I never wore shoes in July until 1987 when I was seven years old. No kid in our town did. I suppose if my family hadn’t moved to California, I would have stayed barefoot all summer every summer until the boys came calling. But instead I found myself in Sacramento with nothing but brimstone-hot asphalt to walk on. What I missed the most was not the air between my toes or the lack of constraint, but the calluses. Calluses so thick and hard that once I checked my foot to see what had been pressing into my heel the last block and found a bent-over thumbtack. Now that is true freedom. The freedom to walk anywhere you wish, just as God made you.
Funny how clear the memory of those calluses is to me even today. Most memories of my rural Oklahoma childhood have fled. I remember my granmammy—she kept glass chickens filled with either hard candy or Brach Milk Maid Royals in every room. And even though I never cared for horehound, their location in the bathroom meant I didn’t have to ask permission. That memory that came flooding back when my husband brought home a bag of horehound candy last year from the farmer’s market. I still don’t like it, but it tasted like Oklahoma and that was worth something.
One thing I don’t remember is religion. Which is funny because my parents were about the most religious people I’ve ever met. I used to joke with them we must’ve moved to Sacramento for the name. First thing they did when we moved in was sign me up for a Baptist home school. This in addition to public school. On Sundays we were Methodist. Holidays we did Catholic. And anybody who knocked on the door teaching some version of Jesus was set right on the couch. Though the Mormons stopped coming after my mom tried to get one of them to take me to prom.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. [/pullquote]
My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. Ultimately, I had to quit the internet. My husband keeps an eye on my email (released to galleries only) and I stick with my old flip phone. But I never get online anymore. I barely touch the computer at all.
Ben and I have been blessed with two bright kids, ten and eight, a boy and a girl. Or, rather, our youngest manifests female. She’s hermaphroditic. The doctors urged us to give her a surgery as a baby, decide for her, but we couldn’t. She’ll just have to decide for herself someday. When she’s an adult. For now she’s happy being our little girl and we’re happy to have her.
When I received a certified letter from Boktussa, Oklahoma, I didn’t know what to expect, but certainly not that my granmammy had passed, leaving me her only heir. Her passing wasn’t the surprising part—I hadn’t seen her in 30 years and she had to be about a hundred—but that I was the only heir. My mother had a slew of brothers, six or seven, and I remember them having fertile wives. Nostalgia for my cousins has always been the prime temptation for getting back online in the age of facebooking and twittering and such. To learn that they were all… But how was it possible? My cousins would have kids by now—some of them I assumed would be grandparents! Clearly that detail was wrong, but for some reason Granmammy left me her property. Maybe the rest of the family had also moved away and I was the easiest for the small-town lawyer to find? Maybe Granmammy had had a falling out with her progeny? Or maybe she was trying to heal whatever mysterious rift had sent my parents west in the first place.
I didn’t reply right away. I had to decide my own mind before sharing the news with Ben. One thing to know about Ben is that he loves two things: staying home and monotonous travel. He doesn’t care where home is—just that it’s his and his family is there. His only complaint about Sac is that its airport’s only a half-hour’s drive from our place. Even with traffic it never takes an hour, and that’s hard to say about anywhere in Sacramento. I would say we’re lucky, but he loves being alone in a car or a bland hotel. He usually works at home, parked in front of his PC ten hours a day, then they’ll send him on long tedious trips to field offices to sit in front of someone else’s computer for ten hours a day. I went with him once about a decade ago and it was the worst week of my life. But I love my boring husband. I wouldn’t change him. I need someone plain and unimaginative. I suppose, a hundred years ago, a well-meaning doctor would have called me “nervous.” I used to call it “rich” in college. Being twenty and an art student with more ideas than time to paint is rich, isn’t it? These days I’ve settled into a defined subject matter, a “morbid hybrid of the insane unearthly and every sort of Christian iconography” as the East Bay Express described my recent Oakland show. I don’t sell much of my work, but that’s because I keep the prices high. I make enough to afford a small studio space to work and show in. What more could I need?…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!
You’ve seen the concept sketch, now see the real deal! From illustrator extraordinaire Carter Reid:
The glass is empty, apart from a foamy film in the bottom. I set it down on the bar next to my lighter and my pack of smokes. I’d like to order a fourth beer right away, but I figure I better pace myself. Remembering the task at hand, I tilt my head to get a gander around the Jager display, past the pull-tabs, to where you and your friends are holding court.
