I need to write a story for each of the years, 1878, 1879, 1880 and 1890. Does anyone have any ideas?
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See which stories involve:
Addiction, Alcoholism, Arachnophobia, Asperger syndrome, Bad luck, Blindness, Club feet, Color Blindness, Compassion, Compulsive liar, Deafness, Delusions of grandeur, Dyslexia, Entrepreneurship, Fascination with pranks, Homosexuality, Klinefelter syndrome, Mental illness, Narcissism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Pareidolia, Personification, Savant, Selective mutism, Supernatural, Superstition, Unplanned pregnancy, Unreliable narrator
Synopsis: An abused, autistic savant, for a short time, is befriended by a lazy man.
I am about to share the experience of my alarming encounter with Oscar. It is somewhat unbelievable and so you may not trust me, but I hope you will listen and treat it as truth. It all happened a year ago, when I was still very naughty. I’d been at my usual bar, hustling and drinking when I got out of hand and was taken to the Tom Green County Jail. There I met a boy of a man who altered my life. I’d been a renter and jack of all trades before meeting Oscar. But he and I became a team with good fortune soon after that wonderful night.
He was pimpled, tall and lanky when I first saw him in the jail. He was in rags, had head lice and smelt of an outhouse. I asked him why he was there but he gave no answer. There was something peculiar about him that I couldn’t quite pinpoint—until we got to know each other in the coming months.
The jailer told me that Oscar was going through laudanum opioid withdrawal and that a traveling photographer from Lubbock County had dumped him at our jail. Sure enough he was sweaty, nervous, yawned frequently and seemed to be having diarrhea issues (if the chamber pot was any indication.) Goosebumps were on his arms even though it was a warm spring. The jailer said he hadn’t slept for days and just paced the cell—over and over again. Also, he wouldn’t eat.
These were small issues compared to what the jailer said next. It was understood that Oscar was the son of an important dead man and that there were henchmen of a senator out to quiet him, too.
I didn’t understand why he needed to be quieted since he hadn’t spoken a word while I was there.
The nomadic photographer had told the jailer, “Just wait till he starts talking again—he won’t shut up!”
I became curious.
I was released from jail the next day with a stern warning to behave myself. Oscar, the boy in a man’s body, became my obsession after my discharge. What was the mystery about him? How long would he need the jail to get over laudanum? Did he have any means of support? Was anyone really out to get him?
I went to visit him at the jail. I began to realize that he was mentally and emotionally challenged—but he could memorize anything he read—even if only seeing it once. When he did begin to talk, after withdrawal was over, he only uttered memorized lines.
He avoided eye contact with other humans and he never made conversation. He was a living, breathing source of huge amounts of information. He’d read newspapers and encyclopedias of which he’d recite upon request. He also, to my dismay, spoke voluntarily and incessantly.
What got him in trouble was that he’d read a shady senator’s letters. This caused the informing photographer’s gangster paranoia.
Apparently a Texas senator by the name of Noel had written to Oscar’s dad about some questionable deals concerning the formation of the XIT Ranch of the Texas Panhandle—the pact that financed the construction of the State Capitol in Austin. Oscar’s dad of poor eyesight had his young son read the letters to him—not knowing that the letters would eventually become damning evidence against the senator. Then the senator sought Oscar. Oscar’s dad returned the incriminatory letters back to the senator, but the senator still wanted Oscar—and his perfect memory, too.
So, I decided to protect Oscar from the senator’s cronies. But in the meantime I also saw an opportunity for a symbiotic relationship between the two of us. I would clean and groom him to become a public speaker. I would promote the shows where he would recite prose requested by the crowds. I would charge a dime per person who attended the spectacles. We would become a wealthy, traveling sideshow.
At first I supplied reading material scrounged from debris. Eventually as we became richer, I’d buy newspapers that the audience seemed to want narrated. It was easy to prove to audiences that no trickery was occurring. I encouraged people to bring written text of their own liking and before the show started, he’d read their donations. As the show began and progressed, he would–on demand–wow the audience with his memory of the captions he’d only just read.
