Category Archives: Episodes

The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 12

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Steel Brandenburg III felt the presence of a large wild animal as he stood on the back patio of the Gould house. He could hear the animal struggling to breathe. He turned to see her there with a disappointed look on her face.

“Can you please explain what that was all about?” Carrie said to him.

He called himself back to reality. “The guy is a jerk. He’s an a-hole.”

“He’s the pastor of my church, and a guest in my home.” Carrie waved her hand around in the air. “And must you smoke? It’s disgusting.”

Steel turned on her. “Must you eat five-hundred pounds of food every time you sit down at a table!?”

Carrie’s face began to sour, her bottom lip trembled. “Must you always be so cruel to me? Why can’t you just love me?”

Steel laughed. “Love? You’ve lost your marbles.” He pointed with his cigarette hand. “Everyone in there has lost their marbles.”

“Will you please just come back inside? And I want you to apologize for your abhorrent behavior.”

Steel sighed, took one last drag, and tossed the cigarette aside. Part of him wanted to just tell her to ‘fuck off.’ Part of him wanted to just walk away and be done with it all. But then there was a part of him that wanted to see things through for some curiously sick reason he didn’t fully understand. Did he really care about Carrie Gould? How could he? “All right, all right,” he relented. Maybe he just wanted her like an animal. “Just get off my back.”

She half-smiled at him and went to hug him. Her plump body felt good in his arms, Steel thought. She even smelled kind of nice. He moved to kiss her, but she turned away. “Gross. Not until you brush your teeth and use some mouthwash,” she told him.

Once back inside and with apologies made, Steel helped Mother Melba clear the table and clean the dishes. They stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink, quiet at first, with only the clinking of dinnerware and water running forth from the spout to be heard. He stared out the window as he lackadaisically ran a dish towel over a plate. He wanted to run, but at the same time he wanted to stay there forever. She nudged him with her elbow.

“Penny for your thoughts,” she said, and then she chuckled. “I guess these days I better ask for a quarter.”

Steel snarled to himself on the inside. He wanted to punch her in the face or hold her head down in the soapy dishwater. “Do you ever wonder how you get yourself into a particular situation. I mean, even with all the best intentions and planning and trying to do the right thing, you always end up in a bad situation?”

She turned to look at him with a certain degree of concern. “You think you’re in a bad situation?”

“Not this,” he assured her. “But this job I have and this town I find myself living in. How did I end up here if everything I aimed for was the exact opposite of this? How does that happen? How is it I stumble over my own feet so badly?”

“Well, Steel… I believe you were moved by the Holy Spirit, but you’ve been resistant,” Mother Melba said. “I believe the Lord has brought you here for a reason. It was out of your control. You shouldn’t fight it so much. He has plans for you.” She tapped the back of his hand with her wet one. It gave him chills for some reason, and he leaned over and kissed her cheek. She turned her mouth to him and let him kiss her there.

She suddenly pulled away. “Oh, dear,” she said.

“I’m sorry… No, I’m not,” Steel confessed, and he kissed her again.

Mother Melba put her hands on his chest and backed him away. “No, Steel. This isn’t right. You’re Carrie’s fella.”

He pulled her closer to him and put a hand between her legs. “I’m being moved by the Holy Spirit,” he whispered.

Pastor Craig Stikk stood by the large window in the front room of the Gould house. He looked out and sipped at his coffee, his eyes narrow. Carrie was sitting politely in a nearby easy chair. “You know, Carrie. When Jesus was on the cross, you could see his ribs. He was thin.” He turned from the window to look at her. “But it seems to me that you would prefer to eat ribs. I can just imagine the sloppy barbecue sauce all over your face.” He nodded toward her body. “Blubber like that was never part of Christ’s life.”

Carrie gave him a confused look. “Pastor?”

“Look, I saw how you ate at dinner. You probably don’t realize it, but you’re gluttonous… And gluttony is a sin, Carrie.”

She bowed her head in shame. “I know. I’m sorry, pastor. It’s a constant battle for me.”

“And a battle you’re losing… But I could help you with that,” he said with a sly grin and a twinkle in his perverted eyes.

She perked up just as he began to walk over to where she was sitting. He moved around to the back of her chair. He set his coffee cup down on a side table and subtly leaned an arm over her shoulder. His hand lightly landed on one of her large breasts. He kept it there as he continued, rhythmically kneading her like tender bread dough. “I could help you focus on other things. I could help you fight the temptation to stuff yourself… With food, that is.”

Her head whirled around to look up at him. “A Bible diet?”

He laughed. “No. A love diet.”

“A love diet?”

“I could be your sustenance, Carrie. Let me be your everlasting sustenance.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Then I’ll just come out and say it, Carrie… I’m hungry, too. But I’m hungry for you.” He came around to the front of the chair and knelt before her. He took her hands in his. “He’s not right for you. I’m right for you. We’re right for each other. You deserve to be loved better than how he loves you. I mean, you couldn’t even call it love, what he gives you. Steel’s not dedicated to you, Carrie. I could be dedicated to you.” He suddenly let his head drop down between her legs and he inhaled deeply. “My God, Carrie,” he said in a muffled tone. “I must have you. God has spoken to me, and He has told me that you are my only hope for a proper lust.”

