Saturday, February 25, 2017

Working-Class Writer

I wake up every morning around six. I make coffee, maybe cook breakfast, and try to squeeze in a few words before I venture off to the day job in my 1998 Ford Ranger, which I’ve been driving since 2006. The truck has no heat or ac and needs a universal joint replaced, all of which I cannot afford to have repaired. During the day I’m a home maintenance technician, which is a fancy, politically correct way of saying I’m a maintenance man—more specifically, a maintenance man for two apartment complexes. It’s far from being a glamorous gig, but it’s an honest one, and it pays the bills and allows me to continue my writing endeavors.
I’m not embarrassed by having a day job. It doesn’t make me a failure as a writer, or inferior as an artist. In fact, if you are one who works your ass off at a full-time job, helping to provide for your family, and are still striving to fulfill your writing dreams, or any dream, I admire you. I really do. I’ve held many jobs throughout the years. I’ve called myself a machinist, a metal fabricator, delivery driver, and when I was fifteen I bagged groceries, and all the while I made time to write. It’s a disease, writing, I’m sure of it, but a disease of which I hope I’m never cured. I am a writer, an artist, that’s my job, my life’s passion. My writing doesn’t pay all my bills, but it's what I do and it’s who I am.
If you’re a writer then you know you can never stop writing. I couldn’t if I tried, no matter how many other jobs I had. On the days I don’t produce words, I feel a lingering gloom. It’s an emotion that will pass only when I place pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. If, one day, destiny calls and I become a fulltime writer and I’m able to work from the cozy confines of my home, I will consider myself very fortunate—but I’m a realist. If I’m forced to continue waking at six in the morning to head to my day job, then so be it. I’ll continue writing just as I have all these years, with conviction, obsession, and psychotic impulses that are out of my control.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Passion of Storytelling

Since the beginning of man’s existence, storytelling has played a significant role in presenting the many different facets of human character and imagination. Even going back to when cavemen scrawled on stonewalls and scratched messages onto dirt floors, man has always had a fascination with the art of storytelling.
As a fiction writer, I not only enjoy creating the story, but I also adore reading a stimulating narrative as well. This, I believe, is the essence of monumental writing and superb storytelling. To absorb the entire creative process and to enter into another world by the alluring arrangement of written prose can be an exciting experience, one like no other.
These distinct individuals and characters known as storytellers possess the ability to teach, entertain, and spread value and tradition. They are a group that I discovered as toddler when my Grandmother first read to me Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. These authors, novelists, poets and other artists of written prose have been a powerful driving force behind my creative writing explorations for many years.
To capture a reader's imagination is what every fiction writer longs for. To know that it is possible to send someone’s mind off to a faraway land and perhaps change his or her molecular structure ever so slightly is something that drives me as a writer.
The beauty of storytelling is a magical process from beginning to end. When I conceived the idea for this blog entry, it was my intention for the reader to gain a better understanding of how important storytelling is to me. The excitement and joy that I receive after reading a remarkable piece of writing is just another rousing element that spurs motivation and keeps me going as a writer and storytelling enthusiast.

Always hold the art of storytelling in the highest respect; it is one treasure that will continue to outlive us all. If you don’t believe me, just ask the caveman.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Turning Forty

I turned forty in January. I’m unsure if reaching forty-years-of-age is considered a milestone, but it happened just the same. Over the years I’ve asked people who are older than I am, who’ve had fortieth, fiftieth birthdays and so on, if they felt significantly different as the years pressed on. A few admitted they felt every bit of their age while others said they felt as if they were still in their twenties, and are reminded of their true age only when they saw themselves in the mirror.
For me, my body and mind are tiring—mostly my body. I feel much older than my forty years. I have good days and not-so-good days. I could always do more in the way of diet and exercise, but I don’t. Beyond my physical fatigue, the ageing process has handed me a new set of bright, shiny tools, or maybe it has allowed me to sharpen my old tools and use them more efficiently. I am calmer, more relaxed. I see the bigger picture for what it is—of not taking life so seriously. Absolutely there will be times to be serious and attentive, but even then I don’t allow those times to subjugate me, crush my spirit or manufacture ill feelings. Take life as it comes, is what I say. Everything will be okay in the morning.

So, the day I turned forty wasn’t a depressing day—as it was when I turned thirty—even with my aches, pains, and sometimes fogged forty-year-old mind. It might sound strange, but I feel I’ve finally matured, at least in the sense of years on earth. So, to those who turned forty or are about to, I raise my glass to you and say here is to forty more.

Friday, February 3, 2017

JUSTICE IN THE VALLEY

This story is included in the book BROTHERS OF THE MOUNTAIN: Heart of the Frontier.

