Friday, September 13, 2019

Forsaken Land: A Short Story


Forsaken Land first appeared in Story and Grit Magazine and it is also included in the book Chicken Liver Blues.



Randall King stabbed out his unfiltered Pall Mall and then upturned his Busch Light. Three cold swallows rolled down. He set his can on the bar top, grabbed his cigarette pack, shook one loose, and lit up. The beer, the tavern, the general atmosphere made him forget his mind-numbing week. The drug busts, the domestic disputes, the multiple overdoses were more than the average man could handle, but when you’re sheriff of Scott County it’s a normal week at the office.
Everyone in the tavern knew Randall and most didn’t mind the Sheriff’s presence. Randall had grown up here, lived here his entire life. There was one or two in the joint that Randall had hauled in years ago—a marijuana charge for one, and the other was an outstanding warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. But those were the by-gone days and neither man held a grudge against the Sheriff. There were a few who kept their distance avoiding any association with the law, but others appreciated Randall’s commitment to cleaning up the town and the rest of the county, ridding the area of crime, drugs, and the general dope head.
The town, and county, did have its share of self-righteous hypocrites who thought Randall King was a no-good drunken barfly known for his unorthodox ways of enforcing the law. Though, Randall didn’t give a fuck about what they thought of him or the way he ran his county.
He drew from his cig and sucked from his can. A Keith Whitley song rang softly through the jukebox speakers reminding him of his ex-wife, Mandy, and the good times they once had before their marriage went to hell. He motioned to Vicki, the barmaid, and ordered a bourbon.
A Saturday night and The Lounge filled as it usually did with a middle-aged crowd mixed with a few twenty-somethings. They came out after working all week at their dead end jobs. The Lounge was a sanctuary for the beaten-down and, often times, broken. People came to let loose, to forget, to find hope in a crowd comprised of likened souls that could lift each other up, make each other laugh, and that could create a few drunken memories.
Vicki set Randall’s bourbon in front of him and he said thanks in his low smoker’s rasp. Wasting no time, he tossed back the bourbon and followed it with a long steady guzzle of beer, emptying the can.
“Want another beer, sugar? said Vicki.
“Yeah, I’ll have another,” said Randall exhaling smoke.
Then a short, square-shouldered man settled onto a stool two down from Randall.
“Be right with ya,” said Vicki to the man.
“No hurry,” said the man.
Vicki set Randall’s beer in front of him and cracked it open. She stepped to the other man and wiped off the bar. “Now, what can I get for ya?”
“Whiskey. Water chaser,” said the man.
“This ain’t the wild west, Doc,” said Vicki with a sly grin. “Any particular kind?”
“Surprise me,” said the man.
“You got it,” said Vicki.
Tipping his can, Randall glanced again at the man, taking note of his features. Bald head on top with signs of heavy stubble along the side. A thick, dark forest of beard covered his bulldog face. Randall had encountered many people and faces over the years. He’d remembered some, others he’d forgotten over time. The bald man gave not a hint of recollection.
But this was the way of life for Randall King, always looking over his shoulder, always checking his surroundings. Some considered him a crazy paranoid, but for him it was a matter of life and death. He’d put away countless men and women over the years, disrupting their lives, breaking up families. Being on the defensive had kept him alive.
“Thanks, said the man as Vicki served his whiskey and water.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
