A Novel Excerpt


 Giovanni's Gift

   "An elegant unveiling of the    dark secrets that often lie    submerged beneath grim events,    from the novelist whose earlier    inclinations toward the gothic    seem to have reached full
   flower."

    - Kirkus Reviews (starred)


   "Bradford Morrow has
   reinvented the suspense novel."

    - Joyce Carol Oates

   "Simple, honest, emotionally    direct, and packs a wallop . . ."

    - Rick Moody


Giovanni's Gift Press Release

Paul West on Giovanni's Gift


Note: Giovanni's Gift will be forthcoming from Viking in February.
ISBN 0-670-87292-X, $22.95, and will be available at bookstores everywhere


Night Music
     

    For good unknown, sure is not had, or had
    And yet unknown, is as not had at all.
    In plain then, what forbids us to be wise?
    Such prohibitions binde not.

      óJOHN MILTON

           Paradise Lost


IMAGINE a scene of rural serenity, a night scene. Dinner is over, the embers in the stove are dying. Outside, the air is perfumed by the sweet scent of alfalfa. Above the mountains surrounding this faraway place, the stars are a menagerie of silver flickering motes, phosphorescent droplets in the cold black infinity of space. Some cottonwood seeds, down here below, borne aloft in their own little clouds, mime their star cousins. They rise on a soft breeze above the darkened field whose coarse grass you wouldn't want to roam across barefooted. Imagine them, and imagine that the ridge beyond the creek is blackened by the night and that the meadow which stretches between is sunk in blackness, too. The amber dogtooth moon rests behind that cradling ridge but soon enough will bestir itself and rise, sometime after those who live here have climbed the stairs to their warm and familiar room, where maybe they will read a page or two before extinguishing the lamp and drifting off to sleep. Crickets will continue to make their humdrum song, one sustained percussive note rendered over and over, as the sleepers begin to dream country dreams. It would be hard to fathom a purer vision of people at peace in the natural world.

      But look again, imagine just a little further, because there is more.

      When the unwelcome visitor, who was quite awake at the wheel of the car, reached the end of the rough mountain road, the crickets fell quiet and silence descended upon the valley. Later, when Edmé-she who was upstairs asleep beside her husband, Henry-described to me that first night of the grotesque visitations, she remarked how the nocturnal creatures that usually made such raucous music were oddly subdued. She awakened as if by premonition, sometime after the intruder cut his engine, parked, and presumably began his furtive hike up through the south field. Aside from the clock in the kitchen downstairs, whose pendulum measured out seconds and chimed hours with mechanical rigor, the house was hushed, drowned in thick quiet, so that inside and out tranquillity reigned. Edmé fluffed her pillow, turned on her side, and closed her eyes again. But the si- lence insinuated itself into her thoughts and kept her from falling back asleep.

      "That's when I should have known things weren't right. When I should have figured out that someone was probably out there."

      Meaning: in the country, silence is the harbinger of change. Then, her voice darkening like the very night she described, she told me of the deafening music that brought her, in a single swift movement, to her feet. She and Henry faltered past chairs and a bureau bathed in shadow, toward the window on the creekside wall of the bedroom. Though they could not see one another, each knew what a look of shock would be there if they could. As they crawled to the rectangular opening that was only faintly brighter than the murky room, both were awed by the bewildering volume of the music, by its nascent violence, its forthright chaos. Night would never be like it had been in the past. Both of them intuited this, too.

      They looked into the open fields, the near meadows, but were able to see nothing out of the ordinary. Staring into nothingness, as their eyes reconciled the dark and pupils dilated, they listened. Once they could begin to make out forms, they worked hard to see. He studied the near yard for movement, and she the brambles along the creek. But no one walked defiant across the yard; no one was to be observed running under the pendant river willows. All was utter pandemonium, despite the physical stillness of the scape. The music, this unholy racket, harsher than anything either of them had ever heard, persisted with bludgeoning drum and screeching voice, so that from every corner of the world outside their window, it seemed, the air filled to bursting. Maracas and cymbals sizzled, and the thrashing bass pounded in an upheaval of sound. She said she may have screamed, but the music-what seemed to be music, though since misshapen by its amplitude it brought to mind industrial noise, like an exploding ironworks-was so tumultuous that neither she nor her husband could hear anything else.

      And then, as suddenly as the music began, it ended.

      One of them said, -Jesus. But neither moved.

      Their hearts beat hard, as the reverberations, aftershocks really, of the music throbbed in the valley, diminished, and finally succumbed to the palpable quiet.

