Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Quod me nutrit me destrui --new horror fiction from L. Wiseman

Quod me nutrit me destrui

Days beyond count had passed since the HMS McKenna had hit the reef and broken up. Of the men who made it to shore, all had died but he. Some had grasped their chests, some their heads, and dropped. Others had taken the black piss or wasted from dysentery.
The ones who had lasted longest had enjoyed what the island provided in abundance. Clams were found in lava pools. Oysters could be harvested at low tide. There were small thistles to be eaten with care.
Early on, the priest had found a secluded patch of mushrooms. They were sparse, but the meaty taste was so satisfying that he kept the discovery to himself.  There seemed to be different varieties surrounding a rotting ancient tree. These fungi sprung from it and from its roots still trailing in the ground.
The mushrooms seemed to be why he survived and the others did not. He knew some could be poisonous and so had eaten only small nibbles and waited to see if they were fine. There were times he thought he would die. Lying puking on the ground, the world whirled around him with horrifying visions that seemed to be glimpses of another world. But, there were other mushrooms that were fit for a king.
That he alone survived the island for ages set his mind wandering far. For it was he, the priest, who was responsible for ringleading the mutineers. Twas he, the man of God, standing on the McKenna’s foredeck beside the captain as the men were admonished. He who pulled the cutlass from under his robes and slashed the captain’s throat and laughed as he fell to his knees. Again the priest had swung the blade, this time into the center of the captain’s skull rending his face in two in a splatter of blood and brains. The captain did not tolerate the ways of the sea, or understand that the cabin boy was the priest’s own to do with what he would. While the bunks creaked with sodomy at night, no moralizing officer was going to put a stop to the tradition of sailors. The captain had ruined the cabin boy, and the lad fell second to the priest’s blade. Then, with the rum kegs uncorked and the crew reveling, the helmsman passed out at the wheel and the McKenna hit the reef at speed.
*  *  * 
Mere survival did not take much of the day. The temperature was moderate and his hut served him well. Thus, he was left to ponder. He never saw sign of another human.
Nor any animals, nor birds, though occasionally gulls would fly far out to sea. He would scatter oysters and clams for them, but they would never come ashore, as if the land were poisoned. Flying fish would skitter across the sea’s surface out past the reef. Only sharks would venture inside the reef.
He became given to ruminations that could last days. He began to enjoy the small dark-capped mushrooms. He would dry a stockpile and then make tea with collected rainwater from the tropical showers. With this drink, he would become soul drunken. Stumbling around the beach and the forest, he would babble madly in tongues for hours before coming to his senses.
He came to accept that he would never get off this island, that God in His wisdom had delivered him over to a lifetime of solitary contemplation.
Out of boredom, he became addicted to his mushroom fever dreams. He increased the dosage. He became slovenly and filthy. He lay in the mushroom patch, the rotting tree as his pillow. He was used to tremors, fits and even paralysis, but none deterred him. He lived with his Lord in his visions, lying transfixed on nights when the rains came and the lightning pierced the sky. He felt the wonder and the magnificence of nature’s violence. He drifted away on dreams into the night, riding the lightning bolts as if they were God’s steeds and the thunderclaps were his own shouts of ecstasy. He became one with God.
He woke to find he could blink his eyes, but as he looked over himself, he saw that his torso was covered in toadstools. Great broad fungi covered his chest and among these grew the slim tendrils of the dream mushrooms. He checked his nethers and from amidst his hairs sprouted thick-stalked, bulb-headed mushrooms. He shrieked and made to pull himself upright, but his arms and back seemed attached to the earth, and he saw his arms were covered in slimy black inkcaps, their gills showering spores upon his skin. As he watched, the spores sprouted into new tapered Chinese hats. He felt the gelatinous stems run from the ground, through his body and burst through his flesh. His vision dimmed as tendrils ran down his forehead and pushed his eyelids shut. He screamed and felt mushrooms roiling up from his gut and out through his mouth to clog his air and reach for the dim light above the grove. He felt his jaw dislocate. Every hole was being raped by these fungi. He could feel them prodding through his bowels, working their way through his bladder and any space in his intestines. His body was clogged; his blood clotted with spores and tendrils. With an anguished shudder, his stomach burst and peeled back to release more of the malignant mushrooms squirming and slithering through his guts making their way to the air.
He endured the tortures of the damned; for damned, he realized, was what he was. He had born false witness and misrepresented the Lord while indulging his seaman’s sins. His life had been an abomination and now he would have eternity to repent. Forever growing and bursting with spores that would bury him in the filth, slime and ever-prodding tendrils.