For instance, he described the newly opened Washington Monument in detail. Perfect explanations—of the new Statue of Liberty and the growing Eiffel Tower—amazed the crowds. The people loved him. I was getting attached to him, too—as I was becoming smarter and richer. Consequently, Oscar was the object of my extreme protection.
Therefore, you can imagine the horror I felt from a stalker one night at our roadshow in Austin, Texas. I’d been careful to put my face only—instead of Oscar’s—on the publicity fliers throughout the state. I’d even hired my own muscle man to guard us against anyone from the senator’s group. As it turned out, it was Oscar’s good uncle who found us first. That was when I learned about the seriousness of the situation. If the uncle could find us, so could the senator.
We hightailed out of Austin and ventured back to San Angelo where we, with our muscle man, could breathe a little easier. Oscar, of course, wasn’t in the know of his danger.
One day I asked him to recite the contents of the senator’s letters and upon hearing their contents, decided to conceal him in Knickerbocker. We put our public appearances on hold—which turned out to be fine, since during our retirement, he contracted laryngitis.
I had forgotten what silence tasted like.
During his convalescing, I wrote letters to my parents in Kentucky and started planning our escape from Texas. We could resume our shows in the eastern states of the thirty eight states of America, soon. Our money wouldn’t run out for a few months. We just needed to lay low for a while.
About that time, our muscle man left us—to go back to his wife—but we felt safe in the small town on Dove Creek.
But my life fell apart at the train station in San Angelo.
They took him from me! We were about to flee the state and resume our road show in Kentucky when he was abducted. As you can see me now, I am back to being a lonely jack of all trades.
Oscar is gone. The thugs may have killed him. Or they drugged him and hid him somewhere in the three million acres of the XIT ranch. He is probably high on laudanum again and talking constantly, as was typical.
I miss him! And I yearn for the road, too. The silence is golden, but now I have to turn an honest penny. And I’m back to being as dumb as a fish. A great pain grips my heart.
Synopsis: Drama girl makes a fool of herself in a broom making shop.
Until her thirteenth birthday, Graciela had been pampered. But when Father passed away, the forthcoming stepfather challenged the lenient discipline in the house. With his debut, Graciela no longer would be cultivated into a princess. This is a story of how the guarded girl got into a crude predicament in San Angelo, Texas.
Jim, her stepdad had told her to gather broom weed from the pasture and bring bundles of it to the broom-maker on Concho Avenue. She saw her dynasty crumbling with this command. She was confident, but never went out in public. That day, she certainly didn’t want to be outdoors gathering plants.
It had been that petty chore that had brought spoiled Graciela into her scratchy situation.
Jim had arranged for Graciela to deliver the bundles to the broom shop on Sunday morning; when most people were at church. Upon letting herself into the broom establishment, she heard the heavy door close on itself. When the corroded door latch wouldn’t give to her efforts, she realized that she’d become a prisoner in the small factory.
She would need church services to be over, in order to regain her freedom. As she waited, she sat on the floor near her bundled broom weed and considered crying. It was during this annoyance that she realized she wasn’t alone.
First, there were itchy things in her clothing—and secondly, there was someone else in the room!
She scratched at her waist and the top of her leggings.
Chiggers! How maddening, she thought.
But also in the chamber with her, there was snoring, timeworn woman using the clamping vise as a pillow.
Well, thought Graciela, there’s no need to wake her. As ancient as the broom maker looked, even she and Graciela together wouldn’t be able to open the door.
The old woman didn’t budge. The elder must have fallen asleep right there—while sewing the broom in the vise.
In due course, it didn’t matter that she wasn’t alone, because Graciela began to undress near a bucket of drinking water. A damp rag of cool water on the chigger bites would bring relief, she thought. She had time to tend to her rashes.
She had stripped to her petticoat and bodice, determined to rub away the invaders, when the clock struck the half hour—and the woman began to stir.
“Please excuse me,” Graciela said as she ran half naked to a dark corner.
“Who goes there?” asked the waking octogenarian.
“I brought the broom weed that Jim prescribed. I’ve become locked in here with you. I am so sorry to alarm you.”
Graciela, in her haste, had left her clothes near the water bucket.