At the edge of town was an old, weather-beaten sign that had the name Fog Valley carved into it. Riding in were two men appearing leather-tough. The lead rider wore full buckskin attire and a wide-brimmed hat, and the other man, a bit more bulky in the shoulders and chest, sported a canvas shirt and buckskin trousers. Strapped to the top of two trailing packhorses were hefty packs of made beaver pelts, four packs in all, folded and pressed. It was still a day’s ride to the port of the Missouri River where the men intended to exchange those pelts for cash and then purchase and restock their necessary provisions.
Henry McCarty and his younger brother, Lucas, pulled rein in front of a building that had the name Freemont Saloon painted onto it in big white letters. They caught the attention of a few passersby as they slid from their saddles and stepped to the muddy street below. Some merely glanced while others gawked at the two men who resembled a couple of dirty, beat-up drifters. But they were not that at all; they were trappers, mountain men, free to roam as they please, making use of the land and all of its offerings. This life, the one of a frontiersman, was not a means to an easy living. It took a special breed of man to go into the untamed wilderness and try to survive by his God-given ability, and Henry and Lucas McCarty were indeed this type of man.
Lucas glanced up to the sky and saw a blanket of dark clouds hovering. A whipping wind blew, signifying a chance of more storms and rain to come. He tethered his painted horse to the hitching rail and Henry did the same with his buckskin mount.
“Sure is nice to see livin, breathin folk again,” said Lucas as he stood stretching his back and arms. From the pommel of his saddle, he grabbed his pistol and tucked it behind his leather belt.
“Don’t excite me much,” said Henry, the older brother by three years. “Wouldn’t hurt my feelings none if’n we just rode on past this town.”
“Hell, big brother,” said Lucas. “Let’s live a little. We’ve been up in those mountains a good while now. Let’s go in and have a drink or two. Only seems right we howl at the moon every once in a while.”
Henry scanned the atmosphere of the town. “Maybe, but this place reeks of trouble.”
“Why’s that?” said Lucas.
“Don’t know. Most towns just do.”
A wide grin stretched the face of the younger McCarty brother. “Then we’ll fit right in.”
Not long after, a large man with a black hat and a white beard spoke to the brothers as they stepped up to the muddy boardwalk.
“Greetings, men. Welcome to Fog Valley where the women are lovely and the hospitality is aplenty.”
“Thanks, mister,” said Lucas.
“The name’s Sebastian. Sebastian Riley. I run the mercantile store just down the street.” He stuck out his hand and Lucas shook it.
“Glad to know you,” said Lucas. “Me and my brother here are on our way to the river port to cash in this season’s harvest. Just stopped off for a rest and a drink.”
The man named Sebastian stroked his white, bearded chin. Eyeing the stack of beaver pelts, he said, “Looks to me you and your brother did a mite good for yourselves up in those mountains. Say, let me save you a day’s ride. I’ll purchase every plew on those animals, just as sure as I’m standing here. Dollar a piece? What do you say?”
Henry and Lucas knew the man’s intentions, but they were wise to his tactics. They knew the game: buy at bottom dollar and sell at top market value, which they would get at the river port sometime tomorrow, the same top market value that Sebastian Riley would get if he purchased the pelts himself.
“No, thanks,” said Henry. “They’re not for sale.”
The brothers stepped away and Sebastian cleared his throat and said, “Two dollars a pelt, then. You won’t get a better deal—not even at the river’s port. I wouldn’t try to deceive you. This is the best deal you’ll find anywhere.”
Henry gave a cordial nod. “I think we’ll take our chances. Lucas, let’s have that drink.”
“You bet, Henry.”
“Well, if you men change your mind, I’ll be around,” said Sebastian.
Inside the Freemont Saloon, men sat scattered. Some played cards and drank; some sat with saloon girls on their laps and drank; and some sat by themselves and drank. Liquor was not in short supply, even for this establishment, which was well off the beaten path.
A thin, balding gent stood behind the bar looking over his wire-rimmed glasses to the specimens walking in his direction.
“Afternoon, fellas,” said the man.
“Afternoon,” said Lucas.
“What can I get ya?”
“Rum, please.”
“And how about you?”
“I’ll have the same,” said Henry.
“You got it. Two rums coming up.”
In front of each brother, the bald man sat a glass and generously filled them both. “You two just passing through?”
“Yeah,” said Lucas. “Heading to the port. Plan on being there by tomorrow.”
“Thought you might be,” said the man. With a rag, he wiped a splattering of rum from the counter. “The name’s Lyle. Lyle Freemont. I own this place.”
“Glad to meet ya,” said Lucas. Henry nodded and said the same.
“Many trappers stop here on their way to the port. Seems to be the perfect place to recuperate, I suppose.”
“First time for us comin this way,” said Lucas. “We usually do all our business at the rendezvous, but the markup on everything is beginnin to be more than me and my brother here can afford. We figured the further east we go, the better the deal we’ll get.”
“Makes sense to me. You fellas company men?” asked Lyle.
“No, sir. We’re free trappers,” Lucas said proudly.
Henry turned his attention from the conversation. He drank from his glass and occupied himself by looking the place over, studying it, getting a feel for it and the other patrons.
Across the saloon, through the jumbled mess of people, Henry watched as Sebastian Riley walked through the doors and over into a corner where he joined a small group of men at a table. Sebastian scooted up to the table and then gave a friendly nod in Henry’s direction. The mountain man returned the gesture and then brought his focus back to his brother and the saloon owner.
It was then a piercing scream silenced most of the activity within the saloon. Henry watched as a woman ran from one of the back rooms while being chased by a man holding a knife.
“Get back here, you bitch!” yelled the man.
“Go to hell!” said the woman. She was scantily clad in a thin dress, with blood seeping from her shoulder. She ran to where the brothers stood, and Lyle produced a flintlock pistol from behind the counter.
“You leave her be, Wade,” he said, pulling back the hammer.
“You stay out of this, Lyle,” said the man named Wade, still brandishing the knife. “She’s got my money.”
“It’s my money, you cheap son of a bitch!” said the woman.
“I’ll cut your damn throat!” said Wade coming toward the woman, who was now hiding behind the McCarty brothers.
Henry sat his glass on the bar. “You best stop right there.” Lucas also stepped forward to brace the man.
“This doesn’t concern you,” said Wade. “She stole my damn money! What kind of place you runnin’ here, Lyle? You teach all your whores to steal like this?”
“I didn’t steal anything,” said the woman.
“Then what’s he talking about?” said Lyle.
“He didn’t want to pay me because he’s too drunk to get his little pecker working, that’s all.”
“You trying to get out of paying?” asked Lyle.
“I’m not paying a woman who don’t know how to please a man. I ain’t doing it!” Again, Wade lunged at the girl.
As fast as a painter cat, Henry’s arm swooped downward and knocked the blade from Wade’s hand where it landed point down, sticking into the planked floor. Henry then reared back and struck the disgruntled patron with a hard fist, knuckles connecting squarely across his kisser. Wade grabbed his mouth and instinctively went for the pistol tucked behind his belt.
“I wouldn’t do it,” said Lucas, who also had pulled his flintlock and thumbed back the hammer. “It’d be in your best interest not to go for that gun.”
Sizing up his predicament, Wade eased his hand away from his pistol.
“Go on. Get out of here, Wade,” said Lyle. “Go cool off a while. We’ll sort this out later.”
