J. A. Chisum
The Parable of Casper and Paul Clark
Paul Clark had enormous, heavy hands. He had long been known
around town as a tough fighter, and one time, back when he was still
in high school, heíd taken on four jocks in the China Chef all by
himself. Rumor had it that heíd thrown Kickie Taylor over one of the
Chinese-paper partitions in the restaurant, and that heíd broken the
arm of some basketball player from Lovelock. The little diner got
trashed, and this earned Paul a three-month stint in the county
jail. He was generally a laid-back and easy-going sort of guy
though, and given his size, he had a voice that was surprisingly
high-pitched and soft. He also had a twin brother named Casper, but
the two looked nothing alike. Casper was small, with virtually no
chin, and he had huge, cruel owl-eyes. The brothers were in their
early twenties, but they still lived in their motherís house. Mainly
this was due to the fact that the two of them were unemployed.
"What you wanna do today?" asked Casper.
"Fuck if I know." Paul was sitting on the couch, smoking a
cigarette. "Look for a job. Something."
"You wanna go to Reno?"
Casper had been lying on the floor, and now he got up to flip the
channel on the TV.
"Why donít we just go driving or something," said Paul. "Take the
gun out. You know."
"But itís cold as hell out there!" Casper had a vicious streak,
however, and he loved to shoot thingsóany thingóand Paul knew heíd
Paul stubbed out his cigarette and climbed to his feet. "Well,
Iím rolliní out. Whether or not you come along is up to you."
"Shit. All right. Weíll fucking go." Casperís mouth was twisted
into a sneer.
"Maybe you should call up Shane and see if we could borrow his
"Naw, man. His motorcycleís all busted up, remember?"
Paul had no idea what his brother was talking about.
"Remember? He took that chick up there and they had an accident.
She got all banged up. What, didnít I tell you that story?"
"I donít know. Who cares? Wait. . . Didnít that happen a long
"I guess so, but who gives a shit. Go get the gun."
Paul went and got the car keys, and Casper went and got the
pistol. As the two brothers headed out to the car, they didnít
bother to lock the front door of the houseóthere was no need for it.
Since they lived in the Sandia Manor subdivision, they had to debate
whether to head northeast toward the alkali flats, or southwest
toward sheep camp. In the end they opted for sheep camp, since they
figured they could go check out the dump before they came home. Heíd
been there dozens of times, after all. Paul turned the heater on
full-blast as they turned onto Main Street.
It had been a cold winter. Fog had settled over the town during
the night, and in the morning, the trees and the chain link fences
were covered with pogonipówhich covered everything, and looked like
long, icy thorns. There were always at least a couple of days out of
the year like this, and today it was so cold that the pogonip hadnít
yet melted, even though it was well past noon.
The roads were dark and wet, and grey, filthy snow lined the
streets. Paul steered the car down past the 7-Eleven, and the
Lahontan Community Center. They drove up to one of the townís two
stoplights and waited for it to turn green. On the left was a
Mexican food restaurant with a sign that read, ĎNice Family Bar.í
When the light changed, Paul turned left, and looked away guiltily
as they passed the China Chef.
"Wait! Wait!" said Casper. "Slow down a little. Thereís fucking
Jesse. Check this out."
Paul eased up on the gas, and Casper rolled down the window.
"Freeze, motherfucker!" Casper pointed the pistol out the window
and pulled back the hammer with his thumb. Jesse Jessup, who had
been walking with his head down and with his hands stuffed into the
pockets of his puffy coat, stopped in his tracks and looked up. For
a moment it seemed like he couldnít decide whether to make a run for
it or to drop to the ground. Then he recognized who was in the car
and his whole body relaxed.
"Jesus Christ on a crutch, Casper. You fuckiní asshole."
Casper put his arm back inside the car and erupted with laughter.
"Jesse," he said, once heíd recovered. "You were about to piss
"Go to hell, man. What are you doing driving around with a
goddamn gun anyhow?"
"We were coming to hunt your ass down," said Paul, grinning.
Jesse finally gave in and smiled a little. "So, what are you guys
"Weíre going up to sheep camp. Gonna shoot some rocks or
"Oh. Thatís cool."
