Karen C Webb
Copyright 2016 Karen C Webb
All rights reserved.
Cover design by:
All rights reserved.
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All poems and stories in this book are fiction. Any resemblance to people or animals you know or have ever known is purely coincidental.
I think I’ll call this collection MAYHEM. I saw it on a western flick, this guy was heading for jail and one of the charges against him was mayhem. Come on! What’s the sentence for mayhem? And how did he create mayhem? Didn’t say. But my collections of poems, half-formed thoughts, ramblings and plain old bullshit have to be creating as much mayhem as that cowboy did.
I traveled from the dark side with my last group of poems, to more of a melancholy flavor with these. Don’t know why. No particular reason, I guess. It wasn’t how I was feeling personally, but only what I wanted to create with my verse.
I wrote this poem from a man’s point of view for two reasons…
1) Men are never more in touch with their emotions than when they are experiencing heartbreak/and they usually don’t reveal their emotions as they will when their heart is broken.
2) A man never touches a woman’s heart more than when he is experiencing that raw emotion, that undeniable pain of a broken heart. The hardest woman will be touched by a man who is hurting, and not afraid to show it.
Skies of gray as my lady departs
I was on top of the world—a true king of hearts
It was sunshine and roses and blue skies all day
But questions unanswered and secrets exposed—
down on my knees, I begged her to stay
A fire in the sky now—still awake in my bed
Tears on my pillow—the phone by my head
I watch bright stars twinkle in an indigo sky
Reaching for the hand of my lady
An empty place by my side, and a tear in my eye
I watch a lone skater circling below
In a world gone silent and deathly white
Wishing it was my own lovely lady twirling just so
Wondering whyever did I let her go
Sun on the water sparkles like diamonds as I sit here alone
I stare at a picture of my lady, wondering wherever have the years gone
Gypsy spirit flying high and free
Lonesome highway out ahead of me
Around the bend, a curve, a hill I see
Gypsy spirit running wild and free
A new aloneness, I don’t dare to fail
A gypsy wind blows me down this trail
A wandering spirit, a new quest I seek
A gypsy spirit is a part of me
I’ll keep on searching for some piece of me
I’ll search until the heavens meet the sea
Across the country, no society
Just a gypsy all alone and free
I’ll keep on going now until the end
A gypsy spirit against a gypsy wind
Gypsy spirit flying high and free
A gypsy spirit is inside of me
Gypsy spirit flying wild and free
A gypsy spirit is a part of me
Deep into my eyes you stared
Then you turned and walked away
It’s written in the stars, I know it’s true
A life alone now—me without you
Into the wild vast desert, you left me there
Alone and destitute, without a prayer
Night after night I sit in this desert, huddled against the cold
Wishing I could call or write you, that I could be so bold
Under stars so bright, the glow of my fire doesn’t dim their light
A coyote comes and howls, then passes out of sight
I return sometimes, never knowing what I’ll find
to the place where you left me behind
Mile after mile I walk, on shoes worn thin from this desert land
Wishing you’d be there this time—that you’d take my hand
On a train bound for nowhere, he looked deep into my eyes
I knew in an instant—I’d believe all his lies
He said, I can’t fight this feeling any more
Don’t want to close my eyes—let me hold you in my arms for evermore
We rode this crazy train together, through strawberry fields and purple rain
We made love out by the lake—though I knew in my heart he would cause only pain
He said, come sail away with me, in my little red Corvette.
I said, what the hell, I’m due nowhere yet.
We traveled the highway to hell at a high rate of speed
We can’t fight the moonlight—to this we agreed
We saw Boston and Chicago, Detroit Rock City
Went walking in Memphis, by a river so pretty
We stood alone on a mountaintop, looking out at the Great Divide
He said, please come to L.A. and live forever, forever by my side
He left my heart in San Francisco. He said, you can’t hide your lying eyes
Live for each second. For your love—I’ll sacrifice
He left me there, in the Hotel California, where I know I can never leave
He said, though you’re as warm as a Smoky Mountain rain, California girls are right for me
I made it to Amarillo by morning—got lost on a lonesome highway, east of Omaha.
Here I am on the road again, dreaming about—you and me
I made it to the Atlantic, where the rivers meet the sea—
knowing that someday baby, you’ll accompany me
He said, I should have bought you flowers. I’m a little drunk and I need you now
I said, how I long for your kiss, but the landslide will bring you down
When something inside me is crying, driving me on.
I know you baby, you’re the right kind of wrong
He said please come to Boston—I said no, come away with me
He said, meet me at O’ Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape
But the wheel in the sky keeps turning, and soon I lost my way
I traveled the Ventura highway, looking for a magic carpet ride
I knew I was crazy for lying, crazy for having tried
He said, Wait on me girl. Forever’s gonna start tonight.
I said, A memory is all that is left for you now
Though it cuts like a knife, I knew I was right
Winds of change are blowing—I traveled over to the dark side
How do I live without you now—how do I fight the moonlight?
This gypsy road is lonely, with nothing but a song
Memories of a magic man—a faded rose that’s almost gone
(I read somewhere online that song lyrics are the one thing that authors screw up with the most—leaving themselves wide open for copyright lawsuits. Well, Hells bells, someone’s going to have a field day with me, huh? Oh, uh…48 songs, in case you’re wondering. I counted 48.)
