Authors: Tanya Moir
In Winstone’s imagination, the Kid and his partner ride through the Wild West on the trail of their quarry. In Winstone
s actual life, he
s had to abandon his ‘partner
and is hiding out in the tough landscape of Central Otago. What has this boy run from, and how will the resilient and engaging twelve-year-old survive?
This powerfully realised novel weaves the past with the present and the real with the imaginary to tell a moving, inventive and hard-hitting story that will remain with you long after you have finished the last page.
‘It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.
You take away all he’s got,
and all he’s ever gonna have.’
— William Munny in
THE SKY WAS
a hell of a thing. Blue brighter than Technicolor, wider than Panavision. It was universal. Paramount. It was everything and nothing.
Cooper and the Kid rode up into it, all the way from the line of the river below, crawling up the edge of the sky into the eye of judgement. It took most of the day. Time lapsed. The sun shifted. A hawk-eagle-buzzard screamed, a scrape across the stretched skin of the lonely, just to show how deep it was, how far the silence ran.
Cooper and the Kid were dust, shadows in the film grain. Then insects, lumpy and six-legged. They kept coming. There was no road, just the long yellow grass swaying in the sun, and eventually there they were, their horses stepping through it large as life, right up in the face of the sky, rolling in the saddle. Cooper’s horse bright silver as a cloud. The Kid’s palomino a length behind, scorched gold like the grass over which its white mane was rising.
The Kid and Cooper rode on. They rode until the sky was behind them. They rode until they took up the whole frame, until Cooper’s face was all there was in the world, a canyon wall, and the blue was only a glint in his shadowed eyes, and then they passed through and were gone. Their business was their own, and they felt no need to speak a word about it.
Winstone opened his eyes. The sky remained. In the wake of the riders’ passing it was sun-spotted and empty and celluloid sharp and the breeze wound through it and caught on the rocks and tailed away through the yellow grass. He lay on his back, sliced and spliced until only what mattered remained, and below his shoulders the world rolled on and all mistakes and misdeeds and needless scenes were sweepings down on the valley floor. He lay looking up at the blue and the sun behind the blue shone through him and he was light and light alone cast large in every colour of the range.
Winstone Blackhat is riding the canyons.
That would be his status now.
Posted from my iPhone.
Winstone didn’t have an iPhone. He didn’t have any kind of phone. Or a horse.
Winstone Blackhat is telling lies.
The valley below him was groggy and glazed with the summer sun. An Indian summer, they’d started to call it around the huts as they lit their Friday night barbecues under yet more clear and violet skies, and hearing them Winstone looked down over the purpling plains and saw the flash of tomahawks in the setting sun and the muscular flanks of painted ponies. But between the sun and the valley the top of the range was cool. Up here the heat ran around the breeze and shifted and slipped and was gone before he could close his hand.
Winstone wasn’t surprised. He’d expected it to be colder up in the hills. But it came to him then that he didn’t know why. Why it didn’t get hotter the closer you got to the sun. It was a new thought and it felt strange in his head and he thought it for a while. Maybe it was because of the air. Air got thinner the
higher you climbed. Thinner and thinner until it couldn’t keep anything in or out, not heat not the blue not the emptiness or your thoughts or gravity, and then the sun cooled and the blue grew thick and other stars sucked at your blood.
The day was starting to fade. Blue to black. White to lemon then gold and orange and red and the shadows closing. Winstone watched it through his eyelids and the afternoon moved across his face and the night came up cold through his back. It was time to go home. He sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees and watched the west go up in flames.
somewhere a coyote-wolf-dog howled. Sometimes it happened that way, the sound coming before the picture changed, pointing to where you were going next, guiding you into the red and gold heart of a low campfire in darkness. Soft brush embers. Dry wood crackling. Flicker. Snap. Then a fat yellow moon sailing up behind the range to light the ridges and valleys and planes of Cooper’s ten-gallon hat.
A doe-rabbit grazed the blue night grass outside the circle of firelight and she had her ears pressed close to her head and her fur was up against the cold. The coyote lifted his silver throat to the moon. The doe froze and her eye was wide and a glint of the fire showed in it. Her nose twitched. The Kid shifted in his sleep.
Cooper didn’t stir. He didn’t even tip up the brim of his hat, which was resting over his eyes. He might have been sleeping or he might not. It didn’t really matter. If Coop was awake the Kid had nothing to worry about. And Cooper wasn’t a man to drift off if he wasn’t sure they’d passed beyond the reach of any danger.
There was a rifle under Cooper’s right hand but the doe-rabbit likewise had nothing to fear. The Kid and Cooper were
full of bacon and beans and drowsy as milk and the coyote was miles away, singing up at the wheeling sky from his pillar of rock on the sharp black edge of the horizon. There was no one and nothing else. All around for as far as a man could ride the night was empty.
The moon cleared the pillars and piers of the Rough Ridge Range and paled and shrank and drew away. Winstone went on sleeping. He lay as he almost always lay, on his side with his knees drawn up and his face to the leaning wall of schist and the scabby knuckles of his left fist pressed to his mouth and his other hand down his Warehouse tracksuit pants where it gently cupped his testicles for security and comfort. A habit. Every morning he woke surprised to find his hand there and every morning there it was.
