BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 9. Getting Naked

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben and Danny have their own private senior party.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 9.  GETTING NAKED, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 8 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 9. – Getting Naked

            I told Daddy right away about Danny coming up and renting a cabin and us having our own private senior party.  He actually chuckled, “Well, you make sure Ed Norton signs in the register and pays his three dollars.”  He even agreed that I wouldn’t have to work till one o’clock so maybe we could go for a hike tomorrow morning.

However, this evening Daddy had to take Mom to an ice cream social affair over at the Belcher place, so I had to work for him.  It was fairly busy, keeping me running, and I figured it was a good trade-off for tomorrow morning.  It also kept me from watching the clock and thinking about my friend’s arrival.

He showed up right at the promised time, and I rejoiced to see him in a brief moment between customers.  We registered him in the motel book as Mr. Ed Norton from Brooklyn for number five, the nice one out by the woods.  I told him it was the honeymoon cabin, and he gave me a wicked wink.  Then, while I kept working, Danny hung out happily with the pinballs.  In passing I’d peek in at him every chance I got, just for his smile.

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            The folks got home shortly before ten from their party, and it was time for ours.  Danny carried some Cokes and ice down to number five, and I ran over to the house for my cards and radio.  Going down to the cabin, I trotted along through the pine shadows from the low half-moon and suddenly felt as though I was in some other reality.  The window of the cabin glowed with the lamp through white curtains, an almost magical place.

When I walked in, I got a huge surprise to find Danny with all his clothes off, buck-naked, lounging on the bed with a Roi-Tan and a water-glass of brown drink.  He laughed, “I like to be comfortable when I get drunk.  Have a rum and Coke, good buddy.”

He went over to the dresser and poured me a drink.  Meanwhile, I shucked out of my clothes too and told him how I always like to get naked, roaming out in the woods and even swinging on vines in trees like Tarzan.  Danny handed me the glass and brushed the hair on my chest, laughing, “Benny of the Apes.  But Tarzan wore pants.”

“Only in the movies,” I insisted.  “I bet Mrs. Gorilla didn’t sew him any lace panties.”

Danny laughed and raised his glass.  “Drink up, Benny-boy.”

I took a good slug of my drink.  It was sweet and sneaky at the back of my nose.  Danny sprawled out on the bed again and left his cigar to go out in the ashtray, which I silently appreciated.  He remarked, “I’ve never been naked outside.  Oh, yeh, skinny-dipping at the river, but not just walking around.”

I plugged in the radio and got up on the bed with my drink and the deck of cards.  The music came on with “The Happy Organ,” quite a circus-y way to start off a party.  Sitting tailor-fashion cross-legged, I took another sip and started shuffling the cards.  The drink tasted even better now that the fumes up my nose weren’t so strange.  And it felt so natural sitting here with Danny like this, just the two of us with nothing on and nothing else to do.

We started out playing blackjack poker, and whenever you lost, you had to take a huge slug of your drink.  After several rounds of winning and losing and as many slugs, the both of us were in mighty relaxed moods, chattering and laughing and carrying on over our cards.  When the radio started that really silly old song “Purple People Eater,” we commenced giggling hysterically and scattered cards all over.

With yet another drink, maybe our third, we gathered up the cards and switched to gin rummy.  After a few hands and still another drink, I got up for the bathroom and felt happily blurry, so light, not really connected to the floor.  Back on the bed, I found Danny had dealt.  While I arranged the cards in my hand, he remarked, “I wanna get my rocks off pretty soon.”  I called him a sex-fiend, and he asked, “What else am I supposed to do with a boner on?”

“Just ignore it,” I said.  “When I get a hard on out in the woods or whatever, I ignore it.”  To be truthful with him, I added, “Most of the time.”

Danny leaned back on the pillows at the head of the bed and considered his cards.  Then he looked down at his crotch and sighed, “Show me how to ignore that.”  His prick was slowly quivering and lifting, growing, that secret head slipping out of its hood, peeking at me like a little animal.  I couldn’t ignore it.  It was hypnotic.

