July 29, 2016 by bradcharlesbeals
1) Chapter one introduces the motif of extraction, in this case a horse being extracted from its wild environment. As you’ll see, the stallion puts up quite a fight as he goes into this new life. Keep that in mind if you read the whole book. You’ll see different forms of it throughout.
2) Keep the book’s title in mind also. For example, the two characters you’ll meet here, one in each chapter, are fated to become inextricably bound later on (that’s not a spoiler, just a teaser. Maybe I should have put it on the back cover?) Anyway, one thing the plot does is explore the ways that people are “bound” to one another. I think it’s helpful knowing that before you jump in.
3) A warning. Chapter 2 contains some graphic images. I don’t believe they’re gratuitous, but they are blunt and, I think, realistic. It’s a brutal world we live in, and for there to be redemption, there must first be depravity.
So here they are, chapters 1 and 2 of Blood Bound. Enjoy…
Under the branches of an old boxelder in spring bud, there sat something in the shape of a man. It held itself erect on a straight-backed chair, and it looked with dead, flat eyes along a wide bend in the river.
A quarter mile to the west, a thinly wooded ridge lay parallel to the water. Saddles notched the ridge, and deep draws descended it and shone white where the last snows lay wind sheltered. One of these draws stretched to the middle of the floodplain before darkening to the color of the marsh grass. But the strip of ground continued on as a long, straight depression marking a forgotten road the way sunken ground can mark a grave. It continued under the branches of the boxelder, past the straight-backed chair, and it ended as a mossy concrete pad that met the river at a shallow pitch.
It was down this long avenue that the stallion came. His heavy body retained something of an old draft breed, and his coloring hinted at grullo – light slate through the barrel, darker gray at the dorsal and legs. But his mane and tail were black as coal.
He came slowly, on proud and stiff legs, and he nosed the wet ground, the wet air where the man smell was strong. But over the last half moon, by many trips to the river, he had become satisfied that there was no danger here. It was the smell of an older age, and he sensed no threat in it. Still, the horse came slowly, drawing scent off the passing gusts, wary as only a thing bred in wariness can be.
For three falls and three springs, the lead mare had brought them to this stretch of river, and the stallion had felt secure on this crescent of land. More than that, he had felt his band’s security here. The water was wide, and the stallion could see half a mile upriver and down. Over the flat basin between him and the woody ridge, there was no cover for wolves, nothing but the trees along the bank, stands of cottonwood and a few boxelders. And if threat did come, he could drive the band across the river here or take the current north to the rocky bend where the yearlings liked to stand in the shallow riffles.
On that first night when he had crossed the ridge, the stallion had caught scent of the man shape under the tree. He had come anyway, for the desire to see, to go where he willed was as essential to his nature as any instinct. He had come over the ridge, descended the draw and crossed the flat to the edge of the trees, and he had watched the man shape sitting, staring out along the water. He had watched for movement. He had listened and smelled for others, for men were often found together, but there had been no others, and the man shape had not moved.
Later that same night he had come to the water again, farther down river, north of the crescent, and he had watched the shape sitting there, and he had stamped and blown and galloped back to where the band rested on the other side of the ridge. He came the next morning too, from the north and closer this time, through the grass and around a stand of cottonwood, until he had stood under the same branches as the man shape. He had stamped another challenge and bolted and turned at the tree line to look back.
The man shape had not pursued, and it had not moved from where it sat, and over the days that followed and with each return to the water, the fear that had always guarded the stallion’s life quieted into something that was only watchful.
The band stayed near the river until the moon grew to half its light, and each morning the stallion would come across the ridge and down the draw that led him by the man shape under the tree. Each day he would snort and stamp and throw out a challenge in his passing. But the man shape, with its dead skin and hollowed eyes, would only sit there, still and silent, as if it could not see the horse or did not care to. And soon the stallion no longer challenged. He only lifted a nose and scented the air as he passed. The lead mare would return the band to this spot in autumns and springs to come, but the stallion would not, for on this morning, the last morning of the horse’s old life, he came toward the water, and he scented the air as he reached the boxelder tree, and before his nose could trigger the instinct that would fire the large muscles and spring him from that shape and from that place, he heard a sound, the fluttering susurration of flight. He felt a snap against his cheek and neck, and when he did leap away, he found that the flying thing held him, and that it was taut as fence wire.
