The trip was spent relating funny stories of camping/hunting/fishing trips, about what he could remember of Earl and Rich, riding bikes to harvest auto parts, fights with his brother, Earl teaching him how to drive, Rich teaching him how to shoot, and how he met Alma at Moe's Diner before he was driven out of town.
He even told him about Michael's crush on him, and how Ennis never did admit to himself that he loved his friend as much as Mike loved him.
It'd been decades since Ennis had been home to Sage. The closer they got, the more concerned he became and the deeper his frown. Sage should be a good-sized town by now, but they seemed to be encountering less and less traffic, and what there was of it was all long-haul tractor-trailers.
The two-lane highway’s scenery was all the same; mile after straight mile, of mile after mile of reddish-brown and parched high hills on either side punctuated by mountains. All dotted with green or brown clumps of brush that had managed to take root in the barren wasteland.
The route followed a double line of railroad tracks to their left. The only relief from the monotony came when they outpaced a long freight train headed for points west and north. While they were racing it, they passed by a huge barn almost completely unnoticed until they were beside it.
Jack made a mental note to check it out on the way back for salvage wood. His husband behind the wheel wasn't really paying attention to the scenery because it'd be impossible to miss big Lake Sage reservoir on their left about a mile before they hit downtown.
"Ennis!" exclaimed Jack suddenly, causing his husband to brake and swerve. "Pull over... Pull over!"
As they swerved all over the road, Ennis yelled angrily, "You tryin' ta git us killed?"
Looking out the back window, he instructed, "Wait for this big rig to pass, then back up about a hundred yards."
Three minutes later, they were out of the truck and Ennis followed Jack's pointed finger almost all the way to the top of a hill on their side of the road.
To his puzzled astonishment, Ennis spotted an upside-down and very rusted white 1963 Chevrolet Impala station wagon near the top of the pyramid shaped hill with its top crumpled and partially buried in the sandy dirt.
Ennis almost commented when Jack gasped and pointed to two more on the next hill west of them on the same side of the road. They both looked like ‘63 Impala sedans and in the same condition; a dark blue one on its side, and a silver one with its nose smashed and buried.
"What - the - hell?" exclaimed Ennis."
While debating on how they could've possibly gotten up there, they got back into the truck with Ennis behind the wheel. They crept along the berm looking up and out Jack's window when his husband exclaimed, "Look at that!"
On the opposite side of the hill that the first car was spotted on, was what looked like the nearly intact weathered roof of a house... complete with eaves and part of the rain gutters!
Ennis was scared now and gunned the engine watching out his side of the truck as scenery flew by in a blur.
He drove right past his hometown without even realizing until they came up in the middle of a slow right curve to where Routes 30 and 89 joined together. Continuing on through the curve would take them north along the Utah line, turning left would take them to Lakton and Bear Lake.
They'd definitely missed the left turn-off at Sage. Ennis did a dusty U-turn in the intersection and pulled over. He jumped out frustrated, slapped his hat against his thigh and looked back eastward with a perplexed expression as he put his Stetson back on.
But it... it had to be there! Ennis was so upset, that they traded seats and Jack wound up taking the wheel while his husband scowled at the map and searched out the window to the right, protesting about how big the lake was and how they couldn't have missed it.
Just as his husband was about to pull back onto the road and head east, Ennis suddenly gasped and exclaimed, "Oh my god... What the fuck?"
Jack leaned over to look at what he was pointing at on the detailed road map as Ennis' finger traced zigzagged Twin Creek, "What?"
As big as it was, how could it not be there?
As many times as he'd looked at it while making plans to come here, he never realized that though there was a tiny dot for Sage, Wyoming... "Lake Sage ain't on the map!"
[This is an actual picture of Sage Wyoming]
After backtracking east they quickly found what was left of it, but Ennis couldn't believe his eyes as they turned right onto what used to be Sage St. and headed south towards the tall hills traveling about 50 yards to where Sage's train depot should've been off to the right.