With blood trickling from his mouth, Wade bent down and pulled his knife from the floor.
“You best do that, Lyle,” he said, “or you’ll soon be with one less whore. I can promise you that.” He took a step in the direction of the door but stopped to spit a glob of blood on the floor. He spun and pointed his knife at Henry and Lucas. “I’ll be seeing you two again.” He walked out the door and disappeared out of sight.
“Glad that asshole’s gone,” said the woman as she straightened her dress and smoothed the wrinkles with a few swipes of her hand. “Who’s ready for a drink?”
From the bosom of her dress, she pulled a handkerchief that was bundled and tied with a piece of rawhide, and tossed it on the counter in front of Lyle. The coins inside clinked.
“You might want to check your shoulder, ma’am,” said Lucas.
“It’s only a little scratch. I’ve been cut a whole lot worse. Pour these boys and me a drink, Lyle. They deserve it—since they sort of saved me and all—especially this handsome devil here.” She moved in closer to Henry, showing a keen interest in the rugged mountain man with the dark, shoulder-length hair and high cheekbones.
“No, thanks,” he said. “We’ll be on our way now, Lucas.”
The two stepped from the counter and the woman said, “I’m buying you a drink. Don’t be an asshole. It’s rude to turn down a drink when someone is offering.”
Henry turned around slowly. “I said no, thanks.”
The woman, with hair piled up into a bun, whose complexion favored that of an old piece of creek rock, and whose oddly shaped physique was comparable to a man’s, was persistent with her offer. She grabbed the mountain man by his arm.
“Please,” she started again, using a calm voice. “Will you have a drink with me—the both of you?”
Lucas had entered this town ready for a change of pace. He shrugged mildly, and turned back to Lyle who had already poured the glasses of rum and had them sitting on the counter.
The woman grabbed her glass and took a hard look to the left and then to the right, to the two men she stood between, to the two men who had been forced in the middle of a business deal that was on the brink of turning deadly. She finished her rum and set the glass back on the counter.
“The name’s Ruth,” she said. She noticed Henry still had not touched his glass. “You mind?” Before he answered, she grabbed his glass and tossed it back as forcefully as she had done her own only moments before. “We get all kinds in this town, that’s for sure,” she said as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Some come for business opportunities, like Lyle and me. People like Wade come to swindle and con. Others are just curious, just passing through, maybe looking for a good time. Maybe that’s you boys?”
Henry had seen and heard enough. Like most towns, this one was not for him. He stepped from the counter. “Time to get goin,” he said to his brother.
“Relax, Henry. Let’s have a drink,” said Lucas. “I hate to seem ungrateful. Besides, we ain’t got nowhere to be. And I’m tired.” He reached for his glass and downed it.
Henry again glanced around the saloon, and thought, I know plenty of places I’d rather be. But he could not argue with his brother. He too was tired. All the long hours of riding had taken their toll. He sighed and reluctantly stepped back up to the bar to join his brother and Ruth.
“That’s more like it,” she said. “Pour another, Lyle. I think our friend here is finally ready to drink with us.” Then she said, “Though, I wouldn’t get too comfortable just yet. See that man over there in the corner? The one with the white beard staring in our direction? The one with the redhead on his lap?” Both Henry and Lucas turned. “That’s Sebastian Riley—Wade’s cousin.”
“Yeah, we met earlier,” said Lucas. “He seems all right enough.”
Ruth said, “Oh, he might seem all right. But he ain’t. He’s sly, that one. A lot smarter than his cousin too, that’s for sure. I reckon he’ll come at you when you least expect it. Just be ready. As far as Wade Farley goes, that son of a bitch has one hell of a fight coming to him. He used to be all right, that Wade—a good paying customer. But the better friends we became, the more he thought he didn’t have to pay me, and the more we’d argue and the more we’d fight. Then he started hitting me around. Tonight wasn’t the first time he’d ever pulled a knife on me, but it was the first time he actually used it. Damn son of a bitch. I keep my gun in the table drawer beside my bed for predicaments like this one. But he knew where it was and I couldn’t get to it. Like I said, that son of a bitch has got a good one coming from me, that’s for sure. Next time I see him it ain’t gonna be pretty.”
Henry sat his glass on the counter and again said, “We need to be goin, Lucas. We’ll make camp on the trail. Ruth, I believe I’ve done seen all I want of this town.”
“Don’t blame you, really,” she said.
Henry headed toward the door.
“I’m right behind you,” said Lucas.
Before he was able to leave, Ruth cozied up to him. “Care for another drink?” She hooked her arm into his.
He was already feeling the effects of the first two. He hesitated, and said, “No, better not. I really need to—”
“Set ‘em up, Lyle!” Ruth interrupted.
Lyle uncorked the bottle once again and poured into the glasses. But it was then Henry charged back through the door, his face fixed with rage.
“Little brother,” he said. “We’ve got a problem—a big one. Our pelts are gone. Every damn one of ‘em.”
At first, Lucas was not sure he heard his brother correctly. He knew what was at stake. Any man who came west and spent any amount of time in the high lonesome knew the struggle it could be to survive. Trappers’ livelihoods were based on their seasonal earnings from the harvested pelts, which at top value brought three dollars apiece.
“Thanks for the drinks, Ruth,” said Lucas.
“Now just where are you two going?” she said, pawing on Lucas’s shoulder, still in pursuit of one McCarty brother or the other. “You don’t even know who took those pelts.”
“I got a damn good idea,” said Henry. “And he ain’t far. Let’s go, Lucas.”
“Thanks again,” said Lucas.
“Hold on,” said Ruth. She followed the brothers to the door. “I’m going with you.”
Lucas said, “This ain’t no trip for a lady.”
Ruth scoffed. “Darlin’, I’m far from being a lady. Besides, Wade took something of mine too.”
“What’s that,” said Lucas.
“My damn pride. He’s hit me and now cut me for the last time.” She paused. “And besides, I’m the one who got you two into this mess. I know where Wade’s cabin is. He’s probably on his way there right now. Let me help.”
Henry still felt she would only be in the way, and he knew they had to leave immediately.
“We appreciate the gesture,” said Henry, “but me and Lucas would fare better by—”
“I’m going and that’s that,” she stated. “Let’s hit the damn trail!”
“Suit yourself,” said Henry. “But we have to leave now.”
“I’ll get my stuff,” said Ruth, smiling triumphantly.
With a sneer on his face and the redhead on his lap, Sebastian watched the three pursuers exit the Freemont Saloon.
Not long after, Ruth had her necessaries gathered and she and the McCarty brothers were heading out of town. The rain fell again and the thunder rumbled through the valley.
She had changed from her dress into a pair of men’s trousers, leather boots, canvas shirt, looking more the rugged type.
Riding along, Lucas could not help but stare.
Ruth, noticing Lucas’s intrigue, said, “You never saw a woman in men’s trousers before?” She then spat to the ground.
“It ain’t that,” said Lucas. “You just look…different, that’s all.”
“Sometimes a person has to don many faces if they expect to survive for very long out here.”
Lucas did not say any more. He found truth in the remark. People had to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of the unpredictable western frontier. It was a matter of life or death.
They rode a bit longer through the valley, and Ruth pulled rein and gestured with a nod.
“Past that knoll over there, where those hills are, that’s where Wade’s cabin is.”
“Good,” said Henry. He looked around and noticed the rain had stopped. “We’ll wait here a bit and then we’ll pay a visit to Mr. Wade.”