She let her hands go to his head. She played with his hair as she pulled him in closer to her feminine depths. “Yes, pastor,” she mumbled. “Yes, yes, yes.”


Ms. Grundy and the Bone Ghosts (5)

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Mary O’Shea blundered into the house and kicked off her shoes. Her husband, the constable, was sitting in his relaxing chair in the front room and staring out the window while he sipped on a glass with three fingers of Jameson Whiskey inside it. “Where have you been?” he called out without even glancing over at her as she stood in the mysterious shadows.

“Working,” she huffed.

“Working hard?” Harley scoffed.

“I always do,” she replied.

“I bet you do.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she said, stepping further into the room.

He finally turned to look at her. “How’s Lloyd?”

She shifted nervously. “Lloyd?”

“Lloyd the bartender from The Village Fig. I paid him a visit today.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because he’s up to no good, that’s why. And so are you.” Harley O’Shea sat his glass down on a side table and got up out of his chair. He sauntered over to where she stood and looked her up and down. He sniffed at her. “I can smell him on you,” he said. “You smell like his place. I have a nose like a bloodhound.”

She backed away from him. “And a face like one, too.”

Harley roughly grabbed her by the arm and ran his nose all over her, inhaling her like a vacuum would a dirty carpet.

“What on Earth are you doing!?”

“Inspecting my wife,” he answered. “You do remember you’re my wife, right?”

“I need to shower,” she said, and she started to walk away, but Harley clamped a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“Wait. Get undressed right here,” he ordered.

Mary protested. “What!? No. I will not.”

He jerked on her arm. “Strip.”

“Harley, you’re hurting me.”

“And I’ll hurt you a lot more if you don’t strip right now… And then I’ll arrest you.”

“For what?” she seethed.

“For adultery,” Harley told her, and he was dead serious.

But she just laughed at him and tore away from his grip. He quickly grabbed her by the back of the neck, but she countered with a quick, hard knee to the groin. Harley stumbled back, clutching his precious jewels. “You bitch,” he hissed.

“Don’t ever put your hands on me again,” Mary said, a stiff finger in the air. “Ever!” She turned away from him and went to take a shower.

It was Lloyd the bartender’s day off and he had decided that what he needed was a good walkabout in the woods. But first, he decided, he wanted to stop off at the church on the edge of town to see if he could get a few minutes of Father Oban’s time.

The church was a small stone relic from another time and that gave Lloyd some peace in his guts for he has always had an appreciation for the warm aesthetics of divine architecture. He pushed on the red door, and it creaked. He was greeted by the scent of burning candles and old stone and old wood and the remnants of funeral incense.

There was a large figure kneeling in one of the front pews and they were looking up at the big cross with ripped up Jesus on it. A head turned when the figure sensed Lloyd’s presence. He motioned at Lloyd to come forward.

Lloyd walked forward and shuffled into the pew and sat down next to Father Oban. “Hello, Father,” he said. “I was hoping I could speak with you.”

Father Oban moved up into a sitting position. “Absolutely,” he said, and he turned to look all around at the empty church. “As you can see, I’m not very busy… Is something troubling you?”

Lloyd took a deep breath and came right out with it. “I think I’m having an affair with a married woman.”

“You think you are?”

“I mean… We’ve been flirtatious. She’s been to my apartment.”

“I think you know exactly what I’m going to say… Do not tread on another man’s land, Lloyd. You must resist temptation.”

“But she’s unhappy with him. I’m sure he’s awful to her,” Lloyd said.

“Lloyd, my advice would be to step back from this situation. They need to resolve it their problems, not you. The outcome, no matter what it is, must be facilitated by them. If I were you, I’d keep my distance… For now, at least.”

“But I’m lonely, Father.”

Father Oban, who was a large man with a golden color, clamped a hand onto Lloyd’s thigh. “I know loneliness as well, Lloyd. We all do at some point in our lives. It’s a constant in the human condition, I’m afraid. But you cannot allow loneliness to be a catalyst for sin. You must find ways to cultivate this loneliness so that something new and green and positive begins to grow.”

Lloyd looked at him as if he didn’t understand anything he just said. “You mean… Like a hobby?”

“Sure, a hobby,” Father Oban replied.

“I have a stamp collection I haven’t touched in years. Maybe I could get back into that.”

“Stamp collecting, huh? Seems like a noble pursuit,” the priest said, and he moved his hand higher up on Lloyd’s thigh.

Lloyd glanced down at it for a moment. He found it to be a strange sensation. “May I ask what you’re doing?”


“Your hand. It seems to be creeping up to somewhere it probably shouldn’t be.”

Father Oban pulled his hand away and embarrassingly smiled. “I’m sorry, Lloyd. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It must be hard not to be able to be intimate with others.”

Father Oban sighed. “It’s part of my oath, my commitment to God. But yes, it is a struggle.”

Lloyd then reached out and took the priest’s hand and placed it on his thigh like it was before. “It’s okay if you want to,” Lloyd said, and he moved closer to Father Oban and they sat like that together in the empty, quiet church for a long time.


