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Three Short Stories by Adrian C. Louis

Note: These three stories are from Wild Indians & Other Creatures by Adrian C. Louis, University of Nevada Press, 1996. Copyright 1996 by Adrian C. Louis. They are reprinted by permission of the author.

The Night Beans Talked to Old Bear

IT HAD BEEN A LONG HARD DAY FOR OLD BEAR. NOT A SINGLE THING had gone right at his new job and all day long he'd suffered because a filling had fallen out of one of his front teeth. A throbbing hole the size of the grand canyon made for a miserable day. He'd eaten nothing but aspirin and coffee for the entire workshift, and then went home to his cave and directly to bed without supper.

He fell asleep immediately, but then awoke around midnight when his hellacious toothache got lonesome and woke him. He took more aspirin, and even placed a chunk directly inside the cavity, knowing that you're not supposed to do that. Then he flopped back to bed and waited for the pain to subside.

When it did, he still couldn't sleep. He was ravenously hungry. Visions of food danced in his head and made him drool. He pictured juicy venison steaks, banana creme pies, pepperoni pizza, frybread tacos, and even the noodle casserole he had once made for Coyote.

Determined not to do anything that might aggravate his tooth, Old Bear thrashed atop his bed and tried to quit thinking of food. When he was younger, any insomnia he had was quickly quelled with sweet thoughts of women. And more often than not, there was a cuddly female bear in bed next to him. Now that he was far past his prime and not all that interested in females, all he could think of was food when he wanted a distraction. Deliriously hungry, he now went so far as to visualize the strange types of food he had seen his friends eat over the years.

Once, in the sixties, he had gone through a period when he'd grown his hair long and had taken to wearing sandals. He moved from the high plains to San Francisco where he lived with an Arapahoe woman who worked as a stripper in North Beach. Her name was Lavina and Lavina's high point in dining was to go down to a nearby fish and chips place, buy a large order, take them home, and drown them with Miracle Whip before devouring them. Old Bear didn't stay with her for very long.

Many of his friends had peculiar culinary habits, and the oddest of his pals was Raven. Old Bear and Raven had batched together during the messy period after Old Bear's first divorce. It was a time of serious drinking and skirt chasing, a time long before Raven developed his taste for haute cuisine and abusing women.

For breakfast, Raven would very often take a slice of white bread, butter it, then peck out a hole in the center. He would fry it in a skillet and just when it started to brown, he would drop an egg into the hole he'd created. When this concoction was done, he would cover the entire mess with strawberry jam and devour it. The recollection of this culinary delight always sent Old Bear's stomach into spasms of anarchy and revulsion. Bears have a nasty sweet tooth.

Raven was also the first one to show him the peculiar joys of menudo. Menudo, that spicy tripe soup that Chicanos and some Indians were so fond of, seemed to be a far cry from taniga, the traditional tripe soup of the Sioux that Old Bear was quite familiar with. Old Bear eventually did develop a taste for menudo, and found it was most excellent for hangovers. While he wasn't exactly big on eating the innards of mammals, menudo became one of his all-time favorites.

Tripe soup was one of the few internal organ dishes he would eat. He could still remember his own grandfather Great Bear frying up a skillet of cow brains for breakfast. The very memory made Old Bear retch. He never liked tongue, heart, brains, although he would eat liver and onions and sometimes would treat himself to liverwurst lunch meat. He sure as hell had never eaten "mountain oysters" and never would. The very thought of them made him cross his legs and wince.

Old Bear stretched on his bed and scratched his own oysters and at that moment he noticed that his tooth pain had miraculously vanished. He rolled over and allowed his brain to continue bombarding his stomach with visions of food. He never was big on ketchup, but now even the thought of just plain ketchup made his mouth water. His first wife, a bear woman, used to drench everything she ate with ketchup. From baked potatoes to bacon, from tuna fish sandwiches to toast in the morning, she ate everything swimming in ketchup. Her name was Mountain Bear Woman and she hailed from the hills near Lame Deer, Montana.

Mountain Bear Woman ate ketchup on Spam and ketchup on spaghetti. Bear only rarely used ketchup, sometimes a little on a burger or a dab on his French fries, but his first wife was a ketchup freak. Mountain Bear Woman even ate plain ketchup sandwiches. Old Bear was sure that her peculiar diet played a part in his decision to divorce her. Plus she was screwing around with a white cowboy.

