Ruby Red Port Barrel Finished Straight Rye Whiskey

About the Whiskey

The 100% rye whiskey has been aged for 4 years, then finished 8 months in Ruby Red Port barrels. Opening with hints of mulled wine on the nose, the palate offers spiced cranberry jam and chocolate-covered raisins. The finish is rounded out by cocoa, wild berries, cinnamon and light barrel spice.

About the label art

For this Distillery Reserve release we've paired the distiller's art with the work of Texas Writer, Stacey Swann. Her Texas tale has been handwritten across every bottle of this release. No two bottles in this batch will look the same.

Tasting Notes

Dried dates, Cannoli, Cherry Pie ala mode, Spiced Cranberry Jam, Mulled Wine.

Full bodied, chocolate-covered raisins, blueberry pancakes, fresh clove, pumpernickel toast and fig.

Winey, cinnamon, cocoa powder, & stewed wild berries.



Stacey Swann’s debut novel Olympus, Texas (Doubleday) was a Good Morning America Book Club selection, an Indie Next Pick, and was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her writing has appeared in LitHub, Electric Literature, Texas Highways, Epoch, and other journals.

Good Chaos

April is nearing the point of digging where, in order to continue, she must disassociate. For her, this is stage four.

Stage one, digging while fresh, is being bounded by your body in the best way: the sound of metal slicing through dirt; the feel of your boot, and all your body weight, pushing down on the top edge of the shovel; the earthy smell of the loam and clay; the arc of the dirt as it moves from old home to temporary new. She will feel all the edges of herself. She will be, in that moment, within the land instead of above it.

Stage two, digging before tired, has a swinging rhythm conducive to thinking. Earlier, she unpacked the list of things that needed doing and found it too long for a single day. So the list was divvied into three sub-lists: things to do (finish fixing this irrigation line, meet the technician about the wine press, attend this evening’s county commissioner meeting); things to delegate (clean the emptied vats, walk the fence line to make sure Gus’s goats hadn’t started knocking their way in yet); things to wait for another day (look at Josie’s label redesigns, decide if they go ahead with new goat-proof fencing and, if yes, decide if they want to approach Gus to share the cost).

Then stage three. Discomfort that draws attention to itself: the specific chafe as the skin on her palm moves from irritation to actual blister, the burning shoulder muscles, the growing ache in her lower back. To get through it, she must settle in. Loosen it up into something bearable by sitting with it.

Stage four, though, is when the body moves into a place that cannot be managed by proper attention. There is a limit to what her forty-year-old body can do, and that limit is trudging nearer with every thunk of the shovel’s head into the soil. She has another foot of pipe to uncover, though, and she knows a rest will only make things worse. So she floats up out of her body, a trip difficult enough to blot out all thoughts. Not so much a suspension of time but rather an effort to—only temporarily—pop outside of it.

April still has another half-foot to go when she’s startled right back into her body, into the flow of time. There in front of her stands her cousin Gideon, smiling as he waits. Being outside of time, she hadn’t noticed him as he approached. Normally she could clock him just by his sound. Gideon moves through the world like a horse: graceful yet heavy. Unable to be missed. But today he has just apparated between the rows of grapes, and all she can do is yelp, drop the shovel, and wait for her brain to catch up, then hold out her arms for a hug.

Her younger cousin—though, in truth, the relationship between Gideon and her and her sister Josie is somewhere equidistant between sibling and cousin—doesn’t hesitate to hug her hard and lift her six inches off the ground, despite their being the same height. All the Hydles—April and Josie, both their parents, Gideon and his late mother Emily, and even their grandparents, all lived their lives at the practical height of nearish-but-not-quite six feet. Tall enough to get most jobs done, but not so tall that their spines lived on borrowed time. In hugging her his white t-shirt takes on streaks of brown, but he pays no mind. She hasn’t seen Gideon in seven months, but she hadn’t expected him for another four. He comes home every year to help at harvest time, stays a month or two, then floats off to work a stint at some other vineyard, often in some other country.

“I thought you were in Argentina until June.” She picks up her shovel again. “All okay?”

“All fine.” He reaches out and brushes a clod of dirt from her bangs. Then he takes the shovel from her and motions her to the side.

“Bless you.” She walks the few feet to her four-wheeler and the jug of water sitting on its seat. She drinks, and she waits for more story.

“I was politely asked to cut my contract short.” He flips the dirt onto the nearby pile. “A staff side project didn’t go exactly to plan.”

April cocks her head at him, the mildest of disapprovals, but Gideon is too focused on his work to notice. Not that he would care, anyway. Gideon knows himself exactly—one of the many reasons April finds him so easy to love—and he never does anything he feels is morally wrong. When his actions lead to other actions not anticipated or desired, maybe even ones that are morally wrong, he doesn’t term those mistakes. He just calls that living in the world.

If April holds any other disapproval within her, it is simply that she wishes she had known Gideon was coming. Then she would have been prepared to both get done what she needs to do and also to give Gideon a proper welcome. A tour of what was new, a dinner that was better than just thrown together, and assurances that all the family would be there: not just her and Josie, but Josie’s wife and their daughter. But what she wants, what would make her feel like a good cousin/sister, isn’t the same as what Gideon wants. What he prefers—has always preferred since leaving here at eighteen—is to come home and slide effortlessly into the vineyard’s rhythms. If people stopped their day-to-day to create a worthy welcome, it would make him feel like a visitor, like this isn’t his actual home. Probably because there is always a small piece of him, a small piece of all of them, that isn’t settled on that question.

