If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tammy T. Stone: Cunjure

It finally caught up with him and he fell down and cried. Without a sound – any noise on this day would have been the aural equivalent of peeking at a cracked mirror before the lightest tap sent it down in a pile of shards – he looked in the direction of the door, just a wooden slab, really, flapping and swaying to the jerky rhythm of patrons coming and going, and started weeping. No one came to console him. If anything, the noontime din seemed to get louder.

The Last Chance Saloon was the first place he ever laid eyes on in Alberta, Canada, only the second province in the entire country he’d ever seen outside of British Columbia, where he was born. On the way here, to the tiny, bottomed-out town of Wayne – off a main road and over eleven diminutive bridges that reminded him of a mini golf course tucked between hills and valleys – in the passenger seat of a big Mack truck that had picked him up just outside of Cranbrook, he mostly remembered being ravenous. He ate: two donuts, one chocolate and one maple; one bag of Lays chips, plain; one can of Sprite, and a quarter of a bag of Smart Food popcorn. He had a hole in his stomach he was trying to fill, until the driver of the truck said no more stops. An hour later he veered into this place that was precisely nowhere, and guided him to a seat, where he slumped down in exhaustion.

One hand propped up his head and the other clutched his stomach. His dark brown hair was thin and limpid, his eyes soft brown and almond-shaped, a pleasing halfway between his Thai mother and Canadian father. Unlike the junk food he ate on the road, the cheeseburger iceberg lettuce salad lodged in his stomach like an anchor. He sniffled quietly and looked around.

The saloon was full of people who looked to him like roots when they sat and vines when they moved to the bar and bathroom, hidden around a corner. It was like an invisible series of chalk lines conjoined these people to every single other person (he suddenly imagined actual chalk lines, and the recent deaths of everyone in the room) and also to everything in the place, the oldest artifacts in the world, he felt. He couldn’t see it but he knew it was there, some kind of invisible placenta and each movement within it was made with the certainty one can only have with the comforting awareness of a shared space, that is: home. That was it! Everyone here was home.

Even the ones passing through, like the driver of the Mack truck, became an instant part of the picture, a baroque painting brought to life with dust particles and high noon light. He felt like these lightly dancing bits of dust were sprinkling something into the restaurant that could only amount to magic. A feeling crossed his stomach he couldn’t place.

On the other side of the saloon the truck driver hobbled to the front counter and ordered something from a large greasy jar. He limped heavily as he walked. He came back to the table with two smelly eggs and a beer.

“It’s their way here,” said the truck driver, referring to the Mason jar full of beer in his hand. “You never did tell me your name.”

“Boi,” he said, wiping his eyes. “With an ‘I’.”

“Berton Hart. They call me Hart. Pardon my asking, but are you okay?”

“I guess so.”

“Don’t like bothering a man who doesn’t want to be bothered. Did you want to try one of these eggs here? Best in the region. Pads the stomach good.”

“No, thanks.”

“Finally full then. Beer?”

“I’m okay. I do have a question though.”


“There’s a sign right outside that says Welcome to Wayne, Population once 2,490, now 27. 27 people? That’s like, less than 10 families. How do they know the exact number?”

Hart laughed.

“That’s a city mind for you. Caught half-dead on a road somewhere, you land in my truck and now you’re in the AlHarta for the first time in your life. Badlands no less. And you wonder if they have updated population figures.” He chuckled.

“People are born and die every minute,” said Boi.

“Not when there are only 27 of you.”

Boi looked at Hart and suddenly wanted to know every single thing about him, be his wingman.

“I’ve never heard of the Badlands before,” said Boi. Hart looked out the window as another family sedan with a license plate from somewhere else pulled into the lot outside.


The Badlands, Hart explained, can be found in Montana, the Dakotas and scattered parts of northwest Nebraska, not to mention Hell’s Half-Acre in Wyoming.

“That’s a badass name,” said Boi.

“You bet. Which brings us closer to home: the Big Muddy Badlands in Saskatchewan where outlaws used to hide. And we’ve got our very own Badlands right here where we sit. Drumheller’s not far from here. Centre of it all. Dinosaur land.”

