by Profe Steve The cover image is from a photograph by Cathy Alba. The one on this page is a different part of the large photo.
Crickets chirped in time to the creaking of the old rocking chair, one blue curl of smoke slowly rising into the ebon stillness. The full moon hung low in the west, casting a deeper shadow on the porch behind Jacob Smith.
He rocked, silent save for the soft crackling of his cigarette, the brief flares of red illuminating his craggy face like a demon. Emma would have laughed if she had seen. The voices were growing stronger as the night ticked on, the wee hours gradually growing.
Jake could not tell if he slept or not. The line of demarcation between dream and the tenuous reality of the summer night was blurred by too many years and too many stories. Whether the voices were from his subconscious or from the haunted night didn’t matter to Jake.
Emma was his last firm anchor on the present world. Night after night, he spent his sleeplessness rocking on the porch, gnarled, wrinkled fingers gripping tightly the polished arm of the chair. “Perhaps tonight,” Jake whispered to the darkness.
A coyote call echoed off the shining summer constellations and he grinned as he flicked the butt of his smoke into the dusty yard, a comet trail of red sparks piercing the gloom. Old Red whoofed softly at his side, the ancient hound’s nose briefly rising to sample the night air. Jake reached down and scratched his friend’s head.
He couldn’t remember exactly how long Red had shared his nightly vigil on the porch, but even as a puppy, the dog had sensed something magical, something spiritual about the ritual and kept silent watch with the old man. The pair waited night after night. Waiting for…something.
Neither knew what would come, just that they had to wait for it. Jake was never a man given to superstition, his days filled with the never-ending work on his small patch of Hill Country land, more rock and sharp bluffs than grazing ground. It wasn’t much, but he and Emma had managed to wrest a decent living from the place.
They never needed much more than food, shelter from the storms that raged through every spring and summer, and companionship. In those days, Jake wasn’t bothered by the voices. With a wry, melancholy grin, he reflected that they likely didn’t dare come around while Emma was living.
His late wife was a woman firmly grounded in what she could see, touch, and taste; she had no tolerance for anything spooky or mysterious. She put no stock in the tales of ghostly tribes who haunted the land where they lived.
As a boy, Jake had heard legends and myths from old timers, but whenever he mentioned any of the stories, Emma quashed his interest. “Got no time for such nonsense, Jake,” she would say, hands on hips and waving a metal spoon, “Too much work to do. You can entertain the cows with the stories when you round them up..."
"...Sit in the pen and talk to them about mystical warriors calling lonely folks to go off hunting with them.” Jake chuckled at the memory as he wiped a bit of moisture from his wrinkled cheek. He sure missed that woman. Best of the best. Always knew when to talk and when to hold her peace. And she never left his side for fifty two years.
Jake tried his best to forgive her for dying and abandoning him to his thoughts. It wasn’t easy. Now the voices had nothing to hold them at bay. Night after night they whispered on the breeze, murmuring through the rustling branches of the mesquites and pecans.
Stronger every night, the summons tugged at Jake’s soul, calling him, luring him. Part of his mind knew it would mean his death to go with them, but another part, a large part that had been left bare and vacant by Emma’s passing, didn’t care. That part longed to embrace the voices and waft across the central Texas night.
Jake closed his eyes as Red silently rose and laid his big head on the man’s thigh. The dog snorted softly and gazed up into the old man’s face. He whined once and Jake laid a hand on his head and whispered, “Yes, old buddy, it is time.”
The tableau froze in an instant of time, holding motionless for long minutes as the call of the coyote echoed again through the rocky hills.
The first rays of the sun gently touched the weathered porch. A battered, worn rocking chair gently creaked back and forth, back and forth in the chill of the dawn. Empty.