“Wouldn’t burn them, they said,” cried Teece angrily. “No, wouldn’t burn them like I said, but had to take them along and leave them where they could see them for the last time, on the road, all together and whole. Them niggers think they’re smart.”
He veered the car wildly, mile after mile, down the road, tumbling, smashing, breaking, scattering bundles of paper, jewel boxes, mirrors, chairs. “There, by damn, and there!”
The front tire gave a whistling cry. The car spilled crazily off the road into a ditch, flinging Teece against the glass.
“Son of a bitch!” He dusted himself off and stood out of the car, almost crying with rage.
He looked at the silent, empty road. “We’ll never catch them now, never, never.” As far as he could see there was nothing but bundles and stacks and more bundles neatly placed like little abandoned shrines in the late day, in the warm-blowing wind.
Teece and Grandpa came walking tiredly back to the hardware store an hour later. The men were still sitting there, listening, and watching the sky. Just as Teece sat down and eased his tight shoes off someone cried, “Look!”
“I’ll be damned if I will,” said Teece.
But the others looked. And they saw the golden bobbins rising in the sky, far away. Leaving flame behind, they vanished.
In the cotton fields the wind blew idly among the snow dusters. In still farther meadows the watermelons lay, unfingerprinted, striped like tortoise cats lying in the sun.
The men on the porch sat down, looked at each other, looked at the yellow rope piled neat on the store shelves, glanced at the gun shells glinting shiny brass in their cartons, saw the silver pistols and long black metal shotguns hung high and quiet in the shadows. Somebody put a straw in his mouth, Someone else drew a figure in the dust.
Finally Samuel Teece held his empty shoe up in triumph, turned it over, stared at it, and said, “Did you notice? Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”
2004-05: THE NAMING OF NAMES
They came to the strange blue lands and put their names upon the lands. Here was Hinkston Creek and Lustig Corners and Black River and Driscoll Forest and Peregrine Mountain and Wilder Town, all the names of people and the things that the people did. Here was the place where Martians killed the first Earth Men, and it was Red Town and had to do with blood. And here where the second expedition was destroyed, and it was named Second Try, and each of the other places where the rocket men had set down their fiery caldrons to burn the land, the names were left like cinders, and of course there was a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York Town …
The old Martian names were names of water and air and hills. They were the names of snows that emptied south in stone canals to fill the empty seas. And the names of sealed and buried sorcerers and towers and obelisks. And the rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale, shattering the crockery milestones that named the old towns, in the rubble of which great pylons were plunged with new names: IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY, ELECTRIC VILLAGE, CORN TOWN, GRAIN VILLA, DETROIT II, all the mechanical names and the metal names from Earth.
And after the towns were built and named, the graveyards were built and named, too: Green Hill, Moss Town, Boot Hill, Bide a Wee; and the first dead went into their graves.
But after everything was pinned down and neat and in its place, when everything was safe and certain, when the towns were well enough fixed and the loneliness was at a minimum, then the sophisticates came in from Earth. They came on parties and vacations, on little shopping trips for trinkets and photographs and the “atmosphere”; they came to study and apply sociological laws; they came with stars and badges and rules and regulations, bringing some of the red tape that had crawled across Earth like an alien weed, and letting it grow on Mars wherever it could take root. They began to plan people’s lives and libraries; they began to instruct and push about the very people who had come to Mars to get away from being instructed and ruled and pushed about.