FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE

           A great bird sat motionless in the barren branches of an old Pĩnon tree, growing on the northern edge of the highest mesa in its domain. A cool morning breeze gently ruffled its feathers, briefly disturbing its rest. Blinking its eyes, the bird stretched out its mighty wings, causing a mild commotion in the branches of the old tree… than cocking its head from side to side, it searched for signs of danger and when satisfied that there was no cause for alarm, it folded back its wings and slowly closed its eyes again.

          The morning sun was just beginning its climb on the eastern horizon, silently dispersing the darkness of the night. Colors returned to the rugged red cliffs while wild flowers growing on the floor of the canyon, gently opened to absorb the sun’s warmth. The great bird opened its eyes again and gave out a loud piercing shriek, which echoed down through the valleys. Hearing the call, small rodents sought refuge in their burrows while the larger animals began their search for food.

          The branch of the old Pĩnon tree suddenly sprung up as the great bird left its perch and slowly glided downward toward the floor of the canyon… but than with a thrust of its mighty wings it soared upwards into the clear morning skies, until it reached a current of wind on which it could glide. On the ground below was a large flat rock, surrounded by a forest of small trees and shrubs. A single footpath wound down from the rock to a small adobe house on the southern foot of the hill.

          Contented that all was in order, the great bird winged its way back to the old Pĩnon tree where it would rest until later in the day.

___________ _ __________

          “What kind of bird is that?” Jason asked, as he stepped down out of the grey Bureau of Indian Affairs van.

          His older brothers stepped down behind him and looked up to where he was pointing. The government boarding school they attended was out for the summer and because no one had come for them, the school had provided the ride home.

          “It’s just an old Crow,” Robert answered, as he picked up the paper sack containing all of his earthly possessions.

          “I don’t think so,” Peter responded, as he shaded his eyes from the sun, to get a better look at the graceful silhouette floating high above them. “I think it is an Eagle! See, how it glides on the wind.”

          “Do you think it lives around here?” Jason inquired.

          “Most likely,” Peter responded, “maybe we can look for its nest this summer. It should be somewhere in the hills around here.”

          “I hope so,” Robert blurted, “I’ll kill it and bring the feathers back to school next year.”

          “If you do, could I have some of them?” Jason asked.

          “No one is going to kill it!” Peter responded harshly, “and you better not let me catch you trying to, Robert.”

          Robert turned and shrugged his shoulders as he started for the house. “Who’s going to stop me?” he mumbled defiantly under his breath. He hated it when Peter treated him like a child. After all… they were almost the same size, even though Peter was a year older. He had always been jealous of Peter and would challenge him at times… but usually came out the loser. As a result, he had developed a rather quick temper, which often got him in trouble. He had earned the reputation of being a tough guy at school, which in itself was not all that bad, but it did limit his chances of forming any close relationships with his classmates. For a long time he had competed with Peter for Jason’s friendship but was beginning to lose interest in that as well, because he found Jason’s inquisitiveness a bit irritating. As he walked up to the sagging wooden porch of the small adobe house, he noticed that the padlock was on the door. He searched under the worn out doormat for the key but found nothing. “Shit! I knew this was going to happen,” he mumbled, as he threw his sack of belongings against the door.

          Jason picked up his sack, which had hurriedly been stuffed with his clothes and a few of the treasures he had collected during the year. He waved Good-bye to the driver, as the van sped off down the dusty trail that led back to the main road. He was seven years old but smaller than most of his classmates and for that reason grateful for having two big brothers. He admired both of them but for different reasons. Robert was a fighter and never got pushed around. Jason wanted to be tough like him… but Peter had many friends and was well liked by his teachers. Jason also wanted to be well liked and felt more comfortable following in the footsteps of Peter. “Is the door locked?” he asked of Robert as he approached the porch.

          “God you’re stupid! Would I be sitting here if it were open?” Robert responded sarcastically.

          Jason did not respond but turned to look back at Peter, who was still standing in the driveway looking up at the Eagle.

          “Hurry up!” Robert shouted impatiently. “Quit watching that stupid bird and find a way into the house. I’m hungry!”

          Peter reluctantly picked up the two sacks that contained his neatly folded clothes and started walking toward the porch. He was puzzled by the fact that no one had come for them and fought off the thought that something serious may have happened to their parents. He was twelve years old but often passed for older because of his maturity. The responsibility of being the oldest had forced him to grow up sooner then most of his peers. It was not always easy for him and he did at times wonder how it would be if he were all alone. It was not that he didn’t love his brothers; he just felt cheated at times because his parents were seldom around and the responsibility of keeping his brothers out of trouble always seem to land on his shoulders.

          “So how in Hell are we going to get in?” Robert demanded, as Peter approached.

          “Did you check for the key?”

          “Do you think I am stupid?” Robert responded. “I doubt they even knew we were coming home.”

          “Where do you think they are?” Jason asked.

          “In town getting drunk!” Robert answered, again with sarcasm.

          “You don’t know that,” Peter responded harshly. “Maybe they went to get some groceries,” he added… hoping it to be true.

          “Well I’m not waiting all night for them. Let’s just break the stupid door down,” Robert continued, as he stood up and began pushing against it with his shoulder.

          “Wait!” Peter shouted, “Let’s check out the windows first.” They walked around the house and in the back discovered that the small window, broken months before when Robert threw a shoe at Peter in an argument, had not yet been repaired. Broken glass still remained in the frame and Peter carefully removed it and placed it on the ground. “Okay Shrimp, let’s go,” he said, as he turned toward Jason. “You’re the only one small enough to get through here.”

          Ordinarily that comment would have irritated Jason but this time he did not mind. He was happy that there was something only he could do to help. They picked him up and carefully pushed him through the small opening, feet first. “Are you okay?”  Peter asked, as Jason disappeared through the hole and fell with a thud to the wooded floor below.

          “Yea, I’m okay.”

          “We’ll go around to the front than and wait for you to open the large window.” Peter responded.

          Jason disappointedly looked around before starting for the front of the house. The bed had not been made for some time and dirty clothes littered the bedroom floor. Empty whiskey and beer bottles were mingled with wadded potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers on the kitchen table and floor. The old grey couch had been moved away from the wall and now sat on an awkward angle in the main room. The two wooden chairs still sat by the wall near the wood burning stove but they were broken and covered with trash.

          “Hurry up in there!” Robert shouted impatiently.

          “I’m coming,” Jason responded as he ran for the window. He reached for the latch but could not get it opened.

          “What a dumb ass!” Robert chided.

          “I’m sorry, but it won’t open,” Jason answered disappointedly, with a quiver in his voice. Tears began forming in his eyes as he tried harder to move the latch.

          “Jason, go over to the table and bring one of the chairs to stand on. You will be able to open it than,” Peter responded confidently.

          Jason did as he had been instructed and soon the window was opened.

          “It’s about time!” Robert kidded, as he climbed in through the window.

          Peter handed the bags containing the clothes to Jason and then climbed in through he window as well, relieved that another problem had been solved.

          “There’s nothing here to eat!” Robert shouted in disgust.

          Peter sighed, and walked over to the metal food cabinet where Robert was standing. “There must be something in there that we can make,” he said, hopefully. A thorough search of the kitchen yielded only sufficient ingredients for making fry bread… but for the boys, that was a treat. “Get a fire going in the stove and I will start making the dough,” he said to Robert.

          “Can I help?” asked Jason.

          “You can get the frying pan cleaned out,” Peter suggested, “that will be a big help.”

          Within the hour, the bread was made and the boys had eaten their fill. The house was the next project and all of them did their share of the work cleaning it. The last rays of the Sun were just slipping out of the room as they put the couch cushions down for their bed. Peter took out the blankets and with nothing left to do but wait, they all decided to lie down, Jason crawling in-between his brothers. A nearly full moon rose in the night sky, illuminating the small room. The howling of distant Coyotes and the occasional hoot of a nearby Owl were the only sounds to break the silence. After several minutes, Jason whispered, “Do you think they will come home tonight?”

