A Cowlick

Ryder sat on the porch, on a whitewashed, reclining Adirondack chair. One hand rested gently upon the right arm of the chair, and the other held an antique pipe filled with burning tobacco. He let out a large cloud of smoke, briefly pretending to be a dragon. There was a moment of stillness. The bugs and birds in the surrounding fields sung the never-ending song of summer. 

He moved one foot on top of the other and crossed his legs. Ryder wore a black felt cowboy hat and beat-up brown leather vest. His face contained so many valleys and depressions that a miniature Civil War battle could easily be fought on it. 

He took another puff, slowly sucking the warm air out of the pipe and keeping it inside for a few seconds until it started to burn slightly. Off in the distance, there was a hollow tapping sound. Ryder had heard it before.

“Must be a woodpecker,” he mumbled quietly. Talking to himself provided the rare opportunity to converse with someone who never lied or argued. It was relaxing

He listened, and heard a different sound. Then it stopped. It was so quiet, it almost didn’t even exist.

“Must be makin’ it up,” he thought. “My ears ring sometimes anyways.”

He uncrossed his legs and shook one foot from side to side slowly. There was the sound of a car off in the distance.

“Bet the preacher is comin’ home from his church meeting,” Ryder thought. “Sounds like his car.”

Ryder took a pinch of the material in his jeans and rubbed it back and forth, listening to the rough fabric sound. He always made sure all his clothes were tough and durable. 

“Wonder how the meeting went. Wonder if he’ll ever get that roof fixed proper.” Ryder remembered when a torrent of water started to pour directly on Old Lady Marie’s head halfway through the Sunday service. 

Then, there was the sound again. Quiet, but existent. Ryder put out his pipe and stood himself up, holding onto the chair arms. He walked around the perimeter of his house to the opposite side, through the shuffling grass.

“Darn you, Pete Miller,” he said, becoming increasingly angry. As he turned the last corner, he saw just what he had expected. 

Eight of Pete Miller’s cows stuck their heads as far as they could go through the fence, just barely able to reach Ryder’s freshly-painted wall. They stuck their tongues out and took huge, wet licks on the side of the house. From their expression, you could tell they were enjoying the experience. 

“Get off my wall, cows!” yelled Ryder. Suddenly, the screen over the lowest window was bent and then taken off by the combined force of three cow tongues.

Ryder clapped loudly, and yelled again. The cows backed out of the fence hole and managed not to get injured by the barb wire. They ran away awkwardly, since cattle lack the natural grace of horses.

“Them cows will lick my house till the Second Coming and afterwards,” thought Ryder, angry. He jogged around to the front door, entered the house, and grabbed the truck keys. 

“Pete Miller’s got somethin’ coming for him,” thought Ryder. “If he don’t move that fence, I’m gonna kick his ass to where the sun don’t shine.

After a five minute drive around the bend, Ryder arrived at his neighbor’s house. He turned the truck off and stepped out. There was nobody on the porch. Ryder kicked the dirt and walked up to the front door, knocking loudly.

“Who is it?” asked Pete’s wife, Martha. Pete was nowhere to be seen. The door opened and martha stood behind it. She was overweight, with brown curly hair and an apron. There was a smell of freshly-baked bread lingering in the air. 

“Go get Pete, tell him his cows are licking my house again.”

“What?” asked Martha, clueless.

“Where is he?”

Martha walked a short ways over to the basement door and yelled for Pete. After a good while, he heard footsteps. Ryder was quite impatient.

“Pete, your cows have been up to no good,” declared Ryder solemnly.

“What?”

“They’ve been licking my house again. Every time I lay down for a minute of rest from all the work I do, there they go again, lickin’ and lickin’. They’ll lick right through to the inside of the house if we let this go on.”

“I’ve told ya before, neighbor. I don’t know why you would make this stuff up. Cows only lick each other. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

Ryder had a disgusted expression on his face. His skin turned a shade redder.

“I’m sick of this, Pete. Hell would freeze over before I would lie about something this obscene! If you’re so sure of this, why don’t you come over and see with your own eyes?”

“Sure. Might as well,” replied Pete sarcastically. 

They left and got in the truck. 

“Yep. Don’t know what’s so wrong with them,” said Ryder, cooling down somewhat. Pete was quiet.

