Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Deed

One of our favorite good deeds of 2007 was adopting a stray cat who showed up at our door.

One summer day, we opened our front door to find a rather thin and bedraggled black cat sitting underneath the small overhang on what amounts to our "porch" on our townhouse. This cat had long black hair—which was falling out—was very thin and appeared to be starving. It was not the pretty cat.

However, this cat was extremely friendly and affectionate and we immediately felt very sorry for it in that state. So.We fed the cat and watered it and soon realized that it was accustomed to being handled. It must, we figured, be a lost cat. We brought it in, bathed it, and very quickly decided to adopt it. With the long hair, we couldn't figure out if it was a male or female, but as near as we could ascertain it was a girl. We named her Mollie.

In short order my wife, Carole, took Mollie to the local veterinarian for shots and a checkup. She learned that "Mollie" was a neutered male. We'd have to change the name, we figured. But as he had been fixed, we now knew that at some time some family had cared for this cat, thus his familiarity with people, and his affectionate nature.Bringing him home from the vet, my son immediately latched onto a new name, relying on one of his favorite musicians: Andy renamed him "Marley", after the reggae star, Bob Marley. It fit.

Marley soon settled in to a comfortable routine with us. He would come in when he felt like it, and enjoyed spending the warm days out of doors. Our other cat, Sophie, who is very skittish and territorial, did not care for this recent addition to the household and, after some months, still has not accepted Marley. She hisses and spits and sometimes attacks Marley as she deems necessary. They have settled, apparently, on a compromise. Upstairs is Sophie's; downstairs is Marley's.
In the months since Marley's arrival, he has gained a lot of weight, his coat has completely filled in, and his hair is shiny and lustrous. He is, in fact, quite the healthy cat these days. He remains very affectionate, and we're glad of the happy circumstance that led him to our door. As is he, I'll bet.

In an addendum to this story, an acquaintance of my son's was visiting one day and saw Marley.
"What are you doing with Phil's cat?"
"Whose cat?" Andy asked.
"That's Phil's cat. They got tired of it and drove it to the church parking lot and dumped it out."

So much for human compassion, eh?

The happy and healthy Marley.

The imperious and intractable Sophie.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's My Party


Long ago, I became disillusioned with the so-called “two party system” here in the USA. After great disappointment in the manner of scum that tended to rise to the top of the political barrel, I realized that there are not "two" parties in USA politics. There is, in fact, only one party, and it is in complete and total thrall to the corporate monsters who actually rule this nation.

True, there does seem to be some amount of bickering between the two so-called “parties”. Of course, what this bickering amounts to is whom among them can best French kiss the anus of corporate America. There is only one consideration among either of these sides among which we choose—and that consideration is in protecting the wealthy elite here in the USA, no matter what the cost to the rest of the population, and no matter what damage to the country and the globe and the very ecosystem that supports life on this planet.

So, get excited about your political choices, if you must. But I will sit back and merely be amused as the rest of you sheep bleat and moan over your rigged little contest. Just be aware that no matter which of these creeps ends up in the Oval Office, the only true winner will be the tiny minority who wield the vast wealth of the capitalist system that churns along, creating riches for a filthy jot of human flotsam at the very, very, very tip of the fleshy berg of naked apes sitting, and shitting, over the planet.


























Pick a card!







Any card! HAW! HAW! HAW!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Are You Smarter Than An Eight-year-old?

a repost
Imagine
By
James Robert Smith

Imagine being raised in a religious void.

There’s nothing there, in the past, no religion at all. Your parents have never said anything. You’ve never been to church or temple or mosque, that you can recall. And you’ve never been indoctrinated into any religion, at all.

You sing religious songs at school, from time to time. But “Jesus Loves Me” is just a song, because you don’t know who “Jesus” is. “Jesus Loves Me” might as well be “Don Gato” for all you know. Or care.

And then one day, in the third grade, you get a teacher who insists on someone in class getting up in front of the other kids before the day really begins, and reading a quote from the Holy Bible. This is the mid-60s, the days before anyone actually pushed a separation of Church and State. You don’t know what the Holy Bible is. It’s just another book, but with a black cover. Not as big as the dictionary, and surely not as interesting. But one day it’s your turn, and some of the other kids keep telling you to look for short verses. Something curt. Like, “Jesus wept”. But you can’t find “Jesus wept”, so you find something a couple of lines long and you read it.

No one discusses the verse. For Pete’s sake, we’re all eight years old! The teacher, this Miss Goody, she just wants us reading a verse from The Book. For our own sakes. This is the same teacher who, when we’re singing religious songs with “Hellelujah” in it, won’t let us pronounce that final syllable, that “YAH” sound. ‘It’s a vulgar sound,’ she tells us. Just say “Hallelu”. So we drop the “YAH” and end with “Lou”, but we have to drag it out “looooooouuuuuuuuuu”. (And in my mind, I always added that “YAH”!) She’s a real hoot, this woman.

So now I begin to realize that there’s something out there called “religion”. And I realize there’s this thing people call “God”. And there’s this guy people call “Jesus”. And there are these nebulous jerks people call “The Twelve Apostles”. Like a group of some kind. Maybe like “The Dave Clark Five”. One kid in class walks around all puffed up with pride because he can name all twelve of them. I can’t name those twelve damned apostles, but I know the Beatles, and I know the seven original astronauts. I tell the other kids the seven original astronauts whenever they bring up the twelve apostles. This always succeeds in changing the subject pretty darned fast. Only one other kid in the class knows even six of the astronauts’ names. John Glenn and Gus Grissom are a lot more important to me than Paul and Peter.

However, the damage done, I start to ask about religion. The teacher explains to me about “God” and “Heaven” and, by golly, it all sounds pretty good to this eight-year-old. Then, a few days later, someone talks about “being saved”. I file that away, not wishing to display my ignorance. For, you see, I’ve been raised in a religious void. It’s amazing that my parents were able to do this. Just amazing.

This “being saved” stuff: it’s bothering me. What is it? I decide to ask my mom.

After school, I go into the kitchen. We have a sandwich bar in the kitchen, with tall metal stools with vinyl padded seats just like in a diner. I nab me one of these stools and sit down at the bar. Behind me are windows that look out on the playground of my school where my third-grade teacher has begun to tell me about “God” and “Heaven” and “being saved”. (My parents are lucky, to live right next door to Oakhurst Elementary School and this son just has to walk out the door and about thirty yards and he’s in school each weekday morning.)

I’m sitting there at the bar. My mom’s just on the other side, where she usually is this time of day getting ready to make supper (“dinner”, we call it there in Atlanta). My head, as I say, is full of these cool thoughts of this loving “God” and this absolutely perfect placed called “Heaven” where you get to go when you die.

“What’s ‘being saved’ mean?” I ask my mom.

“Saved?” she asks, repeating me.

“Yeah. ‘Saved’. I heard it at school today.” She doesn’t ask me who told me about this, and I’ve always assumed she just automatically knew. I don’t volunteer it.

“Well, you have to be saved before you can get to Heaven.”

I sit there for a second. This doesn’t make sense. What about the unconditional love and all that stuff? Finally, I say, “You mean, you have to be saved before God will let you into Heaven?”

“Yes.” She goes on about her business of getting dinner ready.

“So, not just anyone can go to Heaven? Not everyone is allowed in?”

“That’s right. Not unless you’re saved.”

‘Damn! There are strings attached,’ I think. This is not right! At that moment, then and there, all the tumblers fell into place. All the circuits closed. All the switches flipped. That mother of all cornerstones, weighing as much as all of Logic, it went down with a solid and immovable thud.

“Then I don’t believe in God,” I told her. “I don’t believe in Heaven. It’s all a big lie, isn’t it?”

My mom stopped what she was doing (pouring water onto lentils in an enormous pressure cooker, as I recall). She wiped her hands dry on a blue towel, some green lentils clinging to her hands pink from hot water. “That’s right,” she said. “There’s no such thing as God or Heaven. Good for you.”

And that was that.

The next day, in class, the teacher asks whose turn it is to read from the Bible. I raise my hand. She points to me.

“I don’t want to read from the Bible any more,” I tell her.

“Why not,” she asks.

“Because I don’t believe in God,” I tell her.

Some of the kids gasp (some girls, smarter than most of us boys and realizing the implication). Most of the children don’t give a damn, because they’re only eight years old, for Pete’s sake. My teacher looks at me, then down at whatever workbook she’s perusing. And she says, “Well, Mr. Smith, you can be an atheist if you want to be.”

