Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By Request: Johnny Leathernards

Johnny Leathernards is a short story designed to make you cringe. It became quite a cult favorite at the Emily Carr School of Art and was made into the animated short Below the Belt produced and directed by Liam Hogan and Trevor Watson, and featuring renowned actor Graham Greene. Below the Belt toured the world as part of the 1998 Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Film Festival.

Herewith, the legendary Johnny Leathernards:

Johnny Leathernards

by Les Wiseman

He called himself Johnny Rocco, though his actual surname was Leathernards. He came from British stock as far back as the ninth century. In those days of famine, some ancestor provided for his family through the sport of ferreting: a popular diversion in which men competed for substantial purses. The sport consisted of contestants wearing large trousers with the cuffs tied tightly. Two food-deprived ferrets were dropped into the trousers and the waistband tied shut. The competitor who endured the fighting in his nethers longest was considered the winner. Times were tough.

Despite wear and tear on the nards, this ancestor begat progeny who followed in his footsteps. After the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, it became fashionable that citizens take a surname. Many took their occupation’s name, such as Smith, Miller and Carpenter. It seemed natural for a ferreter to brag of his prowess. Thus was the noble name Leathernards coined. Ferreters kept to their own kind and thus intermarrying reinforced prized characteristics.

Though by 1960 the sport had fallen on hard times, the endowments of champions were being passed on when John came down the chute. These characteristics included a high degree of genital retraction and an epidermal layer like Naugahyde over the genitals. John took an unwarranted amount of abuse in the shower room and vowed to change his name the minute after graduation. He chose Rocco because it sounded tough head to toe.

* * * *

Johnny held his bankbook and moaned. His unemployment insurance had run out and his last check had gone on a night out with his now ex-ladyfriend. When you have genitals that retract at the slightest hint of anxiety and have the texture of cowhide, you try to keep any girl who will tolerate such.

When he awoke after blowing his financial wad, his girl had split, but not before telling him that he was good for nothing. That set his course.

He knew he was good for one thing.

He had known it in his bones --in his skin. But ferreting wasn’t in the Yellow Pages. He had to find a match.

* * * *

Redneck havens would be where he might find the remnants of this sport. Places where they still had cockfights, dogfights and men chewed plug tobacco. He rang up a major chewing tobacco company and asked where their largest rural sales were. From there, he called local newspapers. A reporter in the Ozarks township of Voll Holler leaked that there existed an underground cockfighting industry that was orbited by an active card of ferreters. The reporter said that the games surfaced when a participant had to be rushed to Little Rock hospital. Most participants were hillbillies too stupid to wipe their own asses. Though he did allow that some major coin revolved around the matches. A self-styled southern colonel named Byron Worthington was the honcho behind it and he was as corrupt as Satan, about as ancient, and likely richer. Johnny got the old gent’s number.

A phlegm-lined drawl that spoke of juleps and stogies barked over the line, "Worthington, how may I help you?"

"Mr. Worthington, I was wanting to speak to you about ferreting."

"Ferreting? Sounds like something you might do after eating beans. What is that, hunting ferrets?"

"No sir, ferreting is a sport around which gentlemen wager. I heard you knew something of the history. There might be some money in it."

"Well, son, my bells are ringing. I might know something about history. What’d you say yo name was, boy?"

"My name, sir, is Leathernards, Johnny Leathernards." Johnny heard a surprised intake of breath.

"Leathah-nahds, are you funnin’ me, son? Leathah-nahds is the most legendary name in the heraldry of the sport."

"I am the true scion of the line, sir. That’s why I called you."

"Why, whaddya mean?"

"I want to get back into... competition."

"If you really are a Leathah-nahds, I’d back you from here to Thursday. But how do I know?"

Johnny paused, stymied.

"How large is your male organ, Mr. Leathah-nahds?"

"In what position, sir?"

"In repose."

"About three inches."


"About 1/2 inch, sir. And the terminology is ‘in play.’"

"By God, you may be a Leathah-nahds. Take your penis out son, and tap it against the phone."

Tap tap, he knocked it against the transmitter. Suddenly, a horrid blast barked from the phone and Johnny’s johnson retracted instantaneously. "Johnny, you there?"

