Jack spotted the dog from pretty far out, wasn’t much to block the view. Sparse land, miles unadulterated without so much as a cactus’ prick to break up the scenery, which was dirt, which was gray, and sky, which that morning was blood orange and going on brown.

Jack lifted his rifle out his saddle pack and hooked its scope over his beak.

A tuft of hair rose and fell shakily. Jack could almost hear the rattle, it was that plain. Dying.

“Dying dog, Sugar.”

Sugar did not so much as snort.

There were about countless prairie dog holes between Jack and Sugar and where the dog looked to be. Sugar kicked her hind leg.

“That rez land?”

Now the horse snorted.

“Close as.”

Jack thought about calling Tommy, at Tribal.

“Ain’t no animal control,” he grumbled, “Neither of us.”

He put that scope back to his eye and squinted.

Now crimson pooled.

Jack sighed, “Yep.”

By the time Jack was back home the sky was fully mud-toned. Peculiarity of the light in that part of the world. Jack’s dead dad had put it best, and frequently, Funny when the clouds look like better tilling than the soil. Jack dismounted Sugar by the barn and let her in her pen. She sat on hay.

“You pouting?”

She flashed Jack an entitled look.

“Just ‘cause I am don’t mean you can, too,” and looking in Sugar’s onyx eyes said, “Been fed. More later.”

He went past the shed and the decrepit bunk to the big house, then in through the back door.

“Where’s my keys, Dot?”

“That was a quick ride.”

“Yeah. Where’s my keys?”

“Going to town?”

“Back out that way. They was on the table.”

“They’re hanging up by the door on that hook you won’t use. Now what you need the truck for?”

“Dead dog.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Sure enough.”

“Well, leave that.”


“Just a dead dog.”

“I don’t like buzzards.”

“Then leave them too.”

“Was out a’ways. Near the rez.”

“That’s far.”

“From anything.”

“What’s it doing out there?”

“I’m wondering.”

The truck sputtered, then moved. Jack lit a marb red then sucked it. It was smooth driving until the prairie dog holes made it bumpy on the truck’s deflated tires, which point Jack tossed the butt of his second marb red and set to getting where he was going more focused. He got there. He stopped near the dog.

“Ain’t no dog.”

He could tell that just looking through the window. He got out.

Jack let the appropriate trepidation shiver him exactly once then gulped that feeling and started circling the corpse, careful not to plant tracks in the blood that was pooling around it in a thick red coagulate. Jack struggled to fit the corpse’s form to any number of animal categories he had learned in his sixty-eight years as a cowboy. None worked. He knelt and took his hat off and used it to swat flies. Near the thing’s eyes, he peered deep into it, and didn’t like how that trepidatious sense shot back.

Inside of his truck was a machine he thought looked like a big black brick. He thought about calling Tommy again. He went to the truck and grabbed the machine and remembered the right number.

“Hey Deb. Tom in? Thanks.”

Jack let the line hold as he was transferred. Flashing another glance to the thing he’d found, he felt his upper lip curl involuntarily. He didn’t like that.

“Hey Jack,” Tom’s even voice came rolling in through the speaker end of the phone.

“Yeah Tom,” Jack answered, “Hello.”


“Right. Listen, I’d like to get you out to where I am, permitting you’ve the time.”

“That’d be your place?”

“Edge of it, and yours.”

“How’s that?”

“Yeah, near the rez. I’m on a satellite.”

“And how’s that?”

“I don’t know too well. Dot got it for me, Christmas.”

“How is Miss Doris?”

“She’s alright.”

“Alright. Satellite?”

“That’s right. A wireless telephone.”

“I’ll be damned.”


“What’s the world coming to?”

Jack looked at the thing splayed out next to him.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what’s the matter then?”

“Dead animal. Awfully near the rez, maybe on it.”

“What’s the matter with that?”

“Been shot.”

“I don’t mind folks shooting coyotes, within reason.”

“Ain’t that.”

“What then?”

“Ain’t no coyote.”

“What then?”

“Better come see.”


“I’m at the bordering place, about where mine meets yours.”


“You go out past Erskine’s plot and drive straight up north, think you’d find me.”

“Like if on the line on the map?”

“Close enough.”

“Sure enough.”

“We’ll see.”

“Guess so.”


“Say Jack, if on the bordering place, why don’t you call John and the Davis Sheriff office?”