“I just don’t want to pay any repairs. This is a new house.”

“I still don’t believe you,” repeated Pete.

A few minutes later, they were back at Ryder’s. Walking through the weeds and tall grass, they got to the back of the house. 

Huge sections of the new brown paint was abraded off as if it had been sandpapered. There were a few small clumps of hair hanging on the fence, too, which was bent slightly from the heavy weight of the bovines sticking their heads through it. The new window screen was laying on the ground, bent and broken. 

The culprits were close at hand. There, grazing, stood the eight cows, all with a light brown tinge on their mouths.

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The Banjo King

A folk song was playing on the radio as my friend Joe babbled on about whatever was on his mind. We sat on the chairs in the living room, killing time and having a drink.

“The piano sounds nice on this song.”

“Yeah. I tried to play the piano once, but it never worked out too well. I guess I’m just not cut out for playing music,” I replied.

“Hmm. My cousin plays the banjo. He lived in West Virginia for a while, and was always saying some legend that people used to talk about down there. Not sure exactly what it amounts to, though.”

“Interesting,” I said. “What is it?”

“Apparently, there’s some musical legend down there. No-one knows exactly who he is. He plays the banjo and he has a nickname, though.”

“What?” I asked.

“The Banjo King of Madison.”

I laughed to myself.
“Madison, West Virginia. When you hear him, you’ll know. There is nobody alive that’s as good as him.” Joe was quite serious.

“Where does he play?”

“No-one knows. It’s a secret.”

“I bet someone just made that story up. It can’t possibly be true.”

“I think it is true, myself. Can’t be super sure, but it seems possible that some random guy out in the country could get amazing good at the banjo and no-one would even know. Definitely possible.”

“Maybe,” I said. No matter how I tried to resist it, the seed was planted in my mind, and it would only grow bigger from there.

At first I shrugged it off, thinking it was some myth to entertain children. There are no kings anymore, anyways, and if there were, wouldn’t they be famous already? There’s no such thing as a “secret” master musician. That would be ridiculous.

I went through my life normally, but had a sort of hollow feeling inside. The feeling began to slowly eat away at me. Some small part of my soul was urging me on, like an enthusiastic childhood friend.

Finally, I gave in and talked to Joe about it again.
“I want to know. Are you really sure about this Banjo King? You aren’t just making it all up?”
“Nope.”
“Well I bet I can find out if that is a true story.”

“You’ve definitely read a lot of Sherlock Holmes. That would help.” We laughed.
“I’m serioud, though.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”
A few weeks after that, I departed. It was a long, tiresome drive into the town of Madison. There was a motel I could sleep at to rest from the drive. The next morning, I had a nice breakfast at the Waffle House. I spent a few more hours exploring the local rivers and parks. After that, I scoped out all the buildings in the town and decided to start with the library. I got out of my car, and to my surprise, a man exiting the library opened the door for me and stood behind it as I entered the library.

“Thanks,” I said.

I walked in and took notice of the woman sitting behind the counter.
“Can I help you, sir?” she asked, rather quietly.

“Maybe. I’m from New York, and I just took the long drive down here. Nice town. My friend told me this legend about the Banjo King of Madison. Do you know anything about that?”

“Well, it’s been a legend for a good while,” she laughed. ” I used to hear such a thing when I was younger, but ain’t no-one’s been talking much about the Banjo King lately. I ain’t sure if there even IS a Banjo King, to be honest. And if there is, I ain’t sure he lives around here. I do know a banjo player that lives on State Street, not far at all from here. I suppose I could give you his address, and you could start there.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. After browsing around and looking at the rather unique books in the library, I returned to my car and drove to State Street, feeling somewhat like a fool. 

Shortly, I pulled up to the address and knocked on the door. The house was almost in the middle of town. Something about it did not look “country” at all. A middle-aged man named Nate answered.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Good. Lookin’ for something?”

“Well, it’s kinda funny, but I’m looking for this guy called the Banjo King. Do you know of him?”

“Nice. I might have heard of that a long time ago. I do actually play the banjo,” he replied, with a bit of pride. “Come in. Maybe I’ll play you a song.”

