This prospector’s highway would go nowhere but to that little land beyond which no more highways went and all along the way the winter wagons made their slow wrangle south, snowblind and buried by frozen rain. The median narrowed and the wagons thinned and soon the roads merged and broke into the stones where the golden eagles brought us down into the valley in the dark of the wintertide dusk.
“Things in the country aint the same as they is in the city. But things this far out aint even the same as they is in the country.”
The pickup truck ground against the earth as they came past the last paved roads and the highways turned to gravel and ice. Away those final thoughts tucked themselves into their burrows before the last of the light waned and the whiteness once deep and wide fell over the world in perfect shadow. Now slept the souls that needed no saving and out came the wolves.
Jack pulled his truck up the ridge and the road was taken by trees. He slowed and toggled the headlights and the space around him became black save for the blinking colored dots on the dashboard. He stopped the truck and opened the window and turned his head to listen.
Trees washed in the wind unseen but came through the air like voices. The window went up and the truck pulled down the driveway into the soft snow and parked and a pair of bodies came out and made their work. They packed the bed and strapped in their load and backed up and out and left the same way they had come.
The night grew old and the shadows came up and the endless white restored itself for the sake of all of its children.
The small town in the valley would glow through the falling clouds and that warm orange lamp shone on the map from the view in the aerial survey. The craft came over the strip and inside the pilot rattled and set her down and brought her home to the end of the runway. The engine slipped and the man jumped out and stepped to the hangar.
“Call your wife.” A circle of oldtimers sat around eachother near the nose of a small craft. The man made his way to the office.
“But she’s what they called ‘er the Q Cutlass. Last on the line, her kind. After that it was all fuel injection.” The men scratched themselves and drank from mugs and the pilot came from the office and spoke and went to the lot and drove away.
The highway wrapped around solid lakes and under falling water suspended on rocks and enormous lime buttes that plunged the soil and drove up mushrooms like tiny metropoli. The truck wound with the road and came past the sawmill and the reservoir and the gated transformers. The man pulled up and parked and came out and stood. A young woman approached pulling on garden gloves.
“Hey cowboy.” He squinted and dropped the tailgate and they walked to the storehouse and back.
“Cold sun.” Rosemary looked to the gilded mountaintops and let the dying light touch her eyes. She loaded his truck, a bale of bermudagrass. He heaved the seedbags onto the passenger seat and she dismounted the forklift. “Follow you?” She shut the tailgate and pulled at her gloves and went across the lot.
“Nah—gotta go get tin yet. I’ll seeya tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Hey actually—need eggs. Who’s got eggs now?”
“Oh yeah? How’s that?”
“Bonny. Didn’t shut the gate.”
“That—sounds like something Bonny wouldn’t do.”
“Um—gosh I don’t know. Johanson?”
“Out of town.”
“Jack? Jack should have eggs.” He stepped into the truck and shut the door and leaned out the window. “You know him?”
“No. Battle Creek?”
“That’s the one. Gotta sign out front with a number. Call the number cause he’s got a dog.”
She waved and left him and the mountain swallowed what sun was lingering and the wind bit her hands as she climbed into her truck.
Headlights came through the trees. She made herself into the dark. Further out by the forest the highway cut the land and inside the cab the hot breeze pulsed and called her to sleep. She came from the highway to the crooked cottage roads and pulled over the cattleguard and up the driveway. The windows went alight. The women came together in the bootroom.
“No. You’re looking for hatchlings right?”
“Yeah.” Rosemary nodded.
“No idea. If you don’t know, I don’t know. “
“I don’t know why he would have suggested Jack though. Maybe he thought you were talking about eggs—for eating.”
“I could have gone to the store for that.”
The women laughed. “Oh well maybe Todd knows better. Maybe Jack does have chickens. I only just met him.”
“Yeah never met the guy. I’ve seen his place though. I think Keith used to point it out.“
“On Battle Creek yeah. Yeah—So we’re putting up the barn—well Todd is actually—putting up the barn. In the back there. Slowly and surely and not a dime over budget luckily.”
“And so Todd actually took some tin off Jack. For the roof. Bought it yesterday. He came and dropped it off yesterday afternoon. Right there before the guard.” She pointed out the window.
“Come morningtime—it’s just not there.”
“Gone.” The woman shook her head.
“Well! Stolen hey?”
