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Morgan Boyd
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rivernevertells.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2016

The River Never Tells

 

Morgan Boyd

 

 

 

I was passing through town when I met a woman at Broncos Bar and Grill.  Janet wasn’t the prettiest filly in the stable, but looks aren’t everything.  What she lacked in the beauty department, she made up for with an understanding ear and an ample bosom.  By the third beer, I showed her the scar on my neck.  By the fourth beer, she invited me to her place. 

 

Janet lived by the river.  There was something magical about that waterway.  I didn’t know what it was yet, but I felt fated to that tributary.  Janet had a six-year-old son named Jimmy.  That was weird.  He was a little guy with red hair, and fully devoted to superheroes and Frosted Flakes.  He ignored me, giving a batman movie his undivided attention, which was convenient on account of what Janet and I were about to do in her bedroom.

 

This was a good deal.  I wanted to stay.  Janet was onboard, but said I had to pull my own weight.  She’d had several freeloading men in the past, and wasn’t interested in supporting another deadbeat.  I asked around town about work, and it wasn’t long before I was pointed toward the sawmill up the hill.

 

I hitched a ride early one morning, but nobody was there.  I wandered around the woodpiles, and looked down a steep and misty ravine beyond the back of the lumberyard.  A car approached, so I returned to the parking lot.  A small truck passed, carrying three men.  They parked, leaned against the side of the pickup, and scowled at me while spitting tobacco.

 

I was about to scratch this job opportunity when another truck pulled into the parking lot.  A massive man oozed out of the cab, and heaved my way.

         

Morning,” he said.  “What’s your business?”

 

Heard there might be work.”

 

You staying somewhere?  Ain’t camping out?”

 

I got a roof over head.”

 

Them’s the magic words.  We pay the minimum.  You ever worked in a mill, used a saw?

 

No.”

 

Perfect, we’re looking for somebody to pile lumber.  How’s your back?”

         

Fine,” I said, and stood up straight.

 

Welcome aboard,” he said, but didn’t shake my hand.  “My name’s Big Henry.  You’ll like it just fine around here.”

 

My name’s Jake.  Will they like me just fine around here?”  I asked, shifting my eyes toward the three men, staring at me across the parking lot.

 

That’s Karl, Jerry and Kemp.  Don’t worry.  They’re looking at you funny because they think you’re homeless.  The bums camping in the gorge behind the stacks steal our wood.  The boys are getting mighty tired of it.”

 

I set to work hauling lumber from the mill to the yard.  Most of the other workers were friendly, and when Karl, Jerry and Kemp learned I held residency, my presence was tolerated.  I wouldn’t say we were peachy-keen or anything, but they didn’t look like they wanted to kill me anymore.

         

I didn’t have gloves, and my hands blistered. I was sore from head to toe, and dog-tired by the end of my shift.  When I got to Janet’s, the pain dissipated into her smile, and her low-cut blouse.  I sat on the back porch in contemplation, watching the water, and wondering why I felt so content.  The reason eluded me, but as I stared into that hypnotic current, it hit me: with Janet, I was no longer following in my father’s shadow.  With Janet, I was my own man.  Jimmy came out back, and disrupted my thoughts.  He wanted to play superheroes, so I became The Incredible Hulk, and although my hands and back ached, I lifted him by the ankles, and swung him back and forth as he giggled with glee. 

 

Jimmy gave me the lowdown on Bruce Wayne at the dinner table while Janet served hamburgers.  I felt like I could have eaten a half-dozen, but I stopped after three when Janet gave me a look of amazement.

 

I’ve never seen somebody wolf down so many hamburgers so fast,” she said.

 

After Janet tucked Jimmy into bed, we smoked a joint and watched TV before hitting the sack.  For the next several weeks, Janet would wake me on her way out the door with Jimmy. I’d pour a bowl of Frosted Flakes, make a pot of coffee, mourn my aching limbs and then thumb a ride up to the sawmill.

 

That’s the second pallet this week,” Karl said.  “They’re building a city down there.”

 

They cut a hole in the fence,” Jerry said.  “That’s how they steal lumber.”

 

Well boys, we need to mend that fence pronto,” Karl said with his thumbs sticking through his belt loops.  “And we need to nip this situation in the bud.  Once a pony gets a lump of sugar, he keeps on coming back for more.”

 

What do you suppose?”  Kemp asked.

 

We have ourselves a problem for sure,” Karl said.  “But it’s nothing a cold brew can’t solve.”

 

Okay everybody,” Big Henry said, coming out of his office.  “Get to work.”

 

At lunchtime we sat out back at picnic benches.  Most guys ate sandwiches, but I never packed a lunch.  Karl sat down, placed a six-pack of Budweiser on the table, and removed a beer.  Jerry and Kemp each grabbed one.  The guy next to me looked like he wanted to, but thought better of it, and left the table.  Two other guys cautiously grabbed bottles.  I was the last person, so I grabbed the last beer.  We all cracked them and clinked necks.  I took a sip, but noticed everybody chugging, so I did the same.

 

Bring a hammer or a crowbar tomorrow an hour before work, agreed?”  Karl asked.

 

Agreed,” they all said.

 

After lunch, Karl lent me gloves.  I was worried I’d be unprepared for tomorrow’s task, so I confided in him that I didn’t have the required tools.  He glared at me like we were back in the parking lot my first day, and then he laughed.

 

          “Not to worry,” he said.  “I’ve got you covered.”

 

          I sat on Janet’s back porch, drinking a beer and watching the river at sunset.  I was worn out and hungry as hell.  The routine was growing thin.  A shadow stretched across my mind, and I wondered, is this really what I want?  To be a broke roustabout, chained to a woman and child, or would it be better to be like Old Man River, and just keep rolling along?  It’d be a damn sight easier.  I could just wade out into the water, forget about the backbreaking work at the sawmill, forget about Janet and Jimmy, and float away.  Several mosquitoes bit me on the neck and face, so I went inside.  I turned on the game, and Jimmy threw a temper tantrum.  Janet promised him a Spiderman movie if he quieted down.  I promised him an ass whopping if he didn’t.

 

          “Turn off the game, and put the Spiderman movie on, and don’t you ever threaten him again,” Janet said.

 

Fine,” I said, putting on the DVD.  “He wants to watch a guy prancing around in colorful tights instead of football, who am I to judge.”

 

Football’s full of guys prancing around in colorful tights,” Janet said.

 

Enjoy your movie,” I said to Jimmy.  “Your mom and I’ll be in the back having private time.”

 

Not tonight Jake,” she said.

 

Come on,” I told her, but she wasn’t interested.  “Fine, I’ll watch this shit with the kid.  Any beer in the fridge?”

 

What did you just say?”

 

You cooking anymore hamburgers?”  I asked.

 

You can get out,” she yelled.  “And don’t come back if you’re going to disrespect my family.  You hear me, fucker?”

 

I spent the evening wandering along the river, thinking to hell with this town, this job and this woman.  I didn’t need any of it.  In the morning, I’d follow the river to somewhere else. 

 

I found a sandy spot and lay down.

