, you could
say.

27
From where I’m moving I can see these guys aren’t happy
that I’m this fearless father with a big chip on my sturdy
shoulder.
One of the guys is crawling up over the others, his chair
collapses around his ankles. I sprint up into a full on blitz of
all my speed, he’s the one I have to catch.
Soon he’s running across the dirt but I’m gaining ground.
My high school track star days are long since passed and my
beer gut is certainly a brewing, but I can still kick up ground
like a rabid mule underneath my lightning heels.
When I finally get a grab onto his shirt, I spin him around,
no hits.
His hands are up in the air, he’s not a boxer like his buddy.
In moments he’s confessing. He’s telling me absolutely
everything he knows. Apparently he’s one of the organizers
for the event which is a crowd of close to a few hundred
bums chanting and singing and bingeing about a quarter mile
over the hill behind us. There’s a stage and some bad music,
nothing I’d pay to see. The sun is setting and I don’t know
how much of it I’m buying, but it’s the best we’ve got.
The kid swears it’s the truth, how they heard the day before
that Jesse, or some kid that fits his close description, had
hiked out into the wilderness on a good trip of something
potent. He was apparently pissed off at his failure step dad
and how his mother was also this crazy lunatic. Or so, that’s
what they heard.

28
That much made total sense to me. Of course, the part about
Jean, not me.
The organizer’s apparently had legal problems and is always
on the lookout for angry parents. Another of course, the fact
these guys get away with this is some mind boggling
situation that you can’t quite ever grasp. Until you look at the
rest of the world and all of its wrongs.
He pleads with me not to hit him or sue him, that he’ll
refund me for Jesse’s ticket and all that nonsense, I’m way
past listening to any more of it. It’s mostly total nonsense, the
kind people try and give you when they run out of lies for
you to hold.
I have the guy draw me a little map, to help point me in
Jesse’s general direction.
I have to remind myself I’m at The Little City Of Rocks
Festival. It’s out in the desert somewhere near Gooding, a
place that has nothing good about it. From what I know of the
place.
It’s all hills of weeds and sage brush and bones. A national
park area that no one visits on the off season. A great place
for creepers to rape strangers and dump their bodies, I’m
sure. I think dinosaurs laid down and died here, some many
thousands, millions of years ago. After they drank up all the
water and trampled the place to shit.
It’s not a place for kids to be getting high and wandering
around in all alone, I’ll tell you that.

29
I’m certainly feeling this growing nervous twitch, I know
there’s little water in the area. Plus, who knows what kinds of
other dangers are lurking out there. Bears, wolves, snakes,
tweaked out hippies, who knows. My fears are heightening at
each thought of what might be out there, my heartbeat is a
throbbing murmur.
Soon I’m calming down, we’re on the move again. No place
can hold our shadows, the sky is a backdrop that’s lingered
around a bit too long. It’s backing off to pull away.
I’m set on going after Jesse although we’ll have to wait for
morning.
Pretty simple, we’re headed back to the wagon to have the
boys pitch up a tent.

LATER ON, WHEN things are settled, a sheriff car pulls up.
A man in uniform steps out to ask some questions.
The kid I hit is the son of a famous opera singer, or so the
story goes. The son of some girly man I’ve never heard of that
turns rooms full of people in the opposite direction of these
god damned lunatics all around me.
Not sure any opera singer’s way of putting a spin on it all
with his mouth is any better, in some other twisted way. As in
any better than these screaming rocker wannabees. They’re
wasting their time in the desert, these young punks that can’t
compare to any legitimate band.

30
“My dad is a Guns & Roses fan,” Mikey cuts in to defend my
opinions. “We listen to real music,” he says in his deepest
voice touched with a tickle of whining tease. “Not this whack
wannabee stuff that these drug using haters arranged to trick
my older brother.”
The rest of my boys back him up.
The sheriff nods and smiles this fake shit eating grin at
Mikey, then he asks to speak to me in private.
I send the boys into the tent to lay down our sleeping bags
and make sure the bugs don’t get inside to ruin our sleep.
Then I walk off to the front of the car with the sheriff to deal
with this like two responsible adults.
I get off with a little warning and I’m also warned away
from going near the festival now, or anymore. That, he says,
means ever again. Even if it’s to look for Jesse.
Once the cop has left the battlefield, the boys crawl out of the
tent.
One after another, to speak their piece.
Should have known, Max’s getting mouthy with me the best.
About me losing it and getting rough with those goddamned
kids.
Reiterated what the cop said, although he’s saying it straight
where the cops always have some crooked angle with their
words.
Should have known, he says again. Like doctors and
lawyers, he says. They want to know more than you know,

31
before you know it, so they can use what you don’t know to
get money from you. But only after you know it. Because if
you knew it before, you wouldn’t have done it. Yeahup, you
should of known.
Done what, Maxi? I ask him. Any particular advice you want
to lend me now?
I give him a good look, still panting and breathing, pissed off
about the situation we’re in. It’s always growing worse.
I’m not in the mood for his wisdom, but what can I do?
I know you’re on your way to being this big banker and all, I
say and then I pause. My wallet’s back in the car and I know
it’s not much, but I’ll kick you a few dollars when we get out
of this mess, I swear it, I say to him.
Done whatever it is you shouldn’t have done because you
didn’t know it, he says. Forget the lending, this one comes
free pa.

