AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

April 19, 2009

Revising Keith Rawson’s Life on the Mesa

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 2:58 am

Hi all! I’m please to present Keith Rawson’s second draft of Life on the Mesa, as well as my edited version. My intent was to edit a leaner, meaner draft that moved the story quickly while sketching in some additional characterization and a smattering of dialogue for Keith.

 

My edit is a suggestion only. Keith is free to change anything he likes. As an educational tool, I think the juxtaposition of the two versions illustrates what an editor can do. (Please note that a final proofing has not been donekeithrawsonpic.)

 

I hope you enjoy! Questions and comments are welcomed.

Elaine Ash

 

 

 

LIFE ON THE MESA

BY

KEITH RAWSON

edited by Elaine Ash

 

Word count: 3,009

 

 

Mac Sloan sat watching the sudden dark grey of monsoon clouds come rumbling towards the mesa with the heavy promise of lightning and torrential rains. It was the kind of weather you prayed for out on the mesa if you were the spiritual type.

 

Water was a commodity; you either collected it in your rain barrels when the monsoons rolled in, or you traveled the 40-odd miles into town and paid some faceless, soul-less corporation twenty or thirty bucks for the privilege of swilling nature’s finest life-sustaining gift out of a poisoned plastic bottle. This disgusted  Dirigible, as Mac was known out on the mesa. The nick name derived from Mac’s massive frame, he stood nearly 6’5 and weighed in at close to 350 pounds, and it was a far kinder nickname than the one he’d lived with for 35 years back on the grid; Blimp.

 

He’d never needed to buy the corporation’s water, Mac was all about conservation and restraint. Never use more than you need. He never drank more than four glasses a day and each drop consumed was a virtual lesson in survivalism.

           

Mac’s spot on the mesa stretched for nearly two square miles, most of it nothing but barren desert flat land for the exception of his little copse of wind-battered live oak where he had built a shack. Instead of harvesting food, he collected water, snatching it right from the arid sky. This was particularly true at night and in the pre-dawn hours when dew from the cool night would settle on the plants and soil of the desert floor.

 

On a nearly one-mile stretch of his plot, Mac dug holes and draped tarps over the tops. He’d awake every morning before dawn and harvest the thin, wet leavings from the previous night in old milk jugs. Some mornings, there was hardly enough dew to fill a quarter gallon of one of his jugs. Some days he wouldn’t have enough containers to store the entire day’s harvest in.

           

This morning happened to be one of those mornings. Starting out today he’d only brought along three plastic gallon jugs, but by the time he’d finished, he’d filled nearly five. This is how he’d known the rains were coming. It was a huge relief. He could just spend the next couple of days letting his rain barrels do the job and hopefully enjoy a couple of much needed mornings off; which is why he’d spent the past hour simply sitting under the makeshift lean-to of his shack smiling and watching the purple grey clouds come coasting in. He was starting to get hungry, so breakfast was the first order of business.

           

Mac stood up from the rotting pine log that served as his front porch bench, stretching his long beefy arms above his head, each of his overstrained joints crackling and grumbling with his slow, deliberate movements. He took a couple of extra seconds to rotate his oversized head on his practically nonexistent neck before he turned and opened the front door of his shack. He was greeted by the ragged screams of the girl. Mac had forgotten to gag her before he’d left this morning. She’d passed out, moaning delicately under her breath, so hed assumed she would be in the same condition when he arrived back from his morning chores.

 

He let the door swing shut with a wind-blown bang, and stood motionless in front of the girl. His tiny brown eyes focused on the girls gaping mouth. She had such milky white glistening teeth for a freejack. Most folks who elected to live off the grid, the very first thing that went to pot were their choppers. But this new generation was so healthy in appearance despite the copious amounts of tobacco and marijuana they consumed. That was a middle class upbringing for you.

           

Mac could easily see this girl leaving the life after a couple years living rough and the effects of the pills, powders, and pot finally lost their charm. She would head back into what passed as the real world, go to college, get married, and pop out two or three new consumers. Probably end up very happy—or pretending she was happy—out in some preplanned community, cut off from her fellow human beings by  cinder block backyard fences and the suffocating prison of modern suburban living. Maybe she even entertained these thoughts about her current boyfriend, the aptly named Knob. Maybe she hoped he’d get sick of all of this dreadlock wearing, pot smoking, living off the land thing, and they’d ride into the happy red sunrise morning.

 

Too bad Mac had crumpled Knob’s skull with a sledgehammer.

 

Too bad most of Knob’s fat and muscle was now cured and drying, hanging from just about every inch of available wall space in Mac’s shack; Knob’s still wet bones thrown into an untidy little pile in the corner.

 

Too bad that she would spend the last moments of her young life in Mac’s ill-smelling, unkempt universe; her final words nothing more than guttural animal cries.

           

Mac turned away from the girl and headed to his small cast iron stove, muttering:

“Are you hungry?” as he knelt down to feed fire two small logs and a handful of dry kindling. He shambled over to his small pantry to retrieve his oatmeal and cook pot.

           

The girl’s name—at least her Rainbow name—was the entirely uninspired Clover Dancer. She and Knob had arrived on the mesa a little over two months ago in a relatively new Ford mini-van. They set up their plot about ten miles west of Mac’s spot near Old Man Grub’s stretch. The two had been friendly enough at first, walking from spot-to-spot and introducing themselves to their new neighbors.