“I think this is more fit for your inspection, Tom.”

“We’ll see.”

“Guess so.”

“Say Jack, what are you doing way out there?”
“Tommy,” said Jack, “I’m wondering.”

Jack popped the door to the truck bed and sat on it in order to look out into the distance and pass time. His was a red Toyota of an older make and model. The sun split the sky about forty degrees over the horizon and for one frightening moment Jack could not remember if he was watching sunset or sunrise.

But of course it was sunrise, the time just after it. Jack knew he was looking east, towards where the reservation lay. Then Jack laughed at the fact that he was waiting for the Tribal Police. What would dad say?

Tommy had promised to come out as soon as he could and he got there soon considering the distance. His car was unbranded, a white SUV, no insignia. If you lived on the rez then you knew that it was his and that he was police. Jack felt relieved.

“Hey Tom.”

“Howdy Jack.” 


“As it goes around here, sure. Saw Bob Erskine on the way.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Got held up.”

“What’d he want?”



“Says he don’t want me driving on his land.”

“What’d you tell him?”

“Said that if he would consult a map he’d see that I was driving on that little white line that makes his land his and mine mine.”

“That so?”

Tom grinned, “But I might’ve swerved.”

Jack smiled. He didn’t mind Tom. He thought Tom was alright. Tom was twenty years his junior and had long hair, but Jack figured the latter fact was his prerogative and meant something different amongst the Indians, and that the former wasn’t Tommy’s fault. Tom was alright.

Tom said, “Have a look?”

And Jack said, “Yep,” and got up and showed him.

“Spotted it yonder, ways out. Had to ride Sugar back to the barn and come back with the truck, which took a while. On account of them gopher holes.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Thought it was a dog.”

“I could see that, if from yonder.”

“Ain’t though.”

“No, sir.”

The creature was brown and hairy and about the length of a big dog, snout to ass. Little tail like a clipped dog too, like a doberman. All else was different. Its limbs were jumbled up and twisted as if it had been twitching and the bullet hole was in its side about where its chest would be, but the chest and the stomach formed one undifferentiated oval. The four twisted legs were long and skinny like an antelope’s but longer than that animal’s by twice. Standing, it might have been five and a half feet tall.

“Might have guessed it was a kind of dog myself, at a glance.”


“It’s not a pony.”

“No, almost though.”

“Head’s the wrong size and the hair ain’t no pony hair.”


“Almost like a calf.”


“Save for the incisors.”

“Some fangs, huh?”


“I’ll say.”

“You see a brand on it, Jack?”

“Nope, but I ain’t turned it over.”

“Let’s do that.”


Jack didn’t like putting his feet in the crusted blood all around it, which was already baking a new layer in the hardpan. The blood cracked when he stepped in it.

Tommy took the back half and Jack the front. The beast was rigid, quick rigor mortis. They turned it on its other side and it fell stiffly.

“Little matted and dirty from the blood. I don’t see no brand though.”


“If it were a calf, it’d be pretty underdeveloped.”

Jack nodded. “Or, over.”

“Sure,” said Tommy, “Like it was too grown.”

“This what cancer does to a cow?”

“No idea.”

“And them teeth.”

“Don’t think that’s cancer.”

“No, sir. I doubt that.”

Either man stood perplexedly and troubled. The longer they looked at the animal the more it defied them. Tom ran a hand over its course shag, over its whole squat midriff and its misfitted legs. When Tommy felt it, he shivered.

“Well, who shot this?” Jack finally asked.

Tommy shot him a consternated look. 

“Figure it’s on my patch or yours? ‘Cause if it’s mine, that’s poaching.”

“Poaching if on the rez too, Jack. Only that’s a little trickier that way, maybe more felonious, I ain’t too sure.”

“If someone was hunting game, then they killed a strange type of buck and left it,” Jack said, and then figuring that for a moment, added, “Which is odd, ‘cause that’s a peculiar prize.”

“Might have been hunting for meat. I wouldn’t eat it.”

Jack walked around it and kicked the thing. He thought kicking it might make him feel more comfortable, and it did. It was dead and would not hurt him. But such mangy weird. Jack was astonished. The amalgam of parts and qualities lay a flabbergast, daring him to describe it.

“This is an undesirable carcass.”

“I would not want to have it,” said Tom. “Someone shot it then up and quit I guess. Damn that. What if it’s endangered? What if I get the EPA on my ass?”

