The Sandman

By Cooper Feste

There is a wind that blows from Mexico past the Rio Grande and up into El Paso that crawls up the spine of the Guadalupe Mountain. On the edge of the desert where sand turns to mountain rock the wind blows like a death drum and that’s where my son and I began the summer day.

The desert sun soothed the pores of my face and my son asked me what we’re doin’ up here on this mountain.

“We’re gonna go to the top to look over the desert, maybe. See what’s out there.”

“I think it’s just sand.”

“The desert’s a vast, endless thing son. Like an ocean.”

“What you think we’ll see?”

“Something ancient maybe. Like a devil.”

He laughed a little, then worried.

“I don’t wanna see no devil, pa.”

“We won’t see no devil ‘less he wanna see us.”

“Why would the devil wanna see us?”

“I don’t know. ” Boyd Jr. didn’t reply, only looked the mountain up and down and then out at the desert and the sun rising across it’s endline. I could feel the iron heat up in its holster. My revolver always grew hotter in the dessert. Maybe it’s something in the air.

It’s me, Boyd. I heat up yer gun, Boyd!

“Let’s go son. We gotta ways to go.”

We started up the trail and my boots were worn warm against the scorching sand. The path we walked was sparsely grazed by cactus and low, brown brush. I took step by step. Left, right, left, right. The soul of the desert was over us two, hanging low against our brows, feeding us. It talked in my head. It yelled at me things. It’s a cursed desert man and it just may be worse than a gambling man, a meth man. Ain’t nothing more powerful than ancient evils. Not even God could cool the dessert day or make the sand’s whole.

You think you could grow a flower in my sands, Boyd?

No, but you could birth a monster.

Now, Boyd! That’s just mean! Ain’t no monsters here, just honest folk, breathing, sometime a-shootin’ folk.

I’m a fucking monster! Every creature walking in those sands are fucking monsters! Yer a fucking monster! You made me a monster, son of a bitch!

You sure you weren’t born a monster, Boyd? You sure you weren’t a monster from the start? You sure you weren’t born with a flask in your pocket and a gun in your holster? You sure you weren’t born a killer, Boyd?

I ain’t a killer.

Would you kill me?

I would blow yer face off and kick it down this mountain, if i could.

“Then shoot, Boyd!” a black suited man appeared from the air in a gust of sand. He wore a flat brimmed hat formed of burnt sand, dessert ash. His smile was black, too. So were his boots.

“What you stop for dad?” asked Boyd Jr. Can you see this creature? Can you son?

“Go ahead, shoot my face off!”

“I can’t. You’re not human. Yer a fuckin’ beast! A goddamned animal.”

“What dad?”

“I am The Sandman, and you best mind that bit.” He looked at Boyd Jr and laughed, went to his knees and grasped some sand and let it run through his callused fingers. “Better watch out for the setting sun, Boyd. Better not let her set.” He disappeared back into sand and wind and I stepped forward.

“Let’s go son. We don’t want the dark to come.”

“Alright, dad.” He looks scared. I look scared and that’s why he’s scared. I am scared, real scared.

We keep walking. The sun hangs low and benevolent. It’s been staring day after day, watching the world turn. What does it see? What does it see that keeps it coming back day after day? Is it watching me now, walking this mountain with my son, watching the desert consume me?

We keep walking, up onto a level flat piece of rock about half the way up the mountain. We sit for a break and Boyd Jr. pulls a sandwich he made from his backpack and starts to eat it. His hair parts down the middle and his eyes are glowing. I ain’t seen my sweet boy in a month. He brushes crumbs from his button up, short sleeve brown T-shirt and they roll down his wrangler jeans. The boots he’s wearing I made at my leather shop. They have his name engraved on the heel and he’s smiling, now, his teeth so small and white. I wonder what he sees in the desert. It ain’t no devil.

He sees something that ain’t there, Boyd. He won’t find it! Not in the desert or on this mountain. Maybe he’ll find it when the sun sets and the night crawls in. Maybe when his throats cut he’ll find it.

Get the fuck out of my head! These thoughts are mine! My fucking thoughts!

Ain’t nothing yours, Boyd. Yer all mine. All mine.

I can’t reply. It’s true. The desert has me in a hold.

“Let’s get back to walking son. I wanna feel the breeze again.”

“Yes, pa,” he paused. “You think we’ll find your devil when we get to the top?”

“I think so.”

The wind carried us onward up the mountain with no break. We must reach peak before sunset and I can’t say why, we just must. Slowly the breeze blew, but surely it did. Surely the breeze blew us onward.

“Can we take a swim at the spring when we reach it?”

“We don’t have time.”

“Can we not just stop for a second? It’s so hot, pa.” Boyd Jr’s voice was a whimper like a broken pups. I told him we would stop and took a swig from my whiskey flask when he turned. I need something to keep me sane, I know this desert won’t, can’t.

We came upon the spring as the evening sun burnt red against the sand clouds and El-Paso sweated beneath its shine. I saw a black shape above it all between the clouds and the sun and it could be a shade or a simple spot of no-light but i knew it was The Sandman and he was watching and it was clear when the shadow grew a smiling face with crow’s feet and a blonde mustache above it’s stoic upper lip. When will this fucker leave me be?

You know I can’t leave you be, Boyd. You owe me a debt. And this debt can’t be paid with no gold, no copper, no silver. This debts crimson, Boyd.

