Thoughts on 2 Books #4

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Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower V) by Stephen King

I rated it 5 of 5 stars, “it was amazing”, on Goodreads and shelved it as alternate reality, epic fantasy, favorites, fiction, modern fantasy, novel, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, & series.  You can read the synopsis by clicking the title above.

Being a lifelong Stephen King fan, I initially read each book in The Dark Tower series as it was published and enjoyed each book in turn. I first read Wolves of the Calla 15 years ago. As I’m re-reading the entire series now, I’m discovering that, although I remember the basics of each book, I remember very few details, so it’s almost as if I’m reading the series for the first time.

I make a serious effort to rate objectively. Regardless of how much I like an author and his or her body of work, I discard that as a consideration and judge each book by its own merits. I don’t give out 5 stars lightly. I rated Wizard and Glass 5 stars because as the central book in this 8-book series, it merits all 5 and more. If it’s the central book, though, Wolves of the Calla is the rising action of the whole epic. This one is chock-full of everything King does so well: suspense, magic, futuristic technology, plenty of excellent characters, sweeping panoramic scenery, mystery, intrigue, and relentless action. Plus Don Callahan! Can you believe I actually forgot about his presence here? I tell you, aging is not much fun.

Recommended for all King fans and lovers of good epic fantasy.

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Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics by Charles Krauthammer, unabridged audiobook version, read by the author and George Newbern.

I rated it 3 of 5 stars, “liked it”, on Goodreads and shelved it as anthology, essays, nonfiction, political issues.  You can read the synopsis by clicking the title above.

I was pleasantly surprised by Things That Matter. Being a left-leaning political moderate, I often disagree with most of what I read and hear coming from conservative pundits and thinkers. But Krauthammer is an intellectual of a higher order than the loudest of his like-minded political thought leaders and is far more evenhanded in his tone than obnoxious bloviators like O’Reilly, Coulter, Savage, and Beck. Even though he assigns a lot of blame to liberals in general and to Barack Obama in particular, his criticism lacks vitriol and needless meanness.

Although I disagree with many of the points Krauthammer makes in this anthology, I was impressed by how effectively he makes his case and how eloquently he argues, and I found myself agreeing with him on a number of issues. George Newbern does a fine job of reading many of the essays, but I really enjoyed the parts read by Krauthammer himself. He has a great speaking voice, avuncular and warm. I’ll definitely read more of his work.

Have y’all read either of these books?  What did you think of them?

Take care, be well, and happy blogging!

Denny

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Experiencing Technical Difficulties

My Internet access is currently compromised.  But for the generosity of a neighbor, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to post this.  I am deeply disappointed to announce that, until my access is restored, I will be unable to post to my blog.  If y’all haven’t heard from me within the next week or so, please don’t give up on me.  I love this thing called blogging far too much to quit, and I love interacting with y’all more than you can imagine.  I will resume my regular blogging habits as soon as I am able.

Steve’s Tale Part 6

A Darla Nyte story

My friend Victoria at Raynotbradbury tagged me with her “One Day With a Star” blogger challenge, and my immediate response to its theme meshed perfectly with the chapter of a short story I was working on at the time.  This story, let’s call it “Steve’s Tale”, is itself the continuing sequel of a 3,000-word story that I and 9 other Bloggers wrote in 300-word chapters.  If you haven’t already done so and want to read that original, or if you have and want to refresh your memory, you can find it here: “A Dead Man Walking“.

Liz Charnes, one of the coauthors of that tale, had so much fun with it that she started a sequel about one of its main characters, Steve.  She and I have been taking turns writing “Steve’s Tale” ever since.  Part 6 is below, and here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

In case you don’t have time for all that reading or if you’ve already read it and just need a refresher, here’s a bare-bones synopsis of the story so far:  In the not too-distant future, Darla Nyte, after a satisfying stint as a Military Police officer in the U.S. Army, is an independent private detective.  Steve is her assistant.  Following the Trumpocalypse that brought the United States to the brink of political, economic, cultural, social, and existential destruction and obliterated the barrier between the natural and the supernatural worlds, the ancient, raging, despotic President Trump was forcefully deposed and physically removed from the White House.  Citizens drive automated vehicles and carry a PalmPal, an indispensable personal device that replaced all other smart phones and is produced by one of the megamonopoly corporations made possible under the Trump administration.  Supernatural beings of all types operate freely in the natural world.  Their advent and incorporation into modern society was received with more acceptance than surprise by a stunned and credulous population that had long since lost its ability to distinguish between real and fake news.  In the short story “A Dead Man Walking”, Darla takes on a client who turns out to be a draugr, a class of undead being.  After Darla is driven temporarily insane and shoots the draugr, she is jailed for murder.  “Steve’s Story” picks up with Steve’s romantic dinner with his husband, Gary, being interrupted by a call from Darla to bail her out.  Meanwhile, Steve has acquired a mysterious and very gaseous aide, a jinn named Jim.  Immediately after bailing Darla out of jail, it becomes apparent that an as-yet unidentified party is (or parties are) determined to see her killed.

“One Day With a Star” Blogger Challenge

Here are the rules to Victoria’s challenge:  1) Describe a very famous person (preferably historical, or well known – to everyone!).  Include the details in your story so people can guess who the star is, but do not mention the real name.  2) You can add 1 photo-detail (non obligatory).  3) The style and the genre of the writing – any.  4) Pingback to Vic’s post, so she can read and comment, and pingback to mine too.  5) Spread the word around, up to 3 – 5 blogs.  6) Readers, use the “Comments” suggestion to offer your guess as to who the unnamed star in the post is.  Have fun, y’all!

