Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dead Luke (Part 1)

dontravis.com blog post #268

Good news. DSP Publications just notified me they’ve accepted my novel, Abaddon’s Locusts, with a tentative release date in the first quarter of 2019.

My fellow Okie author, Mark Wildyr, wrote a story a hundred years ago (well, maybe not that long) that raised chill bumps on my back. He’s kindly allowed me to adapt it to my own way of thinking about things. My version is shorter than his; nonetheless, it’ll take a serial posting. Here’s part one.

*****
Courtesy of Pixabay
DEAD LUKE
Adapted from a short story by Mark Wildyr

The temperature in the room dropped. Goose pimples crawled up my back. My throat dried up, causing me to try to swallow. My heart raced. The thing in the corner was back again.
A shadow? Reflected light? I knew better. Even before I flipped on the table lamp, I knew there would be no bug crawling up the wall, no undulating cobweb to gather shadows. Nothing. There never was.
How my new apartment was different defied rational explanation; I merely knew that it was. Finding a roomy place at a rock-bottom price within two blocks of the campus was likely a warning, but such a bargain called for action, not investigation. I leased it on the spot.
Green House, a modest old white-painted mansion, had been cut up into four apartments. I shared the second floor with another academic a couple of years my senior, an instructor at Crandall University where I was enrolling for graduate work in Business Administration.
As to the strangeness, on my first night in the apartment, I woke convinced I was not alone, although I was. The next morning, as I studied my schedule for the upcoming semester, I’ll swear someone breathed in my ear. Later, I thought I saw someone out of the corner of my eye when no one was there. It called to mind movies like The Amityville Horror except I had no sense of evil or impending doom. Nor was there a feeling of capriciousness that I associated with poltergeists. God! Poltergeists, yet! My conscious mind insisted these things had a natural explanation. The subconscious? Well, that was another matter. Scratch deep enough, and we’re all primitive.
I woke at 3 o’clock one morning to a high, thin keening that came from nowhere and everywhere. Sweating, I sat up in bed. My heart thumped. Chill bumps literally, covered my body. Then I heard a distinct chink from the other room like something had struck a stone in the old fireplace. It came again.
I slipped out of bed and naked edged my way to the door. My flashlight revealed no one, nothing. I flipped the switch on the overhead and flooded the room with light. Nothing. Was there a bat or something up in the old flue? I returned to bed where I covered myself against a sudden chill and tossed and turned until daybreak.
In the light of day, my nighttime anxieties seemed foolish, yet a week of unexplained sightings or near-sightings or impressions of sightings and seven nights of lost sleep were enough!
My across the hall neighbor, pointed me in the right direction when he said I was the third tenant in the past year. I asked if he knew why there was such a turnover.
“Naw. All claimed it was noisy, but I think it had something to do with what happened a year or so ago. Some people are funny about living in a place where somebody died.”
“Someone died in my apartment?”
“Yeah. Don’t remember much, but it was in the papers. Some guy died in an accident or something. Landlady didn’t mention it?”
“Not hardly!” I said with feeling.
“Oops. Am I gonna lose another neighbor?”
I smiled at him. “No way! The deal’s too good.”
After class, I drove to the town’s only newspaper. They had old issues on microfiche. Without much trouble, I located the news items about the accident the neighbor mentioned.
A twenty-one-year-old student named Luke Collins had been found dead in the apartment. At first, police investigators termed it a death under suspicious circumstances but later decided the boy had fallen and struck his head on the fireplace.
The hair on my neck rose as I recalled the distinctive sound of something striking stone last night. The fireplace was flagstone. When I returned home that afternoon, I inspected the hearth carefully and decided that one dark spot was blood soaked into the porous rock. Uncertain as to how I felt about that, I walked to the nearest café and had a blue-plate special while mulling things over. By the time I finished, my mind was clear. The price was right, the location was superb, and I wasn’t about to surrender that apartment to anyone…living or dead!

*****
Why is Luke…dead Luke…haunting the apartment where he died? And what can he possibly want from our protagonist?

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Fraternal Twin

dontravis.com blog post #267
  
Deep into 2018... and it’s already time for a new post to dontravis.com. I dug down and came up with another piece of flash fiction. Romance seems to have been on my aged and failing mind, so let’s continue the theme with this week’s piece. Hope you enjoy.

