“I try to be good,” he said. His droopy eyes were almost closed, and I decided to leave him there for the night. The sky was wide and bruised with stars, and a cool breeze was curling its tail around the porch. I would bring him a blanket and a pillow for his head; he was too big to coax into a bed. “I got a temper,” he said, and it almost turned into a snore. His eyes snapped open for a moment. “I don’t know where it comes from. My old man, probably, he had a temper. I tamp it down best I can, but the stove fills up with smoke too quick….”
Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer – Coming Soon
In the dry summer of 1957, Charlotte and Jeremiah Windover took a short drive to a neighbor’s old homestead to investigate a fire. Only one of them came back.
… I stand up every morning, make myself a cup of coffee, eat a few scraps of bread, and step outside to face the dust. And the foolish part of me thinks it will get better. Or easier. But it hasn’t yet. I don’t expect a shiny man in a shiny car to come along and pay me for this land, or pay me for my work. I don’t expect any man to come along and rescue me, or a preacher to come along and save me. I know what I did, and I know this is my punishment, and I will abide by it because I don’t know how to do anything else.
Twelve minutes past six in the back parking lot of a Burger King in Alliance, Ohio. A Stevie Wonder song was playing on the radio, Sir Duke, and Scoobie saw the boy across from him for the first time. He had a mop top hair cut — about a dozen years out of date — and striking green eyes, almost the color of lime Jello. The boy’s expression was animated but shy, the face of someone who has been perpetually bullied and has accepted it like a disfiguring birthmark. He had fine boyish features, and porcelain skin. But it was a porcelain that was mistreated and unwashed. There were bruises beneath his eyes and his skin was gray. He looked like a boy trying to be a man and not quite making it. There was something inconsolably sad in his expression, something that begged for forgiveness for unpardonable sins. Scoobie wondered what kind of hell this young man had lived through. Though his features might ordinarily be called delicate, there was something gruff about his demeanor, something mean and uncontrolled. Continue reading Coffee money
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. Continue reading Ernie – Part 2
It was the Crazy Eights Hour on WZAT, and the disc jockey came on every fifteen minutes to tell the temperature and remind everyone what station they were hearing. He coulda skipped the weather, ‘cause it been the same for the past three weeks – hot and sticky.
I was sleeping, flying, snoring when I woke up in the middle of the air. Mamma tossed me like straw. Her temper was up and I could see a river of sweat pouring down her face. Her eyes were dark from an ugly brown mascara, and I could see the spit on her teeth, hissing at me like she was a bobcat. The house smelled like overcooked bacon, or maybe that was her smell… greasy and damp and musky. Continue reading Crazy Eights Hour
I dreamed that everyone in the world was named Nick.
There were Big Nicks and Little Nicks and Saint Nicks and Bulldog Nick Mocha the prize fighter, and Nick “Three Finger” Capelli who ran numbers out of a San Diego warehouse, and Nick Osgood who sold stamps behind the counter in a New Jersey post office, and I dreamed that my name was Nick Douchette, which is French for Duke, so I took that name for myself when I woke up. Sometimes dreams are a sign of things, like Jesus had dreams before he fed everyone loaves and fishes. Continue reading A World of Nicks
“What do you know ‘bout Albagon?” I ask him.
“Albagon? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Up close, I can see that he’s older than I thought, maybe close to 80. His cheeks are unshaved and he’s got a scar on his cheek that’s redder than the rest of his face, which is the color of cheese curd.
“I seen the word painted all over the place. Drawings on barns and on sheds. He signs his name ‘Albagon’. Least I think it’s a ‘he’. That name mean anything to you?”
I been driving with one hand on the wheel, the other holdin’ the gun, pressed against his ribcage. He’s too scared to lie. Continue reading Ernie
In the year of Gary Gilmore, Elvis Presley is dead. Stevie Wonder releases “Songs in the Key of Life”. And a young man named Cronic sets out on a relentless killing spree across the American Midwest. He is mamma-bound, driving a cherry red T-bird to California to find the mother who abandoned him when he was still a kitten. Continue reading Cronic: A synopsis