Topic: Stories

Back to the Future Too 0

Back to the Future

The silver car rose out of the driveway and backed out into the street.

“What are you watching?”

“Some old crystal from more than 100 years ago. Something grandma saved.” The man driving the car covered his eyes with chrome sunglasses. Zack paused the action.

“How clunky,” he said. “Why don’t they just see it.” Arya touched her temple and the movie floated in her view.

On the screen, the unkempt man adjusted his glasses. “Where we’re going we don’t need roads,” he said. Then the car vanished in a flash.

“A flying car,” Zack laughed. “Now, that’s funny.”

A fit woman walked out of the atrium, put her workout mat into the wall, and stood below a fan. A warm breeze dried her sweat.

“That was my dad’s favorite movie,” Clara said. “It’s quaint, right?” Zach looked up at Clara and his view of the crystal vanished.

“I can’t believe you were our age 100 years ago,” Arya said. “They thought our life would be so utopian.”

“Well, it kind of is,” Clara said. “I look like someone in their forties from that time.” Clara glanced at the watch imprint on her arm. “A few hours ago, I turned 134.”

“Happy birthday, grandma,” Arya said.

“But a flying car? Come on,” Zack said. “We don’t even need cars, we have the loop.” (more…)

Snowville Coffee Might As Well Be 90-Proof 1

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah by Scott Jarvie. Used with permission of @jarvie through his Minnow Support Picture Catalog.He woke to the sounds of distant gunfire. Tom wiped away the frost from the glass window and peered at the semi sitting next to him. He shivered and rose the car seat from its reclined bed, held his head in his hands, and jumped at another gunshot. The opening day of the deer hunt in Snowville, Utah.

He spent the night in the car after an accident on the highway. In the Snowville truck stop, the self-drive trailer remained attached to his small two-seater. The adage, “the universe provides” certainly providing a heap of bad luck the night before. His trip from Idaho to Texas ended on the Utah border with the trailer pulling the car backwards down a grade and burning up the clutch. The car and trailer jack-knifed causing a two-mile backup. Once the wrecker arrived, he watched drivers go by and curse him for the delay. He rode to Snowville in silence convinced no one wanted to help him.

From his memory of philosophy, this clearly amplified the resignation of the ancient Greeks. The best he could do was smile and try to endure yet another trial delivered by the universe.

A bell on the door announced him as he stumbled inside the diner. “Just sit anywhere you want hon,” a waitress dressed like a pink tablecloth shouted his way. Hunters filled the booths more intent on blueberry syrup then sitting in a deer stand. He found a seat at the counter next to a heavy-set truck driver wearing a black leather vest, blue jeans, and a pair of Wellington boots.

“Pass the sugar,” the driver said. Tom pushed over the shaker and reached for a menu.

“Get the pancakes and eggs.”

The driver let the sugar pour into his cup. In the mirror over the counter, Tom watched a group of men in orange jackets and hats laugh and punch each other as they left the diner. He set the menu back on the napkin rack.

“The cook can’t mess up pancakes.”

The driver stared ahead. A waitress brought over a pot of coffee and refilled his cup.

“Coffee dear?”

The driver shot him a glance and Tom interpreted it as “don’t pass on the coffee.”

“Sure, fill my cup.”

The driver handed over the shaker and watched Tom pour a trickle of sugar.

“You’re not a hunter,” the driver said. “So you must be a traveler.”

“Car broke down on the highway,” Tom said. He dipped his fingers in his water-glass and tried to push down his hair. Tom caught the big man watching him in the mirror.

“Sleep in your car?” he asked.

“Woke up to gunshots,” Tom said. “I forgot it was the first day of the hunt.”

The driver looked behind him at the crowded diner. “They act like it didn’t happen last year. I’m Butch.” He reached out a large hand and Tom shook it.

“I’m Tom Washburn. I’m on my way to Texas.”

“Just left Lubbock,” Butch said. “I’m halfway to Seattle hauling truck parts.”

“I’m heading to Plainview. Isn’t that near Lubbock?”

“The middle stop on the Amarillo Highway north of the Hub City. Why there?”

“My girlfriend started the fall semester at Wayland Baptist.”

“Home to Jimmy Dean sausage and cotton. Not much else.”

The waitress refilled Butch’s coffee. He poured in more sugar. She refilled Tom’s too. Butch took a big swallow. Tom tried to keep up.

“You must be in the Honda with the trailer,” Butch said. “Kinda crazy to be hauling it with such a little car.”

“Burned up the clutch,” Tom said. “Cost me almost everything to tow it here. I’m trying to figure it out.”

“Well, if I was going back to Lubbock, I’d take you.”

Butch motioned for a refill of his coffee and the waitress returned with the pot. Tom finished his coffee and she refilled it too.

“I’m thinking about calling my dad,” Tom said. Tom wished Butch was going back to Lubbock. He didn’t want to admit to Dad he was still a kid.