Irritated, Wade entered the front door of his cabin, holding a handkerchief over his mouth. He pulled the door closed violently and the only picture hanging on the wall fell to the ground.
“What’s wrong?” said Wade’s younger brother who sat on a chair at a small table in the middle of the cabin. “You mad at me again?”
Wade stomped around the cabin in no particular direction, and stopped at the window to see if he was still being followed. The more he thought about the incident that transpired at the Freemont Saloon, the more pissed he became.
“Damn it, Ben. Why in the hell would I be mad at you? Quit asking dumbass questions for once in your life.”
“I’m sorry, Wade,” said Ben who carved on a piece of pine which was taking the shape of a flintlock pistol. He stood to go look out the window. “You gonna take me fishing now the rain has stopped? You said you was going to take me fishing. Remember?”
Wade could not keep his thoughts from returning to what had happened in the saloon.
“I should’ve just shot that bastard,” he said, thinking aloud. “And I should’ve cut that bitch’s throat.” He spun and threw his handkerchief against the wall and said, “No, goddamit. I ain’t taking you fishing. So quit asking.”
“Okay, Wade,” said Ben. “You don’t have to take me fishing if you don’t wanna. I’m sorry on account of I keep asking you. I’ll quit asking. It won’t happen again.”
Ben rattled on. He talked about the mouse he had caught earlier in the day and named it Squeaks. He then told Wade about the roof leaking. On and on he went, speaking about the day’s events. Finally, big brother Wade could take no more. He marched over to Ben and, without hesitating, slapped his face, much like how his daddy used to slap his.
“That’s enough, Ben! Quit your damn blabbering. That’s all you do…talk, talk, talk. You never do any listening. Why don’t you shut your mouth for once, you damn half-wit.”
Ben grabbed the side of his face. But he didn’t cry, although he wanted to. The slap stung and he heard a ringing in his right ear. He was used to Wade’s outbursts and often times physical abuse. Crying had been the norm a few years back, but not anymore. He held it in and did not give Wade the slightest pleasure of seeing him shed a single tear. Ben also wanted to retaliate. He was sure he could fight back now. Even at fourteen, he was not much smaller than Wade. He knew he could take him, although for now he did not have the courage to try. Ben balled his fist and his body trembled.
Wade noticed and said, “What’s wrong, boy? You want to hit me? You ready to be a man? Then go ahead…hit me. Let’s see if you got it in you. Go ahead.”
Ben stood, nearly eye-to-eye with his older brother, and considered taking Wade up on his challenge. However, he dropped his hand from his face, clenched his teeth, and sank back into his seat.
“That’s what I thought,” said Wade. “You’re still just a boy, probably missing his momma’s teat right about now.”
Ben held back his aggression. He fought off the urge to curse his brother, the urge to knock him on his ass, which had been pinned up inside for many years now, since his momma had died on the way to the western frontier several years ago. He grabbed his knife and whittled on his piece of wood. He took the abuse once again.
Wade paced around the room and then stopped again and gazed nervously out the window. He thought about riding out, but knew it would do no good. He knew they were coming—the three of them. Earlier, he had doubled back to see if he was being followed, and he was. He would have to stand his ground and fight this time, or try to reason with them, or else devise a viable plan of escape. But time was running out.