"Yeah. You want to come with?"
"Uh, noóI gotta go run a couple of errands." The two brothers
could tell he was lying, and Casper laughed again.
"Oh, okay. Well, take it easy."
"Yeah, and watch out for white and delightsome mustangs," said
"All right." He sniveled in a scratchy way. What Casper was
saying didnít make sense. "Donít get yourselves arrested, guys."
"Sheriff Graves comes looking for me," Casper said, "Iíll blow
his head clean off."
"Okay," said Jesse, shaking his head, and gazing up at them from
beneath his lowered brow. It was clear he couldnít see what they
were thinking. "See you later."
Casper rolled up the window and Paul continued driving down the
road. Just past the post office, someone had built a snowman out in
the middle of an empty field, and from this distance, it looked
half-alive. Paul worried for a moment that his brother would try to
shoot it, but then he realized he was just over-thinking things.
In the heavens, a thick blanket of pale grey clouds was covering
the sky, but there was no way to tell whether or not it would snow.
The car skated along the road until the speed limit postings began
to increase on up to 55. The frost-covered desert floor, with its
scatterings of snow-crusted sagebrush and frozen Mormon Tea, drifted
past like some serene and blasted wasteland. At last, heading
eastwards, they passed the high school and the foothill road leading
up the steep hillside towards the dump. To the right of the highway
was a dirt road that wound down into a valley, and eventually, to
sheep camp. Paul stepped on the brake and then turned down the dirt
road. Because it was so cold, the ground was hard, and the wheels of
the car didnít send up any dust.
They continued on up into the foothills until they could see the
scar in the ground where the creek normally flowed. The cottonwoods
along the creekbed were naked and skeletal.
"Hey, isnít there an old mine around here somewhere?" asked Paul
as he shut off the car.
"Yeah. Itís over there by those hills, I think."
"We oughtta go check it out."
The twins climbed out of the car and the sharp winds coming down
over the Sierra bit into their cheeks. Casper got out the box of
bullets and loaded the gun. Paul walked over to a tree and propped
up some fallen branches.
"Goddamn, itís cold as hell," he said. "Is there any gloves or
anything in the car?"
"I donít know. I didnít bring no gloves, you candy ass." Casper
laughed. "Now move out of the way."
He already had his arm raised, and Paul had to scamper to get out
of the way. The gun exploded noisily in Casperís hand. He fired
again, and a chunk of bark flew off the side of the tree.
"My turn," said Paul.
"No way. I got four shots left." Casper didnít take his eyes off
the tree. He nudged Paul away with his shoulder and raised his arm
and fired and missed again. When he pulled the trigger again, the
bullet struck a branch high up in the tree, which immediately began
to creak and crack and bend, until finally it was dangling by a few
strands alongside the treeís trunk. "What a fucking good shot I am,"
said Casper. He fired his last two shots off towards the horizon.
"All right, man," said Paul. "My turn."
Casper hung on to the gun and loaded it up. He was about to pass
it over to Paul, but he heard something. It was the low and rumbling
noise of a truck.
"Can you tell where thatís coming from?" he said.
"What? Oh.... No, not really." Paul cocked his head to the side
and listened. He figured that whoever it was would likely get scared
off by the sound of gunfire, if theyíd heard it at all. Paul looked
at the hills and at his brother, and he noticed that tiny flakes of
snow were beginning to fall. If it picked up, they would have to go
home. Though it was some distance away, the truck sounded like it
was idling somewhere just beyond the crest of the hills.
"You know what?" Casper began. "We should go over there and shoot
the bastardís tires out."
Paul laughed. "Yeah, all right. Letís go."
Casper finished loading the pistol, and the two brothers started
trudging up the hillside. As they went, the flurries of snow fell
swept down in a curtain, and the higher they got, the louder the
grumble of the truck became. Once theyíd neared the top, they got
down on their bellies and crawled to the edge of the hill. Paul
scooted around to the edge of a sagebrush, and pushing away a screen
of thin branches, he peered down into the valley.
Near a broad patch of empty sand sat the truck. It was an old,
beat-up white pickup with pockmarks of rust above the tire wells.