That hadn’t occurred to Jack. Poaching was one thing, but dead endangered species was another, and if in one’s own backyard, worser. Last time Jack had had the displeasure of conversing with a government man it had been a bespectacled faggot from Tucson who talked with a city accent, real generic and deliberate, speaking everything so syllabically. That man had lorded all over Jack, his voice and golden wire framed glasses and his university haircut, which was curls stretched over an untanned forehead, refusing baldness. That man had come out to Jack’s home and told Jack that he was treating his cabbages wrong and said that if he kept on with the pesticide he had been using it would kill every locust or cicada or some such insect this side of Yuma. Jack had told the man that he had bought his treatment from the company man, and that if something was wrong with the treatment then the government ought to sue the company, not harass Jack, and the man had said that the government was going to sue the company and that was why he was there, and that Jack ought to consider filing suit too, depending on the outcome of his crop next reap.

Now Jack remembered the thalidomide scandals of his youth and the pictures he had once seen of lumpen fetuses, and connecting that to the dead misshapen fuzzy shape before him he wondered if maybe he shouldn’t have used that treatment after all. Then he felt guilty and confused.

Jack knew that if the beast that was now the matter was natural that he didn’t want to talk with no EPA or Fish and Game, and Jack knew that if it was unnatural that he didn’t want to talk with no EPA or Fish and Game.

“I don’t want to talk with no EPA or Fish and Game,” Jack blurted.

“Me neither,” nodded Tom.

Now the animal did not weirdly threaten either man so much as it threatened them by its weirdness.

“Fuck whatever poaching this was supposed to be,” said Tom, “And the poacher too. Let’s get rid of it. There’s a shovel in my trunk.”

“I’ve a spade,” answered Jack, feeling much the same.

So both men got their tools and assented that the dirt just near to where the thing lay was soft enough and started in digging. They circumscribed a pretty large plot, large enough to fit all the gangly limbs and deep enough to ensure that no knucklehead would come along dune-bugging and rip up the grave and find it. They dug quietly a while until Jack looked up.



Jack set his little spade down and wiped his hands, all full of blisters.

“Don’t your people got legends of things like this?”

Tommy shook his head as if to shake off what he was hearing and dug.

“Don’t your people got stories about creatures that change?”

Tom was digging.


There were beads of sweat as big as beetles crawling down both men’s faces.


“Yee naaldlooshii,” Tom didn’t stop digging, “I know what you’re thinking. And no. That’s different.”

“But that’s animals what change shape, isn’t it?”

“That’s a bad witch, Jack. Kind of. They are men that go on all fours. And they’re like coyotes.”

“Well I was just thinking that it looked a little like a coyote and a pony and a cow maybe, crossed up.”

“That ain’t that.”

“Well I was just thinking that—”


“But what if one of them things got shot when it was changing? Right then?”

Then Tom looked up. “If it is that, Jack, we ain’t burying it right. I don’t think you even can bury it.”

“You know that?”

“No, Jack, I don’t know that.”

Jack looked a little longer then resumed with his spade.

“And it looks like a horse to me,” said Tom.

“Yeah,” said Jack, “A kind of horse.”

“And if it’s a horse,” Tom was panting, “We ain’t burying that right neither.”

“That so?”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “There’s other things you’re supposed to do with a horse. I don’t know. My grandpa, he would have known. I don’t.”

The men kept digging. It was some time past noon, and the pit was deep enough to stand in up to either man’s waist. Jack paused again to consider the corpse and bent to consider it at eye-level.

“Never mind, Tom. I ain’t afraid. I can have some sympathy for it, I suppose.”

Tom looked up, “Yeah?”

“Sure. I can be sympathetic.”

“How’s that?” Tom raised himself to perch on the pit’s edge.

“I ain’t saying it’s cute,” said Jack, “But maybe it’s kind of pathetic. Like it didn’t mean nothing.”

“Maybe. But maybe it attacked whoever shot it, and maybe that’s why they ran off.”

“Maybe,” said Jack, “But I doubt it. Don’t look like it could hurt to me. Looks kind of retarded.” 

“Now you ain’t scared?”

“I was. But more I look at it, more I think it was helpless. Looks all messed up. Yeah, it was probably imbecilic.”

“You just say that ‘cause it’s got its tongue sticking out.”


“And it’s gangly.”

“Yeah, mayhaps. Do look uncoordinated. Not hurting nobody.”