32
5

THE DEMON, OR she-bitch we’re calling her now, is nipping


hellfire at our heels. I’ve made sure that I’m trailing behind
them, my boys are my first priority. Whether or not you even
believe me.
I’m turning to see how close it is, I can’t believe how off I
am.
She’s turned, she’s trying to come around to the left of me,
get closer toward the kids.
I immediately reach for the first blunt object I can find. It’s a
stone the size of a tennis ball. Rolling it into my hand, it’s
slippery from my sweat. I’ve soon trapped it solid in my grip.
I’m squeezing it with every ounce of all my courage.
The boys have caught on, they’re heading toward a steep
embankment to the right. There’s piles of rocks, small ledges.
A few hills made up of jumbled stones of every size.
They reach a boulder, all three of them are climbing up it.

33
The cougar has stopped to a slow trot, about thirty feet away
from them. Pacing about, turning, like it’s not sure what to
do. Some short moment to contemplate if the plan of attack
will be enough to kill us all.
It’s a real bold move and I can sense she carries little fear.
You have no idea what it’s like to stare death in the face like
this, way out in the middle of nowhere.
From my line of sight it’s not much larger than a coyote or a
mongrel dog. But I know up close and personal the thing is
twice as large as it looks and could tear my spine out in a
finger snapping instant.
This isn’t a gang of hippies stoned on acid and flying high
on speed. It’s a wounded mother lion who’s just lost her cubs
and nothing in her eyes says she plans to anything but
destroy the world.
In some sense, I wonder if Jean were here if she would take
to some similar role about our boys. Then, I think again, real
hard about it some more.
For the first time in a long time I come to some inner
confusion. How could she do this to us? I guess I thought the
denial was long gone, but this cougar’s somehow brought
something of it back.
No matter how fast my heart is beating, how quickly these
thoughts are flying, I have to move my arm. It’s up and
cocked, I’m ready to toss the rock. My one good shot and I’m
not ok with missing.

34
If it comes to it, I’ll jump on the thing and gouge out its god
damned eyeballs. My boys are first, as long as they’re safe,
whatever happens to me, I’ll be ok.

HOW THIS ALL happened so fast, I guess I should back up a


bit before I move on forward with my toss.
It was early, a couple hours ago when we headed out into
the sun. We woke up early and ate some burritos I had Danny
go and score from some of the idiots in the valley at that party
for crazy stupid people who have no sense of consequence or
responsibility or the law.
But hell, some of them can really wrap a burrito. I guess it
comes from all the joints and blunts and twisting up anything
that gets them off.
Sometimes I think you could smoke their hair, perhaps their
very bodies, and catch a buzz from how much they smoke
that stuff.
But, they made us breakfast. I guess I’ll cut them a little slack
for that.
We made sure to pack plenty of water in a few backpacks,
Mikey and Danny are splitting most of the weight of it.
I stuffed a couple bottles in my pockets. And the first aid kit,
my pocket knife, and the flare gun I picked up the other day,
sometimes what you need isn’t very far.

35
I put it in one of the bags, zipped up with some leftovers
from our breakfast.
I keep a twenty two at home. Never thought I’d need it at a
festival for a bunch of kids, but at this point I’m starting to
rethink all of my decisions.
We planned to be back long before the black freeze your ass
off cold of dark. A good look on my phone, I’ve been
avoiding it and the work calls piling up. The maps on it work
fine, I get a good aerial view with a blue dot that shows our
position. The area is a sprawling desert tundra of sage brush
and rolling hills, I see.
They’re broken up with winding canyons and a few small
streams that mostly appear as dried up squiggles in this late
August heat. There aren’t more than some dirt roads for
many miles, but it isn’t more than twenty kilometers in every
direction before there’s some sort of major highway. This
means, I figured it out quickly, that with enough water, we’re
likely not going to get too lost or stranded and dead out here.
We made sure to pack as much as we could and the rest I left
up to chance. Whether or not that was my first mistake, who
the hell could know. All I could think about is how close we
were to Jesse.
For months now I had spent my weekends chasing him
around these festivals. You see the same faces, burned out,
swollen up from the sun, dying to the world the way it is.
Accepting everything of the way it isn’t. Bend Oregon, Salt

36
Lake City, Butte. I’ve covered most of the northwest to find
my boy and I’ve crossed paths with many people. Sometimes
I feel like Jesse’s this burned out spot inside my head, from all
the focusing my eyes do running by all these coked up faces
stumbling out of their tents.
Still, he’s eluded all my attempts at capture. A couple close
calls and on I search. A mistake, or perhaps some fate that
can’t be fixed.
All is well though, this time I’m really close, I know it.
There’s a few things I would have done differently if I had
more time to plan it out.
I guess what I should of known, I think of Max, is that I
should have left these boys at home this time. It isn’t the first
time I’ve brought them with me, but this trip is something
different. Way out here in the desert all alone. Who could
have known?
None of the neighbors are around when you need them and
the babysitters have all figured out their new excuses. Plus, I
don’t have the extra cash. We’re nearly losing the house to the
god damned bank.
I look up, the way I figure is the glass is always half
whatever, and really it’s what you’re drinking out of it that
counts. God, I wish I had a beer. Besides, the day is nice and
we’re all still together, my family and me.
No, the sky wasn’t so bad when we pushed off. Clouds
rolled along in stretching patches of bloated air. The breeze