‘Atheist’. That’s a new one on me. I don’t ask her what it means, but I think I know. And there’s that dictionary sitting at the back of the room, by golly, and I plan to look it up as soon as I have a free moment.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Good Omen

We were headed up to Grayson Highlands to climb Wilburn Ridge. The last time we’d been up there, the weather didn’t cooperate. When we left, it was clear and the sun was just coming up. Quickly, we were on the interstate and speeding up toward the NC/VA border.

As we passed Statesville, the car in front of us swerved to the left. I had this new truck and was particularly alert. There was a large dog, German shepherd mix it seemed, in the highway. I was able to miss it (didn’t want to damage the new truck). But I looked in the rear view mirror to see the cube van behind me (not as nimble, don’t you know) catch the dog on its right bumper. It was like seeing a huge balloon full of red paint bursting. It quite literally tore the dog in half.

“A good omen,” I said. “This is going to be a grand trip.”

Indeed, as we arrived at Grayson Highlands, the sun was full in the sky, no rain clouds in sight, and we had a great day of tromping across the roof of Virginia. What a day!



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pride of the Yankees




This is what remains of the Altar of the Twelve Gods. At one time, this was the most important place in Athens. From this point all distances to Athens were measured. It might as well have been the middle of all that was important to Mankind on the face of the Earth.

This was also the center of worship for the people who believed in the religion that began there. Today, it’s all in ruins. A railroad runs nearby.

I like to show this to idiots who think their nation is “number one”. Who think their religion will “last forever”, that their god is "the only god". Who believe that the government under which they labor is “all powerful”.

I laugh

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bears

By
James Robert Smith


Bears
have got it
made
They sleep
all winter
and
half the summer.
They eat
berries
They get to shit
in the woods
and go fishin’
anytime they
please.
They screw for
two weeks
solid,
Then forget sex exists
the next 50
weeks.
Nobody messes
with bears.
Not even other
bears.
Not really.
Hey, bear.
I’ll trade you.
You’ll have to walk
upright.
My hands for
your paws.
We have chocolate.
Lots of
chocolate.
Whaddayasay?


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ditko-Kirby Group

This comment was rejected by the Ditko-Kirby Yahoo Group. So I thought I'd post it here.

"Gods. It's so obvious that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were totally raped when it comes to who created the characters. Stan Lee gets the credit and the money and the fame, while the folk who actually created these wonderful characters and wonderful books got nothing beyond a page rate and the adoration of the fans they left in their wakes."

Sad how no-talent rip-offs can walk away with the credit and cowards are afraid to state this simple fact. Alas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Confederate Monkey

CONFEDERATE MONKEY!
copyright James R. Smith

Me and the guys were brainstorming weird ideas for comic characters. Here's mine:

The mind of a Georgia redneck trapped in the body of a fully-grown male baboon! 75 pounds of fanged, Confederate-lovin’ fury!

YEEEEEEEEEE-HAH!




It was pointed out to me that this is pretty typical of most Georgians.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cute Kitty Cats

Several of my friends and relatives keep sending me photographs of their cats lounging around under their christmas trees. This is cool and this is quaint and this is sweet. Keep 'em comin'.

However, since this has been, physically speaking, the toughest xmas I've experienced, I'm rather grouchy and I would like to be a curmudgeon on the subject of cats under trees.

My family and I went to visit my wife's mom today. This was our only chance to share the holidays with her, so we went to exchange gifts and eat a hearty xmas dinner and generally just hang out at the old home place. My mother-in-law also has a cat, also has a xmas tree, and the cat has claimed his spot beneath said tree.

This is her cat, Smokey, under her tree:



Yes, yes, yes. Smokey is oh-so-bleeding cute under the xmas tree. Indeed.

As any of the folk who frequent this blog will know, and as those of you who know me can attest, I feel that animals have emotions and feelings and personalities and that they are not the automatons that most people are brought up believing of animals. Smokey, too, has a personality.

He's a total fucking asshole.

So, just to add a cat-under-the-tree notation before the holiday. An asshole cat, at that. Smokey, a real bastard.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Look!

Look!
By
James Robert Smith

Look how FAR
we’ve come,
they brag
(as if they’d done it themselves).
Jumbo jets!
Computers!
DVD players!
Interstate highways!
Skyscrapers!
Sewage systems!
Automobiles!
Modern medicine!
MORE computers!
Cell phones!
Satellites!
Space stations!
Planetary probes!
We’re great! We’re #1,
they say.
But do they EVER
stop to think
that we should have
achieved all that
stuff
500 years ago?
1,000 years ago?
That we should be
sitting, perhaps,
in the laps of the gods in
Paradise,
either here on Earth
or in orbit around
Betelgeuse? or Barnard’s Star?
or Proxima Centauri?
Or hauling black holes
around the Universe like tinker toys
while Yahweh kisses our ass?
No. I doubt
that ever occurs
to them.



Friday, December 21, 2007

What to do about the Minority

Minority Report
By
James Robert Smith

They’re a minority.
Less than
50%
of the population.
And yet
they commit almost
All
of the robberies.
They perpetrate almost
All
of the rapes.
They commit almost
All
of the murders.
They are most often to
Victimize
the helpless.
We must do
Something
about this minority.
We need
Someone to
Please
stop the
men.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When In Rome

I don’t understand religion and the appeal of it. To tell you the truth, it has always scared the crap out of me. The dogma, the mindlessness of it, the attraction of it, the automatic responses it engenders in those to whom it does appeal. For most of my life, I would go around in a mild state of fear whenever I’d encounter anything approaching a religious service. “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” my mom used to wisely say. And so I would do the minimum to escape the notice of religionists. When they’d pray, I’d bow my head, or (preferably) get out of the line of sight so that I could watch them in this most bizarre exhibition of ritual.

A few years ago, when I delivered mail in a very impoverished area of the city, I would stop daily at a storefront church. I couldn’t say what denomination it could possibly have been, and if truth be told, I’d have to say it was not connected to any denomination at all, and was, in fact, likely created out of some strain or another of the Protestant faith (which excels at spawning all manner of poisonous thought).

I don’t know what purpose the building served before it was transformed into a storefront church, but it was solidly constructed of old brick and mortar, with barred windows, a steel-shuttered front door, and was about 4,000 square feet in size (I estimated, from my experience in my days as a retailer). I rarely saw anyone there, other than the self-appointed minister who drove a rather flashy sedan, who dressed in rather loud (and expensive) hand-tailored suits, and who never spoke (to me). On the rare moments when I’d see him, I would say hello and hand him the mail, and he’d accept the envelopes (some of them obviously heavy with cash or checks), but he never replied to my greetings. Never.

As the US mail is not delivered on Sunday, I didn't have occasion to see what kind of congregation gathered there for services. From the look of the minister’s automobile and of his dress, and of the gold and diamond-encrusted rings I’d seen on his fingers, I assumed the place was drawing them in fairly well. He must have been a decent speaker, for there certainly was no paucity of established churches in the neighborhood. So he was able to pull in his own flock against the tide of various Baptist, Catholic, and AME Zion churches that littered the landscape.

Generally, I never saw anyone at all when I’d deliver the mail to this church. Nineteen times out of twenty the place would be padlocked and I’d just shove the mail through a steel slot in the armored front door. In all kinds of weather I would walk along this mainly warehouse district and when I’d come to the storefront church I’d just cram their allotment of mail through the slot and go about my routine.

However, one day I arrived and the minister’s flashy car was parked in front of the church. The door was standing open and so I walked in. There was an office door also standing open with a desk. Behind the desk was the minister. He was counting money. Lots of it. More cash than I’ve ever seen outside of a bank. He had stacks of bills banded to his right and his left and he was counting money as I walked in. “Hello,” I said to him as I always did, never expecting (by now) a response. True to form, he said nothing, tamped down a stack of bills, and pushed the letters aside as I turned and walked back out of the ersatz church building.

I heard the steel doors slam shut behind me as I walked to my vehicle.

A few days later I got to the storefront location of this minister’s project to find a couple of elderly women standing outside of it. They were trying to look inside, but the windows were barred and shuttered (as they always were), and the door was stoutly locked (as it almost always was) and the only place they could possibly steal a glance would have been through the mail slot. As I dropped the mail in, one of the ladies approached me.

“Do you know where he went?” she asked.

“Who?”

“Minister F-----. Where is he? He didn’t open the church on Sunday and no one knows where he is.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know.”

“He didn’t leave a forwarding address?”

