Authors: Dan Glover
Books by Dan Glover
Water and Stone
Lila’s Child: An Inquiry Into Quality
The Art of Caring: Zen Stories
The Mystery: Zen Stories
The Lazy Way to 100,000 Twitter Followers
The Gathering of Lovers series
Tom Three Deer
The Mermaid series
There Come a Bad Cloud: Tangled up Matter and Ghosts
Mi Vida Dinámica
Water and Stone
Published by Lost Doll Publishing
All Rights Reserved
All the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to the living or to the dead is entirely coincidental.
"Limitless life, the perfect possession."
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius
She loathed the smell of the whorehouse.
The stench reminded Evalena of the cellar where she cowered while they butchered her father and though she often sprinkled drops of cologne about her room the squalid odor of sex and diseased ass still seeped through underneath the crack of the door even permeating the walls.
Not a prostitute, even though men often treated her like one—at least the men who didn't know better—when they saw her walking the hallways on the way to the room she kept on the third floor, they often tried cajoling her into having sex with them. Once, a drunken cowpoke waylaid her in a darkened alley but when he pawed Evalena without her permission he fell to the ground beset by a fit of tremors. Later she heard rumors that the man's left arm—the one he touched her with—had shriveled into nothing but a stick.
He'd gotten off easy.
She stayed on because the bordello felt safe. No one thought to look for her in a place of ill repute, and many people in the world would love to see Evalena dead thus ending the curse upon their families and loved ones that had raged for so long.
She did not forgive easily. She knew it for a weakness yet at the same time she clung to her hate like a warm and wooly blanket against the onslaught of the wild winds of winter. It gave her comfort to know those who had taken from her the one thing that ever loved her would rot for an eternity in a hell of their own making.
They couldn't run from it for the curse would follow them everywhere... they couldn't make amends with the past being final... they could only accept their fate but no one wanted to die... not like that... nor did they wish to watch as their family and friends succumbed one after another to only the worst of the world's evils and injuries—often self-inflicted—that were all too often too gruesome to believe.
Though she knew all along where her sister lived Evalena sensed the time wasn't yet ripe for their reunion. Upon a winter's past she had gone to Texas crossing the Rio Grande at a low water time drawn by omens in the darkening sky and written upon the icy winds and seen in the shapes of countless murders of crows and storms unlooked for. It'd been the time when the boy was born.
The boy would be the ruin of them all. If only she had the courage she would've taken him by the feet and pummeled him to death upon the iron stove and buried him beneath the dirt floor of the decrepit cabin where Yani made her home.
She could've ended it all the night of his birth but something stayed her hand. Perhaps it was their destiny to die after suffering myriad indignities as they toiled through the moil and the mayhem and the murder wrought by the boy... she didn't have true insight into the future... no one did... she could only read the omens and interpret them in her own fashion.
She stayed three nights... Yani lived in a tiny shack—no more than a chabola, really, a shanty, and ill-fitted to keep the north Texas cold at bay—without even the scant amenities offered at the whorehouse... no electricity, no running water, and little else to eat but rice and beans.
Located on a ranch called the Triple Six, that too seemed a special sort of sign to Evalena though she knew she should consult the bones before making too much to do about the strangely named place. She'd forgotten many of the old ways during the years of her wandering the wilderness and searching for that which was her birthright and yet withheld.
Her eye itched the night she arrived at the chabola as if trying to tell her something... not the eye she saw the light of the world with... the other eye, the one which saw the darkness... the one she kept covered so as not to alarm anyone. The eye patch she wore acted as a sort of one-way mirror... she had fashioned it herself so that she could see out but the world couldn’t see in.
Her life hadn’t always been as now. Once she lived as a normal girl... as normal as anyone could be who knew of the beginning... who witnessed the creation of that wicked and wondrous part of humanity... the more beautiful part, or perhaps the more sordid.
Her fathers taught her well. In their hands even sand became a powerful tool to be used with care. In her mind—still entrenched within the innocence of youth—a single grain of sand was nothing, a minor irritation, a plaything and nothing more.
She'd been mistaken. That granule of sand took her eye, changed it into that which could see the other side, and left her marked for life. Still, it was a mistake she didn't regret making.
Something whispered to her that the baby should die... the boy's mother had been marked by water and stone and if the little boy lived the persecution would only continue following him and all his descendants. Looking at them together Evalena wondered if she perhaps should've hunted down Yani years ago killing her before taking her own life, thus ending the cycle started so long ago.
They were the last survivors, she and her sister... and now there was the boy. But what if she was wrong? Another lineage might yet live somewhere in the world, unknown even to her... would the stone find its way to them, or had it done so already? She had no means of discovering the truth without the possibility of gazing into the piedra once more.
