SepSceneWriMo #20

Bayou water lapped seductively at the sides of the low-slung, deceptively fast, motorboat that Higgins had towed to the HighWater Bait & Tackle dock well after sunset. His customer, Jemain Lucerne, had been low-balling him for the last twenty minutes.

“Ahndrew, leese let me hear dat engine purr. You gotta give me sumtin’, you tryin’ to steal from me, right unda my nose.” Jemain sat in the pilot’s seat, tucked under the hardtop, working the wheel back and forth.

Andrew Higgins, the designer and manufacturer of what he claimed to be the fastest light-launch in the Gulf, wouldn’t budge. He pulled another squat, brown Jamaican beer from a bucket sitting on the dock and handed it to Jemain. He, himself, had been judiciously sipping a bottle of orange Nehi. “Mr. Lucerne, I most certainly intend to give you more than just a listen, I intend to strip the tears from your eyes and drive the white of your knuckles up to your elbows.” The last of the neon liquid slid down his throat. “But not until you agree to my terms. Three-fourths cash, here and now, the remainder as investment in your enterprise.”

Negotiations proceeded until Higgins held up his hands. “Alright, I understand. Listen to this.” He cranked up the motor. The deep rumbling, like that of a dozen longhorn bulls, all vying for the same cow, vibrated Jemain’s very bones. “There. Satisfied. We’ll work out the final price after I give you a tour.”

“Ooh, mon. Dat be the song I be hopin’ fo’.” He motioned for Andrew to cast off. “Ah, right, Ahndrew. I take your offer, we work de price, you let me drive.”

“And have your run us into a cypress tree? I know this bayou well enough to give you a taste without the risk.”

“Ah right, ah right. You drive, le’ me get anudder beer, first.”

Higgins shifted the boat’s transmission forward and guided them out under a gibbous moon. A number of houseboats, their lights glimmering to show the banks, led the way out to the the big water. The launch nosed from side to side, yearning, it seemed, for the reins.

“Here we go, Mr. Lucerne. I suggest your grab the gunnel.” Higgins shoved the throttle forward.

“Woowee, she be like a hound on scent.” The two-hundred and forty horse diesel-six—geared to drive the prop to extreme rpms—leapt out of the water and sat high on plane as it dashed across the bay. The buzz of the engine, quieter than most rum runners of the similar design, put a shrill note to Jemain’s voice, “Sheeit, I tink I peed myself back der.”

The boat skipped across the moonlit water, its hull barely touching the water.

Higgins pushed the throttle higher. “She’s got more than this, but I’d rather not risk it. What do you think, Mr. Lucerne?”

Jemain yelled his creole right next to Higgin’s ear. “Dat true what dey say ’bout you sellin’ this boat to dem Coast Guard?”

Higgins throttled back letting the sleek boat settle its belly back in the arms of the bayou. “This boat? I sold the Coast Guard boats, that is true.” He turned the wheel to set them on a return course. “But I did not sell them this boat, Mr. Lucerne.”

Jemain nodded deeply. “Dat good, dat good.” He rubbed his hand across the lacquered dash. “I take three, den.”


[Author’s note: Andrew Higgins was a New Orleans lumber magnate who designed boats. He sold a design to the US Armed Forces for the famous launch that landed thousands of US troops on the beaches of Normandy. His company built and delivered those boats. He “may” have designed and built other boats that plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.]

SepSceneWriMo #19

“Mr. Stuart, sir, them Nez Perce said…”

“And how would you know what they said, Will Barton?”

I didn’t mind Mr. Stuart’s sharp voice. Better his words than the glare I got from Jack Willets, Mr. Stuart’s second in command. Besides, I’d been listening careful-like to them natives and how our interpreter, ol’ Dupre’, worked his hands while he spoke.

“Sorry, sir. I know I presume beyond my station, but I been learnin’ their tongue, a piece here and there, with Arnie Dupre’s encouragement.”

Robert Stuart, Jacob Astor’s head man on the journey back to St. Louis, tilted back his fine beaver-felt hat, wide-brimmed and sturdy, and gauged me with one eye squeezed shut due to a drop of sweat having slid right into it.

“Well, then, Mr. Barton, pray-tell, what did those Nezzies tell you that you are so anxious to share?”

I grinned like a mule but then remembered that Mr. Stuart most definitively did not like seeing the dark shade of my teeth and so I hid them behind the brim of my hat. “They say that the compass point we been following will lead us straight to the highest set o’ mountains in this People’s land.”