“No.” I thought of the huge stacks of cash. Of the bastard counting it and banding it. Sitting there in the dark, his diamond rings, his tailored suits, his flashy car waiting to take him away with the loot.

“Oh, dear,” she said.

Alas. No forwarding address. No recourse.

I stand out of sight and observe you strange folk and your bizarre rituals. I will not be in Rome.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ghosts

For a guy who doesn't believe in ghosts, I tend to write a lot about them. Once, I was looking at my list of short stories and realized that about half of everything I'd written was a ghost story of one type or another.

For some years, I've been working on a novel I'm calling PORT CITY. I take to it from time to time and work on a chapter here and there. It's at about 60,000 words, but at the rate I work on it, I'll probably be about 60 years old before it's done.

Here's a little tiny bit of it, ghost included:


It could, and would, happen at almost any time. He might be reading. He might be eating. He might even be watching television or just waking up from a nap. At a time such as those, or many others, the ghost would arrive.

It was no big deal. He would stop what he was doing, say hello to the ghost, or It’s good to see you, and then they would talk. About anything. They would just sit there or stand there and shoot the breeze; talk about anything and everything. The ghost would tell him things. Never what to do but, rather, what not to do. He was always happy to accept this advice, and generally took the words to heart.

After all, the ghost had once been his father.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spooky Hikes

I've been on a few hikes where I happened upon some spooky places that made me feel very vulnerable. There were various reasons for these feelings of vulnerability. Once, hiking in the Standing Indian Basin and heading for a waterfall, I just suddenly had the impression that I was being watched. I can't say why...it was just a feeling. Here are some spooky places where my hikes have taken me:

I took this one at The Jumpoff, a vast cliff face on Mount Kephart. It was very early in the morning (I'd started my hike in the dark)and the fog was hanging heavy. I looked up amidst the trees and snapped this photo.

Several times in my many hikes I've gotten lost. Not lost as in turned around on the trail, but lost as in there was no trail anymore. This has always happened to me in red spruce forests. There's something about the uniformity of a red spruce forest that messes up my sense of direction. It's my kryptonite.

Back in 2004 when I was first trying to hit all of the old growth hemlock groves before they became extinct, I was hiking in the famed Boogerman Grove in the Great Smokies. I had stopped to rest and as I lay on the ground I noticed a faint trail leading up into the woods. Curious, I decided to follow it. It led into a very small clearing with weird little rocks sticking out of the ground. It only took a few seconds to realize that they were graves. After taking a couple of shots I just felt kind of creepy and backtracked to the main trail. I've been back three times but have been unable to locate this place again.

While hiking to see this waterfall...

...I used this trail to access it. Walking along, I suddenly felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. Gooseflesh went up my spine. I looked around, but never saw anything. However, as the light was fading, I did pick up the pace to get the hell out of there.

This is a bright and sunny photo, but I had to ford this stream in Panthertown Valley during a time when I was probably the only person in that 7K-acre preserve. This was above a waterfall and the water was swift. I just felt very alone as I took off my boots to ford the creek, worrying about getting across and wondering what would happen if I didn't...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why?

Why?
By
James Robert Smith



That murder,
you know the one:
the latest wife
murderer
du jour.
Everyone asks why
he did it.
Why? They ask.
Why kill his
wife
and dump her
body
in the water?
I’ll tell you
why.
He wasn’t as
patient
as the rest of us.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Haunted House

I wrote this as an excercise for setting mood for a haunted house novel, which I've plotted but have yet to write.


Except where the lawn was meticulously maintained, dark woods of spruce and hemlocks pressed in, often damp and dripping, always in shadow. At night, if you were about, and held your breath (as you would do if you found yourself in that place), you would hear the forest floor tic with the odd movement of small things. Leaves and needles, dead and somehow dry despite the dampness of the oppressive woods, would clatter startlingly either in wind, or perturbed by other means. Sometimes, if one were particularly alert and very fearful, the sounds of crunching leaves would assail one’s ears. And small sticks would crack like tiny, brittle bones. Larger limbs, too, would snap nearby as something more substantial than expected moved boldly toward the listener.

If, just before fleeing to the expected safety of that little house sitting in the middle of that storybook patch of green lawn, you listened closely, you would hear something sigh. Or sometimes you would hear something groan, almost human, perhaps birdlike, perhaps not. If you turned your prickling back to those woods to retreat to the supposed security of four walls standing rigidly, fearfully, awaiting whatever those dark woods may ultimately disgorge, you might hear something speak. You would tell yourself that it was not speech, but you would be telling yourself lies.

And then, then, you would run, hoping to outpace whatever was in those woods, whatever had snapped those dry sticks like brittle bones, whatever had trilled from the darkness, had moaned from the shadows, had muttered weirdly from those deeps. You would run to that strange house with the solid walls and doors that fit snugly, and you would think yourself secure.

How wrong you would be.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Editornomicon

I wrote this many years ago for, I think, a project I've since forgotten. It wasn't accepted and has been lying cold in the confines of various hard drives ever since. In fact, I think it was the last time I tried to write a story for a particular theme. I rarely do that anymore. There's something very work-for-hire about that. Something undignified.

At any rate, here it is. It had a working title of "Editornomicon". I'll let it stand.

EDITORNOMICON
By
James Robert Smith



Perry placed her hands atop the manuscripts. Upon her desk, four pillars of envelopes: 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches on a side, twelve inches high. She edited APPALLING, The Magazine of Horror; and she had finished the latest issue and had to return these 200 stories: rejections. There were some authors she had counted upon to deliver the effect she always aimed for, but who had not made the cut, this time.

This issue had achieved the effect for which she was searching. Editing was an art form, but she'd never crossed the line that would satisfy. Critics praised her. But she, Perry Hagopian, had never been satisfied.

Now she'd done it: a wonderful, terrible achievement.

She had the combination of fiction for which she had always searched. To make room for the stories this time, she had eliminated her editorial and all advertising. That had meant the budget would be strained, but she had made the printer's bill. She had what she wanted: the perfect issue.

Perry had a story from Cain Warner, the contract in her desk. It had been one of the last things he had signed, for he'd died the day after it had been posted--alcoholism, they said. Perry heard the news before the contract arrived. He was one of her favorites, but she had held the contract to her and breathed a sigh. His novella was the core, the anchor.

There were three posthumous stories. One arrived from the author's mother, a letter informing Perry that the writer (a youngster named Cynthia Packard) had committed suicide the year before. Cynthia's mother had found the manuscript in an envelope addressed to APPALLING. I want you to see this story, her mother had written. I couldn't understand my daughter, but she wanted you to publish this. Perhaps you will like it. Indeed. A story of enormous anguish, and she was thrilled with it. This would put Packard's sad name on the genre map.

She had a story by the late Manuel Manfred. He’d signed it in his funny way—two stick figure men. His agent had contacted her saying that he had located an unpublished story from Manfred and that he thought her magazine would be the place for it. It was.

The remaining were by three regulars. She knew them all. William took his pain and squeezed it through his pen: a dyslexic, he couldn't use a keyboard. With effort, he wrote his stories a letter at a time, in block print, checking each word. His manuscripts broke all rules, but his first cover letter had touched her so that she had read the story. All of his stories had been wonderful, and this one was the best, recounting his constant struggle living in a body that just would...not...cooperate.

Conrad lived nearby. He was a sad man, engaged in a painful relationship with an abusive lover. Once, she had seen him with his eye blackened and his lip swollen. A man such as Conrad could have his pick of lovers, and she couldn't understand why he would put up with the one he had. But it must have made his fiction powerful. Her pulse raced every time she read one of his stories. Poor Conrad.

Finally, Terrance. He wrote television--such a waste. But who could refuse that money? Perry had met him two years before. The writer of popular shows, she was surprised when he had approached her. "I have some stories," he said. "They aren't appropriate for many markets, and I was wondering if I could send them to you." How wasted he was on television. "I hardly have time for my own writing", he'd said.

The stories filled the magazine. All expressed operatic pain. She had saved herself the back cover: "At last", it read, followed by her autograph. She had paid the printers, the magazines were on their ways to distributors and shops and subscribers. On her lap was a copy, the cover glistening, reflecting a light she could only think of as evil. An illustration of a face not quite human bearing an expression only too recognizable. Created in goache by Leslie Dawkins, the favorite of all her contributing graphic artists. You'd never know he'd lost an eye in an automobile accident and that he was losing sight in the remaining eye. His career certainly wasn't going to last much longer.

