Another

Another

by Jon Rollins

 

My wife was already dead when I parked our Bronco in front of the Oasis Inn Deluxe. I just didn’t know it yet.

That’s what we called our small adobe home out there in the remote western New Mexico foothills. The Oasis Inn Deluxe. It really had been an oasis for Nikki and I, a desert paradise one thousand miles from the life we’d abandoned, and an hour drive from the nearest town. I’d just made that drive, along a road that was mostly a path, to pick up supplies. We still had a lot to learn about sustainable living, so our supply runs were frequent.

Nikki had opted to stay home this time and work in the greenhouse. She was clearing one of the tables for a new herbal rack. Some of our produce, including those herbs, we sold at Farmers’ Market twice a month. Not the pot, of course. We grew three different strains of marijuana—Silver Haze was Nikki’s favorite—and we sold that to a distributer in town who owned a feed store.

My wife was a slender, raven-haired beauty with tan skin and emerald eyes that twinkled when she smiled. And she’d smiled when I kissed her goodbye in the greenhouse, and her eyes had twinkled as I tugged at her shorts and the buttons of her shirt with a sudden urge to make love on that table in the rising red sun. But then she’d only laughed and shoed me away. Afternoons are hot in the New Mexico desert, even during springtime, so the work would come first.

I’d left her happily toiling away in the mid-morning light.

Now, it was almost noon. The groceries were put away, and then I went back out to the greenhouse. But the greenhouse was empty. So was the barn. I called out, but no one answered. No worries, though. My Nikki was playful and she could have been hiding in a closet or behind a door somewhere in the house, ready to jump out and shout “Boo!” Or maybe she was waiting for me in the tub.

Or in bed.

Remembering our goodbye kiss and that devilish twinkle in her eyes earlier, I decided that must be it. I could taste Nikki on my lips and smell the cinnamon fragrance of her hair. In my mind, we were already tangled up naked on the bed and oblivious to everything in the world except each other. This is how so many of our afternoons were spent at the Oasis Inn Deluxe. She called us hippie savages for it, and at that moment, walking back toward our house, my carnal cravings for her were very savage. The toolshed just happened to be along my path and I absently pulled open the door.

There she was.

Rattlesnakes were everywhere, maybe a dozen of them, a young nest squirming and slithering around atop each other in that small space. Most of them coiled and hissed defensively when the early afternoon sun flooded in, while those few old enough for tail rattles were rattling them. One slithered over Nikki’s bare thigh in a break for freedom. Dumb confusion turned to instant rage and I stomped that one to death in my sneakers.

Everything faded away into shadow except for my wife, who shined too bright in that shaky, strobe-flashing spotlight of absolute panic. All the hissing and rattling faded away too, leaving only a long high whining in my ears and the words “No! No! No!” echoing over and over in my head.

I grabbed Nikki’s arm without any plan or purpose beyond getting her out of there. One of the rattlers was nesting in her long dark hair and darted away as I pulled her free. He’s likely the one that bit my wrist, but I didn’t feel or even realize this until later. It doesn’t matter anyway, because the bite was harmless. They’d emptied all their venom into the woman I loved.

After dragging her clear and kicking the shed door shut, I hugged Nikki’s cold body tight, despite all the foamy white vomit in her hair and on her T-shirt. She was still wearing shorts and those suntanned legs of hers were now peppered over with ugly black puncture wounds, mottled yellow-gray, and so swollen that her tiny trail hikers might pop right off any second. At a guess, there were twenty bites, maybe more. I never counted.

She looked up at me with half-lidded eyes, drowsy from the poison, and I held her close and said everything would be okay. We’d get through this and she’d be okay, because I loved her too much and she had to be okay. Nikki didn’t speak, but I talked for the both of us. My words were mostly gibberish, though, because I wanted to talk away the pain and somehow find that verbal reset button where none of this ever happened.

It took some time holding her like that, gushing my desperate pleading gibberish, before finally admitting Nikki wasn’t drowsy at all, and those vacant green eyes weren’t looking up at me. So I closed them, then held her a while longer. The tears rained down on her pale, peaceful face, but there was no magic in it. I couldn’t save my wife, couldn’t resurrect her. Still, I kept talking until my throat was raw. And I wept over her dead body until there were no tears left.

