Opposition in All Things


Then I awoke. Sea the color of stone curled away in every direction, tucking itself beneath a bright mist that blotted out the sky. A tinge of lilac bleeding into the frosty air. A rocking, a lulling. Was this the celestial kingdom? I had believed I was dying into God’s glory. Now I was seeing through someone else’s eyes, and could but hope this was a passage, a way there. The ashen sea rocked on. I stared into the haze, longing to see it open upon a wide shore, a sacred light, the heavenly host.

But the mist did not part and no shore appeared and I remained behind the eyes of a stranger, a sailor on an armored warship, standing ready beside a big gun on the foredeck, a bigger gun than I had ever seen. I watched with him from the deck, and from his seat at the mess, and as he read his letters in his cramped bunk, sour water swishing on the floor below. It was no heaven and no hell, and soon I realized, from the letters, that he was no stranger. He was Rulon Warren, the son of a niece whom I had known only as a girl. And what was I? Angel or spirit? And what was my purpose?


When we returned from the war in Europe and all we had seen there, Rulon Warren wanted nothing but the silence no one would allow. He was assaulted by talk. Everyone called for an accounting. I wanted so much to help him then, to ease his way or strike down his enemies, but I held no such earthly powers.

His parents wanted to speak to him at all hours—his mother, my niece, about church services and socials, young women in town, his plans for the future; his father about the barley, canal weeds, young women in town. His mother could talk for hours, it seemed, while his father spoke only three and four words at a time, but they both wanted the same from him, a future parceled out in syllables.

At church on Sundays, the older men came up one by one, shy, like courters at a dance. Didn’t it make you seasick, all that time on the boat? How many of those Huns did you send into outer darkness? Rulon sometimes could not think of a single word. He would blush and shrug and look at the ward-house floor, and the men would do something similar, rebuked. They’d pat him on the shoulder and retreat. Other times the answers came as if from another place. He was never once seasick. “Best sea legs on the ship came from right here in Idaho,” he’d brag. And in his job on the ship, navigating the fixed gun on the foredeck, he’d probably helped kill thirty-five or forty of the kaiser’s boys. “My share,” he would say, and try to smile. “Maybe a few more.”

I could feel his temptation to tell them, the men with their fingernails cleaned and hair slick for Sunday, that he’d stood next to a gunner whose head had vanished in a pink mist, and that hours later, belowdecks and pulsing with adrenaline, he had found bits of skull clinging to the shoulder of his uniform. Or that he had watched as his fellow sailors fired on the survivors of the Gotthilf, the destroyer they’d sunk in the metal gray North Sea, the Germans bobbing in the water, waving their arms in surrender, and then jerking and sliding below the churning water while the sailors laughed. I could feel Rulon’s desire to unsettle the brethren, to terrify them—it was the selfsame desire I had brought to church during my own life, Sunday after Sunday, and in those early days of our coexistence it made me feel we were aligned.

And yet we were not. Rulon’s guilt boiled at him. He pitied those Huns, which had struck me as weak when he’d first felt it, out on the ship. Like the response of a child. I had only recently joined him then and was lost inside my new existence. I had died, bleeding onto the earth in the Tetons, killed by a posse, and then thirty-two years passed in a black instant and I awoke inside Rulon’s vision. We were sailing into a sea that spread in every direction into a cloak of fog. The bliss of death was already fading, and the first sensations of my new life were the salt air, the roll of the horizon, the anxiety burning within Rulon, and the fear that I had awakened to something never-ending.

Weeks later, after I had discovered, from his letters, the passage of time since my death, Rulon couldn’t let the deaths of those Huns go. He would pray at night for forgiveness, and he dwelled upon the souls of the Germans, pondering how their eternities would be affected by their foreshortened lives. What if they had died before they’d had the chance to achieve their full righteousness? He worried about his own sin as well, and I was there with him in all of it. I saw what he saw, and I sensed his thoughts and shared in the images that spun relentlessly through his mind. He thought back to the time, before he had shipped, when he’d asked the bishop whether it was a sin to kill an enemy in warfare. Bishop Lawton, a short, thin man who curved forward at the shoulders, had seemed surprised.

“You’re serving your country, son,” he said. “That’s no sin.”

Then the bishop cited the warfare in the Bible, the battles in the Book of Mormon between Nephites and Lamanites. The sixth commandment was a prohibition on murder, he said, not war. As Rulon brooded, I thought of my own life—my desire to be exalted for slaying the Lord’s enemies and my fear that I would be damned instead. I now doubted that either was true. Was this damnation? Exaltation? I could see no punishment in it, nor any reward. When Rulon prayed in his bunk at night, doubt hounded my thoughts. What was this life? Where was God’s hand?

When I had been alive, I prayed daily, over meals and with my parents and sister, and by myself before bed. I prayed before every decision. I prayed before asking Sally Bartram to marry, and then we prayed together once she said yes. I prayed before I bought my own cattle—the fifteen head my father told me I was a fool to purchase. The cattle sold at a profit, and I knew that I would discard the wisdom of my elders and listen only for the answers to my prayers. I prayed when I left the church and my parents and faithless Sally Bartram, and I received an answer, the knowledge that I was walking in the Lord’s light. I’d known it then the way I knew how to strike with a maul or knot a length of rope, but I did not know it any longer. Every new day showed me that I must have been wrong. Rulon would get no help from beyond but for me, and I pitied us both.

In his bunk on the ship, Rulon had often wondered why no one else was concerned about the killing. The whole town of Franklin, it seemed, had come to wish him farewell when he left for the navy. They had all appeared happy he was going, so proud. He fretted over these memories, unable to overcome his fear that everyone—the ward, the town, the whole country—was wrong about this: Thou shalt not kill, he thought. They had papered over sin with happy lies.

Now that he was back, the bishop was after him to give a talk to the ward. Rulon could share how the Lord had helped him through his times at sea. “Maybe not yet,” Rulon said, but what he did not say was that he had experienced no help from the Lord at sea. He had ridden on that ship beyond the sight of land and beyond the hand of the Lord, which he had not thought possible.

He returned certain he was fallen.

All that talk. How I wished to draw a curtain of silence around him. To describe for him the eternity of silence awaiting him, how comforting it might be before it turned to torment. To say: Peace be with you. To say: May peace cast its shadow on your heart. But my words weighed nothing, and even then—when I still wanted him to live—I had no honest desire for peace.


