I had been having nightmares since graduation night. I would be tied to a chair in the house that neighbored mine, watching helplessly as Mr. Aiken was emasculated on the sofa. I'd hear high-pitched and humiliating screams, unbecoming of his coarse voice—he'd betray his toughness, begging for mercy, only to have his tongue be torn off and replaced by his own bloody genitals. He would be forced to chew on them, as his closed lips were carved out. I would watch as his ears were sliced away, his nose was burned off, and his eyes were scooped out, leaving him in sensory hell. It wouldn't end there. It would keep going, the torturer keeping him alive in order to administer more pain. I would watch as his eyeless, earless, mouthless face was clubbed, then his body be flayed—his nails being chiseled off one by one, his skin being chipped away bit by bit, and he would shiver as his exposed flesh suffered stinging chills. To finish that crescendo of pain, the hairy, shadowy torturer would finally end his life by tearing his limbs off, and scalping him. And once it was done, that creature would turn towards me, and those red eyes would begin approaching while that monster standing on Lake Lhume in the distant city of Lacrasa smiled.
In the morning, I woke up, and immediately checked my desk. It was empty: There was no origami note. I also checked the drawer, which was empty save for my old school notes, but I nevertheless, against my will, remembered the disfigured, nailless toe from yesterday. I wanted to puke. For nearly the whole day, I felt no motivation to do anything.
I walked aimlessly in the daylight, randomly writhing and cowering in pain, imagining all those awful stunts that could be performed on the human body. I felt naked. I went back to my room, and put on extra layers and hid underneath the blanket. I still felt naked. I gathered a paper and pencil and tried to draw shapes—mostly cubes, and I kept wanting to soften the corners. The pencil wasn't blunt enough for my taste. I wanted my hands to be functional, but they'd periodically tremble and I'd helplessly drop the utensil. It was difficult to eat. I went out full-sleeved in the burning hot sun, darting away from other human beings. I was scared of them now. People I had known all my life no longer felt safe. I was scared of everyone.
I wished I had, as the Queen in Pink put it, a Sam Cherry bullet.
Going by that message yesterday, if the "Queen in Pink" was to be believed, it was the "Mothman" that had done whatever was done to Mr. Aiken. We used to think of the "Mothman" as fiction—an old Spirit that the Plains Indians used to worship. But was it real after all? Was it lurking through our town right now? If I went back home now, would I see it sitting on my sofa, its red eyes staring at me, waiting for me?
Everyone in town was frightened. Ms. Daeth had still shut herself in, and people were trying to recover and decipher her sermons over the past weeks. Descriptions of the Mothman began to resurface. How did the Indians describe it? Apparently, it was like a man: 6-7 feet tall, black and highly furry, huge wings—usually closed, and glowing red eyes. It was a master of mimicry—able to talk in many voices. It was ruthless. That was the Mothman.
I kept thinking back to my conversation with Amy yesterday. Thinking about it was the only thing that made me feel better. It gave me a sense of security. She seemed like the only sane person in town, despite no doubt being the one most severely affected by all this. I wondered if she was as scared as I was. If so, she hid it well. Her chatty voice, her smirks unpredictably and briefly emerging from the hair covering her face, her retained passion for greater things—all those were things that amazed me. Things that could lift someone up a bit, even in such a red situation.
"What about that message from yesterday Ava read? Didn't it say the 'Queen in Pink' would protect us?"
"Protect us? Like hell I'm trusting that. I ain't trusting whoever spread those notes."
"Then why'd they spread 'em? Maybe the Queen's on our side. Y'know, my note from yesterday... Look. Says, 'The Mothman can take 4 Yetis at once. In the ass, that is.'"
Some time during the late afternoon, little Ava came running in from the outskirts, looking significantly bruised, and her eyes swollen red.
"Everyone! Everyone! I just saw the Queen in Pink!"
Those words alone gathered a considerable crowd.
"You okay, Ava? You look beat up."
"I'm fine! Thanks to the Queen in Pink, I feel great!"
Everyone uncomfortably shuffled.
"Say, Ava. What was this 'Queen in Pink' like?"
"Oh, she was soooo kind, and suuuper nice! She gave me headpats and everything! She played with me, and we had soooo much fun! We played so many games, like the 'belt game'—that's where we hit each other with a belt over and over to see who starts crying first. Or the 'drowning game'—that's where we force each others heads into the river to see who can hold their breath. Or the 'vomit game'—that's where force our hands in each others mouth to see who vomits first. Or the 'eyeball game'—that's like the belt game, except you lick the other person's eyeball."
People began to harangue her.
"What the hell are you doin', Ava? Don't go talkin' to women like that!"
"Little girl, if your parents find out, they'll play the 'killing game' on you."
"How old was this woman, Ava?"
"Ummmm, I dunno how old. She was like... maybe 6? Or maybe 20. Or maybe even 100!"
"Well, hell, Ava, we need to know who this woman is. What did she look like? What sorta clothes was she wearing?"
"She says not to be prejududiced against other cultures. In other cultures, being naked is normal."
