After the rainstorm, when Jeremy Turner rode to the edge of his land north of the river that went south of it, he was surprised to find a singular pole–a large branch, really–rising up out of the ground, the pointed end dug in deeply, and buffeted by a pile of fair-sized rocks and stones. Such an unnatural occurrence in so naturally occurring a place struck Jeremy Turner as wholly mysterious. Jeremy Turner’s dog, Virtue, approached the post without concern, sniffing about its base, about the rocks, and then looking up to Jeremy for instructions on what next to do.
The summer wind swept up from the river water, cool and steady, bending the meadow grass and the blue wildflowers, the trees along the banks shifting in contemplation of the breath that weighed against them. And the wind brought movement to the post, a small, pale sheet of paper, secured by a nail, whipped up though pinned down, and settled once more.
A note.
Jeremy Turner approached cautiously. He’d heard of such things from farmers in town, from some of his neighbors in the other direction, and south of the river. Rival land claims. The need for lawyers. Government land grabs. New laws requiring wide-open land be bounded by that infernal barbed wire. It could be any of these.
But it wasn’t.
"Dear neighbor," the note said, "Yesterday evening two of my calves wandered onto your property, and ate up a mess of things. Please do accept my sincerest apologies."
The note was signed, "Kid."
Jeremy Turner read the note twice. His own small herd was somewhere a mile or two back. At least ways he could see, a few adventurous calves was no reason to go to war. Not that wandering cattle was a reason anyways, at least among the people north of the river. Some folks south of the river were dead set on their property boundaries, and stood out with shotguns and revolvers to make it clear. But Jeremy Turner wasn’t one of them.
He pulled out the ledger in his saddlebag, and hastily scrawled a note in return.
"Neighbor Kid," it said, "No harm done and no apologies needed." He signed the note with his own name, dismounted his horse, and pierced his response by way of the nail. He then turned the branch in the other direction. Virtue looked on.
Jeremy Turner then returned to his horse, and headed off to see about his own cattle. As he rode along, Virtue close beside him, Jeremy could ever only recall catching sight of who he supposed was Kid just once, a long ways off, back in the winter, a dark form against snow-brushed hills. It was not uncommon to have an unknown neighbor, but all the better for the introduction, now.
Riding along the edge of his land north of the river that ran south of his property the following day, Jeremy Turner was surprised to find the post facing east, toward him. Curious, and with Virtue nearby, he went back over to it to discover a new note from Kid.
"Mr. Turner," it read, "I thank you for your kindness. Be on the lookout: there is a mountain cat prowling around here. I shot at it yesterday eve, but missed. If you have chickens, watch them."
Jeremy Turner did have chickens.
He pulled out another sheet from the ledge in his saddle bag.
"Much obliged, Kid," he wrote. "I’ll let you know if I see or get the demon cat." He paused, wondering what he could pass along to Kid. He reflected on the opinions in town shared at the watering troughs. He wrote, "They say next year will be especially good for corn with all the rain we’ve gotten this summer, but to watch out for the water rising through the fall."
He dismounted his horse and posted the note, and then turned the branch back west.
Back in the saddle, Jeremy Turner could see the endless green fields beginning to turn golden in the late summer sunlight, a vast American idea; the mountains, smoke-blue, rising to meet the star-studded empyrean reaches, God’s fingerprints still visible in their midst to the eye reasonable enough to understand, both beckoned and reassured.
The wind was a ghost song that wrapped itself around home.
The next day, another note.
"Mr. Turner, I thank you for the warning on the crops. I am new to planting and relatively new to the land and was considering wheat but shall sow corn this year upon good advice. Do not worry about the demon cat; I dispatched it yesterday morning." But it looked like rain, and so Jeremy Turner did not leave a response.
The rains came again and kept men and their families indoors. Jeremy Turner set about mending shirts and cleaning his rugged little hovel that sheltered him from the rage across the plains and the drifts of winter and the wild that constantly railed against his meager architectural statement of civilization. Virtue dozed happily, grateful for the break from work in the heat.
When the sunlight and a day of cool, clear weather turned up once more, Jeremy Turner set out with Virtue to the post, and wrote: "Good work with the demon cat, but be wary. Where one disappears, another will turn up soon enough." And then, as an afterthought, he added, "How are you today?"
Jeremy Turner then set about checking on his cattle, and the little barn, and went and saw that the river was perhaps a foot higher, but still in its course. The wheat was coming in well, and the chickens went wandering obliviously about that fact, far beneath the chaff, looking for fallen grains.
It was a small, temporal claim on perpetual seasons, the fields and the crops and the little house, but it was one that worked and got by.
The next day, the post still faced west. There was no note, but it did not concern Jeremy Turner. The tasks for farmers never diminished. A few words between neighbors were often exchanged weeks apart.
But the following day, the post still faced west, and while it did not exactly trouble Jeremy Turner, it made him a bit uneasy. Neighbors did not break off conversations, rare as they were, without cause.
