The El Dorado of Pot

She’d asked the gum snapping hairdresser at the local KutHut to give her bangs like Bettie Page, but as she brushed the frizzy fringe from her eyes, she had to admit she looked more like a pink and blonde Popple than a pinup girl. All round cheeks and button blue eyes, a face better suited to selling diapers than seducing boys.

Still, he reclined on her dad’s Lay-Z-Boy, puffing at one of her mom’s Newports wearing nothing but Star Wars boxers damp around the crotch. He had more hair on his chin than his chest, though calling his few scraggly strands a beard was like calling their bumblefuck town a city or her parents’ doublewide anything other than a piece of shit.

They’d fucked on it. The recliner, that is. They’d also fucked on the pool table wedged into what used to be Wade’s room, tucked in there so tightly you hadn’t room to line up a shot with anything larger than a chopstick. The only thing that pool table was good for was fucking on, and it wasn’t too good for that if you had the mind to clean the felt once you were finished.

She’d done that, with a spray bottle of Formula 409 and her discarded boy shorts. She’d stripped her sheets, because that was where they started, and already had them in the dryer, hoping to get her bedroom back to rights before her mom got home from second shift.

He’d watched her, lazy eye half closed while high from the schwag that Wade had left him.

She was so in love.

He inhales audibly through his teeth, louder than it should be because his left incisor is missing a large chuck after an unfortunate meeting with a curb. “That’s some tough shit, baby. When’s he getting out?”

They’d been over this before, how many months Wade would be in county jail, but Cody had a way of forgetting things, aided by water bong made of Mt. Dew bottles. “November. Sometime around Thanksgiving.” She winces, hearing her baby pitched voice and aims for a lower register. “It’s so fucked up.” That’s right, she thought, use your grown up words. “There was so much he wanted to do this summer.”

“Stay away from po-po.” He says it in a singsong way, as if his experience with the police amounted to something greater than being driven home by the local cop with a pocketful of weeds after he was seen rooting around in the vacant lot behind the fire hall. He’d also had some pills. Aspirin with the pill identifiers scraped off was what the cop said, but she didn’t know whether it was true or he was just some lucky white kid baked off his ass in suburbia.

He’d said that it was E.

He turns on the television, flipping through all the channels his parents can’t afford.

She pours him a glass of lemonade, placing it on the end table beside the recliner. She doesn’t really want to tell him, but her desire to be desired, her need to be needed, is strong. Strong enough that the fact that he’s ignoring her after fucking her three times that afternoon actually makes her gut hurt.

“So, where are you going to get your shit while Wade’s away?” It’s so much easier to say, “Wade’s away,” than, “my brother’s in prison.” Only, it’s not a prison, it’s jail. It’s just county, he said. No big deal. Few months in then back out, but back out too late for his harvest, that much she knew.

“Maybe I’ll start dealing myself.” He flips back a few channels to see two monkeys fucking, then flips back to see Ed Norton’s hulk taking up a couple helicopters.

“And how are you going to do that?” She tucks her narrow arms behind her back, pushing out her C-cups like someone’s stabbing her in the back with a pointy stick. Working her way up to the point.

“Get someone to spot me the shit. Won’t make money, but I can smoke the profits. Nooch.” He starts surfing channels again, stopping on Emma Stone, who looks nothing like a Popple with her auburn bangs hanging in her eyes. That’s what finally decides her. It feels a lot like betraying Wade, but Wade isn’t here right now and he won’t be back until it’s after the first frost.

She wrings her hands behind her back, hoping to look coy. “What if you could smoke all you wanted and earn money while doing it?”

He tugs at his ballsack while staring at Emma Stone. “What you talking about, baby?”

“Wade said he was growing plants, a whole field of them.”

His eyes go wide as he tugs his ballsack a little too hard. “Plants? Where?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere near a bridge, he said.”

He’s looking at her now, his blue eyes so close to the same shade as hers that when she gets close enough, it’s like staring into a mirror. “Which bridge?”

“He didn’t say, but there are only so many bridges nearby.” It was true enough. There was a finite number of bridges in the adjoining townships. With all the little creeks snaking through cow pastures and culverts, maybe just over a hundred. “A whole field,” she repeats, reminding him of the main point.

“A whole field. No one else knows about it?”

She shakes her head, even though she doesn’t know if Wade told anyone else.

He smiles at her and moves a half inch over on the recliner, giving her the smallest sliver of space, and pats it. “Come here, baby.”

She jumps on him, nuzzling her face against his bare chest.

“We’re gonna find that field.” He wraps one arm around her, turning off the television. “If it takes the whole fucking summer. Just you and I, baby. You and I and my friend Ben to drive us around. Three of us, looking for the El Dorado of pot.”

The Slaughterhouse Door

“I will slice you into beef!”

A large belch of cud breath hit her face, fermented greenery bound with bile and saliva.