"Listen, Ava. This lady is bad news."
"Really!? I think she's great news! I'm so glad she's here to help our town out."
"Listen, Ava: You have to give us a description of her. What was her hair color? Eye color? Give us anything to go off on."
"Ummm, well... Oh!"
She realized something.
"I made a drawing of her. Look!"
She pulled out a notebook, flipped through it, and proudly published it to us.
"You have to be kidding my ass."
"She was soooooo cute. Like a balloon! She let me poke her and punch her and lick her and everything! She can float just like a balloon, and she has a suuuper cute squeaky voice! And she's very flexy! She can just flatten herself into a circle. And she taught me how to stretch her and twist her into all sorts of balloon animals. I made a hummingbird, a crow, a falcon, and a pigeon!"
So by "all sorts of balloon animals," she means birds.
"It's REALLY REALLY painful for her when she gets stretched and twisted like that, but she let me do it anyway because she's so kind and she cares about me! That's why we played the belt game! When we hit each other over and over, it really, really hurt and we were both crying in pain. But we shared the pain to build solidarity. And because we lived through the pain together, now we share a special bond that normal people can't, just like World War veterans! We're best friends now! As the Queen in Pink says, 'A belt for a belt makes the whole world felt.'"
"That's... goddamn inspiring. Makes me wanna go beat my kids right now."
"A-ava... You're gonna grow up to be a strong woman."
"Solidarity, huh," one father mused, "Come to think of it, Sammy hasn't been getting enough spankings. Maybe I should let him spank me back. Then we'll both be real men."
"It wasn't that bad!" Ava exclaimed, "As the Queen in Pink says, 'Moderation is progress.' One day maybe we'll be in a world where no one belts each other. But for now, we have to belt each other or else we might be knifing each other in the butthole, which is even worse!"
Everyone grumbled uncomfortably. "She ain't wrong," one person muttered.
I hate the Queen in Pink.
"Well, Ava. Do you know what happened to Aiken, then?"
"Oh, I do, I do! The Mothman killed him! You see, what happened is, Mr. Aiken tried to summon the Mothman for something. He did all these rituals. You know! Like Indian rituals, like ummm... ummm... the 'Sun Dance,' and ummm... stuff with 'bad medicine' and all that. He painted himself black, and did a bunch of weird stuff like that! And guess what? It worked! The Mothman came! But he couldn't tame it like the Indians could, so the Mothman started misbehaving. And as the Queen in Pink says, 'The rest is history.'"
"Damn. Now why'd he go and do that? Is Amy innocent, then?"
"No. She may have had something to do with it too. Don't trust Amy! As the Queen in Pink says, 'Women never lie, unless it's Amy Aiken.'"
"So Mr. Aiken summoned the Mothman and it killed him. Ain't the Mothman gone already then?"
"Nope! Once you summon the Mothman it doesn't just go away. It's still here and it wants more human captives and scalps."
"Well, that ain't no fair! We weren't the ones who summoned it. Can't it just leave us alone?"
"No! You can't just ignore suffering in the world. As the Queen in Pink says, 'What happens to your neighbor may also happen to you.'"
"Look, Ava. What do we do? I don't want me or family to get the Aiken treatment. Say, that Mothman won't hurt our kids, would it?"
"Oh, he'll totally hurt kids! He'll hurt them real good!"
There was a commotion. Children in the crowd looked traumatized and had to be ushered away. I predicted that Ava was going to grow up to be the Alpha amongst her peers.
"Ava, how do we avoid getting... 'hurt' by this Mothman?"
"Just don't get caught!"
The commotion became worse, as Ava tried to bring it down.
"You have to stay armed, that's all! If you run into the Mothman, aim, shoot, and dodge. Don't panic! As the Queen in Pink says, 'Stay cool.' If you get captured by the Mothman, he might take you to his camp and torture you for days and days, like ripping your tongue out, tearing your pecker off, and pressing burning hot stones on your open wounds. That's why if you see him, you have to keep your composure, like Jack Hays. Can't you see? If you panic, you might miss all 6 of your shots and get caught, and then you're gonna have 'one hell of a time'!"
"..Fuck this, Ava. I'm leaving town. I can't do this."
"Same here. Ava, you take my guns and shoot for me. I'm outta here."
"Heh, pussies," another man coolly snarked, "Yer like settlers fleeing the great frontier. And, as a matter of fact, so am I. I'm leaving town."
No one went anywhere, a la "The curse of Hill Country."
"Look, Ava, ain't this Queen in Pink supposed to protect us from the Mothman? That's what your note said yesterday."
"She's working on it, but until then you have to stay on alert and wait for her instructions."
"Not sure I trust this thing."
"Then you're on your own!"
"Well, why don't this damn 'Queen' show herself to us?"
"She has to be really careful! She's super, super fragile, you know. She's fragile like a balloon. Just a good stab from a needle will make her pop! For her size, she's the weakest creature on Earth!
"And she's super slow too. I challenged her to a race and I won easily! She can't just go around showing herself, you know, or else she'd be killed in no time!"