37
was a whirling lifting shutter of subtle gusts that would rise
up every once and a while, out of nowhere. To cool our faces
and press the water from our lids and wet our cheeks.
A perfect moment, but I know that’s always how it starts
when things are about to get hot.
The scenery out here is something else.
Hoodoos line the hills with mushroom caps and small rocks
stacked up to taller than our chimney back at the homestead.
There’s arches underneath a lot of them and deep crevices at
the foot of every ledge. Nothing is stood up or tipped along
the way it’s supposed to be.
The kids, of course they want photos of themselves in these
precarious perches, little acrobats that like to test their luck.
For facebook and these other corporate wastes of time that
funnel all our moments into these calculated contests to make
the world seem smaller than it is and keep you fighting with
people you won’t forgive. The same ones from your past that
wouldn’t ever forgive you either.
The map says Jesse’s headed off north-northwest of the
valley where all the stoners are zooted out on their blankets
sharing lice. So that’s the way we head off into the orange
void of drying, cracking earth out here.
For a good mile or two we walk, stopping occasionally to
enjoy the views and all the scenery. The music is getting
further and further away. It’s barely a blooming buzz now.
My eyes sometimes seem invalid, the sweet water is collecting

38
around my nose. It’s getting hot and the earth is starting to
melt away in the distance. Lines of wavy heat are rising from
the ground.
I’ll look around at something moving, a jackrabbit or a
lizard, and get dizzy to a little hop.
The boys seem up for once, they’re laughing and telling
jokes. Particularly Danny, who seemed the most pissed off
about it all. He’s sort of coming around, I think.
Can’t remember the last time I took them on any sort of a
vacation. Sometimes all you can do is kill two birds with one
measly little stone.
I keep searching, scanning over the hills, looking for any
sign of life. There’s little. How far could he have gotten in
several days with a tent and his poncho and who knows what
else? I’m starting to think our luck would be better if we stick
to the lower areas, look for streams or some sort of running
water.
Then I notice, Max points out, we’re crossing a little wash.
Not so much a road, but something for off road vehicles.
Jeep fanatics and hunters of long horn sheep.
Yay, we’re not completely lost, I say to myself.
Looking at my cell phone, I see I’m not getting any signal.
Max says his phone isn’t working either. This makes me
nervous, but on we push.
Suddenly, from up the road, Mikey lets out a shriek. “Pa!”
he yells. “Come look at this!”

39
The rest of us jog over to the side of the path. There’s a steep
embankment that falls a story or so down on our left. Mikey’s
ahead on the right and off behind a pile of some large rocks.
When I round the boulders I can see Mikey. And then there’s
Cally. Now Danny’s catching up and little Max is following at
the end of my step.
Closer to Mikey, I’m looking down where he’s crouching,
poking around with a stick.
“Get away from it,” I say to him. I step closer to kind of
move him over from the carcass. I immediately know what it
is.
The tick in my heart is returning and I’m aware of what kind
of trouble we might be in.
Just behind the thing, is another. It looks like maybe a third
one is a hundred feet up ahead off in the brush. Something
else stinking, flies swarming, whatever it is, the two in front
of us though are easy to get a read on, and it seems like we’re
not in any immediate danger. So I stoop to get a closer look.
They’re cougar pups, I see, and being dead doesn’t make
them any safer.
“They’re kittens, not pups,” Max reminds me he’s a
databank of good facts. “And we’re definitely not safe.”
Who knows what they’re technically called, but about not
being safe, he’s certainly right about that.
Especially since I don’t know where their mom is at.

40
Standing up, I scan around the area, making sure that there’s
nothing bigger looking to make us into a meal.
I didn’t know the big cats were around here, I mean, I know
they live in the state. But I assumed they lived further out in
the tundra. I guess I assumed it wrong.
“Where did they come from, you think?” Cally is already on
to playing twenty questions.
“They’re western North American cougars,” Max has all of
the facts. ”There’s the eastern species and the western ones.
These are the western ones and they live in these parts, yup.”
He reminds us all he’s a mister smarty-pants and he knows
his stuff as he looks around with a curious eye, suspicious of
what else might be around.
“Pa!” Danny’s yelling at me from ahead, “Better come have a
look at this.”
The look on his face is one of sheer terror. The white of
something has taken him and he’s stiff at his knees. He takes
off his ball cap and wipes the sweat from his forehead.
Putting it back on, he turns to look at whatever’s rotting
ahead of us.
You guys stay right here, I say to Max, Cally and Mikey. All
of them are wearing this look like the world has started to
end. Their eyes are sunk back in their heads and they’re
standing as a still as the nothing breeze out here. Still, the way
the air seems to measure the space inside your lungs and you
have to force yourself to breathe.

41
When I get over there my fear has doubled. The ring and the
zing, it’s a buzzing sensation that’s circling, spinning behind
my eyes. It’s squirming inside my stomach and when I get a
look at his face, the flesh eaten off of it, his skull showing
behind a pair of dangling eyeballs, I nearly lose everything I
ate for breakfast.
“Don’t come over here!” I warn my boys.
I’m turned around, trying my best to keep my composure.
All three of their faces are a terror of something they can’t see
over here but somehow know already in their heads.
“Danny?” I immediately have his attention. He’s standing
like I’m a sergeant, straight at his shoulders, chin up. “Get
back over there and help them get all our stuff together, we’re
getting the hell out of here.”
Right, he says.
I’m suddenly standing alone with the body.
It’s a hunter, his clothing is torn.
I don’t have much time to examine him, I know this is like a
crime scene thing or something and I don’t want to mess
anything up too much.
The blood is drying, it’s everywhere. The smell reminds me
of the old fridge we cleaned out before we moved into our
home. Awful enough to have me holding my nose. His guts
have been eaten, a hole in his stomach has his rib bones
ruptured, bursting, busted to shards.