“Details,” April demands. She brings the water with her as she settles her butt on the pile of dirt Gideon isn’t currently adding to, and he tells her his tale, this time about his nighttime rehearsals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on an estate outside Mendoza City. The side projects aren’t theater productions every time; Gideon has other forms of diversion into which he enlists his new coworkers at every new vineyard. But it is theater more often than not. His love is a link to the mother he can barely remember: Emily, too beautiful for their small Hill Country town, was always most at home in front of an audience. The love is also just as deep in Gideon himself. All through high school, his bedroom was a sea of dogeared plays and books on drama criticism. Teachers tried to ease him into film, imagining it to be more “of the times,” but that wasn’t what Gideon wanted. Josie has a theory about the camaraderie of theater groups, of the enactment and subsequent reenactments of a full tale told from beginning to end. How that would speak to the things that Gideon lacks: his mother, gone since he was five, a never-known father, even his aunt and uncle now, too. People to have a full story with, again and again, rather than people whose various plot lines keep getting cut short.

“But I didn’t understand how much underneath there was to tap.” He adds another shovel-full of dirt to the growing pile, sweat stains blending with the dirt on his white t-shirt.

“Did you not, now?”

Gideon stops, the pipe now fully exposed. He grabs the water jug from April and drinks, then hands it back before sitting on the other dirt pile. “And what does that mean, dear April?”

“That you can read other people better than anyone I know, often better than they can themselves. And that you are what Josie and I have decided to call ‘chaos-forward.’ A proponent of adding chaos, not subtracting it.”

“Well, good chaos,” he says. “This, unfortunately, tipped the scale more to the bad side.”

“You may prefer good chaos, but chaos by definition cannot be corralled into one or the other.”

Gideon takes another drink, smiles at April, shrugs—less a ceding of the argument and more a declaration that it isn’t an argument he’s interested in having. April doesn’t mind, though. “Nothing too bad, I hope?” she asks.

“Nothing people couldn’t fairly easily pick themselves up from. But the owners felt the moving-on process might be speeded by my exit.”

April stands up. “No matter the reason, I’m glad to have you here. Wanna go in search of a second shovel while I fix the irrigation line? Or vice versa?”

It’s dark by the time April makes it home from the county commissioner’s hearing. There was a good turnout—last summer’s drought had been so bad, even the most optimistic and welcoming of the county got nervous about larger-scale planned developments. No one cares much about the tax base if their well has run dry. The upside was that the commissioners seemed concerned about backlash and postponed approval. The downside was that the extra testimony kept her there for hours, waiting her turn to speak.

The winery has its quiet, nighttime cloak on. The employees have left, their cars gone, and the lights from the kitchen stream out onto the porch. Inside, Gideon sits at the big kitchen table next to ten-year-old Flora. She has her pastels out and a large swath of butcher-block paper. She draws while Gideon also draws, but less intently, and talks with Josie. April’s entrance is unremarked upon but she gets a nod from Gideon and a plate, fresh from the fridge, from Josie’s wife Glory—still lukewarm enough to eat without microwaving. Josie is too enmeshed in her story to stop.

“If we had known it was Gus buying the Vasquez’s property, we’d have tried to hustle up the money for an offer ourselves. But it was a done deal before we caught wind.”

Their place, Rain Makers Vineyard—previously their parents’ farm and before that their grandparents’—comprises a modest fifty acres that butts up again the county road. To the south is their shared property line with Gus Curtis, who also inherited it from his parents. Their east and north edges had been shared with the Vasquez property, ideal neighbors because they were never there. The family moved to Dallas fifteen years prior, and they now lease their land for cattle pasture or deer hunting. The biggest difficulty from them is an occasional stray cow wandering the side of the road or a distant gunshot, whereas each new season with Gus seems to birth a new hassle.

It wasn’t always that way. There were never issues when her parents were still alive. It was clear to anyone with eyes that Gus’s high school crush on April’s mother, Susan, had never fully subsided, and any ask they had of him or his wife was always given. Even after her parents had died, back when Gideon was still in high school, they could go a year without hearing directly from the man. April had even thought well of him. But when they put in a small tasting room—only open on weekends and shutting down by a very civilized six p.m.—Gus had a conniption fit. Josie thinks it has something to do with both his daughters moving away and marrying city men who have no interest in the ranching life. Josie might be right, but what does it matter the reason? All that matters is the chafe, chafe, chafe of their lives grinding against each other. And now they have three times more fence line to further aggravate that chafe. Gus has never made an offer to buy them out, but April suspects the man’s greatest wish is to swallow them whole. Glory disagrees. She says it’s his warring with them that is his final life’s purpose. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself if they weren’t there. It’s enough for April, in her weaker moments, to almost wish for a small subdivision to appear on the other side of Gus’s place. Give him at least a second front on which to wage his war. Dilute his focus.

“So, Gus has let his goats onto his newly acquired land, but he hasn’t changed out the fences?” Gideon asks.

“I mean, the damage they could do in five uninterrupted hours? It turns my blood cold to think of it,” April says. “The fence was fine for cattle, but it’s not goat-proof.”

“I have nowhere to be. Let me spearhead the anti-goat offensive. I’m happy to fence my heart out.”