And so, into the night, he lay spasming on the bed dreaming of food. Coming from a very poor family of ten cubs, there were still some foods he would not eat as an adult. He hated the concoction of macaroni, hamburger, and tomato sauce that the humans called "American chop suey." He would no longer eat peas from a can. Or creamed corn. He would not eat Spam or processed American cheese. Spam and cheese sandwiches had been a family staple when he was growing up.

Nevertheless, his own mother always made her own bread, and he remembered how in grade school he would trade sandwiches with his buddies so he could have some of that wondrous "Wonder Bread." Now he salivated copiously at the mere thought of his mother's bread. He pictured the steaming loaves, fresh from the oven, with hand-churned butter drizzled over the top of them. The yeasty memory made rivulets of drool dribble down his chin. Sometimes the good old days really were the good old days.

"Ah Mom, you made good bread," he said in semi-prayer. His mother had gone to the spirit world many years before.

His family had had a cow named Bossie when he was growing up. He used to have to milk her morning and night, and thus to this day he had always preferred the milk that came in cartons. The milk taken directly from the cow tasted too wild and reminded him of the liberties he had taken with Bossie one warm summer night when his raging groin grew hungry. And he loved homemade butter. He would take Bossie's cream, put it in a jar, and shake it until it turned to butter. Then he would take the congealed cream and press it through a cheesecloth. Her butter was most excellent.

Bear dreamed on about food, sweet, delicious food. Food thoughts were running rampant through his soul. He still had a fondness for fry bread, but he liked it cooked in a skillet rather than deep fried. One of his nieces had a fondness for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which he thought a little weird, but he recalled chunky peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches.

And when things had been lean during his childhood, his mother would make sandwiches out of lard sprinkled with sugar. He pictured his mother's stew. The family seemed to live on stew and he always figured a bear could live on a good, beef stew and little else. When he was a teenager, he would butter two slices of bread and put cold stew leftovers between them—a stew sandwich. He even took stew sandwiches to school.

"You ain't lived until you've eaten a cold stew sandwich," he told Raven one night when they were in a cowboy bar, drunk, womanless and starving for any hint of something feminine.

"Give me corn chowder any day," Raven said.

"Forget that. Cold stew sandwiches rule."

"You mammals got your head up your—"

"No man, I'm telling you. There's nothing in the world that can compare to a cold stew sandwich on a hot summer day.

"Bear-breath, you're dead wrong," Raven had informed him. "You ain't had nothing till you try a potato chip and pickle sandwich, or better yet, strawberry jam and mayonnaise on wheat toast."

"Hmmm," Old Bear said and ordered them more beers.

Old Bear could relate to the latter sandwich of jam and mayo. One of his supreme favorites was leftover turkey made into sandwiches with mayonnaise and cranberry sauce—the jellied kind, not the stuff with real live cranberries dancing around in it. It was the thought of this particular sandwich that made Thanksgiving a pleasant memory. And mince meat pie, oh sexually sweet mince meat pie!

And so, tossing and turning in his dream palace of food, it was inevitable that his mind would dredge up the highest form of food known to bears and mankind—beans!

Old Bear loved beans in any form. He drooled over ham hocks and lima beans, butter beans and sausage, canned pork and beans, chili beans, refried beans, Cajun red beans and rice, and just plain kidney beans spiced up with bacon and onion. He was mad about any form of the "musical fruit" from bean sandwiches to bean soup, from barbecued beans to three bean salad. He was a freak for nachos slathered with bean dip. He was mad for Navy bean soup.

In fact, he thought, if the United States government would forget nuclear reactors or Iranian oil for a while and concentrate on harnessing the power of the bean, then Mother Earth might just be around a little longer, not that he was an environmentalist or anything.

And why couldn't the pencil pushers at the Pentagon devise a machine gun that fired cooked beans? Or a bazooka that launched bean burritos? Maybe, Old Bear thought, in that way the cruel stupidity that mankind was so fond of, that Godless tragedy they called war, would never amount to much more than a hill of beans.

And so Old Bear's mind continued to rage on at the same time his stomach growled and whined. In the middle of the night, because of a toothache, he began thinking of food and made a thought bridge from beans to nuclear energy. And was he ever hungry! He was truly starving to death on his bed. He dreamed of being buried alive in a steaming mountain of pinto beans and buttered bread.

