Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Comment on The Break-Up

A Comment on The Break-Up

I wrote some yesterday, and hopefully I'll nut up enough to post it for the world to see. After I wrote, I watched the Break-Up.

Do I need to say spoiler alert? Is anybody really jonesing that hard to see The Break Up?

Is anybody saying "jonesing" anymore? I apparently decided that 1997 was a good year, and that I'm going to run with the sumbitch.

Just a short comment on the flick itself: For some reason, I never bought Jennifer and Vince's relationship. Don't know why. They just didn't have it on screen, so that I believed it without convincing myself of it.

In fact, none of the movie was doing a whole lot for me. It was mildly amusing, and I think that's the first part of the problem. I think I wanted something different from both Vaughn and Aniston, both of whom are hilarious actors when they try--at the end of the day, I had to admit that neither part in and of itself is tremendously funny. And even so, both actors seemed strangely muted. Muted's not the right word, but it's as close as I'm going to get in a 10 minute blog post.

The movie itself just wasn't engaging enough for me to devote my full attention, that is until a conversation Vince Vaughn's character has with Jon Favreau's character.

Probably it's because they seem to get on so well in real life, but Vaughn and Favreau always have a good vibe. And it doesn't matter what parts they play in a movie...if one believes in the other's character, it seems to lend a certain gravitas to the whole rest of the flick.

Anyway, Vince Vaughn's character (that's how un-engaging I found the flick--I can't think of Vince Vaughn or Jennifer Aniston as anything but their public personas, rather than the characters they "playing") is lamenting how much he's given for their relationship, and how Jennifer Aniston's character does nothing but nag, and Johnny O (Jon Favreau's character--see, I remember his name, because he did something to snag my memory)--calls Vince Vaughn on his bullshit.

Basically, he says that Vince is his best friend in the world, but they all know that Vince's character is not going to give for them like his friends for him. He asks when the last time they did anything (as friends) that Johnny O wanted to do. He asks, "when was the last time we went to a White Sox game?" Adding, "not when they were playing the Cubs...."

I dunno. I liked that scene for some reason. I liked Vince Vaughn's character getting called on his bullshit, and I liked Johnny O for having the nuts to call him on his bullshit. I also liked that he didn't seem to be lamenting the fact, or sad about it. He'd just accepted it as the course of things, and didn't feel bad about it.

I didn't start really buying anything in the movie until the that point.

Also, I want to point out Vince D'Onofrio's performance. He's not in the movie a whole bunch, but when he is, he just eats up the scene. He's like Chris Merloni. He's one of those guys who's incredibly gifted at physical comedy, who seems to show up in one drama after the other, playing some emotionless hardcase. I always wonder if it's by personal choice that these guys don't do more comedy, or if it's just a matter of agents/producers or whatever not offering those roles.

Either way, it's a pity.

But D'onofrio's friggin' great in this movie. He looks like he's been chewed on by moths. Not his clothes, necessarily. The man himself. And he's wearing this cheap, 2-size too small suit (that he always wears, whether it's to dinner with Vince's house or at the office), and he's got this punchy set of movements caused by his constriction. His expression is constantly one of complete incredulity and exasperation.

And there's a scene where, as he's talking to Vince and his other brother, and he pulls a dish towel out and starts cleaning his ears that just takes the whole frigging cake. It's just great.

So. The movie itself, it's not bad, in the end. It's not great. But I'll give it credit for not giving into the impulse to put the characters back together. And a couple of the performances are just something to watch.

Sunday, November 26, 2006



I like maps. Always have.

It was only logical that I like blogs about maps. Especially blogs about strange maps.

That site's a good way to waste several minutes on the company dime.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

NaNoWriMo, Part IX

NaNoWriMo, Part IX

Thought I was done writing for the day, but it kept on. Maybe that's a good sign. Maybe not. Links to parts 1-7 and part 8 can be found on the post preceding this one.

Just a warning: Don't read too much into the faulty, first draft logic of the narrator.

Here's more:

I’ve been sitting here, trying to sort out this crazy, fucked-up day.

You know how you wake up with an idea of how a day’s going to go? I’d set this day aside to sit on my ass and watch football all day. I’d had eyes on maybe heading up to the barbecue place on the road to Quincy and getting a plate full of pulled pork. And I’d thought maybe I’d finish the night with more football and a few beers at the Mule.

Well, I don’t exaggerate too much, I think, to tell you that this Saturday had its eyes on the prize of Weirdest Day of my Life. From the time where the strange gentleman had woken me up with the news that I was asked to serve in Lyndon Waverly’s funeral to buying the suit to Teddy showing up after all this time (and borrowing my football helmet and golf club) to this whole fucked up conversation about the missing girl with the scary-ass pictures in the pit of the Trainersville Herald-Frontier.

There are two more things I think I need to cover, both of them fairly short.

The first is this: I don’t know why, exactly, I didn’t call the police. In my heart, I knew I believed Willie. I knew that, for whatever reason, Willie had been lied to.

But my brain held me back. I don’t know if there was part of me that didn’t believe Willie, or part of me that just wanted to see how it played out without involving the finest of Dickerman County’s Good Ol’ boy network.

Fact is, I didn’t even consider the question for long. And I don’t know if that was an insult to Willie or not.

We didn’t call the police, but my reasoning leads into the second topic I need to discuss, before moving on to other things.

Several hours and several beers at The Mule later, I returned to what I’d decided was, indeed, the Wells Homestead. It was a couple hours past dark. I knew this because of the complete absence of light in the sky.

I got out of the truck, shut the door, and wandered my way up the walk to the house.

I’ve never in my life described my mood as “dismayed.” But that’s the only word I could come up with. My Saturday of complete and utter sloth had been turned on its ear. I was heading to the first funeral since my parents’ in the morning. The governor’s daughter was either lost in the woods or safe at home, depending on who you want to believe, and all I could let myself do was drink oat sodas at a smalltown bar, and head home to an empty house.

I could feel the alcohol, but I wasn’t drunk. I think that’s what bugged me. Don’t know if it was my sour mood not wanting to give way to a pleasurable buzz, or simply the grease from the burgers at the Mule soaking up the alcohol. Everything had a cottony feel to it, but it hadn’t been enough to turn a dark night into a lighter one. I found myself wishing that I’d found myself in a county that allowed something a little harder than beer at its pubs, though then I’d have had to have walked home instead of driving.

“That’s my life in a nutshell,” I said, fishing my keys from my jeans pocket. “Duelling Responsible Alcoholism with my Deeply ingrained Sloth.”

I found the right key, and saw Cletus sitting the window sill, staring at me as I opened the door.

He jumped down from the window and wound himself around my ankles.

He stayed with me as I walked past his food bowl, which was empty.

I sluffed off my shoes, kicked them down the hallway, and pulled the blue bag of cat food from the open cupboard. I poured a bowl full of dry food for the cat, who ate in great, duck-like swallows.

While Cletus ate, I pulled a Shiner Bock out of the fridge, wishing again for something stronger, thinking that if I found time in the week, I’d have to head toward the next county over, and find something with a kick.

I went back into the living room, and flopped down on to the couch. I twisted the cap off my beer and punched the television on. I didn’t care what was on. I wanted noise. Flipping through the channels, I settled upon a NASCAR race. Not because I was a fan. I generally find spare time to think nasty thoughts about the heritage of somebody who wears a Tony Stewart jacket or a Dale Jr cap into public–thinking them just a step up the food chain than somebody over the age of 12 who wears a pro-wrestling t-shirt. But that night, I think I found something soothing in watching something besides my the thoughts in my head go around in a circle over and over again.

Cletus jumped up onto the coffee table, where I’d popped my feet. I moved my feet to the right to give the cat a little room to sit. He’d never been a lap-type cat, but he did appreciate proximity. It was enough for him to sit next to my feet, generally, when I found myself lazing around the house.

The fellows on the television calling the race had all nearly creamed their pants calling that there was “Trouble in turn 3,” when I heard somebody say “Preciate the food. I figured you’d come home drunk and forget to feed me.”

I jumped and did a complete 360 degree turn.

“Who said that?”

“I did.”

I went lurching into the kitchen, into the bathroom. Up the hallway. My directional senses were for shit, thrown for a complete loop by the fact that somebody had spoken to me in my home when I was under the belief that I had been by my lonesome.

I stood there in the hallway, looking into rooms, turning lights on, looking in closets.

“Who’s there?” I asked

“It’s me,” the voice said.

This time, I got a direction. I turned, tripped on the shoes I’d taken off a few minutes before, and fell into the living room, just missing the coffee table with my head.

I pushed myself up to my hands and knees. “Who?”


Cletus was staring at me. It was the stare I associated with Cletus when he was thoroughly entertained by something I’d done.


He opened his mouth and spoke in a calm and clear baritone:

“Michael, I hate to drop this on you, dude. But we gotta talk. I need you to tell me what happened at the newspaper.”

I’ve run up against a lot of weird shit in my life, but on this day, this one took the cake. “You can talk?”

“Is it really that surprising? Today? With everything that’s happened?”

I couldn’t force the words out. I think I finally managed to answer: “A little bit.”

“I suppose so,” he granted, not taking his eyes from mine. “Still, I need you to pull your shit together so we can have us a conversation. Understand?”

“I think so.”

“Now get up off the floor, and have a seat. Do you need another beer? You spilled yours flopping around like a fish in a flannel shirt.”

My Shiner Bock had fallen from the coffee table, and had run mostly out on the rug.

“I think I’ve had enough, tonight.”

I stood up, and took off my flannel shirt. I picked up the beer bottle, and threw the shirt on the wet spot the beer had made.

“That’s alcohol abuse,” Cletus said, looking down at the puddle now soaking into my shirt.

“You can talk.”

He looked up at me. “You’re quick, you know that? How about sitting down, now?”

I sat in my hole on the couch.

He moved himself on the coffee table to face me. He regarded me with his serious, yellow eyes.