-- 30 --

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Adventures of Blind One-Eyed Johnson:
Part-Negro Blues Shouter

by Les Wiseman, with
Zaf Georgilas

The blues: "A panhandling gimmick for alcoholics." -H.C. Speir, talent scout responsible for the recordings of many Delta blues artists.

How I Got the Acquaintance o’ My Pig, Po’kchot

The Mississippi Delta is home to a lot of things, mud particularly. I cracked a pained eyeball. I could see nothing. This was not unusual for a man of my habits, a profligate drinker of strong spirits and a chaser of most any sweet jellyroll that passed me by. It might be night. I might have eaten one of them jimson roots. I hope I hadn’t drank any methyl alcohol, though I wouldn’t put it past myself.
          Seemed only one thing to do.  I let loose with a hellhound halloo.  “Az Gads, I’zzz bli-i-i-n- d,” I paused and thought.  I’azzz blind-ed. Az poor an’ give inta my sins an’ fell afoul o’ the Lord and now he’s taken my sight....”
          I thrashed my limbs about, hoping nothing was broken.  My nostrils were hit by a noxious smell that made me heave.  Then, I felt something nuzzling into my tallywacker.  But, it wasn’t romantic and I feared for man rape.  “Nooo, ah Lordy, no!  Ah know az pretty, but I’m a God-fearin’ man who don’t hold with the Sodomitic practices!”
          For my efforts, I got a banshee scream in my left ear that sent all my sinews into acting on their own and I shoved through some foul goo to see a fine little porker staring at me, with the clear light of morning shining behind him.
          I was in shit.  Pig shit.  I had spent my repose in some mudhole that was comprised of two percent soil mud and 98 percent animal mud --particularly of the pig and poultry versions. 
I peered either way and sat up in a wary crouch.  I tapped and found I still had my lid, a man’s not a man without a hat, covered in feces or not.  To my right, I spied my guit-box, still wrapped in my duffle, it’s head seemingly still aligned with the bulk of its body.  If I broke that guitar, I’d be well and truly screwed.  It was the instrument of my survival, for I was an itinerant bluesman heading for Clarksdale, Mississippi, the mecca of the blues.
          Fact that I had only a passing knowledge of how to play the thing, that I didn’t know how to tune it, that I sang in a voice that only a mother could love and I could never remember lyrics worth a shit added up to me being about the sorriest bluesman managing to keep vertical a few hours of the day in the South or anywhere else for that matter.
          You know that ol’ Walkin’ Blues?  “Woke up this mornin’, fumbled ‘round for ma shoes....”  I’d learned, from my profligate ways, that such behavior in an itinerant bluesman, was a good way to end up in the dirt fulltime.  Bogged in pigshit as I was, I saw light, a break of forest, my duffel, and the cutest little mud-covered pork roast you ever seen.  Scrambling it all together, I grabbed my poke and the porker and knowing that no one would ever be able to remove me from my shoes without a buck knife, I lit into a shit-cakin’, hog squealin, guitar bashin’ run for the forest.
          And Lord be praised, if I didn’t make it well into the trees before I heard the first shotgun boom.

