You can't kill a man with a painted feather.
Or, you might be able to, but not effectively.
A blue jay is a friend as long as you don't mess with him.
Never trust a doctor and only half the carnies.
The electrical jolt that kills you will come out of nowhere.
You will be forgotten within a generation.
It doesn't matter.
You can kill a man with a lead pipe, but there are more effective ways.
You can use a lifetime to grind a man to nothing, kick him when he's down.
You don't have to be nice to anyone, but it helps.
Shake it out.
Walk down a country road and throw rocks at all the rust signs.
You should leave something beautiful if you can. Try?
Learn to paint or sing a song; learn some stories and maybe a cheap magic trick or two.
Use these things to bring happiness to others.
Don't stop being curious.
You can kill a man if you put him in a box. It's effective. Proven.
Calling it effective don't make it right, boss.
Find a child to draw with.
Go fucking fishing, man.
Seriously. I don't murder people in traffic because you don't think I should?
I think an afternoon of fishing would do you good.
There are lots of ways to save a man.
This is awesome. I want to print it on posters and hang it everywhere, spread the word, preach it louder. <3 So much truth in in; this resonates especially, "You can kill a man if you put him in a box. It's effective. Proven. Calling it effective don't make it right, boss."ReplyDelete
Lol. I almost didn't post it. Glad I did! Thx homieDelete
I'm glad you did too! I love this. Seriously love it. Although I'd probably say a third of the carnies. ;)Delete
I love it, too! There's more redemption to be found outside the walls of some damn church than inside.Delete
I’m glad you posted it, too!Delete
I heard the mourning dove call my name at sunrise. The bars on the window of my jail cell did nothing to mute the pure song.ReplyDelete
My jailer was a jovial sort. Perhaps it’s easier to be jovial when looking into a cell. McCracken, I think he said his name was. Red hair, red beard with slivers of silver.
“You have any last letters to write? To anyone you love? Now would be a good time to write them.”
“Now? My trial isn’t for another week.”
“There are trials, and then there are trials.” It’s hard to read a smirk under a full red beard.
There wasn’t really anyone I loved, but I wrote a letter anyway. My mother deserved at least a letter and likely more. As I folded the sheet of cheap paper and put it into the envelope, I heard them.
A mob makes a peculiar sound. There are chants, a few words that can be understood, but the real sound is a rumble. Feet on pavement. The rustle of one coat against another. Once you filter out the words, it’s just the sound of mobile hatred.
That sound, that steady sound, was coming down the street just now. When it was directly outside the jailhouse, Deputy McCracken twirled his keys and sauntered toward the door to my cell.
I was surprised when I heard him insert the key to the lock, astonished when I heard the door open.
“Giving me a chance to get away?”
“Keeping them from wrecking the door like they did the last time.”
Just as I placed one foot outside my cell, the front door burst open. One man walked in. Ruddy face. Lips curled back in a sneer. Perfect teeth. I don’t remember much else of him, as he turned me around and snapped cuffs on my unresisting wrists.
“You’re coming with me.” He got behind me and shoved me forward, out the door
I was disappointed in the size of the crowd. Surely my death ought be better attended than this.
As the thirty or forty pairs of eyes landed on me, there was a brief moment of relative silence. Then, the chants again.
“Kill him! String him up!”
Over and over. And then we began moving. Like a parade, me as grand marshall, my captor pushing me forward, and the mob following behind.
I knew where we were headed. Just outside of town. A grand old tree.
Soon enough we were there. The sun shone brightly now. From the shortness of the shadows, I guessed it was nearly noon.
I was determined to face this ignoble end with dignity, no matter how my insides were quaking.
Like actors in a Greek play, we all knew our parts. The noose fit tightly around my neck, like the bolo tie I sometimes wore to church on Sundays. The hangman checking the strength of the bough from which the rope hung. He was meticulous, like the priest making sure the bread and wine were ready to be consecrated. The mob played the part of the church choir, though their voices were not sweet.
Which left me to play what? The savior to be made a sacrifice?
I wondered at the apparent sincerity of the hangman’s whisper, “May God have mercy on your soul.”
When I heard a crack, for a moment, I thought the branch broke. For a moment. Then I realized it was the sound of my neck.
I heard the ringing of bells, whether from the church or from heaven, I cannot rightly tell you. But I am certain there are no bells in hell.
Swift justice on the American Frontier, in the last half of the nineteenth century, for a man whose crime was having the wrong color of skin.
May God have mercy on their souls.