“He’ll need to drive across Nevada from home. And then I still have to figure out the car. Maybe he’ll pay to fix it?”

Tom studied Butch for insight. The driver finished his coffee and pushed away from the counter. Tom took a last swallow, set down his last ten dollar bill, and followed Butch out of the diner.

“Well, I’ve got to go. I’ll stop and see if you’re still here when I get back from Seattle.”

Butch shook Tom’s hand, turned, and ran to his truck. The engine jumped to life and idled in the cold morning. Butch soon moved the rig to the highway.

Tom’s head felt like a helium balloon and his heart was racing. He stepped inside the telephone booth and made a collect call to his dad. Tom spoke fast explaining why he was in Snowville. Dad agreed to come to Utah to help him figure it out.

“Why are you talking so fast,” Dad asked.

“I tried to keep up with a Texas truck driver drinking black coffee and sugar,” Tom said. “This Snowville coffee might as well be 90-proof. I’m going to have a pounding headache tomorrow.”

Tom walked through the semis. He watched a truck drive by with a six-point deer on its bumper. He climbed inside his car, reclined the seat, and tried to take a nap.


The picture of the Bonneville Salt Flats is being used with permission and in partnership with @jarvie on Steemit. If you’d like to reach out to him with questions about his Minnow Support Picture Catalog contact him at accounts@jarviedigital.com.


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The Greenhouse in the Sky 1

Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash.

I left Hamish in the bed at the hospital. The endless tubes, wires, and monitors took their toll until anxiety took my breath from me. I ran from the room, out the door, and far from the discouraging faces of my family. I finally took in fresh air when I arrived at his cottage. Hamish loved the countryside and made his home in the simple two bedroom stone building. In his front yard, the wreck of the main house. Scrambled stones marked old walls destroyed by a tank shell in the war long ago. He lived in the guesthouse behind it, which had become the house away from the road.

I placed my keys in a dish by the door and wandered into the kitchen. A broken plate lay near the table where it had fallen when Hamish slipped and hit his head. The sharp pieces of ceramic poked my fingers as I picked them up. I took a water bottle from the refrigerator before moving to the greenhouse.

Not more than a lean to with a glass roof and sides, the greenhouse offered a warm place to think. Hamish loved the room and often sat with his thoughts. No one bothered him in the greenhouse. The warm sun, errant plants, and the smell of soil made it the perfect place to write, paint, or think.

I needed to think about what would happen to Hamish? He was nearly 90 years old and couldn’t live here by himself anymore. But where would he go? His brother died two years ago and his parents died in the war. He often talked about his childhood home: a magical place with a bright sun, fresh grass, white horses, and red billowing flags. I looked at the wreck of the main house. It must have been quite a place where Hamish grew up.

Sunset turned the brick wall a bright orange. The greenhouse darkened in the afternoon shadows. Yet, in the far corner of the room a bright light shot out of the floor. Odd, I thought. The beam of light touched the roof of glass creating a rainbow in the reflection. I went closer to where the light shot out of the floor.

The light leaked out of a small hole and when I moved away a stone I saw a grass promenade below me. It seemed as though I was looking down from the sky and I looked around the greenhouse to make sure it was real. Below me, a small parade of ladies in finery rode white horses. Following them, knights dressed in blue rode tall black horses. The parade marched toward a large castle with billowing red flags, a drawbridge, and mote. I drew closer to the hole and reached through in an attempt to touch the castle to prove it a toy.

I felt a force pull me into the hole and I began falling. Above me only sky with clouds floating where the hole had been. Below me, an approaching expanse of green grass, the castle, and the parade of knights and ladies. I tumbled around like a stick doll and waited for the eventual crash.

I shut my eyes tight and prayed for a quick death. I felt a breeze push me and I began to slow down until I rested in a field of clover. I opened my eyes and jumped up off the grass.

“Steady boy,” said a voice. “You might fall after such a long sleep.”

I looked behind me to find a much younger Hamish standing on the grass. He wore a tunic, brown boots, and a sash around his waist.

“You look ready for the feast,” said Hamish. “Shall we go?”

I offered the younger Hamish a puzzled face. “Where are we?”

“Why we’re at the Festival of Exvius and you’re the honored guest.”

Close Enough to Touch 0

A bead of sweat fell off his forehead onto the inside of the glass face shield as he reached for the red button. He pressed it. A whoosh of air bounced him toward the open airlock and blew him out in the vacuum of space. Then silence as he drifted out and away from the space ship. Strips of glass and debris flew away from the station as pieces of the asteroid broke it apart.

And then he was flying into nothing. He checked the regulator on his suit. Less than 17 minutes of breathable air. He moved his hand to wipe away the sweat. It was no use. He forgot he couldn’t touch his forehead.

The nothing enveloped him as he floated farther away from the destruction. The light of stars and the moon grew brighter in the dark.

Earth filled a mirror attached to his sleeve. A rocket spun him around to look at the blue marble in space.