Randall drew from his cig a last time and snuffed it into the ashtray.
“Mind if I get one of those?” asked the bald man.
“Terrible habit,” said Randall, sliding his pack and lighter down the bar.
The man grabbed the pack and tapped one out. “I only smoke when I drink.” He lit up and returned the pack and lighter. “Thanks.”
“Me too,” said Randall. “I’m down to two packs a day.” He drank from his can.
The man grinned and nodded. He sipped from his glass and then drew from his cig. He struck up a conversation about politics, which Randall didn’t give two shits about. He was a politician of sorts. He’d always ran a tight campaign, tapping into the heart and soul of the county—the working class, poverty stricken, gun-toting conservatives. He’d joined the department all those years ago because it was in his blood, a make-up of his heritage. His daddy had been sheriff, and his granddaddy before him a conservation officer. Being a lawman was all he’d ever known.
The bald man continued talking. He said Donald Trump was going to be the country’s savior and the greatest president ever to sit in the Oval Office. “He’ll put North Korea in its place. You can bet on that. And run out all these god damn illegals.” He tapped an ash into a tray and sipped again.
“Yep,” said Randall. He hit his cig and then exhaled, hoping the windy son of a bitch would shut the hell up.
The man said, “Let me guess. You voted for that damn ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton.”
Randall bypassed the man’s brashness. He had no desire to answer questions or talk politics. But he said, “Didn’t vote for either. Fact of the matter is, buddy, I just want to sit here and enjoy my beer and my buzz. Trust me, being in a bar around a bunch of drunks ain’t no place to discuss politics.”
The man smashed out his cig in the ashtray. “You probably right. Sometimes my political spirit takes over.”
“Ain’t a thing wrong with having a little spirit,” said Randall.
“The name’s Justin Pratt,” said the man.
“Randall King.”
“I know who you are, Sheriff.”
“Most folks do.” He paused, and then said, “Pratt? Don’t know any Pratts around here.”
“The Pratts ain’t from ‘round here. Same as me. Got some kin up here though, but most my people are down around Jackson, Kentucky.”
“Who’s your kin,” asked Randall.
“Related to the Clarks,” said Justin.
“Johnny Boy Clark? That bunch?”
“Yeah, that bunch. Nathan White was a cousin of ours,” said Justin outright.
That name alone summoned a dark, sick feeling within Randall. He said, “Hope that son of a bitch is rotting right about now. He got what he deserved.” He spared no feelings. The year before he’d had a shootout with Nathan White, ending his life in the middle of a soybean field. Randall had no proof, but felt deep down that the low-life scum had murdered his baby sister, Darlene. And he’d handled the matter his own way as he was known to do.
“I reckon he got what was a comin to him,” said Justin “I’ll be first to admit he weren’t good for much, but some my folks is sayin it was an execution.”
“The bullet that went through my left shoulder says different,” said Randall.
Justin grinned. “Heard about that too. Nathan wasn’t known to shoot too straight.”
Randall didn’t care for where he thought the conversation was going. He said, “Maybe you best head on back to Jackson, son.”
Justin Pratt threw back the rest of his whiskey. Pulled a ten from his pocket and tossed it on the bar. He stood and said, “Nah, not yet, Sheriff. Have yourself a good evening.”
Randall watched the man step across the room and out the door, surefooted and cocky. He felt an urge to follow, to catch the son of a bitch in the parking lot and stomp his ass. Instead, he pulled from his beer and then lit up a smoke. He heard Merle Haggard’s “Mamma Tried” crooning from the jukebox. Mamma should’ve tried harder, he thought. He drained his beer and ordered another.

