(originally appeared in Revenge)
Stanley Thunder Hawk leaned back into the couch. He had just taken a snort of meth and the kick knocked him back against the torn upholstery. His heart raced and the world sped past, images blurred. He Sapa and Robideaux were talking quickly, agitation increasing with every word. He felt the vibrations of the music through the couch and he smiled.
Robideaux yelled and his fist connected with He Sapa’s jaw. He Sapa fell to the floor a crumpled mess. Someone yelled out He Sapa was dead, but then He Sapa’s eyes rippled beneath his eyelids and they knew he was alive. He lay there and the people in the house walked around him rather than make the effort to move him.
A man emerged through the smoke of the room. Thunder Hawk had never seen him before. Perhaps he was a ghost from a previous century. The man sat next to Thunder Hawk and turned to him. He spoke to Thunder Hawk as though an old acquaintance. He had marbled blue eyes, queer in contrast to his Native face. Then he spoke:
“I know you.”
“Huh,” Thunder Hawk said.
“I know your father, too.”
“Nobody knows him. You got the wrong guy.”
“Wrong, son. Everybody knows him.”
Thunder Hawk lifted his eyebrows at the man.
“He’s still alive,” the man said. “He’s been living in Harrisville, here and there for twenty years.”
The words pulsed and wriggled through Thunder Hawk’s brain like so many maggots. He tried to shake them off as he took a drink from the beer on the table.
“You’re crazy, old man. You’re fucking crazy.”
“He lives in the gray trailer house just off of 44. Across from Enoch’s place.”
Thunder Hawk sat silent. The old man’s eyes paced his face. “I have to go now,” the man said. “Go find him.”
Thunder Hawk awoke in his bed, unsure how he got there. Bleary-eyed, he blinked against the day. It was probably around noon. It was cold outside his blankets and he loathed to leave the warmth he had created.
He made his way to the living room rubbing his raw bald belly and sat on the couch. The pipe on the table still had some glass in it from the night before, congealed and yellow. He took a rip, held it, and blew out a grey murky cloud.
Thunder Hawk slammed a fist on the table. He lifted his head and stared at the Ruger on the table: a semi-automatic rimfire with a walnut grip and a stainless steel muzzle.
He slid the barrel of the pistol into his jeans, above the seat of his pants, and walked out the door. The wind moaned painfully across the prairie and bent the heads of the crested wheatgrass. Clouds were moving in and the sun ascended toward the stand of cumulus like some martyr on a suicide mission.
The parked pickup slanted on the shoulder of the highway. Thunder Hawk smoked a cigarette and looked down the winding road to the town below. He took one last drink off a pint of whiskey and threw the bottle out the window and put the pickup into gear.
On the flat of highway he passed a sign on which was painted Jesus Saves in fat black swaths. Fingers of snow lifted from the ditch and stretched out across the blacktop, reaching for the opposite ditch. The sky now looked like cracking ice; as if some new world lay just beyond and would reveal itself in short order.
He passed a sign so riddled with buckshot the words Welcome to Harrisville were nearly impossible to read. Further on, there was a school building with a crumbling façade. An arrow directed him to the remains of the business district: buildings slouching inward with broken windows, graffiti in bright green lettering.
An old man bent at the back tapped the street with a twisted elm branch. Thunder Hawk pulled over next to the man and the man looked up, alarmed. Thunder Hawk rolled down the window.
“Napayshni,” he shouted. “What the hell you doing out here? You’re gonna freeze to death.”
“Is that you, Stanley?” The man looked in his direction with cataract-filled eyes. “I’m just out for a walk. The bugs were crawling again, I needed to get out of the house.”
“You ain’t got a house, Napayshni.”
“Well, that didn’t stop the bugs from crawling. I needed to get moving.”
Thunder Hawk looked down the street. “Need a ride somewhere or what?”
“Zee. I’m just gonna walk until they stop crawling.”
Thunder Hawk nodded and rolled the window up and drove down the street. He wondered if they ever did stop crawling, or if sometimes they just crawled less. He drove past a church converted of an old Quonset hut and across the street was another bar, this one a trailer house, the white paint peeling, curled up and shuddering in the breeze.
He turned left at the thin two-lane highway and took an approach down a sloped gravel road. The pickup came to a stop in front of an old trailer house with siding that flapped like a laughing mouth. An old truck with two flat tires slumped in the front yard.
Thunder Hawk walked across the yard. He readjusted the pistol, tucking it further into his pants. The front yard was fenced off with rusted woven wire. Within this fence a mangy mutt sidled up to him, nervously baring its teeth. The mutt stood on its backlegs, bracing itself against the fence. Thunder Hawk scratched its head and the mutt tried to lick him.
He knocked on the door. It was silent for some time before he felt heavy footsteps vibrating across the floor. Thunder Hawk’s heartbeat increased despite the alcohol warming his veins.
