Every Head is a World, fiction by Nels Hanson

The sud­den vision of the wings of sev­en-band­ed col­or made me halt as I head­ed for the doomed pig’s pen.

I blinked at the striped light like refrac­tions from twin prisms and the knife slipped from my hand and I swiveled and the men behind me parted.

In a trance I retraced my steps and sat down in the sun with my back against the barn’s hot wall.

Del­mus, you all right?” some­one asked, it sound­ed like Aaron Win­ters, and I heard myself answer, “I need to think a minute—”

An hour ago I had awak­ened under a grapevine, the emp­ty fifth of whiskey rolling from my chest as I jumped up and was run­ning drunk through the vine­yard toward the fran­tic barnyard.

I remem­bered the pick­ups arriv­ing for the har­vest par­ty, honk­ing horns and shout­ed greet­ings, bot­tles passed in a wide cir­cle, gun­fire as the men took turns shoot­ing Woody’s rifle, the blast at my ear when Aaron Win­ters rest­ed the bar­rel on my shoul­der and the run­ning horse weath­er­vane skat­ed down the barn’s tin roof—

Then the shout that the horse had escaped the cor­ral, Silva’s hired man had let it loose, and I hur­ried for the las­so and swung it wide over my head—the way Endi­cott had taught me 60 years ago—

I approached Kate’s ter­ri­fied pony that had run up onto the lawn by the house, under the kitchen win­dow where Kyla was hav­ing her morn­ing cof­fee and Kate ate her cereal.

Nice throw,” some­one said and I was lead­ing Sox from the barn­yard, say­ing, “Easy boy, easy,” now step­ping into the young orchard to qui­et it, to get away from the gun­ and from Bay­lor Clark who’d been nip­ping at my heels, insist­ing that Aaron Win­ters had struck oil west of New Lund, that if I didn’t fill him in he’d tell every­one about Kyla’s mother—

I’d heard some­one com­ing through the dirt, with my hang­over the foot­steps loud as a dinosaur’s tread.

Aaron?” I said. “You alone?” I sat out of sight, under the young Sun­crest peach, Sox’s rope tied to the branch.

Just me.” Aaron was plod­ding through the deep white-ash soil with­out his hat, his short shad­ow thrown behind him like a stunt­ed wing.

I fol­lowed your tracks— Fig­ured you were hid­ing— Or get­ting ready to ride off—”

He was breath­ing hard, it was work for him walk­ing through the plowed ground. Aaron put out a speck­led hand, grasp­ing the peach limb above my head. He blinked, his washed-out blue eyes gaz­ing down at me through the shade.

You’re not sore, about the weathervane?”

For­get it. You get rid of Baylor?”

How’d he find out about the oil lease?” Aaron put his oth­er hand on the branch.

He knows every­thing. He’s a spy.”

Your mother’s broth­er. Can’t do much, not with family.”

Baby Broth­er Is Watch­ing You,” said a voice among the silent leaves and I remem­bered I was drunk.

I was ready to wring his neck.”

It should have been fun­ny, com­ing from old Aaron, who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Join the club,” I said, pick­ing up a dirt clod.

I got hold of myself,” Aaron said. “He’s spread­ing some pret­ty nasty stuff—”

I threw the clod over my shoul­der. Sox snorted.

Kyla’s moth­er?” I touched a fall­en cres­cent leaf, like the moon last night. “He’s full of shit.”

Old news,” Aaron said.

With my fin­ger I traced a cir­cle in the blonde dirt. The nar­row peach leaves stirred, cast­ing shad­ows like fin­ger­lings in a stream.

Lar­ry Jones knew some­thing about Bay­lor—” I drew a line through the cir­cle, then a sec­ond line, mak­ing a cross. “What was it, anyway?”

Aprons,” Aaron said, “lamb­skins.”

I looked up at Aaron’s white face.

Big prof­it. Sold them to the dif­fer­ent lodges. That’s why Bay­lor joined the Masons.”

I’m not surprised.”

That’s what I thought it was, any­way—” Aaron’s voice trailed off.

What do you mean?”

Some­thing Hazel told me. After Larry’s funer­al. Some­thing I’ve nev­er told any­one. Some­thing Lar­ry nev­er told me—”

Aaron stared off across the orchard.

Look­ing back, I can see he hint­ed at it, in ‘Raisin in the Dust,’ that part about the John­son Grass chok­ing the fields and ditch­es. About the seeds of some­thing evil here.”

My head hurt. When I looked up at the flick­er­ing leaves, the splin­tered light stung my eyes.

