Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An excerpt from Faster

Posting this on the side od the road in rural Tennessee as I,can get no signal at the truck stop. Here is an excerpt from another trail story,  Faster.

Speck caught Old Hickory at a picnic table in front of Wilson Creek Shelter. Speck took his pack off and dropped it in a heap at his feet. He grabbed his water bottle and sat at the picnic table across from Old Hickory.They had the shelter to themselves.

"How do you do it?" Speck said. "What's the secret? How are you doing these miles?"

Old Hickory smiled and looked up from his cooking. "How do you think? I walked here, same as you."

"You didn't hitch?"

"No."

"But I'm a fast hiker. Really fast. And I'm younger than you. And it looks like you carry more than me. How come I couldn't catch you?" Speck's fatigue showed through his voice.

Old Hickory's didn't. "Were you trying to catch me?" he said.

"Yes," Speck admitted, embarrassed. "And I couldn't. I didn't take a break all day and I never saw you."

"All I do is hike," Old Hickory said. "I don't do nothing fancy. I'm hiking the trail same as you. Just trying to get some serious miles under my belt. I don't treat it like a race. I came out here to get away from competition."

"I'd like to know your secret," Speck said. "I've never seen you actually hike the trail. For all I know you could be flying or driving from place to place."

"Sometimes, I wish, but no."

"Maybe I'm too slow for you. Maybe I've met my match," Speck looked down at his aching feet. "I just don't get it. I'm younger. Stronger. There's no way you could have stayed ahead. It just isn't right."

"It's not a matter of right or wrong."

Speck looked up at Old Hickory. The sight of the grinning, self-righteous bastard burned Speck to the core. "So that's it.You're just faster than me?"

Old Hickory looked Speck in the eye, his gaze gentle and content, the steam from his meal wisping between them. "I guess so," he said. "Yup. But, hey, it's no big deal."

"I don't know how you do it," Speck said. "But I'm going to figure you out. I'm gonna find your secret. And when I do I'll announce it up and down the whole trail."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Visitor (continued)

I posted a Twilight Zone inspired start of a story called The Visitor on May 10th where an asteroid lands in a suburban neighborhood. I've listened to some audiobooks by British authors Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, working my way through the Discworld and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series respectively. Both are light, fast patter, absurdist fun with the same sense of irreverent wit and dry British humor as Monty Python's Flying Circus.

So, in that spirit, I'm continuing The Visitor with these authors in mind, not knowing where it will go, but with fun at the forefront. So, without further ado (not sure that any ado was offered in the first place). Here we go...

The Visitor (continued)

Sally Fensterbottom, who, at nine years old, was taller than a fence post, as long as the fence post was less than four feet seven inches tall (and most are, considering how most barnyard animals have gotten lazy in this age of factory farming) did not stir when all the hubbub with the meteor happened in the morning. She'd stayed up late the night before, even though it was a school night, watching cartoons. Her mother was lax with bedtime discipline. Muriel Fensterbottom was not in good graces with the Cotulla Valley neighborhood association for a plethora of perceived slights - barking dogs, yard litter, loud music, loud yoga pants, and gum smacking. And no doubt the competitive Yuppie stereotypes of a network drama series about suburbia would voice their disapproval of Sally's late night pixelated stimulation.

And so, because of the late night, Sally was groggy on her walk to the bus stop, and frequently unscrewed the cap of her 20 ounce bottle of soda (more ah-hahs and snickering rebukes from the mom judges, high-fructose corn syrup on par with crystal meth and skateboarding in their eyes) to drink and help her wake up. At first she didn't notice what looked like a long green snake trailing beside her through the grass. But when she stopped, the creature widened out as large as a sidewalk square (at least a standard Cotulla Valley sidewalk square, which, following a mold, were uniformly, except on corners, four feet square) and reached out a globular tendril to Sally's soda.

