..... Dale and Jackson sprint carrying six stolen eggs apiece. There must have been over fifty in the nest, but they didn’t stick around to count. The fear of being caught by the Louisiana Gaming Commission or the eggs’ mother turned the rustling wind into hot breath on their backs. Each egg was light and would have busted open if dropped. Jackson thought about the farmer called “Tall” in Pine Grove. He had hired Jackson and Dale to steal the eggs and promised a lot of money, more than the boys would have imagined possible, for their delivery. The boys didn’t know and didn’t care that the albino eggs were borderline extinct and used to raise gators for fancy leather. They just knew the unfriendly territory they had to escape.
..... A Louisville Slugger dangled from Jackson’s belt. The wooden handle of a rusty misfiring pistol jutted out from Dale’s ripped jean pocket. The Louisiana sun lent the land its last bit of light as the moon appeared over the wooded marsh. A red-tailed hawk clung to a tree branch while, below, calloused and cast in dry mud, the boys’ feet made a trail through the grass. They ran across the twisted shadows of willow branches and cattails.
..... The boys exploded out of the towering grass. Yellow halos from their flashlights bobbed unsteadily on the long stretch of rock and gravel that led them home. Dust rose and trailed them in the dark.

..... Ellendale was a dust cloud of a town, most of its population tucked away on the back roads that ran through swampy thickets and under the canopy of sagging willow trees. The downtown train station was just as small as the surrounding businesses and shops. The station served as the main escape out of Ellendale, and each year a few eager locals shot out of town to other parts of the country. The same family ran both the grocery and general store for twenty years. The nearest doctor was forty miles south in Pine Grove.

The family trailer sat on an overgrown pasture with grazing dairy cows. A surrounding row of elms stood like totems in front of the deep woods. Bullfrogs bellowed out back in the pond, which started from a stagnant pool of rainwater years ago. The pond and pasture grew even when nothing else would.
..... Jackson and Dale’s father had purchased the spread as a young man; a few years later, he married. The newlyweds had a few cows and a chicken coop. Every other week, they sold eggs and milk in town or traded to distant neighbors. The day his wife gave birth to twin boys, Curtis was fifty miles down the road trading his calves for a better plow.
..... Soon after becoming a father, he lost interest in farming and traded the land for a used Oldsmobile and some cash. He skipped town before his twin boys could walk across the living room floor. When Jackson and Dale were older, they began to really question the story their mother told them, that her husband, Curtis Wills, died in a knife fight next to railroad tracks somewhere out West.

