Santa Ana Wind
By: Dawn DeBraal

Sam Pope was known to be a hermit living off the grid in the desert with his dog Mac, a German shepherd mix. Sam was content to pass his days creating oil paintings he sold to supplement his income. The transistor radio played Bob Dylan's song, "Blowing in the Wind," while Sam sang along heartily putting the finishing touches on his latest painting. It was hard to imagine ten years ago he was knee deep in the rat race of nine to five working life until he woke up in the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. A few months of head shrinking and good meds, they opened the door and let him out into the world stating he was competent and no longer a danger to himself. Sam's first stop was Capitol Bank, where he withdrew everything from his savings and checking accounts, leaving his investments intact. With what he had saved, Sam bought an ill–fated shithole of a mobile home in the middle of the Californian desert. His investments sustained him, but it was the art that kept him alive, motivating him to get out of bed every day.

Sam finished the painting under the shelter of the carport. The air conditioning in the mobile home offered relief during the day keeping them cool, at night the temperatures could run down into the mid–forties, testing the furnace. Heatwaves crossed the desert distorting the mountains, faint in the distance. Walking out to the truck, he cursed out loud when he put his hand on the door handle. Hot! He waved his hand in the air trying to cool the burn. The truck was old but in good running order. Sam needed reliable transportation it was his lifeline to the outside world. After ten years of desert living, he needed only a select group of friends in Leeds, the nearest town fifteen miles to the south on a dirt road. The Dry Gulch Watering Hole his last stop on the way home. A couple of drinks and good conversation with the owner Virginia, always ending those visits in town. If Sam had been younger man, he might have been tempted to ask Virginia out. At this stage in his life, it was too much. Sam and Virginia flirted and danced around each other. Sam would leave for the evening with a quick hug and a kiss. When his supplies ran low he would return to Leeds, the Dry Gulch Watering Hole, and Virginia.

Sam dragged the bag of dog food from behind the seat of the truck laughing when he saw Mac's ears perk up. He pulled the easy open strip pouring the contents into a metal garbage can dumping a large scoop of food into Mac's dish as the dog patiently waited for him to call him over to eat. Sam grabbed the VCR tape from the truck. Virginia faithfully recorded his favorite TV shows. Sam didn't have the luxury of live television but still had the old VCR player. When in town, he took the viewed tape to Virginia exchanging it with a newly recorded one. "Please be kind, rewind." He chuckled to himself as he poured a little water he'd dubbed "gold" into a bowl for Mac and small amount in another wash pan to give himself a sponge bath. He had grown used to his smells but felt bad for Mac. A dog's nose was more sensitive than any human nose. After his clean–up he grabbed the clean laundry bag throwing it in the door of the trailer. Sam had a nice little system worked out with Virginia she was his closest link to humanity. A small metal shed in the carport held canned goods, he brought a box of groceries from the back of the truck filling the shelves from behind, pulling the older goods to the front.

Sam rubbed Mac's head and pulling the lawn chair out from under the dining table. The carport was a whole living area outdoors. He was anticipating a spectacular sunset this evening, one that was meant to be enjoyed. He picked up the whiskey bottle at his feet pouring two fingers in the glass neat, taking a sip savoring the bitter burning taste as it slid down his throat. He held out his hand gazing at his fingers still filled with oil paint from the painting he'd created today. It was a good one, vibrant desert flowers in the copper–gold of a setting sun. Sam knew he'd get a good price for it hopefully over seven hundred dollars if he got a tourist from Minnesota looking for local art! Mac lay on the carpet in front of his feet enjoying the cooling weather. It never ceased to amaze Sam how quickly the weather changed when the sun went down giving way to cold nights here. You were sweating one minute freezing the next, all with an hour in between. Coyotes yipped in the distance. Mac's head jerked up.

"It's ok," Sam said soothingly. Mac put his head back down on his paws and closed his eyes. At dusk, Sam watched the dust rising from a car coming down the road. Very seldom, did a car come his way. He watched carefully recognizing the car. It was Jeff, Virginia's nephew. Sam had helped Jeff repair the car and tutored him in math to get his grades up so he could get his drivers' license. Sam relaxed a little until the car got closer. Jeff was not alone. He got up quickly stepping into the trailer throwing the duffle bag of laundry over to the side taking his rifle out setting it just inside the door, a decisive move. Never can be too careful. Sam mumbled to himself. He moved back to the table sitting down with his whiskey glass. Dust blew beyond the car and wafted through the carport as the winds picked up with the change in temperature. Jeff came out of the car first, looking sheepish, his two buddies one in the back seat, one in the front, followed him from behind.

"Jeff?" Sam questioned the uncomfortable teen.

"These are my friends, Spider and Buck," Jeff said pointing at each friend. Sam stood to show his height he could feel the tenuous moment throughout his shoulders.

"Spider, Buck." he extended his hand and they shook with him. "What can I do you for?" Jeff hemmed a little and then asked if Sam had anything to drink.

"Sure, I have a couple of sodas." Spider pushed Jeff out of the way.