You know, you didn't give one hint about the "crime" or the ending of this story, but I had a feeling. I was waiting for it. And the twist still hit me in the feels. Another great piece, Leland.Delete
Yep. I agree. And I'm digging this form. Seen it a few times now. Really cool effect, especially for stark westerns. Can I make a suggestion. Make the mob's voices sweet and that sentence hits like a sledge.Delete
That fucking cottonwood again. This one hurt. And it ought to. Bravo, brother.Delete
(And yes, I like Dan's suggestion.)
You put us right there. The thing that struck me especially about this piece was that the narrative voice has this undercurrent of normalcy to it, that is somehow more chilling than anything fear you might have written in.Delete
Thanks, y’all. You mean the mobs voice down near the play part of the s5ory?Delete
He’s doing fine, in case you wanted to know. He’s getting his life in order, and it’s about time, really, when you think about it. All those years since he turned twenty-one have been a struggle for him, no doubt, but he’s quit the booze and he’s hard at work raising two kids who weren’t even born the night he bullied his friends into quiet submission and slipped away down the road with you in the passenger seat.
I try not to think about that night at all.
I try not to think Why didn’t I see what he was about to do to her and I try not to think about after, when I found out, when I decided not to kill him because I had been raised to believe sin and punishment are the operands in an equation only God can solve. I try not to ponder what you must have been thinking about, a sixteen-year-old girl in close quarters, with the Camaro jerking and thumping down the dirt side-road, or what he said or did to get you into that car in the first place. I try not to think about him at all, except when I see him sometimes, dressed for church, finally making peace with his people for all the hateful things he’s said and done, finally accepting Jesus into his life and finding the narrow way.
He is forgiven.
What does it matter whether you’ve forgiven him or not? Your scars are on the inside, not on the hands and feet and the sweet, severed belly of the One who died to wash away that sinner’s crimson stains. God’s grace has let him off the hook, but you? You’re superfluous. The equation has been solved for X. You’re on neither side of the equals sign.
This packs a lot of punch into relatively few words. I think it puts a finger on the rage and outrage a lot of people have felt and maybe couldn't put a name to.Delete
Wow. This is a powerful and, honestly, kind of gut-wrenching piece. And my guts don't wrench so easy. Hard to read, but not because of the writing. Well written and visceral. Put me on the defensive, which most writer's can't. Good to see a non-regular here, too!Delete
Agree with Laura and Dan. This is the shit. Please post more. Fresh new voices here are already a good thing, but fresh new dark voices? Ones that can handle the language as deftly as this? Even better.Delete
I give it a wow...Delete
Yep, a wow here. Dark and visceral. Also glad to see you here!Delete
Some dark stuff here. At least there are bright spots in the first bit--"You should leave something beautiful if you can" should be everyone's mantra.ReplyDelete
A lot of dark stuff. A lot of true stuff.Delete
And yes, that should be everyone's mantra.
"OOOOooooohhhhh give me a home/ where the old river roams/ where the deer and the possum-rats diiiiiiie!"ReplyDelete
"Dad, I'm pretty sure those aren't the words," Missy said. She heard her brother, Abel, groan and had to work to hide her grin. "I think, in general, they aren't called possum-rats, either."
"Girl, you don't know shit," her daddy said. "You so dumb you can't even spell yer own name right."
Abel laughed and Missy joined in, even as she shook her head. The old man was in a certain mood. She knew better than to take anything he said too seriously.
"You're the dumbass who named me Mischief," she pointed out, even knowing she should probably keep her mouth shut.
Instead of blowing up at her, Daddy laughed. By-and-large he was a happy drunk. Once in a while, he got mean as a snake, though. Unfortunately, of all of his kids, Missy liked to push him. And her mom. And all ten of her siblings. And her teachers. And pretty much anything that moved. She couldn't seem to help herself.
"You want me to rangle us up some dinner or not? Daddy asked.
"I could eat," Missy said.
"Always, Dad," Abel said. "Your kills taste so much better than anyone else's."
Abel was a bit of a kiss-ass.
"Then tell your shit-fer-brains sister to stop giving me guff and go get them lazy, good-for-nothing dogs."
Missy rolled her eyes and turned back towards the house, grumbling about planning and laziness and forethought. It was all in good fun, but their dad had turned a corner so he didn't take it that way.
No, he instead made a grab for his girl. It was clear to both of the kids that if he got hold of her he would do some damage. In that instant everything changed.
Missy stopped grinning and quit dragging her feet. She hustled back to the house without a word. Instead of the fear she'd felt when he'd turn on the mean when Missy was younger, she felt resignation steal through her.
She didn't have to look to know that Abel had jumped in between Missy and their Pa. It was the way he was. A kiss-ass until he had to step in and defend his younger siblings. Sadly, he didn't just have to defend them from their dad. A couple of the older kids had gotten the sickness for booze or drugs and turned mean like their dad had. Gramps was that way, too.