A little west of the rail crossing they'd just stopped at, the tracks grew an off-ramp that once brought cars to the dealership, visiting rail passengers, and progress to Sage, but no sign of their cargo or the passenger depot remained. The rusted steel siding that K.E. had helped build curved to the left into town and ended at a weed-covered concrete pyramid meant to stop slowly coasting rail cars.
As he looked closer the rails were bent and misshapen at the bend; one section seemed melted and curved upward slightly.
What once was a broad Sage Street business district beyond the familiar antique rusted railroad crossing sign was now an empty narrow dirt road, straight as an arrow towards the hills. The town was gone as if the winds of a huge prairie ton-twister had scoured it away leaving only crumbled and disintegrating concrete foundations mostly hidden by tall weeds and blowing brush on either side of what once was a busy four-lane wide thoroughfare with parking on either side.
Though Alma's bitch of a mother knew of Sage's fate, she never mentioned it to her daughter... so Ennis never knew about the massive explosions that'd leveled it just as he'd arrived in Signal to take the job on Brokeback.
The beautiful lake where he'd found St. Michael and its surrounding acres of woods were nowhere but in his memory, now replaced by a shallow and meandering stream. Twin Creek had returned to its wandering zigzagged course and not a sign remained of the earthen dam that once formed the big reservoir.
That man-made lake watered the surrounding small farms and ranches for miles, and without it, everything dried back up and turned as brown as the endless miles the two men had just crossed.
A few tumbledown houses and buildings remained to their left on a turn-around loop off of the main road, none of which del Mar recognized. Not a soul stirred anywhere amongst them.
Jack bumped over the double rail crossing and his husband urged him to a stop just on the other side.
Ennis climbed out of the truck and walked ahead of it towards what used to be a good little town. He was completely lost with no familiar landmarks to guide him.
Wind and dust blew up in a little baby tornado and just as quickly vanished into the clear blue sky, while a bunch of prairie dogs yipped out their warnings from all directions of humans nearby.
To their left should have been a sprawling neighborhood; the residential section of Sage filled with close houses and playing kids on bicycles. The popular and tree-clogged Ledger Park bordering the lake showed no signs of ever existing.
Jack drove slowly behind, watching his shocked husband sadly search for something recognizable but finding nothing.
They paused and Jack jumped out to spread Ennis' map out on the hood. There was no doubt; they were in the right place, with even a dot marked Sage right where they were standing. Jack jumped into the steel bed of the pickup, and then up on top of the sturdy cab's roof to scan east and west, then studied south... nothing.
Somehow maybe god himself swept it all completely away with his mighty hand, leaving nearly nothing behind.
Eventually Ennis retook the wheel and headed slowly south down what used to be a paved street, now mostly hidden by soil, sand and blowing weeds.
As it gradually began climbing the hill ahead, they happened onto where Dead Horse Road should've met Sage St., finding it only because Ennis spotted a rusted and fallen over stop sign. Nature had reclaimed the land and where asphalt once covered dirt, time crumbled it and weeds took over.
Ennis turned left onto it and drove on instinct knowing the hidden street just below the surface was as straight as an arrow until it almost met his homestead.
Lake Sage should’ve been on their left the whole way but wasn’t, and del Mar still had trouble not seeing/sensing the earthen dam that once held it back there, deeply troubled that something that big and that permanent from his childhood could just up and vanish.
At the top of Salter’s hill that should've overlooked his old homestead, he got out, surveyed the surroundings, and shook his head sadly.
He felt like a lost child who couldn't find his way home and his eyes began burning. What the concussions from the blasts hadn't flattened, the emptying of Lake Sage had destroyed, mowing down and rearranging the landscape forever with its mighty surge of rushing water.
Those who weren't horrifically burned alive were drowned in only moments without warning, or crushed when the levee liquefied.
No red Earl's Auto Repair water tower on the eastern horizon to guide him, no sharp curve where his parents died, nothing.
