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Story by Tom Saunders (Read author interview) March 15, 2006

They said there was gold. There was no gold, only spent workings and spent money. Content to chance my life, the wager a small one, I pushed on further and further into the heat and dust, into the whatever might be. In all my journeying I saw no fence nor big house. I hunted with the animals and gave thanks for their meat, which only they themselves owned.

I was alone in the world and sovereign.

I built this house, my establishment, my legacy to the wilderness. I had with me my tools, capital of the working man, a hammer, nails, a good saw and an axe. One room is all I made, one room to keep, to belong to.

My horse and mule brought me to the river. I had drifted into a kind of sleep in the saddle, my mind filled with old friends and sweet lies, dreams that consoled me yet left me wanting. I awoke to the splashing of hooves, to a broad stony flow, the water as clear and clean as rain.

We drank that water down, the three of us, drank it down and staked a claim.

A roaring and a light dancing on the mountainside led us along the bank to the lake and the waterfall. White foam spilled over a high cliff, a long tumble out of the sky, the pool below a deep coppery green, white fish moving in the still glass near the shore.

Some time ago a man came here. Made fire under the trees near my house. He was dirty with a silver buckle on his belt. He gave a sly grin when I asked him why he’d chosen this place. I go where I please, he said, and stay there if I choose.

That night I could not sleep. I left my house as morning broke and shot him while he lay sleeping. He wanted to stay and I gave him his wish. He lies under the biggest and most beautiful tree in the forest. No man could buy a finer and more peaceful grave.

My belief in an arbiter on high was taken from me by the rich men who stole the earth and sky of my old country. They paid for their churches and sat in their private pews with their families around them, lords behind walls, bloodlines locked around the land like chains. Now I’m my own dynasty and free of spires and prayer books, free of admonitions and holy gold. Blessed with a new god, I am, one that waits at my shoulder and keeps good company. She brought me here safely and gave me everything I see. She’s in the blue of the heavens and the shade of the trees, in the smell of sap and dew drying on rock. She and I will never be parted. I’ve put all my trust in her and I’ll do her bidding until she’s finished with me.

About the Author

Tom Saunders is British and he writes short stories and poetry. He has an MA in Creative writing from the University of East Anglia. His tutors there were Angela Carter and Sir Malcolm Bradbury. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon was writer in residence at the time. In 1995 he was an award winner in the Ian St James International Short Story Competition. His work has been published in print and on the Net. His short story collection Brother, What Strange Place is This? is available on both sides of the Atlantic.

This story appeared in Issue Twelve of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twelve

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