Rulon had been honorably discharged in May 1918, and had spent a week in San Francisco with some of the other men from the USS Gooding. At night he had stayed in his hotel room, paid for by the navy, and had tried to adjust to the idea that he was back in this world. San Francisco was as foreign as the sea. Sailors roamed the streets drunkenly, arms flung over shoulders, calling obscenely to passing women. The wharves reeked of fish and salt, and nights were smudged with lamp soot and weak yellow light. Every time he met another sailor, he’d be told once again where the best brothels were. “Nickel a throw,” they’d say, unashamed. “Get yourself a dollar’s worth.” Rulon prayed and prayed, and remembered the exhortations of the brethren—their appeals to chastity and purity, their warning of the Lord’s watchfulness over everything.

Lust tore at him. He couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like. Finally he went to the address in Chinatown. The woman had light brown hair that smelled of chemicals and flowers, and her lips tasted waxy. Afterward, Rulon was not quite sure what had happened between them—could not picture the way their bodies had come together. He knew only the surge of intensity that wrapped his hips and shot up his spine. “Already?” the woman said in a teasing voice, and Rulon opened his eyes and noticed she was much younger than she had at first appeared, the skin around her eyes smooth and unwrinkled, the pores on her nose tiny.

Her scent haunted him, back to his hotel and through the night, and as he thought of her I thought of faithless Sally Bartram, my fiancée, whom I had never kissed, who had smiled with half-closed eyes as we’d danced at the ward house on Friday nights, her hand light on my shoulder. I remembered how I was choked with the desire to press into her, through her, and I wanted Rulon to go back now, to return again and again.

For two days he prayed inside his room. He told himself he must have passed through the war and into hell. The city was never quiet, and the lights burned all night. The third day, he went back and spent a dime. He told himself it didn’t matter whether he committed this sin, because he’d done worse, but he felt watched and ashamed as he walked the narrow streets and went up the stairs to the door marked by a sign in Chinese characters. In the front room, men sat on couches, murmuring with the girls. Sheer red cloth draped the lamps, shading the room in crimson. Rulon asked for the woman by name: Irene. Walking home, he could smell her perfume, now familiar, and taste her smoky breath, and he knew he had stained his soul. He left for home the following day, and he could not stop thinking of Irene, of her cheap stockings draped over a bedpost, the thrill of her carnal smile, the fleshy rub of her belly against his.

He rode the train first to Boise and then to Pocatello, where his folks waited for him at the train platform. His father’s beard seemed longer, spreading like an apron below his collarbone. He wore simple wool clothing, threadbare gray pants hemmed high above the ankles of his boots. His mother—my niece, a girl I had barely known now grown into a woman who carried weariness in her frame—wore a gingham dress, made from a pattern of pale blue with tiny flowers. They took a room in a hotel—Rulon on the floor and his parents in the small bed—and then caught the one daily train to Franklin the next morning. Rulon watched the landscape as the train lurched and smoked, the tan floor of the desert spotted with dusty sage. Franklin was the state’s first settlement, formed sixty years before by the Warrens and thirteen other families who had followed the Mormon Trail out from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, and then north, after years of pestilence and drought.

“They thought they were in Utah!” Rulon’s father would say with a roar, any time he had the chance to tell the story. It was true. My own father was among those who had crossed the territorial border unaware, into Idaho. He built our home at the foot of the Tetons, the heavenward mountains, and used to say that God meant for this land to be in Utah—in Zion—but that men are often deaf to His intentions.

Rulon settled at the farm and worked with his father. Spreading across the wide valley floor to the east of the town, the Warren place was one of the biggest in the county, a range of wheat and barley and cattle pasture that Rulon’s father had expanded year after year. In the center sat the magisterial two-storied house, painted white, with a steeply pitched roof and a row of box elders on the west side. A grid of ditches and culverts, hand dug, lined the fields, and Rulon’s father was often consulted by the other men in town about irrigation and farm practices. Rulon’s older sister had married while he was still in school; she lived four miles away on a smaller farm, on the other side of town, with her husband and children. When Rulon returned, the planting was done and everything was greening, the land fresh and bristly under the warm sun. Rulon loved getting out into the fields and emptying his mind, carrying a shovel along the ditch bank or hauling hay to the cattle.

He didn’t know what he would do and didn’t wonder. He wanted only cool mornings in an empty room as the first line of sunlight traced the horizon, hot afternoons on a dusty ditch berm, cool evenings with the moon white in the window. Empty rooms and dreaming. Empty rooms and the remembered feel of sheer stockings, the taste of lipstick, the motion of Irene’s head on the pillow, her mocking little laugh. He could no longer picture her face, but could envision the skin under her eyes and along her nose, could remember the moment he realized how young she was—seventeen? sixteen? younger? He eyed the girls in church now and felt intense impurity. He could make a whole life out of doing that, pants folded over a chair, an hour’s rest and back at it. Sin was sin, and how much could it compound? He had already broken a commandment many times over: Thou shalt not kill. All those Germans. That, plus three times with Irene and, more appalling, his delight in it, his continued delight. How could his eternal reward be worse now if he abandoned himself to a life of murder and fornication? And yet he could not. He yearned for sin, and then forgiveness, and then for sin, and he could not decide, moment to moment, where the wickedness was greater: in himself, in the church, or in the world.

I wanted to tell him they were only Huns. Pile them up. I would have fired those guns myself and laughed as the Germans sank. I wanted to tell him he was but a man upon the earth. But I could not influence him, could not make my presence real in any way. Sometimes I concentrated thoughts and tried to send them to him, tried to wish him into acting. Close it now, I would think, as he read from the Book of Mormon during church. Close it. I tried to focus my command into a beam of light. Close it, Rulon. It is folly. I was desperate for him to hear me. What was my existence otherwise? I tried and tried to make a ripple in the world. To be there.


Rulon’s parents invited Ann Lawton to dinner without telling him. She arrived one Sunday after church, in a new-looking dress of pale blue that hung so low it covered her feet and rose snugly to her neck and traveled down to her wrists. She was seventeen, the bishop’s daughter, quietly bold. She wore her long brown hair in a single braid and was delicate but for her chapped red ears. Her father was the bishop who had blessed Rulon when he shipped out, the one who had reassured him, and he felt false before both father and daughter.

After church that Sunday, before Ann arrived, Rulon had gone to his room, up the narrow stairs and at the end of a dim hall. He had taken off his tie and dress shoes and lain on his bed, watching the play of light on the wall as the curtain lifted and fell before the open window. An eddy in time arrived, and he entered it. He drifted near sleep. His legs and hips lightened, as though they were lifting with the curtain, and his head became warm and damp, and the sound of his breath lulled him, until his mother called.

