No Good Pickings
by Jeremiah Sears
On the hill, there was only one tree splayed against the butter-blue sky. It sprouted from ash, and in the black dust the Silver Man found a shadow with its roots in the soil. The sun stood tall and scorching white at the peak, poised to strike and pull the shaded island down to the dark and greedy flames which lick below the earth, and leave only a tired horse befuddled against the butter-blue.
“I know,” raspy and certain from the ash, beneath the weathered hat. He looked up.
“Those are the bones of a cat,” said the shadow, and pointed to a pile of them arranged between his feet. “I threw them just an hour ago.” He coughed. “Learned from a gypsy I met years ago somewhere, I don’t know, I’ve forgotten where and when, I think, and even the face, but I never forgot how to throw.” He blinked. “Sorry, I’m too far back, looking for things that aren’t there. I threw the bones.” He kicked at the pile with a weak grin. “What a cloud too, soot and ash and shit everywhere, the whole hill must’a gone up.” He closed his eyes. “You know, the ash almost got me right there wheezing, right there without my coat collar I would have coughed until the whole earth shook with my breath and died right on this tree. I wish I hadn’t seen the bones, though, should have just let the coat be and let the ash in my eyes before the air cleared, big mistake.”
“Why,” said the Silver Man.
“Well, I know how this ends.” His eyes moved and smiled like a blue-jay, but the roots were firm and betrayed him. Behind his lips and brow and all around the cheeks there was a certainty, and the Silver Man saw that his eyes lied.
“I think every man has the right to tell a story, if just one,” said the shadow. “Don’t you think? Every single one needs a story, needs some other reed to hear them speak and breathe all their desperate confessions into the wind before they let the coat be.” He nudged the bones with a gray heel. “Every man has a story, and he ought to be able to tell it when it’s finished.”
“Tell me then, speak,” said the Silver Man.
“You are the third, or the seventh, or maybe the hundredth one to find me, I really do not hide or count or care, they come and go. I fear you, though, I think you scare me more than anything, more than the ash and the sun and the knife in my back. More than any other fool you scare me, because you do not speak.” He trembled and the blue jay was gone, in his eyes there was no smile. “You will not tell my story, or even your own, you will erase me and die with all the breath of a thousand men in your gut.”
The Silver Man smiled.
“You will not eat me,” said the shadow, “damn that cat.” He went for the gun. The Silver Man was quicker, he kicked up a cloud of soot and ash and stomped on the other head. Four times again with visceral devotion he broke a path through to hard wood and a red boot-print. Sticky and red, and coated in ash, his heel could not stomp the roots. Against the butter-blue sky there was only one tree reaching to the tips, and in the shade no satisfaction.