At two-thirty in the morning, somewhere in that nebulous region between sleep and waking, Old Bear began to hear strange voices coming from his refrigerator. He knew who was speaking to him. It was a pot of leftover kidney beans chattering in the chilly depths of the fridge.

"Come and get us," they said.

Old Bear sat up in bed and lit a cigarette and smiled.

"Come and get us," the pot of beans repeated.

"Okay, damn it, you asked for it," he said and stood up.

Old Bear got dressed and attacked the pot of beans. He was hungry, ever so hungry and his bad-ass toothache was long gone. It was wonderful, he thought, to live alone and to be kind and caring to yourself. And he sat at his kitchen table and ate and ate and stared out the window at the twinkling stars. They were as numerous as the beans in the pot he held. The recently deceased beans in his stomach were just beginning to release their souls. Old Bear became Heaven. Old Bear became God. Old Bear became the nacreous gas of space before the Big Bang.

Auntie Angie's Cheyenne Affair

THREE YEARS SINCE I SEEN THAT GIRL MARIANA AND I GUESS IT'S HIGH time to find her. Timmy John Pretty Bull, he say he seen her up in Montana, in the city of Billings and I say what's she doing up there and he says, well, you know, drinking and stuff. So when I find out he's headed for Crow Fair to fancy dance, I ask him to drive me and I'll catch a bus into Billings. I guess it's high time to find that girl I tell him.

"I doubt she's gonna want to come home," he says.

"Why you say that?" I ask him.

"Well," he says. "If she wanted to be down here in South Dakota, then she wouldn't be up there."

"Hummppphhh," I say. Sometimes talking to that boy is like talking to a television set. The set it don't hear you and it says things that don't make much sense. And some of those programs laugh to themselves over something not funny. That's how that boy is. Sometimes he just let out a high giggle for no reason.

"Well, it's up to you," he say and shakes his head and let out a young pony whinny-giggle.

Well, I tell him yes, it sure is up to me and he says okay and we go. It's warm, too warm out, and there's a lot of dead skunks on the road when we leave the Rez, go to Rapid City, and then north on Interstate 90 into Wyoming and towards Montana. A good thing his car radio work but that boy only play what you call rap and it don't make no sense to me.

Seven hours later, Timmy John drive me from Crow Agency to Hardin for me to catch the bus. Last time I was up here many years ago, them Crow Indians stacked like cordwood outside the bars. And here they are again. A shame to be seen that way and only a few miles from Big Horn Battlefield and all them tourists looking for a whiff of something noble Indian. Well, that's what they get for siding with the wasicu against us Sioux and Cheyenne. Damn them anyways.

And damn that Mariana for running away, I'm thinking when I see all those drunk Crows. Oh, it's sad to be an old woman. Sad to be sixty-three, but I ain't dead yet, so it's even sadder to be looking for my niece Mariana. Thank God I got my AA to keep me sane. And I got one of their books with me in case I feel weak and need some good words.

She's just a kid, sure, almost twenty even if she already had two babies she adopted out besides Sherman who died. And here Timmy John said he seen her all drunked up in the bars downtown Billings. Said that's where to look. And that she looked pretty rough and all like some kinda tramp. I didn't like him saying that, but at least he's a honest boy even though he does drink. Well, he don't drink no more than anybody else. These kids these days. They make ancestor spirits cry.

And so I ride the bus to Billings. There's some Indians, maybe Cheyennes, on the bus, but I don't look at them. I got things on my mind. This ain't no joy ride and I ain't on vacation. When the bus pull into the station, it is starting getting dark and all the lights of the city is coming on. The streets full of traffic from all the people going home from work, whatever kind of work they all do downtown Billings. It sure is a big city and it don't look too friendly.

So I tie my old blue scarf on my head get out with my shoulder bag and purse and go looking for Mariana, damn her drunk hide. Timmy John he say all them bars downtown is all close together and not too far from the bus station and that's where to look if he was me. And here by the time I make it to the first bar, it is now pitch black out and this bar only has a small blinking Budweiser sign on it, no name far as I can see. There is a young Indian boy standing in front of the door, blocking it.

"Nephew," I say. "Is this where all the Skins hang out?"