A perfect hunter once so strong
He hides and waits now—it won’t be long
He’s now an animal turned to prey
Hoping to survive yet another day
After a battle of life and death
A will to survive—a warrior’s quest
A strength, a fortitude, still so strong
The hunted will sing a victory song
A will so strong, a warrior’s goal
This uphill battle takes its toll
A hunter no longer, he is but prey
Chased by the hunter ’til he’s lost his way
The running is over, the wait is through
The hunter falls victim to another’s ruse
With courage and stamina he faces his foe
A determined will he couldn’t know
His name lives on now, a memory so strong
A once fierce hunter whose day has come
A legend lives on of a mountain town
Bodies disappeared when the axe came down
A brutal slaughter of a village asleep
An axe murderer’s slaying, a cut so deep
A naked young man who’s queer in his head
A peaceful village whose residents are dead
A teenage girl, so naive and young
With this caged boy, she fell in love
His male nakedness turned her head
And because of her, a village is dead
She sawed through the bars to set him free
To live happily ever after in some city
How wrong she was—she couldn’t know
He was dangerous and deadly, from head to toe
She stabbed him with a pitchfork and pinned him to the wall
A ghost town left behind—As Jericho falls
(It’s not a spoiler alert. The book, As Jericho falls, came out with a different ending, after numerous rewrites, of course.)
A wail, a chant, an eerie note
Across the swamp the music floats
A tremulous voice so high and clear
Through the Sawgrass, I dare to peer
The eerie keening goes on and on
Under the moonlight I’m being drawn
Ever forward and into hell
The song it pulls me into her spell
Beneath the stars I’m in a trance
The song goes on, a siren’s dance
A circle of stones laid on the ground
Peeking through mangroves, the chant surrounds
A siren’s song, a witches den
The eerie chanting pulls me in
Too late I realize, I try to flee
She’s cast her spell, no escape for me
Lately, I’ve had stories coming to me more in the form of short, flash fiction stories, instead of poetry. I just roll with it, writing it down the way it comes to me, as opposed to sitting and composing stories or poetry. I have no idea if my work sucks or not. It’s hard to rely on friends and family to give you an honest opinion because they are afraid of hurting your feelings. If it truly sucks, just send me a check in the amount of $50.00 and I will gladly refund half your money. JK.
The coolest thing for me is reading through them, I can remember exactly where I was when I wrote each one, and how I felt, and what inspired me at the time.
Lucky strike…I was sitting on a curb in Carlsbad, NM, waiting for a tire to be changed on my truck. I had a street on my right, and an alley between the buildings on my left. The sky turned just like what Casey sees in the story. The weird light, almost surreal, the pressure, the air was thick and heavy, ominous even. I scribbled down the story on the back of my oil tickets. Exactly what I was seeing and feeling.
Someone had left a dumpster lid open down the alley to my left, and the wind came, picking up bits of garbage and swirling them toward me. I stared at the pieces of paper, and of course a paper cup, as they moved down the alley and into the street, where they swirled lazily for a bit. The air was charged with electricity, exciting and terrifying at the same time. The day turned to twilight. Then, after so much anticipation, the damn storm passed to the south of me, leaving me unfulfilled…or relieved.
Change of heart…I was driving through west Texas one morning, early, winter, dark as midnight. The story came to me out of nowhere. Like the dead talking to me. A whole story, based on this one moment in time, in someone’s life. I stopped at a rest area, took a pad and pen, locked myself into a stall and scribbled fast as I could, while the voice was still there in my head. The sun was barely peeking; the light in the restroom must have been on a timer or sensor. It went out, but the sun wasn’t up enough to see what I was writing, yet I couldn’t stop. The voice was too strong in my head. She was begging me to get her story down, and get it down correctly, in her own words. So…some of it was written blindly, you might say. The lady in the story, her voice left my head the second it was finished. I wish I knew her name…
And the third, as yet untitled, I wrote also in west Texas, while driving down the road. I scribbled it on the back of a truck inspection sheet, barely legible enough for me to make out the words. But again, a voice in my head, this time belonging to a man. I could hear him and even see him, though not clearly, but still without a name. I could see the lady as he saw her, so clearly, so perfect. I could feel each emotion he was feeling, how this chance meeting was to be life-changing for him. I got the sense of a big man, wide shoulders, thick neck, hairy chest. But that’s about all. Sometimes, the voices give me a whole story, a beginning and an end. But when it’s only a day or a minute in their lives, what the heck am I supposed to do with it? All those scribbled pieces of paper are filling up my laptop bag, so I’ve decided to include them here. I’m pretty sure they’re giving me their stories because they want them to be heard.
I’ve added several stories since writing this, but I don’t remember what inspired me with each one. Sometimes…they just are.
Early morning sun flashes on steel blades as my husband and my hero, my champion, lock together in a deadly embrace.
My own disloyalties had brought about this battle, this deadly dance in the sand. And yet, I was honored to be the cause of it, to be so adored by not one, but two great warriors such as these. I quivered with excitement.
The steel flashed, the weapons clanged, coming together again and again with rattling death blows.
I had no love for this man, who I’d been given to as a gift, who’d proceeded to hurt me and abuse me. My eyes were only for my suitor, my gallant savior. He was a hero among men, a leader among armies, a thief of virtues among women. He was my admirer, my rescuer, from this life I could not live.
