The Adventure of Idgryll the Drunken Gnome (part one)

I finally dusted off this story which has been lying around my office under various piles of radio gear, other piles of half-finished stories and lord knows what else. I intend to post it here in bite size pieces from time to time.

          It was early Autumn and although Igdryll wasn’t entirely finished with what he was doing, he decided to stop anyway. You see, Igdryll is a gnome and a carpenter. The best one in town–carpenter, that is. That he is the only carpenter did little to dampen his impression of his own abilities. He dusted his hands off on his pants and left the cricket barn to make his way back to the village.
          In the distance, a white tendril of smoke drifted and the faint fragrance of burning leaves filled the air. This was Igdryll’s favorite time of year. The crops are coming in, the orchards are heavy with apples and figs, the combs are thick and dripping with clover honey. And, most importantly, Mr. Dallver rolls up last year’s cider from the cellar and uncorks it.
          Igdryll fully intended to head straight to Mr. Dallver’s at this very moment because it wouldn’t be very crowded since everyone else was working. Lost in this thought, he didn’t notice as Evellya approached from behind.
          “Afta noon, Igg!”
          He dropped his toolbox scattering an assortment of chisels and hammers into the tall grass by the path.
          “Bullfachs, Evey! Ya shorn’t do that.” He stooped down to collect his tools. “Might ya help?”
          “Ya shorn’t curse like that now. I help ya. Here.” She picked up a hammer from under a bush and handed it to him. “Ya know I be in the woods a lot.”
          “Yah,” he said.
          “I see somethin’ peculiar might, I did.”
          “Now I serious, Igg. I seen something beyond the Vale there.”
          “Now you shain’t go beyond that Vale,” Igdryll said. “Nothin’ there for us. You know me Uncle Olltort, he went beyon’ the Vale and came back actin’ all funnyish.” Igdryll picked up his toolbox and walked towards town. “Still all mumble mumbles.”
          “Yer uncle drinks too much,” Evelya said.
          “True told. But the drinkin’ came after the Vale, nay before.”
          “Come see it with me.”
          Igdryll stopped and looked at her. “Nar.”
          “Twice nar.”
          “Two drinks?”
          “Let me drop my tools off firstish.”

          After stopping by the cricket shed to drop off the toolbox, they entered the nearby woods. Idgryll never liked the woods much. When he was four summers old, his cousin, Myrdrigg, took him deep into the forest to play hide and seek. Well, actually just hide. After burrowing deep into the hollow of a willow tree by the Old Grey Stream, Igdryll promptly got his foot caught. Myrdrigg was more than halfway home by this time and figured that his little cousin would soon figure things out and come home on his own. When the first stars appeared, Myrdrigg got worried and told his mom who, after whipping his backside with a hazel rod, organized the town to search the woods. They found Igdryll pretty quickly. The town’s tanner, Ogdlot, heard him screaming. Although, Idgryll was only stuck in the willow for a few hours, it felt like an eternity to him. Always after that, he swore to anyone who would listen that the willow whispered to him, “Iya eats you now!” Igdryll figured that if the willow felt that way, all the trees harbored similar dispositions so he avoided the woods when possible.
          They ventured deeper into the woods and Idgryll turned around. Noticing that the field was occluded by the cedars, he began to seriously reconsider.
          “Three times,” he said.
          “Aye now,” Evelya asked. “Three times what?”
          “Cider drinks, fowl face.”
          “Two were promised and agreed upon now. Two it stands.”
          “Fine,” he mumbled.
          The cedars gave way to oak and hickory. The ancient canopy of golden and red leaves blocked the afternoon sun, giving the light a cheery but diminished hue. Just ahead was the Old Gray Stream.
          “This a way,” Evelya said, motioning downstream. “We can ford there now.”
          They walked to the edge of the stream. A slow but steady column of water swirled amongst several boulders. A hickory, its bark flaked and ragged, had fallen across the stream. They crossed with little difficulty and continued along the moldy forest floor. Occasional mushroom balls puffed, scattering dark earthy smelling powder into the still, damp air.
          They continued and the hardwood trees slowly gave way to towering sycamores. The Vale was close now.
          “We made it,” Evelya said as she stepped through a cluster of elderberry bushes. Before them a wide river churned and chortled.
          “The Vale,” Evelya whispered.
          “Aye, the Vale,” Igdryll said. “So where be it?”
          “Yonder. Look you.”
          “I be lookin’ but seein’ nothin’.”
          “Through there,” she said pointing between two mammoth sycamores.
          “Fark,” he said. Through the trees he could just discern the top of what appeared to be a yellow house.
          “What is it?” Igdryll asked.
          A puff of black smoke came from the top of the yellow house and it began to move, slowly at first and then more quickly. A giant yellow scooper rose up carrying a pile of dirt and rock.
          “Go back now,” Igdryll said as he turned back to the woods.
          “Stay and see it.”
          “Nay. We tell the Elder. Come now.”
          Igdryll retreated into the woods. He didn’t know what he had just seen but he knew that it wasn’t good. He raced to get away as Evelya struggled to keep up.
          “Slow now, Igg!” Evelya shouted.
          Igdryll stopped running but still continued at a brisk pace not caring if Evelya kept up or not. He crossed the fallen tree and made his way out of the woods. He was in such a hurry that he forgot his toolbox that was still at the barn.