The glow of the muted television lit up Randall’s tiny bedroom. Sitting with back against the headboard, bare chest exposed, he stared blankly at the screen, hitting the Pall Mall compressed between his fingers. Piled dirty clothes lay in the corner. His gun belt looped over the back of an old wooden chair.
The toilet flushed and the bathroom door opened. Vicki ambled out naked, just the way she had entered. Her hair free of its usual ponytail hung over her soft shoulders. Her middle-aged breasts caught the television’s glow as she scooted onto the bed.
“You wanna go to the lake tomorrow?” she said. “Get the hell away for the day?”
“I don’t know,” said Randall. “Maybe.”
“What’s the matter?” said Vicki. “You been distant all night…ever since we left the bar.”
“Hell, I’m fine. Wore out a little.”
She laid her head on his shoulder. “Really, what’s wrong?”
Randall didn’t make a habit of revealing his personal thoughts, but he told of the conversation with the man named Justin Pratt and how those old emotions of his sister’s murder came bubbling up. He thought of her every day, remembering the grim scene of her lifeless body, contorted, laying amongst the mud, muck, and debris down in the Bottoms, a backwoods wasteland. He knew she had been murdered, the autopsy confirmed it, although she had lethal doses of Opana in her system. Foul play was involved on all fronts.
“I know you miss her,” said Vicki. “I miss her too, but you got to move on. She’d want that.”
A glass and bottle of bourbon sat on the nightstand, along with an overfilled ashtray. Randall leaned over, deposited his cig in the tray, and poured a drink. “Hell, I know that,” he said and drank. He placed the glass back on the nightstand. “I should’ve been there. I should’ve protected her.”
“She was a grown woman,” said Vicki. “You tried reaching out to her. We all did. It ain’t your fault. She was into some fucked up shit.”
But to Randall, being sheriff, he felt responsible for ridding the county of the worthless dope fiends and pushers. He knew eliminating all of them would be impossible, but goddamn it, he would try. He poured another, drank, and sat the glass down.
And then from outside, a sudden flurry of blasts and pops erupted, piercing and shattering the bedroom window. He grabbed Vicki and plunged to the floor while live lead hornets buzzed past, lodging into drywall. A picture on the wall shattered and fell to the floor. Another bullet hit the flat-screen television blackening the room.
Under the bed Randall kept a loaded twelve-gauge. He grabbed it and said, “Stay down,” as he pumped a shell into the chamber.
The shooting from outside had stopped. Low and hunkered, Randall crawled out of the bedroom door. He stood and raced down the hallway through the living room and to the front door. He spied out one of the small diamond-shaped windows and in the darkness made out a fleeing shadow crossing his front yard, heading to a parked car, with lights on, down the road. Randall flung the door open, shuffled down concrete steps with shotgun raised. He sent buckshot flying and wasted no time pumping and firing again. The gunman jumped into the car, sped off, tires barking and chirping. Gun shoulder and aimed, Randall watched, heart pumping and heavy of breath, as the car sped off and out of sight down the dark country road.

