A day laborer hired to clean up a flooded creek outside of Boulder, Colorado uncovers what could be a valuable find—if it doesn’t kill him first.
It was just a day-labor gig. Really, the only reason I’d signed on was because, for insurance reasons, hiring on meant getting fitted for a brand-new pair of lace-up Red Wing boots. It was new policy that summer. Some punk from a few months before had come back and sued the owners for how his right foot had gotten caught up under the tread of a little ditch witch. He’d argued he was going to have a game foot the rest of his life, and that would impact future employment, happiness, his dreams of being a kicker for the Broncos—everything, to the tune of a few hundred thousand dollars.
Before anyone else could ease what they considered their least important foot in the way of any of the equipment, it was new boots all around—composite toes, ankle support—and all you had to do to lace those boots on was sign papers that, since your feet were now protected, you and you alone would be legally liable for them.
After this story, I’d asked if there was a similar reason for the helmets we all had to wear, and the back braces, and the gloves, but instead of an answer I got a cuff on the shoulder and a push away into the day’s work, which was cleaning out a creek bed.
We were north of Boulder that day, on the slant up to Longmont. And I have no clue why this creek bed was getting our attention. It felt like busy work, really. As near as I could tell, every waterway for miles in every direction was clogged with trash from the flood three years before. Maybe the water had been backing up in a way that was threatening to swamp Diagonal Highway, I don’t know. It was a job. There were eleven of us clocking in every morning round about lunch, clocking out just before dark.
Three days into it, we’d found a car door, a Styrofoam head we guessed had once held a wig, and a whole waterlogged library. Seriously, like somebody upstream had seen the flood coming and plopped down on their back porch with a pile of books, Frisbeed them out into the water one by one.
We were piling the junk on heavy-duty trash tarps a truck with a crane could lift out later. It wasn’t easy work, but it was good work. Good enough.
Forty yards upstream from us was the real crew, using heavy equipment to haul up the heavy sludge, roll up the dead brush, pull down whatever trees had been undercut by the water, were about to fall over, turn the whole area into a swamp.
I was working alongside Burned Dan when I felt his stillness, followed where he was looking: upstream, the big dozer was chained to a monster willow, pulling it down, away from the creek, which wasn’t the way it wanted to go. But, by slow degrees, and with a lot of shaking and jerking, it went.
We were all watching by the time it finally whooshed down.
Burned Dan shook his head in wonder, rubbed his bandanna across his face—not a pocket-bandanna or old man’s handkerchief, but the bandanna he wore like a train robber, since his leathery skin didn’t take to the sun so much anymore. Between his long sleeves and wide hat, gloves and bandannas, he was pretty safe from getting burned again, I figured.
“Bet that root pan stinks,” the Reverend said to us all.
I don’t think he was really a reverend, but it’s not like I was the high school football star I’d taken to claiming either. We all gave each other a lot of latitude. That’s how it goes with day laboring. You’re always your best self, just down on your luck a bit, only here for a week, maybe two, until your real thing comes through.
“Thirty more minutes and quit,” Jake boomed out when he saw us admiring the pulled-over willow. He was our crew’s ramrod. You could tell from how straight his back was, from the stick up his ass.
We bent to it, dredging and scraping, splashing and coughing, making a path from the creek to the afternoon’s blue tarp.
Once a silver flash bulleted past my right Red Wing, but I didn’t say “trout” to anyone, kept that fish secret, if it had even been real.
Thirty minutes later, that five o’clock whistle blowing a couple hours late, my uncle’s unregistered Buick fell into its usual routine of refusing to start, and I was the only one still parked in the pullout. I sloped back down to the creek to splash my face, consider my life, and all the decisions I’d made to get me to this point.
Burned Dan was standing there with his back to the water. He was looking out across Diagonal Highway. But I didn’t think he was really seeing it.
“You good?” I asked him.
He finally checked back in to the world, dragged his dark eyes around to me.
“Chessup,” he said. It’s my last name, what everybody’d taken to calling me, like they were all playing coach to the football player I’d never been.
“Got to get a battery,” I explained, nodding downstream to the dozer.
My idea was to haul it over to the Buick, jump it to life, then leave the car idling, get the battery back in place. No harm, no foul.
Burned Dan shrugged like what was stopping me, then.
I trudged on down there. The dozer was still chained to the tree it had felled, the chain long enough that the crown of the tree wouldn’t crash down on whoever’d been throttling the dozer up. I touched the chain and it was tight enough it sung, and I imagined jumping up onto it, walking its length like I was still in high school, was never going to fall.