A virtually smokeless fire made from a few buffalo chips burned low to the ground, almost impossible to see by anyone from a good distance away. The three sipped from cups of coffee and contemplated their next move. Lucas stood on one side of the small flame, smothering a piece of pan bread with honey that he had gathered from a comb a few days ago. It was not every day that he had this luxury and the few stings that he’d received were well worth the taste of the sweet goodness.
Henry squatted on the other side and Ruth sank next to him, scooting closer.
“Don’t you two ever get lonely up in those mountains?” she asked. She had moved in on Henry close enough to hook her arm into his.
“Not really,” he said. “Me and Lucas keep each other company for the most part I suppose. It’s right peaceful up there not havin to deal with the damn bustle that town folk deal with on a daily basis. Kinda like what we’re dealin with now. If we’d just kept ridin we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“You wouldn’t have met me either,” said Ruth. She sipped from her cup again and laid her head on Henry’s shoulder. “And besides, town ain’t so bad. There’s always something to do. But I wasn’t talking about that kind of loneliness.”
Henry nearly choked on his coffee when he realized Ruth’s intended meaning. The idea of a warm woman to cozy up to at night did cross his mind from time to time. And, on a few occasions, he had appeased that notion, usually with a young Indian maiden he had encountered at a rendezvous, or at one of the Indian villages he and his brother frequented, but never with a woman such as Ruth, a saloon woman, a whore.
Lucas watched with delight as the conversation unfolded. A childish grin crept to his face as he waited for Henry’s response.
He said, “I guess I do get that hankerin from time to time, but right now just ain’t it.” He swallowed nervously then flung his coffee grounds into the fire. He gently broke free of Ruth’s grasp and walked to the packhorse to put away his cup.
“So what do you know about Wade?” asked Lucas, switching back to the matter at hand.
“It’s just him and his younger brother, Ben, living in the cabin. He’s a little on the simple-minded side, that Ben. He doesn’t get out much either. I also know this ain’t the first time Wade has swiped a passel of hides from trappers like you and your brother—at least most of the evidence leads back to him anyway.”
“I figured as much,” said Lucas. “Once a thief, always a thief.”
Ruth continued. “There’ve been many who were just passing through on their way to the river port that’s had their belongings come up missing. And whenever they come up missing, Wade seems to disappear for a couple days too, and then comes back to Lyle’s with a pocket full of money. Thing is, no one has ever actually caught him with the hides. That’s how he always gets away with it.”
The more Henry listened, the angrier he became. He said, “It’s about time we got those skins back, Lucas.”
The younger brother disposed of his grounds in the fire as well.
“Sure thing. I’m ready whenever you are.”