*****
THE FRATERNAL TWIN
What… a… life! Eighteen. College frosh. Cool. Handsome and sexy, at least according to my new girlfriend, Doreen Hadley. She’s the best girl I’ve ever had… well, almost had. Getting close. Just t h i s far from home. Should be there before midterms. I can tell Reenie—my pet name for her—wants it as much as I do… and that’s a lot.
I stood outside the Student Union Building after last class and watched Reenie’s fraternal twin brother head my direction. Durell Hadley is a mystery to me. Downright strange sometimes. He’s a freshman like Reenie and me but doesn’t run with my crowd. He’s tennis and swimming; I’m football and soccer. Right now, from halfway across the quadrangle, he’s moving with this unusual grace; nothing girlish, but it’s...well, it catches the eye. Weird! Crap, what did he want? He waited until he was right in my face to speak.  His eyes were big and chocolate brown like Reenie’s. Her eyes were her best feature.
“Kilgore.” He blinked a slow, deliberate blink. “You’re screwing my sister, and I want you to stop.”
I met the moment with maximum casual. “Not yet, but that’s up to her.”
“No!” Durell said in a firm voice with a finger on my chest, his nose virtually touching mine, and those big Hershey’s orbs gazing straight into my eyes. “If you’re gonna get a Hadley, it’s gonna be me!”
My voice rose an octave. I’d braced for a sucker punch, but not this one. “You mainlining, smoking, or popping, man?”
“You want a Hadley, it’s gonna be me. Me or nobody.”
“Screw you!” I put a sneer in my voice.
“Exactly,” he said with a gentle smile before striding away. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Flabbergasted, I wondered if this was his squirrelly way of putting an end to my dating his sister. Weird way of doing it, but like I said, Durell was passing strange.


Looking back, that seemed to be the moment my life went screwy. My next date with Reenie flopped, probably because I was nervous about her brother showing up. One day, I took a shortcut past the swimming gym and paused to peek through the window. Durell Hadley stood at the edge of the pool, casually drying off with a towel as he talked to someone in the water. The bastard had good shoulders and long arms roped with muscle. His deep chest was as bare as a baby’s bottom. Not a hair. He didn’t exactly have a six-pack, but the abs were visible. I could have almost put my hands around his waist…not quite, but damned near. Good hips, cute bubble butt, and long, trim legs like his sister’s. He raised his towel to his head and swiped at a black mop that went curly when wet. Recovering my senses, I moved on, wondering why I had been standing there gawking in the first place. Cute bubble butt? Where the hell had that come from? My laugh echoed down the hallway.
Well, I’d had a personal invitation, hadn’t I?

*****
Has this ever happened to you? Confession time. Hey, tell me your ending to the story. Did Kilgore keep to Reenie or switch gears and go after Durell. They both seem available. That's a thought! Could he have made it with both of the fraternal twins?

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Pair of Leopard-Skin Briefs

dontravis.com blog post #266



Hard to believe another year has fled into our past, isn’t it? They seem to be picking up speed lately. By the way, I received the galley proofs for The Lovely Pines from DSP Publications a couple of days ago. That means we’re getting closer to a release date for the novel.

Also, I completed and submitted the manuscript for Abaddon’s Locusts, the fifth book in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series.

Now, how about another flash fiction piece this week?