“Michael, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about this funeral tomorrow.”

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more worried about going insane.

“I’m not sure what’s going on with this whole Lyndon Waverly mess, but the word I’m hearing through the grapevine is that no human’s died over on that end of town for a while. Not since that whole thing with Lester Abbott and the horse.”

Lester Abbott had died a couple weeks earlier, drunk, reportedly after announcing: “By God! I’ll prove to you mine’s bigger.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Michael, it’s not like we all just sit around waiting for you people to come home. Did you really think we didn’t have anything better to do? We talk. A little bird told me.”

“I’ve never really given it a lot of thought.”

“We talk. And we laughed about the thing with Lester Abbott.”

“Yeah. So did we.”

“Anyway, this thing with Lyndon Waverly. Something’s not right.”

“Not right how?”

His ears went back for a second, a gesture I took at first for annoyance, but then decided it was more of an unconscious gesture, something he did while thinking or sorting his thoughts, kind of like if I’d scratched my head.

“Look at it from your end. You’ve never had this Lyndon Waverly guy over to your house. I’ve never heard you talk about him. Why all of a sudden are you not only invited to the funeral, but are an integral part of it?”

I shrugged.

“Add to that this whole thing where there’s no obituary in the paper. We looked, remember?”

“This is why I wish you’d married that Lauren chick. You don’t confide in me as much as you did her. You’d come home and tell her what happened at the paper. You don’t confide so much in the cat.”

“Sorry. I didn’t realize our breaking up impacted you so deeply.”

“Well, I can see why you don’t talk to me the same way.”

“I might have if you’d talked to me before.”

“You humans are too needy. I don’t like to talk to you, to be completely honest. Makes me feel dirty.”

“Needy? Says the cat who can’t let me walk two steps into my house without demanding to be fed.”

His ears went back this time, in real irritation. He stepped across the table, onto my lap and took two steps up my chest.

“I don’t have opposable thumbs, asshole, and you keep too clean a house for there to be enough mice to live on.”

“Sorry about that.”

He backed down, and moved onto the seat next to me. “It’s alright.”

He continued: “Listen. I wish I could say it better than this, but this whole deal’s got my dander up. What happened at the paper?”

I sat there that Saturday night, and recounted my trip to the paper. With the pictures, the faked phone calls. After prompting, I even told the story of Willie and Ronnie Hammond in the woods.

I even mentioned my concerns about the police.

Cletus digested all this. “You know two people in the year 2006 with the name Willie?”

“This from a cat named Cletus.”

“You named me, asshole.”

“I don’t think the police would do any good,” he said, changing the subject.

“Why not?”

“Take this with whatever grain of salt you need to, Michael. But I notice things you don’t. Things are weird out there right now. Something’s happening out in the hills and it’s got the outsiders stirred up.”


He struggled for a second to come up with an analogy. Finally, he said “I’m an insider, and the ones who sleep outdoors are outsiders.”


“And the thing is, they don’t even know what’s going on out there, except that something’s disturbed the natural ebb and flow of the day. I can’t think of a better way to explain it than that.”

“I don’t understand.”

The ears went back, and the whiskers twitched.

“Michael, have you ever felt like you’re being watched?”


“The word I’m getting is that there’s a lot of that, right now. Only, when it happens outside, there’s enough interplay that you find out pretty quickly who’s watching who. Do you know what I mean?”

“You mean like a predator watching a prey?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Say, a pack of coyotes is watching a calf, right? Well, the calf will somestimes feel that, the same way you or I will, okay? Well, if that calf is astute enough, he can ask around. Maybe ask a bird, or a rabbit. They’ll know if something’s been stirring in the weeds.”

“I get it.”

“This has been going on for a few days, now. Everybody. EVERY BODY feels like there’s something stirring in the weeds. And anybody who can is clearing out. I’m getting word that you won’t find a deer for miles. Rabbits. Skunks. Even the predators are clearing out. The coyotes. The boar. Nobody’s heard from the bears up on Starr Mountain for weeks. And some of those guys won’t leave their own stomping grounds unless they’re dead.”

“What’s running them off?”

“We don’t know. That’s the thing. Even if it’s you guys,” I realized he meant humans, “we get a sense of it, when you’re out there. But whatever’s out there in the woods, we feel it, but we don’t have the first clue about what it is. The best I can come up with is that it’s a darkness.”

My mind whipped to the pictures from the newspaper’s camera.

“All the outsiders know is that there’s something stirring out there mainly in the hills, it’s big, and nobody wants any part of it. They’re making themselves scarce.

“And your stories don’t make me feel any better, especially that bit with the girl from the newspaper. That’s why I don’t know if talking to the police would do any good. I almost think it’d be throwing fuel on to a fiery situation.”

“I’d be more curious,” he said, almost an afterthought “why Cecil Reece didn’t call the police.”

More silence.

“So Cletus,” I said after taking all that in, neither of us saying anything. “What’s this got to do with Lyndon Waverly’s funeral?”

“Maybe nothing,” he admitted. “It’s just an oddity, that’s coupled with another couple of oddities. It may be a coincidence. It may not be. Don’t you think this whole thing is off?”

“Cletus,” I said, “this has been, by far, the strangest fucking day of my life. I don’t even know what to think, at this point.”

“Are you going to the funeral?” He asked, finally.

“Yeah, I think I have to. They’re expecting me to be there.”

“Are you taking Teddy?”

“I asked him to come. Told him to go stealth.”

Cletus took that in. I felt myself spiraling towards sleep.

The last thing I remember before falling asleep on my couch is Cletus saying that it probably shouldn’t be that strange that my cat’s talking to me, when one of my best friends is the Ghost of the 26th President of the United States.

NaNoWriMo, part VIII

NaNoWriMo, part VIII

Damn, but I like Roman Numerals.

The whole idea behind this NaNoWriMo thing is to write kamikaze style without letting the inner editor take over. And I'm trying to do that, but it goes against every inclination I have. That inner editor's got a loud voice. I hope somebody understands that it's hard to post this first draft for the world to see.

Especially with little things like me not realizing that, suddenly, I have two characters with the same name

That may change if and when I do a second draft, but my thinking this morning was: How many people do you know with the same first name?

anyway. I'm rapidly moving towards ending the first day. We do have a funeral to get to, after all.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Here's part 8:

I sat there thinking. I noted the oddity of having known two folks named Willie, in this day and age where most would opt for William, or Will. Maybe even Bill. I chalked it up to living in the rural south, where what you’re called doesn’t seem to have as much bearing on your choice of career.

Hell, I’m thinking that with a name like Willie Walker, my young friend could go on to edit any of the finer sports departments in any paper in the bible belt. Failing that, he could own a great deal of finer used car dealerships in Southeast Tennessee.

You know, if he could get over whatever social issues seemed to plague him.

Willie Walker had turned from my narrative and was engrossed in the Tennessee/Alabama football game being played on the television.

“Hey Willie?”

“Yeah?” he said, turning his body toward me. He’d answered, but his attention hadn’t really wavered from the football game on the television.

“Willie,” I said one more time. Tennessee had just intercepted a pass. I let the play come to its end, and I asked one more time, a little more loudly than I’d expected: “Willie?”

He turned to me.

“Where’d the camera come from?”

“Japan, I’d say.”

“Where’d the camera come from this morning? How’d you get the pictures?”

Willie pointed to a camera that was charging on the desk next to his.

“Some campers found it. They were walking up to the falls. And found it off the trail.”

He got up, pulled the camera from its charger. “It still works.”

I got up, and looked at the camera Willie was holding. “May I?” I asked, holding my hands out.

Willie handed the camera to me. “Been left out in the weather all night. Still works. That’s quality, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I muttered, before finally thinking to ask: “How did one of your newspaper’s cameras get up into the woods?”

“Heather Baumgartner left it.” The name gave me a start. Heather was only the daughter of the Governor. I know it sounds hokey to drop the name at this point, but then, I’m not a great storyteller. Heather had done her schooling, had interned at the big papers, had done work up in Washington and Nashville. But when she went looking for jobs, she chose the Trainersville Herald-Frontier, hired by Cecil Reece, who was most likely unaware of Heather Gubernatorial connections.

I should maybe note here that it’s always struck me that one does not choose to work for a newspaper like the Trainersville Herald Frontier. A job at that paper is one you fall into after a seventeen year drunk, or a coke habit that knocks you out of a position at a larger paper. Even utter incompetence will warrant you a job at a large circulation paper, over in Cleveland or up in Lenoir City. But then, that was Heather, who cited simply “an ennui with the pace of other newspapers.”

I liked her instantly when I met her through Mike. She was the third person I’d ever known to use the word “ennui” in conversation, but the first who hadn’t felt the need to explain what the word meant. I never knew if it was because she thought I understood, or she just didn’t give a shit. Either way, it made me think a bunch of her.

“Left it...in the woods?”


“But she’s back?”


I raised my eyebrows. I probably had 9 million thoughts running through my head all in that moment. I pulled the last few pictures from the stack. Saw the shape, saw the red eyes. Saw the frantic, spasmodic picture taking. The natural progression, in my mind, was for the next bit of information to be give that Heather Baumgartner, the daughter of the Governor of the Great State of Tennessee hadn’t been seen since.

“Willie, isn’t that a little weird?”


These long pauses between everything Willie said were really starting to wear on me. That, and three quarters of his attention seemed to be focused on that television with the football game playing. I rounded the desk, and hit power on the teevee. This seemed to get the first rise out of Willie I’d seen in years.

“I’m watching that.”

“I’ll turn it back on. Have you talked to Heather?”

“Yeah. I was here when Cecil called her.”

There was another long pause. Even after having known the boy for years, I somehow expected there would be more to what Willie was going to tell me.


“Cecil says she’s fine, and that she’ll be back to work Monday.”

I shook my head.