By now, the moon was full and lit up the sky and the grassy knoll that led to Wade’s cabin. The plan was simple: they would ride in, present their proposition to Wade, and take back what was rightfully theirs. If he didn’t comply, there would be hell to pay.
Riding in, they saw a burning lamp through a window.
“Looks like somebody’s home,” whispered Henry.
The brothers devised a plan, and Lucas ground staked his horse and eased into position. He walked along the edge of a tree line that ran just on the outskirts of the property, and closed in on the cabin. Henry could make out his brother’s shadowy figure and waited until he got himself into position.
With ghost-like maneuvering, Lucas crept easily to one of the windows of the cabin and saw a young boy sitting in a chair at a small table in the middle of the room, carving on a piece of wood. Lucas continued to study the place, but never laid eyes on the thieving culprit, Wade Farley. Then, he heard the boy say, “You think we can go fishing tomorrow? I really want to go fishing, Wade.” The boy spoke to an unlit corner of the cabin that Lucas was not able to see from where he stood outside the window. “I know I ain’t supposed to ask no more, but I wanna go, Wade. How come you don’t take me no more?”
Lucas ducked a little more out of sight when Wade came into view and walked up to the boy. He swigged from a bottle of rum.
“Damn it, boy,” said Wade. “Haven’t we been through all this shit before? We ain’t going fishing.” Lucas watched Wade grab the boy by the hair, tilt his head back, and forcefully pour the bottle of rum down his throat. “Here, drink some of this. Maybe this will make that simple-minded brain of yours forget about fishing.”
The boy choked and spat out the rum and tried to fight off his older brother, but was at a disadvantage sitting in his chair.
“Ain’t that good stuff, boy?” said Wade through a self-satisfied grin.
Lucas had seen enough. He signaled to Henry by mimicking the call of a whippoorwill using a cupped hand over his mouth. Henry, wielding twin flintlocks, heard the signal and yelled up to the cabin.
“Wade Farely! Get your ass out here, you thievin son of a bitch!”
They waited a few moments, but no answer came from the cabin.
“Maybe he’s not in there,” said Ruth.
“He’s in there,” said Henry. Then, “If you don’t hand over those pelts we’ll burn your goddamn place to the ground. That’s a promise.”
When it seemed Wade was not going to answer, the front door of the cabin gently cracked open.
“I don’t have your damn skins,” said Wade. “I ain’t never had them. Ride on out of here and leave me be.”
“Come on out, Wade,” said Ruth. “I’ve been itching to blow your damn head off all evening.”
“Ruth? Honey, is that you out there?” said Wade.
“Don’t you honey me. You’ve hit me for the last time, Wade—or anyone else for that matter!”
Wade said, “Aah hell, Ruth, you still bitter about our little episode from this afternoon? I done but forgot all about that. Ben, go over there and sit down. This don’t concern you. I don’t have your skins, so just ride on out and we’ll forget this ever happened. And, Ruth, I sure am sorry about cutting you this afternoon.” He opened the door a little more, enough to expose part of his face and she fired her pistol. The lead ball plunged into the wooden door, just missing its target.
“You goddamn whore!” he yelled.
“I’ve come to kill ya, Wade,” said Ruth. “I’ll wait here all night if I have to.”
Henry and Ruth waited out in the darkness and Lucas held his position at the side of the cabin. Henry did not want to burn down the cabin, especially knowing the boy was inside. But he knew it would be a good way to get Wade’s attention. Again, the door of the cabin cracked open.
Wade said, “All right, I’m coming out to talk this over. But tell that damn woman not to shoot no more.”
“She won’t,” said Henry. “And it might be in your best interest to leave all your firearms behind.”
“Sure. No problem,” said Wade. “I’m coming out now. Don’t shoot.”
The cabin door swung open and the doorway was empty; only the flickering lamp on the small table could be seen. Then a clumped silhouette of two figures emerged. One was of Wade Farley who held a flintlock to the head of the other shadowy figure, little brother Ben, who was too scared to run or fight.
“Let the boy go, Wade. This doesn’t have anything to do with him,” said Henry.
“Hell, I know that,” said Wade. “But he’s my ticket out of here. Just keep walking, Ben. Just keep walking.”
“I don’t like this, Wade,” said Ben, who was now in tears. “I don’t like this at all. Please, let me go. I promise I won’t ever ask to go fishing again.”
Seeing the flash of Ruth’s gun moments ago, Wade now had a general idea where his adversaries were. He held Ben, backing around the corner of the cabin, using him as a shield.
Then he said, “Here, take the half-wit. He ain’t nothing but a damn burden to me anyway.” He shoved the boy away and commenced to make his getaway around the cabin where his horse was tethered. Except, he did not count on running into Lucas McCarty, who stepped out of the shadows and leveled the man with a hard, balled fist to the side of the head. Wade went down, going out cold, immediately dropping his pistol.
A little while later, Wade came to when he heard the sound of Henry’s voice.
“Wake up, you son of a bitch,” he said. “It’s time you learned your lesson. It was bound to happen sooner or later.” Wade grimaced and the side of his head throbbed. Henry tightened the cinches at Wade’s wrists and ankles. “You gotta pay for what you’ve done.”
Wade’s vision came into focus, and when he looked down, he could not believe what he saw. His trousers had been stripped; he was as naked as the day he was born. His legs were tied securely to two trees, spread wide, straddling a massive anthill with its occupants busily at work.
Wade tugged and pulled at his constraints.
“I wouldn’t move around too much,” said Lucas. “You’ll only stir ‘em up that much more.”
“Where I come from,” Henry started again, “there are three things that we don’t tolerate. One is a liar, two is a thief.”
Keeping his pistol aimed at Wade’s head, Lucas chimed in and said, “And the third is beatin on women and children.”
“Looks like you’ve pretty much covered ‘em all, doesn’t it,” said Henry. He then spoke to Lucas. “You still have that jar of honey, little brother?”
“Sure do.” He retrieved the honey from the packhorse, and then said to Ruth, “I believe I’ll let you do the honors. You’re more than deservin.”
Wade tried to break free once more, but the leather bindings were strapped tight. And in his attempt, the ants become more agitated.
“What the hell you going to do with that!” yelled Wade. He saw Ben sitting on the back of Ruth’s horse. “Don’t let them do this to me, Ben. Don’t let them do it. I’ll take you fishing—anything you want. Please, don’t let them do this to me!
Ben did not acknowledge. He shifted in the saddle and averted his attention down into the valley, staring off into the distance, immune to his brother’s pleas.
“Just relax,” Ruth said. She picked up a stick and stood over the naked man. “I told you boys he had a small pecker. Look at that little thing. Those ants are going to have a time with you.” She dipped the stick and pulled out a glob of honey and it streamed to the ground, landing between his legs. She dipped the stick twice more until a distinguished trail of honey led up to Wade’s exposed genitals. She dumped the rest, spreading it thickly.
Wade pulled and tugged again at his restraints. “You people are damn crazy! This is blamed torture—that’s what this is.” He looked to Lucas. “Just go ahead and shoot me. What are you waiting for?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” he said.
Wade continued his plea for mercy. “Please. I beg you. Don’t leave me like this. I don’t have your skins, but I know where they are. Sebastian. Sebastian Riley has your skins. Please. Just let me go!”
“Don’t you worry none,” said Henry. “We planned on payin ol’ Sebastian a visit too—just as soon as we’re done here.”
About that time, they spotted a rider coming up the moonlit valley with a packhorse trailing behind. As he approached, it became clear who it was and what was on the back of the trailing horse.
Both brothers pulled their flintlocks.
Riding in, Sebastian Riley said, “No need to bear arms, gentlemen. I come with peaceful intent, and to return these plews to their rightful owners.”
“See, I told you he had ‘em,” Wade barked again. “Kill ‘em. Kill ‘em now.”
“Just exactly how did you come by these pelts?” asked Lucas.
“I found them,” said Sebastian.
“You best start doin a lot more explainin’ than that, or you’re liable to end up on the ground beside Wade there,” said Henry.
“I’d be glad to elaborate,” said Sebastian. “They were sitting on the back step of my store. Found them there this evening when I went back to do some last minute paperwork. Knew exactly who they belonged to and knew exactly how they ended up there.” He continued. “Wade’s been bringing me skins for about a year now. I buy them from him and then I take them to the port to make a little profit for myself. Me and Wade, we’ve never got into the particulars of where he gets his pelts. I just pay him and he goes on about his business. But I knew he didn’t buy those pelts. I knew that because you two were so damn persistent not to sell them. Anyway, here you go.” Sebastian looked to the ground at Wade. “Looks like you got what’s coming to you, cousin Wade.”
“Go to hell!” Wade tugged and yanked again at his bindings.
“Sure do appreciate your honesty, Sebastian,” said Lucas.
“I suspect you boys would’ve done the same for me,” he said.
Ruth swung into her saddle with Ben. “Guess I was wrong about you, Sebastian. You seem to be an all right fella.” Then she said, “Not sure what I’m going do with Benny boy here. I reckon he can come back with me to Lyle’s until we find a place for him to stay.”
Sebastian said, “He can stay with me. I got a spare room in the back of my store. He can stay there if he wants. He’ll have to work for his keep, of course. What do you say, Ben?”
The boy fashioned a smile that could be seen all the way from Fog Valley.
“Yes, sir, cousin Sebastian. I’d like that a lot.”
“Good. It’s settled then.”
Ruth said to Henry, “If you ever come to Fog Valley again, you be sure to stop in and see me at Lyle’s, okay.”
Henry chuckled slightly, and said, “That’s sure nice of you to say, but the port at the Missouri will be the last town I step in for a good while. Done got my feel of people, enough to last me a long time.”