Yer a son of a bitch, you know that.

I know that well! Swim with your son now, Boyd. It’s hot out here, catch some cool while you can!

Boyd Jr was in his trousers when I turned and he smiled at me before he dove in. He splashed around, threw his hairback and shot water from his mouth like a geiser.

“Come in pa it feels great!” he called. I put a smile on and dove after him. He was right, it felt great. As the cold water chilled me, splashed on my chin and cheeks, I remembered the day I taught him how to swim. He’d say daddy watch this, and dive right in. I’d have to swim to the bottom of the pool and pull him up as he’d laugh and then start swimming on his own. He’s been a natural swimmer since he first stepped in water. My old wife used to joke that he wasn’t ours but a merman we picked up from the banks of the Rio Grande and he’d be proud of that and smile when we told the story at Thanksgiving with her parents and her sisters and brothers. She’s dead now, though. So are her parents and her sisters and her brothers. All dead.

“Watch this flip! Suzy taught me this!” he did a flip beneath the surface, tucked and rolled, and came back up smiling.

“Nice flip Jr.” I steadied myself. I thought I may collapse. The boy’s all I goddamn got. I watched the sun sink halfway beneath the horizon and told Jr. we gotta get goin’. We’re almost up the mountain, son. We’re almost there.

The track curved upward in a sharp twist of scattered cactus and bull brush and I could see the summit from where I stood, kicking my black boots in stepping motion, slugging along. It was serene, or the only amount of serenity a man like me is allowed, the mountaintop, like heaven’s cloud, red sunspotted and living. It seemed to pulse with the beat of the sun. It was grand, yes, beautiful an angelic but if I had learned one thing as the gambling, desert man I am, it’s always the prettiest sunshine that scorches the skin. It’s always the whitest snow that’s the coldest.

“Pa, it’s the top! It’s so pretty, pa!”

“Yes, boy, it is pretty alright.”

“What you think’s up there? More rock, or what?”

“Just more rock, I think. Some sights to see, though. Some damn fine sights up there. Maybe you can see the old house.” A shadow moved at the summit, a shade of the waning sun. Just a sliver stood up now on the horizon and the day was almost at it’s end; the breeze was blowing a new song that would change the next day and the next, too, til’ the souls of the mountain lay in wake of humanity. The mountain will outlast humanity, I think. So will the desert, too.

And me, Boyd! I will outlast them all! It’s always sad when the father outlasts the son, don’t you think, Boyd? Boyd?

“You prissy steppin’, sick smilin’ motherfucker! I will gut yer fuckin’ eyes out! I’ll throw em down the mountain, I’ll piss on yer desert grave and we will outlast the fucking lot of ya! The fucking desert, the fucking mountain, the fucking sun!”

“Pa, what are you-” It’s too late, son, I thought, stampeding, kicking dust like a mad man kicks his mother and laughs and I storm up to the summit and there he’s standing, ten paces from me, his hand on his sand strung holster and my revolver pointing  to the ground in my hand.

The Sandman’s a laughing lunatic so ancient and powerful and I am going to kill him dead.

You gonna shoot me, Boyd? You gonna bury me in my blood and britches? The Sandman says.

“Pa, who are you talking to?” Boyd Jr. is running up to the summit, I can hear his voice just below.

“Good ole All Ancient All Knowing Sandman, I’m gonna put a bullet through your skull, and leave this debt behind.”

The debt must be paid.

“I won’t pay it.”

The debt must be paid! Boyd? Boyd? You must pay the debt, Boyd! I don’t want to kill you now, Boyd. I don’t wanna bury you red dead but you must pay your debt. How would the world spin if everyone just didn’t pay back what they were given out of simple, good character? You’d be a dead man, Boyd! Your head would be cracked, yer son would be skinned like a ferret and the world, Boyd, the world would be nothing but noise! No silence, noise and noise and chaos and the age of the cowboy would return on it’s black horse back and shoot us all down!

I watched his face spin from laughter to pain to pure ecstacy as he spoke. What does this beast want? Does he even know?

“Let me pay my debt… in some other way… any other way!”

You gon’ take your life, Boyd?

“I’ll take my life.”

“Pa, what are you saying? Pa, what are you talking about, who are you talking to?” Boyd Jr. spoke through sobs. He grabbed at my shirt’s cuffs and tried to pull down my gun hand.

“Run home now, son. Run down the mountain and run back home. Don’t you look back.”

“Pa! Pa!”

I put the gun to my head and pulled the hammer. It was crimson in the dying sun’s shine. It was like a woman in a red dress and red lipstick, high stepping to the widening smiles of watching men.

I turned to my hip and put a bullet in Boyd Jr.’s head. The Sandman jumped up and down, giggling, raving, reaving in the moment.

I cradled his head and his little split, bloody hairs and he was smiling, now. The tears were gone, now. He won’t cry now.

You sly bastard, Boyd! You sly motherfucker! What a show, what a show, Boyd!

I let his head rest against mine as the final showings of the day’s sunlight faded and the desert breeze died out. I saw the desert below, wide and red and dead. I looked up into the cloud and thought it better he rest up here than down in the desert of fire and sand.

 

——————–

Cooper Feste is a man from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He spends his time reading, writing and pretending he’s a pirate or gunslinger. From deep in the heart of Texas, Mr. Feste brings forth a western with a hint of psychological horror.


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