The sun was setting when I finally resolved to wrap her body in a blanket and then lay my wife in one of the lawn chairs on our back patio. We were far removed from any emergency services, or a coroner. Not that those institutions or formalities really mattered anymore.

Besides, I was too busy making other plans.

First priority was that nest of rattlesnakes. I’d kill every last one of them. Neither of us had ever cared much for guns, but they came with the deep country lifestyle so I stashed two in the house. We owned a lightweight Winchester lever-action rifle for the coyotes, and also a Smith and Wesson revolver loaded with .410 shot shells. The revolver was ideal for killing snakes, and my initial choice in delivering vengeance. But then, I thought up a better idea.

There was plenty of gasoline in the generator room.

So, I burned down the tool shed, and all those damned scaly slithering monsters roasted alive inside. It wasn’t enough revenge, but the best one I could think up at the moment. And who cared if the adjoining barn lit up too. Those flames danced bright against the night as I opened a bottle of wine and stretched out in a second lawn chair beside my dead wife, praying her spirit would linger just a few more hours.

Then I’d be joining her.

The sunrise stirred me into action from a numb, drunken daze. Clambering slowly to my feet, I swayed once or twice, then scooped up Nikki and staggered into the house. Burying her would be pointless, because we would eventually be missed and the civilized world would come dig her up. There would be an autopsy. Her parents would demand the body be flown back to Kansas City, the last place on Earth Nikki ever wanted to be. That just couldn’t be helped.

So, I laid my wife out on our bed and bundled her up snug. At least inside the house, she’d be safe from desert wildlife until someone found her.

Then I said a prayer. That was a hard thing to do. Nikki had worshipped nature, while I’d simply worshipped my wife—only now she was dead. Still, it seemed like something she’d want. So I mumbled a little prayer, then kissed her face through the blanket and said goodbye.

There was a morning chill in the air when I locked up the house, climbed into the Bronco, and rolled out.

Coyote Point was a kind of haystack rock formation, about 150 feet high, overlooking the road into town. It was also the most noticeable landmark seen from our back patio. Stretched out on our lounge chairs one late afternoon, half-buzzed from red wine and a few hits of Silver Haze while Coltrane jammed on my old boombox, Nikki had fixated on its silhouette against the dusky sky and waxed mystical.

I remember her saying there was an aura to it, some kind of cosmic or spiritual energy which made that place special. She said it deserved a name, and so had we had named it Coyote Point, the highest and therefore best spot around for speaking to God—or for howling at the moon. That name stuck.

Coyote Point.

Three miles later, I was at its base, gazing up along the sheer rocky surface. They’d find our truck abandoned in the road and my crushed and lifeless body right there where I stood. It was a treacherous climb up the formation’s backside, but not so steep as the front, and I soon found myself standing topside at the edge of one very big drop.

Only I lacked the spirit for howling.

There was a moment of clarity as I looked out at the world. I thought of our life together, remembering the warmth of her skin against mine and the way she laughed and how her long black hair swirled in the breeze and how she sang along so badly with the radio and sometimes cried after an orgasm, and how beautiful she was.

Then I stepped off Coyote Point into the next world.

There was a distant scream, or I might have imagined it. Hell, it could have been me screaming.

Maybe that’s where this story should end, but it doesn’t.

I chose that final step well, missing the cliff wall on my way down, aiming for a single, clean, killing impact at the very bottom. A tumble of glancing blows could break my fall and leave me alive in the end. So, I chose my step well, and down I went. It’s hard to say how all the other suicide jumpers do it, but me, I just closed my eyes and relaxed. And waited.

And waited some more.

Time must have slowed to a crawl from the adrenaline rush. Maybe it did. But all the same, this prolonged anticipation stretched way beyond ridiculous. Downward I fell, and kept falling still, and the maddening part of it was that I’d closed my eyes. They were closed and I couldn’t bring myself to open them because any moment the ground would deliver one heart-stopping, bone crushing, show-ending wallop. I just knew it would be … now! … or now! … or now!

The thought occurred that maybe I had already cratered, that the blow was so quick and clean, I never experienced the sensory input from the impact. It was possible I was already dead and didn’t know it.

