The Elsewhere Star
Wade J. McMahan
Gulls shrieked and swooped within the forest of masts marking the place where the world began. Amid eddying sights, sounds and sea smells, dockworkers little noticed the scrawny lad flitting among crates, barrels, and tangles of ropes piled along the rough planking. And why should they? Neither more nor less appealing than feral cats, ragged waifs the likes of this barefoot specimen scavenged the city from end to end.
Though he knew nothing of oceans and ships, the lad’s attention rested on the three-masted merchantman lying alongside the pier.
“Can yuh swim, boy?”
Eyes wide, the lad swallowed a gasp as he spun about.
Sunlight glinting off the brass buttons adorning his blue jacket, a lanky sailor leaned a shoulder against a tall piling. Smoke curled from the pipe clenched between his teeth.
Unsure whether he faced friend or foe, the boy remained silent.
“If you’re thinkin’ to sneak aboard, I’d advise again’ it.” The seaman aimed his pipe stem toward the ship. “That be the Mary Louise. Her cap’n’s name is Arbuckle and he’ll have no truck with stowaways. It’s up by the ears and o’er the side you’ll go when he catches yuh.”
“Who said anything about sneaking aboard?” Sure, that had been his intent from the first, but he was a canny lad who knew when to change course. “I’ll be signing on with the crew if they’ll have me.”
“Ah. Then I’ve made a mistake, haven’t I?” The seaman’s eyes twinkled. “So you’re a sailorman, are yuh?”
“No, but I mean to be.”
“Is ’at so? And where is it yuh want to go?”
“There.” The lad pointed toward the distant mouth of the harbor. “There and beyond. To sail wherever Captain Arbuckle’s good ship takes me.”
“Yuh little know what you’re sayin’, lad. Sailorin’s a hard life, leavin’ a man little to show for his trouble.”
“If it’s so hard, why do you do it?”
“Why? I can’t rightly say, why.” The seaman paused, cocked his head, and puffed his pipe. “If I had to guess, maybe it’s the sea at night, the ship’s prow pointin’ toward a star flaming so bright it seems yuh can reach out and pluck it from the sky. Or maybe it’s the fresh smell of the open ocean with ne’er the taint of land. It could be the wind bitin’ your face as it billows the sails and prompts the riggin’ to sing. Then again, most likely it’s the sound of the water rushin’ beneath the hull while your ship races onward towards who cares where.”
The sailor grinned, his voice lilting the cadence of a sea shanty.
“Give me a stout ship,
with a hearty crew,
and the wind,
and a star,
and the sea.”
“Wonderful.” The lad beamed. “That’s for me.” Then he pointed toward the city. “Life there is hard too, you know.”
“Sure, but what does your lovely mother have to say about it?”
“My mother died of the bloody flux this past winter.”
“Now there’s a sad thing, may the Lord bless her. And your father?”
The lad dropped his head, shrugged, and dragged a bare toe across the planking.
“I see.” The sailor squinted, as he looked the boy up and down. “What’s your name?”
“Jeremiah Simmons. What’s yours?”
“O’Hara. Mister O’Hara to you. How old are yuh, Jeremiah, fourteen?”
“I think not. All the same you’d best come with me.”
“Yuh want to sail with Captain Arbuckle, don’t yuh? As his First Mate, I’m thinkin’ we can find a place for a likely lad such as you.”
Yolanda’s head rested on Jeremiah’s bare chest, the aroma of lilac accenting the bare room as she nestled beside him on the bed. Little it mattered if that was her true name. He knew her for a whore living near the docks, one suitable for his new position as Second Mate.
Upon hearing his muttered comment, her eyes met his. “You’re leaving? Why? Over dinner you said you loved me.”
“Ah, it’s true, darlin’. I do love you. All the same, the morning tide will find me aboard the Jezebel, her holds filled with cargo, outward bound for Zamboanga.”
“Zamboanga? You’re addicted to Siren’s songs of faraway places, Jeremiah, and there’s no help for you.” Her hand caressed his face. “Will you be coming back?”
“Sure, that’s my wish, but it’s not up to me. Shipmasters move cargo as they will. A sailor’s wishes earn no consideration.”
“Augh. Maybe you love me a little, but the sea owns your heart. Tell me. There must be somewhere, some final place you’ll want to be.”
“I was just a boy when I left the land behind. Twenty years ago it was, and I’ve set my course by the stars ever since. The ‘where’ doesn’t matter…only the blue of the sea, sunlight dancing atop the waves and the forever ‘going’.” Jeremiah sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. “There’ll be no final port o’ call for me, girl.” He shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll end my days en-route to a star known only to the wind.”
