Harlow looked up from his cooking fire as a flock of Canadian geese ascended from the lake. Their honking a cacophony, their wing beats a testimony to chaos theory before their patterns merged and they became a single instrument, wings beating in unison as they stretched into their familiar V pattern. He had heard them come in late at night, after the frogs had ceased their singing, but before the coyotes began their mournful wails. Harlow stirred the beans in his pot. In truth, he had been eating nothing but beans and rice for the past two months. He didn’t mind. Food was food.
The sun was just begining to brighten the sky. This was the best part of the day, Harlow thought. The coyotes were winding down, the air was crisp and cold. In fact, it was difficult to sleep through the chill of the early morning so he would rise, stir the coals from last night’s fire and add sticks and twigs until he had a small warming flame. Then he would cook coffee in a battered blue pot, stirring the grounds with a stick. When the coffee was hot, he would pour it into an old tin can and drink it black while he began to re-heat the beans.
Harlow turned to the west and watched the tops of the pines across the meadow turn golden green with the first rays of the rising sun. In the east, the sky was pink. California Jack began to crawl out from under the horse blanket, his uneven fur sticking out in spikey clumps as he stretched first his front, then his back legs, then gave a loud and toothy yawn. Harlow smiled at the dog. “Good morning, California,” Harlow said, “you sleep good?” The dog grinned at Harlow and wagged his entire body with happiness as he approached for a good scratch behind the ears. But suddenly he stopped, stiffened, his face pointing towards the lake, his tail pointing crookedly in the opposite direction. “What is it, Jack?” Harlow asked, staring towards the lake, seeing nothing. California Jack sprinted away, kicking up dust as he ran headlong toward a fallen tree. “Ah…squirrel,” Harlow said, smiling at the crazy dog.
Harlow began spooning beans into his mouth with a wooden spoon as he watched the sun peak over the eastern hills. For two months he had watched the progression of days, dining each morning on coffee and beans and watching the sun rise. It would be winter soon. He pushed the thought from his mind. It was time to walk the lines. He reached for his rifle, a Henry Model 1873 Lever Action, and strapped his six-shot pistol around his leg. “Let’s go, California!” he yelled, whistling for the mutt who came bounding toward him, tongue hanging sideways from his dirty jaws.
The path was well-worn by now. From his camp, he followed the dusty trail south along the lake shore, then through a prarie of sage. In the center of the sage prarie was a stone pile, marking the south eastern corner of Harlow’s stake–his Kingdom, as he thought of it. He turned west here, continuing to follow the worn path. The sun was higher now, warming his back. Far to the south he could see the smoke from Pencil’s cabin. Harlow didn’t know Pencil’s real name; he called him Pencil because that is what the man looked like–a pencil with an eraser for a head. There weren’t many neighbors in this area. Most of the land was uninhabited by humans, but Harlow had created nicknames for all of the folks he met. Buzzard Man, Wart Woman, Chicken Hunter, Coyote Cal…Harlow wasn’t sure what their nicknames were for him–he didn’t care.
As he neared the southwest corner marker, a large Ponderosa pine with chopped markings in the bark, a glint caught his eye and he stopped and stared to the north. Then, like a moth to a flame, he began walking towards the reflected light that was blinking from the ground. He knew what he would find and he did not want to see it, but he could not stop himself…or he did not want to stop himself. He approached slowly, his eyes intent on a spot on the dirt in front of him. California Jack bounded up, sniffed at the disturbed soil, then ran away to hunt jack-rabbits. Harlow squatted on the ground and poked the butt of his rifle in the dirt. A small, rectangular object lay on the soil. An animal, digging a burrow, had kicked the object out of it’s burial place, depositing it on the surface. Harlow stared. It was his Blackberry phone.
He poked it with his finger. Two months and here it was, taunting him, laughing at him, daring him. He brushed the dirt off of the screen. He pushed the power button. The screen flickered to life and began running through its powering up sequence. He watched, incredulous as it searched for service, found it, and glowed, bright lights shining. He stood, glancing around at the sage and pine. A tear formed in the corner of his right eye. He wiped it away and looked back at the phone as it chimed. A mesage formed across the screen, “76 Voice Messages”.
Harlow knelt again and dug with his hands in the dirt. He uncovered a wallet–his own–and inspected his driver’s license and credit cards. He put them in his pocket and stood, wiping another tear from his eye. He put the phone in his pocket and turned to whistle for the dog. “California Jack! C’mon, dog!” It was time to go. It was time to leave the Kingdom of Dirt.