It was not immediately clear if Kirstin (knelt still upright on the cement Walmart floor, still-chambered Glock in her hand, eyes still open) had hesitated pulling her trigger, or if Jordan (blinking blood-freckled and still alive) had just rushed pulling his. Their pact failed, he trembling dropped his gun from the hole he’d just shot in his wife’s head, caught her as she tipped, his warrior queen, his soulmate. Her expression was not ungrateful. Hot blood soaked his clothes. Her hair smelled like sage. And gunpowder.
He looked up to find the pigs legion: scared pig eyes behind their pig guns, black-armored stormtroopers of his fantasies taking up fire-positions behind whatever absurd cover the Walmart offered — clothing displays and marked-down DVDs, particle board shelving and folded jeans, nothing that would stop a bullet, that would save anyone.
A bull-horned voice told him to “Let the woman go!” and, seeing how he held her not unlike a hostage, he felt his fury boil within him, leveled his .45 at the pigs. Like the one in Reservoir Dogs.
“–pigs fucking die fucking mother–”
Daylight blinding him as he fell bleeding through the emergency exit, he saw it first only in silhouette, the great bird, ancient perched upon the dumpster outside, a goshawk or something close, calm and obvious as the moon in winter morning. A scavenged hotdog in its beak, it regarded him as he fell before it, like a god no one had worshiped in a very long time.
6 HOURS, 17 MINUTES
Since the start of this, their final journey (nearly since their wedding night, Jordan’s Satanist cousin marrying them in a soybean field at midnight) Jordan had insisted: no sex. Because it drained their geist, or their chi or something he said, words she understood that he loved more than needing to understand exactly what they meant. Kirstin had acquiesced at first, for obvious, mysterious reasons. Understanding wasn’t necessary for love. He wasn’t getting it up anyway. With all the meth.
“But this is our last chance,” said Kirstin, smoking in the yellow-sheet motel bed as Jordan paced before her.
“One more time — can’t my husband fuck me? One time? Let’s be together here, before we go. And set sail for Valhalla. Or wherever.”
Jordan checked and rechecked bags as he paced, worked zippers, vests, squinted and blew into chambers, appeared to count shells, do math. He dodged her eyes and sweated in the two, three, four AM.
“Jordan,” she said, and he turned to face her, something awful in his throat like fucking cunt, what? — but then he saw her face and he remembered, and it was too late. Because she had him, she’d always had him.
“Look at you,” he said, spit his smoldering butt to the floor, tried desperately to grin like he thought/hoped a real man would, a red-blooded patriot with a hard-on for the liberty God had granted all men, a beautiful woman reclined before him on this, the eve of their destiny. He let his boxers fall from his petite hips, leapt to all-fours over her, said, “Look at this fucking angel of death–,” mimed frenzied boy-sex at his love.
And he was still so small, and she was vast as the desert before him.
“Hey no, not like that. Baby, come here. Come–” And she gripped his thin arms, held him, and he was relieved.
“Look at me: I killed my bird for you,” she said. They were whispering. “I killed Joker.”
“We killed Joker, babe, and we had to do it. We needed his power, to be strong for this. And anyways, we didn’t kill him, we set him free–”
His mouth slacked and his eyes rolled back as she pushed her fingers through his thinning hair. He recalled their time together: happiness, how she’d helped him to be strong when before he’d always felt weak, when there had been no one else, just their two shadows stretched back across the desert before the sunset. They did not kiss.
“Baby…” she said, and he opened his eyes.
She was crying. His own vision blurred to see her. They both cried so easily.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looked down at himself, back. “K, I love you so much. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Shhh, there’s nothing to be sorry for,” she said. “Come here. My little coyote.”
And they held each other for a long time.
Hours passed until, sensing its presence, he sat up from their nest to see it watching them in the blind-striped dawn, the glowing swastika floating by the door. It beckoned.
“K,” he said, sniffed dried-tear snot staring at it. “Hey, Kirstin. Get up. It’s time to go.”