I wondered if this man was the Banjo King. There was a chance of it. We talked for a few more minutes, then he took his banjo out and played a tune.

He dug around for an ungodly long time for his music. Once he found it, though, Nate played a song that was highly technical, dark, and rather mystifying. I watched his left hand move up and down the banjo, playing many notes at a pretty quick pace. He followed the music precisely, with a stiff gaze. It sounded nice.

“Sounds good,” I said, as the song finished. There was something lacking, however. Maybe there just wasn’t enough soul in the music.

“Well I hate to take up all your time,” I said. “I’d better go. But do you know any other people that could possibly be…”

“Oh,” he replied, slightly disappointed. “I suppose you could go to my dad’s friend’s house. I haven’t heard him play, but my dad says he’s a great banjo player.”

“Thanks a lot!” I said. “Nice to hear that song.” But it didn’t quite feel right. Maybe I just don’t know good music when I hear it.

Next, I headed out into the sticks, somewhat excited at the prospect of meeting this banjo-playing hillbilly, but also nervous at the same time. The drive was actually quite far, and I got lost a number of times. Eventually, I found the old run-down house, which was beside a hill on the right and a valley on the left. 

I rang the doorbell, but it didn’t work, so I ended up knocking instead. An old bearded man who was somewhat slouched-over answered the door.

“Who the heck are you?” he asked rudely.

“Nate sent me here. I’m looking for someone called the Banjo King.”

“Ain’t never heard of no Banjo King,” replied the old bearded man. He spat some tobacco juice right on the rug. “Ain’t never heard of no Nate.”

“Don’t you play the banjo?” I asked. I felt increasingly desperate, and even scared.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

“Hmmph.” The old man looked me over good. “S’pose I’ll play you jus’ one song. Shouldn’t just be prattin’ on about lookin’ fer some stinkin’ Banjo King that don’t even exist, though. Rude.”

I snickered at the hypocrisy. The man shut the door, hopefully searching for his banjo. I waited on the porch for at least ten minutes, enjoying the warm weather and vibrant natural wildlife in the area. The meadows and treetops were so lush and green, and I heard a chorus of bugs singing everywhere I looked.

After almost an eternity, the door opened, and my host appeared with a moderately-worn banjo in hand. He walked over to a chair on the porch and put the picks on. After some preparation, he began to strum an old-timey bluegrass song.

“Well I got all them chickens

got ’em in the coop

Well I got all my memories

sittin’ in the chair

But I ask you for some new ones

And you say love ain’t there

My wifey says I’m boring

her eyelids start to droop

And if you ask me

that’s some horse poop

Keep rollin’ on, creek

Keep rollin’ on

Keep rollin’ creek

from dusk till dawn”

There were a few more verses. The song was pretty engrossing, but just a little bit too hillbilly-like and trashy for me. I still liked listening to it, though. The music in the Appalachians was way different from what I was used to.

You’ll know it when you hear him. I thought.

“Maybe you wanna play another one?” I asked, instantly regretful of opening my mouth.

“No thanks. I said one song, and one song it is.” He spat again.

“Umm,” I replied, awkwardly. “I know you hate this whole idea, but are there any people you know that could possibly be considered the Banjo King?” I was at the end of my rope. I knew the man in front of me was not the Banjo King, even though he might be a good banjo player.

He looked at me with steely old eyes.

“Nope. You’ll have to go back to wherever yer’ from.”

“New York,” I replied.

“Yew Nork er’ whatever. See y’all later.” He shooed me off.

I drove away, honestly pretty happy to not be dealing with rude people anymore. A feeling of sadness sunk over me as I drive, however. I had not found the Banjo King. He was a myth, after all.

The sun was setting, and the temperature was dropping somewhat. I tried to find the main highway to take me back to New York but found myself lost.

Clouds moved in and it became stormy. The wind picked up significantly, and the visibility dropped until I could barely see past the windshield. I saw a figure avoid my car by a few inches. I started. It was a deer.

“This is way too dangerous. I’m gonna fall right off this mountain road and roll my car four times, if I keep this up.”

I pulled over and put the parking brake on one of the straighter stretches of road. Everything was pitch black and I was seriously out in the sticks. I didn’t even know if there were houses anywhere in the area.