He tossed his cards aside, laughed, and asked, “And what about that?”  He pointed at what was happening to me too.  He grinned guiltily, looking cuter than anybody should.

Leaping up off the bed, I babbled, “Just don’t touch it!  Don’t look at it!  Or think about it!  Do something else!”  Feeling dizzy from the booze, I marched back and forth looking at the ceiling and got more and more confused.

Danny jumped up from the bed and said, “I know what.  We can go outside.”  It sounded like a good idea to me.  Even though the soles of my feet were tough as leather, I’d learned from experience to wear shoes outside at night in case of stepping on things you can’t see.  So we looked plain silly all naked in just shoes, no socks, and I could hardly stop laughing.  Even so, our erections weren’t discouraged.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 8. Playing Around

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben stays over with pal Mickey for senior play rehearsal, much to Danny’s dismay.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 8.  PLAYING AROUND, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 7 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 8. – Playing Around

            Before long we went over to Herb’s drive-in where the parking lot was a flurry of cars parked around and kids getting their orders from the pickup window.  We gobbled a hotdog each, and while Mick took off to drag-race with Buck, who had a souped-up brown Ford, I went over to talk to Don and Patty, the most glamorous couple in our class, who were sitting in her red Thunderbird convertible.  Everywhere I was reminded sadly of my beloved Annette.  I’d recently read in Teen magazine that she had a white Thunderbird.

Patty thought it was great that I was out “on the town” at last, and I jokingly sang like Burl Ives, “John! John! The grey goose is gone, and the fox is on the town-o, town-o, town-o!”  They looked at me strangely and then got my humor.

Turning serious, Patty said, “Benny, I been wanting to ask you something.  Can I?”  I shrugged assent.  “Do Catholics believe in Jesus?”

Recalling the lines of the Apostle’s Creed about His Only Son J. C., I said, “Sure.  He’s part of the Holy Trinity.”  Here I recognized another opportunity to explain my faith and went on, “It’s God the Father, God the Son or Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.  They’re all one.”

Patty and Don both said, “Oh,” and shared a skeptical glance.  Frankly, I wasn’t very clear on it myself and was glad they dropped the inquiry.

Soon I moved over to sit in a car with Jackie and a couple other guys.  They were smoking cigarettes and talking about girls and who’d done it with which one.  The way I was so quiet, they probably thought I was a real stick-in-the-mud.

A flashy foreign sports car with Texas plates pulled up, and a young man got out.  He was dressed stylish with tight pants and much ducktail on his haircut, looking a lot like Ricky Nelson.  Jackie said offhandedly, “He looks queer.”  I didn’t think so.

Then another guy, Claude from eleventh, said, “I hear there’s one in Texarkana that sits in his car outside the movie house.”  I was about to ask one of what when Mickey and Buck came roaring back in their hot cars.  Mickey had won their race.

We hunted up Bonnie from the cars all over the place and headed back to Alleene.  Mickey exulted in his victory, carrying on about how Buck just didn’t know how to drive that heap of his.  I remarked that going so fast must be more like aiming a car than steering it.

#

            After dropping Bonnie off, we got back to find Mickey’s parents at the kitchen table.  It warmed my heart how his father hugged him hi, and his mother too.  I shook hands politely and noted with surprise that Mr. Wiley was drinking beer.  He had a big belly over his belt.  Mrs. Wiley, also pretty fat, offered me a Dr. Pepper and got us some pineapple upside down cake.

Mr. Wiley said, “So I hear you’re going to Tulane, ain’t it?”  I described the scholarship they gave me and told about my plans to go to New Orleans and see the place soon as school was over.  “Too bad our Mick here hasn’t got such brains!” he lamented.

Mickey winked at me as we sat down to have our cake off real china plates.  His mother patted his head and said, “He’s going to Henderson State, you know.  That’s exciting too, isn’t it, honey?”  The closeness and warmth here in this kitchen was even newer and more wonderful than the whole dress rehearsal, dance, and socializing at Herb’s.