But just when I was thinking the ride was over—wham! Perfect belly-flop. Face down, I hit the dirt.

Then came that sensory input. Everything hurt everywhere. But it wasn’t the kind of pain expected. This was an intense, white-hot burn that washed over my entire body, eating through flesh to the core in an instant, scorching my very soul. It was like I’d jumped into a pool of liquid magma.

So what. Despite the all-consuming incineration of my body and soul, I had no regrets. If this was to be my ending, I welcomed it.

But then, as quick as it came, that overwhelming, soul-scorching burn was replaced by the pain expected from a fall. Although, not from a 150-foot belly-flop, but rather, I felt like someone who’d fallen off a step ladder. My face hurt, I had a wicked headache, and the wind was knocked out of me. Laying there, splayed wide over the ground, I found myself gasping and coughing up dust.

That was it.

That was it?

Somehow, I had thoroughly bungled my suicide.

There are stories about skydivers surviving jumps from thousands of feet after their chutes don’t open. Or people jumping out of burning buildings, then somehow landing safe and sound. That ground was cold and hard and unforgiving beneath me, but still, maybe there had been some kind of freak updrafting wind—a bizarrely warm one too—that had slowed my fall. It’s a hard theory to swallow, but there I was, still alive.

Then again, who said you couldn’t jump twice?

Surviving was a fluke, so the second time would surely work.

Once I caught my breath.

And that’s when it happened, as I lay there dazed and thoroughly lost in my misery in a ditch at the base of Coyote Point, there came the familiar sounds of the Bronco jostling along up the road toward the house. Coming my way.

Which didn’t make any sense.

I managed a slow granny push-up with aching arms, lifting my head above the edge of the ditch in time to see our faded old orange and white truck rumbling by. Not parked in the road where I’d left it. The windows were down, and the radio blared a few notes of some Alanis Morissette tune as it blew past.

How could this be?

I heard the awful, off-key wailing of my dead wife as she tried to sing along. She didn’t see me there in the ditch, but I saw her in the morning sun, one hand on the wheel, hair tied back in a ponytail, and beautiful as ever. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but my Nikki was alive, and she was heading home.

Too stunned to move or call out until she was long gone, I eventually recovered myself and clambered out of the ditch toward home. It was a long, painful trek. The morning sun seemed higher in the sky than it should have been, although considering everything else, I barely noticed or cared. Nikki was alive and that’s all that really mattered. If this was a dream or mirage or death or something altogether uncharted in the human experience, I didn’t give two shakes beyond praying to God or El Diablo or anybody else who might be listening, with each aching step, to just make it last.

The Bronco sat in front of our house and Nikki was already inside when I reached our driveway. I tried the front door and found it locked, a result of old habits more than any need for locked doors out here. And I’d left my keys in the truck earlier—or left them somewhere, anyway—when I’d gone out. So, the front entrance was abandoned. An irrational part of me believed knocking or calling out or making any noise might somehow alert Fate to this cosmic error and break the spell.

Our patio door might be unlocked, and I headed around to check.

Peeking through windows along the way, desperate to catch a glimpse of her, I rounded the corner and then cleared the side, picking my way carefully along the walkway past a few cactus plants. She could have been working out back in the greenhouse again, but I heard some commotion from an open kitchen window. And I smelled bacon. Nikki was cooking breakfast.

I paid no attention to the greenhouse, and also failed to notice the old barn and tool shed that had just last night burned to the ground now stood fully intact. Instead, I peeked through our kitchen window. The smells and sizzling sounds of breakfast drew my attention to the stove, where I could see bacon and eggs in skillets, but no sign of Nikki. The anticipation was maddening. She had to be there. She absolutely had to be there.

Then, as I turned away from the window and started for the sliding patio door, there was a faint yet very distinct sigh. It was her. She was in there. My heart raced. Tears blurred my vision as I lunged for the door. But in reaching for the handle, I heard another sigh, louder than the first.

And deeper. From a man.

My hand dropped away from the door and I leaned in to have a look through the glass.

Clothes were scattered all over the kitchen floor, and in the midst of this was Nikki. Her hair hung loose now, cascading over bare skin. She threw her head back, eyes closed, and this time, a long, lazy moan escaped her. Then the man lying beneath Nikki moaned too. Both of them were lost in each other and completely unaware of me.