Badlands, he said, are named quite literally: they refer to extremely dry terrain eroded over long periods of time. The soft sedimentary rocks and soils have more or less visibly fallen prey to the winds of time. Waters, too, flowed through these lands until, having left deep gaping canyons in their forceful wake (“Do not go gentle into the good night,” Boi said to himself, thinking about Blake, English class and deep, sloshy turmoil), they dried up. The Badlands, a cornucopia of shapes and dimensions, attract tourists from around the world, who also flock to the region for the canyons and ravines, gullies and other marvels of geology and form, including the strangely named hoodoos dotting the landscape.

“Hoodoos?” asked Boi.

“You’re best off asking Betty. She’s a student from some fancy college studying the hoodoos, new around here, sweet as pie,” said Hart. “Cute too,” he said, winking.

Approaching the Badlands, Boi had felt not unlike he had come upon the after-effects of a monumental fire, or cross section of what the entire earth looked like when, just maybe it was much smaller than it is now and all the colours, from sandy browns to earthen clay reds to deep, ashen greys were all on display as though to say, here, here is an offering of all the earth can be. Take us while it’s easy, before we burn completely. We so often forget to do things while they are easy. It’s elemental.


“Hart, why did you bring me here?” Boi asked. “Wayne couldn’t have been on your route.”

“It seemed to me a good spot for you to rest,” Hart replied. “You never did tell me where you were headed though. If your stomach wasn’t growling every five minutes I’m not sure we would have exchanged two words between us on the way here.”

“I wasn’t going anywhere, really. East, I guess.”

“Well, you can’t go much further west from where you were unless you wanted to nosedive right into the Pacific,” said Hart. “Most adventurers head West. Land of myths and all that. Even if we are in Canada.”

Boi played with the frayed cuffs of his jeans. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Well, why not stay nowhere until you have a somewhere, kid? If ever there was a nowhere, this is it.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Boi. “Dinosaurs, hoodoos, a wild west town with only 27 people in it. That doesn’t sound like nothing to me.”

“I didn’t say nothing, Boi. I said nowhere. Nowhere’s not nothing. It’s where you can get lost real easy, and where lots of things find you.”

“I don’t want to be found.”

“Ah. You’re escaping something,” Hart asked. “Must be a girl.”

Boi paused.

“What else,” said Hart. “Ah, young love. Breaks right through you every time.”

Boi lowered his eyes and began to play with the scratches on the table.

“Hey, do you think people see ghosts more easily in a ghost town?” he asked.

“Well, that’s a hell of a question. You might just be in the right place to find out.”

According to different reports, Hart said, Wayne had either 1,500 or well upwards of 3,000 inhabitants at its peak; the population rose and fell with the coal industry. The first mine came to the area in 1912 and it wasn’t long after that a hospital saloon, hospital, theatre and legions of houses cropped up to accommodate the miners who, all in all, were not the recipients of most of the riches the town now had to offer. Prohibition took hold of the land between 1915 and 1923, meaning good business for the bootleggers.

“Look around,” Hart said, pointing to the dozens upon dozens of photographs on the walls clustered together depicting the heady days of Wayne as a boomtown.

“Next door,” continued Hart, “Rosedeer Hotel. One of the original establishments. Used to be called the Bucket of Blood.” The brawls that began at the Last Chance Saloon would often spill out onto the street and into the hotel, where people, now battered and broken, would pass out.

By 1914 the Rosedeer Hotel was fully operational, but like the coal mining in the region, business never thrived. World War I had just begun, which shifted the alignment of the world economy. And then there was the Great Depression, which struck in 1929 and hit Wayne a few years later. Still the mines remained active give or take a few closures, until 1957, when the last mine shut down for good. The population dwindled into the hundreds, and then down to ninety souls in the late 1980s, and then to the 27 living there today, in this ghost town of Wayne.


“So we’re sitting next door to the Bucket of Blood,” said Boi.

“Once was,” said Hart. “Once was.”

“Surreal. I’ve never really been outside my suburb before.”

“This is surely different than a suburb. You need urban to have the sub. Besides, the homes here are boarded up and long empty for the most part.”

Hart wiped his face with a napkin and pushed his chair back.

“I’ve got to get back on the road. Comin’ or stayin’?”