..... Jackson and Dale stumbled into their back yard, nearly knocking the wooden gate off its hinges. They waded through the knee-high grass, over to the shed that stood next to an empty dog house. The doors were full of holes and rotting from rain. Dale got the metal toolbox down from a shelf and Jackson laid his eggs inside. Dale examined his eggs thoughtfully before he set them down. He liked the speckled spots of brown and red. They reminded him of Sarah’s chicken pox scars.
..... Their mother appeared at the kitchen window of the trailer. The ceiling fan behind her teetered like a warped record. “Wash up,” she said. “Dinner.”
..... Jackson gripped the handle of the spigot and started to crank. Dale wearily stood waiting for the slide whistle noise that signaled the water rising up the pipes, dirty brown at first. Dale ran his fingers through his hair, maroon streaks of dirt smeared across his face. He was the handsomer of the two boys, and their mother said so. Dale had soft features and thin blonde hair that matched the two day scruff on his chin. Jackson dried off and lumbered up the brick-stacked steps to the back door. A thicker frame than Dale, he had laborer’s shoulders and a slanted smile that made most folks uncomfortable.
..... The three of them sat down to a scantily set table. When their mother started to say Grace, Jackson quietly got down on his knees next to her and gently loosened the cap of a plastic bag strapped to her pale leg. The elastic bands left a ring around her calf like a snake had squeezed the life out it. The tube was put in years ago, when her bladder gave out. It had taken Jackson some time to convince her to bite the bullet and make the trip to the doctor. She still hated the tube being inside her and usually forgot to empty the bag.
..... The cloudy urine filled a plastic bowl and the pungent smell made Jackson turn his head to the living room. He saw the family sofa and his tattered recliner. A small television sat atop a dusty square table in the corner next to the window. A few pictures hung on the wall. One showed their mother as a little girl playing the piano, a profile shot with the faint trace of her smile. The picture of their father was next to it, leaning over and practically swallowed by the hood of his first car.
..... “…and bless this food which we are about to receive. And bless my old pup, Luther. Keep him safe, Lord. Keep him safe like you know how… wherever he is…Amen.”
..... When their mother prayed, she was gone. You might as well not have been in the room. She’d ramble under her breath for a few minutes, then came a summary that short-listed all the wrongs in her life. In those moments, she disconnected from everything. Jackson and Dale didn’t always listen. They didn’t always want to know.
..... After they ate, their mother washed the dishes while Jackson sat at the table with a beer and talked up his plan. Dale went outside to wait for Sarah.
..... “I don’t like you boys stealing, Jackson. I don’t. It’s sinful business.”
..... “Pioneers did it. Why can’t we?”
..... “Pioneers. Pioneers? That was different.” She turned around to face him. “You know that. What we got here just isn’t right.”
..... “How, Mother? We got needs like them. Don’t we? Dale and I gonna go out and get ourselves a big job? With big money? We gonna go out and buy ourself a car? Dale’s about as useless as dirt without seed.” He pointed his finger out at the window “Just like all this land.”
..... “Sarah is probably right outside with your brother. You want her to hear you?”
..... “Shit,” said Jackson. He took a long pull on his beer and looked around the kitchen. He watched his mother work to get the plates clean. He thought about helping her, but then he heard Dale and Sarah outside. “That’s a hell of a trip for that girl to take for the likes of him. Not much in that pretty head of hers, I guess.”
..... “Oh, really? She’s brighter than the two of you put together, and you know it. Just listen to yourself and these eggs.”
..... “These eggs,” said Jackson, making a fist, “are no bigger than this. And they’re a special kind. I gotta deal with this reptile farmer down a few miles who will give us a whole bundle for the dozen Dale and me got today. Talking thousands here. Big money. These eggs we got are really special, you see? They’re white albino, or something. I’m almost certain they are.”
..... Jackson could see by his mother’s face that she would need more convincing. “Well, I’m gonna see the farmer the day after next to seal the deal. Like it or not. This is gonna happen whether you like it or not. Get it? I mean, we’re doing this for you!”
..... “I certainly never asked for anything like this.”
..... “Momma, listen. Once this first deal goes through, Dale and I prove we’re good partners. Then we got a business. You see? We could get a house. You and me and Dale. Hell, even that girl of his. We could get outta here. We could be okay.” Jackson put a hand out and pointed at the walls of the trailer. “What have we got here? Nothing, that’s what.”    
..... “Where’s this farmer?” his mother asked.
..... “Pine Grove.”
..... “Suppose you’re not walking, are you? You got a ride?”
..... “Tall’s sending a car. That’s the farmer’s name. Tall. He’s sending a car for me and Dale in two days. A fine car, I’m told. Big and black.”
..... “I don’t like it, Jackson. I really don’t. What kinda name’s ‘Tall’ anyway!”
..... “Don’t worry about him,” Jackson said.
..... “Suppose that big gator comes sniffing around here before you leave. Huh? Did you get a look at her? Or worse yet, she at you! Bet she’s mighty angry. You know one of 'em ate my Rex!”
..... “We don’t know that for sure, Mom, you know that. That dog of yours ran off a bunch of times. Probably found something worth keeping. Or maybe he tangled with a big fat snake or the like. Hell, I don’ know. You don’t know if he’s dead. You don’t know what’s what in this family. Maybe he’s with Daddy somewhere. Anyway, you still keep that dog’s bowl in case he comes back, don’t ya? I know you still have hope.”
..... “I gave that up years ago, Jackson. Hope doesn’t float around here.”
..... Dale and Sarah sat silently until the voices inside died down. Their faces were dimly lit by the light from the kitchen window. A band of crickets sounded off in the warm evening.
..... “How’re the brothers and sisters?”
..... “They’re alright, I suppose,” Sarah answered. “My folks went out last night and left me to watch them. You know what those younger ones do to me.”
..... “What’d Bobby do this time?” he asked with a grin.
..... “The usual. He put a small frog in Caroline’s cereal when she wasn’t looking. And that sister of mine can scream. Before I could grab Bobby, he ran outside and rolled back and forth in the cow pasture so I wouldn’t wanna touch him. I still gave him a crack, though.”
..... “Good for you. You know what I would’ve done? I would’ve done the same thing to Bobby. I would’ve put a big snake in that boy’s bed.”
..... “That’s dangerous, Dale.”
..... “Nothing poisonous. No harm. That’s brotherly justice. I bet it would’ve worked. Can’t tell you how Jackson and I used to go at it. And I’ve handled kids before.” He folded his arms in satisfaction, feeling good, thinking he had proved his theory.
..... “You’ve handled snakes and frogs, Dale.”
..... “Sometimes the difference is hard to notice, if you ask me.”
..... “Dale!”
..... “Just think of your slimy brothers and Jackson. They’re just a bunch of sweaty shirts and muddy boots.”
..... “You got a point there,” Sarah said. They laughed and it was quiet except for the crickets. Jackson’s voice came from somewhere inside the trailer. Sarah shifted on the bench and coughed.
..... “How’s your mother?” she asked. Dale didn’t answer. He gazed up at the kitchen
.....  window. “Dale?”
..... “Shit, I’m sorry. Doing alright, I guess.”
..... “You shouldn’t listen to Jackson. He’s just being a brother. He doesn’t mean anything.”
..... “Yeah, well. He don’t mean much to me.” Dale scratched his shoulder and swatted a mosquito. He rested his forearms on his knees and, with his head down, swept a hand over the tops of the spindly weeds and picked a few strands. “You don’t like taking care of those kids much, do you?” he asked.
..... “Not really, no. But they’re my family, aren’t they?”
..... “What if you had your own? Maybe one that you started.” He twisted the weeds between his fingers.
..... “I’d like that more, but…”
..... “Then let’s do it. Let’s try at least.” He took Sarah’s hand and tied a weed around her pinky finger. Sarah smiled and laughed.
..... “With this weed, I thee wed.”
..... Faded light still leaked from the window, but no voices could be heard from the kitchen. Dale helped Sarah stand, and he took her over to the shed. The door shut behind them, and they were swallowed by darkness. Dale held her waist and leaned in. He landed a kiss somewhere next to her nose.
..... “You about kissed my right eye, Dale,” she whispered.
..... “Sorry.” 
..... They moved around awkwardly. Something slid against wood and fell to the floor. Dale dug a lighter out of his pocket and flicked it. Long shadows of rakes and shovels ran up the walls, where slanted shelves were lined with cardboard boxes full of small, rusted metal tools. An old bag of dog food that had been nibbled into rested in the corner.
..... “It was just a shovel,” said Dale. He picked it up with one hand and showed her.
..... “Sorry about that.”
..... “It’s fine,” he said. “There’s something I wanna give you. And then something I wanna ask you. ”
..... “Really?” she smiled. Her hands found his shoulders and she squeezed a little.
..... “It’s in here,” he said, and tapped the metal toolbox that held the eggs. “One of these belongs to you and me.” The lighter had gotten too hot for his thumb. “Goddamnit!” He threw the lighter to the floor. They listened as it bounced and rattled around the shed. They both crouched down and ran their palms over the dust and dirt on the floor. Their fingernails scratched and scraped against the wood as they searched together in the dark.  