Outside, Perry's husband was banging on the bolted door. Solid oak with extended deadbolts, it would take him a long time to break in. He had noticed his gun missing. She didn't want to go out that way, but realizing she'd finally done it, achieved what she had scarcely thought possible--well, it was time. To jigsaw such a work of consuming depression: this was her masterpiece. And the final act was to tag it all with her own death. How could anyone read those works and refuse what they demanded?

The struggle was over. Still, she was curious how many deaths would be spawned by the readings. The poor miserables, once they realized, would have no choice.

Perry examined the chamber. Time to finish editing.

Bang

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Minds of Cats

The cats were with him. The thin, black one, stood perched like some immobile idol cast in ebony and glared with hateful, yellow eyes at the chubby cat who lay next to their master having her chin rubbed. The black one had relinquished just that spot some minutes before when the heavier cat had invaded her space. It wasn’t that the fatter kitty was tougher or more aggressive; it was just that the black cat with golden, hateful eyes did not like to share anything, and would retreat at the idea of being touched by the fat cat. So she merely stood, perched just so, on a cedar chest and glared while her calico housemate received the ministrations of their owner.

The fat cat purred her pleasure, lost in a kittenish eternity of bliss, and the black cat stared and hated, trapped in an ever of what might have been.

For cats, their owner, when he was present, would never leave. For the cats, if their owner was away, he would never return.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Family

Sometimes he would visit friends who had families. And he was always amazed and amused and mystified in the love exhibited between these friends and their families. He came from a very large family. His parents had eight kids. Technically speaking, he had five brothers and two sisters. However, of those seven siblings, he only loved two of them—his big sisters. Of his brothers, he had a variance of emotional attachments that tilted from outright hatred to complete neutrality. He just didn’t give a rat’s ass about them, or their wives, or their families (with the exception of some nephews and nieces).

He could go into the whys and wherefores of this situation, but he’d done it so many times in the unbounded dimensions of his own mind that it was almost (but not quite) a tired subject for him. Briefly, he could say that his relationships with his brothers had been based on either abuse or ridicule or disinterest toward him. Some of them he’d like to have seen dead, the others he didn’t really care to see at all. Wasted time, in any event.

And his sisters, the two siblings whom he loved…well, he rarely saw them. The oldest sister was married to an execration; a truly selfish monster whose presence was so distasteful to him that he couldn’t bear to be around him. Therefore, he didn’t have much occasion to see that sister. And the youngest sister, knowing of his distaste and hatred for most of their fellow siblings and their families, found it exceedingly difficult to wedge him in to any visits or leisure time she might have had.

That’s why he found it pleasant and amusing and mysterious to see the family interactions of friends and acquaintances. It was all just so foreign and strange to him.

When he was a kid, and had no choice, he had to endure the company of his brothers. This was almost uniformly a series of very negative and abusive experiences. It was no wonder that his early manhood was spent building up his physical strength so that he walked around as a quite dangerous and powerful ape with a tendency to resort to violence in altercations with males of the species. When he grew up, he continued to endure the company of these brothers out of tradition. He would go to family gatherings and to reunions and profess his love for these folk. Indeed, he was fairly certain that he did love these creatures, out of sheer determination if for no other reason.

At last, though, after some extremely hideous exchanges, some betrayals, the dredging up of some poisonous memories from his childhood, it occurred to him that he was just doing more damage to himself by continuing to mingle with these scumbags. And so, rather later than he should have, he cut off contact between himself and his male siblings. He did encounter a couple of these folk in later years, but out of accident rather than intention. Fortunately for the ones for whom he felt only intense hatred, they had not crossed paths (unless, of course, they saw him first and wisely hid).

For his part, he had his own family: a wife and son and his wife’s mother. Those were the folk for whom he felt the closest connections. These were the people whom he loved the most. There were also his sisters, a couple of nephews, and a couple of nieces, and the children of those nieces and nephews. He loved these people, too, but he rarely saw them and even more rarely shared quality time with them. The holiday seasons that saw vast gatherings at the houses where his parents lived, when all of his brothers and sisters and his parents’ grandchildren would gather--those were only strange memories for him. He would never again see the likes of those, as his tiny family would remain quite small.

And that’s as it should be.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Can't Take Me Anyplace!

I have a tendency to act like a big kid when my wife and I are on vacation:

On a mountaintop in Virginia.

At a picnic area in Hungry Mother State Park.

On a beach in South Carolina.

Fun tricks with candy in our travel trailer, Bahia Honda Key, Florida.

Sometimes I behave.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

a novel excerpt

I was hunting for a certain style and a unique perspective for a specific character in my new novel, Beautiful Boy. He's an old guy, and as much as I didn't want to, I forced myself to think about getting older. This is the way it reads:

He woke up.

Well, something had awakened him. At 87, he didn’t generally just wake up. It was usually something that would wake him. Things like acid reflux. Or a bladder spasm. Or his bum knee throbbing like a drum. It wasn't like any of those things, though.

He opened his eyes. Sun was shining. That was strange. Generally he was standing over the toilet before first light. What the hell?

And, as he stuck his legs out over the side of the mattress, he realized.

He had a boner.

Well, good goddamn.

How long had it been? Weeks? Months? Shit. He had to admit that he couldn’t even recall the last time he’d had a stiffie.

Quickly, he turned to look at the other side of the bed, and sadly remembered that Carla was away for the week visiting her goddamned cousins in Tifton. As if he needed a further reason to hate those back-biting bitches and their soft-bellied husbands and sons o’ bitchin’ kids.

Shit.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Right Stuff

Sometimes I try to explain to my friends and acquaintance what's so bleeding wrong with the system under which we live. I wish I could refer everyone to this 20-minute film. This woman has it down and just about perfect, to my way of thinking.

I am almost in love with this fantastic lady. Annie Leonard: what a woman!

The Story of Stuff

WAR IS OVER

God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I'll say it again
God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in Kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me...and that reality

The dream is over
What can I say?
the Dream is Over
Yesterday
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I'm reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
and so dear friends
you'll just have to carry on
The Dream is over


---John Lennon.



We miss you, John.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Owl Goingback

When I bought my first computer and hit the internet, one of the places to which I was drawn was GEnie. This Internet service offered free stuff to members of HWA (Horror Witers of America) and SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) and it was an absolutely wonderful place to congregate for writers and enjoy real-time conversations with other professionals, including big-names like Neil Gaiman. It was a truly rare place to log on and talk shop.

One of the people I “met” on GEnie was Owl Goingback. It’s weird that I’ve met Owl online, but have never met him in person. We’ve exchanged emails and had conversations in the ether, but have never met face to face. Which is a real shame because he’s a very talented writer and I’ve enjoyed his work immensely. Two of my favorite 90s-era horror novels were by Owl: CROTA and DARKER THAN NIGHT. Both books are pure fun, with CROTA being a classic giant critter book, and DARKER THAN NIGHT a true supernatural chiller. DAKER THAN NIGHT especially effected me, as it is one of the few horror works that I’ve read that actually produced a sense of dread in me. Which places it with King’s THE SHINING and Jeff Osier’s ENCYCLOPEDIA FOR BOYS in that unique respect.

Another exceptional aspect of Owl’s work is that it gives the average reader a new perspective. If you’re accustomed to looking at the world from a Christian point of view, or a Eurocentric stance, then Goingback’s work offers a different eye into the way things work. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s suffused with a way of seeing the workings of the World from a stance not dictated by what is known by most Americans.

I have nothing but praise for the work of Owl Goingback, and urge readers of fantasy and horror to seek out his books.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Why I Hate Libertarians.

In my personal experience I have found Libertarians to be greedy, self-centered, totally self-interested assholes. Their motto can be summed up easily:

“I’ve got mine (or I soon will have), everyone else go fuck themselves.”

You can count on a Libertarian to be relatively stupid, but at the same time think of himself as very far above the average in intelligence. In fact, though, Libertarians are stupid on a level that is almost singular for such a group. Which is why, I suppose, so many identify themselves as Libertarians—there’s certainly no shortage of stupid people in the USA.

Among the many negative things one can always count on a Libertarian to do is to come down on virtually every political and social and economic decision on the side of corporate interests and of the rich. In a truly twisted way, Libertarians are the modern equivalent of the Victorian era royalists. In those days, it was supposed that there must be a reason for everything. That said, then there was certainly a good reason why the masses were ruled over by royalty. The reason being that royalty were put in their positions by divine intervention, so it must therefore be a very good thing. Our modern-day version of the royalists are Libertarians. There must be a good reason why the rich are rich, and that reason being—in a nutshell—that the rich “deserve” to be rich; the reason generally given as by virtue of hard work or quick wit (a Darwinian reason, if you will). Therefore, leave them alone and allow them to continue to be rich and to gather about them still more riches. For the sake of all that is worthwhile (I would have said “God”, but Libertarians by and large claim not to believe in “God”), don’t regulate the rich and the corporations they own and control, for to do so would be to interfere with the natural right of the rich to be rich.