Just before his disappearance she had finally opened up to the last man she called father about their ancestors and their destinies as written in the bones under their feet and the stars whirling bright and frightening over their heads. As she spoke the firelight crackled off his face making him look particularly sinister and it bothered her the way he gazed at her though she couldn’t quite understand why.
"Ours is a two-pronged heritage, my darling father... we're both blessed by the stone and cursed with it."
"But the piedra takes care of us, Evalena."
"Yes, father... but have you ever counted the price?"
"Maybe it'd be better for us to have never lived, Evalena, but since we do, isn't it better yet to live well?"
"I suppose that depends upon what you mean by living well, father."
"We want for nothing, Evalena."
"Nor do our neighbors, father."
"But they live in poverty... surely they must want for a great deal."
"Open your eyes, father."
"We live in a fine home, Evalena, while our neighbors live in squalor. Would you switch places with them?"
"In a heartbeat, father... the piedra we carry haunts us. Don't you feel it too?"
"I only feel the blessings it bestows, Evalena."
"You haven’t lived long enough, father."
"I've seen the suffering all around us, Evalena."
"That type of misery is easy to see. What you've yet to comprehend is the uncounted cost of our desires."
"If the stone's such an evil thing, give it to me, Evalena. I'll hide it away where no one will ever find it again."
And so, in one of her most powerful moments, she gave away the piedra... he took the stone as if of his own choosing to do so, though she alone allowed it.
Her fathers had to choose to do her bidding... it was the way of the piedra that she couldn't force them. On the other hand, she gave them no choice. She tended to think of them as all one person... one father... yet there were many. The thing she carried changed them all... she'd never hurt even one of them purposely. All of it had been necessary.
She dreamed of her sister for three nights running, always the same vision. Yani and her boy Willem were hiding out in the old chabola from a particularly vicious storm threatening to blow the roof right off the shack: the rain coming down so hard and fast that rivers formed in the dry gulches surrounding the shanty. Great geysers shot up out of the ground flooding all the land as far as she could see.
The little chabola seemed but an island floating upon a vast inland sea with the intimidating winds seeking to capsize it at any moment. Yani called out for help but the storm tore her voice away the moment she opened her mouth. No one came to her sister's rescue, not even the man who implanted his seed inside her belly and then left her alone to fend for herself.
"She needs me again. Yani and her boy require my presence."
Since there was no one else around she spoke to herself. Waking upon the third morning Evalena knew she was being called... that her time in Mexico was done. She'd been waiting for the day when the signs were right and now she felt ready.
Her whorehouse days were at an end... she could sell the place—there were plenty of buyers—but money meant nothing... it was only an anchor which in the end would weigh her down and keep her from her destiny... plus she might yet need the place.
She'd seen how simply Yani lived and envy blossomed in her heart: a strange notion, to covet that which no one in their right mind wanted: poverty. Yet being poor like her sister lent the girl an anonymity that Evalena cherished... she too wanted to be nobody, a wraith blowing in the winds of night.
Needing nothing more than the clothes on her back Evalena walked out of the whorehouse for the last time and pointed her toes north.
Not a single soul awaited him.
Had they all forgotten? More likely, they'd never been there at all... maybe everyone he knew and loved and even those he hated and despised were nothing but convenient fictions evaporating the second he left them behind... back into the ether from which he conjured them.
In his more disjointed moments Church sometimes wondered about the lives of other people, those who he didn't know and who he'd never meet and who existed in another realm quite apart and separate from his. Were those folks actually real? How'd he know one way or another?
Maybe the whole world existed as nothing but rumor and innuendo, a conglomeration of specious truths told to enchant children in order to sooth their fears and salve the pain of knowing everyone died alone in their own particular hell.
He'd traveled hard and fast for over twenty four hours stopping only for essentials like buying gasoline for the old pickup truck and peeing by the side of the road all the while hoping to see his mother once more—he felt a pull the only way a son could, like she needed him—but when he arrived at the hacienda an emptiness greeted him as still as a mausoleum.
He'd been away for too long. The depths of autumn bore down on the land when he left and now a new spring blossomed all about him... or had it been longer? Rather than months, perhaps years had passed him by. Somehow he'
d lost all reckoning of time.
Mexico had a way of stealing the moments away one by one until he gave up trying to keep track of the days and the weeks and even the months and years flying past and finally building into a miasma of dreams but half-remembered.
The ranch looked far older than he remembered it, worn around the edges from long neglect. Being empty lent the landscape a faintly sinister air as if the ghosts of its former inhabitants were still prowling in the shadows waiting to ambush the unwary, to subdue them to their enticingly unholy charms.
