[Sometimes, I write a story in an hour based on an image.]
They met, as they did every morning, at the ridge overlooking the train tracks in the far corner of Nat Henderson’s farm. Nat rested his hands on the fence while Dwight glanced over his shoulder to check once more on the cattle. As always, they were perfect.
“How’s the morning treating you, Dwight?” Nat squinted up at the sky. “Looks like another beautiful one.”
“Yeah, it does, don’t it?” Dwight nudged his horse Charlene and she turned them both toward town. “Another perfect day.”
“Mmm hmm,” said Nat.
“You ever wonder why there’s never been a murder over there in Piddleton?”
“What’s that again, Dwight?”
“There’s never been a murder in Piddleton. Did you know that? Nobody’s ever caught his wife with another man and strangled them both, nobody’s ever shot a teenaged couple in the backs of their heads at the lover’s lane, nobody’s ever snapped a pool cue off in someone’s skull at Victor’s Tavern.”
“I ain’t aheard of none, anyways,” Nat said. “From where I’m standing, that’s a good thing.”
“Well, yeah. But it’s a little too MUCH of a good thing, isn’t it? The only troubles we get around here are the occasional train derailment and that fire at Old Man Jenkins’s place they’ve been trying to put out since, well, since I can remember.”
“They’ll get it one of these days. They’ve kept it from spreading, at least.”
“Yeah, spreading,” said Dwight, adjusting his hat. “Spreading to a town with exactly one perfect white church with a steeple, one general store, one school with a bell, one firehouse, one police station, two train depots, and a half dozen houses.”
“I’m sure there’s more than that.”
“There aren’t. I’ve counted.”
Nat chewed that over in the side of his cheek. “Well, if you say so.”
“And these cattle I’ve been tending. They’re all perfectly brown and white, not a one of them with fleas or flies or mange or nothing. They’re perfect. You could eat them off the hoof if you wanted.”
“Now, Dwight, you don’t want to go gnawing at your livelihood!” said Nat.
“And another thing–”
A train whistle rolled up from the tracks below like a warm wind.
“Oh, look, here’s the 8:13.”
“Yes, again,” Dwight said. “8:13. And there’s the spotless passenger train and the spotless freight and that one over there with the old-fashioned engine. What’s that about?”
“No need to hang up a tool just because it’s old,” Nat said.
“You know what I think?” Dwight sidled the horse a little closer to be heard over the gentle clack-clack of the wheels below. “I think that if I rode ol’ Charlene here as far as I could along those tracks, they’d come right back around in a loop.”
Nat smiled. “That’s silly. What would be the point?”
“You tell me. What would be the point? We wake up, we do the same thing every day, we see the same things every day — the same kids kicking that ball in the field, the same old ladies with their green frock coats and black pocketbooks downtown, the same Studebakers parked across from Jim’s Hardware. What is the point?”
Nat shook his head. “You been sitting out on that horse in the sun a little too long, Dwight. That’s the kind of stuff that Commies think.”
“I feel like I’ve been sitting on this horse forever, to tell you the truth. Sometimes late at night, I swear I hear footsteps across the stars. Right up there. You ever hear that? I don’t figure so. But sometimes I hear footsteps and other times I hear voices and laughter. Because somewhere, I tell you, there are tracks that don’t go around in a circle.”
“These don’t go around in a circle, Dwight,” Nat said patiently. “I know it can get lonely out here–”
“I think I’m going to ride to town and kill somebody, just to see if it can be done. I’ll bet it can’t.”
“I hope not,” Nat said. “‘Cause I sure like talkin’ to you.”
“I’ll leave the herd here because, hey, where the hell are they going? Nowhere. I’ll just ride into town and hitch Charlene to a mailbox, and then I’ll go into one of those houses and cut up a family with my Bowie knife.”
Nat nodded. “Well, it’s a pretty day for it, anyway.”
“I’ll bet you I’ll be right back here tomorrow,” Dwight said.
“I know I will,” Nat said.
“Yeah,” Dwight said.
“Yeah,” Nat replied.
“Well, I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow again, if nothing changes.”
“It won’t,” Nat said.
Dwight nudged Charlene into her usual grudging town-ward motion, and as always they got as far as the edge of the grazing fields before stopping. Nat watched Dwight looking over the town as he always did.
“Maybe one of these days,” Nat muttered to his friend’s long-distant back. “Maybe one.”