We went into Mickey’s room to hit the sack.  It had real nice furniture and curtains, very unlike my own.  When I undressed, I laid my clothes on a chair and made for his big double bed, naked as a jaybird.  I never wore underwear or pajamas, and apparently Mickey didn’t either.  His body was very nicely built, his prick about the same size as mine.

“Boy!” he exclaimed, “You sure are a hairy guy.”  Then he looked straight down at my prick and exclaimed, “I’ll be damned!  You’re cut.  So Danny lied, that fucker!”

“Lied?” I wondered as I climbed onto the bed.

“Yeh!  To win our bet.  He didn’t think I’d find out.”  Suddenly I understood better why Danny had sounded so serious telling me to keep my pants on.  Climbing onto the bed too, Mick paused thoughtfully and then flopped onto his pillow laughing.  “Now he owes me two!”

“So you already paid up?”

“Yep—because I believed him.”  He sounded pissed off.

“What did you guys bet?”

He lifted up on an elbow and looked at me with a question in his greenish eye.  “Oh, nothing much.  Never mind.”

Having heard the same thing twice, I was now even more intrigued.  But if it was their secret…  Of course, I couldn’t help getting a mite jealous about Danny having a secret with Mickey, and them not wanting to let me in on it.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 7. Annie Over

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben finally gets permission to stay after school with Danny for a basketball game, but he’s got to come right home to Piney Hill afterwards to help in the café with the game crowd.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 7.  ANNIE OVER, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 6 chapters for reading or download from the list on the book page .

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 7. – Annie Over

            After school, I tossed my annual and play script in my locker for tomorrow and left with Danny, walking down the shady street beside him.  I was so happy to be with my buddy instead of on the Ben Lomond bus.  At the corner of Main Street while we waited for the light, Danny gave me a pitiful look and mumbled sadly, “Shit, I’m so horny I can’t see straight.”

I tried to comfort him and took his arm.  “Here, I’ll help you across the street.”  He laughed and gave me an affectionate poke.

In Phillips’ Drugstore where Danny worked on Saturdays, he made us a couple chocolate sodas, and we sat together leaning on the cool marble of the counter top.  Danny whispered, “Do Catholics really truly believe it’s a sin to jack off?”  Excited to spread the Truth of the Church, I assured him we do and then wondered for a moment if I still did.  He shrugged and asked, “You don’t never play on the skin flute?”

Without looking at him, after a chuckle and a slurp of soda, I admitted, “Only when I simply can’t resist the temptation.”

Danny slurped his own soda and laughed, “I can resist anything but temptation.”  Seeing another opportunity, I talked about keeping our souls free from mortal sin so as not to go to hell when we die.  With a serious expression, Danny broke in, “But all you gotta do is take Jesus for your savior.”  I argued that we’re still responsible for our own personal sins.  Danny snorted, “Including tooting off.  Well, I’m sure glad I’m no Catholic and wish you wasn’t neither.”

I was so shocked all I could do was stare.  This wasn’t at all where I wanted our conversation to go.  Besides, I was getting less and less confident about arguing the sinfulness of doing those things, and I still wasn’t at all clear on what sex had to do with God.  The best thing was to drop the subject and get back to being best buddies.

It was only five blocks to Danny’s house, which was all quiet since his Mama didn’t get home from work at the Sheriff’s Office till five, and his Pop was on the evening shift, three to eleven, over at the paper mill.  In the yard we were greeted by a bounding puppy named Nina, almost as overjoyed to see her master as I was to be with him.

Danny found his basketball lying by the steps and suggested we play Annie Over.  So we wound up on either side of their long brown house pitching the ball back and forth over the roof to each other.  To let the other know you were throwing, you had to shout, “Annie Over!”  I always hollered, “Danny Over!”  Nina got super excited, running around and around the house each time we’d throw the ball.

Most of Danny’s throws kept coming down in the big legustrum bushes, and after a half dozen more tosses, I got bored.  Besides, I really didn’t like not being able to see my buddy.  Catching his next throw, I raced around the house with the ball.  He was looking expectantly up at the roof when I hollered, and the ball whopped him upside the head.

