“Mississippi” Part I, a short Story

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Part I

It felt like a lazy Sunday afternoon. The grass was tall and golden in the late summer heat. Horseflies buzzed the grazing cattle and dove and meadowlark called from the trees. A couple of crows flew overhead raising a racket. One cow looked up from feeding and nervously eyed the tree line. The coyote crossed the open pasture in an easy lope, parting the cattle like a boat parting smooth water. Just before it reached the tree line a rifle shot cut the stillness. The coyote tumbled into a headlong somersault and lay still, panting as its life ebbed away. Caleb felt the burning in his shoulder and then the paralysis as his lungs began to freeze. He gasped for breath, but only dryness came. The bahiagrass moved with a light wind. A man approached slowly, stopped, prodded him with the muzzle of a rifle, kicked with the toe of his boot. Caleb’s eyes rolled up the human above him, following the Redwing boots up the jean clad legs, up the flannel shirt to the face—his own face. He looked down at the coyote as its eyes began to glaze over.

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There was a distant ringing and Jessica mumbled something and rolled over in her sleep, shaking the bed. Caleb sat up and listened to the phone downstairs. It seemed like it had been ringing forever, and he counted to twenty-three before whoever was calling gave up. He listened to Jessica’s breathing deepen to a light snore. The sheets and pillowcases were hot and damp with sweat and his legs felt restless. Even before the dream he had lain awake, his mind darting here and there. Not wanting to bother Jessica with his tossing and turning, he reached for his T-shirt on the floor and wiped the sweat from his back, rolled off the bed, and stood up.

The alarm clock showed two-ten. Caleb walked to the window but there was no breeze. Nothing but pine shadows from the weak moon. He crept out of the sleeping loft and walked softly down the stairs to the den. In the kitchen he fixed a glass of ice water and went out onto the deck. The thermometer still hung above eighty and it wouldn’t drop into the seventies until just before daylight. A coyote down by the river gave a long howl that carried through the woods. The sound still spooked him a little late at night.

The dream had been real enough that he was glad the phone rung him awake. He dreamed a lot, mostly harmless stuff that he couldn’t connect with anything real or see that it offered any insight into his life. The exception was the dream about the black man tied to his car. Every time he dreamed it, it was just as real as the day it happened when he was a boy fourteen or so, and he and Hubert still did things together.

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