From St. Pierre aux Portes to Bayou Enfer

Credit: Dreamstime

“You’re sure you know the way? For thirty silver dollars I’d hate to get lost in this damned place,” Amos Adams said.

The old man had little more than grunted since they left St. Pierre aux Portes, bound for the other side of Bayou Enfer.

“Quiet, boy, or you’ll wake the dead, or worse, the living who might lie ahead,” finally came from the tobacco-stained hole in Bub Renard’s beard.

“Listen, Bub, which way out of this infernal wilderness? Seems we’re going in circles, with no rhyme or reason.”

“Rhymes? Sonny, ask me what I knows of the to’s and the fro’s, the gives and the takes, the misses and the makes, and I’ll say, ‘That’s a good question’,” Bub replied.

“Look, there’s a price on my head and I’d just as well put YOU under as listen to anymore of your nonsense. Just get me away from here, okay?”

Then came the howls.

“What was that?” Amos said, eyes wide.

“My children be callin’, with hunger they be bawlin’,” Bub said as the sound of little feet danced toward the man judged for respecting life not enough by the one didn’t respect Amos’ so much.

When they were done, Beelzebub Renard, the guide into but never from this dark place, told his children, “If they ever ask, in earnest or in passing, mine would never be the face they’d see the last thing. They never suspect my smile’s vestigial. And their sins? Hell, mine was the original.”

My 250-word bit of flash fiction (with a poet’s splash of rhyme) for Cara Michaels’ #ModayMenage challenge.

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From Mindanao to Macao

Source: Dreamtime

“You sure you saw something?” Captain Ben Giotto asked Navigator Frankie Keyes.

“Pretty sure. Clouds so low and the sea so dark and rough, though, I can’t be sure,” Keyes replied.

“Okay, start the fire. If there’s someone out there, maybe they’ll see the smoke,” Giotto ordered Lieutenant Lenny Shue, the third survivor of their crashed Navy transport.

“What if it’s Japs?” Shue asked.

“Then we get rescued by Japs. If we stay here, we’ll be dead in a week,” Giotto said.

“What am I supposed to start the fire with?” Shue, said. “Numbnuts there used our last flare two nights ago, like a fool, trying to signal some chain lightning or whatever. We got nothing to spark it.”

“You’re the engineer, Mr. Shue. Start engineering,” Giotto said.

“I saw it again!” Keyes shouted. “Sitting out there maybe six or seven miles.”

“You know, Numbnuts, you’ve done nothing but screw up since we left Manila,” Shue said. “Got us lost, then bounced by that flight of Zekes, and dumped us in the lost keys somewhere between Mindanao and Macao. You’d be more help to us dead than alive. At least we could eat you then.”

“Enough!” Giotto growled. “Keyes, make yourself useful anyplace away from Shue.”

* * *

Two days later, when Commander Walt Sunday’s submarine picked them up, he told Giotto and Shue, “We found the kid yesterday morning. Life vest deflated, but we saw the yellow on the dark water. Found the note about you fellas in his pocket.  Kinda ironic, wouldn’t you say? I guess he died just swimming out to fetch us to save you.”

“Yeah, I guess he did,” Shue whispered.

Here’s a 250-word response to author Cara Michael’s weekly #MenageMonday challenge. Have to use three prompts in a flash of 250 words or less. This week’s prompts were two phrases to be used in quotes (“like a fool” and “the lost keys”) and that photo above. I’ve added a few words here to my entry and would love to sit for a day to try turning it into something to the tune of 3,000 to 5,000 words. Maybe someday.

Taken

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.

Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.

“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.

I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.

And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.

With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.

Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.

Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze. 

Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.

Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.

I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head. 

I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day’s victuals on the ground next to me. 

I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the seven apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.

It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east. 

I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death. 

You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.

Indeed.