 

Most of the young kids who came out to live on the mesa considered themselves anarchists; violent and bad tempered, typically sporting drug and alcohol problems. Not that anyone on the Mesa begrudged or discouraged drug use; shit, most of them had come out to the desert because of some form of substance abuse had reshaped their world outlook. The Mesa’s concern was the destruction of both personal and community property due to drug and alcohol use. But the two had seemed harmless enough, and most everyone thought they would make welcome additions.

           

After a few weeks, the young couple stopped visiting, and then the thefts started happening. The first was Old Man Grub; several of his ripe melons had disappeared from his makeshift greenhouse along with a three pound bag of organic kidney beans. Theft, although largely uncommon on the Mesa, was an occasional inconvenience. Sometimes an isolationist would fall on hard times and have difficulty asking their neighbors for help and some fruit or meat would go missing. Usually it was replaced along with a note of apology asking for forgiveness: No harm, no foul.

           

The only problem was that more theft kept occurring, and there was never any meat taken. Meat was easy to come by, and most of the men and some of the women were solid hunters, but fruits and vegetables took time and patience to grow. Seed had to be purchased and brought in from town. To most, produce was more coveted and valuable than wood for fire and building materials. It was a well-known fact that the young couple was vegan and had absolutely no interest in meat or animals products. A counsel meeting was held and the decision was made to confront Knob and Clover Dancer about the thefts.

           

The elders were a good group of folks; Frankie Johns, Grandma Jo, Cranberry and Wiltz. They made the trek out to the couple’s settlement and asked about the stolen food. What they got for their questions was Knob and Clover Dancer laughing in their faces, admitting to the thefts, and pulling guns on the elders, telling them to move off their spot. The elders moved off, hands up in the air. Most of settlers owned guns and were steadfast advocates for the right to bear arms, but the counsel was old and unwilling to take a real stand there and then.

 

They went straight to Old Man Grub who listened, rubbing his chin. Finally, he spoke, “Got a situation here, that’s fur sure. We had Dirigible handle it last time a thing came up like this.”

 

Grandma Jo sounded concerned; “But everybody knows what he did to them women in Arkansas—“

 

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

 

“Clover Dancer is a fine-lookin’ gal. I’m jess sayin’ if he done it before…”

 

Wiltz, the prematurely grizzled operator of a moonshine still said, “He never done nothing to us and I consider it the past. Dirigible’s proven himself a top-shelf water harvester. Been willing to help the Mesa’s greatest times of need.”

 

“Don’t forget, how he handled that trespasser near-killed Mary Dandy’s 12-year-old boy,” said Cranberry, her skin burned dark red from years in the sun.

 

Murmurs all around. Heads nodded.

 

Grub ended the discussion. “We’ll put it to the rest of the community, then.”

 

The meeting was held at the fire pit on the outskirts of the Mesa. Despite it being early evening and the temperatures well into the mid-eighties, someone had built a raging fire. Fifty-odd permanent Mesa residents surrounded the mass of flaming logs. Mac stayed near the back, avoiding the heat, watching Old Man Grub wind his way through their neighbors. They deferred to the Old Man, who’d been out on the Mesa the longest—eleven years—and dealt with every form of adversity a body could face living out in the wild.

 

Grub joined his senior council at the head of the fire, and little earthquakes of questions and statements began to rumble.. To Mac’s ears the mass always sounded like chickens waiting for the farmer to spread corn in the dirt or take their heads off with an axe. Either method would shut them up.

 

The murmurs grew, voices clamoring. Grub threw up his hands Moses- style, hoping to get a chance to speak. All it seemed to do was increase the chatter.

 

“People!” He shouted. “People, we know your concerns. We know the danger the new arrivals present. And we’re here tonight to decide what to do.”

 

The racket subsided.

 

“We’ve dealt with this type of crisis before. We know the new arrivals will not stop. The thefts will continue and they’ll be more aggressive if we don’t act.” The old man paused and coughed hard into his fist. “From past experience we know there are only three options available to us. The first is banishment!’

 

Their neighbors roared their descent; a chorus of voices streaked with fear:

 

“Our second choice is into involve the law of the town.”

 

This elicited a resounding no. Most folks on the mesa were running from trouble, and the last thing they needed was the law up here arresting newcomers and running warrant checks on the rest of the settlers.

 

“Our final choice is the most drastic.” Old Man Grub lowered his voice. “The choice is final and can’t be reversed. We must think long and hard before we come to that decision.”

 

Silence fell across Mac’s neighbors. It seemed that every single body in attendance turned and stared at him simultaneously.

The vote was cast without being voiced, and it was unanimous. Grub approached him as the neighbors shuffled back to their homes. “You can do this for us, boy?”

 

Mac went to Knob and Clover Dancer’s spot that very night. The two were incredibly easy to approach. They had started a large bonfire and were dancing sweating around it as the speakers of their mini van roared with the psychedelic hum of the Grateful Dead. Both were obviously stoned or tripping balls.