“Willie, why did you bring me in here, with all this cloak and dagger stuff, with these weird-ass pictures, telling me all this story about how Heather Baumgartner wandered into the woods, taking the scariest fucking pictures I’ve seen in my life, leading me to believe she’s been dragged into the woods by God-only-knows-what, only to tell me that she’s safe at home?”

“I don’t think Heather is at home. Her car’s not out in front.”

“How do you know?”

“I went by to check. After she wasn’t answering her phone. I called after Cecil left to see if she’d tell me what was in the pictures.”

“No answer?”

“No. And her car’s not out in front.”

It was my turn to pause. Finally: “Maybe she was out shopping. Or watching football,” I said, as I popped the teevee back on. “Neyland Stadium only holds 108,000 of your closest friends.”

Willie stared at the teevee, but I got the feeling he wasn’t seeing what was there. He chewed on his lip as he thought.

“Everybody thinks I’m stupid,” Willie said. Willie’s monotone kept me from realizing that this was less a statement of fact than a lament, although Willie always saw things in the third person...it may well have been a statement of some fact. “But I can put two and two together.”

He pointed at my phone, clipped to my belt.

“Call somebody on your phone.”

I pulled the phone from my belt, not used to being commanded by Willie. Make no mistake, I was being commanded.

“Call somebody,” he said.


“You can call anybody,” he said.

I flipped my phone open, and dialed without thinking much about it the number the local bank had sponsored with the current time and temperature.

As I listened to an ad telling me that Second National’s CD rates were the best on this end of the state, I saw Willie nod to himself. Without knowing it, I’d confirmed his suspicions.

“What?” I asked, while a computer voice told me the time was 3:57, and the temperature was 69 degrees.

“You and Cecil have the same phone, and yours lights up when you call somebody.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Cecil flipped open his phone, and acted like he was talking to her. I don’t think he ever really talked to Heather.”

“Why would Cecil pretend that he talked to her?”

“Maybe he didn’t want to worry anybody.”

“But he told you not to tell anybody, didn’t he?”

Willie nodded. I worked to keep Cecil Reece from becoming the villain in my mind, and did so without much success.

“Are you still worried?”

Willie only nodded.

“You think she’s still up in the woods?”

After a long pause, during which he was watching Tennessee take control of the football again, after a 4 and out by Alabama, and just after I’d figured he’d forgotten the question, he finally answered.

“She’s up there,” he said. “But I think she’ll be back soon.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quick NaNoWriMo Note

Quick NaNoWriMo Note

Thanksgiving week + Managing a Grocery Store = Tommy no have time to write.

I have the next four mornings off, after today, and I plan on spending time each of the next few days hammering some out on this thingamajig I'm writing.

I don't know that I'm going to make 50,000 by next Thursday. Either way, I'm going to keep working. I've got an idea in my head, and it's been a little while since I've had that. And I kinda think the final idea's going to end up being a lot longer than 50,000 words.

So, be on the look out the next couple of days. We'll see what I spit out.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Umpteenth Generation

Umpteenth Generation

Got an e-mail last night from a site that tracks my family tree, Acuff.org. I was listed as an orphan...essentially, I think my name came up on the interweb, most likely because of this blog, but they had no means of connecting me to another set of Acuffs.

Went in, set up an account, found myself on the family tree. I was there under my birth name, just not Tommy. Sent an e-mail wit the correction. Got to digging.

My grandfather was born in 1901 in Grainger County, Tennessee. Home of the Fighting Tomatoes. Apparently, we took root in Grainger County: Four Generations of Acuffs leading up to my grandfather came out of Grainger County, all the way up to another Thomas Acuff.

That Thomas Acuff, my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather, was born in 1793 in Henry County, Virginia. This may be the same one I've heard tell served with Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812...the only thing marking him as military is a listing with him with Robert McGinniss' militia company.

His father, John Acuff (there are lots of Johns and Thomases in my family...I and my Dad are Thomases, and Dad has a brother John) was also from Henry County, Virginia, and was born in 1768, and is listed in the database as from 1779-1784 as having served in the Henry County Militia. In 1802, he established a church in Grainger County. He had moved there with family somewhere before 1799.

One last thing on John: They don't have a definitive date of death, but it's listed to have happened some time in 1866. That old bugger lived to be 98. Good for him.

Other Acuffs on back....there's John Sr., the father of the previous John, who in the year we declared independence witnessed the will of somebody named Robert McConway.

On back: My Great (x9) Grandfather...another Thomas...was born in 1675. Not sure where...there's no listing. His father was born before 1635, in merry old England. Now this Thomas (whose name spellings vary from Ayscough to Ascouff to Acuff) married Elizabeth Ingo in 1695, in Middlesex County, Virginia, in 1695. They had a daughter, Anne, in 1697, and a son Christopher, my great (x8) grandfather in 1699.

So. Let's do that math: 9 great grandfathers, plus my grandfather, my father and me.

That's 12 definitive generations of Acuffs on the continent, and possibly 13. We've got roots.

I don't think you'll be getting rid of us any time soon.

Going to go dig some more.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Monkees and Johnny Cash

The Monkees and Johnny Cash

The Monkees on the Johnny Cash show.

Peter Tork does not appear because Johnny killed him before the curtain went up. He kept bugging Johnny about "A Boy Named Sue," which wouldn't have been so bad, had Peter not kept saying "He's got a girl's name!" and tittering. Johnny killed him with his bare hands.

Thankfully, science created Peter Tork so that he can never truly die, and what's more, he can never be killed the same way twice.

Peter Tork will outlive us all.

NaNoWriMo, Part VII

NaNoWriMo, Part VII

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

This big chunk of text is basically a re-working of a short story I'd submitted several times. I know it's probably not in line with the 1600 words a day edict, but free time's at a premium. Things will slow down after Thanksgiving, and I'll have a little more free time.

Like I said, this is a reworking of ashort story I wrote a couple or three years ago. The narrator's voice changes some, but it works for me.

There's more written, but I want to get a stopping point worked in. Willie's the last person from the town I want to introduce.

I didn’t know exactly where to say all this part, but I figure now is as good a time as any.

As I at there in the newspaper, with its disquieting pictures and its deeply frightened intern newspaperman, I thought back to a night the previous December.

I was in town, after nearly three weeks on the road installing wireless routers for a chain of grocery stores centered around Clusterfuck, Alabama. I’d visited the house, and Cletus, who had been singularly starved for affection (my next door neighbor being the only human contact he had). I’d checked the refrigerator and the cabinets, and found them disgustingly bare. I made a trip to the grocery.

On the way, I got distracted by the promise of liquid nourishment.

I stopped at The Mule to have a beer or four. It was there that I saw Willie Hammond for the second time in four years. Willie and I had worked together for a time. Willie driving the truck for the office supply store we both worked at.

I wandered up to the bar, and sat next to the little guy. We caught up on all the aspects of our lives, Willie doing most of the talking. Willie was five or six beers ahead of me, and he’d had his jaws lubricated quite a bit more. After my third beer, I thought about the last time I’d seen him, a couple of years back

At first, he didn’t remember. As I told him the circumstances, I saw the buzzy good-time gleam that eight or ten beers will give you leave his face. By the time I’d finished the story of our short encounter at the Gas n’ Grub a couple falls before, he was staring at me soberly. All the good humor had fallen from the expression, and left only hanging skin.

“If I tell you this,” he said, “you can’t let it go beyond here.” He pointed at the bar for emphasis.

I laughed, and said, “okay.”

“I’m serious as a heart attack, Michael.”

Like I said, I’d known Willie for years. Known him to be capable of a certain theatrical melodrama. A melodrama that I didn’t see here.

I nodded in consent.

He launched into his narrative:

The little man had reached his limit.

Carrying his rifle by the stock, the squirrely, one-armed man tore his way through the Priest Woods, cussing the trees, their branches, their leaves, the shrubs, the ditches and the ankle-deep holes as he went. He’d tired of cussing the coon hounds that he could no longer hear. Likewise, cussing his son who was struggling to keep up his father’s frenzied pace just did no damned good. But every now and then, he’d renew his attack on either, and sometimes both at the same time. Also, he’d reserved choice words for the darkness, the moon, the lantern (which had broken), the flashlight and batteries (which had died), the clouds, his boss, his wife, the gravel on the roads, the unseasonably cool temperature, the fact that the had just the one good arm and anything else that crossed his mind as thwarting him this miserable night.

His name was Willie Hammond, and it was his first night off in three weeks from delivering milk to the grocery and convenience stores that dotted Dickerman County. As soon as he’s gained the respite from work, he’d loaded the dogs into the pickup, roused the boy and driven the 60 miles from Ooltewah to get some good coon hunting in.

And just about everything after that had gone tits up.

Caught up in both his ranting and the rhythmic whoosh his boots made as they tore through the fallen leaves, Willie completely missed the start of a gully in the dark. He half-slid, half-fell down into the eight-foot ditch. Landing mostly on his feet, he started a new refrain of vitriol.

No, the night was definitely not going as planned.

“Daddy, are you alright?” asked Willie’s son Ronnie, peering down into the gully.

“Goddammit, Where the fuck are those Goddamned dogs?” Willie roared into the night.

No answer came.

“Daddy, are you okay?”

Under his breath, Willie swore.


“Goddammit, yes, Ronnie, I’m fine,” he sent up venomously. Adding after a moment: “Can you even hear them running any more?”

Ronnie was silhouetted in the moonlight. Willie saw his son cock his head, even put a hand to his ear.
After a couple of seconds, “No, Daddy.”

“All that fucking garbage you listen to makes your ears for shit.”

An audible sigh came from the lip of the gully.

Willie turned a circle, looking around.

“How do I get out of here?”

No answer from the top.

The moon, mostly full, dodged behind a cloud. The night doubled upon itself. Willie groped his way along the sides of the gully, first along the side he’d fallen, then the other. He tried using exposed roots for purchase, all the while propping the gun against his body with what was left of his right arm, which was missing below the elbow. After a minute of trying, he realized he couldn’t climb and hold the gun.