The sun was going down when Randall eased his cruiser into the gravel parking lot of Uncle Roy’s Place, a tavern known to host the vilest bunch ever to gather in one spot. Nestled deep in the backwoods, the old two-story plantation home had been converted to its current state about ten years ago. The sign out front read ‘poker tonight’.
Randall scanned the parking lot examining the litter of old pickup trucks and cars with rusted out quarter panels. He parked beside a primer long-bed Ford, stepped out, and then headed toward the entrance.
Inside, Patsy Cline sang sweetly throughout as Randall entered. Cards stopped flying and necks turned to take notice of the sheriff in his brown uniform as he stepped across the room and up to the bar.
“What can I get ya, Sheriff?” said the barkeep, a decrepit coot with wiry gray hair and not a tooth in his head.
“Need to speak to Stratton,” said Randall.
“He’s in back. Lemme get ‘im.”
Waiting, Randall eyed the group of misfits who had gone back to their games. The tables were piled with cash and chips and cards. Those around the tables hoped to claim a jackpot that would eliminate any need to return to their dead-end jobs or add to their monthly benefit checks. Randall never held an urge to gamble, not with money. He’d gambled with booze and women many times throughout the years and lost on most occasions. He knew every man had a weakness including him.
He continued to scour the room and the faces not seeing the one for which he’d came, but he did spot a face that would do for now. Then, from behind, someone said, “Evening, Sheriff,” in a pleasant, welcoming voice.
Turning, Randall saw the voice belonged to Roy Stratton, or Uncle Roy, as most called him—but he was no uncle to Randall King.
“Evening, Stratton.”
“What can I do ya for?” said Uncle Roy.
“Need to speak to one of your guests.”
“Yeah? Which one?”
“Johnny Boy over there,” said Randall.
Uncle Roy scanned the room and saw Johnny Boy Clark rake a pile of winnings from the middle of the table.
“Not sure disturbing their game is such a good idea,” said Uncle Roy. “They’ve been going at it for a while now. Might upset ‘em pulling Johnny Boy away like that.”
Randall pulled a pack of smokes from his front pocket. He tapped one out and lit up. He said, “You tell ‘im I’ll be waiting outside. You tell ‘im, Stratton.” His voice was calm and straight, his look steady and fierce.
“Will do, Sheriff,” said Uncle Roy as Randall strutted away.
Waiting on the front porch, Randall drew from his cig, and a few moments after the front door swung open and out walked Johnny Boy Clark. Compared to Randall, Johnny Boy was a younger man in his late twenties. His fitted t-shirt revealed thick arms and shoulders, and his wide chest protruded like a sturdy, wooden shelf. His squared jaw covered with heavy stubble jutted out and described by many as being harder than a chunk of granite. He closed the door behind him.
“You wanted to see me, Sheriff?” asked Johnny Boy.
Randall nodded, stayed silent for a moment, and then said, “Doing any good in there?”
“Fair,” said Johnny Boy. “About even right now.”
“Never was worth a damn playing poker. Always lost my ass.”
“Cards ain’t for everyone,” said Johnny Boy. He stepped to the porch railing, spit over the side. He spun and said, “I got a feelin’ you didn’t drive all the way out here to ask me about my card playin’. Am I right?”
Randall drew long on his cig, dropped it, and crushed the cherry with the pointed toe of his boot. He peeked through the window at the crowd inside, and without looking at Johnny Boy, said, “You’d be right.” Then, “Where’s your cousin? Saw ‘im lately?”
“Who?” asked Johnny Boy.
“Justin Pratt.”
“Oh. Yeah, I’ve seen ‘im.”
“Thought you might’ve,” said Randall. “Know where’s he’s at now?”
Johnny Boy was about to answer when someone cleared their throat and said, “I’m right here, Sheriff. Long time no see.”
Randall spun to see Justin Pratt walking up holding a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey. He eyed Justin and instantly knew he’d likely slipped out the back when the cruiser rolled into the parking lot. For whatever reason, he reconsidered the sheriff’s presence, and ambled around to the front porch. Randall noticed Justin had acquired a leg-dragging limp since they had met the other night in The Lounge.
Justin stopped straight on from the sheriff, tipped the bottle, the brown serum sloshing inside, and let two swallows roll. He wiped his shiny lips with the back of his hand, and then said, “You come to gun me down too, like you did our cousin?”
“Shut the hell up, Justin,” said Johnny Boy. “He’s drunker ‘an hell, Sheriff.”
Randall nodded, already aware of the obvious. He’d dealt with more drunken sons of bitches than he could remember. Fought many. Received multiple punches to the head and body. Been stabbed, stitched up, and even threatened with an axe one time many years ago. He’d seen it all. He ignored Justin’s question and said to him, “I didn’t figure you’d heed my advice.”
“Advice?” asked Justin. “And what advice was that, Sheriff?”
“Getting your ass back to Jackson before something bad happens.”
“‘Before something bad happens’? Hell, something bad has already happened. Did you forget? You killed our cousin in cold blood. That’s god damn bad enough!” Then Justin added, “Did you enjoy your wakeup call the other night?”
“God damn it, Justin!” said Johnny Boy. “Shut your drunk-ass up. He don’t know what he’s talkin’ about, Sheriff. Justin, shut the fuck up.” He pointed a stern finger. “I mean it. Shut up.”
“I think he knows exactly what he’s talking about,” said Randall. “Get a little buckshot in your backside, Justin? That why you’re limping and dragging that leg around? You dumb son of a bitch.”
Randall’s words caused Justin’s drunken eyes to light up. Fury swept over his bulldog face. Holding the whiskey bottle in his left hand, his right swung to his backside where a tucked revolver hid behind his belt. He pulled the gun.
“No, fucking don’t!” yelled Johnny Boy.
But it was too late. Before Justin cleared his piece, Randall had already shucked his gun clean of its holster and squeezed two rounds into Justin’s left lung. He dropped the whiskey bottle, staggered, dropped the revolver, and then fell to his knees, gasping, clutching his blood-soaked chest. The patrons from inside filed out onto the porch. Stunned, ghost faces watched as Justin Pratt drew his last breath. It was then a calm, surrealistic dusk settled in and around them, going unnoticed, claiming yet another day and another life in this God-forsaken land.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Fight