They dressed solemnly, vests under sweatshirts, smoked the last of their drugs, loaded the gun bags in the car, and drove the single block down the street to the Shari’s in the Walmart parking lot, still did not kiss. They slammed the car doors shut, walked casual past the cruiser parked out front, entered the Shari’s, walked straight up to the two cops eating breakfast inside, and shot them both point-blank in the face. The one on the left had time enough to look surprised.
The dining room exploded. “This is a revolution!” shouted Kirstin, pumping the spent cartridge from her shotgun and immediately firing it again into the ceiling as Jordan spread the flags over the pigs’ bodies.
”Run, you losers — run for your fucking lives if you’ve got anything left to do but bleed.”
Half awake in the passenger seat, Kirstin heard his voice just enough to assimilate it into the prophetic dream she was having. In her dream, the newscasters were talking about them, not now but in the future, after it was over. They played bits from Jordan’s YouTube videos, bleeping the cussing, read their Facebook posts on the air and shook their heads. It was a satisfying dream about hopelessness and spreading it around, giving everyone a taste. From her seat, Kirstin peeked through her lashes to see Jordan in the present, slouched over the wheel as he accelerated up the mountainside, bug-eyed and talking on a cell phone, tracking something just before them that only he could see.
“…motherfuckers talking about my felony record, like the feds are gonna let any of those guys walk away. Shows you where their heads are at, right? That’s not what me and K are about anyways. Bunch of cowboys playing dress-up…yeah, yeah…yeah? Haha, oh yeah…Well, that’s what I fucking told em when that news bitch interviewed me…Hell no, I ain’t watering me down for nobody! I said–”
“Are you on the phone?” Kirstin said.
“Hold up, man. K just woke up, I gotta–”
Growing more pissed the more she sat up: “Are you for real?” she said. “You said no more cell phones, that they’re gonna hear us. Who– is that your fucking cousin? Is that Boyd?”
Folding the phone shut: It’s nobody, babe.”
He drove as she stared at him, pissed from her nap and her weird-dream-anger, pissed remembering that Joker was dead. She looked out the window, shook her head and kept shaking it.
“You said you broke all the phones!”
He cranked the window down, frisbee’d this last phone from the car, over the guardrail, off the side of the mountain.
“It’s gone,” he said. “All gone. I’m sorry. Hey K, seriously, I’m sorry. That was the last one, I promise. I’m a dumbass, okay? I’m a fucking worthless idiot, I’m so–”
He reached to touch her arm but she moved and let his hand fall to her leg.
“Fuck it. It’s okay,” she said. “You know what? I wrote my dad. Back at Dante’s. I wrote him an email. On Dante’s laptop.”
Realizing he’d been disobeyed: “You what? Why? What the fuck did you write?”
“Nothing. Stuff. Just how I miss him. And Mom. And…you know…” Her eyes wet.
Even fuming, he did his best to push it down, to listen. He kept his hand on her thigh.
“I just…God,” she said, “I just fucking hate this country so much. I mean look at it!” She gestured furious around them, at the mountains, the treeline, the jagged spruce horizon, at the winter sky above so clear and cold that, if you looked at it, you could see the blue curve of the atmosphere, beyond that only stars, and night: “I mean look at it,” she said, “look how fucking beautiful it is!”
“Oh yeah,” he said, rattling the doors of their Altima as he rode the gas. He guessed she wouldn’t want to hear it, but, unlike her, Jordan could see the ghost of Joker guiding them, just visible through the windshield, Joker gliding on destiny’s thermals, leading the way, a chevron of other hawks and falcons arrayed behind him, the doomed true hawk heralds of the revolution. From Joker’s talons hung the glowing swastika, a beacon staring back at him. He saw it and was heartened and, when she finally relented and put her hand over his, he smiled and squeezed it.
“How many cops you gonna kill, babe?” he said.