I’ve seen your type plenty. Time was you were few and far between, but now you’re all over the place like ants. It started with a trickle. Scouts looking for new territory. You came here ’cause houses were cheap, at least compared to the city. But our houses weren’t good enough. So you knocked them down and put up those condo buildings. Then your businesses figured they could come out here as well, lower their overhead. And so more of you came out and bought houses and apartments, and the prices went up, and then the folks that lived here before couldn’t afford it anymore and had to move away.
I always thought this bar would stay true. The Hole was a local dive for decades. But now it’s more of a typical sports bar and most of the locals are gone. I see they have beers with names I’ve never heard. Some are dark and thick as syrup. The menu even has a veggie burger. The Hole I knew would never have stooped to this before you lot showed up in your Subarus. Sometimes I wonder, If this bar goes where will we find the people we need? The bar’s original owners are long gone; do their grandchildren even know where the bar gets its name from?
You and the after-work crowd have moved four tables together like you’re expecting a large group, but there’s just six of you, and I’m guessing most of you are too pussy to keep drinking, so that number will dwindle soon enough.
“Another beer, Ray?” Abby wipes down the bar and takes my empty glass. She’s new, but I’m not one to complain about her. She’s too good-looking to complain about and besides, she gets it. When one of the old gang is here, we get our drinks before any of you geeks.
I nod, though I should really slow down. It’s not even dark out and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. I reach for my pack of Winstons and the lighter sitting on the bar. Abby frowns. I know, I got to take it outside. Fucking gentrification. I’ve twisted a cardboard beer coaster into a totem-man. I leave him standing guard over my place at the bar. “I’ll have that beer when I get back.”
The sun is setting as I pass by the faded Monday Night Football Bud Light display and step out to the parking lot where they’ve relegated anyone who might want a smoke.
I wince at the glow topping the tree line. Do I have the right day? Late summer in the Cascades, the days aren’t as crazy long as they were just a week or two ago, but they haven’t given in to the dark months yet.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The whispers said this was the right day, or at least this would be the right night. I could swear it. Though who knows? It’s not like they’re known for their clarity.[/pullquote]
The whispers said this was the right day, or at least this would be the right night. I could swear it. Though who knows? It’s not like they’re known for their clarity. They expect that we’re able to interpret. Sometimes it’s more of a feeling than an understanding that guides our hand to appease them.
Once I’ve killed my cigarette, I reach into my kit bag for the bone pipe, carved from the femur of my predecessor’s predecessor. I run my finger down the runes lining the pipe and then I trill a few notes. There’s no response. Nothing. Not even birds singing. All I can hear is the dull murmur of the jukebox through the glass. I trill a few more, but still get no response.
Here goes nothing. I pull the shaker out of my jacket pocket. It’s an old Indian prayer stick. It’s got juju, but I’ve always sort of liked the rattle, magic or not. I play the notes with the flute again, this time with an accompanying percussion from the rattle. Smoke rises from the ash tray to my side and begins to swirl around me.
Quiet. And then in answer I hear it in the distance, a low rattle of a large, nasty, oil-burning engine. A beast of a GMC Suburban lurches into the parking lot otherwise filled with German sedans and your fucking Subaru.
They’re coming. The apostles of the soil are on their way. Knowing I have the right date, I head back in for my beer…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!
Coming in time for World Horror Con in Salt Lake City (April 28 – May 1)…
With stories by D.J. Butler, David Dunwoody, Robert Masterson, Sarah E. Seeley, Brad Torgersen, Ian Welke David J. West and more…
More details coming soon!
The Last Christmas Gift isn’t the only book getting attention. The New Podler Reviews has kind things to say about Ethnic Albanians Need Not Apply: A CheapCaffeine Collection:
As XKCD and Tree Lobsters have shown, one does not need complex drawings or even original images to have a successful comic. It’s all about content and context. Could Shumate have drawn the strip from scratch? Sure. But instead, he’s hit upon a great idea: Use old images from yesteryear and juxtapose historical settings with modern problems to bring the funny. For example, an illustration of a Victorian era couple in the study becomes the visual basis for a wife complaining to her husband about his credit card charges to “hoochieworld.com”.
Read the rest here.