Miz Boudreaux’s Last Ride

You ever love the pretty right off someone? When I was a kid, had me a BMX, bright red like a candy apple. I rode it all summer long, cresting hills trying to catch the perfect gleam in the sunlight. Only that same sunlight that gave the bike its shine burnt all the sparkle out of it. I forgot about that bike, until three weeks ago when I caught Tommy asleep, nestled in all the pillows with the desert sun falling slantwise on his face through the blinds.

Now, I ain’t slept right the night before. My back was sore. My feet swole up like pumpkins. I had an itch just behind my balls. Was a time where I could catch three hours in the flatbed of a moving pick up, or two-and-a-half on some trick’s clammy waterbed and feel fresh as ironed boxers the next morning, but them days are gone. So you best believe when Newport—that’s our dog—started whining less than an hour after I drifted off, “that goddamn hound” was the nicest thing I had to say about either of them. Tommy ain’t stir an inch. So I got my ass up and took Newport out for a walk so he ain’t piss all over the kitchen floor. Again. Had to keep Newport on a tight leash, otherwise he’d be liable to chase a jackrabbit into the creosote, or play fetch with a rattlesnake. Weimaraners is hunting dogs, and old as Newport is, he got plenty of sprint left in them long legs.

Come back to find Tommy snoring underneath the window air conditioning unit, my best quilt tucked up to his chin. Still early, but you could already feel the heat coming down over the hills on the wind. Was finna snatch that quilt right off of Tommy when Newport started yapping and growling at the doorway. Wasn’t nothing I could see, but Newport’s hackles was up and he stood between me and the door like to bite somebody. Last time he was like this, a ‘possum had broke through the lattice and got itself stuck between a pier and block in the crawlspace. But he had yapped at the kitchen floor, not an empty doorway. I stroked his flank. “Easy, boy.”

Tommy moaned low in the bed behind me, and Newport stopped yapping and slunk off into the kitchen like he was in trouble. Tommy sat up and pulled the quilt tight against his chest. Tommy always got wide-eyed when he was up to no good; just the picture of aw, shucks innocence. But the look on his face now was prim, and half-lidded, like his eyelashes was heavy. Mighta been Tommy’s mouth that moved, but it sure wasn’t his speech coming out of it. “Davion, cher. You have been keeping yourself very well. I don’t suppose I could trouble you to make me a little coffee and scalded milk?”

It was maybe twenty, twenty-one years since I seen that look and heard thattone, but I gotta say they woulda made an impression even if me and Tommy ain’t been over a mountain of associated bullshit. Still, Mama always told me to be polite to a lady, so I took off my snapback and tried my best not to look pissed. “I’d say it was good to see you, but I don’t suppose I rightly can, ma’am. Now, Miz Boudreaux, before I bust out the percolator, you want to tell me what you’re doing in my husband’s body?”

A half hour later we was sitting at the kitchen table. Me, Tommy’s body, and Miz Boudreaux talking out of it. Newport hid behind the sofa, but you could still hear his tail thumping. There was leftover tortillas from the tacos Tommy made the night before, and I whipped up two plates of chilaquiles. Miz Boudreaux in Tommy’s body went through three cups of coffee with hot milk, but ain’t touched the food. The egg was going cold. She sipped real dainty out of Tommy’s best mug. “Coffee is a delight. A shame Thomas has dulled his senses with smoking. Have you ever tried making coffee with chicory?”

“Miz Boudreaux, I’ll be happy to make you another cup to go.” I took a bite of my breakfast. I should have put a little garlic salt in that salsa. “But you still ain’t answered not one question.”

Tommy’s hands fluttered. His lips pursed. “I have known Thomas a very long time. I was always pleased that he found you, and that you two held onto each other.” That heavy-lidded expression ain’t do nothing good for Tommy’s crow’s feet.

“That’s sweet, and all, but it ain’t Tommy I’m talking to right now, and I need a hand with the chores before the day gets too hot. And again, I don’t mean to be rude and all, but is there a point for this voodoo spooky mind control?”

