The last time Wendy Burning Torch read her poems at Ted Fairchild's poetry workshop in the Blue Dog Bookstore, the actual blue dog the bookstore was named after suddenly wandered into the room. The dog was a twelve-year old Weimaraner with a slate blue coat and blue eyes. It couldn't have been in the room for more than a few minutes. But after Wendy was killed by her ex-boyfriend, everyone at the workshop remembered the dog's being there, perhaps because the owner, who rode an Italian motorbike, a Ducati, and had been HIV positive for more than a decade, hardly ever brought it around anymore. Everyone remembered, too, that one of the poems Wendy read had a flying coffin in it. It wasn't a great poem—at least no one had thought so at the time—but at her gravesite a few weeks later, Fairchild read it aloud to the mourners. He'd had to break into her trailer out in the desert to get it. The police had put yellow tape across the door and there was still blood on the walls. He looked shaky as he read the poem and had to pause a couple of times to collect himself. But it was a hot day, like an attic, and the sky was almost too bright to look at. When he was done, Frank, a Chiricahua witch doctor and Wendy's twin, although the two of them looked nothing alike, performed a cleansing ritual. He shook some dried white sage into a smudge pot. Then he got down on both knees and set the sage on fire, fanning the little flames with a delicate whisk. At the edge of the cemetery, a pair of huge crows was doing aerial eights around a high voltage electrical tower. Stay away, Frank sang in a high-pitched, almost girlish, voice to the demons—dog-headed men and ghosts—that haunted the cemetery. Sick souls too weak to make it across the spirit realms.
Jacques Debrot has a PhD from Harvard University and chairs the department of Literature and Language at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains. His short fiction appears in The Collagist, Hobart (web), Pear Noir! and other journals.