The Legend of Potter’s Field
by John Haymaker
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Evening set in. They stopped and collected pine branches for cover and made a lean-to against an outcrop. They were cold and wet but had no means to start a fire even if they dared. They huddled within the lean-to, shoulder to shoulder, tucking their hands under their arms, swaying back and forth, trying to build up body heat. When they lay down for the night, the pistol lay between them.
In the morning, Bishop awoke to find Marty and the pistol gone. Bishop whistled: “You out there taking a piss?” Bishop threw a rock. No answer. He threw branches off and stood to piss, hadn’t even unzipped when he saw Marty running back downhill looking behind and overhead.
“We’re too near the road. I think the prison bus is coming — or maybe a helicopter.” The rumbling grew suddenly louder, and Marty and Bishop both fell flat to the ground.
“If it’s the bus, there may be a police escort in tow, especially if they suspect we’re in the area.” When the sound faded away, Marty said, “I’ll take another look.” He rose up slowly, ran back uphill, tree-to-tree, stopping momentarily behind several on the way. The rumbling picked up again.
Marty wandered onto the road past the tree line and stood transfixed by what he saw: his Potter’s Field. Thirty-eight years since he’d seen it, but it stretched out like a natural plateau among all the hills and trees. The bulldozer and Bobcat worked incessantly just as he remembered. Marty ran across the road and lay in a gulley and watched.
Downfield, the bulldozer rolled forward, backfired now and again, followed by volleys of smoke. The Bobcat ripped into the earth and scooped a new grave, rolled backward in fits and starts and scooped another. Gulls flocked around the freshly upturned earth. A row of pine boxes stood stacked to the far side of the field.
“Freeze!” said a distant voice. Rifles clicked, jackboots thundered and stomped the earth. Marty turned around to see guards surround Bishop, who raised both hands overhead. “Down on your knees!” they ordered. Bishop complied.
Marty crouched at the side of the road, unsure whether the guards had seen him. He looked back toward Potter’s Field. Then vehicles swarmed the area, descending from the road above. The bulldozer stopped. The Bobcat raised its scoop and idled.
Marty ran from the gulley out into the open field. Guards fired a warning shot. Gulls flushed and scattered. Marty fired back and ran through the field, dodging markers and open pits and then leapt over the pine boxes. Guards fired a series of shots to his back as he did so, and Marty stumbled forward, face down.
Bishop bellowed from across the road and struggled against guards and shackles, and his echo thundered across the valley. Guards subdued and dragged Bishop across the road and stood him next to a waiting car while radioing the warden about next steps.
Bishop looked on while a guard used his boot to nudge Marty’s torso. When he didn’t respond, guards turned him over. One hand was clutching the two letters from his daughter. As these fell away, their pages lifted, carried on the wind one by one, intermingling with the gulls coasting back on outstretched wings, their yelp-like wails rose and ebbed, incessant, impetuous as they settled earthward once more.
The guards each took an arm or leg, carried Marty to an open grave and dropped him atop the freshly interred pine box of another inmate. The Bobcat rolled forward, pushing a mound of nearby earth over the interred and tamped the soil down.
Disturbed once more, the gulls took wing again, fluttering above the grave, wailing plaintively. Bishop closed his eyes and said amen over and over like it was the only part of prayer he knew — but it was heartfelt; enough so that guards let him say his piece before transporting him back to Mad Max.
* * *
Word of Bishop’s capture spread quickly, and every inmate had a theory about where Marty might have gone. Inmates talked of nothing else, theorizing he’d made it to Canada or boarded a frigate to South America. Marty was well on his way to becoming a legend around Mad Max, but Warden could neither admit to Marty’s summary execution nor have inmates believing escape from Mad Max was possible. Warden fed the rumor mill, planting seeds of doubt, declaring that if Marty’s trail had gone cold it could only mean Bishop had left Marty for dead in the forest to save himself.
Upon his return to the prison, Bishop immediately served a stint in the hole as punishment for his role in the escape. When Bishop emerged a month later, a handful of inmates offered respectful nods as guards led Bishop down the corridor, but mostly cold, silent stares followed him as he progressed to his old cell.
When Bishop first stood in the doorway of his cell, a pall fell over his cellmates. Bishop immediately eyed Cooch who was sitting on Marty’s old bunk, and Cooch thereupon stood and moved to the back wall by the toilet while guards removed Bishop’s cuffs.
Palmer was lying on his back on his bottom bunk, reading a paper. He snapped it taut and watched Bishop over the top edge. Bishop approached his old bunk, batted away dust from his mattress and climbed up. “There’s more gloom in this cellblock than down in the hole,” he finally said as he lay back and lit a cigarette.