          “I don’t know,” Peter responded.

          “Do you think they will like the way we cleaned the house?” Jason continued.

          “Yes, I think they will,” Peter answered, with a yawn.

          There was a short pause as Jason cleared his throat and then with some hesitation he asked, “Do you think they will be drunk?”

          “Shut up Jason!” Robert barked. “You talk too much.”

          “He wasn’t talking to you,” Peter responded in Jason’s defense.

          “Maybe not, but he’s keeping me awake,” Robert retorted.

          Peter was about to respond but then decided it was not worth an argument. “Maybe we all should get some sleep; I don’t think they will be coming home tonight anyway.”

          “But wher…ouch,” Jason started, then stopped as Robert’s arm jabbed into his side, convincing him that the question was not really all that important. He snuggled in closer to Peter and within a short time; all of them were sleeping soundly.

__________ _ __________

            The boys were still sleeping when the sun came up the following morning. Birds began chirping as they fluttered between branches of the tall oak tree growing in the back of the house. An old blue car pulled off of the main road and slowly made its way up the trail leading to the house. Steam was rolling out from beneath the smashed hood, as it came to a jerking halt near the front porch.

          From the passenger’s side of the car a woman stepped out and closed the door behind her. She looked much older then her 29 years as she staggered toward the steps. Her long black hair had come undone, exposing the grey areas she had tried to hide. Her eyes were red and glassy and her face was swollen from an infected cut on her lip.

          Little evidence remained of the beautiful young girl who had once represented her freshman class at the homecoming dance. Emma was fifteen then and proud of the achievements she had made. In her sophomore year, she fell in Love with a tall handsome junior named Peter, who was Captain of the Varsity basketball team. He talked of marriage and said he could give her the kind of life she had always dreamed of. She believed him… but than during the Christmas break found out that she was pregnant.

          Emma explained her condition to Peter upon returning to school after the break and was relieved when he said that he wanted to continue their relationship. He was with her on the reservation when the baby was born in July of that year but because of the distance between their homes could not spend much time with her. She named her son after him in the hopes that by doing so it would strengthen their relationship.

          Leaving the baby at home with her mother, Emma returned to boarding school that fall and renewed her relationship with Peter. Everything was going great until that Christmas vacation when again she realized that she was pregnant. Peter’s reaction, when she told him, was not at all what she had hoped for. He stared at her for a moment and then without warning punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground. “Don’t you ever come near me again, you Whore!” he shouted as he walked away.

          The school was unsympathetic and insisted that she have an abortion if she wanted to stay in school. She chose not to and returned to the reservation and her family. Robert was born in the beginning of August and a short time later she found a job as a waitress in a small café on the outskirts of town.

__________  _ __________

          Herbert Pinto stepped out of the driver’s side of the car and followed his wife Emma to the porch. His graying hair was cut short and through it could be seen the scars of many fights. His hands were shaking as he pulled the padlock key from his pocket.

          He had never done well in school and so at fifteen, when his mother became ill, he decided to drop out and take care of her. She died two years later at home and he buried her close to the house. He lived alone in the small adobe house that his mother had left him and managed to survive on money from odd jobs and handouts he got on the streets in town. He started drinking and by the age of twenty-four, he had been in jail countless times. He had almost given up hope of ever having a family until one day when he walked into a small café on the outskirts of town. It was there that he met Emma for the first time and a few months later they were married.

          Emma moved her belongings and her children into the small adobe house and tried to make a home for them. They managed to survive on her welfare checks and the occasional money he received from odd jobs. It was not at all what either of them had dreamed of but it did at least satisfy some of their basic needs. Jason was born eleven months later in the back room of the house.

__________ _ __________

          The sound of the keys in the lock startled the boys from their sleep and they all sat up, anxiously looking at the door. It was their mother who stepped through the door first and immediately Jason jumped up to greet her. “Mommy!” he shouted as he threw his arms around her waist.

          Caught off guard and still half drunk she defensively pushed him away from her. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Tears formed in Jason’s eyes as he picked himself up from the floor.

          “We’re home for the summer, Mom,” Peter answered, as he walked over and put his arm around Jason.

          Their father stepped in and surveyed the house. “What did you do to the place!” he demanded, as if upset that the room was changed.

          “We just cleaned it up some,” Peter responded.

          “Wasn’t good enough for you the way it was?” he asked defensively.

          “We didn’t mean for it to upset, father,” Peter answered with a slight quiver in his voice. “Your bed is ready if you would like to lie down and rest for a bit,” he added, hoping to prevent an argument.

          Realizing their condition, they decided to take his advice and both of them headed for the back room. The boys picked up their cushions and folded the blankets and when they were finished, Peter checked and found both of their parents passed out on the bed. “Let’s get out of here for awhile,” he whispered, nodding toward the door.

          “Look it’s the Eagle!” Jason exclaimed as he stepped onto the porch. They all stood for a moment and watched it gliding high above them.

          “Race you to the rock!” Robert shouted, as he leaped from the porch.

__________ _ __________

          In the days that followed things got a little better. The boys spent much of their time rediscovering the many interesting places around their home and in one of those discoveries uncovered an old bike of Peter’s. They worked much of the day on cleaning it up and getting it in running condition but unfortunately could not find anything to patch up the tires. “I know the old man sells them at the Trading Post,” Peter said as he stood up and stretched. “Let me check and see if Mom has any money.” A few minutes later, he returned from the house. “She doesn’t have any,” he said despondently.

          “I could have told you that,” Robert answered, as he sprung to his feet, “but I just remembered where some patches might be.” He took off on the run and returned breathless several minutes later. “Here, I found these,” he said, as he dropped a new package of patches on the ground.

          “Did you steal those?” Peter asked, suspiciously.

          “Would it make any difference?” Robert asked, defiantly.

          Jason could tell Peter was not pleased with what Robert had done and waited for some response from him… but none came. He instead picked up the patches and began fixing the tires. When it was finished, they all walked over to the Trading Post to see if the tires would hold air. Robert hid in some brushes, just as a precaution, and when they returned a few minutes later, he jumped onto the back of the bike and the three of them took off jubilantly down the trail.

          As the weeks passed they continued to entertain themseves and at times even their parents would join in on the fun. On the day before Peter’s birthday however their mother became quite irritable and talked their father into taking her into town. The boys assumed that their parents would not return that evening and so they retired early.

          In the morning Jason awoke and found Peter standing by the front window. “Happy Birthday, Peter!” he shouted cheerfully.

          “Good morning, Jason,” Peter responded pensively.

          “Are they back yet?”

          “No, not yet,” Peter answered. He was concerned for their safety but at the same time upset because they had decided to mess things up on his birthday again. As long as he could remember, his mother would always get upset around this time of year and he wished he knew the reason.

          Robert sat up but did not say anything because he was jealous of the fact that Peter was now a teenager.

          “You guys hungry?” Peter asked as he slowly walked over to the cabinet. All he could find was a nearly empty jar of peanut butter, some bread, an half a bag of potato chips.

          “I’m always hungry,” Robert answered, as he started picking up the cushions. Jason helped him clean the room by folding up the blankets.

          “Not much here guys,” Peter announced disappointedly. “Do you want to take it up to the rock to eat? Maybe we can take a hike afterwards.”

          “That sounds great!” Jason answered. “Can we try to find the Eagle?”

          “Perhaps we can,” Peter answered, enthusiastically, “that would be a great birthday present for me.”

          It didn’t take them long to reach the rock but as they finished their meal they saw the car of their parents returning. None of them spoke as they returned to the house, though each was wondering the same thing. Peter led the way inside and found them sitting at the kitchen table.

          “Where in Hell have you been!” Emma asked, before any of them could speak.

          “And what did you do with all of the damn food!” Herbert continued.

          “What damn food?” Robert retaliated. “There’s never anything to eat around here.”

          “That’s because you damn son of a bitches steal all the food and hide it somewhere,” Herbert reacted angrily.