The surprised elder had dropped the huge double pointed needle she’d been using. While the grandma fumbled around feeling for it, Graciela dashed to her clothes; grabbed her leggings, then retreated back to her dark corner.
“I say, girl, would you be as kind as to open a window. It is rather sultry in here during this Indian summer.”
“Ma’am, I would, but I am too frail due to my cold,” Graciela lied.
“Girl, do you have a fever?”
“My mother has been nursing me with hot teas. But my mean stepfather insisted that I deliver the broom weed here. I’m allergic to it, you know—I’m sure of it. He is so hateful.”
Finding her needle, the elder continued stitching the broom.
“I can survive the humidity, so no worries about the window.”
Just then a pet cat meowed near Graciela. “Are you allergic to cats, as well? I hope not,” the grandma asked.
The insincere girl became melodramatic in her response. “No. I have cats of my own. They generally give me a nonchalant stare. I would rather not have any animals. They are crude and probably make me sick. Come to think of it, I probably am allergic to cats.”
Grandma finished stitching the broom and brought it to the broom slicer to make a straight edge. The cutter made a sickening noise.
Graciela was certain that the elder knew she was poorly clad in the shadowed corner. “Truthfully, the chiggers in the field found their way into my clothes,” she said modestly. She pointed to her pile of clothes near the drinking water bucket and hunched down to the floor in a fetal position. “My awful day started off with my hitting my pinky toe on the coal stove. Then my stockings kept sliding down into my shoes. At some point, I was telling a story to my mother when I realized—she wasn’t even listening.”
“And you caught a cold, little one?” the grandma asked as she helped herself to a dipper of cool water from the bucket. Inches away from her feet were the girl’s shoes and dress. The girl silently shook her head.
Then the elder turned away and went back to the broom making station. There she gathered broom weed to make another broom.
“I must say, it is embarrassing to be in this predicament,” commented Graciela. “Only my mother has seen me in my undergarments.”
“Well my son will be back from church shortly, so it is best that you tidy up.”
Graciela hesitantly went to the bucket and finished getting dressed. She was still itching horribly. But with the proprietor of the factory due any minute, she had no time to relieve the irritation.
Graciela was ready to go home.
“I’ve never seen you before. Have you only just moved to San Angelo?” asked the girl.
“No. I’ve lived here for several years. I just don’t get out much,” said the grandma.
The octogenarian continued binding broom weed to a long stick. “Some people who have seen me think I should be flying the brooms I make. They think I mix up strange brews from toad and lizard tongues. They probably think I could cure you of your cold.”
“Oh, I don’t really have a cold, or fever. I just didn’t know how to explain why I was half naked in your shop,” Graciela held. “Do you fall asleep often?”
There was silence in the room. The elder seemed to have dozed again. Perhaps she had a sleeping disorder. Graciela patiently waited for her to wake up.
Upon the owner’s arrival into his shop, the grandma woke.
Graciela was about to leave when she heard the grandma say, “Dear son, please untangle this string for me. Sometimes it’s so difficult being blind.”
Graciela’s slight smile became a frown as she thought, what must it be like to be blind.
Abruptly, she turned and walked toward the old woman. “Here, let me get that. While her hands picked at the string, she felt different—as if the tangled thoughts complicating her view of the world, somehow became less so.
For like a sweeper, the independent woman had swept Graciela to a different place. The grandma’s proverbial broom appeared to have cleaned out negative thoughts in the greedy girl.
That day, and days thereafter, were a series of new beginnings for the teenager. Remarkably, even chores brought about a new sense of satisfaction.
Synopsis: Some ambitious newcomers find out about River Avenue merchants.
My wife June and I enjoy secret, devilish activities. To name a few—we produce the best corn whiskey, run the loudest newlywed shivarees and plan the most elaborate scavenger hunts.
We are also passionate about our San Angelo. The town disguises us as ordinary store operators most days. But we tease when we can and we love to joke—particularly with tenderfoots.
Newcomers, especially, don’t know what hit them when we welcome them to town. We take it upon ourselves to roll out the red carpet with frolic.