Walking to the front door Church could smell the odor of new violets trampled under the weight of his cowboy boots mingling with the scent of red roses sprouting thorny and thick and unruly while climbing upon the broken wooden trellises that rotted yet still hung onto some semblance of life before like everything else in the world eventually fading back to the obscurity from which they'd been created.
Standing at the threshold he remembered the first time he visited the fine and fancy ranch house... how Billy Ford had taken him by the hand leading him through the enormous mansion of a house room by room showing off the myriad treasures lurking around each corner but not in a pompous way... rather, the boy seemed to be showing Church what he thought might well be rightfully his too.
There hadn't been any animosity between the brothers, only love, so at first he didn’t believe it when Church heard of Billy's death as well as their father's some time after the fact. By happenstance or perhaps destiny he had run into one of the Triple Six migrant workers in the small village where Church purchased his meager supplies.
The man who went by the name of Hector Ramirez in Texas and Juan Garcia in Mexico broke into tears when he saw Church and between the sobs wracking the poor man's body he told the boy how both father and son were dead and buried.
"There must be some mistake, Senor Garcia... Rancher Ford is one of the healthiest men I ever met.... and Billy's just a boy... how could they both be dead? How did you come by this news?"
"I was there, Senor Church. I bore witness to everything."
Weeds of guilt blossomed around Church as he realized the man spoke a truth too horrible to grasp at first. Hector's long moment of silence allowed Church to gather his feelings, a kindness to be treasured.
Over the years he noticed how Billy Ford fell into the habit of roughly ordering the hired help about as if their feelings counted for nothing. Instead Church sought to cultivate respect by first giving it... not by treating the workers as underlings or even as equals but as superiors.
He often wondered if perhaps the differences between the boys and their demeanor were found in the manner they each came of age... Billy grew up used to wallowing in wealth while Church forever prized his poverty.
"Tell me more, Senor Garcia... por favor."
"For many weeks Senor Ford grew sicklier... your mother did her best to doctor him but the disease of the kidneys with which he became afflicted had no cure. Billy Ford grew sick too... but in a different way."
"How do you mean, Senor Garcia?"
"The words blowing in the wind claimed how his illness had more to do with the propensities of the heart... your aunt Evalena did nothing to alleviate his ailment. I think she just added to it but that is only my poor and humble opinion and nothing more."
"And Senor Ford... did he suffer much?"
"He was a man, Senor Church, and to see that ripped away from him must have caused him great anguish."
"When did all this happen, Senor Garcia?"
"Nearly nine months ago, Senor Church. No one knew where to look for you."
"I've been here."
The words sounded too much like an excuse but Juan Garcia slowly shook his head as if accepting them at face value and not delving beneath the surface.
"Forgive me for heaping upon your head such terrible news, Senor Church... your mother did us the honor of hiring myself as well as five other compañeros to build caskets for the Fords, and to bury them."
"Where is their final resting place, Senor Garcia?"
"Your mother desired their remains be kept upon the Triple Six... I helped to lay those men frail as they were in their ill-fitted coffins."
"I should have been there."
Hector shrugged his shoulders as if both acknowledging Church's sins while absolving them too the way only a man of similar circumstance could do.
"Your mother was there and it made no difference, Senor Church."
"Where did you bury them, Senor Garcia?"
"Just off the road at the end of the south section, Senor Church... we dug their graves by hand in that little gulch by the yellow light of the moon and laid them both to rest early in the morning before the sun yet rose so no one could see what had occurred but us."
"Thank you, Senor Garcia. Thank you for being of service to my family in their time of need. How can I ever repay you?"
"Live long enough to see that witch inside her grave too, Senor Church... now, I must go before I say more."
Church headed home immediately, but still, it proved too late. As he traveled the dusty back roads of Mexico he thought of how he'd been gone far too long.
The tale Juan Garcia told rattled his nerves and though the man made no mention of exactly how Billy Ford died from the way he spoke Church couldn’t help but suspect his aunt was somehow behind everything.
The final words of Juan Garcia kept running through his mind. He knew without asking who the witch was yet Church sensed making payment to Hector might be far more difficult than either of them imagined.
Crossing the border into the United States was as easy as fording the Rio Grande. The river seemed to run low during fall and winter and even early spring or perhaps that was how it always was.
The dirt road upon which he traveled ran right into the wide water and took up again on the other side. The river, no more than six inches deep, he crossed easily even in the old Ford pickup truck with bald tires and the straight six only running on five cylinders.
Church half expected border patrol agents to descend upon him but the land north of the river seemed as deserted and barren as back in Mexico. Looking up at the sky he noticed hawks and crows flying back and forth across the border as if it didn’t even exist.
Then again, maybe it didn’t.