Wiping her nose — wiping it so hard it was like she might break it — “All of em,” she said. “Oh, I’m gonna kill so many fucking cops with you, baby,” still wiping her snotty, weeping nose, “I just love you so fucking much.”
“–but it’s not about killing cops,” he said, looking not into the camera but at his own image on the laptop screen just below it. “I don’t want to kill cops — excuse me, I don’t want to have to kill cops. I don’t want to have to kill anybody. I’m a baby fucking kitten, alright? No joke: my heart is a manger in the desert full of coyote puppies, you know? My heart–”
His head and shoulders bobbed restless on-screen, shirtless as always, eyebrow-piercing clacking against his sunglasses through a negative space no more consequential than the backgrounds of any of his videos: a shade-drawn bedroom, a parked pick-up truck, locationless darkness. This one he shot in the kitchen of Dante’s cabin, on Dante’s laptop, he’d set everything up, hit the pipe, and, with Kirstin making grilled cheese in the background:
“–but when they violate your home, mine and my wife’s and her parents’ home, when they got drones and anklets and smart TVs can listen to your cell phone, read your emails — read your thoughts and…and your fucking dreams — when you can feel the cinder blocks of the firing squad wall against your back as your family is violated before you, jackboots on their throats — when white babies die starving, crying, animals swarming the borders, the land, fucking the Bundys, Ruby Ridge, that scene at the Turnbees’ — when the alternative to acceptance is fucking martyrdom, motherfucking goddamn fucking shit-ass–”
Dante, an old friend of Kirstin’s parents, was basically a good guy, but so PTSD’d out that their presence at his place sometimes barely seemed to register. Long addicted to the hermitdom of his scorched Nevada hills, he, like Kirstin’s dad, knew long wings, and like him he revered them. His grin had split wide across his deadpan face as Kirstin had pulled Joker from the green metal carrier, the hooded bird an impossible, shifting incident of feathers and muscle, a dynamo from a better world, curling and rolling on Kirstin’s gloved wrist in the January sunshine.
“Whoa,” he’d said, and knelt immediately before him. Stroking Joker’s chest down with his knuckle: “Look at you.”
“What do you think, Dante?” Kirstin had asked. “You got room in your heart for this guy? For a little while, anyway?”
Sensing witness, Joker had preened his wings, turned his seer-blind gaze between horizons.
“We got some things to see about. Not sure when we’re gonna make it back.”
And Dante had nodded. “Nobody has goshawks no more,” he’d said.
“It means ‘true hawk,’” said Jordan, anxious from not talking for so long. And Dante had looked at him like he’d said the pledge of allegiance backwards.
At the Turnbee ranch two days later, things had not gone as planned. Jordan had been so excited when they’d first seen the stand-off on TV, thinking they’d finally found it, their place, their chance to be of use. But then there’d been a literal line of folks with the same idea waiting there when they’d arrived, and the Turnbees were turning away anyone with a criminal record. Jordan had been heartbroken, struggled visibly not to break down in front of everyone, the supporters waving flags and the protesters and the news people, so that, when one of the reporters waiting just behind the police-line had basically saved him by swooping in to request an interview, Jordan had scowled and said, “Fuck it, sure.”
Six minutes into the answer to her first question, he held tight to the mic and spoke directly into the camera, tried to get it all in: the vaccine mandates and the gold standard, income tax and the globalist cabal, the integrity of blood-lines and the Protocols of the Elders etc–
“Okay. Okay, wow, that’s great,” said the reporter. “Thank you. Wow. Perfect.”
Dante had met them halfway up his driveway upon their return, stone-faced as upon their arrival. Jordan hadn’t slept since they’d left.
“Where’s Kirstin’s hawk at?” he said, already angry, stepping out of the car. “We’re gonna have to kill Joker. Where you hiding him, Dante?”
Dante, a full foot taller, had just stared down at him, had just stood there in the gravel driveway with the sun setting behind him.
“You see this blood?” said Jordan, showing the laptop camera the dried brown under his fingernails, Joker’s blood. “This is the blood of our children that they murder in their abortion factories, in their prisons and universities and…and…their drag brunches!”