The Cowmen (Three)

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Inside the Camaro Saloon, Arno got caught up in an uneasy game of poker with a scroungy bunch of other cowmen. He sat at the round table topped with worn, green felt and a pile of chips in the center of it. His back was to the window, the scurrying of the mud street behind him. His eyes scanned the semicircle of faces studying their hands. He was already down a few bucks.

“So, where are you from anyhow?” one of the others asked him, looking up at him with suspicion. “I’ve never seen you in town before.” The man looked like a haggard leprechaun dressed like an overworked rancher.  

Arno’s answer was simple and to the point. “Up north.”

“Up north is a mighty big place, stranger,” another player said just as he folded his hand. He was a young, studious looking man with glasses and wearing a clean, white shirt.

“That it is,” Arno answered, but he was more focused on his cards. He laid down a full house. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” he said, laughing, and he cupped his rough hand around the small pile of chips in the center of the table and pulled them to him. He smiled at the others over his win.

“Damn it all to hell!” the one that looked like a haggard leprechaun said. “I’m done.” He got up and walked over to the bar. A couple of the others did the same leaving only the young man and Arno at the table.

“Thought I saw you ride in with another fellow. Where’s he at?” the young man asked.

Arno glared at him. “You sure seem to have a healthy curiosity about me, us. What gives?”

“Nothing. I just like to know who’s coming into my town. I’m the sheriff.” The man pulled on a vest that revealed his badge. “Sheriff Payne’s the name.”

“Is pain your game?” Arno said with a mocking chuckle.

“I don’t find that funny, mister.”

Arno adjusted his manner. “Sorry… But I gotta say, you’re awful young to be sheriff.”

“I may be young, sir. But I’m full of spirit when it comes to upholding the law. I take my job seriously.”

“Congratulations on all your success then,” Arno said, and he started to get up. He extended his hand across the table and the sheriff got up as well and returned the gesture.

Arno introduced himself. “Arno Pyle,” he said. “I suppose I should go round up my partner. Any suggestions on a good place to stay for the night?”

The sheriff nodded out the window and across the street. “The Saint James is about the best you’ll get,” he said. The sheriff fastened a hat to his head and began to walk toward the exit. He turned. “Enjoy your stay in Sudan, sir. I hope we don’t meet again.” He walked out into the nearly dying light of day.

Hosea politely sat at the table in the kitchen as she prepared him a lemonade. The room smelled like fruit in a cool cellar. He looked around at the warm comfort of the place. It was neat, clean, orderly. “Do you live in this big place all by yourself?” he asked her.

Sadie turned for a moment. She was well put together, soft features, bright. “It was my father’s. I took it on after he passed. But yes, it’s all mine and just mine,” Sadie said.

“Don’t you ever get scared,” Hosea asked.


“You know, of being alone in the house. Especially at night. I mean, I would be. I don’t like to be all alone in big, dark places.”

She brought a pitcher and a glass to the table and set them down before him. “Help yourself. Care for a scone?”

“What the hell’s a scone?” Hosea wanted to know as he poured himself a glass of the lemonade.

“She laughed at his question. “It’s sort of like a thick cookie.”

“Sure… But like I was wondering. You don’t get scared all alone in a place like this?”

“You sure seem interested in my tolerance for fear, Mr. Hosea.”

“It’s just Hosea.”

“I’m used to the big house. I feel at peace here. I don’t feel any fear.” She came back to the table with a small white plate and a scone sitting atop it. “Here you go. It’s cranberry.”

“Thank you, mam. So, there’s really no one else that lives here?”

“No,” Sadie said. “You seem very surprised that a woman could take on such a task as living in a big house by herself and keeping peacocks and making scones and lemonade. I’m quite capable of it all, Hosea.”

“Well, then you’re a stronger person than me. I suppose I just have a nervous constitution. I carry a lot of fear and doubt with me. The way the world is turning these days, faster and faster, it’s hard to find someone or something to trust, to believe in.”

Sadie came to the table and sat with him. She nodded her head. “I suppose that can be true… If you focus on it. I try not to. I try to focus on my life here and my peacocks and just trying to be a good person.”

“And no fear, huh? Not even in your dreams?”

“I can never remember my dreams,” she said. “So, they don’t really affect me.”

“I always dream about being inside one of those big fancy factories they’re starting up these days for the manufacturing. I’m always just wandering around inside, and the machines are making noise and the tired and oily people are working and no one ever looks at me or talks to me. It’s like I’m invisible but I’m not. I always see the big windows that let in light, but you can’t see through. Block glass is what I think they call it… There’s light but nothing is clear. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“I can’t say I do.”

“Anyways… I always end up in an office or something like that in the upstairs part where the big shots run the show, and I’m all by myself and there’s this weird contraption on a desk that looks like a typewriter, but it isn’t a typewriter because it lights up and shows me pictures when I tap the keys…”

Sadie was entranced as he talked. He was such an odd man, she thought. “What kinds of pictures?”

Hosea flashed her a little grin. “Pictures of peacocks.”

She jerked back in surprise. “That’s strange. Very strange.”