He stared at the oceans until the alarm went off on his respirator. He took a quick gasp and reached. Home was close enough to touch.

The Pot of Gold 0

After months of snow, the thaw arrived as if the weather knew we needed to leave the house. The ice melted into the creek adding riffles around the boulders and the fallen log. The spring rains added puddles in the field of melting snow. Clouds rolled over the pines and sunlight refracted in the ice. Steam rose up from the meadow.

The air outside made my arms shiver. Yet, I left my coat inside. It felt good to strip off the bundles of heat and feel lighter. My mother pushed my sisters out into the melting snow. Bundled up in their jackets and mittens, each girl hesitated under the maple waiting for the porcupine to rain needles down on them. The prickly animal held us hostage for two weeks raining down needles whenever we walked under the tree. Now, the porcupine was gone and the girls ran over to me in the slushy snow.

New leaves poked through the ice melting off the tree limbs. Daffodils and tulips bloomed next to the house. Children shoes melted the grass below. Each blade of matted grass popped up through the shoe print free of its winter blanket.

As the sun shone brighter, a rainbow arched through the sky landing on the far side of the meadow. The colors rippled through the ice melt. We stood astonished.

“There is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow,” said mother.

“Really?” I asked.

My youngest sister Carrie put a hand around my leg. The other two kicked the snow.

“Do you want to find it?”

Carrie looked at mother from behind my leg. “Can we?” I waited for her answer too.

“Why not.”

Mother smiled and led us down the walk. She handed me my jacket. The patch on the sleeve pealed up showing the fluff inside. I had tried to burn a hole through the sleeve at the start of winter by leaning on a standpipe stove. If I was lucky, I’d outgrow it soon and one of my sisters would have to patch it.

Mother pushed us forward and started off across the meadow. We followed her. All of us were talking at the same time and glad to be out of the house.

Near the turnaround, the snow piled higher where father had pushed the snow off the driveway with the station wagon. He took a piece of corrugated roofing metal and made a makeshift plow on the front of the Country Squire. He spent more than two hours slipping back and forth in the car moving the snow. A storm then piled up another coat for him to move a week later.

We climbed over the snow pile into the meadow. I looked for the end of the rainbow. It moved slightly north but otherwise landed in about the same place at the far end of the meadow behind a stand of junipers. I ran through the melting snow drifts catching my boots and covering my pants with melted snow and ice. I stopped to catch my breathe. Moisture streamed out of my mouth forming a cloud in front of my face.

I waited for my mother and sisters to catch up. My sisters looked like three bears being led by a circus handler. Carrie fell in the snow and mother picked her up in the middle setting her down in the meadow. Donna clung to mother’s leg and Debbie looked back at the house.

Two brothers built homes in the bottom of the valley before 1900. We rented the biggest house away from the trees. The second house stood empty near the creek full of trout hiding in pools. The paved road was at least a mile uphill from us and father tried to keep the road out of the valley clear with the makeshift plow. There was always snow on the road. In December, the temperature barely reached zero during the day and dropped to -35 at night. Now in March, the temperature hovered around 40 degrees. Still cold, but much warmer than a few months ago.

Mother grew up on a ranch near the Mexico border where the hot days made life unbearable in summer. She preferred the heat disliking the winter cold. She never seemed to adjust to the northern weather. For me, it was just another adventure and I imagined we were winter explorers looking for a frozen treasure cache.

“Years ago a family of flowers lived in this meadow,” said mother.

I stomped on the clumps of snow in the grass. Behind me, my sisters marched across the field with mother as if they were confident she spoke the truth. Carrie mashed the clumps of snow flattening them in the grass. She held onto mother’s hand.

“It sounds lovely,” she said.

“This is just a spring story, right?” I asked.

“They certainly loved spring,” said mother.

“I think you’re just getting us to take a walk outside.”

“We certainly have been cooped up in there,” said mother. “It doesn’t hurt to blow out the cobwebs occasionally.”

The three girls wore dresses made from the same gingham cloth mother found in town. She sowed up each one a dress before Thanksgiving. Donna, in the middle, stood taller than her older sister Debbie and much taller than the baby, Carrie. Debbie and Donna could have been twins if it weren’t for Donna’s brown hair and growth spurt. All three were very close and that left me as the only boy. I found myself spending a lot of time alone. Today, was one of the few times we went together for a walk. And this time, we were on a proper adventure.

“The rainbow moved,” I said.

Dark clouds closed around the trees on the far side of the meadow. The rainbow faded before returning slightly west of its last spot. Red, blue, green, and yellow light streamed up and over the trees.

“The flower family moved their pot of gold to hide it,” said mother.

“We’d better hurry,” shouted Donna.

The girls tore away from mother and ran past me on their way to the clump of trees. Carrie stumbled and fell next to me. I grabbed her hand and pulled her up. We ran after my sisters. Mother continued to walk slowly behind us. She stopped to look around her at the mix of clouds rushing out winter and bringing in spring. She pulled her sweater closer to her chest.