 

Mac was able to take Knob with a single side swing, catching the boy just above the right ear with a dull, hollow-sounding thud. Clover Dancer was quick to react but ran blindly into the fire she’d been so exuberantly dancing around only a few seconds before. Mac pulled her screaming from the fire, throwing her to the dirt and then punching her hard across the jaw. He walked the mile back to the truck dragging Knob’s corpse by the ankle, with Clover Dancer’s motionless form over his shoulder and drove home.

           

Mac bound the still-unconscious Clover Dancer to the main support beam of his shack, arms above her head, gagging her with an old sock and heavy twine. She came awake just as Mac was flaying the boy’s corpse from belly to throat, and she started to scream around her gag. She passed out just before he had to make his way out to the water fields. He removed the gag because he was afraid she’d choke on her own vomit or the sock itself; it’d been nearly a decade since he’d been with a woman and wanted to enjoy the experience.

           

Mac finished making his oatmeal and turned and faced the girl again. Her full-throated screams were beginning to work a nerve at the back of skull. He wanted to punch her, maybe shatter a few of those orthodontist perfect teeth. But Mac felt the girl deserved a few minutes to get all that great big nasty fear out of her system; to breathe easy and unobstructed. He approached her with his wooden bowl of steaming oatmeal, holding his spoon out mouth level with her, and asked,“Are you hungry?”

 

Clover Dancer sputtered and began a kind of breathless panting.

 

“Are you hungry?”

 

He began to trace the edge of her left nipple with the tip of his spoon. The small spot of upraised flesh was a perfect rosy pink, hard and covered in goose flesh. In his younger, wilder years, he would have torn this girl apart; fucked her silly until he was raw and sore and then, out of boredom, would have started trying to stick things inside of her: Beer bottles, sticks, rocks, anything on hand really. But now as an older man, all he could think of as he gently circled the girl’s nipple with his breakfast spoon was how this girl and her former stoner boyfriend would keep him in meat well past the coming fall and winter months.

           

Maybe he wouldn’t slaughter her today. Maybe he would keep her around and see if some of the old feelings came back. And if they didn’t, so what? At the very least he could fatten her up a little with oatmeal and a Knob steak or two.

 

He brought the spoon to her mouth again.

           

A month went by.

 

He’d tamed her good, and she was free to move about the cabin and do some chores for herself, under his watchful eye.

 

“I’m hungry, we need to eat.”

“Use the last of the stew, it’ll make a good stew.”

“This one?”

“Not that piece, the one next to it. Remember to cut against the grain.”

“Like this?”

“You’re doing it wrong. How many times do I have to show you?”

“Like how then?”

“Like this. You hold the knife like th—“

 

If it wasn’t for all of the blood coursing down her pale white knuckles, she would have thought she was still cutting into the rotting meat. But instead, she followed the source of the blood to the big man’s throat, where she’d driven the dull carving knife into it. His mouth hung open, and small, airless gagging noises emitted.

 

It took a few minutes to realize what she’d done. Her breath came in hot, ragged gasps as she watched his small, pig-like eyes glass over. She nudged Mac’s bulky shoulder, not wanting to turn her back in fear that he would suddenly come back to life, and come racing after her. She pulled open the heavy door, but he did not stir.

 

She ran. Bare foot and naked into the slowly fading purple-orange desert evening she ran;

even as sharp rocks and thorny underbrush tore at her legs and feet. She knew the people of the Mesa would take pity. She would beg them to drive her into Tucson or Mount Lemon; she would promise not to tell what happened. She would promise. She would go straight home; she would return to her parents and tell them they were right

 

It seemed like hours before finally coming upon a structure; something that looked like two singlewide mobile homes wielded haphazardly together. A campfire burned outside. There were lights flickering inside the dwelling and she could hear the rumble of generator. She wailed and hollered, until a figure exited the place. She began to run harder, despite how heavy and tired her lungs felt, she managed to fill them enough to yell louder:

 

“HELP ME!”

 

Old Man Grub took in the sight of the naked, hysterical woman running toward him, covered in lacerations and bruises. He recognized her, all right. “Dang fool, Dirigible.  Looks like Granny Jo was right.” He had no doubt that Knob was already a pile of bones.

 

Clover Dancer gathered her breath again. “HELP ME!”

 

She saw the figure shift position. It was a man. With the fire behind him, he was a black shilouette against leaping orange flames. She ran harder and the man raised his arm. He was going to help her!

 

Something hot tore into her right shoulder. It threw her off her stride, spinning her. She quickly regained her footing and continued on towards the house.

 

“PLEASE! HELP ME!”

 

She ran straight into the second shot, her body and the bullet meeting half way, burning into her chest, driving her to the ground.

 

It was quiet then. Footsteps crunched deliberately in her direction.

Old Man Grub leaned into view. “Sorry rainbow-gal. Did what I hadta.”

 

She tried taking a breath, staring up into the night, at the clear silver of early stars. Her cough tasted like dirty pennies. “Momma,” she whimpered.

 

Old Man Grub shook his head. “Gal, you never was cut out for no life on the Mesa.”