Both Flora and Glory whoop, a joyful sound that’s somehow evenly matched in pitch. They always found Gideon’s visits too short, and they’d be thrilled for him to stay permanently. April didn’t want to think too hard about whether she’d agree. Easier, instead, to know that Gideon wouldn’t be happy with a life here. Stationary. And, to him, a bit stifling. Or so it is easiest to assume.

Glory brings another bottle of red to the table and a fresh glass for April.

“A request,” Gideon says.

April chews her pot roast, knowing what’s likely to come.

“Okay to do a little music circle tonight with the team? They wanted to reconvene around nine-thirty.”

Josie sighs. “Everyone’s getting along pretty well right now. No pushing any buttons, okay?”

“And stay over by the north barn,” April says.

In reply, Gideon salutes them both in turn.

The north barn is far enough that April can get to sleep, even if things run late. And it should be far enough from Gus’s house, too.


It has always been this way with Gideon. He doesn’t know why. What he sees most in a person—the answer to a question that person doesn’t know their every action is asking—is the thing in them most contracted, most bound down. And he knows that while they think this is the thing that will make them the most safe, it’s actually the thing causing them the most pain.

It’s not an answer he can articulate, really. His own responses are rooted in instinct and pull. He can feel, in himself and in the others, the pleasure in the mild March night with its barely cool breeze. The stars are startlingly bright, the moon not-quite-new. But all night there’s been a stickiness to their rhythm, and their small collection of mandolin, fiddle, and three guitars has not yet unified into a single sound, even as the night is winding down. Gideon can feel their restlessness. They expected more fun from the night. Something to loosen their bindings. Off to the west, in Gus’s new pastures, Gideon hears the surprised bleat of a goat. It worries him. They may have drawn the goats in with the sound of music. They had in times past brought curious cows over, who stayed and grazed nearby. But the cows wouldn’t try to cross the fence. The goats might.

He has an idea. A two-birds-one-stone kind of an idea.

“You’re just riling your own self up,” Gus’s wife tells him. “We can barely hear it, and it’s only ten-thirty.”
They both lie together in the dark room. Gus knows Opal is right. As soon as the air conditioner kicks into cycle, he won’t notice it at all. But the room itself is silent, and when Gus closes his eyes, he can just hear the snatches of guitar and fiddle, a laugh, a yelp, an almost-yodel. They spark a flare of irritation in him that make sleep impossible.

He sits up and swings his legs to the edge.

“Gus, don’t,” Opal says.

“It’ll be fine.”

Gus pulls his just-discarded dirty clothes from the hamper and re-dresses in the dark. He follows the edge of the road, walking instead of driving. He can tell the music is coming from the far edge of the Hydle property, likely the fire pit by the fence line, off behind their second barn. There are always ratty lawn chairs there, used by the young people April and Josie find, coming from God knows where. He’s actually surprised the noise made it all the way to his home, helped perhaps by the wind and the slope of the land.

By the time he’s made it past the already dark farmhouse, still a ten-minute walk to his goal, the music stops. He pauses, about to turn back, feeling foolish for his wasted trip. But then someone whoops, and it doesn’t sound like a headed-to-bed whoop, so Gus decides to keep going. Just to spy a bit. A natural, neighborly poke around.

The bursts of noise continue as he walks. Loud snatches of conversation, a shouted request, the sounds of doors creaking and groaning, things being rattled against each other. Then the sound of shattering glass, so loud it stops him short before urging him to walk faster.

He finally reaches his property again. This new acreage still delights him when he thinks of it, though his wife considered him crazy to buy it. He can see the goats gathered together in the dark, another fifty yards down the road.  A couple of days ago, he’d taken down a small section of the fence that separated his original fields from the newly acquired ones, and the goats didn’t waste time before ranging further, exploring what was new. He had expected the Hydles to call or show up on his porch, complaining of goats crossing those older fence lines. He’d have to rustle them back to the original pasture then and hire help to re-fence. He should have done that first, he knew, and perhaps even could have gotten April to chip in for the cost and help out with the labor. She’d be much, much less likely to do that if the goats damaged any of the vines. But he had done the dumber thing because it had felt right at the time. And so far, there had only been silence. The other fence, the one that runs the length of the main road, is goat-proof. Gus wouldn’t have let the herd over here otherwise. But he sees his pettiness in not worrying about the Hydle crops isn’t wise for his interests either. If the goats get into the vineyard, they will be dangerous free agents—not just causing mayhem with the grapevines and equipment, but potentially breaking out to roam further afield. He will round them up in the morning and herd them back to the original property.

Up the fence line, there’s activity with the workers. He’s probably close enough to get noticed, so he ducks through the Hydle’s wider-spaced fencing and heads towards his goats. He uses the cover of another metallic crash to give a low whistle so they know it is him. They stay as he approaches, not at all surprised at his nighttime appearance, though it really is a novelty. He’s not making them nervous, but they do seem on edge. The goats don’t like the Hydle lackeys either.

There’s something so dog-like in these Boer goats, or at least Gus things so. His own father had favored Dobermans, and back then they always cropped the dogs’ tails. The goats’ tails remind him of those dogs, though they are white or brown, never black. And most of his goats have brown, floppy hound ears. The goats are thicker in the body than dogs, with a proportion different enough that you’d never mistake them, even in your peripheral vision. Especially not the ones with horns.

There’s a strange, prolonged jangling behind them. All the goat heads swivel towards it and Gus turns too. The lack of much moon makes him feel safely hidden here, but it also means he can’t make out more than vague shapes. The goats have had enough, though, and they move together to go back deeper into the pasture, first at a walk and then at a trot and then a real run. Gus decides to take a closer look, moving slow to not draw anyone’s attention. But when he’s close enough, maybe thirty yards from whatever it is they’re working on, he realizes they wouldn’t notice a baton twirler if she were parading along beside him. These kids are engrossed.

