Set Thirty Three:
with the blowing
of the wind
with the last rays
of the sun
as the moon sets
below the horizon
and the birds
fly to the trees
A Short Story
"Ma says supper will be ready in a few minutes. She says you better clean up or you aren't coming inside."
"She does, huh?" Jack asked as he nailed another fence post. He then replied, "You tell her, clean or dirty – still eating."
The boy ran inside the house and then came out. He said, "She said, if you're covered in dust you aren't coming in, no matter what you say. She says, she might be nice though and throw something out on the porch for you."
Jack laughed and answered, as he started to walk away from the fence, "Fine, fine, clean it is – at least enough so she'll let me in. You better wash too. You don't want to eat on the porch now do you?"
"No Pa," the boy answered as he ran to the water pump.
As Jack started to walk toward the pump, he heard his daughter shout, "Pa, there's a man coming."
He turned and looked and saw a man riding in on a horse. His head was down as he rode.
He walked toward the man and called out, "If you want to water your horse we'll be done with the pump in just a minute. My wife is just finishing supper. You're welcome to a biscuit or two before you go on."
The man rode closer and then stopped about twenty yards away. He looked up and into Jack's eyes.
The man's face was square and tan. He looked like he hadn't shaven in a week and there seemed to be a coating of dust on his face. There was sweat on his brow and his eyes looked as if he was glaring. He had a look of being older than he was.
Looking at the man on the horse, Jack stopped breathing. He felt a weight on himself that he hadn't felt in twenty years. His face became white and he could feel his heart beat in his chest.
His son looked up at him and asked, "You alright, Pa?"
He stood, not being able to speak.
The man looked more intently at him and then asked in a voice that seem quiet but harsh, "You understand?"
He stood and could feel himself shake. Everything came back to his mind. He finally could feel himself breathe. He answered shakily, "Yes."
"Tomorrow morning then, an after hour dawn."
The man then turned his horse and rode away.
Jack stopped. He closed his eyes and tried to swallow. His daughter ran up to him and asked, "Who was that man, Pa?"
He couldn't speak.
"Pa, are you alright?" His son asked.
He could feel himself breathe and said, "Yes son. Everything's fine. Everything's fine."
"Who was that man, Pa? What did he want? What happens tomorrow?"
He said, "He was no one son." He paused and took a breath. "He was just a man."
The boy accepted the answer, and then he and his sister ran toward the house. Jack stood a moment and then walked toward the pump and almost collapsed on it. He couldn't stand. Everything felt weak inside him. He felt himself breathing rapidly and he could feel a lump in his throat.
He tried to stand and put his head under the pump. He pumped water over the back of his head and then stood, ran this hands through his hair and shook the water off. He wiped the water from his face with his hands as he tried to breathe. He then stood against the pump, leaning on it and didn’t move.
"Jack, are you coming inside?" His wife asked from the porch.
He looked up at her.
"Are you alright?" She asked as she walked toward him.
He felt himself pull everything inside and said, "Yes, yes, fine. Just, you know, washing."
"Well come on then, supper is just about ready," she said as she turned and walked inside.
He stood straight and took a breath. He blinked his eyes and then walked toward the house.
During supper, he was quiet. His family talked as they normally did, but he didn't pay much attention. His thoughts kept going to the past and going to the future.
After supper, he went outside and stood on the porch while his family sat inside by the fireplace. After a few moments his wife came out and asked, "Are you alright Jack? You were quiet this evening."
He looked at his wife silently for a moment and said, "There's something that needs taking care of tomorrow. It will take all day away from here."
"What's the matter? What do you have to do tomorrow?"
"There's just something that needs tending to."
"What is it? There's something wrong."
"It's nothing. There's just something that needs doing for someone. An obligation."
"Is it that man who came by? The girl mentioned him."
"Yes. He's …," he thought for a moment and tried to think of words that were truthful, but explained what couldn't be true. "There was a man from a while back. Before we met. There's something that needs doing for him. It will take the day. An obligation."
"You're not speaking clearly," his wife said. She came closer to him and looked at his face. His eyes had a distant look. "What's wrong? What aren't you saying?"
"It's nothing," he answered. "There's just something that needs taking care of. It's little more than a ride with someone. In a day it will be done and forgotten. Please don't worry."
His wife looked into his eyes. The distant look was still there. She started to speak, but stopped. She kept looking at him for a moment, and tried to understand his face. After a moment she sighed, and went inside the house.
He stood for a moment and then sat on the steps of the porch. He put his face in his hands and then put his head in them. He looked out into the dusk and couldn't find a thought to think.
Jack sat on his horse in the morning light. His eyes were heavy, but he wasn't tired. He felt a sense of emptiness.
In a way, he kept waiting for a sound. The sound of horse hooves. In another way, he wasn't thinking of it at all; he was just sitting in the morning light.
After a few moments, from down the road, the man on the horse came. He rode the horse in a deliberate way. Not slow, like he was just going along. Not fast, like he was in a hurry to get somewhere. Just deliberate. Like he knew where he was going and intended on being there.
He kept riding until he got to the edge of the farm. Then he stopped his horse and just sat. He didn't look around. He didn't really move. He didn't look like he was waiting for something. He just sat.
From his own horse, Jack looked out at the man. He had no words to say. He had no sense of what to do. It wasn't that he was confused, it was just that he had no thought. After a moment, without thinking, he tapped his horse and started to ride toward the man.
As Jack pulled up beside him, the man asked, "How far?"
"About forty miles."
The man on the horse nodded and said, "You lead."
For a moment, Jack wanted to stop, but again without thinking, he tapped his horse and started to ride forward.
Jack and the man left the farm. In a short while they were riding among grassy hills. Jack led the way, going through passes and the man followed.
Jack could feel the man behind him. He wanted to say something, but there were no words. Conversation felt wrong. What would he say? How would he start? There was a whole story, but no words for it.
As Jack's mind wandered, he heard the man speak, "Stop."
Jack became startled, stopped his horse and turned around.