 

-END-

           

 

 

 

 

                                                   LIFE ON THE MESA

                                                                BY

                                          KEITH RAWSON

Draft # 2, unedited

 

Word count: 4,987

 

 

 

The man known as Dirigible sat watching the sudden grey of monsoon clouds rumbling towards the mesa with the heavy promise of lightning and torrential rains. It was the kind of weather you prayed for out on the mesa if you were the spiritual type.  Water was a commodity; you either collected it in rain barrels when the monsoons or the occasional errant storm rolled in, or you traveled the forty some odd miles into town and paid some soulless corporation twenty or thirty bucks for the privilege of swilling nature’s finest life sustaining gift out of a poisoned plastic bottle, something he’d never had to do thanks to his steadfast conservatism of never drinking more than four glasses a day.

           

Dirigible’s spot on the mesa stretched for nearly 2 square miles, most of it nothing but barren desert flat land for the exception of a little copse of mutated wind battered Texas live oak, which he’d built his shack under. When he’d moved out to the mesa six years ago, he’d intended on attempting to cultivate his spread and grow some kind of crop, whether it was corn, or soybeans; he even toyed with the idea of planting apple trees and starting an orchard.

 

In hindsight, he knew now that these thoughts were nothing more than naivety and ignorant idealism. He was nothing if not an idealist, but realistically you just don’t grow these types of crops without a steady flow of H2O. Nor should the average yearly temperature exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit. He figured this all out a couple of months after completing work on his shack. The only effective way to grow out in the harsh climates of southern Arizona was to build a green house and have enough ready water on hand to maintain what you’re growing, the way Cassidy and his clan a couple of miles down the road did it.

           

 

 

 

Dirigible did utilize his plot constructively, but instead of harvesting food, he collected water. One of the true wonders of the big beautiful blue world Mac occupied with six billion other slightly confused human beings was that the earth was composed almost entirely of water and there was a means of collecting that water, even if it meant snatching it right from the arid sky. This was particular true at night and the pre-dawn hours when dew settle on the plants and soil of the desert floor. On a nearly one mile stretch of his plot, he dug holes and draped tarps—one of the few items he’d leave the confines of the mesa for and venture into town to purchase—over the tops of the holes. He’d awake every morning before dawn and harvest the thin, wet leavings from the previous night in old milk jugs. Some mornings, there was hardly enough dew to fill a quarter gallon of one of his jugs and some times he wouldn’t have enough containers to store the entire days harvest in.

           

This morning happened to be one of those mornings. Starting out today he’d only brought along three plastic gallon jugs, by the time he’d finished, he’d filled nearly five. It was how he knew the rains were coming and it was a huge relief. He could just spend the next couple of days letting the rain barrels do his job while enjoyed a couple of much needed mornings off; which is why he’d spent the past hour simply sitting under the makeshift lean-to of his shack smiling and watching the purple grey clouds come coasting in. But as much as he would have liked to spend the day watching the storm roll in, he still had work to do. Plus he was starting to get hungry, so breakfast was a priority.

           

Dirigible stood up from the rotting pine log that served as his front porch bench, stretching his long beefy arms above his head. Each of his overstrained joints cracking as he did so. He took a couple of extra seconds to rotated his oversized head on his practically nonexistent neck before he turned and opened the front door of his shack and was greeted by the ragged screams of the girl. He’d forgotten to gag her before he’d left this morning. Of course she’d been passed out, moaning under her breath, and for some reason, he thought she’d be in the same condition.

 

He stood motionless in front of the girl, letting the door swing shut with a wind blown bang. His tiny brown eyes focused on the girls gaping mouth. She had such beautiful white teeth for a freejack. Most folks who elected to live off the grid, the very first thing that went to pot were their choppers. But this new generation was so healthy in appearance despite the copious amounts of tobacco and marijuana they consumed.

           

Dirigible could easily see this girl leaving the life after a couple years of living rough. The effects of the pills, powders, and pot finally losing their charm and heading back into what passed as the real world; maybe going to college, getting married, and squeezing out two or three new consumers. She’d probably end up very happy—or at the very least pretending she was happy—out in some preplanned community, cut off from her fellow human beings not by distance and space, but by cinder block fences and the suffocating prison of modern suburban living. Maybe she even entertained these thoughts about her current boyfriend, the aptly named Rainbow child known as Knob. Maybe she thought all of this dreadlock wearing, pot smoking, living off the land thing he was into now was nothing more than a phase? Maybe she thought after awhile he’d get just as sick of it and off they’d ride off into the happy red sunrise morning.

 

Too bad Dirigible had crumpled Knob’s skull with a sledgehammer.

 

Too bad most of Knob’s fat and muscle was now cured and drying, hanging from every inch of available wall space in his shack; Knob’s still wet bones thrown into an untidy pile in a corner near Dirigible’s cot.

 

Too bad that she would spend the last moments of her young life in Dirigible’s ill-smelling, unkempt universe; her final words nothing more than guttural animal cries.

           

He turned away from her and headed to his small cast iron stove, muttering:

“Are you hungry?” as he knelt down to feed fire two small logs and a handful of dry kindling.  Rising slowly, he shambled over to his small pantry to retrieve his oatmeal and cook pot.