          “That is not true,” Peter said defensively, hoping to take the attention away from Robert.

          “You don’t know anything you dumb drunk!” Robert blurted, before Peter could stop him. “I don’t have to take this shit!” he continued, as he picked up his slingshot and headed for the door.

          “You’re not going anywhere you little bastard!” their father shouted angrily, as he grabbed hold of Robert’s shirt.

          “Screw you!” Robert shot back, as he pulled away and ran out of the door.

          Peter looked over at Jason, who had large tears rolling down his cheeks. He knew there was no talking sense with his parents and so nodded to Jason to follow Robert. He walked out behind him, slamming the door as he left. By the time they caught up to Robert he had picked up a number of small rocks and was shooting them aimlessly into the air. It was obvious that Robert had also been crying which was something Jason had never witnessed before.

          “I know how you’re feeling,” Peter said sympathetically, as he put his hand on Robert’s shoulder.

          “Get your hand off of me!” Robert demanded as he took off on a run towards the Mesa.

          Peter closed his eyes and stood motionless for a moment; things were happening too fast and he was feeling out of control.

          “Is he mad at us too?” Jason asked tearfully.

          “No, he just got hurt,” Peter responded.

          “Did daddy hurt him?”

          “Yes, but not the way you are thinking, Jason. Daddy hurt him on the inside.”

          Jason looked confused and so Peter walked over to where he was standing and they both sat down on the grass. “When some big kid teases you at school Jason… what do you do?”

          “I cry,” Jason responded sheepishly.

          Peter smiled at his response. “No, I don’t mean that. What do you do after they are gone and you have stopped crying?”

          “Oh… well sometimes I go to my bed and beat up on my pillow. I pretend I have become a giant and everyone is afraid of me and then I catch one of them and when he tries to get…”

          “Okay! Okay!” Peter interrupted, “I don’t need the whole story. I just want you to understand that Robert is feeling the same way. Father hurt his feelings but he couldn’t do anything to him and so he had to find another way to release his anger. He got mad at me and now he will go and kill some poor little birds with that stupid slingshot because that is the only way he knows of to get rid of the anger. He takes it out on other people or things, just like you do to your pillow.”

          “Oh,” Jason responded thoughtfully, “Do you ever get hurt Peter?”

          “Of course I do; everybody gets hurt sometimes.”

          “But I never see you cry and you don’t kill anything.”

          “And I don’t beat up on my pillow either,” Peter added with a grin. “I guess I handle things a little differently. I prefer going someplace quiet and just meditate.”

          “Like when we are at the rock and you are watching the Eagle?”

          “Yes, just like that.”

          There was a long pause as Jason thought it all through. “Do you think we can help Robert not to hurt anymore?”

          “I don’t know… lets give it a try,” Peter said as he stood up. He took hold of Jason’s hand and the two of them walked in the direction Robert had taken. When they found him sitting next to a large rock, Peter went over and sat down beside him. “Feeling any better?”

          “I guess so,” Robert answered quietly.

          “Do you want to come with us to find the Eagle?” Peter asked.

          “No, I’ll just stay here.”

          Peter put his hand on Robert’s shoulder again but this time Robert didn’t pull away. “We would really like to have you come with us,” he said reassuringly.

          Robert was silent for a moment but then looked up and stared intensely into Peter’s eyes. “Okay, let‘s go,” he responded, as Peter let out a sigh of relief.

          The Mesa was over an hour’s walk away and to their delight they found a small spring of fresh water nears its base. After satisfying their thirst and playfully refreshing each other with the cool water, they rested for several minutes before beginning the climb. It wasn’t easy, especially for Jason, but with some pulling and pushing from his brothers, they eventually reached the top and when at last they all stood overlooking the valley they were glad they had done it. The house was not visible to them and for the first time in their lives they felt like they were free.

          “Do you think the Eagle is up here?” Jason asked, hopefully.

          “It should be somewhere,” Peter answered, as he surveyed the area.

          “Over there!” Robert exclaimed, pointing to a large Piñon tree standing some distance to the north of them. “I think I see a nest.”

          Cautiously, they approached the tree, trying not to make a sound. Then without warning, the Great bird flew directly above them, shrieking so loudly that they all fell to the ground. Breathless… they watched as it circled the tree and then landed on one of the branches. They remained motionless for several moments until the bird spread out its mighty wings again and flew off.

          “Wow!” Jason exclaimed. “That was neat!”

          “I didn’t know it was that big.” Robert added.

          “Or that beautiful,” Peter contributed, as he stood to his feet. “But now we had better get going.

          They continued their discussion as they made their way home. It was nearly dark by the time they returned to the house where they found their parents sleeping. Quietly they made up their bed and within minutes were also sleeping soundly.

__________ _ __________

          On the last day of summer vacation the boys took their customary walk up to the rock. They were looking forward to being with their friends again and to participating in the all of the activities available at boarding school. There had been no further episodes with their parents but the tension was still always there. Robert sat with his brothers for awhile but soon became bored with their conversation and walked a bit further down the trail. Once out of their site he pulled out his slingshot and began firing stones at anything that moved.

          Jason tried meditating like Peter but could not concentrate well because he could hear Robert off in the distance. He kind of liked doing some of the things with Robert… but he knew Peter did not approve.

          “What’s the matter?” Peter asked, sensing Jason’s restlessness.

          “Nothing,” Jason responded, unconvincingly.

          “You bored?” he asked, as he sat up and stretched out his arms.

          “Yah, a little I guess.”

          “Are you looking forward to going back to school?” Peter continued.

          “It’s better then being here.”

          “I know,” Peter answered, “sometimes I feel the same way.”

          “Do you think Mom and Dad will start drinking again?”

          “I don’t know,” Peter answered, “I think they would like to stop, but it is not easy for them because they use drinking to get rid of their pain.”

          “Do we hurt them?” Jason asked quite seriously.

          “I suppose we do sometimes… but I think most of their pain comes from a long time ago, before we were born.”

          “Will we grow up to be like them?”

          “No!” Peter answered reassuringly. “When I graduate I am going to get me a good job in town. I’ll save up my money and buy a good car so that we can go to the movies on the weekends. We can build a room on the house and…”

          “You mean a room for us?” Jason asked excitedly, as he began to realize Peter’s dream.

          “Sure… and we’ll buy some new furniture and real beds…”

          “And I can get some new clothes?” Jason added hopefully.

          “Of course, and maybe you could go to school in town and I can pick you up when I get out of work. Just think… no more dorms.”

          “That will be really neat!” Jason answered, as he smiled and threw his arms around Peter. “I can hardly wait.”

          “Well… it’s not going to be right away, but no one can stop us from dreaming, can they.”

          In the years that followed they continued to build on that dream, despite the fact that not much was changing. Robert’s attitude was becoming increasingly negative toward them and toward life in general, yet they believed he would come around once the changes started happening.

          Peter had grown considerably over the years; his tall slender body set him apart from his classmates and had also earned a starting position on the varsity basketball team. He was nearly seventeen and very much looking forward to his senior year of high school.

          Robert, on the other hand, had grown more muscular but not nearly as tall as Peter. He had tried playing football but didn’t like the discipline that went with it. He was not doing well in classes either and was thinking about dropping out of school.

          Jason had grown but still looked very boyish at eleven years of age. Evidence of his growing maturity however could be seen behind his dark brown eyes and many of his teachers would tell him how much he resembled Peter. He was also an exceptional student but not very good in sports.

          Another summer vacation had started and the boys were again waiting for their parents to return from town. They had made popcorn and were piecing together a puzzle by candlelight, on a stormy Saturday night, when suddenly the room was filled with a bright light and a loud crack of thunder shook the house. Jason sprang from his chair and stood close to Peter.

          “What, scared or something?” Robert mocked, as he cleared the popcorn from his own throat.

          Jason smiled timidly as he returned to his seat. “Do you think they are okay?”

          “Yah, but they most likely won’t be coming home in this storm, so we might as well go to bed,” Peter responded, trying to cover up the eerie feeling that had just taken hold of him.