"I ain't your nephew, old lady," he say real rude to me. Well, what a little bitch he is. And dressed in a leather vest and tight Levi's, and wearing dark glasses at night. His black hair is short and all greased back.

"What tribe are you?" I ask him and wonder if his whole damn tribe be as rude as him.

"Tribe? Whaddya mean tribe? I ain't no damn Indio. I'm a Chicano, mama. From Denver."

Well, I almost want to slap him and ask don't Chicanos teach their children to respect elders, but I don't. He really make me mad. And don't he know that Mexicans are Indians too. Where does he think his brown skin come from? Eating too many bean burritos? Oh, this boy he make me mad, but I just ask him if there is many Indians inside the bar. If there is any young Indian girls.

"Oh, so that's what you're looking for," he says and chuckles and then raises his eyes to the sky. He don't know it, but he is sure close to getting his Taco lips slapped good.

"Well, yes I am," I say. "One about twenty, good-looking. Long black hair down to her waist."

"Damn," he says. "You lezzies got an appetite even when you're elderly," and laughes and stands aside from the door. I don't know what he means, but I walk in and am I surprised. There's guys dancing with guys. And here they are kissing each other too. Most are dressed in leather. This is a winkte bar. It's like I opened a trap door to hell. I can't believe it. They can't believe me either. They all stare at me like I'm the one just came in from outer space and not them.

"Is there something you need?" a big muscleman with tattoos all over his arms asks me. Well, there is lots of things I need, but I don't have time to give him my list. He's wearing rhinestone ear rings and cowboy chaps of black leather. I can't take my eyes off them chaps and ear rings. Geez, what is wrong with these people anyways.

"Well, I'm looking for my niece, name Mariana Two Knives," I say and try to keep from giggling at his chaps. I want to ask him if he going to a rodeo later tonight, but I bite my lips. No sense in being rude like them.

"Two Knives? Try the next bar up the block. That's where all the war whoops congregate for prayer services," he says.

"War whoops?" I ask. War whoops?

"Yeah, you know, those of the Native American Indian persuasion. War whoops—like you."

"Thanks, Tattoo," I say to this jackass and turn and leave the winkte bar not a minute too soon. "I hope you don't get bucked off easy tonight," I say and wink but he just give me a blank stare like my putdown ain't even stuck to him. As I'm heading out the door, two boys on the dance floor are starting to fight, screaming like women, and trying to scratch each other's eyes out. Now I seen it all I think. Now I seen it all...

But I sure ain't. Walking to the next bar, there is a street full of prostitutes. Shaking their rear ends, waving at traffic and such. I know what they are and they're Indian too. I start to walk up to one to ask about Mariana, but when I do, this young girl I approach glance quick at me then turn her eyes. I can tell she is shamed.

"Excuse me," I say.

"I'm too busy," she says, chewing gum not even looking at me when she talks. She is close to Mariana's age.

"I'm looking for someone," I say and just then she snap her eyes and walks away before I can even finish what I'm saying. What is the matter with these kids these days? Damn, if she so shamed out about what she is doing then she shouldn't be doing it.

"I'm gonna tell your family," I say at her rapidly moving backside even though I don't know her family. "I know your mother and father," I lie. When I say that, she starts to run. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too mean to the poor child. She looks like a Cheyenne girl. Probably from Lame Deer. I keep going towards the other bar when a man's voice comes out of the darkness.

"Who you looking for, Grandmother?"

"Huh," I say and turn around. "Grandmother?" I say when I see the man is close to my age. "Grandmother?"

"Who are you looking for?" the man says again. I squint my eyes and see he's a middle-aged Indian man with short hair and bad, bad complexion. He is wearing a green suit coat, a clean white shirt, and baggy Levis. His pimply face got a straw Stetson squatting on top of it.

"My niece Mariana Two Knives," I say. "Who are you anyways?"

"Richard Tall Elk," he tell me. "Cheyenne."

Well, at least I'm a little relieved he ain't no Crow Indian. I tell him my name and tell him where I'm from. He tell me he's been to Pine Ridge, he might know my relatives, and then asks me if I can buy him a drink.

"Sure could use one, if you don't mind," he says.

"Well, I do mind because I'm in AA," I tell him. "But, if you help me look for my niece, I'll give you two dollars."