Boi closed his eyes and heard the medley of voices, clattering utensils and the scraping of chairs against the floor. Somewhere in there a laugh surfaced, distinct and sharp and feminine. It was gone before he could hold onto it. He opened his eyes.

“I’m going to stay.”

“How old did you say you were?” Hart asked.


“Hells bells. One year on the other side of teen. Enjoy your time. The world is yours. The whole lot of it.”

“Is it? They always forget to tell us that part,” said Boi. He attempted a smile. He did know one thing, and that was that the impossible had happened along with the end of the road: Laila wasn’t going to leave his side again.


Young love, first heartaches, Hart had said wistfully. Boi sank further into his chair. It wasn’t like that. Life was torn up into before love and after love, but to Boi the more prescient subdivision was this: before knowledge of death and after. Love and death, of course, were very similar.

I don’t know death, Boi realized one day. The thought came suddenly and it tortured him, this nefarious existence that knew no bone-deep sorrow. Death was everywhere, you couldn’t avoid it, and he saw it ravaging people secondhand, watched it happen in the movies only to bounce back from the fact of its existence like he’d experienced nothing more complex than finishing a bowl of cereal. This made him wonder how he could do things that real people did as though he were a real person himself. He had all his grandparents and even a great-grandparent. His life stood in defiance to the very concept of death. Sometimes, when he jammed his neck into whiplash on rollercoasters or got so hungry he couldn’t put enough food in his mouth at once, he could almost hear the earth say, this is something. But it wasn’t death, so it also wasn’t life.

As often happens, he couldn’t remember how the relationship with Laila started, but it had to be love. A break-up with her could have taught him something about his heart, he thought later, when he started thinking about these things. But it turned out different than that. She hadn’t ended things without reason. She hadn’t gone off to be with some other guy. What had happened was that she’d looked him in the eye with her own feverish ones and said, “One day I’m going to kill myself.” He didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t believe her. But this wasn’t the first time he felt she was slipping into a place to which he had no access. He didn’t understand how he could feel dead but not know death at the same time.

“I’m going to kill myself as revenge for the sins you will commit against me,” Laila had said.

And she did. She got dressed in the outfit he loved best on her, a purple cashmere sweater and short jean skirt, and then she waited for him to come over, which he did every day. She was in her bedroom, where he slept with her most nights, and she hung herself in front of him before he could register what was happening. She stood there, inches off the ground, staring at him with her pretty eyes that were not going to see anything else that he could see ever again.


Boi had the distinct feeling that the walls of the saloon had absorbed thousands of cartons of tobacco fumes, and that sometimes, like dragons might, they got angry enough to breathe all that smoke back into the room. The dankness mixed with the shafts of sun pouring in through grime on the windows created an eerie effect of fossilizing the room’s inhabitants and bringing the crowded artifacts to glistening life. Boi needed to get outside.

Boi paid and walked through the swinging doors. He saw he was already standing in front of the whole town. There it was, the Rosedeer Hotel conjoined to the saloon. He walked over to sit on a bench next door in front of what looked like a curio shop selling dusty things; he went in but turned right around at the sight of all the cheap goods. A few meters in front of him cars parked perpendicular to his line of view. Beyond that, sun-scorched earth – the kind of thing you saw in Westerns. Off in the distance, some hills peeped up from the hazy ground and could have been mountains. Boi couldn’t tell.

Cars came and went and with them, families with children, older couples with cameras and pouches around their waists, a few groups of friends who went into the Last Chance Saloon with boisterous energy and emerged red with drink. When the sun started to set – leaving streaks of deep pinks, oranges and blues in its wake, right over what was beginning to look like the set of the movie Dune to Boi – he started to shiver. He had one small bag with him; he fished a thick wool sweater out of it.

Soon a man emerged from the saloon and, seeing Boi huddled up on the bench, sat down next to him.

“You need a place to stay tonight, then,” he said. It wasn’t a question.


“Come with me.”

Boi looked at him. He wore a red plaid shirt and had a mustache. He had an air of stature about him.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to chop you into bits. I’m going to get you settled at the hotel.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

After a friendly exchange between the man and the lady behind the desk, it was sorted out. Boi was more tired than he’d ever been. He took note of nothing but the crisp feel of the pillow before passing out. He dreamed of a boy who once found a lone fountain pen at the top of a mountain, and wrote without once putting his pen that wasn’t really his pen down, until the boy suddenly fell asleep dreaming about sleeping in a bed full of bones.