You shouldn’t have got drunk the night before your par­ty, some­one said at my right ear, it sound­ed like my dead mother’s voice. “All the Wild Turkey the But­ter­fly low­ered on the string, after you dropped the Ear­ly Times—”

Do I want to know?” My tem­ples hurt.

No,” Aaron said.

Tell me,” I said.

It’s painful.”

What isn’t?”

I want to tell you, Del­mus.” Aaron looked down at me. “For your mother’s sake—”

What’s she got to do with it?” I felt the old irri­ta­tion spark and rise like an orange flame.

I know you and Flo­rence didn’t get along, after your dad died. I think maybe you blamed her a lit­tle for Walt’s death.”

No,” I said. “I didn’t. It just went that way.” But I did, I always had. “I’m going to get me a switch, she’d say when I wouldn’t mind.

It’s got to stay here, between you and me.”

All right,” I said. I slashed anoth­er line across the cir­cle in the dirt, so it looked like a pie.

You were over­seas. It was when Bay­lor decid­ed he was going to write a book about Joaquin Mur­ri­et­ta and the buried trea­sure. Said if Lar­ry Jones could write a book about Mur­ri­et­ta, he could too, only ten times bet­ter. He wouldn’t fall for an old wives’ tale about some ‘fan­cy lady’ find­ing the gold, using a crys­tal ball. He didn’t have to be a ‘damned professor.’”

Yes,” I said. I made a fur­row in the dust with my fin­ger­tip. “That sounds like Baylor.”

I’d just been talk­ing about Mur­ri­et­ta— With who? Now the sec­tioned cir­cle looked like a puzzle.

Well, Bay­lor bought a great big new desk, set up an office. He had an old desk, real old. Real cheap. He tried to sell it to Lar­ry, then to me. It was just good for kin­dling. Plus it was his. Nobody want­ed it. Bay­lor began to both­er Flo­rence about it. He’d call and come over near­ly every day. Said he’d nev­er giv­en her a gift, always meant to and nev­er had.”


He wouldn’t let up. Said it was ungrate­ful if she didn’t take it, a present from her only broth­er. So final­ly, to shut him up, Walt went over in the truck. Bay­lor helped him load it, all the time brag­ging what a great desk it was, how hap­py Flo­rence would be when she saw it. Bay­lor said he’d be over lat­er to help them decide where to put it. They should put it some­where impor­tant, so peo­ple could see it.”


I’m com­ing to it. When Walt got home, Lar­ry Jones was there. He’d had a hunch on a site and want­ed Walt to dowse it on the map. Oil. Lar­ry waved hel­lo and point­ed to the desk. ‘Bay­lor final­ly find a buy­er?’ Lar­ry said.

‘No,’ Walt said, ‘a god­damned gift. Would you help me unload it?’                      “‘Christ­mas comes ear­ly,’ Lar­ry joked, and Walt laughed, said what a both­er Bay­lor was. So Lar­ry and Walt got it down.

Walt had start­ed to dust it off, Baylor’d had it in the barn, when Lar­ry said, ‘You know, these were pret­ty com­mon once, mail order stuff. Just a cut-rate piece. But there was one thing. They all had a hid­den com­part­ment. I won­der if Bay­lor remem­bered to clean out all his secrets.’

Lar­ry was that way. He found Murrietta’s ivory-han­dled pis­tols in the cave.”

Yeah.” Lar­ry had brought one over. I’d held the heavy sil­ver pis­tol in my hand, grasped the white grips carved with screech­ing eagles.

Trea­sure,” said a dif­fer­ent voice. “Under a flat stone .… These aren’t rhine­stones but dia­monds in my dress—”

Lar­ry leaned over, reached way under­neath. Sure enough, there was a but­ton, it worked a spring release. A secret draw­er came open and Lar­ry reached in.

‘What do we have here?’ Lar­ry said. ‘Baylor’s trea­sure map?’

Lar­ry hand­ed Walt the piece of paper. Walt unfold­ed it.”

I looked up. Aaron took a breath, both hands on the limb, his white brows raised.

That’s the moment that killed your father—”


Walt turned white, took one step and col­lapsed. Just like that.” Aaron lift­ed a hand and snapped his fin­gers. “Like a hammer’d hit him.”

I nev­er heard that—”

No one has,” Aaron said, “I nev­er did, not till Hazel told me. I guess Lar­ry got Walt into the car and he and Flo­rence took him to town, to the hos­pi­tal. No use.

When Lar­ry brought Flo­rence home, Flo­rence asked Lar­ry to put the draw­er back in the desk. She asked him to drag the desk out in the barn­yard and pour gaso­line on it. She set it on fire her­self, with a kitchen match. Lar­ry and Flo­rence were stand­ing in the yard, watch­ing it burn, when Bay­lor drove in.”

