A young woman lived alone on the high plains between the sawtoothed peaks of indelible mountains. To pass the time, she collected sacred footprints, old wooden wheels that could fit into her palms, golden tape measures, brass coins with holes in their centers, silver tweezers, and the odd gear or screwdriver. One day, she encountered a fox, the most beautiful fox she had ever seen. It could teleport from one place to another. One moment it was on the horizon, and a moment later it was resting under a dried-up tree close by. The longer she gazed at it, the more she wanted it to keep her company, but she remembered that foxes are dangerous beings; their presence only leads to trouble. She walked on, scouring the land for stone beads, rare things, and sacred footprints, when the fox began to speak to the wind, telling it the story of the enchanted wooden horse. The woman had never found one of those before. Curious, she stopped to listen as the fox related all of the misadventures and mysterious exploits of the wooden horse. The shadows shifted on the rocks, sand and golden grass. Clouds raced back and forth across the high blue sky. Night began to fall when a cluster of stars formed themselves into a galloping, white horse. It must have been the enchanted wooden horse itself, descending from the sky in a light, quiet snowfall. The white horse neighed and trotted up to her, bringing its soft muzzle down to her cheek. Then the young woman gasped. The fox was nowhere in sight, and all of her screwdrivers, stone beads, wooden wheels, brass coins, silver tweezers, golden tape measures, rusted gears and sacred footprints had vanished. It has long been said in legends and in lectures that the words of a fox remain in the air for a long time after he has gone. In the great night of the mountains, the young woman rode the white horse through the endless desolation.
In the switchgrass, they roamed like hollow, square buffalo and rectangular bronze horses, hunting by starlight. They came across an old iron bed with a shredded mattress. For a quarter of an hour, they gazed at it, but the irritant stars forced them onward. Later, after traveling through the nude white landscape of early morning, they found an enamel bathtub filled with dust. The light played in the black ironwoods. They wandered as bronze buffalos and rectangular horses. In the end, when they saw the indigo of the distant sawtoothed mountains, they completed the puzzle and made a fire to brew some dark coffee.
The old twelve gauge and its shells had been made from the unknown metal of a meteorite that had fallen on a mesa deep in the desert. A gunsmith and medicine man from the far south gave it to a warrior dressed in black, a great horsebreaker. The warrior returned to the northern plains. On the day of a great battle, he fired the shotgun at the chest of a mounted enemy in blue uniform. The world turned to dust being sucked toward him. When it cleared, he was drinking whisky in a bar he had visited five weeks earlier and five hundred miles to the southwest. A sheriff told him to clear out, just as he had the last time, or the very same time. The warrior fired again, only to awaken in a skirmish to the northeast six years before. Mounted soldiers were cutting down women and children and setting fire to the typees. In horror, he saw that he was too late. They stripped his wife naked and cut her open. Horses screamed. The warrior fired into the violent haze. A whirlwind of leaves brought him into the cold of the prairie. There was an eclipse, and he heard his mother crying and bleeding to death as she gave birth to him on a bed of switchgrass. Weeping, he fired into the darkened sun. A world of dust again sucked everything away, away from the moon and sun. There were mesas and stars, but there were no more bullets. A fire burned in the distance. Throwing down the gun, he started to walk towards the fire. His footprints glinted like old blades behind him. He recognized the fragrance of the land. It was the south with its great long nights and trees made of shadows. A coyote and an owl were smoking tobacco together by the fire and gazing at the stars. They shared their tobacco with him and whispered what he had always thought. It was not a good journey. It was a good death.
A wooden horse two thousand years old rears its head in a glass showcase in a gallery of old silk paintings. With its crudely carved mane and wild scars, its smoky grain and ancient dust, it stamps down the small space, imprinting upon it a lost landscape of pale souls long since buried alive, of wind-blown lands, of gray swords, iron skies and wild waters. The wooden horse gallops the silence of strange buried texts and lost scripts in worldless steppes beneath the great white stars, where princesses sleep in blue square-spiral clouds, where worlds and earths whirl, shedding sawdust and ashes, where time dives the depths of northern black woods.
On a wooden sign standing alone in a great prairie far from any railroad, mine or herd, the following notice was scrawled in chalk:
The great horses of the great war are not coming back, whether or not they have actually been or are being shot.
The great horses whisper their indecencies in the great fields. They speak when they should not, especially when making excuses about their absences or misdeeds on the battlefield. They conspire, smoking up the winter air and foaming all over themselves. At night, they measure everything in the world according to their braided manes and horsepower. They dream of thieves and fire and they dance obscenely, turning only at right and left angles, as if they were princes of the nights and days. They philosophize on the great horse, a wooden machine made in their image who is pregnant with warriors that have or will give birth to history. While speaking ill of their riders, they pretend they alone are the four signs of the end. Otherwise, they would rot in fear from the thought of headlessness. Truly they are nightmares and rutting hounds whose teeth and hooves bring disease. Confessing their sins to haystacks, they openly fornicate under the stars and trample their young to death while the night watch sleeps. Although they demand the flesh of centaurs and kings for dinner, they curse the unicorn and the pegasus. They rejoice in rotting donkeys. They pretend that they are never gelded or hobbled, secretly screaming out in the night about blankets and shotguns. The great horses do not confess that their horsemeat is sold in all the markets everywhere for all to chew thoughtfully. They do not appreciate the elegance of a wooden carriage wheel.
The one played. A burning page flickered here. Another one smoked
there. Smoking and burning pages came at rare intervals, for stars must die and books must burn, but not everything explodes. Between them lay all of the other pages–hundreds and thousands. A codex had been gutted, its many pages randomly or purposefully scattered upon the sand. The one played the game; it was always different and forever the same. It was not a mere library, not an index, not chess, not a book of changes, not pick up sticks, not the tarot, not a board game of 8 or 10 rows, not an imaginary board game, not rayuela, not elephants or horses in splashed iodine or ink, not petanque or pelota, not blowing meditation, not the twirling of flowers and pinwheels to imitate whirlpools and windmills, not plowing, not test driving, not war, not guessing imaginary letters or numbers, not clairvoyance, and not mimes that mirror the deformity of life and the universe. All and none of the games threw shadows that smoked and crackled through the purity of the pages of their one game. It was the one that never made it into lists or lexicons.