Old Times on the Angelina by Chris Gordon

August. Late afternoon. I took the liquor store exit off 59 south, drove past Clete's mart to the red-dirt road that ran along the Angelina. A hundred yards on, and the pines closed in above me. A mile later, and I eased the car into a wheel-rut pullout behind some brush.

I got out, and I got my pole from the back seat. I made my way to the riverbank and was sweating when I got there. The water was low and slow-moving and the color of an underwear stain. It looked hot enough to boil an egg.

I cast out, and I listened to the grasshoppers cackle in the weeds. My mind began to drift. I felt a presence behind me. I turned.

There's nothing to clear your head like a five hundred pound man sneaking up on you in the woods. Especially one pushing seven feet and so broad in the shoulder you couldn't really call him obese. The man had a thick head of red hair and the name of Doody, for that's who he resembled. If you could imagine the puppet crossed with a dead carp left to bloat in the sun.

"Where's my present?" he said.

"Our present," I said. I nodded to the pullout. "The trunk."

Doody turned his pale blue fish eyes to the hot yellow sky above the pines. He ran his massive, freckled hand over his carpish lips. He headed for the pullout. I followed.

My heart slowed once his eyes were off me. I focused on the worn crepe soles of his beat up old Red Wings. They were likely the same pair he'd had nine years back at the Goodwill, which was where I'd found him the day before, though I hadn't noticed the footwear. Nine years on, with me, down from Dallas for a family funeral-- wife's side, hardly knew her-- and I'd sought him out.


* * *

Back then, I'd been a college senior, filling my community service hours on a second DWI. Twice a week, evenings. What I did was go out with Doody in a panel van to the donation drops around town. The big container at the Brookshire's on University. The even bigger one at the Wal-Mart on North. Dozens of others. Places I'd never seen. Doody, of course, knew them all.

The giant rarely spoke, other than to give instructions. Not until my sixth week, that was. We were out back of the Jr. High on Hospital Lane, and all of a sudden he slowed the van to the pace of a crippled turtle. He'd focused on a young girl from behind. Who knew why he picked her. She was maybe eleven or twelve.

"Way she's swingin' that ass," he said, "they ought to make rapin' her legal."

He turned to me. He winked a bloated baby blue.

I'd laughed. Who knew why. And I'd kept on laughing over the weeks. Even as the jokes got more... vivid. And then, then came that day when the last of my 120 hours were up.

"Ought to sign on for pay," Doody had said, fiddling with the van engine on the back lot. "I could put in a word..."

He trailed off. I could almost hear the gears turn in his oversized skull.

"Run get that crescent out my back seat" he said. "Might have to dig around."

He fished in his pocket with a sausage-sized finger and gave me a set of keys. I took them to his old two-door Delta 88. I opened the passenger door, and I leaned the front seat forward.

It was like someone had cut open a trash bag back there. Maybe two or three. A miniature garbage dump of wadded up McDonalds bags and sun-bleached pizza boxes. Big gulp cups. Porn mags. A child's shoe.

His Redwing scraped the gravel behind me. I turned.

"You find it?" he said.

The Crescent wrench was in the chest pocket of his overalls.

* * *

So. Nine years back, he'd handed me his keys. Now, I handed him mine. His entire body seemed to tremble when he took them. Or maybe that was my imagination. He looked once again to the sun. He wiped his mouth with his hand.

Nobody else was out there fishing in that heat. Nobody. I could just barely hear the hum of the cars out on the state highway. Or maybe that was the river. Or maybe it was inside my head.

Doody slipped the key in the slot, and he turned it. The trunk eased open. But the little present did not quite do what I'd imagined. Maybe the heat had melted the adhesive on the duct tape. For that's what I'd used. Either way, instead of just popping up and hanging there, the little accordion-limbed Halloween skeleton stretched to it's limit and tore loose at the hands, flopped forward and stuck to Doody's overalls as if to give him a big hug and kiss.

He stepped back. He pawed at it like a slow moving bear ripping hair from its chest. That was when I stuck the gun barrel under his left ear. It was a derringer style, break-action pistol that held a single 4/10 shell. Because like I said I hardly knew her. My own niece. Ten years old. Gone missing a week back. Showed up, two days later. In a culvert off Main.

I'd said nothing about that shoe. To anyone. I'd left that Goodwill and never returned. Graduated three weeks later and blew town the next day. Just wanted the pine woods stink out of my lungs. Let those sick hics take care of their own...

But they were mine, too. All of them since the shoe. The look on my brother in law's face at the funeral told me so. And after, after I'd changed and returned to the Goodwill for the first time in nine years, so had Doody.

I pulled the trigger with a sound like a hammer on raw meat. The big bastard turned and his knees gave, and the blood flowed around his thick neck in a skinny little stream. His face hit the pine needles, and he was gone.

* * *

Back in the car, I removed a pint of wild turkey from the glove box. I put the pistol in it's place. Lucky, I guess, I hadn't thought to bring another shell. I'd have used it on myself.

Chris Gordon is a screenwriter, independent filmmaker,  and native Texan. His first feature film, 'Hamlin Pond', took home Best in Show honors at the 2010 Boomtown Film Festival. This is his first published work of short fiction.

14 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

That's wonderful writing and a great story.

David Barber said...

A great piece of writing, Chris. Really enjoyed it. You should be writing more short fiction if this is anything to go by. A wonderful debut!

Bill Baber said...

Perfect... 'nuff said.

Anthony Derrico said...

Nice. Dark. Can feel the tension. Feel the humidity. Good work.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Descriptions here are smokin'. Nicely done.

Thomas Pluck said...

Great writing, Chris. Of Mice and Big, Bad Men.

Mike Wilkerson said...

Hard and tight- good story.

Thula7 said...

love it. that is all.

Chris Gordon said...

Thanks to everyone who read it, and thanks for the comments. It really means a lot coming from other writers.
Also, thanks to David for putting it up. If I put another story together, it's coming your way.

David Barber said...

Thanks, Chris. It's been a pleasure having you here. Good luck with future projects.

Anonymous said...

Evocative of de Maupassant. Unpredictable.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Tough stuff, loved it. Great job. I know the muddy Angelina and the piney woods too. Write more shorts pardner.

-Jim Wilsky

Anonymous said...

Punches readers right in the teeth with brass knuckles. Fast moving. Taught. Great voice. Can't wait to see more.

--Michael A. Kechula

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Good to see something from my neck of the woods. Keep at it.

Sean L.