That was ten-years-ago Chessup, though.
This Chessup, he crawled awkwardly up onto the dozer, looking for the battery tray, then cussed and spit when he needed a wrench to loosen the strap across the battery’s middle. It’s usually just a wing nut, easy to crank off with your fingers, but maybe equipment left overnight gets looted.
When there were no tools on the tractor, I walked the length of the chain down to the tree, where one of the little runabouts was parked. Digging through its clatter of tools, though, I started to feel…I guess you could call it “not alone”?
I turned slow, expected Burned Dan to be watching me from the tree’s gnarled root pan. For all I knew he slept rough out here, was saving money that way. He smelled like he was living outdoors, anyway. Either that or a cemetery.
It wasn’t Burned Dan watching me, but I was right about the dead: there was a pale white skull locked in the tangle of roots and dirt that hadn’t seen sunlight for…since this tree was a baby, right?
I fell back, pushed farther away with my heels.
The skull just stared, kept staring, its jaw loose below it, just connected on one side.
Once my eyes adjusted and my heart fluttered down some, I made out the rest of the skeleton, woven in and out of the wood.
“Hey there,” I said to the dead man, or woman, or whatever.
It stared back at me, its mouth locked in a decades-long scream.
I sat up higher, looking for Burned Dan.
When he was nowhere, I approached the root pan. It was taller than me by half. This tree had been standing for…a hundred years? At least. Meaning this skeleton was older than that by a little bit.
A dollar sign ka-chinged distantly in my head, and when I centered on it the slot machine of my hopes opened, clattering possibility down into my throat.
What would someone pay for an old-ass skeleton like this, right? From the Wild West, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, whenever? Sure, I could tell Jake, and he could call in the state, the university, the historians. But, more to the point I could feel myself coming to, what would a pawnbroker in Denver pay a scrub like me for this skeleton? Three hundred? More?
I forgot about the battery.
Forty minutes later, using a denim jacket that had been covering the torn seat in the dozer, I’d bagged up probably eighty percent of the skeleton, having to work each bone out from the wood that had claimed it. There were some finger bones lost, some toes, and I can’t imagine I got much of the wrist, but it’s not like pawnbrokers have anatomy books under the counter for these kinds of transactions. Anyway, it was the skull that would really matter. Touching it had made me aware of the bone beneath the skin of my own cheek.
I was just tying the sun-bleached sleeves of the jacket over the bundle when a shadow fell across me.
“What you got there?” Burned Dan asked, stepping past me to inspect the dark raw dirt in this root pan.
“Rocks,” I told him, tying the jacket tighter, kind of trying to hide it with my shadow. “My uncle’s new wife—she wants like a border for their tomatoes, I don’t know.”
“Rocks,” Burned Dan repeated, rubbing his hand over the crumbling dirt of the root pan he was right up against now, then turning, to see the creek from this angle. Then, moving his head slow, he panned over to where the dozer was parked. “The water used to run over there,” he said like a fact, then nodded to himself, added, “Bet it did, I mean.”
I looked with him, shrugged.
“Sure, why not,” I said, standing with my winning lotto ticket, my rattly paycheck.
“Battery in there?” Burning Dan asked, meaning pretty much he knew it wasn’t, and, like I had to, I imagined slinging the jacket forward, its weight knocking him senseless. But the next thing after that would be me holding his head underwater, then burying him upstream, where we’d already cleaned everything out.
I didn’t try to swing the bundle.
“I’ll split it with you,” I offered.
He eased over and I held the sleeves of the jacket apart so he could see the bones.
He didn’t touch, just looked. Then, curiously, he looked past me, to the mountains, like seeing an old jumbled skeleton made him suddenly have to get an exact read on his position.
“Almost dark,” he said.
“Little bit more,” I said about the part of the sun still showing.
“Soon enough,” he told me, still clocking the postcard foothills over Boulder.
I shrugged, didn’t need to get involved in an argument this stupid.
“Bad luck to steal from the dead,” he said, finally coming back to me.
“This isn’t ‘from,’” I explained. “This is the dead.”
He chuckled, could appreciate that.
“Trade,” he said. “My next check for them.” For the bones.
I looked down to them.
We’d been working the same hours, so I knew he was talking about two hundred dollars tomorrow. Or, two hundred if he actually showed up to sign the check over.