*****
Courtesy of Bangood
ONE PAIR OF LEOPARD-SKIN BRIEFS
Everything unraveled the day I found a pair of silk, leopard-skin men’s briefs atop a pile of our folded laundry. I wear tidy whites, so it didn’t take a lot of brain power to figure they weren’t mine.
Sharon and I married right out of college before either of us knew who the hell we were. We both had a career—nurse and construction foreman, respectively. We probably were in love at one time but emerged from that exalted state a while back. Not a bad record among my generation: four years of bliss followed by two years of indifference, drifting toward hostility.
“Care to explain this?” I asked coldly, prepared to disbelieve whatever outlandish story she came up with. Our sex life was lacking something—a scrap of fake leopard-skin, apparently—but I never dreamed she’d be unfaithful.
Her neutral look frosted into something more hostile. My wife’s full lower lip, once her sexiest trait, shot out in exasperation. “Do I need to?”
I gave her my phoniest smile. “If you found a pair of women’s panties in the car, wouldn’t you expect an explanation?”
She turned nasty at least five or six caustic remarks ahead of schedule. “Not especially. I’d figure they were yours.”
Low blow. Dirty fighting. “Funny!” I held up the briefs. “Maybe you’ve gone butch and are wearing men’s underwear now.”
She looked down the long nose I once thought so cute. “Might make a functioning sexual unit if I had. After all, it takes two to tango. For your information, darling, I bumped into this man at the Laundromat and we spilled our loads—”
“Define ‘loads’ for me, will you, sweetheart?”
She stamped her foot and sprayed locks like that bratty kid Margaret in Dennis, the Menace. “Cute, coming from the man who has trouble delivering one. Do you want an explanation or not?”
I twisted my face into a frown. “I think I’ve got it. Some guy’s stuff got mixed up with yours. Right? Oh, by the way, define stuff, will you?”
“You argue like a girl, did you know that?” She arched an elegant eyebrow at me. “But my explanation happens to be the truth. Anyway, it’s the only enlightenment you’re going to get. And by the way, if you fixed the damned washing machine, like the man of the house, I wouldn’t have to go out to clean our clothes. From now on, you do it!”
“I don’t have time—”
“And I do?” She spun on her heels and stomped away, leaving a pair of men’s silk underwear decorated with faux feral cat roundels dangling from my fingers.


I ran out of clean clothes about the same time I ran out of marriage. By then we were merely an economic unit sharing living space and expenses. Sharon didn’t speak to me any more than absolutely necessary, and I held my tongue around her. She fixed her own meals; I fixed mine…well, the cafeteria down the block did. She had her bedroom; I had mine. She did her laundry; and I, apparently, was to do mine.
It was late spring and our busiest season at work, so I hadn’t had an opportunity to look at the washer. Consequently, I loaded the clothes basket with my soiled rags, pointedly ignored her dainty things, and headed out the door for the Zia Laundromat half a mile down Montgomery Boulevard from our house. I took along that stray pair of underwear in case I found the stud who Sharon apparently felt was more of a man than a life-long construction worker.
The Laundromat was big and airy and damned near empty this early in the evening. Everything was stark white… walls, machines, tables. A couple of women sat in chairs lining the east wall, probably comparing notes on what wusses their husbands were while washers in front of them chugged and gurgled and groaned, emitting vapors of bleach and detergent and other earthy odors I did not care to contemplate.
I spotted a young fellow fussing around on the west side of the building, so I figured that was the men’s section. I hadn’t been in a Laundromat in ten years, and the machines bore little resemblance to the ones out of my distant past. I must have looked confused because the stranger stepped up and showed me how to set the machines. After swallowing an ungodly amount of quarters, the washers—one for whites and one for coloreds like my mama taught me—pissed and glugged and chugged doing the labor of a dozen washerwomen of yore.
“Hey, you forgot this!” the guy said, snatching the clean leopard-skin from the bottom of my basket. Then he did a double take. The good-looking, fair-haired young stud of around twenty-three or four held up the underwear by the elastic band.
“Man, where’d you get these? I slipped them into a chick’s basket after we bumped into one another. Figured she’d look me up to give them back. But she didn’t.”
I couldn’t decide whether to slug the son of a bitch or go the bar, get drunk, and mourn my marriage. Hell! Why not all of the above?



*****
I hope none of you have reached this point in your relationship. But it does happen, right?

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. There are a lot of you out there with something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Humpty Dumpty McIntosh

Hope you all had a great Christmas. Mine was marred by loss, but the family made it through okay. Thank you for indulging me last week. Today, we’ll have a short story about a New Year’s Eve celebration.
*****
Courtesy of Commons.wikipedia.org
HUMPTY DUMPTY MCINTOSH