The door opened to a large man. His face was dark brown and leathered and his eyes were set deep in his head like a wildcat. Skunked hair fell to heavy sloped shoulders. He held a clear glass mug, large even in the man’s giant hand and it was brimming with ice and drink. Sour booze wafted off the glass. The man surveyed Thunder Hawk, then turned without speaking and walked to the couch and laid down. Thunder Hawk stood in the doorway, staring at the man. The man never took his eyes off the gray images flickering across the television screen.
“Shut the door, you’re letting all the cold in,” the man said.
Thunder Hawk reached behind him and closed the door. He sat on the couch opposite the man. They sat silently, watching the television. When it went to commercial the man spoke.
“Who’s you then,” he asked across his chest.
“They tell me I’m your son,” Thunder Hawk said.
“Ennit?” The man chuckled, then started to cough. He leaned over and spat a glob of phlegm on the floor.
“That’s what they say,” Thunder Hawk said.
“Which one’s you?”
“What’d they give you for a last name?”
The man nodded. “Was you the one played ball real good?”
“Nah, that wasn’t me. I was the one they sent off to California for some time.”
“Ennit? California. Does California really have as many longhairs and queers as the tv makes it seem?”
“I don’t know. I knew a few people, and none of them was queer.”
The commercials ended and the man went silent again. Some game show was on of families lined up against one another. The man shouted his answers at the television and cursed the participants when they answered incorrectly. He coughed and took a drink, the ice clinking loudly in the glass. He let out a wet belch and rubbed his massive paunch. “So where you at now,” he asked.
Thunder Hawk relaxed into the couch. The elbow of it was broken and it wobbled when he rested an arm on it. “I’m living on Uncle Leland’s place,” he said.
The man snorted and said: “Leland’s place. That what they’re calling it now, yeah? That winkte boy still kicking around?”
Thunder Hawk sighed and shook his head. “Leland died last fall.”
The man craned his head toward Thunder Hawk. Thunder Hawk’s heart thumped painfully in his chest. The man’s eyes flared violently, but then a smile broke across his face like the first light of dawn. He slapped a hand on his thigh and laughed.
“Now there’s some welcome news. I hope his worthless ass went to Heaven so I don’t see him when I die. Him’s the reason I ended up living in this place— that land you’re on shoulda been mine. He got himself some white lawyer to put one over on me.”
Thunder Hawk settled back into the couch and rested both hands on his knees. There were three televisions in the living room, but only one appeared to be in working order. One had a cracked screen from what appeared to be a bullet. Cardboard boxes were piled with a tinker’s collection of objects falling from them. Behind them, two or three antler mounts were tangled up in a mess of felt and tines. A calico cat walked the spine of the couch and suspiciously regarded Thunder Hawk with green eyes. There was a quiet cough from a room down the hall.
The man reached up and ran the back of his hand along the cat’s jawline. The cat tilted its head to receive the touch, still watching Thunder Hawk. “So what do you want from me,” the man asked.
“I don’t want nothing. Just stopped by to see you.”
The man coughed mid-drink and some of the liquid spritzed his face. “There’s something I ain’t never heard. Have I met you before?”
“I don’t know. Your face don’t seem familiar.”
“Well I’d think you remember someone looks like me.” He scooched up a little on the couch. “You drink? I got some whiskey in the kitchen if you can find your way through that maze.”
“Got any beer?”
“Nah. Hell, there might be some laying around— if you want to hunt some, I won’t stop you.”
Thunder Hawk walked to the kitchen and kicked around some boxes. “I hope you ain’t got expensive tastes,” the man called after him.
The kitchen was a graveyard more than a maze. Wrappers and cardboard covered the floor like a second layer of linoleum. A litterbox that hadn’t been changed for what looked like months. Thunder Hawk thought it funny he hadn’t noticed the smell when he walked in. A sickly kitten with gunk streaking its cheeks mewed weakly from the countertop. The fur was rubbed off its hind legs entirely and it trembled where it stood.
He opened the refrigerator door. There were saltine crackers and a jug of milk on the top shelf, commodity cheese on the bottom alongside a cooked hamburger that was beginning to stink.
“I guess I’ll take some whiskey,” he called out to the man. “Where do you keep your glasses?”
“Just look around for something clean,” the man said. “There might be one in a cabinet. Don’t be drinking straight from the bottle, though. I don’t want to be getting sick off you.”
“I ain’t sick,” Thunder Hawk said.
The man snorted. “That don’t matter— some people’s germs just don’t mix.”
Thunder Hawk found a styrofoam cup with a rust-colored ring of coffee stained into the side. He filled it midway. “Got any ice?” he called out.
“Don’t be taking none of mine. The freezer don’t work so I gots to go to the store and get ice—and I’m about out. If you’re mooching my whiskey, don’t be mooching my ice too.”
Thunder Hawk took a small sip and looked at the man. The top of his head was visible, his stomach. Just gut-shoot him, let him think about it, thought Thunder Hawk. He doesn’t deserve a painless death. His stomach burned instantly from the whiskey. He took a larger drink and refilled his cup.