Therefore, when the Majors arrived in March of 1885, we received them with our usual audacity. They didn’t seem to appreciate our bluntness. In fact the duo stubbornly snubbed us.
We wondered if we had overstepped our bounds. Had we made a grave mistake? I thought.
Because as it turned out, they were our landlords—they were owners of all the businesses of our street, River Avenue. Once we realized their importance, we tried our best to be mild mannered. However, after they had been in town a week, we realized how little we knew about them. And we wondered what they might think of us. Do they like us, or not? I reflected. Will they renege on our lease?
We desperately wanted to know their personal facts.
“Do the Majors have any children?” I asked June after she returned to our store, from a visit with ladies, including Cheri Major.
“Oh, I don’t know. She hemmed and hawed around every intimate question we asked her.”
“Does she think you are nosy?”
“Perhaps she alludes that I’m a gossip. She might be taking precautions, just in case,” responded June. “Have you found out anything about them by talking to Cleo Major?”
“Nothing so far, but I’ve invited them both to the shivaree for the Templeton’s tonight. Maybe they’ll warm up to sharing their family life with us after we toast the bride and groom.”
“Let’s hope so,” sighed June.
The shivaree in the street went as planned. There was bell ringing, beating of pots and pans, pounding on the door, yelling, and the stomping of feet. Cheri and Cleo were in the boisterous group, too. But they were obviously not accustomed to the misbehavior kicking off the Templeton’s married life.
The newlyweds probably had been settled in bed with plans of hanky-panky when they were interrupted; for Mr. Templeton (half clothed) came to the front door to ward off the crowd. But, he was then captured and his head was dunked in the horse trough—much to the dismay of his robed, crying bride. Cleo and Cheri didn’t think well of it either, if the horror on their faces was any indication.
I slung Mr. Templeton on my shoulder and carried him to the nearest outhouse. Then I nailed the door shut with him inside. When five minutes of angry pounding had elapsed, we men jubilantly released him—happily hoisting him up on our shoulders—and brought him back to his bride.
June had since circulated glasses of our corn whiskey to the crowd. When all were equipped with our brew, toasts to the bride and groom erupted. Subsequently, everyone went home to leave the lovebirds alone.
As Cleo, Cheri, June and I walked in the dark, I asked, “Are your relatives still in San Antonio?”
“Why do you want to know?” Cheri invoked.
“That’s not important right now,” Cleo added.
Uncomfortable silence followed.
Finally, “To be honest, we just don’t like small talk,” Cleo concluded as they entered the Nimitz Hotel.
So, as June and I went on to our home above our store, we shook our heads in amazement.
“What is it with that couple?” she asked, dumbfounded.
The next evening, June and I were talking.
“Mr. Major wants all the merchants of our street to support each other. So, he asked me to invent two scavenger hunts for his tenants on the avenue. The north-side-street merchants will have clues for the north hill of the Twin Mountains. The south-side merchants will be looking for the same items on the south hill of the twin peaks,” I said.
“Oh wonderful. We didn’t scare the Majors off with the shivaree last night. And you are so talented with making riddles for scavenger hunts. He will really respect you, if he doesn’t already,” June said.
“Yes. I hope so. I’ve already chosen the items to be hunted. The list includes: a feather, a fossil, a yucca seed, an arrowhead, a y-shaped branch, something orange, amber sap, a thorny twig, a spider web and fire. According to the boss, the team that finds all ten the quickest will win a sash and a round of drinks at the Red Saloon.”
June asked, “Do you need any help with the riddles for the ten things?.
“I don’t think so. But listen to this riddle for fire. ‘What grows when it’s fed and dies when it drinks?’”
“That’s a good one, Edward!”
“And June, ‘What is a house of earthen string; its owner has a biting sting?’”
“The spider web!” she replied after a little bit of thought.
I was glad it wasn’t too hard.
Accordingly, I came up with eight more difficult riddles as clues for the hunt.
My wife and I still knew nothing about the lives of our landlord. Nonetheless, we hoped that the puzzle might be solved when the shopkeepers enjoyed the catered picnic after the hunt.
