The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 15, No. 3

The Hox River Window

by Karen Russell

"Go tack up, Miles!" says Mr. Johannes Zegner of the Blue Sink Zegners, pioneer of the tallgrass prairie and future owner of 160 acres of Nebraska. In most weathers, I am permitted to call him "Pa."
     "See if your mother's got the Window ready. The Inspector is coming tonight. He's already on the train, can you imagine!"
     A thrill moves in me; if I had a tail I would shake it. So I will have to leave within the hour, and ride quickly—because if the one-eyed Inspector really is getting off at the spur line in Beatrice, he'll hire a stagecoach and be halfway to the Hox River Settlement by one o'clock; he could be at our farm by nightfall! I think Jesus Himself would cause less of a stir stepping off that train; He'd find a tough bunch to impress in this droughty place, with no water anywhere for Him to walk on.
     "Miles, listen fast," Pa continues. "Your brother is coming—"
     Sure enough, Peter is galumphing toward us through the puddled glow of the winter wheat. It came in too sparse this year to make a crop, wisping out of the sod like the thin, blond hairs on Pa's hand. My father has the "settler's scar," a pink star scored into the brown leather of his palm by the handle of the moldboard plow. Peter's got one, too, a raw brand behind his knuckles that never heals—and so will I when I prove up as a man. (As yet I am the Zegner runt, with eleven years to my name and only five of those West; I cannot grow a beard any quicker than Mr. Johannes can conjure wheat, but I can ride.)
     Pa kneels low and clasps his dirt-colored hands onto my shoulders. "Your brother is coming, but it's you I want to send to our neighbors in need. Boy, it's you. I trust you on a horse. I know you'll tend to that Window as if it were your own life."
     "I will, sir."
     "I just got word from Bud Sticksel—you got two stops. The Inspector's making two visits. The Florissants and then the Sticksels. Let's pray he keeps to that schedule, anyhow, because if he decides to go to the Sticksels first . . ."
     I shiver and nod, imagining the Sticksels' stricken faces in their hole.

To read the rest of this story and others from the Fall 2011 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.

Image credits
left/top left: sunset-wheat-print silk gown (Rodarte Fall 2011 collection)
photograph by Autumn de Wilde

left/top right: ruby sequined skirt with horsehair trim and Swarovski Elements; ruby collared jacket with draped back (Rodarte Fall 2011 collection)
photograph by Autumn de Wilde

left/bottom left: oatmeal guipure lace skirt and blouse; quilted pony hair belt (Rodarte Fall 2011 collection)
photograph by Autumn de Wilde

right: forest green double-face wool coat with cutouts; periwinkle tulle and polka-dot lace gown (Rodarte Fall 2011 collection)
photograph by Autumn de Wilde