“You rat-fink!” Danny yelled and chased me hooting and growling off across the yard.  A tackle sent us crashing into the tall bushes at the back of the house.  “Gotcha!” he shouted triumphantly as we fell through the crunching branches.

He landed smack on top of me, face down on the ground, and was pretty heavy.  I wiggled to try and roll him off and suddenly felt him hard against my behind.  He started rubbing and panting in my ear.  Again all I could do was laugh, especially since Nina was jumping all over us, and try to pull his arms loose.  Finally he let go and moaned piteously.

Struggling to stand up, I scolded, “Bad puppy dog!”  Danny sat on the ground looking ashamed, and I patted him on the head like a good dog.  He grabbed me with a growl and pulled me down to the ground, humping my leg with great fervor, and Nina again joined the fray.  We both collapsed in laughter.  Crawling out of the bushes, he grinned at me and blushed.  Wrestling with him like that had somehow caused me to get hard too, so I’m sure I also blushed.

With Danny dribbling the basketball and Nina nipping at my heels, we strolled out to the front yard and found his mother pulling into the driveway in a blue Buick.  Ethel was a sweet-looking heavy woman with one of those beehive hairdos.  Danny quickly explained about inviting me to supper to go to the basketball game.

Opening the back car door, she said, “You’re that smart kid he’s been talking about?  Ben?  Well, I just been to the grocery and got a bunch of pork chops.”  She looked hard at us.  “You two been rassling?”  We nodded and let her pick grass out of our hair.

“Look what you done, buster,” Ethel chided Danny.  “You done tore Ben’s shirt.”  She pointed out a small rip in the side under my arm.  I assured her it was there already, my old red plaid shirt.  As we climbed the porch steps with the grocery bags, behind us Ethel said, “Dirt all over you boys!  Into the tub with you two.  Supper be ready in a half hour.  Get cracking!”

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 6. A Cheer of Champions

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben travels to Little Rock to a state conference and enjoys socializing with the other 4-H County Champions.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 6.  A CHEER OF CHAMPIONS, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 6. – A Cheer of Champions

            The big banquet room was full of long tables with white tablecloths and chrysanthemums with some kind of silver leaves.  Mr. Lacey and Miss Mannis sat at a table with the other adults, and we found places near the back corner of the room.  Right away I saw that the leaves were just legustrum leaves painted silver, like those big bushes back home in our yard.  It was an interesting idea that maybe we could use in our café.

In a minute, a young Negro in a white jacket brought our plates.  He was real handsome with his skin so black.  He saw me looking at him and gave me bright smile, reminding me of that waiter in Atlantic City.  The dinner was turkey and dressing with sweet potatoes and green beans.  You’d have thought it was Thanksgiving.

Leroy looked at the waiter suspiciously and when he was gone, leaned over to me and said seriously, “I sure hope he didn’t stick his finger in my food.”

Shocked that he’d even think such a thing about a fellow waiter, even if he was a Negro, I remarked as sternly as I could, “I wouldn’t worry about that none.”  Then I gave him my turkey, explaining about Catholics fasting on Fridays.

They gave me blank stares. Leroy protested, “But you ate a hamburger for lunch.”  Awkwardly I explained how it was only a venial sin because I’d forgotten.

Annette [This is a real, live girl and not the TV star.] looked surprised, laughing uneasily, “You mean forgetting’s a sin?”  Fortunately the program started right then, and I was saved from any more religious conversation.  Trying to explain sins like this was pretty hard.

A guy up in front of the room bellowed through a microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen!”  A tall kid said a strange prayer—about all kinds of things and lots of “for Jesus Christ’s sake.”  It was all I could do to keep from giggling because that was the way Daddy always cussed.  Then a man with wire glasses gave a speech about striving for excellence that lasted until dessert, which was scrumptious lemon chiffon pie.

The State 4-H Secretary, a curly-headed girl, recited all the “equal training of the head, heart, hands, and health” stuff, and then three kids sang “Danny Boy,” one of my favorite songs, of course.  It got me all sentimental missing my buddy.  The two girls and a boy harmonized and sounded especially nice on the line, O come ye back when summer’s in the meadow…

After two more speeches on something or other, a man read off the names of all the County Champions and said what we were Champion for. You had to stand up so everyone could see you.   It was sort of monotonous, so I wondered what a bunch of champions is called.  How about a cheer of champions?