“Jack, you reckon that this hole is dug?”

“You watch the news, Tom?”


“Watch the news?”

“Despite my best efforts.”

“Mine too. Well, I seen this one thing, how sometimes them nuclear plants they got go next to a river, and they dump sludge in it. That’s the word they used on the news one time, sludge. You know what that is?”

“I don’t.”

“Me neither. But it looked like goop. I’m not sure that was real, but it was real goopy. It’s like the trash, leftovers from what they make at the nuclear plants.”

“What do they make?”

“Shit, Tom, that’s a good question. I don’t know. You know what happens when they dump the sludge in the rivers?’

“I don’t.”

“Makes fish with three eyes and no fins.”


“While back a man came up here and said my crop treatment was poison.”

“What? Jack, you reckon this grave is dug or what?”

Jack was looking real pathetically at the dead animal. He whispered, “One of a kind.”


“Grave’s dug,” said Jack. His shoulders snapped back as he said it, like out of a trance. He clambered out the hole.

Both men caught their breath and waited a moment. Neither had brought much water and they had been at it all day. Then, settled, they each took a haunch and dropped their object in the pit. It landed stiff. Then time was to cover it, and this they did.

“Were it alive I might have took it,” said Jack.


“Yeah, brought it home and kept it. Gave it a name.”

“You’d have named that?”

“Sure. Cubes, to go with my horse.”


“Sugar and Cubes.”

Tom looked incredulous. He was tamping down the dirt, pat-pat-pat.



“Desert’s a mixer. Mixes up all kinds. And you said it, that was an undesirable carcass. It was living out here until someone shot it and it died, then we put it in the sand, and that’s about where I’d like to leave it. OK?”

“Yeah Tom.”



When either man parted, Tom back to the reservation and Jack to his puny ranch, it was sundown. They had been at it all day. Both shook hands and gave greetings to be delivered to each other’s respective families. Tom was a little curt and kept looking at the ground. Jack couldn’t help but feel that he had somehow offended Tom, but wasn’t sure how to raise the issue, and so left it and got in his truck.

Before he took off, Tom wheeled around in his SUV and pulled up next to Jack. Jack rolled his window down.

“You know, there’s supposed to be a cold snap tonight. Snow.”

“That so?”

“It’s what I heard,” said Tom.

The heat had blazed that day but was beginning to go in evening.

“Well I’ll be damned,” said Jack.


Then Tom left. And Jack stuck his face out the window, and felt it was cold.

The sun cut across the long western ridge-line of a nameless range at a vanishing angle. The formerly gray dirt was blackened in the solar absence, and past the prairie dog holes there were pebbles scattered on the playa that glinted in dusk, and it became harder to tell the difference between this bad earth and cold heaven, and it all looked rotten. The crimson firmament extinguished, and with its last sliver so slipped Jack’s mind into rue-hewn reverie, and the day’s efforts weighed on him, and he drove home in night.

His satellite phone rang in an ambient jingle. That would be Dot wondering where he was. Never mind her, thought Jack, he’d be back soon.

But the desert stretch just seemed extended, acres of the same. And then a white coat of cold started to fall, snowflakes. And Jack was squinting through the windshield, thinking of how his paternal line used to tell stories of the cattle drives that went on out here in the deep, how a thousand beeves got pushed across the hardtop and past canyons, into pens and butcheries, and Jack was astonished that it ever happened, for the first time in his long life he could not fathom that such a thing could happen. An image flashed in his mind’s eye but he perceived it as projected on the sheets of raining snow, a cacophony of spotted screaming cattle like trumpeting waves of flesh rushing on the dead land.


A sound like a gunshot coming from his own memory, and he sits up and screams, and his car slides and stops just before the form. Another one of them things, what he’d buried, standing in the snow and looking with an inscrutable intelligence befitting its chimeric head. And beneath Jack in his seat is some silvery thing still hot and sizzling hissing. He palms the shell casing then drops it, whines. Jack’s satellite phone lights up again, won’t quit, and the snow’s like a screen, and Jack discerns he’s plum lost and might be anywhere, and that the thing is standing judging him.

Jack’s hit with a bad sense like sin, makes him sad, and Jack’s about to cry because he thinks he might never get home.

— Eitan Benzion is slowly but surely improving his craft. Increasingly, he’s keeping quiet. He’s on twitter @natienoizy.

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