*  *  * 

Man like me doesn’t spend much time wondering where he is.  Where ever I find myself, there I is.  However, the peripherals make a magnitude of difference.
          I’d obviously tied one on last night and through direction or my own non-existent navigation had spent the night in a pig flop.  Worse had happened. 
No more shots followed me into the woods, so I ran a crazy track for a good piece until I found some brush that I could settle in.  Then I took off my jacket and rolled the quiet piglet into it.  This was some pig, a little round baby, mostly belly, little screw tail and wet snout.  Eyes that looked like they’d been open just a few days.
          I set my hat out to dry and started scraping the mud off my trousers with a stick.  I checked my throat and my Gammy’s hoodoo poke was still there. I moved all my fingers and joints, cranked my neck, popped my back.  Nothing was broken, which was likely more as the result of my tender years, all 23 of them, than any lack of trying.  When my face was scraped cleaner and the grit out of my teeth, I went into my duffle.  My darling Bovrille, my prized six-string of no perceivable brand, still gleamed and was unbroken.  I praised Lord Jesus, for his mercies, to my guitar, my fingers, my teeth and various other body parts as I felt around.
Best of all, I found my smoked black lenses were still of a piece.  Those are very important to my sting.  Took ’em off a blind man who no longer had any use for ‘em.  Fear a bit of a curse for that.
          I checked my bandit places, little sewn-in pockets in my duffel and pants-legs.  I found a short-dog of some evil-smelling liquor and that made me very happy.  I found some scrap and some papers in my pant cuff.  So I rolled one and fired it up.  I made water with no noticeable pain and got that fine warm feeling I always did when I felt the heft of my bad black boy.  I started thinking about food, but not much, cause I always been skin and bone, a bit of muscle, too. But eating always came last to me after wang-dang-doodle and John Barleycorn.
          I looked over at my coat and flung it open so that I could hang it over a branch to dry out.  The poor little piglet rolled out, gave a weird grunt.  I looked at this cute little muck-covered girl,  and said, “Guess what Po’kchot, I don’t want to eat you, cause I got this rotgut here.  Instead, you and me weez gonna be friends.  And you’s gonna make me a wealthy itinerant bluesman.”
          The pig made that noise again and I uncapped my bottle, ready for the adventures of a new day.

*  *  * 

I set myself up on a street corner in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  I’d dusted myself off, put on my smoked lenses and tapped my way over with my thin bamboo cane.  I found a wood box down an alley without anyone really seeing what I was up to.  I got comfy on my box and started banging on my guitar.  I was a useless guitar player, but one kind fellow, on hearing how hopeless I was, had tuned my guitar to an open-G tuning.  Thus, laying a finger aside any fret made a chord, and when I got out my pocket knife I could attempt to play a little slide guitar.  The trick with the latter was to keep the vibrato going, so you never really landed on any particular note.  It looked flashy and over time I had developed a few simple, workable slide solos.  I had learned to tune my guitar from the top string down, but only into open-G. Ask me to return it to conventional tuning and I couldn’t do it on a bet.
          I began plunking out a simple bass line with my thumb and used my fingers to get a bit of a rhythm pattern going. Then, I laid my knife along the strings and a metallic ring sung out of the box. 

*  *  *

I remembered a fragment of a lyric I heard on a street corner of Helena, the other blues town across the Mississippi. “I wring my hands when you mistreat me, pretty mama.” Some sharp-dressed guitar picker, wearing a pin-striped suit and fedora was singing that to the red hot mamas passin’ by. I noticed the smile on their faces as he sang those words of lament mixed with lascivious intent. Now, I can’t say that I would ever sing with his same sweet tone. My voice had as much smoothness as a rooster crowing at the break of day, and my playing could never be described as smooth, but the Spanish tuning covered up what I lacked in technique the same way a few sips of Smokestack Lightnin’ made a hefty woman look like the Venus of doodle. And so I played the song on my trusty Bovrille, hoping to snare a few coins so I could wet my whistle tonight.
          Within a few bars of the song, like a possum that comes to feed on a pear that’s fallen off a tree, a striking lady with coffee-colored skin unleashed the pearlies at me.
          “How long do you plan on staying on that corner?” she asked. I was astonished that my plunking and thumping had got the attention of this fine mama. Still, I was a dyed-in-the-wool con man since my brief stint as a snake-oil salesman with Dr. Conqueroo’s Medicine Show.
          “By the end of the next verse, we could be in a room together.”
          Po’kchot grunted. I guess she didn’t approve of the way I wanted to play that wang dang doodle.
          “Is that cute piglet the only audience you got? Because with the way you play and sing, you’re gonna need to play on this corner for a week to pay for one meal. And that money will come from the charity of some churchgoers who can’t stand to see you starve.”
          “Oh, sassy woman,” I moaned. “How can you be so cruel to a blind man? Don’t you hear something in my music that you moves you? Y’know, the history and blood of the Mississippi Delta?”
          “If you treat the ladies the way you treat that guitar, then I better move on. Because you ain’t gonna be cookin’ in my kitchen. You hear? And the name’s not, Oh Sassy Woman. It’s Miss Dinah Holmes. Besides how can you tell what I look like since you wear those blind man’s glasses?”
          “My ears can discern beauty. You know us blind folk got heightened senses.”
          “Maybe one day they’ll find it in your music.”
          Miss Dinah was a feisty one. With her long dark curls, and green afternoon dress, the way she swung her large hips surely captured all the passing men’s eyeballs. But, I had her attention, though it was because of our banter and my good looks, if I may say so, long as I don’t get struck down by the good Lord for talking too pretty about myself. It weren’t for my music. But then again, if you want to catch a catfish, it don’t matter what bug you attach to your fly.
          “Well, Miss Dinah, how about you stay a little longer and hear my next song? It will move you so much that you'll forget your plans for tonight.” Truth be told, I didn’t have another song. I could only play variations of the same song. I wasn’t as skillful or imaginative as the players I heard up in Helena.
          “I’ve heard all I needed to hear, understan’? Besides, I’m on my way to get dinner ready for tonight. But I’ll probably see you around … wha’s your name anyway?”
          “Everybody calls me One-Eye, but you can call me Hubert.”
          “And the pig…”
          “Only that pig make you any different than the other bluesmen round here. You goin’ to play to raise the change you need for a bottle and when that’s gone you’ll be hoppin’ the next train. ’Sides, you ain’t blind. You just too lazy and no account to get yo’sef a real job.” With that, Miss Dinah turned and left me ogling the caboose.