Harold Douglas McIntosh was… well, let’s be honest… clumsy. That probably accounted for his nickname, Humpty Dumpty. Of course, his initials might have something to do with it, as well. Whatever the reason, that was how he was known all over town to acquaintances and intimates alike.
HD, his preferred name for himself, thought nothing of it when his cabal of three close friends decided to throw a party on New Year’s Eve down at the Sloe Gin Saloon, which was really just a neighborhood bar with a fancy name. The twins—fraternal, not identical—Elmer and Elmo Glint, called Mer and Mo for obvious reasons, proposed the idea, which was quickly endorsed by Shorty Fabriget, a six-foot-four mixed martial arts battler who took umbrage when anyone pronounced his name Fabergé. He seemed to associate that “slight” with his well-known glass jaw.
Only later did HD consider the effect of alcoholic drinks on his decidedly iffy equilibrium, but upon deliberation, he convinced himself that a double negative made a positive. In other words, the debilitating effect of alcohol combined with his unsteadiness would mesh to render him as steady as the preverbal rock. Therefore, he was looking forward to a pleasant… even a rollicking… evening when he left his job at Judson and Judson, CPA, LLC to go home and get ready. His gait already seemed steadier, he only barely brushed against Mr. Judson Sr, although that did spill a cup of coffee all over the old man’s trousers.
Once home, he brushed against the doorjamb and bounced off the hallway wall on his way to the bedroom to change clothes. He looked rather dapper in his herringbone woolen trousers and green plaid LL Bean chamois flannel shirt when he examined himself in the bathroom mirror—although he’d probably look better if he shed twenty pounds or so, with emphasis on the so.
Should he eat before leaving? He shook his head. There’d be plenty of peanuts and maybe even a boiled egg or two at the bar. Accordingly, he shrugged into his heavy parka and left the house, locking the door behind him, taking care not to break his key off in the lock—as he’d done last summer. Ten minutes later, he reached the saloon/bar without incident, if you didn’t count the traffic cone he’d knocked over or ending up in the middle of the intersection when he stopped for the traffic light over on Emerson.
Mer and Mo were already there, each well into a stein of beer—probably Eisbock, which was too strong for HD. Give him a Coors every time. He had one in hand when Shorty lumbered through the door. The cabal was all present and accounted for. Once the martial artist had his drink, they moved to a corner table big enough to hold them comfortably.
The Glint twins owned a landscaping service, so their conversation was strongly laced with references to flora. Shorty, of course, favored the language of the ring, heavy on violence. HD sometimes spoke in accountantese. A stranger listening in on a scrap of their conversation might have been puzzled.
“You see Teak Wood today?” Mer asked.
“Man, those were tall stumps!” Mo responded.
“Takedown time. Slam it hard, baby,” Shorty chortled.
She’s a debit in my T Account anytime,” HD said.
That was cabalese for “Marylyn Teak looked sexy as hell in her new high-heeled boots.”


Just before midnight, HD’s bladder refused to be taken for granted any longer. As he caromed from table to post to wall on his way to the Men’s Room, he reflected that perhaps two negatives do not always make a positive. He arrived and made somewhat of a mess of the job, but managed to zig-zag his way only as far as the end of the bar before feeling the need to hold onto something to steady himself.
As the second hand ticked toward midnight, his companions discerned his predicament and rushed to join him at the long, polished bar. Mer remembered to bring HD’s drink. As the others lined up beside him and prepared to break out into “Auld Lang Syne,” HD spotted one of those boiled eggs he’d forgotten to eat. Holding his Long Island Iced Tea in one hand, he released his death grip on the polished walnut bar to reach for the shiny white egg in a bowl with the other.
Mistake. HD watched in amazement as the entire room tilted on its side… or that’s the way it seemed to him. He plowed into Mer, who lost his grip on his beer mug as he crashed into Mo, who slammed into Shorty, drenching him with Eisbock. Humpty Dumpty not only had a fall, but he took all the king’s men down with him. And the tall one on the end wiped out two tables of revelers.
No one in the Sloe Gin Saloon noticed when the church bell down the street tolled midnight.


*****
Not back-slapping funny, I know, but I hope you got a chuckle or two out of it. All of you have a safe New Year’s Eve celebration and a great New Year.