      Crickets chirruped again as if nothing unusual had happened. The barn owl shrilly sputtered. Several birds, thrushes or Steller's jays, traded boughs and issued echoey cries of protest, but soon they quieted, too, and the night reverted, as if on ungodly cue, to its original rich calm.

      Edmé and Henry listened for retreating footfalls in the cut field grass, or the crunch of pebbles along the walk, or muffled laughter below them in the gauzy bushes that ringed the house or from behind the small outbuilding which stood at the corner where two irregular drystone walls converged down toward the whispering brook. Nothing. Flashlight cradled in one hand and his old Remington in the other, Henry made a brief search beyond the near periphery first and then moved on out past the tract of stubbly grounds that was illuminated by security floodlights. Edmé stood on the east porch, in her white bathrobe, and watched his progress as best she could, calling his name whenever he ventured too far beyond the margin made by the powerful halogens that shone from the eaves. As he wandered back up toward the house, he turned now and then to look behind into the darkness. Still, nothing. In a shocked daze he climbed the stairs and together they went inside and for a time sat unspeaking at the kitchen table. The peace was punctured only by that steady cadence measured out by the wall clock. It was two-twenty.

      -Should we make a call? she said, finally.

      He didn't respond. She understood why, but spoke again.

      -See if Noah wouldn't be willing to come up and look around?

      -1 don't know, he said in a soft voice. He was studying his hands as if they might hold some answer.

      -We ought to at least let him know what's going on here.

      -But we don't know what's going on.

      -It couldn't hurt to call.

      He caught himself tapping his thumb against the tabletop. The rhythm of the music still pulsed in his memory, in counterpoint with the pendulum at his back. -Well, he said, and folded his fingers into a tight knot, hands merging then pulling apart and relaxing out flat before him. -In the morning, maybe. They seem to be done for tonight.

      The pot whistled, the clock struck the half hour. Chamomile tea from hops that grew wild in the meadow, and hard spoon-biscuits. After they put the dishes into the sink, they bolted the three doors, drew the curtains on the first floor, and climbed the wide stairs back to the bedroom.

      By sunrise it all seemed illusory. Though they weren't ones to be easily spooked-they were accustomed to both the pleasures and liabilities of solitude-they did make a search of the grounds for evidence of the anonymous intruder, but found nothing, not so much as a broken branch in a juniper berry bush, or a trail of crushed grass that might lead down to where the road ended by the main gate, a swinging metal horsegate a couple hundred yards below the house, down where the road that led to Ash Creek ended. Maybe they had suffered a simultaneous nightmare? Neither raised the question of telephoning Noah, the sheriff in town.

      What was most fascinating about their reluctance to seek any help, Aunt Edmé told me later, was how it seemed to be the result of their unwillingness to acknowledge, in the fresh light of another dawn, that it had happened at all. She explained to me, "We just managed to forget, by afternoon the very next day, how upset we'd been, how frightened, shocked even, we were by the strangeness of it all. We just kind of decided without saying so that, no, nothing had happened."

      Nothing, in any event, that would warrant Noah Daiches coming over. It would take more than loud music in the middle of the night to persuade Henry to ask Noah for help. Not that there was an unbridgeable rift between the two men; just that Henry had developed a tactful if grim resistance to Noah because of the incident with Giovanni Trentas some three years before, and neither Henry nor Edmé wanted to reopen that scarred wound. This night music did not, of itself, point backward in time to Giovanni's misfortune. Therefore, my aunt and uncle found it logical to believe that what had happened to them just now would never happen again, was a freak occurrence. Some kids had gone berserk, say, in the middle of the night, were driving around high on drugs, maybe, just driving with no particular destination in mind, with nothing in mind at all, which was possibly their usual state of mind or state of non-mind only to arrive at the end of a dirt road, where they decided purely randomly to harass whoever happened to be asleep in that house up there. Why not? just for kicks, what the hell.

      Yes, this was one way to discount what happened. No doubt there were other explanations, equally viable. In the tacit way husbands and wives have of reaching agreement about certain matters, without ever coming to an explicit resolution, Edmé and Henry Fulton devalued the madness and hostility of the music and carried on, a stubborn pair of hopeful stoics.