*  *  *

The past stays in the past. But sometimes, you hear it when your thoughts are interrupted by the rhythm of that lonesome train in the middle of the night. I knew more about real jobs and hard labor than that Dinah gave me credit for. It was a decent life for a black boy playin’ music on the street corners of Clarksdale. I got more time on my hands now than I had in the past and more of a need to survive by my wits. But, back at Choctaw Plantation, it was early to rise like the rooster, and work those fields for long hours, especially during cotton harvesting. You knew where your next meal was coming from, even it was nothin’ but corn and grits. Now, I have to make my own daily bread, but at least I’m my own boss.
          One guitbox player, Ennis McKinley, played so sweetly that it made you forget about the grueling work. That’s when a seed was planted in my mind. Last I heard of Ennis, he boarded a train for Chicago, and was playing his Delta blues at some clubs there. That was funny to me that people would like the music from this muddy Delta. That they would find something moving in the hollerin’ that came from the long, tiring work in the fields. But then again, Ennis had a sweet voice, and the ladies always fell for his music. I thought if he can do it, I can try.
          Since that white fella John Lomax and his son, Alan, brought that big 300-pound recordin’ machine into the fields and brought to the civilized world what we pickaninnies be doin’ for music down here, the record companies been payin’ attention.  Got a lot of attention for Muddy and Leadbelly. That was back in ’34. Songs they recorded got turned into 78-r.p.m. disks. Folk in the city call ’em race records. Well, if there’s a race, guess whitey be winnin’.

*  *  *

How I Lost the Acquaintance o’ My Pig, Po’kchot

I took off my hat and wiped my kerchief across my brow, put down my guitar and stood to stretch my spine. I wondered if there was better street corner I could play next. Where would be the place that I could benefit from the generosity of some patrons who would throw some money my way so I could have my daily dose of John Barleycorn?
          Po’kchot started grunting like someone was fixin’ to turn her into grits.
          “Easy little Po’kchot. Stay calm. Nobody be fixin’ to hurt you. You and me, we gonna find a good corner of this city where we will build our fortune.”
          Just then, there was a sharp tap on the back of my shoulder. An’ someone grabbed me by the ear, all painful like.
          “You be the lying darkie who sold me that potion.”
          I was staring up at a face angrier than the Devil’s. And his body had a funk strong enough to knock a buzzard off a gut truck. His eyes were so red, they could burn coal with their crazed stare. I tried to pull away, but he had me good. “Son, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a simple guitbox player.”
          “Only a coon would deny my accusation. You that nigger snake-oil salesman from Dr. Conqueroo’s Medicine Show that sold me that bottle of special-brewed tonic that you said was going to stop me from losin’ my hair and grow back the rest.” He had reason to be disgruntled. His skull was hairless as a cue ball ’cept for some nasty greasy strands round his ears.
          Now that hillbilly, smellin’ fouler than a decomposing skunk, started to ring a bell in my memory. But as Dr. Conqueroo once told me, when someone accuses you of something, even if you did it, always deny. That piece of wisdom helped me to brush off the accusations of many an angry mama’s husband. “Lookie here. What do I know about medicine? In fact, the only medicine a guitbox player like me cares about is what’s needed to make Smokestack Lightnin’. You best go see a doctor to cure you of your ails.”
          I tell you, bad luck and trouble follows me like a leech on my ass
          “How about we settle this in a fair way? An eye for an eye,” the funky-smelling cracker said.
          I laughed. “Ah only gots one eye. And that one’s no ravin’ hell. You plannin’ on beatin’ on a blind man?”
          “No. But I’m gonna show you no one gets the better of Lucius Lawless.”
          With that, he pulled on my ear until his filthy fingers slid off. He turned his attention to Po’kchot and she squealed blue murder as he stepped toward her. He shifted his skanky redneck body between me and Po’kchot. That’s when I knew I had to take evasive action pronto and if I proved myself not to be an enfeebled blind man, then so be it.
          “I’m gonna show you what it’s like to live with nothing,” said the honkie. “I’m going to take this piglet, raise it real nice, and slaughter it once it grows real big.” And with that, he grabbed Po’kchot. “I think we’re as fair as fair can be.”
          I’ll never forget that moment as he grabbed my pig and toppled me over with a quick forearm to my throat.  Then I felt where his unseen sneaky–ass confederate was bent over behind me so that when I toppled, he arched his back and launched me off my feet. Ass over teakettle. When I landed, I couldn’t breathe. He had knocked the wind out of me. I was gaspin’, but couldn’t get no air in my pipes. Bastard ran off with Po’kchot under his arm squealing louder than a bayou banshee. If I didn’t catch him, and give him a taste of my justice, bad luck would come flockin’ to me faster than chickens to corn.

