Do-Overs And Detours: Eighteen Eerie Tales - Steve Vernon - ebook
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Detours are amazing creatures. A detour can shortcut your existence or it can lead you down a forever long road that will linger far into the distant reaches of eternity. It is these unexpected tangents that people stumble across nearly every day that will haunt you in a frighteningly familiar fashion. Wander into a laundromat and find a kind of a time machine. Indulge yourself in a particularly nasty game of baseball. Hitch a ride on a freight train with the piggyback man or entomb yourself in a trailer walled with books or take a ride on a bus that is going nowhere fast or just lean over an empty ocean and wait for the very first mermaid you see. Detour around an overturned trailer of chickens and find a chance to do it all over again. Take a taxi ride with a very hungry passenger or just walk in the park and watch a juggler balancing severed heads.  Reality will take you only so far and after that there is nothing to rely on but faith and fear. I offer you eighteen eerie tales of fantasy, horror, science fiction and all around strangeness that will take you to the edge of the map and then nudge you just a little bit further. "If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon." – Bookgasm

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Do-Overs

And

Detours

-

By Steve Vernon

Introduction by Richard Chizmar

Stark Raven Press

Table of Contents

Title Page

What People Are Saying About Steve Vernon

Steve Vernon – I Knew He’d Be Back  (an introduction by Richard Chizmar)

Hyperactive Cleaning Power

A Fine Sacrifice

I Know Why the Waters of the Sea Taste of Salt

The Takashi Miike Seal of Approval

Rolling Stock

The Last Stand of the Great Texas Packrat

Gin Bottle Heaven

Do-overs and Detours, Somewhere North of Bigfoot

Tinseled Trailer-court Viscera

Voodoo Trucker Clucker Futz-up

Under the Skin, Under the Bones

Pray for the Clockwork Twister

Death Rides a Quartered Horse

Once More Round The Block

Jugular

The Last Few Curls of Gut Rope

Nail Gun Glissando

Harry’s Mermaid

End of the Road

About the Author

Sign up for Steve Vernon's Mailing List

Further Reading: The Tatterdemon Omnibus

Also By Steve Vernon

What People Are Saying About Steve Vernon

"If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon." – Bookgasm

"Steve Vernon is something of an anomaly in the world of horror literature. He's one of the freshest new voices in the genre although his career has spanned twenty years. Writing with a rare swagger and confidence, Steve Vernon can lead his readers through an entire gamut of emotions from outright fear and repulsion to pity and laughter." - Cemetery Dance

"Armed with a bizarre sense of humor, a huge amount of originality, a flair for taking risks and a strong grasp of characterization - Steve's got the chops for sure." - Dark Discoveries

“Steve Vernon is a hard writer to pin down. And that’s a good thing.” – Dark Scribe Magazine

"This genre needs new blood and Steve Vernon is quite a transfusion." –Edward Lee, author of FLESH GOTHIC and CITY INFERNAL

“Steve Vernon is one of the finest new talents of horror and dark fiction" - Owl Goingback, author of CROTA

"Steve Vernon was born to write. He's the real deal and we're lucky to have him." - Richard Chizmar

Steve Vernon – I Knew He’d Be Back  (an introduction by Richard Chizmar)

Do-Overs and Detours is a very good book. Something I don’t see nearly enough of these days. All eighteen short stories included are GOOD, some VERY GOOD, and a handful that tiptoe right over into the fabled territory of GREAT.

Give “A Fine Sacrifice” a close read and you will see what I mean. It is lean and mean and one of the hardest hitting stories I have read in a very long time.

Trust me – it’s a GREAT story.

When you have recovered from “A Fine Sacrifice” (and you WILL need to recover), flip a few pages over to “Tinselled Trailer-Court Viscera”. This one is just plain weird – in fact, it reads a little like Joe Lansdale on crack, which is a very good thing to my mind. I wouldn’t call it a GREAT story but it is a DAMN GOOD ONE and I did not want it to end, which for me is the greatest compliment I can offer another writer.