Steve’s Story, Part 6

Gary went to Steve and began rubbing his back in large, slow, circles.  “Shh, shh, it’s okay, hon.  C’mere.”  He pulled Steve into a hug, and Steve expelled a long, shuddering sigh.

Darla, standing behind Gary, held her hand out to Steve, palm up.  “Okay, snowflake, pay up.  If you don’t quit quitting, you’re gonna owe me more than your next paycheck.”

Steve disengaged from Gary, stiffened his spine, and tilted his chin up, hands on his hips.  “I was only kidding,” he sniffed, all trace of despair banished.  His eyes widened, and he snapped his fingers several times in rapid succession.  “Hey, Fabulous mentioned the other day he’d been noticing an uptick in the chatter among the Red Caps!  Let’s go find out what he knows.”

Gary clapped his hands and squealed.  “Ooo, get me an autograph, love, please please please!”  He gathered an armload of dishes from the table and walked toward the kitchen humming “Bohemian Rhapsody” as he went.  “I’ll get this mess cleaned up!”

*  *  *

Steve, Darla, and Jim piled back into Darla’s car and headed toward the office.  In the back seat, Jim’s grotesquely distended belly was rocked by a series of blows as the dwarf tried to punch or kick its way out.  The furious miscreant’s faint, muffled protestations were barely audible.  Jim’s eructations were long, loud, and frequent, but he was chuckling madly.  “Damn if that doesn’t tickle!” he laughed.

They parked in the office garage and walked up to their floor.  Quicksilver Investigations was three doors down the hall from their own agency and was open for business, though the door was closed.  Darla opened it and stuck her head in.  The proprietor stood on the far side of the room, his back to the door, admiring the paraphernalia of his former life prominently displayed on his memorabilia wall and illuminated with track lights: a microphone stand with mic attached; a garish, mustard-yellow leather biker’s jacket with buckles lining both lapels; a black and white-checked body suit with an open chest; and a large, gem-encrusted, velvet-lined, gold crown complete with full-length, heavy, crimson velvet cape with plush, ermine border.  The tall, solidly built, hirsute man was clad only in a small white towel wrapped tightly around his waist.  “Save Me” played softly over the office PA.

Darla cleared her throat and rapped on the door as she pushed it open, and the three of them walked in.  Unfazed, the man turned slowly with a preternaturally sensuous grace and regarded his visitors with a raised eyebrow and a level gaze.  He had thick, black hair, cropped short and immaculately coiffed; heavy, slightly arched brown eyebrows over deep-set, lively brown eyes; a prodigious black mustache that obscured his upper lip and spanned from cheek to cheek well past his deeply-carved laugh lines; and a prognathous jaw covered with a heavy but becoming five o’clock shadow.

Darla, red-cheeked and with sweat beading the fine fuzz of her upper lip, fanned herself.  Steve snapped his mouth shut and wiped a string of drool from his chin with his right hand.  Jim laughed and swept the beautiful man into a crushing embrace, pounding him on the back.  “Great to see you back on this side, you good old-fashioned lover boy!  I never tire of the mortals’ reaction to your sublime presence!”

The beautiful man stood back and regarded the big jinn.  He spoke with a fetching British accent.  “Jim, you haven’t changed a bit, love, how’ve you been?”

“Actually, a wee bit dyspeptic this go-round.  If you’ll excuse me for a moment…”  Jim walked to the bathroom at the rear of the suite.

“So, Darla dear, what can I do for you?” the beautiful man asked.

“Ahem…  Er…”  Darla shook her head vigorously then crossed her arms.  Her fingers gripped her biceps so tightly that her knuckles were white.  “Someone’s put a contract out on me.  Have you heard anything about it?”

The owner of Quicksilver Investigations clenched his fists and placed them firmly on his hips.  Nostrils flaring, he said, “Now what on earth makes you think—“

A series of loud, wet, retching belches from the direction of the bathroom cut him off.  After a final and painful-sounding “BLLECCHHH!”, there was a thud followed by a rapid string of high-pitched sneezes.

“Actually, Fabulous,” Steve began, “I remembered you saying the other day you’d noticed an increase in Red Cap activity, and we have reason to believe they’re involved.”  He retrieved his wallet from his back pocket, removed a folded slip of blank paper, and offered it to Fabulous, blushing.  “Uh, would you mind signing your autograph for Gary?  Please?”

Fabulous accepted the scrap of paper, removed a black Sharpie from the folds of his towel, and started to write.  “Another one, Steve?  How many of these does Gary need?  Not that I mind of course, Gary’s a dear and a dreamboat to boot!”  He handed the paper back to Steve and replaced the Sharpie.  “So what makes you think the Red Caps are after Darla?  They tend to restrict their activism to the political arena.”

Jim emerged from the bathroom with his giant hand wrapped around the regurgitated dwarf’s neck.  The foul-smelling, slime-covered creature was flailing his arms and legs, screaming, “Put me down, you big brute!  I object!  That was so rude!”

Jim set the dwarf down but kept his hand clamped firmly on his shoulder.  “Hmph,” he grunted, “and here I thought I was being downright hospitable!”

“Oh, you want to talk about rude, you nasty little thing?” said Steve.  He turned to Fabulous. “This tiny animal interrupted a lovely dinner wearing a MAGA cap, screaming “MAGA!”, and spraying bullets!”