“Hold your sister’s hand Michael,” shouted Mother. I slowed down to let Carrie catch up. Then picked her up and scooted up to a rise in the meadow. On the other side, Donna and Debbie ran toward a group of Junipers. They slipped under a barbed-wire fence and ran down to the trees. I helped Carrie under the wires. Together we ran to meet up with the other two.

“Mom was right,” said Debbie. She pointed at a crushed pot rusted under the base of the closest tree.

“But we are too late,” said Donna.

I picked up the broken pot and a rusted piece fell on the ground. Mother walked up behind us.

“The flower family must have heard us coming,” she said. “And they scooped up their treasure before we could get here.”

I dropped the rusted pot. It bounced under the Juniper before landing nearly in the same spot where I had found it. My sisters wrapped around mother each jockeying for a hug. Mother smiled at her girls and then at me.

I looked back and gave her a smile. In that moment, I was sure the flower family was as happy as me.

A Cure for Diabetes 0

Thomas reached for the honey and then the cinnamon. Mary claimed combining the two would result in a diabetes cure. Anything to keep Mary happy. His scores slowly climbed up the scale based on the four recent blood tests. It almost became a given: his sugar scores would go up and he would be that much closer to taking insulin. Oh, his kidneys now excreted protein. When does this disease take over and I can die?

He dabbed the honey-cinnamon on his toast. Another thing he wasn’t supposed to eat. But he liked the toast with his morning coffee. Might as well enjoy myself If I’m going to die anyway. He took a bite and then washed it with the black coffee. At least he had left out the sugar and cream. Black coffee really doesn’t taste very good.

He picked up the newspaper and turned to the second section to find a full-page ad for a diabetes clinic. Maybe he should take a look. He took another bite of his cinnamon toast and turned the page.

Image: Wikimedia

A Split Second Too Late 0

Miles played with the lens ring waiting for a moment of light to stream across his viewfinder. Presently, he was sitting on a precipice overlooking the Yosemite Valley waiting for Horsetail Fall to light up red like fire. And it seemed everyone had the same idea. He pushed out a bit farther in an attempt to feel closer to El Capitain.

The February winter wind blew up the canyon buffeting his face. He decided his checks where as red as the approaching fire fall. His perch on the ledge drew a crowd and now his solace had been interrupted by shouting from the selfie crowd wanting him to turn closer to them. He waved. He kicked his legs. He even made a clown face.

“Jump off,” someone yelled. Why would they do that? It must be a couple football fields to the bottom. Idiots.

He looked to the west. Thin clouds hid the sun. Not good. He needed more light. The snowfall had been intense so far. Was it warm enough for the falls to even run? He looked over at the waterfall. It seemed to be flowing a little bit. It needed more water to make a spectacular photo. He looked back at the sun. A few hours to go. Maybe things would pick up.

The cold wind numbed his nose. He breathed into his hands. The sun hid behind the clouds and it suddenly seemed much colder.

“Oh no,” a girl cried behind him. He turned to see two legs skidding toward the cliff. He snapped a few pictures until it looked a bit dicey.

He climbed up, tossed his camera over his shoulder, and ran to the girl.

She looked like a small tick poking out of the hood of a blue parka. She wore matching gloves. It was the sort of coat a tourist would wear to a ski lodge.

Miles climbed behind and pulled her up.

“There’s no après ski around here.”

She giggled. Am I flirting. He brushed off her coat making sure she was steady.

“That’s a long way down,” she said.

Miles looked over the edge. He hadn’t noticed the rocks at the bottom.

“Yep. It might hurt if you fell.”

Despite the coat, the girl seemed cold. She jumped in place closer to the edge.

“Maybe you stand back.”

“I’m Jenny.” She offered a gloved hand toward his. He pulled her closer. A smile curled up around her eye.

“You’re a photographer?”

“Waiting on the falls to catch on fire.”

“I hear it’s not to miss.”

She waited for him to continue the conversation. He fiddled with his camera.

“Too many tourists?”

“I’m just used to wandering out alone without all the distractions.” Miles caught her narrowing her eyes a bit.

“Oh, I was glad to help you up.”

“I slipped a bit. I’m supposed to be up there with them.” Jenny pointed at a group of girls also dressed in padded coats.

“Are you visiting from the city?”

“Fresno. We wanted to do something in nature.”

“This is about as close as you can get. Muir called this the Range of Light.” The sun was still behind the clouds. Not much light was shining anywhere. Miles wondered if the falls would be lit.

“A long time ago they used to toss fire off the top of the falls. One of the park rangers stopped it,” Miles said. “Too much like Disneyland, I guess.”

“Then one day a guy named Rowell caught the falls just right and it looked like a fire fall.” Jenny drew closer.

“It only happens in February when the water is flowing and the light is just right.” Miles stopped talking. He thought he was coming across as some sort of tour guide.