During the next week, Mr. Major arranged for several wagons to transport the vendors to the twin buttes, located eight miles southwest of the courthouse. June made the sashes for the winners.
He paid me five dollars to come up with the clues and plant some arrowheads and fossils on the hills. I made the Morse Code Flags (to relate progress to Mr. Major) for both teams. I also trained Jake of the South and Louis of the North on usage of the flags.
Our landlord would be watching the activities while at the foot of the hills. To win, a team would have to be first in making fire and turning in their nine items to the chief.
On the day of the event, the Majors, June and I greeted our business neighbors when they reached the camping spot between the two hills. The caterers had set up everything very elegantly. It was clear that the Majors were extremely wealthy people.
My friends, as two teams, climbed their respective hill with a sealed clue-envelope and two code flags per team.
Mr. Major and I were excited about the teams. I worried that I made the clues too hard—or too easy.
The caterers were scurrying around making sure everything was just right. Ice blocks from Abilene kept the beer kegs and fried chicken cold.
During the competition June, once again, tried to tap Mrs. Major of information about her family. “Everyone likes to talk about their children,” she exclaimed to me the night before.
June is persistent, I thought.
Cleo Major was using his binoculars to check on the flagman of each team. South had found eight and had fire’s smoke. North had found seven and had not made fire yet. Within thirty more minutes the south team was cautiously making its way down the hill with all nine of its items. When it seemed that South would win, smoke rose from the north hill, too and their flags denoted ten items found. It became a slip, sliding race to the bottom of each hill. All members of the two teams were running neck to neck towards Cleo.
Amongst the chaos, June came rushing toward me flapping her arms up and down to get my attention.
“They don’t have any children because they’ve only been married a month,” she gasped for breath. “They were nervous about our reputation for pranks so they have kept quiet about themselves,” she shouted.
June’s yelling somehow got everyone’s attention. It got relatively quiet as all the team members were just as curious about their proprietors as June and me. It seemed that no one had really gotten to know them.
Cheri also ran—running to her husband, with tears streaming down her red face.
“Our secret is out!” Cheri said to him quietly upon his embrace.
The Majors looked horror-struck.
I calmly got Mr. Major’s attention with my somber face. “I would never prank my landlord, sir,” I exclaimed (with my crossed fingers carefully hidden behind my back.)
“We respect your wishes and will not have a shivaree for you,” I continued.
Cleo consoled Cherie as best he could.
With June at my side I said, “Let us truly welcome you to San Angelo with a toast of cold beer.”
All of the teams, by then were down the hill and were no longer concerned about the contest. Most had been curious about whether or not their leases would be renewed, too.
Moments later, with beers in hand, everyone faced the Majors with admiration and respect.
After the salute, Mr. and Mrs. Cleo Major unexpectantly awarded all their tenants one month’s free rent.
There was a big hooray. Then everyone ate and had a great time for the rest of the time on the prairie.
It was that day, that June and I finally understood the elusive Major puzzle.
Decoding the Majors had been no minor feat.
Synopsis: A jovial group of soldiers work and play at Camp Charlotte.
Life is tiring; but at least we get a salary. That was the motto of the Camp Charlotte regiment. Their tough roadwork job was secure because no one else at Fort Concho wanted it. Soldiers, such as Bram, were shortening road lengths and fixing damaged lanes to Head of Middle Concho. The soldiers reduced travel time to the western parts of the district by straightening curvy routes.
For the privates, two months of work at Camp Charlotte equated to twenty-six dollars in greenbacks or—because of the exchange rate—twenty dollars in silver coins.
Private Bram (short for Abram) was from Virginia. His momma was still there awaiting his money; to travel to Texas. But it wasn’t easy making currency for his momma. He had become handicapped while on a job at the fort.
Recently, Bram’s leg had become permanently injured. He could walk, but he was slow. So, his road job lately had been a sitting one.
He sat on the ground holding a three foot spike, while two other privates alternately struck that spike with their sledge hammers. This technique, of double jacking, entailed drilling holes in rock for blasting powder. As he sat, he turned the spike a quarter turn between each hammer punch.