This story started out as a hoped-for 250-words or less piece of flash fiction for the weekly contest at Indies Unlimited website. But then, as usual, creative momentum and a too-long-dormant story-telling muscle went on a spree.  Yeah, it’s rough as a cob, but it’s just shy of 700 words, so it still qualifies as flash. And I feel better for having stuck with it.

Huzzah for Private Hutchinson

In his patched and soot-stained tent, Colonel Elihu Leslie, his arm draped over his eyes, heard the single muffled drum outside in the twilight.

“Oh, Lord, already?” he said, for he knew what was about to occur. Colonel Leslie arose from his cot, bumping into his field desk where the letter to his wife lay. He pulled up his braces, buttoned on his tunic and stepped outside just as the seven soldiers and a lieutenant were about to march past. He raised his hand and the twenty-two-year-old lieutenant called “Halt!”

“Good morning, sir,” said the pink-cheeked lieutenant, who a year before had clerked at his father’s mercantile in Columbus, Georgia. “Firing party ready to execute your command, Sir.”

Colonel Leslie returned the young officer’s salute and looked at the single soldier, his arms bound and his hands tied in front of his waist, standing between the two files of soldiers with rifles. In the gathering light, Leslie could see the young soldier’s eyes darting right and left, his entire body shaking as if they were back in the snow at Fredericksburg last December.

With a look of pity in his eyes, Colonel Leslie approached the man.

“Soldier, you do understand why you’re here, don’t you?” Colonel Leslie said.

“‘Cause I left my sentry post two nights ago, sir? But nothing bad happened. No Yankees or spies came through. I just needed some coffee to shake off the cold and keep me awake, sir. We been marching for three days straight an’ I ain’t slept since…”

“None of us have, son. But your comrades all managed to stay awake.”

“Yessir. But do that mean I have to die? I been with this army since the bells rang in Atlanta calling us all to defend Georgia and the Confederate states. Why do I have to die this way, sir? I’m a decent soldier,” the condemned man said.

“Son we do this because we have to. Military discipline and all that. But I feel you’re missing the point of this procedure. You shouldn’t look at this as punishment, but as your sacred duty,” the Colonel said in a flat tone.

“Sir, I don’t rightly understand. How’s me gettin’ shot by my own boys line up with my duty?”

“Private, the execution of deserters, and you are by definition a deserter, has been a tenet of strong military discipline since the time of Joshua, the time of the great Assyrian kings, why even the great legions of Rome knew that skirting their assigned duties was punishable by death,” the Colonel said, his voice rising and a crowd of soldiers beginning to mill around the firing party.

“Sir, I don’t know about no Legions from Rome, just a couple of fellers from elsewhere in Floyd County. The Benteen brothers. And I still don’t think I should be shot,” the soldier said.

Leslie bowed his head and smoothed his mustache with his fingers. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then put his hand on the condemned soldier’s shoulder.

“I see your point son, but let me explain some more about what you’ll be accomplishing today. You will not be dying because you left your post, leaving a section of our line without guard. No, you will be going to our Creator as a sign of your fealty to our Cause, protecting your home and family, since all these men here you’ll be leaving behind will see your demise and understand that such a fate awaits them, should they desert their comrades. That is a noble thing, son,” Leslie said.

“Really, sir?” the soldier said, his shoulders straightening and their shaking subsiding.

“Brave soldier, you will be laying down your life for your comrades, as much as if you fell with them in battle. Your name will be spoken of as the impetus of their never shirking their orders, never challenging the authority of their officers, nay, never giving an inch in retreat unless so ordered. Son, if I could, I would give you a medal for this brave act you’re about to commit,” Leslie said as he placed his hand on the soldier’s now-steady shoulder.

“I think I understand now, sir. I’m gonna die so my friends will be better soldiers, makin’ them better able to protect our state and country from the Yankee invaders.”

“Exactly, Private, Private, uh…”

“Hutchinson, sir. Ezra Hutch…”

“Private Hutchinson. Young warrior, I cannot salute you, but allow me to shake your hand, wish you Godspeed and send you on your way to obey your final orders,” the Colonel said.