“They’re all broken up anyway,” he said about my stolen bones.
“How do I know you show up tomorrow?” I said back.
“And this too,” he said, unhitching his belt and whipping it out from its loops. He worked the buckle off. It was turquoise set in dull silver. “Fifty dollars there,” he said. “Easy.”
I turned the buckle over, imagining all the backsplash pee I was probably touching.
“How’d you get all…?” I said, motioning to the up and down of him, his scars, his burns.
“That’s not for trade,” he said, his voice a register more serious.
When I shrugged like you do when negotiating, still fake-looking at the buckle like I was some buckle expert, he said, like it was no big deal, “Or I just take them, leave you with nothing.”
I kept looking at the buckle, my heart beating in my throat now. My temples.
Burned Dan was at least thirty years older than me, a kind of rode hard, put-away-smoking thirty years.
Could he still take me?
“Let’s not get all…” I said, dropping the bag between us. “What, you some amateur archaeologist or something?”
“Something,” he said back.
“And I’ll help get your car started,” he added, throwing his chin over my shoulder, to the dead Buick. “Can’t say no to that.”
He was right.
“Deal,” I told him, telling myself this was good, that my uncle would kick my ass if I took his car to Denver anyway.
Burned Dan knew how to peel the strap off the dozer’s battery without a wrench—all it took was fingers as strong as his—and, after working the clamps off the terminals, no wrench again, he hefted the battery out like it was nothing, carried it by his leg up to my Buick.
It had just turned over and caught when gravel crunched behind us. Beside me, Burned Dan’s eyes crinkled up in frustration.
“Hands, hands,” the highway patrolman now behind us said—ordered.
We kept our hands in sight.
“We need to take this second battery off,” I said, as clearly as possible. “This alternator’s jinky, can’t push charge to two at once.”
“Back away, back away,” the officer said, stepping between us and the engine’s ungainly, soon-to-overheat lope.
We let him have his room, saw that his pistol was out, kind of ramping the three of us up into a completely different space. The pistol was pointed down, sure, but it was ready to flick up the instant either of our heels caught on a rock.
“Shit,” Burned Dan said.
“I need to see your face,” the officer said to him.
“No you don’t,” Burned Dan said. “Trust me.”
“Now!” the officer said, the pistol coming up.
“We’re not stealing the battery,” I heard myself saying. “We’re just—we’re borrowing it. We were going to return it, honest.”
Adding “honest” is the way to convince people, yeah.
Day-laborer Chessup reporting for duty.
Moving slow and reluctant, Burned Dan peeled the blue bandanna down from his face, his eyes holding the officer’s for the whole reveal.
I felt bad about it, like I was peeping through a window of a hospital, but I sort of wanted to see, too.
Burned Dan’s face was…it was destroyed. Burned, yeah, but worse than just burned. I wasn’t sure what had happened to his mouth, but it looked to have involved the butt end of a two-by-four, and Dan not being able to protect his face with his hands anymore. For, like, ten minutes of that two-by-four coming down.
“Shit,” the officer said.
“Like he said,” Burned Dan said, nodding to the Buick, “we’re trying to get this coupé started.”
The officer squinted his eyes about “coupé”—me too—then looked slow from the battery to us, and finally to the equipment in deep shadow now, down at the creek.
“He with y’all?” he said.
Burned Dan’s eyes narrowed and his left hand shot out to my chest, like keeping me there. I looked past him down the slope, thought at first it was the Reverend, come back for the gross thermos he could never keep track of. But this wasn’t a man at all.
The skeleton was walking like…it was like Claymation, which made it all worse, since Claymation’s supposed to be stop-motion, fake. But the motion now, it wasn’t stopping. With each ungainly step, the skeleton was gaining flesh somehow.
“The shade,” Burned Dan hissed through his bandanna. “It’s already night down there, isn’t it?”
“Sir, sir!” the officer said to the coming-together skeleton, his pistol angled down onto it now, his head shaking no about what his eyes were seeing.
“He can’t hear you,” Burned Dan said. “Ears are about the last to form, when you’ve been down that long.”
“‘He’?” I had to say.
“Julian,” Burned Dan said, like that was the least important part of what was happening here. “He’s this old…forget it, kid.”
The officer’s pistol boomed right beside us, a stab of flame lurching out into the gathering darkness, and I actually felt the pressure from the sound wave. It left me in my own quiet, slow-motion place.