Bram depended on Lucent and Roy (his shoulder buddies) to make contact with the spike; not his hands or wrists. Many a sitter, such as him, had been maimed by blows on a missed target.
Bram needed his hands to make extra money for Momma.
Strike, turn, strike, turn—road building involved; drilling, blasting and clearing routes. Some say that the soldiers’ telegraph lines and roads banished West Texan Comanches, more than any other military tactic.
Unfortunately, the ten-man detail would rather have been back at Fort Concho, building the chapel schoolhouse. The fort promised more comforts with a town, San Angela, across the river.
San Angela and Fort Concho were a good stopping point for Bram. When he had become a soldier there, he teamed up with another private who loved to play pranks on their company. In the army, the reward for a job well done was more hard work. So, during down time, they performed comical tomfooleries to preserve morale.
For instance, they did the boot switcheroo some nights. They also hid personal items. And once, Bram successfully tricked desperate young recruits into meeting non-existent ladies.
The cook let them switch blasting powder for pepper, and sugar for salt, in the mess hall.
Sometimes cook would give Bram two extra slices of bread to hide in the barracks. But Bram would tell the recruits that there were three slices. It was fun watching them frantically searching for that third fictional prize.
At Camp Charlotte, fifty miles west of the fort, the pranks were limited to tents and campfires.
No one could forget the time when Bram used grass roots to form fake spiders—to put into bedding. And once, Bram hollowed out a rotten apple; then he enclosed a live grasshopper inside. The wiggly apple became a prop in one of Bram’s comic acts.
He learned as a child to style dolls from grass stems and roots, as well as string. He improvised that skill and made tiaras to put on his sleeping friends. When reveille woke the camp, hilarity ensued upon fellows finding crowns in their hair. No one felt bullied because morning was the time when everyone felt jealous of the unemployed. And it was said that laughter is the best medicine.
Bram was good with his hands. Hence, he never wanted the sitting job with Lucent and Roy hitting the peg.
With his skillful hands, Bram would use string and grass to make dolls to sell to men with families outside the fort. He would weave grass and roots into many other things, too.
But given a fifteen inch diameter circle of string, he could make Jacob’s ladder, a hammock and cat whiskers. His workmates were fascinated by the many other illusions he could do with twine.
But sometimes, Bram could be shrewd with his cords and his antics.
One evening after stable and mess call, Bram set out to find a mark. He yelled, “Does anyone want to see some tricks I’ve been practicing?”
Roy was the only taker of the bait, though others gathered to see what Bram had in store.
“How much money do you have to bet, Roy?”
“Maybe I have four bits,” he replied.
“Alright—do you mind if I borrow your wedding ring? I won’t hurt it and I’ll give it back shortly. I need to do a little bit of practicing on a string trick that I plan on doing at the fort. In the meantime, I’ll make a bet with you. You will probably make some money off my mistakes while I rehearse,” Bram went on.
Bram put up two bits saying that he could successfully remove the ring from the middle of a looped string, which was stretched taut between Roy’s index fingers. Of course, after some crafty maneuvers, Bram removed the ring and won Roy’s money. Transfixed, the company closed in on Bram and Roy near the campfire.
Lucent, in the audience, laughed at the blunder. Then the bookie in Lucent emerged at the opportunity of another trick. Men started fingering their dimes.
“I need to run through another illusion for back home. It could be a way for you to win your money back because I’m just training myself. Roy, do you want to try?”
Frustrated Roy nodded.
Glances within the group were exchanged and Lucent started taking bets.
“See my mug of cold coffee on the rock?”
“Sure,” Roy responded.
“See my hat? Here, hold my hat. There’s nothing odd about our military issued hat, right? So you’re going to bet me two bits to do the trick, right?”
“Yes,” said Roy.
“Don’t you want to hear what the trick is first?”
“That’s probably a good idea.” Roy rolled his eyes.
“The trick is that if you place my hat over the coffee, I will never touch the hat; but will still drink all my coffee. Yes, I will drink that coffee from the cup without touching the hat. Go ahead and put my hat over the coffee on the rock. Do you still want to bet me, then? I bet you two bits I can drink my coffee without touching the hat.”