And that is pretty much how I can summarize my entire experience with Do-Overs and Detours. I did not want it to end. I wanted more stories like “Hyperactive Cleaning Power” – just a short-short but packed with enough wonder and grace for a novella twenty times its length; and “The Takashi Miike Seal of Approval” , a nasty little slice of brutality but with enough heart to make you care; and “Rolling Stock”, a rural tall tale best read around a blazing campfire.

You see, there is something for everyone in these pages. A little crime, a little horror and a little fantasy and a lot of weirdness, and a whole lot of wisdom, and most importantly a WHOLE lot of fine writing by Steve Vernon.

How many of you have noticed that I had not even mentioned Steve’s name until now? I don’t think Steve would mind, either. He is not the kind who writes so that he can tell others that he is a writer. He is not the kind who writes for attention or notoriety. If he was, I would not be carrying around in my pocket the funny little story I am about to tell you regarding Steve.

Steve Vernon writes because he has to.

He is the kind of writer who knows the secret formula to good writing – which is that there is NO secret formula, ladies and gents. You just sit your butt down and you DO the work. Steve Vernon does the work and then some. That’s how I know that he would not mind that I did not even mention his name until page two of the introduction – because Steve knows that the stories are what is important.

So – how do I know all that about Steve Vernon, someone that I have never met in the flesh or even spoken to on the telephone?

Let me tell you a story and then I think that you will understand.

Way back in the late 1980’s, I published “Mongrel”, a nifty little story by Steve Vernon in the pages of Cemetery Dance magazine. Readers dug it and I believe that it got a fair amount of good press.

Almost ten years later I selected “Mongrel” to  appear in a massive hardcover collection entitled The Best of Cemetery Dance, along with stories by such genre giants as Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Dean Koontz and Norman Partridge.

It was an easy pick for me. It did not matter that Steve Vernon wasn’t a household name like many of the other writers. It did not matter that I had not heard from or published Steve Vernon in many, many years.

It was a damn good story and deserved to be in the book.

But I had a problem.

You see, I could not find Steve Vernon anywhere. I tried to track him down to send him contracts and a check but I had no luck. He had vanished like smoke on the wind.

So I could not very well publish his story in that collection, now could I?

You are damn right I did.

And here’s why.

I knew that he would be back.

I knew that wherever Steve Vernon was and whatever it was that he was doing that he would eventually resurface and would eventually start publishing again.

At first, it appeared that I was wrong.

A few years passed and I did not hear a word from Steve Vernon.

Nor did anyone else.

But it did not matter.

I held onto my stubborn belief that Steve would resurface year after year – until finally I was proven right.

I do not remember if was by letter or e-mail but I know that I eventually heard from Steve and he was as pleased as punch that I had reprinted the story and the very first thing he said was “Thank you.” and the very second thing he said was “Where is my check?”

You see?

I told you Steve was a writer.

Anyway, the moral of this little side story is pretty simple. I knew he would be back because you can tell by reading just a handful of Steve Vernon stories that he was born to write. He’s the real deal and we are lucky to have him.

- Richard Chizmar

Richard Thomas Chizmar (born 1965) is best known as the publisher and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and the owner of Cemetery Dance Publications. He also edits anthologies, writes fiction, produces films, writes screenplays, and teaches writing and is a heck of a good guy.

Hyperactive Cleaning Power

I sat in the laundromat staring at an empty dryer, waiting for my wash to turn. The morning moved as slowly as a fossilized sloth. My cigarette burned down to nothing and I was all out of matches.

The attendant sat behind a counter with his head turtled into a half dozen folds of shoulder fat, resignation and Jello-ish jowls. He was watching summer rerun soap operas on a dangling portable television that received a signal from somewhere south west of the twilight zone.  He sat there perfectly still like a toad waiting for a wandering fly. He was either having a deep solitary religious experience or a really quiet bowel movement. 

My rooming house had no washing machine. I used to live in an apartment building with a laundry room. I used to have a job in the upstanding growth industry of internet sex drugs.

I used to have a cat.

I even used to have a girlfriend.

Now, nothing. A state-of-the-art spam filter had downsized my job. My cat jumped after a pigeon through my boarding house window, straight into the neighbor’s rottweiler pen. My girlfriend left me for a male stripper. She said she dug his uniform.

It could be worse. I could be that old woman coming through the door, clattering an empty shopping cart across the laundromat’s tile floor.