Eth gave her familiar a shove, trying to push Cow’s face off her shoulder. The bovine shifted her head to the other shoulder just by craning her long neck. “Humans don’t slice into beef,” Eth said.

“Then what do they slice into?” Cow stepped forward, knocking the witch into the door she was trying to open, knocking her goggles askew.

“I don’t know.” Eth readjusted her eye-wear and squatted down so she could examine the lock on eye level. “Flesh.”

Cow’s spittle dribbled down the back of Eth’s dress as she spoke. “Everything is flesh, servant. Your people turn pigs to pork, fowl to poultry, and my babies to veal–”

“You’ve never had a baby.” She’d found Cow just a wee calf in her papa’s pasture, red the color of congealed blood except for a white blaze beneath her pole. They’d been together every moment since then, even when their physical bodies were distant. In that time, Cow had never given birth, though she gave milk just fine.

Eth pulled out her jaw harp, sliding it between her teeth and clamping her lips around it. She plucked at it with her fingers, hoping not only to find the notes to charm the lock, but to end the conversation as well.

All cows are my calves, Cow said in Eth’s mind, not content to let the subject drop. Don’t feign ignorance on my account. You’re the stupid one without answers.

Eth wasn’t a good witch. The ability to both channel her own powers into opening the lock and mind-speaking with Cow was beyond her. They both knew it, too. Cow had ceased speaking, but she continued to bore her will into Eth’s mind, forcing her to abandon the lock for a moment. She pulled the harp from her mouth, not wanting to waste more power than was necessary.

“We don’t call our flesh anything special, Cow. We don’t eat each other.”

“Maybe you should try sometime,” Cow said, aloud this time. “You can eat less of us that way and there would be less of you.”

Eth rubbed some sweat off her brow. Summer in the city was so much worse than back home. On the farm, they had breeze. “Can I please just open this door.”

“If you do, I will slice you into beef.”

“I’d like to see you hold a knife.” Eth stuck the harp back in her mouth and returned to plucking it, trying to hear the sound of the lock in response to her call.

Don’t need a knife when you have hooves. Cow had taken a step forward, her shiny black cloven hoof a hair’s breadth away from Eth’s back, her brisket pressed against the witch’s back. Eth closed her eyes, trying not to think about the 900 pound familiar looming over her and listened.

Not for the first time, not for the first time that week, not for the first time that day, not for the first time that hour, Eth wished she’d have gotten a different familiar. A nice snake, perhaps. An owl. A weasel. A rat. A tick. A flea. A louse. Even a nice case of bush thrush would be better than this.

That’s the thing most people don’t understand.

She twanged at the harp, getting closer.

She didn’t choose Cow.

Twang.

Cow chose her.

Eth was just a farmer’s daughter, wandering through the wooded field, looking for Lizzie’s calf. The cow had wandered back to the barn that morning, placenta dangling proudly out, pleased with herself for hiding a calf so well. Eth was told to go find it and find it she did. Most of it, anyway. Bits were here and there, black and white patches of fur and flesh. An ear. A swish. Ribs with pale pink calf flesh hanging from them in ribbons.

Eth should have gone back to the barn, but there was a lot of things in Eth’s life she should have done differently.

She followed the trail of gore and guts down to the creek, where the grass gave way to sandy silt and shallow rooted trees. The old hickory had still been standing the last time Eth wandered this far away from the houses, but it was down now, its roots ripped out of the earth like an angry maw. So close to the creek, water had already pooled in the hollow left by the tree. And that’s where she found Cow, a tiny red calf with wide black eyes and a tuft of black and white fur in her mouth.

The lock responded to the harp, not so much unlocking as loosening, the real world melting slightly to accommodate the witch’s will. Eth felt it rather than heard it, but she stood all the same and jiggled the door. The latch gave way.

“I’m not going in there,” Cow said, her ears flicking back.

A hot blast of bloody air hit Eth’s face as the door swung open. She pulled her white scarf up above her nose and mouth and adjusted her goggles for a snugger fit. “You brought us this far. Then, you don’t want me to open the door. You don’t want to go inside. I never thought you’d abandon the herd.”

Cow’s one ear popped forward, as if she was hearing something from beyond the door while the other remained steadfastly back, showing her disapproval. “This is not about my herd.”

“If all cows are your calves, then all cows are your herd.”

“People know nothing about herds.” Cow took an uncertain step back, wide eyes going wider.

“Maybe, but I know a lot about cows.” Eth tucked her jaw harp back into her dress’s pocket and hitched up her skirt. “And the only thing scarier to a cow than this here slaughter house is being left alone outside.”

Eth stepped through the door, onto the metal grate beyond. The kill floor spread out far below them, but Eth could see the bronze gears churning, speckled red from their day’s work. High above, fan blades turned on a single shaft jutting out from the floor below, whining as they rotated, pulling up steam and heat.

The witch stepped farther in, gripping the railing to look down.

In her mind, she herd a single word.

Damfucker.

The familiar click of hooves followed behind her.