A Walk to the Mercantile

          I must have been five or six that summer. It was Sunday. I know that because my Mom and I always walked to the mercantile together on Sunday. It was hot that day, an oppressive haze occluded the trees that stood just beyond the cotton fields.
          “What’s that smell, Momma?” I asked.
          “I think it’s an animal, Sugar.”
          “Pepper don’t smell like ‘at.”
          “I know. Come on now, I think it might rain soon.”
          I stopped walking when I saw the cat in the weeds just off of the road. I’d heard the word death used before but I didn’t know what it meant until that moment. The tabby’s eyes were missing and desiccated entrails spilled out of its belly. The carcass teemed with movement as flies and maggots went about their business.
          My mom took my hand and tried to pull me along but I resisted. It wasn’t the spectacle of the decaying cat that shocked me but more that I had seen that cat just the day before running through our field, stopping periodically to pounce on mice. Now, it was just a thing, like a rock or a twig.
          “It’s OK, Sugar. It’s just a dead cat.”
          We walked the rest of the way to the mercantile in silence. I think my Mom just didn’t know what to say to me. Looking back, I don’t think any words would have made a difference or explained anything better than just looking at that dead cat did.
          Abe was playing his guitar on the mercantile’s porch just like he did every weekend. He was an old man with a halo of white, curly hair and a grizzled, salt-and-pepper beard. He wore deep blue denim overalls that were faded and threadbare at the knees. I think he must have worn those same overalls every day until he died several years later. Abe made a living, of sorts, by playing for change at the mercantile and he also played every Friday night at Langston’s, a good ol’ boys bar about a half mile outside of town on J highway.
          “Mornin’, Missus Ambers.”
          “Mornin, Abe,” she said as she dropped a dime into the old Stetson hat that was laid out.
          “Bless you kindly.”
          “Hey, Mom…”
          “That’s fine, sugar. You can stay out here if you want.”
          I enjoyed listening to him play. At the time, I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but now I know it was Delta blues. Hard music. He didn’t sing but those chords told a story. I sat down on the porch and he played for a while. I could see my Mom looking at me from time to time as she passed by the doorway. I always felt like she was not comfortable with Abe but I couldn’t tell why.
          Abe stopped playing suddenly and looked at me.
          “You wanna hear me sing somethin’, Tuck?” he asked.
          “Yes, suh,” I said. I’d never heard him sing before and I remember it feeling like something special was about to happen.
          “You know what I like best ’bout kids?” he asked. I shook my head. “They listen. Well, the good ones, anyways. I could sing backwards outs here as grownups walk by and all they hear is an old man bangin’ on a guitar, jabberin’ some old soul song.”
          He started playing again and then he sang. It was the only time I would ever hear him sing and I don’t remember much about it other than that it gave me the same feeling like I had when I saw that cat earlier. Abe’s face changed. It grew more contorted and pained looking. His words and the way he played felt like it was hitting me right in the stomach somehow. It was something about a woman who got shot and love, but it was a dark kind of love, not like my Mom and Dad’s kind of love, I remember thinking. I started to feel ill.
          “Ready, Sugar?” My mom asked as the screen door banged shut. We both jumped and Abe stopped playing. “You okay, honey?”
          I nodded.
          “Well, come on then,” she said as she took my hand in hers. My Mom glanced at Abe and he gave her a quick nod.
I don’t remember anything else from that day and I haven’t even thought about it until this morning, nearly forty years later.