And Bob Braw­ley died that same day, of fire, over Nagoya, 100 yards off my sil­ver wing—

‘What the hell’s going on?’ Bay­lor yelled. ‘What the hell?’

Flo­rence nev­er answered him. She nev­er spoke to him again. Remem­ber, when you got home from over­seas and he’d come vis­it, for cof­fee? She would sit there, star­ing at the wall, at Walt’s pic­ture of the graz­ing hors­es. ‘Florence—Florence, look at me when I’m talk­ing!’ Bay­lor would say. She nev­er turned. And lat­er, when she was in the hos­pi­tal? Bay­lor came to see her every day. She wouldn’t speak, she wouldn’t look at him, even when he begged her, as his sis­ter, his last blood relative.”

What was in the draw­er?” I stared up at Aaron.

A dia­gram. A map.”

What map?”

Gates,” Aaron said. “Each gate had a number.”

What gates? The ditch?”

At the bot­tom of the page each num­ber had a name. Each gate.”

Aaron looked down at me. His eyes were sad, watery.

I don’t under­stand.” Gate. Number.

The Klan,” Aaron said. “They killed Endi­cott Lowell.”

I watched the ground tilt and rise. I put a hand down for balance.


The dirt glit­tered with grains of quartz and pyrite, threat­en­ing to ignite as a roar start­ed in my ears. Each sec­ond was like an arrow going in. Each minute. I could die now, turn to dust.

The case was final­ly closed:

Negro Rodeo Clown Killed in Mys­te­ri­ous Stampede!

It was Bay­lor and his “friends” who put chili pow­der under the bulls’ tails, between shows while Walt and I and Endi­cott had the pic­nic in the pas­ture under the oak, Endi­cott in his pur­ple pants and shirt and his face still paint­ed with white paste, the orange wig beside him on the blan­ket before every­thing was torn and soaked red .…

You all right?” Aaron asked after a while.

No,” I said. “Real tired.”

In the barn­yard a radio was play­ing, where ear­li­er the men had tak­en turns fir­ing Woody’s .22, where once Endi­cott had shown me how to throw a rope:

Just like this, Del­mus,” Endi­cott said, guid­ing my hand. “That­ta boy!”

You’re wear­ing your dad’s boots.”

Yeah,” I said to the sandy ground, “my Red Wings wore out.” I touched anoth­er fall­en yel­low leaf and again remem­bered the moon. “Like every­thing else.”

I want to talk to you,” Aaron said, “while we’re still sober.”

I’m not sober. I’ve been drunk since last night.”

Wild Turkey or Ear­ly Times? The bot­tle rolled from my chest when I woke under the grapevine. I thought it had fall­en and shat­tered by the elm.

I ran a hand through my hair, what was left of it.

I’ve been drunk all my life. Jesus—”

I fig­ured it was like that, when I saw you in town yesterday.”

Odd cycle.” I glanced down the row of young peach trees. “Strange weather.”

The wind is part of the process, the rain is part of the process .…  Like the phas­es of the moon—” Who said that? When?

I can feel it,” Aaron said. “Every­where I go. That’s why I want­ed to talk to you. I was going to wait until every­body left, but I don’t know if I can stick it out.”

You going?” I looked up. I didn’t want him to go. Aaron was the only one I want­ed to see.

No, not yet,” Aaron said. “I’ll stay a while.”

I appre­ci­ate it, Aaron.”

Let me sit with you a minute.”

I lift­ed my hand and gripped Aaron’s as he squat­ted down beside me.

There,” Aaron said, “that’s better.”

How slen­der his wrist was. Almost bone.

Remem­ber the mete­orite, Del­mus?” Aaron asked. “The one that hit the milkhouse?”

Walt’s shoot­ing star.” I nod­ded. “Rock of Ages.”

After the war a swarm of bees lived inside the thick walls and when I tore it down hon­ey flowed like liq­uid gold from a spig­ot and Kyla and I skimmed the pool with buck­ets and poured it into milk cans.

They saw it up in Fres­no,” Aaron said. “Been track­ing it. Some teacher at the college.”

‘Someone’s van­dal­ized it,’ he said, when Dad gave it to him. ‘This isn’t a nat­ur­al break.’

‘No,’ Dad said, ‘I guess God fid­dled with it.’”

It was sum­mer, hot July, I was 11. We’d been sit­ting on the screen porch drink­ing home­made root beer when we saw the sud­den blind­ing streak that lit up the barn and then an explo­sion, a tin roof boomed, sparks fly­ing up.