The crowd was enormous and everyone who was anyone knew that it would be. This was what everyone was talking about, this fight. The magnitude of methheads, potheads, general dopers, rednecks, conjoining, so to speak, in this small, etched away piece of backwoods used to wreck faces and ribs and to party down, was unlike any assembly I’d ever seen before, including prison.
I didn’t personally know either fighter, but I felt a deep connection within me, a tie that only a person who had been mauled, bitten, chewed, swallowed, digested, and expelled by the graciousness of life could understand. I wasn’t of this place anymore, this small southern Indiana town, but I knew its people, these younger folks that piled in, gathering for what was sure to be a good fight, or at least they had hoped it would be. We all did.
I’d heard about the fight through an old buddy of mine the other night at the tavern. We discussed the old days when we were growing up trying to make a name for ourselves by talking tough and seeking out and challenging the craziest motherfucker that we could find. And he’d said, “They’re still doin’ it.”
“What?” I said. And he continued on by telling me about the bare-knuckle underground fighting circuit and the two crazy sons-of-bitches that were fighting today.
This backwoods venue, I was told, was called The Pigpen. The brawl was to begin at six o’clock. We rumbled in on our bikes around five and there was a blonde in cut-off jeans and a tight black tank top collecting a five dollar admission charge at the start of a long, dirt road that led back to the where the fight was taking place. She possessed a hard, eye-pleasing figure, but her face was lined, worn, and toothless.
“Hey, darling,” I said to her as Jerry and I paid our money.
“Hi,” she said and gave us a wide, toothless smile.
We rode on and eventually parked. It wasn’t long and Jerry and I settled in among the downtrodden and damned. My arthritic hands strained to unscrew the cap off an unopen bottle of Evan Williams. Another twist and the cap came free and I turned the bottle up and let two swallows roll down. Hard time and hard labor had taken its toll on me after twenty years. I extended the bottle to Jerry, but he declined.
The party was well underway before the fight had begun. Someone had said that people had started arriving before noon and others had been here all night, never sleeping and probably not thinking about sleep. A young couple sat on a tailgate passing a joint. In fact, many were smoking weed. It was all around us, in the air. Another couple in plain sight fucked next to a tree. People cheered, played music, snorted unknown substances and did just about whatever they wanted to.
The fight wasn’t to start for another half-hour and I wanted to check this place out. I told Jerry to come on and we set out through the crowd. I drank from my bottle, offered Jerry a drink, and again he declined. We broke through the people and in a grassy field came to a scattering of tents where in the middle a large grill smoked slabs of meat. A topless group of women sat in lawn chairs drinking beer. The Evan Williams was kicking in, so I told Jerry we should go over and introduce ourselves, and admire some of the lovely ladies.
“Sounds good to me,” he said.
We walked over and they all looked at us and then went back to talking and drinking. There were others gathered around. A woman next to us chopped a line of something across a mirror. These people were free as they could be, or fucking stupid. They had no guard up to anyone. She offered her drugs and I shook my head and pulled Evan from my vest pocket.
“No thanks,” I said.
Jerry shrugged. “Fuck it,” he said, and stepped up and snorted a bump. While Jerry became acquainted with the woman, I sipped my whiskey and looked again to the naked women. If I were in charge, one or two of them would be granted the right to go topless. For the others, they wouldn’t be allowed to go outside with or without clothes—ugly bitches.
I looked around and realized this place hadn’t changed that much over the years I’d been away. It was the same fucked up people in the same fucked up town. It started to depress me.
Jerry and I walked back to where we’d originally come in and finally the fighters began entering the makeshift ring. The energy of the crowd lifted ten notches. They tightened in, encaging them, like two Roman gladiators that were forced to fight and quit only when one had killed the other. I retrieved my bottle and my arthritic hands strained again. Another twist and I got it. A large balding dude with gut hanging over his belt announced the fighters. One was named Jesco Morgan and the other was Johnny-Boy Clark. I didn’t know who they were at first, but then Jerry told me that I did. After he explained who they were, who their daddies were, I sensed an even deeper connection to these two. I had been away for so many unraveling years and forgotten so many that their names had slipped away, as unused memories often do.
“How they doin?” I asked of the boys’ daddies.
“Dead,” said Jerry. “Both of ‘em. Bill Morgan died of lung cancer. Not sure what got Browning. Even Jesco’s momma, Louise, just died. Overdose is what everyone’s saying.”