Paul could see a man in a plaid flannel coat sitting behind the
wheel. The guy had on a tan mesh baseball cap, too. Paul watched as
the man climbed out of the truck and went around to the back. He
reached into the bed and brought up a shovel, and it was then that
Paul noticed that the man was holding a small shoebox under his arm.
"What the fuck is this guy doing? Burying his pet or something?"
"I donít know. He looks old, so maybe so."
The two of them saw the man set the box down and begin shoveling.
It was obvious that the poor guy was having a hard time with the
frozen ground. After a few minutes, he took off his cap and wiped
his forehead with his sleeve, and then went on digging. All the
while the snow kept lightly falling.
"What a dumbshit. Iím taking out this dudeís tires," said Casper.
"No! Man, just chill out for a second. All youíll do is freak him
Paul looked back down into the valley. By now the man was
kneeling beside the hole heíd dug. He opened the box for a moment,
and it seemed that his back rose and fell with an enormous weight.
It was like he was breathing in an expansive and yet horribly
constrictive breath, and as he exhaled, he closed the box and set it
in the hole. Then he used the shovel to cover it up. The two
brothers watched him look plaintively down at the freshly disturbed
earth, and then they saw him get into his truck and drive away.
Once the truck had disappeared beyond the hills, Casper and Paul
went down to the valley. They clamored down, knocking the earth
loose in big, rocky clumps, until they reached the burial site.
Their noses were bright red in the cold, and now the snow began to
fall in thick, heavy flakes which were so light and delicate that
they stuck in Paulís dark, curly hair.
"Man, I still should have fucking shot at least one of that guyís
"Forget it, Cass." By now Paul had crouched down by the loose
dirt, and he began to scoop it away with his hands. Casper stood and
watched, the gun dangling by his side.
"Buried fucking treasure," said Casper. "All itís gonna be is a
dead bird or something."
Paul uncovered the box, and he brushed away the dirt along its
edges. He hauled it out and opened it, and as he did so, Casper
craned his head forward to look.
At first, they couldnít figure out what it was. It was gold, and
even in the diffuse winter light it gleamed. The object was the size
of a peach, and absolutely round. Paul reached into the box and
lifted it free from the styrofoam packing in the box. It had a
strange weight in his hand. There were beveled triangles of
unbelievably clear glass set at equal intervals in the shining gold
metal. Deep inside the orb floated a pair of pointed spindles, and
they looked very fragile, and seemed that if they were touched, they
would tilt in such a way that would upset the intricate balance that
someone had taken such care to produce in the first place. Paul
turned it over slightly, and the spindles shifted inside the orb,
pointing off towards the east. On the metal frame were a series of
characters, or letters, or hieroglyphs of some kind. Paul wondered
what it said.
"Holy shit!" said Casper. "What the hell is that?"
"Fuck if I know." Paul was suddenly aware of the danger in
holding it, and feared that it might shatter in his hand.
"Here, lemme see it."
Paul put it back in the box and handed it over.
"Check it out," said Casper. He took the gold orb out of the box
and held it down near his crotch, as if it were a testicle, holding
it in a circle made by his thumb, forefinger, and palm. He grinned
wildly and started laughing, but Paul thought it looked creepy and
unreal. Like his brother was trying to replace something that didnít
"Why the hell would anybody have this?" Casper went on.
"I donít know, man. Just put it back in the box."
"No way! Iím keeping it," he said, and he began to stuff it into
his coat pocket.
"Thatís really messed up."
"Aw, shut the hell up. You know this is probably worth something.
Weíll just take it into Reno and pawn it."
But something wasnít right. Paul knew in his stomach that the old
guy had buried it for a reason. And at the same time, Paul knew that
Casper would hog the orb-compass thing for himself, and would
probably take all or most of the money if they did ever get around
to pawning it. Moreover, who knew if Casper would run his mouth off
and blab about it to somebody who knew its origins? Paul couldnít
remember if there were any laws about digging up other peopleís
possessions, but, being on probation, he didnít want to take the
risk. Also, he felt a strange gnawing in his gut to own the orb for
himself. After all, heíd never seen anything like it. The snow began
to fall more heavily, and by now it was beginning to cover the
Casper started up the hill, and Paul followed. When they reached
the top, Paul said:
"Hey, Casper. Let me see that thing again."