          They readied the cushions and jumped into bed. “Hey, who’s going to blow out the candle?” Jason asked.

          “You said it, you do it,” Robert responded.

          “Peter?” Jason asked, hopefully.

          “Not me,” he answered jokingly.

          Jason climbed out from between them and walked cautiously over to the table. He took a deep breath and blew out the candle just as another bolt of lightning struck. In his panic, he made a leap for the cushions but misjudged the distance and slammed his head into the wall. Laughter broke out on both sides of him as he hid his face in the blanket. The storm continued for awhile longer and then gradually subsided, allowing them a peaceful night sleep.

__________ _ __________

          The sound of a car coming up the trail awoke Peter the following morning and he quickly sat up. “Hey you guys, they’re here; wake up.”

          “So what?” Robert answered, as he rolled over and faced the wall.

          Jason sat up and rubbed the remainder of the sleep from his eyes as Peter walked over to the window. “Hey guys, it’s not them,” he informed them. “Looks like a government car. I wonder what they want.”  He opened the door and stepped unto the porch where his brothers soon joined him.

          A well dressed woman stepped out of the Land Cruiser and opened the back door. “Could you boys come down and give me a hand please?” she asked politely. They jumped down off the porch and then stood in amazement as they recognized their mother in the back seat. She had a bandage wrapped around her head and others on her arms. Her eyes were barely visible from the swelling and her dress was covered in blood.

          They helped her carefully from the car and walked her to the house. Jason held the door open as they passed through and then fluffed the pillow as they put her gently on the bed. Peter covered her with a blanket as the Social worker came into the room.

          “Where’s daddy?” Jason asked, sensing something was very wrong.

          “Your parents were involved in a serious accident last night around ten,” the woman started, “I am sorry to have to tell you that your father died instantly in the crash.”

          Peter sat down on the end of the bed and took Jason to his side; both were in tears. Robert stayed standing at the foot of the bed staring blankly at the wall.

 __________ _ __________

          They did not see their father’s body until the funeral service a few days later. Some local church had heard the story and decided to assist the family. The body had been brought out to the house and a hole was dug near their grandmother’s grave. The minister preached a short sermon to the few people who attended. At one point he said their father was in a better place and Jason wondered how that could be when it was obvious that he was right there in the box. When the service was over the casket was lowered into the hole and the boys were asked to throw a shovel of dirt on top of it. They walked their mother back to the house and helped her back into bed… then quietly slipped out and walked up to the rock.

          A cool afternoon breeze whispered through the branches of the trees while songbirds fluttered merrily from branch to branch, unaware of the emptiness the boys were feeling as they sat down on the rock. “Now what?” Robert asked, breaking the silence.

          “I don’t know,” Peter answered softly, as he laid back on the rock. “I don’t know.”

          Robert and Jason also laid back and stared up into the sky… and than, as if aware of their circumstances, the Eagle appeared high above them, gliding hypnotically on the wind, gently lifting their sorrow from them.

__________ _ __________

          In the weeks that followed their father’s death, Peter assumed full responsibility for the family. At first it was difficult, but with all of them working together, things started improving. Even their mother found a part of herself she had lost so many years before and for the first time in anyone’s memory there was harmony and peace in their family.

          The end of summer vacation came quickly and it was time to make plans for the school year. Peter decided it would be best if he did not go back to boarding school, even though he was really looking forward to it. He knew his mother would not survive alone and even though Robert was not doing well and had volunteered to drop out, it would not be a good idea to allow him to take care of her. They had made considerable progress toward his dream and he did not want to lose any ground. He arranged a ride for his brothers’ return to school and as soon as they were gone, he walked over to the Trading Post to ask the old man for a job. He had practiced several times what he was going to say to the old man but as he entered the store and saw him sitting behind the counter, he lost his nerve and so he picked up a jar of peanut butter and began reading the label.

          “What are you looking for, boy!” the old man demanded.

          “Nothing sir,” Peter responded sheepishly.

          “Well if you’re not looking for anything, what are you doing with that jar of peanut butter in your hand?”

          “Actually, I was looking for, um…, looking for something to do, sir.”

          “You were going to do something with peanut butter?” the old man asked.

          “No, sir, I… I meant I want to work.”

          “Are you asking me for a job, boy? Is that what you are saying?”

          “Yes, I guess so… but if you don’t have any that’s okay,” Peter answered timidly, as he put the jar back on the shelf and started for the door.

          “You’re one of them boys from down the road apiece, aren’t you?” the old man continued gruffly.

          Peter remembered the incident with the tire patches and started feeling sick to his stomach. “Yes, sir… I am.”

          The old man could see that Peter was quite uncomfortable and felt a bit guilty for coming off so stern. He really didn’t mean to be such an old coot but since his wife’s death he had run the Trading Post on his own and he really had no interest in it anymore. He was too old to find other work however and not really interested in relocating. “What’s your name, boy?”

          “It’s Peter, sir,” he answered hesitantly.

          “Well Mr. Peter, let’s give it a try… but don’t be expecting me to pay you any more than you are worth to me.”

          “Wow! You mean a job?” Peter shouted enthusiastically.

          “I said we would try it, boy. If it doesn’t work out, the deal is off.”

          “I understand, sir. I’ll do what ever you want me to,” Peter responded.

          “Well… there are four boxes in the back that need to be brought up front here and stacked on that shelf.” the old man said, pointing to the shelf behind Peter. “They’re to damn heavy for an old man to carry.”

          “Do you want me to get them now?”

          “Did you have something better to do?”

          “Yes sir! I mean no, sir… I mean…”

          “Just get the boxes, boy,” the old man said, smiling for the first time in more time then he could remember.

__________ _ __________

           In the weeks that followed, the old man and Peter became very close friends. Often in the afternoons, when things were slow, they would sit down with a cup of hot coffee and play checkers. Their conversations usually dealt with matters of life and one day the old man asked Peter what his dreams were. Peter told him about wanting to add a room on to the house and eventually getting a car so that his brothers could live at home. A gleam came into the old man’s eyes as he sat there listening and when Peter was finished sharing, the old man motioned for Peter to follow him. He walked out to an old building behind the store and turned the key in the padlock. The rusted hinges creaked loudly as the door came opened, revealing piles of junk that had been collected over the years. “Move some of those boxes out here.” the old man said as he took a chair in the shade.

          Peter did as he said, but wondered why the old man was having him start a cleaning job in the afternoon, that would require hours of labor. As he worked his way into the building he came across a car bumper and then realized that it was attached to an old Ford pick-up truck. His excitement grew as the truck came into view. “Wow! This is really neat,” Peter exclaimed, as he examined the truck more closely.

          “Use to make a lot of deliveries ‘round here,” the old man started, “but then everyone got their own cars and things changed. It needs a little work but if you would like to have it…”

          “Wow! You really mean it?” Peter responded enthusiastically.

          “Well, you will have to use it to get rid of all this junk and I’ll expect you to do some errands as well,” the old man added. “I ain’t given it to you for nothing, boy.”

          Peter opened the door and got into the drivers seat. The interior was still in great condition and he could see that the car was well cared for. “This is fantastic!” he shouted, unable to believe his great fortune.

          Whenever he had a spare moment, he would work on the truck and in a couple of weeks he had it running well. After spending a whole morning waxing it he drove it around to the front of the store for the old man to see.

          “Golly boy! Now that’s a good looking truck. Maybe I’ll change my mind and see if I can sell it for a good price.”

          Peter smiled timidly, hoping the old man was joking.

          “You do got a license to drive it, don‘t you?”

          “Yes sir, I took driver’s training last year in school,” Peter responded, hoping the old man would give him an opportunity to try it out.

          “Well, there ain’t much going on around here, so how about we take a drive into town and pick up a few supplies?”

          “You mean, right now?”

          “Don’t know of a better time,” the old man answered, “unless of course, you have something better to do.”

          “No sir, I was hoping you would say that.”

          “Well… what are you doing just standing around here, boy. Get the store closed down and let’s get out of here.”