“I can’t get a foothold.” Admitting defeat was not in his nature.

Ronnie said nothing.

“Ronnie, help me, Goddammit!” he screamed, voice tinged with violence.

The teenager leapt into the gully, landing with a whoof. With embarrassing speed, he loped up the other side of the ditch with a ridiculous ease that, in Willie’s eyes, was meant only to spite him.

“Real fuckin’ nice, Ronnie.”

“Give me your rifle, Daddy.” Ronnie reached his right arm down into the gully.

Willie handed his gun up, butt first.

Ronnie set it carefully against a tree, and reached again into the gully, this time with his left hand.. “Now your hand, Daddy.”

Willie grabbed his son’s hand, while Ronnie braced himself, grabbing a poplar tree with his right. Climbing out, Willie slipped. Ronnie held tight to his hand, though. Before Willie could regain his footing, Ronnie dragged all 140 pounds of his father up the embankment on his belly.

Grumbling and cussing, Willie clamored to his feet. He gave his boy a poisonous look and thought a wicked though about scissors and the braids hanging from underneath his son’s stocking cap. In the moonlight, Willie could make out the threaded word “SlipKnot” on the edge of the toboggan.

He looked away while he dug into the chest pocket on his coveralls for his cigarettes and lighter.

“Ronnie, how long has it been since we even heard the dogs?”

“Dunno. A few minutes.”

Willie found a cigarette. He shoved the pack into the pocket, then lit his cigarette. He gave a silent curse for the sin tax and the generic brand he was forced to buy because of it.

There was an awkward silence for a minute or more, while Willie smoked and seethed.

“What ya wanna do, Daddy?”

The last thing Willie wanted to admit to the boy was that he didn’t have the first clue of how to proceed. Normally, a coonhound wouldn’t shut up. He couldn’t think of a night when he’d been out and the dogs had run off and stayed completely quiet.

If he’d lived in Tellico, as he once had, he’d have chanced leaving and then calling around to one of the half dozen farms that surrounded these woods to see if the hounds had turned up. But he lived an hour’s drive away now, and rarely made it up this far for anything more than an ice cream delivery. Plus, he had to admit that he didn’t know anyone in the area, anymore. If anybody found the dogs, they’d just as likely claim them for their own as go looking for the owner. The Paper Mill owned a lot of the land, nowadays, anyway. He knew the type of man to log for the mill. They’d see the dogs and put them in the cages they had in the backs of their trucks for their own coonhounds, and say they were going hunting after work. If he left, he wouldn’t get the dogs back.

Willie took a couple of drags off the shitty cigarette.

Ronnie jumped when Willie, without warning, whistled sharply and started yelling: “Shep! Pete! Where are ya?”

For such a small man with such a voracious smoking habit, Ronnie’s father had a surprising, tremendous lung capacity.

A small bark came in reply. Then another. Then a third and a fourth, in quick succession. From the east. It was the first such sound they’d heard from the dogs in several minutes. They weren’t at all the sound of dogs that had even the faintest scent of a coon. Ronnie and Willie gave each other a glance.

“How far off you think, Ronnie?” Willie asked, taking a last suck on his smoke before he stubbed it out on the sole of his right boot.

“Not far, I don’t think, Daddy. Short of a quarter mile.”

“And why are they that way?” Willie demanded, pointing East, to their left, the direction the barks came from. “Shouldn’t they be in front of us?”

“I donknow.” Ronnie answered, not totally following his father’s logic.

“Well. Let’s go get’em,” Willie said with a sigh.

As they trudged through the woods along the edge of the gully, the moon emerged from behind the clouds. A night short of a full moon, it still lit up the night, making it easy for Willie and his son to find their way through the forest. Willie would give off a yell, calling the dogs by the names he’d disallowed the boy and his sister from using. A dog with a name is a pet. A coonhound is not a pet. Sylvia, their mother and his wife, had insisted upon the names, though.

Willie thought bitterly that it was more his wife’s attachment to the dogs than their monetary value that had he and Ronnie traipsing through the forest in the middle of the night searching. At the very least, he didn’t want to hear her complain and bitch and moan if he came home without the dogs.

“Doesn’t sound like the dogs are movin’, Daddy.”

“You don’t know what you mean,” Ronnie,” Willie bristled.

“Yeah, I.....”

“Ronnie, I’m tryin’ to hear for’em.”

Ronnie was right, though. Usually, if he yelled, and they didn’t have the scent of a coon, they’d start moving toward him. But the dogs didn’t seem to be moving at all. The only comfort was that the dogs didn’t seem to be getting any further away.

After a couple of minutes of marching in silence, Willie said it sounded like the dogs were just over a rise from them.

“It smells like a skunk, Daddy.”

“Shit,” Willie swore. “They’d better not’ve run up on a skunk. If they did, you’ll be cleaning them off tomorrow.”

“That ain’t fair, Daddy,” said Ronnie, not relishing the prospect of giving two unwilling coonhounds a bath in tomato juice.

“Life ain’t, Ronnie.”

Ronnie’s long legs gave him six-inches on his father. But, Willie was pissed off and through sheer force of will topped the rise first. He yelled again for Pete and Shep. The dogs gave a yelp in reply.

Willie high-stepped over a couple of fallen logs and made his way downward into a hollow.

Ronnie entered the clearing just behind his father, and stopped behind his left shoulder.

A small hollow parted the woods, and Willie and Ronnie found themselves on an outside edge. Shafts of bluish moonlight parted their way through the trees. The forest floor was clear, except for ferns, for thirty feet in front of them and maybe a winding hundred to their left and right.
“Where are they, Daddy?”

“I dunno,” he admitted. He yelled for the hounds: “Shep! Pete!”

The dogs yipped from across the clearing, about five yards on their right.

“There they are,” Ronnie pointed. The white and chocolate colored hounds had wedged themselves between a couple of ancient oaks, beneath the heavy cover of May Apples and ferns.

One of them gave a yip. Willie frowned, and was uncommonly worried for their welfare. Not once since he and Ronnie had located them had the dogs given their typical “Doh” call. These were yips and yelps. He wondered for a second what had spooked the dogs into a corner.

“C’mere, dogs,” Willie commanded.

Another yip, but neither Shep nor Pete moved a muscle.

“Goddammit!” Willie cussed as he stomped across the clearing. “You’d better not be fucking hurt,” he threatened as he reached the dogs.

“What’s wrong with you two?” he asked as he reached the dogs in their hidey holes.

“Come the hell out of there,” Willie growled, his ire about to reach its boiling point.

The dogs wouldn’t move. They wagged their tails in response, and gave their canine grins, as if to say it was nice of Willie to offer, but they preferred not to.

“Ronnie, grab Shep,” Willie said as he bent, grabbing Pete by the collar. If they had to drag the dogs out. It was then that he noticed Ronnie wasn’t at his side. Willie turned and saw his son still standing at the edge of the hollow, where they’d entered.


His son wore a look of real consternation. In the blue light of the moon, Willie saw an odd apprehension on his son’s face, and saw a lot of white in his boy’s eyes..

“Something ain’t right, Daddy.”

“Goddammit, Ronnie. C’mere!”

Anxiety gave way to annoyance as Ronnie regarded his father.

“Listen...” he said.

“No, Ronnie, you listen. You come here and grab Shep.”

Before he crossed the clearing, he looked left, then right, as if he were looking for oncoming traffic.

“Still smells like skunk,” Ronnie said as he stepped across the hollow.

Willie took a sniff of the air. Something stank, that was for sure. He’d been too angry to notice. It was pretty awful. It didn’t smell like skunk, to him. It was as bad as skunk. But more like spoiled meat. With a hint of something else. He remembered his mother as she lay on her deathbed, too heavy to move on her own for the last months of her life. She’d gained a putrescence all her own in that awful summer. She died stewing in her own filth. That’s what the smell reminded Willie of.

As Ronnie reached his father, the dogs ran over to the boy. They sat at his feet and put their noses into his crotch.

“Fuckin’ dogs,”

“I guess they like me better than you, Daddy.”

“Well maybe you should hunt with them and I’ll stay home next time and play Intendo. How’s that sound?”

“Nintendo,” Ronnie corrected. “I didn’t think you liked video games, Daddy.” Ronnie bent and scratched Pete behind his ears.

“You’re as useless as tits on a boar hog, you know that Ronnie?”

Willie began digging in his coveralls again, wanting another cigarette.

He found it, and while he lit it, Ronnie wondered aloud: “What do we do now? Go home?”

“I don’t want to go home empty handed.”

“I’ve never seen the dogs like this, Daddy.”

Willie said nothing. He stood and smoked.

“Wanna take them to the truck?”
Willie cocked his jaw and regarded his son. The dogs acting spooked should have been enough, but that Ronnie was wanting to leave, too, really bothered him. As much as Ronnie liked his shitass loud music and his Intendo Games, the boy was a natural hunter who enjoyed getting out into the woods as much as Willie did. But Ronnie was nervous. Almost more than the dogs, Willie saw.

“They stink,” Willie said, pointing to the dogs.

With another drag on his cigarette, Willie admitted defeat.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Ronnie went digging in his pants and pulled a length of choker chain out of each of his side pockets. He handed one to his father to use on Pete and used the other on Shep. He bent to clip the chain onto Shep’s collar.

He surprised his father when he stopped in mid-motion. Instead of hooking the chain into place, Ronnie bent even further, and planted his nose right onto the hound’s back. Shep, who had planted himself between the boy and his father, took no mind.

Ronnie took a deep whiff off the tickhound. He straightened, eyes rolled back into his head. He studied what he found.

He took a step toward Pete, and repeated the process.

He stood, and announced, “I don’t think it’s the dogs that smell, Daddy.”

Willie sighed.

“Hook Shep up. Let’s go.”

Willie looked up at the sky, and then fumbled in his left pocket for a compass. He flipped it open, and thought for a second.