Lightning set the clouds ablaze while sheets of rain lashed the foaming seas. Ocean swells grew to monstrous proportions before the howling wind, but undaunted, the four-masted barque plowed westward toward Rio.
“What say you, Sailing Master?”
Jeremiah held tight to the quarterdeck railing as he shook his head and shouted over the wind. “This gale’s a bad ’un, Cap’n. We’d best send the lads aloft and take in canvas or we’ll lose our royals for sure.”
“Come, come, Mr. Simmons. The Abigail’s stood up before worse storms than this.”
“Indeed she has, sir, but the barometer’s still fallin’. I’m fearin’ we haven’t seen the worst of it.”
“We’ve a schedule to meet, so leave the canvas be. We’ll ride it out.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” Jeremiah was too old a salt to question his captain, so he nodded as his knowing eyes gauged the rigging. “As you say.”
After the Captain retired to his cabin, Jeremiah remained nearby his post as the day wore on and the storm grew worse by the hour. Overhead, the condition of the sails and lines set his teeth on edge. Severe breakage could occur at any moment. He must send a message below, for surely now the Captain would agree to--
He saw and heard the mizzenmast snap high in the rigging, but the sprightly lad had grown old and clumsy. So much so he failed to avoid the plummeting gear that crushed him against the deck. The ship and gale faded into nothingness, as though a dense fog engulfed life itself.
The Abigail’s familiar rhythmic motion soothed him as Jeremiah lay on his cot, staring up at the captain. Three days had passed since the accident, the storm long since gone. Now his time grew short. “Has the carpenter finished his task? I must leave tonight.”
“All’s ready, though whoever heard of such a thing? I tell you, Mr. Simmons, I’ve never abandoned a man in my life, and cannot agree with doing so now.”
“Cap’n, we talked all this out before.” Jeremiah smothered a moan, and managed a smile. “You aren’t abandoning me. For the first time in my fifty years at sea, it’s me abandoning ship.”
“Still, it doesn’t seem proper—“
“Proper, hell. I’ll be dead before sunup and we both know it.” He paused and closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his strength. “You can lower me over the side tonight or toss my corpse over the rail tomorrow. Either way I end up in the sea. Why quibble over a few hours, eh?”
“As you wish, Sailing Master, but then what happens?”
“You’ll continue on to Rio, while I sail elsewhere.” Jeremiah gasped, paused again and forced a wink. “You see, I’ve seen my voyage coming for a great many years and I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Crewmen were sent for who carried his cot along narrow passages and up ladders with gentle care. If their occasional jostling inflicted pain, Jeremiah made no sign of it.
A small wooden raft resting upon the Abigail’s deck sported a short mast and square sail. The ship’s carpenter stood by offering instructions while sailors strapped Jeremiah’s cot aboard.
There at the last, within the lanterns glow, the crew circled about. Of course much was said, goodbyes spoken, best wishes offered and accepted, handshakes all around with officers and men, the Captain even read a few verses from his Bible. Then nothing more remained to do except lower Jeremiah over the side, where moments later his raft floated free.
Above him, familiar orders were given for the ship to get underway. In a matter of minutes the Abigail disappeared into the night, and Jeremiah found himself adrift upon a soft, friendly sea, the raft rocking gently as silence wrapped about him.
The long ago lad chuckled as a wind gust filled the raft’s sail. Off in the distance a brilliant star, his star, glittered above the horizon like a beacon. Given luck and a fair wind he could reach it by morning.
Wade J. McMahan is a forester by profession and writer by disposition. His published works can be found in various forms and venues around the globe.
I'm no book cover designer
but at least I chose
a cool picture to look at
until the real cover comes out
I'm excited about - "TRAJAN" - my novel in progress. Writing a paranormal thriller is a new journey for me, but so far it's been a fun, ghostly adventure.
We aren't talking about kid's campfire tales with this novel, but rather a plot poised to grab you by the throat while you continue flipping pages.
Here's a heads up about what it's all about:
Professor William Fitzhugh, a noted expert in the field of paranormal science enjoys a sublime life immersed within his research, books and academic routine. A sensibly brewed cup of tea in the company of his wife highlights his days, but his comfortable routine is about to change when he encounters Trajan Stoica.
A towering, brooding figure who measures morality by his own dark code, Trajan doesn’t investigate dangerous spiritual entities. He destroys them.
Throughout their often contentious association, the two engage in perilous “matters of interest,” each case meticulously chronicled in the Professor’s journal. Whether on the trail of demons, poltergeists or ghosts, Professor Fitzhugh’s avid pursuit of knowledge propels him forward. Yet, the solution to the most mysterious question of all eludes him. Who is Trajan Stoica?