"Yes sir," said Johnny.

"Tap your tallywhacker against the receiver."

"There really isn’t anything to tap, sir," said Johnny.

"Well, I’ll be," said Worthington, "You really ah a Leathah-nahds."

"Yes sir," said Johnny looking down at his crotch, his dick a stubby thimble in the sleek sheen of horny skin that enshielded his genitals.

"Boyah, if you want to resurrect your ancestors’ honor, we need to toughen you into fighting trim. I’ll put you on the next flight to Little Rock."

* * * *

Johnny sat in the sitz bath, his genitals immersed in warm brine. For five weeks he had been Worthington’s guest. Competition was four days away. Alternate days he endured a half-hour genital and thigh whipping with willow switches. Around the clock he wore roughened chain-mail jockey shorts to build up the callus layer.

Worthington invested largely in fighting stock. He hired top animal wranglers to turn the little blighters into 18-inch lengths of spring steel with rapier claws and miniature mako fangs. Rabbi, Lorena and Vienna Boy were the most vicious demon-eyed vipers Johnny had ever seen. His old fella went into in-play mode at mere mention of their names. They were fed mountain oysters, shaved white mice and quail eggs. They were part of a team. These ferrets went into his opponent’s trou. He hoped his opponent had recruited older ferrets with timeworn teeth and stubby claws.

Worthington briefed him on the match. Otto Da Fe was a 400 pounder. His goolies were so encased in fat that they were protected. "But remember The Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape...?" Johnny did. "They were all about tunneling. I’ve been training our ferrets. I’ve had a cow cadaver solidified with concretion chemicals and those little buggers have been slipping through those intestines five hours a day. They know how to get the goods." Worthington lifted a dangling phallus and testes made of sausage and tossed it to Vienna Boy. "The Goods!" he laughed as the ferret tore into the sausage.

Johnny thought, "I’m having ferrets down my pants and he’s the madman."

* * * *

In the ruts outside the old barn, the BMWs and Mercedeses were outnumbered a hundred to one by pickups.

Johnny stood in the tent attached to Worthington’s trailer. The setting Arkansas sun’s rays turned him fiery orange as his two cornermen oiled his nude form.

Worthington looked him over. "Son, you are the Cassius Clay of ferreting. Why, your loins look like fine Corinthee-an leath-ah."

Johnny felt pumped. Every part of his loins was tight and insignificant, shriveled and wizened, locked in a tough unfeeling carcass of callus. His cock was a corn, his balls a bunion. His nards were leather.

The combatants came to the ring in their sailcloth trousers. The ferrets were brought in. Bourbon-reddened cheek by tobacco-stained jowl, the patrons howled for some jostling of the Jockeys, some fracas of the Fruit Of The Looms, some nether-gnashing, scrotum-scissoring ACTION.

"The main event, the best of one round, featuring the ferreting champeen of Pine Bluff, Otto Da Fe!" The crowd went wild: a lather of beer, sweat, whisky, reefer and flatus. "An’ in this corner, the true scion of the sport that crossed the waters on the Mayflowah, Johnny Leahthah-nahds."

Johnny felt the blue blood rise in his veins, the landed gentry would be displaced by a true lord. He felt his nethers snap shut like new Samsonite.

When his ferrets came out lashing like short-circuiting power wires, his cornerman handed him the traditional pint of rum and he slugged half of it back in two swallows. The only sanctioned anesthetic.

Then he saw the rival animals. They coiled and lunged like amphetamine-crazed rattlers, their little eyes red as the blood they craved. Johnny felt everything go loose inside him.

"Don’t worry son, you’re a shoo-in," cackled Worthington, stifling Johnny’s response with his bite-plate. A referee banged a bell and the cornermen each grabbed a waistband lace and led Johnny to center ring. The rum slammed into his brain like a White Freightliner. "Fuggit," he thought. "Within 10 minutes, I’ll either be $20,000 richer or a eunuch bleeding from every major artery below my waist." Otto was going to get Lorena and Rabbi, definitely the two meanest of Johnny’s team. Then two snarling, spitting fur stoles were waved in front of Johnny’s face. He gave the crowd the thumbs-up.

