There is a trail on the eastern bank of the Allegheny River that runs through the small town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania, twenty-eight miles north of Pittsburgh. Named the Armstrong Trail, it is a popular destination for mountain bike enthusiasts and seasoned hikers. One would expect to find many species of birds, deer and perhaps even bear, depending on the season. On a cloudy early morning in late September, one would not expect to find a semi-conscious naked man tied to a guard-rail, blathering the word “Albagon” repeatedly, a ribbon of drool unspooling onto his chest.
The trail is primitive and closed from dusk till dawn, with advisories posted at all points of ingress that use is on an “own risk” basis. The naked man saw no such signs; he was unaware of where he was and could not remember how he arrived in such a state. That he was still alive was barely a blessing. “Albagon”, he thought incoherently, was all he knew and all he needed to know, forever and ever.
The man formerly known as Ernest Getty Witt, small-time tavern owner and former mayor of Cushing, PA, he had deteriorated quite badly after an afternoon drive with Cronic. The evening had dipped below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and Ernie’s lungs had filled with the damp air of an autumn evening. Two thick rubber bands were cinched around his testicles, and his agony was terrific. A small box turtle was in his mouth and, while it lived for 20 minutes after being inserted, it tore small pieces from his inner cheeks and tongue, making the pain beneath his groin almost tolerable. Rough strips of masking tape had been wound around Ernie’s head, covering his mouth, over the bridge of his nose, and below his nostrils. On his chest the word “Albagon” was scrawled with black spray paint. On his buttocks, the word “Cronic” was likewise painted.
A nineteen-year-old hiker named Amanda Caufeld discovered the mess that was Ernest Witt at nine-forty-five the following morning. Her eighteen-year-old boyfriend, Chuck Carlson, vomited on his hiking boots and broke his nose when he collapsed onto the cinder surface of the trail. Amanda, a no-nonsense biology major at Ohio State and whose father was a family practitioner in Kittanning, reported Ernest’s injuries to the proper authorities and received a commendation from the Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department.
Ernest Getty Witt, for a few brief hours known as the General, did not die that night. Indeed, he did not pass away for another three years. But in that remaining span of his lifetime, he remained under heavy sedation and was prone to scream the word “Albagon” in a blurred, disjointed voice whenever a small vestige of memory returned to him.
Three days after Ernest’s heaviest pain medication wore off, the saga of Cronic Kitten – also known as Charlie Kitten, also known as Nick Doucette – became infamous across the American Midwest.
Excerpt from Cronic – Coming 5/1/15