Going downstairs in his stocking feet, he heard his mother say, “Rulon, come say hello to Ann.” He stopped. He was aware that from the living room below, where his family and their guest sat waiting for him, his feet and the legs of his trousers were visible. The room was bright with sunlight, and he could hear his nieces and nephews clattering about on the porch. Resentment filled his mind. He had gone to sea and done what he had done, and now was being denied peace, the only thing he sought. His fury covered all the people he knew, all the people who continued to live, to eat Sunday dinner and hang clothing on the line and take baths in fresh water and have picnics and parades and ask smiling questions about the war. Sometimes at church he imagined the heads of the Saints exploding silently—the bishop’s head as he stood at the pulpit, the heads of the men who sidled up to him, the heads of the people in the pew in front of him, one by one in time with the hymns, a wave of magical death bursting amid the empty talk of sin. Now he imagined it happening with his family, a popping sound repeated throughout the house—his mother in the living room, sister in the kitchen, her husband on the porch with his father, leaving his nieces and nephews out of it—the bodies strewn about while he slept the silent day away. I experienced it, too—the throb of adrenaline, the rushing thrill of anger, flooding me just as it had in the days before my death—and I could not begrudge him.

At dinner, though, Rulon was fine. He talked to Ann about the crops and teased her about boys in the ward. His parents and sister mostly listened to them talk, joining in when there was a pause, pressing them along. They passed the large crockery bowls filled with potatoes and beans again and again. Rulon looked at Ann and saw Irene, and beneath the table he swelled. He felt guilty for besmirching Ann with his thoughts, and yet he didn’t try to stop. He imagined her bare shoulder blades, placing a freckle on the right one. He imagined the dip in her collarbone, pink nipples, pale belly, a wild thicket of hair. He imagined her embarrassed whispers. Rulon could not tell, but I could see in the speckled flush that bloomed on Ann’s neck and face when they talked, and in the way her eyes darted away from his, that she had already decided she loved him.

After dinner, Rulon walked her down the dirt lane to her house, his irritation having vanished in the easy pleasure of her company. A ditch ran alongside the lane, and insects spun above the thick green grass, catching the coppery afternoon light. I thought: Take her hand. She told him of the scandals from the ward dances: which girls disappeared and returned with which boys. She told him the gossip about Brother Lundeblad drinking whiskey, how his sons had to keep the farm going. His hands swung loose at his sides. Take her hand, Rulon. Turn her toward you. When they reached her house, she reached for his hand while he said good-bye, and it froze his words. Back in his room, he tugged at himself furiously, thinking first of Irene and then of Ann, and fell to his bed in shame.

I was with him then, as in all moments. There was nothing in Rulon’s mind that made me sorry for his soul. Do not be ashamed. I imagined my voice, rich with the cadenced tones of a prophet. You are but a man upon the earth. You are forgiven. I watched and I wondered again about my own existence. You will need no forgiveness. I had been with him for eighteen months now, but no part of me could reach him. He brooded over every little sin. I dreaded the idea that this was all of life left to me, and that it might plod on and on. I wanted to press against Rulon, to force him into action. Any action. There is no forgiveness you will ever need.


For weeks, Rulon did little but work on the farm, irrigating the fields, clearing weeds from the ditches. The wheat turned golden, the heads of barley grew heavy, and the warm afternoon breezes made waves of the fields. His parents suggested daily that he walk up the lane to the Lawtons, that he pay Ann a visit, that he sit beside her at church. But he could not. When he was with Ann, he would turn her into Irene. It became impossible to sit comfortably with her. He was convinced his lust was apparent to all. He spoke less and less. Sometimes when his mother asked him a question, he walked away without answering, or merely kept his eyes on his plate. He could not marry Ann Lawton, nor any other righteous woman, for he no longer desired their righteousness. And yet he could not stop thinking of Ann. At church, she looked for him when he came in, and despite himself he would smile or nod. He felt his every glance was a lie, and he should no longer live around people.

When he learned that the government was going to open a post office in Franklin, he applied for the position. He got the job—mostly, he was told by the visiting postmaster from Pocatello, because he was a war hero—and decided to move into a room in the back of the new pine-smelling post office they had built on the town’s main street.

The news shocked Rulon’s parents. Though he would be in town, just three miles away, it was a larger departure than they had ever expected. He was their only son. His mother wept, and his father told him the farm would be there for him when got tired of the post office.

“I always figured you’d take this place over,” his father said. They were sitting in the living room before supper. Fall was coming, twilight sifting down earlier each day. Soon harvest would begin.

“I’ll help you get the wheat and barley put up, and then go,” Rulon said. “I’m not sure it was ever really for me.”

His parents were confused, I could tell, because it was a lie. Rulon took naturally to farm work, walking the fields and testing the moisture of the soil, checking for stripe rust on the wheat, calming cows to put medicine drops into their great glassy eyes. But Rulon wanted silence at meals. Freedom in the afternoons. He wanted never to discuss the war again with any smiling face, never to sit across a family table laden with bread and jam and roasted meat and pretend to chastity with any woman.

Go, I thought. Go. I wanted something new. I had followed his dreary routine, day upon day, and sensed his desperate faith, his clutching need to be righteous, and I sometimes thought this was a hell after all, one that revealed itself slowly. A hell of Rulon’s making, which could end only when he did.

Rulon rode into town together with his father. He was calm as the wagon clattered along, and was grateful his father didn’t speak. I sensed the moment was right for me then. Rulon. If my existence was all there was to eternity, why should he be deviled by sin, by guilt, by propriety? Why should he not live a life of happy moments? Follow your will. I could not fathom my existence. Were there others like me? Out there among the living, behind their eyes? The days were pale, emptied of meaning. Follow your will. I wanted Rulon to burn down the tedium of my days. But he was like a branch floating downriver, and I was a leaf fallen beside him, drifting without weight on the water.



Rulon loved the post office and his simple little room in back: his bed, a small table and one chair, his navy trunk, and a couple of shelves. His belongings had fit neatly into four boxes. On the shelves were his Book of Mormon and a few novels his mother had used as a schoolteacher, before she married: Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, Les Misérables. And the notebooks in which he had begun keeping a journal, pages filled with the turmoil of his mind.

In this room, he wrote, with this one candle flame, the wind in the darkness, I can believe that I am alone upon the earth, perfectly, peacefully alone. Here is where I can worship. Here is where I can feel the Lord’s spirit. Here, not in the lukewarm clamor and stink of the ward house, where everywhere you look is compromise and cowardice.

The mail arrived every afternoon, a gray canvas bag that shuffled with secrets. Rulon welcomed it with a kind of reverence, and he handed over the outgoing sack with the same solemnity—the same reserve that animated his actions when he took the sacrament on Sundays, the gentle way he held the trays, the tiny cups of water, the bits of torn bread. The body and the blood. The sacrament had become real for him. He had held bits of flesh and bone between his fingers, just as he held the bread now, and when he tasted the bread he believed he was tasting the living flesh of Christ, and some days he believed it saved him, and some days he believed there was not enough holy flesh in all the world to erase his wickedness.