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” Hutchinson said, his bound hands clutching the Colonel’s hand. He squared his shoulders and stared straight ahead.

“Let’s get this over with, boys,” he said.

“Firing party, shoulder arms. Forward march,” the Lieutenant ordered. The small group marched down the remaining row of tents and through a treeline to a field outside of camp. About a hundred other soldiers who had witnessed Leslie and Hutchinson’s exchange followed in ranks as if marching on parade.

Leslie watched them until the last soldier disappeared behind the trees, then he reentered his tent and stared at the letter to his wife he had almost finished. He dipped his pen into his inkwell and scratched out a final sentence and signed it, “Your loving and devoted husband, Elihu.”

He unholstered the Navy Colt he had used during his days on the prairie with the 2nd US Cavalry before the war and sat on his cot. He thought of all the men he had ordered into the hail of steel and lead at battles for the past year and a half. Thought of his son, killed at Chancellorsville, who had thrilled at the chance to serve with his father, leading other young Georgians in battle against the Federals. He recalled his brother Josiah falling at his side at Gettysburg. He remembered a few of the faces and names, but the rest had become a blur, and that vexed him sorely for the past three weeks.

Leslie heard the volley of six Enfield rifles crack through the trees. There followed the cheers of one hundred men who had witnessed Private Ezra Hutchinson’s passing into the oblivion of a bastardized heroism of the Colonel’s own devise.

As the cheers echoed and faded, he carried out the last of the executions he’d ordered for that day, in that camp, in a war he never wanted to fight. In light of all his decisions, he knew his joining Private Hutchinson in honorable dishonor was an order he could never disobey.

Man, this was a long time coming. First draft, but it gives me a feeling of accomplishment I didn’t think I’d feel for some time. In any revision, I’m not sure if it would get bigger into a more full short story or pruned down into official flash fiction (1000 words or less) territory. I’m not going to worry about it. I’ve written us a story that feels like something different…and that’s a good thing. Be safe out there, erstwhile CSA friends!

Sunrise on Beargrass Creek

“Been staring into that dark so long now everything’s moving. When’s sunup?” Cleve Bentley said, turning away from the clearing east of Beargrass Creek.

“S’posed to be a while ago,” said his partner, Israel Keene.

“Then where’s the sun?” Cleve said

“Damned if I know, but keep watching that tree line. Shawnee’ll be coming first light.”

“If there is any. That old hag Ben killed said we’d never see sunrise. She was just tryin’ to scare us, right?”

“She was’,” Israel said.

“Well, Ben sure ain’t gonna see it. I turned around and he was gone.”

“They probably saw the old lady’s hair on his belt and knew he was the one killed her. I’d’a killed him, too.”

“Israel, something is happening out there,” Cleve said.

“Damn, maybe they ain’t waiting.”

“I see one!”

“Settle down. I’ll move around and…”

But Cleve’s rifle flared and spit a slug at the approaching form.

“I got him,” Cleve shouted. “Gotta make sure he’s dead.”

”Wait!” Israel said, but Cleve had already crept away to where he thought he saw someone seconds before.

“Oh Christ! It’s Ben. I gone and killed…” Cleve said just before arrows pierced his ribs.

“Cleve?” Israel whispered. Two bodies lay outlined in something like a promise of day as the moon’s shadow began edging away from the sun.

A Shawnee man also emerged from the new shadows, ensuring his grandmother’s predictions — of an eclipse and the white mens’ fate — with a blow from his warclub.

Sunrise finally had come.

Here’s a 250-word flash fiction piece I wrote for Siobhan Muir’s weekly Thursday Threads feature. I felt the need to do a new story from my old genre, frontier and western.  Had to use the phrase “something is happening.” So I envisioned this scene in 1770s Kentucky. It needs a hell of a lot more character depth, setting description and, oh I don’t know, a plot? But I wrote it, which is a big deal for me these days.