In the next moment, he felt a flurry in his pants and the laces tied tight. The game was afoot. Showing good form, both contestants clasped their arms behind them.

What was scary to the audience was genital loss. Indeed this concerned the competitor, however more common injuries involved major arteries in the groin and upper thighs. If a couple of those got slit, there was a serious possibility of bleeding to death before first aid could be administered. Thus, if the ferrets kept at each other, the contestant would suffer only minor contusions. If they got separated and went down a separate leg, the ensanguination could be immense as they clawed up from the tied ankles and vented their frustrations on any accessible flesh.

Johnny felt scratches on his oiled, horn-callused skin. The lads were engaged in their own business. He looked at his opponent. From ringside, he heard Worthington shouting, "Tunnel, you little beggars, dig for gold...!" Bless rum, thought Johnny, feeling removed from the scrimmage in his skivvies. Johnny looked on as his opponent’s shoulders trembled until Otto began madly tearing at his laces, his seconds running in with linoleum knives. Weighted netting was thrown over Otto while two wranglers with snap-nets snagged the ferrets.

"A submission!" shouted the referee from gore ground zero.

* * * *

In the dressing room, Johnny’s nethers were ministered to. The damage was viewed as merely nominal by Worthington. "Son, I’ve got something special for you." Johnny felt like a hero, like his world had come to an epiphany. He knew now he was no bull-teat.

"This here li’l missy is the legendary Ferret Queen." Worthington pulled over a silicone-enhanced bundle of tan curves sheathed in a pink satin bandeau and hot pants. She looked like a hard-lived Daryl Hannah on steroids.

"Johnny," she husked with a little shimmy running through her abundance, "ferreters turn me on. I know how to deal with their special... needs." Her tongue lashed around her lips like a hound fresh from a gravy dish. Johnny felt his loins ungird and prepare for a different sort of match. Worthington shoved a goblet of champagne, a check for $20,000 and the keys to the Little Rock Motor Inn’s bridal suite into Johnny’s hand.

* * * *

A month later, Johnny had a six-figure bank account and the Ferret Queen was "Miss Lisa" to everyone in the entourage.

His rise to prominence had not been without pain, however Miss Lisa ministered to his wounds and made his off-canvas life a hedonist fantasy. Indeed, some thought the sport was rising in popularity more as a result of her pneumatic presence in his corner than for anything that happened in the ring.

Johnny and his bloodthirsty ferret pack had humbled the eight best in the field and the organ of the sport, REAL Cockfighters, listed him as number two.

Gears were turning for an off-The-Strip Vegas winner-take-all world championship, best two out of three, over three nights against Frenchman Toni "The Iron Jock" DeSulka. The Euro champ had 12 wins, though he had lost five. Five that, as Johnny watched the videos, set his own nethers snapping shut like a giant clam. DeSulka had refused submission until his lips and fingernails had turned gray and the ref had stepped in to save his life. The Frenchman had blown most of his winnings at Monte Carlo’s baccarat tables. The Vegas matches would make or break him.

Though undefeated, Johnny knew Toni DeSulka was one tough, or desperate, son-of-a-bitch not to have cried "Uncle."

Johnny turned off the tape of DeSulka’s most recent match. Lisa had stripped and covered herself in heavy oil while watching the match. She was listening to her Walkman, her massive breasts swaying like bowling balls on polished silk.

Johnny loved her. His fantasies of menages-a-trois were indulged with Lisa procuring other women and uninhibitedly sexing them while Johnny watched or participated. Now, she caught his aroused ogling and smiled widely, standing, shimmering before him. Suddenly, from the street, a horn honked. Before he retracted, Lisa grabbed him like a retreating gooey duck and in her mouth he felt himself become a normal man again.

* * * *

Las Vegas. Neon city where on the back streets you could place a bet on a circle jerk. Johnny had revived ferreting to unheard of popularity. Though it was still an illegal activity, Johnny had been contacted by Playgirl and Numbers with big buck offers to do nude pictorials. Porn director Ron Jeremy was negotiating a Johnny and Lisa video and Rolling Stone said that Hunter Thompson would conduct an exclusive interview.