And now: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. There are a lot of you out there with something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Brother, Mine



Courtesy of Duke University
Occasionally, my readers indulge me a personal moment, and I’d like to ask them to do so once again. At 3:05 p.m. on Wednesday, December 13, my brother Gary passed away in Texarkana, Texas. Although he lay in a bed in a modern hospice facility and was surrounded by family, I maintain he was murdered. Murdered by a determined assault of abnormal cancer cells hiding among the trillions of normal, healthy cells inside his body. Terrorist cells that bide their time and then at some undiscernible signal begin to reproduce—not like a normal cell simply to replace itself—but wildly and indiscriminately, purposely seeking to take over the human organism they inhabit… in this case, my brother.

Gary was an extraordinary man in an understated way. Calm and taciturn, he was nevertheless capable of deep emotion. He and his fraternal twin brother both spent their careers in law enforcement. Judging from the turnout at the funeral last Monday, I’d say they were well-respected for the way they went about their work.

My brother cannot be named without also speaking of Linda. A more perfect mate for a husband, I have never seen. Apparently, Gary hadn’t either because they were inseparable, moving in tandem, in concert, in harmony in their world. Together, they raised a family of successful professionals who gave him a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren—two of which (twins, what else?) were born during my visit to the family in late August and early September of this year.

Gary is the one who reached out and drew me back into the family after years of estrangement. The break was senseless and hurtful because it deprived me of the company of some amazing individuals with pretty good moral compasses. Worse, it deprived my own sons of a sense of belonging to an extended family… a tribe, if you will.

So goodbye, Gary. You will be missed, celebrated, remembered, and doubtless quoted and misquoted, as you begin that journey we are not yet permitted to share.

Courtesy of Pixabay
Go with God, Brother, Mine.




*****
Thank you, readers, for allowing me this moment of personal love and anguish. Please understand that you helped by indulging me.

Now let me repeat my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. There are a lot of you out there with something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

More of Old Sassy Pants

Last week’s posting of the Prologue to Donald T. Morgan’s novel, Old Sassy Pants, got a reaction from readers. Some of you asked for another dose of the story, so I’m giving Don one more bite of the apple as a guest blogger. He’s given us Chapter 1 of the book. I’ve been told readers will tolerate around 600 words before flaking off. This chapter runs considerably longer than that, but I promised to include it all. So please take the time to read it.

You will note from the sub-heading that the chapter predates the Prologue we read last week.

