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Out on the Eastern Slopes and other stories by Steve Passey

My Grandfather hunted. My father hunted. Everyone we knew hunted. Everyone knew someone on the reserve. A treaty card allows for a “subsistence hunt.” For not much money you can get your “guide” from the reservation to take you out and hunt whenever you need to, whenever you want. We had heads on the wall and meat in the freezer. My grandfather ran coyotes with a pack of dogs for the bounty on the coyote pelts. Don’t feel bad for the coyotes. They aren’t dogs. They never traded their souls for a warm place by the fire. They hunt too. They take newborn calves and kid goats. They take cats and dogs. They take whatever they can get whenever they can get it.

#

Out in the foothills we found a carcass not two hours old, the buck still warm enough to have melted the frost on the ground around it. We were there before the crows. Someone after a trophy left it as it lay, moving on sure that they’d find something bigger. That’s some kind of fuckery. Gives us all a bad name.
Our guide said he’d take it. He’s seen this before. He’s got his treaty card.
“It’s all yours buddy” we say.
“So it is” he says.
We gutted it, our breath frozen in the air, and packed it to the truck sweating the whole way. We didn’t get sweet fuck-all ourselves in the hours we had left. We heard two shots from a few miles south of us and hoped something might be chased our way but nothing came. On the ride back we passed around some apricot brandy. We dropped our guide and his meat buck off at his place on the Reservation.

#

Granddad ran coyotes from horseback with a pack of dogs. He had five or six greyhounds and an Irish wolfhound that he called his “Killing Dog”. It couldn’t run with the greyhounds, but it could run with the horses. Coyotes are fast and cagey, but not as fast as greyhounds. Coyotes will run along fence line and weave in and out trying to keep some fence between themselves and the dogs but the greyhounds, outnumbering the coyote, run both sides of the fence line and run him down.

The coyote has no dodge there, neither cover nor craft to separate him from the pack. Once the greyhounds had brought the coyote to bay Granddad and the wolfhound would catch up and the wolfhound would move in and choke the life out of the coyote in a long minute. The coyote would fight with all the fury of the damned but there comes a moment when it just gives up. Its back legs quit kicking and relax and its life just eases away in to the jaws of the wolfhound. The end of it is always quiet.

Granddad would get off the horse with his flaying knife and shoo the greyhounds away – they’ll tear up the coyote and there will be no pelt for bounty – and when the wolfhound would let loose its grip he’d step in and skin the coyote as it lay. He said one time he’d dismounted and started on the coyote and was halfway done – had the coyote’s rear quarters flayed and lifted halfway to the front of its body – when it leapt to its feet, drew a great ragged breath, and took off, running in bursts across the prairie dragging half of its hide with it, dull-brown fur and blood-red flesh lurching over stubble, sage, and stone.

Granddad jumped back and said “Goddamn” and the dogs? Greyhounds and wolfhound alike just sat on their haunches and looked at Granddad. None of ‘em would track it after that and it was lost to the horizon.

#

Something is always hunting, looking for flesh or trophy, blood or hide. Something looks, something’s found. We subsist and are sustained. We’re going out next weekend. Maybe we’ll have better luck.


Love and Rain

Pray for love
A selfish thing
But sweet, and
I understand
Pray for rain
Be generous of spirit
Unselfish and kind, and
You will save us all

I remember when we held hands
As brother and sister
We waded across the stream
Yes, I remember

Pray for love
A selfish thing, and
If it fails
You are only alone
But pray for rain
Pray for us all and fail
We all bear the drought, so
You curse us all

Remember
How many times have you been around?
Praying for love, praying for rain
Yes, I know this too

She told me “When I was six, I knew that my reflection in still water wasn’t really me.”

We were a little high.

“That’s how I know I’m una bruja.”

We were hungry too.

“Hey” she said, “do you want to learn how to be a ‘Freegan’?”

She drove us to a McDonalds in her mother’s mini-van she called “The Vegas Taxi” with the sliding door on the passenger side held in place with wire and you had to get to the back seats by going through the front door or the rear hatch. She never went faster than ten under the speed limit and the door rattled the whole way. The trip was sublime.

When we got to McDonald’s she waited for the drive-through attendant to ask what we wanted and then said she had to run and didn’t have time to order, we’d just clear the line and be on our way. When we go to the payment window she smiled and gave a little wave with her fingers to the attendant who smiled back. At the takeout window she stopped and the McDonald’s attendant looked and asked us to confirm “A ten-pack of McNuggets with a coke and a cheeseburger happy meal – with a coke – and a girl’s toy?”

She nodded and we rolled away slowly with someone else’s order.

“Freegan,” she said. “That’s how it’s done.”

I think she might really be una bruja.

She drove us out of town to a roadside turnout overlooking the river. We split everything down the middle. Half of the nuggets for each, half of the fries, half of the cheeseburger. It was all excellent.

She told me that one time she had come here, in the Vegas Taxi, by herself. A truck had pulled into the parking lot as far away from her as it could get. A big bearded man in a trucker’s cap pulled down very low got out and reached into the truck’s box and pulled out an old gunny sack and set it down over the guardrail at the foot of a tree where weeds and creepers grew thick enough to wage war against the imposition of the gravel lot. He drove away quietly. When he was gone she got out of the van and went over to see what was in the bag. It was a litter of six puppies, practically newborn. She took them out of the sack and held them, in twos and threes, and cried and cried. When she quit crying, she laid the sack over them and left them there under the tree, between the turn-out and the river. They had ceased to whimper and writhe and had fallen asleep in her hands and they stayed asleep when she set them down, their doomed little bodies sublimated into one another as they dreamt and cooled and died. She drove away then, and never spoke to anyone about the puppies except for me.

I thought of the man who had left them there, trying to drive away slowly. I judge him, but not her. She and her mother have no money to save anything.

On the way home she told me that a bruja, una verdadera bruja, only ever prays for two things: Love and Rain. She told me that to pray for love is a selfish thing, but sweet, and she understands. To pray for rain, to be generous of spirit, unselfish and kind, this saves us all.

I remembered that when I first met her I was very young. We held hands like a brother and sister. We waded across a stream. I remember this.

Softer now she told me that to pray for love, the selfish thing; if it fails you are only alone. But praying for rain, praying for us all and failing, there we must all bear the drought. You have cursed us all. Remember: How many times have you been around, praying for love, praying for rain?

 

Returning Vending Machine Press contributor Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collection “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books, coming in August 2017) and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction. His fiction and poetry have appeared in more than forty publication worldwide, both print and electronic

1 Comment on Out on the Eastern Slopes and other stories by Steve Passey

  1. Another fine piece of writing by Steve Passey

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