“It is strange,” Hosea agreed. “And that’s why I wanted to know if you ever feal fear.”

She stared at him for a moment. Hosea’s face had lost its innocent and trustworthy look. “I think I’m afraid now,” she whispered.

Hosea’s right hand suddenly shot forward and grasped her by the neck. He stood and forced more pressure down upon her throat. He squeezed and squeezed. She struggled to try and pull his hand away, but it was useless. He was too strong. Her face was contorted, she gasped, her skin turned color, she went limp, and then he released her to the floor.

His heart beat wildly in his chest as he looked down upon her. A clock ticked away on a shelf and then struck the high five hour. He quickly moved about the house to find and pocket things of value before vanishing from the house to return to Arno.


The Morbid Mind Correctional Facility (3)

Photo by Kristal Tereziu on

Magda Balls looked at her two new guests, her back was up against the stove in the kitchen, a cigarette smoke stream trailing from her shapely hand. Rosalina and the Huffing Man were sitting at the table in her lakeside bungalow eating tomato soup and oyster crackers. The man had an iced tea to drink, the girl a milk.

“Did you know MILK in Dutch and Norwegian is MELK,” Magda said, looking at the girl.

Rosalina crinkled her nose. “Huh?”

“MILK is pronounced MELK in both Dutch and Norwegian… I’m studying new languages.”

The Huffing Man wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and looked at her. “I spent some time in Amsterdam, but I never drank any MELK there.” He just as quickly went back to eating his soup and crackers.

“They have naughty peep shows in Amsterdam,” Rosalina said. “And marijuana is legal. Did you get high and look at boobies?”

“No,” the Huffing Man insisted. “I was there on business… Back when my life wasn’t a shattered mess, or was it?” His thoughts trailed off into the air and he watched them bounce away.

Magda laughed at the girl. “How do you know about all that?”

“I know a lot of things. I read, surf the net, watch movies, things like that. I’m very worldly for 10.2 years old.”

“I can tell,” Magda laughed. “If you two don’t mind, I’m going to hit the shower. Make yourselves at home.”

The Huffing Man looked up at Magda and gave her a shy smile. His face, with its sandpaper sheen, was tired and haggard. “Thank you… For the food and for helping me out.”

Magda smiled back. “You’re welcome.”

Rosalina plopped herself down in a comfy couch in the front room and played with a remote control. The Huffing Man joined her. She looked over at him sadly. “Can I ask you something?”

“I suppose you can.”

“Why do you huff gas?”

He sighed. “Well, it’s a long, sad story I’m afraid. I don’t want to trouble a young girl with such adult things.”

“It’s okay. I can handle it. I’m very mature.”

“Well, let’s just say I have a lot of personal problems.”

“Like what?”

The Huffing Man laughed at her innocent inquisitiveness, then sighed. “I feel incredibly invisible to a lot of people in my life. I suppose I don’t feel very loved.”

Rosalina looked down. “I know what you mean. I don’t feel very loved either. That’s why I ran away from my foster parents.”

“Foster parents?”

“My Pee and Em were killed in a hot air balloon crash in Arizona.”

“Pee and Em?”

“My dad and mum. I got the words from A Clockwork Orange. It’s my favorite movie. It’s part of this weird language they speak that’s sort of like Russian slang mixed with Old English. I bet we can find it on Netflix or HBO if you want to watch it with me.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“What! Where have you been, living under a rock?”

“Yes, I suppose I have been.”

It’s a brutal and satirical look at the crisis of crime and subsequent punishment in a withering dystopian society… The story revolves around the strange life of a young hoodlum and his gang of droogs. But it goes far beyond that. It’s a mind fuck, really,” Rosalina said. “A total mind fuck.”

“Oh, really? I’m intrigued.”

Rosalina excitedly sat up on the edge of the couch and scanned through channels until she found the movie. “Here it is!”

The Huffing Man gestured with his head toward the sound of the running shower. “Do you think she’ll be okay with it?”

“I don’t think she’ll care. She’s pretty cool.”

“All right then. Fire it up.”

“Doobie doo,” Rosalina said with a giggle.


“Just watch.”

The chilling close-up image of Alex DeLarge in the Korova Milk Bar suddenly appeared on the screen. The gonging synthesized opening soundtrack filled the room.

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milk Bar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova Milk Bar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet, or synthemesc, or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence…

Rosalina looked over at the Huffing Man and his eyes were wide with wonder. “Freaky, huh?” she whispered.

“I’d say,” he whispered back.

Magda Balls came into the room with wet hair and fresh summer clothes that clung to her tall, svelte body. “What are you two watching?”

“A Clockwork Orange,” Rosalina told her, and then she pressed pause on the remote. “But we can’t have disturbances. We need to fully concentrate on the film in order to absorb all its subtle nuances.”

Magda laughed. “Okay. I’ll just go out onto the deck and read then. That okay?”

“Sure,” Rosalina said with a shrug. “It’s your house.”

“That it is,” Magda said, and she smacked her lips, grabbed a book off the coffee table and slipped outside.