"Yeah, sure I'll help you," he says. "Best place too look is right up this street here. Come on. I'll take you in and introduce you around. Lots of wild Indians in there."

"Well, I didn't come up here just to gander at drunk Indians and I don't like the idea of going into these bars. I'm still recovering," I tell him just so he know I ain't some tramp or something.

"You want to preach me that AA stuff or you want to find your niece?" he ask and keeps walking. I follow. He don't seem dangerous or sneaky like some drunks.

"Never heard of her," a strange, fat, bald Indian gent in the bar where we first go tells us. Well, nothing to do but go down the row of barstools and ask until someone say something I want to hear. And halfway down, I hear something I have come to hear.

"Yeah, I know Mariana," a young girl about twenty or so says when I ask her. She is dressed good, wears glasses, and I wonder how come she is in this stinky saloon.

"Mariana went back to Rapid City just yesterday," she says.

"You her friend?" I ask.

"Not really," she says. "We just covered some of the same territory. Drank together and stuff. I know her pretty good."

Territory, I think and then I wonder if Mariana been out on the street selling her fanny like these other Indian girls. I hope not. I say a silent prayer and give this Tall Elk guy the two dollars like I promised. One thing, I am not an Indian giver. Thanks, he tell me and he scoots out the door fast as can be, the poor thirsty thing.

"See you," I say, then I leave too, walking the direction back to the bus station.

On the way there, not one minute after I leave that bar, is this same Cheyenne guy and two young blacks, hasapas, is talking to him. Both them wearing them silly, baggy-bloomer shorts. I am walking towards them and soon I can hear the Indian guy say that he don't got no money and to leave him alone. And here one of the black guys, maybe seventeen years old, he shove this Richard Tall Elk down to the ground real hard.

"Hey," I yell. "Leave that man alone." Both of them are trying to go through his pocket while he is on the sidewalk. In the darkness, they look like black wolves ripping chunks of flesh off some poor deer or something. It is scaring me. "Help," I yell and look around but nobody is there to help. And one of the blacks he leap up and run towards me.

Next thing I know he is trying to punch me with one hand while his other is trying to steal my purse. I am kicking and yelling and trying to hit him back with my free hand. Some of the things I am saying are bad, bad cuss words, but even those don't stop him. It become clear to me that I am dealing with the devil, even if his skin is black.

For a second his hand release my purse and I am swinging it to his cruel head. It smacks solid, clunk. His eyes go blank so I do it again and again. Clunk, clunk, and then crack. His nose gushing blood and I don't feel no pity for him. Then his black buddy is helping him escape down some alleyway. And nobody left on the Billings street but me and the Cheyenne man. His nose is bleeding too and he stand up shaking from fear. He is crying and so I start too.

"They got my two dollars," he says.

"That ain't nothing," I tell him. "At least we're alive. They coulda cut our throats. What's the matter with them anyways. Lord, don't they have no respect for old people?"

"Naw," he say. "They don't respect nothing, even themselves. There didn't use to be none of them around here. Now these past couple years a whole bunch of coloreds move up from Denver, L.A, whatever. This place is dangerous now at night. They don't care. And it ain't only blacks. It's the Mexicans, the Indians, the whites too. They'll kill you and take your money, these young ones. This the third time this year I got rolled by young boys. And not only that, they sell dope to the Indians like Indians ain't got enough trouble handling just booze."

"Damn them anyways," I say. "What's the matter with those blacks? No wonder those cops beat up that Rodney King."

"Honest, it ain't only the black ones," he says. "Some of these Indians and Mexicans just as bad, if not worse," he say and take my hand. "You talk to any Indian in Billings. Damn hard to live on skid row anymore."

"Why you doing that?" I ask and nod with my lips toward his big hand holding mine.

"You saved my life," he says and then he give me a big hug. We is still both shaking, but then his hug start to feel good. And I am so glad I got an Indian man to hold me in this cement jungle.

"They took your money," I say.

"Yeah," he says and shrug his shoulders.

"Come on," I say. "I'm gonna buy you a drink or two. You look like you need it after what you just been through. Now don't expect me to drink with you. I'll just sit next to you and read my AA book.

He look at me and smile and says, "Then I guess you don't got nothing against us Cheyenne?"

"Why should I?" I say. "You Sihiyelas were with us at Little Big Horn weren't you? You held our horses didn't you?"

