Pastoral Genocide

Digital Clocks

[I’m not sure what to make of this piece. It’s based, in large part, on a local article in a regional paper that was picked up by the AP and the multimedia news giants. Everything about the story – it’s presentation on a glossy news site, the matter of fact “re-telling” of the macabre, the desolate and horrific minutia of the event itself – left me genuinely shaken. Like all things that happen far away, though, my reverie was short lived and faded quickly. I’m fine with that fact: this particular tragedy was surely slow-burning, a smoldering act of desperation from some sort of terror that will never really make sense to me. It’s the simplest sort of smut, human-on-human cruelty which results in an epic mess. ]

They hung like piñatas.

Sgt. Jim Feebly surveyed the front room of the trailer. The mid-afternoon sun sliced horizontally through the outdated vinyl blinds, cutting pinpricks of light and shadow on the trampled green shag of the carpet. The week-old smell of rot and decay and the drooping grey skin that was literally melting off the faces of the bodies dangling lifelessly from the ceiling of the trailer accosted him with a muted ferocity. On the floor, a man lay sprawled, blood dried like dark candy against the side of his face. In a life, you see a lot of things, some good, some bad. This was a bad thing, Feebly thought, a very bad thing. He buried his nose into the starched fabric of his work shirt that clung sweaty to the front side of his elbow and stepped, begrudgingly, forward.

August had come to the salt plains of the panhandle and the sun reined heavy-handed upon the earth, nauseatingly baking the dust and dirt and the corrugated metal of the trailer’s exterior with biblical, albeit annual, tenacity. The viscosity of it all was unbearable. The heat, the smell, the silence all collided in a sickly boutique of cruelty. Sweat weltered and sank from Feebly’s hair, dripping into his ears and flatly stinging corners of his eyes.

He moved past the hanging bodies of a woman and two children and pushed open the door to the bathroom. A baby girl, no older than a year old, lay dead in the sink. She was naked and helpless, her eyes frozen paunchy and open. Feebly could see the purple lacerations around her neck. She had been strangled with the guitar string that lay coiled like snake on the floor next to the toilet. Her body was an advanced state of decay and she hardly looked human. Heat and time had been unkind to the bathroom window, staining it yellow. It was latched shut and Feebly instinctively moved to push the window open, to get some air in the place, chase out the disgusting stink of death. He stopped, though, staring down at the child. Feebly didn’t know what to think or even if it was appropriate to think at all. He swore to himself, silently, and stood in place, dizzy and soul sick and unable to push himself away from the cathartic, nightmarish mess of the sink and the walls and the scene in its full. Flies moiled around the room, buzzing angrily at Feebly for disturbing them as they worked.

Suddenly, Feebly felt it rising ascetically from his stomach. He turned and ran for the trailer’s entrance. Leaning over the loosely fastened handrail, he retched chunks of red onto the dry yellow grass that was suffocating silently beneath the sun. He felt dizzy and sank to one knee.

Gathering himself, he stood up wearily and walked out to his squad car, grabbing for a bottle of water. It had turned warm inside the car but, nonetheless, it helped drive the stale taste of vomit from his mouth. He pushed it around with his tongue, feeling the lukewarm liquid move through the gaps in his molars. He spit and watched as the beads of water spread in vein-like patterns before coagulating with the dust of the driveway. Feebly scanned the road leading back to town and turned back towards the trailer.

Soon, Feebly knew, this whole godforsaken lot would be crowded by the forensic team and local media. They’d look for answers, they’d blame it on meth or mental illness or poverty or all three. But right now, it was just him. Across the open plains, Feebly saw nothing but the horizon. The country was wide open, expansive. Intimidating. For 38 years, this dust and the heat was his. This land was the crust and fodder of the earth, the untidy, dust swept corner of the desert and the plains. It was deemed fallow by the power of God and it looked like it had every intention of staying that way. He’d grown up in the dense heat and bitter, windy winters. Auspiciously and totally rural, the land scared most folks.

Feebly could see why. This place took patience. Even then, you mostly tolerated it because it was all you’d ever really known. As a kid, Feebly had always wanted to move away, to a big city with subways and tree-lined parks. But he grew up a little, and began to appreciate the country for what it was. He’d always thought it like he and the land had come to some sort of unspoken compromise. They understood each other and, maybe, grew to like each other, even if just slightly.

Right now,though, Feebly was lost. Lost in something, something bigger than the desert or the plains or the idea of house and home. He felt apart. The cruelty of it all, everything, was a massive, ornery thing. And the heat, God, it was awful. The world was at a standstill. A surreal touch of hell dabbled on a canvas of dry brown dirt and scragged rocks. He felt alone and repulsed and saddened in a way he’d never felt before. He felt, somehow, profound.

To Feebly, the loss seemed inconceivable.