Long and narrow Lake Sage used to fill what was now just a dry and empty valley. To look at it now you'd never know there'd once been a beautiful tree lush oasis there. All that remained was years upon years of scrub brush and shifting red-brown and parched earth after someone decided to harvest the trees for the wood before they died anyway.
Looking back and down he scanned where his old elementary school should've been. No city hall, no restaurant where Alma worked that he once lived over, no shops or businesses... all absent and replaced by vacant barren land.
A ghostly full-body shudder ran through him as he recalled the western brick façade of the absent high school with KILL A QUEER FOR CHRIST scrawled in giant white painted letters.
All gone... vanished over thirty years ago... only a mere blink of mighty nature's eye.
He turned the truck around in a cloud of dust and eventually stopped where it dead-ended back in "town." He had no idea where the Salisburys buried Earl and Rich in Lakton, but he did know where they'd died.
He turned left back onto Sage St. and drove uphill heading south.
Partway up the grade it dead-ended into another dirt trail that used to be paved Camel's Back Road and he turned right, heading west.
A five-minute downhill drive followed, winding through curves that found a basin between two hills where an irrigation gully once carried water over it to thirsty farms south of town. Old rotted poles lay on the ground next to a large rusted-out and collapsed steel pipeline now derelict with nothing to pump.
The little valley had acted like a funnel for the floodwaters. It was a wonder the pipeline had survived.
The smell of a recently dead rabbit brought the nightmare back to him. This was as near as Ennis could estimate to the place where Rich lost his strength to live without Earl and hung in agony while his killers laughed.
The husbands Twist solemnly laid two memorial wreaths there and said a prayer.
Ennis made a brief attempt at finding his parent's graves but it was beyond hope. When the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage reservoir failed, Button Hill cemetery was buried under twenty-five feet of mud and debris.
The ground around them for hundreds and hundreds of yards in all directions was surreal and otherworldly. One man would frown and gesture to the other saying, “Look at that!” pointing out wooden planks, a rusted chromed bumper, an old refrigerator, part of a bicycle wheel, a couch, baby dolls and parts of houses poking up partway out of the sandy earth like some sort of bizarre madman's dream.
He drove back out to the hill they'd been to earlier that had a view of his old homestead and left the flowers there for his parents.
They journeyed back through "town" to stop just after the double railroad crossing with a somber Ennis at the wheel. He got out and took one last look backward, seeing only what once was as a tear fell from his eye.
Jack slid over to take the wheel for the long drive home, turned right and headed east...
He followed his gaze and his eyes widened in surprise.
A hundred yards ahead and about fifty yards to the right of the road just beyond the tracks was something they both barely noticed on the way here, probably because they’d been gleefully racing a train…
…A very large barn with an enormous "Mail Pouch" tobacco ad painted on the side. It looked very old, weather-beaten and long uncared for. By it’s lean; it looked like it was ready to fall over while they watched it.
Ennis exclaimed, "What the hell; I don’t remember this being here! I thought they were only in Ohio and Michigan."
Suddenly an 18-wheeler passed very close blowing its horn twice, rocking the truck with its wake turbulence.
Jack frowned and shook his head, "I researched them once and the barns were all over the rural Midwest.
About four or five old men used to go out and paint them for some tobacco company in West Virginia up until they retired. The farmers got their barn painted for free in exchange for advertising. Come to think of it, I think there’s a few in California too, but I’ve never heard of one in Wyoming or Utah."
As they both surveyed the surrounding fields for an owner’s house or driveway, Ennis’ mind was filled with preserving the ad and reassembling it on the side of one of their barns, while Jack considered the potential to make a lot of money on the wood they could salvage.
Ennis pointed toward an old upright wooden post about three feet tall with a flat plank atop it where a roadside mailbox used to be. Just barely through the high weeds they could see where a long unused driveway parted the undergrowth.
Jack had almost shifted into gear when they were both jolted nearly out of their seats by a loud sharp burst of a police siren directly behind them.
Ennis shuddered from nerves as they both exited their Silverado and walked casually towards a black Ford Lincoln County patrol car.