Fabulous retrieved a silk handkerchief from somewhere in his towel and covered his mouth and nose.  He raised his left arm and, with his wrist bent downward and pointer finger extended, shot a cutting glare at the dwarf.  “You,” he retched, “stink.  March to that bathroom and make yourself presentable.  Then you may return and explain yourself.”

Jim went to the water cooler and began downing cup after cup.  “Yecchh, it’ll take days to get that taste out of my mouth!”

Fabulous returned his hankie to his towel and rummaged around in it.  After a few seconds, he extracted a large, ornately carved and bejeweled carafe.  He walked to the water cooler and extended it toward Jim.  “Here, darling, drink some of this.”

Jim held out his empty cup.  “Gladly, if it’ll get rid of this foul taste.”

“That and more, love.  I daresay it will cure your awful tummy trouble.”  He poured until the cup was full then returned the carafe to the folds of his towel.  As he walked to the other side of the room, Jim drained the cup.

Fabulous sat down in the middle of an opulent Louis XV sofa and patted the cushions on his left and right.  “Darla dear, Steve love, cop a squat.  Let’s figure this out, shall we?”

End Part 6

I tag:

Liz Charnes ’cause it’s her turn.

Telling Stories Together ’cause, well, isn’t it obvious?

Tales From the Mind of Kristian ’cause he’s one of the 10.

Fitful Fearful Phantasmal ’cause she is too!

Via: RDP #35, Trace

Via: FOWC for July 6, 2018, Object

Via: RDP #36, Hospitable

 

 

Spring Cleaning Book Tag

Holy CRAP, is it already July?!?

Because I’m so well-loved by my followers, y’all, I was fortunate to have not one but two of my friends tag me with this challenge today.  Sophski at Sophia Ismaa Writes and Britchy at Bitchin’ In the Kitchen somehow sensed that I finally have a bit of free time to waste on blogging.  Please reward their prescience by visiting their blogs.  From the bottom of my boundless heart, dears, I thank you for the love!

What is this awesome-sounding new challenge, you ask?  Let me tell you about it!  The rules:  1) Link back to challenge creator Daniel Peralta’s blog at Page to Page. Check out his awesome blog & give him some love, too!  2) Respond to the given scenarios.  3) Tag 5 bloggers (or however many you’d like).

If you’re interested in seeing my fuller thoughts about any of the books below, you can read what I wrote about them on Goodreads by clicking the hyperlinked titles.

Scenario 1:  It’s time to make your bed, but you’re going to have some friends over later and want to pick the perfect book to place on your nightstand for them all to see that you’re “reading”. Which book do you choose?

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Any of Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County collections, really.  Not because I care what my friends think about what I’m reading, though, hell, I wouldn’t even let any of my friends into my cluttered bedroom, but because I must have a good laugh to blot out the day’s absurdities before going to sleep with a smile on my face.

Scenario 2:  Oh no! The house needs dusting, but you just can’t put that book you’re reading down! What book would you buy on audio just so you could continue the story while cleaning?

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Neil Gaiman’s American Gods because it’s one of my all-time favorite, most unputdownable books, and both the single-narrator and full cast versions of the audiobook are AWESOME!

Scenario 3:  Darn it! The ceiling is leaking! Turns out mass market paperbacks are the best things to soak water up! Which popular book do you use to soak up the water?

I won’t deign to sully my beloved blog with the cover images of the filth-purveyors whose hated names follow.  I can’t list them without crossing them out.  I wouldn’t even spend money on these sick, twisted hacks.  I would go to McKay’s Used Books and expend some of my accumulated store credit to get as many copies of the rags written by Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly as I could carry.  If I were to come up with the money to fix the leak before they were all ruined, I’d stack the rest of them up beneath my toilet and save money on toilet paper ’til I’d used them all up.  In my judgment, that’s about all they’re good for.

Scenario 4:  (Speaking of toilets) Bathrooms need a good scrubbing, and your 2007 Cosmos are a little outdated and need replacing. What book do you place in the bathroom for some light reading for when people need to take care of business?

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Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says because it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read in I don’t know how long, and who doesn’t want a good laugh while they’re pooping?  Seriously, though, on a hilarity scale of 1 to 10, this one’s a 20!

Scenario 5:  Family is coming over, but you have no idea what to make for dinner! You read somewhere that tearing up the last chapter of a book whose ending you hated and sprinkling it in a casserole dish makes for the perfect meal! Which book do you choose?

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Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night because the ending almost made me wish I hadn’t wasted my time on the book.

Scenario 6:  Organization is key, right? When it comes time to organize your bookshelf, you realize you have enough room (and money) to get three new books! Which books do you buy?

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David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas because it blew my mind when I read it and has been sitting unpurchased on my Amazon wish list for years.  Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America because they are the best fiction and nonfiction books, respectively, that I’ve read in recent years and which I don’t already own.

Scenario 7:  Finally, some peace and quiet! But, before you can relax, you realize you forgot to send your Aunt a thank-you gift for the lovely Adult Life for Dummies book she gave you for Christmas (maybe she’s trying to tell you something?). What book do you send to her to show her how much you appreciate her gift? 

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Super Aunt knows me very well and is highly unlikely to commit such an egregious error.  But if in her dotage she should someday do so, I would return the favor with Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, one of the most shamefully bad books I’ve ever read.  Super Aunt is deeply into her Catholic spirituality, and almost all of her reading is associated with it.  She would get the joke and laugh long and loud.

There’s my two cents on this very interesting and entertaining challenge.  I’d love to hear y’all’s thoughts in the comments down below.  Oh, before I go, I tag:

Liz at Liz Charnes just ’cause she rocks.