And Sally, being at least awake enough to mind her sugary sustenance, screamed when she saw a green square with a octopus like appendages enveloping the bottle. She dropped it and ran back toward's home, to mother, to Muriel, who was actually doing Yoga in her pink and purple yoga pants when Sally burst through the door.

"Mommy, mommy," Sally said, speaking like a winning athlete being interviewed after a game. "The monster.. the green octopus monster thingy... Mommy... It stole my soda."

Muriel, straining to hold her rising sun pose and feeling a slight disturbance in her third chakra, said, "Sally, dear. I swear. You're so impressionable. This is the last time I let you watch TV before bedtime."

"But Mommy, it's true... I ... Saw.. IT!"

Monday, May 15, 2017

An excerpt from Hike Your Own Hike

Yesterday, I spent a few hours completely revamping a short story I wrote 15 years ago and included in a self-published book of Appalachian Trail-themed short stories. I wasn't satisfied with it then. Some of the dialogue was clunky and I wanted to reveal more background about the main character, Manna.

The following is an excerpt from Hike Your Own Hike:

Manna came from a strict Pentecostal family. When she was 16, her parents put her into an inpatient drug treatment program when her mother found a joint in her purse. She ran away from home, hurt and unprepared for independent living, at age 18, within a week of high school graduation.  She lit out with Lydia, from church, who was also tired of living under parental and religious oppression. Lydia's boyfriend knew of a place to crash out in Seattle. That first summer on the road, within the space of a month, she'd lost her virginity, dropped acid for the first time, and fell in with Dobbins at a Rainbow Gathering. By September, Lydia was in San Jose (or was it San Francisco?), and Manna and Dobbins hitched their way to Missouri to join the commune.  

Manna was now 21 and it had been over three years away from home. At least she talked to her mother a few times a year. They knew about the hike, but were not supportive because they knew Dobbins would be with her and they'd be “living in sin.” The last time she was home, Manna’s parents insisted she go to church and had a laying on of  hands ceremony for her, replete with loud yelling, flailing, speaking in tongues, and demands she return home, return to the faith, to leave the wilderness of sin and degradation.

Manna realized something on this hike. Her whole life she'd been a follower. From her parents to the Rainbow Kids, to the commune, to the dominating influence of Dobbins. The long hike, the hours of walking, of living in her own head alone on the trail, had caused her to do some soul searching. She was tired of following, of just going along with the flow, the whim of others. At some point she was striking out on her own. To do what, she did not know. Not yet, at least. But she was determined to be the master of her own fate.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Howler

This story was originally published in Tickled By Thunder 28 (fall 2001). It is based on Screamer, one of the more original hikers we met  on the Appalachian Trail  in 2000.

Howler

"Says here all you need to do is add water," Joel said.

Serena unrolled her air mattress. "What's on the menu?" she said.

"We got three cheese lasagna, lemon chicken or macaroni and cheese.What do you want?"

"Mac and cheese."

Joel produced a fluorescent nylon sack from his pack. In the sack were freeze-dried dinners, nutrition bars rubber-banded together, oatmeal packets and dried fruits. Joel picked through the dinners.

"Here it is," he said. "All you need is water."

"You said that already," Serena said.

Joel sat in the cool quiet of the shelter and looked out to the forest. He and Serena were the only ones at the shelter. It was mid-afternoon. Joel noticed he couldn't hear the low hum of traffic.

A gray jay, smelling Joel's food bag, swooped from nearby pine to edge of the shelter's tin roof.

Serena sat at the edge of the shelter and searched her pack.

"I can't find anything," she said.

"What are you looking for?" Joel said.

Serena turned and said, "The mini coffee grinder. I can't find it or the coffee beans either. I think I forgot it. It's probably in the back seat of the car. All we got are hot chocolate packets."

"No coffee?" Joel said. He groaned as he got up and went to the picnic table with an armful of cooking supplies and set up the stove. He opened the fuel valve, but did not close it. When he lit it a ball of flame exploded in his face. He jumped back to avoid it.

"Turn the fuel down!" Serena said.