..... Jackson woke to the sound of an airplane sputtering somewhere south of the trailer. He thought it a crop duster circling over the nearby farms. Jackson figured he’d be a pretty good pilot if ever given the chance. He thought about looking into getting a license.
..... Dale and his mother quieted when Jackson joined them in the kitchen for breakfast. He noticed a small stack of bills on the counter. After he poured some coffee, he sat down at his seat and let the sun warm his chest through the window. His mother’s bag lay empty on the floor beside her.
..... “What’s the money for?” Jackson asked.
..... “Dale’s gonna run into town with Sarah for some groceries.”
..... “Yeah? On what?”
..... “Bikes,” said Dale.
..... “Well,” snorted Jackson, “good luck, brother.”
..... Mother stood and carried the pan from the stove over to Jackson and scraped out some eggs. “Put something in that mouth of yours.”
..... Dale got up from the table and kissed his mother’s cheek. And right before leaving the kitchen he scooped up the money and shot Jackson a look. “Guess I’ll see you all later tonight.”
..... “I don’t like you running around like this, brother. We got a big meeting tomorrow. When you coming back?”
..... “Tonight,” said Dale. “I’ll be back by supper.”
..... “Better be, boy,” said Jackson.
..... The refrigerator hummed softly. The clock in the living room ticked rhythmically. Jackson downed the rest of the coffee.
..... “Got some chores to do. See you at lunch, huh?”
..... “I’ll leave a light on,” said Mother.

