A Backwoods Novella
By Richard Balthazar
This novella was written over the course of some thirty years, and a number of times. At one point I felt good enough about it to publish it online under the title GYMNOPEDIE, but several years later I was no longer satisfied, withdrew it from that site, and proceeded to rewrite it completely. Now it’s more appropriately titled BAT IN A WHIRLWIND.
The separate chapters have now been released here serially for free download from the list at the bottom of this page. Now you can download the whole novella for FREE as a pdf file. Just right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” My next task is to figure out how to offer it in Kindle format. Watch for it.
This little book is probably of most interest to the gay and/or literary reader, but the themes are appropriate for wide general interest: life in the rural South in the Rock’n’roll Fifties, sexuality of adolescent boys, child abuse, religious oppression, race relations, and nature. For the squeamish, I should advise that it involves a good deal of fantasy (innocent) and dreams (Freudian).
The novella is not so much a coming-of-age or coming-out story as the intimate personal account of a confused country boy who discovers love and himself. Covering the senior year of two best buddies in high school at the end of the 1950’s, this all happens in backwoods Arkansas, mostly at a remote truck stop café called Piney Hill, where young Ben is virtually a prisoner. The boy is swept up in an emotional whirlwind, besotted by a quixotic passion for the TV star Annette Funicello and at the same time bewildered by confusing feelings for his best buddy Danny.
The following excerpt is an atypical example of the narrative from the final chapter. For more typical examples, check out the separate chapters from the list that follows.
BAT IN A WHIRLWIND
Excerpt from Chapter 15. – Stomped-on Toad-Frog
Maybe it was the moonlight, or the hard work of the day, but I had a long complicated dream—
It’s golden evening, and I go to the river. Trees in straight rows, but they’re huge tall oaks that make me think Tudor. The sunset turns amber, rays slanting through the columns. Standing on the high bank, I say to myself, “It’s too late to swim.” Below, there are jagged rocks in the bank. A chorus of voices sings sweetly, “Here are the crawdad towers of shrimp-gulls, here the polyp tubes of ash-clay, and chandelier coral.”
Swift water in front of me, a wide river, and I follow its sinuous channel fast to the sea, which draws back, baring sand dunes and fields of sharp stones. A rain of powdery shells falls and shatters to blue dust. I don’t want to stay here, so I fly high, high overhead and away, across the land, a desert-crosser returning, outrunning the river. Beneath blur rows of honey-green orchards to a blue lake.
Now I’m on the ground behind a big house among dark cedars. A familiar voice, Danny’s, calls “Annie Over!” We’re playing that stupid game. Again I feel desperate to see him. I run in the back door through an empty kitchen and down a hall past rooms of furniture draped with sheets. And I know it’s our house, Danny’s and mine, the one he dreamed of.
I open the big front door to let Danny in, but he isn’t there. So I step out onto the porch of that beautiful plantation house with white columns looking out over the lake. Suddenly I see him running across the field, waving, and I find myself breathing hard as though I’ve just been running too. Danny is beautiful in the golden evening, laughing. I motion him in the door.
Evening sun streams through the windows, swirling around us. In the parlor, the sheets are strangely gone from the furniture. Little green turtles sit and crawl all over the sofa, chairs, and tables. Danny stands in front of me, a blush on his smooth cheeks and a glitter in his eye. Amber light burns like honey on his shoulders, and my own arm is also gilded. But my skin grows dark, dark like molasses, like Zaya’s. Danny’s arms encircle me, and there’s a blinding joy of flowing into one another.
And we slide down, down, like down a boat slide, down a mossy channel into the lake among the reed pools. The water is thick and soft around us, the warm blood of the ancient living Earth. Part of it, Danny and I, I and he, we drift slowly around among waving seaweed. And I know that we, and everything else, are just cells in the body of the giant animal Earth.
Above, the sun glimmers down from a high shimmering circle on the surface, flashing through undulating sea-grasses. Fish dart about, brightly colored, splashes on the green. These are the glossons, the threrches, emerald black and leaf-brown birds, and we are they, in plumes and veils of rainbow-feathered fins, floating forever together and one.
BAT IN A WHIRLWIND
For free download as pdf file, right click on Chapter and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” To read online left click and select “Open.”
- MAKING OUT
- TREASURES OF DARKNESS
- SMART ALECK
- INDIAN WELL
- A CHEER OF CHAMPIONS
- ANNIE OVER
- PLAYING AROUND
- GETTING NAKED
- SIN CITY
- THE RACE
- SOME TAIL
- PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
- HOTTER THAN THE DICKENS
- STOMPED-ON TOAD-FROG