Steel clanged against steel, the sound sharp in the stillness of the dawn. Each warrior knew the price of the battle they fought. To the victor would go the spoils, and to the fallen, there would be no tomorrows. Their feet danced quickly through the sand; parry, thrust, parry, thrust, a dance gone on for an interminable amount of time, as limbs grew weary, shoulders grew sore. No word was spoken, save for the occasional grunt, as steel struck steel and was held there, blade against blade and strength against strength.
My eyes are for my champion, this brave warrior who’d come for me. I smiled as blood mixed with the sweat upon his naked chest. I know that though I may be young and impetuous, my heart is true and pure. It beats not for a man who is weak, who would ravage me at his will, but for a man who is courageous and proud, who values life and liberty beyond all else.
I held my arms out to my sides, hands open to the sky. There was a power within me, a raw, untapped power that I was only now discovering. A power that could make men do my bidding, give up their very lives for me. I reveled in that power, it tingled through my veins.
I dropped my arms to my sides. Or perhaps, these two fierce warriors had been fated for this battle from the beginning. Perhaps I had only quickened their ardor, enflamed their passions, heightened their senses.
My husband is down in the sand now, his face painted orange from the rising sun. My robes swish about my legs as I run to him. For now, too late, I have realized, I do not wish him to die. He has treated me decently, and my own imaginings had created this life and death struggle, this blood lust.
The warrior turned at my approach, assuming an onslaught after murdering my husband. Even now, I could hear distant shouts.
The warrior thrust with his blade as he turned, but alas, I had only just reached his side. His blade sank deep, impaling me upon it.
He looked into my eyes as we stood there, frozen in this moment in time. I saw a barrage of emotions in his eyes, sorrow, pity, guilt. Perhaps…love. Or perhaps, these were my own emotions, reflecting back at me from the deep pools of his eyes.
He placed a hand against my chest, withdrawing his blade. And still, we did not speak. For what words could take back this deadly dance, this vicious duel.
I sank into the sand beside my husband, on knees gone lifeless and weak. I stared up at this once great warrior, knowing that the end had come for him as well. Perhaps he’d meet me in the afterlife, this courageous warrior who’d fought for me.
Because, alas, he’d murdered not only his noble king, but also…his ruthless queen.
As my eyes grew heavy, with the first rays of the morning sun stinging them, I wondered if this battle would continue there, in Valhalla, an eternal struggle for an unworthy queen.
When she walked into the room, the world seemed brighter, the air fresher. I took a deep breath and held it, breathing in her sweet scent.
She was absolutely perfect, every dark strand of her shoulder-length hair in its place. She reached a hand up anyway, as if to reassure herself of its neatness.
Her clothes fit her as well-tailored clothes should fit. Shiny black slacks of a seemingly magical material, hugging her slender hips in that perfect way. A red silk blouse, open at the neck and revealing just a tasteful hint of cleavage. A string of pearls completes the ensemble, lending an air of sophisticated elegance.
Her eyes met mine. I released the breath I’d been holding. Her eyes were dark, shiny, filled with mirth, with mischief, with secrets I was dying to know. I was lost for an eternity in their shiny depths, unable and unwilling to break away.
Then she smiled and my heart melted, my legs turned to rubber, my breath caught in my throat. Her lips were painted a red that matched her blouse. Her teeth were even and white and perfect.
I was still staring into her eyes. I saw my future there, in those dark depths. A home, children, a family pet perhaps, a velvety green lawn that must be mowed every Saturday. All the things I’d always thought I never wanted.
She was still staring, still smiling. We were each lost in the other’s eyes.
Someone took her by the arm. Our gaze was broken.
She turned, wrapping her arms gracefully around the neck of a tall, handsome man. She kissed him soundly on the mouth.
He smiled at me over her head, then took her arm and led her away.
I sighed, turned back to the bar, and finished my whiskey in one swallow.
Casey was having a top-notch day. There was an exhibit down the street. Or a carnival, or a show; she didn’t care what the event was, all she knew was that it was good for business. She took in more and more money throughout the day, holding up her sign each time the light turned red. The tourists had come to her part of town and they were being very generous.
As the day wore on, and the sweltering heat grew worse, Casey could see a storm building, way off to the north toward Utah. She quickly forgot about it as the window of an SUV came down, and an arm came out. A blast of air conditioning hit her in the face as she leaned down and took the offered five dollar bill. “God bless you, sir,” she said.
He smiled and nodded as the window went up. Casey turned to limp back to the sidewalk, wishing she could take a bit of his a/c with her. She could already feel fresh sweat popping out on her forehead. She buried the five in her grocery cart, down in the bag hidden beneath the empty soda cans. The bag of money was so full already, she could barely stuff the five into it. I’ll be able to take a week off, she thought as she hobbled back toward her island in the middle of the street. No, a month, I’ll take a month off.
“You better call it a day Miss. Looks like there’s a storm coming,” A man in a dusty pickup truck told her, pointing to the north as he handed her a dollar.
“Thank you, sir. God bless,” she said as she took the dollar and made her way between the cars, back to the curb. As she reached her grocery cart this time, she noticed another storm, this one to the south. Not huge, fluffy clouds either. Not thunderheads building, but a dark, charcoal grey sky that looked as if it would block out the sun. She could see a wind moving ahead of it. A dust cloud preceded the storm, a brown cloud of its own making, swirling toward the heavens. Maybe that’s what’s trying to block out the sun, she thought as she tucked the dollar bill away. She looked back to the north; that storm seemed a little closer now. Better give it up for the day.