“I’ll maybe just go to sleep in the car, if I can possibly manage,” I said, becoming increasingly nervous. Sitting there as the minutes dragged on and on, I never got any more tired. There was just too much sadness, anxiety, and fear in the air.

A horn honked loudly as a huge truck barely avoided my car. It jolted me. I reluctantly turned the car back on and kept driving. The road forked and I ended up taking the smaller fork in the turn. There was woods on both sides of the car.

Trees kept passing by the dozen. I hoped there weren’t deer, or worse, out. After a few tense minutes, a fallen log obscured the road in front of me.

“Darn it all to heck,” I said. I stopped the car and decided to roll the log out of the way. It was quite small.

Suddenly a flashlight shone on me.

“Who are you?” said a young voice.

“Don’t mind him” said an older voice.

I turned around, and made out two figures, a younger boy and his father.

“Sorry. I was trying to get down this road, and got stuck. I’m trying to find the interstate.”

“Good luck!” said the father. “Good thing we found him, right, Billy? Sorry. What’s your name?”

“Well, I don’t really need to talk right now. Sorry. I’m just trying to clear the road up.” I stumbled over the words.

“It’s fine. You won’t be gettin’ anywhere with this storm as it is. The Almanac predicted it would be bad.”

“Yep,” echoed Billy.

“Come inside for a spell.”

“Ain’t it a little late?” I asked, surprised by my sudden decrease in verbal literacy.

“No. Just barely eight. And it’s fine with us if you come.”

“All right,” I reluctantly agreed.

I walked through the mud to the porch, took my boots off, and walked into the large, square living room. There was an old TV and a few couches in it and a frail old man who might be the grandpa of the little kid.

“Getcha’ somethin’ to drink,” said the father. “Pepsi or sprite or beer?”

“Pepsi,” I replied. “If you don’t mind.”

I got my drink and sat down on the couch. The little kid, maybe ten or twelve years old, talked to me constantly about his friends, his school, hunting, the television, and whatever other things entered his mind.

“Who is this ‘ere person?” asked the old man.

“Some stranger,” said the kid. “Car got stuck.”

“Oh. What’s he look like?”

“Got black hair and ain’t that tall,” replied the kid.

What a strange conversation.

“Yeah, mister. So my friend said you shouldn’t do that to frogs. I don’t really care, though. Oh, and I play the banjo. Some people call me the Banjo King. Pretty cool, huh?”

Wow! Maybe it’s true! thought my inner believer. That would be great.

“I’ll take it out and play something.” I wondered if the kid was telling the truth. He seemed sincere. A few minutes later, the kid was holding an extremely antique, beautifully-made banjo and plucked a few notes on it. He started to sing an out-of-tune and very slow version of Blue Moon of Kentucky. I yawned.

Nope. He isn’t. Now, can I please get out of the darned house? I thought spitefully. I was getting very homesick, and completely regretted wasting all my money on such an ill-advised trip.

The kid finally finished his aggravatingly bad song.

“Do your relatives call you the Banjo King?” I joked.

“Yep,” said the kid, smiling. I laughed quietly. Suddenly, the mood shifted.

“Give me that darned banjo,” said the old grandpa, grabbing around blindly in front of him. “Where is it?”

He must be as old as Abraham, I thought. This’ll be funny.

“My grandpappy’s blind,” said the kid. “Needs a cane too, but I love him anyways.”

Here it goes. Another stupid-ass banjo song. If he can’t even see, how could he possibly play anything good? I thought.

The kid handed the banjo off to the old man.

“Didn’t know you could even play banjo!” the kid said. “Can you?”

“Shh,” whispered the old man, cradling the banjo like a precious baby. He patted it lightly. The mood shifted more.

I heard a beautiful, shimmery sound as he twisted the tuners and got the strings in perfect alignment.

Cool, I thought. It’s something.

The old man grunted, and there was a tense, waiting moment of silence.

Suddenly, a raucous cacophony of beautiful sounds started to burst out of the banjo like the choirs of Heaven itself. I felt tears well up in my eyes as the beautiful melody emanated from the banjo, starting fairly simple, but then becoming more and more complex. Waves upon waves of complicated maneuvers built on each other, gradually increasing the intensity of the song. After the music had almost reached a beautiful climax, there was a moment of silence. Then, the song began anew, with even more rapidity, as the man’s fingers moved with otherworldly speed and viciously attacked the strings. His left hand moved up and down the fretboard in a frantic blur. Each note blended into the others yet improved the whole of the song at the same time.

