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Grailing, No. 8


The Horse Killer, Part 3 in a serialized novella of West Texas by Joe Kilgore

The Blue Cave, modern folklore from Ana Vidosavljevic

Memories, a poetic reminiscence by Catherine Duncan

Surface Tension, a poem of breakup by Ben Niles

150 Novels..., a Literary List curated by Poet-in-Residence Ben Niles

The Horse Killer, Part 3

Joe Kilgore

“Flies are born to be eaten by spiders

and man to be devoured by sorrow.”

-- Voltaire

Chapter 5

A man on horseback, especially alone, can do a lot of thinking. That’s what Raven was doing during the eight-mile ride from the Daniels ranch to Marfa. Thinking and staying alert. The last thing he wanted was for Red to step in a rabbit hole or inadvertently stumble upon some coachwhip, rattler, or spiny lizard sunning himself under a rock or by a bush along the dry and dusty ground. He knew the horse would watch for such nasty malcontents, but the ultimate responsibility for keeping both of them safe rested with him. So his eyes focused on what was ahead, while his mind focused on what he had already seen and heard, and what it all might mean.

The foremen said the horse that was shot in town was white. And Raven remembered the decomposing body he saw, the one that was really more carrion than corpse. It had been a white or a gray also. Was that something. As he rode, different images and thoughts began to weave through his mind. He knew that some horses are born white and stayed that way. He also knew that some are born gray and eventually turn white, or what appears to be white—at least pale in color. Pale, he said to himself. The word took him back to when he was very young. Sometimes his mother would say he looked pale. Other times, when she would read to him, mostly from the bible, he recalled there was one passage in particular that often frightened him. Now and then it would actually give him chills—particularly when she read it in her most solemn voice.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse:

and his name that sat on him was Death,

and Hell followed with him.

Was that it? Was it something with religion? He had definitely seen some hell and damnation preachers in his time. There wasn’t much he’d put past those psalm singers when The Word came upon them. Or maybe it was the other side. Maybe the devil had something to do with it. Or someone who thought he was here on behalf of the devil.. He had heard Satan named as an accomplice more than once—most often when the charge was murder.

Of course, it might be nothing like that at all. Perhaps it was legend. He recalled the Blackfoot tribe used to tell of a snow god—a white man, wearing white clothes, riding a white horse. Of course, he was far from Blackfoot country. Comanche made more sense. They were certainly closer. But they were also too practical, Raven thought. A Comanche would never kill a horse for no reason. He’d either steal him to ride and use for as long as he could, or if the hunting was bad and his family was hungry, he’d feed on the animal with his squaw and young ones. But killing or brutalizing a horse for no reason, that was not something a Comanche would do.

Raven knew that white horses were a symbol of nobility. Chiefs and high-ranking military types liked to ride them in front of their troops. He recalled that Santa Anna was said to have ridden one at the siege in San Antonio de Bexar.

Still only questions. Hell, he thought, maybe the two events weren’t even related. Maybe just coincidence. Some people put a lot of stock in coincidence. Raven did not.

An ocean of flat earth stretched before Raven. In every direction the land was dotted with shin-high scrub brush and topped with sandy stones and red anthills. Occasionally, interspersed among the stunted fauna, a green ocotillo with whip-like canes topped with bright pink blossoms would rise toward the sky breaking up the brown monotony. On the far horizon, the Davis Mountains stood quiet vigil. He’d be in Marfa before sundown. May not have a motive yet, Raven said to himself, but I do have a crime. Horse killing is the same thing as horse stealing. We definitely can’t let that slide, can we, Red? The horse whinnied and seemed to nod in silent agreement. Or maybe it was due to the pat on his neck, and the boot heels on both sides of his barrel telling him to pick up the pace.

There was one waterhole between Raven and Marfa. As the Ranger approached it, he could see that it was occupied, but he made no attempt to hide his coming. The man watering his horse there was an Indian. He was old and his face was lined with years of sun and strife. Underneath an uncreased black cowboy hat, his long hair was braided and he was dressed in white man’s clothes. He spoke before Raven did.