But the stop light had turned red again, and here was another five, held out a car window. She moved as fast as possible, snatching the five and muttering her usual, God bless you, just as the light changed and traffic began to move. As she reached her island again in the middle of the street, she noticed the breeze had died altogether. The air felt heavy, humid, and still, and she heard a rumble of thunder off in the distance. She could feel the air now, pressing down on her and making it hard to breathe. It’s the calm before the storm, she thought. I better get out of here. Of course, she couldn’t go back to the tunnels. They were storm sewers, after all. If these two storms brought a deluge, a wall of water would surge through her home, sweeping away everything in its path. And it will downpour, she thought, from the looks of these clouds. The air felt electrified now; was it static electricity? She could feel it, like her hair should be standing straight up all over her head. Indeed, the small blond hairs on her arm were lifting. A weird light had reached her little section of the world, turning the afternoon to twilight. Like Kansas, she thought. Tornado Alley. She had seen this kind of light before, and the calm, heavy air it brought with it, just before a funnel cloud reached down with its destructive fingers. I never heard of a Vegas tornado, though, she thought as she stared around her. She knew she should move, yet she stood, frozen on her little island in the middle of the street, traffic whizzing by in each direction. She saw, almost as in a dream, a small gust of wind moving ahead of the storm. She watched a Starbucks coffee cup skidding down the sidewalk, followed by several pieces of paper, coupons advertising the titty bars. She recognized them, she had seen this type of coupons littering the sidewalks all around Las Vegas. She watched as the papers stopped traveling and, along with the cup, they began to swirl, bumping into the door of a liquor store, but continuing to swirl. It’s a whirlwind, she thought. Life is a whirlwind, the thought continued as she stared at the cup swirling. And once you’re caught in the whirlwind, you can’t get out. She could hear the cup, skittering around in lazy circles on the sidewalk. I shouldn’t be able to hear that from here. It was a fleeting thought, and quickly forgotten.
And then, strange things began happening in the calm and the weird light. She realized traffic had stopped; she saw an arm out a car window, a ten dollar bill in the hand. She took a step forward, still almost in a dream state. She watched, almost in slow motion, every detail crystal clear, as a car ran the red light, brakes screeching, and the arm out the window disappeared from her view amidst a scream of pain. Simultaneously, a boy on a bicycle across the street slammed into a street sign. Had he been looking at the cars, instead of in front of him? She saw his head and face slam the sign—she saw it happen almost in slow motion—as the bike skittered into the street. She saw the blood, half his face and scalp ripped open from the sharp edge of the metal sign. She saw the man who had been holding the ten out the window, his arm bloodied and dangling crookedly as it hung from the car window. She saw the ten dollar bill, almost floating down to the street before the gust of wind picked it up.
At the same time, still under the weird tornado-like light of the sky, she saw a car stopped in traffic, a white convertible with the top down. The alarm went off for no reason, horn honking, lights flashing. She could see the surprised look on the driver’s face. She could still hear the cup skittering along the sidewalk, still making its big lazy circles.
Then, she saw the bolt of lightning. In the brilliant flash, she saw several things clearly. A man with his arm out his car window, a ten dollar bill in his fingers. A teenager on a bicycle, cruising down the sidewalk across from her, his head turned her way, not watching where he was going, not seeing the sign he would inevitably slam into. And a convertible, stuck in traffic, its horn began honking, its lights flashing, the shock and surprise on the driver’s face.
One more thing she saw in the split-second flash of lightning. The shadow people; they were back, hovering just above her, faces almost becoming clear, but fading back into the shadows before she could make them out. The shadows, but without the dim greyness closing in around her as it had in the past. Hell, the world was already dim and grey from the storm, the weird grey light almost pressing down on her. Then she felt the bolt of lightning. She felt it go through her head, through her mind, triggering the synapses, causing a flash of sights and sounds through her mind, and then down through her body. She felt the electricity run through her heart, making it beat faster. Then she felt it shoot through her legs and feet and down through the sidewalk. And all of it faster than one heartbeat, one blink of the eye. Yet it didn’t feel like it; it felt like from the time she saw the weird stormy light until she felt the bolt of lightning, had been at least an hour. Like the world had slowed down, each detail stark and clear.
Now, she was staring up at the weird sky—she could see the two storms meeting over Las Vegas. She realized, in that slow motion split second, that she wasn’t seeing anything but the sky. Was she on her back? The sky was beginning to spin, the storm clouds swirling above her. I’m caught in a whirlwind, she thought, just like the paper cup. I’ll spin around and around, up here in the sky, and who knows where I’ll be when I land. Like Dorothy, she thought. I’m going to land in Oz. As the world spun away from her, Casey passed out.
Miguel was almost out of water with still a hundred mile walk ahead of him across the Sonoran desert. He was hell-bent for Nogales and limiting himself to one sip per hour. He had almost a half-gallon left of the two gallons he’d started out with.
He climbed up the side of a dusty wash full of tumbleweeds and was shocked when he came upon a lanky, black haired man lying on his back in the midday sun. He had incredibly dark, black sunglasses on his face. Miguel couldn’t see his eyes, but the man raised his head and Miguel knew he’d been spotted. His first instinct was to run; he knew there were more Cartel and drug runners across this desert than anything else. But then he saw a wooden stick poking straight up out of the guy’s chest and he knew this guy wasn’t going to do him any harm. Most likely dying, he thought as he approached slowly. He wondered if the guy had fell on the stick, impaling himself, or had he met with the very people Miguel was running away from.