Kirstin hadn’t argued with him when he’d said it, proclaimed the end of Joker’s life, had received the proclamation like news of sudden weather, a storm or freeze. Jordan had said he’d do it himself but then kept flinching as Kirstin tried to hand him Joker, had insisted on holding him upside-down like a chicken until, in the end, Kirstin had had to take him and do it herself. She Googled “how to kill your falcon” and, when no helpful returns came back, had gritted her teeth, pinned Joker’s talons beneath her boot, bent his wings back brutal behind his head, and, with Jordan’s knife, opened the bird’s throat. And Jordan had fallen to his knees to catch the dripping blood in his hands, had raised his stained hands up to the empty sky in strict observance of whatever ritual he was in the process of improvising. And still Dante had just stood there, face unhappy, chain smoking the cigarettes they’d brought him, watching as Joker’s blood disappeared into the thirsty dirt.
“That’s the last one in the can,” Jordan told her, finished recording. He hugged his bare arms around her as she flipped the grilled cheese sandwiches. “Got it uploading now.”
“Cool,” she said, then: “Ugh, please go wash your hands before we eat.”
“I will, I will, jeeze–”
She found him crashed out on the couch five minutes later, hands unwashed. Grilled cheese in hand, Kirstin sat down to Dante’s laptop and checked Jordan’s account to see if anyone had commented on their last post, about the Turnbees. Annoyed at what she found, she logged out, cleared the cache, created a new email account called “RIPJokerandHarley@gmail.com,” and wrote a goodbye message to her father.
I can’t think about it because it’s already done, she wrote after telling him about Joker, a bird her father had helped her raise and train. Life is weird right now, and dark, and hard. And that’s all I’ve got to say about it. Tomorrow we head out. Not supposed to say where cuz they can read everything and anyway even Jordan doesn’t know. He says he’s following a sign, like joan of arc. You might see him on the news mixed up in that Turnbee drama if you haven’t already. That didn’t work out like we planned and we didn’t hang around. It’s okay tho. Probably the cops will shoot their dumb asses in the end. Fine by us.
She looked out the window, watched Dante where he stood smoking in more or less the same spot as where they’d done it, still dragging his boot through the blood-crusted dirt.
Dante says hi.
I’m sorry about all this, all of it. I guess it’s finally war just like you and mom used to always say. I guess. This is our war anyway, and if I’m ready, it’s only cuz of you and mom. I know you’re probably mad to hear about Joker, and that you don’t agree with all of what we’ve done and why, especially some of the stuff Jordan is into, but it means so much to me Dad, everything that you taught me. I don’t exactly know what it’s all about but what we’re doing is not about disrespecting Joker or you or anybody. We just needed his life is all. We need more life. Life is a war, like I said, so it’s a mercy killing anyways.
Anyways, I bet Mom is pissed. But I love you guys, and I miss you bad. So bad. Hug mom for me please. I love you dad. I’ll see you.
Before they left Dante’s that night, Jordan took their last three cell phones, laid them side-by-side on a big rock, and smashed each with a hammer in the moonlight as Kirstin sat warming up the car. She watched Jordan stick his tongue out as he raised the hammer, car exhaust blue beneath the moon.
“My life — everything –” wailed Jordan, weeping furious in the passenger seat as she drove, “my life is a gift you gave me — why can’t you fucking see that?!”
In her mind: Joker’s eyes, his beak open calling, then silenced, but still open, eyes still wide.
They’re animals, her dad had told her, and it’s a mistake to imagine we know what they’re thinking.
Her three-year-old brother had died when she was eleven months and the loss sewed her parents’ (and in particular her father’s) love for her with a low-humming desperation. Industrious, enterprising people, her dad worked tens welding boxcars down the road while her mom kept their small house on the high plains between weekend trips north to her hobby, a thirty-acre mining claim she’d nursed for a decade, waiting on their blue silver payout but making do with veins of mica and feldspar. Her mother had abandoned falconry years ago, disparaging it as a rich man’s hobby even as, in the same breath, she maintained that all of its true masters were women and always would be, an observation with which her father cheerfully agreed.