First, the shot hit the skeleton, “Julian,” in the left shoulder, and blew right through, not slowing his approach even a little.
Second, Burned Dan’s hand whipped up for the pistol, took it away from this cop, tossed it behind the Buick easy as anything. His other hand slashed forward, took the cop by the front of his uniform shirt, and threw him headfirst into his own windshield.
Third, Burned Dan looked to me, pulling the bandanna off his face so my deaf self could read his over-enunciating lips: Run.
I made the word out because I was watching so close, yeah, but it was because I was watching so close that I saw his teeth sharpening, lengthening, the enamel thrusting up from his gums more yellowy, like ivory. It made my stomach go queasy, my face cold, my thoughts kind of flattening down into an unbroken line. My body knew what to do, though: I fell back into the hood of the cop car alongside the bloody cop, and when I looked up again, Burned Dan was gone, so instead of running I cast around for where he could have got off to.
Julian too, I guess. Down the slope, he stopped and set his bone feet, waiting, his claw hands opening and closing, the new tendons there flexing for the first time. And then the flurry of motion way off to the left became Burned Dan, rushing through the brush for a sneak attack. Except Julian was watching him the whole way. Burned Dan gathered speed all the same, running faster than I would have given him credit for, and when he barreled into Julian, driving him back, where they came down was in the shallows of the creek.
Burned Dan drew his hand back to come at Julian’s face, and it wasn’t a fist anymore, like I’d been expecting. His hand wasn’t closed but open, because he had claws at the end of his fingers now.
If Julian had more flesh, those claws might have done some actual damage. Julian’s claws did what they were supposed to, though. After Burned Dan’s slashing drove his face down hard enough to have broken a horse’s neck, Julian snapped his head back up, the one eye that was formed nearly glittering with joy, it looked like.
His right hand came up into Burned Dan’s gut, then splashed out his back, fingers extended in what I took to be the most extreme pleasure.
It didn’t stop there, either. He kept going up, and up, his unholy, barely-there thigh muscles launching both of them from the water. When they came down on the bank, Burned Dan slamming into it with all of his back, I felt that impact twenty yards away, through the thick soles of my new Red Wings.
“Shit,” I said.
It was the only word I could muster.
The cop groaning behind me pulled me away from the fight. He was extracting himself from the windshield bit by cut bit. When he was free enough, he fell forward beside me and managed to stay standing.
“Wh-wh—” he said, about what was going on down on the bank: Julian slinging Burned Dan around by the jaw, trying to drive his face into a tree, or maybe just get that jaw loose.
“You tell me,” I said.
The cop took a stumbling step ahead—I guess this is what duty looks like?—pawing at his holster for the pistol he must not remember having lost.
“Hey, hey,” I said, reaching for him.
He was past taking advice.
I shook my head, already hating having to do this, but I lunged in right behind him, hooked my right arm around his throat in a sleeper hold. I’d never actually tried it on anybody, had only seen it on TV, but after about forty seconds, he slumped down, must have come up watching the same shows I did.
I lowered down to the ground with him, didn’t want him any more hurt than he already was, charges being charges and all. Which is to say: I was still considering the future, yeah. That we both might be getting some of that action.
I blew the cop’s thick, nonregulation hair from my lips and looked over his head down to the creek.
Burned Dan, whatever he was, should have been able to knock a skeleton down, I was pretty sure, but that wasn’t what was happening. He was down now, half in, half out of the shallows. Julian stood over him, leaned back and scream-roared. I’d never heard anything like it—he’d been saving it for decades, trapped under that tree.
Too, I guess he didn’t have a tongue yet, so couldn’t really pull off any sound but a scream.
Not that he needed words for what he was doing to Burned Dan now.
He was squatted over him, had his knees in the mud to either side of Burned Dan’s ribs. It was so he could take either side of Burned Dan’s head in his hands and slam it back into a rock harder and harder, never mind Burned Dan’s hands around Julian’s wrist, trying to keep this from happening.
“No, no,” I said, standing.
I was supposed to be running, should be a mile away in the ditch by now, screw the Buick. But I couldn’t shake the feel of Burned Dan’s hand on my chest, keeping me safe. Keeping me out of this.
The cop moaned, rolled over, threw up.
“Stay,” I said down to him, stepping over him, shaking my head about how stupid what I was about to do was. But it’s not like I’d ever done anything actually smart, right? And it’s not like I could really and truly outrun whatever Julian was, either. If I was going down, it wasn’t going to be running away.