 

The cool dark water rushed by, and the stars speckled the evening sky.  My troubles faded into the river’s tranquility, and I felt light as air.  A splashing sound nearby interrupted my momentary contentment.  I looked out over the black current, but saw only moving water.  I heard another splashing sound that caused me to sit up, and train my eyes into the darkness.  Something large and sinister with glowing yellow eyes crawled out of the river under the night’s shadows.  Its long razor sharp jaws grabbed me by the neck, and dragged me into the water.  I kicked and punched and flailed, but to no avail.  As the creature held me under, crushing my windpipe, I saw my father’s face.

 

          I woke in a cold sweat.  It was first light, and I was still on the sandy bank.  My neck was stiff, but intact.  I was groggy, but made my way to the highway, and caught a ride up to the mill.  My stomach growled.  I was haggard and irritable from sleeping on the ground.

 

About time you showed,” Karl said, handing me a crowbar.  “We was about to leave your ass.  Let’s get a move on.”

 

We walked through the stacks in the back of the lumberyard.  At the rear fence, we came to a locked gate.

 

Over there’s the hole they made,” Jerry said, producing a key from his pocket.

 

          A steep dirt trail wound down through thick shrubs and thorny blackberry vines.  The sun glowed through the treetops.  I hadn’t understood what the job entailed until we left the yard for the forest.  I thought this was on the up and up, but as we entered the brush, the gravity of the situation hit me.

 

The forest was dense, and the trail grew narrow.  I thought about my father, and how he had walked out on us so many years ago.  I took a deep breath, and thought about Janet and Jimmy.  I wished I were in bed with Janet, or pouring a bowl of Frosted Flakes for Jimmy instead of descending into the mist with Karl and the boys.

 

We hit the canyon floor, and came to a stream.  Around a bend, we got our first glimpse at the homeless camp.  Several shacks built from pillaged lumber leaned against large knotty pines on the away shore.

 

We crossed the stream on dry rocks.  As we landed on the far strand, a man stuck his head out of the closest shanty.

 

Goddamn thief,” Karl shouted, raising his hammer.

 

The man hollered, and fled into the bush.  A din erupted as the occupants of the other shacks realized the danger, and scrambled into the safety of the woods.

 

Knock down these rat’s nests,” Karl said.

 

What’s the point?” Jerry asked.  “They’ll just rebuild them.”

 

Pile everything on the shore.  The lumber, all their garbage, everything,” Karl said.  “We’re having a bonfire boys.”

 

Wish we’d got our hands on those sons-of-bitches,” Jerry said as we dismantled the hovels, and piled their belongings next to the stream.

 

Mostly cardboard and blankets lined the floors, but there were also stoves and clothing.  I also found some stuffed animals and children’s books.  We heaped it on the shore, and Kemp lit a fire.

 

Hey,” Jerry yelled when he entered the last shack.  “We got one.  He’s piss drunk.”

 

Bring him over here,” Karl said.

 

They dragged the guy by his ankles to the bonfire.

 

You stealing our wood boy?”  Karl asked.

 

          The man’s head swayed on his neck.  He was dirty and in need of a shave and a haircut.  Like me, the poor fellow was late in comprehending his predicament.  Karl slugged him in the gut.  He gave out a bellowing yowl of pain mixed with fear.  The others fell on the inebriated guy, cursing and working him over with angry fists.

 

I stood back, watching them beat the transient.  That could have been me: some poor bastard, down and out, and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Come on,” Karl yelled.  “Don’t just stand there.”

 

Yeah, you fucking idiot,” Jerry yelled.  “We’re all doing this.”

 

I hesitated for a moment, and then walked over to the luckless man, and clocked him in the head with my crowbar.  I’ll never forget that hollow sound.

 

Jesus Christ,” Karl said.  “What did you do that for?  I wanted to rough him up.  Teach him a lesson, not bash in his brains.”

 

Hey guys,” Kemp said.  “The fire.”

 

Holy shit,” Karl said.  “It’s catching the brush.”

 

Let’s go,” Jerry said.

 

We crossed back over the stream.  Sweat poured down my face as we hustled up the narrow trail to the fence at the back of the lumberyard.  Jerry’s hand trembled as he locked the gate behind us.

 

What the hell you boys doing?”  Big Henry asked.

 

We was fixing that hole in the fence when we saw the fire,” Karl said.

 

Henry frowned, but didn’t ask any more questions.  He told us to evacuate the area.  Dark smoke clouds rose from beneath us into the sky.  It wasn’t long before sirens approached.

 

I went straight to Janet’s and apologized for last night’s behavior.  I wanted to make it up by taking her and Jimmy out to eat.  Janet liked that idea.  She dressed pretty, slicked down Jimmy’s hair, and we went to Broncos.

 

For dinner I had a double cheeseburger with bacon and a dark beer.  Janet had the fish and chips and a glass of white wine.  Jimmy had the macaroni and cheese with bacon and a root beer.  It was a nice meal, but we sat near the television in the bar, and everybody around us watched the news, and talked about the fire.

 

          “Those bums started it,” the bartender said.  “A couple of firefighters almost lost their lives.  Almost lost the sawmill.”

 

A homeless guy burned to death,” our waitress said.

 

Good,” A man at the bar said.  “Serves his freeloading ass right.”

 

We went back to Janet’s.  I tucked Jimmy into bed, and read him a Curious George story.  He fell asleep, and I went into the living room and cuddled with Janet.

 

After a few days, the mill reopened.  None of the guys would talk to me.  Karl asked for his gloves back, but that was it.  They treated me like a ghost, like a wood piling specter.  Before the weekend, a detective arrived.

 

Where were you when the fire started?”

 

          His name was Detective Banks.  He was old and wrinkled with a purple nose, but he had a severe stare that worried me.

 

I just arrived when I saw the smoke,” I said.

 

Can others attest to that?”  He asked.

 

Yes,” I said.

 

          I finished my shift at the mill, but I couldn’t catch a ride so I walked.  As the sun went down behind heavy cloud cover, the shadows from the trees grew into the road, and enveloped me in growing darkness.  With each step, my mood blackened.  There had better be some hot food waiting for me on the table, I thought, and Jimmy had better be on his best behavior.  I wasn’t going to put up with his shit tonight.  As I made my way down the road, I had the strange sensation that something was following me.  I peered into the gloom beyond the edge of the trees.

 

I stepped off the side of the road into the duff.  A chill wind cut through me.  In the shadows, a set of yellow eyes appeared, staring at me from within the forest.  I took another step toward the trees as a drop of rain hit my forehead.  I looked up at the sky.  Storm clouds ran overhead like the river’s current.  I stepped back onto the road, and quickened my pace.

 

I was soaked by the time I reached Janet’s front door.  Detective Banks stood in the living room.  Janet sat on the couch.  Jimmy was on her lap.  Tears flowed from her eyes.  The detective squinted at me.  My pulse quickened, and my face reddened, and the scar on my neck burned.  I clenched my teeth and fists as dread filled my chest.

 

It’s Sean,” Janet said.

 

Who?”  I asked.

 

Jimmy’s dad,” she said.

 

What about him?”

 

He’s dead,” she sobbed.

