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The Journey of Jim Glass
A lone shadow moved through the cold rain. The horses stood silent in the corral, their ears pricked at the movement. Inside Jim and Luz slept side by side, dreamless, his arm around her, joined hip to hip.
The icy rain stung like needles. A bit colder and it would turn to snow. The dull sound of distant thunder rumbled like cannon in another valley. The shadowy figure had come from over the ridge, a long knife in one hand, the kind butchers use.
Jim turned once, opened his eyes to the dark room, then closed them again when he realized the woman was beside him.
The shadow moved past the gravestones atop the ridge, did not pause but descended toward the house, the corral, the nervous horses. The rain clattered off the metal roof of the house, and the wind swept along the porch like a cold broom. Farther north, higher up in the Capitans and even in the faraway Sangre de Christos it was snowing, several inches an hour. The time was the darkest hour before dawn.
The shadow had an off gait but moved steadily down toward the corral. Paused at one point, then moved again with the caution of a wise wolf.
Jim dreamed of horses. Wild horses. In his dream they ran free, their manes fluttering in the wind, their tails lifted out behind them. In the dream he had a rope that he could throw true, and gathered in the horses one by one. It was hot, steady work in the dream, and when he reached the river he and the wild horses drank, and they looked beautiful in the bright sun, their reflections floating in the water, and he was glad for their existence.
The shadowclosed on the corral. The horses did not protest, sensing no danger, perhaps believing the shadow was the man from the house who came each day and fed and watered them. The rain tamped down any scent the horses might have had of the stranger. The rain boiled up around their hooves, slicked their hides dark and caused their muscles to ripple, and they didn't care for it much.
The shadow spoke softly to them, trying to calm them as he slipped between the cottonwood rails of the corral. There were six horses, not including the fine stud that roamed free in the far pasture, the one the man in the house had broke to a saddle and trained to come at his whistle. The stud could not be seen in the deep wet darkness, just the six gathered there in the corral.
The shadow came up to the first of them and reached forth the hand not holding the knife, and when the animal snuffled the small green apple the man held, the knife came up swift and sure and plunged into the jugular, then ripped quickly across the animal's neck, sending it instantly to its knees. An arc of blood thick as a rope hosed the air and splattered into the already wet ground as the horse kicked its legs in a struggle with death it could not outrace. The shadow had already moved on to the next animal before the first stopped kicking—a small sorrel—and let it snuffle the apple and repeated the murder, and yet again and again until all six horses were down, bled or bleeding out, dead or dying.
The shadow looked toward the house, his slicker smeared with blood, the cuffs of his shirt, his face and hands covered in it, the blade of the knife dripping with it, like red rain. He washed the blade in a puddle, then slipped back between the corral logs and started again toward the ridge, muttering low to himself as he went: "Now maybe you'll shut up. Now maybe you'll shut up."
Jim Glass slept as he dreamed of wild horses; the woman next to him hardly moved, her dark hair spread over the pillow. She did not dream but lay in a deep, black void of nothingness, the sweetest kind of sleep.
A sudden clap of thunder shook the whole house, and Jim awakened reaching for the handgun he kept beneath the bed—a Merwin Hulbert First Army Model Revolver. Its ivory grips were smooth and comforting. It was nickel-plated, a single-action .44-caliber, and he had killed men with it. It had its own history of death that went unspoken.
He gripped it as he listened. The rain troubled itself against the window glass, sounded like flung sand at times. He felt his pulse ticking in his wrists. Still he listened for any sound that shouldn't be there. And when he heard nothing more, he set the pistol back in its place and withdrew his hand and closed his eyes again.
The shadow climbed the ridge with difficulty; the lightning that produced the clap of thunder lit the entire ridge and the shadow in hot flashes, and at one point, if Jim had been looking, he could have plainly seen the shadow standing by the two gravestones before it disappeared over the far side just as the boom of thunder rattled the world.
To heaven's God, the horses in the corral looked as if they were sleeping on their sides. Six sleeping horses with stiff straight legs. The rain washed their bodies as if the horse gods were preparing them for some strange and final journey. Ministered to them the last cold balm of water upon their distended tongues and washed over their bared teeth and frightful glazed eyes.
The man in the house would not appear in the morning to feed them, to look them over with a certain pride that the horse catcher has in his stock. And he would not take them into the nearby town and sell them as he'd planned. They were now forever free of ropes and saddles, bits and bridles and the spurs of men. Free of riding a man or woman or child on their backs. And no more either would they run free and wild upon the mesas and over the high desert.The Horses
The Journey of Jim Glass. Copyright © by Bill Brooks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>