The fat man stared at his out of date soap opera like the mood ring of Jesus. The channel wasn’t changing and neither was he.

I looked at the woman, seeking perspective. The picture didn’t improve much. I figure she’d leaned on that poverty walker for so long her hands had rusted into handle grips. Her wrists had hollowed into liver spotted aluminum conduit, conducting each clank of cart wheel over concrete.

Yup, life could always be worse.

Maybe it would be. Maybe that’s me I’m looking at, a dozen years down the road, just a poor mad bastard, walking and talking to himself.

“Christ.”

Did I say that aloud? Am I talking to myself already? I'm doomed. I ought to climb into a dryer, plunge the quarters home and let the big hot wind tunnel centrifuge my brains into a gently warmed gray jelly soup.

She looked at me and grinned. Her eyes glinted like yellow glass marbles under a switchblade sun. I wondered just how long have she had mapped and strained her life through the meshwork of that cart? How many miles had the sidewalk unrolled beneath that rusty tin plated grid-work? Her eyes rolled back, gazing heavenward at the tilting fan blades softly scything the ceiling, sending a prayer to the patron saints of St. Jude, Quixote and Ed Mcmahon. Then she brushed an untameable lock of barbed wire hair, as white as a distant Arctic snow bank and slipped me a wink. Or maybe there was something in her eye.

I didn’t say a thing.

She opened the door to a dryer and began emptying her cart, unloading pieces of carefully folded nothing, her hands fluttering as delicately as crystal doves; mouthing smothered prayer words. Her litany fell, regret by regret, as softly as white rose petals on a moonlit funeral.

"This is my daughter, who swears I died in a plane wreck."

A breath.

"This is my husband, who fell from a wooden scaffolding and crashed to the earth like a fallen saint. He wasn’t."

A breath.

"This is the dog I used to own and the cats I feed and the pigeons and the crows and the worms."

Another breath.

Piece by piece of nothing at all, she loaded it all into the dryer. She fished into her pocket. It took so long to find, a long ache of frozen torpor, suspended in snail breath and a gargle of slowly drying senility.

She dragged out three quarters and fit them into the slots. She needed one more quarter to buy her time.

“Excuse me,” she said, her voice as dry as dusty folded newsprint. “Can you give me another quarter?”

Give. I liked the way she said that. Give, not loan. There was no lie, no deceit in her words. She asked for an honest to god hand out. I respected her honesty. Even though I had no idea how I’d pay this month’s rent, even though tonight’s groceries were a wet dream fantasy, I handed her the quarter. Why not? Beggar’s luck works powerful magic. It might bring me good karma. What else was a quarter good for?

She slammed the slide home. The machine rolled into life. She leaned her face against the dryer door, watching the emptiness go around, a square eyed child staring at a forever cartoon.

I looked closer.

She kept staring as the dryer window of never-never turning like a glass-eyed dervish. A soft eerie light strobed across her features, angels and sunflowers pissed cotton candy sunshine feathers across her yellow hair.

Wait a minute.

Wasn’t her hair white a moment before?

I looked closer. I could see it now, her hair turning the shade of a July wheat field. A color like sunburned straw, soft and golden, the white fading away like yesterday’s melting snow.

What was happening?

The wrinkles skinnied off her cheeks like restless wireworms. Age spots scuttled like cockroaches before the dawn. The years fell away, one by one, with each empty barreled spin. Time evaporated. 

No one seemed to notice. The fat man stared at his idiot talking box. I looked at the television. I saw reruns, running in reverse. I saw Alan Alda, in army greens and a Hawaiian shirt, looking concerned. I saw a helicopter rising; a nurse, running backwards downhill. Painless is suicide.

The old woman looked straight at me. She looked to be a hot looking 42, half the age she’d started at. She threw me another wink that was half kiss and half giggle. My heart tasted of ash and forgotten love songs. She turned back, the years spinning away, middle age, teenage, puberty, down and down until she’s nothing but a small girl about thirteen years of age.

The machine stopped spinning.

The attendant stared at a floor wax commercial, unrolling backwards.