 

They identified him as the victim of the fire,” Detective Banks said.  “We suspect he was high, and trying to cook another dose when he passed out and started the blaze.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief, releasing the bad thoughts inside.  I tried to ease Janet and Jimmy’s grieving.  I did the dishes, swept the floor, and made hamburgers.  They didn’t turn out good like Janet’s, but they were edible.  I put on Spiderman, and let Jimmy tell me about Peter Parker.  After he went to bed, I stayed up consoling Janet.

 

          The next morning after making breakfast for Janet and Jimmy, I thumbed it up to the sawmill.  The rain had stopped in the night, and the ground was wet and fresh smelling.  My ride let me off in the back of the parking lot.  I walked toward the main building as Karl’s truck passed me.

 

Good morning,” I said as I reached the front of the parking lot.

 

They leaned against the automobile, spitting tobacco.

 

          “For some,” Karl said, wiping spit from his chin.  “For others not so much.”

 

I’d hate to be you right now,” Jerry said.  “In a world of shit.”

 

What are you saying?”  I asked.

 

What you done to that homeless guy,” Kemp said.  “I wouldn’t want to be wearing your shoes.”

 

Hold on a second,” I said, looking at my sneakers.  “We’re all to blame for what happened.”

 

Not according to us,” Kemp said.

 

Who started the fire?”  I asked.

 

Depends,” Karl said.

 

On?”

 

Payday.”

 

I smell where you’re stepping,” I said.

 

Knew you would,” Karl said.

 

I went about piling lumber.  At the end of my shift, Big Henry paid me in cash.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to show Janet that I could pull my own weight.  I tried to hitch it down the hill, but I couldn’t catch a ride, so I walked.

 

Jake, where you been?” Karl asked, pulling along side me.  “Thought we were squaring up.”

 

That’s right.  I almost forgot,” I said, and kept walking.  “I tell you what.  Now’s not a good time.  What say we square up later?”

 

Hop in the back of the pickup, and we’ll discuss,” Karl said, leveling a handgun at me.

 

All right,” I said, and climbed in the bed of the truck.

 

Karl turned onto a bumpy dirt road.  We went down the gnarled path for several miles.  Scanning the bed for a weapon, I saw only old beer cans, empty bullet shells and fast food wrappers until I found a tire iron under a ripped up tarp.

 

The sun ducked beneath a row of pine as Karl pulled over.

 

Give me your money,” Karl said, pointing the gun at my chest.

 

You’ll have pissed your pants when we get done with you,” Jerry said.

 

Doesn’t seem like a square deal,” I said.  “Giving you my money, and getting the piss beat out of me.”

 

Sure it does,” Karl said.

 

How do you figure?”  I asked.

 

The money buys our silence.  The beating lets you know that you should move on.”

 

What if I keep my money, and beat the shit out of you instead?”  I asked.

 

They laughed, closing in around me.  I picked up the tire iron, and flung it at Karl.  Diving out of the truck, I tackled Jerry, and knocked him to the ground.  He instantly went limp, so I got to my feet, and went for Karl, but he was already in the truck, turning over the engine.  He sped off as Kemp tried to open the passenger side door, but was dragged to the ground, and flipped onto his head.

 

          I went for the tire iron, but noticed the gun beside it.  Kemp picked himself up out of the road.  He was covered in mud, and blood dripped out of his ear.  He limped over to Jerry.

 

What was the play?”  I asked.

 

Neither man said anything, so I cocked back the hammer, and repeated myself.

 

Take your dough.  Leave you for dead,” Jerry whispered with his eyes closed.

 

What if instead,” I asked.  “I take your dough, and leave you for dead?”

 

Kemp reached into his pocket, and tossed me his money.  I noticed a dark pool forming around Jerry’s head.  When I knocked him to the ground, he must have cracked his skull on a rock.

 

You sure the second part of your plan was to leave me for dead?”  I asked.  “Sure it wasn’t to leave me dead?”

 

Don’t matter,” Jerry whispered.  “Karl’s heading straight to the police to tell them what you did.”

 

What I did?  What we all did.  You’re both as guilty as me.  Karl too.  I never wanted to hurt anybody.”

 

That’s your story,” Jerry said in a low tone.  “I don’t remember it that way.”

 

How do you remember it?”

 

You smashing that guy’s head in with a crowbar.”

 

Is that how you remember it too, Kemp?” I asked.  “Do you remember starting the fire?”

 

          “I can’t remember nothing,” he said.

 

But back in town, your memory returns, right?”

 

Don’t matter the way I feel right now,” he said, touching his bloody ear.

 

Then let’s have the truth,” I said.

 

Take your dough.  Make it so nobody finds your body,” he said.

 

I thought about pulling the trigger, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do it.

 

I left Jerry and Kemp on the side of the road, and walked at a quick clip.  I wished Karl hadn’t gotten away.  Soon he’d tell the police I murdered Jimmy’s dad, and set the fire.  It was only a matter of time before Janet found out what they were accusing me of, and for that, she’d never forgive me.  Time would have bought an engagement ring, a wedding, and a proper upbringing for Jimmy, but now time was the enemy.

 

I ditched the gun, and walked for hours in the dark until I came to the main road.  I heard an automobile approaching, so I hid behind a large tree.  A sheriff’s truck drove passed.  I stayed put, and another went by.

 

In a short time the sheriffs would find Jerry and Kemp, and they’d corroborate Karl’s story.  I was a wanted man.  Heading to Janet’s on the main road was no longer an option, so I started up the hill along the side of the road, skirting the edge of the forest.

 

The parking lot at the sawmill was empty except for a truck near the front.  I walked around back through the stacks, and was just about to reach the fence when somebody lurched in front of me with a shotgun.

 

Hold up, Jake,” Big Henry said.  “Police radio says you’re wanted in connection with arson and homicide.”

 

I didn’t do it,” I said.

 

That might be so, but you’re staying put until the cops arrive,” he said.

 

I can’t,” I said, and ducked behind a stack of lumber.

 

I reached the back gate, but it was locked, so I felt my way down the side until I came to the hole in the fence.  As I crawled through, buckshot ripped into my thigh.  I fell onto the other side as another blast stung my shoulder, neck and face. I tumbled down the ravine and over an embankment.  Fortunately, a tangle of vines and reeds broke my fall.  I thrashed around, and when my shoes touched the ground, they filled with water. 

 

I limped downstream.  With every step the current grew deeper and stronger.  I waded in the cold water until the stream became a river, and I swam with my head bobbing out of the runnel.

 

The river’s gradient steepened, and I struggled to stay afloat in the turbulent white water. The rapids pushed me through several narrow sieves, and over submerged boulders until I was caught in a powerful eddy, and an undercurrent pinned me beneath the water.  After a short time, my struggles for oxygen evaporated into peaceful blackness.  I thought about Janet as my limbs relaxed.  Just before I lost consciousness, the undertow relented, and I rose to the surface, gasping and choking.

 

The river calmed as the waterway widened.  Stars shone bright overhead, and every so often a meteor flashed across the sky.  I was cold and tired as I reached my destination, and swam to the shore.  My body shivered as I staggered to my feet.  Tiny blood rivulets trickled down my face, arms and legs, mingling with my wet garments.