The man shape spoke. A muffled voice came from behind the linen bag face, mouth painted in black, holes cut for eyes.
It wore a baggy jacket of waxed linen, greasy brown with the ticking leaking out at the seams. Its pants were of the same mend and colors but cut for something larger so that it moved in sloppy lunges with no distinction in the joints. It wore a straw hat and under that a knit cap pulled to just above the scarecrow eyes.
The costumed thing moved toward the horse. A length of rope hung loosely from a trailing hand to the tree, turned once around its trunk, and then stretched out straight as a rail some twenty feet to the stallion. The man shape put out a hand and plucked the rope.
When it spoke, the straight black line for a mouth did not move, and the word came to the horse as a hissing sound.
The man shape gave the rope in its hand a hard snap, breaking its friction against the tree, unclutching it. The pulling horse received the slack and stumbled back a step and then spread his legs as if the ground were moving. He tugged again, but this time the rope did not slack, and the horse went wild and fought the air now with the sudden hot blood of the fight instinct.
He bucked and stomped in quick half turns, swinging the big hooves blindly at the smell of man, which was everywhere now. But with every pull against the rope, the horse would rebound back toward it and let it slack before pulling again, and as he did, the man shape stood near the tree, watching the stallion in his fit and gathering up each bit of slack that fell.
“That’s it,” it said. And then it shouted, “That’s it now! Go on now!”
And the horse bucked harder and stomped harder and threw himself against the hardness of the rope, and then he stopped and planted his front hooves into the frozen mat of grass and dropped his haunches. He was being drawn to the tree, and he knew this now, and his eyes rolled back white, and then he exploded at the clouds, and he slashed at the thing that held him.
And then the stallion was on his side.
He didn’t know how he came to be there or why he couldn’t raise himself. Another rope had caught a foreleg. It was cinched tight now around the fetlock. The stallion never heard this one come, never felt the slap against the cannon bone.
He tried to stand but couldn’t get the front hoof down – the rope rose up the flank and crossed over the withers – so he stutter-stepped, three-legged, toward the tree, and the rope at his neck stayed taut as the man shape snapped and pulled the catch rope with one hand while it kept tension on the hobble with the other.
The stallion lunged and gained ground enough to lift himself, and he came at his enemy hard now. The man shape drew in the slacking rope, and it stood expressionless, indifferent.
The stallion rose on hind legs, boxed the air with his free hoof and then swung it down at the painted head and missed, crashing into a heap at the foot of the tree as the man shape, all the while cinching him closer to the trunk, stepped lightly to the other side.
The hobble rope was loose under the stallion now but had done its work. He tried to right himself by lowering his head against the tree roots and by leveraging up onto his knees, but the man shape finished the drawing in of the rope, and the stallion could only begin the twisting maneuver and could find no purchase for joints fore or hind. After some minutes of struggle against the rope and his own center of gravity, the stallion lay on his side, panting and vexed.
The man shape crouched near the tree, opposite the horse, and peered carefully at him, assessing some quality of flesh or spirit. It watched as the rising ribs slowed and the sweat along the flanks steamed off in the cold air.
Then it crawled farther round the trunk and knelt next to the great head and slipped two fingers around the half-hitch knot and eased it a few inches along the rope’s standing end. It ran a careful hand across a scarred-over bullet hole in the neck, and then it reached to the other side and found a matching wound.
“Someone tried to clip you,” it said.
“You were too strong,” it said.
It told the horse to breathe deep, and then it whispered things to the horse and spoke them softly. It said it was sorry that fear was the only way and that as long as it were in its power it would never make the horse to know fear again. It talked of the plans it had for the horse and of a long trip to a new home. It told the horse things about the world of men and the important place that all horses held in it and about work and how God puts it into the blood of horses just like he puts it into the blood of men.