The little girl curtsied like I was some kind of royalty. She curtsied, bobbed a quick little nod of her head and ran skipping out to the sidewalk and gone. Her footsteps echoed, happy gunshots straight through my heart. The fat man looked up from his television. He smiled like a grotesque Buddha and winked.

"It's your turn."

I stared at the empty shopping cart.

I fumbled in my pocket for four more quarters. I slid the silvery quarters home and waited for the dryer to turn.

A Fine Sacrifice

Sam could see the two older men, Will and Artie, standing together on Will’s front porch like a pair of well-trained watch dogs. Their two boys played catch with a battered baseball out in Will’s field.

It’s a good field, thought Sam. Will really ought to plant something in it. 

Sam knew Will’s reasons for letting the field run to fallow. Still, it was a good field; deep and fertile and far from the public eye. Will’s grandfather had won the land in a poker game and had closed the deal in the knife fight that ensued afterwards. The original owner, drunk on too much stump liquor, had pulled a hunting knife from his belt and demanded his deed back. Will’s grandfather, or so the story is told, broke the man’s arm and took the knife from him and promptly gave it back, blade first.

Will had told Sam the tale one night while roaring drunk. The evening stood out in Sam’s memory not only for the story but for the fact that Will was drunk enough to tell it, for though Will often drank like a fish he rarely allowed himself to get good and tanked. Will didn’t care much for losing control.

Will had gone so far as to show Sam the actual deed. It was still stained with its original owner’s blood. When Sam asked him why he never planted anything in the field, Will looked straight at him, suddenly sober.

“You really want to plant something else out there, Sam?” Will clapped him on the shoulder. “I think we’ve planted more than enough out there for now, don’t you?”

Sam had shut up. He knew Will was right. Will was always right.

“Can I go play, Dad?” asked Samuel.

Sam startled from his memory and smiled at his son who had glided up behind him so quietly Sam hadn’t even heard his approach.

“Sure, run and be a kid,” Said Sam. “Let your old man worry about being a grown up.”

Young Samuel ran off towards the other two boys, only too eager to leave the oppressive pall of his father’s shadow. Sam heaved a sigh after him, then turned and continued towards Will’s front porch.

He’s going to ask me, Will thought. My Jesus, I just know that he is going to ask me.

The porch looked like a ransacked locker room with at least a half dozen baseballs and bats scattered about. Both the men wore baseball caps and if Sam hadn’t known better he’d have sworn that the darkest thing the two had to think about was whether or not their favorite team would win the World Series.

Will leaned heavily upon his own favorite bat. It was a Louisville Slugger, weighted heavy for most men but in Will’s hands it swung as light as a willow wand. He was a big stocky man but it wasn’t just his size that impressed people. It was his air of absolute capability. Will looked like the kind of a man who could build a house, fix a car, plant a field, hunt a bear and sleep with just about any woman he chose. Will was an alpha male. A man’s man and he carried himself like he knew it.

Artie was more Sam’s size and looked like the accountant he was. He stood in Will’s shadow, back by the beer cooler. Both men had bottles in their hands. As Sam drew nearer Will nodded and said something to Artie, who without warning scooped up a ball and drilled it in Sam’s direction. Sam wasn’t wearing a glove, but he caught the hard-chucked ball just the same. It was expected of him.

He managed to grin against the stinging pain.

“That the best you can do?” Sam asked gamely.

Will took a swallow of beer, his eyes never leaving Sam’s.

“Best he can do,” Will answered, nodding derisively towards Artie.

Artie just shrugged. He was technically the better pitcher of the pack of them but it was an honest fact that he couldn’t match Will for sheer power.

Will stared up at the sun as if it were a clock.

“You’re late,” He said in Sam’s direction.

Sam looked up at the sun. It just looked like a big-assed ball of burning gas to him. He wondered if Will could really tell the time by the sun or if it were all for show. With Will you never quite knew for sure. That was part of his magic.

Will grinned and it made him look mean. He had a face like a ring-seasoned boxer. His eyes looked like hard narrow gun sights. He always reminded Sam of a surly Robert Mitchum. Will claimed to have been a Navy Seal as a young man and although both Sam and Artie couldn’t swim a stroke, neither dared to say differently.

You just never could tell with Will.

