Authors: John Brandon
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Westerns
A MILLION HEAVENS
Copyright Â© 2012 John Brandon
Cover illustration by Keith Shore
Cover lettering by Walter Green
All rights reserved, including right of reproduction in whole or in part, in any form.
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The nighttime clouds were slipping across the sky as if summoned. The wolf was near the old market, a place he remembered enjoying, but he resolved not to go inside, resolved to maintain his pace, an upright trot he could've sustained for days. He was off his regular route. He had passed several lots of broken machines that weren't even guarded by dogs and now he was crossing kept groundsâthe trees in rows, the hedges tidy, the signs sturdy and sponged. He cleared the first wing of a well-lit building, catching his trotting reflection in the mirrored windows. His head jerked sidelong toward a parking lot and there he saw the quiet humans.
The wolf understood that he had stopped short in some sort of courtyard and he understood that these humans had snuck up on him, or he had snuck up on them without meaning to, which was the same. He retreated into the shadows. The humans hadn't spotted him. They seemed lost to the world. They sat with their legs folded beneath them. Not a whisper. Not a sigh. The wolf couldn't tell what these humans were doing. A lot of knowledge was obvious to the wolf and hidden from humans, but they had their own wisdomâdeductions they'd been refining for centuries, beliefs they would cling to until they could prove them.
The wolf slipped into the neighboring truck dealership and crept under a row of huge-tired 4Ã4s. He snuck around behind the humans, who were all concentrating on the building in front of them. Not one of them was eating or drinking. Their hands were empty of telephones. The wolf could tell this had happened before. This gathering had occurred untold times, and the wolf had known nothing about it. He resisted the urge to clear his snout and break the quiet. The humans. They were even more vulnerable in the night than in the day. They'd convinced themselves they were in their element by raising buildings and planting trees, but the wolf knew that seas existed and that humans belonged near those seas and eventually would return to them. These humans were stranded in the desert and above them hung a moon that was also a desert.
This domain, this fin of the poor neighborhoods south of town, had not been part of the wolf's rounds for many seasons. He checked in down here from time to time and the area seldom changed. The clinic had been built, the wolf didn't remember when, and the market had shut down. The wolf would've liked to explore the old market, cruise the sharp-turning passageways of trapped air, but he could not pull himself away from these humans. He was putting himself behind schedule. The wolf could not have named any specific entity that threatened his territory, but that was irrelevant. He had rounds. The wolf was as trained as the terriers that slept in the humans' beds. The wolf had been trained by his instincts, by forefathers he'd never known. He didn't roll over or beg, but his trick was rounds, starting each evening near Golden and veering below Albuquerque to the loud safe flats near the airport. Up to the windless park where the humans' ancestors had drawn on the rocks, then farther to Rio Rancho, where the scents from the restaurants were milder and children on glinting bikes coasted the hills. Bernalillo. The big river. The property where the Indians were kept. With plenty of time before dawn, the wolf would pick his way around the base of Sandia Mountain, winding up near Lofte, the northern outpost of the eastern basin, and there he would watch the new sun turn Lofte's handful of buildings, which from a distance appeared to be holding hands like human children, the urgent red of hour-old blood.
The wolf's paws were planted, his senses directed at the humans. Whatever they were doing, it wasn't in order to have fun. Maybe they were deciding something, piling up their thoughts. Or perhaps they were waiting. The wolf knew about waiting. But humans, unlike the wolf, rarely waited without knowing what they were waiting for.
It was dangerous and without profit for the wolf to get intrigued with human affairs. At present he was huddled into the wheel well of a hulking pickup truck, putting himself behind schedule, because he wanted to hear the humans speak, wanted them to break their silence, because he wanted an explanation. He stood in continual anticipation of hearing a voice. A question asked. Human laughter. He worked his tongue around his teeth, tasting nothing, tasting his own warm breath. An involuntary growl was idling in his throat and he stifled it. The wolf could wait no longer. He perked his ears one last time, the wind dying out for himâstill nothing to be heard. He forced himself to back out from between the two trucks that were hiding him and forced himself to skip the old market and make for the airport. He cleared his snout decisively. He resumed trotting, but after three or four blocks, while passing some weedy basketball courts that stood empty behind a high fence, he broke into a flat run and the scents he smelled then came mostly from the furnace of his own body.
He of course hadn't run his lunch truck route since he and Soren had arrived at the clinic, and his route was where he'd always sorted out his troubles, paltry as his old troubles seemed now with his son lying here in creepy serenity day after day. On his routeâthe traffic swelling and subsiding, the billboards sailing above with their slogans, the hungry awaiting him at the next stopâSoren's father had counseled himself through the workaday decisions of parenting and running his small business. He was a creature of habit and his habits were now mostly wrecked. He still knocked out his pushups, four sets of fifty, right down on the linoleum floor of the clinic room. The floor was perfectly clean, waxed to hell and
back, and Soren's father, if he dropped a crumb from his food tray, always knelt down and picked it up and dropped it into the little wastebasket that was continually empty. The final ten pushups of the final set brought grunts out of Soren's father that he could not stifle, and sometimes Nurse Lula came and peeked in the door and saw Soren's father flat on his front. Nurse Lula was the one who'd shown Soren's father the secret smoking spot, so he didn't have to descend all the way to the ground floor and walk out front and stand under the carport. There was a landing that jutted from the sixth floor staircase. The door to the landing was marked DO NOT OPEN ALARM WILL SOUND, but this wasn't true. You could walk right out there and see in every direction. There was a casino in the middle distance, and way off a spine of maroon peaks. Soren's father didn't enjoy cigarettes as much as he had before, the smoke chugging out his half-open truck window as he navigated the city; now he used smoking to take breaks from the clinic room the way the folks he served on his route used smoking to take breaks from their factory jobs. Sometimes Lula was out on the landing. She had wide-set eyes and a gentle manner that made her seem holy. When she spoke to Soren's father she avoided talking about her children but sometimes she slipped. They were girls and the younger one was taller than the older one.