..... Jackson sat next to the pond out back with the eggs resting beside him. He looked out on the murky water and ran through his original meeting with Tall.  How the farm had barbed wire fencing marking off the property. And there were small outlook posts hidden in the trees. There were ponds that looked like castle moats running across the front lawn. Jackson saw a few dark formations along the shorelines of the ponds. One of them turned slowly and disappeared into the dark water. Jackson kept walking and kept a wary eye on the banks of the ponds.
..... Jackson had liked Tall’s home, envied it. His was a two story ranch house with a front door painted green. The house had been gutted, all the walls knocked down so that the inside was one large room. Bleached animal skulls hung on hooks above the bar that ran the length of the room. A girl in ripped jean shorts and a bikini top played the piano softly in the corner. A man wearing a cowboy sat next to her, smoking a cigar, his thumb rubbing her leg.
..... Men were posted up at the bar up with beers and cigars. A large chandelier made of antlers and glass caught the sun beaming through the skylights and threw colored prisms around the room. Jackson watched the girl playing the piano. She noticed him and smiled. Jackson nodded and turned away when the man next to her noticed him.
..... Then Tall slapped him on the back and took hold of his shoulder. He spoke to Jackson in a soft and controlled voice. It instantly made Jackson feel like a child and that he might be in over himself.  Jackson tried to concentrate on the words, but couldn’t see Tall’s mouth through his silvery black beard. Sunlight seemed to turn Tall’s bald pate into a smooth golden egg. And Tall’s blue eyes burned behind his wiry reading glasses. He wore black overalls, his arms covered in tattoos. An arrowhead necklace dangled on a piece of leather around his neck. His boots were white leather. Jackson figured him to be about the age of his own father.
..... Tall stopped talking and waved a hand in the air. The girl at the piano took her fingers off the keys. “So I can hear you nice and clear,” said Tall. “How’s everything sound, Jackson?”
..... “Good, Tall. Real good.” Jackson stuffed his hands into his pockets. He could feel sweat running down his back. “But I was thinking on the way over here.”
..... “I’m glad to hear that,” said Tall. “What about, son?”
..... Jackson took a deep breath. “That maybe you’d go ten thousand for the dozen, instead of two."
..... Tall eyed him over the rim of his glasses for a long moment.  "That's quite a sum of money," he said, "a tad more than we discussed."
..... “That's true, sir,” said Jackson. Then his throat knotted and wouldn’t let him get out the rest. He knew this to be the crucial moment of the deal and he had to get his whole demand on the table, to lay everything out on the line. He swallowed hard and continued. “But you got to consider the risk my brother and I are taking." He paused, trying to read Tall. Then he broke into an uneasy grin. "Plus, I know what them eggs are worth just like you do. I'm not a greedy man, understand. Just want my fair share.”
..... Tall smiled large so that Jackson saw two rows of sparkling white teeth appear in the black.  "So, you been doing some snooping into the value of the eggs?  You got brains and balls, I like that!"
..... He held out his hand, and Jackson shook it.  "Ten thousand. Consider it done, son!"
..... Tall wrapped an arm around his shoulder as he led Jackson to the door.  He said a driver would pick him and Dale up in front of the Ellendale general store at 9AM. Said they would all return to Pine Grove where Tall would be waiting to greet them with a little party. Some music and drinking.
..... “I noticed you like my piano girl. Consider her a bonus when you come back.”
..... Jackson thought about dancing with the piano girl. He could do with that after the long day was over. Maybe in the morning he’d bring her home to meet Mother.

..... Jackson returned home from the pond in good spirits. He kept supper lively with chatter about the future and a new way of life.  He talked up his brother and mother all the way to dessert. Mother set down a rhubarb pie between all the beer bottles that littered the table.
..... “Where are the groceries, family man?” Jackson asked.
..... “They were for Sarah,” Dale said. “She’s gonna pay it back.”
..... “Hope there’s interest on that. You ready for tomorrow?”
..... “All set,” Dale said. “Greased and fired.”
..... “That’s it, brother! I believe you are. Goddamn, I can see it in you! This is gonna be good, especially for you. But for all of us too. Wait and see. Be good for you to see how real men conduct their business.” He gave Dale a grin so large it could have swallowed the table.
..... “Sure thing,” said Dale. “Supposed to be a scorcher tomorrow.”
..... “Hell,” said Jackson. “We’ll be able to buy ourselves fifty air conditioners after tomorrow! Leave the heat to the poor!” He laughed and slapped his brother hard on the back.
..... “That’s plenty out of you, Jackson” said Mother. She poured coffee into three cups.
..... “Would someone just cut the damn pie,” said Dale. “A man could starve listening to you.”
..... Jackson winked at his brother. “Bright and early tomorrow, brother. We the early birds out for a worm.”

