Death Valley Days

Evan Myquest By Evan Myquest, 9th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Fictional Verse

Western Death Valley mule-skinning, sun-blinding prose poem about the town of New Promise--a town with two disappointments in its name alone.

Death Valley Days, Section One

1. walking among the totems, they cannot see me, cannot hear me speaking, i introduce them to each other for that vague feeling they will have of meeting somewhere before. each is tall, winged, frightening with merciless predator eyes, visages without a promise of compromise they now talk all day of what they will do to any interloper. this concert gets uglier by the moment, pray for the whistling mountain man trespassing here

2. nowhere in justice does it say verdicts equal fairness, there are gifts of cloudless freedom to the undeserving and dark holes for the guiltless yet damned. it is an operating room where the theater team has too many duties to get to know all the facts, or wants to, i walk unseen through the auditorium knowing deeply it will be a bad day on the table today. the gods that are thought to care don’t. stygian gondoliers form a black parade through this night. pray not to be a stranger in the town of the missing loaf of bread

3. trail riding is hard on the ass enough without having to gallop away from certain death, spurs dig to blood as hooves dig for purchase, iron shoe traction sparks on rock. when they formed the posse this morning there was big talk of rope and trees. i went among them somewhat astonished by the bravado. free drinks and a fast deputation before the cause and effect reality of chasing a firefight gained the upper mind. a little coffee and half them'd stay home. pray not be the innocent through the unscouted canyon chute. for men with bottles and guns lay in wait

4. across the playa a twenty mule team hauls a wagonload of borax. at this mornings coffee the grizzled drovers were bored to death. their teeth hurt like hell to a man and the sun was bone-warming early and even the mules were prepared to co- operate to get out of this place, that is, if they were treated like living beasts and watered enough. but when your teeth hurt you cannot care about an animal with ten times your strength--only that it is dependent on your power to beat it to death for your mood. the first mule died early and the skinner went to work one eye on that drover for sun madness. but they were all of a kind that day. pray not to be in the lead and stumble twice when the whole world is white with the wind blowing salt in your whip wounds

5. the town’s water tower is leaking, signifying decay beyond caring. in a sandy-floored tavern a meeting of the townsfolk called about repairing the tower comes to affirmative resolve for repairs, but member after member talks to what should have been done years ago. in their midst i am baffled at the distraction and name-calling. impending violence is heavy in the room as these men settle their differences in few ways, ways that keep the undertaker and his measuring string busy. i have seen how fast he works lacking refrigeration in this about to blow away tumbleweed town. the tower drip worsens. pray not to be among the few without chairs and tables to duck behind or the worst tremoring old shootist at the table

6. hot little schoolhouse, emptied for recess, less than a dozen children at recess if not in river bluff hookey now. in the middle of the bigger children I hear plots of merciless sidewinder snake games on the younger ones. especially the girls. dared into the collection of a snake for the games, the largest and dumbest feels around the rock for the animal. it was the best of days to be among the river rats. pray you never see or feel necrosis as swift as the big one did

7. some old women, not as old as you would think, sit around a table of donated food and whisper how heard tell a lusty woman could fare well in earlier times, get all the drink she could want for rubs. a woman looks out from under heavy lids and repeats more heard tell about being bruised from teats to toes a couple times but that was when business was good and not minded, come hell high water or the preacher himself, wranglers drink bad teeth and all. pray heard tell that alone in the room you have concealed the right caliber protection

8. you’d have to have a lot of money to be the town drunk and gravedigger. no one buys for the old sweat-mudded sexton, at least not more than a flipped coin tipsworth. too many chills just to be around his maundering babble for long, he babbles on about bullets his customers have taken, imaginary notches on their weapons. so he buys his own drinks and drinks alone. i have stood there when a late customer was catholic or polish or irish and it’s dark late, and no one sees him at the bar taking free ones on the family's cuff, that is, until he babbles under- taker gossip like the time he saw a high-toned woman squat and loose her piss on a fresh grave in plain day. pray you're not drunk enough then to look like you need burying

9. there are towns with promise and some with the name only on a warped dryboard shingle. some towns are waystops. some are terminals. some are about mineral rights dreams and the best that that brings out in citizens. how the devil must certainly be amused by those with new in the name. how much magnetic expectation! a marauding predator’s dream--exposed prey. i walk among the common folk and hear the carping, the demise of the optimism, creeping realization of their exposure gamble. yes, being on the dry side of the hills the town of New Promise is something an eagle’s vantage would deride. only humans would co-exist at lizard levels and think themselves as masters of the foodchain. scree and dive on them. pray never to live where there are two inevitable disappointments in the name alone