On the third day in the morning light, Jeremy Turner faced west with the post, his revolver loaded and his Winchester Repeater readied and Virtue, understanding the tenseness of his master, ready to descend upon whatever threat might be encountered. On this third day without a note, Jeremy Turner understood that something was not right. On the frontier, a thousand things can go wrong and mean the end of a life. They can range from wolves to renegade Indians to bandits to broken legs to bad food, and no one will have ever known that someone existed at all in an isolated place called home against a land-ocean of hills.
And so Jeremy Turner crossed over the border at the end of his land north of the river that ran to the south, into land he had never ventured onto. The land on which he lived he had purchased when opened up ten years before. His parents and younger siblings lived on land fifteen miles east, and he got around to see them once or twice every year, and all the neighbors and little towns along the way. But here, to the west, was a place he had never before ventured. It was land not his own. Though friendly in town, neighbors respectfully did not cross over onto the land of others unless invited or with sound reason. They kept to themselves.
And Jeremy Turner, uninvited and without sound reason, felt as though he were an intruder, an invader, trampling onto something sacred, something holy, the dreams of someone else. The meadow flowers and the trees along the riverbank and the mountains in the distance were all at once the same and not the same to his eyes.
He went to the top of the closest rise, the hill against which he had glimpsed his neighbor once upon a time, and the wild grass brushed against the horse and eternity, and the land opened up into a valley, and another rise, another ghostly song. And he and Virtue set off through the valley to the next rise, and from there, he could see the small cabin, less the size of his own, tucked away against the leeward side of a golden-green hill, huddled in the quiet shade of July.
The cabin itself was dark and quiet, appeared sturdily-constructed, and Virtue found nothing at which to be alarmed. But Jeremy Turner understood that his neighbor might well be lying somewhere out among the meadows.
He knocked on the door; there was no answer. He knocked again, the rapping of his knuckles against the solid oak louder, and there was some movement within. And then, startlingly, he heard the voice of a woman call out in struggle.
"Who’s there? I got a loaded shotgun, and I know how to use it."
"It’s your neighbor, Jeremy Turner."
"We’ve been corresponding by post," he said.
"Come to the window to the side, but stand back."
Jeremy did as he was instructed. The dirt-smudged face of a beautiful girl appeared there, dark circles under her cerulean blue eyes that shone out from the darkness in the cabin like stars in the midnight sky.
"I’m pretty sick, Mr. Turner," she said.
"I’m looking for Kid," he said.
"You found her," she said, smiling and then coughing.
Jeremy Turner folded his arms in slight confusion.
"My father bought this land," Kid explained, her fists white as they gripped the windowsill. "And we always intended to come here and farm it, but then mama got sick, and then papa got sick, and then there was only me left and so I sold what we had and came out here."
"How long have you been sick?" Jeremy Turner asked.
"I took sick in the rain a few days back. Been trying to get back on my feet, but it’s only getting worse. I haven’t been out to see the cattle. Do you think they’re alright?"
Jeremy Turner nodded. "I am sure they are fine," he said. "I’m going to go and get Doctor Monroe in town. I’ll be back in a few hours. You need to stay off your feet until I get back."
Before Kid could protest, Jeremy Turner told Virtue to remain; and then Jeremy Turner was a cloud of dust across the land, returning hours later, as promised, with Doctor Monroe. Confident that Doctor Monroe had things in hand, Jeremy Turner went home.
Sitting out on Jeremy’s porch a short while later, Doctor Monroe explained that he was quite amazed at the girl’s resilience, and was amazed that she had managed to survive something that should have killed her. He left it at a combination of God’s grace and Kid’s will, and Jeremy Turner agreed.
"She’ll be alright in a few days," Monroe said. "I take it you were planning to keep an eye on her cattle?"
"Yes, sir. I planned on it."
"You need anything else, you come and get me. Keep an eye on her place, too. She’ll be alright, but a girl out there alone like that? It worries me."
"I’ll do just that."
"Good day and God bless, Jeremy."
"Safe trip home, Doctor Monroe."
Three days passed, and as he had for the previous two days, Jeremy Turner set out to watch Kid’s cattle and to check on her cabin and to dream in the broad summer sunlight.
But at the edge of his land north of the river that went south of it, against the soft, summer breeze that whispered up from the water, a ghost song of promises, the post–the large branch, pointed end dug in deeply, buffeted by stones, faced east once more. And Jeremy Turner smiled while Virtue waited patiently.
"Dear Mr. Turner," the note read, "I wish to thank you for your kindness and your compassion these past few days. I am fully recovered and I wish to make you dinner tonight, at six o’clock. Please do come. Please bring Virtue as he is also quite welcome as well."
Jeremy Turner nodded to Virtue. "Well, boy, that certainly sounds like an invitation we can’t turn down. I suppose we’d better go and dig out our better clothes and pick up some wildflowers along the way."
Just in case Kid might venture up to the post before the appointed time, Jeremy Turner left her a note.
"Dear Kid," it read, "Virtue and I thank you for your kind invitation and we’ll happily be present this evening at the requested time."
As Jeremy Turner and Virtue set out across the American landscape to home, the wind swept against them, cool in the warm sun, a quiet, constant promise, a whisper of dreams.