"Err, Ava. That makes this damn thing weaker than a damn pigeon.. What the hell? How's this thing gonna protect us at all? It can't do nothing."
"As the Queen in Pink says, 'Pen, speech, and wit!'"
When the sky turned pink, we once again gathered at Ms. Daeth's house, as if it had been routine—and sure enough, Ava went up to the porch, holding another note.
"Another one, Ava!? You lied to me! You lied this morning!" Her mother lunged towards the porch, and her husband—like yesterday—had to physically restrain her.
From the porch, Ava began reading:
Little Ava, sweet Ava. You did an excellent job following my instructions yesterday. You are truly a gifted child. But most importantly, you are very disciplined. Most other kids have trouble reading instructions, zipping their mouths, and being patient. Yet, you are able to stay focused and faithfully do so, and you even went the distance by doing homework on figuring out the complicated words. Good work.
Will you be able to do it again? Do not let anyone, not a single soul, know you've received this note until the evening, upon which you must read it aloud in front of Ms. Daeth's house.
I hate the idea of getting used to this.
And now I have a new task for you: Go to where you usually collect water, then walk approximately a mile downstream (that means walk in the direction that the river is flowing). I will be waiting by a patch of prickly pears. Make sure to bring NO ONE with you. But do bring a notebook and pencil. You're a smart girl, Ava. I know you can do it.
Well, I guess that's how their rendezvous happened.
Ava's mother was escorted away from the scene to stop her from the repeated lunging. I could relate. I think the rest of us felt uncomfortable too, but we didn't want to shoot our only messenger.
To all listening: I would like to remind you that the Mothman is a mere manifestation of the Lake Lhume monster, and the latter is undefeatable, unviewable, unreachable. Getting rid of the Mothman is getting rid of but a manifestation. Getting rid of the Mothman doesn't entail getting rid of the Lhume monster. When you burn the Mothman, you are merely burning a bundle of hair from a monster whose hair ranges in the uncountable alephs. And hair can always grow back—and not always in the same form as it originally did.
This is what you have to remember before you writhe in throes of idealism. Monsters can always come back, and we hold it down through a collective pragmatism. Much of the world has moved on to vacuum cleaners and laundry machines, and may thus forget their past while succumbing to the evils of theory, but your settlement is still young enough that your debt to the Colt and Spencer rifle is smoking fresh. Staying cool is the best check against hairy lunatics.
Finally: do not visit Amy Aiken, do not talk to Amy Aiken, and do not trust Amy Aiken.
P.S. Emily Baker: My note asked you to meet me yesterday night at the hillside. Why didn't you come? I am not asking you to break off your engagement with Scott, just that you take me as your mistress. I have a wild tongue, and I can perform good tricks with it.
—Signed, the Queen in Pink
Scott lunged at Ava.
I lumbered around, feeling sick. After all those offensive notes, the abuse of a child, and vague messages, I noticed that the Queen was nevertheless gaining the favor of the town.
The optics worked. It worked so brilliantly it frightened me. After the horrifying scene at the Aiken house, her notes broke the tension with humor. With her messages read through Ava, she gave the town a sense of structure to fit all these senseless events into.
She gave herself an image: A drawing, of course, and with her self-justified treatment of Ava, she painted herself as the sort of "rough parent" any Texan would adore. She treated the town much in the same way she treated Ava—like some kind of benevolent dictator. She shamelessly played to the political leanings of the area—"Railroad tycoons are homosexual." I wanted to kick something. Didn't people remember the message by Mr. Aiken's corpse? "P.S. YOU ARE A HOMOSEXUAL." Didn't people realize that the Queen in Pink herself was suspicious?
They did, but the laughter drowned it out. Charisma assassinated sincerity. The desire for structure overwhelmed skepticism.
And it was by design. Whether or not the Queen in Pink was guilty, she made herself look suspicious on purpose. If this Queen in Pink did have something to do with Mr. Aiken's death, that made her something to be feared. And, I realized, that was a good thing for her. Because, then, who would want to cross her? "Then you're on your own." She was sitting in a throne, in perfect limbo between saint and impaler. She portrayed herself perfectly as the feared savior. Surely, no one trusted the Queen in Pink, but they didn't need to. She was the most natural leader to follow.
More natural, people found, than the now cowering, nervous Mr. Foster.
After the speech, of course, was visiting hours at the jailhouse. I took the walk under the pink sky that I knew no one else was taking, and entered that old limestone cube once again.
"Well," the sheriff said, "Amy's been less.. how do you put it... animalistic since the first day. We don't dare enter her cell or touch or nothin'. Not like we need to, anyhow. She's doin' fine on her own. Ella's just happy to see her changing in and out of her own dresses. It's like having a daughter, she says. I say, no it ain't, and for the last time, we want a son, not a daugh—Well, anyway, it ain't so bad. I think that's thanks to you, honestly. You gave her some confidence."
This is embarassing. They're overrating my influence.