The man was off his horse and was holding one of the horse's legs. He looked for a moment and then took a knife from his pocket and dug a stone from the horse's hoof. He cleaned around the hoof, let the horse's leg down and put his knife away. He then got back on his horse and nodded at Jack.
Jack looked at him for a moment and started to ride. He could hear the man follow.
Inside, he wanted to speak. He wanted to do something to make the time not feel like it did.
Almost like a person jumping from something high into water, Jack forced words to jump from his mouth. "It's been a number of years," Jack said.
"It has," the man replied.
The man spoke like he wasn't there. It was harsh, but not angry. It was like the grinding of an axe blade on a stone wheel. There was something in the sound of his words.
"You seem well," Jack said.
The man didn't respond. Jack was ahead of the man and couldn't see him. He didn't know if the man was ignoring him or if he had nodded. Jack eased on his horse and rode next to the man.
Jack wanted to talk, to speak, to explain. He wanted to tell the story to the man. To let him know what had happened. To find out what had happened. To know why he had waited twenty years and why, after that, he came at all.
Jack wanted to speak, but couldn't. As he looked at the man, who looked forward deliberately, something was wrong. Many things were wrong, but something particular was wrong. Jack had known it right after he saw the man. It had stuck in back of his mind, but he hadn't focused on it until then.
"It couldn't be him." Jack thought. "He looks exactly the same. It couldn't be him."
Trying to reconcile things in his mind, Jack said, "You look well."
The man nodded.
"You don't seem to have changed much," Jack said.
"You're wrong mister," the man replied.
"What?" Jack asked.
"You're wrong mister," the man repeated.
"What do you mean?" Jack asked.
The man slowly turned his face toward Jack and said, "You think you know me, but you don't. You think you're seeing Pete Williams, but you aren't."
Jack stopped his horse in confusion. Nothing made sense.
"Who are you?" Jack asked.
"Not Pete Williams," the man said. "Now keep riding."
Jack kept riding forward with the man behind him. They past the grassy hills and were moving across a rocky desert. There were outcrops and stone hills. Everything was a shade of brown.
As Jack went, he tried to make sense of things in his mind. "This is Pete Williams," he thought. "It is, but it can't be."
Jack thought back to the last time he saw Pete. They were on their horses, outside of Parecido. He held the bag and Pete was slumped in his saddle. He remember looking back as Pete went one way and he went the other. It was twenty years ago.
Jack slowed his horse a bit and looked back at the man. The man kept his face forward and didn't seem to notice. "This is Pete," Jack thought.
He looked at the man's eyes, the shape of his face, and the way he sat in the saddle. He thought of the man's voice. "This is Pete," he thought, "but from twenty years ago."
Jack couldn't understand.
Jack hadn’t heard from Pete since that night. Each day for years though, he had thought of him. He knew Pete would return. He kept waiting for the day.
Jack thought about the days and weeks that came after that night. He thought about how he couldn't sleep, how he couldn't eat, how he kept waiting for the sound, how he kept waiting for them to come. He thought about waiting for Pete, and when he would knock on his door.
He remembered Pete's labored words, the pain from his wound affecting him, "Go on. In time, you'll see me. Keep it safe until then."
He remembered his own words from before that night. He remember telling Pete he didn't want to be involved. He remembered telling him that he should find someone else. He remembered telling Pete how reluctant he was. He remembered going with Pete that night.
Jack looked back again at the man following him. In the moment he looked, he could feel the man's glare and he turned his face away.
"Has he been thinking of it all these years?" Jack wondered to himself.
Jack thought of the years that had gone by. He thought about the day in the desert when he said he wouldn't look back. He thought about getting married, having children, farming his land, and putting the thoughts of the past out of his mind.
"Pete," Jack said as he turned his horse toward the man.
"That's not my name," the man replied.
Jack stopped his horse and with strain in his voice said, "This doesn't make sense. You are Pete, but you can't be. What's going on? What do you want from me?"
"Listen," the man said as he pulled a gun from his holster and pointed it at Jack, "you need to stop worrying about Pete Williams. You need to stop thinking and stop wondering." He motioned with his gun and said, "You need to turn your horse and keep riding toward the money. Nothing about shooting you will cause me any strain. You understand."
Jack started to sweat and shake in his saddle. He had only had a gun pointed at him once before, on that night twenty years ago. He remembered the terror and felt it now.
The man pulled back on the hammer of the gun and asked, "Are you going to turn and ride?"
Still shaking, Jack nodded. As he felt his heart beat in his chest, he turned his horse and started to ride.
"Stop up there, under that overhang," the man said.
Up ahead was a hill of rocks and boulders. On one side of it there was an alcove under an overhang. It went in a bit and was shaded. Jack saw it and turned his horse and rode ahead.
When they got to the alcove, the man got down and pulled his horse to one side. "Get down," he said to Jack.
Jack wondered if the man was going to shoot him here. It didn't make any sense. The man needed him, he thought, to get the money. Also, he could have just shot him in the sun.
"The horses need to rest," the man said.
Jack breathed out and got off his horse.
The man took a canteen from his saddle and drank some water. He then reached into his saddle bag and pulled out some jerky and started to eat it.
"We'll rest here for fifteen minutes or so," he said.
Jack nodded and took the canteen from his saddle. He drank some water. Unlike the man, he hadn’t thought to bring food.
Jack looked at the man. He leaned against the rock wall and bit his jerky and drank water. He looked out into the desert.
Jack tried to understand the man. He couldn't understand what was going on. This man said he wasn't Pete Williams, but he looked just like him, knew who Jack was, and knew about the money from the bank.
Jack thought about the bank. The small little bank in Parecido. Why had Pete wanted to rob it? Why had Pete wanted him to help? Why hadn't he resisted more? He couldn't answer the questions to himself.
Jack looked at the man and tried to study him. Even the way he stood was like Pete. Nothing made sense to him
"You're thinking again, mister," the man said. "You really shouldn't be doing that."