*****
Courtesy of Pixabay
OLD SASSY PANTS

By Donald T. Morgan

Chapter 1

The Wagon Wheel Ranch, some weeks earlier

While struggling to work out the niche where I fit on my first visit to dad’s ranch, I hung around the Wagon Wheel cookhouse as much as I figured they’d put up with me.
The place was full of all these great odors like our kitchen back in Kansas City—except they were different. Out here, the nose-twitching smell of chili and onions and sizzling meat and potatoes permeated everything, including tablecloth and clothing. Mrs. Mulhoon’s—she was our KC cook—was yeasty and permeated with other herbs and spices. She always shooed me out of her kitchen, claiming I snacked on things and ruined my appetite. She served our formal meals in the dining room or the breakfast nook. And in the Weldon Prince Temple household, all meals were formal.
But out here, the cookhouse was the dining room—at least for the working hands—so I usually came over here to I stuff my face instead of eating up at the ranch house. Even on the rare occasions one or the other of my parents was on the ranch, I preferred the company of this rowdy crew. They kept the rafters rocking.
Today, by the time Pablo Garcia and I chaired up, the supply of rib eye steaks, mashed potatoes, chili, corn, and homemade bread was already getting low, and we couldn’t have been too late because the topic was still the weather. It doesn’t pay to be last at the supper table with this bunch.
Beans, whose expansive waistline was the best advertisement for his cooking, waved a meat fork as Pab and I started filling our plates with the meager leavings. “Thought you boys’d forgot the way over here.”
“Brian here, probably stopped by the ranch house for a snack ‘fore he came over.” That was Joe, our resident Texan. He was tall and rangy and had reached the ripe old age of twenty-one. I was kind of flattered he noticed I ate a man-sized meal.
An old-timer everyone called Tinker pulled the conversation back on track. “We don’t get rain soon, old man Temple’s gonna come out with a short stick. Them animals ain’t picking up no weight a t’all,” I was dying to ask what his real name was, but I didn’t have the standing for that… not yet.
The hands had a habit of talking about my father as if I weren’t present. At times I felt virtually invisible, something that cut both ways with this crew. On the one hand, it might mean they more or less accepted me, but on the other, they simply might not see me.
“Aw, one good rain, and grass’ll pop up. If it don’t, beef prices’ll jump like they was stuck in the fanny with a pointy stick,” Joe said.
“Tried to rain this morning,” Beans said. “Just couldn’t get over Diablo.” He ladled more potatoes into an empty serving bowl. Fading sunlight from the cookhouse’s two smudged windows lit his pug face.
Although this was my first summer on Dad’s New Mexico ranch, I knew Diablo was the mountain directly to our west.
“Rain gets hung up on that piece a rock.” Joe leaned back and ran a hand through his curly blond hair. “Be a help if it was setting over on the east side; like maybe over in the next county.”
“Don’t matter where it sets. Mountain hogs rain.” Charlie Paul Jones’s voice seemed to come up out of his boots. Charlie was the Wagon Wheel’s Indian. Short, dark, squat, and somewhere between fifty and a hundred and fifty, he originally hailed from one of the Pueblos around here but had been on the Wagon Wheel decades before Dad bought the ranch a year or so back.
“Sucks up rain for pure spite.” Joe lapsed into a heavier drawl.
The old man shrugged. “Mountain... bad.” As Joe got more Texan, Charlie grew more Indian.
“You still figure them mountain spirits or whatever they is lives up there?”
Charlie cut his eyes over at the younger man. “Dunno. Bad place. Charlie keep away.”
Joe let out a snort.
“That’s the plain truth,” Tinker said. I always thought of him as grizzled, like I knew what grizzled was. Everyone agreed he was a first-rate cowboy even if he was as thin as the hat rack in my dad’s office. They were all good hands, according to dad. Or as he put it, “there weren’t any water cooler lizards in the Wagon Wheel stable.”
“I been here six years and hereabouts for fifteen,” Tinker said, “and I don’t recollect nothing good about it. It just hunkers down over yonder oozing evil.”
“That little old pimple?” Joe scoffed. He grabbed his ever-present Stetson from the chair post at his shoulder, plopped the hat on his head, and tipped his chair back on two legs.
For some reason, a trickle of sweat steamed down my right side, and I wished Joe hadn’t smarted off with that remark.
“They’s things a wet-nose like you don’t know nothing about,” Tinker said. “Take them miners, for instance.”
“What miners? You saying they mined up there?”
“For years. Till the place caved in with five of them inside. That mountain’s their graveyard.”
“What’d they mine?” Joe asked. “Nothing around here except some gypsum.”
“Gold.”
“Get outa here. Gold up on Diablo? You pulling my leg. I don’t believe a word of it.”
“Don’t make no never mind, you believe it or not. They done it. It was purely rich over there for a while. Took the stuff out by the washtub-fulls. Then it went to petering out. They was talking on closing it down when old Diablo up and done it for them, burying five of them inside for good measure.”
Joe blew through his lips. “That can happen in any mine...any time. That’s why I ain’t tried my hand at it. It pays a sight better than cowboying, but pay ain’t everything.”
“That ain’t all.” Tinker scowled. “You ever see stock graze up there?”
“Sure. Lots of times.”
“Down at the base, maybe, but not up on the slopes. They’s some right pretty parks up there a ways. Never see no round browns up there.”
These guys had a language all their own, but I’d begun to decipher a little of it. Enough to know round browns were cow pies.
“Decent grazing down lower. No need to go climbing.”
That sounded lame even to a newbie like me.
“Now, Joe, you know them sons a Satan do about anything to make life miserable for the hired help. Run off anywheres.” Tinker shook his head. “But not up there.”
“And there ain’t no deer up there, neither,” Beans said. “Not a rack on the mountain.”
Joe’s laughter bounced off the smoke-blacked beams overhead. “I can show you lots of places there ain’t no deer. ‘Specially around hunting time.”
A lull settled over the room for a moment. Spooky. This was the noisiest bunch of men I’d ever seen. They were never quiet except when Dad was around. Then they just answered his questions and shut up. It wasn’t that they didn’t like my father; they just didn’t know him well enough yet. The fact he had bazillions of dollars didn’t rate with this crew.
