A derecho (/dəˈreɪtʃoʊ/, from Spanish: derecho [deˈɾetʃo], “straight” as in direction) is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms known as a mesoscale convective system and potentially rivaling hurricanic and tornadic forces.
I could smell the city long before I could see it. It smelled like a slaughterhouse. Like something had died and been left to bloat in the summer sun. “Hell, of thing, isn’t it, to come all this way, only to run into something like this.”
Coyote, constant companion, and skin shifting shaman seemed to agree- or disagree, take your pick. Either way, she kept up beside me, nose, and ears, to the ground.
A crooked sign stood before us, crossroads, and a choice. To the left, Buena Vista, to the right, Fairplay Colorado.
I chose right.
About to pass by, something catches my attention. The name Fairplay has been crossed out, and ‘Silverheels’ painted in.
Feels like an omen.
Normally I don’t do cities. Cities are dangerous. Crazies live in cities. Crazies that wander around waving signs and preaching ‘End Times.’
The last time I was in a city, a little no-name outside of Amarillo, I ran across a Preacher Man, black shirt, black pants, tiny white collar. This particular Preacher Man was standing beneath an enormous elm tree. He wore a rope around his neck- fashioned in a noose- the other end was tied to a branch high overhead.
He was standing on a rickety wooden stool preaching Revelations:
‘And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore…
I tried to turn away. I tried to ignore the man, but it was too late. As soon as ‘crazy’ saw me, be began to scream, veins on the side of his neck standing out like cords. He must have forgotten he was tied to the tree, because he tried to approach me, hands shaking papers. His foot slipped, the chair toppled, and he began to jerk, face all screwed up, turning purple, before becoming still, scrunched papers falling from clawed hands like fall leaves,
‘Crazy’ had been right; his end was nigh!
I passed by.
This is what I meant by crazy- but back to the town of Fairplay.
I wondered how many people lived there. Would I be greeted with open arms or clenched fists? Wary caution, or gunfire? I’ve had my fair share of both.
‘I think I’ll just ‘wait and see’, says me, ‘after all, caution is the eldest child of Wisdom.’
The city sprawls before us in pieces. A single residence here, a boarded-up business there. A burnt-out shell in one place, overgrown ruins in another. A massive water tower, resembling a bleached and rust-stained mushroom, crowds one side of downtown, running away from it, and to either side, a series of brick and mortar buildings and businesses. Across from the water tower stands a massive wooden monstrosity nestled up next to a church. The church’s needle-like spire, pointing towards the heavens.
Carrion wheel overhead, diving, cawing, flocking from trees.
The city reminded me of the carcass I’d run into some miles back- the one before the gas station.
Into the stillness, Coyote growls. Something unkind lies ahead. I stop. Open fields to either side, before turning into city streets. Either side, fence posts protrude. Off in the distance hills run, their slopes rounded and crisscrossed by cloud-chased shadow.
The wind has picked up.
“I don’t like it.”
“Eyes and ears up,” I said. The last thing we need are surprises.
Arizona lay behind us like a bad dream, like a mirage in the noonday heat. I’d been careless in Arizona, almost got myself killed. Only with the help of Coyote, a skin shifter by trade, did we escape, and only after the two of us had jumped off a cliff.
With the sun slowly setting, and the stars just beginning, I left the road to find shelter. It’s one thing to wander into a town unannounced, another thing to wander in unprepared.
I laid up in the remains of a metal building on the outskirts of town. Much of the roof had fallen in, only tresses remained. A twisted pile of two-by-fours became a fort, with just enough space for me to wiggle under and hunker down. Coyote followed. The building stank of motor oil and dust. Stands of ragweed and foxtail waved. From where I lay, I could see the highway leading into town. Nothing moved upon it. Dust motes danced in the wind, crickets chirped, and birds sang. A sudden flurry of wings, as something small and unseen wings out of sight- then silence.
I fall asleep…
Stained-glass bleeds over polished pews.
I’m in church, the ceiling overhead jetting into darkness. Immense wooden beams crisscross, each supporting wax-laden candle operas.
I am alone. The sanctuary is empty. The ‘spirit’ is missing.
Behind me, a pair of swinging double doors. They creak in the wind. Through them, I catch glimpses of night and unfamiliar stars.
I turn and face the altar. Something moves in the darkness behind it, something I cannot see.
The darkness leaps-
I wake with a start, gun drawn. A face bobs before me. The face belongs to a boy as black as night, with emerald green eyes. “Who are you,” I ask.
Leaning down, wearing little more than bib overalls, the boy reaches out to touch me. “I’m not here to hurt you, mister. Jus checkin’ to see if you’re alive.”
The boy smiles. It’s a trembling thing, full of fear.
“You one of them,” he asks.
“Nope, are you?”
“No sir,” the boy replies. He wears his hair in dreads. “Not one of them at all.” Only then do I notice the rusty blade he’s holding.
“Easy,” I say. “You need to put that away.” I nod towards the knife. After a moment, he agrees, the knife disappearing beneath his bibs.
“Why you here,” he asks, the sky behind him darkening.
“Just passing thru,” I say. I look over at Coyote. Coyote stares back, tongue lolling. “Some kind of guard dog you are,” I say.
The boy laughs. “He got a name?
“She does,” I respond. “I call her Coyote.”
The boy looks at me for a long time. “Think of that yourself?”
I lower the gun, put it away. The boy backs away. I extract myself from beneath the overhanging structure, hand brushing away cobwebs and such.
“You say you jus’ passing thru,” the boy asks.
“Maybe you stay.”
“Maybe I don’t.” Changing the subject. “Where’s your parent’s, kid?”
The boy shrugs, reaches out to pet Coyote. I open my mouth to protest, but the animal does nothing.
“You surprise me,” I say. Could be addressing the Coyote, could be the boy.
The boy smiles. A slight rumble of emptiness. Patting his stomach, the boy asks if I’m hungry.
“What you got in mind?”
“Someplace… but first…” He squares himself, sticks out his hand, “Name’s Samuel, but you can call me Saul.”
“Like in the Bible,” I ask. His features darken.
Or not! “Pleased to meet ya, Saul.”
The boy turns, calling over his shoulder to follow.
Three blocks later, and we enter town proper.