“I saw you from far away. You made no attempt to conceal yourself.”

“Wanted you to know you had nothing to fear. Got some corndodgers in my pack. Willing to share.”

“The trail is long. And the way is lonely. Water your horse with mine.”

As the horses quenched their thirsts, the two men nibbled the corndodgers without conversation, until the Indian said, “Your food is not good, but it fills the stomach. Will you drink with me?

“Still got water in my canteen,” Raven replied.

“Can have water any time,” the Indian began as he rose and walked toward his horse. From his saddlebag he pulled a Mason jar of white liquid. “Mescal is for this time.”

“A man after my own heart,” Raven said.

“An interesting turn of words. Twenty years ago I might have been after your scalp as well.”

“Why did you accept my company?”

“I liked your face.”

“Really. Thought that actually might give you pause.”

“It is an honorable face. Rough, but honorable.”

“You speak truth straight out.”

“Lying is the white man’s way.”

“You wear white man’s clothes. Use the white man’s tongue.”

“I also spit downwind.”


“The white man has swept across our land like the cyclone. Our tribes…our homes…all our ways swept away. One must change…or perish.”

Raven scanned the horizon as they shared the mescal. “Yeah, it ain’t what it once was, is it?”

“It is not. And we are not.”

“Headed any place in particular,” Raven asked.

“Tomorrow I hunt. It will be a good day. Your destination?”

“Headed for Marfa. Need to see a man about a horse.”

“Your words are few,” the Indian said. “But I can see a lot more gathered right behind them.

“This mescal enable you to see people’s thoughts?”

“It helps.”

“A couple of horses have been killed,” Raven said. “Violently“

“Do you know the jackal who is this killer of horses?”

“I’m getting to know him.”

“How deep is your knowledge?”

“Right now, all I know is that two white horses have been killed. One bludgeoned. One shot.”

“Two white horses. There is meaning in that.”

“I’m sure it means something. I’m just not sure what.”

“Perhaps your killer believes the white horses are evil.”

No pause preceded Raven’s reply.

“To hell with what he believes,” Raven said, “He has no right to do what he’s doing.”

“The fate of man, and the fate of animals, they are one and the same.”

“How so?”

“The buffalo were slaughtered. Eventually they vanished. The Comanche were next. We are vanishing. The same will happen to you one day. This I believe.”

“I believe if I have any more of this mescal, I won’t get where I’m going by when I want to be there.”

“Then go, my friend. For it seems that you are on the hunt too. And I believe your prey will prove more deadly than mine.”

* * *

Calling Marfa a town was being exceedingly generous. In reality it was little more than a water stop for the railroad. A few shacks were scattered here and there, and as the foreman had said, there appeared to be two larger wooden buildings, each with a sign denoting its reason for being. One read Supplies, the other, Saloon. Normally, Raven would have gone into the latter first, but this time he put business before pleasure.

The man behind the counter used a pad and pencil to total a woman’s purchases. She had on a calico dress that buttoned at her neck, and a bonnet that covered most of her face. What wasn’t covered probably should have been. Comely she was not. Once her transaction was completed, she turned to leave. Raven removed his hat and nodded to her as she passed him on her way out. She gave no indication she had seen him, nor made any effort to reciprocate his acknowledgement.

“What can I do for you, sir?”

Surprised at the look of the individual asking the question, Raven said, “Are you the owner of this store?”

The barrel-chested man appeared to be well over two hundred pounds. He had a full head of hair and a thick mustache that turned down on the ends. Raven thought he looked more like a blacksmith than a storekeeper. It occurred to him this was the second time he had misjudged the type of man he expected to find. Perhaps he should rely more on observation and less on assumption, he thought, before hearing the man’s answer.

“Yes, I own this place. Name’s Mayfield. You looking for anything in particular?”

“Information. Like to ask you a question or two.”

“Well sir, I sell most everything in here…but information…that’s on the house…depending on what you ask, of course.”

Raven appreciated the man’s apparent straightforwardness. He thought he’d return the favor.

