"Something black and terrifying is crossing the rows, bound for your porch lamp in the darkness."



It's late September. I'm sitting on my screened porch, my eyes on the western horizon, where the sun is dying a bloody death. Insects bounce off the naked bulb of my porch light. I've turned it on early, as I don't intend to get up again any time soon. A twelve pack of pale green beer is chilling in a cooler near my right foot. A fresh pack of cigarillos waits on a small table at my left elbow. I intend to finish both before the moon's rise.

I crack the top on the first beer, tossing it into the untidy hedge that lines my front steps. A long, full, satisfying pull from its icy neck soothes something deep inside of me. I belch, setting the dripping bottle aside to reach for the cigars.

The cellophane is obstinate. I peel them free, selecting the first one on the front row. I clamp it between my teeth, and fire it up with a disposable lighter I have fished from my trouser pocket.

While the smoke boils from my nostrils, I sit there on my porch. And I dread the fall of night.

Though alone with my thoughts, aloud I say, "Christ, I wish I hadn't come here."

But I know. I didn't have a choice. Not really.

And it's too late to change my mind. Far too late.

My house is a ramshackle clapboard affair, its white paint well peeled and its green shingles showing their age. The yard needs a mow, as the weeds stand out clearly from the all but barren, stony soil. It sits at the center of an acre. Somebody planted fruit trees all around the place. I can smell the stink of their rotted pits over the fumes of my cigarillo. I take another choking puff and a second drowning gulp. Plums, I think. And peaches.

Beyond the drooping barbed wire fence that surrounds the home place stands an endless sea of harvested stalks that were once corn and summer wheat and maize and I don't know what all. Random weeds sway to the breeze there now. An eery sound of feet moving among the rows accompanies their chorus line dance. While a lone siphon pump works a well that sits near the fence line, its rhythm a certain mechanical heartbeat that I scarcely notice.

Flying insects bounce off my porch light after monumental impacts. Crickets fill the air with their abrasive love calls.

A gravel walk leads away from my front stairs and winds around the house to the side drive, where my battered Ford pickup is parked, sagging on its tired springs. The drive runs through the neglected fruit trees to a solitary farm-to-market road that runs east into Pecan Groves, Texas, and west into the wilderness.

Nobody comes this way at night, unless they're headed into to town. I am alone for miles.

The beer is getting warm. I finish it with the third attempt. The bottle follows the cap into the ragged hedge. I will find it again next spring. If I am unlucky enough to be here by then, I think.

I sigh. "I'm not going anywhere soon. Maybe never."

It's a crushing realization. I clamp the thin cigar between my teeth, and lean forward to rifle the cooler for another bottle. I find one, way down deep, buried in heaps of ice.

Another lid sails across the porch. The beer is good. Cold and bitter-sweet. It froths and bubbles at the back of my throat. The bottle sighs with release when I pull my lips away. And steams in my hand while I puff the cigarillo to a stump.

By now, the sun is a thin arc at the treetops. It fights for its life with long, reaching arms of light that cannot save it. That cannot save me. The night, I know, will come. Must come.

"So come on, then, God damn it!" I shout, thumping my smoking butt onto the seedy lawn. "I don't give a shit if it does!"

I work hard to drain the second bottle, but cannot. A bit remains when I come up for air. I am mildly disappointed.

The siphon pump works in time with my throbbing heart. Chunka-chunka-chunka. While the crickets laugh at me from their wicked choir, and insects smash themselves against my blazing porch light. I watch the cherry of my spent cigar glow gently in the rising shadows of night. Eventually, it would fade. As the sun must fade.

I shut my eyes and will it to come. The waiting is unbearable. I wish I had never come here. I imagine myself to be somewhere, anywhere, else.

And while I sit there, locked away behind the shelter of my eyelids, I feel a cold, stern gaze rise up around me. I feel swallowed by a certain sight that would regard me with the passionless discourse of a predator that stalks its prey. Someone... something watches.

Yet open my eyes, and it is gone again. Strange, I think, finishing my beer. Still my heart and the siphon pump are working together to summon up the inky depths of the world with a steady chunka-chunka-chunka.

Let it come, I consider. Let it be, I resign. The second beer chases the first, and I fill my hand with a frosty third. Then the second cigarillo slides whisper smooth from its comfortable resting place among its mates. "Too bad," I say, shaking my head and clucking my tongue, even as I hunt up the lighter once more, "I'm going to burn you right down. And you had it so good."

Puffing its head afire and shiny red, I sit on the lighter and free my hand for the bottle. For a time, it's back and forth, back and forth, drink and smoke, drink and smoke. Soon, the thin cigar is too hot. It tastes foul. I slow down with a resentful sigh.

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