          “Sheriff?” A young deputy with a day’s worth of unshaven stubble asked. “Tuck?”
          “Sorry, Mike,” I said. “Just thinkin’ about somethin’.”
          I looked over at the workers who were leaning against a truck, their work for the day interrupted by the skeleton resting in the crumbling soil just a few feet from where I stood. I walked over and crouched by the remains, tracing the outline of the entry wound in the skull with my finger.
          “She’s been shot,” Mike said. “But the remains look like they’ve been here a long while.”
          “It’s Ida Purline,” I said.
          “What’s that? You find some ID or somethin’?”
          “No. It’s Ida Purline. And I know that because a man named Abraham Crayton confessed to killin’ this girl to me.”
          “What?” Mike asked. “Well, let’s bring him in. You know where he lives?”
          “Yep. Down at the Memorial Gardens Cemetery.”
          “He’s dead,” Mike exhaled.
          I stood up, wiped the dust from the skull off on my pants and walked towards my truck. I don’t remember when Ida went missing but I do remember my Mom talking about it from time to time when I was a boy. I’ll never know exactly what happened to Ida, other than what the forensic report will reveal.
          “Mike, you hang out here and wait for the examiner,” I said.
          “Where are you headed?”
           “Ida’s sister has been waiting a long time. I’m going to go tell her that we finally found her.”

Turned (a short story)

The sign in her window advertised palm reading, crystal gazing and sundry occult machinations. I told her I wanted more love in my life. Who doesn’t, right? I also told her that it had been almost two years since I had even gone out with anybody. She said to me that she knew exactly what would help curtail my dry spell.

Leading me to a back room that smelled of old cigars, sweat and liquor, she scraped a wooden chair across the floor and bade me sit. “I’ve never had much aptitude for voodoo,” she said to me with a blush of a smile while she laid out several items on the altar. “But I think this is just the trick,” she said with a wink. She had a sachet of pungent herbs in one hand that she crunched as she continued to lay out stones, leaves, twigs and candles with the other. I began to think then that it was a bad idea. I had hoped that visiting her would help but, instead, a primal anxiety roiled in my guts.

She withdrew a match from a rusty metal box, sparked it to life on the bottom of her shoe and lit the red novena in the center of the altar. “Give me your hand,” she said while holding out her own. I placed my hand in hers, she lifted the novena and poured droplets of molten wax on my hand. I jerked back but she held fast. “Now, now. Courage.” She set the candle down and sprinkled what I think was sulfur powder and other herbs into the soft wax on my hand. A ribbon of acrid smoke puffed upwards from the warm globules. She inhaled the fumes, blew them back in my face and I lost consciousness. I didn’t wake up until a year later.

That was over thirty years ago and it was the night I became Marie’s zombie. However, each year on the anniversary of my turning, my mind and body enjoy a brief freedom. As I write, the sun is going down over Lafayette square and I know that in a few hours, I will turn once again to become entwined with darkness for yet another year.

March 12th, 1968 (Short Story)

Tuesday, March 12th, 1968–three and a half years after the accident

I can’t seem to remember much that happened after the accident, just what people tell me. I know, at least intellectually, that these people who tell me about my life are my family. They tell me I had a wife but she died in the wreck–the wreck I can never remember. I don’t want to remember but I can’t stop trying. My days are consumed with trying to remember. It’s like a splinter that I just can’t dig out-I pick at it non stop. Festering. Bleeding.

These people who call themselves my family stop by from time to time. I suffer them politely but they are strangers to me despite the intimate details they reveal about me which I suspect must be true. They have to be true, I tell myself, thinking that the more I try the more likely I’ll jar something familiar loose. Open some crack that lets the memories flow back in.