“Damn,” I said. “Addiction never was prejudiced to age.”
Then, after a moment he added, “Pass the bottle, Leon.” I handed it over and someone struck a cowbell. I glanced around to see no one milling on the outskirts of the crowd. The young couple that was fucking by the tree was gone. The tailgaters had disappeared. All eyes were on the fighters.
The young men were of equal size and build. Their hard, lean, and shirtless torsos squared up in the center of the ring. Their personal history with each other I did not know. Sometimes a personal vendetta helped materialize an event such as this one. And other times, as I mentioned before, it was to see who was the toughest in all the land. That was in the old days. Now it was about money, about trying to survive in this God-forsaken shit-hole town, and that was okay. One had to change with the times.
A jab to the jaw of Jesco got the action underway, and he countered with a booming uppercut to exposed ribs. As I understood them, the rules were the use of fists only. No biting, gouging, kicking, head butting or grappling. A straight up bare-knuckle match, just like the old days. All skill, stamina, and physical and mental toughness.
The two men retreated a step or two after gaining a better understanding of the other’s punching power. With fists raised, chins tucked, and intense focus, they stepped in unison, mirroring each other. These determined men, with grit in their eyes and fire in their souls, got me to thinking about the time I was up against not one crazy drunken maniac, but two that wanted to slice me open at the navel, and let my innards fall to the gravel parking lot, outside the bar where we’d spent all day drinking and snorting cocaine in the bathroom.
One of the hombres had been trying all evening to dance with my old lady. Every time I had gone to piss or gone to the bar for another round of beers, the stupid, yet determined asshole ventured over to our table. After the third or fourth time, I’d had enough of his shit. While he sat at his table laughing, telling jokes from his rotten, toothless face, at my expense I’m sure, I walked up behind and grabbed him by the back of his greasy hair and bounced his head off the table in front of him. Immediately, I headed toward the door, which was a few steps away and waited in the parking lot.
There was daylight left in the sky when he came out flashing the blade he’d pulled from somewhere. I thought he was scared or just fucking crazy. Maybe both.
“I’m gonna make you bleed, you fuckin bitch!” he said and came at me. One of his pals followed him out the door, he too brandishing a blade.
Now, the bar my old lady and I drank at that day wasn’t our usual hangout. This shithole was on the opposite end of town from our normal bar, so the people that fled out to watch didn’t know me well enough to jump in and even the odds. Sizing up my dilemma, I increased my chances of winning by pulling from my waistband, my tucked away .38 Snub nose.
The first bruiser with a knife saw my intentions and ducked behind a pick-up truck. Smart man. The second one pulled a gun of his own. I wasted no time. I fired. He fired. He missed. I did not. I received forty years for killing that man. I did twenty. A rush of adrenaline in a survival situation can make a man do things he never thought he was capable of doing. And I knew these two facing off in these backwoods were undoubtedly fueled by that same human instinct to survive that I had all those years ago.
The crowd of townies and backwoods misfits cheered as the two traded strikes and blows. Johnny-Boy had a bleeding gash under his left eye, and Jesco’s nose leaked red down and over his lips and off his chin. On light feet, Jesco pivoted, reared, and struck, all in the blur of single motion. The blow was heard throughout the crowd. Connecting with the side of his head, Johnny-Boy fell under jellied legs. He gave no indication that he could go on. He lay lifeless. The fight was over.
I’d been in many fights, as a prisoner and a free man, and I knew what both men were feeling at that moment, as the victor and the defeated. Many years passed me by before I realized that life would be a series of wins and defeats. I’d come to understand this reality in prison when the quiet, lonely nights consumed my being. And they may not understand it now, the two younger men who had just gone head to head trying to prove who was the tougher of the two, trying to collect a sizable payday, trying to survive, but they would understand that life would become better, if not in a financial capacity, at least in a mental one if they allowed it, if they opened their minds to it.
Some of the crowd yelled its pleasure for the fight’s winner while others jeered the outcome. I had no financial stake. I saw Jerry collect his winnings from a disgruntled young man standing next to him.
“Maybe next time, old man,” said the boy.
“Come again,” said Jerry, tucking the bills away in his pocket.
After some time, Johnny-Boy collected himself and the two in the ring cleared out and people went back to partying and raising hell and never giving a second thought to the young men who’d just sacrificed a little of themselves. The crowd saw the fight as being no more than part of the entertainment.

