“You gonna shoot me with that?”
The stranger did not look particularly concerned as he stood next to the tree that had sprouted when Bob’s grandpa was a kid. It stretched over a hundred feet to the sky now and the long straight trunk groaned when the wind blew. It was a lonely tree, Bob imagined, probably dropped from a bird who’d found it in the higher timber where the creek came down out of the canyon. It could’ve floated in when the creek flooded in ’53, before his grandpa’s dad built the berm that kept it on the other side.
He let the barrel of his .243 rifle drop a couple inches, so that it pointed at the ground exactly halfway between he and the stranger. The dog sat to his right, unconcerned, his tail sweeping an arc in the thin grass and dust of the yard.
“God, I hope not,” said Bob, “but I would appreciate it if you’d keep your hands away from your belt. That hogleg on your hip looks formidable.”
The stranger smiled and cocked his head. “Fair enough,” he said.
“Why are you tresspassing in my ranch yard?” Bob asked. “I’m guessing you’re the person who took my eggs.”
“I paid for those eggs. You found the money I tacked to the coop door frame.”
“True enough,” said Bob. “But this isn’t a store, it’s my home and I raise those chickens for myself. I’m not in the business of selling eggs. If you want eggs, why not go to a store? There’s one in town.”
“I don’t much like towns.”
Bob nodded. This was not a surprise. “They’d be cheaper at the store.”
The stranger chuckled, a short easy laugh that showed the lines around his eyes. “I didn’t have change. A dollar seemed like an insult, so I left two.”
“How many did you take?”
“That’s eight bucks a dozen.”
The stranger shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“How did you keep the dog quiet? He usually barks at everything.”
The stranger looked at the dog. “He’s a very nice dog. I guess he decided I wasn’t a threat to anything.”
Bob nodded again. “Where you from?”
If the stranger felt any impatience with the questions, he didn’t let on. He waved a hand vaguely to the west. “Over in The Glow,” he said.
Bob knew immediately what he meant. The Glow. He hadn’t heard anybody call it that, exactly, but it seemed obvious that the stranger was referring to the glow everyone saw on the other side of the mountains, big cities strung together across the bosom of the rich valley that began at the western slopes they couldn’t see, necklaces of glass and light, beautiful and terrible to behold.
Just then, the stranger’s head snapped up as if he’d heard something. Sure enough, there was the faintest wail of a siren, probably down along the river road miles away.
“Did you call the cops?” the stranger asked.
“No,” Bob said. “They wouldn’t come out here anyway.”
The siren seemed to be getting closer. This puzzled Bob. The last time he’d seen a cop on his ranch, he’d not been uniformed and had been drinking beer, just glad to be part of something social.
“Do you mind if I leave now?” The stranger had a sudden edge in his voice.
Bob swung the rifle up so that it rested in the crook of his arm, pointing ninety degrees away from the stranger.
“Sure, go ahead. But if a cop asks me if I’ve seen anything out of the ordinary, I’m not gonna lie to him.”
“Fair enough,” said the stranger, who then seemed to vanish into the crisp air.
The dog whined once. Bob looked at him. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
The dog whined again.