Thursday, May 30, 2013

How About Another Prologue this Week?

Last week we had a short piece from an unpublished novel. Today, I’d like to give you the Prologue of another one entitled SOURWATER SLOUGH. It takes place in my old neighborhood of Southeastern Oklahoma. And speaking of Oklahoma, let’s take a moment to remember the tragedies of that great state’s recent super tornadoes.

By the way, the protagonist in this book (whom we will not meet in the prologue) unexpectedly finds himself a brand new Malcolm County Deputy Sheriff—after spending most of his teen years being a thorn in the Sheriff’s side. How he got there’s an interesting story in itself. Tishomingo Echo Hawk is a cool, woman-chasing, hard-drinking Choctaw not yet twenty-one whose tenuous tie to the native community is a sassy, no-nonsense grandmother who outsmarts him every time. He dislikes the way his mother selected his given name, so he goes by the moniker of Mingo.

Here’s the start of his story. Enjoy.

 Sourwater Slough along the Little Fork River south of Clovertown, Oklahoma

“You’re crazy.”

The girl tossed her head and looked at the pickup sitting thirty yards away on high ground. Her long black hair rustled like silk. That hair was what he liked most about her. Along with her eyes.

She turned her gaze to the black, silent water at their feet. “Why’d you bring me to this creepy swamp, anyway?”

He wagged his eyebrows suggestively and immediately felt like a fool. “Looking for a little privacy. You know, to have some fun.” He shifted his weight. His boots slipped in slimy mud.

“Fun? In a place like this? You are crazy.”

        “You’ve been to lotsa parties down here. We both have.”

        Why had he chosen this spot? Maybe to get her goat. No, that wasn’t it. He liked the place, probably because no one else did. He inhaled the fetid air like perfume.

“Down in the bottomlands, maybe, but not in this sewer. Sourwater stinks like a toilet.” She pointed a dimpled chin to the west. “Fisherman’s Slough is bad enough, but it’s Lake Texoma compared to this cesspool. I wanna go home.”

“All right, we’ll go back to Fisherman’s, but don’t blame me if somebody comes by and interrupts us.”

“Interrupts us? No way, buster. If this is all you think of me, there’s not gonna be any interrupting. Who do you think you are, some lover boy? Well, let me tell you something. You aren’t that good. Now take me home.”

Her words struck like a body blow. He flushed. Struggled to fill his lungs. “You get off on giving a guy a sniff and then telling him to take a hike?”

“That’s disgusting.” She whirled and started for the truck, skating in the mud before catching her balance. “Let’s go. Right now.”

“Don’t turn your back on me, bitch!”

He tugged on her slender arm. She stumbled backwards, scrambling to maintain her balance. Thin-soled slippers lost traction in the goop. She went down with a muted cry, slamming into the bole of a tree. She dropped and lay like a rag doll.

He swayed over the inert body, drawing sharp gasps. The rage dissipated. His hands dangled at his sides, fingertips twitching. His hammering heart rate slowed abruptly, leaving him dizzy. Reality returned in the faint drip of water somewhere nearby; in the smear of blood on the rough, curling bark of the tree; in the rank stench of the swamp. A stultifying breeze ruffled his face.

He looked down at her. “Come on. Get up.”

Aw, hell. She wasn’t gonna get up. Ever. Oh, man, what now? It was an accident. Her fault. Anybody could see that. Anybody but that fat Malcolm County Sheriff, Joe Lee Buchanan. That redneck wouldn’t buy it. Not for a minute.

He’d just wanted to get it on, to do it. That’s what they’d come out here for—or he had, anyway. Wasn’t like they hadn’t done it before. Why’d she have to go squirrelly? It wasn’t fair. Got him all hot and bothered and then crapped out on him. She couldn’t get away with that.

His shoulders rose and fell with a sigh. She was usually a good sport, up for doing crazy things. He’d led her away from the truck on purpose, laughing at the awkward way she skied through the mud. How was he supposed to know she’d get mad? God, she looked funny lying there. Too bad, but she ought not have treated him like dirt.

“Serves you right.”

His words echoing hollowly across the dead surface of the slough spooked him. Didn’t sound like his voice. More like a stranger’s. Was somebody in his head talking for him?

A splash down the shoreline sent his heart pumping and puckered his flesh. He peered through the late afternoon haze. Fishermen? Frog giggers? But nothing stirred in the oppressive heat. Not a leaf. Just swarms of gnats and flies. Sourwater lay silent and mysterious, looking more like a pool of dirty motor oil than water. A thick canopy of branches overhead almost obscured the low bank of clouds hiding the sun. The heavy atmosphere made it hard to breathe. The bog reeked of death and decay. What the hell was he gonna do now?