“You have been very patient in indulging an old woman, Davion. It grieves me to cause you distress. I have come here, in fact, to offer you a bargain that may be of great interest.”

“Sorry, but can’t you just call. Like on the phone? I get that you might not be cool with FaceTime or Skype, but—”

There was a pout that probably would have been charming on a different face. “Alas, Davion, if it were as simple as a phone call, I would not need to make this bargain.” Tommy’s fingers drummed on the table. “I am no longer among the living, and need someone who is to accomplish a task for me.”

I hate this kind of shit. “If your head finna rotate and you plan to vomit coffee on my nice clean floor, tell me now. I can get a bucket.”

“Davion! I am not demonic. I am your old friend. We made a bargain before that was mutually profitable, no?”

I sucked my teeth. “Way I remember it, you charged us thirty of the finest portraits of Benjamin Franklin and then said we needed to pony up a collective thirty years of our then young lives in order to get some charms that got us tracked by the goddamn magic police.”

“And the charms worked?”

“They worked alright, but we sure didn’t use the full time we paid for, and I don’t reckon we got a refund on them years.”

“A spell costs what it costs.”

“Right.” Took another bite of my breakfast. Chewed. Swallowed. “Now, I spent twenty years keeping the fuck away from all this hoodoo bullshit because it ain’t ever straightforward. ‘Mutually profitable’ means you want us to do something.”

“I left something uncompleted. Something that will not let me rest. If you were to help me accomplish this, I have a prize very much worth your effort.”

“I know you’re in Tommy. Can he hear this?”

“No. This conversation is between you and me. He is, for the moment, lost. Asleep.”

“Why you ain’t show up in a ouija board, or talk through the hound? Why put Tommy asleep? You don’t trust him to make the right decision?”

“I have never trusted a man.”

“I don’t want to make no agreements involving Tommy without his say in it.”

She stood up in Tommy’s body. Walked over to the window. Pulled the curtains closed against the light. “I can smell death in this room. Thomas is a wildfire. Instead of listening to my offer, he would rage and burn until there was nothing left. You, you are a little bit of cool water. I’m afraid the only time for me to broach this with you is now, and it would be difficult for me to return for an answer.”

“What’s this offer?” I thrust my chin forward, the way I do when I’m itching for a fight.

“I can offer you this: fifteen more years for one of you. One of your lives extended for a decade-and-a-half.”

“Why not both?” I asked.

“I can offer it to one.”

“Seven and a half for each of us?”

A deep, rattling sigh. “What you ask for is beyond my ability. I have only what I have offered you. Do you accept?”

Shit. My back ain’t hurt me that much. I ain’t ready to check out, and I reckon Tommy wasn’t ready to find religion. “You can’t ‘spect me to accept without telling me what we got to do in exchange?”

“A long time ago, when I was very young, I came to a place not far from here. I did an unconsidered favor, for a man. I cast a spell that has had consequences. I need this spell undone.”

“Don’t know if you noticed, but neither me nor Tommy got much in the way of that downhome rootwork shit. Can’t even read a tarot card, me.”

“My goddaughter Eulalia will undo the spell. What I need from you boys is protection. She will be physically vulnerable while she does the unbinding, and I need someone to fight for her. A machete would work. No charms needed.”

I took a good look at Tommy. A really good look at him. Farmer’s tan. Belly big from too many micheladas. Golden hair turned dishwater. Some of the pretty was still there, but he got a mean set to his jaw. I thought about him stealing all the covers, and not getting his ass up to take out the dog I never wanted in the first place. How bad his breath was in the morning. How sometimes I could walk into the front room and find him haunting it like a ghost, with the light from the TV casting colors across his face. I thought the meanest things about him I could.

Then I made my choice.

“She called me a horse?” Tommy shoveled his cold chilaquiles into his mouth. Newport was on the floor by his feet.

