Last night I walked back to the edge of the prairie. Down the overgrown road where Bonnie and Clyde skipped town, many years ago. Across from the burned out bridge, above Elm Fork. Very far away I could see the silhouette of Mockingbird, distorted by the midnight heat. I shook the gate, but it was locked.

I looked up at the night sky. There were no clouds, and the full moon was very bright. I could see the dark forms of grackles in the trees that lined the road.

When I looked back at Mockingbird I was inside the gate, and I tried to walk to town but every road led me somewhere else. First to a field of smashed mirrors, then to a bed of strange flowers. Then, finally, to the town cemetery. The words on the gravestones took on a dreamlike quality of shapelessness, and at first I couldn’t read them. But all of a sudden the words became clear. Every headstone said the same thing: He is coming, close your eyes. He is coming, close your eyes. He is coming, close your eyes.

Beyond the cemetery gate I saw something sticking up out of the ground, and as I got closer I realized it was the spire of the Mockingbird courthouse. I looked around and saw the tops of all the buildings, as though the entire town had been buried, and then quietly reclaimed by the prairie. I brushed aside the grasses and tried to find the roof of my own house. It had once been at the top of a hill. I couldn’t remember the street number. I couldn’t find the street.

The silence was broken by the buzz of a million cicadas. The buried town faded away. Far above me, the moon burst apart. I turned away, so I wouldn’t have to see him.

I felt his gaze on my back. I closed my eyes.

Last night I walked back to the edge of the prairie. Down the overgrown road where Bonnie and Clyde skipped town, many years ago. Across from the burned out bridge, above the Little Fork creek. Very far away I could see the silhouette of Mockingbird, distorted by the midnight heat. I shook the gate and the lock fell away.

I looked up at the night sky. There were no clouds, and the full moon was very bright. The branches of the trees that lined the road were bare.

The road into town was strewn with broken glass. In the town square I stopped, and looked up at the clocktower, where the hands trembled from 11, to 12, to 1, back to 12, back to 11. Behind me I heard the high electrical whine of a neon sign switching on. I turned. You can stop it, it said in red. It flickered. You can stop it.

From the town square I walked west, up the long hill, toward my house. The neighborhood was quiet. Every window was dark, and every porch was empty. The trees shook with a wind that I couldn’t feel. At the top of the hill I could see a solitary yellow light, and as I got closer I realized that it was coming from my house. I started to run. I opened my mouth to yell something, I don’t know what, but nothing came out. I couldn’t hear my footsteps.

The silence was broken by the caw of a million grackles. The light went out. I turned away, so I wouldn’t have to see him.

But then I turned back. He wasn’t there. The moon was whole. It seemed like it was getting bigger, or closer, and when I looked down I realized that I was flying away from the ground, toward the sky. Mockingbird below me got smaller and smaller, until it disappeared into the dark prairie.

I looked up, toward the stars. Cold tears streamed from my eyes. I felt that I wasn’t alone.

“Is this what your heart desires?” he said.

I left the stratosphere. I tumbled upward. Soon I left Earth completely. I struggled to breathe, I reached out to grab something but there was nothing there. I was frightened.

I pulled my knees into my chest. I closed my eyes. The moon burst apart.

Last night I walked back to the edge of the prairie. A young couple in a Ford Deluxe came speeding down the dirt road, and then across the bridge above Elm Fork. The woman raised a gloved hand and tossed away her cigarette. “He’s in the jailhouse,” she yelled out the window. “Set him free!”

The bridge caught fire. The moon crested the horizon. Very far away was the little town of Mockingbird. If I walked quickly, I could be at the jailhouse by sunrise. “Set him free,” I said to myself as I walked down the road. “Set him free, set him free, set him free.”

Mockingbird
Julianne Aguilar
2021
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