29 August 2011

The Devil's Apprentice (as told by Jeb)

(Excerpted from The Pultenham County Sketchbook, by Tom Andrews)

Collapsin' as he did with his trousers appearin' to be chock-full of something, we figgered ol' Sid was dead this time. Figgered he had died, and smelled like it too, and crapped his pants and now some unlucky apprentice undertaker in Cotton City would hafta' be doin' a fine mess of cleanin'.

Sid always had a way of loadin' those trousers of his when the time was right and he needed to distract folks from something that just wasn't goin' quite right. I told you about this before, remember?

So Sid had just started his first day of takin' over from old man Morgan his pappy, bein' now like the shit third or fourth Morgan to to wear that sheriff's badge in Putnam County, and Sid just never was too bright, tho' I wouldn't be the one to be caught sayin' things like that, so just you keep quiet, OK?

Well, Sid started the day OK but you can't keep a man like that too straight for too long, 'specially one who's got so much damned meat under his fingernails, like that oldish lady down the road used to say - “dat man, he gots meat unduh his finguhnails – he jes gotsa be takin' dat meat home t' his old lady, so's she can saves it t' mix wit' de sawmill gravy fo' to go ovuh a mess o' bissits” - and that Sid, he never had no need for makin' gravy, but he carried plenty of that meat home with him – it was the meat of other people's dreams and other people's hard work and other people's pride. Bastard. Wouldn't want to let that go to someone else, now, would you?

So Sid, when he did the worst as his way of startin' out, and he got drunk as he is likley to do and drove that big old cruiser straight on through a culvert and then through a fence and into a field where he cracked his damned big old head on the steerin' wheel and fell asleep while Colonel Murphee's two prize bulls wandered out of that field and onto the road, where the one with the biggest prize swingin' beef was summarily struck down by some poor kid from Cotton City driving a sweet 70-something Dodge Challenger (kind of like my brother had, all done up in pretty chocolate brown with that while vinyl roof), gunnin' it down the sad old highways of the county. Damned bull meat all over the road, damned kid meat all over the inside of the Challenger. Damned Cecil Morgan crapped himself like he always did and told a lie about his problem and he wound up givin' that poor damned kid a ticket when Doc McFadden got finished puttin' the stitches in his face.

Sid learned how to do it, all right. He learned himself a whole lotta' music on his daddy's knee, and he wanted to teach the whole damn world to sing his tune.

25 August 2011

The Queens of Pultenham County

Most people 'round these parts remember the Crackhouse sisters - Lulubelle, Yolanda and Desdemona.  There was a time, in fact, when I believe the whole of Putnam County knew the daily dress of those three queens.  Lulubelle would always dress in a shade complementary to the vesture of Desdemona but contrasting most starkly to that of Yolanda.  Never did the three stand still at the same time.  If Yolanda and Desdemona were standing still and Lulubelle happened on the scene, one of the others would begin moving the moment that Lulubelle ceased to display forward movement.

Lulubelle practiced the fine art of phrenology.  Yolanda had taken a correspondence course in locksmithing.  Desdemona was a druid priestess.  In Putnam county there are only so many phrenologists, locksmiths and druid priestesses, so the three Crackhouse sisters stood out for reasons aside from their manner of dress.  Work was hard to come by during the great recession of 2009, though, and before long the three sisters found themselves destitute and seeking new means of making their way in the world.  In the early twenty-first century there was a profession known as "telemarketing," and it was here that the Crackhouse sisters attempted to lay down some roots.  "Telemarketing" consisted of attempting to sell  items or services or some combination of the two in exchange for something that used to be known as "money," which formed the basis of something called "credit".  The catch was that the transaction took place over what we used to call "telephones."  These "telephones" allowed people to speak with one another over great distances, but it required both parties to speak into  small plastic devices of which people grew quite fond.  Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but that was the way we did things back then.  People would even type messages into these things back then, and send them to one another.  You would see all sorts of people being ever so rude and "texting" one another in wholly inappropriate settings - restaurants, libraries, swimming pools and in the midst of proctological exams.  How rich!

But I digress.

The Crackhouse sisters all took positions with a septic-system manufacturer, and began to spend their days extolling the virtues of a delightful product known as the "Hoopertank BM-2000."  It really was the finest of septic system components and Lulubelle in particular found it quite easy to sell.  "It practically sells itself," Lulubelle would exclaim when she returned home in the evenings, flushed with delight over the day's successes, "and to think that I frittered away so many years in phrenological research and practice!" Yolanda was equally as pleased with the new line of work, and her sales bonuses she repeatedly invested in subscriptions to septic-system trade journals - journals that had become a great comfort to her.