Artie looked up at the sun and nodded but Sam wasn’t fooled. He knew Artie was just following Will’s lead.

“Want a beer?” Artie asked, glancing at Will to see if it was okay, even though it was probably Artie who had paid for the beer.

Will nodded his head so slightly that Sam almost didn’t see it move, just a notch or two that could be caught only if you were watching closely.

“Sure,” Sam said.

Artie knelt and retrieved a beer from the cooler. He passed it to Will who handed it to Sam.

“Here you go,” Will said.

Sam reached for the beer.

Will wouldn’t let go.

“How come you were late?” Will asked. “She keep you?”

Sam shrugged.

“Snooze alarm kept begging to be hit,” Sam said.

Will snorted derisively.

“You still using that damned clock radio of hers?” He asked.

Artie tried to intercede.

“Sam likes to wake up to his baseball, don’t you Sam?” Artie said.

“That’s a fact, I do.” Sam said. “A day without horse hide is like a day without sunshine.”

Will nodded, another half notch or so and let Sam have his bottle.

“Probably slept through the first inning, thanks to that damn snooze button,” Will said. “You ought to get yourself a good old fashioned alarm clock like me. I got a big old brass bastard, goes off like a fire alarm and I’m out of bed at five every morning, sharp as steel nails.”

Will slammed the head of the bat down against the pine floor boards for emphasis.

Don’t flinch, Sam told himself.

It was too late for that. Both he and Artie jumped slightly at the sound of the impact.

Sam swallowed slowly.

“You’re right, Will. I ought to get myself a good old fashioned alarm clock, by God.”

“I’ve got one I can give you,” Artie said with a nervous laugh. “Bastard keeps going off, five sharp every morning. I’d like to slam it with a baseball bat some day.”

Sam laughed but Will didn’t think it was all that funny. He swiveled his gaze towards Artie and nailed him with a look as hard as a ball peen hammer.

“Somebody ought to slam you with a baseball bat, Artie.”

Will raised the bat and let it drop within his grip, bouncing it three or four times against the floor boards.

Artie choked on a swallow of beer.

Sam watched the two men closely. The morning sun had just begun to climb towards noon and it beat down mercilessly upon Sam’s bare head.  The other two men wore ball caps but Sam worried too much about his receding hairline to risk a cap. Will bounced the bat again and it sounded easier, like he was getting ready to relax.

“Any of you girls see the game last night?” Will asked.

Artie grinned, glad to be let off the hook.

“Cardinals kicked ass,” Artie said.

“Yankee’s ass begged to be kicked,” Will corrected. “Yankee’s ass has been begging to be kicked ever since they let that damned Puerto Rican faggot take over as team manager.”

Sam spoke up without thinking.

“It isn’t always the manager’s fault,” He said, and then suddenly wished he hadn’t.

Will turned to him coldly.

“It’s always the manager’s fault.” Will said.

He grinned fiercely.

“A damned fine sacrifice brought two men in,” Will observed.

And then, without looking towards Sam he asked, “You finished with Susan yet, Sam?”

Damn it, thought Sam.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Sam stayed silent.

Artie finished his beer and leaned over carefully to place the empty bottle between his feet.

Sam could feel the sun burning into his scalp. He tried not to look away. He wanted to dig his toe into the ground, like a small boy who’s been found out at some mischief.

“Not yet,” He said finally.

Will nodded as if he’d been expecting that answer.

“Have to be soon,” Will said, nodding towards the boys playing in the field.  “Soon, before she makes too much more of an impression on the boy.”

Sam closed his eyes wearily.

“She’s his mother, damn it.”

Will remained obstinate.

“Don’t matter. You know it’s got to be done,” Will said. “It’s for the boy’s own good.”

Again, another nod towards the distant boys.

“We’ve talked about it enough,” Will said. “You girls sit here, while I go teach your boys how to swing a bat.”

He jogged out towards the field without looking back.

Artie bent and picked up his empty beer bottle.  For a moment it looked as if he were about to fling it at Will’s back.

Then he quietly replaced the beer bottle, without saying a word.

The two men watched Will in the field, already shouting instructions at their sons.

“It won’t be easy, letting go of her,” Artie noted.