 

I threw myself into the backdoor, and it burst open.

 

Don’t move.  Stay where you are,” Detective Banks shouted.

 

I stumbled through the kitchen, and barreled into the living room as he opened fire.  It felt like a mule kicked me in the chest, and I fell backwards.  The detective stood over me, pointing his weapon.  I closed my eyes, and was about to quit when I heard screams coming from the bedroom.

 

I said don’t move,” Detective Banks ordered as I turned onto my belly, dragging myself through the hall.

 

He fired several shots into my back, but I was able to reach the knob and open the door. 

 

Janet huddled in the corner holding Jimmy.  I took a deep and labored breath. 

 

I made it. 

 

I was home.






deadmeatokeefe.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2017

Dead Meat

 

By Morgan Boyd

 

Dave and I worked the bar at the Green House downtown. The UCSC drinking scene huddled around us like ants on a lump of sugar. I poured libations methodically without discrimination, but Dave employed a different technique. He helped the pretty ladies first, followed by his friends, and lastly, the not-so-pretty ladies before neglecting everybody else, and repeating the process.  

 

As I made my way down the line of thirsty patrons, two toughs forced their way to the bar. We’d known them since elementary school: the Rex brothers, Hal and Vince. A couple of East Side surf bullies. At some point in the last decade, they’d discovered methamphetamines, which greatly amplified their shitty dispositions. The Rex brothers wore flat-brimmed O’Neil ball caps, black Santa Cruz hoodies with red dots, and across their necks, written in old English, they sported matching ‘Eastside’ tattoos.

 

“Two IPA,” Hal said to Dave. “Or I kick your ass like back in school.”

 

Dave ignored Hal, and poured a beer for a college girl. Hal grabbed Dave by the collar.

 

“Knock it off,” I yelled as Vince reached over the bar, and sucker punched me in the jaw.

 

The college scene scattered. I grabbed the baseball bat from behind the counter, and started swinging. When the cops arrived, we assessed the carnage. Dave’s eyes were swollen, and he had several lumps on his forehead, but his real concern was the shank to his ribs. Dave got it bad, but not as bad as Hal. Vince fled when the cops arrived, but Hal lay face down in a puddle of blood.

 

          The police looked into the incident, and Ralph, the owner of The Green Room, placed us on leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.  Dave didn’t mind the time off. He still lived with his parents, and didn’t have any real bills, so he didn’t have to worry about the financial burden while his wounds healed. I wasn’t so fortunate in fiscal matters. I had rent to make on an overpriced one-bedroom apartment, and Elizabeth, my live-in girlfriend, was six months pregnant.

 

It wasn’t the paychecks I missed. It was the nightly tips that paid the bills. With my income on hiatus, I tightened my belt. I cut out buying weed and eating at restaurants. I stayed home and cooked, which wasn’t so bad. I considered myself a decent chef.

 

“Breakfast for dinner again?” Elizabeth said, brushing her long red hair.

 

“Soft boiled eggs are no easy feat,” I said.

 

“You said the same thing about omelets last night.”

 

The time spent at home, and the lack of income, created stress on our relationship. I could no longer drop a wad of cash on Elizabeth, and she could no longer drop a wad of my cash on the bun in her oven. She was upset. I was hopeful our unfortunate circumstances were temporary.

 

A few days after the brawl, a detective named Marks knocked on the door. He was as bald as a cue ball with a gut that hinted that he too was pregnant. I invited him in, and offered him coffee. He looked around, and determined the place was clean enough to trust a cup.

 

“You say Hal Rex reached over the bar and grabbed Dave?” He asked and took a sip.

 

          “That’s right. I tried to intervene, and that’s when Vince punched me.”

 

“What happened next?”

 

“I grabbed a bat, and jumped over the counter.”

 

“What did you do with the bat?”

 

“Defended myself.”

 

“Do you remember any specifics?”

 

“They worked Dave over pretty bad. I tagged Hal, and he went down.”

 

“You’re familiar with the Rex brothers, correct?” Detective Marks asked.

 

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve known them since elementary school.”

 

“Have you had issues with them before?”

 

“They jumped me a few times when we were kids. They’re known for kicking ass,” I said. “Once, Hal and Vince surfed The Hook, and got into a confrontation with a kayaker. They followed him onto land, beat the shit out of the guy, stuffed him back in his canoe, and pushed him over a cliff into the water. Guy broke his neck, and lost the use of his legs. Both Rex brothers ended up doing time. When they got out, they were even meaner.  Do you think I need a lawyer?”

 

“I doubt it’ll go to trial,” Detective Marks said. “Seems a pretty clear case of self-defense, but I’d steer clear of Vince.”

 

Detective Marks finished his coffee, gave me his card and left. I was glad no charges were filed against The Green House or me. That meant I’d be tending bar again soon.

 

After I was cleared of any wrongdoing, Ralph gave me my shifts back, and life returned to normal. The UCSC drinkers forgot about the incident, and returned to the bar to consume massive quantities of overpriced booze. Dave was on the mend, and he was expected to return to The Green House in a few days.

 

I was covering a Monday afternoon for Nancy. I generally don’t work dayshifts or Mondays because business is slow, and the tips aren’t there, but Nancy had a family crisis, and needed a shift covered. She covered for me when I was on leave, so I owed her. 

 

Besides me, a barfly was the only other person in The Green House.  He sat hunched over his beer nursing it like Florence Nightingale.

 

“Starting to rain,” he said, looking out the window as the front door opened, and Vince entered the bar, taking a seat at the counter.

 

“Sorry about your brother, but you can’t be in here,” I said.

 

“I bet you’re real sorry about Hal aren’t you Joe,” Vince said.  “Where’s your boyfriend Dave?”

 

“I’m not joking,” I said, and put my hand on the bat under the counter.  “Get out.”

 

“Or what? You’ll crack my skull too?” He said, rising from the stool.

 

“I feel bad about what happened, but you guys started that shit,” I said.

 

“Elizabeth still a good piece of ass?” Vince asked.

 

“I’m calling the cops,” I said.

 

“Go ahead,” Vince said, and exited the bar, but before he left, he turned, and looked me in the eyes. “You’re dead meat.”

 

When my shift ended, I hung around The Green House for a while, and drank a couple of beers before heading home. Elizabeth was already asleep, so I quietly undressed and crawled into bed, drifting into slumber with my arms wrapped around her swollen belly.

 

A loud sound woke us late at night. I climbed out of bed, grabbed the Mag Light by the nightstand, and walked into the front room. I flicked on the lamp, and looked around. Nothing was out of place except the blinds were slightly askew. I went to fix them, and a small stream of cool air blew against my knuckle. I opened the shades, and saw a small hole in the windowpane surrounded by tiny cracks.

 

“Fuck,” I said.

 

“What is it?” Elizabeth asked from the bedroom.

 

I ran my finger along the hole in the glass, stepped back, followed the trajectory, and found another hole in the stucco wall by the bedroom.  

