John Roundtree lived by himself west of town, not a town so much as a few dusty buildings clumped on either side of the state road that passed through on its way to more important places. His dusty old pickup out front with the cloth showing through the tires hadn’t moved in years; weeds grew high around it and lizard tracks disappeared under it. Nobody knew what John Roundtree did anymore. Few people saw him outside his house in the light of day and those who did guessed from his red eyes and wild hair that he didn’t get much sleep. They whispered around that John Roundtree spent his nights with evil spirits. John Roundtree wasn’t always like that. Used to be he built things with brick, fancy walls and such. He was a real artist with brick. At first he worked with his own sun-dried clay bricks and then when the fancier imported bricks became cheap enough he started to use those and he would build beautiful things. He lined up the bricks so the fancy designs matched and the wall looked almost like a solid piece of hand decorated stone. Back then he was in demand all over the Reservation and beyond. Most of the people in town had a Roundtree wall or patio somewhere on their property. But it was a long time since Roundtree built a wall. It was a long time since he did much of anything, for that matter. Not since the night his son died during childbirth. After that, he didn’t come into town anymore, maybe just once or twice a month to buy flour or a little sugar at the dry goods store. A rumor started floating around that Roundtree,
crazed with grief that his son was stillborn had allowed his young wife to bleed to death. After that residents of Elk Wells talked of a man-like creature they saw at night. Sometimes it appeared on a lonely road, they said, striding across it or running adjacent to moving cars before it disappeared in the darkness. About the same time sheep herders out on the mesa started to complain of lambs gone missing in the night and nothing left the next morning but pools of blood. A herder told of being awakened in the night by strange sounds and looked out to see a tall figure standing at the pasture fence, solitary against the moonlight, chanting and staring back at him. The townspeople listened to these stories and they thought of John Roundtree.

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