So Bram pantomimed drinking his coffee, and then smiled big.
“That coffee was good,” emphasized Bram.
Roy countered, “You didn’t drink the coffee.”
“Sure I did.”
“No you didn’t.”
Roy picked up the hat. “See the coffee is still there.”
“You’re right.” Bram said as he grabbed and drank the coffee quickly. Can I have your two bits now? I drank it without touching the hat.”
Half the men groaned while the others chuckled.
At that point, Bram didn’t pull any more shenanigans. He didn’t want to press his luck.
In his tent that night, Bram had a strange dream. In it, a demon and angel sat—one on each of his shoulders. One looked like Lucent and the other like Roy. Lucent was telling the Aesop’s fable, The Boy and the Filberts.
Lucent recited, “As the story goes, a greedy boy was given the opportunity to remove tasty fruit from a narrow necked pitcher. He put his hand into the pitcher and grabbed as much fruit as he could. His hand was so full of fruit that he couldn’t remove his hand from the pitcher. But the boy was unwilling to release even one filbert. So he began to cry.”
Bram remembered the story from his childhood. Nevertheless, Roy finished the story for him in the dream.
“The boy’s mamma said, ‘Greed leads to trouble. Do not attempt too much, at once.’ And so the boy released half the filberts and was free of the confines of the pitcher,” said Roy.
Bram woke at revelry. It was morning.
Bram didn’t know why he’d had such a dream.
But, off to work he went, as usual.
The inspections of all of the previous day’s holes revealed no unexploded duds. So Lucent, Roy and Bram went to the next blasting area while the rubble of yesterday’s boom was spread into road, and made into retaining walls.
Strike, turn, strike, turn–and then a near wrist smash when Roy’s hammer came down wrong. Fortunately Bram had fast reflexes. But rhythms and assurances were dampened. Bram looked up to Roy and saw anger in his face.
“Why’d you have to be so greedy?” Roy asked. “I lost more than a day’s wage to you last night. And you made me the laughing stock of the camp!”
Bram got up.
“Why do tricks unless I can make my mom some money?” he asked. “Do you want me to give your dollar back?”
“No, sit down. My pride’s been injured. But I’ll be alright.”
They continued the work till it was time to fill the holes with blasting powder and feathers.
That night, alone in his tent, Bram counted the money he was saving for his ex-slave momma to get passage to the fort.
They planned for her to be a laundress there. If they were smart and lucky, someday they would own some land near the Concho River.
But success was bittersweet for Bram. The other soldiers had family members that were ex-slaves, too. Money was precious to all the privates.
The All-Black regiment of Buffalo Soldiers would continue to make roads.
They would find their way in a privileged white country, for decades.
It would take some time.
But that is another story.
Synopsis: A patient peddler takes his chances on an unusual hitchhiker near Dove Creek.
The peculiar hitchhiker was moseying next to his limping horse on the side of the dirt road. From behind, Alphonse approached uneasily with his peddler wagon. Alphonse debated whether he wanted to pick up the barefoot guy. Could he be trusted?
But something about the fella made him dawdle the wagon and ask, “Want a ride?”
The frowning stranger took his time, tying his horse’s reins to the wagon.
“My horse threw a shoe,” said the guest, as he hoisted himself onto the seat of the dray.
The wagon resumed its journey toward San Angela. Both commuters were uncomfortably silent, as noisy sheep scattered on the prairie.
Finally Alphonse asked, “Where are you headed?”
“Knickerbocker,” scratched the passenger.
“Well that’s on my way. I think we just follow Dove Creek downstream, and we’ll be there before you know it,” Alphonse answered.
More silence ensued. Is this hitchhiker just uncommunicative, or is he scheming a theft? Alphonse thought.
“Say—have you had any trouble getting rides?” Alphonse broke the quiet.
“Yes,” was the grunted response.
“What’s your name, if you don’t mind my asking?” Alphonse queried.
“Ned Land,” the guy replied, as curtly as possible.
Alphonse was content, since he now had a name for the face.
“How did you know that I wasn’t going to rob you when I picked you up, Ned?” he continued.