Jack felt flustered. Nothing made sense in his mind. In exasperation he pleaded, "What's going on here? What do you want? This was all so long ago. Who are you?"
The man pulled his gun again as he pulled away from the wall. He clenched his face, breathed out and said, in a cold steel tone, "Listen to me. You need to stop what's going on in that mind of yours. You need to not think and not speak. You only need to ride your horse and take me to the money. There aren't going to be any games here. If you press me, you're dead. If you take me to the money, you'll live. There isn't any in between. You need to understand. You and Pete Williams have made my life far too difficult for far too long. You are not going to make it difficult now. You understand."
Jack didn't understand. He didn't know this man, even though he thought he did. He wondered how he could have made this man's life difficult. Nothing made sense to him.
The man got back on his horse and said, "Get on your horse."
Jack shook for a moment and then climbed on his horse.
"How much farther?" The man asked.
"About ten miles," Jack said. "There will be an outcrop where the money is."
"No games mister, you understand."
Jack understood the man was giving him an order, not asking a question. Jack said, "Don't worry, there won't be any games."
As Jack rode on, the place became very familiar to him. The rocks and hills and boulders and outcrops. It seemed to him like he was just there.
He knew the place he was looking for. A place with three boulders at the top of an outcrop. They didn't fit. They looked different than the rocks around them. Jack knew he would recognize the place.
With each step of his horse, Jack could feel the man behind him. This man who looked like Pete, but said he wasn't, seemed like a shadow. Jack felt attached to the man as they moved on.
Jack thought of the gun the man had. He, himself, didn't own a handgun. He had a rifle, but had left it at home. There was a moment where he had a sense to take it, but it was only a moment. There was no thought or feeling to it and he left it where it was.
Jack wondered how the man knew he had the money. He could understand the man knowing about the robbery. It was news at the time. He could understand the man knowing that he had had the money twenty years ago. Although no one had seen his face and there was nothing to point to him being involved, the man could have found out. There was Pete Williams.
Jack never learned what had happened to Pete after that day. Inside himself he didn't want to find out. As time went, and Pete didn't return, Jack tried to think that he was just gone. He didn't think that Pete had died after being shot, he just thought he was gone. It was easier than thinking of him being dead or coming back.
Jack couldn't put things together in his mind. Was this just a man who looked like Pete? That could explain the trouble he spoke of. Maybe the man had been arrested for something Pete had done? Maybe he was coming for the money for restitution?
For a moment it made sense in Jack's mind. He stacked his house of cards nicely. The man knew Pete, looked just like him, found out about the robbery, found out Jack had the money, found out Jack hadn't spent it, found out where Jack was, knew Jack would recognize him, … there were just too many cards. It all toppled in his mind. He couldn't make sense of it.
Jack was snapped out of his thoughts by the sound of the horse behind him. It made a noise as it breathed out. Jack looked around. They were close.
"It's not that far," Jack said. "There is an outcrop. There are three boulders at the top that look different. Like they don't belong there. It's hard to miss."
"Just ride," the man said.
Jack rode his horse and wondered. What would the man do once he had the money? Would he bury Jack were the money had been?
In less than an hour they were there. It was like Jack's horse knew the way. Jack hadn't been there in almost twenty years. He remember the moment he was there. He remembered the thoughts he had during that time.
Jack never wanted the money. He never wanted to be in the robbery. When he had the money, he didn't know what to do with it.
At first, he waited for Pete, thinking he would return. He would give Pete his half and then figure out what to do with his share.
Once he realized Pete might not return any time soon, he wasn't sure what he would do.
He thought about returning all the money, but wasn't sure how he would do it, and wasn't sure how Pete would react. He knew Pete would want his share, and he wasn't sure how Pete would react to him giving his part away. He was afraid Pete would think he would turn himself in and Pete also.
He had thought about turning himself in. The thought occurred to him almost constantly at the beginning. It seemed to easiest way. It seemed the most certain way. It seemed the way without worry.
He couldn't do it though.
The thought of prison. The thought of all those years. The thought of his life lost just because he couldn't tell someone no. He couldn't do it.
He had never considered turning Pete in, as he couldn't do it without turning himself in.
He didn't want to spend the money, but was afraid of keeping it with him. What if a sheriff found it? What if an outlaw did? What if anyone did?
He worried about Pete returning. He worried about speaking when he shouldn't. He worried about all sorts of things with the money near him.
There was that moment though. That moment in the shack outside of Parecido. That moment when he took the money, got on his horse and rode.
He knew he couldn't stay. He knew he couldn't keep the money. He knew he couldn't leave the money just anywhere. He thought he would ride.
He would ride and ride and ride more. He would ride as far as he thought a person would ride if they wanted to leave Parecido and then he would ride that twice more. He did.
He was by the rocks out in a place that seemed the end of a desert. He knew there was life ahead. A town and farms. In his mind it seemed good.
He could start over. He could be just like he was. No one knew him. No one knew he had robbed the bank. He could be himself, but be different.
It seemed like the right place. He could hide the money. It would be far away from Parecido. It would be far from him. But it would be close.
It would be close enough, that if Pete came, he could make the ride he made today. It would be close enough, that if the law came, he could do the same.
It would be far though. Far enough that he wouldn't have to see it. Far enough that he wouldn't have to think of it. Far enough that it wouldn't be a monster lurking behind him ready to pounce. It would be far enough.
"There it is," Jack said, "the outcrop, with the three boulders."
Jack looked at the formation ahead and turned his horse.
"The money is under rocks about ten feet down from the boulder on the right. It should be alright. It is in bag, wrapped in a blanket, wrapped in a rain coat and inside of saddle bags. It should be alright."
As they rode up to the outcrop, the man pulled a rifle from a scabbard on his saddle and said, "Get off your horse."
Jack paused a moment and stepped down off his horse.
The man got off his horse carrying his rifle and walked toward the base of the outcrop. He said to Jack, "Climb up to where it is."
Jack looked at the man and at his rifle, closed his eyes a moment and then walked toward the outcrop.