Ripples near a cypress knee poking up out of stale water turned into a snake. The sight of the ugly moccasin gave him an idea. Nobody knew he’d brought her out here. So he’d just leave her for the swamp. Fish ate dead flesh, didn’t they? Better yet, his great-granddaddy used to tell about a big alligator down in the bottoms. That dude would take her for sure. Clean up after him in a minute. Nobody’d ever find her. That was the answer. The slough knew how to take care of its dead.

A clap of thunder overhead and an answering rumble off to the south freed him from inertia. He slogged through the mud to his vehicle in search of something to weigh her down. Rope was no good—too distinctive. All kinds of killings got solved with nothing more than a hair. He knew that from watching TV, although Buchanan and his Malcolm County crew weren’t as sharp as those guys on “CSI.” They wouldn’t catch him like that. Not those slobs. Still, he needed to be careful in case they called in professionals—like the state cops.

A spool of fishing line might work. Everybody in the county had a reel, and it wouldn’t take fingerprints. What was that other stuff they talked about on those shows? Skin thing-a-ma-bobs. Epi—epi-something-or-the-other. The nylon was too smooth to hold anything like that, but just to be safe he’d wear a pair of work gloves from the pickup to handle everything.

He stripped to keep sweat from ruining his clothes. Buck naked, he scrounged enough rocks to fill two burlap sacks he found along the shoreline. Panting from his efforts, he lashed the frail, dead form to the bags with yards of filament. Man, even that thick hair looked different now. Lost its luster.

As he struggled to lift the trussed up package, he slipped and fell on his face. He fought his way to his feet as the first raindrops crashed through the overhanging branches. When he rolled her into the slough, she slid a couple of feet and stopped. He recoiled as her big eyes stared at him.

He swiped his running nose and steadied himself. It was just the water. The weighted sacks had caused her to turn in the shallows. She wasn’t looking at him. She wasn’t looking at anything.

He forced himself to wade into the revolting stew of sediment and noxious ooze to struggle with the bundle, all the while trying to ignore thick muck squishing between his toes and clutching his ankles like spectral hands. Oh, hell. Where was that water moccasin? It was all he could do to keep from bolting back to the shore. Fat raindrops raised pimples on the dark water, making it seem alive. Green at the edges, the lagoon turned black toward the middle. Poisons leaching up out of the ground. Acids eating his flesh right now.

He grabbed the body before he freaked himself out and heaved with all his strength. His feet shot out from under him. He went down hard in the slick mud. The girl seemed to clutch his chest. With a mindless squeal, he shoved her away and scrambled to find purchase on something solid, but the slimy bottom betrayed him. He floundered helplessly as Sourwater sucked him into her depths. He fought his way to the surface, splashing like a five-year-old who couldn’t swim. Reason returned, but not before he’d taken a lungful of filthy water. Coughing and gagging, his insides burning, he clawed his way back to shore to throw up on the muddy bank.

While he struggled with his heaving stomach, a brilliant bolt of lightning struck a tree across the lagoon. Ear-splitting thunder left his head swimming. A sharp odor filled his nostrils. He tasted ozone on his tongue. His hair stood on end, and his nerves sang like they were plugged into a live socket. That had been close. He threw up his head and laughed.

“Missed me! And if you can’t get me, who can?”

Next week: I'll try to get back to THE BISTI BUSINESS. After all, we haven't visited Bisti/De-Na-Zin yet.

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


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oh, hey! Is it Wednesday Night Already?

Panic time! Tomorrow’s publishing day, and I haven’t a clue as to what to post. So I’ll take the quick way out and put up the Prologue of an unpublished novel entitled MOUNDS. To wit:

Malcolm County in Southeastern Oklahoma

She lay sprawled beneath him on a frayed horse blanket in the gloomy hayloft. There had been no greeting, no posturing, nothing except a harsh entry followed by a sweaty, steamy lustful explosion. He aimed to hurt, but she was a match for him, absorbing his anger and frustrating his attempts to reduce the assignation to the level of just a roll in the hay.

“Bitch!” He dragged the word across the breadth of his powerful orgasm.

“Bastard.” A self-satisfied smirk hid in her breathy drawl. His had carried nothing but longing and suppressed fury. She sighed, already drawing breath more easily than he, and ran scarlet-tipped fingers through the pale flame of the candle she had lit to watch him labor over her. “I do like the way you get it on.”

“Not…make love?” he panted.

“Wouldn’t wanna screw up a good thing by calling it wrong.” She laughed low in her throat at the way he vainly fought to keep his eyes off her shadowed curves.

A snarl tore out of him, ending in a sobbing shudder. “I oughta kill you. Someday, I will.” Without another word, he threw on his clothes and left, moving stealthily through the moonless Oklahoma night.