I yanked the dozer’s big battery up from my fender where Burned Dan had balanced it—it was even heavier than I’d thought it would be—and worked my way down to the killing thing that was happening, kind of slinging the battery ahead with my hip, my arms burning from the weight.
Julian never heard me. Ears are the last to form, right?
I raised the battery over my head, which was really a matter of swinging it as high as I could and then ducking fast under it, my arms as straight as I could get them, so my legs could do the lifting. I was still wearing my safety belt, yeah.
“Look out,” I said to Burned Dan, even though he was way past hearing anything, and then I brought that battery down into the back of Julian’s nearly naked skull.
The blunt plastic corner went satisfyingly deep, and the weight slammed Julian down into the mud right by Burned Dan, and then, like I hadn’t even thought to hope for, the battery acid cooked out, sizzling into Julian’s head, sending up little threads of sick smoke.
If he could come back from just being a skeleton, though, then…well.
No way would this last.
“Dan?” I said. “Dan?”
I clenched my jaw because this was stupid—now was the time to run, these were exactly the kinds of decisions keeping me where I was. But…you can’t always do the right thing, can you?
It’s an excuse, yeah, but it’s the only one I’ve got.
I came around Julian, lowered myself to my knees beside Burned Dan, and held my wrist over his mouth like in the movies, tried to claw it open with my dull fingernails. It was the only thing I could think of, and the only thing I had, really.
But then—nothing. Just scratches, no blood dripping down. Not because the fishbelly part of my wrist was thick or callused, but because my nails had been worn down to dirty nubs from all the shovel work, all the bucket carrying, all the rocks I’d had to pry out of the mud with my fingers.
And now Julian was writhing, was coming back.
I looked around for a rock, a sharp piece of metal, a shovel or pole one of us had strategically left behind, to collect later. Any other time, there would have been fifty sharp things within spitting distance to open my wrist on accidentally, but right then, everything around me was dull, useless, leaving me only one option: I stuck my tongue out and slammed the heel of my hand up into my chin.
The blood came instantly, in a hot gush, filling my mouth, nearly frothing it was so eager to spurt out.
I leaned over Burned Dan, drained as much of me into his mouth as I could.
Almost instantly, his eyes opened, and then his hand clamped onto the back of my head, pulled me down into a bloody kiss, his wrecked mouth drinking, sucking, until I had to pull away, tongue last. It was that or become a human raisin.
Burned Dan sat up panting, licking my blood from his lips, his eyes flashing with danger, with hunger.
“What are you?” I said with a really distinct, spattery lisp.
“Pissed,” he said, and looked over to Julian, Julian’s hand reaching up for the battery crashed into his skull but his fingers finding no easy grip, his new skin sizzling away in the battery juice.
Burned Dan stood in his broken way, not all his joints working right, too many of his bones broken, and drove the heel of his boot down into the battery, forcing it all the way through Julian’s skull, the leading edge probably in the back of Julian’s throat, prompting a gag reflex if one had even formed yet.
“Five minutes,” he said about Julian, and cased the place, grimacing about the work yet to come.
One minute later, using a battery he’d had to work up from the backhoe, the dozer fired up with a column of black smoke that tasted exactly like victory.
Two minutes later, the dozer’s thick shiny blade was positioned over Julian.
The next three minutes were a monster getting slammed and cut into pieces by heavy equipment, then mashed with the treads, then mashed again, until it was hard to tell where the ground stopped and he started.
Burned Dan killed the engine, came down to inspect the damage.
I held my hand away from my mouth where I’d had it cupped, let the pooled blood drip away. He tracked that waste down into the dirt and watched me wipe my hand on the leg of my pants, then was watching my pants in a way that made the raw nerves on the exposed part of my tongue try to crawl back into my tongue.
“That’ll keep him down?” I asked, leaning over to spit red.
“I wish,” he said, and scooped Julian up in his arms, having to hold him close to keep his pieces and parts from spilling through. I followed them down to the part of the creek we’d already cleaned up, where nobody would be going again for…I wasn’t sure. For forever? Burned Dan swished back into the tall grass, past where high water might carve a new cutbank, and stopped by a tree, nodded up to it. “Get a switch,” he said to me. “That one.”
I worked a thick green branch off from the main branch. It snapped off at the base, like the bulge there was made especially for me to break it.