“My name’s Raven Comstock. I’m a Texas Ranger. I understand there was a shooting here the other night. I believe a horse was killed.”

“Indeed it was,” Mayfield replied quickly. “Poor animal was shot dead right out there in the street. At least that’s what I’ve been made to understand.”

“You didn’t see the incident happen?”

“No. I was in the back of the store, taking inventory. I had already closed up for the night.”

“But you heard it…the shot I mean.”

“Oh yes. Couldn’t have missed it. Hell of a blast. From the sound of it…and what the pitiable horse looked like…must have been a shotgun. Everyone thought so.”

“So, you went out in the street, after your heard the shot?”

“Well…not right after. I mean I heard it…kind of wondered what it was…but I didn’t go out right away. Once I heard the noise of people yammering in the street, then I went to see what the commotion was.”

“Any particular reason you waited before going outside?”

“I’m no lawman like you, sir. I don’t get paid to head toward the sound of gunfire. Man can get himself hurt looking into things that don’t concern him.”

Raven couldn’t argue with the man’s logic. He had seen more than one Samaritan come away the worse for his good intentions. “I understand the horse was white.”

“That’s right. White as goat’s milk. “

“Know who he belonged to?”

“I understand it was Rupert Purdy’s horse. But I think Rupert was in the saloon drinking with some other folk when it happened.”

“Where can I find this Purdy?”

The storekeeper hesitated. Raven quickly added, “I don’t think he had anything to do with it. I’m just looking for as much information as possible…to help me find whoever’s responsible.”

“Is killing a horse against the law now in Texas?”

“It is if it ain’t your horse.”

“See what you mean. Purdy’s got a line shack east of here. Heading toward Presidio. He rides fences now and then for John Spencer. Spencer’s got a big horse ranch—one of the biggest on this side of the border. Hell, for all I know, that horse might have actually belonged to Spencer and not Purdy.”

“East of here, you say?”

“That’s right. About eight or ten miles. Just off the trail to Presidio.

“Just a couple more things,” Raven said. “I understand nobody lit out to try to find whoever did this. Know why?”

“Most of the boys who were still up were knocking back red-eye in the saloon. The shock of what they saw probably dampened their zeal for justice. As did the prospect of riding out in the dark after someone with a shotgun. I mean if someone would do that to a horse, well, chances are he’d do the same to one of them, don’t you think?”

“Not sure what I think just yet. One last thing. Do you know if a couple of farmers have come through here…say, in the last few days, or within the past week?”


“A couple. Husband and wife. Big man and woman.”

“Well…now you mention it…a pair like that did come here.”

“Did you get their name?

“No…no I didn’t. Fella never gave his name.”

“What kind of supplies was he after?”

“Actually, weren’t after supplies. Didn’t want to buy anything. Wanted to sell in fact.”

“Sell. What do you mean?”

“Yep, the man wanted me to buy his rig. You know, his wagon and team. I told him sorry, I was in the selling business, not the buying trade. Told him he’d probably have a better chance selling it in Presidio.”

“What did he say?”

“Didn’t say anything as I recall. Just turned and walked out.”

“Was there a woman with him?”

“There was. I closed the door behind him and saw her sitting on the rig. Then I went ahead and closed up. I needed to take inventory, like I said earlier.”

“You mean they were here the evening the horse was shot?”

“Well…yes, I guess they were. Never really thought much about it cause things got so crazy later with the shooting and all. You don’t think those farmers had anything to do with it, do you? Why the hell would they do something like that?”

“You said Purdy’s cabin was on the way to Presidio?”

“Yes. You’ll see it. It’s just off the trail. Eight, maybe ten miles.”

Raven put his hat back on as he said, “Thanks for the information.”

“Going out to see Purdy, are you?”

Raven looked at the big man without answering.

“Well, just a bit of unsolicited advice…keep your wits about you when you’re talking to him. He’s a strange one. Think it’s due to all that time he spends alone. Been known to fly off the handle now and then, sometimes for no reason at all. A word to the wise, you know?”