Of course I’d have to kill him. That was my first thought. For the moment, I forgot Nikki was supposed to be dead, and all the other insanity of those last twenty-four hours. Just then, all I could think was how my wife had betrayed me.

Nikki moaned again, and he responded in kind. They were having sex. No, they were making love, and that was far worse. I turned away and hid myself from view, leaning against the house, trying to get my bearings, trying not to puke all over the patio. I was so overwhelmed with anger and jealousy and disgust that it didn’t occur to me right away, even though I’d seen him with my own eyes and heard his voice too.

He was familiar.

But the realization soon sunk in—rather, it hit me like a hammer—who the man making love to my wife happened to be.

I peeked again. Sure enough, he was me. We were completely lost in each other, as we’d been pretty much from day one. Our hands and lips explored each other as if it was all new and they hadn’t done so hundreds of times before. We pressed hard together, and howled with delight as the moment consumed us.

After our climax, we lay there on our backs, sweaty and panting, staring up at the ceiling together, completely in love while eggs and bacon were burnt black on the stove. I reached for her hand and our fingers intertwined. Everything was perfect again. Except that I was also standing out on the patio, so maybe everything wasn’t exactly perfect.

At least not yet.

My mind reeled. I needed time to think.

We’d once discovered the ruins of an old western cabin maybe two hundred yards west of our home. It was mostly petrified wooden rubble, but I retreated to that place and sat on the front steps a while to deliberate.

Maybe this was the afterlife, some kind of spirit world which imitated the living one. But that didn’t make sense. Why would there be two of me in the afterlife? And it wasn’t Hell, because Nikki was too sweet to end up in Hell. Besides, I would suffer far more as a damned soul if I never saw her again, yet there she was. No, whatever this insanity, it was not the afterlife. Not Hell. No way.

But what then?

That’s when, from my remote perch in the cabin ruins, I finally noticed our barn. It stood fully intact behind the house, and not the pile of ashes it had been earlier that morning. The barn seemed to have been somehow resurrected back into its original state, as though it had skipped over that moment when I’d burned it down, as if the fire had never happened. And Nikki seemed to be alive and well, as if the rattlesnakes never happened, which means I never would have stepped off Coyote Point.

It was like a retelling of our story, only with a happy ending. This was a version where the bad things never happened. And somehow, I’d crossed over into this story, into the happily ever after. Except, there were two of me.

That wouldn’t do.

Nikki was mine and I refused to share.

I sat on the old cabin steps under a New Mexico sun, thinking through it. With him gone and her by my side, we could be happy. And the rest of the world with its surreal insanity wouldn’t matter any more to us than it had before. All that needed doing, then, was the undoing of that other me.

He was an imposter. A poser. Sure, maybe he was and maybe not. But believing so helped me to villainize him. The other me had to be some kind of evil doppelganger, and a threat to my wife. Nikki might believe he was a good man, that he was me, but I couldn’t allow myself to do the same. Otherwise, how could I ever kill the man if I thought for one minute he was a genuine carbon copy of myself?

And in order to replace him, of course I would have to kill him. There was no other way.

But how?

The guns came to mind right away. They were built for killing, and could do the job from a safe distance. But guns were loud, so I’d have to wait until they were apart, until only one of them went into town. And that opportunity might not occur for days or even weeks. As the noonday heat crept toward uncomfortable, the shoot-him-dead strategy was dismissed. I just couldn’t survive hiding out in the desert like this for long.

There had to be a quicker resolution.

Nikki had been bitten to death by rattlesnakes in the tool shed. Maybe I could arrange a similar fate for my doppelganger, tricking him into the shed, barricading the door, and then dumping rattlers in through the ventilation panel in back. Then I’d just wait until he was dead and haul the body away on the rack of an ATV we kept out in the barn.

But to where?

Digging a grave is no easy task, but the coyotes would get to the body if he wasn’t buried deep enough. I’d never rest easy again, knowing his corpse may be laying topside out there somewhere for Nikki to one day find. It was a big desert, and the odds of such a thing were astronomical, but I just couldn’t take that chance. As Edgar Allen Poe illustrated so well, murder is a heavy burden that never goes away. I obsessed over minimizing my burden through good planning.