Winter came hard. It snowed in mid-October and stayed cold for weeks, hardening the coarse snow. Rulon wore all his clothes and burned wood in his stove, but the wind slipped through the walls of the post office and chased away the heat.

Each day, Rulon sorted the letters into PO boxes and waited on customers and filled the gray sacks to go back to Pocatello and beyond. He enjoyed the order and predictability of the work and missed the open space and days of the farm less than he had imagined he would. His parents stopped by more than they needed to, and he always greeted them formally, like a servant, until his mother, baffled and hurt, stopped coming altogether.

His father kept at it, quietly. “Okay, son,” he would say, taking his mail and preparing to leave. “I know your mother would like to see you sometime. You could come for supper on Sunday.”

“Sunday would not be possible,” Rulon said, flipping through a handful of envelopes.

“Some other day, then.”

Rulon didn’t answer, though it made him sad to keep silent. His father left, a wintry gust banging into the room. Rulon could not explain what had happened inside him, but he did not want to be with others.

He riffled the envelopes in his hand again. Rulon loved handling the mail, the thick brown envelopes and the smudged white ones, the letters and the packages, stamped red and blue, the announcement of all the world outside of Franklin. He paid attention to who got what. Families got a lot of letters from Salt Lake. The Johansens got a letter a week from North Dakota; the Popes two a week from Nauvoo, Illinois. Frank Staley got special orders for fabric and dry goods from wholesalers in San Francisco or Minneapolis. One day Rulon saw a letter for Ann Lawton, posted in Chicago, from “Elder Britton.” Two weeks later, he saw another. Jake Britton, a kid Rulon used to torment at ward picnics and youth nights. On a mission in Chicago and writing letters home to Ann. Like most returning veterans, Rulon hadn’t served a mission, but most other young men did, two years spent trying to bring far-flung people into the fold.

Rulon had told himself he was finished with Ann, but when he saw the third letter from Elder Britton he slid it into the front pocket of his apron. Later he burned it at his table, wrote three angry pages in his journal about the spiritual weakness of the young, consumed as they were by lust and worldly emotions, and was then embarrassed before himself for his hypocrisy.

I came to hate the post office for just what Rulon loved—its tedious repetition, the sanctuary of routine. It was not so different from the plodding days on the farm. His days were my days, and I yearned for them to pulse with blood, with lust. Go see Ann. I’d send the futile messages. Go to her. Sometimes I thought Rulon was weakening and we were floating toward one another. As he sat in sacrament meeting, seething at the bishop’s milky tones, I’d think: Challenge him, Rulon. Denounce him. He wanted peace, and I daydreamed of his violent end. It had been so thrilling to die. Scatter their letters, Rulon. Make a fire in the night.


In the early evenings, after work and before he settled into his reading and writing, Rulon walked outside of town, along the fields—places that reminded me of my life. Once he stood on a ditch bank east of town, watching the gold and purple light on the Tetons and the gentle apron of hills easing into the valley. It called me to a specific moment from my own life—an exact replay of the light on the mountainside, the melancholy beauty of the dusk, the comforting silence that follows a day of noise and effort. I was walking home from Brother Miller’s farm after an afternoon of putting up hay, flush with exhaustion. The memory brought back a keen surge of love for my physical self. How I missed my body! I missed swinging my arms and scratching my neck. I missed the sensation of meat and milk in my mouth, the crust of drool on my cheek upon waking.

I thought of my father, reading from the Book of Mormon at the family table, interpreting it for the rest of us. “There shall be opposition in all things,” I could hear him say, in his whispery baritone. “Without darkness there can be no light. Without weakness, no strength. Without evil, no good.”

I was waiting along with Rulon for an opposing force, for something to press against. Something in this world, some person or idea, was the opposite of me, and I needed to crash into it to become whoever or whatever I was.

Every morning, Rulon arose before dawn and read in his Book of Mormon or in Revelation. He was hounded by guilt over the war, over the iron-handed lust that seized him at night, and he repented daily. But he also became more concerned with the sins of others, and he sometimes felt righteous by comparison. He saw the end days all around him and believed he was surrounded by corruption and hypocrisy. He came to think that, through the war, the community was built on a foundation of killing, contracted and paid for, to be done quietly and beyond the curtain of the everyday.

In his journal: Today, a parade in Richmond for three returning seamen. A murderer’s parade. The brethren there wanted me to greet the men, welcome them back, form friendships, etc. They came to me to ask it, and I told them I could not.

Rulon started missing church. The only reason he’d been going at all was guilt over his mother—she seemed drawn and shocked all the time now, as though she had never imagined anything as bad as this estrangement.

Again, in his journal: The Church has become the whore of Babylon, calling forth the last days. It has strayed from the hard path of righteousness. It loves comfort and compliance, and respects no suffering but submission.

I, too, had broken with the church, had cried out for a more vigorous gospel. Now I didn’t care about any of that. Hear me, Rulon. Heed me. I didn’t care what Rulon believed or what the bishop believed or what the people in the ward believed, because I knew they were wrong. Make a fire in the night. None of their hells described my hell. I did not understand what was happening to me, but I knew—with a faith surpassing any I’d ever had—that it had all been false, everything I had believed, it had all been a fantasy or a joke, and this imitation of life was all I would ever have. Sometimes I hated Rulon, hated his weakness with Ann, hated the dull and pointless struggle in his soul. Listen. I prayed to him at all hours, not without hope that he might one day answer. Listen, brother. Listen. I craved his death, to discover whether I would perish with him or live on.


One night as Rulon slept, he dreamed he was in a field in spring, holding the smooth wooden handles of the plow and standing behind the sagging rump of the family mule. A fog of dust surrounded him. Shapes floated into clarity before his face. He saw his shipmate from the Gooding, a plug of tobacco in his cheek, saying with a wink and a leer, “You look at her right, sailor, and her drawers fall to the floor.” His father floated forward and said, “Nephi said barley out back and potatoes here.” His sister, saying, “Ann Lawton, Ann Lawton.” Then a face he didn’t recognize, the pinched, unhappy countenance of a woman, hair pulled into a bun behind her head. “John Wilder,” she said, “your father paid a dime to have that sharpened.”

The words rushed to me across time, as clearly as sound over water. The woman was my mother, exact in every way, and the moment returned to me: I was eight years old, and due to some misdeed was hiding from my father in the firewood lean-to behind the house. After a while, when it became clear my father wasn’t coming after me, I took up his ax and walked around the dirt yard, chipping it gently against the cross posts in the fence and on the rocky ground.