"I know she probably don't want to, but we wish she'd talk about the incident, you know. This case is still developing and all, and we wanna release her till everything's more clear. Can't imagine having to mourn while bein' locked up. But, y'know, I gotta hold her here till the town's suspicion cools off. It'd sure as hell help if she opened her mouth about it, but what can you do? With that damn 'Queen' and her messages, I'm in a corner."
And he just implicitly tasked me with asking her about the murder. I should get paid for this.
I walked down the hallway to the cell in the back and saw her again sitting in that corner. She looked up, and I saw her face. It was the same Pioneer clothing from yesterday. Her lipstick glowed red under pink, and so did the whites of her eyes, but like yesterday, it was hard to make out her expression when she was sitting there. Was it smirking, frowning, or was it something more neutral? Was she happy to see me? Annoyed?
As I squinted, she turned away.
"Heya. Glad you're back."
We began talking, in a similar fashion to yesterday. She'd occasionally waddle to and fro, like yesterday. She really liked being under the blanket. I noticed that she'd sometimes sneak a mirror underneath, which interested me. Was she vain, or self-conscious?
Most of the time, of course, she'd still sit by the side of the cell, as I stared at her hair, only unintentionally or intentionally teasing me with glimpses of her face.
I wanted to tell her she looked good, but I was too nervous to.
We were talking about the technicalities of our letters, and, of course, politics. It helped keep my mind off things. I wondered if it was the same for her. No, she just loved politics.
"I mean, look, Amy. Some of the newer people on this list... Richard Neuberger, Clint Anderson. Like, it's not just that the House is blue, but it's getting more liberal. Hell, your dad was even courting Republicans like this... Margaret Smith chick and Francis Case. Don't you think this new generation can band together."
"Doesn't work like that, Kev. In the House, forget it. Nothing gets by Sam Rayburn. And the Senate? Aren't you the one who loves unlimited debate on civil rights?"
"Ach! ...Well... I don't love it..."
"There's a whole hierarchy to this stuff, Kev. Same thing with journalism. You were talkin' all high about Liz Carpenter only to remember she writes for Austin American. Hell, half the folks your dad knew were Marshians."
"So... this is impossible. Mr. Aiken was relying almost exclusively on his secret."
"What if he told no one? What if that secret is lost?"
"Then, say goodbye to democracy."
"Is it that bad?"
"Y'know, Kev, Daddy seemed to think so. But even based on—you know, all that stuff about Brown & Root and the DCC, I think he was overstating it. But, y'know, he was still genuinely frightened. Y'know what I think, Kev? That secret has to do with it. Something about it terrified him."
"By the way, Kev. Remember graduation day?"
I trembled. She actually brought it up.
"Did ya see Daddy was talkin' to Mr. Foster?"
I recalled how after the ceremony, Mr. Aiken—stumbling around—got caught in that conversation with Mr. Foster. I didn't hear what they said, but I remember Aiken almost lurching back from Mr. Foster several times, appearing physically startled.
"Mr. Aiken looked pretty surprised. What were they talking about?"
"I dunno, Kev. Isn't it weird they were talkin' at all? Weren't they on bad terms?"
"No, I think they reconciled quite a bit."
"That's what your dad told me."
"Well, how come I didn't know about it? Hell, the rest of the town doesn't, 'sfar as I know."
"Err, really? Why would they keep a reconciliation secret? Isn't that a good thing?"
Something was suspicious.
"Good question, Kev. And hell, if they did reconcile, why'd Daddy look so surprised during graduation. Mind pokin' Mr. Foster for me tomorrow?"
"Err, sure.... Now I'm a bit scared, honestly."
"Hahaha. Daddy always used to say that's how ya know you're onto something."
"By the way, Kev, how're things in town? Do they hate me?"
"Errr, I wouldn't say 'hate.' Did the sheriff tell you about the... uh... speeches?"
"I got the gist."
"Yeah... They're more 'scared' of you, I'd say. Or scared of the Mothman."
"Pussies. It's crazy you're the only one man enough to visit. None-a my friends or no one's come."
"Yeah... Well, you know, that... speech said their families might be in danger if they visited you, so I can kind of understand."
"What about your aunt and uncle then?"
"Well, they said not to worry about it."
I decided not to bring up the note. However...
"Also, erm," I stumbled, "I don't know if you've heard of the 'Queen in Pink,' but Ava apparently saw her today."
"Hmmm? What was it like?"
"Err... Well, based on her drawing, it was probably the dumbest looking thing I've ever seen. It was basically just a balloon with eyes and a mouth. Like, really, it was just like, a sphere. And it had, like, stubs for arms and legs, and cat-like ears. And it had big eyes and a tiny mouth. I feel so stupid explaining this."
"Well, don't feel stupid. Cause I thought I was the stupid one. I swear to Gawd I thought I was hallucinating last night."
"I saw it too. Well, based on what you were saying, it musta been the same thing. Came right through that window. Scared the shit outta me. Looks goofy on paper, but it's no joke when you see it floatin' around like a ghost. It straight called itself the 'Balloon Thingy.'"