"Billings ain't the Little Big Horn," he say and laugh. Then he tells me I am a nice woman and my face blush a little. I tell him come on, I ain't got all night to sit with him. I gotta be back at the bus station before midnight.

"I'll buy you three drinks," I say. "Me, I'm just gonna drink a Coke and read my book. Come on, let's go."

"Fine," he say.

"That's what I thought," I say. Even if he is a wino, he smell clean and soapy like he just took a bath. We is walking back up to the Indian bar and I look at him good when we come under a lamp. He is like me. When he was young, I bet he was one good-looking war whoop. And I feel young, younger than I felt in years. And more than that, I'm am starting to get that old, real warm feeling, if you know what I mean.

At War with the Snake People

GUS WINTER RAISED HIS ARMS ABOVE HIS HEAD AND GAVE THE SKY both middle fingers. He was alone and he felt damn good. The pinto he was astride dropped several turds onto the ground and snorted. The spring morning was chilly and Gus was nearly finished riding the pasture, checking for newly-dropped calves when he heard an odd, whirring sound. He felt the mare tense up beneath him.

"What the hell's that noise, girl?" he said and patted the horse on the shoulder. Gus craned his neck and tried to scope out where the strange sound was coming from. He couldn't see anything but he thought the noise might be originating from the other side of a tall bluff covered with cheat grass and wild cherry bushes.

He led his mare up the small hillside and looked over the rise. Down in a small, washed-out gully, he spotted a jackrabbit. The rabbit was backed against a bank of clay by six rattlesnakes, heads raised in an attack position. Gus was dumbfounded. He had never seen such a peculiar thing except one time he had smoked some crack cocaine, but this was real. It looked like the snakes had cornered the rabbit on purpose and were closing in for the kill.

Gus took a deep breath and scratched his head. Snakes weren't group hunters. Snakes didn't roam in packs although his grandfather had told him a story about snakes that he'd never forgotten. In the late 60's, his grandfather had come upon a ball of snakes tangled together. He had been working on the new highway west of Martin and he told Gus that a D-9 cat had unearthed a snake nest in mid-winter. They were rattlers and were all rolled together into a large ball about three feet tall.

Gus never knew whether his grandfather was pulling his leg or not because he ended the story by saying they'd poured gas over the snakes, cooked them up good, and ate them. In fact, when he thought about it, he could never recall seeing any snakes except one at a time. Now these snakes were in attack formation, acting weird, like something out of a science fiction movie. He didn't like the way it made him feel.

Things hadn't been going that well for Gus. Only the week before he'd gotten laid by a wino woman he'd hired to help his friend Teddy Two Bears lose his virginity. He'd gotten a little rough with the woman and popped her once in the left eye, blackening it. In and of itself, that little "love pat" was no big deal.

What was a big deal was that the woman, Mariana Two Knives, had been found dead the next day with a broken neck. Gus knew that neither he nor his buddies had killed her, but he still felt a deep sense of guilt and worry. He had talked it over with his friends who had been there that night and they'd agreed not to say a word to anyone. They had made a solemn vow of silence.

And after they'd pulled a train on her later that night, she'd gotten pissed and started throwing things. She'd smashed one of his parents' lamps. Luckily his parents and his sister had gone to Rapid City to stay overnight, but the next day his dad raised holy hell with him for partying at the house. His dad was hanging over and had been so mad that he backhanded Gus and knocked him down onto the living room carpet.

He was afraid of his father and for good reason. His father had often beat the hell out of him. Once, when Gus had been drunk too, he had stood up to his father. His whiskey courage got him a visit to the PHS emergency room. He learned his lesson.

Sitting on his horse, Gus rubbed his lip which was still a little tender and looked down at the incredible scene before him. He took a deep breath and untied his Remington bolt action .22 rifle from behind the saddle. He felt a sense of pity for the rabbit. The rabbit was bug-eyed and screaming a high-pitched squeal. Gus had never heard a rabbit scream before and it unnerved him. It sounded faintly human.

"Leave that friggin' rabbit alone, you knob gobblers," he yelled and released the safety on his rifle. "You don't wanna play fair, then okay we won't play fair."