“Do you think you could pull it out,” the guy’s voice was barely above a whisper and his words were a hoarse croak.
Miguel stood over him, eyeballing the stake. He dropped his pack off his back and set his jug of water carefully beside it, then looked closer at the prone figure. He could see now that it was indeed a stake, not the stick that he’d assumed. Maybe a garden stake, he thought as he stood staring down at the man.
“This is going to hurt. I think you should close your eyes.”
He couldn’t actually tell if the man’s eyes were open or not behind the dark glasses.
“Just do it, please,” the man implored him.
“Okay, buddy, here goes.”
He wrapped his hand gently around the stake, gritting his teeth against the scream of pain he was expecting. But surprisingly, no sound came from the fallen man. Maybe he passed out. Miguel really hoped he had. It would be easier for them both. He pulled gently against the stake, but nothing happened.
“Use both hands,” the raspy voice whispered.
Damn, guess we couldn’t be lucky enough for him to be unconscious, he thought. He wrapped both hands around the stake and tried again. It still wouldn’t budge, and Miguel could not believe this guy wasn’t howling in pain.
“Yank it out. Put your foot on my chest and yank that thing out of me.” The man’s voice had grown stronger, but still had the rasp of sandpaper against wood as he spoke.
“Dammit,” Miguel muttered. Better rip it like a Band-aid. His stomach was beginning to churn as he pictured himself ripping the stake from this guy’s chest and a geyser of blood shooting into the air.
He placed one foot on the man’s chest and tightened his grip on the stake.
“Okay. One, two, three,” he counted, then pulled hard on the stake as he pushed against the man’s chest with his foot. With one final hard yank, the stake came free and the momentum caused Miguel to lose his balance. He fell backwards into the hot sand, still clutching the stake in his hand.
The man lay still, perfectly motionless. Miguel was sure he had killed him, even though there had been no geyser of blood. Miguel scrambled back to his feet and his shadow fell across the man as he stared down at him.
The noon sun beat mercilessly on his back and he saw a drop of sweat fall off his forehead onto the man’s shirt. The man still hadn’t moved and his glasses were so dark, Miguel couldn’t see even a hint of his eyes. He’d seen lizards out here sit that still, but not humans. Not living ones anyway. He smiled grimly as he stared at the corpse.
“I just need a moment,” the guy rasped.
“So, you are still alive.”
Miguel’s smile was real now as he realized he’d probably just saved this guy’s life. If we can both get out of this hellhole desert alive. His smile faded as he thought of the distance to Nogales, half a gallon of water for two people, one of them wounded.
He stooped to look at the hole in the guy’s chest. His shadow fell over it and he couldn’t really see past the man’s shirt. But he was surprised to see that the shirt around the hole didn’t appear to be bloody. He leaned closer, trying to get a better look, then jumped back as the man sat up suddenly.
“Hey buddy, take it easy. Just relax.” He tried to use a calming voice. He was sure the guy shouldn’t try to move yet. “Just lie back a bit, then I’ll try to help you get to some shade.” He glanced back at the scrub trees growing alongside the wash. It wasn’t much for shade, but it would have to do.
The guy was still in a sitting position, once again motionless.
Miguel jumped back again as the man suddenly rose to his feet.
“Hey, you must be in shock, buddy. You better sit back down.”
Miguel’s mind was churning as he watched the man. He had seen on TV where people on drugs had superhuman strength. He had seen a show where the cops had shot a guy and he’d gotten up and ran away. Jeez, I hope he’s not some drugged out freak out here in the middle of nowhere.
He could see the hole in the guy’s shirt, but for the life of him, he still couldn’t see any blood or a hole through the man. The stake had felt like it was stuck into the sand all the way through him. Miguel was pretty sure he should be seeing the sun shining through the guy’s chest right now.
He flinched as the guy’s hand shot toward him.
“My name is Tuck.”
Miguel hesitantly took the offered hand.
“Thank you for saving me.”
“I’m Miguel.” The guy’s grip was like a lumberjack. It felt like the bones were going to splinter in his hand.
“Pretty good grip for a guy who was near death a couple minutes ago.”
“I’m a fast healer,” Tuck flashed a grin, revealing even, shiny white teeth in his otherwise dark complexion.
“How come you don’t have a hole in your chest and pouring blood everywhere?”
“Like I said, I’m a fast healer.” His raspy tone implied that Miguel better leave it alone.
“Yeah…okay,” Miguel was contemplating drugs again. Although that didn’t explain the lack of blood. His mind whirled as the sweat dripped from his face.
“Can you make it to the shade?”
“Yes, of course,” Tuck answered in his gravelly voice. He turned and led the way to the scant shade, taking long strides. Miguel had to hurry to keep up.
They sat down under the shade of a mesquite tree and Miguel offered Tuck his jug of water. He scowled as Tuck took a long swig, then handed it back. Miguel took a tiny sip, even though his body cried out for more. He held up the jug of water, looking at how much of it Tuck had drained. There was a good chance the two of them would die out here in this scorching desert. He knew it claimed the lives of hundreds of people every year. He felt weak from dehydration and the small scrub tree barely made enough shade for the two of them.