Libertarians are so fucking stupid. The only thing at which they are good is in knowing the hand that feeds them. Some Libertarians—such as a certain mildly talented comic book artist—find themselves growing richer the more they kiss the asses of those at the top. By praising the rich and defending the rich and the status quo at every opportunity, they are rewarded in relation to how much they have done for the very rich that day.

In brief, Libertarians have about them the two traits that I find most loathsome in the human race: selfishness and stupidity. In the 1930s we would have found them rallying around such political filth as Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, and Francisco Franco. Then, as now, they would justify their poisonous ideas and decisions as being the most logical. Just look to see what racist, nationalist bastards around whom they now gather for a look into the very diseased minds of these idiots.

Libertarians—what a bunch of stinking morons.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

I didn't get squished.

One of the places where I have to work each day is South Park Mall. As I was leaving there today, I noticed many fire trucks, ambulances, police cars headed into the mall area. I figured maybe someone triggered a fire alarm. Then the helicopters arrived, and I feared we had another gun nut in a crowd of people.

As it turned out, some lady had a heart attack, ran into a wall on the upper level of a parking deck, which subsequently caused a portion of the parking deck to collapse on cars below. Sounds like poor design or shoddy workmanship.

At any rate, I didn't get squished.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

American Patriots Suck Ass

My close friend, Roy—the only writer friend I have whose opinion I completely respect—sent me this by way of a reminder and a much-needed kick in the ass:

there is only one place to write and that is ALONE at a typewriter. a writer who has to go INTO the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. I have seen enough factories, whorehouses, jails, bars, park orators to last 100 men 100 lifetimes. to go into the streets when you have a NAME is to go the easy way—they killed Thomas and Behan with their LOVE, their whiskey, their idolatry, their cunt, and they half-murdered half a hundred others. WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR TYPEWRITER YOU LEAVE YOUR MACHINE GUN AND THE RATS COME POURING THROUGH. when Camus began giving speeches before the academies his writing died. Camus did not begin as a speechmaker, he began as a writer; it was not an automobile accident that killed him.
CHARLES BUKOWSKI
Notes of a Dirty Old Man


So, you empty-headed dirtbags, you racists who think you’re patriotic heroes, you numbskull religionists who think you’re deep, you idiot selfish moron Libertarians who think you’re smart—to Hell with the whole lot of you.

I write, and I’ll be damned if I have the time to so much as crap on you stupid flag-waving, bible-humping, goose-stepping, Arab-hating, corporate butt-licking pinheads.


DOGGED

Some time back I came up with an idea that I could only describe as a "horror comedy" novel. I approached a few agents with the pitch. Most of them told me that there was nothing tougher to sell than a "horror comedy" novel. Apparently, I wasn't the only person who'd thought of writing something like that. Of course, the book wouldn't be all horror, nor all comedy. Just the same, no agent wanted anything to do with the concept, so I shelved it. It was to have been called DOGGED: A COMEDY OF HORRORS. It dealt with Mailmen (called "dreamers" in the book) and Dogs (who were now in charge of the Earth in the book).

I've been told I could rework it as something else. But then I'd have to lose the title. And I really liked that title.

At any rate, here's a tiny slice of what would have been the book, although this bit shows neither horror, nor comedy. (Not intentionally, at least.)


He came down into the camp from the top of the ridge. The camp was on a kind of ledge below the lip of a forested slope and just above a steep drop of some height down to the river. He could hear the water below tumbling along through the trees.

There were a lot of dreamers there in the camp. Tents of all shapes and colors were set up in a patch of grass that passed for a field. None of the tents were very big, and most of them were nice, expensive models with pricey logos emblazoned on the fabric in white or black or red. Well, with no families, no one needed more than a two-man tent, anyway. However, things like that—seeing only one-man and two-man tents—still surprised him.

Dreamers. They called themselves dreamers, now. He’d give almost anything to hear someone call him by the old terms: mailman, or letter carrier, or postman, or even son-of-a-bitch. Anything but dreamer. Of course there was no one else left to call them anything. There were only the dreamers left. Well, the stupids were left, but they didn’t call anyone much of anything. They growled or moaned or grunted or cried if they made any sound at all.

No people talked anymore, except for the dreamers.

This was the biggest camp he’d seen in weeks. Ever since he’d split up with his station and set out alone, as Coyote had told them to do. In their dreams. After everything that had happened, they did whatever Coyote said. He was the one thing that still protected them. Nothing seemed to have protected the rest of what remained of humanity; that was for damned sure.

He looked around at the dozens of tents, many of them plain to see in the grass and under the bright yellow sunlight shining down between green leaves. Finally, he picked out a spot sheltered beneath a really large chestnut oak and dropped his pack. Tired, he sat down and leaned, his back against the tough bark of the oak and allowed himself to relax a little. Coyote had let them know that they were safe here, for now, and almost everyone seemed relaxed in the big campground of the Dreamers.

Eyes closed, he heard footsteps approach him and listened to the murmur of voices around the camp. No one talked very loud, even after the dreams of Coyote. Safe in the assurances of their benefactor, his eyes remained closed and he did not fear any harm coming to him from the approaching footsteps.

“What do you miss the most?”

He opened his eyes and looked up. She would probably have been very pretty in the old days, before the dogs. Some soap, some makeup, a yellow sundress to reveal her strong shoulders and accentuate her charms. Yeah, she’d obviously been pretty in the day.

“What’s that?”

“What do you miss most?” She asked again.

“Shit. I don’t know. I don’t like to think about what I miss.”

“I just want to talk.”

“For fuck’s sake,” he muttered. Looking up again, he squinted at her standing there. Five foot two, maybe. Nice hips. Brown hair. Tan skin. Hispanic, but she spoke with no accent. “I guess I miss my wife and son the most. And my mom and dad. And my two brothers and my kid sister. And my kid sister’s two children.

“There,” he added. “Are you happy, now?”

“That’s not what I meant. I didn’t ask you whom you missed. I asked you what you missed.”

“Goddamn it.” He closed his eyes again. “What’s the point?”

“I like to think about those things,” she said. “I like to think about them and it makes me miss them a little more and that will make me more determined to get them back.”

Without saying anything, he looked up at her and she could see the question in his eyes.

“C’mon. Humor me.”

“Shit.”

“You say that a lot.”

Grunting, he put his hands beside his hips and sat up. “Okay. I’ll humor you.

“I miss the noise. I miss the sound of automobiles. I miss chocolate. I miss hot baths. I miss air conditioning and gas heat. I miss the freaking mall. I miss pimento-fucking-cheese. I miss hamburgers. I miss Gatlinburg Tennessee. I miss Myrtle Beach. I miss big slices of Vidalia onions on a beef patty grilled over charcoal in the back yard. I miss my washing machine and my drier. I miss electric lights. I miss taking long showers after a hard day delivering the damned mail.

“I miss a lot of damned shit.” He looked up at her. “I could go on for days. Are you happy?”

The woman turned and walked away, heading back to where her little one-man tent was pitched in the grass. “Yes,” she said, not turning. “That’ll do. You think about that stuff before you go to sleep.”

Damn her, he would.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Return of the Subliminal Snowman

Well, I opened the catalog with the sexually suggestive cover. And what do I find inside? I don't know who took these shots, but this photographer is my new hero.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Perfect Attendance

When I was a kid, my parents moved their dwindling family to the mountains of northern Georgia. Despite the fact that we were in the northern fourth of the state, and that we were near some of the highest country in Georgia, it never snowed where we lived. Well, almost never. We got one good snowfall during the four years we lived there.

However, when we’d drive to the end of the road, we could look toward the Tennessee border and see the really big mountains that loomed not too many miles away. Peaks like Rich Mountain, Grassy Mountain, and Big Frog Mountain, all of which were right at, or over 4,000 feet above sea level. When the weather was moist and cool around our house, those mountains would get a good snowfall. Every couple of weeks in the fall and winter we’d come to a particularly good view and those high peaks would be solid white with ice and snow. “Look”, my dad would say. “Grassy’s frozen again.” Often, I’d sit there with him and we’d gaze up at those glistening ridges reaching high into the cold gray sky or scraping the blue horizon.