“Ronnie, if I ain’t wrong, the road ain’t but three quarters a mile or so thataway.” He pointed in a vaguely southern direction, toward the far end of the hollow. The roundabout way he and Ronnie had traveled chasing the dogs had put them relatively close to New Hope Road, where they’d parked. It was a twenty minute walk at most.

Ronnie finished hooking Shep’s chain into place.

Willie took one more sniff of the air. It smelled a little cleaner. That, or he was getting used to the smell. He decided that something had probably died nearby. A deer, or maybe a bear that had gotten shot but had run far enough away that its hunter hadn’t found it. They were too far away from the road for someone to have made a garbage dump.

Ronnie straightened up after checking Pete’s chain

“Let’s go.”

Willie stomped off toward the edge of the hollow.

Willie had always thought leashing a coonhound is often quite the trying process. Getting them to cooperate once they are leashed is doubly difficult. That night, Shep and Pete were eerily patient and compliant with the two men. Ronnie had taken both chain leashes and both dogs walked right at his heel. Occasionally, they would stop to look off to their left, into the woods. This odd behavior, Willie noticed because he walked behind Ronnie. If Ronnie noticed, he gave no sign. His son walked straight ahead.

They re-entered the woods at the end of the hollow.

Willie moved ahead of the group again. Ronnie followed, chains for the dogs in his right hand, his rifle in his left. The men and the dogs were walking in the direction of New Hope Road.

Their path lead them into an indention surrounded by a horseshoe shaped ridge. To their left, about 20 yards away was a sharp rise that went up about 60 feet. On their right the forest floor went on flatly before giving way to a rise of its own about 400 yards away. On the other side, the North River gurgled. As they walked, their path gradually rose, and would come to another steep ridge. If it wasn’t too steep, Willie, Ronnie and the dogs would simply walk down the 60 feet or so to the road. If it was, they would walk along it until they found a safe place to climb down. The forest was somewhat sparse here, with only young oaks and maples spaced out along the forest floor.

They’d walked about ten minutes when Willie mentioned they’d be on New Hope Road in just a few minutes.

“Good,” was Ronnie’s response.

Willie didn’t say anything, but he shared his son’s relief. .

They walked another minute, and then Shep and Pete stopped. They would go no further in the direction they currently traveled. The dogs stopped. Ronnie walked the length of their chains, and then he too stopped, jerked comically backward at their refusal to move.

He pulled a couple of times on the chain, a little harder than he meant to.

“Come on, guys.”

Willie stopped at the sound of his son’s voice. He saw the dogs had stopped. Their tails were between their legs and they were on their stomachs. They whined when Ronnie walked back to coax them on.

“Goddammit!” Willie roared, finally having reached the his limit, “I’ve had just about enough of these fucking dogs!”

“They’re scared, Daddy.”

Ronnie rubbed Pete’s back, where Willie saw, the dog’s fur was standing on end.

Willie looked around them. He couldn’t figure out what was making the dogs act like this. He thought briefly of coyotes, or maybe wild dogs, both of which sometimes showed up to run cattle in Dickerman County. Either could tear a dog to shreds. But he’d have heard them, he thought. Willie thought of a bear, too. Maybe the dogs had run up on a bear, and it’d scared the shit out of them. This prospect gave him a little pause, since he didn’t much like the chances of a 15-year-old and a one-armed-man should they run into a bear that felt threatened by the dogs. He dismissed the idea, though, since he and Ronny were near, and he’d been shouting up a blue storm. Enough to scare a bear, anyway.

That thought gave Willie a little courage.

He took a look into the forest. All around them.

“Dammit! Pete, Shep, C’mon!” He cried, trying to make as much noise as possible, if only to rouse up the dogs just a little bit. “We only got a little ways to go before we get to the truck!”

The dogs didn’t budge.

“This is horseshit, guys,” he said, ashamed of his dogs.

“Let’s go, guys,” Ronnie added, a little more gently.

If anything, the dogs hunkered down a little more deeply.

“Mother Fuck!” Willie screamed, dropping his gun. He whirled quickly on his heel, yelling into the woods: “You dogs want to go home, but yer too fuckin’ stupid to move!” He added for the benefit of anybody listening: “Fuck!”

Then he whirled on Ronnie, who flinched.

“Once we get back home, we’re selling these fucking God Damned Dogs!”

Ronnie blinked, then sighed.

“I gotta piss,” Willie announced, winding his diatribe down. He spun again on his heel and walked over to a fallen pine tree.

He unzipped and started peeing, continuing to Ronnie: “I don’t understand, ya know? You work and work and work to raise a couple of good coondogs and you get into the woods and they go crazy fucking chickenshit and aren’t good for anything.”

Ronnie listened with half an ear. He was looking at the dogs as their ears perked up. They raised their heads and looked forward, at the corner of the ridge they would have to cross to get to the road.

He started to mention something to Willie, but stopped.

He heard it.

His breath left him.

Willie finished peeing. He stuffed everything back into placed pulled his zipper up and turned again on the dogs.

“I really oughtta take up fishing, ya know?” No fuckin’ dogs to screw you out of yer first night off in....”

“Daddy, listen.”

“No, you listen, Ronny! I....”

“Listen!” Ronnie said, pointing up in the direction of the ridge. It was still 300, 350 yards off.

Willie listened.

His first thought was tom toms. Like the kind you hear in the old Cowboys and Indians movies. From the 40's, like they showed on Saturday afternoons on TV when he was a kid. But not tom toms. Just one: tom tom. It came every couple of seconds or so. One beat. But it wasn’t a tom tom.

Willie lost his arm while driving for the Paper Mill in Quincy. He’d driven a log truck, and one of the sounds he’d gotten used to was the sound of pine logs, the trunks of the entire tree, being loaded onto a trailer. One solid piece of live, green wood would strike another, and it would make a thick, “thunk” sound. One rainy afternoon, the load on a trailer he’d been pulling shifted. It caused the whole rig to tip. He heard that “thunk” sound several times that afternoon. He’d lost his arm in the wreck as the load bounced across the highway
The sound was unmistakable to him. What he, Ronnie and the dogs were hearing was the sound of one tree being hit against another. Maybe not a tree. But definitely one large log being struck against another tree. But it sounded so heavy. It didn’t make sense. A regular sound. As they sat there for half a minute, and then a minute, listening, the rhythm never changed, even as the wind picked up and shifted.

“What is it, Daddy?”

“I donknow, Ronnie.”

“It’s gotta be someone up there doin’ it, right? Like an axe or something?”

“I....I don’t think so Ronnie...” was all he could manage.

He looked back at Ronnie, whose eyes were as big as eggs. He heard his son’s throat work with an audible click. He thought better of saying what it sounded like to him.

The dogs stared intently ahead into the night, in the direction of the sound. But now, they seemed ready to bolt in the other direction if given reason and opportunity.

“I don’t blame them,” Willie whispered.


“Let’s go this way,” Willie said, pointing a path running perpindicular to the one they had been traveling.

Ronnie nodded, and the dogs seeming to understand going away from the noise, stood and trotted that way immediately.

While they talked, the beating sound from on top of the ridge didn’t stop.

Willie, Ronnie, Shep and Pete walked in silence, away from the noise. After maybe five minutes (an eternity), the noise stopped. Willie stopped them then, and checked his compass in the moonlight.

“We ain’t too far from the truck, I don’t think.”

“How far?” Ronnie asked, a little breathless. He looked over his left shoulder in the direction they’d come.

“Not far. Over that rise.” Willie pointed over to his left, where the ridge was curving around to meet them. “We parked just before the North River Bridge, remember?”

His boy nodded.

“You can hear it, if you listen.”

Ronnie strained his ears, but he did hear the faint whisper of the river. Normally, it would have been rushing, but the summer and fall had been dry.

“The truck’s just over that ridge,” Ronnie said, more to himself than to his dad or to his dogs.

The dogs didn’t seem to mind when Willie altered the direction ever so slightly to the left, heading toward the corner of the ridge horseshoe. In fact, the dogs seemed to pick up the pace. They started to trot, and edge ahead of Willie and Ronnie. Ronnie, who’d been leading them, started struggling with their chains. Shep trotted ahead of Ronnie on his right, while Pete darted between Ronnie and his father, on Ronnie’s left. Ronnie struggled with the chains twisting around his legs.

“Damn it, Pete,” he said, stopping Pete and stepping backward over the chain with his left leg, and then his right. He gathered the chains into his right hand again, and then froze, listening.

A shaky sigh rolled out of him. He forced himself forward.

He licked his lips, and croaked: “Daddy!”

Willie walked but cocked his ear toward Ronnie.

“Somethin’s trailin’ us.”

They stopped.

Willie and Ronnie both heard it. One step, and nothing. But it was enough. In the woods, only a stone’s throw away back and to their left, something else was walking with them. That something had stopped with them. No, somebody, Willie thought darkly.

“Okay, Ronny,” he whispered. “Walk, but slowly. Don’t talk.” Wedging his gun in the crook of his missing arm, Willie pulled a shell for the .22 from the pouch of his left pocket. He loaded it into the chamber with a dexterity that belied his missing hand.

The dogs had likewise taken notice of the body behind them, but they kept their cool. As Ronnie started walking with them, they seemed to understand the plan. They forged a path through the leaves in front of Ronnie, but kept nosing the air and looking back in the direction of their tracker. Willie walked behind his son, carrying the gun in his left hand at the ready.

His kept his ear on the woods coming from behind them. The sound definitely somebody on two legs. It was behind them. The canopy of trees was growing thicker, and moonlight wasn’t filtering to the ground so much. The light was dim, and Willie couldn’t see through the brush. But he figured the somebody was maybe forty feet off. No more than sixty.

He had the vaguest dark notion that whatever (whoever, he corrected) was back there, was big. He didn’t know why he knew it, but he knew it as sure as he knew his name was Willie Hammond. He thought again of the sound they’d heard minutes before from the top of the ridge. Suddenly, he was sure that whatever had been up on the hill was now down in the woods. Escorting them, almost.