Distant green mountains viewed through the nursing home window held Maysie Howard’s gaze, her voice soft, wistful. A serene smile lit her lined, aged face, her rocking chair creaking forward and back.
Few of us young’uns ‘round Simpson Creek had shoes back in those days. Not that we knowed any better or cared much one way or t’other ‘ceptin’ come wintertime when we just had to make the best of it.
I remember 1934 well. Times was hard then. It was durin’ the Depression and cash was short in our isolated, Tennessee mountain valley. The little money folks had come from sellin’ crops. We’d barter maple sap, herbs, eggs, animal pelts and such for needful things like food staples, farm and household goods, and sundries. Most families had no money to buy shoes for their kids.
Sometimes Ma wore clodhoppers that laced up above her ankles. Lord only knows how long she’d had ‘em. Pa had a pair too, but mostly he would go to plowin’ or huntin’ barefoot for fear of wearin’ ‘em out. He said a man only needed one pair of shoes; to get married, go to church and get buried in. I reckon he was right for his times seein’s how a’body can’t wear but one pair at a time nohow.
Our cabin set back from the creek amongst the hemlocks and greenery. I was the fifth of my parent’s eight livin’ children. Three more died young and were buried in the churchyard. One day Ma pointed out the graves to me. They was marked with a slate rock, though there weren’t no names on ‘em. That was okay. The Lord knowed who they was.
Footpaths meandered through woods and scattered fields to meet at the grocery. It was also our Post Office, and offered the community’s only telephone. The church and schoolhouse lined up beside it facin’ the dirt road. Simpson Creek weren’t much; no ‘lectricity or runnin’ water, but it was our home.
I was twelve that year, and was ‘spected to help with gardenin’ and household chores. Ma made all our clothes, and she just finished showin’ me how to lay out a dress pattern when she said, “That’s enough, Maysie. Now, I want you to take two dozen eggs down to the grocery. Don’t be breakin’ any, and trade ‘em out for flour. Take Maggie with you.”
“Yes’m.” I took up the egg basket in one hand, and nine year-old Maggie in the other.
We rounded the corner of the cabin and met James totin’ firewood.
“Where you’ns goin’?” He was almost fifteen and full of mischief.
“Down to the store.” I lifted the basket. “Ma wants us to take these here hen eggs.”
He glanced around before whisperin’, “I dare you’ns to cut across the Jowers place.”
“We’ll be doin’ no such thing.” Crossin’ the Jowers property would shave near half-a-mile off’n the two-mile walk to the store, but like most folks, I was scared of that bunch.
Ever’body knowed that Clem Jowers was the meanest man around. He had a cabin on the ridge above the creek and two nasty, growed-up boys. His skinny wife blinked real fast when you said hello to her. Folks said Clem operated a moonshine still that was hid out in his woods and he’d better not catch nobody traipsin’ across his property.
Truth is, nobody much cared what a man did to tend to his family’s needs, and figured it weren’t none of their business noways. As long as a’body was respectful and come to prayer meetin’s on Sunday, people tended to look the other way. Clem Jowers was anything but a respectful, church-goin’ man. Rumor had it he made quite a bit of money off’n sellin’ his ‘shine.
I’m tellin’ you all this so’s you can get some notion of our community and the kind of feller Clem Jowers was. Nobody but a fool would want to get crossways of that man.
Like I said, I was one of eight children, but there was only five of us kids still at home. My older sister, Lucy, married and moved to Knoxville. She claimed they had ‘lectricity and even a radio in their house, though it didn’t seem likely. Brother Teddy was off somewhere in the Army, and brother Bob was workin’ in a WPA camp over to Anderson County.
Anyway, 1934 passed by, and it come up towards winter again. Snow dusted the ground, so mostly our family huddled inside by the fireplace aside from privy calls or needful outdoor chores. That was when my two year-old brother Amos come down sick. Then it was three year-old Sarah, then Maggie, then James and even Pa.
Within two days Ma knowed they had the measles. That don’t sound like much now, but in them days measles killed a great many folks, especially young’uns. I should know since I had a light case when I was a baby. At the same time one of my sisters died from it. She was one them buried in the churchyard. Likely it was because I had measles before that I didn’t catch it again.
Naturally, Ma was scared to death and sent me off to the grocery to telephone Doc Beaufort and beg him to come. I lit out a’runnin’, my bare feet leaving tracks in the snow.
There weren’t no time to waste, so I chanced to take the shortcut across the Jowers property. You might’a knowed I didn’t get far before Clem Jowers caught me, and I stood lookin’ up at him.
He was a stooped, stern-eyed character with chin whiskers that fell down to his belt. I figured the rifle he carried weren’t meant just for squirrel huntin’ neither.