      Life went forward. Men came with rigs and over the course of the next couple of days hayed both the meadow below the house and the larger meadow across the creek, leaving behind great cylinders, raw spools of yellowing green, here and there, to dry in the sun. Both Edmé and Henry helped with this process. In another few days they would come back, to load these bales onto ricks and convey them down the road. No money changed hands between my uncle and these ranchers' fieldmen, one of whom happened to be Noah's brother. They took the hay off, did a neat job of it, three times a year, and for the effort got feed for their livestock. It was a perennial ritual and gave my aunt and uncle a meaningful connection to their land. Moreover, the men had known Henry's father, admired him, back when Ash Creek was a working ranch. They'd known Giovanni Trentas, too, before the mishap, or whatever one would call it. Trentas had been Ash Creek's caretaker during the years when Edmé and Henry lived out on the coast, and the men would encounter him from time to time in town, with that daughter of his, named Helen. She was a pretty girl, they concurred, almost a woman really. She certainly had always seemed older than her years, and stayed by Giovanni Trentas's side at all times, as if she were his child bride. Sometimes when he would go quiet as an empty jar-living as he had for so many years on his own, taciturnity was a habitual quirk of his-Helen was seen to pick up the conversation where it had been left off. They were an inseparable pair, father and daughter.

      While Noah's brother, Milland, and the others might not have encumbered themselves with the admiration for Trentas that they had always held for Henry's father and Henry himself, neither did they openly dislike him. They did express to Edmé their regret at not being able to attend Giovanni's funeral. And, Henry told me, Milland Daiches had asked him, once, what would become of Helen, now that her father was gone. Henry no doubt declined to respond, having always thought that Milland was not altogether there, so to speak, and not someone he would care to see Helen involved with in any way-not that Helen Trentas had ever seemed to be one in need of protection.

      Midweek the following week, after life seemed for all the world to have settled back down into a peaceable routine, the intruder returned. This time Edmé slept and Henry was awake when the chaos began. Lying in their bed of carved mahogany, he first heard a gust of wind rustling the dry bushes below, then rose and moved to the window in five smooth steps and looked out, just as he had looked out that, window many times in the past, noticing how the leaves of the grant lilac seized moonlight which pooled under the strew of clouds over the mountains. The leaves shivered, gathering that light like greedy children who hold out their palms for sweets. There was no murderous figure standing in the middle of the yard gazing defiantly up-although the scarecrow in the garden might seem to have waved its sackclothed arm at him; there was nothing he could see that was out of place. Minutes passed. He breathed in, out. More minutes, and then he was tired. just as he began to back away from the window frame, tempted to give up and try again to sleep, he heard vague human murmurs, a man with a deep voice and maybe even a lisp, followed by the blunt cluck of a switch being thrown The second invasion of their solitude was under way.

      This music was different from the other night. Where first the music had been rock and roll, this was orchestral, a brooding tone poem-Richard Strauss, Tod und Verklärung, Edmé recognized-but once more pushed through speakers with such sheer belligerence as to render it primeval. Like the birth of some nasty new universe out in the kitchen garden.

      Henry was prepared this time. He pulled on his trousers under his nightshirt and slid into his wellies. With twelve-gauge, already loaded, in hand, he made his way downstairs in the dark, and stole out onto the side porch that paralleled the creek some hundred yards away. Standing for several moments in the pitch black, he tried to get a precise sense of where the music was coming from. He grasped the shotgun, checkpiece of the thing up against his heart, as he studied the nightscape before him. A haze filtered the light, and he blinked as if to clear it away. As he glimpsed his land he saw it wasn't black outside, and yet it wasn't light, either. The fields, walls, barn, vista, every familiar landmark-all awash in music-had been robbed of detail and visual nuance. The moon, high overhead, had leached the sky of pigment. If he hadn't been quite so enraged, he might have thought he was having a vision.

      He trained the gun on what seemed to be the source of the noise, and thought for a moment about how the world out there seemed afflicted, in some way unhealthy, as if it had been wounded and some metaphysical physician had wrapped it in medicinal vapor. He pulled the trigger. The blast, which under other circumstances would have seemed loud, was weirdly faint, enveloped as it was by music. Since the mouth of the barrel had flared bright, giving his position away to anyone who might be watching, he strode, careful not to catch his knee against any of the old Adirondack chairs arranged along the porch, to the corner where the front adjoined this side verandah. He stood at the head of the staircase that led down to the foreyard and, having noted the music was drifting toward the south, shot in that general direction a second time. The report echoed through the valley and up into the gorge above the falls. The music ceased.

      Henry swallowed what felt like a small stone going down his dry throat. Silent, Edmé came up next to him, and together they waited. The smell of powder tasted bitter in the dewy air. Henry was a man comfortable with guns. When he pumped the twelve-gauge to eject the spent shell, he felt a momentary surge of power, only slightly edged by the horror of having just unloaded live ammunition at a man. Edmé whispered, -Look there.