“We should drive up there,” one of us would say. “We should drive up there and play in the snow.” Natives of the low country near the Florida border, neither of us had seen many snowfalls. Not me as a teen, nor my dad as a fifty-six year old man.

“Let’s go,” I’d say.

But my dad would think about it a minute, and always reply that I’d have to miss school and he didn’t want me to miss my classes. I think he was telling the truth. I was a smart kid and my parents thought that I’d end up in a decent college and become something other than a plumber or a bookseller. They figured I’d be a chemist or a biologist or an engineer or a zoologist or an English professor. Something for which I’d need the education I was getting in the public schools.

As it was, I ended up being a mailman. It didn’t matter at all if I’d missed a day or two of school now and again to drive up into the high country with my dad to play in snow that was rare and beautiful to us low country Southern boys. It wouldn’t have mattered at all, and I’d have a few more memories of time spent with my dad, other than seeing him gripping the steering wheel of his Chevy pickup truck, his eyes squinting at those white, gleaming ramparts rising high into the sky, dominating the blue to the north.

I’d have liked that.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Omnipotent...Not!

For quite a while I’ve been hard at work on my novel, Beautiful Boy. As many writers will tell you, novels and the characters in them can quite often get away from the author and generate what seems to be lives of their own—free will, if you will. Such has been my constant and ongoing dilemma and struggle with not only the characters, but also the overriding themes of Beautiful Boy. It all seemed to have gotten away from me, out of my control; the deeper I made my way into the novel.

It might be that this is the sign of an undisciplined writer. I don’t know. All I can say is that this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. I have to keep going back to various points to rebuild the machinery running the plot.

In the past few days I hit such a wall that I had to completely halt work on the novel and relax. To relax, I wrote a short story, “Sixteen and.”. I placed it here a few posts back. 5,100+ words that I know should have been spent on my novel, but I had to do it.

Today, the novel seems a little clearer. The fog is parting just a bit. But I may take a break and write another short story, this one based on a certain real-life monster who lived in a certain real-life monster-ville in which I resided as a teen. And it occurred to me as I pondered this monster and this burg: all places where humans congregate are suffused with the potential for evil.

It’s no wonder I prefer the solitude of wilderness as often as I can pry myself out of the city and retreat to these places. I’ll think about that fact as I write about some of the things I witnessed as a kid in a story I’m currently calling: “Snookie”.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Subliminal Snowman

This came in the mail. It was so over the top I felt I had to post it. (Considering the short story I posted two days ago, at the risk of starting a thematic trend.) At any rate, here it is:


Friday, November 30, 2007

Gee!Thanks!

My parents were certainly not the best. But one thing that I always appreciated about them is that they did not expose me to religion. So that by the time I had to face that stuff at the age of eight, I immediately concluded that it was a pack of lies. And the fact that so many around me accepted these fantasies as reality—Good grief! Give me a break!

In the forty-two years since, I have never wavered.

Thanks, folks!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Sixteen and."

A Short Story
By
James Robert Smith
Copyright 2007


When I was in the tenth grade I rode the school bus for a great portion of each of my days. I tell people that we lived far out in the woods, but no one I tell realizes what I mean. When I tell them that our driveway was exactly one mile long, that our nearest neighbor was two and one half miles from our front door, that the nearest paved road was three miles away, that the nearest phone was five miles distant—they don’t seem to understand, or believe me. After all, this was the mid-1970s, and such things just weren’t, at that time.

But it was true.

My mother would get me up for school at five in the morning and I would eat breakfast and brush my teeth and get dressed and take my mom’s car to the end of the drive and wait for the bus, which would arrive at six a.m. Then would begin the long drive to school: two and one half hours. The return trip would be made in reverse order at 3 p.m. when the school bell rang. I was the first student to be picked up every morning, and the last to be let off. I also tell people that I spent five hours of each of my days on a yellow, diesel-belching school bus, but they don’t seem to grasp that concept, either. Or they think I’m lying.

I made friends on that bus. Got into a few fights. Ignored the smaller kids and mingled with the older ones. Occasionally, I would notice that someone who normally rode the bus every day would not show up one morning. Smart kids, dumb kids, kids with potential, and kids who were lost causes. It didn’t matter. They’d just not show up on the bus one morning, or the next, or the next, or the next. Eventually I would ask someone what was going on. “Where’s Joe?” Or, “Where’s Ken?” Or “What happened to Brenda?”

And I would get a plain stare from the kid I’d asked and they’d say, “Joe turned sixteen.” Or “Ken was sixteen yesterday.” Or “Brenda’s 16th birthday came this week.”

And I would stare and wait for the rest of the story. Finally, I would say it. “So? Why isn’t Joe/Ken/Brenda here?”

And the person I was talking to would exclaim with no small amount of exasperation, “Joe/Ken/Brenda turned sixteen!” As if I were some kind of idiot who could not be made to understand.

Indeed, I did not grasp it, at first. And finally I understood. Most of these mountain kids were required by law to attend school up until their sixteenth birthday. And few of them intended to continue attending school past that date. And so, Joe and Ken and Brenda would vanish from the bus and from the halls at school and their faces would not be seen again except, sometimes, in the pages of the yearbook if the school pictures were taken before their sixteenth birthday arrived.

One day, I looked up from my daydreaming or my notebooks or my reading (I can’t recall which) as the bus came to a stop where it had not stopped before. Noting this atypical halting of the rocking of the machine atop the stony mountain roads, I watched a tall, brown-headed, lean, absolutely gorgeous young woman climb aboard, clutching her notebook to her very adequate bosom. Her hair was long and straight and hung down to the middle of her back and shone in the morning sun that was just rising above the tops of the September trees. She sat down near the front and the bus lurched, engine grumbling.

I leaned forward and nudged Allegra Priest, watching my index finger vanish to the first knuckle in the white stretch fabric that covered her fleshy upper arm. “Who’s that?” I asked her.

“Oh. That’s Rona. Her daddy just moved back to the county. They been livin in Texas for five years and they come back home now. He’s a trucker. Has his own rig and everythang,” she added, not interested in the least in the tall, pretty girl who was sitting with her back to us.

“Rona What? What’s her last name?”

Allegra rolled her eyes in her pudgy, moon face. “Grindstaff. Rona Grindstaff.” She accentuated the sound and I noticed that the new girl had heard her family name mentioned and she almost turned and I was ready to duck so that she wouldn’t see immediately that I was asking about her. But Rona remained face front and I needn’t have worried. We rode on to school and I hoped that I’d share at least two or three classes with her.

But, amazingly, although my school had only one hundred and eight students in the tenth grade, we didn’t have single common class.

****

Days followed upon the heels of each fading autumn sun. The trees went from green to brilliant hues of gold and yellow and red and orange to brown to bare and gray in the coming winter winds. I slowly inched my way up the bus, seat by seat, until I crowded out the smaller kids who gathered around Rona. It took me a week of sitting behind her, watching the back of her head, the curve of her shoulders, the glinting of light upon her hair, the smell of her blowing toward me and causing me no end of sexual frustration.

I ignored all of the other girls on the bus, much to the anger of some of them. I largely ignored my male friends there, too, much to the amusement of some of them and the confusion of the rest. For most of the ride back home I just sat and either stared or stole lingering looks at Ms. Grindstaff.

Finally, finally, after weeks of riding with her and watching her and hearing her and smelling her, I spoke to her.

“Hey,” I said.

She turned, looked at me, smiled, melted my heart and caused a flock of butterflies to take flight in my stomach, and she said, “Hey.”

Even then, even then I realized that I waited too long to continue and that I was making my emotional state plain and obvious not only to her, but to everyone on the bus who was watching or listening. Finally, I began to talk to her. As I recall, I asked her about two teachers we shared, but in different periods of the day, and I had my leg up, my foot in the door and out of my mouth. In a few minutes we were chatting, stumblingly, both of us uncomfortable with the forced conversation. I knew I had blown it.

She spent the next couple of weeks mainly ignoring me.

****

One day came and I had reached a point where I rarely even thought of Rona Grindstaff. Even though she rode the bus each day. Even though I heard her each day. Even though I caught whiffs of her perfume, her hair spray, her sweat. I was able to ignore her on a conscious level and didn’t long for her and didn’t pine for her and didn’t feel my heart sink at the way she ignored me.

No, not much.