What is it?” Flo­rence cried.

A mete­or!” Walt said.

Walt and I ran out across the barn­yard. I saw stars through the hole in the milk­house roof. A black sil­ver­ish rock sat on the con­crete floor with the full milk cans. It was smok­ing, spi­rals going up toward the lit over­head bulb.

Don’t touch it—It’s still hot.”

Walt sent me back to the house to call Aaron.

The guy growled,” Aaron said, “but he took it.”

It’s still up there, at the col­lege museum.”

Made of nick­el. I fig­ured you’d remember—”

All the days of my life,” I said, drop­ping my hand in the dirt as I heard anoth­er sud­den buzzing voice in my head:

            “And the third angel sound­ed his trum­pet, and there fell a great star from heav­en, burn­ing as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers and upon the foun­tains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood .…”

Aaron set his hand on my shoul­der. With a sigh he got to his feet and stood in the deep earth, then reached around to his pants pocket.

Have a drink?”

He dropped a half-pint so I had to reach to catch it.


Old Grand­dad. I drank the burn­ing whiskey, throw­ing back my head, and hand­ed it back.

Aaron took a dain­ty drink, coughed, took a bet­ter one. He screwed on the cap and back­hand threw the flat bot­tle in the air beyond the peach tree.

I start­ed to rise, to make a failed effort to grab it in time, and eased back down as I saw the glass fall safe­ly in the soft plowed ground, not like last night when I tripped and the Ear­ly Times float­ed from my hand and broke in a thou­sand wet pieces in the cres­cent moon­light .… “Damn it to hell,” I said on hands and knees before I heard the creak of a win­dow sash—

Wealthy man,” I said, look­ing up. “You must have found oil.”

Not yet,” Aaron said, “maybe nev­er. Maybe—”

He made a strange jerk­ing motion with his arm.

Aaron?” I thought he’d had a stroke, Aaron’s eyes were blank, emp­ty looking—

Then I rec­og­nized the sig­nal. I was tired, but I got to my feet. I gripped Aaron’s hand.

By the level.”

By the square.”

Widow’s Son.”

King Solomon’s Temple.”

Aaron stared steadi­ly at me. Now his eyes were clear, intent, blue.

Look at this,” Aaron said.

He was open­ing his shirt, show­ing his thin t‑shirt and bony chest, then reach­ing in, as if to grasp his kidney.

Aaron pulled out a var­nished peach fork.

Gave up the L’s?”

This is bet­ter.” Aaron held the V with two hands. “It’s Larry’s. Hazel gave it to me.”

I recalled it dim­ly. It had lain on the kitchen table as Walt and Lar­ry had cof­fee. But it was dif­fer­ent, there was some­thing bright fas­tened on the end with electrician’s tape.

What’s that thing?”

A piece of the mete­or.” Aaron smiled. “Walt fid­dled with it.”

You found oil with that?”

After years of dry wells. Lots of shale, tar sand. Ben­tonite that time. Nev­er oil. Then bin­go, first try with this and up it came.”

I didn’t even know you were drilling—”

Things were com­ing too fast. First Endi­cott, Flo­rence and Walt, Lar­ry. Now this.


At night. Secret. Capped it off. It want­ed to gush. Right under the sur­face. It’s been on the move. Migrating.”

You real­ly hit?”

Real pure, no sul­fur. I meant to bring a lit­tle for you to taste, sweet, but I forgot—”

Aaron let one arm of the rod swing down, rais­ing a hand to scratch his forehead.

Lots on my mind. A big pool, it looks like, a lake of oil, the way it came up. Lot of pressure.”

No won­der Baylor—the murderer!—was antsy. He smelled oil. Every­one had looked for 70 years—Standard, Shell, geol­o­gists from Ara­bia and Iran. There was a fault, but no one could locate the deposit.

Under­stand­ably, Aaron was excited.

It’s on the Island,” Aaron said.

Jesus— The Island?”

Aaron nod­ded. “Where the Kings’ two forks split apart for a mile.”

Jones always said it was on the Island—”

He didn’t have a shoot­ing star,” Aaron said.

Again he held it out with both hands, the rock shin­ing at the end of the V.

Let me see it,” I said.


I gripped the peach fork that once had been Lar­ry Jones’. The Pro­fes­sor. It dropped straight down, the piece of star pulling heavily.

You sit­ting on oil?” Aaron frowned.

Naw, I’m rusty. The ditch line runs through here.”

I threw the stick back up, held it out light­ly in my palms, but again, with a will of its own, the shiny star shot down.