Rosalina resumed the film and the Huffing Man relaxed into the couch. He watched the movie as its bizarreness unfolded and even though the pictures on the screen were mesmerizing, he couldn’t help that his mind drifted away to his own inner turmoil. He tried to turn his head and look at the girl beside him, but his neck seemed inoperable, he seemed frozen, felt dead almost. He wondered if he had finally done enough damage with all that gas huffing.

The film was long and when it was over, the Huffing Man got up off the couch and stretched. He glanced out through the glass of the veranda door and saw that Magda had migrated to a short dune on the beach. He looked at Rosalina. “I think I’m going to go take a walk… In the other direction.”

“Okay,” she said, as she skimmed through channels in search of something new to watch.

“Would you like to join me? I mean, you can’t just watch the television all day. Maybe we can find something to eat.”

Rosalina pressed the power button on the remote and looked up at him. “You’re right. And I should come with you… To keep you on the straight and narrow. Because, I hope you weren’t planning on running off to huff some gas.”

“No. But it doesn’t feel good not to huff.”

“I’m sure it sucks, but you’ll feel better,” the girl said. “I’ll help you ride the rough waves out.”

“That’s awful kind of you,” he said with a genuine smile. “Shall we?” He reached out to grasp her hand at the door and she took it.


The Cowmen (One)

For The Cowmen

I was the man beyond the veil, and I was upside down in sunlight, so it seemed. A crystal-clear river of icicle vibes sparkled in that light to my left. A grassland to my right. Broken people with backpacks and real live monkeys on their shoulders wandered through traffic unaware of all that worldly danger that I could feel myself right under my olive and oiled skin. The black hairs on my infinite arms curled and crawled like villains coming up out of the ground—ground on a green hill, ground littered with the stones of the dead, ground covered with thick trees and their companion crooked branches that pointed off into all sorts of directions, all sorts of times and places, pointing off to one hamlet or village or town or metropolis or suffocating hole of hell that included far too many bodies living on top of each other.

I watched as they bathed in dirty rivers. They held red buckets near their dark brown skin. The hoods and the shawls and the shirts were all decorated with brightly colored flowers and yet no blue god with a golden and ruby dragon for a crown would grant them peace. They suffered for living. Yet some smiled. Some laughed. Some even splashed and jumped in the water the color of diarrhea. I turned the other way like so many of us do up here on the mountain in the clouds.

Bibles for bullets, burritos for warfare, turbulence for tractors… I see the farm man in a straw hat and loose blue shirt sitting on the machine as it putters its way through a big yellow field slowly turning fresh brown. He plows the world under in search of an unsustainable hope. He falls, dies, and is buried by his own machine, man’s own metal devices. I move on with the stars, the planets, the universal exoskeleton.

“Get a rope,” a grumpy cowboy who sat by a fire in another time croaked in his drunkenness. His face was like dirt and charcoal all mixed together like splatter batter and the orange light made the skin shine. He looked up to the night sky. “We’ll tie one end to the moon, the other to his neck.”

“Who are you wanting to kill now, Arno?” a cleaner cowboy asked from the other side of the fire. He was sitting on a log and rolling a cigarette.

“I’ll kill anyone deserves killing or even those that don’t but merely dream about it. I’m just thinkin’ and spoutin.’”

“Seems all you care about lately is killing folks.” He pointed with his smoky cigarette hand. “Haven’t you ever just wanted to love somebody or be loved yourself? I figure you got to have a heart in there somewhere. Why don’t you ever use it?”

Arno grunted his dismayed amusement. “Love is nothing but the far end of disillusionment. And when you connect both ends, when you bend this arc of life like space time and bring them closer, well, it’s just the same thing. You drop in. You drop out. Continuum flows into continuum and just keeps going. Love turns to hate and then back again… Maybe. If you’re lucky. But most of us ain’t.”

“Well,” the clean cowboy named Hosea chimed like the wind and he spat at the ground, “I don’t see it that way.” Hosea stuck one end of the rolled cigarette into his mouth and put a match to it, waved it out and tossed the stick into the fire. “Love would change you if ya just let it. Love will make you a true and genuine man. You just can’t give up. It’s gotta be through thick and thin.”

Arno reached down and filled a hand with pebbles and dirt and tossed it. “Shut up. Your dullard philosophy is giving me a pain in the head. You sound like a duck. An unintelligent duck.” Then Arno stood and flapped his arms as he waddled around the fire making quacking noises and laughing.

“Ah, hell. You ain’t nothing but a fool, Arno,” Hosea said as he brushed the pebbly dirt from his coat. He tossed the remainder of his rolled cigarette in the fire and coughed. “I’m going to turn in.” He was tall and skinny, and his body seemed to go on forever toward the sky when he rose in the firelight and headed toward his bedroll. “I’m tired as an old man.”

“Sleep tight, princess,” Arno teased. “Don’t let a broken heart fill your dreams with dread.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t forget to put more of them logs on the fire. Keep it burning.” His voice began to drift away. “I’ve got the strangest feeling someone is watching us from the woods… Or maybe a crystal ball in the clouds.”