“We just heard it was not to miss,” Jenny said. “Do you think we’ll see it?”

“If the sun pokes out from behind those clouds. Down there, I was closer.”

Miles pointed at the rock ledge he was sitting on before Jenny slid through the ice. The sun was starting to set. If he hurried, he might frame up an exceptional photo.

“You might take a good picture here.” Miles doubted it. The ledge hid the crowds and was more remote. He also left his tripod down there. He really should get back to his photo.

“Besides, my friends are gone.” Sure enough, her friends had walked farther down the trail and closer to the falls.

“Let me get my tripod and I’ll be right back.”

Miles jumped over a few rocks down to the ledge. He grabbed his tripod, scrambled up over the rocks and tree roots, until he stood next to Jenny again.

She looked out over the valley at the falls. He followed her gaze and saw just a brief flash of red light streaming down the rock face. Then the cloud covered the sun and the fire fall ended.

“It was something to see.” she said.

Miles fiddled with the exposure knob on his camera. He had missed it. He reached for her gloved hand.

“Tell me how you felt when the water fall lit up.” Jenny took his hand and moved away from the wind rushing up the canyon wall as the setting sun turned the meadows in Yosemite a shade of orange.

The Ely Pass Accident 0

When I was in college, I was driving across Nevada around Christmas and hit a cow with my car. I wasn’t driving too fast, but I managed to come out of a cloudy valley onto a pass and there was a herd of cows in the roadway keeping warm. Since I was driving pretty slow, I managed to weave the car between the standing cows and most of them ran away. However, there was one steer in the middle of the road that refused to budge. And so I hit him with the side of my car. It all happened so fast and I remember hearing a “bump.” That’s not so bad, I thought. I drove the car to the side of the road, got out and saw the imprint of a six-foot cow on the side of my car. The dent was so bad, I had to pull it away from the back wheel so I could keep driving. The cow ran off and I never did see it.

Anyway, I kept driving on and hoped the cow never died. In Nevada’s open range, the driver is responsible for killing a cow. Being a college student, I barely had enough money to drive home. I surely didn’t have money to buy a dead cow.

Fiction comes out of real and imagined experiences. Here is a piece of flash fiction about a cowboy heading home.

Thirty miles of snow blanketed the valley from range to range. Small strips of black pavement broke through the snow. The pavement disappeared as the road dipped farther around a bend. The cowboy paused the truck at the top of the grade and considered his future. Would it be possible to turn around and start over? Too many miles to go and too much behind him, he decided. A gust of wind raced around the cab and snow swirled around the hood. He looked down at an endless snowy valley. His breath blew fog on the window. He wiped away the frost and wondered if he should have called Sally to let her know he was coming.

The cowboy sat until he felt the cold on his legs. The chill rode up from the bottom of the floorboard through his boots making his bones hurt. The chill reminded him things were not warm between him and Sally. He patted his thighs and shivered. He must try to reach her. He turned the heater up, pulled the truck into gear, and jumped the start smoothing out as the truck picked up speed.

He considered the snow, cold, and all the times he had been stuck in this same spot shivering. He traveled this lonely highway all the time and it never seemed very warm. Watching the junipers pass against the snow, he expected to see a bandit ahead. This stretch of basin and range resembled a desperado’s playground. The roadway always seemed covered in snow with no one took the same road on the same day. Today was no different. The snow piled higher against a whitened sky and the truck began to make new tracks in the packed ice. He no longer saw the pavement. He watched for the mile markers and aimed down the middle.

The cowboy imagined what was happening four ranges over. Sally focused on her two boys, three poodles, and a husband. He thought about her growing up. She rode beside him with her small legs hanging over the seat. Now her smallest boy could take her place. He rarely saw her now. An unspoken distrust hung in the air when they did see each other. Another cold he never could thaw. His daughter looked at him with suspicion when she poured him a cup of coffee in her kitchen. Her eyes wondered what he wanted and why he dropped by. He smiled and hoped she would forgive him. He wished they could be closer.

The cowboy hummed an old melody, something he had heard once, in a haphazard manner. He stomped his heel on the down beat as the truck bounced off the center markers. He wondered if he shared this song with Sally once, rocking her to sleep or out of habit. He turned his attention to the road and began to whistle the melody.

He regretted he never could find the middle ground with Sally. His daughter never liked horses or the ranch life. The time he was away had further wedged them apart. The divorce made it harder for him to be close. A cowboy’s fate he guessed. He made a fist in his lap, then relaxed as the truck climbed a hill. He geared down and the truck slipped in the ice. He caught the wheels from slipping before the bed fishtailed.

A grey cloud enveloped around him as he climbed the grade and thick fog erased the mile makers. The cowboy felt for the center line. He inched up until the tires grabbed pavement. The truck sped up as the cloud passed and he could see the road ahead.