Gus settles on the ground, already not looking forward to hoisting himself back up. After a bit, his eyes adjust and the light of a few scattered lanterns is enough to see the action. It reminds him of his youth, the hippie nonsense he saw in college, bad art created with too much self-importance or too much enthusiasm. Or both.
They’ve found bushels of dried lavender somewhere—April might not be pleased with that theft—and tied it within the fencing. You could even say the fencing is festooned with it. The metal jangling is from pieces of deconstructed wind chimes bouncing off each other in the breeze. Where had they gotten this stuff? Wastefulness, pure and simple.

But then something shakes out from deep in Gus’s brain, and he remembers goats don’t like the smell of lavender. This art project does have a purpose: goat repellent. But it’s still useless, covering just a tiny fraction of the total fencing they might cross. Why such foolishness? But then Gus sees the reason: Gideon Hydle, carrying a bucket and moving among the workers, making them laugh and hoot. Gus notices empty wine bottles scattered here and there, a bottle or two of something harder. The Hydle girls are smart enough to usually only bring that boy home at harvest time, but here he is not that far into spring. And while even Gus has to admit that Emily’s son is a man now, it’s hard not to think of him as a boy. There’s something delicate in him, though he’s outwardly sturdy. His hair is always on the long side—but then, the local high school boys in town are shaggier, too. Another thing from the seventies coming back at him.

His wife has chided him for his dislike of the boy. He lost his mother so young, after all, and it’s not his fault that his father is unknown to him. But Gus had never liked Emily anyway, the way she swanned about like she was too good for the town, with Susan, the far better sister, always caught in her shadow. However, that isn’t the real reason Gus disfavors Gideon. When Gideon looks at Gus, it feels like the boy is rustling around in his chest, looking for something of value. It’s unpleasant—as is the way the world takes a shine to him, without reason or justification, just as it did his mother.

His own girls are older than Gideon, and they didn’t overlap in high school. As much as he might think Gideon’s current life isn’t what his Aunt Susan would have wanted for him, he can’t say his own daughters have the lives he wanted for them, either. What had he imagined for them, when they were young? It couldn’t have been that different from what they now had: husbands who knew how to provide, healthy kids, church on Sundays, an upright, purposeful kind of life. But he hadn’t envisioned them in Fort Worth, in Plano. He’d seen them here, nearby, seen them marrying men more like himself. Men who might actually want the land he and his wife would leave to them, who might even want it so much they’d invest their current lives in it.

Instead, they married men who invested in the type of car they drove, who hired people to do the simplest of things, like paint a bedroom or clean out a gutter. He couldn’t begrudge that his wife went so often to visit them, though he sometimes lectured her for being taken advantage of: an easy and free babysitter option for their date nights and weekend getaways. But he absolutely could begrudge them all—his girls and the men they married—for not bringing his grandchildren to see him more often. Perhaps if he had taught his girls to ride ATVs, to help him nurse the sick goats, to get their hands just a little dirty, they might be more excited for their own sons to do the same. And their daughters, too, he reminded himself.

It’s hard to see things when you’re on the front edge of change. He’d have never guessed, when April and Josie were small, that they’d be the ones keeping the farm going. He also wouldn’t have guessed that Josie would marry a woman, and that most of their hired hands would be women too. Being caught off-guard about things may have turned him a bit hostile. But the longer time goes on, the longer he sees that his present life is also his future life, and that those lives have been made worse by his past choices. His hostility itself has a weird longing in it, too. He’d call it nostalgia if it had been inspired by a life he’d actually lost rather than a life he’s never had.

Gus wishes he had his binoculars with him—or even better, some night vision goggles. He can tell the women are clustered around the wooden fenceposts, but he can’t see what they’re doing. Gideon is walking between them, offering them something, the women’s hands going into the metal bucket. The two male workers have gone back to their guitars, but the strumming is quiet. From behind him a car crests the small rise, its headlights spilling out onto the pasture. Gus’s eyes can’t adjust fast enough to use that light, but for one second, the edges of its beams hit the group in front of him. It doesn’t show him the women or what they are doing. There’s just a flock of flashes, dozens of lights that erupt on the fence and are gone.

The sound of shattering glass earlier must have been a mirror, and now those fools are affixing the sharp shards to the fenceposts. And even though his goats would push at the wire fencing, not the posts, and even though the shards are not so sharp that any of them has let loose a curse from being cut, Gus nevertheless takes the action as a provocation. He waits until the work is done and all of them have drifted back to the music. Then he creeps back to the highway and heads home.


April’s alarm goes off at six, but she allows herself one snooze cycle. When the alarm erupts again, it’s accompanied by an overly loud knocking on the front door. By the time she gets to the kitchen, Flora is at the fridge pulling out the orange juice and the front door stands wide open. “Mr. Curtis is on the porch,” she says, yawning.

And so he is, leaning against the porch railing, staring off in the direction of the north barn. April decides to go on offense. “Glad to see you, Gus. I’d been meaning to stop by to talk about those fences which might not be up to keeping your goats out. I have to admit, it’s making me nervous.”

Gus looks at her, and she can’t tell if the expression that passes over his face is slightly guilty or slightly riled. Perhaps both.