They reached the bottom of the ridge. It wasn’t a bad climb. A little steep. All in all, Ronnie guessed about fifty feet. He figured the slope down to the road was a little trickier. Steeper, and more rugged.
Ronnie paused, and shot his father a glance. Willie nodded that he take the dogs on up the hill.

Then the world fell apart.

From behind them, to the right, on top of the right edge of the horseshoe came the sound they’d heard earlier. “Thonk, Thonk, Thonk,” came the sound of heavy log against heavy log.

The dogs stopped. Ronnie stopped. Willie stopped.

Willie and Ronnie looked at each other.

Then came the reply from the forest, some forty feet away from Willie and Ronnie.

For the rest of their lives, neither would forget the sound that erupted from the night.

Willie thought of the overflow alarm on the Ryan Dam on the Hiwassee River, the one that had burst when he was a boy. He thought of a train whistle. He thought of a wolf howling, his wife screaming. That, if the whole kit had been run twice through Hell itself.

Ronnie had absolutely no frame of reference. When he heard the awful, piercing cry, he knew that he didn’t just hear it. He felt it, all the way into his soul. He knew only that it was as loud and as awful as anything he would ever hear for the rest of his life. A couple of years later, he would hear the word “visceral” used in an English class. He raised his hand to ask what it meant. But he already knew, somehow. for this sound he was hearing now was the most visceral, animal sound he could imagine.

The Scream, as Ronnie would call it for the rest of his life, lasted an infinity of four seconds. It was followed by a shorter, second yell.

The Scream got a reply from where they’d just heard the logs being knocked together many minutes before.

And then came a reply from just on their right, where they’d heard the “thonk” sound the second time.

Ronnie looked and Willie.

Willie said, “Run.”

Ronnie needed no incentive. He and the dogs were gone.

Willie turned back to the forest, and scanned. Without thinking, he raised the .22, pointed it in the direction the Scream had come from, and fired.

He wasn’t sure if he’d imagined what he saw next until much later. As the muzzle of the rifle lit up the night. About thirty feet away from him, and a little to the right of where he’d been pointing the gun. In the night, ridiculously high, to Willie’s mind, there were two red eyes.

And Willie ran.

Ronnie and the dogs had a couple of seconds head start.

The two men and the two dogs sprinted up the hill. Willie would give thanks for the moonlight, and for all the luck, that he or Ronny hadn’t run headlong into a tree or tripped on a stump or in a hole.

Even if they had, Willie would have kept running. Because whatever had been back there, Willie knew, was now following them up the embankment. The noise of terrific and horrible. It was a like a freight train was barreling up the hill behind him, tearing down the forest in the process, knocking aside whatever was in its path.

Ronnie and the dogs got to the top of the hill first. Ronnie tried to pause and look for a footpath, but Pete and Shep had other ideas. They wanted no more part of this crazy night. They would get off this hill and out of these woods if it meant dragging Ronnie down and out with them.

To his credit, Ronnie managed to keep his footing most of the way down. He half ran/half slid until about eight feet from the bottom. His heel caught on a root. He flew the rest of the way down the heel and landed on New Hope Road on his stomach.

He had blinked the dust out of his eyes and had taken his first breath when he heard his father yelling from the hill, himself tumble-running down the steep slope. What he was saying was mostly unintelligible, but Ronnie did recognize “Shit” and “Truck.”

For Willie’s part, he felt like whatever monster/train had been chasing him up the hill had stayed on top fo the ridge. He shared a kinship that moment with the dogs, wanting nothing else to do with the woods, coon hunting or this fucked up loony shit night in general.

He managed to more jump than fall out of the woods. The edge of the hill before the road was actually a four-foot high wall of limestone. Willie managed to clear this and rolled to a stop halfway across the gravel road.

Ronnie was already up and making for the pickup truck, which was only a hundred feet from where they’d jumped from the woods.

Willie picked up his rifle, which had skittered across the road, and followed his son at a sprint.

Ronnie had already made for the passenger seat, which seemed just as well for Pete and Shep, who’d joined the boy in the cab. Willie ran, fishing his keys from his chest pocket as he did, knocking cigarettes and lighter to the ground. He got in the truck, handing his rifle across to Ronnie as he got in.

He fumbled with the key, trying once and twice to get the key into the ignition.
Ronnie was muttering, “C’mon, C’mon.”

On the third try, Willie got the key into the ignition. For half a second, he was just knew the truck wouldn’t start.

But he was wrong, thank Jesus for small favors. The rusty Dodge fired right to life.

The tires sang for purchase, spitting gravel and dust into the night. Willie looked out of the corner of his eye at the driver’s side mirror. The truck leapt into the road. In the crimson glow of the tail-lights, Willie thought he saw something big cross the road in his wake. In two steps, the shape went from one side of the road to the other, and then vanished into the canopy of the forest.

He put his eyes in front of him. He drove as fast as he could to rid himself forever of the Priest Woods.

Willie and Ronnie stopped at the Gas n’ Grub in Trainersville as the sun poked its way over the mountain. Neither had spoken in the hour and a half they’d driven down the winding backroad.

That’s where I saw them. I hadn’t seen Willie in a couple of years, and I told him hello.

Willie was pumping the gas while Ronnie pulled the dogs from the cab of the truck and put them into the metal pens in the bed.

“Coon hunting, Willie?”

Willie only grunted. I irked me that after two years, this was the only response I was getting.

“Didja get anything?”

Willie looked at Ronnie, who stared glassily back. His boy was exhausted. He topped off the tank, and looked back at me for a second.

“No, we didn’t,” he said.

“You want to buy a couple of coon hounds?”

Do you want to know what I’ve always thought about that story?

I always thought it was bullshit.

I knew Willie was scared. I knew Ronnie had been scared. But I’d never given them much credit for brains.

I figured they’d run up on a bear, and had it blown up in their minds to be something else.

I figured the next time I saw Willie Hammond, I owed him an apology.

I also thought of one last thing:

I got up from my conversation with Willie to hit the head, telling him that I had to see a man about a horse. I returned from the toilet to find Willie gone. I ordered another beer, figuring to myself that it needed to be my last if I was going to make it to the grocery before they closed.

I was taking the first sip from the bottle when I saw a body move into the stool on my left.

“Hello, Michael.”

“Mr. Waverly. How are you?”

“Call me Lyndon, Michael. It’s good to see you.”

“You too. How’ve you been?”

“Pretty good, for this part of the road.”

We talked for a minute or two about the little nothings of life in a small town. Then he asked:

“What were you and Willie Hammond talking about so intently?”

I tried to wrap my mind around it. Finally, I could only say: “Willie’s not so much for coonhunting anymore.”

Lyndon considered that. He patted me on the back, and said “See you next time, Michael.”

That was the last time I’d seen him.



That bit where Michael Chabon accused Jonathan Franzen of fighting like Anne Rice?

That made me laugh.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Holy Crap

Holy Crap

In an idle moment, I re-read what I've posted here in the last couple of weeks.

Damn, but I talk about shitting a lot. Real life and attempts at fiction.

A Lot.

But. Whaddaya gunna do?

Write what ya know, they always say.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Shit-Blogging Re-Run

Shit-Blogging Re-Run

From earlier this year. Thusly inspired by the last 12 hours' worth of rapid evacuation. It's been truly horrible around Casa de Big Stupid Tommy.

On the upside, I devised a makeshift system to hold the book I'm reading on the vanity so that I can read it with my hands clenched around my middle. So I got that going for me.

Tuesday, and shit

This post is not from the heart. It comes from a bit lower....

Today's been one of those days where I wake up with my bowels saying "Chief? We're gonna shit in 10 seconds. It's not a question of when, but where, now."

And it's been going much the same ever since.

And at risk of falling into a Jim Gaffigan comedy routine, I advise against the newer Hot Pocket breakfast sammiches, the ones made in the shape of a big old biscuit. They made for a quick and not entirely nauseating supper last night, but the consequences far outweighed the benefits.

So. Stay away. Unless crapping your soul away is your cup of tea.

If it is, have at it. Try the ones with sausage. They're the ones that opened up the floodgates for me.

Consider this my foray into shitblogging:

The top 5 cases of the runs in my life:

5. Last year of college, too much beer. Had a film class in one of the nice new classrooms in the newly opened Business/Aerospace building at MTSU. Had to crap. Both men's and women's restrooms were located in a nook. All I saw was a nook with a sign over it with a little man. I went in and did my business in a stall. Had to hit a stall so quickly I didn't noticed that this particular restroom had no urinals. Yep. In my hurry, I failed to notice that the other side of the sign had the little skirt lady. The women's room was on the left, and the men's on the right.

As pissed off as the one girl was at my having intruded into the women's room, I'm lucky the campus cops didn't cart me away.

4. Second year of college, too much fiber.

I had a Public Policy class in one of the older buildings on campus. The room was WAY too small for the 20 or so people in the class. The room was intended to be a conference room, I think, or maybe a coat closet--the room was that small. They crammed us in there, shoulder to shoulder, to discuss Public Policy. Literally. We sat in regular chairs, and we were almost shoulder to shoulder for the duration of class....we ended up moving to the lobby of the building, and just having class there (or outside, if the day was nice) for the duration of that semester, and I like to think this particular incident was the catalyst:

During one particular discussion, I had to crap. And I was trapped in the far corner of the room. The rumbling hit me early in the class. I clenched. I willed myself not to have to crap. I held it with every fiber of my being. But, as most of you know, that rumbling just won't be denied. I like to think of it as a triumph of will to have held it the 45 minutes that I did (it was a 90 minute, twice a week class).

Well, we hit a stopping point in the class, and I stood up. My professor said "we're not quite done."

"I'll be back," I said, "But I'm about to be sick."

I still love the way the waters parted. Charlton Heston wouldabeen proud. People were falling backwards over their chairs to give me a clear path. I had never before nor have since wielded that sort of power.

