M Cid D’Angelo
Here the two-lane highway comes to an inevitable cross with an unpaved gravel through-and-through that appears to come from nothing and heads toward nothing. There are great snow-capped peaks to the northeast after the flat desert, and opposite, the land falls away into nothing. Phoenix is off that way, somewhere beyond the great flat line and oblivion.
The pickup comes to a halt right at the crossroads. There’s a brief pause before the passenger door opens and someone gets out. An exchange of gratitude and welcomes float away in the cooling air – cooling because it’s nearing December. A moment later and the truck is off toward points that’ll suffice for civilization, leaving the tall Indian man with long, unkempt hair standing there for some while, his duffle bag at his feet, surveying the dusty road toward the mountains.
Big Sky Country and the Last Stand before the World Changes.
He shoulders his bag and heads on.
John River’s ranch is the first home he comes to, that is, it used to be called John River’s Ranch, but now it’s changed hands and the current owners have put up a stalwart gate on the drive and a black-on-white placard reads DOWNE HOME. Since it’s just yards off the Willow River Apache Indian Reservation, it’s owned by white people now – the Downes. It makes sense.
The Roadrunner has never met them, the Downes, but he’d known John River and the River clan all his life. They’re gone now, somewhere. The Rivers are full Apache and they aren’t living anywhere near the Rez these days. The Roadrunner decides he’ll ask about them and where they’ve ended up. Someone in town will know.
By the time he makes the town limits of Ekta, the sky has become a somber, moody blanket. No one is there to pick him up because no one knows about his arrival. The Roadrunner hasn’t wanted a lot of fuss because the non-whites off the Rez would show up and make a big deal out of it, like they always do. The Town Elder Council hasn’t made any complaints, but he’s seen the inconvenience his fame has made for them.
They don’t care about his fame. The people. They really don’t. Nothing changes for them because White fame isn’t the same as Red fame and, well, they don’t like Red fame either. All of it’s unwelcome.
Which is why when he passes Leonard’s Mercantile, the clerk out front just gives him a wave and goes about his business sweeping the day’s leavings off the porch. The cattlemen have been in, it appears, by the droppings.
The Roadrunner heads up the dusty way and comes to his uncle’s house. There’s a number there, issued by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, out by the mailbox. It reads: 5629. The house is still just as bland and poor as it’s always been. It whispers:
Welcome Home, Michael Roadrunner.
You’ve been gone now a long while, this last time.
But you’re back now.
And you’re alone, which is a good thing.
But you know we don’t have anything here for you.
We didn’t have anything when you first started out.
We didn’t have anything when you came back all rich and famous either.
He unlatches the gate and heads up.
The uncle is dead; he’s been gone now for almost 10 years. The Roadrunner’s older sister owns the place from a half-assed inheritance that doesn’t mean a lot. Margret Walker’s now unmarried from a dozen of excuses and besides, he never really could see her married for long. She’s just not that way. Not that she’s unattractive for a woman nearing 60; she’s just headstrong and bent. Bent. Bent psychologically – not physically. She has no children from a mostly-celibate life, despite her marriages.
“Do they still call you Roadrunner?” Margret asks from the stove. He can’t tell if there’s any change in her oft-deadpan gaze because her back’s to him.
“Because white people never get it. I guess ‘Walker’ isn’t good enough for them. Or you.”
Margret brings him apache tacos. They’re soft tortillas filled with beef and acorns and some pleasing sauce the Roadrunner doesn’t recognize. All the apache tacos he’s had have tasted like the skins off cacti.
They eat in silence for the most part because Margret doesn’t care about what’s going on outside the Rez and Roadrunner doesn’t want to tell her anything about it either because it’s a weird world and he knows she won’t understand it.
She does ask him, though, “Are you still part of that rock and roll band?”
He shakes his head; they’ve been apart for some while.
“And that wife of yours? Where is she?”
There are a few minutes before Margret’s got her nerve up to ask, “Do you have any money?”
Nothing has changed in the millions of years since he’d been a teenager. Not here. Not in this place – his old home – the home of his uncle who has gone away to the Great Mystery. The Great Mystery. That’s a laugh. The Roadrunner’s been away for so long – so disconnected – that he can’t remember the religious names of his Apache upbringing.
Well, gone spiritually if not physically.
Now that’s the name of the Grand Creator of the Apache world. And he thinks it’s funny. Funny – because he hadn’t thought of that name in such a long time and now it just rolls in his brain as he stares at the dusty ceiling of his old bedroom. It’s all Jesus Jesus Jesus these days. He wonders if the People have really accepted Jesus over the Old Ways. He doesn’t know. No one talks about the Old Ways anymore.
