TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES.

ONE:

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. Or no one she would ask. 

So she had disappeared, packed the truck, tossed in the critters, and left that terrible dark night. Home is never safe. 

“Why? Why is everything so bloody hard?”

A shiny thick chain wrapped the metal gate to the wooden post. It hadn’t been there when she’d first driven through. 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. 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. 

A shake of her head as that 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. A clinic down south had taken care of her a while ago, 2013 to be exact, they got her back to functioning enough to live alone. Which had led to renting the cabin next to Dick and well, all of that which had not turned out as the nurses or lawyers had planned. Rocket now knew it wasn’t worth asking for help. Never is. And there were more important things to take care of, like this. Someone had bolted the gate. Someone had seen signs of life, of smoke in the morning air, or tire tracks perhaps. And now she was stuck, unsure of what to do. Was she at risk? Would they come back? Or rather, when? 

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, without a clue as to what to do next. Too tired to think. 

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. 

“Hungry?” 

Wag wag wag. 

Up popped Littles, a black and tan 30# youngster, 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 gentleness. 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 she knew. And now, well, she had to hide until the dust settled in her old neighborhood in Truth or Consequences. 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 Little Dog 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. 

Hey neighbor, yeah, so welcome to Coyote Pass! Come over any time, we like to party here, don’t mind the dogs, they’ll do you no damage unless, well, unless I tell them to. 

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 at Ketchikan, Alaska that summer, decades ago. A pink salmon sky. A warehouse full of packing machines and 2-ton pallets, busses they called them. All were stacked with cans of salmon, and then heaved by one person from one end to the other, for 18 hours per day, interspersed with five meals of salmon, and then six hours filled with dreams of salmon. For seven dollars an hour. The only good that came out of that was her love of those endless foggy mornings with strong coffee in hand, watching bald eagles dive into grey waters. 

Rocket stretched out her back, her hips and knees crunching in the morning cool air. She’d worked hard jobs 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.

And limits to what she could do alone.

Fuck it, Rocket screamed into the deserted mountains. 

Look at you, you’re as good as dead, no family, a loner, you’re easy prey, Sylvie. 

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.”

Rocket 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 shell of the 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. The old ways hadn’t turned out very well and so now she’d reinvent herself in a different part of New Mexico. Fuck Truth or Consequences. She snorted again and then 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. 

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 was oddly comforting. 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 see or be seen by. But for that locked gate. 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. 

Want some? Artie just got it last night from Albuquerque, good sources. He cut it with something but didn’t tell me what. He don’t know. He forgot. I had some last night, still up 

this morning, haha. It is morning, right? Oh, go on, Sylvie. Yeah, why not, eh? 

These blackouts had kicked back in a few years ago after the ‘Incident’ with Jax and the thieving husband. Nausea, headaches, zoning out, just like when she’d been a kid in the Seventies. At that time, they, the nurses and neurologists, had passed it off as puberty. Now the doctors called it PTSD. Nothing to worry about. Even the lawyers accepted the diagnosis. As long as she took her six pills a day and stayed away from Jax and the grandkids, no-one would press charges. That was the agreement, all signed and sealed in secrecy. No end in sight. 

Little Dog ran around, bouncing and tossing herself sticks to chase and tease Old Dog. He barely noticed. Nose twitched, head heavy on paws, a slight wag of acknowledgement. Littles grabbed something from under a trash bag in the goat shed. She trotted back, all proud of the bone in her mouth. 

Rocket said, “let me see, kiddo.”

She held out her hand. It was a femur, burnt and blackened. Whose? Rocket’s knees gave way. 

I mean look at me, not bad for 67, eh? 

Still got the fire in me, yeah, I do, oh go on, come here girl…

Rocket found herself sitting on the ground, coffee mug tipped but unbroken with Old Dog standing next to her, and Littles whimpering in fear. Rocket reached for her pups, reassuring them and buried her nose in the rich comfort of their wriggly furry bodies. 

No one had blamed Rocket for how it had ended all those years ago not like they would for this time. A pattern holds no secrets. 