It told the horse its name. It said through the soiled linen mask, “My name is Louisa.” And then it spoke the name quietly many times, as a man might brush a lead rope lightly and repeatedly over an unbroken horse to calm it.
And then it said, “I am Louisa Josephine Mench, and you’re my horse now because God gave you to me. And that’s a thing to remember.”
And then the man shape made promises in a low voice pitched to match the rise and fall of wind and the call of birds that came to the water in spring.
And the horse drew in the scent of the man shape, and it was not the old smell that lingered in the old places. It was a different thing and a different kind of old, but the horse did not know yet what it was.
On the bank of a different river, deposited there by the receding high water of spring, was a loose pile of the forest’s cast-off parts – boughs and limbs, deciduous and conifer, a skein of fat, woody, poison ivy creepers.
The river passed by just a few feet below, thick and lumbering, gray with stirred silt. It was mid-morning, and though the sun was yet low in the sky, the stretch of river to the southeast was wide and made a gap in the high trees, and the light fell warm and clear upon a smooth boulder amid the heap of rotting limbs. On the boulder lay a blacksnake taking in heat for the day’s exertions.
Farther up the slope, a boy at the very edge of manhood, one of God’s own elect, sat in a deep squat and watched the snake. He was dressed for travel, for long hours in the saddle. His clothes were sturdy and rough cut, and he filled them out with long limbs and thick bones. He wore a straw-colored deer-hide coat and heavy wool pants that shimmered where the morning dew was beaded up on the lanolin. A wide-brimmed leather hat for shedding the rain was pulled down so that it shadowed the eyes. But the morning light came in low enough to reveal a narrow nose between smooth, high cheek bones, and the beginnings of a beard spread finely over a square jaw set firm in some kind of silent deliberation.
He drank something hot from a small tin cup and was putting this to his lips when a shadow blinked out the sun to his left, and a shaggy streak of white and brown and red fell into his vision and covered the snake like a thrown blanket. It was a red-shouldered hawk, and it dropped several vicious blows with its beak and then raised its head. It pivoted its gaze upriver and then down, and then it lifted and flew out over the turbid water, its tufted feet cinched together by the coiling snake.
The boy watched the hawk fly in line with the long, straight stretch of water then veer toward the trees on the opposite bank. The coil, he noted, was already loosening, and then the bird was gone. He considered the unoccupied boulder, and then stepped down to it, picking his way through the glut of limbs. He looked for blood but could find none. He put his hand to it, and it felt just as the air, no warmer, no cooler.
“Never happened,” he said aloud. “Might just well as never happened.”
He stood there for another minute, and then he poured what was left in his cup over the rock and made his way back up the slope. He picked up a greasy cast iron pan and walked upriver a hundred paces to where a clear creek emptied into the dark water. Then he crouched at the edge and pulled up handfuls of sand to scour it out. He took a rag from his pocket and wiped the pan dry and walked along the creek up the wooded slope.
Soon the terrain leveled, and in a clearing beneath an enormous spreading beech tree, two saddles and a bedroll for each lay on either side of a small cook fire. Beyond the clearing and farther up the slope, a flax-maned chestnut and a tall, well-muscled dapple gray were hitched to young trees and were nuzzling at the forest floor.
At the foot of the beech, between two thick surface roots there sat a man. He wore a full black beard that hung to his shirt buttons. His arms were outstretched and turned under as if he were trying to embrace the tree behind him, and a rope tied from wrist to wrist closed the circuit around the trunk. His mouth was plugged with a wadded rag – a piece of rusty fence wire twisted round his head held it there – but his eyes were unencumbered and seeing, for they tracked with the boy in the deerskin jacket as he walked slowly along the creek, across the clearing, and to the cook fire where he bent down.