They all smiled and laughed.
After the good-byes were spoken, Ruth, Sebastian, and Ben headed back to Fog Valley, and the McCarty brothers, with pelts in tow, turned their horses east, in the direction of the port of the Missouri River. Wade, still begging as they all rode away, lay on the ground with his honey-lathered testicles, remaining at the mercy of the mound of stirring fire ants.
Less than a quarter mile down the trail, a blood-curdling yell echoed through the valley, followed by a half-dozen more.
Lucas grinned and said, “I suppose them fire ants found what they was lookin for.”
“I’d say you’re right, little brother. I’d say you’re right indeed.”
~~~

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Elvis and Christmas

All of us have our Christmas traditions. Whether it’s staying home to cook and having your family over, or loading up in the car and heading to grandma’s house, we all have our traditions.
I’ve tried to develop a tiny tradition of my own over the last few years, inspired by a woman who was probably the strongest person I ever knew, my mammaw. I’ve been playing Elvis for the last many years on Christmas to pay homage to her. Let me tell you why.
So many years ago I remember Christmas at her house, the candy and nuts spread out on trays, the enormous Christmas tree. But what I remember most, what stands out to me in my mind is the snippet of her stepping up to her large wooden console turntable to play her Elvis Christmas record. Now, as a little boy of no more than three or four, I remember those sounds echoing through her large two-story home. It didn’t mean much to me then, because I didn’t know better, but somehow, all these years later, I’ve had the sense to recognize how much it meant to her.
So, in honor of her, here is some ’68 Comeback Elvis, which I’ve been playing for several Christmases now. And let me say, if you don’t think Elvis was the coolest son of a bitch in 1968, then go listen to some Frank Sinatra, or some other shit. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2016

OUR TIME TOGETHER: A Short Story



Jimmy had a difficult time keeping still. He squirmed and grew restless in his chair and waited as patiently as any nine-year-old boy could wait. He attempted to watch his favorite television program in order to send his thinking in a different direction. But there was no use. The growing excitement the boy felt on that late summer evening exceeded beyond anything that he had ever experienced before. He was on the brink of receiving the most glorious of gifts, one that meant everything to him, one that would make his dreams come true.
Jimmy Harrison was an undersized kid. He wore a pair of cut off denim shorts and went shirtless, just as he had done all summer long. Sprinkled with dark freckles was his tiny nose. Most of his tangled hair hung well over his ears, while the rest tried desperately to escape the confines of his worn out Little League cap. Turning in his father’s reclining chair, he looked nervously out the window behind him.
“When is Dad gonna be home?” he asked his mother. “He should’ve been here like an hour ago.”
“Just relax, honey,” said Sandra Harrison. “He hasn’t been off work for very long. He’ll be home soon enough.”
Jimmy’s mom was a petite, soft-spoken woman who did not have a lax bone in her tiny body. In her waking moments, there were always chores that needed doing.
“See…look. I told you,” she exclaimed as she unfolded the ironing board. “He’s pulling in the—”
Before she finished, Jimmy bounced out of the reclining chair, sprinted out the front door, and jumped off the porch. He bolted through the yard and leaped over his bicycle just to greet his old man.
Allan Harrison rolled into the driveway just as he had done every evening after working a ten-hour shift. His spirits were high and his favorite country-western station blared from the speakers of his 1985 Jeep Laredo.
With the Jeep still rolling down the driveway, the eager lad ran alongside, demanding answers. “Did you get it? Did you get it?” asked Jimmy, shouting over the music.
“What? I can’t hear you, Jimmy boy,” said Allan, teasing. He kept the radio’s volume at its max. “What in the world are you talking about?” he yelled back, bearing a juvenile grin, the cigarette hanging from his mouth staying securely in place.
“Oh, you know what,” Jimmy hammered back while nervously pumping the bill of his Little League cap. “Did you get my shotgun?”
“Oh…is that all you wanted?” asked Allan. Finally stopping, he turned off the Jeep, rolled-up the windows, and got out.
Jimmy’s dad was an average-sized man who stood around 5 feet 10 inches and weighed nearly 200 pounds. His once prominently flat stomach from his twenties no longer existed. Now, at the age of 35, his mid-section stretched the buttons on his navy-blue work uniform. He had a mustache that was dark and thick and hid his upper lip from the rest of the world, giving him the appearance of a western outlaw from long ago. Smudged proudly across his face was the day’s work from the forging plant, just as it was every day at this time.
“Well, Jimmy boy…” he said and paused with a brief sigh. “I did stop to look at the Remington you’d picked out.” The cigarette dangling from his mouth bobbed up and down as he answered. “It was the one with the walnut stock, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s the one,” answered Jimmy. His patience was all but gone.
“Well,” Allan said and then hesitated once more. “I’m sorry, son; but someone else must have bought it.”
Jimmy paled as his father’s words registered in his mind and all at once his anticipation came to a disappointing end. Emotionally crushed, he dropped his head and gave a couple more discouraging thrusts to the bill of his cap.
“Relax, Jimmy. I’m only kidding!” Allan gave his son a few playful pokes to his ribs. “I bought the last one…you little knucklehead.” Jimmy perked up immediately. For a brief moment, he’d thought his life was over.
When Allan pulled the carrying case from behind the seat of his Jeep, Jimmy was overjoyed. After all the waiting and dreaming, he now had his very own twenty-gauge shotgun. Allan removed the gun from its hard-shell case and handed it over to his glowing son.
“Well, what do you think?”
Jimmy cradled the gun while trying to determine if the moment was real. He looked up at his father and produced a tender, monumental smile. This ceremonial exchange was like no other for the boy. Staring down at his gun, Jimmy realized the importance of what was happening. From this moment on, things would be different. Because now, he held the highest of all bragging rights over each and every one of his buddies at school. This gun was sure to spur some jealousy among any group of nine-year-old boys. However, as important as that was to Jimmy, it did not compare to the gun’s real significance. Jimmy held in his hands the one object that would ensure him the freedom for which he had been waiting all summer. This new twenty-gauge shotgun granted him with his own means to track down and harvest those furry-tailed squirrels.
He had heard his father boast of his successful hunting adventures time and time again. And come morning, Jimmy had great aspirations of doing the same or even better. He had participated in a few hunting excursions in the past, but never toting a gun of his own. Jimmy had also fired guns before—just like the one he was holding now—but usually at nothing more than plastic jugs and paper targets. For Jimmy, this was the big time.
That night, sleep did not come easily for Jimmy. He tossed and turned thinking of the grand hunting adventure and finally having his very own gun. When the alarm clock rang at 4 a.m., Jimmy sprang from his bed. Allan, who had awoken an hour before, was drinking coffee, puffing on a Winston, and watching the early news programs. Sandra was also awake busily preparing breakfast for her two dedicated hunters.
“It’s kinda windy out there this morning,” said Allan as his son staggered into the living room. “It might be hard to hear them. They’re calling for rain too.”
“I don’t care about all that,” said Jimmy, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “We’ll still find those suckers.”
“Yes, son, I’m sure we will. Now go ahead and start getting ready so we can head out in a few minutes.”
Jimmy needed no more persuading. After a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon, he and his dad were out the door with their gear loaded in the Jeep and heading down the road. The ride to the local wildlife refuge seemed to take an eternity for the anxious lad. With his gun by his side, Jimmy sat listening to the high, lonesome sounds of his dad’s country-western radio station. He daydreamed about having a successful hunt, one concluded and celebrated with a bagged limit of five squirrels each. He had seen his dad accomplish such a feat many times before and he was sure he could do the same.
“You think we’ll see anything?” asked Jimmy.
“I don’t know…maybe,” answered Allan after taking a sip from his coffee mug.
“I hope so.”
“So do I, son…so do I.”
Jimmy and his father pulled in at the refuge around 5 a.m. and Allan began briefing his son.
“When we get in there and settled in, you’ll have to be quiet the whole time. If you make any noise, you’ll scare them away.” Jimmy knew the protocol, but still listened carefully. “Keep your gun unloaded until we hear or see something. Soon as we locate one…well…you know what to do after that.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Jimmy assured his father with gleaming confidence.
Donned in their camouflaged hunting attire, the two started by hiking down a logging road that Allan had traveled many times throughout his years of hunting. Father and son walked side by side. Allan chose the left side and Jimmy walked on the right. The pair trekked a hundred yards deeper into the woodlands and selected a large beech tree to rest and wait under.
Sitting next to his dad, the young hunter tried to take notice of his surroundings. The key to being a good hunter is observing, Jimmy remembered his father’s advice. The sun, however, remained hidden behind the horizon, which caused poor visibility throughout the forest.
The early morning winds subsided and Jimmy was captivated by the sounds of the waking wilderness. The tree frogs chirped messages back and forth. The morning songbirds were waking one by one. Their brief melodic solos rang sweetly, high above in the hidden treetops. Jimmy heard the thunderous jack-hammering of a redheaded woodcock pounding away on a defenseless tree. The natural sounds were all around and the forest was proudly coming to life.