Pretty quick the man called my name over the microphone, adding, “For raising a prize-winning Poland China shoat.” I stood up waving ironically to the folks, and it was great the way they all looked at me with admiration.  Or maybe they were just impressed by my resemblance to Abraham Lincoln.  When I sat back down, I fell into a trance of words bouncing off the walls, names of people I didn’t know and wouldn’t remember.

At long last they let us out of the banquet room, herding us over into the ballroom for something called a Share-the-Fun party. They passed out sheets of paper with lists of careers.  You had to meet enough people to get a new acquaintance’s autograph by each one on the list.  Leroy signed up with me first thing on the line for welder.  Naturally I signed his by nuclear scientist, which was at the top of the list.

With everybody asking, I quickly got bored always wanting to be the same thing.  So I’d just pick one, like game warden, grocer, farmer, or fireman.  If I chose something already taken, they’d just rush off for someone else.  It was a fun game pretending that I passionately wanted to be a dairyman.  Once I even tried nurse, but the girl looked at me like I was crazy.  So I admitted it was a joke and said what I really wanted to be wasn’t on the list:  King.  She added career no. 23:  Ruler – and a line where I signed “Benjamin I.”  Then I started adding careers all over the place, architect, poet, Senator, and such.

Finally they announced a dance, and a band of five kids banged around on the stage adjusting the microphone, blowing on it, and saying, “Checking, one, two, three,” just like professionals.  First they played “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog,” but the boy wasn’t very good at imitating Elvis.  He couldn’t really sing worth a hoot either.

When the music started, we were supposed to dance with the person next to us.  Well, right then I was talking to a nice guy named Jerry who wanted to be a police officer.  We laughed and had to look around for some girls.  I found one named Sheila Renfro with buck-teeth, and she turned out to be a pretty good dancer.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 5. INDIAN WELL

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben suffers through an emotionally trying Sunday alone on Piney Hill and is rewarded with a visit from his buddy.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 5.  INDIAN WELL, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 5. – Indian Well

            I’d only managed to fill out the boring home address stuff when there was a knock at my screen door. Danny peered in through the screen at me. I jumped up from my desk in the thrill of seeing him. I’d thought about him all yesterday at work. My buddy drove all the way up to Piney Hill to get his new puppy, and he was also excited and happy. The blue and red striped polo shirt made his chest look very broad.

In the backyard we found the three puppies left playing while Duchess lay on the grass by the garage paying them no mind. Danny cuddled his, the one with the dark spots. When I asked if he wanted to take a walk in my woods, he sang suggestively, “In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines…” Talking about grandparents and things, we ambled down to the pond. The pups ran along with Lobo, but Duchess took a rain check on the hike.

When we came out on the high bank over the pond, there were those big golden flowers of fish blooming here and there on its greenish surface. Danny whistled in amazement. Then I took a chance on sounding crazy and told him that last week I caught the King of Fishes and described its golden feather-fins. I also told him about the three wishes I’d gotten to let it go.

“Make a wish right now,” he commanded. “I want to see it happen.”

Instead, since he was my very best pal, I offered him one of my wishes. I made him toss a pebble into the pond to call the King of Fishes, and of course all the flowers disappeared. Then I made him close his eyes and make a wish. He stood that way for only a brief moment and opened his eyes, giving me a naughty look, but wouldn’t say what he wished. I sure hoped it would come true, and then I’d use my remaining two.

On the path back up the hill we came upon a king snake a couple feet long, all beautiful green, black, and yellow. I caught it and showed Danny how there were no fangs when it bit. It just felt like sandpaper. Seeing as how I’d likely run up on it again, I let it go this time.

Right below the pasture we got to my great white oak. The Sunday afternoon sun was bright in its new greenery, timeless, the fragrance of spring, somehow eternal. How perfect this first time to be out in the woods with my Danny, buddies completely alone with each other. I wanted to tell him everything, show him all my treasures, take him to my secret places, and let him see what life was like for me here on Piney Hill.