His eyebrows knitted together as his voice growled, “What’re you doin’ here, gal?”
My feet were burnin’ from the cold, and I shifted from one foot to t’other. I told him about my sick family, and my reason for hurryin’ down to the grocery.
Jowers stood there a’lookin’ at me for a second, then asked, “Whar’s your shoes?”
I just shrugged and drug my toe in the snow. “Ain’t got none.”
“T’ain’t fittin’ for young’uns to go about this time of year without no shoes.”
Me, I shivered, shrugged again and stared at the ground.
“Well, you’d best git on about your business. When you call Doc Beaufort, you tell him Clem Jowers said he’d better be up here to see about your folks by the end of the day, and I don’t mean maybe.”
“Yes sir,” I mumbled, and skedaddled out of there.
You know what? I told the doctor over the phone what Mr. Jowers said and he showed up at our cabin that very evenin’. He stayed for three days tendin’ to the sick. On the last day ever’body was feelin’ better and Pa asked Doc Beaufort how much he owed him. Not that he could’ve paid much ‘cause I doubt Pa had more’n two dollars to his name.
The doctor told him, “Nothing,” but I wondered about that. I’d never heard the like of him not demandin’ some kind’a payment. You could see Pa wondered ‘bout it too. He was a proud man, not taken to acceptin’ handouts.
Still, Doc Beaufort wouldn’t take nothin’ for his time no matter how hard Pa pressed it on him. I never shared my thoughts with my folks on account I didn’t want to shame ‘em. But in my heart, the man who paid the doctor still “shines” to this day.
That weren’t the end of it, though. Two weeks later a travelin’ shoe salesman showed up at our cabin. He measured all us kids for a pair of shoes, but wouldn’t take a penny for our order. Accordin’ to him, the gov’ment had a new shoes program for young’uns. Pshaw, nobody believed that, but after he left us, he visited ever’ cabin along Simpson Creek doin’ the exact same thing for all the kids. T’weren’t more’n a week later ‘til we was all sportin’ new shoes.
I’d told Pa what Clem Jowers said about kids needin’ shoes. Him and some other men went up to see Clem to thank him.
That ornery old cuss denied havin’ anything to do with it, and seein’s how none of the men wanted to buy a jug of ‘shine off’n him, he ordered them off his land. It didn’t matter. Ever’body knowed Clem done it.
Come Spring, Federal revenuers arrested Clem and his sons at their still and sent all three of them off to the penitentiary. Bless her heart, Mrs. Jowers didn’t live to see her menfolk walk out of prison. That was long ago, but it still don’t seem fair to me. Sometimes life’s like that though.
In 1934, I reckon us kids livin’ along Simpson Creek wore the “shiniest” shoes our old mountains ever saw. It just goes to show that you can’t always tell about folks. You surely can’t.
While writing “Waves in the Wind”, much of my time was dedicated to researching 6th Century Ireland. In some ways I was astonished at how little historical information is out there about that long ago period, though I suppose intuitively I wasn’t surprised at all.
During that distant time, the Irish had no written language aside from the Ogham alphabet which held a great many limitations. Therefore, people, events, stories, songs, and poetry were held and passed along through an oral tradition. Of course, most of those have been lost or became fragmented through the ages.
The few contemporary writings produced by 6th Century Christian monks primarily concentrated on matters related to the Church. So, they were also subject to limitations—at least as far as I was concerned, for they served little use for my story. Wait, that's not altogether accurate. Those old prayers served as templates offering form and sound for those I wrote into my novel.
During the course of my research, my eyes opened when I stumbled upon an ancient text, “Annals of the Four Masters.” I discovered it on a website managed by CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts, under the auspices of University College Cork, Ireland.
The Annals, dating to the 17th Century, were prepared at a friary by Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain—e.g., the Four Masters. The monks spent four years collecting and compiling Ireland’s oral history, plus what written documents they could find, and then presented the Annals to their patron, Fearghal Ó Gadhra, M.P., a Gaelic lord.
What’s so fascinating about that? It chronicles Irish history dating from the years 2952 B.C. to 1616 A.D. Granted, you can't place a great deal of faith in a manuscript making such a claim, but for any writer possessing an imagination, information like that can prove a gold mine. You will note an acknowledgement in the front of my book that reads,
Our thanks to Beatrix Färber, Project Manager at CELT (Corpus of Electronic Texts) for generously granting use of a reference from the mysterious, ancient Irish manuscript, “Annals of the Four Masters”.