"Just let me see it, man."
"No way. I told you, weíre pawning it." He stuffed his hand into
"Come on, fuckerójust let me see it!"
"Back off!" Casper raised the gun.
"What, youíre gonna shoot me? Well, go ahead and fucking do it
Casper stood glaring, his eyes as large and blank as pools of
oil. Finally, he said, "Fine. Here you go, asshole. He took the
glass and metal ball out of his pocket and flung it away. It made a
tingling, bell-like sound as it hit the ground and rolled away.
"Whatíd you do that for?" Paul roared. Casper kept staring as
Paul charged towards him. He put both his hands on Casperís chest
and shoved him as hard as he could, and as he did this, he saw a
flicker of sadness on his brotherís small, triangular face, and he
instantly regretted what heíd done. Casper flew back and landed with
a dull thud against the rocks.
"Jesus, Cass. . . Iím sorry, man." Paul moved forward, but his
brother lay still. "Casper?"
He neared his brotherís silent form, and he saw the blood inching
out in a dark halo around Casperís head. He knelt down and touched
his brother on the shoulder, but he knew that he had killed him.
"Casperócan you hear me? Casper . . . ?" he said, but there was
no reply. He felt for a moment as if he were going to cry, but he
knew that was useless. There was nothing else he could say. His mind
wound around and around itself, and Paul felt the sort of calm he
always experienced during a fight. His breath curled up smoke-like
from his open mouth as he squatted, looking at Casper, barely
feeling the numbness in his cheeks and nose. Paul sat there, the
bleak clots of snow falling across his brotherís prone body. None of
it was real. It couldnít be. The wind was just some breath blowing
out of a dream. He hadnít done anything. There was no orb. There was
no gun. Casper was on the verge of waking up. Paul was putting all
of the pieces of the puzzle back together in his head. It was
nobodyís fault. It just happened. It would be best to just accept
it. That was it.
He stood up to stretch his legs and craned his neck back to look
up into the sky. There wasnít anything there save the snow, which
came plunging out of the grey, ever-darkening pallor of clouds mere
feet before it struck his face. He sniffled in the cold and put his
hands in his pockets. There was a spattering of blood on the white
toe-shell of his Chuck Taylors. A bottlecap in the dirt. It would be
night before much longer. It was getting to be time to head home.
His breathing was regular and calm and his heart was beating
steadily, and so Paul reached his long arms underneath his brotherís
body and lifted it up. Casper made a dead, incomparably heavy weight
in his arms. Paul carried his brother over to the car and put him in
the back seat. He had to fold up his legs so that the door would
shut. Then he went back and retrieved the gun and put it in the
glovebox. He thought about looking for the orb, but decided against
it. The big, fluffy flakes of snow fell in slow and languid drifts,
and as he started the car, Paul had to turn on the windshield
wipers. He tried not to remember that his brother was in the back
There was really only one place to go, and so Paul drove to the
Sheriffís Department. He knew Sheriff Graves, after all. He didnít
know any of the EMTs, or the people who worked at the Fire
Department. It was too late for that anyhow. The parking lot at the
Community Center was dark and wet as he pulled into the space. He
got out of his car and went around to the back seat and pulled out
Casperís body. There was a terrible mess on the upholstery, and on
the floorboard. Paul leaned down, and heaved his brother up over his
shoulder, and then he turned and staggered over to the front door.
The receptionist behind the desk noticed him before heíd opened the
"Stay right there!" she shouted, holding out her palm. "Donít you
move a muscle."
"Okay," said Paul. "I ainít gonna do anything."
She had a phone cradled to her ear and cupped her hand over her
mouth as she spoke. A few moments later Sheriff Graves came
sauntering down the hall. He slowed as he saw Paul standing near the
"Good Christ, son. What have you done now?"
"I donít know what I did," he said.