“Is that short for Tucker? …Your name,” he said as Tuck only stared at him.
“No.” His terse answer again left Miguel feeling like he was intruding.
“Well… Tuck,” he said with an edge of sarcasm, “I’m heading for Tucson and you’re welcome to come along, but we aren’t gonna make it on this little bit of water.”
“I know where there’s water, it’s only a couple of miles from here.”
Miguel was a little surprised. Not only was it the most this guy had said, but if there were any source of water around here, it looks like he would have heard about it over the years. The folks in the Mexican border towns had been crossing back and forth for years. They knew every shortcut and trail, hell they even had crude maps they’d drawn and kept adding to, showing every trail, watering hole and mountain pass from El Paso to Tijuana.
Then, as the Cartel had taken over and began hiring Coyotes, or guides, to lead people over, and border security had been tightened, they’d ended up with only this deadly desert trail. And the border patrol watched it with cameras and spy planes.
“I’ll show you where there’s water,” Tuck said again after Miguel hesitated. “I owe you that much for saving my life.”
“Alright,” Miguel figured he didn’t have anything to lose. He knew he couldn’t make it a hundred miles with less than half a jug of water. “But maybe we should wait til the sun goes down and the temperature drops.”
“No, we should go now.” Tuck didn’t wait for his reply, but got up and started off at a brisk pace in a southwesterly direction.
Miguel retrieved his pack and his jug of water, then hurried after the callous man. “Not much for manners,” he grumbled as he tried to keep up with Tuck’s long strides.
“I know what you are,” Miguel said to Tuck’s back. “I’ve heard the legends my whole life.”
“Some of the older Mexicans who used to work in Arizona or California always carried a wooden stake tied to their belt when they traveled back and forth across the border. The stories have been passed down for generations.”
It was after 3:00 a.m. already. I was traveling Highway 491, north-bound through New Mexico. The old Highway 666. The Devil’s Highway. A highway in which the number had recently been changed. As if the state thought changing the number now would stop the mysterious deaths and strange happenings that had occurred out here. Yeah…Good luck with that, I thought with a grim smile, shifting in my seat and trying to stay awake. “Knew I should have pulled it in at Gallup,” I mumbled, shaking my head and trying to focus my bleary eyes. I’d been driving ten hours straight already, with only a couple quick restroom breaks, but unfortunately, no time for lunch. Or breakfast, or dinner either, for that matter. I was running late with this load, and had to be in Salt Lake City by noon. If I didn’t make it, someone else would get my loads next time. I stepped down on the throttle, pushing my rig up another notch. I might have been exceeding the speed limit just a little bit.
The blacktop on the Devil’s Highway was a dark, midnight black. The white and yellow lines stood up off it in stark contrast. It was a lonely two-laner, especially this time of the morning.
I’d heard countless stories over my fifteen years of driving a rig. Stories of people disappearing mysteriously on this lonesome highway, stories of wrecked cars, or at least, a single car at a time, wrecked and sitting in the highway, with no occupants, and absolutely nothing out here for it to have run into. There was nothing but a great wide desert stretching across here, miles of Navajo lands and…nothingness. I couldn’t see the nothingness through the inky blackness, but I knew it was there. I didn’t believe the stories, but neither did I disbelieve. Even though I’d never encountered anything strange on this highway, I knew there was all kinds of weirdness out in so much empty desert.
I kicked my big Pete up another notch, exceeding the speed limit a tad more. My eyes were burning, and it was getting harder and harder to focus on the tiny patch of yellow light my headlights created. Seems like every time I held still too long, or let my thoughts focus on something, I was drifting off. The white lines were blurring together now, as if the road was growing narrower ahead. I shook my head again, rubbing at my burning eyes and shifting around in my seat some more. A break, that’s what I needed. I needed to walk around for a couple minutes in the chill night air. That would get me on to Ute Mountain, where there should be plenty of parking. Unfortunately, once I’d passed up Gallup, there wasn’t doodly-squat out here until I got into Colorado. Just had to ride it out now.
I had grown still again, my thoughts drifting back to Amarillo. Last place I’d had a good meal and a hot shower. And sleep. Glorious, precious sleep. How wonderful it will be when this load is delivered, I thought. First, a good ten hours sleep, then food and a shower. My eyes grew heavy as my mind wandered. I drifted, in that place all long-haul drivers know, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.
A movement out the window to my left snapped me upright. My eyes were wide open now, focused. I was more alert than I had been for hours. But it was so black out there, I couldn’t be sure what I was seeing. Just movement, out in the desert, pacing me. My eyes were adjusting to the blackness a little as I stared. Just a quick glance here and there to make sure Big Pete was keeping it between the ditches. Otherwise, I focused out the side window.
The form was taking shape out there now. Looked like a horse, galloping alongside me. I pressed my head up against the window for a second, straining to see. A brown horse, sure as hell.
I glanced down at the speedometer. 78 mph. No freaking way. No how. Not real. I looked back. It was still there, but closer now, galloping right along with me. I could see it’s mane flying in the wind. I shook my head, blinked my eyes a few times, then looked again. Still there, still running.
It was speeding up, passing me. It couldn’t be. I glanced back at my speedometer. No change.
I could see the horse out the left corner of my windshield now, slightly ahead, but still out to the left of me. I blinked some more, sure I must be hallucinating from lack of sleep and food.