Victoria at Raynotbradbury ’cause she tags me all the time and ’cause I know she has nothing better to do Ha haha ha ha ha HHHAAAHHH!

Viola Bleu at IdeasBecomeWords ’cause I haven’t bugged her in a while.

Michael at Afterwards ’cause I bet he won’t do it and I wanna see him prove me wrong.

Melissa at FingersToSky ’cause I think she’d really dig this one.

Via: FOWC, Judgment

Via: RDP #31, Scale

Thoughts on 2 Books #3

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The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham

I rated it 3 of 5 stars, “liked it”, on Goodreads.

Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels is an easily readable, thorough if limited, well-researched, and generously sourced work of American history. Given its scope, though, it’s bittersweet. I was reminded that, over and over throughout our history, our people and our politicians and, too often, the institutions they lead, have treated significant segments of America’s population with disregard, disrespect, and outright criminality, sometimes using the Bible as justification. Yes, the book’s overall tone is hopeful, and the conclusion offers good advice on how we as a people can be and do better, but being reminded of how bad we’ve been (and how often!) was quite depressing.  Still, kudos to Meacham for this timely bit of encouragement.

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The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life As a Reluctant Messiah by Marc Maron (audiobook)

I rated it 1 of 5 stars, “Did not like”, on Goodreads

I could write a long screed about all the aspects of The Jerusalem Syndrome that I didn’t like but won’t bother to spend any more time on it than I already have listening to it.  I did not enjoy Maron’s narration at all, and I quit counting how many times I almost gave up on it during chapters 6, 7, & 8, in which he explains, at great length, his years of almost unbelievable overindulgence in every imaginable controlled substance.  If Goodreads allowed it, I’d rate it 1.5 stars because there were 4 or 5 anecdotes near the beginning and end of the book that caused me to chuckle.  This one’s really not my cup of tea.

If you’re interested, you can read the Goodreads synopsis of either book (and lots more reviews!) by clicking their titles.

Take care, be well, and happy reading, y’all!

Via: FOWC, Kudos

Via: RDP #27, Indulgence

Truths: A Sestina

From time to time, I check my old journals, notebooks, filing cabinets, or Word files to see what I wrote when I was much younger.  I do so not just to find something to post here but to see what I had to say back then and how what I thought and wrote as a younger man compares to what I think and write now, to see whether or not something that was important to me or relevant then still is now.

I wrote the poem below, “Truths”, in July 2001, when I was 30 and a grad student.  I don’t often write formulaic poetry, but this is a rare example of such.  At the time I wrote it, I was in a bit of a depression-induced writing slump, and I relied on the strictures of the form to provide, if not inspiration, at least guidance.  I am pleased to find that its theme, its pessimism and disappointment, and its ultimate hope and faith are as true for me today as they were then.  I may have changed in subtle ways since, but I’m still fundamentally the same man at 47 that I was at 30.  Is it preposterous to hope I may still be in another 17 years if I’m so fortunate to live that long?

Truths

Walking through a forest, verdant and alive
shining sun, blowing wind, streams flowing free
through carved beds.  The earth, plants, and animals
all have a place in this scene, each plays its part
willingly and well, all working together to cast a spell
over the loner, the walker, the seeker of truth.

Unlike fiction it is elusive, this thing called truth.
When found, however rarely, the seeker comes alive.
Loosed from the veil of illusion, deceiving evil spell
which kept him bound.  With right on his side he is free.
He’ll wander the earth, spread the word, do his part,
try to briefly raise the race above the savagery of animals.

For a time no longer treating each other like animals,
finding we can peacefully live together; this is the truth.
Despite our location, our nations of birth, we are all a part
of the one human race.  Not dead to each other, but finally alive.
We’ll release prisoners of war, unchain slaves, open our eyes, be free.
Live, love, laugh, not separately but together, if only for a brief spell.

But then human nature again will take hold, shatter the spell,
and again human nature demands to treat others like animals,
the ones that are penned, domesticated, the predators that remain free.
Be not confused, for although the other is, this is also the truth:
as long as greed, evil dark seeds, though deeply buried, remain alive,
they will gestate, bloom, overgrow even the kindest part.

Sadly, even the most well-joined among us will part.
Thoughts of hate, not love, which we’ll forget how to spell,
will supplant whatever goodwill had briefly been alive.
We will hunt, hound, harry each other like predatory animals,
but someone will hope and dream, if you want to know the truth,
of another distant bright day when we’ll again be free.

Until then we struggle, while to dream and strive we are free,
knowing that wrong and right, dark and light, each play a part
in our eternal and insatiable quest for the truth.
Someday a loner, a walker, a seeker will discover the spell
to free us from the instinctual inconsiderate actions of animals
and transform this dead decaying world into one that is alive.

Until that day, we are free to exist for a spell,
to each play our part as humans or animals
’til one finds the truth, and love comes alive.

Via RDP #20, Check

Via FOWC Preposterous

 

 

 

 

A Fire on the Mountain

The other day, my friend Victoria at raynotbrabdury tagged me with the “Spin a Story” challenge, which she explained is a version of a long-established writing exercise called “The Wheel”.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Pick any newspaper, magazine, or book of any style or genre.
  2. Choose 3 random words (best if done with your eyes closed). 
  3. Create a story by using those 3 words or combinations of words.  Provide the name of your source.
  4. Pingback to my post , so I can read and comment.
  5. Challenge as many as 5 additional Bloggers.

