Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Short Happy Life of Brownie Macomber

Brownie, Carl and Alfred crouch outside an oval of light cast by the hole in the baseboard. A bare strand of copper wire snakes above their heads. A wad of fiberglass insulation rests at their feet.

“I smell peanut butter,” whispers Carl.

“Oh god, I'd love to eat some peanut butter,” says Alfred.

“I'm going out,” announces Brownie, rising on his haunches and stretching his back.

“But Brownie, what about Billy?”

“Yeah, Brownie. Billy never came back...”

“I'm not Billy,” the little brown mouse answers. “I'm made of tougher stuff. Besides, how long you guys think we can just stay here, living off fiberglass? Fiberglass, for crying out loud.” No one speaks for several seconds. At length, the little fellow repeats, “I'm going out.”

Silence greets him as he sticks his head through the tiny opening and looks around. A washing machine towers to his left and disappears into the heavens. A rubber boot the size of an elephant, fresh mud on the heel, lies to his right. Between the two, a rectangle of wood circumscribed by a metal bar emits the siren smell of peanut butter.

Brownie takes a step forward, and another. He stops and sniffs, then advances yet a further inch. Tentatively, he reaches and licks one brown side of a lump. His lips are instantly greasy, but the chunk remains. The crunchy type.

In the shadows behind the hole, Carl and Alfred watch, wide eyed, as Brownie gnaws with reckless abandon.

“The greedy sonuvabitch!” hisses Alfred. “He could leave us a bite.”

“I dunno,” Carl begins to answer with a sidelong glance at his compatriot. “You gotta give Brownie some credit. “He's the one who...”


Carl's sentiment hangs truncated in the silence. Brownie was, indeed, the member of their band with courage to go out, and now he lies still, blood oozing from his ears onto the wooden platform. Alfred puts his nose between his knees and whimpers.

A gigantic hand appears from the sky to carry Brownie away atop the trap like a soldier born from the battlefield upon his shield. Carl and Alfred scamper away into the darkness of the wall. Neither has returned when the shield, sans warrior, is returned to its place.

Darkness falls in the room outside. Carl reappears at the opening with Alfred close behind. The pair stand chewing insulation. Alfred glances over his shoulder at the spots of crimson on the floor, shudders, and digs into his meal of fiberglass with affected vigor. Carl's mastication, however, slows. He looks across the tangled wad at his companion. “I can't do this anymore,” he says.

“What? Can't do what anymore?” Alfred does a nervous 180 of his surroundings and resumes chewing.

“I can't stand here and smell peanut butter while I chew fiberglass. I'm going out.”

“But Carl, remember what happened to Brownie? Brownie never came back.”

“That's what I mean,” Carl mutters out of the side of his mouth as he gnaws a spot two or three millimeters from the tip of his tail. “I'm going where Brownie went. Where the peanut butter is.”

“No, Carl, no!” Alfred pleads, closing his eyes and dropping his chin to his chest. “Remember Billy. Remember Brownie. For god's sakes, Carl, please don't leave me here alone...” But when he turns to gauge his companion's reaction, no one is there.


“I will not think about peanut butter. I will NOT think about peanut butter,” Alfred chants like a mantra as he retreats into the shadowy recesses of the insulated wall.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas in the Boondocks

A wise man once said that Christmas was like a senior citizen eating prunes: it may be painful, but this, too, will soon pass.

We have many quirky neighbors and much odd scenery here in Greater Clear Creek. When viewed from a moving automobile on the winding road, the pictured truck appears to race the barn. The barn leans forward, and seems to be pull ahead by a nose (if barns had noses). I've tried often, without success, to capture this illusion in a photograph (if illusion it be). Ultimately I gave up, concluding that motion was a necessary ingredient of the effect. It eludes still photography.

Nevertheless, when the folks who live nearby decorated the old truck in Christmas finery, I decided it was time to share the image with the world. Or that portion of the world who follows my blog.

Hello, Mother. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Introducing Gnarled Oak, Knotty Pine

I'm a busy man. Between schooling my daughter, cutting firewood, keeping one house and remodeling another, writing and submitting stories, editing my novel and preparing a synopsis, I'm covered up with deadlines, duties, and daydreams. But when I inadvertently created a blog space while registering to comment on someone else's, I figured, What the hell?

Gnarled Oak, Knotty Pine will feature new content each week. Some posts will be brief, say, just a single picture and a few sentences about a local oddity. Others might feature song lyrics, poetry that isn't right for a journal, or perhaps the occasional orphaned short fiction. My focus will be the working class experience in rural Appalachia because, well, that's the life I chose.

I have no idea how much interest this effort will generate. For now, I'm not encouraging a lot of submissions. What I publish by others will mostly follow from invitation. I'll be looking for concise, thoroughly proofed stories about the vertical backwoods, okay? Excursions into the Deep South are welcome too. Be aware that I'm more interested in realism than sentimentalizing Dixie or glorifying the working life. This longish story on Rusty Barnes' Fried Chicken and Coffee should give an idea of my tastes.

That said, if reading your work feels like listening to a song by David Allen Coe, send me a brief query and a link to something already published.

Why Gnarled Oak, Knotty Pine? Because I like the sound of it. Say it aloud. Go ahead; just ignore the person in the next cubicle. Gnarled Oak, Knotty Pine. See what I mean? Until next week, Gentle Reader.