..... Dale set out before the sun.
..... And when Jackson found Dale’s room empty, he ran out to the kitchen to find Mother huddled over the stove.
..... “Where is he? He out back?” Jackson tore open the curtains and peered out at the shed and otherwise empty yard. “Where’s that son of yours gone to?”
..... “He’s not going with you, Jackson. Do yourself a world of good and accept that. You leave him out of it now.”
..... Jackson stomped out of the kitchen into the living room. He looked out the window up and down the road. “He over at Sarah’s? That son of a bitch! I don’t have time to run over there and collect him!”
..... “That’s right. You don’t. You do this thing of yours alone.”
..... “I need him, you understand! I can’t do this thing alone!”
..... “Your brother has got his own deal now.”
..... “But that’s not my deal!” cried Jackson. “I’ll kill him!” He punched the wall in the kitchen.  Pictures in the living room fell to the floor. The sound of broken glass startled Mother, and Jackson shut his eyes tight. “You tell that little boy of yours that he has got hellfire coming after him. You tell him I’m gonna make boots out of his goddamn hide. You tell him that.”
..... “You leave him alone is what you’re gonna do, Jackson. Now you go and do your big shot deals! Your sense of right and wrong is miles away from us.”
..... “Mother,” said Jackson.
..... “Go now,” said Mother. “Do what you think is best.”
..... Jackson didn’t understand what she meant by his sense of  right and wrong being so far away from his family. How could that be? He was doing this whole thing for his family. He’d show her his best.
..... He went back to his room and fished the rusty pistol from its hiding spot under the mattress. He put on a new pair of snake skin boots he had bought in town after his meeting with Tall. He felt legitimate. Ready. Maybe how his dad felt like when he walked out the front door never to come back. But Jackson would come back. And he felt that made him the right kind of man.
..... Jackson walked back into the kitchen. “Be back by supper. You’ll see how things are going to be different. Then Jackson kissed his mother and walked out into the morning. Insects buzzed in the sweltering morning. The sky had an ashy pink smear across it that reminded Jackson of his mother’s skin. He held the box of eggs and thought about all the things he could do with that money, but wouldn’t. He couldn’t get the thought of him taking off and leaving Dale and his mother behind out of his head. How he could start a family of his own somewhere far off. But he would never do that to his mother, never run off like other men.
..... Jackson was glad his family would be able to get out of the trailer and move to a real house. Start over. He wondered if his Dad would think the same way. Jackson wondered if that’s why his father left in the first place, because he couldn’t buy a decent home for his wife and kids. And how a sense of place can make a man. Jackson knew his mother deserved better. Knew life owed her something. And that life owed him too.
..... The black town car pulled up to the general store at nine on the dot. People on the sidewalk seemed to stare and Jackson couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. That it was his ride to a better life. He grinned and disappeared inside.
..... When Jackson looked over at the driver he realized it was the man who sat with piano girl. The man smiled at Jackson and put the car in gear. Jackson saw the man wore brown leather gloves and imagined them on his piano girl. Jackson’s piano girl. He thought she must’ve been trapped there too scared to leave. And that he’d rescue her after the deal. They’d escape too.
..... “Where’s the other one?” the driver asked.
..... “He’s out,” said Jackson. He held up and tapped the box of eggs with his finger. “But we’re still in.”
..... “Got a name?” Jackson asked.
..... “Driver,” said the man.
..... The driver held a cigar between his teeth and thick trails of smoke escaped out the sides of his mouth. His lips curled and he kept his eyes on the road, his cowboy hat pulled down tight. Jackson watched his hands on the wheel and felt ill. Fifteen miles into the ride, Jackson thought he heard a high-pitched peeping sound barely muffled by the truck’s tires turning over the dirt road.           
..... “This thing go any faster, buddy?” Jackson asked. He anxiously eyed the box on his lap.
..... “Faster? This car goes one speed. Mine. Any idea how much this costs? Doubt it.”
..... “I bet it’s a lot.”
..... The driver laughed. “More than your life, fella.”