          *  *  *

When my lungs started filling again, I headed off in the general direction the villain had taken. Those boys had looked like the white-trash miscreants back at Choctaw Plantation who weren't too fond of work, and were out on the bum. I looked around, wanting to find someone to help. But there was nobody payin’ attention to a black boy hackin’ an’ wheezin’. No Po’kchot, and not much from my playing to buy me a drink. I was a piss-poor excuse for a black man, lettin’ that honkie throttle me. First rule of engagement, protect your nards, second rule, protect your throat. I had truly screwed up.  
          Still, I could swear I could hear Po’kchot’s muffled squeals and the mutterings of the thieves on the breeze. Must be my rattled mind playing tricks on me. Still, there was hope if I dusted myself off and got a drink. Ah, I just need to find myself some jump steady.

* *  *

While I was pullin’ myself together, checkin’ for broken parts and tryin’ to brush the dirt off my clothes, a fine gentleman swaggered down the road comin’ in to town. I was feeling sorry for myself, ridin’ out my own personal blues. Didn’t pay him much attention. Figured he wasn’t gonna help my situation any.
          “You a musician?”
          “If I be carryin’ this guitbox around, I sure to be one.” When somebody asks me a stupid question, I usually like to give them a stupid answer. But now I had no choice but to be pleasant. No Po’kchot to make the listeners give me sympathy money. And I needed some rotgut to help me forget what happened.
          “Then play us a song,” said the sharp-dressed man. He was sporting a grey trilby on his crown.
          “Well, I do like to get paid for my work. How do I know that you're not going to get free entertainment for one song, and leave?” Truth to be told, I only had one song —which I played variations of.
          “I reckon there’s been enough guitbox players passing through Clarksdale lately so we ain’t exactly starving for entertainment.”
          I pulled out my Case knife and started playing a variation of the Walkin’ Blues with different words. “I’m getting up soon in the morning, I believe I dust my broom. I’m getting up soon in the morning, I believe I dust my broom….” I used some lyrics I heard back up West Memphis. Somehow my playing and singing did the trick.
          “Not bad,” said the trilby sport.  “I’m having a party tonight in the back room of my store, ’bout a mile north of town, got a big tin Dr. Pepper sign out front . Come by around nine, play your guitbox, and sing. You’ll be paid, plus you’ll get food and drink.”
          This was a fortunate development, but the evening was still a few hours away. Long, nervous, dry hours. “I sure could use a little downpayment,” I said. “Need to buy a new g-string, maybe a thumb pick.”
          Trilby looked me over. Then he pulled his hand from his pocket and flipped me a quarter. “Don’t show up drunk,” he said and walked away.
          I had been down, but now things were looking up. I could nurse a couple beers through the rest of the afternoon. Then, food, drink, and maybe some diddy wah diddy tonight. As my Gammy once told me, “Just because it’s a red sunrise, doesn’t mean the sun won’t come out today.” I plucked out a happy run up the neck.