Desdemona alone felt somehow unfulfilled.

"I don't know what it is, my dear sisters," she confessed over a glass of absinthe one evening after work. "I seem to find my mind wandering when I attempt to sell toilet parts over the 'phone.'

"Desi," said Lulubelle, in an attempt to comfort her sister, "don't think of them as toilet parts - remember that we are purveyors of the finest septic-system components in Putnam County!"

"I know, Lu', but when one has drawn down the spirit of the sun at the summer solstice and flown through the ether planes with a badger goddess, a septic tank seems a little tame in comparison."

"I know what you mean," offered Yolanda, "I found it hard at first, too...goin' from wafer-tumblers to regenerative blowers, but you'll get used to it."

24 August 2011

The Project

(Excerpted from the forthcoming Balloon Heart, by Tom Andrews.)

"A quest is only a quest if you know where you are going.  Take that as a fixed rule, and put down that glazed doughnut, you cock-eyed sorrow-smith.  Sit down.  I want to talk to you."

Those were the words that Finny spoke to me after the war ended.  There was more than enough sorrow to go around, but he saw me as just adding to the pot, and if he had his way that was all going to change.  Finny liked change, but only the good kind.

When my dad died, I went to work on The Project.  Finny knew all about that, but he only saw fit to criticize it, speaking in dramatic tones whenever it came up.  "The Project," he would saw with great flourish, puffing out his chest and holding his head erect with his chin drawn in.  "The Project keeping you company?  How is The Project today?  Would The Project like to try a little lemon curd on its toast this morning, a**hole?"

I tried to ignore old Finny as best I could until the morning that I saw him standing naked before the open field just outside the entrance to The Project.  He was doing some kind of yoga position, I think it was - maybe a "sun salutation" or a "whooping largo" or a "vascular dung-clamp."  Finny stood erect (no pun intended) and then spun around in a circle.  Faster and faster he went, spinning so fast that certain parts of his anatomy lofted away from his body at right angles due to the centrifugal force (or is it centripetal force?  I can never remember) .  No, I am speaking about the large burrito-shaped growth that he had on his abdomen - get your mind out of the gutter, please.

All at once he collapsed and laid there, laughing and laughing with his big old belly and its burrito-shaped growth just heaving up and down.  I had to avert my gaze as I approached, as the sight was not too pretty and I had great concern for Finny's modesty.  I looked around for a blanket or an animal skin to throw over his naked form, but could find only clods of earth and a few morels.  These I plucked up and tossed over his midsection, covering his naughty bits with the fresh fungal morsels.  Finny groaned and smiled.

Just as I was tossing the last few morels over his groin, Finny stopped smiling and then crumbled away to dust.  A dung beetle crawled from a nearby hole and started rolling into a ball something that used to be a burrito-shaped growth.  I just shook my head, wiped the morel dirt from my hands and headed on into The Project.

That was a long time ago, after the war and after my dad died.  I think about Finny every now and again, in particular those words he spoke to me, "a quest is only a quest if you know where you are going."

Ain't no lie, Finny.  Ain't no lie.

22 August 2011

Suite 137

"I had to wrap that towel around my head pretty tight to keep my brains from banging together.  I'd douse the thing in camphor and if I was lucky I'd get some ground crystals to stick in there.  It makes the harmonic vibrations resonate better, so the headache goes away without leaving my tongue all black and furry - like sometimes happens.

I remember when that Nordic beetle-woman claimed to be the Christ and she wrapped a similar towel around her head.  Up and down the avenue.  Up and down the avenue.  There she would go, walking back and forth, telling everyone she met that she was the Christ.  I'm not too sure how or when she was anointed, or who it was that anointed her, but she claimed she was anointed.  I had said to my brother, Clem, that she only got anointed through that bottle of Dutch courage that she carried around in her bathrobe, but he wasn't buying it.  Clem said she musta' got anointed somehow and somewhere.  I spent probably the next two months trying to figure that out.  It's true.  Ain't no lie.

So when the Nordic beetle-woman showed up with her Christ-trappings, we all stopped and took notice.  For a minute, anyway.  Clem was scrubbing the inside of an oil barrel, and I was adjusting my camphor-soaked towel and she showed up looking for all the world like a Turkish sultan, minus the smoking hookah and harem girls dripping off the arm.  Aside from those details, the Nordic beetle-woman was for all the world a Turkish sultan, complete with a dirty turban.

"Salaam, hadji," I said, bowing low and breaking wind.