10. all the fourth of july bunting in the closets of new promise would not cover its most powerful citizens shame. when the tote is calculated on the cemetery hill the winners and losers see no balance. they are both dead beneath the darting lizards. no component of justification for the name of new promise. new promise is complete and fulfilled. it is about keeping its appointed destiny. pray citizens i love, it is too bad you cannot see me and right yourselves before i see you

11. smoke comes from a burned out house. not a burned outhouse but a family home where i heard the nervousness in the father’s voice about the banditos operating in the area. the more those marauders banded together the harder it was to feed them all, with keeping stolen women, and so the bolder they schemed, extorting ranches and whole waystop towns, for food and legal invisibility. but not this man. not this family. close enough to new promise not to feel apart if they came. he had not figured that new promise thought his family’s screams were their early warning system. pray when the sound of hooves thunders, it thunders past where you hide

12. they found the remains of a skull in the desert. no one would have cared except it was four feet across and had a six inch attacker’s tooth still in the snout. some people from the east came out to see it. i heard them talking about the find, excited over their parlor drinks and cigars. they did not make it to the site. a bad wind came up and killed them all (with help from a cowardly and duplicitous guide)--this despite their amazon and asian jungle experience. no one else came then for years. pray paleontologists do not find your home and neighbors too primitive to research

13. law ‘n order joke. two cross holstered gun toughs walk into a bar. i chuckle as they walk through me singing something close to I shot the sheriff. in the sheriff's office the carnage is not pretty. that movie head side shot with the little bullet hole in the forehead and the open eyes, not here, this valley is not the movies for another century or more yet--there are no small caliber guns. no tiny bullet holes. the toughs also shot the deputy. these toughs do not like being interfered with when they wake hungover in a joke of a cell. a smart sheriff would have let them sleep it off. JB just had to wake them and push them out of the cell. he might have just as well put his hand in a snake hole. volunteer sheriff. forever and ever is a long time to be dead and stupid

14. every town has a whore with brains and a good heart. not new promise. it has two of them, paulette and jane. paulette and jane run the upstairs rooms back of the firehouse. both rooms. no lack of customers. volunteerism is rampant. wives always know where their husbands are. the mine foremen know where their employees are. i hear the wives and foremen swearing at the absent men. they are at the firehouse of course, on civic watch duty. or jane. or paulette. forever and ever it is the sweetest and smartest of setups unless your house or business is burning

15. sadness in new promise is reserved for the diseased. people are unusually healthy until they are not. here twenty somethings are middle-aged, expectancies beyond this hump age are laden with surrender, denial, and visibly dim, lack of optimism of continuing gain is the tipping point. only the drunks have a sense of the humor of life. the weight is on which side tragedy will strike from, not if. i send warriors down from my totems to murder the less vigilant. forever and ever is when you win one less time than I do

16. bony sleeping dogs lie in the heat of New Promise. shuddering orgasmic dreams get left behind to kicks from impotent men. in the size up its the size of the gun and the way its worn that determines right of way on the planks across building gaps, unless the pistole is in a garter. exploring hands often fnd more than bargained for. some pistoles are bigger than others and size is not always trump. a derringer against the ear is trump of a kind. forever and ever is the time between a mistake of a punch and hearing the cocking and hammering home

17. emaciated horses asses in corrals look like shovels under a blanket. i hear handlers say their hands are tied to feed costs without much regard to the animals living or dying. the butcher sells more asino than cow these days. the sky hints at relief at the ground's worst cracking dryness. thunder sounds in the hills and prayers ask for it to come down this side of hell for a change. forever and ever is a long time to eat donkey haunch.