The kid, who had previously considered himself a good banjo player, stared blankly with his mouth wide open, unable to even comprehend the profoundness of the music.

The song became even swifter and more intricate. I was totally lost in the impenetrable complexity of it. I could barely even breathe. Then, there was a change. The old man played the Grand Finale of the song, a lighting-speed finish to put the icing on the cake of the most amazing banjo song ever. It ended with the highest note a banjo had ever played, which was so high that not your ears, nor your brain, but only the depths of your soul could hear it.

After the song was a long moment of silence.

“Wow.” I said, flabbergasted. I felt unworthy to even interrupt such a sacred silence.

You are the Banjo King.”

   

A Dandy Rug

A Dandy Rug

Azure James

Joshua didn’t even know the bear was there. He sat on the disgusting worn red pattered rug in the living room, fussing with the radio dial and trying to get the best possible sound quality. No matter how precisely he moved the ridged brown dial, however, he could not get a static-free sound. Still, it was worth a try.

There was a quiet clicking sound outside. Joshua turned his head somewhat, like a curious dog. He turned the volume down, listening intently.

Another sound, some strange, rough breathing. Joshua felt more nervous than he would admit. He dug his pocketknife out and grasped it tightly in his hand. Carefully, he made his way through the kitchen to the front door. As he opened it, there stood the bear. A huge, daunting black bear with eyes staring right into his soul.

Joshua instinctively slammed the door and retreated speedily back into the living room, breathing heavily. The extremely quiet sound of the AM station playing actually made things even more tense. He waited, hoping the bear would somehow forget about him. Hearing another noise outside, he guessed it hadn’t.

Please get out of here,” he thought. “I can’t deal with a bear without my parents being here. If they could just get back soon, maybe they could scare it away.”

The boy felt paralyzed. Why had his parents left him home alone in such a dangerous situation? What sort of normal parents would just leave their kid in an area with so much dangerous wildlife?

I wish we lived in the town. There’s barely anything dangerous there, except those roughnecks I see back in the alleyway once in a while…”

As time went on, Joshua finally relaxed slightly. The blood that was flowing quickly through him had slowed down to a tolerable pace.

Maybe the bear isn’t even here anymore. But if I check, he could get me. Dear Lord, please help me somehow!”

To be on the safe side, Joshua waited there for about five more minutes. He eventually got bored enough to turn the radio up a little higher, hoping it would drown out his anxiety.

I know what I’ll do,” thought Joshua. He quietly tiptoed into his parents’ room. In the corner to the right of the door sat their old double-barrel shotgun. Joshua gazed at it with a mixture of fearful contempt and awed wonder. He had rarely touched it before, and never by himself.

dbs

Not knowing exactly how it worked, Joshua tried to open the action up. It was stuck. He walked over to the foot of the bed, lugging the heavy firearm, and rested it on the wooden bed frame. After some heavy exertion, the action snapped quickly open.

Whew,” thought Joshua. He grabbed the two red shells off the floor and tried sliding them in. They didn’t fit.

Hmm.”

He flipped them around and they slid in the barrels smoothly. Joshua closed the gun up, which was slightly easier than opening it. He avoided pointing it at himself and the radio, but didn’t care about whatever else it might point at.

Feeling slightly less nervous but still jittery, the boy went back to the door and stood there for a second, considering his options. With great hesitancy, he opened the door a crack and peeked out at the driveway.

There it was, barely thirty feet away. Joshua’s stomach dropped. The bear was in a large depression to the side of the driveway, rummaging around in the leaves. Joshua heard a motor in the distance, getting closer. He saw the family car crest the hill in front of their driveway. The boy took a step outside.

Stop! There’s a bear! Stay in the car!” he yelled. His dad and mom looked caught up in themselves. They didn’t hear him. Joshua’s parents opened the doors and stepped out of their car.

No! Get back in the car!” said Joshua, panicking even more.