Missy let the damn dogs out, then made a beeline for the house. She had no intention of seeing her father for the rest of the night. As she ran to her room and gathered up her stuff so she could go hang with friends, Missy swore to herself the same thing she'd sworn so many times before.
"I'm never gonna drink. Not one drop. It ain't worth it," she thought. "I'll never take a chance on ending up like him."
I love the way the dialogue and language here paints a picture of the setting. And the way everything about it paints a picture of dark truths and a sliver of hope.Delete
This has that stamp of authenticity. Generous and loving until the tension snaps like a string. Love it.Delete
Loved it. Especially the innocence of the moment where it turns mean.Delete
Agreed. The dialogue is so on point.Delete
A girl with a dark interior who WILL triumph. Well told.Delete
She feels as if she’s being mocked. Taunted. She looks away, her hands clenching in frustration.
It doesn’t help. She can see that blank stare in her mind’s eye, the slow, measured blink needling her.
She does not rise to the bait.
The minutes pass on their way to becoming hours. At first, she is able to ignore it, but soon enough it begins to nibble at her, and then to gnaw. When it feels as if it might swallow her whole, she takes a bracing breath and turns to face the blankness. She stares it down for a minute, two. Then, slowly, uncertainly, still uncertain about what might result…she begins to type.
Ha, I genuinely didn't see that ending sneak in! The power of the written word over the bullies of this world. Brava!Delete
Yes! This is awesome. The tone switch is super effectiveDelete
“I see you now.”ReplyDelete
I might be the stupidest man who ever lived. This is my delayed tribute. I never saw you, but I see you now.
When I wheel her onto the concrete platform behind the fence so she can look out on the cove, her head is like some piñata, loose upon a bundle of sticks, desirous of being hung and being beat. I will never hang it. Or ever beat it. I want her to drink the waters and the misted skies of the bay forever. I don’t want to ever say goodbye. But she knows this and brays laughter like a crow.
“My damn voice barely works anymore, and you’re a total prick of a man, and I know what you want, and I’ll be damned if I’ll do what you want right here and right now, you complete and utter…”
Though I tune her out, I am penitent. I barely flinch.
She always was a cursing virtuoso, a maestro of malediction.
A cormorant rises from the shallows like a fiend released in our world and spreads the sodden shawl of its wingspan as if we could discern some profane script inside its scope, then it drags its sopping body impossibly and barely airborne, mere feet above the waves. Inwardly I cheer, but I know that is gauche. What self-respecting lifeform shits and grubs in the shallows and the dirt before it can soar in a blink, and arrow like the dream of a spear? This cormorant. This cursed black serpentine jinx with dripping parchment wings. This ink-dipped oath. Not bat but not bird either.
If somebody says, “I can’t do this anymore,” that’s the time to start listening.
It’s also true that if they say they’re struggling, you listen too, but these, these are crisis words, this is the klaxon, the clamor of an alarm aboard a starship where everything’s bathed in alternating crimson and black, and sirens blare.
“Tell me how you are,” I say to her.
“I can’t… encompass it.”
“No. For you. And for her…”
A tide brings the waters in, tosses great boatloads of kelp on the beach like the tendrils of cephalopods, waxes so ferries can leave, wanes like a moondrawn thing. Tourists keep gathering on the heights, to watch, to listen, to smell this thing. This hermetic zombie thing.
Grief lies curled like a dead fern in my gut.
“Talk,” I say. “It’s your moment. I did you harm, woman, but here’s your time to preach.”
Like scraping molluscs from an antique hull.
Then a silence falls on land and water alike, a birdless quiet, until at last she croaks out her testimony.
“Right. You raggedy motherfucker. What did you ever want with me? With us? Like actors, you want us to drag our indignities like ruined limbs across the stage, explain away our shame… Wait. No. That isn’t right. Reboot. Start over…”
Her voice is a rasp on fibrous wood. Her flintlike sorrow moves from her eyes to her entirety.
“Lookit. Imagine there’s this great mural painted by generations upon a stucco wall, each segment independent of the rest, great scenes of despair and dread, of busted dreams and the mockeries of hope. Leaving some alleyway trattoria, you stumble on it and you close on some small grey drama, something ugly or mean. Shocked, you look upon another patch of the canvas, equally tawdry, but then you go to leave and something makes you turn around and you see the whole fresco and you gasp and you cry out and you finally stand mute, comprehending, and you see it’s your life. All your life. And you…” She points a misshapen finger at me. “You were one of the shabby sections is all. Now cut the fence and tip this damn chair already, you gawking ungainly dipshit. Time to introduce this meat suit to the unforgiving rocks.”