It was still there. Only now, it was turning, ever so slightly toward me.
Then, it darted straight into my path. My headlights picked it up clearly for a brief instant. Dark brown, with a lighter blondish mane and tail. I saw just a flash of a big brown eye, with a lot of white showing around it.
I rammed my foot onto the brake, hard. My engine brake bellowed, my tires screeched when they locked up. The horse had almost made it across in front of me. Almost.
The steel bumper on the right side caught the horse’s flank. It made a dull, sickening thud when it hit. My heart jolted to a stop, then slammed against my chest. I quickly checked mirrors. I was on the brake so hard, my heavily loaded trailer was trying to come around me. My rig was jack-knifing. I eased off the brake, then brought the rig to a controlled stop on the shoulder. Snatching my flashlight from its place behind the seat, I bumped on my flashers, then leaped down to find the horse, or what was left of it.
I shined the light all around the highway and across the desert as I made my way back down the shoulder. You never know with animals, sometimes they’ll run for a bit, the shock possibly blocking out the pain, while others will drop where they are and lay there suffering. “Wish I had a pistol,” I muttered as I searched. The least I could do is put the poor creature out of its misery, if I hadn’t already.
But surprisingly, there was nothing. Not behind me, not on the shoulder, and not in the desert, at least so far as my light could see.
I gave up finally, making my way back up the shoulder to my truck. I shined my light onto the bumper. Hmm…not a scratch. Not a patch of brown hair, nor a drop of blood. And from the ugly thud, most likely should have been a dent there too. Cold chills ran up my spine. I played my light across the chrome grill. Perfectly intact, not a dent, nor a patch of brown hair, not a drop of blood. A little shiver went through me.
I was still bending over, still studying the bumper with my light, when I heard running steps approaching. A man appeared into the circle of headlights. “Hey,” he shouted, waving his arms frantically.
I stood erect, shining my light at him.
“Can you call 911?” he panted when he reached me.
He was an ugly little man. Bulbous nose, close set eyes, wavy dark hair hanging over his forehead, hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed recently. Actually, he altogether stank. His clothes were dirty, his face was brown with filth, and his hair was lank and greasy.
“There’s an accident up ahead,” he said breathlessly. “Blocking the road. If you hadn’t stopped when you did, you would have smashed right into it. A car…” He stopped, panting, his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. “It’s upside down,” he tried again. “There’s a family, little kids and everything, trapped in it.”
“Yep. All of ’em.”
I immediately climbed up into my truck for my cell phone, staring out across the desert as I did. If not for some mysterious brown horse coming out of the dark…
I was staring at a huge blank wall in front of me. A wall I’d seen at least a thousand times before. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my partner, my friend. He sat rigidly, staring dead ahead at the same blank wall.
We both knew what was coming. We lived our lives dreading this moment, each time it came.
A man in a long white lab coat moved around us, fidgeting and fiddling with knobs and computers. I thought the lab coat was extraneous, superfluous. More a matter of prestige than necessity. He spoke into a microphone that hung from the ceiling. His litany included percentages and case studies. I’d heard this same boring speech more times than I could count. He was speaking to a group behind a plate glass window. Men and women in business attire shifted uncomfortably on hard chairs, taking notes on pads balanced on their knees. I could just see the lot of them from my peripheral vision, as they sat more to my left, safely behind the glass.
Myself and my partner, Aaron, were restrained to our seats. Aaron sat still, unmoving. Dreading, I’m sure, just as I was, the inevitabitlity of what was about to happen to him. I would help him if I could; I would stop this now, pull him from his seat, and get him safely back to the darkness and security of our tiny room. But I was as helpless as he, staring, staring at the whiteness of the huge wall in front of us.
“Although several studies are still under way,” lab coat man was saying to the group, “this test will prove my overall percentages are correct.”
I tuned him out, hearing instead the hum of equipment, the slap of his soft-soled shoes on the shiny white floor. I could feel Aaron beside me, the tension emanating from him. Like his own electric hum. I assumed I had the same tense hum wafting from myself. I was nervous, silent, uncomfortably constrained.
Lab coat moved around me, tweaking this, fiddling with that. Busy work, I thought. Will you just please get on with it, I pleaded with my eyes. He paid me no mind, but thankfully, he moved around behind me, out of my line of sight.
I chanced another peek at Aaron. Poor thing, I could see the same hopelessness in his eyes that I’m sure were in mine. He still stared straight ahead, but I could see it, the unbearable dread, the pain he knew was coming. I felt more pity for him than I did for myself.
A buzzer went off, loudly. I knew lab coat man had pushed the big red button. Our conveyance began to move, picking up speed rapidly. I sat as Aaron did, staring ahead, stoic, resigned now to our fate. The conveyance moved faster, launching ahead so fast, our heads were driven back hard into the headrests.
I could hear excited chatter coming from the window to my left. The microphone worked both ways, allowing the suits behind the glass to communicate with Mr. Lab Coat.
The white wall was approaching fast. I would have closed my eyes and gritted my teeth if I could have, but I was frozen, immobilized.
Our tiny conveyance smashed headlong into the wall. From where we sat, it looked as if the wall was approaching us, then crashing into us. I felt myself being thrown forward with the jolt of the impact. An airbag blew up in front of me, rocking my head back as quickly as it had been moving forward.