It wouldn’t happen with rattlesnakes, though. Having seen what they’d done to my wife, imagining her excruciating pain and terror in those final moments, it had shattered my soul. Nobody deserves that kind of death.

The rising heat got me thirsty, and that got me thinking about an old well behind the cabin ruins. It was shallow at maybe forty or fifty feet, likely augered and dug out by hand, whereas our own water well had been machine-drilled and reinforced at three times that depth. When we first discovered it, we’d dropped a rock down there and heard a distant clatter. It was dried up. Now, I stood and walked around to the back of the cabin to have another look. Just because it held no water, didn’t mean it wasn’t useful.

The coyotes could never get down there.

It was little more than a hole in the ground, covered up by some rotting boards. And what a stench there was. When Nikki and I had been here before, I didn’t recall such a foul odor coming out. But the boards covering it up were few, and they were loose. Maybe an animal had recently fallen in after venturing too close. So I held my breath and poked around just long enough to determine the hole was wide enough—just barely—to accommodate my plan, then retreated to a safe breathing distance. Yes, that old well would do nicely. It would indeed.

I made my way back to the front steps and was about to plant myself again when a movement caught my eye, something there on the ground one moment, then gone the next. I cautiously peered beneath the lower step and was startled to discover a nest of small rattlesnakes there, coiled and draped atop each other in a loose pile. There must have been at least a dozen. And I’d been sitting on that step, inches away, for two hours.

The rattlers had sensed me, but stayed their ground. They weren’t aggressive or my backside would be full of venom. Nevertheless, I slowly backed away from the nest until well clear of it. Rattlesnakes again. What a coincidence.

I still didn’t have a solid plan—beyond using the old well for storage—when I sneaked back to the house, but hunger and thirst and that nest of snakes got the best of me. While Nikki and the other me were working out back, I slipped inside for a supply raid, occasionally glancing through the kitchen window, planning to exit out the front door if one of them approached. But they didn’t come out.

We kept a drawer full of used grocery bags for various recycling purposes, and I filled one of these bags with three bottled waters, a few single-sized pretzel packs, a handful of cookies, and enough bread, sliced meat, and cheese for a few sandwiches. In my haste, the cookies and sandwich makings were dumped loose into the bag. It was enough to survive on for a day, but not enough to notice missing.

After that, I ran to our spare bedroom and pulled an old sleeping bag out of the closet. Our house was solar and generator powered, but we kept several candles, lamps, and flashlights on hand, just in case. I took a Maglite from my bedside nightstand drawer, then made my exit, leaving the front door unlocked behind me. It was frequently unlocked and nobody would think twice about it, while this provided me another entry point if needed.

I then returned to the cabin ruins, careful to steer clear of the infested front steps.

And waited.

And plotted.

I sneaked into the greenhouse at dusk, intending to camp in the safety of its confines and then clear out early, before everyone woke. Between the snakes and scorpions and spiders and centipedes, as well as the occasional coyote or bobcat, there was no appeal in sleeping beneath the stars. A mostly unused table stood amidst the various rows of herbs and spices, the table Nikki had been clearing off when I’d left her that fateful morning of the previous day. That’s where I laid out my sleeping bag.

By the time the sun fully set, I was situated with a clear view of the house, confident its occupants could not see me.

We had installed solar-powered spotlights around the house and outer buildings. Two of these spotlights dimly lit up the back patio, so it was easy enough to spot Nikki and the other me when they strolled out together with a bottle of wine. The soft hum from our generator shed around the corner was soon replaced by the lazy wailings of Van Morrison, whose melodies were seemingly made for desert landscapes. And romance.

As I watched us sitting together on the patio, enjoying our nightly routine, the old idea bulb suddenly lit up for a second time that day. Watching the two of them sip their merlot and suck down a little Silver Haze, occasionally holding hands or laughing at some intimate exchange of words, it became clear how I would kill myself.

Or rather, how I would kill myself the second time.

The solution was suddenly so obvious. It would be simple to implement, relatively painless, and expunge waiting for Nikki to be away somewhere.

And it would be clean.