“I get your drift.”

Raven stepped outside and started toward the town’s only other sizeable building. The storekeeper had given him information he needed. He didn’t expect to find anything appreciably different in the saloon. What he did expect to find was at least a shot or two of rye.

Editors Note: This is Part 3 of a six-part serialization of The Horse Killer. New parts will appear sequentially in future issues of Grailing. Check back for new installments.

Joe Kilgore is an award-winning writer of novels, novellas, screenplays, and short stories. His work has appeared in magazines, creative journals, anthologies, and online literary publications. Prior to developing his own work for page and screen, Joe created television, radio, newspaper, and magazine advertising for an international advertising agency. He lives and writes in Austin, Texas. You can learn more about Joe and his work at his website:


The Blue Cave

by Ana Vidosavljevic

The school bell rings. The end of the last class. Everyone jumps to their feet, broad smiles on their faces, and rushes towards the classroom door. Finally, the end! At least for today. Everyone seems so happy and relieved – no more questions, wrong answers, and waiting for that bell to ring. Everyone is happy except Lily Rose.

She reluctantly puts her books in the shabby backpack and continues sitting while staring at the open door. When everyone leaves the classroom, including the teacher, Lily Rose slowly gets up and starts walking. Where to go?

It is getting dark, and she is tired, but she doesn’t feel like going home. Still, she walks toward the Elm Block, 1 km from her school.

After 20 minutes, she arrives in front of the four-storey gray building and looks at the balcony on the second floor. The balcony door is closed but she hears the voices inside. They are always loud, screaming, threatening, shrieking. That noise never stops. She wishes she were deaf.

Lily Rose opens the door of the building and starts walking upstairs. When she arrives in front of the door with the number 14, she takes a deep breath and opens it. There is a small stool in the hallway lying upside down and some clothes scattered on the floor. The screaming voices are in the living room. The apartment is filled with the reek of grain alcohol.

Lily Rose walks though the scattered things in the hallway, making sure she doesn’t step on something sharp or breakable and opens the door of her room. She leaves her shabby gray backpack on the bed and heads toward her blue cave. Between the end of her bed and the closet, her blue cave waits for her. She gently removes one woolen part of it and enters inside. That fluffy cave encloses her. Made of her favorite item in the whole world – her childhood blue blanket. It has a few little holes that a sparkler scorched when she was 7 and pretended to be a fairy with a magic wand. The best present she got from her grandma. The only valuable thing she has. Everything else is just useless things.

Lily Rose enters her cave, turns on the little old radio and listens to INXS. Under the gray pillow, in one corner of her cave, she keeps her other important but less important things – the notebook where she scribbles her thoughts and the books she reads.

But today she doesn’t feel like reading or writing. She just lies on the floor of her cave, her eyes closed and dreams about a long white sandy beach, palm trees and seashells. Barefoot, she walks along the beach, sun caressing her skin and the breeze playing with her dark curls. She feels so light and free, free from the awful noise, free from the pity of the neighbors and her school friends, and free from hunger.

And when she is just about to get into the sea and swim, the sound of her growling stomach wakes her up. Hunger, always. She pats her tummy and listens carefully. She can’t hear the noise anymore. It has stopped. She slowly gets up, leaves her cave and opens the door of her room. She waits for a while, making sure. The voices have gone.

She goes to the kitchen and opens the fridge. Stale bread, an open can of beer, one egg. She closes the fridge. The hunger makes her surrender – no pride can beat it. When you are hungry, you forget about everything else. She leaves the apartment and heads towards apartment number 15. She hesitates for a moment and then unwillingly presses the bell. After only a few seconds, the door of apartment 15 opens and an elderly lady pokes her head out smiling gently.

“Come in, dear. I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve made a delicious meat pie, kale soup and apple crumble. I know you love raisins so I added a bunch of them. I am sure you will love it,” Granny Vera grins genuinely, showing her yellow teeth. She rests her left hand on Lily Rose’s shoulder as if she needed some support. She is getting old and her legs are weak.