Of course, if he lost these matches he could end up being a nutless wonder begging on street corners.

* * * *

DeSulka arrived and met the press. He seemed drugged and apathetic.

Johnny, Lisa and Worthington watched from a hotel room via a closed-circuit link. When it was over, Worthington poured them all a stiff one and toasted, "To a match already won."

This looked like a cakewalk. Something wasn’t right.

* * * *

Night one, of three consecutive nights of pugilism of the pants, rodent rivalry, mayhem of the Munsingwear, a scrotal scuffle supreme.

Johnny came out like a god: tan, oiled and buff. DeSulka came out wan, bloated and fey.

The Frenchman never gave any indication, but the refs called it when, two minutes into the bout, he lay against the ropes, his eyeballs rolled up like venetian blinds and his trou whirling like a food processor.

As Johnny joyously watched replays of the match, Lisa drained away any turgidity that might have raised its head on the morrow.

* * * *

Next night, in the third minute of the second match, Johnny felt his confidence waver. DeSulka was grimacing, pouring sweat. A referee was standing by. Lorena and Rabbi were doing their stuff.

But then Johnny felt teeth penetrate his callused hide and a ripping sensation with tugging surges like a shark hitting a swimmer. "Oh...NO!" he thought. His trou erupted into a flurry the like of which he had never felt and when he looked down he almost brought up. His white trou were sopping with blood. He felt his knees go and he righted himself before he fell back against the ropes.

A new fury erupted in Johnny’s trou and he felt something slip in its casing. Fangs penetrated a testicle and without thought he screamed and the scream formed the word.

* * * *

When he came to, Worthington and Lisa were beside him. "Am I...? have I...?"

"You called it in time, Johnny," said Worthington. "You’re whole. The doc patched you up. You’re going to have some pain, but you’ll be able to go the distance tomorrow night."

"Again," Johnny muttered. "I’ve got to go in there tomorrow!"

Worthington raised his eyebrows. "That’s the million-dollar deal."

Johnny fell deathly silent; his eyes drooped shut. After a while Worthington and Lisa left. Johnny’s eyes snapped open and he grabbed the Yellow Pages. A bank machine wouldn’t make the nut. He looked up jewelers and pawnbrokers in the city that never sleeps. Then he grabbed the phone, his gold card and his checkbook.

* * * *

DeSulka’s goons were left in the anteroom ogling Lisa’s electric turquoise sport bra and hot pants set in hostess mode. Their boss’s safety seemed a far away concern as Lisa bent over with a tray of juleps.

In an adjoining office, DeSulka accepted a glass of red wine before sitting across the desk from Johnny. They both looked like death.

Johnny reached forward and uncovered a dozen small glistening diamonds set on a black velvet cloth. "Tax free, easily transportable, $60,000, redeemable anywhere in the world. Your manager need never know. You go 90 seconds, cry submission and you slink away, crying on the outside, laughing on the inside. I win. Seconds later, I retire. You’re number one in the world. I go legit and we never see each other again."

"My wife would kill me, we’ve been saving...."

"Look, you don’t get it. These diamonds give you a take-home only about $10,000 less than I’ll make as winner and you automatically command world-champion coin on your next match. Guaranteed. I’m taking a loss on this, but I’m still out of here with a down payment on a fried chicken franchise and I never hear the word ferret again."

"How do I know you will not betray me?"

Johnny stood up and undid his belt letting his trousers drop. DeSulka gasped. The left nut was bad. But the refs would pass it because of the amount of hype and money riding on this match.

"When this is over, I’ll lose the nut, but a guy can function with one. I’ll get a prosthetic for cosmetics and marry my Lisa."

"If you’re in such a bad way why should I throw the match?"

"Because you’re in a worse way. If you lose, you can barely afford plane fare home. Physically, you’re a wreck, too. This eliminates the risk for both of us."

DeSulka sipped his wine.

"You mustn’t tell anyone about this, not your manager, not your wife," said Johnny. "At least, not until we’re both out of the country. If you betray me or I find that you’ve told anyone, I’ll expose the scheme. You’ll be ruined in the sport... and I’ll just be ruined. No one would stand to gain.