      -What? he asked.

      -See that, down by the gate? They're gone now.

      She was sure she'd seen double red taillight eyes blink down beyond the lowest meadow. They listened, but their ears were ringing from the cacophony of music and gunfire. Then they heard the engine of the car traveling away from the ranch, down the dirt road, which was nothing more than a pair of parallel furrows hedged by wild grass, larkspur, and thistle.

      Ficnry squinted, thinking, This is Tate doing this. Nobody else could be so hateful.

      It was a thought he would keep from Edmé.

      An hour eased by, maybe more. Certainly, the moon had moved down the sky. A shower of meteors brought them back to themselves, a fine cascade of silver threads, and Henry saw that the world had been returned to its subtle nighttime colors, its cobalt and Prussian and blackberry blacks. They sat side by side under the eaves until dawn conjured other bands of the spectrum, pinks and saffrons, to dye the horizon. She went into the house and made coffee. Her back was numbed by the long watch.

      ---Now will you call Noah? she asked, when at last he followed her inside. He propped the shotgun against the wainscot, and took his chair at the table. Sunlight decanted through the window at his back. His irises, hazel in most light, were ebonized by shadow that morning, and his blinded eye, a whole story unto itself, had a wedge nicked from it that made one iris peariescent along its bottom. My uncle was still a handsome man, with broad high checks and aqui- line nose distinguished by a fine, raised, whitened ridge, the result of being broken in a fall. His uncombed hair caught the dawn in such a way it might have seemed like haloed flax.

      He ran his hands over his face, -What the hell do they want?

      But though neither he nor Edmé knew, as the trespasser hadn't yet left behind a message or any evidence of wanting something, Noah Daiches never heard from them that day.

      The third occurrence, and what Henry witnessed the following night, finally helped both of them grasp that what was happening at Ash Creek was not some innocent, mad mischief. This night visit had an unexpected twist, like a signature in invisible ink that would slowly materialize so it might be read, a specific denouement that followed the music, and it had the effect of breaching what ",as left of Henry's confidence that he could protect himself from the malign will of others. My uncle had endured debacles over the course of years, my aunt had been forced to cleave to idealism during times of trouble, yes. But the crudeness of the third visit threw into question, surely, any orthodoxies such as One reaps what he sows or You get what you deserve. No one deserved this, he believed. Nobody sowed seeds this rotten.

      They slept a wakeful sleep over the course of the warm close day following their vigil. They worried about the shots fired into the dark, anxious that someone might have been hurt. Doing this was against every rule Henry had ever been taught as a boy when learning from his father the gospel rules of wielding firearms. Never shoot unless you can clearly see your target-it was the first tenet of gunsmanship. That law he had surely broken, and through the long day Henry drifted in and out of a dull regret about it. He should have fired into the air. The music maker, whoever he was, couldn't clearly see Henry there on the porch, camouflaged by darkness, and so wouldn't have had any idea whether he was drawing a head right on him or not. A shot at the moon would have been as effective a warning as one in his direction. The second shot had also been unnecessary. After all, he was apparently withdrawing down the gentle rise, presumably running away. Nothing justified firing at a man in retreat, no matter what sort of reprobate thing he had done to you. And while, yes, the music was malicious, terrifying to the two Of' them, without explanation or reason, as they could see it then, it was nothing so criminal as to merit being shot in the back.

      These thoughts bothered him. He shared them with Edmé, who said, simply, -They had coming to them whatever would've happened to them, and that put his mind at case, at least a little.

      The weather turned sultry, unusual in these high mountains, and especially so given that the month had been marked by cool nights. Now the evening was whitened by haze. Whenever a draft shuffled through the trees, wheezy as if with asthma, the leaves would quiver in gratitude. The windows were left open to draw what cool vesper air rose from the gorge hollows and lively creek. Doors, however, were bolted, the new household habit. His twelve-gauge was leaned against the bedroom wall, whose papered pattern was a series of formal urns from which an abundance of fanciful sun-faded blossoms teemed. Full moon only a week away, the waxing light outside would have been quite intense had the sky been clear, but clouds gathered as summer mist lay upon the valley.

      The music broke in on this large silence which ranged around them, and again the middle of the night had gone mad.

      My uncle listened not in disbelief so much as contempt before descending the stairs once more. Behind him, he heard her say, in an exhausted voice, -Don't go down, just let it finish, and as he walked out to the second-floor landing he answered, -Go ahead and call Noah.