He slid the skillet into a saddlebag and then stepped to the other pile of gear and dumped their contents onto the ground. He flipped through several books before tossing them on the fire, shifted a pouch of tobacco, a revolver and holster, a skinning knife, a small sack of gold coins, and a lump of soap to his own pannier, and then he piled the remainder of effects onto the smoking books.
He stood and walked to the beech tree and squatted in front of the man just beyond his boots. He put a finger to his chin and scratched at the soft stubble there and studied him quietly.
“This pinchin?” he asked.
The boy scooched forward and straddled the man’s legs and with both hands tugged at the wire where it ran parallel with his jaw lines. Unsatisfied, he stood and pulled the man’s head down and untwisted the wire at his neck and pulled it away. He took the rag, which was a sock, from his mouth and squatted again.
The trussed man coughed and wheezed and worked his jaws to loosen them. He turned his head to spit then looked squarely at the boy who was eye level to him.
“You’re one of the dyin ones,” he croaked.
The boy in the deerskin jacket looked himself over as though for an unfelt wound and then back at the man and shrugged.
“Your kind, I mean,” said the man. “They’s few of you left you know.”
“Not much concerned with my kind.”
“Got just this one to look after.”
“That chore won’t last long. Won’t last long and there’ll be none but the redeemed. Christ comes with a sword and a sash dipped in blood.”
“Blood to the bridle reins. Your blood. You and your kind.”
“You sit here gagged all night and that’s what you got as last words?”
“I’ll do my talkin to God.”
“Ok.” The squatting boy waddled closer. “How’s your noggin?”
He reached out and felt for the knot where he’d clubbed him with a rifle butt, but the man twisted his head away.
“Gotcha pretty good I think.”
The boy pulled a revolver from a coat pocket. He opened the cylinder and closed it and cocked the hammer with the web of his right thumb because the two bones above it were missing.
“God’s cutting you away already,” said the man, looking at the abbreviated hand.
The boy lifted the gun and angled it in the light as if inspecting its finish, and then he brought the barrel down hard on the man’s nose. It cracked, and blood poured from it and filled the man’s beard. The boy affixed the wet sock onto the end of the barrel wrapping it with a delicacy that was out of place, and with his left hand put it deep into the man’s whiskers, pressed it to the spot where jaw and neck meet. He held himself away as though to be sure of the angle or to avoid some potential quirk of the old gun.
“I shared my food with you,” said the man. His teeth were set, and the words came out soft over the pressure of the gun barrel and lisped out through the blood on his lips.
“You did that.”
“From my own fire.”
The sock came unraveled, and the boy retracted the gun and began to work the materials into a tighter arrangement.
“How do you justify this?”
“You said it.”
“I was hungry.”
“For my gold.”
He put the gun to the man’s neck again. The man spoke through his teeth again.
“For my horse.”
“Why not shoot me last night?”
“Just watchin for the end of your usefulness.”
The boy positioned himself again, and the man spit a line of blood between his knees.
“I suppose you see it now,” he said.
“I see that we’re beyond it.”
“You’re too young to see anything.”
“I seen enough.”
“Enough to know that whatever’s comin around the next corner won’t surprise me none. I seen enough. More’n you might suspect.”
“There’s a whole world of things you ain’t seen, things the likes of you can’t see.”
“I’m here with the gun and you’re staked to a tree. I see that plain.”
“There’s more than just me.”
In mock astonishment, the boy looked slowly around the clearing.
“Quiet friends you got.”
“This’ll touch more than me. It’ll go out like ripples, out to places you ain’t thought of, and you can mark that word as true.”
The boy did mark the words, but not as true. He took the gun from the man’s neck again, and he squatted back onto his heels as he had by the river. He wiped his bloody wrist against the man’s pants.
“No, sir,” he said in a low voice, lifting his head and aiming his eyes at the treetops. “This world . . . this world, it just swallows things. There ain’t no ripples, no avenger of blood. Not for you nor for me. It’s swallowed up is all. And what I’m about to do amounts to no more than this.”
The boy stretched out a boot, and with the heel he pushed at the rotting leaves and dirt and made a little pile of material at the end of a shallow trench.