I felt a snap. Heard something crack in my neck. Felt pain like fireworks exploding. Then the world was tumbling this way and that. I was confused, disoriented. I couldn’t see Aaron at all anymore, but the room seemed to be spinning and tumbling around me.
Then it stopped. The crash was over. But wait, something was not right here. The floor was at eye level, yet I could see the wrecked, broken conveyance in front of me. My body, I could see my body in front of me, without a head. That means…
“Ho, ho, ho,” I could hear lab coat chortling. “Sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
I could see Aaron, from my place on the floor. His face was resting on his own airbag, his head turned my way. His eyes looked at me imploringly, beseechingly. Poor Aaron, if only I could help you. Aaron’s right arm was resting across the dashboard, his hand limp. He looked so pathetic. But how must I look to Aaron? My head lying on the floor, while my body sat limply strapped to the chair, arms dangling loosely at my sides. How very sad for both of us, that we must suffer these indignities time and time again at the hands of this evil man in the lab coat. Just wait, I silently implored, as I stared at Aaron. Our day will come, my friend, I promise you this.
Aaron’s eyes looked brighter now, as if he’d gotten my telepathic message and was ready. I’m with you Crash, his eyes seemed to say. No dummy here, my friend Aaron. Aaron was smart as a whip.
They say people can’t remember their past lives. Then why do I have such vivid memories, memories of being on a ship, then transferring over to a smaller boat? Memories of storming a hill with my camrades, rifles blazing, bayonets swinging, friends and cohorts falling and dying at my feet.
I sit comfortably perched high in a tree now, almost dozing in the afternoon sun as the memories invade my senses. I watch people down there, far below me, laying out the contents of a picnic basket on a wooden table, small children scampering around.
I remember so well how it felt, the pride I and my comrades enjoyed as we struggled against the wind to raise the American flag on top of that hill. For this, we were certain, was to be the beginning of the end. I can still taste the salt on my lips that fateful day, as we fought so close to the ocean. The smell of salt and sea air, intermingled with the acrid smell of blood and death. The ugly sounds of battle, the boom of guns, the concussion of grenades, the horrific screams of wounded men.
My memories travel further now, to my glorious return to my own country, coming home a hero, a man of honor and courage. But the pain upon coming home, oh the unbearable pain. I remember it now, as fresh and stabbing as it was on that day. A pain worse than any wound suffered in the heat of battle. So days, so many weeks and months I had waited for this moment, the moment of being back in the arms of the woman I loved.
Only my dear sweet Doris had found love in the arms of another during my absence. Not even a Dear John letter to lessen the blow. No indeed. I had raced to her on the dock, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Racing, hurrying, as fast as my crutches would allow, searching through the faces, searching, searching for one beloved face. Aah, there, back in the crowd, standing alongside my best friend Henry, standing so close, so very close. His arm around her shoulders, my beloved Doris, her arm around Henry’s waist.
Aah! I stood up on my tree branch, shaking off my reverie as if shaking off the cold. Then, with a mighty leap, I left the branch, spreading my wings and soaring on the breeze. I looked down at the family as I flew overhead, watching them looking up at me and pointing. Then, I flapped my newly aquired wings, lifting myself up with the wind currents, soaring higher, higher, until houses and cars looked tiny. Then, I drifted on the currents for a bit, keeping an eagle eye out for my next meal.
He stood tall and proud, solid as a rock. He carried himself well, his head high, his chin thrust forward in a confident, almost arrogant way. His dark eyes flashed with a fiery intensity, yet shone with such intelligence and cunning.
The strong glare from those dark, dark eyes sent a shiver through me. I put out a hand as if to touch him, but the wild, fierce light in his eyes stopped me cold. I dropped my hand to my side.
But it was okay. I didn’t mind. Just a chance to be near something so magnificent, so wild and free, was awe-inspiring. I called him Mesteno, but only to myself. The Spanish word for Mustang.
He was a bright bay in color, with a thick black mane that hung off his neck and down his shoulder. Though it had never known a brush or a currycomb, his black mane shone in the desert sun like the finest of show horses. His forelock was long also, bouncing lazily across one eye when he tossed his head at me. His black tail was equally long and thick, sweeping the ground as he pranced back and forth, neighing at his band of mares. He thrust his big head over the steel bars toward them occasionally, half-rearing, as if he’d like to jump the tall fence to reach them. His neck was thick and heavy, his back short and stocky, his legs black and sturdy. His conformation was that of an Andalusion stallion. The first horses brought to this country. Such bloodlines, I was thinking to myself. After several hundred years, to still have such pure bloodlines as the very horses the Spanish Conquistadors rode. Amazing!
Mesteno’s body was scarred from many battles against other stallions. Stallions that would have taken his mares, leaving him alone in the vast desert. But he’d been brought in with his mares, attesting to his unseen victories.
His heritage lives on now, so many years later. I see it in horses throughout the American west. The thick neck, the short barrel, the low-set tail. I see it in Quarter Horses, their lightning quick moves when chasing cattle, in ranch horses, their sure-footed sturdiness. I see Mesteno in all Arabians, their stamina, the same fierce light shining from their eyes. The gentlest trail horse, I’ll see some piece of Mesteno, a short, thick neck, the way he carried his head so high and proud. Horses of today are a living legacy of the spirit of the American Mustang.
Though I only knew Mesteno for one day, as he passed through the auction on his way to a new home, I will remember him always. A wild, unbroken Mustang stallion, a true spirit of the west.