         He’d made the money himself, so he was a workingman, not somebody living off his ancestors. That would be me. But he wasn’t their kind of workingman; he wasn’t one of them. He was a banker, an investor, the boss, a city man. They gave him the respect and the loyalty paid hands owed the honcho, but it stopped there. The fact they let his only son and heir hang out on their turf was a minor miracle. They could have treated me like they did Dad, clam up and freeze me out so I’d eat up at the big house. But they didn’t do that.
Joe dropped the front legs of his chair to the plank flooring, breaking the quiet. “I don’t know about you fellers, but I ain’t gonna set here and gas all night. There’s a little bitty gal over in Winnie just pining for some comfort.”
Everyone got up with a general scraping of chairs, directing insults and offering suggestions for handling the tall Texan’s lady.
My running buddy, Pablo Garcia, the sixteen-year-old son of our housekeeper and blacksmith-slash-general handyman, had promised to do a chore for his mother, so I was at loose ends. That was okay; I felt like being alone, anyway. Since it was still light, I wandered outside to some high ground behind the bunkhouse where I sat in the dirt and rested my spine against a piñon. That was when my mood took a downer.
Let’s face it. I was exiled. Banished from Kansas City and plopped down out here in West Nowhere, stripped of all the essentials of a civilized life. No cell phone, no computer, no texting, no Tweeting, no Facebook. No nothing! Nothing but an MP3 player and a satellite TV in the ranch house den. Man, that was death by cerebral strangulation.
And why? Just because I’d been caught texting in class. And on the last day of school yet. The Instructor—we didn’t have teachers at Cravens Academy, we had Instructors with a capital “I”—sent me to the Headmaster who promptly called my father.
Like usual, he overreacted, claiming I was turning into an e-zombie. Okay, I texted a lot, but not that much. The old man thought I was a cyber bug living in chat rooms and discussing intimate family affairs with anybody and everybody. Like anybody and everybody gave a crap about Brian Temple’s intimate family affairs. Heck,I wasn't a slug. I played golf and tennis and got my laps in at the country club pool. I collected my share of rays and got in some exercise.
Didn’t matter. The Patriarch instantly trashed my plans, hustled me aboard the company plane, and abandoned me out here in Boondock Flats. And I’d had big plans with my ace bud, Dolph Mason, for the summer break between our freshman and sophomore years. We’d figured on blowing away a skateboard contest with some serious moves, getting in some teen clubbing, hitting a few concerts, and maybe even taking a wagon ride with a couple of girls over at Pumpkin Hollow.
I shifted my weight in the sand, tried to find a more comfortable spot on the piñon supporting my back, and adjusted the volume to my player. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” blared away in my ear, but I wasn’t really listening.  Actually, I was just sitting and staring at nothing until the mountain across the desert claimed my attention.
It wasn’t big like Truchas Peak north of Santa Fe or Sandia over in Albuquerque. It was really nothing but a pustule on the butt-end of the Great Rocky Mountain Range. But even so, something about that rock pile caught my imagination.
Charlie and Tinker had probably been pulling our legs. But maybe not. Being an Indian and all, Charlie was hard for me to read, but Tinker was another matter. The old cowhand had believed what he said. Some of these guys were so superstitious it was downright funny...or weird, as the case may be. I recalled the uneasy feeling I’d experienced when Joe laughed at their concerns.
Then there was that name. El Diablo Blanco...the White Devil. You just had to wonder about a christening like that. The slab of gypsum-laced sandstone crowning the top accounted for the “White,” but the mountain didn’t look particularly rugged except in some indefinable way. Still in all, there had to be a reason for that moniker.
This great little book on place names I’d bought at the airport said people out here in New Mexico were kind of exacting about what they called things. Big Dog Canyon to the south got its name from this giant feral dog that used to haunt the area. That was over a century ago, but it was still Big Dog Canyon to everyone, including the US Geological Survey.
There’s a craggy, volcanic plug southwest of us called Cabezón, which meant “big-headed,” and damned if it didn’t look like a great big head plopped right out there on the desert flats. And Drygulch Wash was where a man named Castillo got himself bushwhacked five generations or so back.
Anyway, just about any place out here had a reason for being called what it was, and so would this tit of a mountain over there. I decided then and there to find out everything there was to know about old Diablo. All of a sudden it wasn’t just a mountain anymore; it was a puzzle worth solving.
I peered through the failing light until my eyes went out of focus and the distance grew as indistinct as my thoughts. Even the blossoming reds and purples and greens of a great sunset failed to pull me from some mystical connection with the mountain. Pablo’s mother finally broke me free of the spell.
“Bri-an.” Mrs. Garcia’s silky voice floated up from the direction of the ranch house. I liked the way she trilled the “r” and broke my name into two distinct syllables. It made me feel she was taking time to savor it. I can’t do it for some reason…the trilling part, I mean. It sounds phony every time, and I can’t stand a phony.
“On my way,” I called.
As I uncoiled, I stopped to give the mountain one last look. Unable to keep my big mouth shut, I put my thoughts into words. “You don’t look so tough. You don’t look like a demon. You’re just an old.…” I paused, searching for a term of derision and settling on my Aunt Millicent’s ultimate expression of annoyance with anyone. “an old sassy pants.”
A low rumble rolled through the coming twilight. Gooseflesh puckered my neck. My mouth went dry. Then I caught sight of giant thunderheads churning over the southern horizon and gave a shaky laugh.
All the same, I had the disquieting feeling some ill-defined challenge had been issued and accepted.

