It's October 1943. It's Halloween. The sky is a tight, brilliant blue. The air has an edge. The first cool gusts of fall chase away the sticky air of summer.
A storm gathers.
Clouds drift. Breeze kicks. Mercury dips.
Jed clears the yard for winter. The railroad runs behind: a hardening artery for a new world. In front, the old Terraplane squats by the fence. It's grown roots. It's grown rust. It's grown moss. It's grown weeds. It's sunk in the mud. The mud's ossified. The car's grown foundations: a preordained meld of earth and machine: an eternal cycle with only one outcome.
The tiger cubs mess. Jesse shins up to his crow's nest. The axe handle thrungs. The view is good.
Ray stays low. Ray commandeers the old car for play: it's a Sherman tank at El Alamein. Ray obliterates the Desert Fox. It's a P51 over the South Pacific. Ray machine-guns a diving Zero. Bandits at twelve o'clock. Ray pulls up on the stick.
Jesse sits sentinel in that Chinaberry tree. His nest overhangs the fence. His cradle is out on a limb. He's an outlaw: across the borderline; he hangs out over the creek. No-man's land. On a vertical, he's free. He scans the horizon. He watches for signs.
The view is good: there are signs aplenty. Jesse apprehends none.
Way down below, the axe handle protrudes: firm, hard and ancient: a step up to the canopy. The blade glints darkly.
From deep in the trees, beyond the rails, a rider surveils.
Clouds curdle. Wind swatches. Mercury slides. Jesse sits tight. He scans for signs.
Back on earth, Ray's Elliot Ness. He's Untouchable. He sidles low around the Terraplane. His revolver is drawn. It's a finger and thumb.
There - Ray spies a black shape in the trees. It's dense. It's big. It sucks in the light. Ray ducks low and scopes. The shape is static. It's twenty five yards back. The chinaberry tree is five.
Ray breaks cover. Ray makes the tree. He flattens himself hard. He peers around the trunk. The axe handle protrudes: almost whacks him on the beak. It's firm, hard and ancient: it's a trapdoor into a dark place. Ray flinches. The blade glints darkly, up close and personal.
Clouds amass. Winds bluster. Mercury drops. Branches stir. Jesse scans. His vantage is good: he still doesn't see what's coming.
The rider surveils. He's deep in the trees. He's beyond the pale. He's over the Rubicon.
The wind rips. The clothes line flaps. Harriet scuttles out to collect. Jed battens hatches and hollers.
The boys pay no heed.
Jesse sits tight and scans. Ray counter-surveils. He hits the deck. He re-makes the shape. It's still there: it's still static. It's well concealed. It's big: a colossus. It sucks in the light. Ray figures on a broad brimmed hat.
Jed hollers at the boys to get on inside. Thunderheads roil. Winds bluster. Mercury flat lines. Jesse sits tight.
Ray moves in on his quarry, real slow. He's Elliot Ness.
The rider surveils.
A horse whinnies, loud and close by. It snorts. It stamps. Ray hits the deck. Over the back, the twin-bladed arterial causeway of the new world hums and crackles.
Winds bluster. Ray splits and rolls; Ray recollects; Ray reconnoitres: he remakes the shape: it's static, it sucks in the light. Ray draws a bead, the tracks clatter, the noise goes quadrophonic -
And right there: the San Antone Express thunders through. A heavy metal mile of grinding steel wheels rides into the valley of death. Klaxon blares.
Forty wagons later, the tail end whips through. Lights trail behind. Ray chases the shadow: the figure is gone.
This winds whistles. The first spots arrive: a cold, hard vanguard. The rain attacks. The mercury flat lines. The branches sway. Now Jesse gets it. Now the signal transmits: it comes through loud and clear. Jesse wails. Jesse shrieks. Jesse freezes.
The wind whips. The fly screen slaps. The branches clatter, the noise grows quadrophonic, Harriet shrieks - then: a magnesium flash. A bolt from the heavens: hammer of the gods. The air reels, pungent with ozone.
Ray hits the deck.
The cradle rocks. Branches rent. Jesse shrieks. The chinaberry sheers. The angel falls: cradle and all.
Piper down: Jesse augurs in, over the fence. He falls to earth. He's across the borderline. Behind enemy lines. Out in the wasteland. Over the fence. Up the creek. Jesse shrieks.
The wind rages. The rain drives. Ray picks himself up. He makes the fence in five seconds flat. Vaults it. Hits the deck. Jesse is prone. Face down in the drink. Head swimming. Branches encircle. Jesse's face leeches down. His arms flail like branches. His energy seeps. Entropy rides.
Ray pulls at his hair. It will not come. Pulls at his arm. It will not come. Grips at his hand: Jesse's fingers go slack.
Adrenaline hits: Ray re-vaults the fence. Belts for the shed. Straight to the back. The cupboard is bare. Looks in the toolbox: there's nothing in there.
Then: the Chinaberry moans: it bows in the wind. Adrenaline jolts: Ray's not alone. Ray stiffens his back. He clocks the axe. He makes tracks.
The handle is smooth. The handle is ancient. The axe blade glints darkly. The handle is patient.
Ray pulls: the axe comes. It puts up no fight. It comes at his bidding. Releases its bite. The old tree relents. The old tree gives back. Ray dashes for the Jesse.
Ray swings the axe.
Cleaves the branch.
Springs the trap.
Breaks the bond.
Delivers from evil.
Jesse is lifeless. His body is slack. Ray rolls him over. Ray brings him back.
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