She still felt guilty for hurting Jax’s ex like that, picturing the man’s smashed face, broken arm, and splitting the family in such a violent – and public – way. The grandkids would never forgive her. Did they remember though? They’d been too young, right? As far as Rocket could see, it hadn’t only been her who’d made a mess of life in Albuquerque. And so, Sylvie had tried again, this time in the south of New Mexico, renting a cabin on the outskirts of T or C, a town known for their healing waters. She’d meant to be living in isolation but apparently the place came with a Dick for a neighbor. And that hadn’t worked out so well. Obviously. 

She shook her head, wondered how long she’d been out this time. It usually only lasted a few moments if that. More of a zoning out than a full black-out. 

Little Dog skipped around, bouncing, tossing bones and sticks all over the place, messing up the firewood pile and Rocket had laughed. She stood up. Brushed off dusty jeans. Picked up the cowboy hat. 

“Things need to change. Not you, it’s me, my life, kiddo. Dealing with my rage. Or is it age? And then, yes, shelter. In no particular order. First though, I’m hungry. You too? You know what I said, you clever girl. Silly bugger, fine. I’ll feed you. Both of you. Come on.” 

As she poured out bowls of kibble, she pondered about how the mix of anxiety and anger had crippled her in the past but to what good? It had in no way prepared her for how life had shifted and shitted on her. The mental loop kept her focusing on all that was out of control. What could she do instead though now that she was starting again? Rocket watched the two dogs eat. OD then begged as she finished the left-over bean burrito from the night before. She rinsed off the mug and plate in a bucket of rainwater. Clean and tidy. 

If there was a media hunt to find out what had happened to Dick, then it was out of her hands. There was a thankful lack of cell phone towers, phone lines, or intrusive neighborhood watches. He was a known dealer, perhaps they put it down to in fighting? Was she off the hook this time? 

Old Dog, with his fully belly, snored from under the pinon tree that hid her truck from view. She’d parked carefully in case anyone else happened along this dirt track leading into the thick woods. It was BLM land perhaps, or private, there was no obvious signs either way. But for that damn lock. Oh shit, who had locked that shared gate and why? What did they have to protect? Or hide? 

Little Dog hobbled over, her back leg lifted, and her soft voice whimpered. Rocket glanced towards the sound. 

“Oh no! Sweet girl, what happened? Let me grab my glasses and see, shall we?”

Thirty pounds of a mini-Rottie/Pitbull limped across the dust. The brown and white patches over her eyes made it look she was frowning in concentration and Rocket hid her smile. She knelt next to her pup and ran gentle hands over legs, thighs, spine, paw with black fur, one paw with white, and she found nothing. No cactus barbs. No broken bones. All good but not good because Littles whined and tucked her tail when Rocket stood back up. 

“Hush now, hush now. I can’t see anything. Did you pull a muscle? Okay, well, let me put you in the truck, okay? Time out. Rest up, kiddo. Take a nap.”

Old Dog watched with cloudy eyes, ears perked. After a very short moment, he lay his head back down with a thump, heavy bodied and satisfied to find that she wasn’t angry, hurt, or scared. His job was done.

See this? I’ll give you more if … 

This land she’d found was trashed. It was as if a family had left before a great flood. Or after. No joke, the property really did appear to have suffered a deep flood, scraps of wood, textiles, and trash were half-covered in mud, especially along the horse fencing. She decided to do something about it even if the place was not hers. She was a squatter with heart. 

The meadow offered long open views to the east and west with a horizon filled with mountains and snow caps. The grassland was fed by springs and all around the broken home was the potential for an oasis. Fruit trees, rose bushes, paths, dog houses, fire pit, a swing from an incredibly thick-waisted cottonwood. It would be a wonderful challenge. She wandered off to explore more, clambering through dead and downed pinons and junipers, chamisa and wildflowers, rocks, and arroyos. Stunning landscape smelling of sap and heat. 

Fuck you, that’s not very neighborly, is it? Laughing at me? Fuck you. 

 I only came to keep you company, you sad ole bitch. 