The next thing he knew, it was morning, he was back outside in front of the hotel, store and saloon, and the sun was rising clear and invisible over the Badlands. He noticed again how much like a movie set this looked with the new-looking old-fashioned buildings bedecked with crisp, autumn trees and mountains soaring on a slope in the background.

Boi went into the store. It smelled of dust and age; he sneezed, and asked the woman at the cash if she saw the man who helped him out the day before.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t.”

“He came to me right outside your store. I figured he must be from here. Tall man, mustache?”

“Try next door,” said the woman.

She didn’t smile or even so much as give him a glance. Maybe the man was one of the ghosts she’d seen before, whom she was used to sending off in search of nameless things, he thought, and again wondered where such thoughts came from.


Boi found him in the back corner of the saloon.

“Do you mind if I sit down here?”

“Not at all. You know, it’s not often a guy your age comes into town by himself and stays the night,” the man said. “You’re not the tourist crowd. Didn’t look like you wanted to talk much. I’m Sam, by the way. They call me Sam the Signmaker. Coffee?”

“Sure. I’m Boi. I wanted to thank you for getting me a room last night. How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing at all. Don’t even think about it. Sometimes you gotta care for those in need,” Sam said. “And you needed a good night’s sleep.”

“Are you from here? Originally, I mean?”

“Indeed. Through and through,” Sam said.


Sam the Signmaker was 63 years old, he told Boi, son of James “Sweets” Jr., who was three when the Great Depression hit Wayne in 1932. Sweets was the son of a coalminer and a prostitute who, finding herself broke and destitute, killed herself, leaving a son with his father’s unmistakable red-brown eyes. James Sr. took Sweets without opposition; Sweets was raised without incident. A born performer, he took over the town’s one theatre when opportunity struck, but it sadly remained empty most nights. He travelled a few towns over and found a girl to come to Wayne to perform at the theatre. They fell in love almost immediately and she continued to perform throughout her pregnancy. When she died in childbirth, the light went out in Sweets; Sam grew up with an empty version of a once-lively man. Eventually Sweets took up with one of the maids at the Rosedeer and moved into her quarters there. This was where Sam grew up, a roving child among the town’s once flourishing establishments. Sweets died when Sam was 15, of lung cancer. Sam was cared for by the maid, who figured Sam was just about man enough at his age to make it on his own.


“I didn’t know people really had those kind of life stories,” Boi said. “Do you still live at the hotel?” Boi asked. Sam shook his head.

“I’ve made myself a decent home out there by the bridges.”

“So there’s just about one bridge for every two people who live here now,” Boi said.

“So what brings you here?”

“I have no idea how I ended up here here, in Wayne. But I guess I kind of ran away.”

“I’ve seen lots of people run in my day.”

“They were running to make better lives for themselves,” Boi said. “I’m not exactly that hero.”

“Do you know that I’ve never left the Badlands?” said Sam.

“But you’ve seen so much. You’ve seen a town die,” Boi said.

“That I have,” Sam said.

“How did you become Sam the Signmaker anyway?”

“I’ve been keeping my own town records for decades, and have more archives than you could carry in one go. With my history here I guess you can say I’m the go-to person when they need information for things like updating the population sign.”

“The real person behind the sign.”

“The province knows that Wayne has 27 people. They don’t know that old Beatrice Walker just died in Drumheller by her niece’s side, or that a young, lovely soul, Betty, her name is, arrived last week and intends to stay for her research.”

“Betty. Hart told me about her. Do you know Hart?”

“Sure do. He stops by from time to time on his runs. Lord knows it’s hard to miss anyone around here,” Sam said with a grin.

“Mark my word,” he continued. “She won’t leave. There’s another for the records. And of course you have the ghostowners who flood the place now and then.”


“People interested in ghosts, taking pictures for calendars and such, people buried in all sorts of history for one reason or another.”

“Do ghostowners ever stay?” asked Boi.

“Never. It’s not easy to live around something you fear, and all ghostowners fear what they’re actually looking for.”

“Ghosts,” said Boi.