“No more than that.” He waved the gun at the ground. “Just stuff…re-arranged. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
“There’s an avenger. A strong one who won’t be mocked.”
“Afraid I ain’t seen this person or anyone party to him.”
“Your seein or not seein’s got nothing to do with it or anything else that’s true. When somethin’s true it’s true, and that’s all.”
“Seeing ain’t believing then?”
But the man’s eyes had closed, and he spoke as though to one standing some distance beyond the scene.
“Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon the people who invade…”
“What’s that?” said the boy, amused.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food…”
The boy tipped his head and said, “Fig tree.”
“Though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
The boy shook his head and let out a sigh of amazement, and then the man opened his eyes and stared across the clearing and into the trees.
“God, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like the deer’s. He makes me tread on my high places.”
“You ain’t movin me. If that’s what you’re hopin.”
“The Lord God is my hope and strength!”
“You’re not persuasive.”
He turned his eyes on the boy, and he spoke to him as one does to a stubborn child or to one hard of hearing.
“Not tryin to persuade you, son. I’m just testifyin.”
The boy shoved the gun under the man’s chin and closed his eyes for a breath, appealing to his own integrity, and then he opened them and fired. The slug exited the base of his skull and hit the tree and sent up bark and bits of wood that fell over the squatting boy like hail.
“Ain’t your son,” he said, and he brushed the shoulders of his jacket. He took a big lungful of air as though he’d forgotten to breath, and then he stood and pocketed the gun.
His heart raced. He put his hand against the tree, and he looked down at the slumped body and the smoking hole, and he waited for the sight of it to pass into his thinking as objective fact, a thing settled. He knew it would happen. He had never killed a man before, but he had done other things requiring the same impartiality, and he knew it would happen. It took longer than he thought it would, but eventually an assurance of the rightness of his ways did come, and so too did the sense of detachment that always accompanied it, and he soon found that his breathing was regular, and he could no longer feel his racing heart.
“So much for your high places,” he said to the dead man, and he took note of the steadiness in his voice.
He walked to the back of the tree and cut the rope in the middle. He came back around and turned each cut piece around his own wrists and dragged the man down the slope. He angled right, walking what he guessed was the hypotenuse to the creek and river junction. His aim was good, and he met the river where the boulder, nested in forest matter and a dappled patch of sunlight, sat on the bank.
He pulled the larger limbs, one at a time, away from the base of the rock until the wad of smaller material could be dragged off at one tug on a thick ivy creeper. Then he put his hand again on the bare rock, and it was warmer now.
Thoughts passed through his mind in large parcels, like sets of images strewn over a wide table. No words comprised the thoughts or tied them to what came before or after, but all of it was to him as a language to be ciphered and spoken out. And it was a comprehensive language that could carry all of existence and his place in it. There was the sun and whirling planets, balanced against each other in their elliptical swings. There was the moon, fixed and attendant, tugging at the oceans’ skin. Inside these were the earth’s wobbled spin and the seasons in endless call and answer. And there was struggle, and there was blood and life, and all of it fit against all other parts, and there was no excess or scarcity. He read all of these things in the river and sky and in the hawk and snake, and he spoke them out in the exertion of his will and in the work of his hands. And in such a system, there was no room for an avenger of blood because the taking of blood was essential.
The boy patted the rock as though the two were collaborators, and then he dragged the man there and arranged him so that gravity along the sloping ground fixed him to it, so that hands and feet on either side reached toward the river. He covered him in the ivy and rotting limbs and leaves, and he walked a little ways up the slope and turned around.
From there he envisioned the man collapsing and breaking apart quietly, under the dead limbs at first and then amidst the sedge and reed grass and ferns of warmer months when the forest would constrict around the narrowing river. Then the winter would come again, and the spring of a year from now would bring the high water, and it would eddy around this rock again and wash the bones away.
And it was with this vision of white bones sinking and tumbling along the river’s dark bottom to rest unseen that the boy in the deerskin jacket felt his wordless thoughts to have reached unassailable conclusions.