I hadn’t tried to send Rulon the dream. He had drawn it from me somehow. Or I had melted into him. I tried even harder then to send him my thoughts, often the simplest things—Take one more bite of beans. Now another. Now the bread. Sometimes he would do as I said. Open the letter. Was it coincidence? Every life needs its faith. I longed for a voice. A prophet’s voice. A patriarch’s. If Rulon ever heard me, he might think it was the voice of the Lord.

Soon after the dream, Rulon attended sacrament meeting for the last time. He listened to Bishop Lawton’s placating tones, his soft calls to righteousness. He watched the back of Ann Lawton’s head, the stray strands of hair that caught the light and burned as golden filaments, and he could not chase away the lust. Go to her. Find a way.

That night he slipped into sleep and awoke inside a dream, a vision of Franklin and the surrounding valley from a rocky promontory in the Tetons. It looked like a view from heaven, from some impossibly high place. A voice spoke in words of an unknown language, and when Rulon turned, he looked upon a face that I knew well.

The man was Hiram Jensen. As Rulon floated toward him, Hiram spoke, calling him by my name. “They are coming, Brother Wilder. Our moment is nigh.”

Rulon was dreaming my life, dreaming my last days on earth.

We had fled into the mountains—Hiram, myself, and five others. The Idaho territory had passed the Test Oath Act, banning Mormons from voting or holding office. This, after some counties had thrown good Mormon men in jail for celestial marriage and fired Mormon teachers. When the bishop called on the Saints to obey that law, to refrain from voting, I knew my break with the church had come.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” the bishop said, in his ignorance and weakness.

Hiram organized the resistance—we would render nothing to Caesar. We would formally renounce the church and go to the polls, where we could honestly present ourselves as non-Mormons. Afterward, we would rebaptize each other into a new church with a new mission. A true church, which would not bow and truckle. When we arrived at the polls in Pocatello, a mob stood already in the street. They held signs with vile slogans and shouted as we tried to make our way inside. I blazed with hatred for those faces, the black pits of their eyes, their rotten mouths. We had settled this land—Mormons had, our families had. We should have been the ones guarding the polls and turning away the wicked.

Our plan failed. We were well known as the faithful. Despite our claims, the deputies tried to arrest us for voter fraud, and we fled into the mountains. After our first night, Hiram led us down to the valley, where we killed and half skinned a calf on the ranch of one of the town marshals, carving off as much as we could haul back. They might have left us alone if not for that, but peace was not what we wanted.

In Rulon’s dream he watched—and I watched, watched and remembered—as the posse came slowly up a field of shale toward our position behind a ledge. It was just as it was then, everything just as it was. I rested the sights of my rifle on the brown hat of the posse’s leader. The rifleshot cracked and echoed through the mountains. The man fell. A ruby shadow grew from his head on the shale.

Hiram floated into Rulon’s view. “Now you know,” he said. “Now you know.” And Rulon awoke, certain he had been sent a vision from the Lord. He spent the night praying for guidance. I thought: Do not pray, brother. Act. I wanted to be the answer to his prayers. I wanted him to know the joy of my final days, the joy that came from the force of our opposition. I wanted to live it again. Act, Rulon. After I shot that man, we spent two weeks in the mountains, the nights so cold we clung to each other for warmth. The first posse had been coming to arrest us; we knew the next one would not be so docile. During the days, Hiram preached to us a new gospel of righteous resistance—calling for the homeland for the faithful that we had come west to establish—and we burned with it. We baptized each other one day in an icy stream.

This was a holy war, Hiram said. I never sorrowed for killing that man, and yet I feared the only atonement would come through blood—my blood spilled upon the earth. But Hiram said there was no need for the blood sacrifice.

“Scripture tells us, Brother Wilder, that it is the murderer whose blood must spill. The warrior will live forever in God’s light.”

I was unconvinced. One night, I slipped away and knelt beneath a pine tree. I prayed to the Lord to forgive me, and I pricked my finger and squeezed three drops of blood onto the ground. They formed tiny black beads in the moonlight, and I knew how paltry I was before the Lord, because I was not remorseful in my heart.

The sheriff’s men returned, with a bigger posse. They swarmed us from all sides and made no attempt at capture. Before I felt the blade in my ribs, I saw a man open Hiram’s throat with the slash of a knife. A horrific red gape appeared and rained down his chest. Lying on the ground, I watched my own blood pool on the soft earth, creeping among the pine needles and stones, a true atonement at last, and I slept in the certainty of my salvation, rushing, rushing toward the celestial kingdom, my eternal reward.


Rulon opened the next letter from Elder Britton, who wrote of his disappointment at not having a letter from Ann for two weeks.

Rulon studied the close, tiny handwriting. Much of the letter was simply news of Britton’s life—he was serving in Chicago, working in the urban neighborhoods, “baptizing few.” Rulon wondered how far it had gone between Britton and Ann. It had been months since he had last walked the lane with Ann. He slid Britton’s letter between the pages of his Book of Mormon.

Ann came to the post office three days after the letter had arrived. It was March; a smell of chill air and water lay under everything and rushed into the room with her. Rulon sorted letters behind the counter, and when she entered, his face flushed, tightening around the eyes. He feared his voice would tremble and show everything about him.

“Hello, Rule,” she said.

“Hello, Miss Lawton,” he said with mock formality, but the words were awkward in his mouth. “I’m glad to see you.”

“I’m surprised to hear you say it.”

She smiled thinly, holding something back. Rulon’s heart boomed in his ears and I heard it too, thinking, Take her, take her, his lust my own, instantaneous, everywhere.

Ann said, “I might have thought you hadn’t taken any notice one way or the other. Shut up in here all day.” As usual, her dress was buttoned to the neck and covered her to her ankles and wrists, but for Rulon the room was suffused with the warm breath of her flesh, damp and eager.

“You know better,” he said, and, after a pause, added quickly, “There’s no mail for you.”

“There’s a dance Saturday at the ward house.”

“I heard that.”

Ann went crimson to her hairline, turned, and left.

Fluttering light filled Rulon. It was only 4:20 p.m., but he pulled the shade on the door and hung the CLOSED sign and went back to his room. He retrieved the letter from Britton to Ann and read it again. He took out his notebook and pen, smoothed Britton’s letter beside it, and began to write a new letter in close, tiny handwriting like Britton’s own.

He copied the first paragraph exactly. And some of the next ones, too. Then he wrote: I heard of the fire at the ward dance from Jenny Monson. Jenny writes me fairly regular. She is a funny girl that I love to hear from and one who can tell a good story. Her letters don’t hold a candle to yours, Ann, but they are entertaining.