“Love,” said Sam. “You love what you fear but what most people fear is love, in my humble experience. And most people don’t seem to be in the habit of facing their fears directly.”

“So they come hunting for ghosts,” Boi said. Sam smiled.

Boi sat back in his seat and took a sip of his coffee, which had gone cold.

“Your Laila,” said Sam. “What sin does she think you’re going to commit? Cheating would seem like the obvious answer.”

“What?” Boi’s heart skipped a beat.

“Your girl. What is she accusing you of?”

“Laila’s dead. How do you know about her?”

“You told me all about her last night before you fell asleep. It seems she’s still calling out to you. It’s on your face. I’m real sorry for your loss.”


In fact, cheating on a loved one was a common theme in the Thai ghost stories Laila, half-Thai like Boi, heard from her mother. She repeated them to Boi often, like the one about

Thailand’s most famous ghost, Nang Nak. Nang Nak, Laila said, eyes shining with a light reserved for these stories about the dead, was an ordinary farm girl living in a small village. As a teenager, she falls deeply in love with Nai Mak. They get married and by the time Nang Nak becomes pregnant, Nai Mak has to leave for army duty. Nang Nak and her baby die in childbirth but Nang loves Nai Mak so much she can’t bear the thought of being apart from him, so when he comes back from war, she rises from the grave and turns herself and son into human form, and their reunion is joyous and passionate.

Of course, things can’t go on this way forever, and soon the villagers tell Nai Mak the truth: his wife and child are dead. Nai Mak soon witnesses Nang Nak’s arm stretching out longer than humanly possible through the floors of their bamboo home to pick up a knife off the ground. The story takes a horrifying turn at this point, with Nai Mak running away and the ghost of his wife chasing and terrorizing him, even killing everything standing in the way of her and her love. Eventually Nai Mak escapes by taking refuge in a temple, but Nang Nak, persisting in her refusal to leave her loved one, wreaks havoc upon everyone in the surrounding area until a gifted novice monk from afar arrives and finally puts her soul to rest.

Once Boi went to Laila’s parents’ home and Laila caught him picking up a banana from the spirit house near front door, and eating it. Every traditional Thai home, Laila had told him, has a miniature house erected for the family’s ancestors, who will protect the home against harm from evil spirits.

“What are you doing?” She hissed. “Those are not for you!” She got down on her knees and brought her hands together at her chest to pray. In this way, from the belly of the her mother’s ghost stories she grew, and when she didn’t know how to talk to him she enfolded him into the stories of her people (They’re yours too”, she said with scornful eyes) and he thought about how his mother never told him even one story about the ways of her – and his – people.


“Sounds like your Laila was carrying a lot around with her,” said Sam.

“I never realized how much,” said Boi. “And I don’t know what sin she knew I’d commit,” said Boi.

“But I somehow think I’ll do it.”

“Hey, did you want to borrow my car and head out to see the area?” Sam asked. “I’d come along but I have some things to take care of.”

“Sure,” said Boi. “Thanks.”

When they stepped outside, Sam gave Boi the car keys and turned toward the hotel. He waved to Margaret, who was standing in the window smiling onto the street. She waved back.

“Margaret told me you look familiar to her. Which is strange. I never forget a face.”

“You didn’t. I’ve never been here.”

“Hmm,” said Sam. “Anyway, I wanted to tell you. Keep the car as long as you need.”


The hoodoos were striking under the piercing sun, which emitted little heat in the late autumn afternoon. They stood in stark contrast to the bluest sky Boi had seen. In addition to the geological information the nearby placards provided about these strange-hatted formations, they said that hoodoos got their name from a form of African-American magic related to Voodoo, and that some believe these formations come alive at night to cause harm and enact revenge on intruders.

“They got some of this wrong,” a female voice said. Boi turned around and saw a woman in her twenties, pretty with red hair and freckles. Her eyes, a deep brown, stood out.”

“I’ve done a lot of research on this,” she said. “It’s fascinating.”

“You must be Betty. What are you studying exactly?”

Betty paused, appraising Boi.

“Anthropology,” she said eventually. “The liminal states of transposed and transfigured African folk practices.”

“Huh?” asked Boi.

“Stuff that’s kind of in between two cultures. Transitions, thresholds. You know,” she said.

“Oh,” said Boi.

