Joe and Richard's shadows crosswise the man. His fingers protruded purple from wrists bound with twine and his feet bare and bound. His boots beside his feet. Papa lay across his back and licked the sweat from his neck.
Told her he's a prince. Said they had an accident on the road. Said there's gold in it for her.
Joe turned him on his back. The man struggling awake in the lonely country. He looked up at them through eyes recessed in swollen flesh. Two hazy figures interrupting the bare firmament.
He's a prince, all right. Joe sat him up and put the water bladder to his lips. The water stinging his cracked lips and dripping red from the tears in his cheek.
Said he asked her to get more water. That's when she saw the girls robbing the chicken coop.
Didn't need to see em, though. Elson was watching em.
Yeah. Should never have walked in that door.
Goes without saying. Lucky I was out. Richard brought his face close to the man's. That's not to say that it wont get worse before the day's over, though.
Papa standing there and the man on his back breathing and the other dogs circling. The man's swirls of flesh like muddy snake tracks. Papa sniffed at the man and dragged his tongue from the man's chin to his forehead. The man screamed and tried to sit up but the dog clamped down on his ear. Joe straddled the dog and pulled its head down and held it there until it let go of the man. Papa taking his place with the other dogs and the man leaning into Joe. He finally cried.
The dog looked up at Joe from eyes that struggled to stay open. Black fly larva had made a home of its flesh and could be seen to writhe in their cozy homes. Joe squeezed the dog's brow and expelled the worms to the forest floor. The dog searched them out and stood there chewing, its ear flopping like moth eaten silk.
Out there two men struggling to find footing in the grass. One bearded with a canvas bag over his shoulder and the other with eyes that looked in different directions.
Joe sat crouched and held the girl's ankle. He waited for the little one to give them away but she stayed quiet. He watched the girls watching the men. Not a trusting gaze.
Maybe they don't know em, said Richard.
They know em.
Behind the girls the horses swayed in the silence of the forest. They watched the men between the river birch. Across Joe's horse a deer carcass and on the horse that Richard borrowed from Joe's father sat the man with green eyes.
When Joe took the man's bag, he dug his claws in as if to make a stand over it and his friend found a stick. Joe reached in to the bag. He held the dark mushroom with his thumb and forefinger and said: you're gonna kill everyone with this. The men looked at each other, at Joe. He passed his finger under his chin, dead. He tossed the mushroom. He whistled for Richard. The men watched them emerge from the pine like unconsoled spirits, like a company left for dead and half forgotten.
The image of Joe and Richard something to measure their fantasies against to the children. Something born of a rumor of a future in this country. They watched the two young men