“Well,” Rosemary had her hand on her hips.
“Well it didn’t run away from home.”
The women stared at eachother and shook their heads.
“Anyway. Little man’s been sleeping for about an hour.”
“Amazing!” Rosemary held her hand up for a highfive. Her friend smiled and tagged her. They walked to the livingroom and admired the child and Rosemary took the boy up and came to the door.
“Seeya tomorrow Peg. Thanks.”
She drove from the cottage roads past the firehall and the horseloggers and the millworkers all gathered outside. She looked at the child and drove on. Yellow light flooded the road. As she drove the way ahead split and wound and though she knew it well she took the corners softly.
She went into some trees and as she cleared the thicket and came into the pasture the tire snapped and the wheel slipped and she pulled the truck over and shut it down.
She walked around and found the blowout and came back inside. She looked to the highway. She opened the window and turned to look behind. Headlights blinked and took form and a vehicle realized itself from the thicket and pulled up with its windows down.
“Need a lift?”
They pulled from the road under the gate and into the driveway.
“I appreciate the ride but you’re not coming in.”
The man opened the door and stepped out and looked in at her. “Of course I’m coming in. My house.”
“It’s not your house.” The door closed on her words. She got out and took up her baby and followed him to the door and they all went in.
“Meet me in the bedroom. I’ll put him down and be right in.”
The man left and Rosemary dug into his boot and pulled up the keyring and made herself for the truck clutching the infant. The man watched from the window shirtless as she went through the gate and into the night. He stepped to the endtable and lifted the telephone.
Blackbears came across the highway as the patrolcar swung onto the cottage road. He slowed to better see and went on. He turned off his emergency lights before he touched the driveway. Rosemary came out with her baby and Peg followed and saw her off.
She sat in the back seat. “Do you want me up there?”
“Hey? Nah. No carseat you’re better off back there.” The officer wrote on his clipboard and spoke over the radio and pulled them out onto the road.
“So. I’m keeping Keith overnight. He’s drunker than ever.”
She swore to herself and shook her head.
“Had your truck towed to yours.”
At home the woodstove cracked in the corner of the livingroom. Rosemary laid her baby in his crib and put her head down at last.
In the morning she stood and dressed herself and shuffled to the bathroom and then to the kitchen to prepare some coffee. She sipped her cup at the table and listened for the rooster before she remembered that it was dead. She sat and stared and adjusted to the light that started to climb the hills and bleed into the windows. She stared out the sliding glass patio door. A knock came at the door. She craned to look at the clock behind her and went to the door.
“Can I do for ya, Willy?”
“Well now. Jason’s got his mares over at mine for the winter see.”
“Well hell if they didn’t run off or some damn—I can’t find em!”
“Oh yeah. Have you checked the wood trail? Or Johanson?”
“Hey? Nah. Haven’t checked. I’m just worried sick about em. If Jason were to lose—“
“They aren’t gone Willy.” Rosemary pulled on her boots.
“Well I know they didn’t go into thin air. But if Jason were to lose those mares.”
She looked up at him.
“I’m just worried sick.”
“They’ll come back. I’ll go take a peek by the waterwell. Sometimes horses get out and like to go to the marsh there.”
She came up the path to the back of the house and she looked off down the long trail that cut the great field abroad and went into the wood. She came around the house and her animal poked from inside the stable and skipped over.
“Shh calm down.”
She opened the gate and hung it on the hook and climbed up bareback and rode the trail to the other side of the meadow. The morning sky was gray and gave way to snowfall. White dots barely made themselves against the black wood. She came to the trees and rode into the mouth at the trailhead. Before her a large well laid of stone bricks sat centered in the clearing. The trail wandered and bent away behind some trees. She brought them over the well and sunk her gaze into it. The water bubbled and spurt and rose from the well and teemed the stone and as it flowed over the snow went wet and lapped aground. The horse stepped away.
She came back and dismounted and closed the gate and went inside and came out again. She jacked up the truck and saw to the tire and when she was finished she went in to change and ready herself for work. Rosemary dropped off her baby and drove into town.
The snow would fall all day long and she would watch the inches gather on the boulevard, on the hood of her truck. The snowplows wouldn’t be out until tomorrow. The television blinked on the wall and over it the news channel anthem rang and the anchors spoke.