“Got up early and moved them back to their original pastures,” Gus says. “I’ll keep them there for now. But I can’t say I’m impressed with the changes to the fence y’all have made. It looks like an elementary school art project.” He looks back to the left, to the barn, and April follows his gaze. The bits of the fence that April can see, off in the distance between the various outbuildings, look normal to her. But she’s sure Gus isn’t just making things up.

“Not sure what you’re talking about. Art project?”

“Something your employees got up to last night. And your cousin.”

Theater takes preparation, but April guesses fence art can be more spontaneous. No reason to put this off.
“Lead the way. Let’s take a look.”

On the walk over, April tries to make conversation; she asks after the Vasquez family, after Opal and their daughters, after the goats. She even tries to take his temperature on the health of the goat-meat market. Unsurprisingly, Gus gives the barest of answers in return. She sees him eyeing their new compact tractor, sees that he wants to ask about it, then sees him throttle that impulse.

When they reach the fence, it isn’t as bad as April feared. The “art project” is just a small stretch, maybe thirty yards. It looks attractive enough to her eyes, and she has to admire its utility. There’s lots of lavender woven in. Nia, one of their employees, had been growing the plant on an unused plot, thinking to make soap or essential oil for the farmers market, but she hadn’t yet had the spare time. It had been drying in the barn for half a year. Goats hate the smell of lavender, and April can commiserate; it’s not her favorite, either. They’ve also dismantled Lu’s large collection of windchimes, which had previously been spread throughout the grape rows, and created an arrangement of pipes in close proximity. Without any wind, though, they sit still and silent.

Gus looks at her, waiting for her to grant her agreement that they stand there beholding an abomination. “Honestly,” she says, “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Nothing difficult to remove, and I’d even recommend we keep it up for goat-repellent purposes. I mean, had you not already moved the goats.”

“It looks ridiculous,” Gus grumbles. “And technically that is my fence they’ve strung it up on.”

“I doubt anyone that knows you will think it is your handiwork,” she says. “And besides, we’ll have to change the whole thing out anyway, won’t we, if you want to let the goats graze the new acreage?”

Gus doesn’t disagree, which feels like a small victory. “What sounds fair to you? To replace the fence, I mean. We can provide the labor—Gideon already offered to spearhead it.”

Gus’s sour looks grows a bit more sour, but he says nothing.

“And we pay twenty percent of supplies?” If they’re chipping in, they’ll at least have some say in the quality of materials.

“Twenty-five,” Gus counters. April’s glad she didn’t start the bargaining at thirty.


It takes two days to get everything bought and hauled in. While they wait, Gideon sets up a work schedule. His uncle would have been confounded by how many of the team had volunteered to help with the fencing. It was a task he had always done reluctantly, putting it off until it became more annoying to keep as is than to redo. It wasn’t that his uncle had been lazy—far from it. April might like to call Gideon insightful, but not even he could parse out why some daily chores suit a person and others seem near torture. Gideon doesn’t mind scrubbing a toilet, but he hates cleaning a bath or shower. Josie can vacuum all day long, but don’t ask her to sweep. All the Hydles like chores associated with growing things, but they have plenty of employees that would rather scour twenty tanks than pick grapes at harvest time.

However, for so many of them, putting up a fence is a draw. It’s one of those chores, though not the only one, that offers people something they’ve been missing: those raised in cities, where all things are fixed by professionals; daughters raised by fathers who withheld those skills for pointless gender reasons.

Putting up a fence gives an unexpected feeling of agency. Of competency. And, of course, any chore that shows such a stark before-and-after effect has to feel satisfying. A falling-down fence changed for one that is strong and upright. Gone are the days when a fence held the connotation of constraining civilization, of being against nature. Fences keep the crops safe, those very same crops that keep your family fed, directly or indirectly. Fences protect your cows, and they keep your goats away from the murderous highways.

And so, Gideon is flush with people to fill out the roster. It’s only a two-person job, though once things got rolling, he’ll snag a third. He’ll approach someone who hasn’t yet asked to help. It’s the ones who worry they can’t do it, aren’t up to the task, that need to help the most. Because, truly, anyone can build a fence. And with a partner that knows what they’re doing, anyone can build a good fence.

Gideon doesn’t mind that Gus has taken on the position of unofficial overseer. On the first day Gus arrives three hours into the work, looking flustered from the start.

“I figured you hadn’t started yet since there was no one down by the north barn,” he says. It sounds like an accusation. Gideon smiles at Lu, who is helping him unroll the woven wire, to keep her from scowling.

“We thought it best to start at the top, begin at the end,” Gideon says.

Gus sighs but says nothing. They’ve taken down the original wire already, and Gus tugs at the wooden posts they’re reusing. Then he walks around and inspects the staples and the tying wire and the wire stretcher. Gideon makes eye contact with Lu and lifts his chin. She takes the hint and tells Gus she’s been curious about the different breeds of goats.

“Why’d you pick Boers?”

To Gideon’s surprise, Gus gives Lu an answer that reaches a full paragraph in length. After that, Gideon and Lu make an unspoken game of it, seeing who can get the most engagement from the old man. Lu wins every round, but at least Gus isn’t ignoring Gideon completely. But then he makes the mistake of asking about Gus’s daughters and grandkids, and Gus shuts down.

“The tension’s too loose,” he tells Lu, hovering over her. “Haven’t you ever put up a fence before, girl?”