Pret­ty strong,” Aaron said, “give it here.” He took the rod, bal­anc­ing it belt high, lev­el with the ground, and I saw it plunge.

It’s not here.” Aaron tilt­ed his head to the side, feel­ing the pull through his hands. “It’s over there, real strong, right under the barn­yard. Or no,” Aaron said, swing­ing the branch up again, “it’s far­ther on, by the house.”

It’s the pump. Met­al magnetism.”

You sure?”

Either that or Kyla’s moth­er. The rhine­stones in her dress.”

Shall I play a record?” said a voice.

Unless it’s the old still,” I said. “In the cel­lar.” Sud­den­ly, I was thirsty again. “The raisin whiskey. The bar­rel of boot­leg wine.”

Or the book, behind the loose brick—”

What?” I turned. I’d been about to wade out into the dirt to retrieve the thrown bottle.

Ford’s book,” Aaron said, hold­ing the fork lev­el again. He squint­ed, look­ing at me. “Remem­ber the book?”

The book is gone,” I said.

The slen­der peach leaves flut­tered, cast­ing shad­ows across my father’s boots, and sud­den­ly I heard singing:

I’m next of kin / To the way­ward wind—”

Way­ward Song”, Larry’s book about Mur­ri­et­ta, the treasure.

No,” Aaron said. “It’s in the car.”

What’s that?”

Ford’s book—”

Whose car? Where?”

Mine. In the trunk, locked up. I got it start­ed. It was worth chanc­ing a tick­et, don’t you think, Delmus?”

You sure it’s safe?”

It’s in the tin box. Wrapped in the Ghost Shirt.”

I stared into Aaron’s blue eyes.

I’ve been look­ing for it.”

I fig­ured you had.”

Where’d you find it?”

I had it. Walt gave it to me. He was wor­ried you’d get killed in the war.”

From Ford to Walt to Aaron.

You didn’t throw it in Walk­er Lake?”

Ford had told them to, when he was dying in 1932 and read from the book and stopped the rain and then Ray­mond sang “Rock of Ages” and my grand­fa­ther gripped my hand—“My hand is a stone in a riv­er. Now the river’s in you—”

Nope.” Aaron shook his head.

Why not?”

I want­ed to dri­ve up today and drop it in Walk­er, weight the box with stones and watch it sink and dis­ap­pear through the clear water, so the sky wouldn’t rain and ruin the raisins.

But the book was Aaron’s now, and the Ghost Shirt sewn with the col­ored hawk like a but­ter­fly. Once it had belonged to Fall Moon, Ford’s first wife who knew the Ghost Dance—

The whole Valley’s a lake,” Aaron said. “A sea. At least it was at one time.”

Like Atlantis in reverse, I thought or remem­bered. “Edgar Cayce believed in Atlantis—” I’d told some­body, in a dream, maybe the woman who held the end of the string .…

You can lose some­thing any­where,” Aaron said. “Or find it.”

I’ve lost the touch,” I said, look­ing away, at Kate’s horse.

Now I want­ed to ride away, like Silva’s hired man. He’d tried to throw on the sad­dle blan­ket and Woody’s rifle spooked Sox.

Depends what you’re look­ing for. Gold. Oil. Water. Some­thing else.”

You were look­ing for oil.”

Remem­ber Ride Away? You and she won the Raisin Day Race, before the Bap­tists late for church ran her down, came back at night with the bloody front end and tried to pay 20 dollars?

I found oil,” Aaron said, “on the Island. Enough to float a bat­tle­ship. You’re in, of course, if you want to be. Any­way, you’re in my will. You know that. There’s some­thing else.”

What else?” I couldn’t take much more.

Del­mus,” Aaron asked, “what’s that?”

What’s what?”

With the divin­ing rod Aaron was point­ing at the horse.

I think it’s a horse,” I said. “I’m not sure anymore.”

Or a donkey?”

Horse,” I said.

Good. Now remem­ber the bur­ros, with the black cross­es on their backs?”

Jerusalem don­key, jack and jen­ny.” JJJ.

When did Jesus ride a donkey?”

On Palm Sunday.”

Who told the dis­ci­ples to meet at the house with the white horse?” Aaron asked.

Jesus did.”

What is Al-Buraq?”

A white ani­mal with wings.”

How big?”

Small­er than a mule, big­ger than a donkey.”

How far can it stride?”

As far as its eye can see.”

Who rode it to heav­en and back?”


What hap­pened at the Dome of the Rock?”

The angel Gabriel took Mohammed to heaven.”