He tucked the letter into an envelope, copied the address, stamped the envelope, and put it in the box labeled Lawton.

Rulon went to the dance Saturday. He stood along the wall near the door and watched as the dancers moved in and out of the lantern light. He hated every laughing face. He dreamed of their glorious deaths. Then he saw Ann, serving drinks and popcorn balls at the folding tables, and his anger ebbed. She looked at him, tipped her head toward the dance floor, and smiled. Rulon blushed. He walked to her and offered his arm and they joined the next dance. He was a terrible dancer, but he stomped through the steps with vigor. Ann smiled at him and laughed often. A couple of times, as she turned past him, he smelled talc and cream, and he knew that it rose from under her clothes, and lust inflamed him. Coming off the dance floor, he ran into his mother and father, standing awkwardly to the side as though they were not waiting for him. Seeing them, he felt caught, and he could barely bring himself to speak. His father asked formal questions about the PO, and his mother asked him what he was eating, desperately trying to sound casual, and she laughed once, a shrill, false note. They parted after a long pause, like strangers forced together at a funeral.

Later, in his bed, he imagined Ann coming to him, emboldened, roughened, remade as Irene, red lips opening on teeth of pearl gray, breathing a stream of forbidden cigarette smoke through her pursed lips into the night air, lowering herself onto him, hair hanging in his face, talking to him all the while, talking in Irene’s throaty voice, talking.


Ann wrote back to Britton. Hurt and reserve lay under every word, though she didn’t mention Jenny Monson. Rulon took out a sheet of paper and wrote his own letter to Britton, carefully, in Ann’s handwriting, saying she’d met someone new: I have become closer to this man than I intended, and now I feel it would be dishonest of me to say otherwise. I feel I owe you that, you’ve been such a dear friend to me.

They were the words Sally Bartram had written to me in 1865, mere weeks after she had moved with her family to Salt Lake City. Faithless Sally Bartram. When I saw those words come from Rulon’s hand—“such a dear friend”—I remembered the moment I had first read them, on our porch, an autumn day, in the heat of the afternoon, and I remembered my mother coming out while I read.

Rulon sealed the letter and mailed it to Elder Britton.

He began opening other letters. Sometimes he wrote replies. He wrote to one family that their sister in Nebraska had died of smallpox, the day after everyone thought the fever had broken.

It was the precise manner of my mother’s death.

He wrote a letter denying an extension on a loan payment to Roy Kalper, the largest landowner in the county. The words he used were the very words I had written—over and over again—as a clerk in my uncle’s bank in Minneapolis, when my parents sent me to stay with him the summer of 1858.

Rulon believed he was inventing the stories, that he was being inspired to sow chaos in these placid lives. They would learn the truth eventually, he thought, and their sorrow would not last. But a nervous sliver would be left in their hearts, and he knew that they would trace the letters back to him eventually, and he wanted that. I wanted it, too, whatever it meant for Rulon.

Several weeks after he forged the letter to Elder Britton from Ann, she stopped at the post office on a Sunday afternoon. Rulon was lying on his cot, reading a Natty Bumppo novel. He read for hours every day now, Scripture and novels borrowed from the little “library” shelf set up at the store, and he began to consider the idea of writing something more himself, something more than journal entries or the tales he was spinning in the letters. An accounting. A testament.

Ann knocked and said his name quietly, and he sat up on his cot, silent for nearly a minute before deciding to open the door. The sun was behind her, throwing her face into shadow, ringed by a corona of light. She held a basket with a cloth folded over the top.

“Hello, Rule,” she said, smiling.

I pitied her then, to be chasing him so. She was losing her pride. But Rulon’s desire flared, and it raised in me again how I missed my human form.

“What are you smuggling in that basket?” Rulon asked, and he was thrilled at his easy tone, his clerk’s glibness. “Come in so I can get a look.”

She had brought him cinnamon rolls, and they shared one at his little table. He sat on the bed and she used the chair. No one else had been inside the room. As they ate, Rulon realized with a start how shoddy it looked, as though he were waking up to something he had ceased to see. His thread-worn clothing sat in a pile on his trunk. Sheets of paper, covered with scrawls, were scattered about. Pieces of mail lay on the floor, on the bed, on the little shelf. A package to the dry goods store sat in the corner, unopened. It occurred to him, too late, that he ought to have hidden the mail before he invited Ann in. She noticed it, and uncertainty entered her attitude.

He told her he had been reading in the Book of Mormon and praying about it; he didn’t want his absence at church to give her the idea that he was losing his righteousness. I wanted him to put that aside. I was remembering Irene and thinking that Rulon could simply take Ann. Overpower her. Embrace her. He struggled to explain himself to Ann. He could not tell her how he had become convinced the Lord was warning him away from the church, because her father was the bishop and because it was the foundation of her entire life. It would only sound like wickedness to her.

Finally she said she had to leave. Kiss her. Take her skirt in your fists. Rulon stood beside her as she wrapped the rolls and put the empty basket on her arm, and he looked down at the fine hairs on the back of her neck, the final flesh before her blue dress rose and covered her. He reached out his hand but did not know how to begin. Seize her. He placed his right arm around her shoulder abruptly and buried his face in her neck, sensed the warmth of her skin. Kiss her on the mouth. He pressed his lips to her neck, feeling she might turn to him, but she stiffened and remained rigid. Her silence told him the depth of his mistake. She simply waited, playing dead, then left when he released her, not once raising her head. Rulon sat on his bed for hours, as it grew darker and darker.

I whispered to him all through that night. Scatter the letters. Make a fire in the night. I could feel his shame, his conviction that he did not belong among people. Was there room for me inside him now? Be a force against. A force opposed. And the rushing flume of his anger, growing out of all of it, washed us closer and closer together.



Rulon didn’t open the PO the next day. He stayed in the back as people came and knocked, shouted for him, and then left him to silence. He emerged only when he heard the mail wagon, in the afternoon. After collecting the canvas bag silently from Broom Janson, he turned back toward his room.

Rulon dumped the contents of the bag on his bed. Something about it nauseated him. Burn it. A network of human connections, built on lies and comfort. He picked up the first letter and tore it open. News of the Nebraska prairie to Glenda McDevit from a niece. He opened another. A report from a missionary to his parents. Another. A bill for milk delivery. Burn it. He opened every envelope and package, and when he was finished he stuffed it all back into the canvas sack and lifted it over his shoulder. Burn them all. He went out and walked to the middle of the street, the short, graded dirt road that ran between the five buildings of downtown Franklin—the dry goods store, the PO, the ward house, the livery, and the tiny jailhouse. Rulon emptied the sack in the street and kicked the torn pieces of mail as though they were autumn leaves. It was a weekday afternoon and the street was not busy, but the few people there stopped what they were doing and stared at him.