A raven squabbled with a red-tailed hawk over some carcass. The woods closed in around her. Her mind was blank – again. Stress really messed with her head. Her knees were dusty. She pushed herself up to standing and took stock of herself. Nothing broken. Not too hungry or thirsty so it hadn’t been a long stretch of time then. Sun in the mid sky. No clouds. The trees hid her view of what, she couldn’t remember. Rocks stuck out of the scrub land. Dead pine trees crossed a slight path that headed up hill. Something told her that she needed to head downwards though. The woods were silent now. No birds. No dogs. Emptiness surrounded her. 

She did not panic. 

Rocket was adjusting to these blackouts which probably wasn’t a good sign, and then she thought of her dogs, where were they? What had she done this time? 

Hey, nice Glock 9mm, let me see. 

A blue jay flickered in and out of the junipers and scrub oak. To the north, thick tall pine trees held court for a bunch of swallows, all lifting and settling, depending on the cues from one or two on the highest branches. Rocket wondered what triggered their panicked flights, but she couldn’t see shit. Her breath came in short bursts. She held a rock in one hand, small and jagged. She touched it with her tongue, remembering a friend from years ago. Armohn. His baby girl had been having a ‘moment’, hiccupping, and screaming in frustration. Armohn calmly told his daughter to take a deep breath, over and over he’d said it until she did, one after another and within five breaths, the little one had calmed and smiled up at her papa. 

Rocket took a breath. Counted to four, let it out on a count of four, held empty for another four seconds and breathed in again. 

Repeat. In. Out. No change. In. Out. 

I said, swallow.

A blue bird popped from one branch to another in the tallest pine tree near her. It fluttered in and out of sight, a flash of joy, making her smile. She followed it, scrambling up from one thick branch to another through the closely packed pine needles, which scratched at her skin of face and hands. The branches were solid enough to hold the weight of this middle-aged slightly unfit and cranky woman. She kept squeezing herself upwards. Into the soft sound of bird wings within the calm. 

Don’t even think about telling. I’d hear if you did. 

I’ll fucking kill you and your little doggies too.

Rocket was thankful that this tree had survived the devastation of bark beetle. It was surviving, thriving even, and the branches bent but didn’t break, and her new friend, the blue bird, watched from a slight and swaying twig, iridescent and bright.

The sight of the distant Sangre de Cristos had placed her, the homestead, and gave her a goal. A direction. She would not think about the past. Would not worry about what she had or had not done. She would concentrate on this, the next step, the rocks, the pine needles in her hair, the dust on her boots, the sand below, the blue birds above, and the dogs. Rocket climbed back down to the sandy ground. Alone. 

She yipped, human-coyote style. 

Two dogs barked. 

One deep, a howl. The other lighter, a whine. 

Hers. 

The relief made her stumble as she began to run towards the sound. Those two dogs were her only friends and family. They were the reason she’d had to fight back, to stop Dick and his threats, to take care of business. She didn’t know exactly what she’d done to the fucker, her brain-farts as she called them had protected her from remembering anything after pulling the trigger. 

She stepped out from the trees and stared across the meadow. Her truck stood half in the shade. A window was cracked open, and she sensed rather than saw that Little Dog was stuck inside. Fuck. Don’t let her die in there, it’s too hot, it’s too hot. She ran, stumbled, and ran. She waved as she scrambled over rocks and shrubs to get to them both, Old Dog stood, his snout pointing in her direction, his eyes blind and ears deaf to her reassuring gestures and shouts. Little Dog stuck her nose out the window, panting but alive. Rocket tore the door open, muttering to herself, pouring out water for the panting pup. Littles seemed no worse for wear: She drank up the bowl full, saw the old femur bone, and pounced on it with a mock growl. Old Dog turned towards Rocket, stumbling towards her, wag wag wag.

Struck with such deep gratitude for these two, Rocket laughed even as she sank down, and in the dirt, the three of them collapsed together. Littles licked her salty face. Old Dog snuffled and leaned into her. They were safe, for now. 


(This is the first chapter of the novel I’m working on, a work in progress.)

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