"Peace be to this house and all who kibbitz therein," said the Nordic beetle-woman, bowing and breaking her own wind.

"Tie off you pants-leg or put a cork in it," said Clem, continuing with his scrubbing.  He fanned his hand before his nose, making a sour face.

The Nordic beetle-woman proceeded to multiply some loaves and fishes, but we quickly realized that it was a sleight-of-hand involving polymers and integrated circuitry.  No one was impressed, and Clem sat down on the ground, propping himself up against an immaculate oil barrel.  "Do you know any songs?" he asked the supposedly-anointed-one.  "I'd like to have you play us one of the songs of Zion on your harp, 'cause I done hung up my own harp in one of those piss-elms over there."

No music was forthcoming, and the Nordic beetle-woman only stood and stared at Clem and me until it got really uncomfortable.  "I'd like to offer you a chance to buy into my messiah time-share," she said at long last. "Three days out of every month and one entire week in summer you get to wear the dirty turban and multiply loaves and fishes by means of polymers and integrated circuitry.  Are you game?"

"Naah," said Clem, "I already got me a messiah.  Good luck in your sales, though.   You ever thought about trying to sell encyclopedias?"

The Nordic beetle-woman drifted off, and when she arrived at the brow of a low hill she ascended into the heavens.  I was in awe until Clem pointed out the bucket truck, hydraulic hoist and all of the wires and cables attached to her harness.  Then I just stood there, kind of disappointed while I watched her dangle from the wires up in the air a good forty or fifty feet off the ground.  It appeared as though her dirty turban had begun to unwind.

"It's a shame," said Clem, "I woulda' liked to hear one of those songs of Zion, whatever the heck they are.  'Beats the hell outta' polkas, I bet."

19 August 2011

In Cotton City - The Old South

"Shorn head?" asked Elsa Mae Grabbethorn, reaching out to touch the man's gleaming noggin.  "Y'all got a shorn  head, now, don't you? "

"Ma'am, I..."

"I just purely love the feel of a shorn head...it reminds me of those little velveteen greeting cards I used to receive as a child.  My great aunt Jobyna once gave me such a card - I think it was for my fifth or sixth birthday - the cover of which was adorned with a hedgehog or a rabbit or a wolverine or some animal like that.  This particular hedgehog or rabbit or wolverine was crafted from a simply delicious velveteen material that was ever so pleasant to touch.  I would spend hours stroking the hedgehog or rabbit or wolverine, humming to myself and making up stories about a fantasy world called Suggville."

"Well, ma'am, I..."

"I do believe that if I ever would have had a male child I would have named him Sugg, so as to call him (after an affectionate fashion) 'Sugg-hog,' or 'Sugg-bunny,' or 'Sugg-wolf.'   I would be sure to keep his head closely shorn such as yours - that would render him absolutely irresistible to the young maidens at school, who would ask to stroke his head and call him 'Sugg-hog,' or 'Sugg-bunny,' or 'Sugg-wolf' - after a chaste but affectionate fashion, of course."

"But ma'am, I..."

"I am so very pleased to see that a man of your apparent fashion sense and gentlemanly behavior has the good sense to keep his cranial melon ever so closely shorn," she said, reaching out again and rubbing his head vigorously, "but I do detect a difference."


"Your knobby little melon is very closely shorn, of course, but it has the feel of wet lambskin - the inside part of the lambskin, though, if you know what I mean.  Such as when you skin a lamb and then touch the part that was on the inside, next to the meat and the bones.  That is what your head feels like.  Either that or the moist part of a ham and watercress sandwich.  I do purely love fresh ham and watercress sandwiches...especially on white bread.  The one failing in such a scrumptious gastronomic offering is that part of the bread will inevitably get wet and become somewhat clammy or even slimy.  That is what your head feels like.  I am unaccustomed to such a texture on a shorn head."

"Ma'am, I must explain," offered the man with the gleaming noggin.

"Explain if you must."

"My head is far from shorn.  It was, rather, rendered smooth by means of an industrial accident, in which each and every hair follicle was forcibly and painfully removed from my scalp by a large cattle-pressing machine."

"I see," said Elsa Mae, adjusting her bustle.  "Softened thorax? " she asked with great interest as she reached out her hand toward the man's chest. "Y'all been doin' yoga, now, haven't you? "

18 August 2011

Divine Justice

Resthig was a dog-eater, pure and simple.  I suppose you know that was the cause of my vendetta against him and all of his web-footed clan.  I would stand at the entrance of the arroyo with my crossbow and wait for one of those dog-eaters to approach.  I'd stick a poisoned bolt right through the evil heart of every single one of them if I had my chance, but I never had such satisfaction as when I stuck that pig sonafabitch Resthig himself.

