Cabin 6

Everyone had left and they were cleaning up.

“I come up here to retreat and relax, to sleep late and not care. I did not come up here to take up another cause like trying to get people in this fantastically weird place you call a neighborhood to agree to anything. You just get yelled at. People go to meetings to yell at anything that smells like government these days. Believe me. I did it for 25 years and it wasn’t as bad then as it is now. Who wants to spend their vacations doing this?” He was picking up empty paper plates and cups.

“People who want to protect their neighborhood from wildfire and meet friends. And there was no yelling, but the laughter was loud.” She was indefatigable. It drove him nuts.

“Bored old people who think the bingo up here isn’t lucrative. Rene told me they can win cars in California. Anyway, look around! Any of these older cabins could burn just from a chimney fire and take out the entire valley. Tree trimming lectures won’t cut it.” He had resumed his seat in the cushioned patio chair and was opening his third beer.

“There were more people at this potluck than ever before.” She placed a full garbage bag gently at the foot of his chair, open.

He ignored the gesture. “Free food. Look at Rene’s place. She hasn’t ever had the chimney cleaned that she can remember.”

“She’s eighty-something. Maybe she just can’t remember.”

“The chimney sweep guys won’t touch it - won’t even give her an estimate because it has like four wood stoves attached to it. It all needs to be ripped out and rebuilt. But she still uses the stove insert. She burns 30 year old construction scraps and newspaper in it to keep warm.”

“Don’t forget that electric heater in the bathroom right over the tub.” He wasn’t budging so she sat down in the other chair. She reached over for his beer and took a deep swig.

 


Cabin 7

Three women are sitting outside on the patio in the sun drinking box wine out of paper cups as the sun gets low in the narrow mountain valley.

“Did you see any of those blackbirds in your kitchen last night?”

“No, but I keep my bedroom door shut and I wear earplugs. I can’t hear or see a thing!”

“Well that fixes it then.”

“It was a bat, not a bird, Mom.”

“Oh now, we don’t know that for sure. Rene said she saw a bird. So it could have been a bird. A black bird.”

“At night? Inside?”

“Thrushes migrate at night.” A male voice came from a dark corner of the porch behind them. He sounded like smoke and summer napping. “Except the robin. No idea about blackbirds.” He coughed softly.

“Thrushes aren’t migrating around inside Rene’s cabin!” The young woman disliked the way he was always confusing the old lady.

“And they aren’t black!” The woman said, amused.

Rene stiffened. “What did you say about Robin?”

“They don’t migrate at night anyway.” The man said.

“Robin got a divorce, you know. Did you say she's dating a black?”

“I heard she left him in the daytime.” The man added.

****
Rene showed them the rusted gutter and how water was flooding the porch after every rain.

"You should get a rain barrel from Walmart and set it there under the leak. I've got one and it's so nice to water the plants with that soft rainwater!"

"Really Lou? A barrel in the middle of the porch? Maybe Rene should open a bat zoo and mold emporium instead of fixing the roof."

Rene said, "I love zoos!"


The Hacienda

"What were you doing there in the first place?"

She controlled her temper and answered him softly. "The cows would have gotten into the kitchen if Chocky hadn’t wired the doors shut…."

"That was months ago. I mean yesterday. What were you doing there yesterday?"

He interrupted but she finished her sentence.

" … and dragged a section of chainlink across the gateway to keep them out.  There’s cow shit everywhere Sammy. They even shit in the fountain. I mean, why would a cow get into an empty fountain?"

She took a long drag from a vape pen.  Her twin brother was glaring at her. It was like looking into an ugly mirror.

Chocky coughed. It was an aggressive harrumph that always made high-strung people jump.  Sammy looked at him and Chocky was pointing out the window at men in uniforms walking up the driveway.

"Here they are. You two got got your stories straight yet?"

The seldom-used doorbell was answered by six barking dogs. Sadie stood and starting pacing. Sammy seemed to vanish.
Chocky kept up the conversation. 

"Cows in the courtyard - just like old times! If the stories are true, they crammed every living animal and human that would fit behind the walls because anything left outside would be swept-away by raiders. Good times."

They were knocking loudly now.

"You gonna get that?"

Sadie looked surprised. It hadn’t occurred to her to answer the front door. She'd never had to. Rosa did that and in the six months since she'd had died, no one had visited.

*****

Nobody around here cares if you tear something down but try and fix it and suddenly you’re up against all sorts of codes and concerned neighbors. Better to bulldoze and do it fast, preferably at night. That’s what Alva said anyway.

No denying parts of the old place were in bad shape. But he didn’t start with the crap trailers and crumbling outbuildings. He went straight for the old hacienda that stood in the way of his road.

He and his guys didn’t get far with that rented bulldozer and thankfully they started on the part of the building that was already falling down. A roof leak eroded a wall that collapsed.The workmen had only loaded one truck with that rubble before they found the skeletons in Alva’s closet, so to speak.

Nothing much had been done to the place since then. Sammy’s contractor was extreme in his assessment.

"The roof sucks, the well is polluted, the septic tank is caved in and the leach field needs replacing so we’ll have to tear up all that new asphalt. The heater doesn't work so the water pipes have broken again. The atrium’s got to go. The windows -  thirty six of them - need replacing. There’s no  foundation under two-thirds of the building and before we go digging that up, we should do some survey work since we found those bones."

Sammy cut him off, with a raised hand and pained expression.  

*******


She Cries

"It was around this time of year - the beginning of February." Sadie sat on a tall stool in her tack room drinking her brother’s good scotch.  Her friend Cat was folding clean horse blankets and towels. She’d heard the story before.  

