Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Jawbone of an Ass, autobigraphy as fiction.

Some years back, a publisher saw one of my stories in Weird Tales and got in touch with me. He wanted to publish a collection of my short fiction. So Steve Bissette wrote a very nice and flattering introduction and Harry Fassl graciously illustrated the book. But, the publisher turned out to be a flake and the book never appeared.

One of my favorite stories in the stillborn project was an original that was a departure for me. Semi-autobiograpy, with not a hint of the supernatural. It was my first step away from typical horror fiction and I've never gone back to the kind of thing I wrote before I wrote this one.

I won't say where autobiography veers from fiction.

The Jawbone of an Ass
James Rorbert Smith

At first glance, Ed Jones looked like 250 pounds of fat. Lots of people made that mistake. But Ed wasn't all fat. He worked out with the weights at the South Georgia Barbell Club, and he could bench-press over 400 pounds. His arms were like steel, his legs like a couple of concrete posts. However, with the baggy shirts he wore, he looked like just a great, big fat guy.

It was well known that he was half-Jew. His dad had been a Jew from New York. Everyone knew it and it followed him around the small Georgia town like a gauzy ghost dogging his ass. "Yeah, my daddy was a Jew," he'd say. He didn't give a damn. His dad had always told him that Ed couldn't be a Jew because your mom has to be a Jew for you to be a Jew. So he wasn't a Jew. But everyone else thought he was. Damn Jew, they'd mutter. How'd a Jew ever get a name like Jones, anyway, they'd ask.

So these two guys, one named Philip Tow and the other named Ricky Webb, were into the Aryan Nation stuff. They'd bought the party line: Jews were evil. They didn't know Ed Jones, but they knew of him, and they knew where he hung out. The pair of Georgia boys decided to go to the bar where Ed liked to drink so that they could kick his ass. It would be fun.

Ed was at a booth waiting for his friends, Batten and Gronroos and Gardner. They all went to the Binnacle off the St. Simons Island Causeway every Wednesday night to throw down a few drinks and shoot the breeze. Ed was always early to grab the booth in the rear and wait for the others, before the place had a chance to get crowded. That's where he was, sitting in the back, when Tow and Webb came in.

The pair of racist shit-kickers saw Jones there, slowly sipping his favorite, a vodka-Collins. He'd nurse one of those for a while, chew the ice, and wait for his pals.

The pair of jeans-clad, flannel-wearing sonso'bitches eased down to the shadowy rear where Jones was sitting ignorant of their intention. They'd planned it out, and they didn't want to take too long. Kick the Jew's ass and get out before John Law came calling.

The bartop ran almost to the very back of the building, where Ed was cloaked in the shadows. Tow was closest to him, Webb just to the right of his neo-Nazi pal. They each put one foot up on the kick rail and turned toward Jones and Tow said, "I think I smell a dirty fucking Jew, Webb. What about you?"

"Yeah," Webb agreed. "I smell the filthy rat-looking piece of shit, too."

Ed just froze and glared at them from where he sat. He didn't really look like much if what you thought you were seeing was just a big, fat guy waiting for his pals. His face was kind of boyish, his hair flat and dark brown, his clothes plain. Yeah, he was as wide as a Mack truck, but most fat-asses were. Tow, a lean and wiry sort of fellow, a natural athlete who had avoided all participatory sports in high school, leaned forward in a rather artful way and spit at Ed. The small gob of mucus arced and landed almost elegantly on the third button of Ed's blue work shirt.

Ed wasn't really what came to the mind of your average South Georgia racist when he thought of a Jew. Well, not unless that particular cracker bought into that jazz about all of those Philistines and the jawbone of an ass. These guys just were not expecting what happened next.

Ed came out of his shadowy booth like a gigantic cannonball. Neither of his targets was able to so much as flinch before he was on them. Tow, of course, was first. Ed's hands were small, and his fingers long and lean, like those of a fine musician rather than those of a fighter. But his right fist cracked against Tow's face, and the noise that shot through and through the bar was the sound of Tow's once solid mandible shattering like a dry twig underfoot. Before he could even react to the excruciating pain that was spasming down his neck and up into his rather pitiful excuse for a brain, Ed had rammed his elbow into Tow's chest, almost breaking him in half. Only the amazing quality of the spine to flex saved him from a severed backbone.

And next there was Ricky Webb. He was able to take half a step away during this blinding display of violence, and so Ed had to reach out and grab at him. Ed missed in his grasp for the back of the white boy's skull and his fingers snapped shut on Webb's left cheek, which then stretched impossibly as Ed pulled Webb's head down and forward, bringing his muscled thigh up, up, up. Pow. Webb's nose exploded in a great, impressive shower of crimson that exited his face in a violent blossom of warm wet.

Unconscious, Webb did not feel his body being lifted, one-handed, and smashed down upon the painfully crawling form of his already shattered buddy. The breath whooshed out of Tow's lungs, and the leader of that particular pack of vermin was not able to scream as Ed danced merrily and quite madly upon the two bodies now staining the wooden, splintery floor of the Binnacle.

Then there was a pause. The air inside the place seemed to hold still, the voice of Waylon Jennings on the jukebox even paused in mid-note. Behind the bar, the 'tender stared back, trying to pierce the dark shadows where he knew the great and powerful Ed was holding a particularly red and violent court. The shadow that was Ed Jones bent over, and in each of his very, very, very strong hands he took a fistful of the hair of those who had thought to bully him. He took those fists filled with their long, well-washed hair and, using his big feet to brace against their skulls, he ripped that hair out by the roots. Webb was awakened by the sheer agony of this act, and his eyes opened to the sight of the Binnacle's floorboards, and he could not quite figure why his head burned as if aflame with the bites of one thousand fire ants.

Ed began to walk out of the Binnacle, with no one there to stop him. Behind, he left Webb and Tow moaning and semi-conscious. In either hand he carried a bit of scalp, each dripping bloodily as he walked.

Just at the door, with the light of the fading sun illuminating his face (but the bartender would claim that he had never seen the person who had so badly beaten Webb and Tow), he turned and addressed the only other man awake in the place.

"Tell Batten and Gronroos and Gardner that I couldn't make it tonight."

"Will do," the bartender said. And he was as good as his word.

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