Jack was underneath where the boulder was. It was a couple of hundred feet up and the money was a little below that. The outcrop was steep enough that moving up it was difficult, but not so steep that a person had to actually climb. It was more of a steep walk. The outcrop was made of many large rocks and places with rubble. A person could go up with some effort but not too much difficulty if they took their time and thought about how they would move.
Jack started to go up the side. As he did the man stayed to his left about fifty feet and went up with him. The man moved at an angle, keeping himself, and his rifle, pointed in Jack's direction.
Jack could hear the sound of the rocks and rubble under his feet. There was a strange sensation in each step. He could feel the rubble grind under his shoes and he could hear the sound of the rocks with each step.
As Jack went, he could sense the man moving with him. He could feel the man there. He tried not to look in his direction. All he could feel was that he wanted this time to end.
As Jack went up, he tried to look and see exactly where the money would be. He remembered that when he put it there, he climbed down from the boulder two body lengths. He tried to think where that would be. He was afraid if he climbed to the boulder, the man might question what he did.
As Jack went up, he looked at the rocks. There was a natural crevasse where he put the money. It went in a few feet and curved. When Jack found it, he thought it would be good spot. He thought that even if someone happened to find the crevasse, they would see it was empty if they didn't think to check for a curve. When he had placed the money there, he covered the opening with rocks. He tried at the time to make it look as natural as he could.
Jack was about fifty feet below the boulder when he thought he saw the spot. There were rocks there that looked like they were packed in. He wasn't sure, but thought it was the place. He paused for a moment and looked at the man. The man was still watching him, his rifle pointed.
"Keep going," the man said, "you said it was about ten feet down. Keep going."
Jack paused a moment more and continued up. When he got to the place he stopped and knelt beside it. He said, "This might be the place. It's been many years."
The man didn't speak, but just glared at Jack.
Jack looked at him, and wanted to speak, but couldn’t find the words. He looked again at the place and started to move the rocks.
Some of the rocks were heavy and it took Jack about five minutes to clear the opening. The man kept staring at him while he worked.
When Jack had the hole open enough, laid down and reach his arm in. He felt inside and tried to reach to his left. He moved his arm and hand searching blindly. Then he felt it.
Jack pulled the saddle bags out. They were covered in dust, but looked the same. He started to have difficulty breathing when he held it. He almost wanted to cry. He never thought he would hold it again. It felt so odd in his hands.
"Open it," the man said.
Jack set the saddle bags down. He untied one side and reached inside. He pulled out a rain coat that was in a ball. He set it down and untied the knot that was in it. When a opened it, there was a blanket inside. He untied the blanket and there was the bag.
Jack looked at it there on the ground. It was small but looked to him like it weighed a ton. It was all that was wrong with his past in a small little ball.
"Toss it here," the man said.
Jack lifted the bag and swung it back and to the man. It landed about fifteen feet away from him, rolled a bit and stopped behind a rock.
"Back up," the man said.
Jack started to back away. As he did, the man moved toward the bag.
When the man got to the bag he said, "Stop where you are."
Jack stopped and stood still.
The man knelt down, held the rifle in one hand and started to loosen the tie that held the bag closed with the other.
"All of the money is there," Jack said. "None of it was spent."
The man looked at Jack for a moment and then went back to the bag.
When he had it opened, he pulled the contents out. There was money in bundles and two sacks of gold. The man looked at it for a moment, put it back in the bag and tied it closed.
"Climb down," the man said.
Jack looked at the man for a moment. He wondered what would happen now. Would the man shoot him? Would the man let him go? Would the man go with him? Would the man leave him alone? He wasn't sure.
Jack asked, "What happens now?"
"You stop asking questions and climb down," the man replied.
Jack made his way down the outcrop while the man followed. The man stayed above him, with his rifle in Jack's direction, the whole time Jack moved down.
As Jack got near the bottom, where his horse was, the man called out, "Stop! Don't get down there. Move back ten yards."
Jack moved back.
The man climbed down off the outcrop and climbed onto his horse. He turned in his saddle and pointed his rifle at Jack.
"Now climb on your horse," the man said.
Jack moved slowly and got on his horse.
"You see that spire there, in the distance, the way we came? You ride toward that. You don't go left. You don't go right. You don't turn around. You don't stop. You go toward that. You move one way wrong and you're dead. You understand."
Jack looked at the man. He wanted to ask him what was happening. He wanted to ask what would happen. He knew though the man wouldn't listen.
Jack started to ride. He could feel himself breathe. Everything felt quiet. He never noticed himself more in his life.
As he went on, he wondered if the man was following him. He couldn't hear the man behind him, but wasn't sure. Somehow his senses didn't feel right to him. He wanted to turn and look, but didn't know how the man would react to it.
Inside he felt – he knew for sure – the man would shoot him in the back. It seemed like what was next. It seemed like it would be his end. The man got him there, got the money, and now this was it.
For some reason though, something about it didn't seem right. The man seemed so stern, so focused, and so empty of thought. He didn't seem like the kind of man who would need to shoot a man in the back because he couldn't face him to do it. Jack just didn't know.
In the distance he saw the spire. It seemed there alone. It seemed like it was placed there. He kept moving toward it. He kept waiting for the sound of the rifle.
As Jack neared the spire, he realized the man hadn't told him what to do when he got there. Would the man be behind him? Would the man shout something from a distance?
Jack got to the spire, stopped his horse and waited. He sat in his saddle, like a defendant in court waiting for a verdict. He waited to know what his sentence would be.
Nothing happened. Jack didn't hear the man behind him and he didn't shout. Jack sat a moment more, and then carefully turned in his saddle.
There was no one there. The man wasn't behind him. He looked out toward the outcrop and didn't see the man there. He looked at all the landscape and saw no one.
He could feel his heart quicken in his chest. He looked completely around him and up and at angles. He looked and searched until he finally realized he was alone.
"Hello Andrew. How are things?"
"Oh, can't complain. My wife hurt her foot, but she should be better in a few days."