"So it's real!?"
"Unless lil' Ava and I got the exact same hallucination, guess so."
"Well, Ava had... quite an experience with it. What about you?"
"Fuck. Where do I even begin.."
This is going to be entertaining.
"Well, Kev, first thing it did was challenge me to a boxing match."
The 'punching game'!?
"And, well, I knocked it out with one hit. I dunno why it even challenged me when it was that weak."
"That thing hates me, Kev."
"We kept arguing about shit and it got ugly. That thing is fucking stupid."
"What did you argue about?"
"Just political stuff, I guess. I mean, you know my views. I'm used to people disagreeing with me. But this thing was so fucking stubborn I couldn't believe it. And here's the worst part, Kev: I don't even know what it's trying to argue. It doesn't have an opinion or anything. I think maybe it was just trying to drive me insane. It'll start talking about something, then start talking about something completely fucking different for no reason. You'd think it's going to tie it all together in the end, but fucking nope. And maybe, just maybe, it'd finally state an actual opinion for once, but then 10 minutes later it'd just state the exact opposite opinion! Fuck! I think it just wanted to bully me and fuck with my head."
"No, I'm pissed! Sorry, sorry. God, Kev, arguing with that thing was 20 times worse than arguing with Daddy. And that stupid squeaky voice too."
I held in laughter.
"God, Kev, don't make that face. It really, really fucking pissed me off. I could really feel its hatred for me. It wants me dead, I swear."
"Hey, you know, it's actually easy to kill that thing, apparently. If you just stab it with something sharp, it'll just pop."
"Heh, well thanks for letting me know. Ah'll keep that in mind."
"Look, Kev. Trust me. There was no chance Garner woulda got the nomination. And no other Texan's gonna give it shot next time. No chance in hell."
"But he stood up to FDR, and got national coverage! Maybe this is the start of a new trend."
"No Dem convention in their right mind is gonna nominate a Southerner, unless they want a Republican president."
"Tell that to Lyndon."
"Hahaha. He's a hell of a guy."
As usual, her hair was covering her face. Her tone there had some ambiguity.
"Almost sounds like you admire him."
"Well, Kev. In some ways I do. I mean, I admire his ambition, if nothin' else. And he is a New Dealer, on the face of it."
"On the face."
"I mean, he's not doing nothin'. He's the one that's gonna bring electricity here, right? REA."
"I guess so."
"Once we get electricity, there's no going back, huh?"
"What do you mean?"
"Gawd, Kev. My body hurts like hell."
"Err.. Yeah. I remember. Your b-b-b—"
"Not just my boobs. Like, everywhere. Fuck, fuck, fuck, it hurts."
"Well, that's not good. Do we need to get a doctor?"
"No. I don't want anyone touching me."
I became worried about her.
"Do you think... I mean... Graduation day. Do you have any idea what happened?"
"I'm... still tryna work it out. My memory's fuzzy."
Fuzzy? Is it bad that I did not believe her? That I felt she was hiding something?
"Y'know how daddy got started in this whole thing?"
"Before the DCC thing?"
"Yeah. Y'know the hot oil wars in the early 30s?"
"Well, soon as daddy entered the Legislature, there were big fights over proration bills—drilling limits on oil fields. Well, basically, overdrilling a field could ruin a field, and also drive prices down.
"Eventually, Ickes an' Roosevelt all the way up in Washington got involved, signed an executive order for prorationing.
"The wildcatters hated it. And, well, that's when daddy really started to keep an eye on things. Started reading oil industry magazines no one else was reading. And, well he was a lawyer, right? He knew a federal inspector that was sent down to Texas, got tips from him on who's who. That's how he learned about Murchison, anyhow. Murchison 'specially illegally pumped out tons-a oil—'hot oil'—to outpace competitors.
"Well, 'ventually, since he kept an eye on Murchison, read those magazines, grew his contacts, he noticed Sid Richardson. And, Kev, did ya know that Sid was good friends with Roosevelt's son—Elliot? Did ya know that in '37 Roosevelt had a barbeque with Richardson and Murchison at his son's ranch? And that a federal investigation on Murchison's hot oil shenanigans ended in a slap-on-the-wrist a week later?"
"So much for FDR being the best president."
"Well, here's the thing Kev. It seems more like, Roosevelt is as in the dark as most of us are. He's being fooled by the independents. Y'know, during the DCC thing, Ickes he hardly even knew the names of the Big Four. Think about that. The President himself and his cabinet doesn't even understand how powerful these folks are. But that obscure Congressman from the Hill Country does."
I froze. What was it about Lyndon Johnson that frightened me so much? Was it just due to how Mr. Aiken hyped him up? Despite his machinations, Lyndon wasn't all-powerful. He was just an obscure Congressman. But he gave the impression of being powerful to Mr. Aiken. Lyndon acted powerful. And, I realized, just acting powerful sometimes translates to being powerful.
I thought of the Queen in Pink.