“Well, she was possessing you. Guess she could tell how you was hung.”

He snorted. Newport gave Tommy’s leg a lick. “Be serious, Davion. What happened? What did she want?”

“You still got that .22 Ruger you used for coyotes back when you had the chicken coop?”

“Course I do. In good condition. Part of my inheritance from Uncle Joe, like this house.”

“This trailer.” I insisted. Newport whined up at me.

“For the last time, it’s a mobile home, Davion.”

The distinction is still lost on me. We ain’t even got a pitched roof. “The gun, Tommy.”

“Like I said. Working fine. Plenty of ammo. Ready for varmints. Now what do we need it for?” He tore off some of the white from his egg and slipped it down to Newport.

“Well, the ghost of Miz Boudreaux dropped by with a proposition. We keep her goddaughter Eulalia safe through some bad juju, and we get back the fifteen years we paid her back then.”

“Can’t say I love the sound of whatever we’re keeping that gal safe from, but I don’t reckon Miz Boudreaux would risk putting her goddaughter in the way of something she thinks we can’t manage.” That bad little boy smile spread across Tommy’s face. “Both of us get them years back?”

“Both of us,” I lied.

Tommy raised an eyebrow. “Maybe death has made that old bat a smidge more generous than I recollect.”

I looked down at an envelope with Eulalia’s scrawled address on it. “Look like she stay about an hour away. Ain’t got no phone number. Hope she’s expecting us.”

Eulalia’s address was one of them big ranch style houses they threw up in the late eighties and nineties on loop-de-loop streets with names like Vista Butte Way or Sandstone Arch Circle. Four-car garage. Enough bedrooms for your 2.5 kids, plus a formal living room and a den for your home cinema. Looked like someone had laid down sod in the front yard long before the water restrictions had kicked in; most of the topsoil had gone back to the desert. Band-aid colored clapboard. Artificial stonework by the front door. Like a postcard of the American Dream bleached out by the sun. Newport craned his neck to take a gander, then curled up on his blanket in the pickup’s flatbed, unimpressed.

A quick check in the rearview mirror to make sure I was still presentable: collar down flat, good sunglasses with the tortoiseshell rims on straight, nothing green in my teeth, and up the flagstone path to the front door, Tommy as my shadow. I pressed the doorbell twice. Nothing for a moment, and my stomach kind of rolled when I considered that Eulalia might not be home. Then a sound of heavy footsteps, and a muffled curse. “Hello!” barked through the closed door.

I smiled at the peephole. Dusted off my “proper” voice. “Good morning. I hope I have the right address? I’m looking for Ms. Eulalia Jackson.”

The door swung in. A big woman near filled the doorframe. I mean amazonian. Taller than Tommy. Muscular, and what my aunties called “thick.” Smooth dark skin, she seemed well acquainted with the cocoa butter. Old school afro with a side-part. Lace-up boots. Camo pants. She looked me up and down. “Knight of Wands and the King of Cups, reversed.”

“Excuse me?”

“I think she means us, babe.” Tommy said.

The woman nodded. “My tarot reading this morning was all fucked up. Explains a lot. I guess y’all better come in. And no one calls me ‘Eulalia.’ I go by ‘Jack.’”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Davion.” I shook her hand. Firm grip. “This is Tommy.”

“Come on in before I cool the whole Mojave.”

The inside of the house was dark and cool. I took off my sunglasses. No lights on and blinds shut against the day. Smelled a little like dust and old cooking. Not unpleasant. Here was somebody who liked they food seasoned. Didn’t seem to be a ‘take your shoes off kind of house,’ but I paused on the tiles in the entryway just in case. Jack beckoned us over to a sunken living room with a rust-colored sectional couch wrapping round two of its walls. She sunk into it, propped her feet up on a coffee table made from a slab of granite. It was covered with papers, maps, and playing cards, including the Knight of Wands and the King of Cups, which was upside down. I sat down. The cushions were soft, but with something springy underneath. Maybe a pull-out bed. Tommy sat on the edge, next to me.

