On The Blacktop
(A Tale for Hallowe’en)
By Jeff Baker
There wasn’t a lot of traffic along that spur of the highway in northern Kansas, nonetheless they had a pilot car and a worker with a stop sign to direct what little traffic there was down the one lane that wasn’t fresh asphalt. It was early October, still warm but breezy with blue sky. Joey, wearing the yellow shirt and orange hardhat with matching vest, leaned against the pole he was carrying with the two-sided sign: Stop on one side, Slow on the other and took a drag off his cigarette. He stared around him. No sign of the pilot car leading the traffic back and the tall grass was waving in the wind. Joey sneezed at the dust in the air and wished he had a pair of goggles.
The only real sign of civilization he could see was the highway; the rest was blocked by the Flint Hills. But he knew Concordia was over to the west and Clay Center was east. He took another drag on the cigarette. Motion caught his eye. To the north, the direction he was facing while leaning on the stop sign. He shielded his eyes from the light and stared. There. He saw it. Someone riding a motorcycle over the hill. No; a horse. There was someone riding down the hill. As the rider got closer, Joey could see that the rider was young, maybe not quite twenty; looked Native American, was wearing a torn fabric that may have been a shirt and he had only one shoe, what did they call them in the movies? Moccasin. Joey could make out the rider’s face; an open-mouthed expression of panic and desperation. The horse was wild eyed, flecks of foam flying from its mouth.
They’re out of control, Joey thought. The rider and horse veered towards the blacktop. Joey thought about jumping over and flagging them down with the stop sign, but instead he watched as the horse and rider galloped across the freshly-poured asphalt, but where the horse’s hooves touched the blacktop, the asphalt was gone, replaced by waving grass. Joey wheeled around and saw the two of them as they raced down the hill only to be suddenly swallowed up in a blast of wind and dust.
“Hey, anybody know about any like historical re-enactors around here?” Joey asked at the end of the day as the crew was putting away their equipment back at the garage. “I mean, out by the highway?”
“Well, the big one is down in Medicine Lodge,” his foreman said. “None up here that I know of. How come?”
“I, uh…well, nothing.” Joey said.
“Way back a hundred and fifty years ago there were Native encampments all over the area. My grandmother was one-quarter Arapaho, and she said that the old days never really go away. She said that if you listen really closely, sometimes you can hear the cries and shouts of the people who lived out here. If you listen to the wind.”