And it was on that day, sitting, actually reading with my face down in the pages of a book that I heard the seat beside me creak with someone’s weight and felt another’s thigh pressed warmly against my own. I looked up and my nose knew who it was before my eyes did, and I say that not out of some caustic anger, but because still, now, today, thirty years later I can smell her and what they say about pheromones certainly must be true. Whatever it was about her; whether it was her face, her eyes, her lips, her chin, her hair, her body, her legs, her hands, her smile, her complexion, the way she dressed or the soap she used or the way she held herself or everything in combination; whatever it was about her, she closed all the circuits and pressed all the buttons and just plain made every nerve stand on end for me.

And I used to wonder that if she made me react just so, then certainly I must have even something akin to such a reaction for her. At least I wondered and hoped.

So. Out of the blue, she’s sitting there beside me, her leg against mine. I look up, and she’s looking back at me, our eyes staring into one another’s. “Why don’t you get off at my stop?” she asks.

“What?” I say.

“You can get off here. With me,” she says. “Don’t your friend Tommy Allaway live near here? You can call him and he can drive you over to your place later.” She had seen Tommy and me riding his cut down junker, his ‘stump jumper’ he called it. A piece-of-shit body with a running V-8 gas-guzzler in it.

“Yeah,” I stammer. “Tommy lives about three miles back down Log Ground Road,” I say. “You really want me to get off with you?”

“Yeah,” she says, her eyes smiling. “We can talk.”

I look down the road and the bus is slowing down and I can see the last curve before her house comes into view. “Your family at home? I can meet your parents,” I say.

“My daddy is off to St. Louis haulin pork sausage,” she says, smiling again.

“Just you and your momma, then?”

“My momma always goes on long trips with Daddy,” she informs me. “It’s just me at the house. And you, if you get off here,” she adds.

And I don’t even think about it. I don’t give it a second thought. I don’t think about my parents wondering why I’m not going to be driving my mom’s car down the gravel drive at precisely 5:15 pm or how they’re going to react, wondering where I could be. All I do is smile back at Rona and say, “Yeah. Sure. We can talk.”

Then the bus makes the wide turn and Rona leans into me and I can feel the warmth of her pressing against my leg and I can smell her so vividly, even now. The bus bounces once, twice on big rocks and Rona lets herself loll against me; I feel the softness of her breasts pressing against my shoulder. “Woo!” she says.

The bus stops and she stands up and I stand up and she climbs down the steps to the dusty-rocky road and I follow her down. All of the kids are watching us. All of the little kids who are accustomed to me accompanying them all along the way are staring in confusion at this suddenly major change in the routine of things. The older kids, too, are staring at us as Rona pads to the road, her jeans clinging tight to her thighs as I follow her down. I turn to Toby, the bus driver, and say, “I’m going to get off here today.” He looks at me and pulls the lever and the door squeaks shut as the engine roars leaving me standing there in the dust. As that dust clears I look at the retreating bus and see every window filled with a face watching me as I turn to chase Rona up the long drive to her house. She’s already halfway up the slope where her father’s house is perched on the top of the high hill. “Are you coming?” she asks, smiling still.

“Yeah,” I say, and trot to catch up. As I arrive, she is holding the back door. I look down and see the tracks made by her father’s enormous truck, and I can see where it sits often in between jobs pulling freight from one far place to another. There are great, wide tracks in the red dust and a huge, black spot where oil and other things drain out of that monster engine that he owns.

We go inside, and I’m surprised how clean the house is. The kitchen is very nice and she tosses her books on a Formica-topped bar with stools tucked neatly underneath. “Want a Coke? Or some tea?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll take some tea.” And I put my own books on the counter beside hers and touch one stool. “Okay if I sit here?” I ask.

“Sure.” She’s got the refrigerator door open and is bringing out a glass pitcher full of amber tea that I can already taste. Rona pours the tea into a tall glass for me, opens the freezer and I hear the clink of ice in the drink as she hands it to me. “I’m gonna drink a Coke,” she tells me, opening a glass bottle of it and drawing it down as she turns the bottom up, standing beside me at the bar.

I drink and smack my lips, looking around at the kitchen. I can see through the dining room and into the den and a hallway leading into other rooms, a color console television sitting on brown shag carpet in the fading afternoon sun. Turning, I look back at Rona and she’s staring at me with an expression I can’t figure, something I’ve never seen, and I frown. She puts the Coke bottle down on the countertop and puts her arms around my neck and her lips right on my ear and whispers to me.

“Want to have some fun?” she asks.

“Fun? What kind of fun?” I say it, dumb and stupid and virginal.

“You ever have a blowjob?”

The pit of my stomach opens up and my brain falls through it. “Nuh-no,” I say, honest about sex for the first time in my life because for the first time in my life the prospect of having sex seems suddenly imminent, and I am scared to death.

Before I can say anything else or do anything else Rona is standing in front of me and she’s unbuckling my belt and has that done and my zipper is down and her hand is inside my briefs and she has my penis. “I’ve been lookin’ at you for weeks,” she says. “You’re cute.” And before she says another word she’s on her knees and has her mouth around me.

I gasp, and my knees go a little weak, but everything else is working. I look down and she looks up, stops for a second and smiles at me. Before I know it, I come and she continues to suck for a while, then laughs and stands up, my penis now flaccid, drooping down toward my underwear.

“Now you do me,” she says, pulling down her pants and lying back on the carpet.

I kneel between her legs, look at her and wonder, and before I can think about it too much she grabs the top of my head and shoves my face to her crotch. I start doing what I think I should do and she’s soon telling me how it’s done. Breathing deep, I smell her; and I taste her, and I don’t find it unpleasant and soon I’m aroused again as she moans and squeaks and from time to time raises her hips or presses down on the back of my skull. In a bit, she moans, loud, tells me that she’s coming and arches her back and rubs her clitoris hard with her right palm.

Crawling up toward her face, I slowly peel my jeans off and, boldly, say, “Let’s screw,” as I’m looking down at her heavy-lidded eyes.

She rolls away, pushing my face. “Call Tommy. Tell him to come get you,” she says. “Use the phone in the den.” And before I can say anything she’s standing, wearing only her blue shirt and walking briskly toward the back of the house. “I’ll see you on the bus tomorrow,” she says, closing a door behind her. The last thing I see is her pale white ass.

Goddamn, I think. But I pull up my pants and go to the phone and dial Tommy’s number. His mom answers the phone and I ask for her son. In a second or two I hear my best pal’s voice. “What’s up,” he asks. “Where you callin’ from?” He knows we don’t have a phone at my house.

“I’m over at Rona Grindstaff’s house. Can you give me a ride home? Drive me there in the old stump jumper? I’ll pay for gas,” I add.

Tommy knows there’s a story there, so he agrees. I hang up, knowing he’ll be there very soon. Going to the kitchen sink, I turn on the tap and wash my hands with liquid dish detergent and then rub some on my face and lather up and rinse it off and use a dishtowel to dry. Going to the back door through which Rona and I had entered, I call out as I leave. “See you tomorrow, Rona,” I yell. Then I walk through that door and out into the yard where those enormous tire tracks and that huge dark stain look up at me. In minutes I hear the unmuffled roar of the approaching stump jumper and Tommy speeds into view, barreling down the steep hill and leaving a granite dust marker in his wake.

I hop into the car, no side doors to bother with, only the rickety seat that makes a rusty ratcheting sound as my weight settles into it. With a yelp Tommy slams the pedal down and away we roar, Tommy palming two one-dollar bills that I’ve pressed into his hand. “What was you doin’ at Rona Grindstaff’s house?”

I look at Tommy; see his gap-toothed smile, his blonde hair packed tight to his skull like wool. “She blew me,” I say.

And the car brakes and I go into the dash, but not hard, since I’d almost expected that reaction. The granite dust overtakes us and settles on us, since the car has no roof, either. “No,” Tommy says.

“Yes,” I tell him.

He puts his right foot back on the gas and we pull out of the dust cloud and he spins the car around so we don’t have to take a paved road where he might get pulled by the local cops who sometimes cruise that stretch of highway. We’re going to my house via the back roads and, glancing at my watch, I figure I might actually get back before my normal bus arrival anyway.

“What else? You have real sex with her?” The woods slip past, red oaks and post oaks, and then the pines as we enter the Rome-Kraft Paper Company lands that line the dirt roads.

“Naw. She didn’t want to,” I say.

“She just gave you a blow job?”

“Yeah.” I pause. “And I ate her out.”

“No!”

“Yeah. I kind o’ liked it,” I admit.

“No!”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.”