..... Dale and Sarah got off their bikes by the marsh and watched the sunrise together. They sat on a log and ate the apples with cheese and bread they had packed for breakfast. Dale talked about their trip but stopped when he spotted a blue heron; its long thin legs were still as reeds in mud.  A warm wind blew and they took it as a sign to get going. A small cardboard box rode in the basket on the front of Sarah’s bike. Dale wanted to borrow her dad’s truck but instead, Sarah had bribed her little sister, Caroline, with a few bucks to use her red wagon so they could pull their luggage behind them.

..... The driver suddenly pulled the car to the side of the road in a cloud of dust.
..... “What is this?” asked Jackson. “Hold on a second.”
..... The driver didn’t say a word. He climbed out of the car and circled around the back. The trunk of the car went up and blocked the back window. Jackson ran a finger over the pistol tucked into his boot. The trunk closed and the driver’s steps crunch on the road. Jackson looked back for him when a tapping sound turned him back to his window. Held against the window was a small sword the size of his forearm.
..... Jackson exhaled and gazed out to the long stretch of road ahead of him. He peered through the ghostly vapors that slithered in midair until the dirt brown of the road met the blue sky. Cornfields, as far as his eyes could see, bordered his peripheral. He’d always admired the goldenrods that crowned the tall green stalks. He sat in the comfortable car and watched them gently wave, felt the cool air conditioning wash over him. The sight of the green growth calmed him, took him back to a time when things were better, a time he couldn’t then pin down. And maybe it never existed. He tripped over time and grew scared he had none of it left. He felt panicked.
..... “Out,” said the driver.
..... Jackson got out of the car with his pistol still holstered. The driver took a step back. The metal toolbox stayed in the car.
..... “Tell you what,” said Jackson. “You get me to Tall, and I’ll be sure he hears what a great job you did.”
..... “You just don’t get it, fella,” said the driver.
..... “Mister, I need this. My family needs this. Please.”
..... The driver seemed to think it over.  He tapped the blade rhythmically against the palm of his hand. "Shouldn't of got greedy, boy."
..... “I need this,” pleaded Jackson. “You understand? My mother and me. My brother needs this.” Jackson reached into the car and pulled out the box. He snapped open the lid and held it up for the driver. The driver shook his head and grimaced. Jackson counted eleven. Then he recounted.

..... Dale and Sarah sat waiting with small, mismatched suitcases beside them. Platform A. Dale noticed Sarah biting her lip nervously so he put an arm around her and kissed her cheek. Thick lines of heat ran across the track like greeting phantoms. The little cardboard box rested between them. There was a cop sitting a few benches down and Dale caught himself staring at the holstered gun. He startled when an arrival train’s whistle blew.
..... “This one must be ours,” he said, nodding at the approaching train.
..... “You sure we should do this, Dale? Leave everyone behind and all?” She stood and sat back down, letting go of her suitcase. “And this egg, my God. I don’t know. Maybe we should just leave it.”
..... “We can’t go and do something crazy like that. It’s startup money for us. You remember the plan, right? We got nothing here. Our families will look after themselves. So, what are we going to do? We take this,” he said, pointing to the box, “and sell it. That’s what.” He glanced up at the officer again and lowered his voice. “Trust me.”
..... “I do, Dale.”
..... “Alright then.”
..... “You sure, Dale?”
..... “Sure as cotton makes a dress.”           

