I was the man beyond the veil, and I was upside down in sunlight, so it seemed. A crystal-clear river of icicle vibes sparkled in that light to my left. A grassland to my right. Broken people with backpacks and real live monkeys on their shoulders wandered through traffic unaware of all that worldly danger that I could feel myself right under my olive and oiled skin. The black hairs on my infinite arms curled and crawled like villains coming up out of the ground—ground on a green hill, ground littered with the stones of the dead, ground covered with thick trees and their companion crooked branches that pointed off into all sorts of directions, all sorts of times and places, pointing off to one hamlet or village or town or metropolis or suffocating hole of hell that included far too many bodies living on top of each other.
I watched as they bathed in dirty rivers. They held red buckets near their dark brown skin. The hoods and the shawls and the shirts were all decorated with brightly colored flowers and yet no blue god with a golden and ruby dragon for a crown would grant them peace. They suffered for living. Yet some smiled. Some laughed. Some even splashed and jumped in the water the color of diarrhea. I turned the other way like so many of us do up here on the mountain in the clouds.
Bibles for bullets, burritos for warfare, turbulence for tractors… I see the farm man in a straw hat and loose blue shirt sitting on the machine as it putters its way through a big yellow field slowly turning fresh brown. He plows the world under in search of an unsustainable hope. He falls, dies, and is buried by his own machine, man’s own metal devices. I move on with the stars, the planets, the universal exoskeleton.
“Get a rope,” a grumpy cowboy who sat by a fire in another time croaked in his drunkenness. His face was like dirt and charcoal all mixed together like splatter batter and the orange light made the skin shine. He looked up to the night sky. “We’ll tie one end to the moon, the other to his neck.”
“Who are you wanting to kill now, Arno?” a cleaner cowboy asked from the other side of the fire. He was sitting on a log and rolling a cigarette.
“I’ll kill anyone deserves killing or even those that don’t but merely dream about it. I’m just thinkin’ and spoutin.’”
“Seems all you care about lately is killing folks.” He pointed with his smoky cigarette hand. “Haven’t you ever just wanted to love somebody or be loved yourself? I figure you got to have a heart in there somewhere. Why don’t you ever use it?”
Arno grunted his dismayed amusement. “Love is nothing but the far end of disillusionment. And when you connect both ends, when you bend this arc of life like space time and bring them closer, well, it’s just the same thing. You drop in. You drop out. Continuum flows into continuum and just keeps going. Love turns to hate and then back again… Maybe. If you’re lucky. But most of us ain’t.”
“Well,” the clean cowboy named Hosea chimed like the wind and he spat at the ground, “I don’t see it that way.” Hosea stuck one end of the rolled cigarette into his mouth and put a match to it, waved it out and tossed the stick into the fire. “Love would change you if ya just let it. Love will make you a true and genuine man. You just can’t give up. It’s gotta be through thick and thin.”
Arno reached down and filled a hand with pebbles and dirt and tossed it. “Shut up. Your dullard philosophy is giving me a pain in the head. You sound like a duck. An unintelligent duck.” Then Arno stood and flapped his arms as he waddled around the fire making quacking noises and laughing.
“Ah, hell. You ain’t nothing but a fool, Arno,” Hosea said as he brushed the pebbly dirt from his coat. He tossed the remainder of his rolled cigarette in the fire and coughed. “I’m going to turn in.” He was tall and skinny, and his body seemed to go on forever toward the sky when he rose in the firelight and headed toward his bedroll. “I’m tired as an old man.”
“Sleep tight, princess,” Arno teased. “Don’t let a broken heart fill your dreams with dread.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t forget to put more of them logs on the fire. Keep it burning.” His voice began to drift away. “I’ve got the strangest feeling someone is watching us from the woods… Or maybe a crystal ball in the clouds.”
The air smelled like dissolvement in the turpentine chill of a new winter’s day. It had lightly snowed on them during the night, like a virgin spread of the legs, and they woke chilled to the bones and scuttled quickly to restoke the midnight fire which wasn’t an easy task and they had to make use of strong whiskey for their insides and for flames. They made heavy coffee and fried remainders of rabbit meat in a chattering silence among them. Both men kept their uneasy thoughts to themselves as they packed up, broke camp, and mounted the horses.
They rode slowly in single file. The breath of the animals steamed. Arno led. Hosea kept his distance. The landscape was a grayish, ghostly white on the moorlands and with forest walls of slate green on the curved edges. The sun was a rising palladium disc that lacked radiance as it sat motionless behind the ill-colored clouds.
Hosea later called ahead in the vastness, his voice cracking the quiet and startling perched birds to flight. “Do you think we’ll make it all the way to Shamrock today?”
“I don’t know,” Arno answered when he turned to talk. “I reckon that’s up to the universe and the degree of its good mood.”
Hosea spurred his horse up closer to the brooding leader, and then told him, “I had a dream last night that I died.”
Arno glanced at him for a moment and then looked forward again, mostly uninterested. “I don’t ever dream,” he said. “Dreams are the products of unfulfilled wishes.”
“Do you mean all your wishes have come true in life?”
“No… Because I don’t wish for anything neither.”
“How can you live like that… With no hopes or dreams or wish making?”
Arno looked his partner straight in the eye, a squint forming via a streak of sunlight beckoning to break through the veiled ceiling of the world. “Well, right now I sorta wish you’d shut your yapper.”
The younger Hosea was a bit dejected. “Sorry… I guess I do talk too much.”
They came to a fork in the trail and their wayward way opened like a storybook. They stopped and looked at the bowl of the land, an arc of morning light on the horizon the color of an over-easy fried egg.
“Yes, you do,” Arno said about the talking. “And sometimes I wonder if you’re even a real cowboy.”
“Of course, I am,” Hosea protested. “Just because I think about a lot of different things in a deeper matter than most doesn’t make me not a cowboy.”
Arno merely grunted a response as he looked both ways at the fork. One path sloped up and deeper into a wooded plat, a forest of vertical jail cell rails with light lingering through, ghosts of all the world’s prisoners floating among the limbs. The other way opened onto a prairie with shallow, frosted hills and escarpments of weathered rock fondled by perverted and unsettled brush.
“And why are we called cowboys?” Hosea pointed out. “We’re not boys, we’re men. We should be called cowmen.”
“Cowmen?” Arno snorted like one of the cold horses. “Because cowmen sounds stupid.”
Hosea was quiet for a moment and then changed the subject. “Which way to Shamrock?”
Arno nodded toward the prairie and the vast wonderland that lie beyond. “West.”
TO BE CONTINUED