Get your hand off your dick, his old man used to yell as he whipped the covers back, you dirty little bugger.
Winstone twitched and woke. He stayed still in the dark and felt around him the wide stretch of rock and grass and stars until he had reassured himself of its emptiness and then he took his fist from his mouth and pulled the sleeping bag closer to his chin. He told himself what he already knew. There was nobody there. And anyway, you couldn’t be surprised in a sleeping bag, not if you slept with the zip underneath. You’d always feel them coming.
Inside the sleeping bag his right hand reclosed the circle of his warm self and kneaded like a cat bedding down in the soft and soothing silk of his centre. Beneath the shelter of his palm and of goose-down and plastic and stone and sky Winstone lay complete and he slept again and he knew as he slept that nothing would come to wake him but the sun.
It did so kindly. The morning came into the cave like a patient dog and stood warm and waiting over his head until he was ready to open his eyes. When Winstone felt its breath on his forehead he rolled over onto his back and looked up at it and stretched and removed his hand from his tracksuit pants and then he sat up and listened. He listened for voices. Then he listened for cars and after that for spotter planes and choppers and tracker dogs and next for farm dogs and quad bikes and sheep. He heard nothing. Not even the wind was up yet. The ridge was a kind of quiet that wasn’t just an absence of noise but a silence observed in its memory and even the outlet stream seemed to call for hush as it passed among the rocks below the dam.
Winstone crawled to the entrance of the cave and stuck his head out into the morning. The opposite side of the gully was still in shadow. Below him the line of its lip was a slow blue wave seeping back through the grass and in its wake the slope glinted keen and fresh and gold and further back and above and behind and all around the reef of the Rough Ridge Range spread under the sky with the brown grass mounting the rocks like a furious tide and the sun that shone on the range was not tame but a thing to tread around carefully, a stalking thing fierce and yellow and thin that might, if it chose, rip out your throat and pick your bones.
The Rough Ridge had ends but from here, the valleys to north and south and east and west and the higher ranges behind the valleys were over the sloping shoulders of the world and out of sight. Up here on the range you could always sense the curve of the earth and the sky.
At the base of the gully a small flat overhung the creek and on it he could see three rabbits grazing low and grey and indistinct in the shadowed grass. A fourth rabbit stood sentry above and as
Winstone watched it sat back and began to scratch its ear. The coast was clear. Winstone held the top of his sleeping bag up to his chest and made his way outside.
The sleeping bag was a very good one and after the continued existence of his balls it was the thing for which Winstone felt most grateful every morning. It tapered like a mummy’s case and was waterproof and had a hood and a special pillow inside the hood for his neck and it must have cost a fortune. Of all the useful things he’d found in the Danish couple’s campervan the bag was the best by far. Before that all he’d managed to find to sleep in were a couple of scratchy grey blankets that blotted up damp from the driest of ground so that he woke up smelling like a wet dog. No one left their sleeping bags in the huts because of the rats and mice and because a sleeping bag was a valuable thing and you never knew who might come along and nick it.
The Danish couple didn’t even miss theirs. Winstone watched them through a hole in a rock tor up on top of the ridge and when they’d finished skinny-dipping in the dam and taking photographs of themselves they just got in their van and drove away. They didn’t even look in the back. So you could tell they didn’t really need it.
Winstone Blackhat steals stuff.
He could have taken a lot more than he did. He could have taken their passports. He liked the passports – they had lions wearing crowns on the front and interesting stamps inside and there was a whole page that said UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in big Wild West letters, red and blue. But he just took the batteries out of the Danish couple’s torch and a camp stove and matches and some clean clothes and most of the food in the fridge and a Leatherman tool and a camouflage Zippo lighter. Winstone didn’t need a passport.
The Danish couple’s bread turned out to be brown and their little pats of butter were white and their cheese was mouldy. But they did have bacon and salami and ham and some fruit from the orchards back along the main road and he ate the bread and butter anyway because with enough salami and ham in between you didn’t really notice the taste and it had been a month since his last sandwich. He could usually eat pretty well off the tins and dry food people left in their huts but hardly anyone had a fridge and if they did it was on generator power so they always took away the fresh stuff. Winstone tried to cut the mould off the cheese but it went all the way through and the whole thing stank so badly he ended up burying it on the other side of the dam in case the tracker dogs came and found it.
As Winstone and his sleeping bag emerged from the rocks the grazing rabbits fled. They always did. They ran as if he was the meanest thing in the world even though he’d never once done them any harm. He watched until the last white tail disappeared and then he unzipped the sleeping bag and took his trainers out from under their rock and checked them for spiders and wetas and rattlesnakes and put them on and went off to choose a thing in this wide world to piss on.
When he came back he was cold so he took his shoes off and hid them again and climbed back into the sleeping bag which was still warm and then he was hungry. Like a grub he shuffled back through the gap in the mass of weathered schist and into the cave. There was a space about the size of a two-man tent inside but the entrance was lower and narrow. Winstone was pretty sure an adult or maybe even a high school kid couldn’t crawl in there and he was nearly certain they wouldn’t try.