by Bob Lovely
Sure, Warden, I have some last words. I don’t expect you’ll believe anything I say. No one has so far, and I don’t blame them.
Dust. I remember how the dust blew in on that hot summer night. How it got in your eyes, in your mouth: how it crunched in that awful, gritty way when you closed your teeth together.
The last glow over the mountains got in my eyes as I was driving in from the ranch. A dust devil kicked up and skimmed my truck, twisted though the open window, and gave me a dry, scratchy kiss.
It wasn’t all that blew in that night. Death came on that wind. Maybe he was the Devil.
I still don’t know if I believe in that sort of thing. Hell, I don’t know what I believe. But I remember. He walked into our tiny western Montana town just about midnight. Said his name was John.
We were in the bar that Friday night. About twenty of us, the usual crowd. When he came in the door, dust blew in all around him on hot wind. Everyone went quiet.
He didn’t seem like a stranger, but nobody knew him. Everyone liked him, though. We were glad he was there. He just felt right. The kind of guy you’d do anything for. Looked regular enough: white guy, jeans and a plain white t-shirt.
He looked around at us, smiling, then he stopped at me. I felt tingly, like after your arm’s been asleep, but all over. “You.” He pointed at me. “I think you should stay right there. Maybe no one touches him.” The tingle changed into warmth, comfort. It just felt so, good, to do what he wanted.
He crossed his arms and a little cloud of dust puffed out. “The rest of you, I don’t know, maybe you could all just kill each other.” He tilted his head, smiling.
The noise seemed far away, like a dream. I mostly just stared at him, but I could see violence in my peripheral vision. Men and women were hitting each other in the face, shoving broken bottles into each others’ necks. It was awful. Johnny Lewis stabbed his cousin Paul in the eye. Nobody was trying to protect themselves, just killing each other. Everybody was smiling, laughing.
The wind howled outside. Dust blasted the windows. John looked around, a grin on his face. The few who weren’t dead yet were giggling, then they went quiet. The place reeked of shit, piss, and blood.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I should be real scared and pissed off, but I was just so damned happy. Best I could do was feel like throwing up. When he looked at me again, it felt like all the loneliness in the world went away. I needed to hear his voice.
He smiled. “I wonder. Maybe you should round up the rest of the town, the women and children, and tell them a biker gang rolled into the bar. I suppose you could tell them things are bad, that they need to hole up in one of the bigger barns for safety. Then, maybe you could seal them in and set it on fire.”
I drove up to Mary Hodge’s house, told her the story. I’ve never been much of a liar, and she started to argue with me at first, said it didn’t make any sense. Then she wiped dust from her eyes, got this real far-off look for a second, and just nodded and took in everything I said. It was like she wanted to believe me. I told her to start calling people and help me round them up in my barn.
I had to keep licking the grit from my teeth as I walked around to some other houses, asking folks to do the same.
While everybody was hustling into my barn, I nailed some boards over the back door, and backed the tractor up against it. I pulled my pickup against the front door. I called in to them that it would slow down the bikers, if they got this far. Old Miss Reynolds thanked me. Thanked me! Said God would bless me for what I was doing.
Then I took the five-gallon gas can from the back of my truck, and poured about half of it all down the front door, getting as much to the inside as I could. That’s when they started screaming. Real quick, I went around back, got up on my tractor, and poured the rest.
I jumped down off the tractor, lit a match, and threw it over. The gas went up, and I heard more screaming. They started pounding on the walls. I ran around front, wanting so bad for John to be proud of me.
I climbed in the bed of my pickup, stuck a cigarette in my mouth, and then I saw him. He was standing a little ways off, smiling. I haven’t felt so loved since the first time I saw my dad in the bleachers, watching me play football back in high school.
I struck a match to light my cigarette, and the gas fumes blasted me over the edge of the truck, onto the ground. John was right there, touching me, holding me, to help me up. His touch was so warm, comforting. Nothing sexual. Just like the drifty feeling right as you’re falling asleep.
He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Perhaps you should be careful now. We don’t want anyone getting hurt.” I doubled over laughing. I laughed so hard, I started to cry. I heard sirens. Then the laughter stopped, and I was just crying.
I looked up. John was gone, and I saw firetrucks and Sheriff Peterson and his boys tearing up the road toward me. The burnt pork smell, screams and sizzling from the barn moved from the back of my mind to the front. That’s when I started throwing up.
I appreciate your prayers, Father, and I know you’re all here to kill me now. I don’t mind. I did what I did, and I’m ready to pay. I just hope when you give me that injection and I start floating into the dark, whoever I see coming for me is God, or an angel, or something like that. Even the Devil would do.
I just hope it’s not John.
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Lovely