What?” asked his dad, confused. The bear noticed Joshua’s mom standing there, eying her like a fresh steak. After nodding to itself the bear started to charge her and bellow voraciously. The woman screamed loudly, jumping back against the car mirror. Joshua took careful aim at the running bear and pulled both the triggers just before it reached his mother. The recoil from the shot knocked him right over, and with a loud slam, he blacked out.

Joshua! Are you alright?”

The boy opened his eyes, delirious. He could just make out two people standing above him.

Joshua!”

He mumbled something quietly. Slowly, his vision returned. He could see his parents. Gradually, everything came back to him.

You hit your head on the side of the door frame,” explained his dad. “Does it hurt?”

Not that much,” replied Joshua.

You saved my life!” consoled his mother, giving him an awkward hug.

I’m proud of ya, boy” said his dad, smiling. “That bear will make a dandy rug in the living room. We’ll have to get a new rear tire, though. It’s got about a thousand holes in it.”

Short Stories Section

Which state would you like to read about?

If I write another novel, I would like to know which states people find the most interesting. Generally, I have written about the South and the West in the past. I will probably keep with that theme in the future.

Figures of Speech (short story)

Edmonton Young Artists


Figures of Speech

Azure James

It’s real interesting how some figures of speech can really happen. For example,
the phrase “black sheep of the family” is pretty accurate. Only ’bout ten percent
of sheep are black, so it shows how many family members are “strange” on average.
There wasn’t nothing too strange about Bob Clark when he was ten. He was the same
age as Jethro, and they both went to the same school. Only thing about Bob was that
he worked. He really worked, and he was built like a Dutch Draft horse. Big. Even when
he was only ten.
Jethro was still in his troublemaking days at this time. He liked a girl at school
a lot, and she liked him somewhat as well. ‘Course, Jethro thought he had her ‘in the
bag’. Only problem was that Bob Clark was startin’ to get interested in girls as well.
They had a few fights over her. Not as bad as twins fight, but still enough to show everyone that they weren’t no friends with each other.
One Saturday, Jethro told his ma that he was goin’ out in the woods to do some fishin’.
He brought his pole and hiked along the river until the path started to incline and ended
up purty darned high up. Jethro kept going, though, expecting the riverbank to get low
enough for him to start fishin’. After a while, somehow Jethro lost sight of the river. He was trying to take a shortcut and take some time off the walk, but all that happened was him havin’ no idea where in heck he was.
A minute later, Jethro was nervous. He walked up another big hill to try to figure out
where he was. This hill had one very sharp side that fell fifty feet in steep drop. At the
bottom of the drop, there were a few tons of bushes and brambles. Nobody can see anything
under them bushes.
Jethro stared down into the valley, wondering how he had even found it in the first place.
He felt some strange feeling, though, so he turned arond and got the surprise of his life when
he saw Bob Clark breathin’ down his throat right behind him.
“Jethro, what do you think yer doin’ on my property? Gonna’ steal somethin’?” asked Bob.
“Umm… I was trying to fish,” replied Jethro, real uncomfortable.
Bob narrowed his eyes.
“You ain’t friends with me. Get off my pa’s property.”
The words kinda bounced off Jethro’s head for some reason.
“Go,” said Bob. He didn’t like talkin’, so Jethro was starting to really irritate him.”
“Bob, I can stay here if I want to. Just tell me where the river is,” said Jethro.
“I’m gonna kick your hide halfway into tomorrow if you don’t leave this second,” threatened
Bob. Jethro was so dang scared that he just stood there like a frozen deer. All of a sudden, Bob popped him so hard that he flew up into the air and fell about five feet onto the incline of the hill. He started rollin’ down quicker than a racehorse, and before half a second went by, he was gone.

Well, Ma knew that even though Jethro could spend an afternoon fishin’, he would eventually get hungry and wander back. Once five o’-clock came around and dinner was almost ready, she started getting worried. At first, she would just put it off for a minute and think: “Well, he really should be getting back here. If he doesn’t get back here in ten minutes, I guess we’ll eat without him.” Problem is, this same thought kept repeating all the way until six thirty. By then, Ma was real nervous. She convinced Jethro’s dad to go out and try to find him. Jethro had been out for seven hours.