A small herd of cows stood in the pavement warming themselves. He breathed in and stomped on the brake pedal. The brown and white cows looked at him like he was interrupting a meeting. He threaded past them sliding across the pavement. He hit a patch of ice and the truck bed began to spin. He steered into the slide but went too far sliding the truck around to the right. More cows ran away and he could see their wide eyes as they rushed off the road. The tuck continued to slip sideways and he could see it slowing down. An ounce of hope as he figured he might make it.Out of the passenger window he saw a large steer standing its ground in the middle of the road. The cow looked through him. He pumped on the gas and tried to drive forward. The acceleration gave the back-end more speed. The truck slipped even faster toward the standing cow. There was no way he was going to avoid a crash.

He heard a small thump in the middle of the door and the truck stopped sliding. He took a moment to collect himself and he thought it was a small dent. Then the bottom of the truck rounded him landing in a crunch. Broken glass showered over him. A toolbox dropped and cut a gash above his right eye. He grimaced and passed out under the glove box.

He laid in the cold air bleeding. Cows wandered around the overturned truck sniffing at the doors. The truck sat in their warm spot.

A grey sky spit snowflakes. The herd of cows huddled near a borrow pit watching the truck. The cowboy woke up to a smell manure, urine, and cold. He rose up on his elbows as a small steer ran by the windshield. He found himself wedged between the door, the crumpled roof, and the steering wheel.

The roof shot up bouncing him to the floor board. He felt a primal scream rise through him. The sound made him to want out. The cowboy reached for his crumpled hat under the dashboard and missed. The truck rocked under him and his butt slipped down toward the door. He reached again for his hat. The wild scream rose from under him a second time in what seemed like a hollow and desperate plea. The cowboy pulled up on the steering wheel and pushed on the driver door. It wouldn’t budge. Facing the broken window, he stuck a boot over the center hump, pushed himself up, and wiggled out.

***

The cowboy fell face first in the snow. A smell of iron, urine, and manure caught up to him and he looked back at the truck. A bloody and mangled head moved under the window. The cowboy stood up and brushed ice off his neck. Melting ice burned a hole through the gash in his forehead. He patted the wound and a clump of blood covered his fingers. He wiped the blood off on his pants.

The reflection in the door revealed a four-inch gash in his forehead. If he had hair, he would look scalped. Blood hung from the torn skin. He pulled the mess over the raw wound and patted his forehead. The falling toolbox had opened up a sizable piece of his face.

He ripped off a piece of t-shirt leaving a curled up ribbon below his flannel shirt. He wrapped the thin material around the bloody mess tucking one end under the other to hold it in place. The white cloth soaked with blood making the bandage a scarlet banner.

The wound made him queasy and he needed to sit down. He lowered to the ground next to his crumpled hat. He smoothed a dent in the crown and placed it over the scarlet bandage.

The cowboy sat in the snow and shivered. The falling snow melted on his hat and jacket. The gash in his forehead hurt. He watched snowflakes dance across the valley. The wind swirled the snow around the junipers. Nothing moved. Nature paused to see what would happen next.

A snort interrupted the silence. The cab moved up as the steer tried again to remove the truck from its back. He jumped away from the truck. The smell of urine became stronger. The cow let go and the cowboy watched as its eyes closed. The herd watched the truck with snow swirling around their heads. A few moved back to the center pavement. The cowboy shivered again and pulled his jacket tighter. The wind seemed colder than before.

The crumpled cab lay on top of the steer. The cow no longer moved. The cowboy heard an odd whizzing nose and he realized the rear tires continued to spin. He walked around the truck and wrenched on the driver door. It wouldn’t open. He found a rock, smashed the window, and turned off the engine.

He stood in a puddle of urine and blood next to the cow’s rear legs. He stepped away leaving bloody footprints in the ice. His forehead stung and a trickle of blood dropped from his eye.

***

The cowboy sat underneath the overturned truck bed. He tolerated the smell of the dead cow by moving as far from it as he could near the tailgate. To keep dry, he sat on a carpet made from the clothes in his duffel. He had placed a few more layers of t-shirt around his wound. Outside, three inches of new snow-covered the ground from a couple of hours of snowfall. Small flakes fell at first, and then large, wet flakes came down like rain. None of the wet wood he gathered lit a fire with the few matches buried in his glove box. He never found the cigarette lighter. The stack of clothing failed to keep the cold ground from making his seat numb. He kept his bare hands tucked under this armpits and rocked back and forth to keep warm.

No one came up the grade to discover his wreck from either side. For the longest time, he stood in the falling snow looking into one valley after another hoping for a rescue. The snow only made him wet and cold. Winter was the wrong time of year for a steady stream of cars. And no one knew he was out there.

He laid his head on the metal panel and thought about Sally. She might be cooking dinner now. Macaroni, cheese, broccoli, and steak. He like a thick cut, medium rare. A wave of nausea rolled over him and he sat forward. The cold metal made his head hurt. He rubbed the makeshift bandage and came back with another hand of blood. He wiped it away on his leg and then held his head in his hands.