She tamped down tobacco in an old-fashioned pipe. “Y’all hungry? I don’t always eat lunch, but I got plenty of leftovers, still good.”

I shook my head.

Tommy said, “We already ate before coming out. Thank you.”

She chomped on the pipe’s stem. Lit it. Sucked in a long drag. Held the pipe in her right hand and blew three perfect smoke rings. “Last night, for the first time since Auntie Melba died, I had me a dream about crawfish. Auntie Melba always used to say if you dream of a trout, somebody having a baby girl, and you dream of a crawfish, there’s a boy coming. But for me, all a crawfish dream ever meant was that she wanted me to do something.”

Tommy asked, “Your Auntie Melba is Miz Boudreaux?”

Jack nodded. “Great aunt, actually.” She chomped down on the pipe again. “Always said I was her favorite. She claimed it was because I was born with a caul, but I think it was just ‘cause no one else would get out of their bed at midnight and wait at a crossroads with a cow hoof no questions asked when an old lady in Colorado had a vision.”

Tommy nodded. “She was like that. I’m sorry for your loss.”

More smoke rings. “She had to be close to a hundred. And you can’t say the old girl didn’t have a full life. I hope she’s at rest now.”

I cleared my throat. “I ain’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but I s’ppose you could say that’s why we’re here.”

Jack’s lips pinched tight. “You here to tell me Auntie Melba’s a haint?”

Tommy frowned. “Well she kind of possessed me, which I didn’t take very kindly to, to tell the truth.”

I gave Jack my ‘we’re all friends here’ smile. “What he means is your sainted Auntie came personally from the beyond to make a request of her—you did say you were her favorite— goddaughter in order to complete a task she left undone during her long, productive lifetime.”

Jack squinted. Then burst out laughing. “Can’t believe she’s been dead for six months and is still finding a way to mind other folks’ business. What she want me to do?”

“She said you would be able to undo a spell she cast when she was young. Some place not far from here. Called it Paluma Negro.”

Tommy corrected my Spanish. “Paloma Negra.”

Smoke rings. “Of course it’s that. I’ve got to go pack my tools. If y’all ain’t gassed up your truck, might want to hit a station first. Not many stops where we’re going.”

While we was waiting outside for Jack, a pair of starlings flitted over and landed on top of a Joshua tree. Newport ain’t usually fussed with little birds, but he barked at that tree. The starlings didn’t stir, and three more fluttered over to sit next to the pair. Tommy said, “You know they call a flock of starlings a ‘murmuration?’”

One of the garage doors in Jack’s house lifted. She came out of the garage with an olive drab duffel bag and a bomber jacket slung over one shoulder. Tommy slid into the middle of the bench seat. Jack tossed the duffel in the flatbed, gave Newport a pat on the head, and clambered into the passenger seat. Tommy wasn’t never a small boy, even at his leanest, and it was a tighter fit than I’d like.

“Where we off to, boss?” I asked.

“Paloma Negra don’t really exist no more.” Click. The garage door closed. “It was a dying community when Auntie Melba came through seventy years ago. You’re going to have to take 200 Street East as far as you can go, and then we’re onto some unnamed back country roads.”

Tommy said, “That ghost is sending us to a ghost town?”

Jack laughed. “Your man don’t say much, but he got some jokes.”

“About three.” I said. “And he keeps recycling them.” I pulled away from the house. We passed three near identical versions on the way onto the road.

“What you know about Paloma Negra?” Jack asked.

Tommy said, “We never heard the name before today.”

“Story time, I guess.”

Six starlings flew low across the road.

Jack continued, “Y’all know what a sundown town is?”

I nodded. Tommy said, “My dad’s from North Platte, in Nebraska. He said my great-grandaddy helped chase all the Black people out of town. Well, Black likely wasn’t the word that great-granddaddy used. Bet he’d like to spit to see me with Davion.”