The two of them went out in the woods, around where they thought Jethro might be. A few neighbors showed up and helped them out as well. They walked around in the woods and called out Jethro’s name for what seemed like an eternity. After a real long time, the sun started to set. Not good news for the family.

They had to give up once it got dark out. Ma thought Jethro might have gotten lost or attacked by something or someone– she worried her heart out about her son.

At eleven at night, everyone except Ma fell asleep. She didn’t have an ounce of tired in her body, so she stayed up and read the Bible. She’d read the entire Gospel of Mark by the time she felt like sleeping. She got up and put the Bible back on the end table. Then- there was a knock on the door. Since it was at least two in the morning, Ma was more than a bit scared to answer it, but she did anyways. Jethro was there, standing in the darkness, all beat and scratched up.

And that is the only time I’ve ever seen someone kick anybody halfway into tomorrow!

Schoolgirl Troubles

Schoolgirl Troubles

by Azure James  (part of a series of Southern short stories)

Christie Earnest seemed like she always was in trouble. When she was first in school, everyone would pick on her. It got perty bad sometimes. Guess the whole reason was that she was… “different” looking. Wasn’t her fault– she was born that way and her parents had Jesco as well, who turned out perty alright. Aside from what happened when he was about twenty-five… but that’s another story.

     Christie wasn’t too perty. Her face was too tall and her eyes were squished together a bit and she was ’bout as heavy as one of my grampy’s prize hogs. Joe and Matt Powell would always tease her, try to hit her sometimes. They were pains, but I can’t blame ’em too bad, since they only grew up with a mom, since the dad got hit by a train in thirty-eight. Ma wasn’t good to ’em– they took their anger out on jes’ about everything livin’ and dead anywhere. ‘Specially Christie Earnest.

    Well, one day, there was a particularly bad round of teasin’ and Christie jes’ locked herself up in her room and wouldn’t come out. Jesco tried to talk to her, but she didn’t seem to care. It took Ma makin’ her favorite special cornbread to get her to eat anything for dinner, and she just ate it in her room anyways.  Her ma and pa were at a loss about what to do. 

     Jesco got the bright idea to go fetch her some flowers, since he thought that ‘girls always love flowers’. He was out all the next day findin’ dandy-lions and tiger lilies for her. It cheered her up somewhat, but Christie was still as pouty as ever.

     Day after that, a truck showed up at that house across the street which had always been for sale. Someone had bought it, finally. Christies’ ma and pa went over and introduced themselves to the neighbors, and brought ’em a pie as well. A real nice one. Pam Earnest was one of the best pie-makers in Pike County.

     Turned out Christie recovered alright from that day, but she still had some real problems with the Powells. She was ‘fraid to go to school every day and her ma would have to yell at her or bribe her t’ make her go at all. She was comin’ home one day from school and really wasn’t fixin’ to talk to any of her family members, so she jes’ showed up at the new neighbor’s house. They let her in, since they had a kid too, ’bout the same age as Christie. They were both fourteen if I remember raht.

   Christie and that kid Robert got along as well as cornbread and buttermilk. Darn. They were out playin’ in the woods and doin’ whatnot until it got dark and Christie’s ma showed up and took her back home. That night, Christie just wouldn’t shut up about Robert Randall and how great he was.

Here’s the kicker. Next day, Christie wasn’t in such a great mood, but lucky fer’ her, Robert showed up at school. He’d just been enrolled the day before. At the time recess came, Christie told Robert about the Powell kids teasin’ her for being ugly. He wouldn’t have none of it, feeling protective as it was. School went fine that day, and when they were walkin’ home, Robert an’ Christie thought there wouldn’t be no more trouble that day.

     Suddenly, the Powell kids showed up outta’ nowhere.

“Well, how are you, Miss Uglyface?” teased Joe.

“Who’s this guy here? He think yer’ pretty or somethin’?” asked Matt.

“Yeah,” agreed Joe. “You like stupid people or somethin’, stranger?”

“Y’all just shut the hell up and leave her be. She’s my neighbor and I’m frands with her,” defended Robert. He was gettin’ to a roaring boil after all that time simmerin’ at school.

“Stupid kid thinks he’s just as dumb as she is! Why the hell’d all these retards move into this town, anyways?” Matt shot a sideways glance at Joe and smirked.

