Blood On His Hands – The debut novel from Mark P Sadler

The truck seemed to feel its way over the red dirt road. Although he had not returned home in the past twelve years Mike navigated each crook and gully as if he had been here just yesterday. A barbed wire fence still separated the ranch from the road, but when he came to the gate, it was off its hinges, rusting in the tall weeds. The branded wood sign that read Circle Y was swinging by its chain from one end of the frame work that he passed under. He drove slowly over the cattle grid, bumping and swaying.

The bank had never been able to sell the foreclosed land and it had sat, deteriorating slowly. With each gust of wind that blew across it, the dirt shifted, helping the ranch seem more desolate. Tumbleweeds danced, twirled and weaved in the wind, like straw ballerinas who finally sacrificed themselves on the barbed wire.

The house was silhouetted with the moon in back, but still he could see that the windows were boarded up. For a moment, in his mind’s eye, he saw his folks; Dad sitting out on the front stoop, in his rocking chair, corn cob pipe in his hand, and a hound dog or two at his feet. Mom, out in back, in her white linen apron, hanging freshly laundered sheets on the line, and himself as a toddler stumbling and bumbling along chasing horny toads and getting under her feet at every opportunity.

Shaking his head, to clear the memory, he drove forward, picking out the remains of the old barn just down a way. It was barely standing; just a skeleton of planks held together with rusty nails, chicken wire and cobwebs. A few old rusting tractor parts and tools still clung to the work bench and walls, a vice stood open, probably rusted solid. He pulled in and shut off the engine.

Here will be a good place to die. Popping the lid off the aspirins he palmed a handful of little white pills into his mouth and chased them down with a swig of liquor from the whiskey bottle. Tears ran down his face as he stared at the photograph of Caleb and Seth, still in their pajamas, sitting around the Christmas tree a few months ago. My boys, oh my boys. Slowly but surely his eyes closed. He sunk sideways into the passenger seat. The ball cap slipped from his head and the bottle fell from his grasp.

He opened his eyes. If this was hell it smelled an awful lot like vomit. Choking, coughing he sat upright. The spew was dried and stuck to his face and t-shirt. Wet hair was plastered to the side of his head from the cold sweat he had been in all night. Outside the wind continued to howl and light flickered in through the broken slats of the barn. Another day. Still alive. What a fucking failure.

Getting out of the truck he walked around to the passenger side and opened the door. Bending over he picked up the puke covered ball cap, and used the bill to scrape the chunks off the seat. He flung the floor mat into the dirt, followed by the ruined cap. The remaining aspirin rattled around and the whiskey bottle rolled under the seat. They could be left there; a reminder of his botched attempt. After removing as much of the dried vomit as possible he rolled the window down.

He unzipped and peed over behind the tailgate of the truck. His kidneys ached. Climbing back into the cab he turned the engine over, and put the truck into first gear. Edging forward he pulled out of the old ramshackle lean-to barn, and headed back out past the house without even a sideways glance. This place had killed his parents but rejected him. He needed to be on the road. Down the highway was Albuquerque and beyond that Phoenix. It had been a mistake to come back here; too many ghosts and memories. Without a backward glance in the mirror he peeled out off the cattle grid, leaving behind the desolate shadows of the ranch in a cloud of dry dust.