Without getting out, a friendly cop in his mid-fifties leaned out his opened door and called out, "You boys broken down?"
Both came to a halt in their tracks at their tailgate and shook their heads "no."
He smirked as if this happened a lot, pulled his door closed, gestured them back into their truck and by pointing ahead and then to the right, got it across that he wanted them off the side of the road and onto the driveway ahead that they’d seen earlier.
A minute later they exchanged introductions. Jack said they were half-brothers whose business it was to purchase old barns and recycle the lumber, then handed the sheriff a business card.
A big rig passed, its horn blowing on into the distance.
Frowning at the card, Sheriff Clayton Dawes said, "Lightning Flat eh? I thought that place was a ghost town. What brought you down here?"
Ennis nodded, "I grew up in Sage."
After a short conversation beside their pickup in which the officer told them about the train wreck that leveled the town in 1963, Jack suddenly brightened and exclaimed, "OH! That explains the…"
Dawes laughed, "…cars up on the hillsides?"
The husbands exclaimed, "Yeah!" at the same time.
The sheriff grinned, "They were ’63 models for the dealership. Legend has it the blast was so powerful that they were blown up there from the parking facility on Dead Horse, but actually they were on a couple of the rail cars in the train that blew up. One of the mangled car carriers that they were on is actually on the other side there with a couple of Corvairs still in it!
We thought about pulling them down, but they, along with the leaning barn here and the whole roof of the Parson’s house have become sort of a tourist attraction in these parts. A few years back we had to put in turn-outs to keep people from stopping in the damned middle of the highway to gawk at them."
Dawes told them about how Dr. Skully, who was from Columbus Ohio, moved his wife and three boys here in the early 60’s, set up a practice in town and then built this farm.
They say his wife was so homesick that their boys painted the barn like that so she’d feel more at home here. A couple of stores in Sage, Diamondville, Kemmerer and Lakton had to stock Mail Pouch after so many people started asking for it."
"He’d just put up the storage building," he continued, "about six months before Sage died; the blast taking their house with it and damaging the enormous structure. A week or so later lightning struck the trailer they were staying in and killed the whole family.
He gestured over at a crumbled foundation where the house once stood. Next to it the rusted collapsed remains of a mobile home sat rotting, a stubby tree growing up through the middle of its floor. Nothing was left of it but a blackened pile of rubble.
Ennis remembered the fire when Randall had tried to burn him alive in his house and suffered another uncontrolled shudder.
Another 18-wheeler blew his horn as it passed. Ennis frowned as his eyes followed it into the distance. "What’re they doin’; salutin’ ya - uh you?"
The sheriff snorted out a laugh and jutted his head towards the huge barn. "‘Bout twenty years ago, it got around that the barn was haunted. Legend has it that if you blow your horn ‘n salute the spirits of the Skullys as you pass, they’ll see you safely on your way. The trains do it too."
Just then a semi passed, the driver laying on his horn.
Jack said, "Well Sheriff, I make my living assessing those structures. I restore them, rebuild them and tear them down for the wood." Looking at it lovingly, he asked, "Who owns it?"
Dawes replied, "The County does, but we ain’t got no budget for assessors; much less repairs."
The husbands exchanged glances and Jack offered, "We’ll do it free, manpower, time and equipment."
Clayton fixed them with a look that was half suspicion and half skepticism. "Why?"
Ennis grinned. "We’re rich… and we love old barns."
The sheriff pulled out his cell phone and hit speed dial before they changed their minds… "Helen? Get Ron to call me right back; tell him it’s about the barn………………. Noooo, it didn’t fall over… and contact USPS district office, I got an old resident of Sage name of Ennis del Mar… Thanks"
Putting the phone back he asked, "What’s the deal?"
Jack waited for a truck to pass and then replied, "A barn that size doesn’t stop leaning; you just don’t notice it over time. If it’s well constructed we’re talking less than a quarter inch a year. Now we’ll look it over. If you want it to stay as it is, we’ll add internal bracing to stop it dead in its tracks. If you want us to fix it, we can bring cranes in and right it for you, we’ll have painters either match the shades of the faded paint, or restore it to original with a good clear coat to protect it.