Robert was sick and tarred of the whole thing, and he intended to stop it all. He walked right up to Matt.

“Sorry,” he said, extending his hand, but smiling slightly. Matt started to laugh, but right then Robert kicked him so hard in the cajones that they just about fell outta’ his pants. He dropped down and started’ screaming and squirming like a dying millipede. Robert took one quick look at Joe’s terrified face, then Joe ran for his life.

Well, Christie ain’t never been teased since, and she turned out to be more then just friends with Robert after a while. Guess everyone has a good chance at love if they just look for it.

Bobby and Jesco

Bobby and Jesco

by Azure James  (part of a series of Southern short stories)

  

      The way I see it, Jesco Earnest had no good reason to do what he did that day. I’ll start from the beginnin’. Ol’ Jesco and Bobby Carson were good buds out ’round the woods where I grew up, in Eastern Kentucky. 

     Well, the both of them were married, had two wives and three kids between the two of ’em. They’d been friends since they were schoolkids in Pikeville. I miss that ol’ school. I believe I was maybe twelve when those two kids started kindergarten. Only saw ’em fer a year ‘fore I dropped out. I had too many responsibilities on the homestead to pay no attention to my schoolwork. Back then, we had ’bout twelve head of cattle. A big Angus/Hereford cross bull. If I’ve ever seen cows that make good dairy and beef at the same time, they had to have come from that bull. We named him Marb, since that was what my daddy smoked and it sounded like a good name to my lil’ head back at the time. Come to think of it, I suppose it still does. 

     Guess I’m gettin’ sidetracked. Jesco and Bobby grew up alright. Jesco broke horses and Bobby cut timber. Both of ’em stayed out of the coal mines, lucky for them. They grew up quick and got throwed out before they knew it. Stayed together close enough to stop at each others for dinner or some target practice or some drinkin’. That’s how this all started, actually. The summer of nineteen-sixty-two was turnin’ cold faster than normal. Got both of em’ a little ornery, but especially Jesco. He always wanted to move down to Flarida. Never got the money to leave, though.

     Bobby was stayin’ over at Jesco’s fer a smoke before he got home from work. They were standin’ outside when Jesco took off to the woods to go to the bathroom. When he got back, Bobby was standin’ there daydreamin’ and one of Jesco’s horses was runnin’ out of the pasture, right through the open gate. How was that possible? The gate was closed just a minute before. 

     Jesco already was mad at Bobby fer stoppin’ over uninvited and because he thought he might have stole some of his eggs. And because of the cold weather of course, but this really threw him for a loop.

     Jesco yelled at Bobby to high hell fer lettin’ his horse out, but Bobby said the horse must have untied the knot somehow or other. Jesco didn’t have none of it, so he ran in his house and shut the door. 

     Well, about a minute later, Bobby had the horse caught with some sweetfeed and a halter. He knocked on the door to apologize about what happened and tell Jesco he got the horse back, but when the door opened up, instead of a warm greetin’, Bobby got a shotgun blast to the face. 

     The real amazing thing about was how dern smart Jesco was after the killin’. He just dug up a hole and tossed Bobby inside it. When his wife came back from her shopping trip, she asked what the dirt marks on Jesco’s clothes were from. 

“Just buryin’ a dead cat I found by the road,” said Jesco, real sly.

 “That’s too bad,” empathized his wife. 

     Jesco must have thought everything was fine then, but the Good Lord knows who should be punished, and he always finds a way to do just that. Week later, and another one of Jesco’s friends shows up. While Jesco n’ his wife were busy talkin’, his friend walked around and happened upon that big grave, right at the border of the woods. 

“What’s that fer?” he asked. 

“Umm… one of my horses got colic a few days ago,” replied Jesco, lookin’ sideways. 

“Grave ain’t big enough fer’ your horse, and I know you’ve always had three horses,” said the neighbor, gettin’ perty suspicious.

“You still do. Heck, that hole would better fit a person than a horse.” Jesco didn’t say nothin’. 

A week later, A big ol’ group came over in the night and dug Bobby up. They knew it all along– people don’t just disappear fer’ no reason. Especially homebodies like Bobby Carson.

I think Jesco got what he deserved in the end. Wonder if he ever did get out of that prison…