“Awful news tonight across the state. A string of spontaneous child abductions has investigators reaching to the public for help. More on the kidnappings at the top of the hour first let’s go to—“
Rosemary stepped outside and looked to the sun. It fell away while she waited for Todd and she waited yet but he never came.
On her way home the snow drove up over the windshield as she came down the highway. The day tapered westward until it sunk into the mountains and all down the range the long yellows went blue. She drove up the driveway and parked and went in.
“Great sleeps lately though.” The women made their congress in the bootroom.
“Same at home actually. Been sleeping like an angel all night.”
“It’s yours. Take it!”
“I know.” The women laughed. “Didn’t see Todd today.”
“No. Actually he’s offered to fly a charter up north so he’ll be back in a few days.”
“Yeah. So that’ll be the longest we’ve been apart since Emily was born.”
“So that’ll be—my little vacation. Sure I’ll be fine.”
“You’re good.” Rosemary unzipped her jacket.
“Here. Let’s get going.” Peg brought her the baby and saw her friend to the truck and Rosemary drove out and away. She pulled through her gate and parked and came inside. She put her baby down and went back out to cover her horse. Over the black fields the invisible snow drifted like dust to the ocean floor.
In the morning she stood and yawned and went to the livingroom to load the woodstove. On the countertop she prepared her coffee. She peeked into the nursery, into the boy’s crib, and came back. She held her cup up to her nose and took in her coffee and sipped it and came to face the sliding door to the patio. The morning’s light washed over the field.
Her eyes followed a pattern that came into view as she looked through the glass, footsteps in the snow. She studied them. They approached the glass door and walked on.
That fearful chill came up her back and she took a sharp breath and put down her cup. She stepped into her boots and came around the cabin and followed the tracks to the fence and watched them go off down the trail to the wood. She came around and looked to the windows of the cabin and found her way back inside and drank her coffee.
Outside she buckled the tiny boy into the carseat and came in and swallowed a piece of toast and left again. She found herself down the highway to the mopping of the windshield wipers. The snow laid itself heavy by the world all around. She came up past a gabled sign, Battle Creek, and pulled up into a long driveway. Immediately a pack of dogs sounded and she hit the brakes and swore and backed out to the road. She saw the man come out and wave at her to stay put. He got into a truck and came up the driveway and out to the road. The dogs circled and returned to the house and he pulled up and unwound his window. She looked down at his truck. Strapped into the bed she noticed long stacks of tin panels.
“What’re ya want?”
“Looking for chicks.”
“Todd Peterson said you might have hatchlings or eggs for sale—“
“Todd Peterson don’t know shit. I ain’t got shit.”
Rosemary smiled at him and chuckled. “Right.”
“Who in the hell are ya anyway? I get folks to call me see? I got dogs lady.”
“Ah. Oh yes. I heard of ya’s. Through Keith.”
She blinked at him. “Oh you know Keith.”
The man laughed at her and chewed his crooked teeth. “I don’t raise no chickens lady.”
She pointed to the bed of his truck. “That Todd’s?”
“Why you no-good fuckin bitch! Why don’t you just go on and get the hell off my property here before I—“
She climbed out of her truck and stepped to the tin to take a closer look. Jack swung his door and limped out and crossed himself and lifted a pistol at her.
She stopped and slipped and steadied and put her hands in front of her. He brought the gun up and flicked the safety and put it in aim again. She jostled and waited and slowly she stepped back to her truck.
“Yeah Keith done said you were a right peach.” He spat on the ground. “He paid for it though didn’t he?”
Her back touched her truck and she slid to the door and climbed in and pulled it closed. He kept the weapon at her as she drove away. She came up the hill and went beyond the sign and made her way to the highway.
Snow pitched and whipped around the truck and inside she shook her head and swore and looked at her boy. The snowfall was dense and the trucks came by with caution. In the distance behind her a patrolcar came around from the bend and its emergency lights came off the inside of the cab. She pulled over and brought her window down.
“Hey Henry. Everything okay?”
“Hey sorry. Didn’t wanna miss ya. Saw ya on the highway there—didn’t wanna miss ya.”
Rosemary opened her glovebox.
“No no. Nothing like that. Just wanted to let you know about Keith there actually. Rosemary—county’s laid charges against Keith.“
“Charges? You mean charging me for stealing his truck?”