Mr. Stuart removed a leather bill which contained the maps he and the Astorians were making and consulted the one that opened on top. I peeked to see the fine lines and writing. I looked so hard, maps had forever been a fondling thing for me, that he caught me staring.

“The highest of the mountains? Well, that won’t do.”

Robert Stuart adjusted his breeches, in the heat their weave gave us discomfort the likes to drive us crazy as a blowflied ferret.

He continued, “You prove to see the way of things, Mr. Barton, maybe you could assist in the navigation, were your information regarding our current heading to be ruled valid.”

He unfolded the set of map skins to their greatest extent and I could see, far to his left and a month of travel to the west, the heavy line that marked the sea. From there the crooked trace of the wide Fish-River and then onto the Mad-Snake we had left, just three days prior.

I picked up a twig and used it to identify a point south of our current route. “This here be, if my understanding of them Nez Perce tongue be true, the most passable route over the People’s mountains.”

Mr. Stuart studied the map and glanced up to look east as if he could see the peaks from where we stood. I could see his his mind go a-teeter on taking the risk I posed.

“I’ll consult with Dupre’, Mr. Barton, but your keen awareness of your surrounding and interest in the Nezzie language may have saved us weeks of lost time.”

I grinned again, this time with my hat ready. “I been like this most my days, Mr. Stuart, or so my Aunt Messy tol’ me before I left to join this here expedition.”

“Well, keep it up, Will. You could become an excellent cartographer, with a little practice. But, we’ll have to do something about those teeth.”

SepSceneWriMo #18

He stank and he knew it.

His first words, when I pulled to the side of the two-lane that ran from Lyons east through Greeley, were an apology. “I can ride in the back. I ain’t had a good wash for some time.”

I waved him in and he gently lowered his pack-like-a-tinker’s-trade into the bed of my pickup. The saddle-tone satchel had been festooned, yeah, that’s best word for it, festooned with bangles and dangles and every type of touristy kitsch you could imagine.

And, yeah, he did stink. But, not like like rotten meat or a Benghazi bath, body order as a badge of honor. This was more like camp-smoke and musk, wholesome yet pungent.

“Where ya headed?” I asked as he closed and hugged the door, trying, I imagined, to keep from fouling the vehicle.

“That way, as far as you’ll take me.”

“So, east with no particular destination. Cool.”

We both rode in silence for a time. I opened the air vents a tad and he watched my hands manipulate the controls.

“Sorry about the smell.” He cracked the window an inch which introduced an annoying whistle.

“It’s either up all the way or down all the way with pickup windows.” The whistle pinched shut when he rolled it back up. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I never did hitchhike much, but I admire your independent streak.”

“Yeah. I’m independent alright.”

I let that hang in the air, thinking he might finish the thought. But that was not the invitation he was looking for.

I asked him, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any weed on you?” I pulled open the sliding ashtray to reveal a small wooden pipe and a Bic lighter. I lifted the pipe and wiggled it, empty.

“It’s May now, right?”

I nodded. What did the month of the year have to do with anything?

“I won’t be in that phase until at least July.”

Okay… “So, what phase are you in now?”

“Retro Venus Shockwave, I think.” He held up both hands, nails too long and dirty, and began to bend them—counting. “Gonna be some heavy pressure on the magnetosphere until then.” He dug into his cargo pants pocket and retrieved a compass which he flipped open and held level. “It’s already started. Yup. I recon we’re gonna see some sights tonight.”

I scratched my head and leaned an elbow on the door, shifted my ass, grown numb with the ride, and asked, “What kinda sights?”

He told me.

Speaking as if he’d practiced, he spoke of experiences I found hard to believe. Of electric and emotional connections to things and people both earthly and cosmically distant. He became impassioned with the telling, so much so, that I felt compelled to grant him a smidgen of maniacal credibility. In the end I found I’d ceased shaking my head.

He talked until I mentioned my need to head north to Sheridan at the next intersection. He thanked me a dozen times for the ride, fetched and shouldered his bedazzled pack, and gave me a salute as I eased forward, stopped at the flashing red light and turned left.

Behind me, I watched him cross the road and park himself, thumb raised, headed east.

My truck still stank of him, and I opened the windows and vents wide. After a while the smell of the prairie flushed out the smokey, earthy smell and I closed all the windows—the sun had set and the air had taken a chill.