If you’re interested in learning more about ancient Irish texts, note the links at the top of the CELT webpage (see below), especially one titled “Published.” There you will discover html links to other fascinating works in their collection. Provided you care to get that far, you might notice reference to Oisin, and the Ossianic cycle. While the name for my main character Ossian arose from those same ancient legends, he is not the same Oisin (or Ossian).
Here is a link to the site that takes you directly to the Annals. Be aware, the manuscript is copyrighted.
I need to thank my pal, author Susan Stuckey for inviting me along for this tour. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to read her blog comments that were posted on July 2nd. Of course, we all appreciate the work of the good folks at IC Publishing who are hosting the tour—thanks y’all!
So, let’s get to the questions and answers, eh?
How do you start your (writing) projects?
The problem with story ideas is that there are too many good ones out there. When I believe I’ve stumbled upon a terrific idea, I’m going to write it. That’s not to say things always turn out as expected, but let’s not quibble over the details.
For me, the fun in writing is creating unique, compelling characters, placing them in dramatic settings and situations and then sitting back and watching to see if they win or lose. It really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other provided they remain interesting and their story comes to a logical, or at least sane conclusion.
Without question I’m no outliner, but neither do I write altogether by the seat of my pants. You might say I’m a hybrid. When starting a novel I establish broad story goals with conceptual turning points, toss a few appropriate characters into the mix, and later identify chapter goals as the storyline develops. Regardless, I allow sufficient latitude for my characters to move and fight their battles in their own distinctive, surprising styles as the story unfolds. While writing, I often find myself reveling in the spoils of creativity as I hurry along to discover what happens next.
How do you continue your writing projects?
You’ve probably heard it said, “write what you know,” but I don’t believe that. I write what I enjoy, and that keeps me planted in my seat, pounding the keyboard. Writing allows me to continue to grow and learn as I discover new places, faces, voices and ideas.
I’m a member of the online writer’s group, Scribophile. Interaction there among fellow writers feeds my many writing interests and keeps me motivated to continually move forward.
Never the less, I often find it difficult to stay on task. Family, friends and my business all take time away from my writing as is only proper and quite okay. I manage to find plenty of time to write.
How do you finish your project?
Sometimes I find it a bit sad to finish a story. My joy comes in writing it, not reaching the ending. But, there is always the next project and I’ll enjoy writing that one too.
Like all writers, my projects require a great deal of final editing, more editing, and more—ad nauseum—using fine grit sandpaper. Only when I’ve convinced myself all the rough spots are smoothed out will I pass it beneath an editor’s nose.
I can’t explain my emotions in that singular moment when following a full year of planning, dreaming, researching, writing and editing, Untreed Reads Publishing accepted my new novel “Waves in the Wind” for publication. It’s scheduled for release this September, and I’m pacing the floor waiting for it to hit the streets around the globe in both print and e-book formats. Only then will I know the project is finished.
If you enjoy a tale where the old Celtic gods come alive within a deadly adventure featuring hope, loss and romance, you can find out more about “Waves in the Wind” by clicking on the “HOME” link above.
Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
A writing tool I find useful for building depth is allowing my characters to tell their own stories inside my larger one. People tell “war stories” all the time. You do it, I do it, everyone does. A war story often begins along the lines of, “That reminds me of the time when…” and readers instantly connect to that because it’s a normal part of their everyday lives.
I usually assign this task to secondary characters. Doing so brings them to life as they reveal their unique voice and personality traits. At times I allow two or more secondary characters to come together to share telling the story and that can be especially fun to write as they argue over details. Regardless, a war story should contain all the components of a complete story arc including a beginning, middle and end.
Whether it heightens drama or offers a chuckle, a war story shouldn’t be a mere “info dump” or pointless reminiscence (unless being pointless makes your point). It should offer higher meaning or progression for the greater plot. Maybe the story reveals pertinent backstory in an action-packed manner, presages an event or offers a hint your MC can capitalize on to address a problem—it’s a nifty all-purpose tool.
Passing the Pen
I’m very pleased to introduce my friend, author JH Mae, who will join us on the tour on July 16. I know you’ll want to see what she has to say, so here’s the link to her BLOG.
Her work has been published in a number of places and can be seen HERE. Let me tell you a bit more about her.
JH Mae siphons the frightening contents of her imagination onto paper, making room for new ideas, new horrors, new spectacular possibilities. Her words are just stories. The question is - will you believe they're only fiction?
I wish you all a wonderful summer as you continue to follow the remainder of the tour!
I asked Jay Hartman, Editor-In-Chief at Untreed Reads Publishing how he follows market trends in the publishing industry, and based upon that knowledge, how he selects submissions for publication. Below is his generous and informative response.