Lu drops her hands to her side; her face goes icy. “First time,” she says. “But I’ll have it down in no time. I can’t say I have the same optimism for your teaching skills.”

Gideon worries the argument will escalate, but Gus retreats, walking back to his house without another word. They watch him go then Lu says, “He wasn’t wrong. Help me use the stretcher to get it tighter?”

Gus’s pattern continues over the next few days as the new fence grows larger and larger. Sometimes he’s helpful, stepping in to assist with something unasked. Sometimes he’s hyper-critical, and the atmosphere goes prickly. Sometimes he’ll even disappear for a few hours, then pop back up just as the others are starting to relax. Once, he even brought sandwiches for them all, though he made sure to tell them it was his wife who had insisted.

On the last day they’re tasked with removing all the goat-proofing decorations before they take down the final section of wire. Gus grumbles when they don’t peel off the shards of mirror on the support posts that they’ll keep.

“We tried, Gus, but we’d have to chip out wood, too. The super glue is really doing its job. I promise, there’s no way the goats will hurt themselves on it.”

Gus picks at the edges of one piece, clearly displeased. Gideon’s helper of the moment, a burly guy from Shreveport, forces Gus to move from the fence by pushing past him. “We’re so close to done. Almost free of your micro-managing, Gus.” Perhaps it’s a joke, but even to Gideon it mostly sounds like an insult. It’s no worse than what Gus has thrown at them over the past few days. Still, the remark causes Gideon to frown, and the young man looks sheepish.

“We’re having a party tonight to celebrate fence completion,” the man says. Gus’s face darkens and the man quickly adds, “Come by for a glass of champagne at seven, and we’ll toast to it. Bring the goats!”
Gus’s expression is now less dark, but it’s also not pleased. He wanders off down the fence line and doesn’t come back.

That evening, everyone gathers for the toast. April and Josie are pleased with what they’ve done, and they—as well as Glory and Flora—stick around until nine. There’s music and talking and a lightness in the air that makes Gideon happy. He’s not sure if he’s pleased or displeased that Gus never stops by. Once “the bosses” leave, the party slips into a new gear. Lu’s cousin is a chemistry grad student, and apparently one of the bottles of wine—its label has been stripped bare—also contains Ecstasy. Medicinal-grade liquid MDMA, she assures Gideon, not a party drug. She insists on this, though they are indeed using it at a party. Gideon abstains but thinks it can’t do any harm. He’ll just keep an eye on everyone.

Later Gideon gets caught in a long conversation with Nia, which includes them crossing the fence to pet Gus’s goats. When they return, the party has splintered. A chunk of the team has left for the night, headed back to their own homes. Someone is strumming a guitar, and there are folks scattered in conversation and several people stretched out on the ground, watching the stars.

Gideon looks to see if there’s anyone else about and notices, far up the fence line, three flashlight beams bobbing in the night. He goes after them, but they must be moving fast as he can’t seem to gain ground. The lights quiver along the fence then take a right and follow it further, as does Gideon. He thinks it must just be folks admiring the whole length of new fencing—that they’ll stop when they reach Gus’s original property line. And yet, the lights continue bobbing deep into Gus’s land. Then, just where there’s a large stand of live oaks, at least twenty of them clustered together, all the flashlights go out at once. Gideon can see the shadowy shapes of moving figures in the dark landscape. He keeps going toward them.

Gus is upstairs, getting ready for bed, when he sees three lights moving in tandem across his property. He hadn’t told Opal they’d been invited to the party, or that there had been a party at all.

“There are flashlights back in the oaks,” he says to her. She’s already in bed, reading.

“I’m sure it’s just the neighbors having some nighttime fun. It sounded like they were having another get-together earlier.”

“Still, they shouldn’t be back there. Or what if it’s high school kids? We don’t want to become a local hang-out spot.”

Opal sighs.

“Whether it’s beer or something harder,” Gus continues, “we don’t want minors breaking the law on our place. And I know you don’t want them getting hurt.”

“Fine. But you have to take your cell phone. And those walking poles you got for Christmas that you haven’t even used yet.”

Surprised he won her over so easily, Gus does as he is told. He has to remove the poles from their box, remembering what he told his daughter after he opened them: “Some might say it’s rude to give gifts that imply feebleness.” He’d taken a tumble that autumn, stepping in a hole created by a rooting armadillo, and twisted his ankle. Could have happened to anyone. But he has to admire the poles now that he has them in his hands. They’re carbon fiber, light and strong, and he’s sure she paid more than a practical sum for them.

Outside, realizing that the poles have small lights within them, he puts the flashlight in his back pocket. The pointed tip-ends of the poles sink nicely into the dirt, then come free with no resistance, and the lights that illuminate his feet do indeed let him avoid a small hole he’d otherwise have stumbled over. Whoever is out there will see him coming, two swinging lights, low to the ground, heading toward them. But perhaps that will make them go home before he even gets there. Their lights have long since been turned off, but he keeps heading toward the grove of oaks.

Before he can see them, he hears the voices of the young women floating down from above him. He keeps coming, and at a certain point the murmurs turn into a playful chant: Go, Gus, go. Go, Gus, go. He is their entertainment, a punchline to a joke that is kept from him. He finds the three of them eight feet off the ground, somehow having scrambled up to sit side-by-side on a fat oak limb.

“Y’all shouldn’t be over here.” He’s out of breath from his fast walk.

“This is so beautiful,” Lu says. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be within the grove rather than looking at it from our fields. You’re lucky to have these trees.”