She lay on the rough, scratchy fabric of the blanket, allowing his aura of carnal fury to dissipate. Caressing her violated flesh, she inhaled the heady redolence of the barn: manure, urine, and the heavy aroma of the big animals masked by the woody hay, her own fragrance, and his stimulating musk.

The thick, humid air crackled with the charged atoms of an approaching thunderstorm, although she preferred to believe it was the lingering essence of the most exciting and sexually competent man she had ever known. Drowsily, she mused over her conquest.

Dangerous? Of course, it was. That’s what made it so wonderful.


Next week: I probably won’t know until Wednesday night!.

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


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Don't Tell Me....

Dogs don’t think; they don’t reason. Everyone knows that. Their actions are dictated by a pack instinct and by rote training, right? At least, that’s the cachet. My education came a few years ago when I was cajoled into dog sitting for two families who were going on a joint vacation. The dogs were strangers to me and had only a passing acquaintance with one another.

Ursa was a loveable chocolate miniature Poodle whose primary mission in life was to sit on someone’s lap…anyone’s lap…for as long as possible. Sparkie, a West Highland Terrier, was far too independent for that sort of thing. If I plopped down on the couch, he might sit beside me, but that was the extent of his bonding.

About five days into the dog-sitting caper, I was watching television with You-Know-Who sprawled across my legs. During a commercial, I glanced at Sparkie lying under the dining room table and noticed him observing us carefully. A few minutes later, Ursa hopped down and went to the kitchen to get something to eat. The Westie immediately came over and climbed into my lap. When Ursa trotted back to reclaim her seat, she was clearly annoyed at the new situation. First, she leveled “the stare.” That didn’t work, so she did a little pacing, a little sitting, and periodically gave what I can only describe as a moan. A few minutes later, she tried out a yip.

When Sparkie ignored all of her tactics, the Poodle suddenly ran to the front hallway and began barking furiously, something both dogs did when anyone walked near the house. Sparkie came off my lap like he’d been goosed and raced to the door, adding his manly bark to her feminine voice.

As soon as he reached the front door, Ursa trotted up and jumped into my lap. When the Westie finally figured out no one was outside, he came back into the den. Now it was his turn to stop and stare. He’d been snookered. Ursa, the little dickens, had planned and executed her plot to regain the lap she considered her private property. I laughed myself to sleep that night.

The next evening, events played out more or less as they had the day before. As soon as Ursa went to get a drink of water, Sparkie scurried over and wanted up. The Poodle wasn’t so patient this time. Within a couple of minutes, she headed for the front door, barking as if she were fighting off crazed intruders. Sparkie came halfway out of my lap, froze for a moment, and then settled back down.

I’ll swear Ursa looked absolutely shocked when she returned to find Sparkie still taking his ease on my lap.

Don’t tell me dogs don’t think.
Note: New posts are published at 5 a.m. each Thursday morning.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do You Remember Those Old Telephones?

Last Friday evening , a friend I were having dinner at Charlie’s Front Door in Hoffmantown Center on Menaul. Bobbi is the considerate lady who saw to it I survived the first month after my back surgery last August.

Side note: Apparently “Lady” is an old Oklahoma term for a first class broad, while “Woman” seems to be the preferred term of today’s ladies…uh, women. I’ve gotten in trouble several times of late attempting to confer a compliment by using my Oklahoma upbringing, only to be corrected by modern ladi…wom…well, females. All of this is apropos of nothing in this piece, but I’m at an age where I get easily distracted.

Back to Charlie’s. Shortly after we were seated, two couples were escorted to an adjoining table…and I do mean adjoining. We heard every word they said, and I’m certain they were privy to our conversation, as well. After learning one couple was from Dallas visiting New Mexico friends, I very politely intruded on their supposed privacy to volunteer that I was a TCU grad and familiar with their part of the country. I withheld the information that while I liked Fort Worth, I considered Dallas to be “No-Man’s Land.” Even so, there are some nice people living there, and these seemed like two of them.
Broken Bow Water Tower

The cross tables conversations continued, and when asked if I was from originally from New Mexico, I replied that I hailed from the southeastern Oklahoma town of Broken Bow. It’s a small world, folks. It seems the gentleman from Dallas likes to fish in Broken Bow Lake and at Beaver’s Bend on the Mountain Fork River. During the ensuing conversation, Bobbi made sure they knew I was a writer and shamelessly plugged my books. I could only sit and blush. I’m a writer, for Heaven’s Sake, not a salesman, and quite introverted at that. Bobbi, a retired airline hostess (I’m probably in trouble again because I’m not sure that the proper word isn’t “stewardess”) doesn’t know how to spell shy.
Broken Bow Public Library--But not the one I remember

During the discourse, I mentioned I’d done a blog post about Broken Bow and provided my blog address. So perhaps these new friends will be reading this one day after they finish fishing the San Juan up near Farmington. If so…hi. Enjoyed our inadvertent night out together.