When that dog-eater came around the corner of a rock outcropping in the arroyo, I was standing there with my crossbow leveled at his heart.  He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me, bastard that he was.  He smiled at me through his flesh-encrusted grill and tried to make a move for his sidearm.

The bolt went clean through the place his heart might have been, had that soulless bastard dog-eater had a heart.  He dropped like a load of wet kibble onto the ground.  Duke, my Australian Shepherd, gave a cheerful, playful bark.

"Go on, pal...go ahead," I said to Duke, who dashed over to Resthig and emptied his bladder.

Duke and I walked home to a fine dinner and an evening of disc golf.  He tried to let me win again but my aim just ain't what it used to be.

14 August 2011

Red Fez #37 is Online...

...and yours truly has a piece in it.  Please have a look at "Czarninapalooza" and all the other good things in this issue!  Thank you!

11 August 2011

Avon Calling!

The single wire that led away from the test subject's head was very thin - almost hair-like.  Its point of entry to the cranium, though, had become red and inflamed, and wept a clear, pinkish fluid.  The test subject himself seemed otherwise healthy and cheerful.  The intermittent electric shocks had become commonplace and, one might even say, welcomed.

The other end of the very, very thin wire was connected to a large machine that made a rhythmic thrumming noise.  At random intervals the sound of a trumpet would blare and the machine would spark and its dials and diodes would blaze with an intense red light.  This is when the intermittent shocks would travel through the wire and into the body of the test subject, who would convulse repeatedly until the shock subsided, leaving him drooling, coughing, sweating, and wheezing.

After 72 continuous hours of this random treatment, the test subject was barely moving with each shock - he would only moan slightly and blink his eyes.  When this became apparent, a group of men in white lab coats entered the room and began diagnostic exams on the the man.  One fellow in a white lab coat removed the very, very thin wire from the test subject's head and swabbed the entry point with a small amount of alcohol on a cotton ball.  The clear, pinkish fluid soaked into the cotton, discoloring it only ever so slightly.

With great care the men in white lab coats lifted the test subject from the exam table and placed him in a dirty laundry cart, which one man in a white lab coat wheeled out of the room and toward the dirty laundry disposal chute in the hallway.  He upended the cart toward its door and slid the body of the test subject down the chute.  Wiping his hands briskly, the man in the white lab coat returned to the exam room to join his colleagues.  They were concluding their examination.

"This wire performed magnificently!" cried the oldest man in a white lab coat, "I believe this is exactly the type of wire we are looking for!"

10 August 2011

The Intercession of St. Stephen

The grass is bluer than a thousand screaming badgers when Mr. Drebnik says his prayers on Boxing Day. Blue, blue, blue. And the screams might be heard if the badgers are not weak.

So the judges get to courting and the badgers get to booze and the Boxing Day parade is delayed because of fear. When it is realized that the judges do not need to be present at such a regal event, the organizers (along with Mr. Drebnik) grant the gracious boon of dismissal to the judges. Off they go to courting.

When judges go courting on Boxing Day, the first thing they do is to make small Boxing Day gifts for their sweethearts. Often they remove their powdered wigs and craft them into models of miniature sheep, which they allow to graze on the blue, blue grass of home. Their sweethearts are content with tissue papers and tiny little fineries such as you find in Mr. Drebnik's store.

As the day develops, the judges begin to realize that they have gone beyond what is really needed and truly desired. The powdered wig sheep will roam off and return to a feral existence on the Lower East Side, and the judges go to Mr. Drebnik's store where they purchase boxes of tissue paper and tiny little fineries. Mr. Drebnik will package these up and place them into little boxes which he will gift wrap at no extra charge.

The judges return to courting, thrilled with their purchases. Their sweethearts rejoice, thrilled with their gifts. The powdered wig sheep bleat with joy, thrilled with their freedom. Mr. Drebnik says his prayers at the close of another successful Boxing Day. Thanks be to God.

09 August 2011

Hung With a New Rope

(Author's Note: While this may, at first read, seem like a “Pultenham County” tale, it is not, strictly, part of the Pultenham County Canon. Thank you. Keep reading, please.)

Piddler, I know you didn't like that corn on the cob, and no one can't tell me you did. Just can't. You ain't liked it since that time you ate too much of it at that one fair we went to and the corn started coming out your nose when you laughed at that midget carrying the Rhode Island Red in a little basket on his head. Momma smacked you on your damned face and told you that was what you get for laughing at midgets. I coulda' told you that, you dang idiot.