We ride in silence like that for a while, and I wonder what Tommy’s thinking and worry that he’s jealous, since I know he’s never been laid and maybe he’s pissed off because I got lucky before he did, even though he already has his drivers license (one of the few who didn’t quit school at sixteen). We’re tearing around a steep curve in the road, getting close to the long driveway that leads up and down the mountain to my house and he slows down a little.

“Did she swallow?”

I think for a second. “Yeah. I think so, yeah.”

“Goddamn,” he says. And then we’re at the place where I park my mom’s car and I climb out of his junker and walk over to the other auto.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I tell him.

“See ya,” he says, and soon he’s gone and I hear his beat jalopy rumbling like a phlegm-y old man down the long, piney hills and into the distance.

Slowly, thinking of Rona, of what we’d done, of the way she’d tasted and smelled, I get in my mom’s car and drive down and down that long drive to my parents’ house. All around me, the forest closes in, trees mainly naked and bare and gray, the air warm for this late in the Fall, the sound of the tires crunching gravel, munching away like teeth on something crisp.

I get home, just a little later than usual, and my mother asks me why.

“I stopped over near Tommy’s for a while. He gave me a ride home.”

“He did?” It’s my father, appearing from the back of the house. I’m not used to him being home all of the time, now that his business has failed and we’re living on his savings while he tries to figure out what to do next. I hear my folks talking sometimes, muttering in the dusk, and I know they’re down to about 20,000 dollars, which doesn’t sound like a lot to me, and I know it’s not a lot by many standards.

“Yeah,” I say. “We came through the woods on his stump jumper. Up through Log Ground Road.”

“Why’d you do that?” he asks.

“I just wanted to hang out with Tommy for a while. We’re thinking of going rafting again,” I lie. And I know my father knows it’s a lie. Why I don’t just tell them I stopped to see a girl, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the sex. My dad’s looking at me funny, and I wonder if he can tell a woman just put her lips around my penis. I look at my mom, to see if she notices something different about me, but she’s doing a crossword puzzle and doesn’t seem interested in my at all.

“Okay,” my dad says.

“I might stop over there again. Tomorrow,” I say, hoping that it’s true.

My dad turns to go back to the dark part of the house where he can contemplate the money running out. “All right. Just as long as we know where you are.”

***

The next day, on the bus, I’m sitting there and dreaming, not looking at Rona, not wanting to push things. And then she’s there again, her thigh pressed against mine, and there’s the tickle of her lips on my right ear.

“Want to stop by again?”

I look at her and smile, knowing I have a silly grin on my face, but unable to help myself. “Yeah,” I say.

This time, I don’t even look back to see the score of kid-faces staring through the rock powder coating the bus windows as I follow Rona’s tight-jeaned ass up the driveway. This time, we don’t bother with tea or Cokes or opening the refrigerator. We just start pulling at clothes and unbuckling belts and drawing down zippers and exploring one another. And, again, she’s kneeling in front of me and when I’m spent she’s lying back on the carpet and pushing the back of my skull and forcing my face into her warm, pungent crotch.

This goes on for four days. Tommy’s getting pissed by Thursday, and I’m running out of gas money to hand off to him. I’d walk through the woods and over the ridges, but it’s too far. I’d be walking all night.

By Friday, I know I’ve used up all of my favors with Tommy, and he’s sick of hearing what I’ll tell him about the brief encounters every afternoon, and he has own responsibilities that the rides to my driveway are costing him. I know all of this, but I don’t know what to do because I can’t think of an alternative, and I don’t want it to stop.

So.

On Friday, we are laying on the carpet. She’s sighed, a long, hissing orgasm. I’ve slowly crawled up toward her shoulders. My pants are down around my ankles and I’d fall over like an idiot if I tried to stand like that. She’s wearing nothing, having peeled off all of her clothes, and I’m looking at her totally naked for the first time. As I’m edging my way up, my eyes are on a dark, penny-sized mole on her left shoulder that I hadn’t known she’d had. It’s light brown and stands out on her soft, pale skin. What’s left of the afternoon sun plays over the fine hairs there.

For the first time, she doesn’t push me away, doesn’t press her fingers into my cheek and say, “Call Tommy”. She seems to be staring absently as I slide one arm under her neck and lay the other across her ribs and hold her gently. I can feel the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathes. My heart aches.

“I love you,” I say to her.

She stares at the ceiling for a second while I wait. Then the corners of her mouth turn up, her lips part, her teeth, her straight, white teeth, are evident as her eyes squint in delight and she begins to laugh.

“You! You’re so stupid,” she says. She looks right at me. “You goofy little boy.” And then she pushes me away like before, and sits up, still laughing.

“But I do,” I tell her. “I love you.” I try to push her back down, but she’s having none of that and this time shoves me away.

We’re sitting there for a while, Rona completely naked and me too stupid to finish taking my clothes off, my underwear still hanging onto my ankle, and my socks. She’s sitting up, her elbows on her knees, her face in her hands, her hair hanging down, shining in the fading afternoon light, laughing, laughing, and this goes on for some seconds before I realize that she’s not laughing, she’s crying.

“Are you okay?” I ask her. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I hate men,” she tells me, her face still in her hands. Then she’s up and walking away from me, toward the back of the house. “You call Tommy, now. Call him and get him to pick you up.” She turns her head, just a little, just enough so that I can see her left cheekbone with the light playing on very tiny hairs on her skin. “Don’t come back here anymore.” After that, she padded quickly down the hallway and into her room, shutting the door behind her, softly.

I do as she told me, picking up the phone. Tommy answers it on the first ring.

“That you?” he says.

“Yeah. Me,” I tell him.

“Again?”

“Just come get me, man. I got gas money. Can you come on, or will I have to wait? I can start walkin’ toward your place.”

“Naw,” he says. “I’ll be right there. In a few.” Then he hangs up and I hang up and pull on my clothes. In less than two minutes I’ve cinched my belt and am out the door, down the drive, and walking up the gravel road to shorten the distance Tommy will have to drive to pick me up.

I hear the guttural motor roar of a big engine and at first assume that it’s my pal, but realize the sound’s too loud and the engine far too powerful. As I stride up the hill to meet Tommy, I see a huge Mack truck headed toward me, and I immediately realize that it’s Rona’s dad, home early from wherever it is he’d driven whatever he’d been hired to haul. Realizing how close a call I’d just had, glad that Rona had not answered my love call and allowed me to completely consummate our sexual relationship, I feel my gut go cold and wonder if her dad will notice me.

At first, I keep my head down, but as the huge truck draws near, I glance up, and find that, indeed, Mr. Grindstaff is at the wheel of that monster machine and he is glaring at me with not a little intensity. I’m not positive he can look at me and know that my dick has just been in his daughter’s mouth, but I’m pretty sure of it. Pretty damned sure. As the truck kicks into a low gear so that he can take the turn into his drive, I’m only too glad to know that the rise of land at the top of the hill helps me to vanish from his sight, and as soon as I know he can’t see me, I break into a run and race to meet up with Tommy’s cut-down jalopy, which seems to me to be a very slow moving and very distant piss-ant crawling in my direction.

“This is it,” Tommy tells me. “I can’t come a get you and take you home like this. Not even for gas money. My dad’s givin’ me hell about the past couple of days. Says you need to get your own goddamn car.”

I don’t look at him and just stare at the patched floorboard, feel the cold wind cutting my face, now and again peering back to see if a huge Mack truck is bearing down on us.

*****

The next day, Rona is not on the bus. Nor the day after that. A week passes, with no Rona aboard the bus. Finally, I sit beside Allegra Priest. For a while we both just sit there, silent, the day just beginning, the sun tinting the bare treetops with light as the day creeps over the mountain ridges.

“Why ain’t Rona at school?” I ask her. “She didn’t turn sixteen, did she?” I add with something like humor.

“No. Anyway, she’s seventeen. She turned seventeen last year.”

I hadn’t known that. “Then where is she?”

“Her daddy went off on a long haul again. He took her with him.” The bus groans as it pulls up a steep hill toward the next farmhouse.

“What about her momma? The whole family go?”

“Rona ain’t got a mother,” Allegra informs me. “Her mother’s been dead for two years!” As if this is common knowledge and I should have known it.

And the weeks passed. As far as I know, the big Mack truck never returned to reside in the drive beside the Grindstaff house. All I know is that one day there was a cube van parked in front of the garage and men were moving boxes and furniture into it. I would have asked Allegra what was going on, but it was obvious. The following day, and for every day after that, the Grindsaff house was empty, sitting vacant as winter passed into spring and then summer was there.

I never saw her again. But of course I thought about her often. Over and over I would play the words in my mind,
seventeen and still at school.