Late summer, papa's feisty mare broke out from the stable and disappeared like a comet's tail. In order to catch that horse, he told me, you must think like a man. Not like a horse. He laughed. I laughed. No idea what he meant. So, one night, I stole out of the cabin and followed a southern star, headed towards the hills of Jasper without a plan or a prayer. I rode delirious across stretches of open prairie, past sod houses scattered by miles, past the banks of the Neosho River overflowing from heavy rains. At dusk, the river sighed like a melancholic widow, maybe my aunt Polly, who spoke to her own shadow. She couldn't own that shadow. Rode for days. Smelled the aroma of burnt coffee stewing in iron pot. Crept up to the camp of a Union scout, his mustache bushy as a raccoon's tail. I was hungry and saddle-sore. Dazed and willin' to barter papa's tobacco juice. My soul was scat trade. He rose, flustered as a bald eagle aroused by prey. Identify yourself, said he in a low rattle. I fumbled towards him, said my name was Quincy, and that I aim to catch a runaway mare. He lowered a pistol and fixed up a plate of cornbread, tack, barely warm buffalo meat. It ain't safe, said he, for a boy your age to be traveling all alone. Jayhawkers and Bushwackers mushrooming all over. Inspired, they are, by the presence of William Quantrill. He handed me a thick army blanket and said his name was Zechariah. I thought of the story my father once told about a ghost named Zechariah who haunted the fort at Baxter Springs. Could this man be a ghost? Too weary to reflect. Too stupefied to make sense out of anything. My head dropped like a stone, a stone that would dream the dream of sleek mares running through sun-washed pastures of clover, alfalfa, dandelion, lazy-eye sunflower. At morning, a chill swelled in my bones from the hard ground, and the orange glaze of sun did little to quell my shakes. The Union scout was gone, traceless as papa's mare, or a signature on the Kansas winds. I saddled and galloped no more than half a mile when I heard somethin' resembling a human howl, a cry pitched in dry wind. Directed my mount up a small hill where I could entertain a decent view of a coulee up north, miles of flat plain, south. Heard the stampede of hooves on hard dirt. My horse bucked and whinnied. Zechariah lie curled off a gullied road, like someone dreaming womb and warmth, a sheepskin blanket and a honey-eyed woman. I dismounted and froze. Shook worse than a rooster's head on a vane in black-eye storm. Three arrows spiked his back lookin' like the letter W. Didn't need a man to tally--the work of Creeks. I rolled him over in slow, gentle steps. Not wanting to see. His face, one side, chalky, the other &mdash caked with dirt. He shall be at one with the secret eye of this earth, where Blue and Grey have no meaning. Peered up at my appaloosa, the color of whitish pelt with brownish clouds. Peered up at the blue expanse of sky where I tried to pinpoint the exact position of nightly stars. I had no gun nor musket. Horse sense, I thought. I got me horse sense for brains.
Kyle Hemmings received his MFA from National University, La Joule, CA. Besides writing, his passions include cooking, baking, cartoon art, and listening to old Beach Boys records. Since New Jersey winters are tough, he is still waiting for an endless summer. He works full time as a health care provider.
Nature of the Beast
John J. Wilson
The soft regular breathing and occasional rustle of her blanket is the only sound in the house as he turns another page of a new Caldwell essay. Claire was tucked in over an hour ago and Lynn is in Chicago for a week, visiting her sister. Sipping a bottle of Heineken, he thinks all is right in the world at this moment and that is how he intends to keep it.
It isn't that he doesn't like other people or that he is necessarily stand-offish, it's just that people in general don't interest him. In fact, like much of everyday life, they bore him. He doesn't give a damn about their everyday problems, desires, conflicts and challenges that most of them immerse themselves in and can't wait to tell you about. He doesn't need, or want, the normal fuel for the fire that others crave.