42
He resembles something at the butcher shop. It’s ghastly, to
say the very least.
I break off a branch from the bush, poke around in his
pocket. A wallet slips out and folds open, closer than I want
to reach.
I stoop and grab it anyhow making sure not to touch
anything else. God that smell is grotesque. I have to hop back
to get a gasp of some air.
His name is Bill Parry, it says on his ID. There’s a couple of
Benjamin’s in the billfold. Nothing he’ll need, I fold them out
and slip them into my shorts.
Then I toss the wallet next to the body. It bounces off his leg
and lands by his feet. The scene is nothing that I want to
remember. I also know it’s something I’ll never forget.
There’s a good rifle propped up next to him, although I
know I shouldn’t be touching it.
I sort of want to grab it, just in case. Who knows what’s up
ahead.
Before I can go for it, the boys are yelling. A high pitch
shriek, I don’t know if it’s Cally or Max, but it’s loud.
Ear piercing loud, another scream, I’m already turned.
I can see the thing slouching, dipped at the neck, stepping
right toward us. Crawling out from the boulders, it wears the
long face of a demon or a maniacal beast.
It’s well covered in blood, not sure how much of it is his. It
looks like it might be wounded. Hobbling, it hasn’t charged,

43
but I know there’s no time to stay around and wait for it to do
so. If this is what it’s intending to do.

WE’RE ALL MOVING, as fast as we can, away from the


cougar. Looking over my shoulder, I can’t see the thing.
We’re far, maybe another half mile, scampering up small
ledges and scurrying hard around canyon walls.
The only problem is, the cougar got between us and the
wash headed back toward where we came from. We’re
headed deeper into the desert, perhaps closer to wherever
Jesse is. Hopefully he’s not another victim of that morbid
beast. We’re headed maybe deeper toward being deeper in a
bunch more shit.
Either way, we know to stop and get some air back in our
lungs. I have them climb up on some rocks, just in case. I stay
down below to make sure the coast is clear, keeping an ever
watchful eye in all directions.
“It’s too big to be a mother. More like a giant alpha male,
that’s what they call them, I think,” Mikey points out an
important fact from above.
“What about the cubs?” Maxi says.
“Whatever,” Danny says. “We need to get the hell out of
here before that she-bitch shows her ugly face again.”
“Is that what we’re calling her now?” Mikey asks, “She-
bitch? Like the queen bitch of all the beasts?”

44
“Like mom and all the black dudes she’s having sex with.”
Danny cracks one of his jokes, the others ha-ha him. Except
for Cally, who I can’t see, but I know the look on his face.
Some of Danny’s hatred for his mother is far beyond what
Cally can get and I know it makes him uncomfortable. He’s
just a bit too young to get the rest of us and what’s going on.
“Hey!” I yell up to him, “I’ll have none of that racist talk or
profanity! You know better Danny, c’mon now! You’re better
than that.”
Whatever, he groans.
I guess I’m just used to all of the teasing, Danny’s been
taking her leaving the hardest. He has some serious anger
issues with women now over it. People who fight for what
they believe in as opposed to conforming to the way that
things are, they’re in for some real serious shit. Danny has
some of that fight in him and I’m not going to be the one to
break him out of his little illusion he’s stuck in.
Me though? I deal with Jean’s infidelity a little bit
differently.
No, I haven’t ever hit her, don’t even go there with me. Of
course, I’ve thought about it before. Danny’s not that type
either, I think my boys are a fine bunch of kids. Done my best
to raise them like I should, as best as I can.
Jean on the other hand, she’s something all to herself. If it’s
my inadequacies and imperfections as a husband, well
whatever. I’m five foot eight and not the best built man in the

45
world. More so I know it’s that she’s just some free spirit who
realizes all of us are doomed, one of those adults that never
really grew up. I think the idea of responsibility scares the
crap out of her. As much as I loathe her, I get it. She did her
part. She loved me at one point, it isn’t that. Just the sadness,
it gets some of us and there are those that never return.
It certainly isn’t the boys, they’re really the best. Nothing
you want to leave behind, but when you’ve lost yourself,
sometimes you have to cut your losses and keep running on.
This is where’s Jean at. Wherever the hell she is.
Still, the boys are nothing worth ditching out on and keeping
them working hard and trying, no matter how hard we’ve
been falling, this is what makes me the man that I am. I give
that away for nothing in the entire world.
I’ve learned from other women, I don’t pursue them
anymore when they grow tired of me, and I’ve certainly, now
more than ever, given up on ever trusting them. Whether or
not it’s how all of them work, I keep it simple and remember
what I’ve been through is always closest to how it is, for me.
For just a moment, below the hole in the sky and all of these
rocks, my boys perched up there by the clouds, I’m gone.
Back in some other time.
“I like him, is that too hard for you to get? He’s good to me
Oliver, something you’re incapable of getting, that much I
know.”

46
She’s going on about Jimmers, this must have been the last
time that we spoke.
“Don’t you want everything to work out for everyone?” she
asks, “You already know, nothing ever works out for you and
me. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us.”
Then she lifts the glass of vodka to her lips, downs the entire
thing and tosses me the glass.
I fumble it a few times, then I finally grab it.
“No. Not for you, if you’re going off with him,” I say, but
she’s gone. I toss the glass behind me.
It lands with a deadweight shatter.
Then, I’m all alone in the dark of our porch.
Things for me are always the opposite. Nothing ever works
out for me. A girl you fight with, who you’re not supposed to
be with, a friend’s girlfriend, this is always what you desire
most. How it always works out. When you’re not supposed to
do something, it ends up being what’s best. Think of how this
is used to torment and control people, the entire world is a
blazing hell of terror for reasons little more than stuff like
this.
Nothing I can do but watch it fade out, “Are we calling your
mother or that demon the she-bitch?” I ask them. The boys up
there on their rock, I’m still in some sort of daze.
None of them have a thing to say.
In a few minutes, once we’re sure the thing is gone, we’re on
the move. Again.