Damn! The stacking is unreal in this piece. Everything builds to that final, perfect speech. I love maestro of malediction of course. The language in this is rich and satisfying as always.Delete
I love the change in language and tone in that last paragraph. The juxtaposition is perfect, and makes the last few lines that much stronger. Dan's right about the way everything builds, too. And the symbolism is on point.Delete
Grief lies curled...damn, David! I wasn't going to post this week, but now I gotta, since we're coming at the same story!ReplyDelete
Well, all I have to say is, if you ever find yourself within earshot of hearing somebody’s dying wishes, run the other direction.ReplyDelete
I married into the Whitfields, so I can’t be blamed for any of it, but when Mumsey told Poppy that her dearest wish was die watching the sunset over the lake up at Ishnala, I knew it was a terrible idea, but as an inlaw you’re not allowed to say so. Y’see, Mumsey and Poppy were real old school about things like that. Ishnala, don’t ask me what it means, was the big old lake house they’d had up north for just about forever, Mumsey having inherited that particular albatross from her own Poppy sometime before the crash of ’29. She came from the old money while the Whitfield’s money was newer, but they clung to the traditions in just exactly the way you might expect from people who insisted on being called Mumsey and Poppy in the first place. Not to mention cheap. They never gave a single one of the grandkids more than a 20-dollar bill, always tucked into some kind of card telling them to work hard if they wanted to succeed in life. They were married for something like seventy years and he always deferred to her. We all did; first because she ruled the whole family with an iron fist, and second because I know from personal experience not a single one of her 3 sons was capable of making a honest decision about anything if their lives depended on it.
But when the doctors told him it was only a matter of time before Mumsey went, Poppy rallied himself and called the whole family to gather us all together for a proper send off. So we loaded up three vans and two SUVS with kids and cousins and grandkids and her own private nurse, in the middle of goddamned May when it hadn’t even entirely stopped snowing yet to a big old barn of a lake lodge with stuffed fish on the walls and seasonal plumbing to give the old girl her send off, even though her brain was pretty much pudding by that time and she didn’t recognize any of us.
And we didn’t exactly know what to do with ourselves either when we got there. The lake water couldn’t have been more than 50 degrees or so, and nobody really wanted to take one of the boats out. So me and the other in-laws, Carol and Uncle Cal’s unofficial wife, Murray set to raiding the pantry and the freezer to see if we could come up with a meal for everybody, while Dwight and his brothers went crawling under the house to try and get the plumbing hooked up. Meanwhile, the private nurse, Ms. Oh-something, wheeled Mumsey out onto the front porch, wrapped up in three shawls, a lap robe and a pair of gloves and set her in the sun. Poppy sat down with her for a few minutes, but he wasn’t ever the kind who could sit still for long, and decided to go pull some weeds in the side yard instead.
And we waited, there in that mildew-smelling house and tried to make an effort to be sad, only we couldn’t, not really. Unofficial Murray finally got a fire going in that huge old fireplace and tried to make himself inconspicuous. Uncle Cal thankfully threw open the bar around 3 and those that weren’t making small talk and picking over the relics of the furniture for something they might want to take home just wandered around mostly, lost in their thoughts and what fond memories they could muster. Once or twice, somebody wandered out on the porch to make sure Mumsey was still with us and murmured some things best kept to themselves, but that was about it. The Whitfields, as you might suspect, weren’t too generous with their displays of emotion and so the whole long, strange afternoon passed in a sort of a dream. Worst wake I ever attended, let me tell you.
Man. I love your storytelling voice so much. When I'm old and senile, will you come tell me stories? (planning on senility in a few years) ;)Delete
Agreed. These stories feel so lived in. Like there's a shit ton of backstory we don't even see, yet we trust it's there anyway.Delete
I guess it must have been about six when that Ms O’ something went out onto the porch. She checked her pulse and listened for a breath, then rose back up and shook her head at me, who happened to be standing in the doorway at that moment. “She’s gone.”ReplyDelete
“Well, RIP Mumsey.” I said and went to get Poppy, who was well on his way through his third Scotch. The boys had to help him to the door and outside where he took a deep breath and patted her hand and kissed the top of her head goodbye. It was real sweet, considering.
Not quite knowing what else to do with her, they wheeled her back inside and set her in front of the roaring fire, trying to decide if we should all eat first and then call the funeral home, or if we ought to wait until morning, since everybody allowed to drive was about 3 sheets and a half by then and the woods don’t get any lighter at night.
So eventually we decided to start feeding the kids and Poppy first at least and headed back toward the kitchen. When all of a sudden we heard Mumsey’s voice, loud and clear, just as though she hadn’t crossed the veil.
“Somebody’s burning the goddamn dumplings!”
Everybody froze in their tracks.