The air smelled like dissolvement in the turpentine chill of a new winter’s day. It had lightly snowed on them during the night, like a virgin spread of the legs, and they woke chilled to the bones and scuttled quickly to restoke the midnight fire which wasn’t an easy task and they had to make use of strong whiskey for their insides and for flames. They made heavy coffee and fried remainders of rabbit meat in a chattering silence among them. Both men kept their uneasy thoughts to themselves as they packed up, broke camp, and mounted the horses.  

They rode slowly in single file. The breath of the animals steamed. Arno led. Hosea kept his distance. The landscape was a grayish, ghostly white on the moorlands and with forest walls of slate green on the curved edges. The sun was a rising palladium disc that lacked radiance as it sat motionless behind the ill-colored clouds. 

Hosea later called ahead in the vastness, his voice cracking the quiet and startling perched birds to flight. “Do you think we’ll make it all the way to Shamrock today?”

“I don’t know,” Arno answered when he turned to talk. “I reckon that’s up to the universe and the degree of its good mood.”

Hosea spurred his horse up closer to the brooding leader, and then told him, “I had a dream last night that I died.”

Arno glanced at him for a moment and then looked forward again, mostly uninterested. “I don’t ever dream,” he said. “Dreams are the products of unfulfilled wishes.”

“Do you mean all your wishes have come true in life?”

“No… Because I don’t wish for anything neither.”

“How can you live like that… With no hopes or dreams or wish making?”

Arno looked his partner straight in the eye, a squint forming via a streak of sunlight beckoning to break through the veiled ceiling of the world. “Well, right now I sorta wish you’d shut your yapper.”

The younger Hosea was a bit dejected. “Sorry… I guess I do talk too much.”

They came to a fork in the trail and their wayward way opened like a storybook. They stopped and looked at the bowl of the land, an arc of morning light on the horizon the color of an over-easy fried egg.

“Yes, you do,” Arno said about the talking. “And sometimes I wonder if you’re even a real cowboy.”

“Of course, I am,” Hosea protested. “Just because I think about a lot of different things in a deeper matter than most doesn’t make me not a cowboy.”

Arno merely grunted a response as he looked both ways at the fork. One path sloped up and deeper into a wooded plat, a forest of vertical jail cell rails with light lingering through, ghosts of all the world’s prisoners floating among the limbs. The other way opened onto a prairie with shallow, frosted hills and escarpments of weathered rock fondled by perverted and unsettled brush.

And why are we called cowboys?” Hosea pointed out. “We’re not boys, we’re men. We should be called cowmen.”

“Cowmen?” Arno snorted like one of the cold horses. “Because cowmen sounds stupid.”

Hosea was quiet for a moment and then changed the subject. “Which way to Shamrock?”

Arno nodded toward the prairie and the vast wonderland that lie beyond. “West.”


Ms. Grundy and the Bone Ghosts (2)

Lloyd the bartender looked across at Mary O’Shea. His eye sockets seemed far too large for his skull. “You know, Mary,” he said. “I’ve been known to satisfy a few ladies in my lifetime. In fact, a couple of the dames were so worked up that they had to be physically scraped from the ceiling of my love lounge… That’s my bedroom, of course.”

Mary did a pffft sound with her mouth. “Come now, Lloyd. Are you saying you want to get with me? Are you actually telling me that you’re the male specimen I should climb aboard for a pleasure cruise?”

Lloyd grinned like a horror movie. His eyes flipped toward the ceiling. “Did you know, Mary, that I take residence right upstairs? Right above this very bar? Why, we could be grinding pelvises in short order.”

“Lloyd!” Mary O’Shea burst. “You’re much too old and gross. And I imagine your breath tastes like baby diaper charcoal and your meat and two veg are most likely shriveled up beyond recognition.”

“Ouch,” Lloyd said. “I may not look it, Mary O’Shea, but I am a human being with a certain degree of feelings. How can you be so cruel?”

She motioned for another pour of whiskey. “I’m sorry about that, Lloyd. I suppose I’ve swallowed a few bitter roots today. It’s that damn Allison Grundy. She has a gift for turning the sweet to sour.”

“Oh, Ms. Grundy,” Lloyd said, his hands on the edge of the bar and his expression one of sympathy yet irritation. “I swear, that woman was born with a puckering pickle in her mouth.”

Mary O’Shea slammed the shot, ran the sleeve of her Navy blue business suit jacket across her mouth, and sighed. She was beginning to wobble with unpleasant drunkenness. “Well, Lloyd,” she started out. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my hankerin’ for a spankerin’. But thanks for everything.” She carefully got down off the bar stool and turned to make her way to the exit.

“You be careful now, Miss Mary,” Lloyd called out to her. “I don’t want to find out in the morning gazette that you wrapped your car around a tree. I could call a taxi for you.”

She turned and waved him off. “I’ll be fine, Lloyd. You don’t have to care for me so much. Focus on yourself for once. Maybe consider consulting a plastic surgeon.”

“A plastic surgeon. What on Earth for?”

“Your skull, Lloyd. Your skull.” And with that she hobbled to the doorway and disappeared into the remains of the day.