Y’all know how good I am at following the rules.  I didn’t close my eyes.  I didn’t choose my word combinations at random.  A story idea has been bouncing around my overtaxed brain for months.  A brand new library book, John Meacham’s The Soul of America, has been sitting on my shelf unopened waiting for me to get to it, and yesterday I cracked it open to sneak a peek at the table of contents.  Parts of 3 chapter headings jumped out at me and simultaneously caused the careening pieces of that story to slam together into something resembling a coherent whole.

My three word combinations are the crisis of the old ordersoul of flame and temper of steel, and long shadow.  Meacham, in fact, borrowed at least two of the three phrases that jumped out at me from earlier sources.  The first came from the title of Arthur M. Schlesinger’s 1957 book The Crisis of the Old Order 1919 – 33 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol 1).  The second comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote taken from his 1913 autobiography.  Both of those phrases come from works or passages dealing with periods of strife in American history.  My story deals with a character’s personal struggle with religious strife in our own time.  “The Wheel”, indeed.

Several characters and events included in the story below have appeared in prior stories in my Copperhead County series so are hyperlinked.  If you’re interested in reading them, just click the links.  Regardless of how much you like or hate my story, please let me know in the comments below.  I hope you enjoy.

A Fire on the Mountain

Bash locked his front door, adjusted the angle of his security cameras, and trudged around back to check the new chains on his shed.  He looked at the camera hanging under its eave, grinned, and flipped it a bird while watching himself do so on his iPhone screen.  With a bit more spring in his step, he walked to his driveway in time to see Colt arrive and heft his enormous frame backpack into the bed of his Avalanche.  He closed and bolted the gate then hugged Colt, pounding his back.  “Good to see you, brother!  Thanks for coming with.”

“Hey Bash,” Colt wheezed, “don’t squeeze so tight.  I’m still a little weak.”

Bash backed off, clapped his hand onto Colt’s shoulder, and squeezed gently.  “Sorry, man, I’m just glad you’re okay,” he said as he climbed into the driver’s seat, “everyone’s been real worried about you.”

Colt slid in on the passenger side.  “I appreciate the sentiment, brother, I do.  I’m sure I’ll feel even better after a weekend in the woods.”  As Bash turned onto the highway, Colt rolled his window down and inhaled deeply.  “Ahh, nothing like the scent of magnolia blossoms after two weeks of breathing hospital air.  So tell me.  What’s the occasion?”

Bash twisted in his seat, reached behind the center console, flipped open his cooler, and fished around in the ice.  “Well,” he said as he removed a dripping can of Coors and popped the tab before taking a long swig, “let’s go get Lantz first then set up camp.  I’ll fill you both in later.  You want a beer?”

Colt shook his head, frowning.  “No, thanks.  I’m taking a break.”  He stuck his hand out the window and let it surf the warm, late afternoon breeze.  “From everything.”

Bash cocked his head to the left, raised his right eyebrow, and shot Colt a sidelong glance.  He took another drink.  “What, from everything?  You?  Even weed?”

Colt sighed, stared straight ahead, and sighed again.  “Yeah, man, even weed.”

Bash pulled into Lantz’s driveway and honked three times.  Lantz stepped out, locked his door, tossed his tent into the bed of the Avalanche, opened the passenger door, and climbed in.  “Colt!” he exclaimed, draping his left arm around Colt’s shoulders, “Good to see you, Bones!  How ya doin’?”

Colt smiled and thumped Lantz’s back.  “You’re one to talk, Kevin.  Have you eaten anything this week?”

“Oh, plenty,” Lantz said as he reached into the cooler and removed a beer, “but nothing today.  I just woke up ten minutes ago.”  He cracked open the beer and drank half of it in three gulps.  “Mmm, breakfast of champions!”  He belched long and loud.  All three men laughed.

*****

After arriving at their chosen site on Pygmy Knob, Lantz set up the tent while Bash and Colt unloaded the Avalanche, gathered wood, then started a campfire as the last of the sunlight drained from the sky.  They sat in their camp chairs, backs to the tent, facing the fire and the thick woods on the rising slope beyond it.  Bash had his well-stocked, extra-large cooler in front of him and was using it as a table to roll a few joints.  Lantz sat to Bash’s left, Colt to his right.  Lantz held a Smith & Wesson .38 pistol in his left hand and was amusing himself by snapping the cylinder open, spinning it, and snapping it back into place with a flick of his wrist.  Colt was honing a large hunting knife he’d brought along.

 

Bash removed two beers from the cooler and handed one to Lantz.  They both drank.  Bash lit a joint, took a drag, then passed it to Lantz.  Bash held his smoke for a minute then expelled it slowly.  “So,” he said, “someone’s been stealing my tools from my truck, my trailer, and my shed.  I think it’s that crazy old man Champion who used to be preacher at Mt. Zion before Pastor Huddleston.”

Colt stopped honing his blade, sheathed it, and blew off his whetstone.  “What makes you think that?  Champion had some odd ideas, sure, but he never struck me as the type to trespass or steal.”

Lantz laid his gun in his lap, took a long pull off the joint then, without exhaling, chugged most of the can.  He handed the joint back to Bash.

“Well,” Bash said, accepting the joint and inhaling, “ever since Scarlet Snake Lake got shut down for repairs after that crazy heat wave, there’s been rumors that Champion’s been living in the campsite up there.”  He took another long drink of beer.  “Several friends of mine who’ve been up here hunting said they’d seen him picking through trash cans and trying to get into the stalls at the Lakeshore Open Air Market.”  He passed the joint back to Lantz, who inhaled then drank again.