What will the Mah­di, the 12th Caliph, ride when he returns at the end of the world?”

The Moslems keep a black stal­lion in a stable.”

Is it ready?”

It’s sad­dled night and day.”

Who is the Mah­di, Delmus?”


You’ve done your home­work,” Aaron said. “And a horse and don­key are broth­ers, aren’t they?”

I guess so.”

You know the poem about the donkey?”


‘The Don­key,’” Aaron began, he cleared his throat and lift­ed his chin.

It was a strange world. Aaron had just giv­en a his­to­ry les­son, now he was going to recite a poem in the mid­dle of the orchard:


‘When fish­es flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then sure­ly I was born.’”


But why not? Aaron had a voice strong and sure as Raymond’s was when Ray­mond sang—


‘With mon­strous head and sick­en­ing cry

And ears like errant wings,

The Devil’s walk­ing parody

Of all four-foot­ed things.’”


Aaron had been a lay preach­er now and then, but no steady church would tol­er­ate his gospel—


‘The tat­tered out­law of the Earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb.

I keep my secret still.’”


            Aaron had ini­ti­at­ed me into the Masons. “If a tree falls,” Aaron used to say, “the oth­er trees hear it. So do the stones in the Pet­ri­fied Forest.”

Lots of times Aaron addressed Larry’s class­es at Fres­no State—about pio­neer days, geol­o­gy, Indi­ans, even reli­gion and his per­pet­u­al motion machine—


‘Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.’”


I remem­bered now, I knew “The Don­key,” it was one of my favorites.

What’s it mean?”

Now Aaron was waiting.

I’m not sure,” I said.

Think hard,” Aaron said.

My memory’s no good any­more.” It was true, I had a bad headache. The sun made me squint.

If I’d dropped the bot­tle by the elm, how’d I get drunk and wake up in the vine­yard Sun­day morning?

There’s only one thing to remember.”

Who wrote it?” I asked. “A Mason?”

Catholic,” Aaron said. “Chester­ton. A drinker. He wrote ‘The Man Who Was Thurs­day.’ About Sun­day, which is all the days—”

I don’t think I’ve read it.”

Remem­ber that book Jones had, with the draw­ings the drunk­en Roman sol­diers carved on the wall of the guard­room? After the Cru­ci­fix­ion? After they threw dice for Christ’s pur­ple robe?”

I’m with the Mas­ter now,” I thought sud­den­ly, watch­ing Aaron’s bright eyes. “He wash­es his read hair in the blue bowl.”

            Who said that? Edgar Cayce, the Sleep­ing Prophet, in the book, “There Is A River”—

It was a man, on a cross, with the head of a donkey.”

Awful,” I said, “that’s awful.”

Yes, but you can learn from fools, even criminals.”

I could see Baylor’s head, on the body of a bull.

And from good things,” Aaron said. “The moun­tain dog­wood, four white petals, each one with a notch. The cross on the sand dol­lar. It’s the same one on the burro’s back. The monarch’s chrysalis on a blue gum leaf, hang­ing upside down in a ‘J’ above the milk­weed pods.”

Have you ever read about but­ter­flies?” asked the woman who low­ered the bot­tle on the shin­ing cord. “Ever seen the king of them all?”

All of nature was crucified?”

It’s all a bro­ken mir­ror of one thing,” Aaron answered, hold­ing the branch. “The red bud, Judas Tree, first to flower in the spring? The bloom­ing limb, where Iscar­i­ot hung? Christ’s pro­file in the line of the con­ti­nents, the con­ti­nen­tal plates? On and on, all pieces of one puzzle.”

‘Out of many, one,’” I answered.

That’s right! And not just once! Many times!”

You found it,” I said, watch­ing Aaron’s excit­ed face.

The Knight’s Grail, the Brim­ming Cup. The Philosopher’s Stone and Key. Aaron’s Rod. Oil, the for­mu­la to make lead into gold­, Murrietta’s gold turned to dia­monds dis­guised as rhine­stones in a dress—

You can’t find it alone,” Aaron said, blink­ing his eyes as if he woke from a dream. “Jones couldn’t find it. But I have a hunch. I can feel it, straight as a line, deep.”

Aaron cocked one eye, aim­ing down his point­ing arm past my shoulder.

It’s a long vein, sleep­ing, untapped—”

What is it?”

Aaron turned, drop­ping his hand.

What are you look­ing for?”

In the gust­ing breeze, Aaron’s thin hair blew back, white, like a prophet’s in a storm.