I’d seen enough. Jerry and I settled on our bikes with our buzzed minds. We hit the dirt road and eventually the highway, riding away from the booze, the drugs, and the town I’d left twenty years before, the town that I now rode away from, forever.
~~~

This story is included in the book HARD LUCK.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

HORSESHIT

We saw the old man standing on his front porch. From a bag he dumped cat food into a dish. We called him Horseshit. Kevin, a neighborhood kid, had given him the name and it had stuck. I had never called the old man Horseshit to his face. I said it only in private and mainly around Kevin. I didn’t know the old man’s real name.
We zoomed past his house on our bikes and Kevin yelled out, “Hey, Horseshit!”
Horseshit bent to pet the cat that ate out of the dish. He looked up and said, “Go on. Get out of here, you little assholes! I’ll get you one of these days!” He shook his fist in the air, in our direction. “You little assholes!”
“You’ll have to catch us first,” Kevin responded. And we peddled on down the road.
We jetted around the corner and eventually into my front yard where our back tires skidded sideways, tearing through grass and mud.
I jumped off my BMX. “You think he’ll ever get us?” I asked, a little winded.
“He’s too old and slow. He’ll never catch us,” said Kevin.
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go play Nintendo.”
An hour later, after we’d had our fill of video games, we set out on our bikes again. Dusk was nearing and I had to be back in my yard before the street light came on. A bike ride around the neighborhood was common; no direction, no common goal, only cruising to see what we could get into. We turned the corner heading down Horseshit’s street when a bad feeling struck me. “You think this is a good idea?”
“What?” said Kevin.
“Riding past his house.”
“Don’t be such a pussy. He’ll never catch us. He’s too old and slow.”
“I’m not a pussy,” I said, and kept peddling.
We approached his house and I prayed that he was inside. If Kevin saw him, I knew what would happen, the same thing that had always happened. Kevin would yell out “Hey, Horseshit!” and the old man would throw back some threats and curses and we’d ride on like always. I had never yelled anything to the old man and I’d always hoped that he took note, but being that I rode with Kevin, he probably associated me with being the kind of asshole Kevin was. But I wasn’t anything like Kevin.
We came up to his house and Horseshit was nowhere in sight. What a relief. I saw Kevin eyeing the front porch, hoping to catch another glimpse of the old man and I kept silently praying that he was inside his house. When we finally rode past, the old man was nowhere around. But still, that didn’t stop Kevin from yelling out, “Hey, Horseshit! What are you doing in there? Jacking off? Thinking about little boys?”
Even though I didn’t see Horseshit I peddled faster. This was too much. I was embarrassed. “Shit, Kevin,” I said. “Take it easy.”
“Don’t be such a pussy,” he said to me again.
“I’m not a pussy!” I called out, and about that time Kevin screamed out in pain, grabbing his leg, nearly wrecking his bike.
“Jesus fuck!” he said.
At first, I didn’t know what happened to Kevin, but then I heard Horseshit yell out from his upstairs window. “I got you! I got you! You little asshole!” He was shouldering a gun. Later I found out it was a BB gun when Kevin’s dad had to dig the pellet from his leg. “You little assholes. That’ll teach you!”
I started peddling faster than I’d ever peddled before. I didn’t look back. Racing home, I skidded my back tire into the yard. By the time I jumped off and made it to the front porch, the street light flashed on. I saw Kevin limp off his bike and up to his front door. That night, I hardly slept a wink.
The next morning was Saturday so I hopped on my bike and hit the streets. I didn’t wait for Kevin. I thought it safer to cruise alone. As always, my curiosity consumed me and I rode toward Horseshit’s street. In the night, I had imagined Kevin’s folks calling the police. I’d ride by in the morning and there Horseshit would be, being stuffed into the back of a cop car. I had to see what was going on.
I turned the corner on Horseshit’s street and heard the sound of a lawnmower. Nothing unusual about that except when I neared I saw Kevin push mowing the old man’s lawn. The old man sat on his front porch. He petted the cat in his lap, looking on with pure delight.
I rode up and Kevin cut the mower’s engine.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I told my dad what happened last night and he went to have a talk with Ernest.”
“Who?”
“Ernest,” said Kevin and motioned with a head nod in the direction of the old man. “I thought my dad was gonna come down here and really give him a good what for…you know…since he shot me with a BB gun.” He looked to the ground, seeming embarrassed. “But it sort of backfired.”
I shook my head, appearing to show a little empathy, but what I was really feeling was a sense of justice for the old man, for Ernest.
“Tough break,” was all I said, and peddled away.
I heard Kevin yell, “Hey, you want to help me? This high grass sucks to mow, especially with a bad leg!”
I looked back over my shoulder and yelled out the only words I could think of.
“Don’t be such a pussy!” And I went home to play Nintendo.
~~~