The monitor, like some electronic nameless nanny is in the den with him, sitting across the room on one the massive bookshelves dominating the room. It sits diligently, standing guard in silence except when Claire moves or sighs. Glancing at it over the tops of his reading glasses, because of general mistrust in any device of that sort, he sees the steady single green light staring back at him.
He supposes it all boils down to one key issue with him, privacy. Plain and simple. He demands it.
He stops reading mid-sentence, and looks around the softly lit room that seems to be hosting some sort of quiet, guarded conversation. Taking his glasses off, he cocks his head at an angle, like a dog does with a sound only he can hear, but does not raise his head.
"Beth? It's Kate."
A soft whispered sigh from Claire breaks in.
"Beth, can you talk? If not, just say 'I'm not interested' and hang up."
"Yes, I can talk," comes a hushed response.
"I haven't told him yet."
"Beth, you have to."
"I know…..I know I do, but the time just isn't right."
"Hon, the time will never be right…"
Jamming his glasses on again, he searches the room once more, resolved to put an end to this immediately. This was indeed ridiculous, and well, quite unacceptable.
"I'll wait until Kevin gets through with his thesis. That's when I'll do it."
Movement catches his eye as the voice ends, over on the bookshelf. He lasers in on it with mean eyes. Five green lights strung out in a row had been glaring at him from the monitor as the woman spoke, but shrank down to one when she stopped. Amazed, but processing the situation quickly he gets to his feet, full of indignation and anger. Walking purposefully over to the monitor, he stops in front of it and looks at it accusingly.
A hushed voice halts him: "Have you talked to the other lately, I mean, well… are you still seeing him?"
Realizing the absurdity of it, he still fights the urge to go upstairs and check his daughter's room, as if these voices were real intruders inside his house. With the best of intentions he reaches for the dial on the side of the white plastic speaker and starts to turn it off. Instead he turns the volume up and Claire's blanket rustles loudly. He jumps and fumbles the monitor.
Before he can reverse the dial Beth says, "Yes, to both." Her voice fills the room.
"Oh Beth..." Kate sighs, sounding both disappointed and supportive, somehow.
"I know, I know. I just can't stop him. I can't stop me. "
The voices are so clear and crisp. They could be right there across the room, on the leather couch, sharing a glass of merlot. He can almost see them leaning in closely, Kate's hand on the forearm of Beth, sympathetic and understanding. Clearing his throat, he is fully ashamed of himself now. He reaches with a steady hand this time and dials down the volume until it clicks completely off.
Eyes blinking several times he thinks, Beth Hollings. That was Beth Hollings. Two houses down. Stone Tudor, marvelous house. The thought strikes him like a hammer. She plays golf with Lynn for God's sake. He doesn't really like Kevin Hollings, but he seems decent enough. And the other, well it had to be Katie Jeffers. He and Lynn frequently use her for legal advice on investments.
A short war, just a very brief and doomed skirmish really, has waged within him. He thought he was stronger. He knows what is right, what is wrong but he manages to justify, validate. He has not initiated this, after all. But standing in the shadows and watching through an opening in the drapes, with no fear of discovery, he turns the monitor back on. Mesmerized, he stares at the carpet and listens to every emotion and dark secret. He enjoys the stew of guilt, lust and anguish he hears, enjoys it immensely. His book lays abandoned, pages flayed open, all but forgotten as Beth whispers how good her lover is.
He is an eavesdropper, a voyeur. The revelation is refreshing.
John J. Wilson is a central Illinois native, currently living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He is pursuing his lifelong passion for writing and storytelling. He's written over 75 short stories, including mainstream, suspense, crime, westerns and historical fictions. His work has appeared online at Crime and Suspense, Pipes & Timbrels and Hardluck Stories among others. He also contributed to a Holiday Anthology entitled By the Chimney With Care. He is currently working on his first novel. Married to a patient wife and the father of two beautiful daughters, he enjoys world history, the outdoors, sports and cooking.