“You know,” he said, “the Japanese even have a story where they say the first falconer was a woman. This is generations ago. And that she taught her daughters, and they taught theirs, and so on, and so on, so for generations, it was just the women in this family.
“And they were peasants,” he said, “and proud of it. Lived out in the country, regular folks. And every year the emperor would have to send his valets out to the sticks to beg these ladies to bring their birds to town, save the fields from the crows and rats and what not. Sounds like a pretty good show, you ask me.”
Her first raptor was a parent-raised peregrine acquired from a breeder just across the state line, sixty days old when her dad moved its cage into her room so it could acclimate to her. She’d awaken before first-light to find it watching her in the dim, eyes shiny black. She was thirteen years old. Her first gauntlet was just one of her dad’s old insulated welding gloves
They hunted weekends, when her dad wasn’t working and her mom was out at the claim, upland game: quail and pheasant and prairie chickens. The last clench of the bird’s talons as she tossed it from her glove was a thrill like none she’d yet known or would after. Her father’s eyes narrowed with pride as he watched his only living child track Harley, her peregrine, watching the bird glide and stall and then dive, finally, for some distant speck of prey in the frigid mesa dawn.
She spurned the technological intrusion of the telemetry equipment, against her father’s counsel, hated hanging transmitters on her bird like shackles, thought they looked stupid and insinuated mistrust. But when Harley cut to chase a hare one Sunday, ignored their baggies, and disappeared over a hill, never to return, she wept heartbroken, sobbed in the truck the whole way home, into her pillow for days, remained angry months later. Years.
“Least it saved her from the first time a boy does it,” said her mom. “Telemetry don’t work on them neither.”
“Goddamn it,” cussed her father, “but how did the women in this household get so down on telemetry? These birds are an investment. What century do you people think this is?”
She wondered if life wasn’t just a conspiracy against her and all that she loved, a suspicion confirmed when, in the middle of her junior year of high school, some mis-wired dynamite took her mom’s left leg below the knee. They had insurance, but their carrier conspired with the state, insisting that their mining claim had never been properly filed and so not only were they on their own with the hospital bills but, in addition, they somehow now owed the state of Nevada several hundred thousand dollars.
“Sure seemed filed right when they were taxing hell out of our mineral sales,” her mom said, paperwork splayed about her in the lay-z-boy where she recuperated.
It lit a fury in her and her arms trembled as she nearly slammed her mother’s lunch tray down beside her.
“This is bullshit,” she said. “I’m dropping out of high school.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” her mother said.
She dropped out of high school that spring and began work at the welding plant where she promptly learned that her dad and his coworkers were going in together buying meth to work double- and triple-shifts, freebasing it with their welding torches like the dumbass men they were. Ashamed, her dad had tried to explain, but she insisted she didn’t care, even believed it, until the afternoon he lost it after working two days straight, going full-redneck on a collections agent, waving his old Nazi Ruger around shirtless as he chased the frightened messenger from their property. Barely two months into her recovery, her mom had tried to crutch her way out to stop him but wound up falling from the porch into a juniper bush where her daughter found her weeping in silent anger. Her dad pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and cut a deal to do three months. But it was a hard three months.
Drunk on rage and spite, in her father’s absence, she surprised herself and her crew by complaining about the deal they were getting on their drugs and volunteered to renegotiate with Roberto, their middle-aged, Filipino connection. Her first meeting with Roberto yielded only quiet chuckling, but his tone was different when he called her a few days later, inviting her to meet him at an apartment complex outside of town. She flinched when Roberto opened the door and she saw a white boy playing video games on the couch behind him: skinny, thin-haired, a house-arrest anklet nearly concealed beneath the cuff of his JNCOs.
