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The sun was nearly down. The hills were silhouettes against the celestial body. Against the blackness of the sky the light of the sun was but a dim torch in a deep cavern that had never seen the sunshine and never smelled the rain.

Among the dark was the maelstrom of creation. All of nature waited patiently for watchful eye of God to turn his back on their corner of the Earth. A barn owl found her perch and awaited the scurrying feet of mice. A coyote emerged from its den in the rocks and it crouched on its front legs to observe the light as it receded from the woods and the fields.

A man stepped out the door of a house. The void of the night was thick like it were a substance that could be touched and tasted. He reached in his pocket and produced a crushed box of cigarettes. He slid one out from the others and lit the end and took a long drag. The smoke left his lungs and returned to the chaos beyond the light of the porch.

The man leaned a hand against the porch’s post. He could still see the sky over the fields. A tower reached into the heavens on the horizon. Its massive and tall shape only intermittently came into view as the red lights that ran up its base turned on and off again. They shortly illuminated the many cables that extended down from the top of the thing like the legs of a giant metallic arachnid.

He knew not the purpose of the tower. To him it was but another fixture on the landscape. A thing whose purpose was as irrelevant to him as the draw behind his house or the trees on the hills. The tower was and forever would be outside the domain of his influence and existed on a plane above his own.
He put the cigarette to his lips again and pulled the last good drag from the filter and flung it from the porch. He turned back and went inside.

The house was lit only by the flickering flames in the fireplace. The walls were shabby and the floor was thick with grime but under the low light of a fire one might not notice. The living room was almost bare of furniture save the small couch that sat in the corner and an old chipped rocking chair.
Along the fireplace the small frames of the man’s three young daughters sat huddled together and shivered under one large quilt. They did not move as he stepped in.

The flames of the hearth licked the bottom of a deep cast iron pot that hung over the fire and the remaining contents of the pot bubbled and simmered. The girls passed a bowl of stew between the three of them and took their turns sipping spoonfuls.

The stew was made from wild tubers the girls had dug up a few days ago and a rabbit that their father found in one of his snares behind the house. It was warm and thick and the growing and hungry girls slurped each spoonful and passed the bowl with vigor.

The bowl was emptied and the man took it and set it on the counter. Without a word he took the quilt off the girls and stood behind them as they made their way to their bedroom. He tossed the quilt over his shoulder and he held open the door of the bedroom. His stance was that of a herdsman as he guided his flock in for the night.

He laid them in their large bed and threw the quilt over them. They were exhausted and cold and they made no pleas and did not squirm as he tucked them in and closed the door. They laid back calmly in their beds and prayed that the sun might come up once again as their father had instructed them some time ago.

The man returned to the hearth and took the bowl from the counter and dipped it into the pot to withdraw his own supper. He dragged the rocker into the hall and set the bowl on the chair, taking care not to spill the stew.

Against the hearth a double barrel shotgun sat with its stock on the floor and its muzzle toward the ceiling. He took the thing in his hands and broke the barrels forward at the action. A box of shotshells sat on the counter. He took a handful and placed some in his pocket and slid two into the action and closed it.

The man came back to the chair. He took the stew and sat down and set the gun in his lap. He fed on the stew. He watched the door and listened to the sounds on the other side. The high hissing of cicadas. The distant yipping of coyotes. The calling of a barn owl. The occasional tap of gunfire. A claim of domination by every animal and insect and plant and cell. Every strata of creation sounded their drums of war. All reveled in their knowledge of nature’s universal language.

The man swallowed the last chunk of the rabbit he had caught and set the bowl down and aimed the muzzle of the shotgun at the door. None would pass.


Image of The other side


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