TITLE: MONUMENT ROAD
GENRE: Literary Fiction
A rancher and his wife awaken to their boarding stable burning. As firefighters arrive, their attention turns to locating a foster boy who's been teaching himself to smoke.
The crisp air slaps him awake to the world away from the fire. He ducks under the electrified perimeter wire, counting head where his pastured horses circle or nose nervously into the loafing sheds. From here, the glow might be a bonfire.
Inetta finds him there, back against a shed, sitting position, elbows on knees, sighting toward the flickering light.
"He got out Brisket," she says. "He won't come up. He's scared."
"He got a reason to be?"
The yellow slickers move so slow. The truck lights flash white haloes across their backs.
"I'll go down then."
He gathers himself and walks stiff legged through the hoof-pocked grass. He can see Junior now, shivering and blowing on his hands beyond the bunkhouse, the gelding tethered and skittish, vapors rising from the both of them.
The boy collapses a little when he sees him coming and reaches for Brisket's flank, as if steadying the horse would give him strength.
Junior nods, black circles under his eyes. Shakes his head.
He turns toward the blaze.
"Just the one?"
"I…" Or is it khai? Nothing else comes out from the boy.
Inetta makes it a circle.
"Tell him," she says.
"They wouldn't come," says Junior. "I unlatched the stalls but they wouldn't. It was too smoky."
"That's their safe place," he says. "What about the fire?"
Junior drops to his knees, plants his palms in the frozen dirt and lowers his head to await an invisible sword.
The smoke ushers upward the ghosts of three horses. A radio blats a faraway voice, flat and official. Men shuffle after sparks as the kiln of the stable settles into itself.
"So," he says finally and stomps toward the ruin.