This story is included in the book HARD LUCK: STORIES.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Chicken Liver Blues is Live



Today is the day. My e-book, Chicken Liver Blues, is now live on Amazon. Please stop over and check it out.  Also, the paperback version will be released Friday, December 28.
As always, a big thank you goes out to those who have followed and supported me along the way. If you’ve ever purchased my books or stories, read, liked, shared, mentioned my books and stories to someone, anyone, you are awesome. Thank you!
If you happen to read this book, I hope that it entertains you in some form or fashion. I always try to create stories with hopes of entertaining a few readers. Happy reading.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Release Date for Chicken Liver Blues


After some delay, I’m happy to announce that my book CHICKEN LIVER BLUES will finally be released Friday, December 21 on Amazon. It will be added to other e-book retailing sites thereafter. I hope you check it out.
Here’s the back cover description:
Chicken Liver Blues is an inimitable collection of twelve stories that at times barrels and swerves down rural backroads kicking up gravel and dust in its wake, and other moments it’s a calm late night country cruise that soaks up the stars, the moon, and the heavens while contemplating the meaning of life.
Ride shotgun on this memorable journey that looks in on the struggling working-class, the old moonshiners, the backwoods guitar pickers, the demented Jesus freaks, the alcoholic spouses, the hard luck writers, and other notable characters who try to make it through life the only way they know how…for good or ill.
Featured Stories:
Twenty Dollars
Money
Chicken Liver Blues
The Natural Order of Things
Bluesman of the Woods
The Letter
Jubal Grimes
King of the County
Forsaken Land
The Monsters
One Step Closer to Heaven
The Man in the Meadow

Sunday, December 9, 2018

This Old Notebook


In 1993, I was a sixteen-year-old kid trying to fulfill this domineering illusion of becoming a small town’s basketball hero. It was also at this time I was journaling into notebooks, scrawling away about my dreams of becoming the top high school basketball player in the land. Nothing else mattered. No money, clothes, cars, stereo equipment, not even girls could lure me away from the basketball courts and my deep passion for the game.
Sometime thereafter, I’d discovered books and poetry. I found my passion for basketball fading and being replaced with my new obsession with the written word. I began writing my thoughts and feelings and ideas into the notebook pictured above, which ultimately gave me the strength to carry on and face personal demons that had already reared their ugly heads into my young life. Poetry and notetaking also presented me the courage to walk away from the game that I once loved. Many narrow-minded people looked down on me for quitting basketball, but the words captured in this notebook said to follow your heart.
Now, almost 26 years later, I’m still writing and scrawling away in notebooks. Along the way, I’ve written a few books and many short stories, some of which have sold copies all over the U.S. and other far off places. I feel extremely fortunate for that.
I love this old notebook. I look at it and read what’s inside, on the yellow-stained pages with faded ink and smeared pencil, and think back to a young bedroom poet who had dreams of becoming a famous writer. I’m not famous, but I am a writer, and I'm glad that young man from long ago took a chance and followed his heart.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

From Brothers of the Mountain: Heart of the Frontier



Running Fox had a row of deep, creased lines that stacked upon a cinnamon colored brow. His hair was the color of cotton and fell to the middle of his back. To look into his sunken eyes, one would see the determination of a prideful man, one who had never given up on his Shawnee heritage. He had overcome countless hindrances throughout his many years on earth and, if one looked deeper into his eyes, they would see the strife that life had dealt him, the strife that hardened his soul.
The old man leaned on his oak walking staff while he penetrated the abdomen of a cottontail with his hunting knife. He slit the animal to the top of its ribcage and removed the entrails by sinking his hand inside and ripping them clean. He cut away the feet and head and threw them over into some bushes. Next, he slipped the blade between the fur and flesh and cut away the meat he intended to roast for his morning meal.
After skinning the animal, he clutched the oak staff with his frail-looking hand and squatted next to a creek bank. He dipped the bloody carcass and knife into the stream to rinse them both. On ancient legs, he struggled to stand. His form was not properly straight as it once had been many years ago. Now, his back remained as arched as the rolling hills just beyond the creek by which he stood.