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[fiction] “All Our Heroes Are Bastards”

This is an online reprint of a story of mine which appeared ten years ago in The Third Alternative. I’ve been listening lately to the song which inspired it, Camper Van Beethoven’s “Jack Ruby”.

All Our Heroes Are Bastards

by Jay Lake

My cousin Victor and I stood in the night’s hot rain, wondering if my sister would come back from the dead. The paramedics had departed, leaving nothing behind of Marisol but a spreading stain on the pavement and the tangy reek of blood. The cops holstered their guns and followed the ambulance; it was more valuable than my sister had been. We watched them go, red-and-blue party lights flickering like spastic stars among east Austin’s old limestone buildings, making colored jewels of the rain.

“Drybacks,” I said. The word itself tasted like dust.

Four of them had killed her, a Dryback Roll. It was one way they recruited. The cops had shrugged it off, written it up as an accidental death — Marisol hadn’t been important enough to go rattle cages over, and Drybacks were big stuff these days. I spat, liquid from my mouth as proof-of-life. “Fucking muertados.”

Caballo,” Victor said, laying a hand on my arm. “Show a little respect. Marisol is one of them now. Your sister, man.”

When we’d been little kids, I was Horse and Victor was Bull — together we’d throw off the vaqueros and run free in the crisp-grassed, prairied hills east of town. Then the Drybacks crossed over, rising from their graves, and we grew up — pronto.

I sighed. “Toro, they killed her. And if she comes back, she’ll be one of them. She’s not my sister no more.”

He shifted, a knife fighter waiting for the right time to pop the blade. “You got that look, man, like you’re going to do something.”

“What’s to do? We can’t kill the dead.” I stared at Marisol’s blood until the hot rain washed the reek away.