"Hopefully she will feel better. Do you have my order?"
"Yes, Jack, it's right in the back. Everything on your list is there, except for the saws. Those will have to come later. Don't worry though, after they're ordered it shouldn't be more than a couple of weeks."
"Oh yes, you have a letter here too. Fred brought me my mail. We talked a spell and when he knew you would be coming by later, he asked if he might drop your letter here. He wasn't sure if you would think to go by the office since you don't get many letters, and he wasn't sure when he would be going by your place."
"That was nice of him."
"Fred is a thoughtful fellow. Here's the letter here. You just wait a moment and Al will have those things loaded on your wagon. Hey, Al."
"Thank you Andrew."
Jack glanced at the letter. It was addressed to him but had no return address. He didn't know who it might be from. He wasn't expecting anything. He put the letter in his vest pocket and went to go help Al load the wagon.
After the wagon was loaded, Jack drove it home. He and his son then unloaded the items into the house and the barn as they needed. He then went back to the field to work.
In the evening, he sat on the porch with his wife.
"How was town?" She asked.
"It was alright. They rebuilt that store that burned down. There'll be an election for sheriff soon."
"You see anyone?"
"Just Andrew and Al at the store. Andrew said his wife hurt her foot but should be better soon."
"Oh, that's good she'll be better soon."
"Oh," Jack said as he reached in his vest, "there was a letter too."
"We don't get much mail. Who is it from?"
"It doesn't say," Jack said as he showed his wife the letter.
"Well, open it and see what it is. It's probably nothing, but it's nice to get mail all the same."
Jack loosened the envelope with his finger and pulled out a piece of paper.
"It's a newspaper clipping," Jack said.
"That's odd, why would anyone send us one of those?"
"Maybe there's an announcement or something. You know, like someone getting married or having a baby."
"It could be. Move the lantern and read it."
Jack stood up and grabbed the lantern from a hook. He held it with one hand and the clipping in another. "It's from the capital paper," he said. "It's dated three weeks ago."
Jack started to read the clipping aloud. It said,
"In the small town of Parecido an unusual event has taken place."
Jack stopped reading.
"What's the matter? Keep reading. What happened at Parecido?"
Jack paused a moment, took a breath and started reading again.
"According to Mr. J. W. Wilkins, President of The First Bank of Parecido, money from a bank robbery there, that occurred over twenty years ago, has been returned."
Jack paused again. He felt himself shake a moment, but then he went on.
"The money was brought to the bank by five of the town's citizens: Jeff Edgerton, the Mayor, Paul Keller, the Sheriff, Nathan Minch, the Editor of The Parecido Times, Ms. Sarah Hoff, the town's school teacher, and Mrs. Beth Mallory, one of the town's civic leaders.
According to Mr. Wilkins, each person received a package along with a letter. The letters all stated the names of those to whom packages were sent and that each package contained equal amounts of money for the bank. Each letter instructed the recipient to bring their package to the bank unopened on this past Thursday at 10:00 am.
The recipients all complied with the letters.
Mr. Wilkins also stated that he too had received a letter indicating what was to occur.
When the recipients arrived, the packages were opened and were each found to contain $4000 in cash and gold, for a total of $20,000.
One package, the one delivered to Sheriff Keller, also had a note. The note stated that the money was from the bank robbery that occurred on July 21, 1871. It stated that the packages contained the entire amount from the robbery. It further stated that, concerning the two unidentified men that held up the bank, that one was dead, and that the other was simply described as being gone.
A search of The Parecido Times records indicated that the facts of the situation were correct. The bank was robbed on July 21, 1871 of $20,000 by two unidentified men. Both got away, but one was reported as possibly having been shot. Neither of the men were ever found. Up until this remarkable occurrence, the money was assumed unrecoverable.
No one concerned was able to explain the situation. Who were the robbers? What happened to them after the robbery? The money was checked and none of it was dated after 1871. Does that mean the money was never spent? Why? Where was it all these years? Why was it returned? Who returned it?
The editor of The Parecido Times indicated that he would try to look into the case and answer these questions, but as it was so long ago, and the robbers were either dead or whatever "gone" refers to, he wasn't sure what he would be able to find.
The sheriff indicated that since the money was returned, no one was killed in the robbery, the statute of limitations had passed and the robbers were either presumed dead or "gone" that he would not be looking into the case.
This is a most unusual occurrence for any town, much less a small, sleepy one like Parecido. This is the biggest thing to happen to the town since the robbery occurred all those years ago.
Even here in the capital, many are talking about the strange case of the returned bank money. Many a parlor discussion has been about the case these last few days. The mysterious nature of it all has intrigued many. The answers to all the questions about it many never be known."
As Jack finished the clip he stood silently.
"Well, that's something unusual. It is all very interesting and mysterious. Why would someone send you the clip though?"
Jack paused a moment and then said, "Maybe someone thought it would just be interesting to me." He tried to think of something else to say, but as his wife seemed to be reflecting more on the story than on what he had said, he simply folded the clip, put it in his vest pocket and walked inside the house.
Set Thirty Two:
with all that surrounds,
unseen by eyes,
A gathering of stones,
a gathering of fibers,
a gathering of food,
a gathering of something.
A coat of gray and brown,
blending with all that surrounds,
to the hidden place,
and the gathering.
A nest of sticks,
a nest of leaves,
a sense of calm,
among the gathering.
A Short Story
He walked about the city streets, on the east side, past the industrial buildings, but before the shipyards. He moved with steps that seemed to have purpose and didn't pause or look about. In the movement, of the people, and the trucks, and the sound of machinery, he went along carrying his backpack. No one noticed, as he moved along. He seemed to be just part of the place.
As he went, although his eyes were forward, he was always looking. After the years, it seemed natural for him. He noticed dumpsters. He noticed debris that wasn't trash. He noticed city cars. He noticed things that were abandoned. People often have moments where they are surprised that they noticed things. His moments had no surprise.
