Russell Briggs drove long haul, only one time he ever told me about it though. Drove a big rig three years, until he come down a pass in West Virginia thank god no other cars on the road and out of a blinding rain bam — slammed into a herd a horses. Some lost herd god knows why they’s out there on the road. He lost ’at rig right into a patrol car hideout, in that median cover you know where they like to hide. The rig and the car both slid clear across to the other side of the road where the pass opened down below. That patrol car went on over, wrapped a tree in the passenger side before it could get over the last drop. The truck settled in a little holler above, just tilted on the edge, only two retreads gone to gators, the road that slick to slide.
Russell got out unhurt, what he could tell at the time at least, and he watched the patrolman crawl out his driver’s side window, over a dead horse what you could barely tell was still a horse at all — too pluggy, I’d said, not to get caught up between them two vehicles and end up blockin’ that cop’s door, a kinda cushion, poor horse. Russell’s telling me this like he’s telling me he’s got to go pay a banker, you know how he is, just that’s that. Billy Wayne at the Lindale Tavern about that time come and asked if we was wantin’ another drink, and Russell just looked at me and said no sir, bring me a water. I didn’t like to interrupt the story after that.
When that truck jackknifed into that little herd, the trailer wiped most a those horses away, swept em off the edge like sawdust before a broom. Russell said the trooper scrambled on up that drop and wouldn’t stop talking or touching him, grabbing his hand or slapping him on the back, like congratulating him like as they’d just won something. He was a nervous little feller, Russell said, but wouldn’t you be nervous? And grateful to be alive? So there they stood, soaking away, looking down the hollow at steam — rising like it does after a thunderstorm in that part of the country — from clumps of gray and brown and black horses, ever where. Listening to one horse screaming, down somewheres they couldn’t see. Bout that time the sun come through a break in the clouds, the rain coming on down but light then, gently, he said, and everywhere in the weeds and grass, the pavement back behind, and even up in the trees was all daubed red, like as by a touch up brush, in the blood of them horses.
The tow truck found where they’s at and pulled the rig back up on the road — and you know they slapped a couple of spares on and it ran just fine. So Russell got in and drove on. Drove that rig outta them storms and all through the next day, until he pulled it over on a state highway in Alabama. Long straight road, nothing else in front or behind, in the first dry weather he’d seen in a week. And he just walked away. Walked away. He went back to the farm back down near Lindale. Kept a few head of cattle. But he would not own a horse, and only once told me why, after his third drink that night and he would not have another.
Jay Lee Ellis grew up between Dallas and East Texas, playing drums professionally from age eleven in stock shows, shopping malls, and VFW halls. After Berklee College of Music (BA), he earned degrees in writing and literature at UT Dallas (MA) and NYU (PhD), publishing three scholarly books, including NO PLACE FOR HOME on Cormac McCarthy’s novels. His work has also appeared in CHELSEA, SULPHUR RIVER, and FLASH FICTION MAGAZINE. He currently seeks representation for a novel. Still occasionally playing jazz, he has performed at New York’s Knitting Factory, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre, not far from home in Boulder, Colorado.