 

I called Detective Marks, but he wasn’t available, so I dialed 911. It took a while for a police officer to arrive, so I made a pot of coffee, and we sat at the kitchen table. When an officer finally knocked, he introduced himself as Officer Bailey. I let him in, showed him the bullet hole, and explained the situation. He took a report.

 

“You think Vince Rex did this?” He asked.

 

“Yeah,” I answered.

 

“Can you arrest him?” Elizabeth asked.

 

“No,” Officer Bailey said. “There’s no proof.  It could have been a group of kids firing shots from a moving vehicle.”

 

“Seriously?” I asked.

 

“Sorry, there’s just not much we can do at this time. If you come up with anything else please let us know.”

 

After Officer Bailey left, we crawled back into bed, but I had a hard time sleeping. Somebody randomly firing a shot through our front window was absurd. I knew it was Vince, and I knew I needed to protect my family.  Eventually, I drifted off to sleep. Early the next morning, the phone rang.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Hey Joey, this is Ralph.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I got bad news. Some guy walking his dog this morning found Dave.”

 

“What?”

 

“He’s dead.”

 

“What?”

 

“He was walking home drunk last night on the tracks. He tripped and hit his head on the rail. At least that’s what the initial reports indicate. I’m sorry to tell you, Joey. I know you guys were close.”

 

I hung up the phone, and told Elizabeth what happened. After our initial grieving period, my mind went to work. I thought about Vince Rex telling me I was dead meat, then the bullet hole through the window, and now Dave’s death. I didn’t know how to proceed, so I called Corey Anderson. He was a buddy of Dave’s and mine from school, and now a local defense attorney.

 

Corey was pretty broken up when I told him about Dave’s passing, and then I told him about the situation involving the Rex brothers. He said he was busy, but he’d move stuff around on his calendar, and make time to meet me for lunch. I met him downtown at a pizzeria. We ordered slices, and sat in a back booth. I told him the long version of the unfortunate recent chain of events as we ate our meal.

 

“I’ve dealt with the Rex brothers before,” Corey said, wiping a smudge of marinara off his chin with a napkin. “And I’m not talking about when they used to beat us up in school. They intimidated one my clients in a smuggling case. After that, my client refused to testify, and the charges against the Rex’s were dropped.” 

 

“What should I do?” I asked. “I called the police, but they don’t give a shit.”

 

“Cops won’t do dick until it’s too late,” Corey said with a mouthful of cheese. “Do you own a gun?”

 

“No.”

 

“My advice is get one. I’ve got a snub-nose .38 you can borrow,” he said, and threw his wadded napkin onto his paper plate. “I’m due in court in half-an-hour. I have to run. Stop by this evening, and I’ll set you up.”

 

I spent the remainder of the day wandering downtown. After sunset, I went home, made French toast for dinner, and then drove to Corey’s house.  He led me into a walk-in closet at the end of the hall, and opened a box containing multiple pistols.

 

“Wow, Anderson,” I said. “I didn’t know you were a gun nut.”

 

“This is nothing. Here we go,” Corey said, handing me the .38. “And here’s a box of shells.”

 

I thanked him, and went home. Elizabeth sat on the couch watching a sitcom. I didn’t want her to see the gun, so I slipped into the bedroom, and put it and the ammunition in my nightstand drawer. I joined Elizabeth on the couch for some television, and then went to bed. I had trouble sleeping that night. I kept thinking about the gun. I wasn’t sure if it gave me a sense of protection or a sense of vulnerability. One thing was for certain though, every creak in the apartment or grumble from the refrigerator gave me an itchy trigger finger.

 

The next day Elizabeth wanted a Polish dog with sauerkraut and a coconut snow cone from a hotdog stand up Highway 9. Ben Lomond was a long drive for a hotdog and some shaved ice, but I had learned early in the pregnancy to appease my girlfriend’s bizarre food cravings. I went out to the car while Elizabeth was in the bathroom, and stashed the gun in the glove compartment. When she finished with her toiletries, we drove through the redwoods up Highway 9.  

 

After lunch it rained on the way home. A truck tailed us down the winding road. An inch or two separated our bumpers. I got heated, and cussed under my breath when the son-of-a-bitch tapped me. I pulled over at a turnout. The truck pulled over too, and Vince exited the vehicle. He had a pistol in his hand, so I peeled out, flinging gravel, and sped off. In the rearview mirror, I saw him get back into his truck.

 

Elizabeth was pale as a ghost. I told her not to worry. She tried calling 911, but there was no reception in the woods. We came to a series of sharp curves, and Vince’s truck got back on my bumper. We skidded around a corner, and he rammed us. I lost control, and careened off a steep embankment. We flipped over, and came to a violent halt against a large redwood. I was knocked unconscious by the impact. When I came to, Elizabeth wasn’t in the car.

 

“Elizabeth?” I yelled. “Elizabeth? Elizabeth? Honey?”

 

I got out, and fell over in excruciating pain. My left shin burned like hell. I dragged myself through the duff and mud until I found Elizabeth. Her breathing was shallow, and her pulse was light. I performed CPR, but stopped when a gunshot sounded through the rain. Vince Rex was coming for revenge. I was dead meat.  

 

“You fucked up bad, Joey,” Vince yelled from somewhere above.  “Now it’s time to pay.”

 

“You and your brother caused this,” I said, crawling back to the car and removing the .38 from the glove compartment. “And for what? Hal’s dead, Dave’s dead, and Elizabeth needs medical attention.”

 

“You started this mess when you killed Hal,” he yelled and fired another shot. “But it ends here.”

 

Propping myself against the overturned car, I saw Vince descending the embankment in the rain. I took aim and fired. I couldn’t tell if I hit him, but the shot halted his forward progress. I fired another shot for safe measure, and waited. I wasn’t sure if he’d try to come at us from another angle. I didn’t know anything except that Elizabeth needed help.

 

I waited for Vince, but he never materialized. I looked down at my feet, and saw the bone sticking out of my leg. I felt woozy, so I crawled to Elizabeth, and held her tight until darkness enveloped me.

 

I woke in a hospital bed. Corey sat near me, reading a magazine.

 

“Elizabeth?”   

 

“She didn’t make it,” Corey said. “They couldn’t save the baby.”

 

His words hurt more than my broken leg. Helplessness and rage flooded every pore of my being. I felt hot and cold at the same time. My eyes shut tight and my teeth clenched. I tried climbing out of bed, but Corey held me down while a nurse injected me with something, and I slipped back into the void.

 

The day before the funeral, Detective Marks questioned me about the accident, but I didn’t mention Vince. Maybe he suspected something, but I doubted it. Detective Marks couldn’t find a bee if it stung him in the eye.  Besides, whatever punishment the police might have for Vince would be a fucking vacation compared to what I had in store for him. 

 

Rain fell during the funeral. As they lowered Elizabeth and my unborn child six feet under, I stood on crutches, thinking about what little time it takes to have your entire world shattered, burned and shat upon. I buried my hopes and ambitions with Elizabeth. Only one thing mattered: the same thing that mattered to Vince Rex: revenge. Now it was just a matter of who would serve the dish first. 

 

We walked to Corey’s Mazda MX-5—Corey walked—I gimped on crutches. ‘Dead Meat’ was spray-painted across the windshield in red letters.