“No maam actually. Maam Keith was found to have been—booby trapping the road down yonder there.”
“By my blowout.”
“What are the charges?”
“You’re gonna hafta make a statement anyway so howsabout I give you a call.”
“Well you stopped me. Say you know Jack up there on Battle Creek? He’s got it made sitting up there hey?”
“Stolen property in the back of his truck. Waving his piece around pointing it in peoples’ faces.”
“Make a report Rosemary.”
A semitractor trailer blew past them and snow came up and spread to the wind.
“Sure. Hey are they gonna plow these roads or what?”
He slapped her truck and went back to his car and they both left off against the blizzard that swelled and pulled at the clouds. The truck rumbled and slipped and jerked in the snow. Coming into the cottage roads she pushed through the small windrows and over the ice in the gutters. Through the gate the dunes of snow slammed on the truck and stopped it dead. The wheels spun and she swore and turned the key. She pulled herself out and came around and pulled out her child and trudged to the door of the cabin.
Inside the warm air pushed into her face. She laid the baby down in his crib and came to the kitchen and made herself coffee. The evening came early. Already the sky broke dim and the snow buried itself over the plain. She came to the front window sipping her cup. The truck was bent up onto the dunes of snow. She saw a body approach from the driveway and went to the door.
“Oh Rosemary. It’s just awful. I need your help.”
“Oh gosh well they found one of Jason’s mares there.”
“Well they found both of em just only one of em was alive—and the other was dead now.”
“Oh it’s just awful. I’m beside myself. Jason is going to be heartbroken.”
“Jason goes through a lot of horses.“ She looked at the old man. “Where is she?”
“She’s there. Don’t know what happened. One come back but the other—don’t know if it even left. Dead now. I’m just beside myself. Don’t know what I’ll tell Maude.”
“We”ll have to wait until morning to do anything about it.”
“You mean bury her?”
“Tell Maude we can take care of it tomorrow.”
“Yeah. You can do that? Gosh it’d sure mean a lot to me.”
“No problem. See my truck here?” She stepped into her boots and came out to the snowcovered lawn. Looking behind the cabin she reconciled a body making off down the trail across the field.
Rosemary went inside and came to the nursery. The curtain at the window flew up and the crib lay scant.
She fell and stood and screamed and went to the closet and slapped herself. She opened the closet and swung the rifle over her shoulder and ran out.
“Call the police! My baby is gone!”
Willy stumbled and put his arms up and slipped away down the road. Rosemary went to the fence and hooked the gate and called her horse. The animal came up from the stable and she swung herself up and they opened onto the trail ripping up snow and casting themselves toward the wood.
She fixed on the body. It slipped into the trees. The horse pounded over the drift and ground her way to the clearing. Rosemary jumped from the animal and hit the snow and pushed up sand. The rifle came from her shoulder as she crawled over the ice to the well. She climbed the brick and slipped down, over the edge and into the hole. Her body sunk in the water.
The animal sidled and shot its eyes and brought its nose to the ground. In the clearing the snow was soft and it gave itself to loose piles around the bases of the great spruce that surrounded the space and came over the trailhead. Grayjays screeched and buzzed over the horse and went into the trees. The wood settled and snapped and the darkness came over and in the sky the moon cut out across the clouds.
Over the well the water pushed up and spilled and came to the ice and the horse turned and stepped aside. The soil growled and steamed beneath the frozen pack and out from the well in a splash the woman’s body washed over the brick and rolled to the snow. She came to rest under the horse. In her arms her child cried. Rosemary breathed and coughed and curled into herself.
“Peg you gotta call the police Rosemary’s in real trouble!”
Peg stood in the bootroom and opened the door and let him in. They came to the livingroom and addressed the telephone and spoke to eachother.
In the nursery their voices came through the air and slipped out the window. The glass slid up and the wind brushed the curtain and in her crib Emily whimpered and turned over. Long crooked arms like wood stretched from the open hole across the room and pulled the infant up. Those limbs would draw that warm little life through the field and into the water and leave in its place a generation of curses and mourning. Over the wood the golden eagles came against the mountainside and led us back to the highway where blackness took the world in dead air inch for inch and the trees spoke among themselves. Away those final thoughts tucked themselves into their burrows before the last of the light waned and the whiteness once deep and wide fell over the world in perfect shadow. Now slept the souls that needed no saving and out came the wolves.