Joel did and when it simmered he opened the valve until the flame burned blue and even. He poured water in a pot and placed it on the stove. He heard a strange sound, like a scream, and at first thought it was the stove.

But then he heard it again.

"What's that?" Serena said.

"I don't know," Joel said, and stood up. "Sounds like somebody's in trouble."

Five minutes later Joel poured water into freeze-dried pouches and set the alarm on his watch.

A hiker appeared in the clearing. The first thing Serena noticed was his mane of black hair, thick, lilting half-curls past shoulder blades, and the equally thick, woolly beard which framed his ruddy face.
Joel saw shabbiness. Overalls stained a reddish brown, frayed straps, and a
gray cotton windbreaker. Holes and patches. No backpack. The man had an
Army-issue duffel bag with rags and t-shirts duct-taped to the one shoulder
strap for cushion.

The stranger wore the most beat up pair of Chuck Taylors Joel ever saw. Blackened, sooty stub toes poked through rubber. Serena looked the man in the eyes, deep, brooding in their sockets, brow

like a cliff ledge keeping them in shadow. His eyes were calm, and, to Serena's
surprise, alert, resolute and distant.

Joel assumed the stranger was homeless. He looked around to take survey of his belongings.

The stranger was the first to speak: "Have you seen my crow? He's gone, but I'm sure he'll return." He looked at Serena.

"Micro? Is that the name of a through hiker?" Joel said.

The stranger turned to Joel, looked him in the eye and then looked up.Then he screamed.

Joel stood up and away from the picnic table. Serena stayed.

"Are you all right? What's wrong?" Joel said.

"All right? All right? Nothing's wrong. I'm good." the stranger said.

"Then why are you screaming?"

"To call Him.To call crow."

"Who is crow?" Serena said. "Is he a hiker?"

The stranger laughed to himself and shook his head. Then he laughed again. "Well, yeah, I guess you could call Crow a hiker.You'll see."

Joel's watch beeped.

"What's that?" the stranger asked.

"It's my watch. It's telling me it's time to eat."

The stranger shook his head and turned away. He spread a blue plastic tarp on one side of the shelter and unrolled two wool blankets on top. Joel joined Serena at the picnic table.They ate in silence.

The stranger sat on the edge of the shelter and watched them eat.

"Do you want any?" Joel said. "I've got more where this came from."

"No, thanks," the stranger said. "Too many preservatives."

"So, you out for the weekend, or longer?" Joel said.

"The woods are my home," the stranger said. "I go where crow leads. Mountain. Valley. River. Desert. Gotta go with crow."

"Well, we're just out for the weekend. A friend of ours thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years ago and has been trying to get us out here ever since."

The stranger nodded and smiled. He got up and disappeared in the woods behind the shelter.

Serena craned her neck looking for the stranger then turned to Joel. She
whispered, "This guy's going to be sleeping next to us tonight."

"What do you expect me to do? Kick him out?"

"No.You can't do that. Maybe we should move. Maybe we should set up our tent."

"Do you know how to set up the tent?"

"No."

"Neither do I."

The stranger returned with an armload of twigs and branches. He sat down next to the fire ring and laid three rocks at his feet in a triangle. He took a pinch of cotton like fabric and a single match from a pocket in his overalls, placed the tinder along with some pine needles in the center of the rock triangle, lit the match and set it afire, creating a neat column of light and smoke.

There was no breeze.

The stranger added larger pieces of wood until flame filled the triangle.

He reached into his duffel bag and got a round metal grate and a tin juice can with the top cut off. He took a two-liter plastic soda bottle and poured water into the can.

The stranger piled embers together with a stick and placed the grate on top of the charred stumps of wood, followed by the can. He put his cheek to the ground and blew gently on the embers.

"What are you cooking?" Serena asked.

"Creamy chicken ramen noodles.They're my favorite."

"Don't they have preservatives?"

"No." The stranger grabbed a couple plastic-wrapped noodle packets out
of his bag and as he crushed them against his chest he screamed again.