          Peter locked up the store and soon they were on their way. He couldn’t remember a day in his lifetime when he was happier and he couldn’t wait for his brothers to get back so that they could be apart of this unfolding dream come true.

          “You know this old garage ain’t going to be of much use to me anymore,” the old man said, as they returned to the store in the late afternoon and parked the truck inside of it, “guess I will have to find someone who can tear it down and haul away the wood.”

          “You’re going give the wood away for nothing?” Peter asked hopefully, as he got out of the car and carefully closed the door.

          “Well I certainly ain’t going to pay someone to do it, boy,” the old man answered, as he got out and leaned up against the side of the truck to catch his balance.

          Peter could not contain his joy and ran over to the old man and threw his arms around him. “Thank you… thank you for everything,” he said, emotionally.

          The old man wiped a tear from his eye and then pushed Peter away. “Okay boy, that’s enough. I told you before that I don’t pay you to sit around doing nothing. Get back to work or I might have to fire you.”

          Peter worked very hard the next couple of weeks. Every night he brought home a load of wood and when he wasn’t working at the store, he was working on remodeling the house. His mother was a great help with painting and cleaning during the day. He had found three beds for the new bedroom at a surplus store in town and his mother worked hard on making quilts for them. He was exhausted by the time the project was finished but very happy that it was done before Christmas vacation and the return of his brothers from boarding school. He had already made arrangements for them to be transferred to the local school and couldn’t wait to have them all together as a family.

          The boys were excited to see Peter and very happy when he told them that they would not be returning to boarding school after the vacation. Jason had a lot of questions about the house on the ride back home but Peter just told him he would have to wait until he got there. It was nearly dark by the time they turned on to the trail and the new fallen snow made a cracking sound beneath the tires as they drove up to the front porch. Their mother was waiting for them at the front door, proudly wearing the new dress Peter had given her. She hugged both of the boys affectionately as they came in, which was alright with Jason but a bit uncomfortable for Robert.

          Peter followed his brothers into the house, carrying the fried chicken he had purchased in town. He smiled with satisfaction as he watched their reactions and thought to himself how wonderful things were going to be from then on.

          Peter woke up on Christmas morning and saw that several more inches of snow had fallen on the ground. He put a few more logs into the wood burner and in a short time the house was cozy. He and his mother made breakfast and after all of them had eaten, Peter took down a box containing the Christmas presents he had been able to buy. Most of it was new clothes but for Jason, he had also found a small portable radio that he knew he wanted badly, and for Robert, a Bowie knife that he was hesitant about getting but knew would make him happy. They spent much of the day playing outside and after the evening meal, Jason got out a puzzle that one of his teachers had given him. They all sat around the kitchen table piecing it together until it was nearly finished. Their mother retired first and then Robert. Jason pulled out two pieces of the puzzle that he had been sitting on and snapped one into place. Peter reciprocated by pulling out some of the pieces he was holding on to and in a few minutes the puzzle was finished.

          “What happens when we die, Peter?” Jason inquired seriously.

          “That’s a strange question, what made you think of that?”

          “The preacher man said Dad was in a better place. I have been thinking about it for a long time but I still don’t know what that means.”

          “That’s a difficult question and I don’t really know the answer,” Peter responded, realizing that this was not coming from a child’s mind.

          “But what do you think, Peter?”

          “Well… I do believe in the Great Spirit or GOD, as some would say, and I do believe that we have a Spirit inside of us that leaves our body and goes into another world when we die. Sometimes when I am watching the Eagle, my Spirit leaves me and I can glide along with it in the sky. It is a very good feeling and I suppose dying must feel about the same way.”

          “Are you afraid to die?”

          “No…” Peter responded thoughtfully, “well maybe a little, but we don’t have to worry about that tonight do we.”

          “I guess not,” Jason said while yawning, “but can we talk about it again sometime?”

          “Of course we can,” Peter responded assuredly, “now, how about I give you a piggy back ride to bed… or are you getting to old for that?”

          “I’m not that old!” Jason replied, as he jumped unto Peter’s back.

__________ _ __________

          The remainder of the school year passed quickly and other than some minor adjustments, things were running smoothly. Robert’s attitude had become more positive and his grades had improved with Peter’s tutoring in the evenings. Jason too had done well and found the new school much more challenging. His growing curiosity about life was encouraging to Peter and they spent many long hours in discussions. It was a Saturday evening and they were two weeks into their summer vacation, when an approaching storm from the west prematurely filled the room with darkness. Peter lit the lantern so that they could finish their evening meal. Robert pushed his chair away from the table and began whittling on the figure of a horse he had started earlier in the day. He had become quite handy with the knife and was seldom without it.

          Suddenly the room filled with a bright light and, as had happened nearly a year before, the house shook with the sound of the thunder. An eerie silence followed as each of them remembered the night of their father’s death. “Excuse me,” Emma said, as she fought to hold back the tears in her eyes. She pushed her chair away from the table and walked into her bedroom.

          Robert left next and then Jason went to their bedroom, leaving Peter sitting at the table alone. He fought back his own tears, as he tried to convince himself that there was nothing to the heaviness that had descended upon them. He followed his brothers into the bedroom, assuring himself that things would be better in the morning.

          The following morning Peter awoke to the sound of his mother moving about in her room. He dressed quietly and found her sitting at the kitchen table with her new dress on. Her eyes were red and it appeared she had not slept to well. “Are you okay, Mom?” he asked, as he sat down in the chair across from her.

          “I’m okay,” she answered quietly, “but can you take me into town today? I want to buy some flowers for your father’s grave.”

          Peter was a bit confused by her request but decided it might be a good idea for all of them to get out of the house for awhile. “Sure, I’ll get the guys up,” he responded.

          The drive to town was, for the most part, silent but Peter didn’t mind; the rains had washed away most of the dust and the air and scenery were refreshing. “Let me out here!” their mother said as Peter stopped for a red light. “There’s a flower shop just around the corner,” she continued as she opened the door and jumped out of the car. “I’ll be waiting for you there.”

          “Go with her Robert,” Peter said, suspicious of his mother’s behavior, “we’ll be back as soon as we can.”

          Robert jumped down from the back of the truck and followed his mother to the curb, just as the light turned green. Peter and Jason continued on to the supermarket. The store was busy and it was nearly an hour later that they returned to the flower shop. There was no sight of Robert or their mother on the street. Peter parked the truck and instructed Jason to stay with it while he went in to check for them. He described them to the sales lady but she said she was not aware of anyone like them coming in.

          “Damn it!” Peter swore, as he climbed back into the truck. “I had a feeling this was going to happen.”

          Jason was concerned because he was not use to seeing Peter upset. “Do you think they are okay?” he asked cautiously.

          “How in hell should I know?” Peter responded coldly. They drove around the streets of town but did not see any signs of them. Peter decided there was only one thing left to do. He drove to the outskirts of town and pulled into the Police station.

          “Yah, we got them here,” the officer said from behind the window, after hearing Peter’s description. “Looks like your old lady was hitting the bottle again and the boy was also drunk… got kind of rough with the Police officer too.”

          “Can I take them out?” Peter inquired

          “Well, they are supposed to appear in court tomorrow morning but Hell… we got a cell full of drunks and more on the way. Give me $25.00 and I can give them to you now.”

          Peter knew that if they went to court the fines could be even higher; plus it would mean he would have to take time off from work and would lose even more money. He decided it would be better to pay the money then and get them home. They were released a few minutes later, still a bit drunk. Robert had vomited all over himself and refused to even look at his brothers. Both he and his mother climbed in to the back of the truck and laid down.

          Upon arriving at the house their mother went straight to her room and closed the door. Robert attempted to clean himself up but was still wobbly. “So… did you learn anything from this?” Peter asked, sounding to Robert a bit sarcastic.

          “Are you mad at me?” Robert asked, defensively. “You think it was fun being in jail?”

          “I don’t know, Robert, and I don’t ever plan on finding out.”