47
Things are safe for a while.
To tell you the truth, I’m really not sure how serious to take
it.
The thing killed a man, although she’d have to be absolutely
insane to try and come after all of us.
I’m not really frightened, I know these kinds of things
happen.
What would be the chances of it actually attacking one of us?
These are the things I mull over in between shouting
commands and reminders and passing encouragement to all
of my kids.
The hunter, I’m sure, he was in the wrong place at the wrong
time, it’s that simple.
And we’re smarter than getting involved in any of that.
Shooting at a bunch of cougar cubs, maybe the guy got what
he deserved.

WE HEAD SOUTHWEST, away from it all. The plan is to


head far, as far away as possible from the cougar and the
carcasses, circle around and then head east again, back to the
car. I’ve already got an idea to call in the body to the rangers,
maybe get us some kind of ride back. Or as safe as possible, at
the very least.
A good ride in the back of a hummer or a truck would be
fine. I keep trying the phone, it doesn’t work.

48
All we can do is move on forward and follow our watchful
eyes. Always looking over my shoulder.
Looking out into the distance, the place is surely something
beautiful. An awe inspiring waste of endless nothingness, I
start to get lost in thoughts imagining what some developer
could do if it decided to rain here once in a while.
I take it as a sign of dehydration and I stop the boys and we
take a few sips from the bottles in our bags. They could fit
everyone in the world here in a few thousand skyscrapers,
might do the world some good. But the people would just
ruin the place like everything and everywhere else.
Truly beautiful out here, it is. The natural arches below the
spires, they’re towers that break the skyline. You think of lost
treasures and priceless stones hidden below in some ancient
mine when you look at the magnitude of this place.
Then there’s the sun in the sky. The sun is the most brilliant
magnificent gemstone in the entire world, and also the most
dangerous one. Several miles closer to it and it would burn
the skin off of our bones. Shinning bright, giving us light, yet
like a beautiful, free spirited woman, captivating all us men
with it’s radiant, dazzling wonder, it sure creates one
deceptive illusion of beauty to suck us dry of our dreams.
Stare into it just a little bit longer.
Mikey comes up next to me where I stand at a long ledge
above a canyon view of all that sky. “It’s like the sun’s

49
stopped up there in the sky,” he says. “Stopped for good,” he
adds.
“Just like us,” Danny says, tossing a rock that soars out
above the endless drop. “Stuck on this waste of a planet,” he
continues, then, “Hey. You know, it kind of looks like Mars
out here. Maybe we’ll run into some aliens.” Then he makes
this whiney laugh like the whole thing is some big joke.
I shake my head and think of all these problems.
Yeah, it’s a problem to do anything but get further and
further away from the desire and the dreams of anything
good coming from that ball of heat. Like the idea of
something good coming back from the past. I can only think
of what problems lie ahead. Like all of the problems around
us. The phones not working, the sun, our limited water
supply, the demon she-bitch of a hellcat back there behind us,
hopefully, or who knows where.
We better solve these problems, Max says.
Max is always blowing us away with all his wisdom. He’s
barely more than ten years old, a regional spelling bee
champion, already into calculus and logic.
He hops along at the back of our line yelling up to us about
what he knows of the state that we’re in.
In society, it’s problem solvers solving those problems for
themselves at the expense of everyone else, he says. With
everyone merely creating problems, part of the solution is to
remain in denial about the problem while passing the blame

50
about, to solve them for yourself. In society you can often get
away with using others to solve them, where as out here in
the sun and the rain and the dust, you have to solve them or
you die, he says to us.

THESE ARE JUST some of our problems out here, and most
of them are just growing worse.
Then the cat returns to chase us some more, and now, here
we are.
Right now the biggest problem all of us have is the she-bitch
and the distance between her demon face and this heavy
stone in my hand.
No question she wants some sort of revenge.
That’s fine and all, just as long as doesn’t come after us.
My arm is raised, I’m ready to throw it. The boys are
screaming, making as much noise as possible. This is what we
agreed on if it got any closer. God, I wish I had picked up that
hunter’s gun.
I finally bring my arm forward and I heave it. As hard as I
can.
A lucky throw, it hits the cougar right in the middle. A good
thump, it sounds like the whack of a live fish smacked against
a slab of cement.
For a second I sense its fear.
It’s stumbling backwards, confused.

51
We’re all stunned, everyone is remaining silent.
A track star when I was younger, I also played fullback on
my high school football team and I was an all star pitcher on
the softball team. My pitch is sharp, your body conforms to
these precise positions, I think for more reasons than we
might ever know. We return to them, these same positions,
doing things over and over again. Our bodies, like little
ticking wind up clocks.
The throw was a perfect toss and I’m humming in some sort
of fearsome delight. It’s like every toss I’ve ever made was
practice for me to get this one correct.
A shocking echo swims through my champion spirit. My
entire body reverberates to this hum.
Then, in one quick gallop, the thing lowers its ears and
scurries off back where it came from.
I’m breathing heavy, listening to the cheers and chants from
above. Mikey’s on to a whistle.
That toss got me a second wind, I’m not through with it yet.
I can see it trotting away toward another set of ledges across
the clearing behind us and headed west.
I’m speaking to the thing, that or half talking to myself.
“Well, if we’re not going to be friends, she-bitch, then I guess
that makes us enemies,” I say at a hair above a whisper, “and
if we’re enemies then, I would guess we’re going to fight,” I
pause, then continue on. “And if we’re going to fight, one of
us is going to win, which means it’s likely a fight to the death.