"Well, Kev, Roosevelt ain't perfect, I'll grant ya that. Like I said, he's plugging holes in a sinking ship, and he only has half a clue of what's going on. Don't ya see how broken our government is? It needs a complete overhaul. A revolution, maybe."
"Oh boy, here we go again."
"Sorry, Kev. I can't help it. I just can't. I try to stay grounded and all that, but I can't. Maybe this is just the way I am."
"I just don't understand what you want. What is so important to you that you need a revolution?"
Silence passed. She looked out the window through which seeped the pink sky.
"I just kinda wanna undo our progress sometimes, Kev. I'm just scared of what we'll lose as we go forward, y'know. Even more: I'm scared that we'll forget that we even lost it. We're gonna lose something big—something really big. And we'll never even know we lost it."
"You have to stop being vague."
She took a deep breath.
"Kev... You know Daddy had some pretty out-there beliefs."
"He studied up a lot on the Indians—the Comanches, specifically—that used to live round here. And he sort of, well, didn't support them, but used them as a model to help explain his ideas."
"I dunno. What do you think?"
"Of the Comanches."
"Well, until the reservation, they were pretty brutal savages."
"Well, yeah, everyone growing up here thinks that. Daddy thought so too, mostly. But he couldn't just keep it at that. He was such a contrarian, haha."
"I remember that Eliza Bunton story. With the diaper."
"Hill Country classic. Heheh."
"Well, yeah. I dunno. I argued with Daddy on a lot of issues. That was a lot of our mail, honestly. Not even 'How are you?' and stuff. It was just arguing over political stuff, heheh. Even over the dinner table, we'd get into arguments while eating. My mom would just get so exasperated, like, 'Can we please have just one peaceful dinner!?' Hahaha. But, honestly, we really just enjoyed it. God, I miss it already. I wish it could just go on forever."
I thought I heard her voice break, as if she was holding in tears. Nevertheless, she continued.
"Well, during high school, I think I really started to understand what he was saying about Comanches, and freedom, and all that. He talked to a lot of their descendants, y'know. Some of Quanah's sons."
"What are you saying?"
"They had a grasp on things, I guess. Some things."
"They had a grasp on torturing their captives. Don't you know how they were treated!?"
"Glad you asked. Yeah, I did all the reading Daddy did. Hell, I prawlly know it better than most people. Ever read Rachel Plummer's account?"
"No... I don't want to read that awful stuff."
I didn't want to talk about this with her. She was the last person whom I wanted to broach this topic with. And yet, I knew I couldn't stop her.
"Well, it's worth a look. I mean, y'know Fort Parker, 'course. Well, in school they try to hide that it was built way too far into the frontier. And yet by the 1830s, it was hardly even a Fort. More like a ranch. Just a bunch of mostly unarmed white folks living a farm life. Bad idea.
"Rachel lived there—she was about our age at the time. A year younger, in fact—17 years old. She had a 2 year old baby boy. And, well, you know the gist. Well, they gave us the gist in school, but not the details. But, y'know, sometimes details matter. Well, it started, 'course, with the Comanches dropping by with a bluffin' white flag, then doing all the classic Comanche stuff: Lootin' and killin'. Rachel watched her uncle get castrated and scalped, and watched old granny get impaled and raped on the spot. They took Rachel and her baby son captive, 'swell her aunt, her 6-year old nephew and 9-year old niece Cynthia Ann—you know her 'course. 2 adults, 3 children. Well, that first night of captivity went how you'd expect. The Indians had a victory dance, where Rachel and her aunt got whipped and beat with clubs. They tied thongs 'round her hands and feet so tightly it bled, laid her face down and beat her over the head with bows so bad she was drowning in her blood. They beat the hell out of the children too, kicking 'em and stomping on 'em, and even jumping on them to the point of near death, and made 'em watch as they gangraped Rachel and her aunt. That sorta thing went on for hours. Rachel soon got separated from her relatives, 'swell as her son. And, well, her life didn't get much better after that. She'd hadta work day to night on the buffalo and horses, suffer through the cold without much for clothing—not even on her feet. The men'd rape her, the squaws's torture her. They'd play all sorts-a fancy games with her: make her run naked tied to a horse and such. She did birth another baby boy, but he didn't live so long. Here's what they didn't tell us in school. When he was 6 months old, the Indians considered him enough of a nuisance to be dealt with. They pried the infant from her hands and choked him. Well, the baby didn't die. So then they threw him up and slammed him on the ground. He still didn't die. So they tied his neck and dragged him repeatedly up and down through hedges of cactus, tearing his skin. He still didn't die. So they tied him to a horse with a rope and ran his body 'gainst the ground for 100 yards, and finally he was dead. She hadta watch her own baby get literally torn to pieces. That's her words, not mine. Wasn't till she started fighting back against the squaws that they gave her some leniency.