Stretched out that night on the greenhouse table in my sleeping bag, I hardly slept a wink. Soon, if I planned everything carefully, the cosmic universal balance would be restored, I’d be back in my lover’s arms, and the nightmare of this last few weeks would be a thing of the past. With that in mind, who could possibly sleep?

The second day of my secret exile was much easier. They took the Bronco into town together for various errands, an hour drive one way, which gave me at least two hours to make all the necessary arrangements.

First, I’d need to arrange for body disposal. But the old army tarp I expected to find in our “clutter corner” of the garage was missing. This world might be similar to the one on the other side of my jump at Coyote Point, but it wasn’t exactly the same. In this world, it seemed the thing didn’t exist, or maybe it had been recently used and could be found elsewhere. But the tarp wasn’t a critical part of my plan, so I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for it and moved on.

Next, I decided to check the tool shed out back—ever watchful for more rattlers—and confirmed our wheelbarrow was there and ready for action. Then I went back inside to orchestrate the murder of my other self, my doppelganger, or whatever he was.

Like most pot farmers, Nikki and I kept things as natural as possible, beyond the artificial lighting and fertilizers. We certainly didn’t taint our product with high-enhancing additives or dilutants in order to increase earnings. We kept our production clean and simple. But a former contact once inquired about hybrid product, so I had experimented out of curiosity. The results weren’t worthwhile, so the experiment had been abandoned, but there was still a sampling of those additive components in a tin box under the bathroom sink. I now retrieved that box and opened it up. Among the various contents was a small glass vial half-full of white powder.

Gamma Hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is a neural inhibitor targeting a variety of brain and sensory functions. Some of the more popular effects include severe drowsiness, hallucinations, and short-term memory loss. It also increases the libido and decreases inhibition. It was suggested that lacing it in our product would produce a more stimulating high, which turned out to be a bogus claim.

I had something entirely different in mind, tapping out a portion of the powder into a half-empty wine bottle on our dining room table. Nikki and me, we were creatures of habit, and that spelled opportunity.

They didn’t sit on the patio that night, but it didn’t matter. My plan could play out on the patio or at the dining room table. Or in the bedroom, as it turned out. And as usual, they brought along the wine. I stood listening outside the bedroom window with equal parts disgust, intrigue, and pity, as my wife made love once more to that other man who also happened to be me.

A half-hour into their interlude, they were both lost in a drug-induced half-sleep, under the paralyzing spell of a hazy blur of altered semi-awareness at best. They may or may not see me as I did my thing, but it didn’t matter. Even if they saw me as more than a hallucination, neither would be able to react in any meaningful way, and what’s more, Nikki wouldn’t remember any of it in the morning.

After a quick peek to confirm they were both out, I hurried around to the patio door. The effects of GHB vary from person to person, but I figured I would have between two and six hours to get the job done. If everything went smoothly, that would be enough.

Originally, I had planned to simply strangle the other me with my bare hands. But, as the moment drew near, I couldn’t stomach the thought of squeezing the life out of myself. The other guy really didn’t deserve this, but I would not share my wife. I would not do that, so he had to go.

Inspired at the last minute, I grabbed two more plastic grocery bags in passing through the kitchen, the sturdiest and most intact ones I could find, along with a half-roll of duct tape from the junk drawer. Then I made way back to the bedroom.

They were both laid out atop the sheets, on their sides facing each other. It was obvious they—we—were in love. For a moment, I was overwhelmed by the sight of my wife alive again there on the bed. I reached out to touch her … then drew back my trembling hand. First, this ugly deed must be done.

They both stirred a little as I rolled my other self onto his back. He actually opened his eyes briefly and smiled up at me before drifting off again. It wasn’t until I lifted his head to tightly tape the double-bagged opening air-tight around his neck that the other me began to struggle. He had no control of motor skills, so his effort was feeble, more a series of spasms than an actual struggle.

Thirty minutes later, a violent shiver ran down my spine as I stared at my own corpse.

I couldn’t bring myself to pull the bags off his head.

Thirty minutes after that, I was frantically plowing our wheelbarrow through the dark, trying hard to avoid wild cacti and sagebrush along what I believed was a route back to the cabin ruins. More specifically, we were headed toward the well.