“Like you, for example,” she said. “You’re of mixed lineage?”

“Half Thai.”

“Ah. So half of you doesn’t believe in ghosts and the other half is terrified of ghosts like Nang Nak who can extend limbs from the grave and hurl people to their deaths.”

Boi was taken aback. “How do you know Nang Nak?”

She looked at him for an uncomfortable moment.

“I study anthropology, remember? I hear some visitors around here saying all this voodoo stuff is just a show for tourists,” Betty said.

“Do you say that?” Boi asked.

“That’s an involved question.”

Actually, hoodoo and Voodoo are not related at all, she said. Both involve spells and witchcraft in the loosest sense, but Voodoo is a bonafide religion hailing from Haiti by way of West Africa, whereas hoodoo’s origins are a fairly loose system of folk-magic practices from Central Africa.

“Whites tend to make it all generic and simplify things by calling all that magic stuff Voodoo,” she said.

“Not whites like you,” Jim said.

Hoodoo, Betty went on, is also known by a few other names: witchcraft, rootwork, tricking, and conjuration – or in some dialects, cunjure. It involves the use of many kinds of dried roots, herbs and minerals to make charms and cast spells for good or bad.

“To trick, to lay down tricks, to jinx, to throw, to cross,” she said. “It’s not magic, like the way we use the word conjurer. These people, who cunjure, what they’re doing is their work. Often for healing. Or, they can fix a person, as in, put a curse on them, or manipulate them in the name of harm.”

“Why would they do that? To who?”

“There are all kinds of people who deserve harm,” Betty said quickly. “Anyway, lots of people are sensitive to this other realm. Like the dark man. In hoodoo, that’s who you meet when you are at a crossroads, and he can trick but he can also enlighten. That’s a whole other story.”

“Sam told me about you were really interesting. He was right. Sam the Signmaker?”

“You’ve seen Sam?”

“Yeah. He lent me his car,” he said, pointing to the parking lot. “Nice guy.”

“Ah,” said Betty.

“What’s that mean?”

“Heart of an angel, Sam. I just assumed you knew about him. Since you’re a seer.”

“Knew? He’s not … oh Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, you didn’t know.”

“A seer? What does that even mean?”

Suddenly Boi had a déjà vu, standing with Betty by a hoodoo as tall as they were.

“This is insane,” he said. “I … I have to go.”

“Wait!” Betty said. But Boi wasn’t listening.


He got into Sam’s car. He steered himself toward the bridges. He didn’t know how he would, but he ended up at a house he knew was Sam’s. It was modest and looked like it had been vacated for decades. There were the remnants of a front garden around the side of the house, now long overgrown. The sight of a rocking chair on the porch made Boi start to cry. He got out of the car and, wiping his face, looked in through the front window. He could see piles and piles of folders and papers. Sam’s archives, and Sweets’ before his, the stories of the living and dead of Wayne. He walked past the house and further inland. Soon he saw a small gathering of homes, all wooden and every single one completely abandoned. He went into one of them and wandered around the modest-sized rooms, which were now covered in dust and creaked under his weight.


Boi whipped his head around but saw nothing. He knew it was her. He would know Laila’s voice anywhere.

“Boi.” The sound was coming from outside.


Boi flew to the porch and slammed into the fence, knocking it over.

“Ow!” he cried, looking down. He had no idea when his shoes had come off. Then he saw a cross etched into the dried soil. There was a circle around the cross.

“Come, Laila!” he yelled. “Come and talk to me! I need to know!”

But she didn’t come. He stood up and a flash of pain soared through his leg. He thought about waiting for her but instead he got back to the car and drove back to the hoodoos. It was now early evening and the sun was going down. He scrounged around the car for his shoes and socks, but couldn’t find them anywhere so, taking a T-shirt out of his backpack, he made his way up the billowy, sanded hills and, grimacing with pain, climbed on top of one of the strange formations. His jeans and hands were covered in a thin layer of dust. He wrapped the T-shirt around his feet and then sat, completely still. He couldn’t hear the coyotes, or see the canyons and mountains in the distance, but he knew they were all roaring from a place deep inside them, and that the sounds were mixed with his own pain. He sat until he could no longer feel his legs, but he didn’t move. He could no longer move, even if he wanted to.