I re-entered the class a few minutes later, much more relaxed, comfortable and ready to learn.

Dr. Langenbach said "if you're sick, you don't need to be here making us sick."

"No, no," I said. "I just need to monitor my fiber intake a bit more..."

Now, I don't think it was fiber really that gave me the craps...but I can't discount it; it seemed as good a thing to blame as any right then. However, I don't think the woman ever laughed so hard in her life. I had two more classes with Dr. Langenbach over the course of my political science minor, and she was my minor advisor, and she got a huge kick out of asking me how my fiber intake was for years after....

3. Atlanta, same weekend of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase, too many peanuts and Fulton County Stadium Hot Dogs.

I was 16 that summer, and the family had taken a trip to Atlanta to catch a Braves game or three. It was a Sunday, and the weekend of greasy food, ballgame peanuts and summer dehydration hit me as we walked from the Stadium to our car.

What still gets me about that day is how pissed my Dad got. Like it was my fault I had diarrhea, and was holding us up walking to the car. I'd walk about twenty steps, and then I'd have to stop, clench, and let everything settle into a position where I could walk again.

I went into the KFC by the stadium. Back when it was just a KFC, and not a combo Taco Bell like it is now. And I had a Kramer moment. The urge passed. Try as I might to crap, I couldn't get it to go.

I made it to the van, eventually. Just north of downtown Atlanta, the urge hit again.

I still can't pass that McDonald's in Atlanta without thinking of that horrible day when that homeless man in the Fulton County Stadium parking lot asked my folks what was wrong with me "Whaswrong? Hegottashit?"

2. Last October, National Baseball Hall of Fame. Too much beer. See, Steven and I got taken to a nice little German pub up in Syracuse, where we drank, and then his family came over, and we kept drinking. It was one of those occasions where I wouldn't be able to finish a beer without somebody sticking another in my hand.

Well, the combination of beer, pasta, beer, bread, beer and sausage came to a burbling head the next day, as we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame. Somewhere around the Baseball Through the Years exhibits, on the second floor, it hit me. I crapped in the bathroom nearest to the display of Hack Wilson's Cubs jersey.

It was a monumental thing. A horrible thing. The smell bothered me. The smell was horrible. Like somebody was burning pig carcasses deep inside my guts.

In my mind, I was afraid that somebody would call the cops, and because of my bringing the plague to mankind, they'd have to burn everything that I'd poisoned in the Hall of Fame, they'd have to close the Hall of Fame forever. As a Health Hazard.

But that didn't happen. Thankfully.

1. The number one number two of my life.

President Reagan came to Athens when I was in the second grade. I remember the whole week before, all the schools were worked into a tizzy, and we all did things like draw pictures and learn about the presidents. I think one of the classes at our school got to sing at the little event where Reagan spoke at the Courthouse.

Well, that day, we were out of school. I guess so we could go see the President speak. I used it as an excuse to watch the Cartoon Express on the USA Network.

Now, I've always been a cold cereal eatin' sumbitch. And nothing goes with Cartoon Express like cold cereal. Well, that morning, there was none of my cereal in the house. No Cheerios. No Rice Chex. No Apple Jacks. Nothing, except for the big box of All Bran that one of my folks had been eating. To relieve a bit of backup, I guess. Well, I found the All Bran, and fixed myself a huge heaping bowl of that mess.

Reagan spoke later in the afternoon. By that time, the All Bran had a chance to work on my young digestive tract, which was apparently in no need of the help.

While President Reagan spoke, it was carried on the TV. I know this, because I could hear the TV from the toilet. The toilet is where I spent the bulk of that afternoon, cramping and letting out wet puffs of nastiness. I still can't think of President Reagan without associating with him the pink and white tile that was in that bathroom.

Yep. Missed the president because of diarrhea.

Anyway. Maybe I should get out and do something constructive today....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NaNoWriMo, part VI

NaNoWriMo, Part VI

Part six, of my attempt at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, using the NaNoWriMo as my guide.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Written this morning. I gotta keep telling myself that this is a first draft, and I don't have to be as concerned about the hackish tone as I am. Hope it doesn't sound as mechanical to your ear as it did to mine...

I'll be honest: I wrote myself into a something of a corner, and I had to back up. I substituted an ending from another short story I wrote.

I turned from my ruminition of my town’s history, and saw Willie Walker staring at me through the glass door of the newspaper office. I’d wondered if and how I was going to get the kid’s attention, if he had been hip-deep in sorting out the answers to the town’s football pool, headphones filling his head with whatever noise they were calling music nowadays.

He twisted the lock out of place, and stuck his head out of the door, catching his earphones in the process. He took those down.

“Can I help you, Mr. Wells?”

“I’m 29, Willie,” I said. “I’ve not cottoned to that Mr. Wells bullshit, yet. Nobody calls me that unless they’re collecting for a bill.”

Willie digested that. Let me say this: I’ve known Willie Walker very nearly as long as he’s been alive. It’s one of those small town things. There’s one school, there are but five or six churches to attend (depending on whether that Pentecostal church that meets in the storefront across from the courthouse is up on its rent or not). Willie and I went to the same school, same church. Even if he was 7 years younger...chances are, we’d met.

Add to that the fact that I dated Willie’s sister Melissa for a couple of years when we were both just coming back to town from our college lives.

Willie was simply the type to take a second to think about both everything said to him, and everything he was about to say. A lot of people took him for slow. I always took him for having some manner of disconnect up in his brain....a low grade autism or something like that. He didn’t same to have the same filters that a lot of us do in our brains that let us read the tone of somebody’s voice. Willie seemed to need an extra second now and then to analyze what was being said, to sort out the whats and hows of what was coming toward him.

“Well,” he said after a moment’s consideration, “Can I help you with something? You’ve been standing there for a little bit.”

Jeez. I know my history of the town was long-winded. Was I daydreaming?

“Just thinking, Willie.”


“How’s everybody down your way?”

A pause: “They’re fine. Melissa’s married now.”

Melissa had been married for three years, now. There was some consternation that I hadn’t attended the wedding. But despite my non-attendance, and the fact that she was living in Nashville, I was well aware that Melissa was married.

“Yeah, Willie. I know. How’re your folks?”

“They’re fine.” Everything Willie said had a matter-of-fact tone to it, that I’ll tell you I actually found kind of funny in. He spent most of one Christmas afternoon explaining to me over and over again about the Playstation he and his brother had gotten for Christmas, the fact that he was saying the same thing over and over again being the only indication of his excitement, otherwise untraceable in his monotone.

I also thought about the time I’d been at their home when Melissa’s younger and Willie’s older brother Jimmy had managed to fall out of one of the hickory trees in the back yard, breaking both legs–and how Willie had announced the horrific incident with a sort of bemused detachment....’Jimmy fell out of the tree. His legs are twisted underneath him.”

While everybody ran to help the kid, who was screaming his heart, lungs and spleen out, Willie watched from a distance, calmly drinking a Mountain Dew.

“Came by to ask you a question.” (Except, I don’t think I asked it like that...I think I stammered a couple of times, trying to find a way to break into the next part of the conversation.)

A pause. Then: “Okay.”

“I got told that Lyndon Waverly passed away earlier this week, but I couldn’t find an obituary. Mark told me you wrote the obituaries.”

“Yeah,” Willie said. "Mostly I just edit what the funeral home or the family sends me." I noted that though I’d moved forward early in the conversation to be friendly, Willie was standing in the door of the newspaper, holding the door open just enough to stick his head out, almost like he was ready to slam it shut at a second’s notice. In case this dude that Willie’d known almost literally his entirely life had decided to rush the door.

I waited. Don’t know if I thought Willie’d be able to use that journalistic training he’d picked up at the university to put two and two together, but we both stood there in the autumn breeze staring at each other.

Willie squinted, and ran a hand through his longish brown hair, and before he could speak his question.

“Was there a death notice for Lyndon Waverly, or something from a funeral home, or anything saying that he’d died?”

He stared, and then shook his head. “No.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.” He stared his wide-eyed, unblinking stare at me.

“Did anybody from his family maybe ask that they not print anything about the funeral.”

“No,” he said, after that pause, which I granted really might get on your nerves if you were working close with the boy, even if you’d allowed that he wasn’t slow.

“This is getting weird” I said, more to myself than to Willie.

Willie took everything as matter-of-fact. And while I wondered at the wisdom of putting this kid in charge of dealing with any potentially angry, bereaved folks complaining about misprints in obituaries, I had to figure that of anybody possibly working at the newspaper, the person least likely to get burnt out on it probably was Willie.

“It’s weird?” Willie asked.

“Umm, yeah. I don’t know. You’d know more about this than I would. Have you ever heard of a reason for somebody’s obituary not being in the paper?”

“No obituary at all?”

“No obituary at all,” I said.

Willie’s eyes shifted down at the sidewalk for a second, and then returned to mine.

“No,” he said.

I wouldn’t have thought anything about it, except that this was the first time in the 20 plus years I’d known the kid that he’d not looked me in the eye, whether he was telling me about video games, his brother falling out of a tree, or the fact that he needed only the Gary DiSarcina and Shawon Dunston cards to complete 1995's set of Topps baseball cards, and telling me that 193 times.

“Willie, is there something you’re not telling me?”

You know how you’re expecting something without realizing that you’re expecting it?

I’d expected Willie to just say “No,” in that matter of fact voice of his, leaving me to wander back down to the Wells Homestead confused and resigned to heading to the funeral of Lyndon Waverly, a funeral that, as far as I knew, was of neither public nor private knowledge.

“Yeah,” Willie said.

“Can you come in?” he asked me. It was probably the most human reaction I’d gotten from Mr. Willie Walker in the whole time I’d known him.

I followed Willie inside, and he locked the front door behind me.