The Roadrunner’s not with them anymore either, you know. No. It’s gone. The boy had left so many years ago and that’s what’s really sad about the whole thing because it’s not like one could just walk away for a few years and then come back and things would be somehow the same.
Some while later he finds himself in bed, listening to the sounds of the desert. He rolls to his side and tries not to think. He can hear stray dogs barking. Maybe they’re not dogs; maybe they’re coyotes. There’re many coyotes to be found in the wide thirsty land between the Rez and Phoenix.
They sound a little like those hyenas on the nature documentaries, he thinks. Coyote – Coyote ….
There’s a song in that, somewhere. It doesn’t matter anymore, though, because the Roadrunner has come home and his wife is far, far away. On the road. The forever and ever road. Stretching away and away and away … and I’ve seen the future little Apache boy and everything turns out ALL RIGHT.
He’s asleep before he knows it.
These dunes, these hills of ancient dust – he remembers them well. The ranchers back in the day had been a surly lot, more than eager to shoot buckshot or rock salt into the backside of an errant Apache kid on a Yamaha 80 motorcycle. He supposes now that it hadn’t mattered if he’d been truly trespassing on their lands; the ranchers didn’t care for anyone riding around on their watch, their skin or not.
It’s too easy to fall into that trap, of bigotry. Not all the ranchers back then had been hateful, but then again, perhaps a good many were – are.
Oh, and now he can see Jinny McCabe’s old ranch. The Roadrunner doesn’t know if her family still owns it or not. Yes, he’s known many women since her and now, isn’t that funny? Beyond thousands of musical performances and venues, his dick in anything that moved in the backstage rooms and innumerable hotels strung between here and East Europe and Australia – why can’t he forget teenage Jinny McCabe? And, no, she’d never put her white hand in his, nor had she touched his lips with hers. Those years ago, the Roadrunner had only been a dim shadow occupying the out-of-the-way recesses of her sideways glance. He is and will always be an Apache and she the white daughter of an Arizona rancher. Anyhow, why does it seem that with all his fame and money that he can have any woman anywhere at any time – and yet, now, standing here overlooking her childhood ranch – why does he pine for the mere ghost of a girl he’d known only in his adolescence?
He’s stood there for a long while now, the western sun on his back, just like it’d been in the old days. Who lives down there in the ranch now?
The Roadrunner can’t recall ever seeing young Jinny McCabe in the yard of her ranch or the pens near the house when he’d been a teen sitting near this very same spot. She’d had brothers there too; he doesn’t remember much about them because they’d been older.
At his back, the sun moves toward lands far away, to where his wife is at the moment. Her culture – her people – isn’t Apache, but it isn’t the same as Jinny McCabe’s either.
Now, he can’t remember for certain, and the years of rock and roll fantasies and substance abuse have screwed reality around, but, didn’t Jinny McCabe once tell him that she’d wait forever?
Somehow the Roadrunner has made his way down the dunes to the drive of the old McCabe Ranch and he sees that the old name placard is gone but there’s nothing on the lone mailbox either.
The Roadrunner sticks his hands in his jeans pockets and walks away.
I’m the one
I’m the one
They warned you about
Ghost in the machine
Have no doubt
I’m the one they warned you about
The Roadrunner is mumbling their first hit song. Has it been so long ago? He grimaces, thinking how inane it sounds, rolling in his brain. It’s a tired old pop song now. It’s been in every goddamn music hall and venue and concert and radio station since … the old days … the days when it all was exciting and mattered. The days before reality caved in and one realizes they’ve become nothing but a high-priced whore with an electric guitar.
The Roadrunner, in his innocence, hadn’t known, not really, what Jinny meant to him back then. I’m the one they warned you about, Jinny. Pain and sadness but altogether PAIN. Pain dancing close to the fire, Roadrunner. But you can’t stay away from it.
It seems like someone is standing not far from the outer fence of the old McCabe Ranch.
The breeze, a soft and subtle touch of the Devil’s tongue, sweeps the white fluttering fabric around and it twists back on itself. It’s not her, after all: a tarp or a blanket or a plastic cover. No – it isn’t Jinny McCabe and her light blond hair. Rancher’s girl. Horse girl.
Oh, walls. Walls erected along paths of love kept forever the hopes of one so far away from his target. She’d never spoken to him at school even though they came close together once upon rare times when the universe was being cruel. He only a shadow to her, perhaps; a reservation kid who’d successfully lied about who he was and where he lived just so he could haunt the halls of public schools beyond his range.
That one time, though, he’s certain he’d seen her at her ranch.