          “Yah, that’s what I thought,” Robert responded, “you think you are better than us now, don’t you?”

          “No Robert, that is not what I meant, I just… just forget it. We’ll talk about it later,” Peter said, as he walked out on the porch for some fresh air.

          Jason looked at Robert and saw tears in his eyes; when Robert realized he was watching he brushed them away and went into the bedroom. Jason walked out to the porch and sat down next to Peter. “They’ll get over it,” Peter said, knowing what was on Jason’s mind. “The old man at the trading post always tells me that in time everything works out. We just have to stay strong.”

          “I hope so,” Jason responded, “because I sure don’t like things like this.”

          “Hey… how about coming into work with me in the morning,” Peter said, changing the subject, “we have a delivery coming in and you can help me unload the truck.”

          “Wow… that sounds like fun!” Jason answered.

          “Fun? I work hard over there.”

          “No you don’t,” Jason teased, “all you do is play checkers with the old man. That’s what you told me.”

          “Well, that too,” Peter smiled.

__________ _ __________

The following morning Peter and Jason slipped out of the house before their mother or Robert awoke, leaving a note on the kitchen table explaining Jason’s absence. The delivery truck was parked in front of the store when they drove up, its driver smoking a cigarette under the large old tree that grew in front of the Trading Post.

Peter greeted the driver and wondered why he had not gone into the store to wait, but then saw that the padlock was still on the door. “That’s strange,” he thought out loud, “guess the old man overslept,” he added, as he looked inside the windows. “Come with me, Jason.”

They walked behind the store to the old Stone house where the old man lived. The front door was locked and there was no sign of the old man when Peter looked into the window. “He didn’t say anything about going away,” Peter said, scratching his head in puzzlement.

“Do you think he is still sleeping?” Jason asked.

“Don’t know… guess we can go ‘round back to find out,” Peter answered, as he stepped down from the porch. They walked around to the window of the room where the old man slept. Peter looked in and than shouted, “Oh God!” as he saw the old man lying face down on the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Jason asked, as he saw panic in Peter’s face.

“Something is wrong with the old man! Quick, find me a rock.”

Jason looked down and found a large rock to hand him. “What are you going to do?”

“I have to get in there,” Peter answered, as he began breaking the glass out of the window. “Go tell the driver to use the pay phone out side the store to call an ambulance,” he added, as he crawled through the opening he had made.

“God please don’t let him die!” Peter pleaded, as he rolled the old man over to his back. The old mans eyes were half opened and his face was a bluish color. Peter put his ear down on the old man’s chest but could not hear a heartbeat. Tears came to Peter’s eyes as he realized the old man was gone.

Jason slipped in through the window and opened the front door for the driver. The police and an ambulance were there a short time later and as they took the body out of the house, the police began asking questions. The interrogation took over an hour but finally the officers accepted their story. “You got a way home?” one of the older officers asked, as they left the old man’s house.

“Yes,” Peter answered, pointing to the truck.

“Go home than and get some rest,” he suggested, “and thanks for your help.”

          Robert was sitting on the porch when they drove up to the house, “Coming to check up on the drunks?” he asked, as Peter stepped onto the porch.

          “Shut up, Robert!” Peter retaliated, as he walked passed him and went straight to his bedroom.

          “Screw you!” Robert responded.

          “Robert!” Jason said tearfully, “The old man just died, leave it alone.” He explained briefly what had happened and than also went to his bedroom. A short time later he and Peter found refuge in a deep sleep.

__________ _ __________

          “What was that?” Peter asked, as he sat up on the edge of his bed.

          “Don’t know,” Jason responded, somewhat disorientated. “Sounded like someone knocking at the door.”

          A second loud knock brought both of them to their feet. Jason followed Peter to the door and both were surprised to find the same Police officer that had talked to them in the morning. “Good evening gentlemen,” he said pleasantly, “didn’t think I would be seeing you guys again so soon.”

          “Good evening,” Peter answered, still a bit disorientated. “Do you need to ask us more questions?”

          “Actually… I do,” he responded, “but not about what happened this morning. I need to tell you about an accident involving you truck this afternoon.”

          “My truck?” Peter asked, reaching for his pockets. “Damn! I forgot to take my keys out when we came in… did someone steal it?”

          “Well, the young man driving it said he was your brother and that you gave him permission.”

          “Robert? Robert was driving my truck?” he shouted, slamming his fist into the wall. “Where is he now?” Peter demanded.

          “I’m afraid they are both in the hospital, in serious condition.”

          “Both? Who was with him?” Peter demanded.

          “An older woman that I presume is your mother.”

          “Damn, I don’t believe it!” Peter shouted, as he started pacing the floor. “Were they drinking?”

          “It’s probably what saved their life,” he answered.

          “And the truck… how much damage was done to the truck?” Peter asked, as anger began building up inside of him.

          “I’m afraid it was totaled” he answered, sympathetically. “They ran head on into a building and caused considerable damage. I hope you got good insurance.”

          “Insurance?” Peter shouted, “I don’t have any insurance,” he continued, as he picked up one of the chairs and threw it against the wall.

          Jason had been standing quietly in the doorway but finally broke down in tears, as he walked over and stood next to the officer. He had never seen Peter this upset and did not know what he should do. The officer put his hand on Jason’s shoulder and tried to calm him down.

          “Look son,” he said to Peter, “I know things look bad right now but in time it will look better.”

          “That’s what the old man use to say,” Peter responded angrily, “and look what happened to him.” He started pacing the floor again and than kicked the chair he had thrown before. “Get out of here!” Peter shouted, “Get out and just leave me alone!”

          “Peter! What’s wrong with you?” Jason asked, tearfully.

          “Get out of here, Jason. I don’t need anyone here right now! Especially not you, get out and leave me alone.”

          The officer evaluated the situation and decided it would be best if Jason spent the night at the children’s center in town and arrange for Social Services to bring him back in the morning. “We’ll be leaving then,” he informed Peter, as they walked toward the door. “Are you sure you will be okay?”

          “You don’t have to worry about me.” Peter responded coldly, wiping the tears from his face.

__________ _ __________

It was late afternoon before the social worker came to pick him up from the children’s home. “You must be Jason,” she said politely, “my name is Irene. Are you ready to go home now?”

“I have been ready since this morning” Jason responded rudely.

“I know and I am really sorry, but I had a meeting to attend to in the morning and then I went to the hospital to see your mother and Robert. The Doctors say they should be fine but will have to stay there for a week or longer. I thought it best if you come back into town to visit them with your older brother in a few days.”

“Thank you.” Jason responded when he realized he may have misjudged her. “Can we go to see Peter now?”

“Sure we can Jason, just let me check you out of here.”

There was a long period of silence as they drove out of town. “Are you always this quiet?” Irene asked.

“No… I was just thinking about Peter.”

“Anything you want to talk about?”

“Do you know why people do strange things?”

“The policeman told me what happened yesterday with Peter, Jason. Is that what you are referring to?”

“Yes,” Jason answered, “he never got mad like that before.”

“But he has been through a lot, Jason. People like Peter spend all of their time doing things for others and never take time for themselves.  And sometimes when things go wrong for them, suddenly all those little problems they ignored become a big problem and they don’t know what to do; and so they do something strange, like break things. Usually after a few hours they feel better and then go back to being them self again.”

“Do you think Peter will be better?”

“Of course he will, Jason. He has had the whole night to himself. I am sure he will be just fine,” she responded assuredly.

Jason pointed out the trail that led to the house and as soon as the car was stopped, he jumped out and ran to the porch. “Peter! Peter, I’m back!” The door was unlocked and he ran into the bedroom. “Peter? Where are you?”

“He’s not here!” Jason shouted as Irene walked into the room. Tears began forming in his eyes and he brushed them away.

“Don’t cry Jason, I am sure he just went out for a walk. Do you have any idea where he might go?”

Jason’s eyes lit up and a smile came to his face. “I know where he is… he went to the rock.”

“The rock? Where is the rock at, Jason?”