“Will you look at that,” I said to no one, thinking I still had company. In the moonless sky I marveled at the sight of bands of pink and green lights that wavered above me. Vast, thousand-mile-long ribbons of aurora twisted and writhed their lustrous tails. I imagined I could hear them groaning as they moved.

Enraptured, I was unprepared when my truck quit, just like that. I coasted to the shoulder and nothing I could do would let me start it up again. I noticed that I seemed to be alone out in the desolation of southern Wyoming. Not a light anywhere, except for those above.

“Well, shit. I guess we’re all in Retro Venus Shockwave now.”

SepSceneWriMo #17

“I can only sit for an hour today.”

Gaella flung her clothing over the tri-fold screen, an Asian hand-me-down with long green blades of grass and skeletal cranes stepping through marsh. I watched the shadow of her, her flowing curves and angles. I could see her select the period clothing I’d provided for this portrait. They would be loose but would reflect the mood I sought to evoke, extravagant wealth awash in famine.

“I’ll take what I can get.” I pointed to a set of false stairs. They would be my model of ancient, plague-stricken Athens, the temple steps of Athena Nike. “There’s a goblet, if you could… Yes, that’s it. You can rest it on your knee.”

Gaella draped herself drunkenly across the wooden stairs. I grabbed my spray bottle. “It’s just water. I need you to look as if you’ve just struggled through an illness.” She nodded and I pumped the trigger misting her face, chest and legs. The skin of her dark thighs glistened as if due to exercise, or stress.

She shivered at the touch of the spray and spoke through her face mask, still attached. “Why is it so cold in here?”

I’d set the thermostat to seventy-eight. I’d rather sweat than hear their complaints. “Cold? Have you been feeling this way for a while?”

“What are you insinuate…” She unhooked an ear. “Damn, masks. I’ve been careful. I don’t want this cursed disease. I’ve even sent my housemaid away. My home is filthy, now.”

I’d gotten used to my own, home-made cotton mask, a Gaughan printed colorfully across the smile. “Of course not. I’m sorry.” The trouble with models—neurosis strolled hand-in-hand with beauty.

She couldn’t get comfortable. I arranged a few stained pillows and still she squirmed. The piece was earmarked for a pharmaceutical’s marketing plan, that is, if I could get it finished. Gaella’s fame and notoriety were to elicit empathy, no, not empathy, sympathy maybe, for the corrupt corporation that had theoretically suffered at the hands…

“Gawd! I’m burning up, now.” Gaella stripped off the robe and mask and started spraying herself, strutting around naked, Athena herself, brazen and indifferent to the mortal who sat waiting for her tirade to end.

“Perhaps, you should see a doctor.”

“Can you please turn the fucking heat down?”

She faced the bottle and squeezed a cloud of mist that detonated against her face.

“Do that again.” I grabbed my camera and maneuvered to position her between me and the setting sun that had drifted into the remnants of smoke from a fire that burned a hundred miles away.

“Do what again?” She spread her arms, the bottle in one hand, a question in the other. Christ, she was beautiful.

“Spray your face, throw the bottle down and surrender to the moisture embracing your heat.”

Gaella cocked a hip. “You get this right, I want my cut.”

“Yeah, yeah, just do it.”

She did.

SepSceneWriMo #16

On the stone walls, hoarfrost spread like white fungus. Griselda’s breath caused it to grow, not melting until March or April in some years. She would stand near the slate-grey rock and mist the surface, watching the crystals expand, miniature star bursts within her dim quarters.

With a fingernail, the only part of her kept clean, less to sully the queen’s mending, she would scrape designs into the ice-covered surface. The array of geometric whimsy would stun even the boorish guards whose job it was to keep her safe. Griselda was, after all, the best seamstress in the kingdom.

She flicked the grimy, frozen mold from her finger tip. “Safe from all but my own wicked thoughts.” And devious cleverness.

“Griselda, collect your witchcraft contrivances, the Queen requires a new gown for Lord Rhelmsly’s commencement.” Derkin, Griselda’s least favorite of the King’s drooling guards, rapped with weak knuckles, she was certain he was foppish, and finished with, “And cover your person this time, damn you.”

“The sight of sinful flesh too much for your chaste mind, Derkin?” Griselda retrieved her basket, she was ever ready for work that would free her from this horrid prison, and made sure to lift her skirts, a flash of flawless pale calf glowed in the torchlight when the guard entered.

“Curses, girl. I told you to cover thyself.” He looked away while the Queen’s dress-maid danced through the doorway.