I was always struck by the offices of the paper.. Up until a few years earlier, I’d only seen what Hollywood had wanted me to see. Every time I came into the offices, which wasn’t often, but it happened regularly enough, I was taken by the complete lack of hustle or bustle. I was taken by the workmanlike attitudes of those who write at the desks, hunched over their computers. I had thought once that they looked a little like cavemen, down in their cave, only instead of inventing the wheel or perfecting the harness of fire, they were writing about some ‘grinding car crash’ that had taken place when somebody didn’t have the good sense God gave most farm animals to slow down in the rain.

Granted, the Trainersville Herald-Frontier wasn’t the New York Times, and this was a sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of football season. But the small, windowless pit area spoke even more of a cave or some manner or animal’s den than it did a small-town newspaper when there were none in the cave but me and Willie.

Willie didn’t have the florescent tubes lit overhead, and was working instead by a couple of floor lamps at a desk stuck in the corner of the Herald-Frontier’s pit.

And they call it a pit for a good reason. You have to decent four steps into it. I always felt like Cecil Reece, the longtime owner and publisher of the paper, had designed the room that way so he could, even at 5'3" tower over his staff, addressing him from his bully pulpit at the head of the pit.

Willie descended into the pit, and I followed. He took me to his desk, and pulled a chair up for me. He looked once up at the television he had playing–it struck me that I wished I had a job where I could watch football while I was working, and then at me.

“You can’t tell anyone about this,” he said, voice rough. “I’m not supposed to tell.” He was bursting at the seams with his responsibility in a conspiracy.

He pulled a brown envelope from his desk and handed it to me.

“You aren’t going to have to kill me when I see what’s in here, are you?” I asked, smiling in spite of myself. I like to believe that Willie and I got along so well earlier in our lives because subtlety has never been a strong suit of mine, either. I hoped he knew that I was kidding him.

“No,” Willie said. He didn’t return the smile. “I printed these off this morning, before Cecil deleted them.”

I opened the brad on the envelope, which was marked “football pictures,” and pulled a small stack of pictures printed on normal 8 ½" by 11" paper.

Again. Do you know how you’re expecting something without realizing it?

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting when Willie handed me the pictures, what I’d expected to be in the envelope. I think since it was marked as such, I expected “football pictures,” maybe from the previous night’s high school games. Trainersville had played Hopper County the night before.

The first picture was that of a trail, gravel, and mostly dirt, that led into the woods. The picture was taken on a fine sunny day, and the color of the leaves told me that the pictures were taken sometime around now, when folks were coming from all over the country to our neck of the woods to look at the colors the trees put off this time of the year. It had been a reasonably wet and temperate summer, and we’d had our first frost a week and a half or so before. The leaves were in fine display.

The next picture shown a similar view. More fall colors with a lake in the forefront. The beach on the righthand side of the photo told me that the photographer was visiting Lake Erin up near Monmouth Point. I also recognized the drain station, installed by FDR’s CCC, back in my grandfather’s days, on the left edge of the picture, mostly cut out, but with the bright red safety bars peeking around the edge.

I thumbed through the other pictures. There were 27 pictures, all told. Most were of the leaves. Whoever had taken the pictures was going for a hike, most likely up toward Monmouth Falls, and was going simply mad with the digital camera.

I wasn’t seeing anything remarkable about the pictures, as I thumbed through them, until I’d gotten about three quarters of the way through the stack. Even then, I had to stop my progress, and go back to the previous picture. I wasn’t sure of what I’d seen that made me go back, but a little voice barked at the back of my mind, told me to stop.

The picture, designated 0018.jpg, might have been another unremarkable shot of leaves–maybe I’m biased and jaded having grown up this close to the display, but I never really understood taking pictures of the leaves. I really felt that a.) if you’d seen one picture of leaves changing color, you’d seen them all, and b.) pictures didn’t do the real thing justice, anyway. And I’d passed #18 by, but something bothered me.

It was out of focus, for one. Which may or may not be weird enough. I’ve never claimed to be a photographer...most of my pictures looked like #18, to be honest. But this one was strangely out of kilter, when you consider that the others pictures in the stack thus far had been the crisp, competent pictures of somebody who knows what they’re looking for, and what to do with a digital camera.

And then I saw, it wasn’t that the picture was out of focus. It’s that the automatic focus mechanism of the camera seemed to be focusing on something else.

And well, I’m not eloquent enough to say what it is I saw. There wasn’t enough
substance to it to call it anything more than a shape. And that’s what I’ll go with: In the upper right hand corner of the picture, there was a shape. My eye had disregarded it at first. It almost looked like the remains of a fallen tree that had fallen seasons before, and because of its close proximity to the camera, I’m thinking the camera must have focused on the log.

I looked at the log, and considered it.

Awfully big for a log, I said.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, we had a vicious arm of springtime thunderstorms sweep through the area, bringing six or seven tornados with it. I’d been in high school a the time, and we spent most of the afternoon in the hallway, head tucked between our knees (to kiss our asses goodbye, we’d said). Meanwhile, at the school, we got hail and some wind. Across town, one small twister tore apart houses across the street from my parents’, and left Molly, our golden retriever with such a paranoia about storms that even a clap of thunder would send her pissing and shivering across the lawn.

The hiking trails at Lake Erin were closed for the summer after that, and the campsites for three.. Probably the worst of the storm had ripped a 2 mile swath of trees apart, almost complete obliterating the area. Friends and I had wandered up there a few weeks later, and it looked like pictures you see of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or that picture of the trees in Tunguska, in Russia, after they had their weird blast a century or so ago. The ground was basically flattened, for almost a mile in either direction, with trees twisted and torn down everywhere. Nothing had withstood the storm.

I say that to say this: All the trees knocked down from that storm had been taken out of the area. Some had been sold for timber, by the Forest Service. The proceeds were used in part to rebuild the campgrounds and hiking trails.

The forest was now creeping back in.

It was old forest in that area, so the forest was having to decide whether to replace itself with grassland or more forest. Ithad skipped a beat or two in the forest cycle....old deciduous trees were managing to replace themselves with young, deciduous trees.

I pretty much crapped out of boy scouts, but the one thing I knew is that old, deciduous trees don’t grow quickly. The one thing I’d noticed from the previous three or four pictures was that the picture taker, whoever they were, had wandered to that point of the trail that had been blown to kingdom come more than a decade before. The trees were still small. Most were no more than a foot or so in circumference, and I doubted that any had managed to reach much more than a dozen feet in height.

This thing on the ground, it could have been left over from that purge, but for some reason I doubted it.

Was it a rock?

And why did I have the unsettling notion that somehow, this formless, dark shape was regarding the picture taker? When I looked at it closely, I decided that there was nothing there to make me think that. Still, I had that tickle at the back of my skull.

I looked back at Willie, who had opened the top drawer of the desk, and was fiddling around with the contents.

I thumbed through the rest of the pictures. Numbers 19, 20 and 21 were pretty much plain, unremarkable.

22 gave me more pause. With the exception of the first picture, all the pictures had been of the foliage. This one was again of the trail. And I don’t know why, except maybe that I’ve walked that trail a couple dozen times in my life, but I felt like all the first pictures had been taken while walking up the trail toward the Monmouth Falls, all looking roughly forward.

I felt like this one was taken looking back down the trail, at the way the picture taker had come.

I studied the picture for a second more. I couldn’t see anything untoward. Just a picture of a trail.

Picture 23 was the same picture, only from perhaps a few steps up the trail. I saw the same trees, the same rock in the path, the same blue trail marker that had been spray painted on the trunk of one of the larger trees on the edge of the path.

Only it was out of focus. The weird thing with this picture was that there was nothing, no dark shape even, for the camera to be focusing on. The whole picture was just blurry.

Picture 24 was taken, I was assuming, later down the trail. Again, the picture taker was taking pictures of foliage.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, or overly frightful, I’ll say that Picture 25 gave me real trouble, even today.

Again, the camera was faced back down the trail (I was now sure of it...the logs lining the trail were stair-stepping down...the trail to Monmouth Falls runs vaguelyy up its two-mile path, as you head to the top of the falls).

The picture taker had just rounded a bend. They had moved back into the area of forest not hurt as badly by the storms all those years ago, and I could see in the background several large trees, with trunks big enough around to hide a man.

I say that, because I finally saw what my brain had been tickling me to see, what the picture taker had wanted to take a picture of.

There was something there, in the picture. It was large. That’s all I can say. The only reference I have is another of the blue trail marks painted on a tree trunk. Generally, they’ll paint those around five feet off the ground. Give or take. It didn’t matter how high, because the thing in the picture towered at least 3 feet higher than that.

It was vaguely man shaped. I thought I could make out arms and legs, and a head up top of what looked like two wide shoulders.

But I couldn’t make out any more detail than that. The camera was blurry, but I don’t think it was the camera’s fault, or the picture taker’s fault.

I studied the picture for a good long time.

Like I said. I don’t have a good description, because I’m not sure there’s anything else to describe in the picture. Except the eyes. There is a large, dark shape that towers at least a yard over the trail marker, and it is staring directly at the camera. With two red eyes. Two eyes that mark the only detail of this giant, formless shape.

I thought of the statue of Jesus that every church in the area ends up going to see in Gatlinburg...the one carved in concave. So that the eyes follow you everywhere you go.

Yeah. This picture would have been a much more effective way to get me to behave.

I pulled my eyes away from the picture, made myself flip past it.

Pictures 26 and 27 aren’t of anything, really.

I think the photographer was running, and had clicked a couple of pictures of the ground as they ran. Maybe their finger was on the shutter button, and they hadn’t realized it.

I leafed through the pictures again. I skipped #25.

I looked back at Willie, who was rifling through the contents of his top desk drawer.

“What do you think?” I asked, looking for something, anything to say.

Willie looked at me thoughtfully, with his wide, unblinking eyes. Then, he reached down into desk drawer with his left hand, and pulled out a large paper clip.

“I think that this is the largest paper clip I have ever seen,” he said.

I nodded.

“They used to use them to clip galleys together.”


He smiled.