“You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas.” – Davy Crockett
You arrived to a Texas covered in dust. You told your tired men you would find a way to make the sun return. It was cold and your men trembled and could not see. You told them, I am half-alligator, half-horse. My blood runs with lightning. If I am a man, then all of this is ours. You walked into the dust storm unblinking. Inside the storm you walked through an endless sea of blind, wild horses. You remembered men knowing your name. You remembered Andrew Jackson punching you and his hand shattering into pieces. No one thanked you for unfreezing the Tennessee dawn. No one set their hands upon you and called you man.
It had been twenty-one nights in a row you’d dreamt your death. One night, you dreamt one hundred bayonets opening your body, gashes in your hands and ribs and feet. You dreamt the Alamo haunted, rotting, tumbling. You saw in those dreams twenty-one different ways you would die.
The body of blind horses pulsed with heat, with thunder. You shivered against your bear skins and asked the sky about warmth, about the need of the touch of flesh. You found the largest horse and mounted it and named it after yourself. You said to the horse, all that I am will lead me to ruin. You raised your rifle to the sky and fired. The whole sea of horses rioted and swirled. You rode hard with the tide and watched the thick cloud of dust dissipate with the stampede. When the dust was cleared and the horses silent again, you called the men back to you. They waded through the horses and spoke of hunger, of war. You thought to tell them what you had done, but men believed no other men could build but them.
You dreamt of being swallowed by a great worm in the sand. You dreamt that inside you met again your wife and children, but as ghosts. You dreamt that they each accused you of treasons. You dreamt Jackson as shadow, then as composed of a swarm of blackbirds. You dreamt that he first took the ghosts of your family inside him, then Jackson removed each of your teeth. He said, the only way out is to feed. You dreamt yourself asking for your ghost family to return, saying, I am nothing but a man and that is nothing.
You woke to find the slain bodies of nineteen wild horses, their blinded eyes removed. You told the men you were afraid of bodies, of mouths and teeth. You told them you might be a house of bones too easily brought down in a razing wind. They only nodded and sharpened their blades. They chanted warwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwarwar.
You put your head to the sweltering earth. You heard dirges humming in the ground. You felt the oncoming of hoofs, the dull force of bodies. You wished for the dust to return. You closed your eyes and wished for starlight to fall and burn away the world. You carved the names of your family into the chests of your men. You watched their blood trail down. Still the men looked forward with their hollow eyes. They chanted and sang. You brought them close to you and told them all stories end in apocalypses.
You dreamt the earth opening and you dreamt falling deep down into the earth. You dreamt of men there born without eyes. You dreamt it hot and stinking and you dreamt that no one spoke the words sun or light. You dreamt there the men tended to the giant colossus of Jackson and you dreamt you launched war after war to end him. You dreamt the eyeless men trying to stop you and you dreamt each way you would kill a man. You dreamt this Jackson monolith growing. You dreamt him spewing onto you and you dreamt your skin falling away. You asked him for reasons. He said, I am a bear and I have teeth for one purpose. I see land I do not yet cover. You are in front of me and I call you revelation. Before you dreamt he crushed you into dust, you dreamt you told him you had no violence in you. You were no threatened wolf, you had no hunt in you but to live.
Your men called the onslaught coming from the west. You gathered the blind horses into a living wall. You told the men to stay behind you. You watched as a wave of men carved through the horses. You pleaded, prayed, awaited. You called the dust to return. You tried to forget your dreams. You knew of so many endings. You watched the wave of men approaching with their rifles and bayonets and revolutions. Your men agitated and stomped the ground and bared their teeth and you watched these blind horses fall.
You said, this body is lost.
You said, this body is apology, and it is myth.
You said, I am ready.
Your men asked, when? When?
You replied, now, now. You awaited some cut or shot-open wound. You longed for anything to show you how all stories end.
Justin Lawrence Daugherty isn’t haunted in Atlanta. He’s never encountered a blind horse. He is the co-founder of Jellyfish Highway Press, founded and manages Sundog Lit, and edits for bothNew South Journal and Cartridge Lit–a lit mag devoted to work about video games. “Dust to Return” is an excerpt from a collection of stories about troubled men in U.S. history, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke. He has a website, and tweets at @jdaugherty1081.