..... The driver walked Jackson over to the side of the road, guiding him with the shiny tip of his sword. “In the ditch,” he ordered.
..... Jackson stared at the man and took a hard step down. His boots settled in the mud, suctioned.
..... “Nice boots. I know they ain’t the real thing, but go ahead and take em’off anyway. Close as you came.”
..... The sun bore down on both men. As Jackson unearthed his right boot from the mud with a wet sucking sound, he drew the rusty pistol and tried firing. It jammed.
..... “Is that right?” asked the driver. He hopped down into the ditch with one fist clenched and the other wielding the Bowie. The driver caught Jackson in the face with a fist and grabbed the gun. Jackson swung and connected with the driver’s nose. Blood smattered across his face. The driver grunted and kicked Jackson in the groin. Jackson dropped to a knee. Then he felt the sword sting his cheek. A warm stream of blood ran out of cut shaped like a sliver of moon and pooled at the base of his neck. The blade quickly slipped in and out of his body, his thigh, stomach, and chest.
..... Jackson planted his hands in the mud and squinted up at the grotesque formations. He saw cornstalks towering overhead and silhouetted by the glowing sun. The husks drooped and looked strange then, as if they’d grown sickly and crooked from bad seed. He put a hand on his leg, felt the blood run over and through his fingers. The driver removed Jackson’s boots. Then he climbed out of the ditch.
..... “Have a nice day,” said the driver. The car kicked up rock and dirt as it sped off down the road.
..... Jackson rolled over onto his back. He tried to wipe the mud clear from his eyes, ears and nose. But he was still able to hear the shifting gears of car as It rumbled in the distance. The car that now carried the eggs and everything away. The whole set up was gone. The life he had seen so clearly up and ran out on him.
..... When the sound of the car disappeared, Jackson’s surroundings settled into a kind of stillness and quiet. He tried to get up and fell back down. He planted his hands in the mud. “Slowly,” he whispered. “No point in hurrying.”
..... When he moved, a raw pain bolted through bone and skin, fat beads of sweat ran down his face and his body cooled. He thought of passing out. But he just laid there for a few seconds. Then his chest expanded outward as he gathered all the air in his lungs that he could. He harnessed it and yelled. He yelled at his blood that mixed with the brown ditch water. He yelled at the corn that bent and looked down on him. He yelled for his mother, who didn’t know any better. For Dale. And for himself. He yelled for his father, who was probably somewhere loving another woman, maybe another family.
..... Then he grew quiet and his heart pumped like it filled with sludge. He let out a painful grunt as he crawled his way up to the lip of the ditch and sat. His eyes twitched and blurred. The pink beds under his fingernails were stuffed with amber clay. His legs hung down the side of the ditch and his bare feet lay limp and cool in the reddish mud.     

..... The train from Ellendale to Baton Rouge slowly moved out from the station. Dale and Sarah gazed out their windows at the passing wetlands. Just then, Dale pictured Jackson shaking hands with Tall and collecting a briefcase holding the promised ten thousand dollars. Then he saw Jackson walking through the gate at home with everything to show for his efforts. A proud smile spread across his face. He felt good for his brother. Happy that Jackson had gotten what he wanted, and that his mother would be taken care of. Dale hoped Jackson would forgive him. Sarah patted Dale’s hand and they both looked out further on the landscape they were leaving behind. The train began to pick up speed. The box rested between them on the seat.
..... “Well,” said Dale. “This’ll be a change, huh? Something different.” He wiped a red handkerchief across his face.
..... “Yeah,” said Sarah. “That sounds okay by me.”
..... “Hot as a bonfire in here,” said Dale.
..... The train rattled and gently shook their bodies. In the box, underneath the blanket, the eggshell split and something moved inside. The train rolled on, clicking its way down the track, heading south.

..... Jackson and Dale’s mother was at home in the living room. She sat in her chair and drank coffee. On television, there was a man and a woman holding each other. The picture was fading and covered with a thin curtain of static. She couldn’t understand what the couple was saying. They looked serious and sad, like someone had died. Or maybe one was leaving the other. She put her coffee down slowly and rubbed her hands together.
..... Her eyes drifted from the television to the wall where the family pictures were hanging. She remembered how her little fingers moved quickly over the keys on her parents’ piano. They had set it up near the living room window and when she’d play in the summer, a warm breeze encircled her from behind.
..... She remembered the strong winds that would make her house shift and creak at night. And how the hard gusts drove through her hair during her first car ride with her husband—him at the wheel—and how his large arm could reach around both of her shoulders and squeeze her tightly. His hands, large and shapeless like oven mitts, held her with ease. She remembered all this and looked out the window.
..... She drew her right hand up and laid it across her chest. Now, she prayed. She shut her eyes and prayed for Dale. For Sarah. She prayed for Jackson. Then she stopped and just sat there. Her eyes were still closed, but she wasn’t asking for anything anymore. She reached down underneath her worn linen dress and took hold of the thin plastic tube. She needed emptied, but she knew Jackson would be home soon to help. And then they’d sit down for supper.