 

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Corey said, and pulled out his gun. “That prick is here somewhere.”

 

“Good,” I said.

 

“You armed?” Corey asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Then we draw him out. Take a stand,” Corey said.

 

We drove along Soquel Avenue. I kept looking back, but I didn’t see a tail.  We passed through Capitola, and down into Soquel. Corey took a left on Old San Jose Road, and we ascended the curvy thruway. After several minutes of winding turns, I looked back, and saw Vince’s truck.

 

“Bingo,” I said. “Now what?”

 

“Up the road it winds along a steep cliff,” Corey said. “We get a little distance from this prick, park around a sharp turn, and as he comes into view, we end this shit.”

 

Vince was a dog on the hunt, but we were wolves, leading the hunter astray. As far as I was concerned, Vince was the dead meat. We climbed a steep grade through redwood groves. Corey mashed the gas. Vince tried to keep pace, but Corey’s sports car out performed Vince’s truck. As we rounded a bend, the trees ended, and a sheer cliff loomed. Giant floating gray warship clouds filled an angry sky. Hundreds of feet below, dark green treetops blurred together.

 

Corey pulled onto a small muddy turnout, and positioned the car sideways. We exited the vehicle, and drew our guns. Corey used the roof to steady his aim. I leaned against the hood, using it as a crutch. Through the rain, Vince’s truck approached. I took a deep breath, and as the enemy came into view, we opened fire. Bullet holes riddled the windshield. The truck veered and crashed into Corey’s car. I lunged out of harm’s way into the mud just before the thunderous impact.

 

“Corey?”  I yelled as I picked myself up.

 

I hopped on one foot to the cab of the truck with my gun in hand.  Vince was hunched over the wheel. I hopped to the other side of the wreck, and found Corey’s head smashed under the rear wheel in pooling blood. I hopped back to Vince’s truck, and opened the driver’s side door.

 

“Die,” he said and shot me in the neck.

 

I fell in the mud holding my throat. Large raindrops carpet-bombed the area. I staggered to my feet, blood pouring down my shirt. Another shot rang out, hitting me in the chest. I felt a horrible burning pain, but stayed upright. I raised my gun, and shot Vince in the side. He violently flailed into the passenger seat. I climbed in. Vince gasped for air. I turned over the engine several times until the ignition caught, and the truck roared to life.

 

Revenge ground us both into bloody sausage. My chest heaved as I backed away from Corey’s wrecked sport’s car. Through the pain, a warming peaceful feeling enveloped me. The gray warship clouds thundered overhead. I mashed down on the gas pedal, and hurled our dead meat off the cliff toward the dark green blur of trees below. 



classicrustytruck.jpg
Illustration by Kenneth James Crist 2018

Red Christmas

 

by Morgan Boyd

 

 

Perry found out a hundred grand of the mob’s money was lonesome in some backwater storage unit outside of town. His plan was simple: roll up on Christmas day when nobody was around, take the cash, and bounce. Perry said it’d be like taking a present from a toddler, and I hoped so, but as I’d learned the hard way on multiple occasions, “the best laid plans of rats and dogs usually go awry.”

Perry punched in the code, and the electric gate opened. Mike drove the car down the rows until we located the unit we wanted. I busted the lock, and opened the rollup door. There it was, a hundred grand, stacked and sealed in plastic like a toddler’s present.

As the last of the money was stuffed in a bag, the first bullet hit Mike between the eyes.

Mike’s mortal shell flopped onto the blacktop. I wished I could have done more than just leave him twitching on asphalt, but there’s not much you can do when somebody gets JFKed. 

Perry and the cash dove into the backseat as I ducked behind the dash, and mashed the gas. Lesson learned: the mob don’t get Christmas off.

As we approached the exit, the gunfire intensified. I rammed the car through the gate, and popped onto the highway. The windshield was fried, and one of the front tires was flat, but we were unscathed. 

I pulled into the ditch when the car would go no further. Perry grabbed the moneybag, and we crossed a field into thick woods.

We broke into a boarded-up cabin. I found a can of beans, and offered Perry half. He said there was no way he was eating cold beans for Christmas. I polished them off by my lonesome. 

After a nervous night, we left the cabin, and made our way through the wilderness. Thorns and brambles grabbed at our suits as we traversed deeper and deeper into the forest, until we happened upon an old logging road. 

Around a dirt bend, we found a truck. The door was unlocked, and the keys were in the ignition, so we commandeered the vehicle, and set out for civilization. The empty gun rack above the back seat led us to believe some backwater hick must have pulled over to go hunting. 

Perry opened the bag, and counted the money. A tape stuck out of an old cassette deck, and I pushed it in. “Lasagna” by Weird Al Yankovic played.

We looked at each other with awkward expressions for a moment, and then we both started singing along to the “La Bamba” parody.

It was the first time during this harrowing Christmas Day nightmare that I felt a modicum of respect for Perry.

Too bad for him, the plan gone awry was righting itself, and he’d be dead within the hour.

 

 

 


hellhideout.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch 2019

A Hell of A Hideout

 

By Morgan Boyd

 

As the sun dipped below the horizon, headlights rose above the hill.  A pick-up truck with an empty chicken coop in the back pulled to the side of the road.  Putting away my thumb, I climbed into the cab.  An old woman sat behind the wheel, and a diapered chimpanzee sat bitch.

“Name’s Henrietta Pule,” she said under the dome light.  “This here’s Marvin.”

“Howard Jones,”

“Where you heading?”

“Next town over.”

“Pottsville eh?  You look nervous.”

“Monkeys have that effect on me.”

“Don’t worry about Marvin,” she said, pulling back onto the road.  “He’s harmless as a child.  Don’t mean to be rude neither, but Marvin ain’t no monkey.  He’s an ape.  There’s a difference.  Monkeys’ smaller, and apes got no tail.”

Marvin grunted, and smacked the old woman in the face.

“Ouch, Dang it, Marvin.  Be gentle with mama.”

The sun died, and the night cast shadows on my travel companions.  Marvin’s silhouette loomed as the headlight’s residuals illuminated Henrietta’s lined face.  Every so often, she took her eyes off the road and glanced at me.

“What’s a fine looking fellow like yourself want with an ugly town like Pottsville?”

“Work.”

“Notice the quail coop in the back?”

“Thought it was chicken.”

“I can see how you might think that, but the coop’s for quail.  My husband and I, God rest his soul, raised bird twenty years.  Troy’s dead now a decade, but me and the quail is still going strong.  I’m in need of help, and you look like a hard worker.  What do you say?  Pays a decent wage, and you get three square meals a day.  Marvin, stop.  Mama’s trying to drive.”

Marvin smacked the old lady on the head, and the truck swerved over the yellow line.  Fortunately, no vehicle approached from the opposite direction through the enveloping fog.

“I appreciate the offer, but I’m no aviary expert.”

“Ain’t hard.  Just tending a little bird.  You’ll be fine.”

Any semblance of direction disappeared in the fog as we turned onto a dirt road.  After a considerable amount of time spent bouncing along potholes, we stopped at a rusty barbed wire gate.  Henrietta opened the driver’s side door, and Marvin bounded from the vehicle.  Knuckling to the gate, he flung it open, and disappeared into the misty night.