The opening was not so wide as it had seemed, or else my corpse was wider than expected. And God, how that old well stunk. It was wretched stuffing him in, and at one point, a wave of nausea overtook me and I stopped to puke. Then, when returning back to task, I regarded the half-exposed body illuminated by my nearby strategically positioned flashlight. It protruded limply from the well mouth, right arm and head submerged from view, but its left arm was wedged alongside the torso and arched upward into the night so that the wedding band glinted bright.

My wedding band.

In that moment of heartfelt kinship to a man who had obviously loved Nikki just as much, I was inclined to retrieve the ring and slip it in my pocket for safe-keeping. This felt somehow important, and I knew I’d want the same if our roles were reversed.

Then I resumed pushing and twisting and wrenching the body into that foul-smelling hole in the New Mexico desert. Once stuffed hip-deep inside, gravity finally did its thing and that other me slid free to drop with a series of thumps, scrapes, and thuds to the very bottom. Those sickening sounds—or more specifically, what caused them—produced another series of heaves, purging whatever my earlier puking had missed.

Then it was over. I repositioned the pile of old boards over the well, then collected the wheelbarrow and searched with my flashlight beam for snakes or other nasty New Mexico wildlife while following our solar lights back home, to the Oasis Inn Deluxe.

Where my sleeping beauty lay waiting.

After two days hiding out in camping mode, along with a murder and corpse disposal, my first order of business was to shower and shave. After that, I flushed the remaining GHB-laced wine and the drug vial down the drain, then buried the emptied vial at the bottom of the kitchen trash. I then returned to the bedroom, placed the empty wine bottle on my nightstand to complete the illusion, and at long last, finally collapsed into our bed and fell asleep holding my sleeping wife’s hand.

Nikki was alive. She was all mine, and I had both died and killed over the last two days to keep it that way.

Because I could not live without her.

Because she was mine and I refused to share.

She was watching me sleep. I woke to find her laying there, staring at me, studying me. Sparkling green eyes surveyed my face from beneath her delicately furrowed brow. Nikki was so intent in this examination, she apparently hadn’t noticed I was awake and looking right back at her. Being so recently burdened by the guilt of murder, I was terrified of what she might see.

Did she know?

But also, I was lost in the depth and brilliance of those eyes. If it’s true the eyes are a window to the soul, then Nikki’s soul must be as vast and complex as the whole universe. If I had to do it again, I knew I could kill a thousand times over if necessary, just to lay there next to her. But wouldn’t she hate me for it?

Did she know?

Lacking the eloquence to produce an appropriately profound greeting for my long lost wife, I ended the silence with a simple “Hi.”

The sound broke her concentration, and when she looked into my eyes, she actually saw me. And smiled nervously.

Did she know?

“Hi yourself.”

“I love you,” I said.

And she started to cry. I didn’t know why Nikki was crying, but it broke me, and I started to cry too.

I reached for her, pulling her over on top of me, and squeezing her tight. I kissed her lips and her eyes and the tears on her cheeks, and I kissed her neck, marveling at how she always smelled faintly and inexplicably of cinnamon. Nikki’s long, feathery soft hair fell in a veil around our faces as we kissed, cocooning us in a tiny black sphere which contained everything I needed in a universe.

We made love that morning, engaging in a fierce carnal exchange so intense I thought our flesh might not endure it. I attacked her body like a wild animal, and Nikki matched my ferocity. We were savages, lost in a volatile chemical reaction that might kill us both. Still, we indulged like this for hours, then slept through the afternoon. Having finally recovered, we next succumbed to a growing hunger and clambered from our wrecked bed to clean up and drive into town for a nice Italian dinner.

With red wine.

So, we went and ate our dinner, made small talk about the other restaurant patrons, and we drank our wine.

And there was a dead body in the well.

The brutality of what I had done came to me in brief clips, like sucker punches, throughout the evening.

That one big step off the top of Coyote Point.

My own smiling face looking up at me in a drug-induced daze.

His wedding band glinting in the beam of my flashlight …

Oh God. The ring!

I’d forgotten about the ring. It was still in my pocket, where Nikki could accidentally find it and this whole nightmarish affair become completely unraveled so I might lose her forever.

She could never ever see that ring, and I obsessed about it on our drive back home, to our home, where we might just live out our lives together happily ever after. If I played it cool. If I played it smart.