      The outburst seemed to originate now from a different place. Rather than from below the house, it flooded the dark from a knoll above. Some rock song, unidentifiable to Henry and if anything even more raucous, eerie, wanton than before.

      -Henry, she cried out.

      But he had vanished downstairs.

      At the northern end of the long verandah the hill adjoined the house along the back. Scraggly bushes cluttered the sheer ascent, and squarish blocks of stone, granite and igneous chunks, tumbled scree, jutted here and there, wild outcroppings decorated in every cranny by corsages of thorny flowering thistle and stubborn foliage. Without benefit of light, he made his way up the snaking path toward the summit of first knoll, where the recorded voice taunted and the synthetic beat persevered, and though Edmé had gone out to the edge of the porch and even pursued him a little way up the trace, she thought the better of following, so returned to the verandah. All the house lights remained off. She didn't know whether Henry had taken a flashlight with him up the steep bank, but if he had she saw that he wasn't using it to make the climb. Not that he needed it-his feet knew the trail as well as his eye. The path veered, zigzagging within the natural curves of the cliff face, and she squinted upward into the shadows, tracking its meanderings in her mind-Edmé knew the path nearly as well as Henry-but failed to catch sight of him. She ran back inside the house, then returned to the porch with her camera, which was fitted with a telephoto lens, a one-hundred-thirty-five millimeters. Pressing her eye to the viewfinder, she scanned the miniaturized yet magnified horizon for movement. She calculated that Henry must have reached the first bluff, a flat stony field covered with scrub.

      Cottony fog was punctuated by drops of lukewarm rain, heavier than drizzle, but not an outright shower, a spitting sky, as Henry might jokingly have referred to it in other circumstances. His face ran with sweat, and he drew deep breathes through pursed lips rather than give himself away by gasping, though he might surely have wanted to gasp, as the night bore down on him and the rain had the odd effect of seeming to sponge away all the breathable air. The darkness was more comprehensive than on the previous nights of disturbance, and Henry was grateful for that, since he assumed he could read the myriad natural obstacles in these woods better than any stranger, and therefore lightlessness served him, gave him the advantage. Still, he hesitated, knelt, collected himself, got his breath back, before pressing forward toward the locus of music. He guessed two hundred yards, three at the most, separated him from the trespasser. Best, he thought, to circle around behind on the creek side-the creek twisted through an endless series of small but furious falls in the gorge below him, just east, off his right shoulder, as he negotiated the narrow footpath along the cliff rim-in order to avoid walking straight into the clearing where he assumed the man, or men, awaited him.

      Edmé lit a candle, It gave off a strong scent of fennel as she set it down on the telephone stand in the kitchen by the door. She flicked through the pages of the address book, until she found Noah's number. She lifted the handset and ran her finger round the rotary to connect his exchange, wondering whether anyone would be at the station at this hour, though imagining that of course someone had to be there, if not Noah himself, because didn't problems like this occur most often at night? When she raised the handset to her ear, she heard nothing. When she tried to disconnect-tapping the plungers over and over with shaking fingers-she disbelieved the banality of her gestures as much as the fact that the line was dead. What did they think they were doing? Edmé might have said it aloud, -What do you think you're doing? but found she didn't have sufficient breath to get the words out. She snuffed the candle, and the kitchen filled with a fennel perfume.

      As for Henry, he too smelled smoke, but not of candle wax and "ick. Rather, of burnt birch, he guessed. Punkwood. Bitter and rotty-not resinous like pine, nor a clean bum like oak. He knew at once what it meant, and it served to raise in him an even greater resentment than he'd already felt. How dare they burn a fire on his land? They'd known enough about surviving in the woods in stealth to gather soft wood in order not to make any noise with an ax, known, it seemed, that birch bark will start damp. The winds up here were apt to shift in frivolous ways, so Henry was not certain exactly where the fire'd been set. He continued up toward a small pasture quite near, ducking under the low-slung boughs of tart blue spruce and ponderosa, which gave off their own spicy scent that mingled with the aroma of wet smoke.

      He was more careful now to proceed unhastily, defensively. A wary calm came over him, a fine sharp focus. A few steps taken, he took a few more.

      Then, beneath the din, he could have sworn he heard Edmé calling his name, -Henry? faint as a reverie. But, well, no. The voice couldn't have been Edmé's, could it? Surely she wouldn't make such a mistake as calling his name, and risk betraying to the music maker that his victims had separated. Edmé wouldn't want him to know that she and he were confused, frightened-although of course it was the truth. If ever, Henry thought, there was an instance where the truth would not set him free. He breathed hard, moved forward.