But I’ll have to, Sam thought. That’s what you’re really saying.  I’ve got to, because he says so.

They stood quietly for a while.

“Little Artie dreamed of his mother last night,” Artie said in a half embarrassed tone.

Sam wasn’t listening.

“He does that sometime, although I don’t think he really remembers her.”

Sam nodded absently.

“I don’t think he remembers his sister at all,” Artie went on.

He looked down nervously at his shoes, like he’d suddenly noticed something dirty on them and then he stared out towards the field.

“Don’t tell Will, okay?” He asked.

Sam nodded, only half listening.

“About the dream, okay?

Sam nodded again.

The silence simmered between them.

Sam heaved a heavy sigh.

“Damn it, what about Samuel?” Sam snapped.

He looked out towards the boys but he couldn’t make out one from the others in all the running confusion.

“He’s a big boy,” Artie said. “He can take it. He’ll grow out of it. Hell, he’ll probably grow because of it. You know what Will says. Take the woman out of the boy and the boy’ll become a man.”

Sam nodded slowly.

More silence.

They watched Will clouting out pop flies and the boys hooting with joy.

“What if he grows away from me?” Sam suddenly asked. “What if he grows towards him?”

Artie didn’t have an answer.

The two men stood there in silence, staring out at Will and their sons.

“I’m not going to do it,” Sam said quietly.

“Artie looked at Sam.

“You...you can’t back out now,” Artie said.  “You’re in too deep.”

He paused, stealing another look at his shoes.

“We both are,” He added.

Sam looked out at Will.

“I’m not afraid of him,” Sam said.

As if he’d heard Sam’s quiet declaration, Will turned to look towards the porch. There was something in that slow and dangerous turn of Will’s head that reminded Sam of a tank turret.

Will started in from the field, advancing on the two men. The three boys were at his heels, begging for a chance at the bat but he held it high on his shoulder, too high for any of them to reach. As he got closer Sam bent and picked up a baseball. He threw it at Will, as hard as he could.

He was aiming for Will’s head.

It missed. The boys ran off after it, bent on retrieving it. By the time they’d caught up with the ball they had already forgotten the men standing on the porch.

If Will noticed the throw, he showed no sign.

He tipped his hand up in a beer drinking gesture at Artie.

Artie hadn’t waited. He was already kneeling by the cooler in the shadow of Will’s porch.

Will carried the beer towards Sam.

“You made up your mind?” He asked.

Sam nodded defiantly.

“I’m not doing it Will. I’ve made up my mind. You can’t make me do it.”

Will nodded like he’d been expecting it. He tipped the beer up and drained the bottle in one long measured methodical chug.

Then all at once he brought the emptied beer bottle down like a blackjack against the back of Sam’s neck.

Sam dropped to his knees. He tried to rise but Will was too damn big and fast, slamming the butt of the bottle again and again against Sam’s head, neck and back.

From behind, Sam felt Artie joining in, using his own beer bottle on Sam’s defenseless back. Some inside part of his vision saw his own son running towards the porch but the other two boys caught the boy in mid flight.

“Samuel!” Sam shouted fearfully from out of the cloud of his own agony, the blood in his mouth slurring his words.

Will stopped the beating just as suddenly as he’d begun it.

He turned towards the boys.

“Little Sam!” Will called out. “Don’t worry about your father. We’re just playing a grown up game, is all.”

Then he turned back to Sam.

“Tell him you’re okay,” He growled. “Tell him you’re okay or I’ll sic the other two boys on him.”

Sam shook the pain off.

“Daddy’s okay, Samuel,” Sam said hastily.

“Call him Little Sam,” Will added.

“Daddy’s okay, little Sam,” Sam reiterated.

“Little Will! Little Artie! Little Sam! You three go on back to your playing.”

The two older boys coerced little Sam reluctantly back into the game.

Will stepped back from Sam.

“Stand up,” He ordered.

Sam stood up, trying to hide his pain in case his son was still watching.

“Get him a bat,” Will ordered Artie.

Artie picked up a bat from behind the beer cooler and handed it to Sam.

Sam looked at the bat, dangling limply from his hand. He thought about using it on Will.

“Try it, and your boy will pay,” Will said as if he could read Sam’s mind.