He took aim at the largest of the snakes and fired. Blam! The hollow point .22 long rifle slug zapped the snake's head clean from its shoulders. Gus jacked another round into the chamber and fired again. Another snake fell over dead. A slow and delicious sense of exhilaration rose from his groin to his heart.

"Eat lead, you slimy bastards," Gus yelled. Deep down he envied the fact that his friend Teddy had seen combat in Desert Storm, even if he had lost his foot and had to wear weird shoes.

He aimed again and when he did, he saw that two snakes had turned to face him. They seemed to focus their cold, evil eyes directly upon his own. Gus flinched and fired. He missed and gasped when he saw that those two snakes had broken off from their attack formation and were slithering rapidly toward him and his horse.

"Son of a bitch, what's going on?" he muttered.

The rabbit gave one more scream and fell over dead. It had tiny spots of blood all over its fur from the piercing snake fangs. Gus swore and fired twice more and killed two more snakes, but he had lost sight of the two that had taken off toward him. He wasn't about to wait for them to reach him. He grabbed the reins and wheeled his mare about. He kicked her in the flanks with both boots and galloped like a bat out of hell towards his house more than two miles away.

He put the horse in a corral near the house and took the reins, saddle, and saddle blanket to a small tack shed between the house and corral. He kept his .22 at his side. He broke off six inches of an alfalfa bale and tossed it to the horse and then walked towards the house. He took the rifle with him and scouted the ground thoroughly as he made his way to the front door.

His parents' car was gone and he assumed they were at the Longbranch Bar in Heinzville, Nebraska. It was Friday and usually on Fridays he and his sister Theresa had the house to themselves. He went to the refrigerator and took one of his father's beers. He drained it in less than a minute and let out a righteous burp.

"Quit being a pig," his sister yelled from the living room.

"Here's another kiss for you," he said and let out another earth-shattering beer burp.

"You're gross," she said.

"Gone partying, Mom and Dad?" he said to Theresa who was sprawled out on the couch watching MTV.

"Now what do you think, Mr. Edison-Einstein?" she said, unimpressed with Gus and his attempt at coherent conversation. She was three years younger than Gus, a junior at the Catholic high school, and she had plans to go to college. Theresa was a cheerleader, a straight A student, good-looking, and had a lot of friends. Her lot in life had been to become almost the exact opposite of Gus. He resented her success, but he secretly envied her. Why had she gotten all the luck?

"Whatcha watching?" Gus asked and squeezed onto the end of the couch near her bare feet. Theresa didn't answer him. He looked at her feet and then her long legs. She was wearing shorts and the angle of her legs allowed him a clear view of her white panties. A tiny tuft of black pubic hair crawled out from beneath them. He took a deep breath and pretended to watch the program, but every so often his eyes roamed and he glanced at his sister's private parts. Once, he thought she had caught him in his act of secret peeking, but she said nothing.

Gus had never even fooled around at all with his sister, but occasionally he did have perverse thoughts about her. And once this past winter he had walked into her bedroom to find her naked atop her bed, fluffing her pubic hairs with a hairbrush. She had yelled at him and tossed the brush which had narrowly missed his head.

He thought about that a lot and had even made that scenario an integral part of several masturbation fantasies. But, right at the last moment, just when the jizz geyser squirted, he would switch his thoughts, his vision to another woman, any woman. That way, he figured, he hadn't even committed incest in his heart and God wouldn't punish him.

He sat blissfully, head moving from television to sister like he was at a tennis match. His sister was watching "Beavis and Butthead." Gus didn't really understand them, but he watched anyway and pretended interest. He tried to make small talk with his sister, but she didn't want to be bothered.

"I never heard of no cartoon that sweared like them," he said and waited for Theresa's reply which was slow in coming.

"The world's changing fast," she said, dismissing him.

"It is?" he asked.

"Not that you would notice," she giggled.

"Not that you would notice," he mimicked her, hurt by the fact that she was always putting him down.

Sometimes he resented her know-it-all attitude. He sure as hell knew things she didn't. He thought about the gang-bang and Mariana Two Knives and then evaporated the thought when he remembered that she was now dead. For an instant he debated whether or not to tell Theresa about the weird snakes he had seen earlier—.

No, he decided, that was too much like science fiction. His sister would giggle at him, or worse, think he had made the story up because he had nothing better to do. He simply shut his mouth and watched her and the television.