Gus tries again. “You need to get on back.”

“Want some whiskey?” This from the girl next to Lu, the one he hasn’t met. “We left it there at the base of the tree.”

The fact that they are speaking to him kindly, all while ignoring everything he says, is somehow more aggravating than if they were being combative. He takes one of his poles and bangs it ineffectively against the giant trunk of the oak. “I said you need to get on back, now. I’m not going to ask again.”

When they don’t move, when they start in again with a chorus of Go, Gus, go, he reaches as high as he can to bang a pole on the trunk, right next to Lu. He can’t control the ricochet, though, and he feels the force of the pole as it bangs straight into Lu’s hanging leg.

She yelps and curses, and Gus begins to back up. He’d rather let them win than see if he’s actually really hurt the girl—she’s got friends there to help her, after all. Then, from somewhere in the darkness, Gideon appears beside him. He calls up to Lu: “You okay?”

“I’ve got a new hole in my jeans.” Gus can hear the anger in her voice. “And a big-ass scratch on my leg.”

Gus mutters to Gideon, not loud enough for Lu to hear, “I didn’t mean for it to strike her.”

“Is it bleeding? Like needs-stitches bleeding?” Gideon asks.

“No.” Lu sounds disappointed.

“Could you come down, please?” the boy says. It’s a request and not an order. Irritatingly, the women come right down. They gather and stand in front of him and Gideon, crossing their arms and looking at him with no sign of their prior kindness.

“I’m sorry,” Gus tells Lu. “I didn’t mean to hit you.”

“Maybe not. But you were mad, and you felt like you had to put that anger somewhere.”

He nods then adds that he asked them several times to go back to their own place. Lu snorts. Another girl, one he can’t name but does recognize, picks up the bottle from the foot of the tree and offers it to Gus.

“I don’t like hard liquor.” He sees Gideon staring at him, and again he has that less-than-pleasant feeling of being rummaged through. “What?” he snaps.

After a long pause, Gideon says, “A little wine instead?” He extends a bottle. It must be something new, as it doesn’t even have a label yet. Or maybe they keep the mediocre stuff for themselves.

“Don’t like wine, either. I’ll take a beer on occasion, and I smoked a joint or two in my time. But that’s it.”

Gideon nods. The bottle drops back down to his side. One of the women holds out her hand for it but, to Gus’s surprise, Gideon ignores her.

“Will you get back on the road again, now that the fence is done?” Gus asks him.

“Probably stick around through harvest,” he says.

Gus senses a rising excitement in the girls. It’s news to them too, it seems. Gus, however, only foresees months of provocation. “That’s a shame,” he says, but the overall mood turns so stony, so fast, he regrets speaking. He has to remind himself that he meant it.

Lu looks at him sharply, but she no longer seems angry. She pulls something from her pocket. “I was saving this for later, but I’m happy to share.” She flicks open a Zippo and within its light, he sees a thin joint. She hands it to him, still unlit. He feels unable to refuse it now; perhaps it will bring the temperature back up. She holds out the Zippo and he inhales, sensing the burn in his lungs. He tries to hold the smoke in but the stench is awful.

“Why does it smell like burning plastic?” he asks.

“Lu,” Gideon says sharply. “Is there something else in that?”

“Just some DMT.”

Gus is trying to get his brain to focus on the question of DMT, on what it is, what the letters stand for, but he feels too strange to concentrate. Apparently Gideon doesn’t know the acronym either because he gestures for her to continue.

“It’s sort of like psilocybin.”


“But it’s super-short. Kicks in immediately and is gone almost as fast. Besides, you had already offered him the laced wine.”

Gus looks at Gideon, at how colorful his face is, how his hair is a shade he’s never noticed before, a color he’s never even seen before. There is a sound in his ears, like his old tinnitus has returned. He suddenly feels like he needs to be far away from these people, far from this place, so he turns and runs. There’s a wire barrier to cross and, after that, a barrier that runs with him. On and on and on.

Gus is sitting in front of a fencepost when his mind clicks back into place. The Hydle north barn looms to his left. In front of him unfolds a sheet of mirror shards, infinitely repeating. He is trying to find their edges. They have to have edges. He had wanted to be alone, but now he really wishes he wasn’t. As if summoned, Gideon is there above him. Gideon is sitting beside him. Gideon is yelling for someone to get their truck. Gideon is telling him everything will be okay.

And then they are in the truck. Gus feels both exhausted and also completely himself again. His legs hurt almost as much as his hands. How long did he run for? He’s tempted to pull back the gauze Gideon has encased his hands in. There are blotches of reddish-pink already blooming beneath the layers.

“We headed to the ER in Fredericksburg?”

Gideon looks over at him, seemingly relieved that he’s speaking sense. “Yeah. Another twenty minutes, though. You doing okay?”

“I’ll live.”

“It didn’t look like you’d severed any tendons. But some of the cuts will need a few stitches.”

The phone in Gus’s front pocket vibrates. Even if he wanted to talk to Opal, he wouldn’t be able to manage it with all the gauze on his hands.

“Want me to get that? Your wife is probably worried you’ve been gone so long.”

“You can call her in a minute. But I want you to tell her I fell into a window, hands first. No drug talk. That’s what I’ll tell the ER doctor, too.”

“I’d feel better if you told the truth. And had them check out your heart.”