I write things down. I worry that if I don’t, the identity I’ve constructed for myself will slip away. I can’t bear that. I like who I’ve become since my “birth.” That’s what I call it, the day I woke up after the wreck. It’s a frightening yet liberating notion to form yourself into who you want to be.

This strange and beautiful woman who calls herself my daughter stops by from time to time. She never stays long. And although I want to remember her, I can’t. It makes me terribly sad. Her too. Last week she brought a small child with her. She said it was my granddaughter. I wanted to believe her.

I’m thinking of leaving this town and moving somewhere else where these people can’t find me. Where the reminders won’t knock on the door on a weekly basis. I think it would be easier for everyone. It would also be easy because they paid me a lot of money after the wreck. The guy was drunk. Drunk and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. What he paid me barely affected his lifestyle but it changed mine forever. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal but mostly I’m bored. I’ve indulged just about every hobby and whim I’ve ever fancied. It seems when the challenge of achieving something is removed, the satisfaction is gone. I tried religion but it didn’t work. Sex, same thing. Alcohol. I still like it but it hasn’t helped. Drugs never had any appeal.

I’m not completely without hope but I’ve been close on several occasions. I won’t end my life because, one: I think it’s a ridiculous notion reserved for the weak and, two: it’s just so damned cliche. ‘Accident Victim Loses Memory and Takes His Own Life,’ the headline would read. Abhorrent.

I look in the mirror and the first thing, often the only thing, I see is the thin white scar that runs across my forehead and down my right cheek. I think that somewhere along that gash, whatever I was, seeped away. I sometimes think that somewhere along that road there exists everything that I was and if I could collect it somehow, I would be whole again. I went there once but all I found were a few pieces of mirror which may or may not have been from my car. I still have those pieces. I keep them in my pants pocket. Occasionally, when people visit, I reach into my pocket and squeeze until my palms bleed. I don’t know why.

I enjoy a good cigar. It is a simple pleasure, really. A simple thing. A counterpoint to a hard day during which every victory is hard won, or not won at all. I am smoking a cigar as I write this. I’m told that I didn’t smoke before the accident, that I hated it and would virtually explode into a tirade when the topic of smoking was brought up. I ran every day and ate healthy too. I smoke most every day now and the thought of running seems ridiculous. There is something about the thick braid of smoke, the crisp, acrid scent of cedar and burning leaves that seems indispensable. I know that it isn’t good for me but, whatever.

My neighbor used to stop by from time to time. She was a nice middle-aged woman, recently divorced, who I suspect fancied me. I attempted to indulge her but her conversation was, to be painfully honest, drivel. She made excellent pies though. I miss those pies. She occupies a special place. She was my first.

For a few months, a home healthcare nurse would stop by each week to check on my progress. I had some mobility issues she helped with. She was such a pretty girl. What was her name? Kristen? I can’t remember. I’ll have to check my other journals.

Who else was there? An Aunt? Marge or Margie, maybe? I wish I could remember them all but there were so many of them–even a mailman once. His name was, Henry. He always told such corny jokes. The only guy. Every thing is worth trying once, I guess…

I never did anything to the children. I love children. People who hurt children are sick fucks. I’m no sick fuck. That reminds me, there was a girl who was selling cookies with her mom once. I bought four boxes–there is still one box in the freezer. Debra was her name, the mom that is. Tricky, tricky Debra. She worked at the school up the road, she said. What she didn’t say was that she had mace in her purse. She and her family lived two streets over. A husband, Lincoln, I think, and a dog.

The others. I can see their faces but I don’t remember their names. Some were pretty. Some, not so much. Thin. Heavy. One or two, I would even call glamorous but most were average. They all left their mark on me in one way or another. Each helped to complete the puzzle. They helped form the tapestry. I was born anew through them as strange as it may sound. I guess it sounds strange to me too. To think that so many others, complete strangers really, helped me to become who I now am and so many others will continue to help me maintain who I am. I can feel them within me. Their vitality joins mine…

I need to go. Someone is knocking at the door…