"We aren't talking sodas you know what we want, what you got under the table there will do." Mac's low growl was shushed by Sam as he studied Spider.

"How old are you Spider?" The kid stepped up to him,

"It, doesn't matter what age I am, just give us your hooch." Spider pushed up to Sam's chest trying to drive him backward. Jeff protested,

"Stop that Spider. I should never have brought you out here." Sam stayed his ground.

"Let me get some out of the fridge, do you like beer?" Spider smiled slowly, that was more like it.

"Yeah, we like beer." Buck echoed excitedly. Jeff looked on miserable and apologetic. Sam opened the door holding out three beers from the trailer to the boys who divided them between themselves. While they were distracted Sam came out with the rifle aimed in their direction.

"You boys get back into that crap car you rode out here in and never come back, you hear me?" Sam shouted. Buck threw his hands in the air. He headed for the car screaming.

"Mister we didn't mean anything by it, just having fun that's all." Jeff shouted at his friends urging them back to his car. Jeff drove like a bat out of hell down the dirt road to Leeds.

"Punks" Sam shook his head pouring another two fingers of whiskey. He didn't watch his programs that night. He opened the window above his bed feeling the cool breezes as he fell asleep aided by the whiskey nightcap.

Sam woke with a start to Mac's low growl. The bedside clock showed it was 1:30 in the morning. He lifted the blinds staring out of the window. Spider and Buck minus Jeff had come back. They were trying to open the metal storage shed. Sam thought he'd give them a scare. Opening the back door of the trailer, he shot the rifle in the air.

"Get off my land, you little thieves!" He shouted. He slammed the door quickly crossing the trailer to look out the window. Buck was running for the car. Spider, on the other hand, seemed to be emboldened by the gunshot. He stood at the door of the mobile shouting.

"Hey old man, come out here, I ain't scared of you!" Sam went out the back door stepping down the steps. He needed teach this punk a lesson! Mac barked excitedly while Sam snuck around the trailer watching as the kid struck the door with something in his hand. A pistol, what a damn fool.

"Get off my property!" Sam shouted. Spider spun around aiming the pistol directly where the voice had come from and fired, so did Sam. Spider fell to the ground. Mac went wild in the trailer. Sam commanded Mac to be quiet, the dog stopped barking and whined.

"What the hell! Look what you made me do!" Sam shouted at Spider. Buck was already in the car screaming.

"No. No. No." Spider's eyes were wide in fear when he looked down at the hole in his stomach leaking blood. It looked bad.

"You got a cell phone?" Spider handed it to Sam, there were no bars.

"Damnit!" Sam opened the passenger door, slapped the screaming kid. "Buck, can you drive?"

"N–No, I'm only 15." Sam opened the car door dragging Spider into the back seat he grabbed his jacket and told the kid.

"Hold this tight on your stomach so you won't bleed to death." Sam started the car racing the 15 miles back to Leeds, Buck sobbing hysterically the whole way.

"We didn't mean nothing mister, it was a joke, a bet." Buck whined.

"Buck shut up!" Sam shouted. When they reached the emergency room entrance. He put his hand on Bucks' shoulder to garner his attention.

"Go in and tell them to come out and help your friend." Buck ran into the hospital, Sam watched from the nearby bushes.


Sam's feet hurt he walked through the swirling sands on the last half mile to home. He could just make out his trailer in the dawning light. He shot a kid. What was going to happen to him? It was in self–defense the kid shot first if the other kid would be honest and testify in his behalf. Lost in thought, Sam didn't hear the car approaching, the accelerator pushed to the floorboards the sound was carried away in the wind. Sam didn't see Buck gripping the steering wheel as he hit Sam from behind. The car threw him into the air twenty feet, breaking his neck when he hit the ground. Sam lay there on the road with his eyes open. Buck got out of the car.

"You killed him! You killed my friend! How does that feel?" Spit flew out from Bucks' mouth as he shouted down at Sam staring back with sightless eyes. Buck ran for the car and drove recklessly away, chastising himself.

"Oh my God. Oh my God!" he rocked himself back and forth. "I killed him! I killed him." Buck was driving fast, too fast to stop when the coyote stepped onto the road into the path of the car. Buck over steered trying to avoid hitting the coyote, the car rolled over. Without a seat belt, Buck flew out of the window the car crushing him on the next revolution before it lay in a heap.

The coyote looked over it's shoulder as the smoking car caught on fire. It slowly trotted off. Mac barking furiously broke out of the screened window of the trailer. Mac reached Sam, sniffed around him putting his head down on Sam's chest, staying with his master until the fire from the accident fanned by the winds, came roaring toward them. As the flames grew closer, the old dog headed out into the desert to escape.

The winds whipped the blowing sand onto Sam's painting. It pushed the fire over his body, burning toward the trailer. The copper–colored painting caught fire first, the mobile home and the pickup truck soon after. Thick black smoke plumed into the air. Everything Sam, was carried away in the Santa Ana wind.



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