At eleven that night their parents called from Heinzville. Theresa took the call and a few minutes later told her brother the gist of the message. Their mom and dad were too far gone to make the drive back to the Rez through the pine-filled hills and were taking a motel room for the night if they could find one.

"Well, at least they called," Theresa said.

"Well, at least they called," he repeated, though this time he had made no conscious effort to mimic his sister.

"Give them credit for that," Theresa said.

"I do. I do. Most drunk parents on the Rez don't even do that," he agreed. He felt a slight twinge of guilt because he knew he was developing a drinking problem himself. He envied Teddy Two Bears because Teddy could take or leave booze. It never really mattered to his friend. In fact, nothing much seemed to bother Teddy although in recent days he had been acting very depressed and would not tell Gus what was bothering him.

"Yeah, I wouldn't talk too much about drinking if I were you," Theresa said interrupting his thoughts. It was almost like she had read his mind. He blinked at her and she got up and went towards the kitchen. "You'll probably end up just another drunken reservation Indian," she said as she sauntered out of the living room. She could be cold.

"We are Indians," Gus said, noting the strange sound of his words. Of course they were Indians...

Although they were iyeska, halfbreeds, Gus was always puzzled by the sometimes anti-Indian streak that colored much of Theresa's thinking. He looked at her as she stood in the kitchen making herself a fried egg sandwich. She was light-skinned like him, but she really could pass for a white woman. Maybe when she grew up, she would leave the Rez and become white. A lot of Indians did that. Fullbloods too. It didn't matter how dark your skin was. You could leave the Rez and become wasicu.

"Theresa, make me a sandwich too," he said.

"Dream on," she said and walked back to the living room where she switched channels and began to watch "60 Minutes."

"I woulda made you one," he said.

"That was the last egg," she answered.

Gus shook his head and went to the kitchen. He made himself two peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches and took them to his bedroom. He took off all his clothes and stretched out on his bed, read a hot rod magazine and ate the sandwiches. In twenty minutes, he was snoring out loud when a tremendous ear-shattering scream levitated him off the mattress. Then a second blaring screech. It was Theresa screaming bloody murder.

"Aiiiiiiiieeeeeekkkkk! Help!"

He jumped off the bed and ran out of his room. She shrieked again. She was in the living room standing atop the couch in front of the television.

"Theresa. What the hell's wrong," Gus shouted at her.

"Snake, snake in here," she squealed.

"Where, where is it?" he demanded harshly.

"Over there," she said pointing to a small bookcase. "It crawled underneath those shelves."

Gus ran to the corner of the room and grabbed his father's 12 gauge off the gun rack made of deer antlers. He jacked a shell into the chamber and gingerly crept toward the bookcase. He was shaking and too nervous to be bothered by his nakedness.

"There it is," she yelled and Gus fired at blur of motion on the floor.

"Got it," he said and let out a high-pitched giggle. "It's a damn garter snake. Hahhhh. Ain't even poisonous." He picked up the shredded serpent by its tail, waved it briefly at his sister, and then opened the front door and tossed it out into the night.

"Well, how should I know? I'm not a snake expert," she said.

"Damn, Theresa. It was just a garter snake. You didn't have to scream like that and scare the hell out of me. Sounded like someone was murdering you."

"Well, it scared the damn hell out of me," she said, still shaking though her eyes were now focused upon a snake of a different nature. Gus had never heard her swear before.

"You're naked," she said.

"Well, you seen one, you seen 'em all," he said making light of the fact that he was getting aroused.

"I've never seen one," Theresa said and nodded at his hardening penis with her chin. "Can I touch it? Please?"

"Jesus, Theresa."


"I guess," he said, "if I can touch yours."

"Okay," she said. "But you gotta promise to never tell anybody. We shouldn't be doing this."

"I promise," he said and held his breath. His sister stood up and slowly removed her shorts and her panties. Gus stared hard for a moment and then reached to touch her. Her hand firmly grasped his penis as he gently stroked her and in that breathless instant the front door burst open and their parents stood before them.

Gus spun around and faced his parents with a full erection. "He made me," Theresa shouted. "I didn't want to. He made me do it."

Theresa's brother's face turned crimson and he wished he were dead. And there was a damn good chance his father might just grant his wish. A damn good chance. His father's eyes were red, cold, and glassy like those of a deadly snake ready to strike.

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