Like in a boat, moving down a river, he hardly stopped as he gathered. He looked for cans. He knew where they would be. He could almost sense the density. He looked for gloves and caps and shoes. The things that wore. The things that were noticed inside when they wore. He looked for food. He kept himself to a standard. It wasn't of self-consciousness, but of dignity. He looked for tools. Not with a present need, but in case of a future one.
In his clothes of gray and brown, he seemed like part of the concrete walls he moved past. He blended in among the metal and stone and little weeds that grew without dirt.
As he gathered, he moved in an unseen circuit. It was a path unspoken in his mind that went from where he was, out to the world, and back again. It was rational in his mind, but without predictability. He started, went out, gathered and returned.
There was a fence, with a gate locked with a chain that was too long and pad lock. Behind it were storage units once used as businesses, all in a row. All were quiet. They had been since the sign came down. One had auto parts, another appliances, a third was always empty, and a forth had machine parts.
Around the corner, hidden from the street, behind a fence with an easement on the other side, was a unit marked 124. It had held furniture and upholstery. It seemed a natural place.
Opening the door, only just enough, slipping inside with the backpack, closing it behind him, and putting the metal bar. He was home.
Light came in through ventilation tubes and dimly lit the space around. A torn couch on one side, a pile of cloth, of different colors and patterns, laid out in a square, a table made of pallet parts, a large pile of items and two metal drums by the wall.
Inside the drums were more. More cans, more gloves, caps and shoes, more tools without a purpose. The contents of the bag were added to the gathering and then he sat down to rest.
His dinner was funnel cake. Apparently not cooked enough for someone's taste. It was clean and still on the plate and had been on top of the pile.
As the room grew dark, with night approaching, he turned on a battery powered lantern that he had gotten after a hurricane when it was on sale. The center of the room seemed to glow with an orange light and around the walls it seemed a grayish yellow.
In his mind, because he didn't want to speak aloud, he went through an inventory of his gatherings. It was time to organize the clothes. He thought of what would go together and what would last the same length of time. He thought of his cans, and the three miles to the recycling depot. He needed to dress as well as he could and go on a Thursday morning to avoid the patrols that came by. He thought of his tools. There was almost a set. He wondered if he could be a handyman. He wondered if he could portray an image well enough.
As his mind roamed toward the future, a sense of present filled him inside. He thought of the hawks. The others who roamed about and preyed upon those seen as small and weak. He felt the knife in his pocket and the chain wrapped around his ankle under his sock.
His mind shifted more, as he tried to shake the thoughts away, and he thought of the next day's gathering.
He planned his route almost unconsciously and tried to think where the resources would be. He envisioned where to go, what to get and where to avoid. He almost lived the day in his mind.
He thought of the camps, beyond the highway. They had a gathering. They might be gathering. He thought of going. He thought of trading. He thought of hawks. He thought not to go.
He then got up, turned off his lantern, went to the pile of cloth, and went to sleep.
The day dawned, and in the low glow of light he went through his routine to get ready to leave. Before the world was awake with noise, he had closed his door and walked through the gate.
He gathered that day. The gathering was good. There were copper coils in debris by a construction site. There was also a glove that might match one he had. Past the convenience store, he found a bag filled with past dated drinks. He met someone, he thought he knew, and gave them a token, from the shelter. In return, he got a knife the person said they had found.
At a store, he got inside, without the ties, throwing him out. He filled a bag, with bathroom soap, and put a pile of napkins in his bag.
By a pier he had some food, because despite the protest of others, someone bought him a sandwich from a truck.
He even found, and adjustable wrench, just on the road. The spiral still turned.
He moved in his path, the one from his mind and made his circuit. Toward mid-afternoon, he was at the gate.
As he stood by the gate, he noticed the chain was cut and on the ground. Despite the logic, he hoped someone had broken in.
He went inside and saw the doors. One open, two open, three open, four open. Clear concrete inside.
Another door, another clear concrete. Another door, another clear concrete. Then to door 124.
He had known.
He wondered who reported.
Standing there, his life gone, he sensed the gathering. They had gathered. A company, a city, a group with a goal. They had gathered.
Cleaning, revitalization, removal, restoration, other words for the pressing down on life.
He imagined the satisfaction the gathering had given. Somewhere, someone boasted. Somewhere, someone relaxed. Somewhere, someone progressed. Somewhere, someone had their life, un-gathered.
Standing, with his bag of gatherings, he looked at the result of gathering. His was benign. Theirs's was malignant.
Into a dumpster or a truck or dragged out with a machine, his life was gathered. He stood for a moment and turned away. He walked toward the fence and the easement.
He looked down the easement. It seemed to go as far as he could see. He climbed the fence, gathered his senses, and walked away.
Set Thirty One:
By the lake,
as the sun set,
the water turned,
an orange hue.
And by the shore,
the flowers bloomed,
their petals opening,
in the twilight.
In the dusk,
their yellow tones,
first turned white,
then began to glow.
Like the lake beyond,
they glowed with light,
and turned the color,
of the sun.
A Short Story
Swim in the lake day
"Today will be fun."
"You don't sound excited."
"You don't see the excitement here?"
"It's swim in the lake day. It's the first day of the year the lake is open for swimming. It's like a holiday. There should be overwhelming excitement."
"You see, there is so much excitement, that it has created a numbing sensation, and now you see, well, this less than excited look."
"That makes no sense."
"Really? It sounded reasonable."
Walking out of the apartment, carrying their bags, they walked toward the car. Sitting in the passenger seat, as her friend sang along with the song on the radio, she thought to herself, "This is such a bad idea. She's going to notice the whole, no ability to swim thing. What then?"
Her friend hit a high note, that snapped her out of her thought. As her friend went along with the melody, she kept thinking, "It's simple. Just stay in the shallow part. Do that knee bending thing, and make the water seem higher than it is. Just bounce along. Like in the three foot section of the pool. It will be fine. There should be a lot of people. Most will be in the shallow part. It should be fine."
"Oh look, there it is," her friend driving the car said.