In late August of ’84 you stood west of Lemas with Aaron Win­ters who kept the book and star and with his peach-fork found the lake of oil on the Island, between the Kings River’s blue channels—

My hand is a stone in a riv­er. Now the river’s in you .…

I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m look­ing for.”

But you’ve been looking.”

I’ve got a map,” I admit­ted, glanc­ing at Aaron. “A kind of map. Found it in a magazine.”


No— Some­thing else.”


I’m not sure.”

I’d laid it out on the bench in the barn, drunk, under the orange bug light, the night the Olympics opened in L.A. and Pearl Bai­ley led the crowd in “When the Saints Come March­ing In.”

Masons?” Aaron said.

Mason Val­ley,” I answered.

Walk­er Lake?”

Jack Wil­son.”


Ghost Dance. Mor­mon Trail.”

San Bernadi­no?”

Val­ley of Smoke,” I said, watch­ing Aaron’s face.

Then where?” Aaron asked quickly.

I hes­i­tat­ed

Tell me if you know!”

Ciu­dad de Nues­tra Seño­ra, Reina de Los Ange­les— The end of the trail.”

City of Our Lady,” Aaron said. “Queen of the Angels.”

Or Fres­no. Lemas,” I said. “New Lund.”

Aaron wiped at his eye.

I always told your dad, I said, ‘Walt, it’s right here where we stand. I can feel it, right under my boot, like a heart­beat, like a foun­tain ready to spout up!’”

I bent down, scoop­ing a hand­ful of dirt. I stood, let­ting the grains sift like gold dust through my fin­gers onto my father’s boots.

It’s the Gar­den,” Aaron said, one hand grip­ping the limb of the peach tree. “Right here. Right here where we stand!”

It’s every­where,” I said, open­ing my hand and drop­ping the white ash soil. “And nowhere. When you reach out it turns to dust.”

I’d for­got­ten to wear my cap. Where was it? The sun was burn­ing, straight up. High noon.

No,” Aaron said. “Not dust.”

Why not? Everyone’s going broke, Reagan’s get­ting ready to blow up the world and they’ve got his pic­ture in every store in town. Everybody’s asleep. We’re way east of Eden, past Goshen in the Land of Nod.”

It’s the weath­er,” Aaron said, star­ing up through the leaves. “Clouds and wind. Salt breeze. Sea.”

It’s going to rain,” I said. “Three years in a row.” No weath­er song of Wovoka’s, the Ghost Dancer, would stop the clouds soak­ing the dry­ing grapes laid out down the vine rows.

A rain that’s rain and isn’t, a rain like light that’s light but more than light. I’ve had dreams of a woman. A beau­ti­ful woman. She speaks to me, tells me things. Things if I told you, you’d think I was crazy.”

No, I wouldn’t,” I said. “Last night I dreamed a woman low­ered me a bot­tle of Wild Turkey on a string.”

Or was it a woman with a veil? Mys­tic smile .… “Mona Lisa men have named you—”
Who played the record and lift­ed the sparkling dress?

I’ve seen them,” Aaron went on, not hear­ing. “Every one of them.”

Seen who?”

All of them.”

All of who?”

Every­body— Jones. Your dad. Ray­mond. Endi­cott. Ford. They’re here, all around, like can­dles burning.”

Ghosts,” I said, look­ing at Aaron. “They’re all ghosts.”

No,” Aaron said. “Not ghosts.”

He slipped the forked rod over the limb and put out both hands, palms up. Now he flung them in the air.

Like a phoenix, a fire rush­ing from the ash­es. I’ve seen your friend Brawley.”

Bob was blown to pieces. Over Japan. Forty-five years ago.”

Aaron bent toward me. “In Necis Renascor Inte­ger,” he said soft­ly. “INRI.”

‘Reborn, intact and pure—’”

All of them. Every one. Your moth­er too. That’s why I had to talk to you.” He waved his arm side­ways. “They’re all here, waiting.”

For what?”

For the right time.”

Del­mus? Where’s the Big D?”

I heard the men call­ing from the barnyard.

Where was Del­mus? The wind blew, mov­ing the clus­tered peach leaves like fingers.

I don’t know what to say—”

What did Chester­ton say?” Aaron asked.

I don’t know.”

‘The Tav­ern doesn’t lead to the open road. The open road leads to the Tavern.’”

Aaron slipped the divin­ing rod back into his shirt and fum­bled with a but­ton. “Come on,” he said, “they’ll be out here in a minute.”

I untied Kate’s horse, then hes­i­tat­ed. I turned, look­ing into Aaron’s eyes.

Roma,” I said.

Amor,” Aaron answered.