Jack said, “Well when you kick everyone brown out of places, they got to end up somewhere. Paloma Negra was a place like that.”

Jack’s sub-division was a pop of color in the rearview. All too soon it was gone. Ahead was rock, sand, scrub, and Joshua trees. Starlings made a big-ass black cloud across the late morning blue, taking shapes that reminded me of the inkblots the school psychologist shows you.

“Black folk, brown folk, workers from China. They all lived in their little desert town. Back then, it was on the shore of a lake. And you’d get big fields of golden poppies blooming in February. Kids’d play in the creek, and someone was always baking something.”

“Sounds like heaven,” Tommy said.

“I think it was a hardscrabble life. Folk kept goats, and tough little cattle with stringy meat and sour milk. Wasn’t near a railroad, so goods was hard to come by and expensive.” Jack sighed. “But I think they did okay. Turn left.”

I made the turn. The road here was rough, and Newport whined when a pothole woke him from his nap.

Jack said, “But they had a couple of bad years with floods. The creek burst it banks and washed the bridge away. Flash floods from the hills wiped out a whole herd of sheep. And kids drowned.”

Another flock of starlings. This time like a choppy wave at sea, then into tight whirlpool spirals. I ain’t religious, but I crossed myself. Newport whimpered. I said, “I feel you, dog,” under my breath.

“In the third straight year of flooding, the worst yet, one of them kids said he saw a woman walking on the water. Said she had called to him. Called him by his name, and told him to come swim.”

“Oh no,” said Tommy.

“And when the boy said, ‘no,’” Jack’s voice sounded strained, “he said the woman on the water had run after him screaming, and pulled at him with cold, wet hands.”

Tommy shuddered against me.

“The town decided they were cursed. They pooled their money, and decided they were going to send it down to Mexico to bring in a famous curandera.”

More starlings. For a second, the sky was like looking at a film negative of a photographed starry night.

Tommy said, “Was Miz Boudreaux already famous?”

Jack said, “No. Wasn’t her. The town had a barber. Joe Woods. Handsome redbone man. Scoundrel. Anyhow he said he had him a new girlfriend, a rootworker from down New Orleans way, a real voodoo queen. And she would do it for half the price.”

I can always smell a scammer. “Half the price. So he gon’ take most of that as a ‘finder’s fee’.”

Jack said, “All. Auntie Melba was very young, and still fresh to her power. He played on her sympathy and arrogance, and she agreed to do it for free.”

Tommy whistled. “Now if that ain’t a bitch.”

“Auntie Melba came to Paloma Negra with her roots and her powders. With her bone charms, and her scented oils. And she was not ready. See, the town didn’t have a simple haunt she could chase away with loud noises, or trick with an incantation. The flooding was part of the natural way of the land. It seemed bad to the poor folks of the town, but it had always been that way. And it wasn’t no malevolent ghost on the water luring kids. The town had an ancient elemental who was tied to the land.”

The truck’s air conditioning wasn’t doing no kind of job keeping up with the noon sun, but I felt cold. Pushed my sunglasses up the bridge of my nose. “What the land need with some kids?”

“Shit.” She said it long, like sheee-it. “Do I look like a motherfucking elemental entity? I don’t know. Maybe that kid made the whole woman on the water up. But whatever the case, Auntie got into a battle with something ancient.”

“And she survived?” Tommy asked.

“She survived, and somehow she ended up wrapping that thing up in her magic. She couldn’t banish it, but she somehow managed to bind it.”

Biggest cloud of starlings yet. Like a thundercloud with beaks. They flew over the pickup, and for a moment it got dark. Newport howled long and high, and the scattered off into different directions, swirling into shapes like smoke.

Tommy said, “So what happened to the town?”

Jack said, “Well it didn’t flood no more. But then the creek dried up. And the lake turned into stinking mud before it dried up too. And February came and the poppies didn’t.”

I said, “And the town died?”