Noticing the shallow Indian well full of leaves, Danny said it sure looked like a great place for a nap.   So I pushed him in, and he pulled me tumbling after. Wrestling around, I took to tickling Danny in the ribs, and he struggled, laughing and begging me to quit. Tears glistened in his brown eyes. When I stopped, he instantly jumped me and pinned me flat on my back, knees on my elbows so I couldn’t tickle anymore.

Danny leaned over me, grinning mischievously, and stroked my furry cheek. “I love your fuzz,” he said, laughed, and asked, “Wanna know what I wished?” I nodded. “Here, I’ll show you,” he said with a sly smile and popped open the buttons on his fly. His pecker stood right up in the air, maybe six inches from my nose, a lot bigger than mine. He moaned and said, “My balls are about to explode!”

All my blessed bliss of the day was blown away by his cock sticking out of his pants like a dark-headed snake. How could temptation ambush me so soon after being made pure again? Why did the devil use my beloved friend to lure me into sin? When Danny started touching himself impurely, I struggled out from under him, protesting that what he was doing was a sin.

“Maybe for you, Benny babe,” he said, rolling over in the leaves, and kept on moving his hand. “But I think it’s like a little bit of heaven.”

“Well, I’m not going to watch,” I protested in a fit of virtue and walked over to stare at the trunk of the white oak. Hearing Danny’s sweet groans, I had to struggle not to get hard myself. Listening to a bird singing somewhere didn’t help. Then a deep grunt.

When Danny climbed out of the leaf-well, he was handsomer than ever, his eyes brown and shining. How could I love him so much in spite of his sinful ways? I rumpled his soft hair to show I loved him anyway. Crossing the pasture with the puppies scampering around under foot, Danny decided to name his Nina.

Unfortunately he had to get home for supper. We put Nina in a cardboard box on the front seat of his car, and I kissed her goodbye. Danny looked at us with such a cute smile that I almost wanted to kiss him goodbye too. I told him to be nice to her, and he tweaked my chin hairs, winked, and said, “Don’t let your meat loaf.” Then he drove away down the hill.

I wandered listlessly around under the tall pines, humming, “In the pines, in the pines…” and thinking with horror and fascination about what Danny had done in the Indian well, horror that he did such things, and fascination at seeing his prick. But Danny was a poor, misguided Protestant, and I felt suddenly proud showing my buddy an example of the One Holy Faith.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 4. PENANCE

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben spends a long and trying day at work in the café, which he accepts as penance for his “impure touches.” The excerpt is a peaceful lull in the afternoon, something of the calm before a storm.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 4.  PENANCE, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at home, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 4. – Penance

Only a few folks came in for coffee, and then our regular trucker customer Vince, a pleasant older guy with a long white mustache. I cooked him a hamburger steak just the way he liked it with cream gravy.

Bringing Vince’s order out, I noticed through the window some boys getting out of a car, the boys from Frog Level, a village off west of the Cossatot River. They always seemed so nice, and I smiled at them as they came in and sat in number four, all giggling and talking. While drawing them water from the fountain on the Coke machine, I recalled folks around Lockjaw whispering about the Frog Level boys being strange or something, but I had no idea what they meant. The boys all looked too handsome to be weird, and I never noticed anything unusual except a while back when two of them were holding hands under the table.

They ordered the usual Cokes and fries, and two got up to play the juke box. One of the two left in the booth, whose name I knew was Sammy, changed his order to onion rings and smiled at me with big dimples and bright blue eyes.

After cooking up the boys’ fries and onion rings and serving them, I felt like a real fifth wheel and ruefully retired to the penance of dishwasher duty. We’d accumulated an entire rack of glasses and most of one of plates. So I turned on the monster machine, its roar drowning out the squawky country song one of the guys played on the juke box, and listlessly jerking the rack back and forth, wondered what it would be like to have a crowd of friends like that. To let the glasses cool, I went out front to find Vince ready to pay his check.