We’ll even reconstruct the roof based on the part that’s still there so you could never tell it was damaged." He looked hesitant, but pushed on, "Or… if the damage is too severe or insects have taken over, we can demolish and haul it away… all at our expense."
Ennis added, "The only problem you’ll have is stopping rail and highway traffic on and off during construction or demolition… how about it?"
The sheriff agreed to let them examine the building while he waited for the phone call from the county and escorted them to the front entrance. The husbands were just now getting a sense of just how huge the structure was the closer they got to it.
While approaching it, Ennis noted the street lamp type mercury lighting fixtures near the peak and on the corners of the building, illuminating it at night. He nodded approval; it was wired for utilities that they could use later when restoring it, or tearing it down.
After gaining entry from the front, they began exploring the ground floor. Clay explained that the county had emptied the contents about twenty years ago and sold off everything to raise money for its improvised preservation.
The only thing left untouched was an old car in a cubicle in the rear corner of the building that had been sealed in by a fallen timber. He speculated that someone might be able to get it out via the outer wall, but cutting through it could weaken the structure and no one so far had risked it.
When it was all said and done, they’d decided to preserve young Skully’s workshop back there exactly as it was left in 1963 – car and all.
The front chamber was about 60 feet wide and extended all the way back to the rear wall punctuated at regular intervals by rough-hewn vertical support posts. On either far side were smaller rooms, to the left were assorted but empty workshops for woodworking or metal repairs, and to the right were stalls for long-absent horses.
Outside a truck went by blowing its horn and after a while, they stopped noticing them.
The officer’s cell rang.
Ennis borrowed his flashlight as Dawes went outside to answer it, explaining recent events to the caller in a very pleased tone.
Sunlight came brightly through the southern windows guiding Jack back and to the left where he found the car shop. A huge support beam had fallen diagonally from above blocking any effort to get into the small tool cubicle via the now-absent outward opening door.
The old rain-warped and rotted door had been replaced, and the opening had been sealed with plywood nailed securely to the old doorframe guarding against entry.
The sheriff came back in and asked Ennis what he thought of the structure's condition.
Del Mar-Twist stood with his arms crossed, silently examining the support beams. He nodded as he returned the flashlight and the two men quietly moved off to the front northeast corner to examine the base of the beam that was taking the brunt of the whole building, showing him how it was severely cracked from stress.
The two men walked around outside to the northeast corner to examine the old phone pole the county tried to use as a brace. Ennis pointed out that it was cracked and about to snap in half like a tooth pick, which proved that the building was still progressively leaning a little bit more every cycle of seasons.
They went back around to the entrance and in the peaceful stillness of the place; Jack came up to them carrying a sledgehammer he’d found laying on the floor.
They watched as he gently tapped a central vertical load-bearing beam with the weighty steel head of it and shook his head. The lack of solid vibrations meant it probably was partially hollow, probably from insects - most likely termites.
Ennis moved off to the right to examine scorched wood in the horse stalls.
Dawes reported that over the years fires had been set and they were blamed mostly on campers or hikers, but the Sheriff voiced his suspicions that it was railroad employees that’d been sent out to try to burn it down but failed, because he’d kept a close watch on the place and always put it out before it could do real damage.
Ennis’ mind traveled back in time to when he and K.E. wandered Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho looking for a home, and how in the winter months they’d take shelter in barns against the weather. He wondered how his brother was doing, and then recollected how their last conversation went and tried to remember good times instead.
Across the immense room, Jack called out, "I want to check out the structure in here," indicating the sealed car shop. "Any way in?"
Clayton grinned, "Nope; sealed it up myself…” indicating the big hammer that Jack held with a smile, he grinned, “have at it son!"
With a happy swing of his sledge, Jack began gleefully whacking away loudly at the old plywood and managed to yank enough off to get inside.