"But, hey, that's what it was like, right? That was normal by Comanche standards. I mean, it worked. Took us a dang while to drive them back cause we were so terrified of them. I mean, they loved to torture. Loved it. If you were captured alive, they'd devise all sorts of means to make you suffer. They'd slice open your abdomen and pour hot coals onto it. They'd cut out your ears, carve out your lips, and remove your eyelids—just your eyelids—and bury you in the ground with just your face exposed, leavin' your lipless mouth and lidless eyes at the mercy of the burning hot sun and fire ants. They were experts at torture. They could remove your scalp while keeping you alive in order to press red-hot tomahawks directly against your skull. They'd slice off your genitals, stuff 'em in your mouth, and sew your mouth shut around it. If they captured you, the torture might go on for days. That one girl at the Council House Fight, remember that? She was about 15 when she was captured, right? When she was returned—well, obviously, she'd been raped a bunch—but boy those folks at San Antonio thought were in for a shock when they saw that her entire nose was burned off: All there was left was bone and a scab forming on top of it.
"Now, Kev, here's the thing you have to understand. When it came to pubescent female captives, y'see, white culture was too ingrained in them, so their only use was entertainment: sex for the men, torture for the squaws. And infants—well—infants were a nuisance, like Rachel's boy. Raising a baby took time and resources, so they were killed off. And, hell, if you were a prepubescent, non-infantile captive, your chances weren't too great either... But, guess what?"
"That's right. If you were a child—say around the age of 9—and 'specially if you were a girl, you had a chance: A chance to be taken in as one of them. Now here's the thing, Kev: A lot of our children—young white girls—would be captured and adopted by them. And guess what? Those girls'd grow up as Comanches, and they'd live as Comanches. And you know what? They'd love it. They'd love it so much that once we finally forced 'em to return, all they'd wanna do was go back! Everyone knows about how once we got Cynthia Ann back, she kept trying to escape back to the west—to Comancheria. By that point, it was more like we were her captors than the Comanches were. And it wasn't just Cynthia Ann. So many of our white girls would end up not being able to stand white culture. They'd always prefer the Comanche lifestyle."
"...That's because they were manipulated. Their childhood was forcibly erased from them."
"Y'see, I'm glad y'say that, cause I agree, mostly. But it's not as simple as that. The problem is some of these girls were only captives for a couple of months, and they'd still spend the rest of their lives—years—vouching for the Comanches, wanting to go back. After the reservation, they'd even apply for official adoption by the tribe. There's something more going on here, Kev. White folks hate to admit it, but, look, Kev: Think about it from their perspective. Say you're a 9-year old white girl, taken captive by a Comanche band, and, well, think of what a hellish first night you're gonna have. The Indians would put on one hell of a show for you: They'd massacre your family, torture them, rape them, and make you watch. And they'd beat the hell outta you, too. That's what happened to Cynthia Ann and the rest. Making you watch is the most important part, maybe: They'd make you see with your own eyes that your old life was gone. And once that'd happened, that's when they'd introduce you to the new life. That was the transition, like a sort of mental reset.
"Now think about this: Again, you're a young white girl, that'd grown up with strict, rigid, predestinarian Baptists—manners at the dinner table and all that, and then you're swept away into a completely new land where all that gets thrown out the window. Even a lotta fairytales start off with the loss of one's parents and homeland, right? Think of how alien that new land musta looked to whites at the time: Think of the vast treeless plains of west Texas, y'know, and its titanic, towering tablebeds and theatrical fault lines. Those things musta looked insane. White settlers that ventured that far could hardly believe it was Earth. It woulda been unlike anything they'd ever seen. Imagine you're a young girl being taken into those lands, and all you've seen up till then was your little ranch. Like that, your old life was 'erased,' like you said, and replaced by this whole new, massive world. And in this new world, you were going to live a life of adventure. And I mean, adventure.. Y'know what Comancheria was? It was adventure: Set up camp for a few weeks and get moving within that vast leaderless empire sprawlin' from west Texas up to Colorado. Y'see? The complete opposite of a stationary agrarian life. Think about what it was like: Everyday was a new day, with new towering features to scale and clear limestone streams to drink from. You'd travel by horse on Plains so vastly empty it'd look like the ocean, before reaching those huge tablebeds looming over you like Cyclopean titans. You'd watch the men wrangling and huntin' buffalo like badasses. You'd watch 'em perform masterful tricks on mustangs that'd blow and scare the minds of Indian hunters. And over time your loving Comanche foster mom'd teach you the art of buffalo engineering: Tipis made of hide, dung as fuel, tools made of bone, pouches made of paunches, ropes made of hair, clothing made of fur, bowstrings made of sinews. And, guess what? Along the way, you'd find the Comanche life was fun. Comanches were the sort of insane, mischievous, rollicking free-roamers straight outta fiction. They danced, they sang, they told hilarious stories. They played games—think of those co-ed games you'd play with fledgling warrior boys, and watching 'em flirt with ya in such crazy ways, and competing in all sorts of physical contests 'gainst each other for your heart. Comanches were funny, Kev. You have to understand how funny they were. White folks found them hilarious. They'd drop in to a settler's house and just start eating food straight from the oven. And the hard life—freezing northers, burning hot summers, periods of starvation, brutal battles—just made the fun funner. They had a sense-a humor about everything. The last days of the Indian war, y'know—that brutal days-long chase along the Llano Estacado—it was so rainy and muddy during it that they called it the 'Wrinkled Hand Chase,' hahaha. Hell, even their names were hilarious—A typical Comanche name'd be 'Coyote Vagina', or 'Erection that Won't Go Down.' Can you believe how much they must-a loved life to make their own names a part of the fun? That sorta crude, sexual humor was off-limits for a farm family, y'know. They had a sense of creativity that burst through the roof. They could tell stories and play practical jokes that'd make your stomach hurt from laughter. It musta seemed like magic.