Then one of the boys came up to pay theirs too. Boy, was I surprised when three of them left, and Sammy was still sitting in the booth. While I cleared off their dishes, he said, “They’re going off to DeQueen and buy a carburetor, but I don’t wanna.”

“You want something else?” I asked, always the good waiter.

“Nah,” Sammy replied with a shake of the head. “I’ll just hang out.” His lazy grin made the dimples enormous.

“Well, if you do, just give a shout.”

He sat back and looked out through the venetian blinds. Dutifully, I went back to the hideous dishwasher and ran the load of plates without a customer one coming in. Just when I got to drying my least favorite, the hot silverware, Sammy came around from out front.

“I guess you know Iris Barker?” he casually asked. “She says she knows you real good.”

“Sure do,” I said and finished up the steaming spoons. “We went to junior high together up in Lockjaw.”

He sat up on the ice cream freezer where I could admire his lean legs and his proudly arched nose. The knife handles were still so hot I had to hold them the other way around to dry. Not without a certain personal pride, I added, “She and I were just chosen as 4-H County Champion Boy and Girl.”

“Wow!” Sammy exclaimed. “Congratulations, pal. What did you do?”

I admitted with considerable chagrin, “Raised a blue-ribbon shoat.”

Flashing his dimples, Sammy asked, “So, Mr. Champion, what’s Iris like really?”

“Well, I guess you could say she’s pretty cute and seems to be a sweet girl.”

“I know that,” he said with an impatient snort through his delicate nose. “I mean, does she like to, you know, go out with guys?”

“I think she goes on dates, but as to whether she likes to, I don’t know.”

Sammy laughed out loud, hopped off the freezer, stood right in front of me, and asked, “Think she’d like to go out with me?”

I too laughed out loud, “Like asking if the sun’ll come up tomorrow.” He was so handsome any girl would flip her wig.

The dishes all done, I longed to remove us from the presence of that ugly machine, so I suggested we go play pinballs. I opened up the Ace of Hearts machine with the key and clicked up several games. Sammy was delighted, and I leaned up against the Las Vegas machine to watch him play. Not a single customer came in for the longest, and we talked about all kinds of things while he flapped the flippers.

I couldn’t remember what we said but kept thinking what a perfect brother he’d be. It was odd how I felt almost the same strange love for him as for Danny, those mysterious, intense connections of friendship, that almost hunger. With my arm over his shoulder, I watched the ball suddenly shoot down between the flippers. There was a racket of car doors slamming outside, so I left Sammy struggling with the game and went to fetch waters.

#

[Forgive me, but I can’t resist adding a brief selection, if only for its magical character.]

#

By the time I’d fed the zoo, evening was setting in, and I took off down the hill out back for some fishing of my own. Barefoot with a cane pole on my shoulder, I felt like Huck Finn. Okay, so I did have me a nice mother and a pretty place to live in, but just like Huck, I sure as shooting had a mean ol’ pap. And if I had me a raft, I’d jump on it right now and float away down the Mississippi. All I needed was a great Negro friend like that Jim.

Our pond was a ways out in the woods, straight down past the white oak, and then you’d come out on the rise above the water. Along with perch and blue-gills, the man who built Piney Hill stocked the pond with goldfish that went wild. When you’d come out of the woods onto the bank, the greenish surface of the water was usually spotted with golden flowers of fish. Toss a rock, and they’d dive, the golden flowers disappearing.

I leaned back against a post oak, the pole propped across my arm. There were ripples of bugs on the surface and footprints of the breeze in the middle. My cork floated in the bright reflection of the sky. The sun snuck low under some clouds, golden, and soon they were aflame with red, a rosy island in the gold sky.

Suddenly my cork went ploop. After a bit of a battle, I pulled out a huge goldfish with a fancy fantail about a foot long. Its round eyes bulged and fins quivered like a strange bird pulled out of the reflected sky. I smoothed out its fins and tails like wet yellow feathers. Surely this was a magic fish like the King of Fishes in that fairytale. Maybe I could wish to be with my Annette, or to keep my soul free from sin, or even to be real famous. Because he was lying there gasping for water, I told this King of Fishes I’d let him go and make my wishes later. He flew away out over the pond like a bird, splashing into the sunset.