All around them, the barn creaked and groaned as the wind picked up outside.
Ennis and Clay were about to take some old stairs up to the second level when Jack’s muffled voice merrily began singing,
"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beeeeer,
ya take one down and pass it around, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall..."
Ennis bellowed, "JACK!"
”Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of beeeeer,
ya take one down and pass it around, ninety-seven bottles of beer on the wall…"
Ennis’ embarrassed eyes rolled towards heaven looking for help and they headed across the wide floor towards the off-key caterwauling. "JACK; SHUT UP!"
They reached the jagged opening in the plywood that led into the auto shop and Ennis declared, "I said, you're singing it wrong."
He replied indignantly, "I - am - not!" as they climbed in to join him.
Glancing around the window lit shop, Ennis said and then sang confidently, "It’s ‘…if one of those bottles should happen to fall; 98 bottles of beer on the wall’."
The sheriff beside him agreed, nodding his head.
Dawes' face grew a big grin and began singing,
"No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beeeeeer.
Jack joined in as Ennis took his Stetson off and began chasing his husband around hitting him with it.
"Go to the store and buy some more, 99 bottles of beer on the wall."
"AAAAAHHHHHHHHRGH!" screamed Ennis in mock frustration and began chasing Dawes.
Jack shrieked out, "CITIZEN'S ARREST! Shoot 'im; he's assaulting an officer of the law!"
All three men wound up bent over in a cloud of kicked-up dust laughing like kids until their stomachs hurt with tears mirthfully streaming down their cheeks.
Jack was about to disagree about the lyrics, when he noticed Ennis had suddenly stopped and was frowning at a bushel basket of old beer bottles. Picking one up, del Mar-Twist laughed and said, "My parents used to drink Black Label beer."
A warm smile came to Ennis’ face and he relayed how when he was a young boy, his father told him to get him a glass of ice-cold beer. He very proudly went into the kitchen, worked the bottle opener all by himself, got a glass… filled it with ice, and then poured the beer over it.
While the three men laughed, Ennis added, "Daddy had a fit!"
Jack grinned and sang the radio commercial jingle for Black Label Beer while doing something behind them in the middle of the cubicle, but was cut off halfway by a low whistle from his husband.
Jack had just then pulled the tarp back as far as the windshield wipers to see what was under it.
Ennis was hungrily eyeing the front end of a bright yellow 1955 Chevy Bel-Air with a dull green replacement hood. The sun shown enthusiastically through the grimy windows above the workbench off of new chrome pieces attached to it.
Clay grinned, "I lost count long ago of how many people have tried to get this thing out of here." He shook his head and added, "You’d have to dismantle the whole damned building around it and hope nothing fell on it in the process."
Jack nodded and looked to Ennis expecting a comment. Instead he found his lover frowning at a dusty brown kid’s weatherproof school satchel sitting on the floor as if he recognized it.
Ennis shot an unexplainably frightened look back at the car and then glanced back at the bushel basket next to the beer bottles. The baskets must contain things pulled out of the car when they started working on it.
Along with the usual clutter were toy cars, a reel from a fishing pole, plastic cap pistols, a tire gauge, and old fashioned 3-piece jack stand, its handle, and a road map each of Utah and Montana.
Jack moved forward and put his palm on Ennis’ left shoulder from behind as he came up beside him. "Ennis; what is it?"
With a weary sigh, he reached down, picked up the imitation leather kid's book bag and undid the clasp.
As his companions looked over his shoulders, he pulled an ancient American History textbook out and laid it on the workbench as a weary sigh escaped his throat.
He reluctantly opened the book and on the inside front cover a manila pocket held a sign-out card. Pulling it from the sleeve revealed a bunch of scrawled names, the last of which was Ennis J del Mar.
Jack watched anxiously as Ennis bowed his head and a tear fell down his right cheek. He whispered, "Pull the tarp the rest of the way off the car."
In the silence a big-rig rolled by blowing its horn.