Ned smirked and said, “Guys like us know when we can clobber a man or not. You don’t look that tough to beat.”
The driver countered, “Well, I’m just a pots and pans salesman. I’m low on cash since most people barter for my wares. But I ain’t gonna mess with the likes of you.”
A hush occurred while they snaked their way along the creek on the dusty road.
Finally, out of courtesy, Alphonse asked, “What kind of work do you do?”
Ned’s nostrils flared as he mouthed deliberately, “That’s none of your business!”
Shaking his head, Alphonse assumed he’d have no more conversation with his new acquaintance.
But much later, for no reason at all, Ned snapped, “If you must know, I’m a spotter for Jimbo. When he’s struggling with wrestling rough individuals, I take over. My friends and I are also scouters in the wild.”
After a moment, “So, you’re in some kind of gang, like Buffalo Bill’s?” asked the driver.
“We ain’t no dime novel riffraff,” replied the offended passenger.
“Well, why are you stopping in Knickerbocker? Shouldn’t you and your band be going further, to San Angela, to clean up that town?” Alphonse probed.
“Our business is miles upstream. We don’t go where there’s too much howling and festive drunkards. We hate card sharks and men sulking at bars. Dove Creek is our lair.”
Alphonse was impressed with the discourse.
“Jimbo’s the leader of our group. And we’re not elegant beings! We’ve broken from civilization for reasons I will not disclose. And we do not obey the rules,” Ned shouted.
“OK, don’t get lathered up,” criticized Alphonse.
“We’re misunderstood. Every day we tour Dove Creek on our raft. The three of us look for settlers having trouble with bad individuals,” he bragged.
He continued, “Why, I killed my first river monster two years ago. It was a five-foot-long water moccasin. It had been bothering Miss Belle. So for an hour, the beast and I wrestled till it succumbed. Then last year, a forty-five-pound snapping turtle was causing problems for the Shafer family. Jimbo and I grappled together on that giant. His shell was half a yard wide! He became a fine turtle soup.”
Alphonse thought about Ned’s responses for a twinkling of time. He didn’t want to belittle Ned, but he had to ask, “So, your gang protects settlers from river monstrosities?”
Ned replied, “It’s not that simple! We don’t carry firearms! Have you ever brawled with an alligator gar that is eight feet long and weighs 250 pounds?”
Ned barked, “Well, I have!”
“But why did you manhandle a gar when you could have just speared it?” the peddler inquired.
“Our group didn’t have a harpoon when the Lopez family was destitute. We had to make do with the situation at hand.”
With raised eyebrows, the trader looked ahead, feeling cantankerous about his odd traveler. After taking a deep breath, he probed, “What else have you killed with your bare hands?”
“Well for fun, the crew and I sometimes noodle catfish out of their egg hole. Jimbo wraps a rag around his arm when we’ve found the tunneled daddy-fish. Then he sticks his arm into the hollow and wriggles his fingers. Pierre and I are on both sides of Jimbo, in case the giant takes him down.”
“Well, I take that back. Half the time, Pierre isn’t in the water with us. He’s writing a dime novel about it. At any rate, I help Jimbo bring the catfish to shore. Those seventy-pounders sure make for good eating.”
Though Alphonse could go on listening to this routine for hours, he could see the lantern lights of Ned’s town up a little ways.
“What’s your horse’s name?” asked Alphonse during their final moments together.
“Why, he’s Nemo, of course.”
That figures, thought the merchant.
Before Ned could brag any further about wrestling twenty-five-pound soft-shelled turtles or twelve-pound largemouth bass, Alphonse asked which direction he should take to get to Ned’s nighttime terminus.
“Right up the road at that wooden shack. See the man holding a book and a lantern?” he whispered.
They made their way there.
Then they stopped at the hut. Ned got down, untied Nemo from the wagon, and led him to the barn.
When Ned was out of earshot, Alphonse said to the man, “I see that Ned has a good place to rest up for tomorrow’s exploits.”
Mr. Land patted the book, “I was reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when Ned was born, eleven years ago.”
“We’ve read the book countless times since then.”
“So, his daily recollections of upstream events are always bizarre.”