The Duke of Tryon Court

Dave Clemente would walk around the neighborhood, ostensibly for exercise, but really he was inspecting everyone’s curb appeal, like he was the Duke of Tryon Court and we neighbors his vassals.

If your lawn was a little shaggy, or some dandelions decided to pop their little butter pat knobs above the grass, Dave would be like, “Off with their heads.” And he would pretty much tell you exactly that.

“You know, Ben, you’d better get control of those dandelions before they go to seed. I don’t need any parts of those little puffy tops finding their way to my lawn,” he told me two years in a row. The fact that I lived six doors downwind from his place didn’t matter. I and my lawn were just one of the invasive species that had taken over his verdant domain.

In truth, no one took better care of his lawn than Dave. Or more interest in everyone else’s. I would see him when I would go out to fetch the paper at dawn, positioning his sprinklers for maximum coverage, one inch of water in the ground per day, each day a third of the lawn catching his godlike decree of showers that kept his greensward looking like a billiard table straight from the factory.

I’d wave to him later as I walked out to the car on my way to work, but he didn’t notice very often. You could see him eyeballing the arc of the sprinklers’ spray, nodding approvingly at the way, if the sun’s angle was just right, it would drape a rainbow across his lawn. His head would follow each sweep of the sprinkler, left to right, right to left, mesmerized by the gift of life he was imparting to the organism that his house wore as a mantle.

If grass was supposed to be purple instead of green, Dave’s lawn would be the most royal of purples.

I sometimes would imagine what it would be like to be in his head, gauging everyone else in the neighborhood’s lawns against his own. I would watch him stalk the sidewalks, turning his head a bit sideways to observe if any of our lawn’s had grown irregularly over the past week since mowed on Saturday or Sunday.

“You need to check the level of you blade deck, Ben,” he’d say. “Look how unequal your cuts are. Lopsided and, well, trashy. And you really should stick to one kind of seed instead of those cheap blends. See how the rye grows faster in this weather than the fescue?”

“Um, no.”

“Here,” he’d say and pull me down to knee level and then tilt his head to the side again like he was sighting a sniper rifle. “See how those rye blades are popping up like moles out of their hole in relation to the red fescue? Makes it look shaggy as hell. And speaking of moles…”

“I gotta go, Dave. I think I left the tub running.”

“Okay, and that reminds me. One inch of water over the whole lawn. Gotta water deep to keep those roots well hydrated. Can’t let your lawn turn brown when everyone else is trying for green,” he shouted over my shoulder.

Like I said, Dave practiced what he preached to the nth degree. He treated his lawn as well, if not better, than he treated his kids. Which, if I had his kids, so would I. Wild little buggers, but probably since he wouldn’t let them play on his precious grass.

You’d see little Marisa doing cartwheels on everyone’s front lawns all the way down to the Cramers’ place, where she’d play tag with their kids. All around the outside of their house, including the front lawn. I’d find Dave Jr. running under the spray from my lawn sprinkler on those days I remembered to give it fifteen or twenty minutes of shower time. Kid would leave the lawn a muddy mess. But my son would join him, so I couldn’t bitch too much. I’d join, too, on those hot evenings.
Besides, what’s the sense of having grass around your house if you can’t enjoy it?

And where was their Dad? More often than not, he would be peering down the breadth of his lawn, flat on his stomach on the driveway, ruler in his hand, making sure the height never deviated more than a quarter of an inch from three and three-quarter inches. Then he would move to the middle, lie on his belly again, and do the same thing for all 360 degrees of that island of hoped-for fescue perfection. And he’d see to it with a pair of surgeon’s scissors.