She turned, smiled and clapped her hands.
"For some reason, you seem to celebrate sarcastically."
They pulled up to a gravel area and stopped the car.
"Look at all the people already out there. It's only eight in the morning," she said to her friend.
"See? It's swim in the lake day. People, other than you of course, think it's important."
"Yes, yes important. Swimming in dirty water surround by strangers. Super fun."
"Come on, you'll have a good time. It's a promise."
Both women walked toward the lake carrying their bags. They set them down on a grassy spot and took off their outer clothes and shoes. Her friend had a yellow bathing suit and she had an orange one.
"Come on let's go," her friend shouted as she ran toward a dock on the lake.
She walked after her thinking, "This is such a bad idea."
The morning went well. It was just like she thought it would be. Most people were in the shallow part of the lake near the shore. They were jumping off of docks, playing with beach balls, and chasing each other about. Little kids yelled and shouted and bigger ones played games.
Her friend and she were in an area near the shore. Her friend swam different strokes up and down around her, and she moved about in the water. She went under a few times, and came up somewhere else, to give the illusion of swimming.
The only hiccup, was when her friend tried to get her to jump from a swinging rope that was tied to a tree near shore. She had to insist it didn't seem safe. Eventually, her friend did it without her as she stayed floating off to one side.
At around noon, the two got out of the lake to have lunch. As they ate mandarin oranges, her friend said, "You see those rocks over there?"
"Behind them, where those trees are, there is like a little lagoon. Nobody goes there. It's great. The rocks there were cut by water and there are all sorts of arches and little tunnels to swim through. The whole place is divided into little pools. There are all sorts of green plants and bright flowers by the shore, and there are lilies in the water. It's like an oasis."
She thought for a moment to herself, "This sounds great. Little pools are safe. Little pools aren't deep. Nothing bad can happen in an oasis." She said, "It sounds like fun, we'll go after we eat."
After the two ate, and packed their things, they started to walk around the lake. Her friend said as they went along, "We can go in the water there, and swim to where the rocks are."
For a moment she was frightened. She looked at the place where they were to go into the water and where the rocks were. It was far enough that the water wouldn't be shallow. She wondered how deep it would be. The place was off to one side of the lake and not out in the open. She hoped it would be alright. She was five foot six, and thought that she would be okay as long as the water didn't get above five feet.
As they got closer, she could feel herself panic. She decided, that if it got too deep, that she would say she had a cramp. They had just eaten, and she had always heard that you could get a cramp if you swam too soon after eating. She wasn't sure it was true, but thought it sounded plausible enough. She would say she had a cramp and say she need to go to shore to rest. She would think of what to do after that, if it happened.
They got to the spot where they were to go into the water. He friend said, "Come on, let's get in here."
They both started to walk into the water. A quarter of the way to the rocks, the water got to be two feet deep. Her friend started to swim and said, "Come on."
She stood as tall as she could and walked toward the rocks. The depth increased gradually. About half way there, the water was three feet deep.
In another quarter of the way, the water got to be four feet deep. She wondered how deep it would be in the lagoon. She had assumed it would be shallower, but now she wasn't sure.
Suddenly, the bottom feel from under her. In an instant the water was up to her chin. She gasped and then tried to calm down. She saw her friend swimming ahead of her. She was almost at the rocks.
She pressed her feet on the bottom and stood up on her toes. She kicked off and moved forward. After a few kicks, despite being on her toes, the water was again to her chin.
Her friend was out of the water, sitting on the rocks. She said, "Hey come on. Just swim over, you're almost there. The little pools are just on the other side."
She was trying to think of what to do. If the water got any deeper before she got to the rocks, she couldn't make it. She thought it would be strange though to say she had a cramp at this point. Even if she did, she was much closer to the rocks than to the shore. Her friend would just tell her to swim on and rest on the rocks.
As she tried to think, she felt the water get lower. There seemed to be a slope up to the rocks after the drop off. She was able to stand normally and tried to move forward like she was swimming. When she got to the rocks, the water was about four feet deep.
As she pulled herself up, her friend said, "Come on, once we get behind those trees, we will be there."
They walked along the rocks and stepped into the pool. The water was only about two feet deep. When they got passed the place, she saw what her friend was talking about.
The place was beautiful. It was like something from a park. There were rocks all around that were flat and smooth. There were little pools that connected to each other. In some of the deeper looking pools, there were rocks that looked sculpted. There were arches and different shapes.
Around the little ponds, there were plants everywhere. There were pads in the water and plants around the rocks. Things were green and flowers were blooming. There were all sorts of colors.
"Isn't it great?" Her friend asked.
"Yes, you were right. Why aren't there a lot of people here?"
"Well, there's nowhere to park a car on that side of the lake and most people stay near the shore where we were. A boat can't get in here, so boaters don't find it, and most people don't want to swim this far. It's nice because it keeps it secluded."
Her friend got off a rock she was on and slipped into a pool. She swam gracefully in and went from one to another. She went under an arch to one pool and then seemed to disappear. She came out on the other side of a rock in another pool.
"This is great. There are all sorts of little places to explore and tunnels like that one. It's like a place where you could find gems or treasure if you just kept looking."
She slipped into the water. It wasn't deep, only about two and a half feet. The bottom felt smooth and she moved along easily. She went from pool to pool after her friend. When she got to where the tunnel was, she was scared for a moment, but tried to think of it like a roller coaster.
She felt down with her hand to the top of the tunnel and when she found it, she closed her eyes, took a breath, and held her noise.
She felt the tunnel in the darkness. She knew it wasn't more than two feet from the size of the rock above and she felt the bottom with her free hand. She pulled herself forward, and in a moment, she could feel the edge of the tunnel. She pulled herself out with a tug and then popped up out of the water, and gasped for breath.
"You are so silly. There's nothing to be afraid of in those tunnels. None of the ones around here are more than a few feet long. Come on, let's go relax over there."
They moved along and came to spot that seemed to have a natural stone bench in the water. They both sat down and leaned back.