18. lightning strikes in the hills. the town citizens assume but beg not to let it be another bunch of dry flashes this time. streaky clouds even at that distance say it is not. they see the telltale foam. a massive head like a fresh beer is growing in the distant desert. i hear people panic shout for children who just want to watch in awe. not knowing. not remembering the arroyo danger. they don’t remember that the delicious drops on their faces now can also kill. they see only the reward of a cool throat for once. plunking drops on dusty faces. streaks in dust for once not sweat. men run with shovels and bags to divert the rush of knee deep water that can wash the town away like it was dust born and formed. forever and ever is just time enough to remember the last rain's toll

19. there is a worn trail from the gambling table to the rear of the firehouse for the winners. loser consolation is the drunk tank for liquor is more preferable to the mineral stink to the town's brackish water. a tar patch on the water tower attests to the length of the drought like a battle medal of desperation. the rain signals to the wary that the canvas dust cover should come off the tower if it can fix to rain some. takes three men to roll the cover to one side and down. cheers greet the frst drops of rain when people actually believe it is felt. forever and ever is just the length of time people can be pessimistic

20. the town of new promise smelled better after the washout. once the streets dried back and became passable a person could take a whiff of town air without getting a nostril stinging methane burn. a person could walk in a line without zigzagging animal waste piles. but it did not pay to become used to clean air days. the streets and sanitation department was a half century away and whatever building had the hitching post had the duty. if it cared. forever and ever was the time until church social cleanup

21. kill or be. killed. nameless wagon-top newhire kid died stung a dozen times by flushed out ground wasps because of his allergy to them. natural overkill since the frst two stings were sufficient for the result. swatting at the wasps and almost killing the veteran wagon driver with the reins as the kids shotgun waved around following the old man like it was stink guided. old krebsie thought the wasp attack on the kid was funny until the gun waving. but then the kid swoll up in the throat. gasped big and went bug-eyed. then keeled off the wagon. forever and ever is from the time you find out you're allergic and the next time you're swatting at buzzing death itself

22. new arrivals in town. gambler. preacher. dentist. thank the lord, oh thank the lord everyone thought, a god sent dentist. keep your godservants. let the announcement go forth the town council had an answered prayer. the doc got out of the coach for hire rumble box and from the top step looked around and wondered where the quaint valley in the letter had ended and this dry heat furnace had begun and why the coach had continued on into the innerworks of it. somewhere back they must have missed the oasis of plenty turn and pursued the offramp of the eye of hell itself. I milled among the gap-smiled welcoming crowd and lone trumpeter. they whisked that man to his office before he could speak. the waiting room was full at the sound of the trumpet. forever and ever is the time it takes from welcome pleasantries to a cocked lap pistol while doing a banditos extraction

23. superstitious people can get a cat killed faster than a roach. but it does not get it buried until the smell overcomes the town air in a one up battle for layered putrescence. forever and ever is just that long

24. wild horse desert stampede dust storms are a sight. so is a camel getting up off the ground in horse and mule country. totem spirits of reinvention and innovation are not strangers to the desert. too bad drunk pistolero eduardo woke to a long-tongued monster vision in his face. he said it stepped on him was why he shot it. but all knew it was the wake up shock of the joke by the camel thieves, ed's gang, were playing. waking to those nostrils and that bleat took a few years off eduardo that he could not spare for the business he was in. loaded guns and inevitabilities go hand in hand. forever and ever is explaining that to the army brig guards heaping camel shit in your cell

Death Valley Days, Section Two

1. blazing sun casts the darkest of shadows. we have a witness in any badge holder of new promise. the sheriff for one. JB did not live to see his shadow outside of the jail office when the walkers stepped over his body on their way to the saloon. the balance of light and shadow became his deficit. from the shadows i watched the elder walker, sam, avoid getting JB's blood on his boots. i watched as the twenty year old tousled headed deputy opened the door and occupied the wrong spot at the wrong time. out of the shadows he took a bullet fusillade that propelled him backward like he was jacket wired to a slingshot cable. in the absence of witnesses legends grow

2. sun madness is when the white shimmering heat make a fata morgana lifelike enough for a mule driver to steer around it. these days after the food a detour can mean burying the wagonload and several mules haunch deep in a sucking mud just under the cracked dried white surface of the desert. a desert layer which looks exactly like the months before the mountain storm. some mules will be left behind where they lost their balance in the quickmud. they bray until the desert claims them. in the absence of witnesses, bones talk of mirages

3. out of sheer tiredness for food cleaning it was deemed necessary to move the town one mile north. a bit higher ground in lieu of mountainside embankment dikes familiar to most playa settlements. the deciders did not favor the hemmed in feeling of dikes limiting any forthcoming town growth. it was easy enough to lever the wooden buildings onto rollers. the model for it had been around since the Egyptians. it wasn’t like anyone had to change a zip code. in the absence of witnesses, the wind can quickly cover the deepest tracks made by a twenty mule building caravan

