Gospherus finds me. He wakes me up where I lay freezing, shivering and unconscious, in a field near our house. He went looking when I didn't return. He did not take his cactus. November is too cold outside for a cactus.
I awake from nightmares of atrocities committed in small, hidden places. Shivering and disoriented, I walk back with my tenant. In the darkness I see Roger Heston muttering something to a group of children on the sidewalk in front of his house, and hear them laugh, quietly. It's late. They must be on their way home. And then I feel dizzier and in my mind I see him staring at his daughter, Taylor, just on the cusp of puberty. See him looking out his second-floor window when not-so-little-anymore girls pass. Heston, who led the mob against the clown.
"I know he makes fun of me," Gospherus says, after we are a block further along. This is true. I see it, in my head, Mr. Heston commenting on my tenant's sartorial eccentricities, and his fondness for his cactus, trying to win them over, especially the young girls. "Sometimes I just want to pack up my red wagon and take my cactus and leave. But this is a good place. You are like a friend."
"You're a good tenant," I say.
"You don't make fun of me or my cactus."
"I wouldn't do that," I say. I shiver. We're walking by another house, the same as the last one. A boy lives there. I'm certain he has leukemia, though no one as yet knows. After his death, three years from now, I see his parents falling into a bitter fight.
"Also we get many television shows that no one else can see."
I laugh. It hurts. "Was Fine Structure any good tonight?"
"It was very good. I taped it for you." We don't have a PVR, but I own an old VCR and we use that. The shows on the channels that no one else receives record fine, most of the time. I don’t know you if the PVR would recognize their signals.
I feel like a broken fingernail running across a dirty chalkboard.
"Where is the car?"
Shit. "It's back in town. I'm going to get a ticket." I'm freezing and sniffling and soaking wet from the rain. I could go to get it, I suppose. Gospherus would, but he never learned to drive. "You're not going to believe this."
"I bet I will."
I laugh again. It hurts again. We arrive at the house and now, shivering and wetness be damned, I have to get the shovel and see what, if anything, the cornerstone says. I explain this to Gospherus.
"You are not well," Gospherus says. "Please get out of the cold."
"In my.... I need to see if there's really something on the cornerstone. I need to dig. See. I had his thing. Dream. I don't know. I saw something on the cornerstone of the house. The northwest corner." I try to explain. Gospherus listens, like a child receiving instructions in some new adult task he must master.
"I will dig for you," he says.
I protest, weakly, but I'm too tired to argue. Inside, I take an Advil Cold and Flu tablet. Then I run a bath. I have not bathed in years, preferring to shower. But a hot bath sounds like it might be a good idea.
From the bathtub, I tell Gospherus the rest of the story. Despite the Advil, my nose remains runny, but I'm starting to feel human.
"I suppose there's no record in the archives of four giant horsemen over the city in 1918?"
My eyes widen. The Four Horsemen. I imagine they were very much in the news in 1918. The Spanish Flu, well underway, eventually took more than fifty million lives. The Great War bloodied Europe, and by 1918 had taken ten million. In more than a few places, famine followed: Persia, Russia, Germany, Armenia. Mount Lebanon lost a third of its population to the third Horseman. Perhaps one-quarter of northern Iran's population starved to death. These three, ever followed by a fourth:
I looked and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Gospherus leaves me in my disturbed state and, after checking on his cactus, goes out into the yard to fulfil his promise of digging at the corner.
He returns to find me in my bedroom, no longer cold but still bearing a shiver in my body. "I found it," Gospherus says. "The writing on the cornerstone. It was just a little way down." My eyes widen. "It says, October 30, 1893." In this country, that would be an odd time to start building a house. It may be trivial, but it seems to confirm my experience. My mind returns to the road, and to that other house, which may or may not exist on the other side of town. I know that I must go there. My chest hurts. Gospherus says, "I bet that's the day they put down the cornerstone."
"I bet it is," I say.
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