“Get back here,” Henrietta yelled.  “Sometimes that chimp really runs a gal down.  Mind closing the gate after I pull through?”

The thought of walking into the dark unknown with a savage beast on the loose sent my heart racing.  Quickly, I hopped out, closed the gate, and hopped back into the cab.

“Marvin don’t always act this way.  He’s normally civilized.  Dresses and bathes himself, drinks from a wine glass, and uses the toilet, well sometimes.  He ain’t so good on trips.  That’s why he’s diapered,” the old lady said, parking the truck. 

“Wait here while I find that silly chimp and get him inside the ranch house.”

As the old woman disappeared into the fog, a pungent odor filled my nostrils.  I figured Marvin had left a surprise for me in the cab, but then I remembered the diaper.  The fetor drove me from the cab into the brume, but once outside, the stench intensified.

Henrietta returned to the truck, carrying a lantern in one hand, and holding the side of her face with the other.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.  Follow me, and I’ll show you your quarters.  I suspect that look on your face has something to do with the smell.”

“What is it?”

“Quail dung.  You’ll get used to it.  Some of the hands I’ve hired in the past acted like they’d never been on a ranch before when they got a whiff of the place.  Bunch of complainers, but not Johnny.  He never grumbled.  Thirty years of bird shit don’t smell of roses.  My husband dug a pond behind the barn, but we didn’t fill it with water.  Even built a dock, so you can dump the manure out in the middle.  Named it Tahoe.  Troy always got a kick out of that.  Johnny never saw the humor in it, but I don’t think he got the joke.” 

We passed the barn, walking along Tahoe’s shore until we arrived at a two-wheel camper trailer that hitched to a flea.  Henrietta unlocked the door and shone the lantern inside.  Cockroaches scurried for cover.

“Now you’re lakeside,” Henrietta said.  “This is where Johnny stayed.  He was my best worker to date.  I’ve had more duds quit on me than I can count.  You don’t seem like one of those good-for-nothings.  You have an honest face.  Tomorrow, you get the grand tour.”

Henrietta shut the door, leaving me in darkness.  I plopped down on the lumpy box spring, pulled a crusty wool blanket over my body, and fell asleep. I dreamt I was rowing a sinking boat in a lake of shit.  The harder I paddled the faster the boat foundered until the feces flooded the small vessel.  I tried swimming through the excrement, but the more I struggled, the more engulfed I became until only my head remained above the scat, and a great many cockroaches and flies blackened my countenance.

I hopped out of bed in a cold sweat, shivering and swatting at my face.  To my horror, the droning flies did not dissipate upon waking, but instead intensified.  Flinging open the door, I stumbled outside as the rising sun burned the morning fog.

The old lady wasn’t kidding about the shit pond.  It looked about fifty-by-thirty feet in diameter, and a rickety wooden pier led from the shore to the middle of the manure.  At the end of the pier, an old rusty wheelbarrow lay on its side.

I walked over to the barn.

“What ‘cha doing?”  Henrietta said behind me.

“Nothing,” I sputtered, spinning around to find the old lady pointing a shotgun at me. 

Her left eye black and swollen shut.

“Said I’d give you the grand tour,” she said.  “Why so jumpy?”

“Guns make me nervous.”

“Oh, this old thing,” Henrietta said.  “Think I’d shoot you?  That’s a laugh.  I wish Troy were here to hear that one.  There’s an old fox digging under my barn, nabbing my bird.  He’s a crafty Reynard, but when I get his vulpine butt in my crosshairs, I’ll light him up brighter than Aurora Borealis.  Over the years, I’ve shot darn near every known predator in these parts.  Opossums, raccoons, snakes, hawks, rats, coyotes, and once I even got a bobcat.  I shoot ‘em, and stuff ‘em.  Troy did a little taxidermy on the side, and I just sort of kept up the tradition.  Got a zoo of stuffed and mounted animals inside the ranch house, and I’m looking to add Mr. Fox to my fold.  Bet you’re hungry.”

Henrietta led me to the ranch house and made me wait in the front yard while she went inside.  The fear of Marvin mauling me returned.  He must have really socked it to the old lady.  Not that I blamed him.  That damned ape should be swinging from trees in Africa, not diapered somewhere in central California.  Not to mention, Henrietta seemed like the type who might elicit a thrashing now and again on account of her continuous blabbering.  Twenty-four hours had yet to pass in her presence, and I was already sick of the old bag.

“Hope you like beans ‘cause I got a whole mess of ‘em,” she said returning with an open can.

When I finished the lukewarm legumes, Henrietta gave me the grand tour.  The property consisted of a series of rocky gray hummocks, and a junkyard of rusty old cars and various refuse.  The ranch house, the barn and the shit pond occupied the only level ground on the property.

“Bet you’re rearing to have a look at them bird,” Henrietta said after we walked the perimeter of barbwire fence.

The old lady unlocked and opened the barn door.  As the light crept across the dirt floor, a multitude of cockroaches scurried for cover under the rows and stacks of cooped quail.  We entered, and a new and concentrated stench wobbled me.

“Waste trays need changing every day or the ‘roaches eat the dung.  Fill the wheelbarrow with the scat and dump it off the pier.  Fill the troughs with water, and the feeders with corn twice a day.  When a quail lays an egg, remove it before the bird eats it.  Well what are you waiting for?  You’re already a can of beans behind.  Oh, and one more thing.  If I catch you stealing any of my bird or egg, I’ll have Sheriff Braden whirling around you so quick, you’ll think he was a cyclone.  He’s a personal friend of mine, so don’t think I’m shooting cold water.  I don’t mean to threaten.  Just something I got to say.  We clear?”

“As a lake,” I said, and Henrietta left me to my chores. 

The trays brimmed with bird droppings, so I filled the wheelbarrow, and dumped the dung off the pier.  The burlap feedbags were fifty pounders, so I was puzzled as to how the old lady could tote such massive sacks by her lonesome.

Over the next three days, I acclimated to the putrescent smell, but my appetite didn’t acclimate to the food.  Three days of lukewarm beans were three days too many.  On the fourth day, I pinched a few quail egg, and ate them raw, hiding the shells under my mattress in the trailer.

“You’re doing a fine job,” Henrietta said, handing me a half a can of beans for breakfast.  “I ain’t seen this place so clean since Johnny had your job.  How’d you like to join me in the ranch house tonight to listen to the World Series?”

“I’d like that.”

At sundown, I knocked on the ranch house’s withered front door, but there was no answer, so I knocked again.  The door vibrated, and I heard the unmistakable call of the wild.

“Marvin, no,” Henrietta yelled as the door swung open, and I found myself face to face with an angry chimp wearing a silk robe.  Marvin curled his upper lip, giving me a face-to-face view of his yellow choppers.

Henrietta smacked the ape on the back of the head with the butt of a firearm, but Marvin brushed it off like an annoying fly.  He let out an ear-shattering scream, and lunged at me, but fell short, snoring loudly on the ground by my feet.  Henrietta stood behind Marvin with a funny looking rifle.