Thirty feet back from the creek, Burned Dan used his hands to scratch a makeshift grave, not even a foot deep.
“Want me to get a shovel?” I said to him, talking still painful.
“It’s enough,” he said back about the hole that was hardly a hole at all. Still, he laid Julian down into it. He was already coming back together, his arms and legs and torso writhing into place.
“How can he—?” I asked, stopping when my mouth filled with more blood.
I caught it in my hand, went to sling it away, but Burned Dan was suddenly there stopping me. He brought my palm to his mouth. His tongue was rough like cat’s, and his eyes closed when he swallowed.
“Don’t worry about what he can do,” Burned Dan said, and held his hand out for the switch. “He’s about to be beyond all that again.”
I handed him the snapped-off branch, didn’t understand.
“Willow grows like this,” he said, “from cuttings, not from seeds,” and then jammed the butt of the branch down through what was left of Julian’s chest, into the loamy earth under his back.
Instantly, Julian’s writhing stopped, all his limbs going slack.
“A wooden stake…” I said in wonder.
Burned Dan chuckled, stood, kicked dirt over Julian.
I got down on my knees, scooped dirt onto him as well, packing it down and in.
“Not too tight,” Burned Dan said. “Roots need to breathe.”
I patted softer, turned it more into smoothing.
“Reverend were here, he could say a couple words,” I said, each syllable a stab in my mouth.
“I got a couple for him,” Burned Dan said.
I stood, lost my footing, and he caught me by the arm, hauled me up, his grip like iron, like I couldn’t fall if I wanted to. He wouldn’t let me.
We inspected Julian’s make-do grave.
“Second time’s charm,” Burned Dan said.
“Think that’s third time,” I told him.
“You want to do this again?” he said.
“Second time’s charm,” I repeated.
The sapling—that’s what it was now—stood up maybe three feet, its few leaves catching the breeze.
“This’ll keep him for sure?” I asked.
“Until some idiot forgets where he’s buried,” Burned Dan said with another halfway grin, “lets some work crew pull this tree down.”
“In a hundred years,” I added.
Burned Dan clamped his big hand on my shoulder and turned me away from all this.
“Your coupé’s still running up there,” he said. “How much gas you got in the tank?”
“Enough,” I said. Maybe that was true. “And, nobody says ‘coupé’ anymore, you know that, right?”
“Sedan?” Burned Dan tried.
“P.O.S.,” I said, hitting each front letter of Piece of Shit for him. “Join this century, man.”
“This century,” Burned Dan said, dismissing the idea as too fleeting to be of any actual substance.
“You still coming in tomorrow?” I asked.
“Owe somebody a check,” he said with a shrug that made a dull pop in his shoulder. He grimaced from it, rubbed it in with his hand, and then dropped his right hand fast to hold his jeans up, his belt being who knew where.
“We can talk about whose check it is and isn’t,” I told him, “I mean, it’s not like—”
I felt the hole expanding in and through my chest before I actually heard the sound, filling my head to bursting.
The cop was standing in his official police stance, a curl of smoke twisting up from the barrel of his pistol, his face glittering with windshield glass.
I looked down to my chest, already pumping blood.
“You—” I heard Burned Dan say, and before I even fell, I’m pretty sure, the cop was down, and then Burned Dan was over me, his destroyed face trying to see all of mine at once.
“Kid, kid,” he was saying from the other end of a forever tunnel.
“You’re a—you’re a…” I said up to him, reaching for the sharp teeth he’d done such a good job of keeping hidden all these weeks.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said back, his big hand behind my head. “You’ve got to—if you want me to, if you want to live and not die, you’ve got to ask. Can you hear me?”
“Thought that was…thought that was houses,” I said. “Homes.”
“This is your house,” he said, tapping my collarbone, my body.
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“Every fucking day,” he said, and he was right, Burned Dan wouldn’t lie to me, wouldn’t have lied to me, which is why, decades later, Boulder finally tall enough to hide the foothills from this same creek, I finally lay Dan to rest where I first met him.
The tree I get the switch from is maybe thirty feet tall now.
I kneel to lace my right boot up tight and take a slow reading of the dips and swells of the grassland all around, promise myself to never forget this place.
It’s a lie, but so is everything, right?
I switch knees for the other boot.
One of the old ad campaigns said a Red Wing will last forever, if you let it.
I’ll see about that.
“Wait for Night” copyright © 2020 by Stephen Graham Jones
Art copyright © by Rebekka Dunlap