      Clothes soaked through by the rain, which had let up some. They were heavy and clung to his thighs and back and made his climb harder. A new song was saturated this high corridor, and echoed off massive tablets of ancient carthbones, as he once told me they were, stones coerced to the surface by volcanic shoving and unveiled by antique masses of glacial ice. Henry heard the words

You're the real thing,

Yeah the real thing.

Even better than the real thing

which made him wonder, though only for a moment, How can anything be better than the real thing? But the slide guitar cut through that thought like shears through tired old ribbon, and so he kept moving forward toward this real thing, getting higher and higher just as the music did, finding that his heart beat hard, inarguably to the rhythm of the bass and drum, as he heard

Gonna blow right through ya

Like a breeze

or something to that effect, and more than ever felt unconnected from any sense of explanation for what might be happening here, or why. One matter he did comprehend, however, was that he was very near the origin of his grievance. The backlit limbs, slack under the weight of August, danced, it seemed, up ahead of him. He considered shooting a warning into the air overhead, but reasoned he had the best opportunity of forcing matters to a less violent resolution if he maintained his anonymity under this shroud of night and seized for himself some advantage of surprise.

      Then he saw them. Two of them.

      A man dangled aloft with arms limp at his sides and legs stiff, hung by heavy rope from the crooked thick limb of an old oak there, one of the trees that had withstood many winters, had endured for generations, one of those trees that ranchers referred to as a wolf tree, because when all others failed you, if you were being pursued, this one would be there for you to climb and escape the predator's fangs. The other, whose movements were at first not much more emphatic than his companion's, or whoever, stood near the hanged man, visible in the flickering light of the fire. He wore a half mask that did not hide the crazed look set upon the barely visible features of his face-his mouth, the eyes seen through the cutouts of the mask. The two were framed, from Henry's vantage, by jagged, spiky leaves, and by twigs and many tesserae of saplings and wild hedges, on the opposite side of this meadow, a hundred feet distant.

      Before Henry had the least chance to speculate upon what this could mean-one person hanged and with luminous spikes driven into his pale skull from forehead over crown and down to the base of the neck, the other with an insipid grin seizing his lips-Henry found he had stumbled headlong into the clearing, his own damp head swimming with confusion, in a state closer to terror than he had ever felt. In the low surge and dance of what small fire was left, Henry, stared agape at the living figure as it strode toward him now with such quickness as to seem inhuman, then halted beside the hung man. With a nonchalant flick of the wrist, fingers touching the knees, he set the suspended body in motion, so that it swung, stiff and surely lifeless. The intruder said not a word but returned with frank delight Henry's own shocked gaze, and then, taking several steps oddly backward away from the other, who stood with his shotgun half raised, offered Henry what could only be called a condemning smile. The music all the while continued, louder than Henry could bear. He put his left hand up to his ear, for a moment dropping his concentration. As he did, the figure leapt backward, crashing into the thicket on the far edge of the clearing. The silver crate or box from which the music seemed to emanate the fleeing man had been seen to snatch from the ground in one swift flowing movement as he sprinted into the tangle of woods. And there had been something else, too, inanimate and accusatory, which the trespasser had waved in the air before him, and which Henry witnessed in the dying light, before the figure made his escape.

      Henry did not pursue him, nor did he fire any shells into the air, still reverberant for another few moments before all was a dead calm and the forests on either side of the gorge swallowed up the last echoes of music. When he approached the hanging man, whose unpliant form still swayed to the beat of gravity's measure and no other, the recognition that its clothing was Henry's own came as a last in- sult. Plaid shirt, charcoal wool trousers, silver buckled belt-all had been stolen from his house apparently, to be brought up here for this. And the mannequin-for the hanging figure was not dead but constructed of rags, bound in white cotton to resemble the human form-had painted upon its blank countenance a childish rendition of a skeleton's skull face.

      Henry unyoked the effigy and pulled it down. The thick rope he afterward cut with his pocket knife, having climbed into the wolf tree and edged out on the limb to get at it. He stood for a long time by the fire whose flames devoured the stuffed figure and lariat, and stared at its playful oranges and crimsons, until the thing burned itself out, was reduced to ashen junk, to nothing.



Excerpt from U2's "Even Better than the Real Thing" written by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen copyright 1991 PolyGram International Music Publishing B.V. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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