With a day off and in his apartment above The Village Fig pub, Lloyd the bartender looked at himself in the singular bathroom mirror beneath a yellowed glow. He grasped his jaw and turned his head this way and that way to study the skull that encased his eyes and brain and teeth and muscles and sinuses and canals and blood. He stretched his wide eyes even wider. The bony sockets did seem too large — as if his death skeleton was forcing an early appearance.

He looked at his teeth. They were small and slightly yellowed but not chipped or uneven. He stuck out his tongue as far as he could and studied the bumpy wet organ. “Uh huh, uh huh,” he clumsily muttered aloud. “What’s a man to do when time is his greatest enemy? I can’t grow younger, Miss Mary O’Shea… Fiddlesticks! Maybe I do need to see a doctor.” He gave up on his self-inspection, turned off the bathroom light and went to the living room and glanced out the window that overlooked the halfway quiet street below.

Lloyd noticed that Constable Harley O’Shea was leaning up against a lamp post and gnawing on some sort of nasty Greek wrap, it was the pale pita that gave it away. And then as if some invisible spirit whispered something to him, he suddenly looked up at Lloyd in the window. The constable’s mouth was agape, his eyes narrowed. Did he know something? Lloyd wondered. Had he been watching, listening to things inside the pub? Did he have a spy set on his wife’s tail? And he thought of her tail. That plump rear-end.

Lloyd moved away from the window and went to the nurse-white neatly cluttered kitchen and fixed himself a cold chicken sandwich with salted cucumber wedges on the side and a fat glass of Ovaltine. He sat at the small table for two that rested between the kitchen and the living room — furniture with function, a wall without a wall. The moment he bit into one of the cucumber wedges there came a loud pounding at his door. He jumped for it was a violent noise, like NCA raid knocking, a battering ram in the ready perhaps.

Lloyd moved toward the door and peered through the peephole. Constable Harley O’Shea peered back. “Open the door, Lloyd. We need to talk.”

Lloyd cautiously opened the door, only about four inches though, and looked out. His heart pounded like a tom-tom. “Yes? What can I do for you, Harley?”

Harley moved closer to the crack and peered in. His eyes danced over the scene inside as much as they could. “I’ve got some questions. May I come in?”

“Questions about what?”

“I’ll let you know when you let me in.”

Lloyd conceded and opened the door all the way and the bulbous constable strolled in. “Thank you, Lloyd.”

“What’s this about?”

“It’s about my wife, Lloyd. I’m sure you know Mary, right?” He paused and grinned at Lloyd. “Of course, you do.”

“Has she been hurt? Is she missing?”

“Why. Did you hurt her? Did you kidnap her?” Harley suggested with a sneer.

“No… It’s just she had a few too many yesterday. I didn’t want her to drive. I just hope nothing bad has happened to her.”

“Is that right? Do you care that much for her, Lloyd?”

“Well, I mean. I would be concerned for any of my customers that had too much to drink.”

Harley O’Shea tried to step further into the house. “Do you mind if I look around?”

“Look around?”

Harley tugged at his belt. His belly had an annoying habit of pushing it down. “That’s right. Look around.”

“Look around for what?” Lloyd was unnerved and wanted to know.

“Oh, you know. Things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Things. Things like maybe a stray high-heeled shoe. Maybe a pair of women’s underwear. Maybe the lingering scent of a perfume. Maybe a lipstick-stained wine glass. Maybe a bottle of personal lubricant. Things, Lloyd.”

Lloyd scoffed. “There’s nothing like that in my apartment.”

Harley shrugged. “Then there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I think you need a search warrant.”

The constable laughed. “Is that right, Lloyd?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

Harley roughly clamped a chubby hand on Lloyd’s nimble shoulder. “Look. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way would be to just let me have a little look around. You said yourself there’s nothing for me to find. So, there you go. Easy peasy. We both go on with our day. But, if you want me to go through all that trouble of getting a search warrant, well, then I’d have to come back here with a pack of men, and I wouldn’t be in a very good mood, and I’d just have them toss your place good. It would be a horrible mess, Lloyd. Horrible. Now, do you want all your things just thrown everywhere? I mean, especially since you apparently have nothing to hide. What do you say, Lloyd?”

“But I still don’t understand why you want to look around? What am I being accused of here?”

“Well, I suppose I do owe you that… I’m accusing you of messing around with my wife, Lloyd.”

“I don’t think that’s a crime for the law to be involved with,” Lloyd snipped.

“It’s not? I beg to differ, Lloyd. It’s a crime against me. It’s a crime against my Mary. It’s a crime against the sanctity of our marriage. Hell, it’s a crime against the very foundation of a decent society.”

“I haven’t done anything criminal,” Lloyd said. “All I did was do my job. I served your wife drinks and we talked. That’s it. It’s standard procedure in my line of work.”

“Well, Lloyd. Then you won’t mind me exercising my standard procedure. Now, just step aside and let me do my job.”


The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 9

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Photo by Negative Space on

Carrie Gould in her tight red dress resembled a hot stuffed pepper oozing melted cheese as she sat across from him at the Rambler’s Ranch Buffet on the traveler’s edge of Berlin, Wyoming.