His cellmates simply eyed each other for a minute before Cooch drew a deep breath, stared at Palmer and then settled his lazy eye on Bishop and asked directly, “Is it true what they’re saying?”
“Depends on what they’re saying, doesn’t it?” Bishop said.
“There’s a shovel full of BS going around that you left Marty for dead out there to save yourself,” Low Brow said from across the hall.
“Myself, I don’t buy it,” Cooch said leaning against a back wall. “You and Marty were pretty tight.”
“But you better watch your back,” Palmer said, rattling his newspaper. “Some of the guys do believe it.”
“Right. I picked up on that vibe. It’s almost like Warden expected you’d all kill me before I could speak my piece.” Bishop nodded and smirked, took a deep draw on his cigarette and exhaled with a huff. “But truth is, I didn’t leave Marty for dead. The guards ambushed us.”
Palmer sat up, folded his paper and set it aside to assume an amused pose, cocking his head to one side and raising an eyebrow. “You shouldn’t have gone looking for it. That was your mistake.”
Bishop leaned over the bunk’s edge and stared down at Palmer. “Looking for what?” Bishop asked. Not waiting for an answer, he jumped to the floor and stood over Palmer.
Palmer glanced away, looked back and shrugged.
“Looking for what, exactly?” Bishop asked again. “I hadn’t mentioned where we ended up,” he said and flicked his cigarette at Palmer’s chest.
Palmer brushed the butt to the floor, sending sparks flying as he wiped at the ashes on his shirt.
“You sniveling bastard,” Bishop slapped Palmer across the face. “You set us up.”
Palmer tucked his chin to his chest and leaned away. “It wasn’t like that. I just made a joke with some of the guards that Marty would be out there looking for his Potter’s Field. I didn’t know it was a real place, none of us did.”
Cooch looked up with wonder at Bishop. “So Marty was right about it all along? Potter’s Field is real?”
“It is real. We stumbled on it the morning after we left. We were hardly looking for it, but once Marty saw it, he barreled toward it pell-mell.”
“Why didn’t you stop him?” Palmer asked.
Bishop grabbed Palmer by the collar, tightened it with a slight twist and hauled Palmer up off the bed. “Why didn’t you keep your mouth shut? What you did was give Warden a heads-up.” Palmer didn’t raise a fist, just closed his eyes, as if he knew his fate: sooner or later, inmates would get him.
“That’s the other thing Marty was right about,” Bishop said. “It was always Palmer ratting us out.” Bishop shoved Palmer back onto his bunk.
Palmer retreated to the back wall of his bunk, eyeing each man in the cell, looking from one to the other and then at those crowded round the cell door, until he couldn’t face anyone. He sat, leaning against the wall and took to knocking his head against it.
“So the poor bastard is out there in Potter’s Field? After all that planning for his funeral?” Low Brow asked, standing in the doorway.
“He is. Guards shot Marty dead and buried him on the spot. I said last rites best I could muster. But there’s no way to prove what happened.”
“Auntie and Cuz will make Warden come clean,” Cooch said. “They’ll be wanting to file that will.”
“Warden will never own up to what I saw. Just my word against his. Ten years will pass before the courts declare Marty legally dead.”
“By that time Auntie and Cuz will likely be dead themselves,” Low Brow offered.
“Good,” Bishop said. “They’ll never find out Marty’s will was phony.”
The inmates fell silent, reflected, and shook their heads, perhaps in disbelief that Marty’s life should come to such an end.
Cooch looked up abruptly and broke the silence. “Maybe it’s all for the best,” he said. “I mean, Marty’s on his way to becoming a legend here at Mad Max, meaning no offense against you, Bishop.”
“None taken. That escape was all Marty’s idea. The man was always having ideas. The honor is all his.” Bishop stood before his bunk and straightened his sheets.
“I’ll be proud to lie out there when my time comes,” Low Brow said, a phrase he would come to repeat loud and often.
“Me, too,” Cooch said. “No shame ending up in Potter’s Field when a larger-than-life legend is buried out there.”
“And hell if he didn’t show this facility what it’s worth,” Bishop said and flopped out on his bunk again.
“It’s weird, though,” Cooch said. “Marty’s other grave will always remain empty — his date of passing forever a blank.”
Bishop lit another cigarette, exhaled and arched an eyebrow. “That’s how it is with legends,” he said. “They never really die. They never really die.”
Copyright © 2019 by John Haymaker