“They take his anklet off next week,” Roberto said. “I’m quitting this work. Any further business, you can talk to him.”
The white boy looked up from his game, attempted cool, predatory eye-contact from across the room. His forehead wrinkled like a hairless baby’s. He winked. Kirstin hocked and spit a loogie on the carpet, yelled at him:
“Is this your apartment?”
Jordan nearly dropped the controller he was so frightened.
Her dad bought Joker for her the day after he got out, a half-trained goshawk, old enough to need some re-manning but a fine specimen. The strain on his face as he revealed his gift was endearing, and heartbreaking.
“Who’s this new guy?” he asked as she drove them to the plant. “What happened to Roberto?”
“Roberto quit. That’s Jordan.”
“Yeah?” he said, smiled at his daughter: “What’s a ‘Jordan?’”
And she laughed and grinned at her father, loving him. Spinning the wheel into the only turn of their commute (a right), she said, “He’s an accident waiting to happen, actually. If you want to know. He’s a fucking dumbass,” she said, “and if he makes it more than six months without getting shot in this life, it’ll be a fucking miracle.”
ONE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS
From dawn to bluest dusk, Shukou squatted the day between her mother and her older sister as they watched the rice fields below from beneath their stoic hat brims. At their command, their birds prowled and raked the vermin from the Emperor’s fields, rats and snakes, other evil things.
The field workers watched from the roadside. It was, for them, basically a holiday. Happy, slack-jawed men in home-spun robes, the spectacle of the hunt made children of them, and they gasped and cheered and drank and clutched one another with the thrill of each dark wing’s tumble to the earth.
Shukou’s mother and sister looked disdainfully at such antics, rolled their eyes as they called and fed and tossed once more their birds into the air. Shukou held the food basket and shifted foot to foot.
When it was finally too dark to hunt, Shukou’s mother and sister went to join the workers in their drinking while Shukou stayed with the cart and birds. She was soon joined by the youngest of the workers, a boy barely as old as her, if that. He approached the edge of her lantern light, tentative but growing slowly bolder, until he nearly strutted through the dust before her.
“Now that the sun has set, your sisters behave like whores,” he said.
“One of them is my mother,” Shukou said. “We were hired by the Emperor. If we are whores, you do not have enough money to look at us.”
The boy smiled, drug his bare foot through the dirt, marking a line around the two of them. The noise of their elders’ revelry not far off, the breath of birds roosting slow behind them, they leaned together against the cart.
“What’s your favorite movie?” he asked. “Mine’s a tie: Fight Club and The Dark Knight. Batman is obviously a badass, but I really relate to Heath Ledger’s The Joker.”
“Joker rules,” said Shukou. “I love that movie.”
“Joker totally rules. He just doesn’t give a fuck!”
“Fight Club is stupid,” she said, “except for the end, when the buildings explode–”
“Yeah. Yeah I guess,” he said, “but at the end–””
“But the Joker,” she said.
“Man, yeah. The Joker…” inching closer in the chill.
Later, as Shukou drove her mother and sister home through the frigid, cloudless night, the two women splayed in the back sang a drunken song; they had each slept with workers, and yet were unashamed, wild, and proud.
“Do you think Shukou appreciates our song,” her mother asked, before they both dissolved into cackling.
To their daughter/sister, they sang a song of loving warning, a song about men and how to treat them, and train them, favored techniques, etc. They wound their way through many verses, voices keening beneath the stars, returning always to a refrain where, threading the needle of a dense coincidence of puns, it was suggested finally that all of life was but a wound, and the only difference between men and women was that men refused to heal.
Shukou ignored their song, was burdened in other ways, looked on as her mother and sister sang, looked on sober and unsmiling into the dark ahead. She did not know what was coming. But she was not optimistic.
— Derrick Martin-Campbell is a writer from Portland, OR. His work has recently appeared/is forthcoming in Joyland, Necessary Fiction, and The Evergreen Review, among other fine places. Read more of his writing here