Colt sniffed, patted the front of his faded denim vest, and retrieved his beloved, dog-eared, Pocket Merton.  He leaned closer to the fire and began thumbing through the book.

Lantz tilted his head back, upended his beer can over his mouth, and shook the last few drops onto his tongue.  He crushed the can, threw it into the fire, and blew the smoke out through his nose.  He coughed, eyes watering copiously.  “Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, “The Times-Rattler had a story just the other day about that—“

Colt glared at Lantz, filled his cheeks, and blew air through his pursed lips, cutting him off.  “Pffshff!  You mean the Times-TATTLER?  That rag’s no better than an impulse aisle tabloid, man.  That whack-a-doo new editor can’t even spell right, much less construct a grammatically correct paragraph.  And what’s with that weekly centerfold about the glory of God and all that praise crap?  That paper’s nothing but a bunch of ignorant, right-wing, Religious Right propaganda!”  Colt spit into the fire then resumed flipping through his Pocket Merton

Bash had been mid-guzzle when Colt blew up.  He choked, sprayed beer through his nose and mouth, then exploded with laughter.  He wiped his face with his forearm, popped open another beer, and took a swig.  “Dang, hoss,” he chuckled, “you sure you don’t want a few hits off this joint?  You must be jonesin’ for real.  I swear I’ve never seen you get mad before!”  He took another beer out of the cooler and tossed it to Lantz.

Colt shook his head.  “Nah, I’m good, thanks.”

Lantz caught his beer, took another drag off the joint, opened the beer, and downed it.  He crumpled the can against his forehead and threw it into the fire.  He sat straight up with his arms locked and hands clamped onto his knees.  His eyes were wide open but slightly crossed, and he swayed a little to his left, a little to his right, then back to an upright position.  He exhaled and belched.  He offered the joint to Bash.

“No thanks, Kevin, you finish it.  I’m going Champion hunting tonight.  I don’t need to get messed up.”  He handed Lantz another beer.

Lantz took it and drank.  “Anyway, the story in the paper quoted a couple of guys who come up here digging for arrowheads and other artifacts.  They said they seen Champion up here several times acting weird.  He’d be pacing, waving his hands in the air, and yelling out crazy crap about the end times coming and he’s the chosen one of God who’s here to bring a sword and all that.  They said he came running at them one day screaming how he’s the flame of God and he’s going to burn them where they stand.”  He took another hit and another drink then sat there shaking his head.  Then he sat bolt upright.  “Did you guys hear that?  There’s something in the trees up the hill over there!”  He was staring intently past the fire.

Bash shivered and took another drink.  “Crazy old man.  He’s proof a person can get too much religion, I reckon.  I heard it, Lantz, chill.  It’s probably just a raccoon.”

Colt sat up and cleared his throat.  “Y’all put too much faith in rumors and news.  Here, listen to what Merton has to say about that.”

Bash laughed.  “I really have missed you, Colt.  What does Brother Merton have to say?”

“Nine-tenths of the news,” Colt read, “as printed in the papers, is pseudo-news, manufactured events.  Some days ten-tenths.”  Colt closed the book and locked eyes with Bash.  “He wrote that 50 years ago or more!  Anyway, what makes you think preacher Champion stole your tools?  And why would he?  More likely it’s a couple of local meth heads, junkies, or pill poppers.”

Lantz heard more rustling in the woods and broke out in a cold sweat.  Eyes wide, he put his beer down, tucked the joint into the corner of his mouth, and eased his pistol out of its holster, peering into the woods.

“I saw Champion standing on the hill behind my house,” Bash said, “right outside the fence, staring at my shed the other day just before sundown.  You know my place is only a ten minute walk down the river from Scarlet Snake Lake.”

“Still, Bash,” Colt said, shaking his head, “why would he steal your tools?  How would he break into your shed?  Hell, why would he even try to climb your fence?”  Colt heard rustling leaves and a twig breaking, and he began scanning the tree line as well.

Bash finished the last of his beer.  “I don’t know, man, I just haven’t seen anything else suspicious.  That’s why I had all those cameras installed.  Speaking of which…”  He pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and activated his security app.  He scanned through all the live images but saw nothing out of the ordinary.  “I thought maybe the thieves would come back when they saw my Avalanche wasn’t there tonight.”

There was a hissing sound, and something small flew into the dwindling fire.  All three men stood up, and a loud explosion blew an immense shower of sparks, embers, and smoke into the air.  Bash and Colt threw their forearms over their eyes, staggered backward, and tripped over their chairs.  Lantz squeezed off a round before something went spannggg against his pistol, and he dropped it, shaking his hand and screaming “Oww, oww, sonofa!  Someone shot me!”

Bash and Colt stood, and a gaunt, bald, bare-chested old man with a bushy white beard emerged from the woods on the other side of the fire.  A slingshot was tucked into the front of his filthy khakis.

The man who had been Preacher Champion walked toward them, eyes blazing and arms raised, yelling at the top of his voice.  “The Lord God has chosen me to put an end to the crisis of the old order, the unholy alliance between the Church and the Government!”  Spittle flew from his lips, and the flames seemed to bend away from him.  He continued shuffling toward them.

Lantz was staring gape-mouthed at the old man, clutching his wounded hand in front of his chest, and drooling.  He snapped his mouth shut with an audible smacking sound.  “Oh crap, oh crap,” he muttered as a dark stain began to seep down the front of his pants.  Bash began edging back and to his left, toward his Avalanche, but Colt was transfixed, a faint smile playing on his lips.

