FLUFF AND BUTTONS ON THE TEDDY BEAR RANGE
by Matthew Sanborn Smith
Death comes swiftly on the teddy bear range when the night devils' silhouettes mar the purpling sky. I shiver in the chill nightfall. Muffin turns his back to me, lights a cigarette as if to ward off the darkness.
"Get the little ones inside," I say. "We're burning the fires bright tonight."
At our feet, the wind blew in a piece of red yarn tangled in a few strands of yellow fur. After a quiet couple of weeks the bastards are feeding again.
I do the perimeter, spreading the word among the fire keepers, then go around to the quartermaster's and tell the boys they'll be hauling out three extra cords of wood tonight. Night's coming on and I can see my breath on the air on the way back. The husk of a long dead grasshopper clings to my fur. I scrape him off on a nearby bale of hay. There's only room for the living here.
Light from within leads me back to the mess tent. By long habit, my eyes zero in on Froo Froo standing in line before I even get inside. She doesn't look a day older, breathtaking in her combat gear.
"Froo," I say, cutting alongside. "Hey, Froo."
She looks up from the pale, dried beans that Cookie dumps on her tray. "Oh. Hi, Jack," is all I get before she starts eying the beer. She showed the beans more love.
"Been a while," I say. "You back in Kojo to stay?"
"I'm passing through on border patrol." She grabs a glass of Kojo's Own Brew and I motion to Lefty behind the table to hand me one of my own. The little grunt behind Froo gives me the stinkeye but he's not about to start up. I turn my attention back to her.
"I was thinking about you the other day."
"Mm," she says.
"How long you going to be here?" I imagine the blue ribbon hidden beneath the red plaid hunting cap she wears. I know it's there; it's sewn into her head.
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