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To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 4.  PENANCE, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at home, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 3 – SMART ALECK

Ready or not, here comes the next free instalment of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND. In this chapter Ben feels the usual woes of being a bright boy in a fairly dim world, reminisces about a moment nearly near Annette, and then gets blown away by a weird thought about best buddy Danny. The following excerpt is when the whirlwind hits.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 3.  SMART ALECK, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at home, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 3. – Smart Aleck

            As usual, I wandered over to the café in the evening, got me a Dr. Pepper, and went to play some pinball. Daddy had about six different fun machines in the little room at the end of the building, a popular place for kids to hang out. No one was there right now, and I started playing on the Ace of Hearts machine, distracted by the shiny ball and flashing lights. I kept up a bounce game with my left flipper and a bonus bumper for a good while.

From the doorway I heard a wolf-whistle and “Hi ya, Benny boy.” It was Danny, looking very cool, with Terry right behind, who nodded hi and went over to the Carnival machine down the way. My buddy came over to mine and tousled my head in greeting. …

…        Sitting on the chain out front, Danny remarked, “Mickey told me you were great in English class today.” So I recited “The Raven” again with much drama for my very best friend. Leaning close, I intoned the verses. When I got to Is there—is there balm in Gilead? Danny looked at me with such sad eyes. On each stanza, he chimed in ominously on the “nevermores.”

Then, just as I got to talking about the cute puppies Duchess just had by Lobo—Maybe he’d like one?—some cars pulled up, and a whole passel of Lockjaw kids piled out, all old chums from when I went to school up there. I waved, but Danny didn’t know them, of course.

We stayed out on the chain while he smoked his cigar. The stars were real bright over the pines in our front yard. Maybe it was Jupiter just over the roof of the garage. “What do you call a bunch of stars?” Danny asked. Of course I said it was a constellation, but he protested, “No, I bet it’s a splendor of stars.” I was more than willing to take his word for it.

Then we just swung on the chain, rubbing shoulders, while he smoked his cigar. We didn’t have to talk all the time. Just being together was enough. Eventually, he stubbed the Roi-Tan out on the concrete post and suggested, “Let’s go see what the Terror is up to.”

The Lockjaw kids were scattered around the booths and counter, and Daddy had most of them served already. The juke box was blaring something country. Terry was down in number four making friends with Flossie, Patsy, and Liz. Danny scrunched in next to Flossie, and I pulled up a chair beside him. Both Flossie and Patsy looked real interested in my pal. Terry was making up to Liz and whispering with her.

Suddenly he got up and dragged Danny and me over by the Wurlitzer. He popped in a quarter and said to me, “You pick something.” Then he pulled Danny in close to us and whispered, “Look, Liz says her and Flossie want to go riding. Which one of you wants her?”

I stared at the selection board without reading. Danny was silent too, but then he leaned close whispering, “You oughtta, Benny. You need some lovin’.” Still speechless, I quick punched some random songs, telling myself there was no connection between this sex stuff and love. But if I went riding with Flossie, I’d have to sneak off without Daddy knowing.

Impatient, Terry got sarcastic. “Maybe you two should go parking together.” Danny glared and took a half-hearted swing at him, missing by a mile.

“No fighting!” Daddy boomed out from over by the candy case.

Danny turned back to me with a huge blush, and I bet I was blushing too at the thought of making out with him.   Terry looked sympathetic as he summed it up: “So Danny will go riding with the doll. Let’s go.”

We went back to number four, and Danny sat with his leg up over my knee. Rubbing his strong calf, I couldn’t pay attention to what they were talking, too overwhelmed by that thought of kissing my buddy, bewildered by the sensation. Ricky Nelson started singing about “Poor little fool, oh yeh!” Danny looked so handsome there laughing with Flossie, and I felt like a darned fool for even thinking of such things. Made me wonder if maybe there wasn’t a bat or two loose in my belfry.

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To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 3.  SMART ALECK, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at home, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”