“Well, it’s time to eat,” says Granny Vera.

Lily Rose enters her apartment feeling a bit timid. But the smells do too much to her and she can’t resist. The apartment towers over Lily Rose with bookcases and curious full of Granny Vera’s things—apart from her old cat, Freddy, Granny Vera has no one.

Lily Rose sees the chair Granny Vera pulled out for her and climbs into it, feeling the warmth of the kitchen stove. Granny Vera smiles as she sets the meal before Lily Rose. And, ashamedly, Lily Rose cries. She falls from the chair and into Granny Vera’s hugging arms. Lily Rose is held for a good part of the afternoon and returns to her blue cave full of apple crumble, sleepy, cheery, safe and sound.

Ana Vidosavljevic is originally from Serbia and currently living in Indonesia. She is a teacher, international relations specialist, writer, translator, interpreter, surfer, and mother. Her passion for traveling and writing led her to write about traveling in Asia and mastering the art of writing for many international magazines. Ana believes that being outside the office brings great ideas and boosts creativity. She is the author of the short story collection, Places, which was published by Encircle Publications in December 2021.



by Catherine Duncan

Memories of the neighborhood Where I raised my children And they learned about Crossing busy roads Building forts The value of baseball cards Selling lemonade Playing chess in the shade Economics of shoveling snow What stuffing bras might attract Hide and seek becoming monsters in the dark Football dreams of grandeur Swimming pool gossip and slander Skipping school And being cool Bicycle ramps And neighborhood tramps Computer games And secret flames Driving cars Looking at stars Fireworks on Fourth of July Running in the rain or through the sprinkler Skateboards and rollerblades Michael Jordan sneakers And Calvin Klein jeans Were all the craze

Catherine Duncan is a retired English teacher who now devotes her time to writing. Her poetry is inspired by experiences with people, life situations, and the natural world. Catherine enjoys running and sailing which also inspire her writing. She loves “being out there” — on a body of water, in the woods, on a trail, or hiking a mountain. Catherine makes her debut in Grailing Press.


Surface Tension

by Ben Niles

Fists plunged in the sink— by some mischance my hands smell of the wrong apartment. I’ve not been, these ten months past. Unwelcome; uninterested— it depends who is asked. Her barren bed stood stark-white, its towers fortified by a still-life stiflingly iterated: hummingbird and hibiscus, pink and lime on white— silent, inured to inglorious argument, an undulating comforter, misnomered. Still, the scent of 20 John Street persists, pernicious, as if some visceral bricolage of candlesmoke, pashminas, prodigal duvet, and bodywash turned granular, and chalked my knuckles with its grit.

Ben Niles studied English & American Literature and Language at Harvard University, and he earned his Master’s degree from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. He lives in Boston with his wife, Sophie, and their dog, Roo.


150 Novels to Read in a Lifetime is a list of great novels selected by Ben Niles, the Grailing Press 2023-2024 Poet-in-Residence. It is an unranked list that includes works by 150 different writers, so any given author will have only one novel included on the list. Ben is fully aware that his selections (or more probably, his omissions) may incur the literary ire of Dear Readers everywhere, but it’s a burden he is willing to bear. Finally, the 150 novels also fall evenly (fifty novels each) across three time-spans: up to 1935, 1936 to 1979, and 1980 to the present. See Ben’s introduction to the list and explanation of the selection criteria here.

Group 5—

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Laurence Sterne . 1759


Since I can’t say it one jot better than Will Self did in his brilliant introduction to the 2010 edition of Tristram Shandy, in the cheeky spirit of the novel itself I hereby plagiarize Self in full: “A lot of nonsense is written about Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – and that’s just as well. It would be depressing in the extreme if this triumphant tangling up of the threads of reason with the strands of linear narrative were to admit of any effective unravelling; which is as much to say, that were you to find yourself picking apart a lucid, non-discursive exposition of the novel – its themes, its techniques, its plot – you would know that you had finally gone mad.” Because no one else would, Sterne originally self-published his irreverent, hilarious, innovative, and (in retrospect) ridiculously ahead-of-its-time novel, and thank goodness he did. “For,”—to rip off Will Self again—"what Sterne’s novel shows us – by allusion, by reference, by plagiarism, by flattering imitation – is that at the dawn of the novel all things were possible at once.” Rampant narrative digressions, typographical and stylistic experimentations, visual squiggly-loops and all: read it, Dear Reader, and grin.