Now, that had to have been her! All those years ago! The swift-moving blond thing on her way to the family pick-up. He remembers he’d hopped on his bike and coaxed a chortle from its engine. Kicking it into gear, he’d headed out on the opposite side of the rise, hoping to make the road from the ranch just in time to “accidentally” meet Jinny McCabe before she was gone.
It didn’t have to be perfect, just enough for him to ride across the road in time for her to see him. The lone ranger on his trusty metal steed. The heroic one, you know? He would pop a wheelie or something. Give her a show. Look at me!
In terrible hope, Roadrunner’s distracted flight had forced him to forget the dip of the far end of the ravine and the soft sand of the rise beyond it. Just as he hit the sand, his front wheel twisted around and he dumped his bike – and himself – into a heap.
Unhurt, he’d pulled the bike up and jumped on the seat, kicking the engine back to life and then hurtling himself up the rise again to find her… and yet missing the object of his affection as she sped onward and outward.
That’d been that. In a nutshell. He’d never seen Jinny McCabe again.
There’s a Pentecostal church up the road. It’s all flat land, and the wind doesn’t seem to stop – ever. The Roadrunner hasn’t been here in a long while.
The pavement ends, and the road is called Newbury, but like most roads thereabouts, its name origins are unknown. Nobody goes in for any of that Native American horseshit about having roads named after pertinent cultural icons or even religious ones.
The Roadrunner sits on the low whitewashed wall and looks over the clutter of gravestones. There’s none here that stand out from another because no one has the cash or the audacity to be remembered. Among them, it takes an eagle eye to find that particular one, but even now the Roadrunner has a difficult time recalling faces and voices. Now isn’t that funny? Dead in death as well as dead in memory. There are only a few phrases here and there scattered names like bones:
DELIGHT “MILLIE” WALKER
There are crosses on the stones. Etchings. WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS. That sort of thing. He’s paying for someone to come out and weed the graves, and it appears that somebody’s doing that.
“You’ll see. Once you leave, the family won’t accept you anymore. Your friends won’t accept you. You won’t be Apache again. You won’t be part of the people. Ask anyone who’s ever left.” It’d been Margret’s eyes that had told him this, long ago, her lips never having moved, and no sound from her thin lips.
The Roadrunner debates. They all act like they don’t want him at home, on the Rez, and they also told him before that he’d be sorry if he ever left. It’s been some time, yes, since he was here last and maybe somehow like eons in their memory, but for him it seems just like yesterday.
The family has always been that way. Go on, if you want. Get out of here, Michael Walker. You’re not like them, the white people, but you’re not like us either. You’re a half-breed, born outside the marriage because your Apache dad had hooked up with a wayward white woman who hadn’t known any better. Go on. Go away. But… don’t leave us either.
There aren’t many words of goodbye but it appears that the closer the time comes for him to go play his guitar again, the colder his family’s hearts become. They sit there, watching him in silence on the porch as they eat. There are three of them: Rachel and Little Millie and Margret.
Millie, the youngest sister, gazes at him over her bowl of beef stew. You’ll see. You thought you were lonely before, but wait until you leave us. You’ll never come home again.
They all look tumbled down and broken, in their way, but he’ll never tell them that. They have only themselves, he thinks, and it’s hard comfort to know that they never ask to come away with him. It’s not their world, Rachel will argue in that nasal voice of hers.
The Roadrunner ties a red bandana around his dark hair to keep the stinging sweat from his eyes. He ignores his sisters’ silent entreaties. He gets to his feet and dumps what’s left of his lunch in the outer bin and heads inside. The desert is stifling, melting. Everything. Everywhere. Burn burn burn.
When he sits on the broken couch in his room, he draws up his knees and puts his head in his hands. Maybe he shouldn’t go away anymore. They would hate him – the remnants of his family. And what’s really scary is that maybe they all hate him anyway, no matter what he does. Maybe he just hasn’t noticed after all this time.
His ride’s here.
They gather around. Rachel holds his guitar and walks him to the rumbling car. Pain and sadness, yes? Pain dancing in the fire, Roadrunner. But he can’t stay away from it.
No one waves goodbye.
M Cid D'Angelo has spent much of his life living in the American Southwest; he's been a radio announcer in Prescott AZ, a technical writer in Las Vegas NV, and a freelance writer in Southern California. The western lands and motif is nothing new to him. His short stories have appeared in print and online in literary journals such as Eureka Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, The Silk Road Review, decomP magazinE, among others. His seaside horror novel, Dead Reckoning, was published by the small press/publisher J Ellington Ashton Press and placed as a 2015 Finalist for Best Horror Fiction by Preditors & Editors (Critter Award).