What if I die out here?

***

He thought about a time when Sally stood on her tiptoes to lick chocolate cake batter from a spoon. Her pink dress matched her toddler stockings. She reached up to get at the spoon and he kept pulling it away. He chuckled. No wonder she hated me, he thought. Another time, he let her paint his lips and color his eyes. He looked like a rodeo clown, but she liked it. Then there was the years he wasn’t around. She stopped counting on him and grew closer to her mother. After that, he couldn’t break through the distrust.

He wondered what if he had stuck around? It might be different. No way to know. He let out a sigh. He would have found a way to screw it up. Nothing he did seemed to work.

He looked at the dead cow mashed under the cab. It looked asleep. The cold no longer bothered it. The cowboy felt warmer. He shifted on the carpet and leaned to look under the tailgate. Still snowing and getting colder. The sudden change in altitude shot a quick pain behind his right eye. He could feel his heart beat through the blood-soaked bandage. He took a deep breath, laid back on the truck panel and closed his eyes.

***

Sally held out a hot mug of coffee to him as he walked into the kitchen. She laughed as he burned his lip pulling the cup away from his mouth. He set the cup on the counter and reached out for her hand. She took it and he pulled her in for a hug. He smelled her hair and thought about what a great daughter he had.

A highway worker pulled into the wide shoulder next to a pile of black cinders. The cows were long gone. A wrecked truck lay overturned near the far shoulder. Melting snow dripped down on the carcass of a dead cow under the crumpled cab. Broken glass spread out on the pavement.

The red-haired worker in overalls looked under the tailgate. He found the cowboy laying on a bed of clothes with a smile. A brown bandage and dried blood covered the face of the dead cowboy.

The worker stood up and looked out over the snow-covered valley of rabbit brush and junipers. He kicked away some snow from his boot. He looked the other way down the grade. Another long stretch of snow. Heck of a place to wreck, he thought. He spied a hawk flying across the valley.

The bird hung on the wind channels between the ridges floating over the basin. Miles of chaparral and high desert spanned below. The hawk saw a rabbit and darted to the spot vanishing behind a stand of junipers.

He Speaks in Moonlight – Part Two 1

Jerry pulled his clothes, the sleeping bag, and Fredrico’s suitcase out from under the dumpster. One of the girls took the case. They all walked in silence as Charlie led them into the other side of the alley.

“What have you got in here,”  one of the girls carrying his horn case asked.

“That’s Fredrico. ”

She didn’t understand. Jerry stopped and took the suitcase from her. He opened it up in his arms.

“Why it’s just a doll,” she said.

“Well, more than that. He’s my friend.” As soon as he said it, Jerry blushed because he realized could use some real friends. The girl smiled.

“I’m Darlene. I can keep on carrying your friend for you.” She winked at Jerry. He noticed she wore black hose and a sheer top with purple streaks in her hair. He closed the case and handed it back.

After a ten minute walk, Charlies stopped everyone at the entrance to a storm drain leading into a vacant lot. The dark tunnel was blocked with abandoned shopping carts and tires. Tumble weeds, trash,  and mud collected around the tires blocking a green slime trail of water. The water cut through a line of footprints leading into the tunnel.

“Wooee-ah!” Charlie shouted. “Wooee-ah!” The group waited outside the entrance to the tunnel. Jerry watched red tail lights float away in the distance. A cool breeze blew up from the tunnel.

“Come down,” a voice shouted from the shadows.

“That keeps us from getting beaten to a pulp,” Charlie said.

Jerry and his new friends walked under the concrete opening into the darkness. Around a turn in the tunnel, Jerry saw lights hanging from the ceiling. A small generator sputtered next to a wall set up on a stack of pallets nearly five feet tall. Further down, the tunnel was divided up into rooms by a curtain hallway.

“You can take over for Sam,” said Charlie. He pointed over to a dark room hidden by a brown sheet. “Sam took a trip and won’t be back.”

Everyone became quite. Jerry considered the silence wondering what happened to Sam.

“Topside found him with his head bashed in,”Charlie said. Jerry furrowed up his brow. Darlene let out a disgusted sigh.

“What? It happened that way.” Charlie kicked the ground with a mud-caked boot.

“You make it sound like any other day.” Darlene rolled her eyes. Charlie ignored her and slapped Jerry’s shoulder.

“He was lying in his blood inside one of those dumpsters in the alley,” Charlie continued.

Charlie pointed at the room. “Anyway, you can sleep over there.”

Jerry gathered up his things and pulled back the curtain. The room contained a bed and a stack of Heavy Metal magazines. On the magazines, a pewter guitar kept the pages from blowing away. Darlene placed Fredrico on the bed. Behind them a nervous kid kicked the edge of the bed.

“Sam will be back you know,” the kid said. Jerry sized him up and decided he couldn’t be older than 14. Hell, he felt like an old man at 20. He could only imagine what this kid felt like.