Champion kept coming, still ranting, his voice booming in the small campsite.  “My savior Jesus has granted unto me a soul of flame and temper of steel, and together we will burn brighter than the sun!  Side by side we will at last banish the long shadow of the disrighteous and the hypocrites and their ruinous teachings of the false gospels of prosperity and Christianity lite!”

Bash grabbed Lantz’s left arm and began pulling him toward the Avalanche.  Lantz was unable to take his eyes off Champion but allowed himself to be guided away.  Champion kept coming, walking straight through the remnants of the fire toward Colt.  Sparks flew upward, swirling around the old man like a shroud, and the hems of his khakis began to smolder.

Smiling, tears streaming down his face, Colt spread his arms wide and waited for the old man’s embrace.

End

If you’re interested in reading any or all of my Copperhead County stories, you can find them in my “Categories” dropdown menu under “Short Stories”.  Thank you for reading.

Before I go, I tag:

Viola Blue at Ideas Become Words.  Spice it up, girl!

Rachel Ann at FitfulFearfulPhantasmal.  Bring the dark!

Little Gypsy Blue because I’d love to see what she can do with story.

Martha Kennedy at I’m a Wrtier, Yes I Am! because she can do anything better than I can.

Liz Charnes because she writes better stories than I do.

Good luck, y’all!

Home Again

sweet home

Image courtesy of Etsy.com

The cross-stitch sampler shown above was prominently displayed on the wall of my maternal grandparents’ kitchen in their home, Windy Hill, in Argo, Alabama.  From 1980 through 2006, their secluded, rural, mountaintop estate, with its 5 acres of rolling hills and planted fields, was my favorite haven when I needed a brief escape from the world.  It was only a 3-hour drive from my Tennessee home, to which I returned for good in 1992, and I spent many wonderful, relaxing, 3- and 4-day weekends there until a year after my Grandma died in 2005, and Grandpa moved here to live close to my Mom, his oldest daughter.

I never forgot that sampler and the profundity of its simple message.  I have often remembered it upon returning home from vacation.  But never has it rung more true than when we returned from The Boss’s home town in Louisiana Sunday night.  I was so grateful to be able to shower in my own bathroom and especially to sleep in my own bed.  Life among my wife’s Cajun kinfolk is chaotic, unpredictable, and rife with family drama that we’d gladly do without.

Yes, the food was worth the drive, and I got my fill of homemade gumbo, boudin, cracklins, jambalaya, and crawfish etouffé as well as this monstrous beauty,

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which almost killed me and caused me to have to sleep sitting up and skip breakfast the following day.  Yes, I ate it all followed by créme brullé for dessert.  My resolve not to gain 5 pounds on this trip turned out to be quite futile.

Our whirlwind journey, which consisted of 3 days of food and family infighting fun bookended by two 11-hour drives, culminated in a family reunion Saturday.  The Boss got to reconnect with cousins, aunts, & uncles she hasn’t seen in 20 years or more, and the kids and I got to eat a smorgasbord of good food and meet lots of new people.

But when the elders present demanded the attention of the group and began indulging in the atavistic ritual of storytelling, it didn’t take long for the youngest there to lose interest and start misbehaving, after which the reunion devolved into round after round of back-pounding hugs, crushing handshakes, sloppy wet cheek-kisses, and tearful vows to reunite more often.

As a keen, delighted, and oft-bemused observer of human behavior, I very much enjoyed noting the way the different generations responded to the event and comparing it all to the family reunions I remembered from my own youth.  Following the widespread initial joy of reconnecting, the most notable behaviors were: abject boredom evident in the slumped shoulders and flat, dull expressions of the young, who twitched like junkies in anticipation of the return of their briefly-confiscated iPads, smart phones, Xboxes, etc.; undisguised disgust clear in the pinched faces, shaking heads, and clucking tongues of the elders unable to comprehend how their children could’ve raised such an indolent and disrespectful generation; and for the middle generations, the rapid switch on faces glowing with nostalgic happiness to looks of sullen despair at their kids’ behavior to smiles of relief as they prepared to escape.

I hope y’all can forgive this rambling and somewhat pointless post.  I’m still caught somewhere between the post-vacation blues and the returning to work doldrums.  I did miss y’all very much and hope that you’ve all enjoyed yourselves the past week.  I look forward to talking to you in the coming days.

It’s good to be back!

Via: Ragtag Daily Prompt Atavism

Via:  Daily Addictions Daily Prompt Futile

Efrustrlated

See what I did there?  Maybe I should add my new word to my Writer’s Reliquary.  What do y’all think?  Would you use it if it were a ‘real’ word?  Or is it too clunky?  It’s actually not that hard to pronounce but does kinda sound like you’re trying not to drool when you get to the “trl” combo.  Go ahead, give it a whirl, say it a few times and let me know what you think.

Efrustrlated.  That’s the way I’m feeling today.  Elated because I’m fixin’ to leave for vacation but frustrated because I failed to get caught up at work.  Hell, I didn’t even come close to getting caught up even though I took almost 2 weeks off from blogging.  I doubt I’ll have time to post while I’m away, but I should be able to log on a couple of times and see what all you lovely Bloggers are up to while I’m baking in the Lousiana heat and eating good Cajun food faster than I can sweat off the added poundage.