He was sleeping and he was awake at the same time, atop some soft kind of stone that was eroding more slowly than he could see or feel. Revenge monsters, he thought. I’m sitting on revenge monsters that might come alive any minute. He thought of Laila, more real to him than he was. Does being alive mean having mass and weight, he asked himself, being a number on a population sign? Or do you become somebody exactly in the moment of loving and dying?

Betty talked about dark men that could hurt you but that are also there to open the way. He saw himself as clear as a movie, next to one of the dark men who was sucking him right up, gobbling his decomposing body but it was because he was pieced together by scraps of love. Tomorrow, when he sat there as this mosaic of love, would there be anything left of him for the tourists and ghostowners to see?

He thought about how if you spelled ghostowner out, it could be either ghost owner or ghost towner, and wondered what it would mean to own a ghost. Did he own Laila when she took her life? Did she own him now?

His mind was spinning. If love turns someone from nothing to something, then feelings are more real than the real world. So maybe we need a reversal of things, and make feelings the barometer of the real. And if we’re reversing things, does that mean ghosts are more real than people?

Boi wanted to see them teeming around. He wanted to see the evil ones and jealous ones, the hungry ones and the human ones who fell apart. Thais lived this way, in direct fear of and reverence for their ancestors. Laila wore this knowledge like a favourite dress, and now she lured him to this place where 27 was a joke on a sign, she cunjured him with the weight of a sledgehammer hitting eroded sandstone.

It was too late for her. She was here with Boi and there at the same time, but he was never going to be there like he was here. His sin, he thought, shivering to his core, was that he was going to swallow himself in history, climb in and out of other people’s stories because he didn’t know what it looked like not to. The secret of people born into this world was that they were meant to live. To go from nothing into something. His sin: try as he might, he couldn’t get around the question: aren’t I something already?

Boi laughed until the sound of his voiced echoed into the canyons he knew were out there, swallowing the entire night. He crouched down, and using all the strength he had in his fingers, scratched Boi Was Really Here onto the base of a hoodoo. His fingers bled but he couldn’t feel them.


“Betty?” Boi’s voice was scratchy.

“I’m just here to watch,” she said softly. “You have to have some trust.” He squeezed his eyes and tried to make her out. Her face was old. She looked like Margaret, the lady at the front desk at the Rosedeer.

She was inches away from him. Her eyes were all Laila. Then he knew.

“Finally, I see! You’re not afraid!” he said. “You’ve never been. To face love, and of course the dead can never be afraid of that …” he said.

“Shh,” she said, her face morphing into Betty’s youthful one again. He closed his eyes and heard the whisper of soft, gentle things and as they grew distant he said, almost choking, Laila, can you come back now? But the voices were gone now. All he could hear was something that sounded like his heart slamming against his ribcage until it broke clear apart.


The roads were treacherous in the winter and it was spring before Hart ended up coming back to Wayne. Boi’s fine, people told him when he asked around. Just fine. He’s sure to be here when you come around next.

And one day he was, long after Hart had forgotten to ask about him. Hart was now old; he had cataracts and everything was blurry. He knew it was time to give up his life on the road, but he couldn’t ever bring himself to make one last trip.

Boi, to Hart’s aged eyes, looked like he hadn’t aged a day.

“I found it, Hart. I did!” Boi said. “Come inside for a beer. On me.”

Not long after that, Hart died in a freak accident, when his Mack truck skidded on a patch of black ice near the Saskatchewan border. This time, like Boi had been all those years ago, Hart was heading East, where myths were a lush, fragrant dream from somewhere else.

Tammy T. Stone is a Toronto-based writer and photographer. She has worked as a film programmer and is a longtime student of film: her M.A thesis examined the philosophical problem of colour in cinema, and her doctoral dissertation looks at the role of observation in everyday life and the documentary film. She is a traveler, explorer and seeker of things outside and in, and a chronicler at heart. She’s fortunate to have had her photographs exhibited, and her fiction writing and poetry published in Grace Notes Magazine, Orion Headless, Dairy River, Temporary Infinity, Splash of Red, The Broken City and The Camel Saloon. You can reach her at tammystone4444@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding! Extremely well-crafted without "giving too much away." Thank you for a great piece of fiction (?). Best -



Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


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