“I’m Tate,” the kid said. “Don’t get too comfortable because Sam will be back.” His confidence contained a slight doubt as he continued to kick the bed.

“Don’t worry about him,” Darlene said. “He just misses Sam.” She rubbed Tate’s shoulder.

A small beard covered Tate’s chin and he needed a bath. His black hair framed his face in oily wisps. Tate reminded Jerry of his little brother and he decided the kid needed a friend. “Why don’t you tell me about him,” Jerry said.

Tate pushed his toe into the concrete and brought back his shoe for another pass. “Not much to tell. He’s just a good guy.”

“Too bad he’s not here,” Jerry said.

“Yeah. You’ll like him when he comes back.”

Rooms divided the tunnel with pallets, sheets and towels while graffiti lined the walls. In the center of the tunnel, a sofa sat in front of a paper box.

“We’d put the TV there if we had one,” Tate said. He drew closer to Jerry and stared at him. Jerry turned toward the boy and laughed.

“There’s nothing to watch anyway,” Jerry said.

Part Three

He Speaks in Moonlight – Part One 1

The driver pretended he was talking on the phone. Jerry tried to let it go even though he felt anger bubbling up. Panhandling dipped into his well of hate giving him a squirrel stomach like his father’s glare. His earnest eyes met ears and bald spots as the drivers sat in their cars pretending to play with the radio, or do other things, to avoid talking to him. The constant rejection provoked anger, shame, regret, and disgust. He was lucky to clear $30 a day; sometimes more and often less. Jerry hated panhandling worse than living under the cloak of indifference he ran away from.

He tried selling small bags of marijuana or the oxy he pinched from his Aunt Margaret’s medicine cabinet. He then would sit in a dark alley waiting for the locals to walk up like spies certain their cover was blown. Every sale was exciting and dangerous and sickening. The money was quick even if the customers were a bit intense begging for a fix. Everyone seemed so sad and he kicked himself for feeding their sickness. Plus, Margaret found out her pills were missing every time he came over. That ended that. Soon he felt eyes watching him and he suspected everybody was a cop. Paranoia added to the shame and he didn’t like this feeling either.

Jerry walked away from the freeway toward The Strip carrying a grocery sack filled with two hot water bottles. They were colder earlier when he refiled them from a water fountain inside Bellagio. As cars sped by above him, he eyed a billboard promising gamblers Looser Slots; deep down Jerry felt like a loser too.

Koval Lane

The setting sun bore into him as he rounded the neon lights of The Strip into a dark corner behind a casino parking garage. His t-shirt stuck to his back from the afternoon sweat. He headed to the place where he liked to sleep behind a dumpster off Koval where he stashed a trash bag of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a cracked leather horn case containing a ventriloquist dummy named Fredrico.  He looked up as the High Roller inched around and the alternating glow of red then blue of The Strip flashed through the shadows.

He hung his wet t-shirt on the edge of the dark green dumpster, fished out a dry one, and slipped into his sleeping bag under the can. He pulled boxes around his head to camouflage his sleep to make it look like someone failed to throw them away. It was the best way to blend in with the rest of the alley trash. He stared at the cobwebs on the bottom of the dumpster and at the dirt on the brick wall. He tried to ignore his hunger by taking a drink of water. It was no use. Today’s take had been less than $10 and he had spent it much earlier on a $6 sandwich and a $3 Coke. He reached into his pocket to feel his change. He wished for another sandwich.

He talked to himself by practicing to throw his voice beyond the cement pillars. He carried on this conversation with himself until it bored him. He always expected his talent for bending his voice would land him an instant job in a Las Vegas showroom. The first week he was here he went around to the casinos looking for a job. They subtly inferred they despised any fool who even tried to land an unsolicited audition. These days he rarely took Fredrico out of his case.

The hypnotic flashing of blue, then red, and yellow lured him to sleep. He woke with a start 20 minutes later. Jerry never got a full nights sleep. The honks of the taxi horns, the random shouting of the drunks, and anyone looking to kick a bum kept Jerry awake. The sounds of the city faded as they reached his alley, but it was not enough to help him feel safe. You could hear the buzzing of the power lines, the trash bags inflating in the wind, and the clanking of the dumpster bin lids. Yet, even as the darkness made his spot farthest from the party, he still had to keep the encroaching city from overtaking him. He turned over and a trash bag slipped off his head.

“Look, there’s one,” said a male voice in an excited whisper.

“That melon looks good enough to kick,”  a girl said.

“You know you want to,” a guy said. Jerry retreated deeper into his sleeping bag. He stared up at the dumpster and listened. He heard at least four people standing by the metal can inches from his face. He froze and waited.

“I’m sick of these goddamn homeless lining up,”  a third squeaky male voice said. “If they’re not begging, they’re shitting.”

“Do it, Charlie,” the girl said.

(more…)