52
And if it’s a fight to the death, then one of us is going to die.
And if one of us is going to die, then it’s going to have to be
you. She-bitch.”
Then, I take to a big bend of my crooked back, a flex of my
chest, and I run right toward it. I’m screaming my head off at
the no good son of a god damned thing. Just to make sure
that it’s finally gone for good.

53
54
6

WE SPEND ALL cold night there alone, together in the dark,


trying to create barriers to make sure that demon doesn’t
come back to stop us from finding Jesse, finding our way out
of this mess.
Or kill us and eat us to a pile of bones. But that’s all after we
find the car.
“Over here, pa!” Mikey yells.
Damn it Mikey! I had warned him about going down there,
but Cally had a little accident and he needed some help and I
guess I took my eye off the others for a minute and he slipped
away.
When we finally get down into the canyon, spilling over
some rocks and scraping our knees, we see what all the fuss is
about.
It’s an old car, stuck in another wash, down on the other side
of the canyon. Mikey’s standing on the hood in the middle of

55
it. It’s run down past the wheels, rusted and peeling to pieces.
Most of the glass is still intact for whatever reason. I guess the
hippies and other local idiots haven’t been out here yet to
shoot it up. It isn’t the hunter’s car, too long it’s been sitting
here broken down to the chipping paint.
For a while now we were looking at it, this car, all of us
thought it was a small outcrop. It’s covered in sand, the glare
of it has long since past the expiration date on its exterior tint.
Nothing about it resembles anything you think of when you
think of factory options, luxury comfort and maximum
horsepower for coasting on all weather roads.
Checking it over, I kick open one of the doors. The inside
isn’t half bad. It’s potentially a safe place for us to hold up for
a while, I kind of like it. Or maybe a while more.
Until we can think up some sort of plan for a safe escape.
It’s just before sundown, we might even have to stay here
the night. Better in here than out there with that demon and
who knows what else. Can’t keep my mind off of Jesse. I’m
growing more worried by the minute when I remember the
cat.
Keep calm, I tell myself. There’s always a way out and we’ll
find a way out of this like we always do.
Inside there’s a silence that not even the wind can contend
with.
The sun is an orange ball of fire that’s sinking through a
string of spinning clouds petering out above the horizon,

56
swelling and throwing the remaining light of the day into the
vehicle. It’s like we’re in some kind of Middle Eastern
country. Or a film of it is showing on the windshield of the
car.
It’s decided, we’re staying the night. We’re aiming to leave
at daybreak, provided there’s no other problems with the
demon cat. We don’t have a backup plan, all we can do is
wait and be patient and think.
It’s all turned into this camping expedition that I certainly
never planned for, but we’re all ok and I guess that’s all that
matters when you cut down the rest. It reminds me of when I
once took them fishing up near the border and we ended up
lost in the woods for a night. Some rangers found us the next
morning, everything was fine.
Yeah, we’ll make it out like we always do.
We talk about the car a bit, nobody has any solid theory as to
where it came from. Nor why an old sedan is this far out in
the desert. Cally and Max are trying to get some sleep.
Nobody can keep their eyes closed for fear of the cat.
The little guys are in the back with Mikey who’s manning
lookout by the smashed in window on the passenger side,
Danny’s up front with me.
At least it’s growing cooler. The damp of my sweat is
becoming an itchy hassle. I have to take off my shirt and the
seat has these obnoxious springs, torn through the cloth. They
rub and itch more on my back.

57
I’m using the seatbelt to hold up my chin. It’s aching and
tired and sagging like the rest of me. Danny tells me I look
like a scarecrow in my Guns & Roses hat. My hair, as usual, is
Mickey Mouse ears puffing up and flaring from the sides of
the brim. That much I can verify in the rearview mirror.
My flare gun, the best defense I can think of, is sitting in my
lap. The gun from the hunter, I wish like nothing that I had
taken it when I had the chance. Or my .22 back at home. I
keep it locked up in a cabinet. All those old timers that tell
you it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way
around, they sure have it right. Only so many arms to carry
things with and I certainly don’t want to put a gun in the
hands of my boys. Not if I can help it, same reason I won’t
keep a handgun anymore. Don’t trust cops, the military, or
anyone that thinks the world will solve all its problems by
killing everything that shows as a problem. And yet, here I
am in a real pickle and I need it.
I look at the flare gun, roll it around to feel the weight of it
by the barrel. It’s not going to do much but it’s better than
nothing.
“Why did Jesse run away, pa?” Cally is awake and breaking
the silence we sit with, watching the sun become a sliver of
winking, morbid eye.
“He got sick of all of us, I guess,” I say. First thing I think of,
and the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s true.
We all get sick of one another. In some sense I respect him for

58
doing something about it. As much as I can’t let him get away
with it, for the sake of him.
The silence continues, that answer must have been just right
for Cally as well.
“Well, how about mom? Why did mom run away?”
“C’mon Cally,” Max speaks up from the back. “Stop with
the stupid questions. You already know, mom is a crazy
lunatic and always has been a crazy lunatic. That’s what
lunatics do. They run away. Duh.”
“Does that mean Jesse’s a lunatic?” Cally asks. We all know
just to ignore him as much as I want to tell him we’re all
lunatics, that’s how the planet really is. The saner you get the
more crazy you realize everyone else is, has to be, to live
sanely on a planet like this.
“We’re not getting out of this, are we?” Mikey’s worries
come next.
“No, we’re not. We’re cat food,” Danny’s fast to respond,
and, “That’s not true,” I immediately cut him off. I sort of
clear my throat, and, “We’re going to be just fine Mikey.
You’ll see. Just like we always are.”
The truth is I’m worried here also. Maybe more so than the
cat at this point, I’m worried maybe that the government will
find out about this. Take it the wrong way like they always
take it. Maybe take the boys away from me like the world has
taken away everything else. Thankfully, that’s just a maybe
for now, and still a hopefully not.