After a moment, her friend said, "You know, we should just live here."
"No more apartment?"
"Who needs an apartment, when you have this? The little pools make natural rooms. There's all sorts of places in the rocks to store stuff, and there's even a little cave behind us, where we could have our primary dwelling."
"You've thought this out," she said, laughing.
"Oh, yes, the cave thing is really cool. It has ledges where we could have our beds and like make a kitchen and stuff. You want to go see?"
"Don't you have to have a license to show me property?" She asked jokingly.
"Feel free to report me if you want. Come on roomie, let us go."
Her friend pulled herself up on the rock and started to walk along it. She said, "Follow me here. We have to go along this area, and then across those rocks there. There's a fallen tree and some rocks and then a deep pool. We swim into the pool and through a tunnel. When you come out, you are in the cave."
Her friend walked along the rocks. She pulled herself out of the water and followed. In a moment, after a turn, they came to the fallen tree. Her friend said, "Be careful going across it, it can be slippery."
As her friend moved along the tree, she stepped slowly onto it. There felt like there was moss or something on it, and she was worried that she would slip. Her friend moved along at a steady pace.
When her friend got near the end of the tree, she thought for a moment and then asked, "Hey, how deep is that pool we are coming to?" She hadn't thought about it, but now she wondered what she would do in it and with the tunnel.
Her friend turned to answer, and as she did, she slipped on the tree. She spun around, fell, and her leg hit some rocks that were past the tree. As she did, she tumbled and fell over the rocks and into the deep pool.
She gasped for a moment, and as quickly as she could she moved to the end of the tree and to the rocks. She couldn't see her friend. The pool was dark blue and looked still.
She reached her arm into the water and called out for her friend. There was no answer.
She called again, but again there was no answer.
She held onto the rocks on the side and lowered herself into the pool. She thought she would touch the bottom, but as she dropped in, her feet didn't touch anything. She plunged into the water and panicked.
As she fell, she couldn't feel the bottom. She started to flail her arms and legs. She breathed in some water and started to flail more. In an instant, she burst out of the water and her head was above the surface.
She gasped and started to go under again. She swung her arms about and hit the side of the rocks. It hurt her arm, but as she hit the rocks, she grabbed on. She pulled herself toward them and threw her other arm over the rocks and held the top of herself out of the water.
She started to catch her breath, when she heard a noise behind her.
Her friend's head popped out of the water past the center of the pool. She could see blood on her forehead.
Her friend said in a weak voice, "Help. Help. My arm. My leg. Swim here."
She held onto the rocks with her good arm, and reached out with her bad one. She wasn't even close. She tried to stretch out her legs, but that did not do better. She said, "Swim here."
"Help. Please. Everything's dizzy."
After her friend spoke, she went under the water for a moment and then came back up.
Holding onto the rock, she didn't know what to do. She couldn't swim to her friend and she was too far from any of the rocks to be able to reach her from them. She thought about breaking a tree branch, but wasn't sure she could.
She panicked and pulled herself out of the water. Her friend gasped, "Help. Please."
She looked at her friend, paused, and then turned around. She walked on the rocks and went to the tree.
Her friend yelled out, "Where are you going?"
She scurried along the tree and got to the rocks on the other side.
"Don't leave. Where are you going? Don't leave me," she heard her friend shout.
She didn't know what to do. She knew she couldn't save her friend and that she had to get help. It occurred to her as she stepped onto the bench and into the pool, that she should stop and go back. She thought she should tell her friend that she was getting help. She didn't want her friend to think she had abandoned her.
As she moved across the pool and came to the tunnel, she thought that turning back would just waste time. She thought that she needed to get help for her friend. She could explain things once someone helped her.
She got to the rocks on the other side of the pool, reached down, and felt the tunnel. Without holding her noise, she took a breath, and pulled herself down. She quickly went through the tunnel and came out the other side.
She moved as quickly as she could in the next pool, went under the arch to the pool before it and then climbed on the rocks that were there.
She then went into the next shallow pool, past the trees and got to the rocks that were at the open part of the lake.
She stood on the rocks and waved her arms and shouted, "Help! Help!" to the crowd that was by the other shore.
She jumped up and down and shouted again, "Help! Help!"
It took a moment, but she caught someone's eye. When that person noticed, others did and soon there was a group swimming out to where she was.
The first person that got close was on a paddle board. She shouted to them, "My friend. She's hurt. She might drown. Please help."
The swimmers got closer.
"So what happened?" An officer who just arrived asked one who had been there for some time.
"It seems a girl drowned."
"She came here with her friend. They came across the pools and rocks there. You know, it's a nice place. Anyway, she slipped and hurt herself and fell in the water."
"Did she drown right away?"
"No. She was hurt but was able to get to the surface. Her friend was on the rocks and she called to her for help."
"Did she try to help her?"
"She couldn't swim. The pool was too deep. She went back to where the lagoon opens into the lake and called for help. By the time someone got back here, her friend was dead."
"Wow. So it seems like an accident? You know, no foul play, or anything?"
"No, nothing like that. She seems like she is telling the truth. The injuries on the body seem to be from a fall. They'll be an official investigation; it should say the same thing. This was just a horrible accident. Besides all that, that crying girl over there seems way too broken up to have done anything to hurt her friend."
"Yeah. Having your friend die is bad enough, but not being able to help, you know, just having to see her and try and run for help, that's seems heavy."
"That's not all of it. From what she says, she seems to think her dead friend thinks she betrayed her. It's crushing her even more."
"Why would she think that?"
"From what she says, her friend was there, gasping in the water, screaming for help, and the last thing she sees is her friend, who she thought could swim, running away. Imagine you being the one on the rocks. Imagine you were the one who had to run away. How would that hit you?"
"Yeah, that does seem like a lot."
"A counselor will be coming by. They'll send her to talk to one. They'll try to get her to see that this was just an accident and there was nothing she could do. Seeing her there though, who knows how much it will help. She'll probably blame herself for the rest of her life."