Clay and Jack glanced at each other and moved to the sides of the car. Jack took the passenger side and the officer grabbed the driver’s. As they walked towards the eastern wall of the barn they revealed that the back two-thirds of the 4-door Bel-Air was two-tone blue and white.
Stone-faced, Ennis barely said through a restricted throat, "Jack, the rear quarter window behind the back door on your side. Th… there’s a tiny star cracked in the glass near the bottom, you gotta look for it to see it."
Jack bent forward and down with a curious frown. A moment later his mystified husband straightened and nodded confirmation.
Dawes' brow furrowed and he asked, "You been in here before?"
Through a tight jaw, with tears still rolling down his face, Ennis swallowed hard and replied, "When I was a kid, I accidentally shot it with my BB gun. I prayed all night my daddy wouldn’t notice it… and he didn’t. The next day my brother tattle-tailed on me and I got a good whoopin’ fer it."
Jack looked down at the window again, then cupped his hands and peered into an empty interior. Ennis had just muttered something and his husband looked up to find him staring across the narrow room at something on the wall saying something too low to hear.
"What’d you say?"
"0-1-2-3-kiss me woman... A joke my daddy made about his new license plate," he replied softly pointing forward across the room.
He was staring at a dust-coated and dented black and yellow 1957 Wyoming license plate nailed amongst about ten others on the opposite wall.
In a hoarse whisper, Ennis said, "This is... this is the car my parents died in."
As a young teenager, he’d snuck away to the junkyard to see it and found the front seats, dashboard and broken windshield covered with dried blood. When it slammed into the tree, his mother almost went through the forward safety glass and his father’s chest was impaled by the steering column, so he wasn’t surprised that it’d all been torn out and discarded when young Jake Skully had begun to restore it.
Gory images flooded his mind and Ennis jumped up and fled the barn, followed close behind by his husband and the officer.
Off to their right a freight train approached from the east, blaring its ear-splitting horn as it rumbled past.
Ennis walked around the far undecorated side of the barn and encountered the rusted hulks of three other ’55 Chevys. They’d deteriorated after being outside in the open for so long to the point of being mere dark brown scrap. Amongst them sat the crumpled and partially disassembled hulk of an old V-6 engine. Beside it sat a nearly unrecognizable front clip from the car inside; its front bumper nearly bent forward in half in the shape of a V.
Clay nodded knowingly, "He bought four of them. His original plan was to take the one wrecked from the front and the one wrecked from the back and weld them together to make a unique six-door limousine. The other two were to scrounge parts from. They say he didn’t have room, so he settled for combining all of them into one usable car instead.
He wasn't doing it for money, he just loved '55 Chevys."
Jack observed, "You know a lot about it; did you know them?"
"He was my older cousin on my mother’s side. Uncle Heath moved out here to be near kin."
Another piece of a long discarded puzzle fell into place. Ennis half whispered, "He had a white Pontiac Chieftain convertible... a '55."
The sheriff's eyebrows shot up, "Yeah, my daddy inherited it when the Doc died; but… now... how did you know that?"
Ennis' eyes watered as he looked down at the ground at his feet, "I rode in it once... the winter of '62 I think; he g-gave me a coat when I was cold..."
Dawes mouth gaped open and he began to laugh, unable to stop himself. "No boys; no disrespect."
Jack frowned verging on anger, "What?"
The officer looked over and met Ennis' eyes, "Bronze back end with a chromed continental kit on the rear bumper?"
Ennis frowned his surprised astonishment, "Yeah," he replied.
Dawes couldn't help smiling out a warm memory, "My daddy gave it to me in '65 as a high school graduation present."
The two men shook hands and exchanged a masculine hug, patting each other's backs.
Dawes excused himself out of earshot and made another call, explaining the condition of the barn and the news about the death car.
A U.S. Mail truck pulled up around back and the men walked to it behind the barn.
The old postman got out with a friendly greeting for Clay and smiled at Jack handing him a brown paper wrapped package, "I got something for you Mr. Del Mar sir."