We were moving, the two of us, and gaining speed.

Sister Bingham came out of the dry goods store, and behind her, Brother Barry, the store’s owner. They squinted against the lowering sun at Rulon, as though he presented an enduring mystery.

“Greetings, Sister Bingham! Brother Barry!” Rulon waved in an exaggerated manner. He was filled with the Lord’s pulsing light, and would not have been surprised to find himself rising above the earth. He laughed. “See you in church on Sunday!”

He marched back to the PO. For the first time, he found the room uncomfortable. The space leaned against him. He imagined they were out there, everyone, the whole town. He pulled the curtains on his little window.

No one came to his door. He heard them outside in the hour after he had dumped the mail, heard voices and confused laughter, heard the patient tones the brethren applied to him, knew the patronizing manner in which they were speaking of him. He prayed at his bedside, on his knees, hands clasped together so firmly his knuckles ached, and he asked the Lord how he should begin.

He didn’t open the office the next day, either, and no one knocked. He sensed the town’s knowledge surrounding him but could not imagine what they might do. He heard the mail wagon pull up in the afternoon, and he rushed out once again to greet it.

“Good afternoon, Doctor Warren,” Broom said jovially. This was one of his standard jokes—to call people “Doctor.” “Here’s some more of your medicine.”

Rulon despised Broom, despised his nonsense and his happiness. He lifted the canvas sack from the back of the wagon and looked up at Broom, sitting on the buckboard seat. Knock him from that seat.

“Shut your ridiculous mouth,” he told Broom quietly, and turned back toward his room. As he reached the door to his room, he heard Broom mutter, “All right,” and then the brief slap of the reins before the wagon rattled into motion.

A few minutes later, when he could no longer hear Broom’s wagon wheels outside, he re-emerged with the bag over one shoulder and his kerosene lamp in the other hand. I stayed silent. I knew. Rulon heard his blood in his ears. He dumped the sack on the same spot he had the day before. The street was silent. A young woman and a child watched him from down the street, and a curtain peeled back in the upstairs window of the store before falling back into place. He held the burning wick to the corner of one letter, and then another. Soon the pile curled and blackened, wavering in the flames of gold and orange, and it was beautiful.


Deputations came and went from Rulon’s door for three days, and he stayed silent in his room, lying on the cot, eating hard biscuits and dried meat, while they knocked and demanded and left. Bishop Lawton came twice, and Verl Gentling, the part-time sheriff, three times.

The mail stopped arriving. Soon someone would break down the door.

Rulon tried to imagine what he would do. He thought about leaving everything behind. He believed the Lord was calling him to a radical act, and I wanted him to answer—to something, to whatever. You are outside them. You are their enemy. I was sick of his prayers, of his constant yearning for God, but he wanted to die a righteous death, and in this we were one. I wanted that thrill once more. And then I wanted him gone, to see what shape my existence would take.

In his room, he felt adrift on a raft, floating ever farther from the ship. He thought the ship might no longer be visible. Sometimes he stayed on his cot for hours, imagining he was surrounded by water and safe only there. Sometimes he imagined he was underground, burrowed into the earth, and no one could reach him.

On the third night after he had burned the mail, Rulon left his room after midnight. He stood in the street and peered at the town; the April night was cool, freshening him like water. He started walking toward his family’s house.

Make a fire in the night.

The night sky was blue and the land black, and a bright curve of moon reclined above the mountains to the east. Rulon followed the dirt road toward the mountains, whose night shade hid the homes that spread outward from town. As he walked he remembered the gunner’s mate from the ship, Sawicki, a Pole from Chicago who talked like no one Rulon had ever met, who told vile stories about women and swore more than any other sailor on board, and still prayed each night, holding a necklace with a cross in his hands as his lips made their silent ministrations. On the day of the battle with the Gotthilf, in the North Sea, Rulon had been navigating, working the wheel that spun the big gun. Sawicki was the gunner, and his head had vanished almost in silence, everything around them so loud. The nose of the gun slumped forward and Sawicki collapsed onto the deck. Another gunner took over, and it was three hours later when Rulon realized that he had been covered in a spray of sticky pink and slivers of bone. He picked a bit of something from his shoulder and what he saw there, pinched between his fingers, took in the whole human world: a fragment of bone, three black hairs, a red-black clump.

He came to the crossroads now and turned south, toward his family’s home. The more he walked, the brighter the night seemed, though there was scarce light from the crescent moon. Rulon’s spirit vibrated at a perfect pitch between calm and discord. It seemed natural to me, like I was sliding alongside him in a groove.

The war seemed long ago to Rulon, and he was surprised at the heat and energy that accompanied his memories. Whatever he might do now, he thought, he was justified. He remembered the Germans in the ocean. He imagined what it must have been like for them in the icy water, desperate to live and waving their arms in surrender, begging to be spared only to feel the metal burn of the bullets. Now he knew what he should have done: He should have defended the Germans. He should have stopped his fellow sailors, attacked them. He should have acted as a lone righteous soul.

I thought he was foolish to care so much—still, after all this time. But I loved what was happening inside him, as if his mind was reaching for mine.

Act, Rulon. Act.

When he reached his parents’ house, he went to the shed and selected an ax, a heavy one with a sharp, gleaming edge, and he walked to the house and went quietly in the front door. He stood in the entryway and listened, and hearing only his own galloping blood, he stepped to the closet under the stairs and lifted his father’s rifle and a box of shells from the top shelf.

Be a force against.

He went outside to the barn, where he harnessed his father’s mule and led him out to the road, and then back toward town. As he walked, I sent him thoughts in an unending stream. I imagined them as commands.

Be a force against. An opponent. Make a fire in the night. Act, Rulon. By your actions will you prove your righteousness. Act. Act. That word, like a mantra.

He stopped abruptly, in the middle of the road, and whispered angrily: “I am acting. I am.”

His words came into me like a hot blade. Like a beautiful wound that tells you you’re alive.

You are my brother, Rulon. You will follow me into eternity.

But there was only silence after that. Silence and the sound of his steps in the pale night.