At any rate, that got me to thinking about Broken Bow again (and it’s only taken me 424 words to get around to the subject I wanted to address).

When I was a kid (yes, I can remember that far back…sometimes more vividly than what happened last week), there weren’t many telephones in our little town. My grandmother had one of them. Her number was 28. That’s it: t-w-e-n-t-y-e-i-g-h-t. For a while, we didn’t have a phone of our own, but that was okay. She was just at the bottom of the hill, one block from our house. If someone wanted one of us, she’d send Granddaddy Bill up with a message. Or more likely, she’d wait until my sister or one of my brothers or I came down for a visit. Granddaddy Bill usually had a watermelon cut, so that was often.

The telephone was a long brown wooden box mounted on the wall of the kitchen. It had a big black plastic (or was it Bakelite in those days?) dish-like thing poking out of the middle, a hook for the receiver on one side, and a crank on the other. I used to stare up at it with my mouth hanging open, marveling that we could stand in our own kitchen (or my grandmother’s, at least) and talk to all the people in town…providing they had another instrument like that one in their home. And at least 27 others did, because Mama’s was number 28.

I didn’t use the phone often; after all, I was a little kid, and almost anybody I wanted to raise, I could reach by standing in the front yard and hollering. Nonetheless, I used it a couple of times. I remember the first time I did so. I stood on a chair, put that black receiver thingy to my ear and gave the crank a little spin. No good. Not hard enough. I tried again, and then a stranger’s voice came back in my ear.

“Number, please?”

“Twenty-eight,” I said.

“No, no. That’s the number you’re calling from. What number do you want?”

That was a stumper, and it was all I could do to keep from putting the cradle back on it’s hook (I didn’t know about technical terms like “hanging up” at the time) and running to hide under the bed. (I’ve already warned you I’m shy, remember?)

Fortunately, I froze instead. So the voice asked who I wanted to speak to.

“Who…who’s this?” I remember asking.

“This is Susan. I’m the operator. Who are you looking for, honey?”


“Jimmy who?”

“Dunno. Just Jimmy.”

“Where does he live?”

“On the highway out south of town?”

“Oh, you must mean the Hinsons. Just a minute, sweetheart.”

Lo and behold, I was speaking to Jimmy’s mother in less time than it would have taken me to run and hide under the bed. Unfortunately, Jimmy was off playing at somebody else’s house, but that’s beside the point.

What is the point? Try that with today’s fast, sophisticated, automated communications systems and see how far you get.


Next week: Judging from recent posts, it could be anything.

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


Thursday, May 2, 2013


In his heart, he knew it was a stillbirth.

The bright October sun streamed through the tall windows of a second-story apartment, sharpening the smell of blood and sweat and afterbirth in the little bedroom. The physician hoisted a newborn by its ankles to deliver a series of slaps to the tiny rump. Nothing. No reaction at all.

Although the baby was small—only five pounds—the delivery had been difficult, complicated by the mother's severe toxemia. The small town family doctor delivered another loud smack. Harder this time. Still no response. He laid the still form on the bed and swabbed its mouth with gloved fingers. No obstruction there.

As the clock ticked away precious seconds, he motioned the midwife assistant forward, and together they labored over the inert child. Nothing worked. After placing his stethoscope to the still chest one final time, the man glanced at the exhausted mother lying on the bed. Her pretty features sagged from illness and exhaustion.

Judging her more or less out of it, he swiped his damp brow with a forearm and turned to the anxious father perched on a windowsill on the far side of the room.

“I’m sorry, Travis, but it’s not unexpected given Birdie's condition. She’s the one we have to worry about now.”

The father stood and pressed thumbs into the corners of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. “Was it a boy?”

“Yes. You have to be strong now…for your wife’s sake.” He sighed from weariness and sorrow. “I know you were hoping your son would grow up to be a first baseman, but—”


They whirled at the sound of an angry wail and saw the midwife holding the baby. As they watched in astonishment, she calmly removed her finger from its little rectum and handed the squalling child to the doctor.


I'd heard that story all my life but didn't really accept it as anything other than family legend—until I met Mrs. Ward decades later. She had been the midwife in that little Oklahoma drama.

My father did not get the first baseman he wanted from that child. What he got, instead...was me. My mother recovered from her illness and lived to bear a daughter and twin sons. She passed away peacefully two summers ago.

I have speculated many times over the course of my life on the psychological implications of drawing my first breath in that manner. You see, I’m often accused of being anal-retentive.


Dear Readers: Because I have shared the story of my birth with you, you can probably reach the conclusion I woke yesterday without having completed a post for this morning. Forgive me for taking the easy way out.

Next Week: Hopefully, the muse will strike and you won't be subjected to any more of this!

Note: New posts are published each Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m.

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