           

The girl’s name—at least her Rainbow name—was the entirely uninspired Clover Dancer. She and Knob had arrived on the Mesa a little over two months ago in a relatively new Ford Mini-van. They set up their plot about 10 miles west of his near Old Man Grub’s stretch. The two had been friendly enough at first, walking from spot-to-spot and introducing themselves to their new neighbors. The old school settlers were weary of the couple, having experienced the abnormal attitudes of the new generation of freejackers. Most of the young kids who came out to live on the Mesa considered themselves hardboiled anarchists; violent and bad tempered, typically sporting drug and alcohol problems. Not that anyone on the Mesa begrudged or discouraged drug use; shit, most of them had come out to the desert because of some form of substance abuse had reshaped their world outlook. The mesa’s number one concern was the destruction of both personal and community property due to drug and alcohol use.

 

But the two had seemed harmless enough, and most everyone thought they would make welcome editions to the Mesa. He was of the opposite opinion of most, and viewed the two as nothing more than befuddled shoppers playing at true freedom; but he was an isolationist and generally distrustful of everyone.

           

After a few weeks, the young couple stopped visiting their new neighbors, which was all fine and good as far as most were concerned, but then the thefts started happening. The first was Old Man Grub; several of his ripe melons had disappeared from his make shift greenhouse along with a 3 pound bag of organic kidney beans. Although largely uncommon on the Mesa, theft was an occasional inconvenience. Sometimes an isolationist would fall on hard times and have difficulty asking their neighbors for help and some fruit or meat would go missing. Usually it was replaced along with a note of apology asking for forgiveness: No harm, no foul.

           

The problem was this time the theft increased and there was never any meat taken. Meat was easy to come by on the Mesa and most of the men and some of the women were solid hunters, but fruits and vegetables took time and patience to grow; seed had to be purchased and brought in from the town. To most, produce was more coveted and valuable than wood for fire and building materials. It was a well known that the young couple was vegan and had absolutely no interest in meat or animals products. A counsel meeting was held and the decision was made to confront Knob and Clover Dancer about the thefts.

           

The five counsel elders made the trek out to the couples settlement and asked about the stolen food. What they got for their questions was Knob and Clover Dancer laughing in their faces, admitting to the thefts, then pulling guns on the elders and telling them to move off their spot. The day after another counsel meeting was called and the elders made a rare demand that the entire community needed to attend.

 

Dirigible was going to blow off the meeting. He’d made it clear to his neighbors from the beginning that he would live separately from the community; their concerns and their lives were not his own. He’d never turn down a reasonable request such as trading goods or aiding his neighbors in times of extreme crisis such as providing shelter to families that had their dwellings swept away by the flash floods a few years back. Trouble with a couple of shitheel kids had nothing to do with him or his way of life.

 

It was Old Man Grub who came to fetch him an hour before the meeting was to begin. He tired explaining his point of view, but the old man wasn’t having it:

“Not comin’ to the meetin’ ain’t an option, boy. Now get your fat ass moving before I have to drag you out of your house by your ears.”

Grub wasn’t screwing around. The old man was one of the few folks on the Mesa Dirigible had anything to do with. They’d met early on when Dirigible was first starting out and was the only one of his neighbors to help him when he fell on hard times. Plus, the old man was probably one of the only men on the Mesa who could back up his shit talk with action. Grub was a Vietnam vet and had seen and done things that he could never unsee. Dirigible respected the old man and followed him to the meeting without a word of back talk.

 

           

 

The meeting was held at the fire pit on the outskirts of the Cassidy’s plot. Despite it being early evening and the temperatures well into the mid-eighties, some one had built a raging fire. Most of the Mesa’s fifty some odd permanent residents huddled close to the mass of flaming logs as if they were trying ward off the effects of freezing rains and wind. Dirigible stayed near the back, avoiding the heat, and watching Old man Grub wind his way through their neighbors. The elders were a good group of folks—Frankie John’s, Grandma Jo, Cranberry, Wiltz—but when it came to making decisions they were about as useless as a third nipple, so they deferred to the Old man, who’d been out on the Mesa the longest—eleven years—and had dealt with every form of adversity you could face living out in the wild.

 

            The old man joined the four other elders at the head of the fire and little earthquakes of questions and statements began to rumble through their amassed neighbors. To Dirigible’s ears the mass always sounded—whether it be the fierce individualists of the mesa or the blood simple murmurs of a group of outraged consumers outside of rural Arkansas court room—like chickens, or some lesser form of life waiting for the farmers hand to spread corn in the dirt to shut them up or take their heads off with an axe. The murmurs grew into a dull roar, voices clamoring. Grub threw up his hands Moses style hoping to calm the natives to give him a chance to speak; all it seemed to do was increase the chatter.

“People!” He shouted. “People! We know your concerns! We know the danger the new arrivals present! And we’re here tonight to decide what to do!”

This finally managed to shut everyone up.

 

            Grub’s voice was ragged; Dirigible suspected the Old man was dying of cancer from the constant stream of hand rolled smokes that perpetually hung from the corner of his mouth and stained his ashy grey beard yellow. On his last two visits to the Old man’s stretch, Grub seemed to be always out of breath and hacking into a red bandana. He’d miss him when he was gone and he wondered how long the Mesa would continue after he passed on?

 

 

“We’ve dealt with this type of crises before! We also know the new arrivals will not stop! The thefts will continue and they’ll be far more aggressive because they know we’re scared!” The old man paused and coughed hard into his fist. ”And from past experience we know there are only three options available to us!

The first is banishment!’

