Susan J. Kroupa
This story won first
place in the Deep South Writers Conference Competition in 1996,
and won second place in the Utah Arts Council Contest in 1999.
This story is currently appearing in the April 2001 Realms of
Read an excerpt below:
Calico first saw Graylady on a mild spring morning, one so
the damp scent of life that he could almost believe its promise of
of smoke rising from south of Provo and northwest of
Orem told the
truth, however. The
fires still burned, a
a city block there, and would continue to do so
as long as there were houses
to feed the flames.
crinkled his nose against the trace of smoke and ash in the air.
Before he'd left the reservation, he used to love the smell of
with memories of fry bread and mutton stew and
shelter from bitter winter
Now, it always smelled of death, even smoke from the clean
burned in the woods far from the homes.
Still, he preferred
the outside air and was glad that it would soon be mild
enough to sleep outside. He hated sleeping in the houses, with the stink of
soaked into the walls, and probably a ghost or two just looking for
ten-year-old Navajo boy to torment.
Once, Mom Tyler had told him that Anglo
houses didn't have
ghosts. She had said it flatly as if she couldn't possibly be
but Johnny wasn't sure--his grandfather believed in ghosts.
wondered if the Tyler home had ghosts or if by now it had
burned to the ground,
but he didn't know.
Since the Death, he had lived in twenty or thirty houses,
had wandered all over Utah Valley, moving every week or so, but he'd
never gone near the Tyler's neighborhood again.
If the men from the Church
were still looking for him, that
would be the first place they'd check
time, he'd picked north Orem, and, in the dark of the night, had
his bike withone of his packs hooked over the handlebars and
the other on his back.
worn the precious rifle, found just two weeks before, slung over his
hated riding in the dark. One
big piece of glass and he'd have a flat tire,
endless searching to replace it and might delay his trip just when
it was critical to get started. But daylight was too dangerous, so it had been in the
dark that he'd
traveled north, picking a house at random when he felt
he'd gone far
hadn't been hard to get in--it never was; people had been too busy
to worry about locking doors--and Johnny had spent the night
on the couch.
the morning he'd gone into the backyard to breathe the spring air,
check out the neighborhood from the protection of the
backyard fence. Peeking
through the old redwood slats, he saw her.
She sat among the weeds in the yard
of the house across from
him, staring at something behind and above him. Mount
perhaps. She was about
thirty-five or forty, and, despite her baggy
sweater, Johnny could
see that she was thin.
her shoulders began shaking and she raised a sleeve to wipe her
eyes. He named her then. Graylady.
Not because of her fair skin, paler even than
Mom Tyler's, or because of her dark hair that fell raggedly around her shoulders,
but because, as he watched her alone in the weeds, it seemed that
her heart was
as gray as the ash from the ever-present fires, her
soul as burned and fragile.
horse came almost a week later ...
the rest of the story
in the April 2001 Realms of Fantasy magazine
Susan J. Kroupa 2001