Nicholas Cook

Sleepwalking in Texas

We move through the night, Burt and I. My brother who has stayed up past his bedtime. Who has followed me into the night where the crickets line against the houses deep in song. Burt who wears his pajama bottoms and thinks he’s invisible. Who steps on rocks on the now-cool pavement and wails like a coyote.

“Noles,” he cries, but I do not stop. I cannot because this is my mission, and I, too, have stepped on many rocks.

“Get,” Burt says to one of the stray dogs that line the street like ghosts at night. What may very well be a ghost because when I turn to look the dog is gone.

“Noles, I’m scared,” he says, but that’s not my name. I don’t answer to what he calls. “Get,” I tell him.

My pajama bottoms are wet from the left over sprinkler water on our neighbor’s yard, and I should have worn shoes but I never do this late at night, and the water feels good against my bare feet, where the rocks have dug themselves in to hide.

A howl breaks up the crickets’ song. It’s a coyote. Burt pulls at my arm, tells me to turn around.

“Noles, go home,” he says. “It’s dark and I’m tired and I want you to carry me.”

“Carry,” I say. We’re not invisible, Burt and I, but we may as well be ghosts. He’s soaking wet.

“Wake up,” he says. He pushes me but I do not wake. Nothing will stop me from my mission. He blocks the sidewalk with his arms in a t, and I push through him because he is as light as a stray.

“Nolan, you stop right now.”

“Nolan, you wake up.”

“Nolan, you rascal.”

I carry on. I follow the sound of the crickets as they cry because I will not stop for them and they know it.

Burt who is walking in front of me swaying his arms like a general. Whose pajama bottoms are soaked because he tripped and fell into the sprinkler yard. Who hums something which is not in the key of the crickets. Who carries a stick to protect us from the stray dogs who come out at night to watch, and which do not, ever, get.

“No, Nol, Noles,” he says, stopping. “That’s a big big dog.”

There’s growling and crickets and rocks and cool pavement where my feet have dried and where the bottoms of my pajamas rub along the concrete, fraying.

“Noles, I’m scared. That one’s too big for me.”

Nothing scares me when I am asleep, and I carry on like always.

“Good dog,” I say, and the growling stops. A coyote howls because that is his mission. Like it is Burt’s mission to follow me into the dark after his bedtime, after the entire house is asleep and we go into the night like stray dogs and invisible people and ghosts looking for this last bit of life.

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Nicholas Cook’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A Quiet Courage, The Miscreant, New Flash Fiction Review, Camroc Press Review, and New World Writing. He lives in Texas.