 

Their neighbors roared their descent; a chorus of voices streaked with fear:

They were dangerous! They had guns! Most of the mesa settlers owned guns and were steadfast advocates of the right to bear arms, but when it came to confronting an imminent threat, the majority were cowards unwilling to lift a finger in order to defend themselves.

 

“Our second choice is into involve the law of the town!” This was a resounding no. Most folks on the mesa were running from the law of the towns and the last thing they needed was the law up here arresting the new comers and then becoming curious regarding the rest of the settlers and running warrant checks.

 

“Our final choice is the most drastic!” Old man Grub lowered his voice to an almost conspirital whisper. “The choice is final and cannot be reversed. and we must think long and hard before we come to that decision.”

 

            Silence fell across Dirigible’s neighbors and it seemed that every single body in attendance turned and stared at him simultaneously. The same choice had been made before when the Gulf war vet, Phil Gustafson, had raped and nearly killed Mary Dandy’s 12-year-old boy, Sparrow. The five elders had come to him after a vote was held that he wasn’t included in and they asked him to do what they were unable to. They knew what he was before the Mesa. They knew about the time when he was known as Mac Sloan. They knew about his time in Arkansas and of Mac being convicted of the rape and mutilation of six women. Of how Mac’s original sentence of 150 years had been overturned when Mac’s defense attorney admitted he hadn’t prepared adequately for the trial and how he believed his client was guilty before accepting the case. They knew it all, but consider it to be all in the past, and that the man known as Mac Sloan was completely different from the man they knew as Dirigible.

 

He was almost a different man.

Almost, and Old Man Grub knew this when they came to him about Gustafson.

He knew this now when he proposed the communities third and final solution.

 

            A vote was cast and it was a nearly unanimous decision that the new comers be dealt with swiftly before they could do anymore damage to their precarious community. The Old man approached him as the rest of their neighbors shuffled back to their homes.

“You can do this for us, boy?”

Dirigible nodded, but set the stipulation that the elders and the rest of the community didn’t bother him for several weeks after the couple was dealt with, and that the elders handle the disposal of the couple’s belongings. He would also need use of Old Man Grub’s flatbed.

 

Dirigible went to Knob and Clover Dancer’s spot the same night. The two were incredibility easy to approach. They had lit a large bonfire and were dancing sweating around it as the speakers of their mini van roared with the psychedelic hum of the Grateful Dead. Both were obviously stoned or tripping balls. Mac was able to take Knob with a single side swing with his hammer, catching the boy just above the right ear, his skull splitting with a dull hollow sounding thud. Clover Dancer was quick to react but ran blindly into the fire she’d been so exuberantly dancing around only a few seconds before. Mac pulled her screaming from the fire, throwing her to the dirt and then punching her hard across the jaw. He walked the mile back to the truck dragging Knob’s corpse by the ankle and Clover Dancers motionless form over his shoulder and drove home.

           

Dirigible bound the still unconscious Clover Dancer to the Main support beam of his shack, arms above her head, then gagged her with an old sock and heavy twine. She came awake just as Mac was flaying the boy’s corpse from belly-to-throat.  She started to scream around her gag; she passed out a half hour before he made his way out to the water fields. He’d removed the gag because he was afraid she’d choke on her own vomit or the sock itself; it’d been nearly a decade since he’d been with a woman and he wanted to enjoy the experience.

           

Dirigible had finished making his oatmeal and turned and faced the girl again. Her full-throated screams was beginning to work a nerve at the back of skull. He wanted to punch her, maybe shatter a few of those orthodontist perfect teeth, but Mac felt the girl deserved a few minutes to get all that great big nasty fear out of her system; to breathe easy an unobstructed. He approached her with his wooden bowl of steaming oatmeal and held his spoon out at mouth level for her. He asked again:

“Are you hungry?”

Once Dirigible was within of a foot of her, Clover Dancer’s screams sputtered and turned into a kind of breathless panting.

“Are you hungry?”

He began to trace the edge of her left nipple with the tip of his spoon. The small spot of upraised flesh was small and a perfect rosy pink, and despite the terror that gripped her, It was still hard and covered in goose flesh. In his younger, wilder years, he would have torn this girl apart; fucked her silly until he was raw and sore and then, out of boredom, would have started trying to stick things inside of her: Beer bottles, sticks, rocks, anything on hand really. But now as an older man, all he could think of as he gently circled the girl’s nipple with his breakfast spoon was how this girl and her former stoner boyfriend would keep him in meat well past the coming fall and winter months.

           

Dirigible dipped his spoon into the rapidly cooling oatmeal and brought it to Clover Dancer’s mouth, pushing it, jamming it past her perfect teeth, past her struggling dull pink tongue and down her throat.

“Are you hungry?”

Maybe he wouldn’t slaughter her today? Maybe he would keep her around and see if some of the old feelings came back? And if they didn’t, so what, at the very least he could fatten her up a little with oatmeal and a Knob steak or two.

He brought the spoon to her mouth again.

           

                                    *                       *                       *

 

 

 

Ashley’s days blended.

            This was nothing new, most of the past two years since she and Newton had dropped out of school and decided to go on the road was nothing but a long hazy tie-dyed confusion of days.

 

I’m hungry, we need to eat.

