Fatigue. Mottled fur; a bloated steer hangs from prancing claws and seeking beaks. A single hoof points skyward like a masthead. On raised toes a man cranes bird-like and lifts a hand to shade his eyes, peering into the distance, looking for agents. He can feel the signal searching. Orange light is receding on the ebb of day. Abandoned pools of dark advance in spattered disarray across the desert floor and patiently uncover the cool of night, leaving her to articulate on cantilevered limbs slowly forward. Her great dark shawl sweeping like a dream across the landscape hides among its folds three riders who appear like the call of a bugle: sharp, incessant; a shock to the nerves. They rage across the evening orange brown expanse upon a tympani of trundling noise and bear down on the man in a hurricane of pin-wheeling dust and speckled light.
They come to scant feet before him and rear up with high held reins and flailing hooves, back-lit by the descending sun. The air tightens between them, compressed and hot, and the long shadows of the riders blanket him. The horses stomp down. The jangle of livery ceases. Black lips curl back to reveal wooden colored teeth and waggling tongues and the air loosens up as the performance comes to a halt. The riders are stock still atop their transports. Heavy bandoliers criss-cross their chests and rifle barrels glint in the diminishing light. The lead rider sits high on a speckled horse; he is a dark obelisk, tall and narrow, with a head like a motor beneath a hat like a cog.
The man's hand falls from his brow and his arms dangle in submission at his sides like two paddles. He looks at the chest of the speckled horse, then up beneath the brim of the hat on the lead rider’s head, to where his eyes should be, but he is dressed in shadow, and commutating with darkness there he looks away. He opens his mouth to speak and manages only a brittle croak; it tumbles out of him and he regards it curiously as it bounds away.
"Who yonder there?" He says to the rider.
"You know why we are here." The lead rider says, his duster snapping at his spurs in a squall of dry wind.
"Ya know what I’ll say, agent." He says challengingly and again looks into the space beneath the brim of the agent’s hat.
"Farmer 163, Joeboy Elijah Haggert, payment is due." The sound of the voice is measured, mechanical, "If you do not pay, you will receive no protection from us and none of the benefits of our authority over this territory. You may be cited for disciplinary action if you do not comply."
"Where are ya going with yonder nonsense comments, agent? I know ya can’t do nothing to me and ya don’t want to do nothing to me, it would go against yer’s all interest. What’a ya doing? Those who represents ya, and who ya’s work for; they have no authority over this land and nothing over me, I am obliged to do nothing. Ya know yer wasting yer time." He speaks into the darkness of the riders, and to the spaces in between them. He always says the same thing. “Go to hell. Leave me alone.”
“You may be cited for disciplinary action if you do not comply. We will return.”
“I said, go to hell,” Joeboy puts his back to them and walks away. A flutter of cards at his heels, and he knows they are gone.
He scuttles like a beetle over the dry, volcanic desert in the direction of home. Deep, craggy, vertically walled cracks spanned by creaking bridges slice across the plain at oblique angles; piles of volcanic pock-marked rock lay randomly about as if discarded by belligerent gods when in ancient times this arid and blasted land was constructed. Antelope and white tailed deer leap across the desert, heading to more fertile ground; howling packs of wolves roam unfettered, a-wash in the ascending bone colored moonlight, and glistening mountains of shattered obsidian lay in the western distance, one demarcation of the boundary of this lawless territory and a reminder of a place of escape, of different futures, green grass, thick forests and the sea.
He reaches his cabin, which is nestled into the bend of a fishless creek that follows the contour of a low range of hills, and it is dark. His mangled cat, with hunched shoulder blades popping vertically out of her pathetic back, pries the space in front of his cabin like a weary sentinel guarding the door to doom. She looks at him, her midnight eyes glow supernaturally and meet his frostbitten blue eyes and Joeboy says, "Hi kitty." He enters and lights an oil lamp and places it on the table by the window. A faded cotton serape lay across his bed and he wraps it around his shoulders and goes back outside, closing the door gently behind him. He sits in a rocking chair, next to the door, and pops the cork on a bottle of potato liquor, and taking a swallow he searches with bony fingers into the breast-pocket of his overalls for the sweet, bitter resin of sleep and his pipe. The stars spread out above. The cat is asleep at his feet. Negative ground; moonshine liquor and the flowery taste of poppies at the back of his mouth and a smeared evening of forgotten dreams beneath the dome of forever night.