There are a slew of industry publications that are our bibles. The key one is probably Publisher's Weekly which has a constant finger on the pulse of what's going on in the industry. A good publisher also walks the exhibit halls at trade shows and attends the industry classes. I regularly attend BookExpoAmerica and spend two days in workshops, then three days walking the exhibit floor to see what other publishers are doing and what people seem attracted to. I also just attended the American Library Association conference in Vegas to get a better idea from librarians about what their patrons are looking for and what they want.
You also find you spend a LOT of time looking at your own analytics from all the retailers you sell through. If you're only distributing through two or three retailers you can't get a good enough sample. Since we have 200+ retailers, I can identify trends MUCH better than someone who just throws their title up on Amazon and nowhere else.
I also regularly check independent bookstores to see who they are promoting, what their events are and what's trending in their stores. Here in Northern California we have some great reporting tools from the independent stores that give me a lot of great info. I'm also subscribed to LOTS of newsletters (e and print)
Another key is to actually go AGAINST the trend. If everyone is doing teen vampire stuff, that's exactly what you DON'T want to do. Your title will get completely lost in the scads of other titles exactly like it.
And ultimately? I don't choose books because I think they're going to all be huge commercial successes. I choose books that are well-written and bring something to the table that is new and hasn't necessarily been seen a million times and that I think people want to read. A comment you'll hear a lot when indie pubs get together is "does this title fill a hole in the market?" Maybe the Big Six publishers out of New York do things their way, but independent presses are a whole other ball game.
As for money grubbing...LOL. Most of us lose money on a lot of the books we publish. I don't think authors realize how much money goes into doing a title right. Throwing a title up on Amazon in self-publishing is NOT indicative of what a true publisher who runs things as a business does.
And yep...feel free to quote me. You can also encourage people to send industry questions to me at email@example.com . If you run into anyone who would like me to do a blog post, educational seminar on the publishing industry etc. I'm game. I've been in the ebook world for 15 years. I definitely know a thing or two! :)
Did I mention Jay is publishing my soon to be released novel, "Waves in the Wind"? Well, he is!
I took it upon myself to discover if I could write a really horrendous story, and was dismayed to find how easily I could do it. Here it is, and yeah, it's really bad, bad, bad.
Shamefully Written by
Wade J. McMahan
The blazing sun hung like a big orange orange, high towards the west in the west Texas sky. My name is Tex Gunn, and I ride alone.
Boldly I boarded my bronco, Bad-ear, and bounded across the Brazos bound for Rio Bravo where I barged through the batwing doors of “Big Buckaroo’s B&B, Barroom, Barbershop, and Brothel.”
Back of the bar, Black Bart, the bellicose bully, bad boy, braggart, and budding ballerina brokered baccarat bets; a broad, bronzed, brawny, bearded bastard with bulging biceps. Bravely bellying up to the bar, I balanced my butt on a beer barrel, and barked at a bald, bullet-headed barkeep to bring me a Budweiser.
Friendly Fannie Franklin flounced forward flaunting a fetching, fashionable, fanciful, flowery, flowing, fuchsia frock. “Felicitations friend,” Fannie offered flippantly, her eyelashes flapping flirtatiously.
“Ditto,” I drawled drooling, while furthermore fantasizing fucking Fannie furiously.
“Back off Bub,” Black Bart bellowed. “Frankly, the fantastical femme fatale Fannie Franklin is my fiancé.”
Bucking the brooding Black Bart boded bad blood. Forgetting Fannie Franklin’s favors, I faced forward. “Buy you a Bud, Bart?” I blustered.
“Not a Bud on a bet, Bub,” Black Bart snapped. “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”
“This town ain’t big enough for the one of you,” I re-snapped.
He gave me a funny look. “I don’t get it,” he said.
“It’s simple division,” I rejoined.
“How do you figure?” he continued.
“Two minus two equals none,” I continued too.
He had had the same thought I had had. “Makes sense,” he admitted.
“I’m good at math,” I retorted.
“Let’s go. Step outside into the street,” he ordered.
“I don’t need to piss,” I countermanded.
“We’re going to have a shootout,” he clarified.
“Shoot out where?” I inquired.
“In the street,” he nodded.
“Oh,” I nodded back.
Fannie Franklin followed while Black Bart and I banged through the barroom door into the broad daylight, and bounded into the center of the broad street, both of us backing away and braced for battle.
“Go for your gun,” he said.
“I don’t have to,” I said, pointing to my holster. “It’s right here.”
“Draw,” he said.
“Eek!” Fanny screamed.
Sweat beaded my brow and blurred my bifocals as I drew my six-shooter, fanned the hammer to shoot, and fired.