 

She couldn’t say they were necessarily happy times—life on the road was rough, especially on the nights when they were out of money and they sat on street corners with their hands out begging strangers for spare change so they could eat, so they could put gas in the tank—but she was with Newt and she knew that as along as she was with him, he would keep her safe.

 

Use the last of the thigh, it’ll make good stew.

 

            They’d moved from Chicago to go to school in Tempe, AZ; Newton on a full chemistry scholarship and Ashley not really knowing what she wanted to do. But her parents indulged their only daughter and were more than willing to pay the exorbitant out of state tuition of Arizona State University, confident she would become home sick, and either grow tired of the relentless desert heat or of her self absorbed high school boyfriend—they were wrong on both counts. After eighteen years of dealing with below freezing mid-western temperatures, the dry hundred degree days agreed with her and she’d never seen Newt so happy.

 

Not that piece, the one next to it.

 

            In Chicago, Newt was a shy, unassuming boy who spent most of his time alone and trying to avoid being picked on. But in college, he was reinventing himself. Dread locks, the Grateful Dead, Phish, using his chemistry skills to start manufacturing LSD in his dorm room, his roommate acting as dealer.

 

Remember to cut against the Grain.

 

            The roommate was sloppy and stupid, using too much of what Newt was cooking. Campus cops bust him carrying six sheets of high quality blotter acid and he rolled over on Newt without batting an eye. ASU administration chose only to kick Newt out of school and not report him to the local pigs or the feds. Ashley dropped out without telling her parents and they left Arizona, following vague rumors of Rainbow gatherings and outdoor music festivals.

 

You’re not doing it right.

 

           

The plan was to earn money cooking Acid. They would sell and trade for what ever they needed.  Newt had pillaged the chemistry labs before he was kicked out and walked away with enough of the necessary alkaloids to make over two thousand sheets. They were set; all they needed to do was follow the music festivals and not get busted or ripped off

 

You’re doing it wrong. How many times do I have to show you?

 

            He changed his name after their first Rainbow gathering. Knob, like the head of a cock; she laughed her ass off when he told her. He sulked like a baby, pouting. He spat at her: “No, like a doorknob! Like Huxley and the doors of perception!” He said having a Rainbow name would help them fit in. He said she should pick one too. She laughed at him again. The Rainbow people could go fuck themselves as far as she cared. They were a bunch of users and losers who mooched whatever they could off of you: Food, drugs, gas, clothes, whatever. And if you didn’t give them what they wanted, they called you unkind and tried to steal what they wanted right from under your nose.

 Newt started calling her Clover Dancer, he wanted them to fit in, he wanted to be considered “kind.”

 

Stop, you’re ruining it.

 

            And they stole Newt’s chemicals. These people who he tried so hard to fit in with, they fucked him, they fucked her, and yet, for some reason they continued to live and travel with this bunch of human trash. Newt spent the last of their money on a half-pound of Marijuana hoping to recoup some their losses. All they really did with it was smoke too much with the other Rainbow people and sell the occasional quarter ounce bag to high school kids at the rare music festival they attended. Ashley had never seen Newt like this; he was obsessed with being part of this group, even though they shunned and mocked him—called him a poser—for not sharing his acid, for not being kind enough, and yet he still kept trying, taking their shit with a smile while they continued to take whatever he offered and steal what they didn’t.

 

You’re ruining it.

 

            He learned of the Mesa from overhearing a conversation between two of the younger Rainbow children he was trying to constantly impress. They said only the most hardcore lived on the Mesa; only the most dedicated of freedom seekers lived there. Newt made the decision to head to the Mesa at once! It would prove to them all how dedicated he was; so they headed back to Arizona.

 

Like this. You hold the knife like this.

 

           

 

 

 

Newt was gone now. The people of the Mesa had punished them for doing the same thing the Rainbow’s had done to them when they first started traveling. They sent the Fat man with his sledgehammer. The Fat man killed and slaughtered Newt and she’d spent the last two weeks or two months living in the Fat man’s shack either tied up or performing menial tasks under his watchful eye. Mostly she cooked either the morning oatmeal or preparing souring pieces of Newt.

 

Like this! You hold it like th–

 

            If it hadn’t been for all of the blood coursing down her pale white knuckles, she would have thought she was still cutting into the rotting meat. She pulled her eyes away from the heavy thigh muscle she’d been cutting and stared into the small, pig like eyes of the fat man; they were glassed over, his mouth hanging open slightly; small, airless gagging noises emitted from his throat where she’d driven the dull carving knife into it. She stared at the hot filth of the Fat man’s blood.

 

            She stood up when she noticed the pins and needles of her legs going to sleep under the weight of her naked body. It took a few minutes of standing and flexing her legs before she’d realized what she’d done. She bent down and gently nudged the Fat man’s bulky shoulder, her thin lips mouthing something like I’m sorry, something like I didn’t mean to.

 

            Her breath came in hot, ragged gasps; she didn’t know what to do? Her eyes darted around the shack; had anyone seen what she’d done? Was there anyone who would punish for killing the Fat man? She backed away from the Fat man, not wanting to turn her back to his slouching form in fear that he would suddenly come back to life, jump to his feet and come racing after her to enact revenge like an invulnerable horror movie psychopath; Ashley broke into tears when she pulled open the heavy door and the Fat man did not come after her.