“The trail is behind the house,” Jason said, as he ran out the door, “just follow me!”

Irene closed the door behind her and started for the back of the house, as Jason had instructed. As she turned the corner, she found him on his knees in the dirt. “You should be more careful,” she teased, as she approached him. “Did you hurt yourself? Jason… Jason?”

Jason did not respond. He could not respond. His wide eyes remained fixed on the old oak tree… where Peter’s body hung awkwardly from one of the branches.

__________ _ __________

In the days that followed Jason lay speechless in the psychiatric ward of the hospital, staring blankly at the ceiling when awake. Peter’s body was buried close to the house, by the same pastor who had performed their father’s funeral. No one attended the service except some members of the church. Robert and his mother were discharged from the hospital and retuned to the house but stayed drunk most of the time, from money Peter had saved and put into an envelope for them.

The doctors had done everything they could think of, but nothing had been able to make Jason come out of his state of shock, and so they agreed to let Irene attempt to reach him. When the police cut Peter down from the tree they found the envelope of money addressed to his mother and Robert plus another envelope addressed to Jason.

“Jason?”  Irene said, leaning over his bed. “I know you can hear me and I want you to listen carefully. This is a letter from Peter.”

Hello Jason,

I know that I have hurt you very much. I only hope that someday you will understand and be able to forgive me. There was so much that I wanted to tell you before I left but then, after thinking about it, I realized I could say it in just a few words. I LOVE YOU!

Please tell Mom and Robert that I also Love them and not to blame themselves for what I have done. I know you will be strong Jason and not let me down, keep the dream alive, even though I am gone.

Love,

Peter

          Tears formed in the corners of Jason eyes for the first time since the incident. “It’s okay Jason; it’s time to come back now,” Irene said quietly. He blinked his eyes several times and then began sobbing.

__________ _ __________

          In the months that followed, Jason matured rapidly. He stayed at the children’s center, which was within walking distance of his school. He was not allowed to go home overnight but did visit at times with Irene, his social worker. He missed Peter a great deal but was determined to make Peter’s dream come true for the family. Irene however, was just as determined to see to it that he never returned home again, and had denied his request to spend even one night at the house. Now she was talking about putting him in a foster home.

          “But you promised that if I did good I could go home,” Jason responded angrily.

          “No Jason, I never promised you anything. I said we would see how things were at the end of the year, and as far as I can tell, nothing has changed.”

          “But that’s not fair,” Jason replied tearfully, “I haven’t been home for a long time and I have done everything you told me.”

          “I am not doing this to hurt you, Jason; I want what is best for you. You have done very well and I am proud of you, but I am afraid that if you go home now, all of our work will be for nothing.”

          “But I won’t do what they do.”

          “Jason… Peter is not there any more to help you. You will be all alone against them and I don’t think you are strong enough to…”

          “But I can help them,” Jason interrupted, “I know I can.”

          “I know you want to believe that, Jason but you will have to trust me,” Irene insisted.

          “No! I have to go home and try… Peter told me to.”

          “But even he couldn’t help them, Jason.”

          “Yes he did!” Jason shot back defensively, “He made things good for us.”

          “I’m sorry, Jason,” Irene apologized, “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I know that you want to help them like Peter did and…”

          “And I can, just let me try.”

          “No Jason, it won’t work,” Irene insisted.

          “Yes it will, I know it will, just give me one week to prove it… please.”

          “And if it doesn’t work out, Jason?”

          “Then I will do whatever you want me to do.”

          “You will go to a foster home?”

          “Yes,” Jason agreed, “but if it goes good… I can stay at home?”

          “No promises Jason, we’ll talk about that at the end of the week.”

          The following morning they drove out to the house. Jason was nervous but excited about finally having a chance to live back at home. Robert and his mother were standing on the porch as they drove up. The reception was cool but at least they were both sober. Irene left, against her better judgment after Jason assured her, several times, that he would call the minute anything went wrong.

          Jason was disappointed but not really surprised to find the house untidy and in disrepair. He did not make any comments about it however, and tried to give the impression he didn’t notice. It was uncomfortable for all of them but they managed to make it through the day by keeping their conversation superficial. Jason retired early and, as he had hoped, his mother soon went to her room. Robert came in about an hour later and quietly climbed into bed. Jason waited patiently in the darkness, his heart pounding as he pondered for a moment how to start a conversation without getting Robert defensive. “It’s good to be home again,” he muttered nervously.

           “What’s so good about it,” Robert responded coolly, “you have it better in town.”

          “Yes, but you and Mom aren’t there,” Jason answered sincerely.

          “What do you need us for? All we do is cause trouble for everyone.”

          “But you could change that if you wanted to. You could find a job and work like Peter did,” Jason responded, reassuringly.

          “Oh sure, and where did it get him? Peter is dead Jason and I’m still here so just shut up and leave me alone,” Robert answered emotionally, turning his head to the wall to hide the tears.

          Jason knew if he quit now he may never get another chance to talk seriously with Robert and so he lit the lantern and pulled Peter’s letter from his wallet. Its edges were frayed from his daily reading of it but the writing inside was still very clear. “Robert,” he called softly, “this is a letter from Peter that I want you to read.”

          Robert slowly turned and took the letter from Jason. By the time he was finished reading it, tears were rolling down his cheeks. He wiped them away with his hand but did not try to hide them.

           “Peter doesn’t blame anyone for what happened to him, Robert… and neither do I. He wants us to be happy.”

          Robert returned the letter to Jason and laid back down in his bed while Jason carefully replaced the letter in his wallet and then blew out the lantern. There was a long period of silence before Robert finally spoke. “Do you really think I could stop drinking and find a job like Peter?”

          “I know you can, Robert, it may take some time but we can still make Peter’s dream come true if we work together.”

          “Maybe we could.” Robert responded thoughtfully. He closed his eyes and felt peacefulness come over him that he had not felt in a lifetime. “Good night, Jason.”

          “Good night, Robert,” Jason answered.

__________ _ __________

          Jason was the first to arise the following morning and immediately began cleaning the house. Robert got up a bit later and helped him and by the time their mother came in there was breakfast on the table. Jason told his mother about their plans and while she listened politely Jason could tell she was not very excited about it. He had expected that but tried not to let it bother him. He was confident that everything was going to work out fine and by the time the social worker returned there would be no doubt that he should stay at home.

          During the night Robert had decided to go to the trading post in the morning to ask about work. The young couple, that bought the place after the old man died, were nice people and he was not threatened by them. He borrowed one of Jason’s new shirts and although the fit was snug he felt great in it. On his way however, negative thoughts filled his mind and he began feeling discouraged… but he knew he could not go on living as things were and now that Jason was home, there was reason to try to make things better.

          The man was pleasant and told Robert that at the moment there was no work but on days when they had supplies come in, they would certainly be able to use him because he had just found out that his wife was pregnant and so she would need to take it easy. He told him to come back in a few days and they would work out a schedule. Even though it was not a full time job, Robert was excited about it and couldn’t wait to tell Jason.

          Jason was waiting for Robert on the porch and could tell by the way he was walking that the news was good. They went in to share the good news with their mother but again she seemed distant and not really happy about it. She said she was tired and went back into her room. The boys on the other hand were excited and decided it was the perfect time to return to the mesa where the Eagle lived. Jason made some sandwiches while Robert filled the canteens and strapped on the hunting knife Peter had given him. After saying goodbye to their mother, through the door, they left the house on the run.

          They walked in silence at first as each of them recalled pleasant memories of when Peter had walked beside them. In a comforting way they could almost feel his presence still with them. Most of the day was spent exploring the mesa and the Eagle even made a close up appearance again. It was getting dark by the time they returned home and both of them were exhausted.

          As they entered the house, they found their mother lying half naked on the couch, obviously very drunk. “Let me handle this,” Robert offered, after seeing the distressed look in Jason’s eyes. He walked over to the couch and attempted to take the half empty bottle of whiskey from her but as he reached for the bottle she caught him off guard and smacked him in the face.

