There’s an old legend about ghosts—it says if you want to keep restless spirits from haunting the living, you bury the body at a crossroads, face down. Whether this confuses the ghosts, leaving them wondering which way to go for eternity, or whether the constant traffic is meant to keep them from crawling out of the ground, is anybody’s guess, but one thing’s for damn sure: I need all the help I can get, and if superstition saves the day, hell with it.
I don’t really know who this dead man was—that is to say, I know his name from the ID in his wallet, crammed in among the cash—but beyond that, no clue. All I know is he’s in the back of my truck, and he’s starting to stink. And here’s a crossroads as good as any other, I guess. The legend does not specify.
There’s another old legend about Robert Johnson, the blues man who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for impossible guitar skills. I don’t know about the devil and I don’t know no mournful chords, but I sure as shit could use a good devil’s wish right about now. Can I sign my name in another man’s blood, I wonder?
It’s the dead of night and I have a shovel. I have a pickaxe and some old rope, and the bedsheet-wrapped body of a man I didn’t mean to kill. And now, based on some dizzy mix of superstition and rationalization that no one would think to look for a body in the middle of a remote intersection in the scrub desert, I’m out here trying to put this body to rest in a dirt-road intersection east of nowhere, West Texas. It’s lonely, and the digging is hard work.
Well, Mr. Bruce Winters, how do you feel about your new eternal resting place? Pretty good view of the landscape, I’d say. Talking is one way to pass the time, even if it’s all one-sided.
The bedsheet cigar lies stiff and still alongside the hole. I fight back a shiver. The back of my shirt is cold with the sweat of digging, and my elbows and knees ache from the jarring impact of my pick and shovel in stone-packed dirt.
You know it won’t work, right?
What won’t? I answer, before realizing—
I won’t leave you alone just because you bury me at a crossroads.
Why the hell not?
I’m with you forever now. You think some legend can save you?
Shut up, old man, I argue. I put you in the ground, and you and I are done.
You say so.
I grunt decisively and roll the body into the hole—face down—and start tossing dirt and gravel on top. Should I say a few words? Goodbye. So sorry. Rest in peace. But silence seems more respectful. Solidarity with the one charged with taking my secret to the grave.
The moon and stars watch my progress, and a pair of headlights appears far off, heading straight for the hole in the dirt of the intersection. I work quickly, and the hole is filled and tamped down by the time the lone pickup truck drives through. It barely pauses for the dinged and dusty stop sign, and only the wind bears witness with a keening cry.
When it’s done, I turn to go, slamming the tailgate and starting the engine. I whistle a song I’ve never heard before and my fingers drum on the steering wheel.
The wind in the windows moans like a harmonica, and suddenly I’m sure I just passed the same intersection for the tenth time, despite driving west for almost an hour. I tell myself West Texas roads all look the same, but truth be told I’m not convinced.
Where are we? a voice calls through the open rear window.
I’m not sure, I say to the body wrapped in a sheet in the pickup bed behind me.
You’re not sure.
I think I’m lost.
I think I’m going in circles.
Far ahead, the headlights catch a stop sign glinting at the crossroads.