So I wish I coulda' told you that I knew you didn't care none too much for corn on the cob, and when that fool-for-the pickin' Janice H_. batted her flappy little eyelids at you and asked you to come on over to her place for a mess of it with butter and salt served with a pail of ice-cold beer I just know'd it was gonna' turn out stupid.

I guess the burning sting from corn goin' out your nose is a lot like the burn that a little bit of puke makes in the back of your throat when you throw it up just a little bit but then you don't think its time to throw it up so you just swallow it back down. Reminds me of Skemmy R_. when he first tried tobacco and didn't know to spit so he swallows the whole plug. Well, he had that little bit come up a few times, until finally he brought the whole mess up on the floor of the diner in H_. while we sat there waitin' for our biscuits. What a mess. They kicked Skemmy out but we was hungry so we sat and waited for our biscuits. After that we found him still waitin' for us outside and he had lost a whole lot more than just that bit on the floor of the diner, I guarantee you. Whole lot.

So Piddler, the bottom line is that you remember a burn like that.

And when that flappy-eyelidded Janice served you corn and you shouted “midget! Midget!” at her and whacked her on the melon with a corn cob, well hell, it was almost like it was in a script, I'd say. Like someone wrote for that to happen.

It turned out stupid, all right. Nothing can help but turn out stupid when someone like you gets a hold of it, Piddler, and you know that. Flappy eyelids and all, that Janice was a good girl. She still is. You just are still such a dang idiot, and I coulda' told you that.

08 August 2011

In the Emergency Room With Lyle

(Excerpted from The Pultenham County Sketchbook, by Tom Andrews)

"Yeah, I done tell'd you all 'bout how that damn fool got his arm caught up in the gears, but I was only wavin' at him 'cause it seemed like the right thing to do.  I know'd that arm warn't ever gonna' work again, so why shouldn't I try to make the best of what was goin' on?

Toddley just stuck it in there 'cause he was grabbin' for something that got caught on a little piece of wire.  Maybe it was the piece of wire he was grabbin' for, but it don't really matter, do it?  Anyhow, he just goes and grabs for it and when I sees it outta' the corner of my eye, I turns and says "you dumb shit!"  Then it sounded like when you break up a chicken for fryin', and Toddley starts screaming like you can't believe.  But it warn't his fault - he was just grabbin' for something.

I don't think I coulda' really done much...that arm was floppin' ever which ways, and Toddley was already rollin' on the ground, gettin' dirt on the end of that fresh-bleedin' stump with the white tendon stickin' out.  His shirt was pretty dirty too, so I felt kinda' bad about that.  He likes that shirt.  He's probably gonna' want more long-sleeved shirts now, seein' how he won't want folks lookin' at his stump, even though they probably got it sewn up pretty good.

Toddley's gonna' be OK, and I know he'll get back to workin' the pea-fields, but he's probably gonna' be a whole lot more careful now, that dumb shit.  He ain't gonna' go grabbin' for things when they go in - it won't matter what it is that he sees goin' in, he ain't gonna' grab for it.  He's done learned.  I know it.  And I won't hafta' shout at him when I seen it outta' the corner of my eye, 'cause I ain't gonna' see it no more.  No sir.

You think we can go for lunch now?

05 August 2011

At the State Fair...Not Much Writing Today, as I'm Busy With Livestock.

"Andrews, did you see that guy go past in the Justin Bieber concert T-shirt?"  My friend Dave was incredulous.

"No," I confessed, "I must have missed him."

"Well, he looked a lot like you, and for a second I thought maybe it was your twin.  And the way you are always going on about people and their secret, inwardly-absorbed twins that grow inside their bodies, I thought maybe this had been one of those."

"One of those?"

"Yeah, except one who had been surgically removed very early on so he was able to grow..."


"Yeah, in every way except his musical tastes."

"Let's get over to the sheep barn," I suggested, "my secret, inwardly-absorbed twin would like to watch some shearing."

03 August 2011

Betsy Bay Uplander Tomoka's Hot Spot Sir Francis Drake, R.I.P.

Drake.  My drop-dead gorgeous English Setter and incredible grouse dog. My best friend and hunting partner for 15 years.  I held his head in my arms this morning while the vet administered that lethal injection, ending his pain and exacerbating mine.  My heart is broken and is breaking as I type. I am crying like a baby.

I took the day off and have been drinking Irish whiskey since noon.

What a cruel joke that dogs live such a short time.

Rest in peace, buddy.  I'll see you in the resurrection, God willing.