Another hiker came into the clearing. He was shirtless, bandanna wrapped around head. No beard. Clean cut. Military.

The new arrival nodded at Joel and Serena, but quickly turned his attentions
to the stranger. "I thought I heard you! Man, it's great to see you."

The stranger smiled, "Crow led you to me. We're gonna have good fire tonight."

"You bet we will."

Joel spoke up, "How are you doing? You guys know each other?"

The new arrival nodded his head. "Yeah, me and Howler go way back to around Waynesboro. Wasn't that about right?" Howler nodded through a mouthful of noodles.

Serena had never heard of Waynesboro. She wanted to ask if it was a town
along the trail, but didn't want to appear naïve. She knew it had to be at least
a day's drive from Kent.And she couldn't imagine the distance on foot.

"What's your trail name?" Joel said.

"Mudslide," Mudslide said.

Howler got up and disappeared into the forest again. Joel and Serena decided
to set up in the shelter, more secure in the presence of Mudslide.

Mudslide was still cooking dinner when another hiker appeared. He was older, short and skinny with long, straight gray hair, gray beard and wire-framed glasses.

"Is he here?" the man asked Mudslide.

Mudslide nodded. "He's out getting firewood."

"Is it true about the bird?" the new stranger, whose trail name was Slim,
said.

"Yes.You got to see it to believe it."

"What else do you know about Howler?"

"As far as I know he's got no money, tent or sleeping bag and lives off trail magic and hiker boxes. He's a strange fellow, with that screaming and all, but
everybody likes him."

Howler came out of the forest dragging two clumps of deadwood. By the time he got the fire roaring, it was dark and everyone settled. Joel, Serena,

Mudslide and Slim sat around the fire. Howler stood.

"Now is the time to call crow," he said. He screamed. Mudslide and Slim followed in chorus. Joel and Serena looked at each other and smiled. Then they screamed.

Howler let out another, long, sonorous yell and looked out across the tree tops. All paused when they heard the flapping of wings. Howler turned and looked to a pine bough. He raised his arm. A crow, black and shiny, a stygian shadow against the haze starry night, flapped and landed on Howler's arm, careful not to dig talons into raw flesh.

Everyone looked at the crow as Howler stroked waxy feathers on trusting head. No one spoke. Words were unnecessary to make sense of the situation.

Crow gurgled and bobbed its head. Howler raised his arm and watched as
crow took off and disappeared over the treetops. He screamed one last time,
then smiled and sat in the circle.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A perfecr day

The following is from a journal entry I wrote in 2009. Much of it is still true, though I could always add or delete things.  After all, perfection is a vague pipe dream impossibility.  Also, I can't remember that last time I read Jonny to sleep before bed. We still read together often as a family, but the tradition of picking books to read as a bedtime tradition has fallen to the wayside. Ahhh, but the memories remain.

The Perfect Day

Wake up at dawn. Exercise for an hour. Walk, run, bike, hike, whatever. Outside, moving.

Back home, clean up, eat a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. French press coffee with cream.

Four to six hours of intellectual pursuits starting no later than 8 a.m.  - reading, writing, a project, Internet. The perfect day would involve me losing track of time writing, taking advantage of a lightning satori strike of inspiration. I would also read a really good book for some of this time.

Mid-afternoon, 2-3 p.m., another short walk or hike, run an errand or two. Take a nap. Play with Jonny. Go to a park with him and Esther. Listen to the last few innings of an afternoon Cubs game.

And what would be the perfect meal for the perfect day? Anything with hot sauce or wasabi. Grilled anything. Mac and cheese. Spaghetti. Meat, vegetable, carbs. A glass of merlot. A glass of water. For dessert spumoni, an Italian ice cream, “a Lino’s portion,” as my dad says.

After dinner, you guessed it, another short walk. The perfect day must involve a sunset seen outdoors.

Back home to fireflies and dusk. Jonny picks out five books and I read him to sleep.