Rocket had probably killed once, maybe twice, but the blackouts had been getting worse and she really couldn’t rely on her own memory. There was no one to ask but for the dogs and they just wagged their tales hoping for treats. So, she had packed the truck, tossed in the critters, and disappeared. Again. Home is never safe.
A raven huddled in the piñon trees next to Rocket, and then with a wild flapping of wings and an uproar of croaks and cackles, it took to the gunmetal grey clouds, and the storm that threatened sent sticklike tumbleweeds grasping at the fence line for traction, leaving one such skeleton stuck at the gate, this now locked gate.
Rocket shivered. Stared. And then yelled after the distant bird.
“Why? Why is everything so fuckin’ hard?”
A shiny thick chain wrapped the metal gate to the wooden post. It hadn’t been there when she’d first driven through the night before. And now it was? Rocket stood there, her truck’s engine ticking over, windows open, dogs on top of each other in the passenger seat, watching. Wanting something from her. But what? They were alive, weren’t they?
“You’re fine,” she told them.
A shake of her head as an inner bolt of electricity cut from left ear to right, a sound like two wires shorting out, zapped, only to be heard by her, in her. Stress did that. She’d found this place a night or two before, an abandoned homestead on the Galisteo mesa outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She liked it enough to think of stocking up on supplies and hiding out. She’d even gotten ready to drive to town to do just that. And would have. But for the locked gate. Fuck. Someone had bolted the gate. Had they seen signs of life, of smoke in the morning air, or the tire tracks? Would they come back? Or rather, when? It was out of her hands.
Frustrated, she turned the truck back towards the barn and parked out of sight, hidden by the woodshed and junipers. From there, she let the dogs out even as she sat in the front seat, thinking. She rested her head on her forearms, across the steering wheel, as the wind picked up and it began to rain.
The next morning, a pink moon dropped over the ridge of pinons as she made coffee, shivering by the Coleman stove, and she tried to practice gratitude. She was alive. There you go. That’s one. Old Dog was snoring. Big, black, white paws, white nose, thick of torso and solid gold of heart. Yes, he was definitely a good thing. Richard Next Door, Dick for short, had threatened to ‘take care’ of the boy, a revenge of sorts, and well, that had been the last straw for Sylvie, now self-named as Rocket.
Rocket. A good name. Dramatic. Fierce. Jax would hate it. She snorted at the thought. Old Dog woke up with a start, eyes cloudy, nose twitching.
“Here boy, I’m here.”
Wag wag wag.
Up popped Littles, a black and tan 35# youngster, a little hound mutt, rescued from Dick’s trashed side yard. She was one of nine girls born to the knackered-out bitch who’d been bred so often her whole body sagged with exhaustion. Killing her had been an act of kindness. One bullet. And then the world had gone to shit.
Rocket wandered around this homestead on the Glorieta Mesa. She picked up firewood, all of the dead and down, filling her arms with as much as she could hold, and then strode back to the empty barn. She’d been lucky to find the place on the gravel county road. She’d been driving in the light of a waning moon, heading down unfamiliar county roads, hungry, cranky. She’d been scared that someone would follow and find her, make her pay for it, that final act of rage that had depleted her reserves. Protecting her own came at a cost. That was the truth of it. And now, well, she had to hide until the dust settled in her old neighborhood. Would anyone notice that she’d gone? Had anyone even noticed her when she was there?
Rocket shook her head and focused on not tripping over Littles who tried to grab one of the sticks in her arms, prancing and jumping about, bark bark, wag, wag, play with me!
Rocket grinned. “Come on, girl, give me a break! We’ll play in a bit, honest. It’s chilly right? Well, it is for me. I need to make a small fire. Old Dog needs the warmth too, those arthritic hips of his, you saw him struggle to stand this morning, didn’t you?”
And so on, Rocket chatted away to her bouncy friend. Littles was silly, she’d make a good dog, eager to learn, held tilted as she listened to Rocket’s monologues, tail happy, eyes attentive, yes a good mutt can’t be beat.
The kettle whistled.
Rocket filled up the red plastic cone with boiling water poured over her French Roast. The aroma mixed with that of the campfire. The sun-filled sky reminded her of working in Ketchikan, Alaska that summer, over a decade ago. A pink salmon sky. Next to the station was a warehouse full of packing machines. Each day she’d watch the men shifting 2-ton pallets, busses they called them, stacked with cans of salmon across the huge outdoor lot. They’d heaved those pallets from one end to the other all day long, sun up to sun down, longer at times, their days interspersed with meals of salmon, and then probably dreams of salmon. Hard work. It made hers look easy, Parks Regulations and Compliance. Always on the move, driving round and looking for trouble. It came. Well, her love of those endless foggy mornings with strong coffee in hand, watching birds of prey going in for the kill came from her time in Alaska.
And OD. Alaskan to the core was her boy.
Rocket stretched out her back, her hips and knees crunching in the morning cool air. She’d worked hard her whole life and was suffering for it now. Same with the rest of the decisions she’s made both decades ago and more recently, there were after-affects. Consequences. And limits to what she could do alone.
Fuck it, Rocket screamed into the deserted mountains, knowing the gate was still locked and she was stuck. Inside. Outside. Same thing.
Rocket muttered reassurances to the pets, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m just letting off steam. I can’t remember what happened and it’s driving me crazy, did I really shoot the fucker? Oh god, I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I don’t care, she tried to tell herself but didn’t yet mean it. She could only move forward each day. Step by step. If she was planning on hiding out here, she’d need to get the well running, perhaps even move into the seemingly abandoned home. The outhouse was manageable, at least it didn’t stink like most do. Rocket couldn’t decide whether to stay or not. Perhaps it was too early. Too soon after the fatal fight with Dick? Tying up big brown boots, stuffing a felt hat over ragged salt and peppered hair, Rocket knocked back her coffee. She assessed herself, and half-smiled. Gangly and awkward, long limbed, sagging tits, thighs to hold lovers in place, a smile that hinted at a softer center, and one eye no longer saw as clearly the other did; Rocket liked who she’d become. Mostly.
Rocket was not Sylvie. A new beginning. It was time. Sylvie had always tried to do the right thing, in theory, all of that stuff she’d been taught by the foster family. Tell the truth had been that home’s mantra but then she’d worked with Jax, her trainee at the Park, and that hadn’t turned out so well, had it? Over a decade to regret that one big lie she’d said to protect both their jobs. And that had affected everything since.
And now she was still dealing with the consequences. Useless to obsess like that, she reminded herself, and at least she had the pension from Park. Early retirement, my ass, she thought and set to work. Chores to ground herself. Time to ponder life and meaning and all that crap can come at a later day. Future me will deal with that, she laughed. OD sat up, ears perked. She could see him think, treat?
With arms full of even more firewood, she stacked a pile ready for a few nights. After that, she emptied out the goat barn, which was a frame and mud building that stank of animals and oddly comforting for that. Reminders that someone had once lived here, raising animals, making a life out in this remote corner of the Glorieta Mesa. If they had done that, so could she. No one would find her here. There were no neighbors to be seen. But for that locked gate, it was perfectly remote. Which meant freedom or loneliness? She didn’t know if it even mattered since there was no choice. Not now. This is where she’d landed.
(This is the first chapter of the novel I’m working on, a work in progress.)