I lied—it was a seven-shooter. Each of my seven forty-five caliber cartridges held twelve buckshot pellets. It didn’t matter. I missed Bart eighty-four times. I’m good at math. My aim sucks. Luckily, it was my lucky day.
Black Bart drew his gun and fired a single bullet that swished past my head, traveling on to ricochet off the blacksmith’s anvil, zooming along the boardwalk to clip the Mayor’s mustache, bouncing off the sign over the undertaker’s shop, turning it to zip across the street notching the Sheriff’s ear, then rebounding upon striking and setting afire a gaslight sending it whistling back down the street knocking the whip out of the stagecoach driver’s fist, then pinging off a horseshoe hanging above the livery stable door, binging off the bingo parlor, reversing its trajectory so it buzzed back past my head again, and sped down the center of the street where it encountered Bart’s single long eyebrow.
Black Bart dropped into the street like a beer mug on a Tuesday morning. Laying flat on his back, his feet began kicking up dust like a lizard hopping over a toadstool in the rain.
A terrified townswoman tiptoeing along the boardwalk screamed and dropped her milk pail into the street where it rolled to a stop beside Bart. He had had it and kicked the bucket.
“Yay!” the crowd roared.
“My hero,” Fannie sighed, her eyelashes fluttering fervently. “Won’t you stay here with me?”
Hitching up my gunbelt around my waist, I walked to the hitching post and loosed my appaloosa cayuse. Tipping my hat, I willfully winked wistfully. “No. I can’t stay. The West needs heroic heroes who do heroic things, and I must dutifully do my duty. Farewell, Fannie Franklin. My name is Tex Gunn, and I ride alone.”
I mounted Bad-ear and left on a Wednesday.
Directional signs are usually helpful. You will find them printed in both Irish Gaelic and English.
So, you want to take a leisurely driving tour across Ireland, do you? Here’s a bit of advice for inexperienced Americans from someone who did it.
Prior to Glenda and I leaving on our Irish vacation, I searched around the internet to see what I might learn about driving across Ireland. What might I encounter?
Of course, I knew beforehand that I would be sitting in the right-hand seat of a rental car while driving on the opposite side of the road. “I’ve been driving for fifty years. How hard could that be?” I thought. “Give me a couple of days, and it’ll become second-nature.” Ah, the joys of blissful ignorance.
I also discovered Spain leads Europe in the number of annual traffic accidents. Ireland is second. “Hmm,” I thought as butterflies filled my stomach. “Not to worry. At least Ireland isn’t the worst place in Europe to drive.”
Then I learned to expect “round-abouts”…lots and lots of round-abouts. I’ve encountered a few here in the States, and found most a bit puzzling. Still, learning to drive through round-abouts would prove just one small part of the great adventure, right?
Maps revealed an extensive network of mostly two-lane highways throughout Ireland. “That’s good,” I thought. “I do a great deal of highway driving here, so I’ll at least be comfortable with that.” Uh-huh.
We arrived in Dublin on a Saturday morning, but wouldn’t pick up our rental car until Monday. That gave us plenty of time to view the city from cabs, a tour bus, and simply while strolling along the sidewalks. It also provided me the opportunity to witness Irish drivers in action – and immediately began to panic followed by working myself up into a tizzy. As a word of advice - don’t do that to yourself. You’ll have ample time to panic after you first crawl behind the steering wheel at the rental car agency.
Dublin traffic isn't too bad on weekends, but this photo is really misleading. For whatever reason, it was taken during a brief respite.
Bless the clerk at Hertz. He didn’t even mention the nervous tic I had developed over the past two days. One thing I had concluded – driving in Ireland would prove challenging on its own, and I could do without fumbling around with an unfamiliar, left-handed stick-shift. Fortunately I was able to upgrade to an automatic on the spot. I highly recommend it, so do yourself a favor.
The clerk asked if I also wanted to upgrade the rental car insurance to essentially a “walk away” policy. At this point, I was thoroughly convinced we would become embroiled in a massive traffic accident and likely die. I eagerly grabbed the offer while saying to hell with the cost. Another word of advice – purchase the “walk away” insurance.
I had also pre-ordered a GPS for the car (managed to think of that). I’m glad I did, but soon learned to keep maps handy for reasons I’ll explain later. The GPS “spoke” in a soothing woman’s voice with a dandy British accent. I enjoyed the lady’s voice at first, but at times grew to hate her.
Finally, the clerk reminded me to not fill the car with gasoline. Virtually all their cars run on diesel which I found fascinating given the price differential here in the States. Fuel isn’t cheap over there, but fortunately the cars get great mileage. That’s a good thing since you encounter few and most often no service stations between towns.