A small boy, maybe four or five, came into the living room with an armload of building blocks. He dropped them on the floor in a loud clatter. The man looked at the boy. “Don’t be making a mess,” he said to the boy.
Thunder Hawk’s pounding heart slowed a little, and there was a small wave of relief in his throat. The boy busied himself with the blocks. Thunder Hawk walked back to the couch with the cup in his hand.
“This here’s Ezra. Did you see what happened to my roof?”
It took a moment for Thunder Hawk to realize the man was asking him a question. “Zee— guess I didn’t.”
Ezra looked up from his building blocks at the man, then he turned to look at Thunder Hawk. He was a handsome boy, with deep dark eyes resting on high cheekbones. His obsidian hair was cut into a rattail at the back. His lips pulled back to a mouthful of rotting teeth.
The man laughed. “I come home half-cocked this past winter in a storm. The wind was blowing something fierce, and I couldn’t hardly see my hand in front of my face from all the snow. When I got home, I stumbled to my bedroom and fell asleep. I don’t know how long I was sleeping for but I woke to a good-sized noise. I got up and walked out into the living room and sure as shit, the whole roof had ripped off—nothing but night sky and falling snow. Well, there was no way I was fixing it then, so I just went back to my bedroom—the roof was still attached in there. I slept it off and in the morning I got someone to come fix it for me. It was awful damn cold in here for some time. The snow sure caused a lot of damage.”
Thunder Hawk nodded. “How long you’ve had the place?”
“This house? Gee, I don’t know. Five years is all.”
Thunder Hawk nodded. The trailer house seemed much older than that. Ezra quit playing with his blocks and placed his hands on Thunder Hawk’s knees.
Ezra looked into Thunder Hawk’s eyes and started hissing at him. “You are crazy. You are crazy. You. Are. Crazy.” Thunder Hawk pushed the boy’s face away from him. The boy hopped up onto the couch and put his arms around Thunder Hawk’s neck, playfully trying to tip him over.
“Is he your boy or what?”
“I don’t know whose him is,” the man said. “I had some people over and we got to drinking and snorting; before I knowed it, she’d turned into a two-day affair. When the place cleared out, Ezra was still here. That was only a couple of days ago— someone is bound to come back for him.”
The boy now was behind Thunder Hawk and pulling back on him, squeezing his chest as much as he could. Thunder Hawk furrowed his brows thoughtfully. “You been feeding him?”
“Here and there. That boy don’t need much food. Him’s like a fart in a frying pan. He sure does like that commod cheese, though.”
“What’s this?” Ezra asked. Thunder Hawk felt Ezra’s hand against the pistol. Thunder Hawk lurched back to pin Ezra against the couch. Ezra cried out and rolled away, off the couch and onto the floor. He looked up at Thunder Hawk with a scowl. “What was that?” Ezra asked.
“None of your damn business,” Thunder Hawk said. He looked at the old man. He was gazing at Thunder Hawk curiously.
“What do you got there?”
“I ain’t got nothing. Just my wallet.”
The old man seemed to accept this. He sat up and leaned against the headrest of the couch. The snoozing cat spooked at the sudden jolt and leapt to the floor. It walked down the hall, tail waving gently in the air. The man pulled a crumpled plastic pack from his shirt pocket and gripped a loose cigarette with his lips. He lit it, took a drag and pointed the burning tip at Thunder Hawk. “So what is it you want from me? I know you got a reason for being here. Need a place to stay?”
“Nah. Nothing like that. Just getting out of the weather is all.”
The man pulled back the lace curtain and looked out the window. “Shit, this ain’t weather a‑tall. It’s probably still above zero. You got spoiled with all that sunshine in California—you forgot what real weather is like.”
The man continued: “Because I ain’t got no money. So, if that’s what you’re after, you’re shit out of luck.”
“I don’t need money,” Thunder Hawk said. He looked down at Ezra lining up the blocks into a wall. “And I better be headed out.”
“You can stop by some time again,” the man said through a plume of smoke, as if Thunder Hawk had passed some extensive test.
“You don’t want to take Ezra, do you?”
“I ain’t got a place where he could stay. He’s better off here.”
“Alright then. If you hear someone says they’re missing a child, let them know where they can find him.”
“I’ll keep my ears open.”
Thunder Hawk walked out into the remnants of the day. The wind cut through his shirt and his skin contracted. The mutt whined to him and Thunder Hawk leaned over the fence and spat in its face.
The cab was silent save for Thunder Hawk’s hurried breaths. He leaned forward and pulled the Ruger out. He ejected the clip and slid the action back to release the shell. He laid it all on the seat beside him. With one last look at the house, he reversed out of the yard onto the highway.
He rounded the bend in the road and saw Napayshni face down in the ditch, stiff and motionless. A small pack of rawboned dogs were making their way across the pasture toward the man.
The western horizon reflected in the rearview mirror; what little sun there was had begun to set and a flare of bright pink lighted the edge of the world. He grinded to fourth gear and picked up speed. He wanted to get home before the roads turned to ice.
Nick Heeb was born in South Dakota. He currently resides in the Southwest.