“Marvin gets surly about visitors.  Mind carrying him to his room?”

I bent down and noticed the tranquilizer dart in the ape’s hairy neck.  Waving my hand in front of the chimp, I made certain he was really unconscious.

“Don’t worry.  He ain’t waking after that dose,” Henrietta said, and pulled the dart from his neck.

Apprehensively, I lifted Marvin into my arms, and carried him into the ranch house.

The living room was crowded with stuffed and mounted animals.  Henrietta wasn’t lying about having shot every predator known to quail in these parts.  Preserved hawks hung from the ceiling in various attack positions.  On shelves surrounding each wall, a multitude of vehement and petrified Opossums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and even a bobcat sat ready to pounce.

The dining room table was set for two, complete with candles, a bottle of wine, and steak and potatoes.  I figured dinner was for me, but the candles were half-burnt, the wine bottle empty, and the meat mostly eaten.  Henrietta led me down a hallway into a bedroom.

“This is Marvin’s room.”

I placed the sleeping ape on the bed, taking in the spectacle.  A spoiled sixteen-year-old girl didn’t have it so good.  The walls were pink and lined with glass display cabinets.  Inside each cabinet stood rows of large children’s dolls.

“There you go, my little angel,” Henrietta said, tucking the ape under the lacy pink covers.  “Mama’s sorry she had to put you to sleep with the dart gun, but you were misbehaving, and mama hates misbehaving.”

She gave him a goodnight kiss and turned off the bedroom light before we returned to the dining room.

“Have a seat in the living room while I clean up Marvin’s dinner,” Henrietta said.

Henrietta took away the plates with the mostly eaten steaks.  Later, I planned to sneak around back, and find that meat in the garbage.

Henrietta brought me a can of warm beans when she finished in the kitchen and turned on an enormous old clunker of a radio.  Several stuffed quail perched on top of the ancient refrigerator-sized apparatus.  For a few minutes, the old bag adjusted the large black dials until men announcing baseball became audible above crackling static.

When the game ended, Henrietta bade me goodnight, and showed me to the door.  Outside it was pitch black and foggy.  Hunger led me to the slop barrel behind the ranch house.  I rummaged through the refuse until a low moan, emanating from the ground, drew my attention away from my quest for beef scraps.

Light peeked out a crack in a bomb shelter door, leading down to the ranch house’s basement.  I peered through the sliver of light, but averted my eyes, and fled to my trailer at the sight of a naked man standing over Henrietta.

Early the next morning, I gathered the eggshells under my mattress, and walked to the end of the pier.  Leaning over the side, I dug a hole in the shit with my hands.  When the aperture was deep enough, I discarded the remnants of my snaffled meal.  Gaining my feet, I stepped wrong, and spilled off the pier.

The dung acted like quicksand. Each movement caused me to sink deeper.  Eventually I was able to grasp the wooden pier.  After a good deal of wiggling and rocking back and forth, I broke free from the crud, and hoisted myself out of the shit, but my left boot remained ensconced in the crap.

Leaning over the pier on my knees, I looked into the imprint my body made in the shit pit.  Holding a pylon with my left hand, I reached into the closing turd hole, and seized my boot, but I was unable to dislodge the footwear.  I groped around the boot’s toe until I felt a long solid object partially obstructing my boot’s freedom.  It felt like a wooden dowel or a metal rod.  I worked the front of the boot back and forth until it came lose along with the object blocking it: a long decaying bone.

I was using the hose on the side of the barn to clean up when I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.  I peered around the corner and saw a sheriff’s truck coming up the drive.

Hiding in the barn, I peeked through the cracked door.  A heavyset man wearing a white cowboy hat exited the truck and approached Henrietta on the porch.  My heart raced when they stared at the barn.  Eventually, the sheriff tipped his hat, climbed into his truck, and drove away.

I was wheeling quail apples out of the barn when Henrietta rounded the corner.  She had the tranquilizer rifle in one hand and Marvin’s hand in the other.

“Sheriff Braden stopped by this morning,” Henrietta said.  “Said a convict recently escaped from the penitentiary a few counties over.  Fellow in the wanted poster was you.  Wanted dead or alive.”

I noticed Henrietta wasn’t holding the tranquilizer gun, but rather the shotgun.

“Figured I’d let your whereabouts slide on account of the fine job you’re doing ‘round here, but then Marvin brought something to my attention.  Go on Marvin, what’d you find in Tahoe?”

Marvin opened his clenched fist, revealing eggshells. 

“Know what we do with thieves on Pule Ranch?  Marvin, no.  Let mama alone.  Marvin, stop.”

Marvin walloped the old lady in the shoulder, and I took off running, but a blast of buckshot knocked me to the ground.  Henrietta raised the shotgun to fire again, but Marvin grabbed the gun barrel.

“No Marvin.  Let mama have it,” Henrietta demanded as I staggered to my feet.

The old woman and the ape struggled for control of the shotgun until it discharged, and half of Henrietta’s face disappeared.  The chimp looked at the weapon in his hands, and then at Henrietta’s brains oozing from the side of her head.  Throwing the gun against the barn, he shook the old lady.  When she didn’t rouse, he let out a guttural bellow, and looked at me with yellow eyes and mal content.  I was a goner for sure until a string of words came fast and sharp into my ear from behind.

“Show me your hands,” Sheriff Braden demanded.

“Yes, sir,” I obliged, bleeding on the ground.

Marvin let out another primordial bellow and disappeared into the fog.

Sheriff Braden cuffed me and radioed for backup.  Wasn’t long before I was all patched up, and back in a cell, but prison didn’t seem so bad anymore.  Three square meals a day: big meals, but I don’t eat the beans.  I push them aside.  Prisoners keep the floors clean too.  Cockroaches don’t do well in prison.  I’ve also become somewhat of a celebrity in the hole. Not just because I escaped and lived on the lam for several weeks.  The reason for my brush with fame was solely due to Henrietta Pule.

After the sheriff arrested me, his men searched the property, and found more than just a quail farm.  Down in the basement, deputies found a stuffed man, fully erect.  It didn’t take too long to figure out his identity: Jonathan Brown: a local drifter who’d been missing several months.

After deputies found the preserved corpse, they tore Pule Ranch apart.  When they took a backhoe to Tahoe, and unearthed a mass grave of human bones, the media literally swarmed like flies on the shit pond. It didn’t take long before investigators determined that Henrietta was luring old war vets out to her ranch, stealing their pensions, and burying their bodies under the dung.  Old bank records from the victims and bottles of poison found in the back drawer of her vanity confirmed this theory.

The papers picked up on the fact that if I hadn’t escaped from prison, and hadn’t hid at Pule ranch, Henrietta’s crimes might never have been discovered.  I’ve given dozens of interviews to news outlets wanting my side of the story.  Some were even national.  The other prisoners and even the guards treat me a shade above reproach these days.  I sleep pretty good most nights.  There is that rare occasion though, when I wake in a cold sweat of terror from a dream of drowning in a shit pond, surrounded by dense fog as Marvin’s piercing scream reverberates in my ear.






Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife, cat and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Tough.



Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and means of any story.

Digital arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.

View the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.

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