Jack indicated Ennis and the man handed it to him. The paper wrapping was old and brittle, and had a yellowed envelope taped to its top addressed to Ennis del Mar on Dead Horse Road, Sage, Wyoming.
The return address was postmarked General Delivery on the day that Sage exploded in 1963, from Lakton, Utah mailed by Mrs. Amy Salisbury.
The mailman declared, "That’s been waiting for ya fer pert near over thirty years, and I’m the one that got to deliver it; and I’m damned tickled about it too!"
"I… uhhhhh how?" Ennis asked completely lost.
He explained, "When Sage’s post office was destroyed, mail that couldn’t be delivered to it was diverted to our district office up the road apiece. We got a call from the Sheriff’s office about ya and lo and behold this was one of the parcels. I was so excited, I skedaddled it right over."
Ennis looked at it in awe, then turned to the spry little man and reached for his wallet. Reverting back to his old way of speaking he offered, "Might’n I give ya somethin’ fer yer trouble?"
As the friendly mail carrier waved off any kind of tip and then walked back to his truck, Jack chuckled and sarcastically called his husband, "Redneck," under his breath poking Ennis with his elbow.
Ennis rolled his eyes heavenward and watched the mail truck drive away with a wave and a toot of its horn from the driver.
Sheriff Dawes said, "Well, I’ll be off too," offering his fist. Flashing the business card he added, "It’s been a great honor and a real treat men, and I’ll be in touch for sure."
At their truck, Ennis got in on the driver’s side and after Jack got in beside him, del Mar carefully peeled the fragile envelope off the package. The box was about 16" x 16" x 2" and weighed almost nothing as he handed it to his right to rest in his husband’s lap.
He read aloud,
Sam and I are moving to the northern end of Bear Lake in a few weeks up in Idaho. I hope you get this, please write that you did.
Michael always wanted you to have this, but we lost touch with you after he died. I can’t bear to take it with us, so I’m mailing this off with a lot of hope and a prayer or two.
Miss you whole bunches
Love, luck and laughter
Ennis nodded to his husband and Jack tore the paper off to reveal a flimsy cardboard shirt box with something dark blue in it.
He pulled out a small boy-sized work shirt. A white chest oval had the name "Michael" embroidered on it. Jack turned it around to find EARL’S AUTO REPAIR in big white letters on the back.
Ennis’ eyes were closed as he was smothered in a warm wonderful memory while a tear fell from his eye…
…Over the next 14 months, they sent a work crew down that preserved the famous lean as it was, rebuilt and reinforced the interior with steel girders, reroofed it, and painted the exterior, carefully matching the faded look of the old ad’s paint, even leaving the lettering out of kilter.
They decided to honor the Skully boy’s plans and duplicated the Mail Pouch sign on the other side of the barn, only instead of it looking old and faded, it looked brand new as you approached it from the east.
The Chevy was carefully checked over for flammables, the new fenders were removed and then the old rusted and dented ones took their place. The acetylene tank was emptied then put back were it was. A burial vault company was contracted to come out and custom encase the tiny auto shop and all of its contents in reinforced galvanized steel and sealed it so that no one could possibly get in.
The next summer, on the condition that the southeast corner of the ground floor never be touched, they donated the building back to the county in a solemn ceremony. The upper five floors became storage and county office space… including one for Sheriff Clayton Dawes. The ground floor housed a popular truck-stop restaurant, and within months traffic doubled with tourists from Bear Lake coming to dine there and take pictures.
With the increased attention, Sage started slowly coming back to life.
On the barn’s one-year anniversary, they held a ceremony and gratefully presented Ennis with Dr. Heath Skully’s completely restored fancy white 1955 Pontiac convertible.
Dear Friend, If you've enjoyed this chapter, please use
the line of link buttons below to recommend it on Facebook/Google/ect.
and tell your friends.
...also comments are welcome below... Thank you.
Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana in red/black/green.
All text in blue written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner published here ©2005-2013.
Reproduction in any form or use of unique characters is
forbidden without permission of the author.