A Trip to Town, fiction by Nick Heeb

(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?”

I’m Stan­ley.”

What’d they give you for a last name?”

Thun­der Hawk.”

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.”

Maybe.”

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.

We’ll see.”

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.

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