The rest of what happened was hard for Paul to remember. He would
try to recall what heíd said at a later time, but it was
unrecoverable. The Sheriff had immediately called for assistance,
and they had gotten Casper onto a gurney. They took him away, and
then Sheriff Graves took Paul back into an office and gave him some
coffee and a cigarette to smoke while they talked. Some deputy, who
had white hair and a lined face and who looked older than the
Sheriff, sat in and listened. They asked him what had happened, and
he told them. Although he hadnít wanted to, he cried part way
through his story. They sat patiently and let him finish, and when
it was over he dried his face with the Sheriffís handkerchief and
felt a little bit better. Then he went on with his tale. At one
point, the power flickered off on account of the snowstorm, and so
they lit candles. After Paul finished, they went out into the
hallway to confer, leaving him alone with the flickering light.
When they came back, the old deputy said, "You claiming this was
an accident is consistent with your brotherís injuries."
"But what we still donít understand," the Sheriff added, "is why
you were fighting in the first place."
Paul thought about it, and remembered the orb. It seemed so
strange, and so horrible, that it had come to that. He wanted to lie
about it, but he went on. "We found this thing," he said. "It was
like a compass, except it was round. Like a baseball."
The Sheriff took out a cigarette of his own and lit it, his hand
cupped against the flame, and his face softly illuminated in the
makeshift candlelight. "Huh. A compass. How about that?" He seemed
to know, however. To understand.
"What was it made out of?" asked the deputy.
"Like, glass. And gold. It had some kind of weird foreign writing
The two policemen looked at each other, and the old one made a
nodding motion. "Maybe it is a compass," he said. "Or maybe itís
just someoneís idea of what an old compass ought to look like." The
older deputy sat there staring, with a bitter smirk on his lips.
"Well, I donít think we need to know anything else, Paul," said
the Sheriff. "If we do, weíll be in touch."
It didnít make any sense. Paul couldnít figure out why theyíd be
interested in the object. It had seemed so insignificant, and yet it
was obviously the center of gravity, pulling him backwards in time,
carrying the Sheriff and the deputy along with it. It was like
trying to put words to some forbidden thing.
"So, thatís it," said the white-haired deputy. "You can go home."
"No, no," said Graves. "Iíll give him a ride. I donít think heís
in any condition to be driving." As he stood up, the power kicked
back on. The Sheriff went around the desk and put his arm on Paulís
shoulder, and led him out of the building. That was one thing Paul
never forgot: the feeling of that hand on his shoulder, leading him
gently away from everything that had happened.
Once he returned to his house, everything went as expected. Heíd
been in trouble with the law before, but the Sheriff and others were
willing to overlook that, and of course there was no evidence to
convict him of anything. Besides, people simply knew that heíd
always been good to his brother. His mother cried off and on for
days, and after the funeral, a fog of gloominess clouded his
conscience for a long time. He didnít have any interest in going to
parties or speaking with friends. Eventually though, he came around
and got a job at the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, out behind the Pilot
Truck Stop. The work consisted of spraying big rigs with
high-pressure water wands. It was hard labor, and his clothes were
always wet from the mist which always hung in the air. It was also
repetitive though, and it gave him plenty of time to think.
One day a truck with a huge sleeper cab came into the washing
bay, and as he went towards the front to scrub down the stack, he
saw a naked woman standing by the truckís window. He looked over at
Miguel, who was grinning from ear to ear. It was obvious that the
woman wanted to be seen, but Paul didnít much feel like looking.
Eventually, having paid his bill, the trucker came out of the
office, and Paul recognized him immediately. It was the man whoíd
buried the orb. Or at least Paul thought it was. He went out of the
wash bay and bent over and put his large hands on his knees. He
waited for the truck to drive away, and then he went back to work.
After that, Paul would sometimes spend his days off at sheep
camp, looking for the orb. He never found it though, and finally he
moved away to Arizona. It was a speedy departure; heíd packed and
gone in a matter of hours. Strangely enough, he didnít tell any of
his friends or anybody at the Blue Beacon that he was leaving. But
this wasnít a huge shock. Paul had been acting unusual ever since
his brother died. Still, it gave the people around town a reason to
talk. One rumor is that the ATF came in the night and hauled him off
for something drug-related. But the other rumor, the one that hung
around the longest, was that heíd simply gone off into the hills and
vanished, like so many other things.
J. A. Chisum grew up in a small town in western Nevada.
He is a graduate of USC's Literature and Creative Writing Ph.D.
program. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles.