- Serious Musician
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A wistful term of endearment for a more innocent time. But some eras aren’t bygone, they’re just misplaced like the key to an old storage shed.
People lament the proliferation of movie sequels, and there’s some truth to that. Yet, nearly ninety years ago, Universal rolled out Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolfman. These motion pictures bred sequels like bunnies.
A movie like House of Frankenstein wasn’t even considered a “B” movie, the guy who played the monster later turned up playing the bartender on Gunsmoke. Yet, that movie had atmosphere, sure to raise goosebumps on a kid who saw it on Monster Matinee in the early seventies, munching an Almond Joy and squirming on his couch at the sight of the evil hunchback.
A traveling carnival, full moons, fog, freaks and monsters.
Yeah, that’s the stuff.
It’s not about lamenting the past, and how atmosphere has been replaced by CGI, IMAX visuals and eardrum bursting surround sound. People lacking vision drag the past behind them like a fat fuck drags an oxygen tank.
It’s about finding the key in an old coat pocket, then holding a candle before you while walking a midnight path, slipping the key in a rusty lock and squeaking open the door. Sure, there’s a dead bird on the floor, rat bones in the trap by the old rocking chair and a desiccated butterfly in a spider’s web in the corner.
But there’s also a stack of House of Secrets on a carom table, each issue lovingly wrapped in plastic and in mint condition. You set the candle on the table, dust off the rocking chair and sit down.
Art work by Bernie Wrightson. The fog seems to drift from the panels and into the shed. Swamp Thing reaches from the page, his cold, clammy fingers grip your throat and…
I’ve tried to emulate the classics with my books. And by classics, I don’t mean Shakespeare, Hugo and the Bronte sisters. I mean Universal and Hammer horror movies along with scary comics from the seventies.
Here’s hoping you see Neal Adams’ pencils in my story.
Robert George 1/30/2020
An Angel’s Share
Robert George 12/6/2019
The sun slipped from the mist like a woman from a grey, silk dress. It shone dully on a bent city limit sign. The sign was swine pink with a Magnolia tree to the right of its vital statistics:
Elevation 73 feet
Some wisenheimer had painted a buzzard perching on the Magnolia. A kindred spirit had carved “FDR is a communist” into the “bark” of the tree. A cross with a loop on top was drawn below the elevation. Next to that was a crude drawing of the Katzenjammer Kids. Just beyond the sign were a few willows with mist dripping from their leaves like phantom tears. A pine snake “S”ed across the pot-holed road and vanished in the tall, rank grass surrounding the willows.
A ragged choir of insects buzzed and chirped, being joined by loons, spoonbills and a duck. Something popped in the mist and the duck fell silent. A silhouette carried the duck back to a tent made of sewn raincoats that stood beside a willow. The silhouette started a fire in a circle of rocks, sat on a splintery crate and began to de-feather the duck.
Sheriff Thad Luckinbill knew Heath Bumpshus had burgled the large mercantile store in mid-October. The store’s owner, Belvedere Ross, knew he knew it and it rankled him to no end the lawman did nothing. Bumpshus was camped at the fuckin’ city limits in a shelter of his raincoats but Luckinbill was too soft on sin to do a damn thing. The fact was, Luckinbill didn’t fancy the stankin’, motor-mouthed Bumpshus in his jail awaiting trial for a crime Judge Pinkerton would dismiss. His heart was taffy for hobos.
Law and order Ross’ indignation was cut short a month later when he was brained with a pipe while getting in the new Hudson Terraplane parked on wondrous display outside his store. Ross was a tough old ex-Marine who survived until he was found at sunrise and carried to Doctor Moses Johnson’s office. He marched to that great barracks in the sky ten minutes later on the doc’s table.
The good folk of Braxtonville were outraged at yet another crime, this time it wasn’t just hobos rolling drunks stumbling out of Stonewall’s or highwaymen spreading broken glass on Fifty-Four, then holding up stranded travelers, it was murder.