“Ankles can be so devilishly sensuous, isn’t that right, Dervy?”

“Please don’t…”

Griselda had had her fun and remained silent during the labyrinthine climb to her seamstress antechamber, one room removed from the Queen’s dressing room.

“You again?” The Queen’s foul mood snapped the curve from Griselda’s spine. “There were threads hanging like vines from the last gown you made for me. I told the king to be rid of you.”

Griselda’s lips, full and dry, begged to be licked, but she refrained from doing so. Nor did she glare her eyes nor flare her nostrils. Loose threads? More like loose bowels.

The Queen, plump to bulging, with thinning hair the color of dung, plucked at Griselda’s fraying chemise. “But I’m told you’re all there is. I need a new gown. Get to work.”

Griselda risked multiple glances about the room. “Pardon, my queen, the bolt of cloth?”

The Queen gestured feebly “It’s in the wardrobe, you silly girl.”

Griselda fetched the rich, crimson material, shot with silver and coal black silk and prepared a settee as her measuring station. From her basket she pulled a knotted string, and her pride and joy, a set of shears made by her father, well oiled and wrapped in a soft vellum sheet.

“There should be enough to make three fine gowns. But knowing you and your clumsiness, I’ll be lucky to get even one that’s worthy.”

Or just a bonnet to fit your fat head. “Yes, your grace,” Griselda said and set to work counting knots on the string pulled from armpit to palm, neck to kneecap. She marked the numbers on a stick figure she’d drawn in chalk on a plate-sized piece of slate.

“You’ll have this done by sundown in two days hence. Do you hear me?” The Queen had scarcely paid attention while Griselda ducked and stretched. But now that she looked down at the seamstresses basket and spied the slate image she fumed. “Thirty-nine at the waist? Liar! Do it again.”

“Sorry, ma’am, I mean, my queen. My mistake, twenty-nine is the correct count.”

“This may be the last dress you ever make, Griselda. You’d better live up to the rumors.”

Left alone, Griselda fingered the elegant cloth. Such extravagance was worth a lifetime of toil by a maid such as she. She unwound yards of it and wrapped it around her shoulders. Even the smell of it, mace and something deeper, spoke wealth and power. She held it to the window; so tightly woven as to pass no light. Her dungeon etchings came to mind, in particular, one shaped like a tall, thin diamond.

She called to the handmaids who tittered in the next room. “Willomina,” she said to one, “I have the Queen’s permission to request what I need from the King’s servants. You’re familiar with the huntsmen, are you not?”

Willomina blushed.

Griselda smiled. “Good. Now here is what I need…”

When the supplies were delivered, Griselda quickly fabricated a model of her diamond design. “Quit bickering you two,” she said to the queen’s handmaids. “You both need to master this technique.” Griselda had them practice until their fingers flickered like spider’s legs. “Good. Now be off, I need to finish. And not a word of this to the Queen.”

On the second evening, Griselda presented the finished gown. The Queen’s preoccupation with some scuttlebutt regarding Lady Rhelmsly and a stable boy, kept her attention away from the gown’s fitting.

“It’ll have to do, won’t it,” the Queen remarked in the polished bronze mirror.

The celebration commenced.

“Absolutely breathtaking, my Queen.” Lord Rhelmsly bowed to brush his lips to the queen’s wrist. As his eyes roamed the waves of blood-red material, exquisitely sewn so as to hide every seam, he noticed a regiment of circular disks which seem to march up the center of the queen’s dress. Still holding her hand he pulled her closer, his eyes focusing at the spot just below her breast.

“Ahem, my Lord.” Rhelmsly’s livery servant, there to provide names and hold refreshments, tried to interrupt the man’s fascination with the queen’s chest.

“What on earth are those?” the Lord said, straightening. He released the queen’s hand and politely gestured at the woman’s clothing. “Tiny coins appear to be holding your entire ensemble together, as it were.”

The Queen looked down and, for the first time, noticed the construction of the gown. She turned to her steward and ground her teeth. “Fetch Griselda, at once!”

The Queen and Lord Rhelmsly shifted to the corner of the ballroom. Griselda, being manhandled by Derkin, was ushered through a secret door.

“What is the meaning of these?” The Queen tapped the lacquered, antler-cut disks that ran like black, flat pearls up her dress.

Griselda, her chin high, knew her design was flawless. “They’re butt-ons, they butt through small slits to hold your clothing on.”