Where They Slept

The corn was ready for harvest when the boy got that guitar he’d been saving for. It wasn’t anything pretty, used with a little hole beat in the front, but it sure played like always.

That winter, the snow buried the old heifer to her neck. The farmer sent the boy to dig her out and feed her every day till her eyes went milky. The boy felt the loss, but his fingers froze less without shoveling her feed. All winter, he slept with the chickens for warmth. They pecked his shoelaces, hoping for worms. He grew accustomed to their smell and to sleeping with one arm flung over his face.

The farmer fell ill. Alone, the boy could not carry the heifer back from the pasture, even with the snow gone. The coyotes kept the farmer from sleep- ing sound, kept coming back when the heifer was only bones and a smell of stale death. They sang through each night. The boy slept solid, arms on fire from keeping the land alive.

The heifer’s last calf stopped growing. Its horns shot out till its legs couldn’t stand the weight. In the barn where it lay, the boy played his guitar. It fell weaker each night.

One night, the coyotes came too close. The farmer heaved himself out of bed, past the boy sleeping on the kitchen floor, and to the barn. He grabbed the boy’s guitar from its place by the door and swung at the coyotes. He beat them till they quit their singing, till one reared up, pinned his shoulders, and tore out his throat. After the calf stepped out of its horns, it walked to the pasture. It lay inside the heifer’s ribs and closed its eyes.

Kristine Heiney lives in Ithaca, NY and freelances for local newspaper. She is a recent graduate of Cornell University’s Engineering School.