She said, “This whole valley been dying ever since. Make a right.”

I turned onto a dirt road. Creosote and Joshua trees edged in, but it was still clear enough for the pickup to navigate through. Through the rear view, I could see starlings trailing behind us like the smoke from an old steam engine.

Joshua trees was full of the birds as we got nearer to a cluster of old whitewashed buildings. Bright little eyes was staring out from under spiky branches. It was slow going and bumpy. Newport turned in nervous circles in the truck’s flatbed.

Tommy broke the silence. “Any idea where all these birds come from? It ain’t mating season.”

Jack said, “They’re here because of us.”

I scratched my nose. “Thought we were here to break the spell.”

Jack laughed. “And they sure don’t like that! Auntie Melba put certain workings on to keep that from happening.”

Tommy said. “So we’re protecting you from birds? Like in the movie?”

Jack pointed, “See that church? That’s where we’re going.”

The hills overhead were familiar to me, and I realized we were close to where me and Tommy lived, but on the other side of the promontory. Nestled against the hills at a place where two roads crossed was a small white church. Looked like it was made of mud-brick then painted white, but a very long time ago. Two front windows shuttered over flanked an open doorway. I sparked the truck in front. Newport barked at the church. Tommy got his gun. Jack got her duffel from the back. As we got neared, we could see little spots of sunlight streaming from holes in the roof, dappling the packed earth floor. A musty stank roiled over as we walked in the doorway, like the church itself had bad breath. At the far end was a stained glass window, wavy but mostly intact. Never paid much attention in Sunday School, but I reckon the picture was the Holy Ghost above John the Baptist. Through broken panes, you could see the hills beyond. Black shapes flitted to and fro in the rocks. More starlings.

Newport yowled once, long and sad. Then we heard the sound of wings. The sunlight from above blotted out, and John the Baptist went dark. Jack pulled out a box of kosher salt from her bag. Sprinkled salt in a circle around her. Pulled a little vial of oil from her back pocket and sprinkled three drops on her floor, before tracing a pattern on her forehead. Sat down. She looked at me and Tommy, “What I need y’all to do is kill anything that comes in this space before I finish.”

“Anything?” I asked.

Tommy shouldered his rifle.

Jack started chanting. I moved close to the circle and unsheathed my Bowie knife, which I now regretted picking as my protection weapon. Didn’t reckon I was faster than a bird, but I hoped I could be a last line of defense. Newport growled.

A high, angry screech rattled the roof. Birds crashed into the stained glass, scattering shards across the floor. Newport loped in wide circles snapping at the windows. I tried to keep still and waited, blade up like a movie samurai. The flapping of thousands of wings sounded like a roar. But through the racket, Jack kept on chanting. Sometimes stopping to trace a symbol in the dirt. There was a loud rush, louder than a subway train, only all beating wings. For a second it went quiet. Light streamed in from the holes in the busted-up ceiling. Jack continued her chants. I wanted to laugh, but Newport howled again, and then I saw it through the church’s open door.

The sky was black and purple with thousands and thousands of birds. They swirled downward in an arc. One time, back when me and Tommy was in Wyoming, we saw a twister far off against the plains. Just come clear out of the skies on a summer day. Well, this was like that, only it was all made of birds screaming.

Tommy said, “Here it comes.” He planted his feet.

That bird twister wound tighter and tighter around itself until it was the size of a man. Then, the man-shaped cloud of birds took a step and began to walk. Newport ran to the door. He snapped at the bird-cloud and caught a starling. Shook it between his teeth. But the man-cloud kept on with its steady steps. It shuffled over the doorway and I heard the crack of the rifle. Tommy was a good shot. Hit the cloud dead center. For a tick you could see daylight where that flock’s heart would be. Feathers burst out in a starburst, and starlings dropped to the floor, but then the hole closed up and the flock took another step. Crack. Another dandelion puff of shiny feathers, more birds falling to the floor, but this time it didn’t even break stride. Crack. This time the head scattered outwards, but like before, it continued its path. Crack. In the belly. Them birds screamed, but the cloud kept on coming. I knew Tommy was on his last round with no time to reload. Crack. In the head again. But it kept coming, and Tommy was out of rounds. The bargain was to keep Jack safe until she finished. So I ran full tilt into that cloud like I could tackle it.