As the pair sat, they watched as the sun rose above the Earth’s horizon. It was not long after and the morning air became hot and thick with humidity. The sunlight peeked through the natural canopy from high above, revealing the vastness of the forest. Jimmy scoured the openness, but not a squirrel in sight.
“Now what?” he asked, turning to his father.
“We’ll wait here a little longer,” Allan whispered. “They should be up and moving about soon.”
They waited and waited, but not a squirrel anywhere. Jimmy’s focus soon moved from hunting to the harassing mosquitoes. The little bloodsuckers swarmed ferociously, buzzing all around, trying to feast upon his face, ears, and neck. He slapped, swatted, and scratched as red welts began to surface upon his exposed skin. Allan was able to keep the flying rascals at bay with a prevailing exhale of cigarette smoke. After seeing his son tormented by the annoying mosquitoes, Allan decided that he and Jimmy should try their luck elsewhere. Scratching fanatically, the boy followed his dad as they ventured deeper into the woodlands.
It was then the persistent hiking became strenuous for the young, adventurous hunter. His hunting attire was soon saturated with sweat in the lingering heat. Jimmy’s camouflaged hat had acquired a noticeable wet ring on the bill while his soggy pants clung to his legs, making it almost impossible to slip comfortably through the forest. The road, which initially was flat and straight, became a hilly trail of hell. This hunting adventure was not the one for which Jimmy had planned.
Hiking up a steep incline, Allan turned to his lagging son. “Are you gonna make it? You’re looking a little peaked.”
Jimmy was feeling whipped and beat down, but he would never confess that particular truth to his father. His flushed cheeks radiated as he cradled his new gun. He looked down to the Remington, searching for a spark of inspiration. He then looked back up to his father.
“I’ll be fine,” said Jimmy.
Allan grinned and then answered, “Okay, son.”
A few steps later, Jimmy’s dad spoke again. “This is a good spot right here. I’ve seen them in this area many times. We’ll stop for a bit and see what happens.” The only thing the boy could do was give an exhausting nod.
The rest was refreshing, but it allowed Jimmy’s mind to wander. He tried to remain focused, but now, it was almost impossible.
He thought of school starting back and entering the fourth grade in the coming weeks. Which teacher will I get? I hope it’s not Mrs. Penn. She has to be the meanest teacher in school. Jimmy’s mind shifted to the camping trip he and his family had taken over the summer. That was a big bass mom caught. It almost pulled her in. Good thing
“Did you hear that?” asked Allan.
“Hear what?” Jimmy asked, returning from his reverie.
Allan nodded to the left. “Over there.”
“I don’t hear anything.” He did detect a few rumbles of thunder in the far distance.
“I think we got company, Jimmy boy.”
The big moment was finally here. Jimmy pulled his focus together and with persisting effort he too heard the bustling of a woodland squirrel. The rattling of the tree limbs sent his heart racing out of control. However, his stirring mind went blank. He had been instructed earlier in the truck, but was not sure of what to do next.
“Load your gun, Jimmy…but slowly and quietly,” Allan whispered.
He proceeded to do as his father said and carefully broke down the single shot twenty-gauge. With his trembling hand, he removed a shell from his front vest pocket and slid the cartridge into the gun’s chamber. Jimmy then quietly closed the barrel back to its original position, and he and his father stood up slowly and waited.
Jimmy’s anticipation was growing and his heart continued to race uncontrollably. He scanned the treetops with determination. He could hear the lively critter, but could not see it wandering about. He worried that his only chance at making a shot was going to pass him by.
The fear of going home empty handed ended quickly when Jimmy finally spied the furry squirrel scurrying gracefully back and forth on an oak tree limb about seventy yards away. He waited for further instructions. Allan thumbed in the squirrel’s direction, signaling his son to proceed onward.
The distant thunder heard moments ago was moving in and the wind began blowing in heavy gusts. The tree limbs propelled wildly, which made keeping an accurate account of the furry tree climber more difficult for the young hunter.
After a few steps, Jimmy stopped behind a hickory tree and again scoured the treetops. His heart pounded as large, round beads of sweat formed across his brow. He swiped his forehead with his sleeve, looked about once more, and then carried on with his hunting pursuit.
In between heavy blasts of wind, the woodland squirrel came into Jimmy’s sight once again. He discovered the critter perched on the side of a large oak tree, raking on a hickory nut, and flapping its tail. A surge of adrenaline coursed throughout the young man’s small body.
Jimmy was about sixty yards away now and in desperate need of closing the gap as quietly as possible. Allan stayed behind and watched from a distance. Jimmy turned to look back and, with a nod, Allan signaled for his son to continue.
Jimmy’s heart was pumping like never before. He looked at his surroundings and tried to determine the most efficient approach. He gazed to his left where he found a thicket of briar bush, which he knew trying to maneuver through would be hopeless. He then peered to the right where he discovered sparse undergrowth and a fallen log. His worry was steadily growing and he determined the second option would have to do.
Accompanied by a steady drizzle of rain, the wind now blew in constant blusters. As he battled the elements, Jimmy semi-circled in the direction of the oak tree, stopped within thirty yards, and now stood at a comfortable shooting distance and a promising view. He observed the tree with a keen and careful eye while his heart continued to beat like a timpani drum. No longer frolicking about, the critter had moved from the spot that Jimmy had seen it in earlier, and again his young mind raced with both eagerness and worry.
After another quick scan, Jimmy pinpointed the flapping of a bushy tail. The squirrel had moved much higher up and off to the right of the tree, perching itself on a skyscraping limb. Jimmy feared that his shooting skills could not accommodate such a challenging shot, but he had to try. He could not give up now.
With everything riding on this big moment, Jimmy intuitively squared his body. He set his feet, taking his shooter’s position, just the way his father had taught him. He slowly brought his new Remington up to his right shoulder and pointed the long barrel into the high tree loft. After pulling back the hammer, he swayed the barrel only for a few moments before he carefully brought the woodland creature into the sights of his gun. He squinted as sprinkles of rain bounced steadily off his face. He pulled in a deep breath, held it, and gently squeezed the trigger.
The blast bellowed throughout the forest, sending many birds fleeing in all directions. The gun’s deafening discharge produced an instant ringing in Jimmy’s head and the powerful recoil jolted him back a few steps.
“Nice shot, Jimmy boy!” Allan shouted as the squirrel fell to the ground. “Nice and clean. I knew you could do it. Go ahead and pick him up and throw him in your vest. We’d better get out of here. This storm is picking up fast.”
“Okay,” was the only word Jimmy managed. The young boy was overwhelmed with joy and self-confidence.
“Dang, son. Wait ‘til your mom hears about this…and your buddies at school!”
Allan continued to dote on his son as they began their long hike back to the Jeep. Neither the rain nor the hilly road troubled the young boy on the return trip. Instead, the two hunters laughed and joked as they always had. Along the way, Allan gave his son a few trademark pokes to the ribs and Jimmy returned a few of his own. The boy now felt like a real hunter, dignified in a way, just like his dad.
*
In Jimmy’s mind, he has no problem visualizing that wonderful day which happened so many years ago. Though, the recollection stops when he hears his mother’s voice.
“Jim,” Sandra Harrison softly speaks. “Hey…Jimmy.”
“Yeah…sorry,” he answers, returning from his daydream while his mind skips back to his parents’ living room.
“The minister is here.”
Jim Harrison turns in his father’s reclining chair. His heart beats rapidly, just as it did the morning of that memorable hunt so many years ago. Except now, he sits by his father’s side hoping, praying, and believing the angels will spare his life a little while longer.
He watches as his father’s chest slowly rises and falls. Allan Harrison’s large, calloused hands, now skeletal in appearance, rest gently at his sides while his dying body lies peacefully in the contentment of his own bed. The cancer had spread viciously throughout the 70-year-old man’s body.
Sandra Harrison, looking frail and tired, sits on the opposite side of the bed from Jim. She takes her husband’s hand and places it into her own. She begins to gently rub and caress, hoping to induce some kind of reaction from the man whom she has loved all her life. She gazes down with anticipation, but there is no use. The old man is overloaded with pain medication and unresponsive.
Jim continues to watch his father’s chest as it struggles to inhale and then exhale. He waits and anticipates the inevitable. With one last, laboring breath, Allan’s chest moves no more. Jimmy circles around the bed to comfort his crying mother.

While looking down at his father, Jim realizes it’s not sorrow that he’s feeling, but an overwhelming sense of pride and honor. As he wipes away one lonely tear from his cheek, he begins to realize how lucky he is that a great man like Allan Harrison was his father and his friend.
~~~
This story is available in the collection Under the Willow Tree and Other Stories. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME by Donald Ray Pollock

I recently discovered Donald Ray Pollock and read his book, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. It's one of those books that will stay with you long after finishing it. If you enjoy backwoods, Hillbilly Gothic with a long list of demented and twisted characters, then Don's your man. I highly recommend this book.

Best,
J.P.