I was fourteen.
Early autumn-evening clouds whisped the sky, the river glinted diamonds and midges clouded over its banks: my safe, familiar scene.
Then I went to Mrs Prendergast's place to see if Zeke was there. He wasn’t, but Sheriff Cole and Minister McGinley were. And faces I hardly knew. Samuel was among them but he looked tearful and walked away - I reckon he didn't see me. I would have called him but the look on everyone’s faces made me realise something was wrong. This wasn't just grownups business, this was serious grownups business.
Nothing changed, and everything had.
Dreamdays don't last, however.
Tiny changes, insignificant and hidden, have consequences.
I felt like something secret and terrifying had happened, and the whole world had changed behind my back - but nobody saw fit to explain anything to me.
I'd no idea what happened, but in a silent, mysterious way, the land suddenly became a harsher place.
Something, somewhere, had gone wrong and innocence fell from me like so many scales from my eyes. I didn't want to, I didn't understand why I had to, but I was forced to shed my childhood like a snake sheds its old skin.
They was good times. Always are when you look back. The sun always shone, we played in the canyon, or by the river, we built shelters and caught fish and made spears and arrows and everything. School was ok, I didn’t mind it especially history and stories, which was the same thing to me. We sat outside mostly, except when the winter blew in. And then it was cosy, the stove in the corner, the crackle of wood, and on those wet days the condensation from the steaming clothes clouding the windows and making small puddles on the window ledge.
I didn’t believe them when they’d told me they were twins. Well, my folks only come to town a few months before, coming down from Mount Carmel, Kane County for the work. I thought twins was supposed to look identical and hate each other, like the Desai twins I’d left behind in Carmel.
Only when Mrs Pargetter told me they were, because she'd ridden out to birth them, and old John Franklin the barber said they were because he’d been the man to run and fetch Doc Morris and Mrs Pargetter when they was coming, only then did I believe.
I'd no quarrel with Zeke, but I still kicked, elbowed and squirmed, and caught him a few before I calmed down and saw Clint and Samuel holding each other up, laughing at me and Zeke.
We soon got to be close friends. Even Clint. Clint was older than us, at thirteen, Zeke and Samuel were both twelve, though Zeke insisted he was the oldest. Samuel said age don't matter, but he hit Zeke anyway. Age does matter, I guess, when you're young. It controls where you are in the pecking order.
But it doesn't control behaviour. Or innocence, or guilt.
And fighting's how I met Sam and Zeke.
Me, fighting with Clint Dempsey.
Can’t remember what about, just that he was bigger and taller and harder and stronger and everything more than me. He was sitting on top of me, pinning my arms down with his knees and he was pummelling my head like he was trying to make porridge out of it.
They pulled him off and, boy, they looked shocked when I spat, scrambled up and dived straight back into him, landing a good few before Zeke let him go and grabbed me.
Maybe not Zeke's wisest move.
In them days there wasn’t much to do. Some things never change, huh? My grandma told me the exact same thing: "In my day we had to make our own fun, Anna Cody," she’d say.
So, I met them and got on good. I wasn’t big for my age, but I'd run and climb like any boy. And fight? Hell, I'd fight like a hungry puma with toothache. I wasn’t strong but I couldn't give in. Well, it didn't seem right to stop when someone else had started it– and, yeah, it was mostly someone else that started it.
They were well liked around town too, their father being Mayor and their mother being involved with school and church; and as they grew they’d be about more and more: helping or carrying out for one of the stores. That’s when I met them, Sam and Zeke, when I was about ten I guess, and they was helping old Mrs Prendergast with her garden. She was a dear old lady whose garden was pretty near perfect but who liked to have someone around, "just for company" she'd say, "just for talks in these hot, long, stretched out summer bright days."
The success of his office, though, was clouded by a shadow over his personal life. His twin boys Samuel and Zeke had grown up in what sure looked to us all to be a loving, caring home. Like most Roylsden kids, they ran free on the ranch until they were six or seven then they started at Roylsden Church School. They were model pupils, never outstanding or clever, or even dumb like me; but never missing a day and always willing to take part in the life of the school, always pleasant and polite. They were a pleasure to teach.
Minister McGinley was so highly thought of in Roylsden that many years ago he was urged to stand for Mayor. When he did, and was elected first time of asking, he was the most surprised of anyone. Looking back, we thought we had good cause to cheer and look forward with good hope, and to be fair, for many years his presence as the figurehead of the town achieved nothing but good. So much so that he was re-elected, again and again, and he served both his community and his own needs until he was well into his seventies.
A desert sun sets behind the narrow tall rocky outcrops that jut upwards like dead men's fingers sprouting out of the red trail dust. But it's not them that point at us, not those weirdly fashioned natural outcrops that point accusingly. Nope, them rocks point to God's good wholesome blue sky. No, perhaps befitting the dead, it's their sharp, jet-black shadows that point towards the small township of Roylsden.
The stage runs through Roylsden once a week; the railroad's still a week's ride away, and that on a good horse.
So that's Roylsden. Remote. Insecure. Pointed at. Accused.