Posts Tagged ‘writing exercise’

There was a fireball in the sky on a cold night the year before the uprisings. If you didn’t see the fireball, most folks heard it: a boom that rattled the dishes in the cupboard and spooked the cattle. Most folks later said was a harbinger of the way things were going to go, an omen of the wars that would spill blood down the rivers and wash up on the shores of the cities. But none of us knew that then. All we knew was it was a fireball what lit up the sky, coming from the northwest, and skimming the tops of the mountains and trees, until it hit the world somewhere up in the wilderness.

Old Jasper, she said she was a sittin’ on her porch and it streamed from the north, landing somewhere in the mountains. She swore it wasn’t no fireball, but a giant bird that had fire coming out its arse. She smoked her pipe and told the story, pointing with the stem the general arc of the thing. Nobody give old Jasper much thought.

Some men rode out to see if they could find the thing, but they all rode back empty-handed, ‘cept for Blaine. Blaine brought him in, riding on the back of his pony. He was bloodied up some, half conscious, and dressed in light clothes and a leather jacket. He didn’t have no shoes and his clothes were pretty torn up, even the leather jacket. Blaine said he’d tangled with a brown bear and won.

Ma cleaned off the table and they laid him out on it, face down. Most his wounds were on his back and scalp, where the bear caught him. Ma washed and sewed him up. We had to roll him over and stitch up the left side of his face. He was mostly unconscious, which Ma said was a blessing because he wasn’t feeling her tug and pull on the pieces of his skin. He made noises some but didn’t struggle or fight.

Blaine said he come on the fight by accident – heard the bear and some man screaming. He rode over a little draw and saw the whole thing, right up to the moment the stranger managed to let go a couple of rounds from his little handgun. Both shots went in the mouth and through the brain of the bear, dropped him right on top of the stranger. Blaine had to use his horse to pull the bear off, it was that big.

Blaine’s always been one to make up a story, so half his story you couldn’t believe. He didn’t know where the pistol was, said he never saw it, and I guess that was true because much later, the stranger told Pa that he went back up and found it lodged under a rock where it fell. The other part that wasn’t true was Blaine riding up and seeing it all happen, then having to pull the bear off with a horse. The stranger’s side had him crawled away and fainted under a juniper tree, and that’s where Blaine found him, and where the pistol was hidden in the rocks.

We had to trash his clothes and Ma sent me over to Old Jasper’s to see if the old granny could find something as would fit him from her husband’s thing that’d be suitable, and he could pay her back for later. Old Jasper come up with boots, heavy pants, a belt, and a couple wool shirts. She also brought some laudanum and some bear grease salve to keep the scars from healing up red and ugly. It smelled something awful. She looked at his hands and said they were baby smooth, not a working man’s hands. City man. Old Jasper said she thought maybe he was a flying man, and we all laughed at her joke.

He even grinned some, but he was doped up on the laudanum by then, and not feeling no pain..

We left him to sleep it off on the kitchen table, thinking the laudanum would knock him out for the rest of the night. Sometime – I mostly don’t remember how early it was – he woke up on the table and he got frightened. He rolled off the table and screamed. Then he grabbed Pa’s long-barreled rifle off the mantle. Pa and Blaine found him in the corner of the pantry, talking crazy, and pointing the barrel of that rifle at the door.

“I ain’t goin’ in,” Blaine said. “I didn’t steal his gun nor anything’ from him, whatever his beef is.”

Pa just shook his head at Blaine and said, “It ain’t about stealin’, you half-cocked coward. He’s a soldier boy, reliving some battle he was in. I’ll talk him down, you’ll see.”

Pa called out and said, “I’m going to roll a bottle of laudanum in there. It’ll take the pain off.”

“I ain’t in no fucking pain! Who are you? Where am I?”

“Well, I be Hyrm Pastel, and you’re in my wife’s pantry. There’s some fine preserves in there that I sure wouldn’t want broke, plus our supply of flour and sugar and coffee. Lard, too, if I recollect right. Have you a name?”

“No, Sir. What town am I in? Country? I lost my compass. Where’s my clothes?” He was still muttering in between with some crazy stuff.

“I have a compass, if that’s all you need. Your clothes are in the rag pile, but I can send my girl out to bring them in. She’s ‘bout twelve. You remember the bear?”

“Jeezus. Bear. Fucking grizzly. Got him with my blade but had to shoot him in the mouth.”

“Yes, the brown bear. Blaine here found you and pulled the bear off you with his horse.”

“Ha!” He’d been sounding calm, but now he sounded angry again. I stood close by with his ragged old clothes that smelled like some kind of – well, I don’t know, but it was almost greasy and ugly. “I remember sitting under the tree, goddamn prickly fucking juniper. Am I in Nevada?”

“Don’t know where that is, Son. Paradise is over the hill, but it ain’t more’n a bar, a whore house, and some houses. Twin Rivers is a couple day’s ride south.”

There was silence. “My clothes. I won’t hurt the girl. I want my clothes.”

Pa waved at me to go in. I wasn’t keen on it and my knees was wobbly.

“Come on girl. I won’t hurt you. See, the rifle is pointed up. Now, don’t none of you get an idea of rushing me…”

“No, sir, son. Jori -”

I swallowed and stepped into the pantry. What I seen was a frightened boy, not a big man with a big gun. His face was bleeding where he’d torn a stitch out. I walked real slow toward him, holding his clothes out. “You be bleeding where Ma stitched you,” I said. My voice hitched some and I knew it was because I was near as scared as he was.

He reached up and felt his cut. “Stitched? Shit. I have stitches.” The eyes changed sudden, like the fear wasn’t never there. “Your mama stitched me up?”

“They got you drunk after so you wouldn’t feel no pain. Left you on the kitchen table. I’m sorry ‘bout your clothes.” I was almost to him and it was dim in there, but I could still see the light in his eyes.

He lowered the rifle and lay it down. “Fuck. I’m sorry. I didn’t know I had stitches. I don’t know where I am. What was in that booze?”

“Maybe some laudanum?” I wasn’t up to him yet. I kind of froze in my socks. “That bear clawed you some.” I held out the clothes. He leaned forward on his knees and took them from me, real gentle.

“I think I broke some of the preserves.”

“Don’t matter, I gotta pick more berries anyhow.”

He laughed. Actual, honest-to-god, laughed. “I’m a sorry loser. Simon’s my name. What’s yours?”

“Jori.” I tried to smile, but he was so bloody. “You really need Ma to restitch that.”

“Head wound. They bleed real bad. They’re usually bloodier than they are bad.”

“It’s bad.”

“You comin’ out, son?” Pa called over my shoulder.

“You won’t shoot me?” Simon looked over me, back where he could see Pa with his hands in the air.

“Naw, I’ll forgive you the preserves, but my wife might shoot you.”

Simon stood up, then, and he was once again a tall man. The scared boy all disappeared, “OK if Jori here carries the rifle out?”

“You can carry it. I trust her judgment.” Pa stepped in front of the door to show he was unarmed. “War’s hell on most men and wakin’ up in a strange place with a hangover ain’t no soldier’s picnic.”


That was how we met Simon.


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