Before I leave, I’m taking the opportunity to participate in two of the daily prompts that have sprung up in the wake of the Daily Post’s unfortunate demise.  One more thing to love about the WordPress community is the flexibility of so many of its Bloggers, like Curious Steph and the other good folks working together to bring us the Ragtag Daily Prompt and of Fandango and his One-Word Challenge.  From the bottom of my lazy, grateful heart, I thank y’all.

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is picayune, which instantly brought a rush of great memories flooding into my aging brain.  When I was a teenager, I was all but obsessed with Berkeley Breathed’s awesome, hilarious, poignant, timely, and witheringly satirical comic strip Bloom County.

Y’all remember it, right?  With its lovable cast of unforgettable characters like Opus the penguin; Milo Bloom, child editor of the newspaper The Bloom Picayune; Michael Binkley, Milo’s best human friend; Bill the Cat; Steve Dallas, chain-smoking defense attorney, incorrigible drunk, and lifelong bachelor womanizer; Cutter John, wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran and Trekkie; Portnoy the groundhog; Hodgepodge the rabbit; Tulip the Basselope; and so many other great characters, most of whom had a love of politicking, philosophizing, and pontificating, Bloom County is what opened my young eyes to politics and taught me to be a conscientious observer of current events as well as a thoughtful and involved voter.

I collected all of the Bloom County books and still have many of them.  They sometimes came with bonus add-ons included.  Tales Too Ticklish to Tell came with an actual copy of The Bloom Picayune, a ridiculously funny precursor of today’s ubiquitous ‘fake news’.  In fact, if I have time tonight after I finish packing, I’m going to pull that book down and see if The Bloom Picayune is still in it.  If it’s not there, I’m going to cry out of frustration with myself for failing to preserve such an important cultural artifact.  If it is still there, however, I’ll celebrate my nondereliction of duty by updating this post with a photo or two of it.*

If y’all have never had the pleasure of reading any Bloom County comics, or if you have and my post has left you with a desire to indulge in some nostalgic enjoyment, I urge you to check out Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County on Facebook.  I promise you won’t regret it.  And yes, Marilyn Armstrgong, it’s funny, so so funny!

I hope y’all have a lovely week.  I’ll think of you while I’m eating my weight in boudin, cracklins, crawfish etouffé, and gumbo!

*UPDATED:  Holy cow!  I still have it! I’m posting it as the featured image!

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via: FOWC, Picayune

via: RDP #5, Flexibility

3-Day Photo Challenge

I don’t take many selfies, don’t often take photos of my routine daily activities, and rarely try to document the day-to-day of my mundane life.  So when my friend Victoria tagged me last Friday with the 3-Day Photo Challenge, I was momentarily flummoxed about how to respond.  But then my little pea-brain started churning, and a primitive plan began to take shape.  I warn you in advance its fruition produced far more photos than y’all probably care to see of me & mine, but once I got rolling, I was having too much fun to quit.  There were 63 photos to begin with, but I managed to pare them down to a lean, mean 40.  Enjoy!

I had to leave work a little early Friday to pick up my new specs & Rx sunglasses so availed myself of the opportunity to join The Girl at my parents’ pool.  We played beach ball

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‘Til the beach ball burst!

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Saturday would prove to be a sweltering Southern day, so I got an early start on the yard work.  I mowed my lawn as well as my disabled, elderly neighbor’s,

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taking care to stay well-hydrated

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as the temperature soared to 90 degrees and got hung up there by the oppressive humidity. I spotted this lovely Tennessee Volunteer

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growing alongside the neighbor’s house.  For those of you who don’t know, that’s where the University of Tennessee Volunteers get their bright orange color.  Go Big Orange!

Before moving on to my parents’ house to do some work for them, I relaxed for a bit and cooled off with a frosty, crisp, Samuel Adams Golden Ale

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and enjoyed the verdant view from my back deck.

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Then The Boy and I drove to Mom & Dad’s house and spent a couple of hours trimming some of the hedges around the pool

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before joining The Girl and The Nephew for a well–deserved dip.

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While the kids romped,

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I recuperated and recharged with a Blue Moon Pacific Apricot Wheat Ale.

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Sunday started with a treat.  Super Aunt took us to one of East Nashville’s most popular restaurants, The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden, which bills itself as “Nashville’s Wurst-Burger Joint”.  In a rapidly growing foodie city in one of Nashville’s hippest districts, it stands out and is well worth waiting in line for, which we surely did:

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I enjoyed a Schneider Original Weisse 20-ounce draft and a bottle of Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Ale

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and learned that I don’t much care for the Falafel Burger.

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Super Aunt and The Boy enjoyed walking though the Beer Garden

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while I took a photo of the friendly bartender at his post.

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The Boy made some new friends, something for which the loquacious little charmer has quite a knack,

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while the rest of us finished our food before returning home for more (ugh!) work.  I endured my weekly chore of cleaning my bathroom as well as The Boss’s.

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That’s right, I clean the bathrooms in my boxers.  Don’t judge me!  When I was younger and much more pleasing to look at, I hit upon the fabulous idea of starting my own nude cleaning business.  The Boss shot that one down real quick!

Once the work was finally done, we returned to Mom & Dad’s house, where I grilled burgers & dogs for everyone.

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Although I failed to take any photos of the event, I finished the day by taking my visiting nephew on a brisk hike along part of Nashville’s beautiful Greenway.  We hiked 4.25 miles in an hour and 15 minutes, after which I was pretty well worn out.

Happy Monday, y’all,

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and HEADS UP!

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via:  M is for Magic, W is for Writing Blogger Challenge

via:  Ragtag Daily Prompt RDP#4 – Flummoxed

via:  FOWC – June 4 – Primitive