Chapter One: Ashe
There were seven of them in the back of the truck—Ashe, three humans, a couple goblins, and a wolf shifter who had fallen on hard times. Most of them spoke Spanish and a little English.
Ashe ran a hand through his feathered scalp, the reddish-golden feathers slipping through his fingers like hair, feeling tense now that he was on his way home where his father awaited him.
He kept mostly to himself. It was something he’d learned over the years living as an Army brat. His father Kinan, “Kino” to his few friends, had been transferred from base to base, and when he’d left the military, he’d been unable to keep a job for long. He wasn’t suited to an unstructured life, and his temper had often got the better of him. So they’d continued to move from place to place every few months or sometimes years, never having much to their names.
They’d been in Bisbee for a good three years now—which Ashe credited to the fact that his father hardly ever went out these days. Kino’s back ached constantly, and he didn’t walk very much anymore. Ashe had taken a job as a ranch hand, and was trucked out to the Silver Hand Ranch early each morning. One upside—he was usually home well before dark.
Ashe had a good temperament for the work—he was slow to anger, a patience learned from dealing with his father for thirty years. He was trusted to work with the unicorns, breaking the new wild stallions as they were captured and brought back to the ranch. The Silver Hand Ranch was careful to sell them only to good homes, where they would be well cared for.
Today had been a difficult day. He’d been tasked with breaking a black unicorn, one of the rarest types, notoriously stubborn. The other ranch hands called him Black Bart. Ashe had been thrown from the saddle twice—something that rarely happened to him because of the rapport he had with the animals. His backside was still sore from the second time when he’d been thrown against a fence. He’d almost let his wings appear to slow his backward flight through the air. But once that happened, his time here would be over. It had happened before.
Kino could never keep his phoenix nature under wraps. One angry word, and his feathers crested and his burning wings appeared. Then things usually got ugly. Once, he’d even burned a bar to the ground.
So Ashe played it cool, and kept his job.
* * * * *
The truck pulled into the parking lot of the Circle K. Ashe hopped out, waved at the driver, and went inside for a couple things to take home. His father loved his Jim Beam, but Ashe rationed it. Kino had no restraint around alcohol. Ashe knew that spirits soothed his father’s demons, but only to a point. Too much, and they emerged unbridled.
He picked up a couple sandwiches for dinner. He didn’t feel like cooking. He tossed Joe five scale and threw them into his pack, and left the store. Another benefit of the job—it paid cash under the table.
His beat-up old cycle was parked in the dirt lot across the street. Bisbee was about as small-town as they came, a one-street, three horse place nestled in a desert canyon along Highway 80.
It was slowly shrinking as its younger folk migrated away to the cities. It was close to the Mexican border, so it had its share of immigrants too—men and shifters and goblins who had taken refuge here after crossing the harsh Sonoran Desert.
He rode down through the heart of town, two and a half blocks of gold-rush era brick buildings. It was faster to cut around along Clawson Avenue to the north, but today he wanted to see a little civilization. He was sick of living and working out in the middle of nowhere.
The town was quiet today. It was too early for tourist season, and at mid-afternoon, most folks were still at work.
Jason at the Everyday Grind saw him as he rode by and waved. Ashe suppressed a smile. The satyr was cute, but way too young for him. Still, seeing him made it worthwhile to come the long way through town. Some guys had a phoenix fetish - something about the wings and the golden eyes, he supposed.
Brewery Avenue took him north, up into the open desert. He and his father had found a home out there—just a trailer and some dirt, really—when they first moved to town. It was almost a mile out, on a dirt road, too far for Kino to walk unaided these days. So Ashe brought his father down to Bisbee proper for supervised visits once a week. They’d catch a movie or share dinner together.
But no alcohol. After the last time they’d had to run, Ashe had put his foot down on that one. And he was stronger than Kino now.
He’d be happy to get home and get cleaned up. He’d gotten dirtier than usual at work, and the lack of rain this last month meant the dirt road leading home was dustier than usual.
He knew something was wrong as soon as he pulled into the gravel driveway in front of the trailer. The screen door was wide open, banging on its hinges, and the door was open too.
His father never went outside without him.
Someone had knocked over the generator too.
Ashe threw down the bike and his pack and ran to the door, vaulting up the steps. “Dad, you in here?”
Inside, the place was a mess. Their belongings were strewn everywhere, dresser drawers pulled open, kitchen implements scattered across the linoleum floor.
He heard a groan from the bedroom.
He hopped over the upended sofa and into the bedroom, and found Kino laying on the floor, his face bloodied, his leg extended at an awkward angle.
Ashe knelt next to him, putting his hand in front of Kino’s mouth to see if he was still breathing. Please let him be okay. He thought he felt something.
He took his father’s wrist, and there was a faint pulse. Hard to detect, but it was there.
He reached over and retrieved the emergency cell phone he left with his Dad. It was on the ground next to the bed.
Against his better judgment, he dialed 911.