Westerns tend to be dreams about how life once was; Science Fiction, about how life is to be. Every once in a while we encounter a dream that’s something more.— ed, N.E. Lilly
by T.J. McIntyre ©2009
illustration by David Ellis ©2009
Bill said he came upon it by accident, the dernt fool. And you might think me a fool, but I believe him. No reason not to. After all, he might be a lot of things: a son-of-a-bitch, an asshole, a drunk. But one thing I ain’t never known Bill Stanfield to be is a liar. Just ain’t him.
Well, anywho, he was out there on his new Honda 4-wheeler, breaking it in, getting it ready for hunting season. Maybe he was just trying to sneak in a little hunting before the season, if you know what I mean.
He said he found it at the edge of the desert, just past where “the forest opened up,” as he’d said it. All the low lying trees and brush around that spot had fallen down and burnt up. The sandy earth had turned hard and shiny. He said it looked like the sand had melted down and turnt to glass. It was a fresh clearing about a hundred feet across as the shit flies.
It stunk, he said. Smelt like eggs gone bad.
It was in the middle of the clearing that he found it: a shiny piece of metal.
“Glowed like a pearl,” he said.
It hummed at him and he said it sounded like the sweetest hymn ever sung in any church. He said he didn’t know if the angels themselves could sing any better. Actually, come to think of it, he said at first he thought it was the song of the angels themselves caught up in that shiny piece of twisted steel.
The song, he said, attracted him like a fat old catfish to chicken livers. He came up to it and felt its sweet song. It called to him and he felt it in his bones.
Well, Bill ain’t never been much to think before doing. Hell, I remember once while we were teenagers he’d jumped off an old rusty railroad bridge into the Pecos River just because “that’s how he rolls” as my daughter would say.
Old Bill’s one hell of a lot of action and no thinking. But I got to say, his drive to act almost makes up for the fool’s lack of common sense at times.
Anywho, he picked up that frigging piece of metal. It stuck to his arms. This was a frosty morning, you see. Kinda rare for October, but it happens. He thought it’d be cold, but it weren’t. It burnt right clear through his flannel and long undies, right into his skin.
He showed me the burns. They were covered in what looked like maybe Chinese or some shit. My daughter—a sweet thing but dumb as a rock—has got one of them Asian tattoos on her ankle. Probably means “I’m a dern idgit,” in Japanese. She really don’t know. But anywho, what Bill had on his hand, branded like on a cow’s ass, looked something like that. A bunch of jumbled symbols which sure as hell weren’t English, at least I couldn’t make it out. Maybe it was Triponometry or some shit. Kinda like that shit written in the walls of that Mummy movie starring the Rock. That dude’s frigging cooler than shit.
But back to Bill. Somehow, the idgit managed to get the dernt piece of metal back to my house. I’d a thought it would’ve hurt like a motherfucker. But it didn’t seem to hurt him at all. He said it was the singing. He felt warmth, but didn’t feel no burn.
Shit! I’ll tell you. Even if he didn’t feel it, I don’t know how he didn’t smell it! By the time he got to my place, he smelled like the world’s most evil barbeque. His hands were smoked, boy.
He come by here. My ranch is down the hill from where he said he found the thing. He said he was afraid to let it go, even just long enough to drive. He was worried the song would stop.
“The angels might forever mute their song,” he’d said. I’d never known him to wax poetic like that before.
But I tell you, when he got here with literal flames coming off his hands where they touched that thing, I made him drop it. It wasn’t the first time I had to knock some sense into the boy. But hell, I hate it’ll be the last.
I’ll miss Bill wherever he went.
You see, when he got here I tackled him to the ground. I kicked away that hot ass piece of shit. Kicked it right outta his hands with my boots. Look. You can see where the snake scales got singed and a little wilted right here. After I kicked it away, he quit struggling.
He sat Indian-style, looking all spaced out and told me about the morning. He told me about the song.
“You hear it?” he asked me. “Do you hear the StarSong?”
He looked to me hopeful. Like he was looking for me to let him know he wasn’t crazy, but I never heard nothing.
Not that I wanted to. I’d never seen Bill look so down. Not even after Lorleen left him with his boys to go be with that rich city boy from Tucson.
After he told me about the morning and the song, he just stopped talking. He just stared there, out the window, looking up the hill. I guess he was looking to wherever that thing came from. I really don’t know. But Bill’s eyes looked like they was glass. A little blood mixed with spit come out the corner of his mouth, and he fell out on my couch.
Them boys in the black suits from that black chopper—you know, the ones you said was doctors—they told me he had radiation poisoning, and I reckon that might be true.
But I reckon he lost his dream.
He heard something in that song. His eyes lit up when he talked about it, and I’d never seen Bill’s eyes do that before.
This may sound fucking retarded, but do you remember them Freddy movies? You know them ones where the kids die in real life because they die in their dreams? Well, it’s kind of like that but all mixed up, the way I figure it.
It’s not when you die in a dream that’ll kill you. It’s when your dream dies and you’re lost inside it that you really got to worry.
T.J. McIntyre writes from his home in Alabaster, Alabama. His stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications including Escape Velocity, The Birmingham Arts Journal, Flashshot, and The Swallow’s Tail. In addition to writing, he also edits Southern Fried Weirdness, a publication specializing in Southern speculations.