4. Paulette and Black Jane have this performance they put on for a hefty price. the women wash each other in a shower and invite the client in to rid himself of his layer of desert and protective cover. guns off. the participants partake of scented oil rubs from the East. the town snickers at sweet smelling clientele afterward. jasmine and horse manure are aromatic counterpoint. in the absence of witnesses, a lingering aroma can inspire hilarity

5. while friends and family of JB got to together to load their shotguns with shards of beer glass smashed in cloth sacks, the Walkers resumed drinking away the rest of their lives. the men laid in wait for the drinkers to come out back of the saloon for pissing. the shotgun blasts took the skin and clothes clean off the Walkers--whose last words, with members in hand, were “not yet.” in the absence of witnesses, the master of moving pictures says, if one does not fear the dark one lacks imagination

6. once a man named Josiah crossed the local snow mountains in just his underwear and boots. he free climbed down cliff faces of ice and snow. he did all the right things to balance out survival against death from the elements. out of the mountains he told of sights or visions of frightening totem poles and burial ground platforms where no known local tribe was known to have used them. nor could have due to the frost line height. some said the cold got his mind before the visions but in the absence of witnesses, the storyteller citing monsters is credible to the exclusion of daylight fact

7. a native american belief local to New Promise told of a mountain dwelling civilization with large eyes and short stature. these people lived in ice caves impervious to hypothermia because they had a glowing aura of cold electric fire to them. if you could bring down and construct a suit of burgundy St. Elmo’s aurora borealis you would also have seen the upper sections of Josiah’s totem visions. citizens of New Promise begged Josiah to show them the way back through the hills. it could not happen. because, in the absence of witnesses to help him, Josiah had zero memory of his path except its common valley and mountain features

8. how does a mountain man lose all but his underwear the townsfolk asked Josiah any chance they could get. Josiah, without a memory in the world, could not say. only I could as I flew alongside Joe. this time in the shape of a raven with rather large eyes. of all my shapes, the flying shapes give me the most pleasure. it is easy enough to be a dog among tavern groups or street groups of people in New Promise. one must remember to be quite anemic and emaciated in choosing an invisible blending shape. I flew along with the mountain man because the totems told me that Joe was trespassing and saw things he was not meant to. like burgundy auroras around totems above the snowline cold. it was a gift on the part of Joe to leave his clothes and walk away. so he thought. in the absence of witnesses, I assumed a shape pleasing to Joe to make Joe give up the warmth of his clothing.

9. I walk among them that they might lull and wag their tongues into informing me of their affairs so I might inform the totems. they mostly talk of dying and death though. perhaps their civilization is not sufficiently advanced to predict their own longevity through their genetic code. a most fascinating dumb animal existence with the violence and primal sense heightened. in the absence of witnesses, they call themselves out in prayers for the needs and desires they choose not to sacrifice themselves for

10. to swoop and run is to play in this world. I want to believe I never intervene. but so many of them encroach that small penalties must be inflicted. a storm and flood. a native mountain woman succubus. eerie glows. nothing I would not do for my own children to set boundaries. I am no trickster. even allowed just to watch I could not help but double over with their self-inflicted classical drama. with their weekly ritual wishlists read out to hymnal rhythms. in the absence of witnesses, they believe I intervene in their lives far far more than I do

11. I do not paint their sunsets nor color their rockscapes though they may certainly dazzle. their seasons come and go without my help. I spare them none of my science and I let them take their measurements of their world and hold no sway in their progress. what they mix and believe happens is not my concern. only the mountain. only the particular crevice valley and my dead. in the absence of witnesses, I could “do” things but those housed in the totems bear all-seeing witness to my means of caring for them

12. increment by increment, I see them gain hold where they should not. they have taken to the air and can rain destruction at will upon each other. still it is not for me to intervene. their rituals grow names like experiment and double blind test. their politics and their bellies consume them and their environment. acid is as acid does I would tell them if I were the interventionist god they take me for. they now believe in the absence of witnesses and counterbalance to their mirage of self-importance


Aliens, Cowboy, Fiction, Gunslingers, Poetry, Prose, Sci-Fi, Short Story, Western

Meet the author

author avatar Evan Myquest
Born in northern Illinois & moved to NorCal with my wife Eva half my life ago. Avid attender of poetry readings--but do not take the stage myself. Wonderful friends do it for me.

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