Steel Brandenburg III couldn’t believe his eyes as he looked over at the enormous platter in front of her — a massive mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy, pieces of fried chicken, a thick ham slice, fried shrimp, catfish, hush puppies, golden corn, yam wedges, three buttery rolls, pasta salad, cottage cheese, pickled beets, peach halves in heavy syrup, fried okra, a slice of pizza, two tacos, orange gelatin with fruit cocktail pieces inside, and along with it all, an extra-large lemon-lime diet soda.

She seemed oblivious to his presence as she shoveled and slurped and smacked and swallowed like a farm animal. Steel forked at his salad and ate some of it. He chewed a radish. He cleared his throat because someone just needed to say something. “Can I ask you a question?” Steel said.

Carrie Gould suddenly looked up at him, her mouth still moving in a chewing motion. She wiped at her oily lips with a paper napkin and smiled. “Yes, darling. Anything at all.”

“How much do you weigh?”

She coughed and sputtered a bit. She hadn’t expected such inappropriate bluntness. “How much do I weigh?” she repeated.

“Yes. I’m curious. I watch a lot of My 600-Pound Life because I’m always just so fascinated about how people let themselves get to such an awful state. And frankly, it makes me feel better about my own life… You know, seeing others in such dire circumstances. It makes my failures seem far less potent.”

Carrie Gould was mortified. She looked down at the pile of food in front of her and sighed deeply. “Do I embarrass you?” She looked around the room and in her own mind it seemed like everyone in the Rambler’s Ranch Buffet was staring at her, judging her. But in reality, everyone was lost inside their own little bubble of emotional pain, mental anguish, and physical discomfort.

Something twitched between Steel’s legs and his stomach smiled up from its pit. “Not at all.” He leaned in closer to her. “Truth be told… I’m imagining what you must look like out of that dress. Mmm… The thought of all that plumpness sprawled out before me.”

Carrie Gould blushed and stuffed an entire buttered roll in her mouth. “Oh, Steel,” she said once she swallowed. “You’re just saying that to make me reconsider the lawsuit and the pressing of criminal charges. No one would ever imagine that. Not ever.”

Steel sipped at his iced water with floating lemon wedge. “No, it’s true. I’d like to see you whaled out on my bed completely naked… And I’d like to feed you an entire pumpkin pie with a bucket of whipped cream.”

Carrie Gould’s hand jerked unnaturally, and her glass of soda tumbled over, and the liquid raced across the table. “Oh, shit,” she whispered loudly. She grabbed up a wad of napkins and worked to absorb the spill.

Steel grinned. “I bet you cause a lot of spills.”

She beamed at him. “Why are you being like this? It’s a bit over the top.”

“Aren’t you glad I’m interested?”

“I was hoping for some romance, not straight up gross pornography. I’m not a circus act. I want a relationship, not a one-time fling.”

Steel rattled his fingers against the large plastic maroon cup of lemon water. He turned his head and sighed.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Plenty of things. But you never answered my question… How much do you weigh?”

Carrie Gould leaned back and puffed out her puffy mouth. “Five-hundred and forty-eight pounds.”

Steel jerked forward. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not… I want to see it. I want to see all of it. I want to bounce up and down on it.”

Carrie Gould scowled at him like an evil witch. She grudgingly pushed herself away from the table and got up and walked over to the dessert bar. She piled a wide bowl high with cherry cobbler and then went to the ice cream machine, pulled the lever, and slathered the cobbler with a turd-like glob of vanilla dairy treat. She went back to the table and sat down and worked the cobbler into her mouth without looking at him.

Steel snapped at her. “I said I wanted to feed you pumpkin pie… Why did you go ahead and get dessert?”

Still without looking at him and with her mouth crammed full of cherry cobbler and vanilla dairy treat she said, “I have a mind of my own, Steel. Get used to that fact if you want to be with me.”

“Be with you?”

“I’ve decided to up the stakes,” she began. “You’re going to be my boyfriend. My steady boyfriend. We’re going to have a completely exclusive relationship. And I’ll give myself to you when I’m good and ready and when the Lord lets me know the time is right. Until then, you will support me emotionally, day and night. You will be available to me when I need you, not the other way around… Do it, or I’ll sing like a bird.”

“Wow. Threats. So, I get nothing out of this so-called relationship that you’ve just suddenly created? That seems unfair, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that. Doesn’t seem very Christian of you either.”

“You leave the Good Lord out of this… I’m not the one with my backside on the line. This is all because of your actions, Steel. None of this would be the way it is if you hadn’t pranked me with that trick gum. Now, you pay the price.”

“But I’ve already made it clear that I want you… In a very bad way.”

“Don’t be so disgusting. And I’m not a plaything to satisfy your sick desires. I’m a human being with feelings and needs.” She suddenly and uncontrollably released a giant, long-winded belch that echoed throughout the restaurant. Horribly embarrassed, she covered her face with her hands and sank down in her seat.

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy,” one of the other restaurant patrons called out from somewhere. There was a communal cloud of laughter.

Carrie Gould peeked out at Steel. Tears were streaming down her face. “Let’s just get out of here,” she said.