They surrounded me. It was musty, smothering darkness. Tiny feet scratching at my eyes, pulling my naps, wings beating me around the head. Little beaks pecking. Shrieks and squawks and somewhere beyond was Newport’s barks. I tried slashing but didn’t feel my knife grant any purchase. Something hard hit me in the shoulder. The butt of Tommy’s rifle. Slashed again, and this time I hit something. Heard an angry shriek. I bit and I shoved. Felt like I couldn’t breathe. And then it stopped. Them birds flew away from me and out the front door.

I sank to my knees. “Babe!” Tommy said, and cradled me in his arms. “Babe, you’re bleeding.”

Jack said, “It’s done. That old heifer made a complicated knot.”

The three of us walked outside into the sunshine with Newport at my heel. I reached down to scratch him behind the ear. Maybe that old smelly hound ain’t so bad afterall.

The sky went dark again, and I tensed up thinking maybe them damn birds had regrouped for a rematch, but it was just clouds of the ordinary kind. Thunder rolled over the red hills, and we were spattered with rain.

Can I tell you how good it felt? Scuffed up, dusty, ashy, stinking of bird must, and then a clean rain comes and washes that away. We should have gone back to the truck. Jack had already loaded up her bag. But that cool rain washed off all that desert funk, and I saw things different. Tommy’s wet hair fell into his eyes, and when he pushed it back, there was a boyish twinkle. The dirt road was already turning into mud, but I ran through it, fucking up my loafers, and I kissed him hard. The way I used to. The way I ain’t done for a long time. He smelled clean and new, like green grass.

Newport ran off after something in one of them ruined buildings, and I let go of Tommy’s hand to chase after him. Tommy stood in that crossroad before the church. I grabbed Newport by the collar, and that’s when I saw it. Water, cascading in rivulets down the hills and over the rocks. It hit the back of that old church in a wave, and put an end to that stained glass window. Roiled around its side. “Tommy!” I shouted, but the stream of it slammed into him and bowled him over. In that second I ain’t think about Miz Boudreaux or his snoring. I didn’t think about his medals for swimming. I jumped into the stream after him.

I don’t know how he found me. But it was Tommy who pulled me out of the water. Tommy whose arms were around me when I bent over double, gasped like a fish and vomited onto the sand. Jack and Newport were quick down the hill after us in the truck, and good thing. As we drove away in the pouring rain, we saw the last of Paloma Negra collapse into a new river.

So I better come clean about my bargain. I asked Miz Boudreaux to give them years to Tommy. I reckon my family is long-lived enough that the death stink she smelt ain’t come from me. I’da gave anything to have one more ride on that red bicycle, even after the color had faded. One more time to catch air and feel like I was the king of the world.

It ain’t all happiness and kisses in the rain. Tommy still snores too loud, and right now we’re holed up in a hotel that smells like mice. See the trailer—I guess I mean mobile home— was on the other side of the promontory, and it got washed away in the storm. We got time and maybe we’ll build a home less liable to roam away when you ain’t looking. For now, there’s just me, and Tommy, and that goddamn hound. But we got each other, and I suppose that’s enough.


(Editors’ Note: Christopher Caldwell is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)


Christopher Caldwell

Christopher Caldwell is a queer Black American living in Glasgow, Scotland, with his partner, podcaster Alice Caldwell-Kelly. He was the 2007 recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship to Clarion West. His work has appeared in FIYAH, Strange Horizons, and the News Suns 2 anthology, among others. He is @seraph76 on Twitter and christophercaldwellkelly on Instagram.

Photo by Devon

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