*  *  *

I ambled off to the grocery and got a couple of beers outta the ice. Beer’s good when you’re feeling poorly. It’s bubbly and it’s kinda like food.
          I went out on the veranda and joined the other losers hangin’ round. Opened my beer with a smack of my hand on one of the upright posts.
          Little wizened black man in a threadbare suit looked up from where he was warming a bench. “Man opens a bottle like that means he’s drinking for a reason.” I looked over. “Yep, can see it on your face. You look like you done lost your best friend.”
          “I’m sorry, sir, to who do I have the pleasure of addressing? Blind man like me likes to know.”
          “My name is Zeke Holmes, but everyone just calls me Gramps,” he said holding out an old rheumatiz’ gnarled mitt.
          I shook his hand. Sat down aside him and offered him a hit off my bottle.  He shook his head. “No, son, you look like you need that medicine more’n I ever will again. Long face like that, must have somethin’ to do with a woman.”
          I shook my head and took another big pull off that cold beer that was goin’ down fine.
          “Not a woman. Well, something else then. Life’s unfair when you lose something that you value.”
          “Not a woman, but somebody who was like a friend.”
          “Did he die?”
          “She got stolen.”
          “Thought you said weren’t no woman. Who was she?”
          “A piglet I call Po’kchot.”
          That ole man chuckled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. I just have never heard anybody refer to a piglet as a friend.”
          “She was also a good luck charm, like my Gammy’s hoodoo poke. She brought lots of people to come and listen to my music. I got to find her.”
          “What happened?”
          “A hobo stole her over on the south end of Clarksdale.”
          “Really. I did see a greasy hobo with a piglet runnin’ across the street yesterday.”  He motioned over to a pathway that ran into a thick patch of woods.”
          “What’s over there, Gramps?”
          “Bush, and as you go deeper, there’s a bit of a hobo jungle. You don’t want to go wanderin’ over there, son. No place for decent folk. If your pig was over there, it’s already been spitted and roasted. Sorry to say that.”
          I topped my second beer and got to plannin’.
*  *  *

My walk was slow and hesitant. My cane was leading my way, but I wasn’t tappin’ it. I had to go across the big main road and into that hobo camp to see if Po’kchot was still alive. I kept thinkin’ this wasn’t the brightest thing I’d ever done, but I’d grown fond of that pig. Plus, we had a partnership of sorts.
          I walked across the street slowly with my Bovrille strapped tight to my back, and my thin bamboo cane directing me. Of course, my eyes knew were I was going, but when you play a blind man, you have stay one when you’re out in public. Soon as I was into the bush far enough, I put my cane under my arms, my specs in my pocket, and started a slow cautious canter toward the hobo camp.