 

She ran.

 

She ran bare foot and naked into the slowly fading purple-orange desert evening; she ran even as sharp rocks and thorny underbrush tore at her legs and feet. She needed to find someone, anyone. She knew that the people of the mesa had wanted her Newt dead, but maybe she would find some one who would take pity on her? She would beg them to drive her into Tucson or Mount Lemon; she would promise not to tell what had happened at the Fat man’s shack.

She would promise. She wanted to go home to Illinois; she wanted to see her indulgent parents and tell them they were right.

 

           

 

 

 

 

It seemed like hours before she finally came upon a structure; something that looked like two singlewide mobile homes wielded haphazardly together. There were lights flickering inside the dwelling and she could hear the rumble of generator. There was a small fire burning outside of the structure and some one was standing in front of it poking at the flames with a long stick. She began to run harder towards the building, to the figure standing in front of the fire. Despite how heavy and tired her lungs felt, she managed to fill them enough to yell:

 

“HELP ME!”

 

            The figure stared up at her, startled. In the dying light she could see the figure was a tall, slender woman and her eyes were wide and full of fear. Ashley gathered her breath again:

 

“HELP ME!”

 

            The woman turned away from the fire and headed for the trailer. Maybe see was getting someone from inside. Ashley ran harder. The woman reappeared and stood with the fire behind her; she looked like she was pointing the long stick she’d been poking the fire with at Ashley.

 

Ashley didn’t hear the report or see the flash, but she felt something hot tear into her right shoulder. It threw her off her stride, spinning her. She quickly regained her footing and continued on towards the house. A smaller body had joined the woman and huddled close to her hip.

 

“PLEASE! HELP ME!”

 

            Ashley both heard and saw the second shot. She didn’t bother trying to evade it; she ran straight to it; her body and bullet meeting half way, burning into her chest, driving her to the ground. She tired taking a breath as she stared up into the night, at the clear silver of early stars; she coughed, tasting dirty pennies.

Her body became cold, she shivered and she thought of home; she thought of winter.

-END-

 

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7 Comments »

  1. Both versions have much to recommend them. I find the opening of draft 1 to be stronger to me, and the ending of draft two. I’m glad to see things like the “dirty Pennies” left in both versions. the name Dirigible didn’t work terribly well for me, though.

    I remember reading a long time ago a piece by Stephen King in which he said all second drafts should be shorter than first drafts. I’ve almost always found that not to be true in my own writing. Now, 5th and 6th drafts are usually shorter than 2nd and 3rd.

    Comment by Charles Gramlich — April 19, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  2. Hi Charles! Thanks for the savvy feedback. I loved the dirty pennies line too. Anyone who has ever had a cut lip or worse, knows blood tastes like that. Keith’s sentence made that poor girl’s agony real. Yuk!

    I’m glad to hear you mention 5th and 6th drafts. The tremendous amount of work you put into your stories really pays off. The tension is hair-raising, the action visceral, and not a word is wasted. How many times would you say you rewrite one of your short stories? And how many proofing passes?
    EA

    Comment by ashedit — April 19, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  3. Wow, Elaine, the edit draft is tight. I really like the changes. (Although, there are some things I’d like to keep in the new ending, but I’ll e-mail you with these ideas later today.)Thanks for the hard work on the edited draft

    Comment by Keith Rawson — April 21, 2009 @ 4:39 am

  4. You are most welcome Keith and thanks for the kind words! I look forward to hearing your ideas.
    EA

    Comment by ashedit — April 21, 2009 @ 6:45 am

  5. Thoughts on both edits:
    I like the suspense of not knowing how Mac dispatched Knob. Instead of “Too bad Mac had crumpled Knob’s skull with a sledgehammer.”, perhaps it could stay vague: “Too bad about Knob. Mac glanced up and around his small shack. The girl’s eyes followed his gaze and she began screaming.” I’d like the reveal of what Mac did to Knob later in the story.

    Thoughts on Elaine’s revision:
    I like that Mac’s history is hinted at, we know it’s violent, and that he’s done this before. But it’s all left up to our imagination.
    I like that Clover thinks she’s running *to* help but gets killed in the process.

    Thoughts on Keith’s revision:
    I like that the name in the story is Dirigible from the get-go.
    I like the second half, with the background and the italics. And I also like that Clover did a suicide-via-someone else’s gun. Indicates knowledge that she’s better off dead than flayed.

    Well, considering I appreciate both endings and that they are opposite, I’ll just wait and see the final product. Can’t go wrong either way.

    Great exercise.

    Comment by Scott — April 21, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  6. I’ll second that motion. I like your version a lot Elaine. Like Keith’s also. But his is a 2nd draft.
    I’ll rewrite a story 20 times. Work one sentence or paragraph for a week just to get the feel and flow. Keep things moving. So I’ve no opinion. I’m just waiting for the finished draft. By the way this is an excellent thing your’re doing.

    Comment by Frank Bill — April 21, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  7. Hi Frank! Have you emerged from your writer’s lair for a moment? 🙂 I got this idea to show the inner workings of the editing and coaching process. Hopefully it’s helpful. So much of the publishing industry is a mystery, I wanted to shine the light.
    EA

    Comment by ashedit — April 21, 2009 @ 4:48 pm


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