The made-up laws governing people and countries were somehow inadequate out in the dry parched lands inhabited only by lizards and snakes and an occasional coyote skinny and hungry yet seemingly undaunted at the dim future that ran out in front of it like a bad vision come true.
Back at the Triple Six he noticed all the ranch hands had vanished along with the livestock. Even the roosters must have secretly pledged allegiance to silence or perhaps they had been made into stew. It seemed as if a plague of forgetfulness had swept over the bone-dry land leaving nothing but death in its wake.
He mourned the loss of his ponies the most. He found himself involuntarily feeling in his shirt pocket for the packets of sugar he always kept handy. Had he said goodbye to them? Probably... but then again he hadn’t planned on being gone so long, and besides, would they have understood their parting was final?
He didn't know and now, too late to find out one way or another, he supposed like him they too had a path to travel and in the end only doom waited for them all.
Lorraine Ford had ceased her nocturnal visits, or perhaps like all the others the woman had never been there at all... only a figment of his overactive imagination like the rest of the people in the world. During the past months he had grown to depend upon her words of wisdom. Without her, he felt as lost as a dog dumped alone in the middle of sagebrush territory.
After satisfying himself the hacienda truly stood empty and taking the tired old pickup truck on a ride out to the south quarter of the Triple Six and in a little hollow hidden from the road he found two fresh graves dug into the hardpan with a white wooden cross apiece planted in the loose soil.
Looking up into the sky it seemed to Church the blue he saw was somehow harder than before and more uncaring than ever. The land empty and barren, and the heavens, not even a bird could be seen and the tepid breeze blowing over him smelled dry and brittle like it had never known moisture.
Someone had taken a black magic marker to write the names Billy Ford on one cross and Rancher Ford on the other. The dust still piled in mounds like blankets covering the sleeping dead and testifying to the ongoing drought the wind seemed to ripple the unsettled mantles like something beneath yet lived. Though he wasn’t a religious man Church stood mutely saying a prayer over each plot before climbing back into the truck and heading into town.
The sign hanging from the doorknob to Peter Brown's office said: closed on Sunday... Church had forgotten all about the days. Down in Mexico they ran together like water, holding no more meaning than the wind or non-existent borders and people he never knew.
Peter Brown, the only real estate attorney in Guthrie, had always handled all Rancher Ford's affairs... Church thought that'd be the best place to start in finding out what had happened at the Triple Six... how it came to be deserted.
Standing in front of the locked office door and wondering what to do next an invisible cloud carrying the heady fragrance of chicken fried steak wafted up the street as if meant only for him.
For the first time in what seemed like years an intense hunger pulled at his guts so he followed the scent to its source... the only greasy spoon in town... the Whole Thing... masquerading as a restaurant during the day and like a demented Cinderella morphing into a sordid drinking club at night.
When he entered the dingy diner with the air still morning cool though the heat was already building outside and walked down the aisle to a vacant booth hunkering under green and flickering fluorescent lights while simultaneously nodding at people he knew all his life everyone seemed to shun him like he had some dread disease that he might pass onto them if he came too close. They leaned into one another whispering in hushed tones that he couldn’t quite make out but the way they stared at him he knew who they were discussing.
He sauntered across the room tasting the grease in the air and feeling the floor slick with it under his boots as he stood beside a booth yet to be cleared of the dishes of those before him. He couldn’t help noticing how one of the waitresses—a girl named Teresa Patterson who he'd gone to school with—looked at him and turned white like a low creek fog... as if she had seen a ghost.
Perhaps that was what he was now... a wraith back from the days of the dead. Looking into the mirror mounted upon the wall he noticed for the first time how thin he'd grown and how haggard. He felt suddenly embarrassed.
He remembered how he had an enormous crush on Teresa Patterson while they were growing up together but he had always been too shy to talk to her. Now she approached him wide-eyed while holding a menu to the side of her head to block sight of what she was saying from the other patrons in the restaurant.
A vision of the kids at school teasing Teresa arose in his mind's eye... they were the same cruel children who used to berate him over things he couldn’t help. He was used to their taunts but it always set his nerves on edge to hear them calling Teresa Patterson a crack whore and other names not nearly as nice.
Being so tall and thin like a stick one of the boys in a typical fit of meanness began calling Teresa a tree and the name stuck. Soon all the kids were calling her Tree. But in fact, Teresa Patterson turned the tables on them all by taking on the nickname as she began referring to herself as Tree. It wasn’t long before everyone called her by that name... all except the teachers who seemed to think it derogatory.
Now, when she leaned over the table to talk to him he couldn’t help but stare at her pleasantly plump breasts bursting out of her low-cut uniform top and wishing that one more button might come undone. When she put a hand across her chest as if she might have noticed what he was doing he blushed while averting his eyes.