At the PO, Rulon took his trunk and packed it with his bedroll, his notebooks, his Book of Mormon, a sack of beans and a piece of pork fat, extra pants and shirt. He strapped it onto the back of the mule and returned to the rear of the PO, where he had leaned the rifle and the ax. He picked up the ax and held it with both hands. It felt like an instrument of balance. Make a fire. He carried the ax to the front office, lit a kerosene lamp, and stood before the PO boxes, the rows and columns of square holes, the names of the townspeople listed below: Jansen, Bingham, Lawton, Strengel, Pope, Miller, Warren. The boxes made a grid, and Rulon’s first swing buried the ax with a splintering crack in its exact middle. His second swing sent a foot-long piece of wood careening past his head, and his third brought four boxes off the wall completely. He swung again and again until the boxes lay in splinters at his feet, and then he turned the ax on the desk and the partition where people came for their mail and on the tables where he sorted it and then on the floors themselves, the planking, and then the walls, the door, the windows with a glassy shatter. Bring it down. By the time he rested, he had turned it all back to simple wood, piles of fuel. The night shone through gaps in the walls where he had driven the ax through. Make a fire. I thought then that Rulon wanted to do it, to burn it all, but he saw the chaos he had made and he changed his mind. He wanted to leave it as a monument. In this he was right. I wanted it then, too. He took the ax and rifle and mounted his father’s mule. The street was silent, and no lights appeared in the windows of the nearest houses well down the lane. He began riding slowly into the desert.

As the mule swayed under him, Rulon sank into warm weariness. He wondered how long it would take the brethren to come for him. Then, for the first time, it occurred to him that they might not follow.

They might forgive him.

This was not what he wanted. He wanted them to come for him, and I wanted them to come for him, to come relentlessly, so many he could not kill them all.

He was riding past a small herd of cattle, asleep on their feet, head to tail in a group. The cattle, Rulon. The rifle. He checked the mule and slid off. He set the rifle against his shoulder and fired four times into the herd. Two cows thudded to the ground.

No one would forgive him now. He climbed back onto the mule and rode toward the horizon, which was beginning to brighten with the new day’s light.


Rulon went on into the desert, to the cave where he had played as a boy. It sat under an outcropping of lava rock; the desert floor sloped downward and into a dark mouth surrounded by dusky gray blocks of basalt. Inside was a roomy cavern that trailed backward to an opening too narrow for anyone to pass through. When he was a boy, Rulon and his friends would crawl back as far as they could, moving on their bellies, and call into the gap to hear the echo.

Rulon unpacked his belongings and set them inside the cave. He unspooled his bedroll, laid it beside his trunk, and retrieved water from the tiny stream that cut a little notch in the basalt to the east. The morning light had filled the sky, but it was dark in the cave, and Rulon lit his lamp, casting harsh shadows on the walls. He took apart the rifle, cleaned it, and reloaded it, leaning it against the rock at the cave entrance.

I knew Rulon’s mind completely. I thought of my own last days, in the mountains looming now above us. I thought of how fully I had left behind my life, my parents and my sister and my church—I could not have gone back. I had prepared to die, and had I survived, it would have been a failure. My whole life had been filling itself with the possibility of striking the ultimate mark. Even now, though I had lost my faith in God, I had not lost my faith in that. My faith in death. I could feel Rulon’s mind gathering strength—he could live alone in the cave, he thought, a hermit’s life, but it was not what he wanted. He wanted to go to an ultimate place, and there to end.

The sun crawled upward in the sky. The mule grazed. Spring showed on the land, green and tan and cool, and Rulon had an overwhelming eagerness to leave this wicked world and enter God’s embrace. I hoped he would not be too disappointed. I wondered what would happen to him, and what would happen to me. The world rolls on and on. We cannot imagine it without us, even as we dream of death.

The crunching of cart wheels sounded across the desert. A wagon drew closer, and soon we saw a little cart and a mule, and then Brother Pope, sitting in the seat, forearms on his knees and hands holding the reins loosely, face sunk in the shadow of his hat brim. Rulon came out of the cave and stood with his rifle propped over his shoulder, squinting toward the sun. The cart passed twenty yards away, and Rulon waved briefly at Pope, who kept his eyes rigidly ahead. When he was out of sight, Rulon heard him clack at the mule, and the sound of the wheels sped up, and he knew that Pope would not be coming back alone.

Twilight settled onto the desert. Rulon made a fire outside the mouth of the cave and built a tripod with lengths of sage wood. He hung a pot over the fire and filled it with beans and water and a chunk of salt pork. Then he retreated to his bedroll in the cave and dropped into a thick, dreamless sleep.

In the morning, he awoke with a clarified mind. For the first time I could remember, he did not pray. He walked out to the pot to stir the beans and add wood to the fire. The smoke rose like a signal above the desert. Rulon considered what would remain of him, how the stories would be told. I stayed silent behind his eyes. He did not need me now.

He took a ledger and a red pencil from his pack and returned to the cave. He sat cross-legged on his bedroll and began to write, and I found myself entering a dream of my last hours on earth, and he bent to his task, writing faster and faster, and I stood in the clearing with Hiram and the others as we watched for the posse. Rulon wrote, and I smelled the pine air, the mountain cold, and Rulon imagined he was leaving a testament, a scripture, a vessel to carry forth his righteousness. I heard the crunch of boots and looked into the trees, and Rulon filled the ledger with his furious red scrawl, and the posse slipped out from behind the trees, as though they were spirits of the mountains, and Rulon sharpened his pencil with a pocket knife, and I felt a blade in my side, between my ribs, and then came the sound of horses in the desert outside the cave. Rulon put down his pencil and took up his father’s rifle, and I felt the blade again, a second wound, a fire in my side, and someone called, “Warren! You come out of there!” and Rulon stepped from the mouth of the cave into the desert, and the knife slipped from me, and Rulon saw seven men on horseback, the sheriff and the bishop and five brethren, but not his father, and I tasted my blood, warm and thick in my throat, and Rulon raised his rifle and rested the sights on the bishop’s gray felt hat, and I dropped to my knees, as if to pray, and Rulon tightened his finger on the trigger, and I fell to my side and tasted dust. The bishop toppled from his horse and Rulon was filled with nausea and bliss and felt a sharp tug in his shoulder, a blossom of bright pain, and I saw my blood puddle and thicken on the earth, and Rulon’s left arm hung useless, and I watched my blood and knew I was ascending, and Rulon braced the rifle against his hip with his right hand and fired, then the answering bullets tore into his chest and thigh, and he sank to his knees, as if to pray, and I dreamed of my ascension even as I knew it was a dream, and Rulon rode a wave of bliss and heard a voice, the righteous need have no fear of death, the words as clear as a rifleshot, coming to him in his own voice, for it is a joy to enter the celestial kingdom, to spend eternity at the side of the Lord, and his blood joined all the blood of the earth, and he sank toward it, we sank toward it, a cloak fell across our eyes and we soared.