59
ALL OF THEIR talking and worry brings up some memories
of earlier when Danny and I had a moment alone in the sand.
It’s been a long day, to say the least, and before we found that
hunter and the cubs and got into all of this mess with the cat,
things were sort of peaceful and working out for once.
Danny sort of apologized to me, I guess, so maybe all of this
was something meant to be. To kind of get us all back on the
same page again, as a family.
“You know, Oliver, Pa.” Danny says. We’re walking alone
together, the other guys are up ahead of us in the tundra
throwing Danny’s hacky sack around. Up in the air they take
turns tossing it into the sky like a football, each one of them
playing their turn at the position of fetch.
The laughing and yelling sort of has me relaxed, glad to see
them having some fun.
Danny clears his throat and I think I know what’s coming.
I turn to sort of look at him, nodding, the sweat and the sun
are getting to me, but I guess the tone in his voice isn’t the
usual I hate your guts, so I pay him attention with a full on
stare, nod along and listen as he speaks. “I’m sorry,” he
finally says it. It rolls off his tongue with some exasperation,
where he stops, I stop. I turn away to sort of gloat where I’m
listening to him come clean. “I’m mad at mom, not you,” he
goes on. “I, I don’t know,” he shakes his head and kicks his

60
foot around in the dirt. “I know it isn’t your fault,” he sighs.
“If I was you I’d be long gone by now,” he eventually says.
“Yeah,” I sort of say with a laugh. “Maybe your right,” I
cross my arms, then I turn to catch the look on his face.
It’s one of shock, like he’s actually thinking I might just
announce it to all of them. That I’m going to head back into
the world all by myself, at this very moment. Kick them to the
curb like their mom, right here and now.
“You really think I’m serious?” I finally say.
He shakes his head, “No,” he says, “I know how you work.”
He picks up a rock from the ground, a small fist sized stone,
tossing it up in his hand like he’s thinking about throwing it
into the endless sky that’s rising in all directions from the
small plateau that we’re on. “I’m just playing along,” he says
as he tosses the rock, as far as he can. Past where the other
guys are throwing up the hacky sack in the air.
They’re already scouting him for the high school team and I
see a sort of future in baseball maybe. If he can learn to
understand that people will always disappoint him if he puts
his trust in them like he once put his trust in his mom. I guess
I was guilty for doing that also, but all I know is that now he’s
coming around to me and that’s all that counts.
The others all stop to watch where the rock lands, yelling
and cheering him for the toss.
“I know Jesse wouldn’t like it, but he owes you a lot in my
opinion, I really see it,” Danny says. “And when we find him

61
and get back, I think I might just start calling you Pa. Like all
the time now, you know?”
“Ok Danny,” I say to him. “I’ll hold you to it,” I say.

BACK IN THE CAR, we return to our silence and go through


bouts of silence and talking. All the fears and concerns and
ideas. Danny’s almost old enough for me to take him out in
the dark and talk to him away from the others. Then again, I
don’t trust the black out there forming these vague outlines
around the perimeter of our new hideout here in the car.
I’d like somebody to confer with in private, but I settle on
thinking to myself and remaining alert, awake. I curse Jean
for ducking on her duties and then I continue mulling on. I
need to keep calm. Sticking with what I know.
And what I know is how important it is to create as many
walls of safety between us and the cat as I can. Barriers to
keep it away. The sheer number of us, the metal container
we’re holed up in, things working for our side. The flare gun,
my pocket knife, and a long spear Danny made out of a
branch near petrified from the conditions out there in the
heat, these are more of the important items and precautions.
Even though it looks like that rock and my death yells gave it
the kind of scare to keep it from coming back.

62
I certainly don’t trust the darkness though, and as much as I
know it’s the devil, I have to work by the sun and its light like
everyone and everything else.
They all fall asleep eventually. Not much snoring but I know
they’re out. Nothing is going to put me to sleep, I’m barely
allowing myself to blink. The seatbelt is in my mouth and I
bite it every time I get the slightest inkling to nod out or even
so much as yawn.
Then it happens. How it happened, I can’t say, but I must
have slipped into one of those moments where you’re so tired
you’re sure you’re awake, but your body’s so tired it tricks
you into a trip to the other side.
Infinite blackness, but something of you is still aware,
attentive. Prepared.
It must have been real early in the morning and suddenly
I’m having dreams. Nothing serious, it’s a figure off in front
of me. It looks like Jean, and I don’t know what she’s doing
out there in front of the hood of the car.
I sort of know it’s a dream but I’m also sort of convinced it’s
real. I slip halfway into a twisted smile knowing she’s off on
some kind of prank. Or she’s had her sister come out all the
way from California to take care of the boys and I’m just
confused. Yeah, that’s it. No way is Jean going to come and
crawl around under the hood of my car. Can barely get her to
bend over in the bedroom let alone out here in our yard.