"My manager will never know. I’ll pay him his cut and be out of his life. After nine centuries, I just want to get my family name out of this racket victorious."

"The ferrets might be more crazed than usual."

"That’s the chance we take. But no matter what, we have decided the outcome of this match."

"But your nard?"

"It’s a goner anyhow. We’ll sneak a shot of industrial-strength anti-inflammatory in before I leave the hotel."

DeSulka cringed as one who knows. "Why are you doing this?"

"I want to have something left. Most every ferreter thinks they’ll get out after one more match and they end up bleeding to death or with some artificial plumbing that never works as well as the original. I don’t want to have to turn a tap to take a piss; that’s the heart and soul of it."

DeSulka picked up the diamonds.

* * * *

That night, as Johnny took the ring, he looked convalescent. He didn’t want to appear confident. Besides, his injured nut was broadcasting a loud personal farewell to his brain.

He looked across at DeSulka who was similarly deathly. Sports fans loved the Grim Reaper’s presence though and the crowd was hollering like orangutans with sunburned asses.

When he felt his seconds pull the laces tight and the rats begin to roil he knew all that would save him was DeSulka’s decision.

Lasting 90 seconds with his left nut throbbing like a turn-signal to agony would be no stroll in the sun. He only hoped it wouldn’t slip out of his shrivel-pouch and be crunched like a Jordan almond. He glanced at DeSulka. His trou were popping like Orville Redenbacher’s best and his thighs were already stained with blood. "Probably could’ve won this honestly," Johnny thought, and before he knew it, DeSulka unlocked his arms from behind him and started to slap at his crotch. Then Johnny’s ears were filled with the most beautiful sound a ferreter can hear. "Submission!"

Johnny felt his arms raised by the referees. He made his way back to the dressing room. Yessir, he thought, the way out of this stupid sport, out of nard pain, into some suntanning and a pina colada without end. Lisa ran toward him in bulbous tangerine spandex. He was happy.

He saw Mrs. DeSulka approaching him, her lips wide with a twisted grin. "Oh shit," he thought. "She found out the arrangement. Oh well, as long as she keeps her trap shut until...."

...the explosion of the gun and... the nards, the genetic gift of generations, felt wet, burning, loose, and major supreme PAIN... and he stared into that crazy DeSulka bitch’s face, the smoking revolver, eyeballing death. Then his screen went gray.

* * * *

Johnny Leathernards’s eyelids raised like the granite lid of a crypt. Magnificent pain was there. Lisa, Worthington, DeSulka too. DeSulka asked for a moment alone. "We should have told my wife," he cried. "She was counting on this win for my operation."

"What operation?"
DeSulka moaned, "Every man gets into this sport for some reason that makes him think he can win. You have your tough skin. I am... transsexual; my wife is... lesbian. It is our dream that because I didn’t care about this thing between my legs, I could be a winner in this sport and finally raise the money for my operation, so we could live as a female couple. But in Europe, trying to increase my winnings by gambling I lost much money. This match would have given us enough. Because I could not tell her, she blamed you for robbing us of our future."

Johnny groaned. "So what was your plan?"

"I was going to go from the winner’s circle to the Las Vegas Dr. Sid Scissors Clinic for the sex change...."

* * * *

Johnny called for a private moment with his manager.

"How bad am I, Worthington?"

"You’re bad, Johnny," Worthington shrugged. "You’re lucky that the gun was a small caliber, but there’s nothing left down there. Still, you’ll heal and you’ve got nearly half a million in the bank that you didn’t have yesterday."

Johnny thought and he thought again and then he called in Lisa, who, to show her distress, was in a jet black lace bodystocking.

"Lisa," he said, "you’re bisexual, right?" She nodded. "And you want to be looked after, right?"

She nodded. "But Johnny, what I love about you is your soul...."

"Well," he said, "that’s intact.

"Lisa, I have an idea. I’m an adaptable man. I made all this money by adapting to what fate has handed me...." He paused. "Lisa, call the Dr. Sid Scissors Clinic for an appointment." He managed a laugh. "And, by the way, do you have the number of the surgeon who gave you those excellent hooters?"

-- 30 --

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