*  *  *

I’ll tell you a thing or two about hobos. First, the image of the wise old hobo is generally a crock of B.S. There might be a couple somewhere, but most hobos are rejects from society. They’re simple boys mostly. What’s they call retarded. They get neglected from their families and just sort of drift off. Then there’s the jungle bosses, these are usually ex cons or criminals runnin’ from the law. These cons run these boys and use them for their own nefarious purposes. I’m sure some cornholin’ goes on, though I can’t conceive of it. They say there’s a difference between ‘bos, tramps and bums. ‘Bos bein’ itinerant laborers, tramps just lazy and work when they can’t avoid it and bums who won’t work and just rob and steal, drink and pass out. A hobo jungle generally holds some of all three with the organized hobos in the centre and the complete fukups at the fringe. I was certain the pig stealer was a stone bum.
          My Spanish steel was a beauty. A ten-inch blade on a five-inch handle. The handle had been broken and was wrapped in black tape. It had a beat-up ol’ sheath of tough leather. I’d shifted it around so I could pull it from under my left arm with my right hand. Even with a guitar on my lap, I could pull it quick. I also had a folding Case knife with a four-inch blade that I kept razor stropped.
          The trail started to peter out and I looked for hobo signs to tell me which way to go. I saw a wavy line above an X carved on one tree to my left. That meant water and camp that way. Then I saw three diagonal lines on a tree to my right. That meant danger. I went that way.
          My new friend, Gramps, had staked me a dollar and I’d managed to buy a pint of the cheapest rotgut I could find. I had to walk now, so I uncorked the whisky. Couldn’t run in the underbrush. I could smell tobacco in the air and realized I was close. I took a swig for courage. My plan was when I got close, I would find a log to sit on, set the bottle up in plain sight, unpack my guit and start plunkin’ away on a tune. I figured this would draw a bum or two to me and, depending on who they were, I could play up my blindness, play the timid darkie and offer them the booze. Then I’d try and find out where Po’kchot might be. If it was the guys who took her and they would recognize me, I’d still try and buy them off with the booze, however my fallback plan was to strike first. Knife fights are usually decided by the loser having hesitated. I’d decided I didn’t have any choice but to go for the kill. White trash, teach ’em to steal my pig.
          I crept closer, the scent of smoke getting stronger, tobacco mixed with woodsmoke now. I took my guitar off and leaned it against a tree. Then I heard a sound that made my stomach sink. It was a piglet squeal, muffled, but recognizable as coming from a swine of my acquaintance. It was further to my right than where the smoke was coming from. Naturally, I tried to figure why. One answer flooded my head with blood rage. The honkie was about to butcher my baby. All bets on the plan panning out were now off. I hustled through the brush until I was confronted by a sight I can’t hardly recount here. I drew the bowie and ran full tilt.
          The bastard had his overalls bunched around his knees. My pig was muzzled with a bandanna. The white trash was stroking his dick, trying to get a hardon. I was sickened and something snapped in me. A part of my mind went back to my heritage in Africa, to the tribal warriors that were my ancestors, fighting for their lives, hacking and slashing against the white man who was trying to take them away from their families. The white man only wanted the young strong bucks and would rape the women and slaughter the children as poor business and to add to the men’s confusion and terror. I was a warrior and what was mine was being threatened by something so obscene as to be beyond conception.
          My arm arched out to its full extent, the steel pulling it out. And then I swung it down with all my strength, letting the bowie’s weight add to its power. The redneck bum just stupidly turned his head, no clue what was goin’ down, set on gettin’ his ugly pecker wet. Though I’d been going for the neck, he turned to present his face and my fine Spanish blade smashed through teeth and tendon and cartilage, dislocated the jaw and cut through the joint until it was stopped short by the spinal column. I gave a final thrust and twist and pulled my steel out of his face.
          The only sound he made was a whooshing of air like out of a severed hose, then he toppled over, his hand still affixed to his organ. My throat had closed in the silence of the bringer of death. No war cry came from this assassin. I was cold, silent, a dealer of vengeance. I prayed to the Angel of Death. I made human sacrifice in blood.
          It had happened in seconds, with no thought. I wiped the blade on the cracker’s shirt and slipped it back into its sheath. I grabbed my pig and shoved her in my coat. I could feel the grim set of my mouth and the flame in my eyes. My tribal face was daring Death to present me with another cracker to kill. Somehow, I backtracked, grabbed my guit and ran back through those woods faster than a shithouse rat.
          By the time I emerged from the trail, my lungs were afire. As I came to the road I couldn’t believe my eyes. Gramps and Miss Dinah rushed toward me. Gramps had a big raincoat that he threw over me. Dinah was crying and took my guitar as I allowed them to hurriedly pull me along the road, ignoring any passersby. I could feel the piggly warmth under my left arm. In a few minutes, we were walking down an alley and through a doorway into refuge.

*  *  *

“What happened to you, One-Eye?” asked Miss Dinah as she pulled a chair underneath me before I collapsed. “Actually, I don’t want to know.”
          “Is that you, Miss Dinah?” I wheezed, even though I could see her clearly through my smoked black lenses.
          “Cut the crap, One-Eye,” she said.
          “We wuz ready to wait all night for you to come outta dem woods,” said Gramps. His old raisin face was a mixture of concern and relief.
          There was a spurt of squirmin’ under my coat and I reached in and pulled out Po’kchot by her scruff. I handed her to Dinah and she took the bandanna from the poor little pig’s snout. Po’kchot let out a few snorts and a squeal. Dinah let her down onto the floor and the pig stretched and snorted for a bit. Then she came and rested against my leg.
          “Get some warm water and a cloth, Dinah,” said Gramps. “We got to get this boy cleaned up before anybody comes round.”
          I licked my lips, thought I tasted what might be blood. I thanked Gramps and Dinah and petted Po’kchot on the head. She was gettin’ dozy. “That’s right, Dinah,” I said, “better get me cleaned up. I got a gig tonight.”

— 30 —

Episode 2

Saturday, January 21, 2017