I once wondered where his obsessive-compulsive bent in turf grass science came from. Dave hadn’t attended agricultural school, he was an IT guy. His father was an accountant and his mom stayed at home with the kids. I did notice some old family photos on his hallway walls once at a Christmas party. One showed young Dave and his Mom and Dad and brothers—all wearing the same little outfits with matching bow ties and two-tone shoes—seated on the couch. On the clear plastic-sheathed couch. Next to the clear plastic covered lamps. Feet dangling above the snow white carpet with the clear plastic runners leading back to the camera and across the whole living room.

I once played golf with Dave and instead of shooting the breeze as we walked the course, he would point out how the greenskeeper had done this to fix this part of the course and how he should have used that to keep a certain green from having darker green spots. I asked him how he knew that and he said his Uncle Carmine, who was a greenskeeper at a public course in Jersey, had taught him all this.

I once asked Gracie Clemente if Dave’s Uncle Carmine had ever been to their house.

“I imagine he’d be proud to see the efforts of his nephew.

“Carmine? Dave doesn’t have an Uncle Carmine. Oh, you mean Carmine Verducci. He was just a friend of the family. Sort of a surrogate father for the Clemente boys, since their dad was always working late hours. Dave and his Mom took Carmine’s death really hard,” she said.

After that, I didn’t begrudge Dave his idiosyncrasies as much. I may keep a shitty lawn, but I’m not exactly an unfeeling barbarian.

And I felt kind of sorry the day Dave died. We found him out in his backyard, lying on his stomach, his head up, looking and reaching out toward the back of his house.

“Poor man. he must’ve been looking for help from inside,” my wife said.

“Yeah. Sad.”

I say I felt kind of sorry because I knew Dave Clemente died doing what made him happiest. In fact, there was this calm and…I don’t know…accomplished look on his face when we found him. I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife about that few rogue blades of grass in front of him and how the Duke of Tryon Court already had his scissors in his hand.

This story — since I seem to be incapable of digging up sufficient emotion to write poetry lately — was prompted by Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Salecky for her “Six Weeks, Six Sense” writing feature. This week, we were supposed to use the sense of sight as a theme. I’m sure I blew the assignment altogether, but this thing just took off on me. I saw that one of her prompt photos and this story jumped out of my head to the page.

Carolina Blue

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

The sky claims the upper third of the view in the blue that bears its name. The bottom of the scene, the blue-gray roadway, stretches out ahead like the world’s longest pair of jeans, top-stitched in a Pass/No Pass yellow thread. It’s singing the sonorous song of tar strips against this Yankee’s tires. The middle ground belongs to the pines that curtain off everything to the right and left as if the hills had something to hide. This is the Carolina I observe that lies between a family stretched 700 miles apart. The road offers somnolent monotony and even comfort to a brain that whispers and wonders about what it thinks might lie ahead and what lies might’ve been left behind. The Honda reels in another semi and peels around it to clear the screen of clutter beyond the bugs who lost their own race from here to there. And just as you think closing your eyes wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all, a deer wanders from its place behind the curtain, stage right. It’s gray-beige coat gleams like a the head of a haloed saint in the golden hour now chiming on the gong of sun preparing to make its exit on a day you remember only in stops for coffee, gas, tolls and men’s rooms dressed in tiles foreign as Delaware is to Virginia. But then that eagle, big as a retriever, swoops across its Carolina blue highway and settles upon some scurrying critter who will scurry no more, and you realize there is more life going on around you than in all the lives you’ve lived and loved and lied and lusted and outlasted in your head since you started your sojourn. That’s when you realize here’s your exit and your journey is only just beginning.

I thought I’d combine a couple of prompts for Day #27 of my Poem a Day Challenge. The prompt was for a story poem, which used to be my stock in trade. Also, May 1st begins Story a Day May, which I enjoy playing in. Julie Duffy the doyen of Story a Day, suggested we crank out a warmup story of 100-1,000 words. So here is my free-written double-header piece to warm down from April and warm up for may. Not sure if it’s either a story OR a poem, but it’s written and that’s the important part.