“I’ll say I have some tightness in my chest. They’ll do the full work-up. You think anyone within earshot would be able to avoid retelling the story of how ol’ Gus Curtis accidentally took hallucinogens? I’m not risking it.” Gus waits to feel his anger at Lu, his anger at Gideon, but it doesn’t come. He had wanted the anger to distract him—both from his pain and his embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry about all of this,” Gideon says. “It wasn’t what I had intended.”

Gus should say something to show he doesn’t accept the apology, but there’s something in Gideon’s worried tone that makes Gus sad, too. He inexplicably wants to make the boy feel better.

“You go ahead and call Opal. Tell her to wait and come to the hospital once it gets light. She hates driving in the dark. Tell her I’m going to be fine.”


April doesn’t even know anything is wrong until she gets up that morning and finds Lu waiting on her front porch. It’s a lot to take in: Gus on drugs (that Lu had brought), Gus injured, Gideon with him at the hospital. It’s all so bizarre that she doesn’t even know what to think. She makes Lu repeat the story to Josie and Glory when they get up. Then she sends the girl home and tries to reach Gideon. But his phone goes straight to voicemail.

Instead she makes breakfast, and no one talks much. After Flora gets up, April is surprised to hear Josie explain it all to her daughter. “What?” Josie says, seeing April’s surprise. “It’s either tell her the truth or make her stay in her room with headphones on for the next day or two.”

Later that morning, around seven, Gideon finally comes in the door. “Opal sent me back, but it looked like Gus was on track to be released before too long.” He sits at the table, looking too exhausted and upset for April to launch into him as she had planned. Instead, she gets him a cup of coffee while an intrigued Flora peppers him with questions about the drug Gus took. He tells her what he learned from Google as he waited with Gus.

“For some reason, lots of people see entities of some sort. They might be aliens or mythological beings or even something called ‘mechanical elves.’”

At this, April finally erupts. “You gave Gus Curtis a psychedelic that would make him hallucinate elves? Why in the world did you think that would be helpful, Gideon?”

Gideon doesn’t get riled, though. He says quietly, “Lu told you it was her idea. I hadn’t even heard of DMT before tonight.” What goes unsaid is what other drugs might be floating around the place. And if he had any part in asking them to be brought in. Gideon has more to say, she can tell from the angle of his frown. He adds, shrugging sheepishly, “My idea was to give him Ecstasy.”

April throws her arms up but keeps her frustrated scream to herself. At least Ecstasy made sense for Gus. Might give the dour old man a break from his irritation. If anyone needed to be more in love with the world, it was Gus. April looks at Gideon and shakes her head. “Chaos-forward, always.”

Gideon slumps in his chair, dropping a half foot as his long legs reach further under the table.

“There’s gonna be sheriff’s deputies, Gideon,” Josie says. “Lots of questions. Gus could sue us for damages. Bankrupt us and then get our land for a song in foreclosure.”

Gideon shakes his head. “I doubt it. Gus wouldn’t even let me tell the doctors, or Opal, what he took. And if the sheriff comes, I’ll just say the drugs were mine. I’m not an employee. My name’s not on any deed. Only I would be liable, not all of you.”

April feels relief at this, then a nagging guilt underneath the relief. They have indeed kept Gideon siloed off from what should be his inheritance, too. At this point, with all his traveling, he knows so much more about wine-making than any of them. April is about to suggest they do some work to get their minds off things when there’s a knock at the door. Glory opens it to find Opal standing awkwardly on the porch, apologizing for the early hour.

“Nonsense,” Glory says, welcoming her in. “We’d love an update on Gus.” Opal perches nervously at the table. April gets her coffee and asks if she’d like eggs and toast.

“That’s kind of you, yes,” she says. “And I’ve come to ask for more kindness, if you’ll let me.”

“Name it,” Gideon says. “It’s our fault he was out and about that late.”

“Gus could have stayed home like a sane person,” she says. “When he saw those flashlights. But he’s never been a man who can get away with things. He always reaps what he sows.” Opal says this with a certain fondness that makes it sound less than dire. “They asked him to stay another couple of hours to monitor his blood pressure. I’m sure it’s just the stress of him being up all night. He was finally sleeping when I left. I need to feed the goats, though, so I was hoping, Gideon, that you might drive back over and wait with him, then bring him home? I called my girls, but neither of them can get out here for a few more days.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather us take care of the feeding?” Josie asks.

“Gus requested Gideon’s company, actually. I tend to fuss too much. Gus says you’re good at being helpful. That you know what people need.”

Looking at Gideon’s smile, his first one that morning, April marvels at this good thing with Gus that has happened despite the bad thing. Or, she wonders, is it a good thing that never would have happened with the bad?

Gideon heads back to the hospital, and April leaves Opal to finish her breakfast with Josie and Glory. She grabs gloves, an old Phillips screwdriver, a hammer, and a bucket, then walks to the scene of the accident, takes stock of the multiple mirrored fenceposts, and begins with the one that’s been bloodied. The shards have adhered to wood like they’ve grown from it, but she knows Gus will prefer them gone. She gets to chiseling, gouging out the wood to get the pieces free.

Before long, April moves to the thinking stage, and there’s a lot there waiting. Have she and Josie never encouraged Gideon to stay because it’s what is best for him or because it makes their own lives less complicated? After all, what kind of farmer intentionally adds more chaos to an already uncontrollable vocation? But, then, what kind of person keeps family at arm’s length, especially when that family is Gideon? The shard of mirror she’s been working on finally pops free, and she leans down to retrieve it. Whatever kind of person that is, it’s no longer who she wants to be.