"Think of being a young white girl, having t'had dress so modestly all your life, and bein' suddenly introduced to a world of colorful fashion: earrings, bracelets, hair dye made out of buffallo tallow, headdresses, streamers, black war paint. And all that, you were doing together with your band—your family, 'neath a crazy decentralized mega-culture spanning the plains of Texas with no higher authority. You were bound together by nothing more than deep love and affinity. And on special occasions, different bands'd come together for large-scale raids that'd feel like some giant get-together or party. The larger tribe was like an extended family. It'd feel like an event—a big camping trip, y'know, with all those tipis set up across the stream, all the interband comingling over hard work in the day, culminating in crazy games in the night. Y'have to remember: There was no law, nor organized religion that held the tribe together. Everything was so spontaneuous, and stuff just sprung out of intution. Think of coming from Christian world centering around a God, into the Comanche world full of spirits. Spirits that were all over the place, and constantly putting your band on unpredictable paths. Nightly war dances, daytime horse races, crazy stupid gambling matches over improvised bow-and-arrow games, with so much being done on a whim, all on those scenic plains. To a young white girl, it woulda been exactly like living in a fairytale. But, y'know Kev, the most accurate way to put it, honestly, would be: freedom. Yep: It was boundless, Stone Age warrior freedom. Now, y'see, Kev, the raids were just an extension of that freedom—an extension of the reckless gambling, and whoops and yells and whatnot. Think about the torture in that light: It was an extension of their love of life. Scary, huh? You can't separate the 'good' from the 'bad.' Because, y'know, extremes are extremes, and the Comanches lived on the extremes of life. It was just customary in the Plains that you could have extreme fun with your spoils of war, whether it be donning your enemies' clothes or torture-killing the captors. It was your right for winning. The Indians on the plains mutually accepted that. That's what life is like without restraint. It's all the amazing and horrible stuff mixed into one. It's otherworldly. Y'know how Rachel escaped captivity, after 20 or whatever months of suffering? A group of Mexicans—Comancheros—asked to buy her, and you know how the head of her band responded? "Si senor". God, y'see what I mean by funny? A girl that grew up with the Comanches woulda experienced insane highs and lows on those long plateaus and deep valleys that you and I could only dream of.
"That's a sort of life, Kev, that you and I will never understand. I'm not sayin' it's good or bad, and it doesn't matter anyway cause, hell, that era is over. In a decade or so, the whole States is gonna have electricity, and soon we'll have highways connecting the whole world together, and we'll all live 'happily ever after', haha. That's our life. That's what we have to trudge through. And, I guess it's for the better, right? I mean, after all, the American Dream ain't too bad. But it's not everything. It's subdued. It's not a world of spirits.
"Daddy always used to say that, we've got no idea what true freedom is like. He didn't support the Comanches or anything, but he used them as a sorta model to show what how alien the concept of 'freedom' is to us. It's just not something we have nor understand, Kev. We don't understand what we've sacrificed to live our relatively peaceful life—good and bad. For peace and stability, y'know, y'have to give up extremes. For peace and order, you lose both the depths of love and heights of happiness. That's all I'm saying, Kev. People don't like to hear that. They think they can live 'ideal' lives without horror. You talk about those girls like they were manipulated. Well, sure they were. But you wanna try telling that to their faces? Like hell we know better than them. They sure as hell've been through way more than us. They sure as hell know more about life and humanity than we do."
Seconds, maybe a minute of silence passed.
I wanted to talk back, but I couldn't. I felt something between repulsion and inferiority. Emasculation.
"Sorry, Kev, kinda went too far there. Did I scare you, haha?"
"No, you didn't scare me," I lied.
Her hair was hiding her face throughout that rant, and it still was. Until that point, I had never wondered more what her expression looked like underneath.
"Sorry about that, Kev. Sometimes I can't keep my mouth shut. Everyone hates me for that. I mean, what do I know? I'm just some stupid southern gal."
We wrapped up our conversation for the night as amicably as ever. She did keep trying to backpedal on that moment of passion. But that just made it more clear that it was a moment of passion. It was coming from the heart. And that was what made it most scary to me. I wondered how she could say all those things after seeing what happened to her own father.
I did not enjoy that rant. Neither of us felt good after it. If this were an ideological battle between the Queen in Pink and Amy, I sided with the Queen in Pink.
But still, against my ideals, I was going to stand by Amy. Because that moment of passion only emphasized, that much more, how hopelessly lonely she was.