          “Com’on Mom, we don’t need this stuff anymore,” Robert pleaded.

          “What do you know you little bastard! I could have had a good life if you had not been born. Now get out of my house and leave me alone. You’re the cause of all my problems,” she answered coldly.

          Robert stood motionless for a moment and then grabbed the bottle from her hands. Jason could see the look in Robert’s eyes as he glared at his mother. It was the same look that Peter had, the last time he saw him alive.

          “YOU BASTARD!” she shouted again as she lunged for the bottle. Losing her balance she fell forward into the metal stove. Blood came gushing out from a large cut near her right eye as she rolled onto the floor.

          “Mother… I’m sorry!” Robert said; as he bent down to help her.

          “LEAVE ME ALONE!” she shouted, pushing him away.

          Robert stood up and stared at her as Jason came over with a wet towel for the bleeding. He set the bottle down on the table and then returned to help Jason.  He was confused and angry but wanted to do the right thing. “Let’s get you up on the couch again, Mom,” he said, compassionately.

          “Don’t you touch me, You SON OF A BITCH!” she yelled, as she took another swing at him. This time he was ready for it and quickly grabbed her arm. “Let me go, YOU BASTARD! Get out of my house!” she continued, as more blood came squirting out of the cut. “You have ruined my life and nothing good will ever come from it. You’re not Peter and you never will be you idiot.”

          Robert took a deep breath and then released her arm. He stood up and started for the door but then turned around. He looked at the bottle of Whiskey on the table and then at Jason, who was trying to stop the bleeding from his mothers wound.

          “No Robert! Please don’t do it,” Jason pleaded helplessly.

Tears began running down Robert’s cheeks as he briefly considered Jason’s request but then he grabbed the bottle and ran out the door.

Jason panicked because he did not know what Robert might do. He knew his first responsibility was to his mother, however and until he could stop the bleeding he could not do anything about Robert. It took nearly an hour to finally get her to calm down to a point where she would lay down still in bed and let him work on the cut. She had lost a great deal of blood and he knew she needed to get to a hospital but he had to find Robert first. When at last she was sleeping and he felt it was safe to leave her alone… he grabbed the flashlight and ran out of the house.

The night was dark and only a sliver of the new moon could be seen in the sky. Jason searched frantically for Robert much of the night until, just on the verge of giving up; he heard a groan coming from behind some bushes. He gave out a sigh of relief when the beam of his flashlight fell on Robert’s drunken body, lying curled up on the ground. “Robert! Are you okay?”

Shut the damn flashlight off!” He demanded, not really aware of what was going on.

Jason did as he asked and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He was relieved to know that Robert was safe and was confident that they could still work things out. He walked over and gently put his hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Everything will be okay now, Robert,” he said reassuringly.

“Get your damn hand off of me!” Robert demanded. “Nothing will ever be okay; you fool, so why don’t you just accept it.”

“Com’on Robert, let’s go home. We both could use some rest.”

“I don’t have a home,” Robert responded angrily, as he attempted to stand. “I’m leaving this place, no one wants me anyway.”

“That’s not true Robert… I want you here.”

“No one has ever wanted me,” Robert continued tearfully. “I’m no good Jason… and you know it.”

“No, Robert, I Love you.”

“You and your stupid love,” Robert muttered as he began walking away, “what the Hell good has it done any of us?”

“Wait, Robert!” Jason pleaded, attempting to pull him back.

“FUCK OFF!” Robert shouted angrily, and then… as if possessed by some evil spirit… he pulled the hunting knife from his belt and plunged it deeply into Jason’s stomach. “I warned you, you stupid fool!” he yelled as he went running out of the bushes.

Jason fell to his knees, breathless and in a state of shock, blood oozing from his wound as he fell to the ground.

__________ _ __________

          Jason could feel his heart pounding as he neared the familiar rock that had been Peter’s favorite place of meditation. He decided to take a rest before going down to the house.  The early morning Sun had already warmed the rock and it felt soothing against his cold clammy skin, as he painfully leaned back on its surface. He hoped Robert had made it home alright, and that his mother had gotten a good night sleep. Chills ran down his spine as he recalled the events of the previous evening and he closed his eyes hoping to clear his mind of the negative thoughts. When he opened them again, he saw the silhouetted form of the Eagle, circling high above him. As he followed it with his eyes, he felt the pain gradually subside from his body and all of his negative thoughts disappeared.

          “Jason.”

          The sound of his name being called in the distance brought him out of his meditation and he blinked his dry eyes several times trying to clear his vision.

          “Jason.”

          The voice sounded closer this time. He was glad to know that Robert was alright and had come for him. “Robert,” he called softly. His mouth was dry, his throat sore, and it was difficult for him to speak. “Over here, Robert,” he called a bit louder, while attempting to sit up.

          “Jason.”

          “I’m here, Robert,” He yelled again, this time managing to sit up high enough to look down the empty trail. His head was spinning and his vision grew dim; his arms collapsed and he fell back to the rock.

          “Jason… it’s me.”

          As Jason slowly reopened his eyes, he heard the call of the Eagle high above him and then felt as if he were rising up to meet it. A peaceful smile came to his face as he finally recognized the caller and whispered to him with his final breath, “Peter…”

__________ _ __________

          The years of neglect had taken its toll on the small adobe house… and were it not for the stories of ghost and demons from a suicide and later the double murder of a mother and her son that had taken place there in the past, it would have long ago been forgotten. Surrounded by overgrown bushes and shrubs, it was hard to imagine that anyone real had actually lived in the house. Most of the windows had been broken or cracked by young boys who would come close enough to throw rocks but would never dare enter the house. The door, which now hung on only one hinge, had long ago lost its battle against the tumbleweeds now piled high against it and the broken crosses of forgotten graves that lay scattered in a nearby field, were all that remained of a dream.

          The dusty trail is barely visible to the driver in the approaching car. He stops just short of the broken down porch and then leans over to kiss his wife. “Give me a few minutes alone okay?”

          Tears are falling as he exits the car and slowly walks down to the field of the broken crosses. He falls to his knees and bows his head in silent meditation. When at last he begins to speak, his voice is soft and reverent.

          “I have wanted to come home for such a long time but never felt ready to face you guys. I have been such a fool and God only knows how many times I have wished I could change places with you. I even tried joining you once, when I was in prison, by trying to hang myself from the ceiling of my cell. Everything went black at first and then I remember seeing all of you together in a field full of flowers and I tried desperately to get to you but I only kept falling further and further from you into an endless black hole. It was only then that I realized how much I really do love you all and I didn’t want to be separated from you any more. I saw the Great Eagle in the sky above me and I called out to it to save me and evidently it heard my call because one of the guards found me and cut me down.”

          “So many good things have happened to me since then. I have a beautiful wife and two wonderful boys who love me very much and believe it or not I have a great job working as a counselor with street kids. There’s only one thing left that I desperately need, and that is to know your forgiveness.”

          “Mom and Dad… I know I never tried to love you guys; I was to busy feeling cheated and blaming both of you for the way I was. I am so sorry for that.”

“And Peter… I know you tried your best to Love me but I was just too stubborn. My pride told me that if I accepted your Love I would owe you something in return, and I was too jealous to give you anything.”

And Jason… all I ever wanted, was to be your older brother and when the opportunity finally came… I killed you instead.”

          “I know I have no right to be here… and it seems so senseless for me to say ‘I Love you all’… but I do, I really do. Please… please forgive me?”

__________ _ __________

          “What kind of bird is that?” Jason asked, pointing to the graceful bird floating high above them.

          “It’s just an old Crow,” Peter answered, “isn’t it Daddy?”

          Robert stood to his feet and looked to where his sons were pointing. Tears of Joy rolled down his cheeks, as he felt the forgiveness he had come to ask for. He put his arms around both of them and pulled them in close to him. “No guys, that’s an Eagle; see how it glides on the wind.”

THE END

 

One Comment

  1. Wayne, what a beautiful sad story. Things like this happen more than we know. Beautifully written.

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