Sam dutifully shouldered the bat.

He stared dully at Will, awaiting his orders.

“You go and do what I’ve told you to do. What we agreed you’d do. You go ahead and deal with Susan, once and for all. You defy me and we’ll bury your boy out there with all the others. We’ll bury you and we’ll bury Susan but we’ll bury the boy first.”

Sam thought of the three quiet wooden crosses huddled together in the far part of the field, next to the back woods where nobody would find them. The two wives and Artie’s unfortunate daughter.

He nodded, painfully.

He’d made his choice.

Will dug a baseball cap from out of his hip pocket. He carefully placed it on Sam’s head.

“There,” He said. “You’re a man, now.”

Sam didn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear a thing. He shouldered the baseball bat like a soldier marching off to war and walked slowly back towards his home.

The two older men stood on the porch, watching him leave.

“He’s a good man,” Artie said. “He’ll do what he has to do.”

Will took a couple of practice swings with his own bat, aiming roughly at head level.

“He’d better,” he said.

After Sam was out of earshot, Will called the three boys in.

“You boys get shovels. We’re going to play pirate.”

The three boys stared up at him like a litter of puppies staring up at their chosen sire and then ran eagerly off to fetch the shovels.

I Know Why the Waters of the Sea Taste of Salt

My father swore I was born with a full set of teeth. He also claimed that my birth cord twisted like an eel in the midwife's hand, biting her as I bit my way out of my mother's womb. I can remember that taste. It tasted of salt. It tasted of tears.

It tasted of sea water.

I was born in Okinawa and moved to Tokyo to live with my grandfather. My mother was Chinese but my father claimed she was Okinawan. I sprang from many waters - Okinawan, Japanese, Chinese. No wonder my father cursed me.

All that I have to remember my father by is a letter scrawled in my mother's blood and a small sculpture. A netsuke, we called it in Japan. A practical Chinese man would call it trash. My Okinawan father was a fisherman. He wrote in that letter - I was born of the sea. Not on the sea or in the sea but of the sea.

"Your mother fell asleep by the water, waiting for me to come home one night and in the morning she awoke with child."

Years later I soared over the waters of Okinawa in a small Ohka kamikaze plane. Nothing more than a pair of thin wooden wings, a trio of solid fuel rocket engines and a cockpit strapped about the body of a 1200 kilogram bomb. We call it Ohka, cherry blossom, because it is said that a pilot who successfully crashes his plane into the belly of an American ship will fly up to heaven like the petals of a cherry blossom on a divine wind. The Americans call the plane Baka or fool and maybe they are right. I have seen ashes flying in the wind as well.

A light rain fell upon the waves, kisses from the sky showered down. In the distance I saw puffs of smoke, the guns of the American invasion fleet pushing like gray metal waves towards the Okinawa shoreline.

The waves were forever. They were always coming. Forward, forward, like the wind they must forever return. War was forever. It would never end. It was in men's nature to butcher themselves over imagined slights - to fight for a bit of dirt, a handful of water, a dream.

When I dreamed my memories tasted of amniotic salt and a mother’s tears.

I knew the Americans were out there. I saw their ships like great beasts, pushing towards Okinawa. Their planes like angry birds raped the clouds and cut the sky. Their soldiers stood like an army of heavy apes, lined up at the breeding trough.

I was unafraid. I was ready to die. It would not be a bad way to die, here in my plane.  I have always loved flying. I remembered early years flying dragon kites upon the mountains around my village. I imagined myself looking down from a long way up, my thoughts as high and large as a mountain, swooping down upon the people below me.

They never dreamed I could be so large.

I remembered one morning when I was only nine years old, standing on the mountainside flying my dragon kite. The mountain opened up and spoke to me. A great dark stony jaw opened in the shadows of the mountain. It spoke to me in words that sounded like waves smashing upon the rocks. I did not know what the mountain said to me. I did not know what its strange words meant.

But I listened.

I fingered the piece of netsuke my father left me. My grandfather gave it to me on my sixth birthday. A serpent painted soft green, its arcing curve artfully sculpted into the sway of a charging rampant wave. Not a dragon but a serpent as large as a dragon nested in my open palm.