63
Mostly I have these dreams, they’re all my panic. I often
watch her slipping away. Walking down some train tracks or
on some dock that juts out above the ocean.
Trying to get as far from me as she can, and no matter how
hard I try to follow, I find that I’m stuck.
This dream however is a different one all together.
Something doesn’t seem right about it at all.
I suddenly feel very cold, alone.
Twilight is a trick worse than the dream, my eyes are peeling
open to the light leaking in, penetrating my fading, vivid
thoughts.
I jolt awake when I realize I nodded off. I shake furiously, I
yell and the boys are all up and afraid.
I see the door, it’s wide open. Danny’s not there, what do I
do? I’m quivering, shaking furious, trying to get the seatbelt
from around my neck. Everything is stuck to me, nothing
wants to come undone. I wiggle and moan and I yell.
When I finally get out of the car, I yell at them to stay inside.
I know what’s coming and my heart feels like it’s been moved
up inside my head, pushing back everything I hope isn’t
happening where is rises in one big sting shooting out from
my ears.
The tears are welling already, I know what’s going on.
Dragged off into a bush, when I find his body, there’s a
sadness that comes before the anger.

64
It’s a crying awful outpour of things I couldn’t even begin to
explain. I have no fear of the cat for now. I just want to hold
him but his lower leg is missing and the middle of him is in
pieces. His guts are strung about, his throat is gone and I
know it’s only the rage I can hold onto inside. Things, I now
know, aren’t going to be fine. My fingers clench as I fight on
into tears.
They stream forever and I can’t go back to the car until I’m
done.

65
66
7

DEFENDING YOURSELF FROM all the bullshit, I remember,


is a lifelong task. But outrunning cougars in the sweltering,
skin boil heat of desert sun is something you might only
dream up once. On the other side of it is being awake.
Somewhere between then and your next dream, you’re
hoping only to make it that far. Running on is all that works.
All you can do is pretend that all of it is fine.
Even after death has come and taken what you love.
We’re not running again yet, but the time is coming upon us.
No question, the goddamned thing is a real man killer and
there’s no telling when she’ll be back. We just know that she
will.
Danny is dead and nothing is going to bring him back to us.
Our mood is somewhere worse than his death.
None of the boys can handle it. Nobody can say a thing.
We’re all stuck between wondering which one of us is going

67
to be next, how this happened, what we do about it, and I
think I’m not the only one who can’t accept that Danny is
truly gone.
The tears are drying on our faces and the sobbing, howls and
angry screams are mere echoes that collect on the scattered
canyons and reflect back some nothing that fills us empty
with a knowing of what will never be now that this has
happened.
Nothing we know is going to be ok. Getting out of this will
leave us scarred and it’s our only choice.
Like a knife that stays in our chest, we move about cautious,
wounded, and in this silence we can’t ignore.
Finding Jesse at this point isn’t even a priority at all. Getting
back to the car or to some place well away from this monster
is our only mission now.
Survival is not an option, it’s the only way.
With the flare gun balanced in my hand, I point it at every
lizard and each spider that crawls across the rocks. Shadows
have me aiming, shifted down on my knee.
We’re doing our best to figure out which direction is our
best chance, and what to do about Danny, we can’t just leave
him there.
I keep thinking about how wrong I was, our guard, my
guard was down. To the extent I was so nonchalant about it
all. I should have known better, like Max is always saying.
Whenever I get lax, let my guard down, things go wrong.

68
The reminder though, it’s a thought that goes nowhere but
round and round in circles. It squirms inside my brain. Just
hours ago I was sure we were going to be fine, and now my
life is over. Is this really how life works? I can’t believe what’s
going on.
Danny must have gotten up early to take a leak. How I
didn’t wake up, I could kill myself over it. Never will I
forgive myself for such a stupid mistake.
It didn’t just kill him, it ate some of him also. The thing is
one hundred percent nothing short of some man eating killer
out for revenge. A cold, calculating demon that’s taunting me
and I know the situation is far more serious than I had
thought. There’s no going backward and I want to hit myself
over this blunder.
This all happened perhaps minutes before I awoke, more
proof something awful is in the making.
No matter what, we must survive.
The minutes, the moments, all of it’s a blur of chaos as I pace
about to a pondering loop and leave my trail of dust
lingering.
The shock of it all just won’t go away.
It’s a throbbing, whomping sting that hovers around the top
half of me like a halo of something electric that won’t cut off.
My heart quickens and I almost feel like ending my life, this
is so bad.

69
I have to squat down for a second and breathe. In, out, I
know not to stop filling myself with air. I want to block out
the sun with my arms, but what good would that do? I also
don’t want to show any weakness in front of the kids.
The eerie silence of all this endless tundra is like some place
we all arrive at after death. The end of time, as anyone of us
knows it before it comes.
I’m trying, not trying, trying again to think of how all this
happened. How it got so out of control, spiraling downward
from one simple mistake.
How all of these terrible things could have been arranged
this way.
And then, just like I’m thinking and thinking, I’m up. No
time, I have a duty to get these kids to safety no matter what.
And no matter what it is.
No time to bury Danny, no time to sit here and be scared or
sad or grieve.
I’m forced to deal with this messy situation all myself.
I don’t want the boys to see, although Mikey went and had a
look. Without my permission, of course.
He hasn’t so much as uttered a single word since.
I’m hoisting Danny’s lifeless body up on this boulder near
the bushes, he’s leaking all the guts I can’t fit back inside the
hole. I push and heave and grunt to get him up there. No way
is he going to be food for that cougar or some beggar coyote.
If it’s the vultures or crows that pick him to pieces, so be it.

70
Now that I think more about it, anything but that cougar.
Like I said, my first priority is to make sure we all survive.
But when I get my chance, I’m going to murder that fucking
thing, pardon my filthy no-good English, if it’s the last
fucking thing that I god damned do.

71

Related Interests