We stood for a moment, look­ing at one anoth­er, and through one anoth­er, at the long ranks of dou­bles, of men and women lined up behind each of us for a thou­sand years.

Now the orchard seemed crowd­ed, there were whis­pers among the trees, the crack­le of silent, invis­i­ble fires, as if an army were encamped.

Every­body is alive again, I don’t know when they will be here, maybe this fall or in the spring, by the sprout­ing tree when the green grass is knee high,” Wovo­ka said when he woke from the trance, when the white eagle brought him back from heav­en to Walk­er Lake.


Aaron touched me on the shoul­der and we start­ed back to the barn­yard, through the young orchard and deep ground, me lead­ing the horse, Aaron walk­ing slow­ly behind me, his arm lean­ing on the horse’s back, the three of us 10,000 miles from Jerusalem.

Del­mus! Where you been?”

Tak­ing a breather.”

The barn­yard was strewn with trash, beer cans and paper plates, water­mel­on rinds, emp­ty .22 shells. The der­rick for the hog stood to the right of the barn door, where Silva’s hired man wait­ed, hands at his sides.

Aaron held the horse while I went into the barn, past the men in chairs drink­ing, a cir­cle play­ing pok­er around the bale of hay. I could hear the forklift’s motor, Brig­gs unload­ing the raisin bins south of the barn.

You going to shoot that hog?” Will asked.

Just as soon as I sad­dle this horse,” I said.

Going some­where?” said Bay­lor, look­ing up from his cards.

No,” I said.

I took the sad­dle from its peg, the bri­dle and Indi­an blan­ket, stepped back into the light.

The hired man posi­tioned the striped blan­ket and I threw on the sad­dle, lift­ed the stir­rup, tied the cinch. Aaron adjust­ed the bridle.

Okay,” I said, drop­ping the stir­rup. “Ami­go.”

Gra­cias, Señor.”

Por nada.”

Silva’s man swung up smooth­ly into the sad­dle. He touched the horse’s flanks light­ly with his heels and he was off, trot­ting down a vine row.

He held him­self a lit­tle like Celesti­no Rodriguez, the tail gun­ner on the Beau Geste. Head back, neck straight, chin square and level.

Cada cabeza es un mun­do,” Celesti­no used to say. “Every head is a world.”

He going to pick grapes from a horse?” Bay­lor asked.

Some­one laughed, drunk­en­ly. I ignored Baylor.

Who’s going to help me?” I asked.

Right here,” said Bill Woody, strid­ing for­ward. “I got the gun.”

Here.” Earl could hard­ly stand. “Have a drink.”

Okay—” I turned, put a hand on Aaron’s shoul­der. “For the road.”

For the tav­ern,” Aaron said, nod­ding seriously.

I took a drink, a small one, and hand­ed the bot­tle back to Earl.

Let’s go.”

With the oth­er men behind me, the sit­ters up from their chairs, we marched around the barn to the poor pig’s pen—past the A‑frames and the pul­ley and ropes, the swing­ing hook—

and I remem­bered the yel­low cres­cent moon above the roof and Kyla’s age­less attrac­tive moth­er at the upstairs window—

Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?” sang Nat King Cole. “Or just a cold and lone­ly, love­ly work of art?”

Ever seen the king of them all?” she asked as I sat beneath the elm.

Smil­ing, in blue vel­vet span­gled with Murrietta’s diamonds—“I found the gold with a crys­tal ball,” she’d said, the swing­ing bot­tle of Wild Turkey safe­ly low­ered on the string—Dolly Mable dipped her head and lift­ed the shin­ing dress to reveal the striped span of the butterfly’s amaz­ing sev­en-col­ored wings—

Del­mus? You all right?”

It was Aaron’s voice. He was lean­ing over me as I sat against the barn wall. The men were behind him, look­ing down at me with 20 wor­ried faces.

Yes, Aaron,” I said. “I’m okay.”

What hap­pened to you?”

I remem­bered something.”

What did you remember?”

The cir­cle of drunk faces leaned clos­er to hear, waiting.

That I was happy—”

That was it. It was like déjà vu and now my friends were laugh­ing in agree­ment as Bill Woody lift­ed his rifle and fired five times in the air and the flock of pur­ple pigeons flew from the loft.

Nels Han­son has worked as a farmer, teacher, and con­tract writer/editor. His fic­tion received the San Fran­cis­co Foundation’s James D. Phe­lan Award and his sto­ries have appeared in Anti­och Review, Texas Review, Black War­rior Review, South­east Review, Mon­tréal Review, and oth­er jour­nals. He lives with his wife, Vic­ki, on the Cen­tral Coast of California.

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