Death appeared at her doorstep, though it arrived as a fox.
“We haven’t any hens here,” she said, through the pane, left hand groping among the jackets hanging for the old straw broom.
Death sat there. Looking up at her, wagging its bushy tail across the just fallen snow on the porch. She gave up her search, and after leaning her forehead against the door and taking three deep, calming breaths, opened it. It walked in, nodded and then prowled around the small house.
“I told you we hadn’t any.”
Death curled up on the couch, made to fall asleep.
“Oh. Hey. I didn’t see you there,” he said, having watched, without ever facing, the person walk directly across a crowded market to greet him. “Oh. You know. Just out walking the dog. Doing a few errands. And? How’ve you been? Up to anything?”
The other person talked. The dog sat, likely on purpose, looking away, but gloating. He knew.
“Oh. Yeah. I can’t imagine,” he said, tugging, he hoped, imperceptibly at the leash. “Oh. Well, don’t let me keep you. You must be busy.”
They said more things.
“Oh. That would be nice. Of course, yes. I’ll call you.”
Those in the saloon, miners, ranchers, farmers, men who worked so hard even their souls calloused, laughed and hollered as they watched the troubadour walk across the floor and take a seat on a high stool in the back corner. They kept up the ruckus as he began to pick at the guitar’s strings, and even when he started to sing.
When he started his second number, there wasn’t another sound. Cards laid flat on the tables, drinks untouched. After a few more songs, even the varnish on the bar had clouded over, as though it was a tear-filled eye.
Prompt courtesy of the Daily Post.
The riders followed the stream as the land rose, gradually, and then severely, into sheer walls, taller than church steeples, hemmed them in. The horses’ hooves dug deep in the wet banks, due to the heavy load each of the three carried.
“If they was gonna dry-gulch us,” one of them said. “This would be where it happened.”
The riders’ eyes searched the ridge, their pistols already in their hands. They moved through the canyon, sometimes the walls close enough that they had to get off their horses and lead them through single-file.
Somewhere above them, a dry branch cracked.
Prompt courtesy of the Daily Post.
I forgot to buy dish soap, again. The plates and bowls and cups and knifes and forks pile up and stack up and spread out over the counter. From the sink to the stove. All they have at the dep is Sunlight and that smells too much like a cottage and summer and sweat washed off in a lake, to use and not fall into a hole of despair, because it’s been dark for two hours and it’s not even six. So the pile keeps growing, and sprawling out, and if you move too fast, utensils clatter to the floor.
He couldn’t find his mask that morning.
Already late, he decided to do without it for a day. The man in the mirror said that was a mistake. He should call in sick. If he left without it, who knew what might happen. It started raining. He drummed his fingertips against the window, responding in code to the droplets’ pleading. A couple of fire trucks screamed down the street, and he wondered why fires always started during storms.
Later, he found the mask, wedged between the mattress and the wall. He figured he must have fallen asleep while wearing it.
The only advice his father ever gave him, was to, now and then, sit quietly in a dark room, and not move for thirty minutes. But Rat could never do it. His legs shook. He gnawed his fingernails. Scratched and cleared his throat and hummed bits o’ songs. After five minutes, he’d give up. Turn the lights and the television on. Fill the room with noise.
He didn’t try this very often.
The telephone kept ringing. Until, it seemed, only its shrill cry existed. He didn’t have to pick up to know it was a reminder of his mortality calling.