Moon Over Prairie Fire, Part 1

“You’ll have to show me your photographs sometime.”

It didn’t sound like the wrong thing for Gus to say. In fact, it sounded like the exact right thing to say. It showed interest in her work, he was honestly interested in seeing what kind of photography could be done, exactly, in Prairie Fire, and it made sense to say it at that moment in the conversation.

And yet. Inez’s eyes immediately went far away, and a mildly depressed look turned her face down. She stirred her drink a little before downing the rest and making an effort to look at her watch.

“Damn, it got late fast, didn’t it?”

“No,” Gus said. “I think time is moving the same as always.”

“We should probably go back out, see if we can get some pictures after all.”

She stood up and started to walk away before Gus could say anything else. He followed her, feeling a little helpless and a lot confused.

“Come on, Addy, we need to go.”

At the other side of the bar Adelaide was sitting cross-legged on top. Jesse was on one side and Matsui on the other. In between them was some kind of game board and a handful of dice.

“What the hell are you doing?” Inez asked.

“Some game,” Adelaide said.

“It’s not just some game,” Jesse said, looking appalled. “It’s ‘Race for the Galaxy.’”

Inez looked at Adelaide with a look of such bizarre confusion it was easy to imagine Jesse had just stated they were doing lines of cocaine, what was wrong with that? Adelaide did not seem to care.

“It’s actually kind of fun,” Adelaide said with a shrug.

“Well, we’ve got our own…job to do,” Inez said, pulling on her coat.

“What, you think we should go back out there?”

“There’s plenty of full moon left,” Inez said. “Might get lucky.”

Adelaide didn’t move, only glared at Inez. Inez glared back. The other three could recognize that some sort of unspoken conversation was happening, although they could only guess what was being said. After a couple of seconds Adelaide sighed, apparently losing the argument, if there was one, and hopped off the bar.

“Okay, back out into the cold,” she said. “I was winning, too.”

“You were not,” Matsui said.

“I had a whole party planet, so I felt like I was,” she said, shrugging on her coat.

“At least let me walk you out,” Gus said. He followed them out the front door of the bar without putting on his own coat and almost immediately regretted it. The wind was terrible, and was pushing light snow into his face.

“So, you’ll be in town for a while?”

“No,” Inez said at the same time Adelaide said, “At least another few weeks.” They glared at each other again.

“We might be,” Inez said. “Just a few more days.”

Adelaide opened the passenger side of the van door as Inez patted down the pockets of her coat.

“I forgot my phone.”

“I’ll get it,” Gus said, but he didn’t even have the chance to move. Inez was already heading back towards the bar.

“No, no, it’s all right, I’ll be right back.”

Adelaide and Gus watched her hustle back into the bar. The wind gusted and they could hear her swearing, pulling the coat tighter around her.

“She really doesn’t like the cold, does she?” Gus asked.

“No,” Adelaide said behind him. “But she likes you.”

Gus turned to her. She was leaning against the open car door with a dreamy smile.

“She thinks you’re cu-ute,” she said in a sing-song.

He frowned. “I may be bad at understanding women, but I think I know a brush-off when I see it.”

“It’s more complicated than you think. If she didn’t like you, she would have stayed.”

“Wait, what?”

“I know, it doesn’t sound like it makes any sense, but…don’t move.”

Adelaide’s eyes, now almost round they were so wide, had drifted to her right as she had talked and landed in a very specific place. Predictably, Gus turned his head to see what she was looking at.

The parking lot in front of Hometown Lanes was long but not very deep. There were only three rows for cars, including one that butted up against the street. Inez’s van was parked in the middle, halfway between the front door and the street. All of which meant that the wolf standing in the middle of the street, just on the painted lines, was about thirty yards away from them.

It was tall. As far as it was, it looked to be the same height as Adelaide. Its fur was a mix of white and brown patches, and its tail swung back and forth slowly, almost lazily. Sharp yellow eyes stared at them quizzically, and tall, perked ears twitched at them like antennae looking for the signal.

Gus felt every muscle in his body tense up, which was good, because otherwise he might have peed himself. He forgot about the cold. His mouth went very dry.

“Is that-”


“What is it doing here?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do we do?”

“Don’t move.”

Adelaide started moving her hand down towards her coat pocket.

“You said don’t move, you’re moving, why are you moving?”

“Slowly. I am moving very slowly.”

“Why aren’t we moving very slowly towards the bar?”

“Because we’d never make it.”


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