An attendant showed me the basics of how to use the car’s gadgetry, beginning with how to start the damned thing. After that we were all prepared to go, so taking a death grip on the steering wheel, I eased through the agency’s gate and immediately turned left with the traffic. Yep, I remembered everything seems backwards.
It was a successful beginning. As an aside, we met an American couple a few days later who admitted to wrecking their car before getting it out of the agency’s parking lot. At least I avoided that ignominy. Indeed, driving Irish roads is always a popular topic among fellow tourists staying at B&B’s. It was comforting to learn the other drivers were scared shitless the same as me.
I don’t remember much about driving out of Dublin. I looked neither left nor right but kept my eyes glued on the road ahead while a tightening knot grew between my shoulder blades. Finally we reached a four-lane highway and we were on our way!
Nice road, right? No problems, right? Nothing to worry about. Riiiight...?
Ireland’s four-lanes are great, much like our Interstate system without our usual heavy traffic. I set the cruise control, sped along and enjoyed the ride. We arrived in Kilkenny, followed directions to our B&B, and arrived unscathed. I admonished myself for my imaginary fears.
It was at Kilkenny I learned to decipher the round-about mystery. When entering one, remember - danger is always approaching from the right. In all cases, there are four exits.
On the second day I encountered true Irish two-lane highways. In the States, traffic lanes are wide enough to allow a little “drift” room. That’s not the case in Ireland. The typical highway is narrow, winding, hilly and filled with surprises. I was constantly finding myself drifting to the left in the face of oncoming traffic. That’s not a good thing considering roads are usually lined by stone walls covered in vegetation that grows right to the edge of the pavement. In other words, there’s no shoulder and it sometimes appears that oncoming traffic is headed right at you.
There is no telling how often Glenda told me to "Stay right" otherwise I would have tangled with the bushes. Having someone in the left seat to keep you oriented is invaluable. If you can see the centerline from the driver's seat, you're too far left. You'll know you're too far right if you sideswipe someone.
There's a pull-off here as you can see, but otherwise notice the road width with zero shoulders. Yes, this is a 100 kilometer per hour highway. The views make the hassle all worth it.
Speed limits are usually 100 kilometers per hour, or roughly 60 mph. Trust me. On those narrow, curvy roads it seems you’re driving 100 mph. I was usually one of those loathsome pokey tourist types that stacks up traffic behind them.
It seems the Irish see little reason to spend money on trivial matters like warning signs. You can be driving along, top a hill, and find a one-lane bridge right in front of you. In one case, my lane ended at the corner of someone’s home that jutted out into the asphalt. You would think…oh never mind. Also, more often than not there is no shoulder and you sometimes come upon someone walking or bicycling in your lane – or livestock, or a horse-drawn cart.
Meanwhile, Irish drivers seem oblivious to all this and speed right along. It would appear Ireland’s traffic accident record is well earned. My goal was to avoid supporting their statistics.
Did I mention keeping a wary eye out for wandering livestock? Yes, I believe I did!
When planning your trip, allow for plenty of driving time. What appears to be a short distance between towns on a map can require several hours of driving. You simply can’t make the kind of time over there that you do here in the States.
Driving through towns can be a tight squeeze, especially in villages that allow parking half-on, half-off sidewalks.
See "Read More" just below right
No? I can heartily recommend it.
While writing "Waves in the Wind" it seemed only reasonable (not to mention a hell of a lot of fun) to visit Ireland and see the settings for my novel for myself. So, off my wife Glenda and I went to see the sights, and oh what a wonderful, friendly land we found.
Photos alone are never enough to capture the true essence of a place, but here are a few shots of Kilkenny. Maybe they'll offer a bit of the town's flavor.
After spending two days in Dublin we arrived in Kilkenny. There's a lovely walk beside the River Nore. Kilkenny Castle sits atop the hill in the distance.
Of all the towns we visited in Ireland, Kilkenny was our favorite. Oh yes. Glenda would live there. I wouldn't mind it myself.
That's Glenda (right) in the white jacket. The weather was cool, overcast and misting rain, so she was just about to freeze.
Here's a shot of Kilkenny's city center. Ireland's villages are invariably picturesque, almost like a Currier and Ives etching.
Yep, Glenda is still freezing. She's standing in front of a pub where we raised a few pints along with enjoying a wonderful dinner. Entertainment was provided by an Irish drummer.
The street is reserved for pedestrians only. We found these to be fairly common throughout Ireland.
Here's another view of Kilkenny Castle. The family of Lord Snoot-in-the-Air (or whatever his name is - was - whatever) still lives there.
To the left and unseen is a shopping area filled with Irish craft shops. Glenda picked up some wonderful hand-knitted woolen sweaters there at reasonable prices.