"I thought it was Halloween."

"No, it was mid-winter - Candlemas is what the Church calls it. THIS time of year. Mid-way between winter and spring. This whole week the veil between worlds is thin."

"So Groundhog Day and the Superbowl are pagan holidays?" Cat snapped a clean towel and Sadie ignored her. 

"That’s when IT happened. That’s when SHE usually makes an appearance." 

"Are you so superstitious that you won’t say her name?"

Sadie swiveled on the stool to face Cat. "If the whole thing is fiction like you say, what does it matter? No one says her name because no one remembers her real name. They call her the other thing. I don’t call her that."

"La Llorona. La Llorona. La Llorona. La Llorona. It rolls off the tongue when you say it fast, doesn’t it?" This came from a dark corner along with a large exhalation of smoke. 

Sadie went on. "She was driven to madness, probably because of a man, and killed her children. Drowned them in an irrigation ditch or the river. Then she killed herself. Her ghost walks around crying and moaning and snatching-up children to drown them."   

"They died of hypothermia. She didn’t kill them." Chocky coughed softly and continued. 

"They fell in the water. It was 1949 and that big drain along the river had just been redone. Two of her three children rolled down the steep bank into the water. She fell going after them - hit her head on a stump. The water was shallow but cold." He paused to light his pipe.

"The third child ran for help and lived to tell the true story. But they were gone when the villagers found the place they’d fallen. The bodies were so far downstream no one knew who they were or where they were from. They were buried in a potters’ field outside the churchyard. That’s why she’s nameless."

"The tale is much older than 1949. It’s in a history book I have from the thirties," Sadie snorted.

"That’s a book of folklore, Sadie, not history." Cat had studied nearly everything written about the ranch. "It was by your Aunt who used it later to promote the dance school and restaurant."

"That doesn't mean it isn't true!"


Ace's Backhoe

When Sammy took over he fired everyone and put Ace in charge. Ace Scanlin had been his driver and bodyguard. He'd never managed anything larger than the turning radius of a truck but Sammy let him run the ranch and restaurant.  

Ace had no sense of priority or proportion. He would obsess over some details and ignore more important things. Like when Sadie went out of town for a weekend and left Ace in charge of the barn. He had a flush toilet installed in the office but didn’t feed. Horses and the kenneled hounds would have died if there hadn’t been automatic water troughs.

And there was his temper. It became startlingly obvious to Sammy after two workmen disappeared, that Ace, who confessed he’d gotten angry and killed them, wouldn’t work out. Everyone was terrified of him. No one showed up at the house anymore. Hiring anyone to do actual work was impossible and that made Ace even madder since it meant he had to do the work himself.

But Sammy was afraid of him too. And the guy could operate a backhoe, which was pretty important if you are going to go around killing people.


Lines of Power

She stood alone outside under the long portal that edged one side of the old building. The wind was howling through the long stretch of power lines up the mesa. Alva had given the power company an easement across Cozy Y figuring it was just for his land. He didn’t know they’d use it for huge towers and high-voltage lines that make your ears buzz when you stand under them.

A former friend was a "planner" with the power company and worked on impact assessments. Mostly she got paid to mollify people who showed up at the public meetings worried about how the towers and lines would look. Or about whether electromagnetic radiation was bad for you - which was met with the technical equivalent of “pshaw” And "prove it."

Nobody thought to ask if lines and towers would moan like sad ghosts.

Alva also assumed that same easement was wide enough for the road. He didn’t think about the steepness of the mesa’s edge and when his engineer pointed it out he got mad and fired him. His lawyer was as clueless as he was about topography and engineering. That’s why Sammy had to get another easement. He made sure this one’s wide enough for six lanes. 


A Real Dump

The place was a real dump. That’s saying something because people were dumping all over after they stopped running sheep and cattle on Cozy Y. People needed it then - the land - they used it for everything: animals, plants, firewood, rocks and there was a lead mine too. After the wars no one really wanted to work the land like that. And Alva wouldn’t let them anyway - not the way his father had.

The fences and that nice old-style Cozy Y gate came down. You know the one with a counter-balance thing and you can stay in your truck and just pull on a rope and it opens. Everyone loved that gate. They’d put little kids on it so they could ride it up and down. No wonder it finally broke. Alva never got it fixed and it rotted away in the weeds - like nearly everything else.

The arroyo filled up with trash, mattresses, tires, dead animals. Then one day a thunderstorm parked itself right over all that crap and washed it clean down into the valley.  Roiling piles of garbage. A particularly solid sleeper-sofa punched a hole in the small dam that usually held back the water. Everything was swept onto fields and yards and even into a couple homes. The place was covered in filth, broken bits and mud - the mesa’s payback for neglect.

That was right around the time Connie took over. She had the fences fixed and a couple of pretty little rock check dams built. ATVs are the problem now. Thank God she didn’t live to see that. Angel wants a drone to patrol that fence line now, if Sammy doesn't sell it all first.


Liars

Rosa had been forced to give up her baby. She’d been raped by her cousin but could never tell anyone.  The whole place was full of secrets like that, and worse. Secrets and lies and lies about the secrets. They were like salt on soil and nothing good or sincere would grow. Only mutual distrust thrived, jungle thick.

You could trace it back further than the Colonel’s land theft of course. There were lies told to the King’s agents and to priests. Layers of lies told to the earliest investors. New lies excuse and protect old lies.  Lying becomes normal coping behavior. Lies and misconceptions just keep growing and going. Like the New Mexico State Motto: It grows as it goes. They meant tall tales, the liars.