No one was safe.
Luckinbill’s office was stormed by farmers, merchants and loafers, demanding the sheriff arrest and convict every hobo in the county, starting with Heath Bumpshus, the likely manslayer of beloved (Most everyone hated him) town benefactor Belvedere Ross.
Luckinbill had the beer gut of a retired bareknuckle brawler. His little woman, Elle, sat in her rocker every weekend, tongue out, needle and thread in arthritic hands, concentrating on tightening the lower buttons on his shirt. After which, it was down t’ the river with washtub, washboard and lye to sweat off a few pounds getting the pit and barbecue stains out.
No lye was strong enough.
Thad casually moved his coffee mug from the back of his large oak desk to the front, away from the teetoling nostrils of perpetual suffragette and crone, Mazie Buckingham. Mazie was the Logos of the galled assemblage, wagging her finger at Thad, demanding to know why his two cells weren’t sardined with hobos, Heath Bumpshus, in particular.
Thad sighed, giving his buttons a momentary reprieve. Then he scraped his chair back and stood, renewing their burden.
“Now, now, Mazie…Heath was the first person I thought of when Bel was thumped. I proceeded directly to his shelter…”
Mazie leaned over the desk, catching a whiff of…something.
Probably the sheriff’s feculent armpits.
“A shelter built of stolen goods, with him having returned to silence his accuser! We’ve all heard the talk of a circus visitin’ us this Sprang. But it won’t stop if we’re infested with malefactors n that’ll cost us revenue. We oughtta bypass the spineless middleman, get a rope from Bel’s nephew and string up Bumpshus ourselves…”
She looked over her shoulder at the throng packing the office.
“…someone fetch Artemis so we c’n have us a Christian hangin’!!”
A few “Yeahs!” and “Damn rights!” farted out behind her from her faceless minions.
Thad sighed again. He thrust a hand out as if halting traffic. He looked in disbelief as a short man in baggy overalls darted out the door. Was that fool even a citizen of Braxtonville?
“…now just a damned minute! Heath Bumpshus may be a pickpocket…”
“…a sidewalk spitter…”
“…an occasional burglar…”
“It’s Elijah’s truth!!”
Thad looked at Mazie.
“…and some claim, a peeper…”
No votes of affirmation followed.
“…but the man’s not an imbecile. Why, on God’s green earth, would he draw attention to himself and put himself in line to ride the lightning by braining Bel? He knew I wasn’t gonna incarcerate him for those damn raincoats. He had no motive…”
Mazie ground her teeth while leaning over the desk, her pea-soup green bonnet and baggy housedress looking too Puritanical for a pilgrim.
“…and, as I’ve already tried to publish, I went directly to him the mornin’ of Bel’s murder…”
Thad’s pumpkin head moved around Mazie’s as he scanned the mob.
“…Morgan, are you among this idiot rabble?”
A lanky man in a wrinkled checkered shirt and denim jeans belted with laundry line hung his head.
“I surmised as much. Tell me, Morg, did you get rolled outside of Stonewall’s the night of Bel’s homicide? Lose everything in your wallet including your pack of Woolworth’s rubbers?”
Chuckles rippled through the crowd. Mazie’s teeth were being ground to pool-hall chalk. Morgan shuffled his feet.
“Damn right you did. It was Heath who rolled you. Then he went to your store, Malcolm, bought a bottle, some jerky and a coupla Hershey bars and had hisself a hobo Thanksgiving. He was sleepin’ it off early the next mornin’, still drunk off his ass. Now, that either makes him innocent of this lunacy or the strangest assassin I’ve ever heard of. What time did you get rolled, Morg?”
“’round nine, I reckon.”
Thad then eyeballed a man with sunken cheeks and childhood small pox scars.
“…and, Malcolm, when I questioned you, you said Heath bought his booty around nine. That is what you said, ain’t it?”