At the house, I brushed my teeth in the bathroom while she hangered her evening dress and straightened up the bed—we’d nearly destroyed it that morning. With the water running to drown out any revealing sounds, and knowing there was little time, I quickly retrieved that same tin box tucked away beneath our sink from the previous night, and fished the second wedding band from my pants pocket, carefully setting it on the edge of the basin. The box was long forgotten and held nothing of value or interest for Nikki, so I figured it was the perfect hiding place.

I tipped back the lid on its tiny hinges and then paused briefly to consider an alternative to leaving something so valuable loose at the bottom. Inside the box, there were a few rolled up Ziplock baggies and a few unlabeled prescription pill bottles, along with a dropper, some glass test tubes, and a syringe. That was the inventory I recollected from my brief experiment long ago and had long since abandoned.

But then I noticed something new in the box, something I had never put there and had missed in my haste the night before. A small aspirin bottle was buried in a corner of the box under the rolled-up baggies, barely visible amidst their contents. And as fate would have it, this was the perfect container for a wedding band.

Surprised and curious, I dug out the bottle to investigate.

A slight rattling as I moved it told me something was inside, something I very much doubted to be aspirin. Running my thumb alongside, I popped the childproof top and peeked at its contents.

For a split second, my mind couldn’t comprehend what I saw. Mind reeling and knees weak, I sat down the bottle, grabbing the basin with both hands to steady myself. And I closed my eyes tight.

Then her voice came from behind. It was calm, calculating, each word spoken with careful deliberation.

“You’re mine, and I will not share.”

Where does the nightmare end? Hell, where did it even begin? At first I thought it started with the rattlers out in the tool shed, but now I’m not so sure. Nikki is a smart girl. She’s clever, with a better eye for detail than me. Odds are, it started long before the rattlers, but I’ll never know the whole truth.

Do I even want to?

Our love is a villainous thing that has twisted us into murderers. If only we had shared, things would be so, so different now and maybe this story would have its happy ending. Maybe. For reasons unknown, we’ve been granted a rare opportunity to learn how far we both would go to stay together. Too far, it turns out, which is why we would have to leave, and immediately.

If only we had shared.

By midnight, the Bronco was loaded and speeding from our Oasis Inn Deluxe forever, while Nikki and I sat quietly in its cab. Our eyes scanned the countryside around Coyote Point, watching for any sign of things to come, watching for … another.

But as we sped past that rocky landmark, enchanted or cursed though it was, nothing happened whatsoever. No one clambered up out of the ditch at its base and into the road to stop us.

Thank God.

Nikki sighed and relaxed a little after that, reaching to hold my hand. Things had changed for us, but not our love. Never our love. It was a bad drug, and we were both hooked till death did we part . . . and apparently beyond.

But I wasn’t quite so relieved just yet. Coyote Point was some kind of door, and soon it might open to usher in another Nikki or another me, either one hell-bent on a reunion at any cost. Still, we wouldn’t make it easy for them. We would leave Coyote Point behind and find ourselves a random new home far, far away. We would get tattoos and invent code phrases to help detect another incident, but that wouldn’t really stop anything in the end. So, we’d try to change our nature, the nature of us all, by putting up signs along the way, figuring out some way of communicating to any who should follow, explaining the nightmare they might perpetuate or else prevent if only they—if we—could somehow learn to share.

But deep down, even knowing as much as I knew then, I wondered if I would ever be able to share Nikki with another man, even if that other man was me. And if we couldn’t change after everything that happened, then what could we expect from the newcomers?

Oh, and there was just one other concern at that particular moment, something more urgent which made me push that old Bronco to its limits as we raced through the night. When we had rushed to grab our essentials, including both rings taken from the two bodies—were there more than two bodies at the bottom of that stinking well?—and get the hell out of New Mexico. . .

The revolver and the Winchester were missing.

______________

Jon Rollins is a Harley-riding writer hobbyist who resides in Texas, where everything is bigger (including the nightmares). He often vacations in the Twilight Zone and hopes to retire there one day. His stories have appeared in Down In The Dirt Magazine, DailyScienceFiction, and a book of spooky road trip tales called Bumps In The Road. And there’s still more to come.

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