The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood . 1986


Keeping Orwell in mind, it seems eerily fitting that Margaret Atwood began writing what would become The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984. In her 2017 retrospective introduction to the novel, Atwood reflects: “I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory, and a lack of plausibility.” Whether or not her novel successfully escapes the first two pitfalls, it’s the story’s plausibility that contributes to its popularity and affecting power. It still projects a Puritanical dystopia, it still imagines a future with a toxic environment and predominant human infertility, but it takes no leaps of imaginative technology or far-fetched cataclysms; the sum may be unreal, but each of its component parts seems—“’Seems’ madam? Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems’”—very much real, thus its haunting plausibility. If you’ve managed not to see the television series that catapulted the novel back into the public eye, or even if you have, you (thankfully) don’t need my permission to open up The Handmaid’s Tale.



The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien . 1954


Though this humble (?) book nerd is rather proud to own a beautiful and—dare I say ‘precious’?—exquisitely illuminated single-volume (in keeping with Tolkien’s desires) hardcover edition of The Lord of the Rings, the novel is more commonly split into three books: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Beyond its rightful place at the pinnacle of high fantasy, Tolkien’s novel is also possibly the most thoroughly realized example of mythopoesis, in my (totally unbiased) opinion. That is to say: the epic is enriched with legends, histories, songs, poems, calendars, genealogies, and maps, not to mention languages spoken by the elves, dwarves, and other creatures that populate Middle-Earth, thoroughly functional languages Tolkien himself invented, consummate philologist and Oxford literature professor that he was. Though it is ostensibly “just” a sequel to his wonderful children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings is thematically far more mature, yet its depiction and exploration of war, power, loyalty, devotion, evil, sacrifice, and love can be appreciated by all ages. I suspect many have seen Peter Jackson’s undoubtedly spectacular films without having read the novel, but it’s never too late; magnificence awaits.



The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon . 2000


Full disclosure: I’m not a comic book guy. But Michael Chabon’s modern classic novel is a thoroughly enjoyable (let alone gripping) yarn spanning from the late 1930s into the early 1950s, a time which—while being rather significant in American and world history—was also the Golden Age of comics. When Sammy Clay’s distant cousin Josef Kavalier manages to escape the Nazi invasion of Prague in Houdini-esque fashion and arrives on Sammy’s Brooklyn doorstep in 1938, the two boys have different priorities. Josef (now Joe) wants to rescue the family he left behind from the horrors of the war, while Sammy sees the success of the first Superman comic and wants to capitalize on the new market opportunity, especially after he discovers that Joe is a quietly talented artist. Believing that creating their own superhero, The Escapist, will get them both rich enough to realize each other’s dreams, they join forces. It is a wonderful, sweeping narrative full of youthful ambition, captivating storytelling, and the triumphs and tragedies inherent in war-time tales, complicated all the more by the heartfelt presence of the beautiful Rosa, who becomes inescapably entwined in the lives of the two young men. 



Too Loud a Solitude

Bohumil Hrabal . 1976


This Czech gem is at once comic and tragic. Haňtá has worked for 35 years as the operator of a wastepaper compactor, compressing wastepaper into banded bales, day in and day out, a seemingly insignificant cog in an oppressive police state. But Haňtá is in fact a savior, for each day he rescues books from the hydraulic maw of his machine and transports them to his small home that is now packed as tight as his waste bales, a temple to the endurance of ideas and a testament to the power of the written word. He says: “My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart.” What’s to be done when the technological advance of an automated compactor renders expendable our simple yet learned and oh-so-human narrator?

[cover photo: Valeriia Miller; @iyamiphotography]


Grailing No. 8

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