A deflated “Yeah”.
Thad then addressed the entire mob.
“So, is it the conclusion of this Sherlock Holmes convention that Heath rolled Morgan, purchased hisself a one-man party, then detoured by and brained Bel before getting started on his jubilee?”
The herd began looking at one another and mumbling. A few left, followed by others.
Mazie Buckingham played her last card. It was a two of clubs.
“Sheriff, if you know it was Heath Bumpshus who robbed poor Morgan, why, pray tell, isn’t he shackled this very minute in your cell?”
“Because, Mazie…Morg’d hafta press charges and expound to his dainty wife why he was at a bar known for scarlet ladies with a pack o’ rubbers.”
The breeze from Mazie’s “HMMPPHH!!” made her chin whiskers dance like a breeze through barley.
Thad watched her sheep scatter hither and thither down the sidewalk and across the street, into various jalopies. Ice-wagon, pick-up truck full of hay-bales and re-furbished postal jeep. The final lamb left the door open. Thad moved around the desk, past Mazie, shooed a horsefly and shut the door. It squeaked like a dime-store comic rack.
He walked back around the desk, leaned over on his knuckles and faced Mazie.
“Have you any other grievances I need to address?”
She leaned over the desk until they faced each other, hard, unshaven chin to hard, unshaven chin.
“Why haven’t you arrested them Jezebels at Stonewall’s?”
“Because, Mazie, the head cheerleader is a favorite o’ Judge Pinkerton’s, that’s why. It’d be a bigger task o’ futility than a man buyin’ you a garter n stockings fer Valentine’s Day.”
Mazie’s eyes narrowed till they were like mail slots in a granite door.
“The devil knows what works, don’t he…?”
“I reckon he does.”
Her heart was a bladder full of bile.
“An’ it’s the sweet, hungry clam o’ femininity that ensnares most men…”
She glanced down at Thad’s shirt.
“…’course, with some o’ y’all, it’s barbecue, ain’t it?”
She straightened and turned to leave.
Thad’s voice came from a cave in his chest.
“Truth be told, I’m partial to both of those fleshly delectations. I’m just fortunate that Elle cooks ‘em both to my eminent satisfaction. Good day, Miss Buckingham.”
The door rattled upon Mazie’s departure, and a thumbtack dropped from the bulletin board, freeing Moe Templeton’s wanted poster to float to the floor like a butterfly with one wing. Supposedly he’d shot a man in a Lafayette bar last year over a crooked straight flush.
Thad pinned the poster on the board with the rest then returned to his desk.
He’d remembered having more Irish Coffee than that left in his cup.
And that reminded him it was time to see Neb McCullers about another gallon or two of joy. It was gettin’ on to be Christmas, fer Chrissake.
Prohibition’s been over for years but a few of us here in Braxtonville still connoisseured Ned’s fine concoction.
Thad finished off his morning cocktail and fell into a thoughtful reverie. He was evicted from it minutes later by a portly bald man in a black frock coat holding a huge leather King James to his chest like a nursing mother.
“Sheriff, I was told a preacher of the light was needed for an execution.”
Thad rubbed his eyes.
“Ohferchrissake…go home, Artemis. The lynch mob was of a puny will. A few words o’ rationality dispersed it. And shouldn’t you be discouragin’ that kinda thing in your sermons?”
Artemis Desdemonte huffed, pulling his child tighter to his teat.
“Not that you’d know if I did, Sheriff. Your absence from the Lord’s Day is conspicuous amongst the people.”
“I’m not absent, Artemis, I just attend Pete Grange’s church.”
“That’s not a real church, Sheriff! It’s in his home, without pews or a pulpit. Why, I’ve heard there are no crucifixes to adorn his services!”
“How many times are crucifixes mentioned in your imposin’ leather Bible, Artemis? Or churches, for that matter?”
The Reverend Artemis Desdemonte spun on a fine leather shoe and left.
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