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Bill smacked the window and tried to open it again. It was stubbornly stuck until he wedged a long screwdriver under the timber frame. Flaking paint settled in the kitchen sink, but the window opened to the backyard. There was still no breeze to clear the steamy, stale air.

He turned the cold water tap. The steel was warm, and the water was warmer. This lingering heat was another reason, besides the cost, that Bill had no water heater. It meant the hot water tap was useless but it still amused him for some reason. Eventually, cold water gushed from the faucet.

Bill filled a chipped cup with cloudy water. He rubbed the glass cup until white calcium stains vanished, refilled it, and took a gulp. It was bitter, and his gums tingled. He spat, filled the glass again, and tried to swallow once more.

The tap had been running for a minute or so, yet the water was still foul. Bill clutched a hand-rolled cigarette while the water splashed down the drain. He struck a match against the rough window sill, and the water burst into clouds of flame. The flame was swallowed in a loud rush of air that blew across his face. Bill's cigarette rolled onto the floor. He rubbed his cheeks. The skin was tender, as though sunburned. The water in his cup had finally stopped bubbling.

Bill rubbed sweat from face with his forearm. It reminded him of the last time he had sweated bullets. Before the memory could linger, Bill slammed the cup onto the wooden countertop. Broken glass and tainted water sprayed across the floor.

He shut off the tap, shoved the door open, and stared at the plumbing connected to his trailer. It led from his neighbor's farm.

A white PVC pipe emerged from a long trench Bill and Joseph had dug years ago to connect their homes to a stream. It was an ugly job to lay the piping, as the dirt was full of granite. They had attacked the earth with a shovel and sledgehammer. After a week of toiling from sunup to sundown, he was proud and a bit smug at the first cup of fresh water from his kitchen faucet. That water was sweeter than any overpriced bottled variety.

His joy evaporated when the water caught fire.

The pipeline was easy to trace along a long line of bare dirt. Bill followed it toward the stream. Joseph's wire fence blocked his path. He climbed over it, careful not to tear his pants on the rusty barbed wire again.

A dozen cattle were feeding on a hay bale. They moaned as Bill approached.

Rows of furrowed earth stretched across the farm. Joseph turned the soil with a pitchfork.

The sun licked the horizon, stretching Bill's shadow over Joseph's boots. The neighbor looked up with an arm to his brow, then extended his other hand.

They shook hands.

"What've you done to the water?" Bill asked.

"Nothing. I've been planting corn. Ain't had it since I was a kid. Goes really nice with my cow's fresh butter. Enough to turn me into one of them vegetarians."

"Forget that. Butter melts nicely on good steak."

The cows were still moaning at the scent of a stranger.

"That's why my herd don't like you," Joseph said.

Bill chuckled. His raspy breathing hovered between them. He dug another cigarette from his shirt pocket and placed it between his lips.

Before he could light it, Joseph snatched the stick of tobacco from Bill's mouth.

"What the hell?" Bill stared at Joseph.

Joseph pointed to a gushing tap outside a double-wide trailer. The water poured into an overflowing forty-gallon drum, leaving a greasy puddle. Joseph shut off the tap, and the two men watched the surface of the water. After another good minute, it was still bubbling.

"I got the same problem in my kitchen. What the hell has happened?" Bill asked.

Joseph gestured for Bill to follow him, and they walked for over a mile upstream.

The dirt was hard under Bill's boots.

He remembered hiding in tall grass when he was a kid. The valley had been alive with the colors of wildflowers and butterflies. A fragile green cricket had crawled up his arm and jumped over his head when the wind changed direction.

There were no insects in the valley anymore. No wildflowers. No butterflies. The grass was brown.

The rhythmic chug of a giant fracking pump ruptured the silence.

"Still thirsty, Bill?"

Joseph punched a large red button on the pump's rusting yellow frame. There was a horrible groaning, and the revolving arm of the pump lurched to a stop.

Bill and Joseph leaned against the cold steel dinosaur.

A mighty elm tree stood over the men and the pump. Its bright green leaves rustled in the breeze. 

"You remember when we was kids? I climbed to the very top of that old tree," Bill said.

"You climbed it? Quit dreaming. I climbed it and told you all about it."

"I'll climb it again. Watch me."

Bill gripped the wide trunk. Rough bark scratched his fingers, and he backed away.

"I'm watching, Tarzan," Joseph said.

The stream trickled past the fracking pump into a wide pipe leading to the men's farms.

Joseph rested his palm on the surface of the stream.

"Should be safe to smoke your cancer stick now."

Bill plucked another cigarette from his pocket. It was the last one.

A chestnut horse galloped toward them. The sheriff was in the saddle.

"What are you fellas doing? You're too old to climb trees or mess with the gas company."

The sheriff stepped out of the saddle.

"I'm waiting. Explain yourselves."

The sheriff reached toward a green button on the pump.

Joseph snatched Bill's cigarette and offered it to the sheriff. 

The sheriff turned from the pump and took the cigarette.

"Mighty kind of you, Bill. Got a light?" 

The stream lashed against the sheriff's boots.

Bill smiled, though it could have been a grimace.

His hands shook a little, then struck a match.


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