*****

Let Don know if his story continues to hold your interest.

Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. There are a lot of you out there with something to say… so say it. If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links are:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Old Sassy Pants

This week, another Oklahoma expatriate prevailed upon me to allow him to guest post the prologue to his unpublished novel OLD SASSY PANTS. Donald T. Morgan (how about that, another Don) wrote a comedic drama set in (where else?) New Mexico, featuring a young urban tenderfoot’s first visit to his father’s recently acquired ranch. The life, the people, the culture are all strange to him, but it is his fascination with a “talking mountain” called Diablo Blanco that represents a danger to him. It all appears to start when he disdainfully dubs the churlish mountain Old Sassy Pants.

The following is the Prologue to Don’s novel.
*****
Courtesy of Pixabay
OLD SASSY PANTS

By Donald T. Morgan

The Wagon Wheel Ranch in Northern New Mexico


The old Indian massaged his arthritic joints and tried to remember a time when they hadn’t ached. The raspy breathing and subdued snores of sleeping men filled the stuffy bunkhouse. It was only a little after nine, but dawn came early on a working ranch, so most of the hands had already turned in.
He had long ago abandoned the Old Way to live among white men, but the buckskin trousers and the sateen shirt he chose over his usual denim felt surprisingly good on his skin and brought back rich memories of another time and place.
He paused as a distant rumble reached his ears. Diablo Blanco—the White Devil—was restless. But the mountain was nighttime talking more than usual lately. He silently left the whitewashed wood-frame building and padded to the corral where he whistled his pinto to his side and saddled up. Beneath a half-moon, he mounted and rode toward the dark silhouette of the mountain to the west. His pony turned frisky in the cold night air, so he allowed the animal to prance a bit.
In a fold of land on the eastern slope of the mountain, he built a crude altar and lit a bonfire to chase away the high desert chill… and perhaps the fear puckering his back, as well. Inhaling the rich, tangy scent of the pine and spruce trees surrounding him, he lifted his arms in the glow of the dancing firelight and began to chant.
The prayer on his lips died as the earth trembled violently beneath his moccasins. Diablo Blanco was angry. And an angry mountain was dangerous—especially for the young ones on the Wagon Wheel… those with too much adventure and too little sense.
At the sound of his pony’s neigh, he whirled. And faced the monster the White Devil had sent for him.

*****

Sounds interesting to me. Let Don know if it sufficiently intrigues you for him to proceed with publication. Goofy question. You always seek to publish.

I should also tell you Don Morgan is the author of an Amazon ebook called The Eagle's Claw. It's good reading.

Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. There are a lot of you out there with something to say… so say it. If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links are:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.