Wednesday’s Book Look: Haunts, “Hard Times”, and…animals, of course!

So, it’s going to be Steampunk Weekend at the Old Cowtown Museum here in Wichita!

The Old Cowtown is a living museum with both historic and recreated buildings that represent the history of Wichita.

And, according to the book I just finished–Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper–there’s plenty of ghosts and paranormal activity at the Cowtown Museum site. Here’s hoping they’ll be in attendance at the steampunk-themed event–better ghosts than a pack of hyped-up-on-sugar feral children running around! I’m gonna bring my copy of Wichita Haunts, and maybe I’ll get a ghostly autograph!

Seems like it will be a good pick-me-up for my case of the Springtime blues, either way! (Mild spoilers ahead. And, links for stuff in the post included at the end.)

Although, from the perspective of Les Egderton’s main character, Amelia Laxault, in his book Hard Times, I ain’t got no business having any kind of blues, seasonal or otherwise.

Amelia Laxault is a girl in rural, 1930s, East Texas.

Need I say any more? I mean, come on, the book’s title, Hard Times, should be a dead-drunk giveaway in itself. (Unless you didn’t have to read Grapes of Wrath in school, that is!)

Okay, okay: yes, it’s going to be just as dark, gritty, and gut-wrenching as you might expect. Put aside the box of tissues and just grab a dang bottle of whisky, already. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Also, there are dogs. You’ve been doubly warned.

As a PBR* chaser to Hard Times, there’s also dogs and cats (and a hamster!) in my short story “The Lights Went On In Georgia” which appears in the latest volume of the EconoClash Review (“Lucky Number Seven”, as editor J.D. Graves says in the introduction).

Poor animals. Even in fiction, their fates always seem to be at the terrible whims of humans. But you know, I was watching two PBS DVDs I got from the local library–A Squirrel’s Guide to Success and Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures–and I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic amidst how sad I always feel about animals and nature, stuck on this planet with us.

I started to think how (we) humans have become disconnected from nature by all this technology (speaking of the industrial nature of the 19th century as reflected by Steampunk), and I wondered whether we’d actually dead-ended ourselves into an evolutionary stasis because of the artificially constructed environments we now move through almost primarily. Are we in a vacuum, binge-watching Netflix while nature and plants and animals are busy figuring out biochemical ways to evolve and adapt under our environmental onslaught?

Spec fic writers, get your pencils and paper out!

*PBR = Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you hadn’t figured it out.

Oh, and here’s the links I mentioned earlier. Unless you’re already dead-drunk on that there whisky, and haven’t made it this far in the post.

Steampunk Weekend at Cowtown: https://www.visitwichita.com/event/steampunk-weekend-at-cowtown/33057/ and https://www.oldcowtown.org/

Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738582870

Les Edgerton’s Hard Times: https://bronzevillebooks.com/portfolio-item/hard-times/

EconoClash Review #7: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/graves-econoclash-review-7/

The Squirrel’s Guide to Success: https://shop.pbs.org/XC8032DV.html

Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures: https://shop.pbs.org/WB7702.html

Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt: Puppy Love

 Gone

 

                                                              Puppy Love

They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of shit.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.

********

Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.

********

He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.
“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.
He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.
Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink? He shook the bottle. Almost empty.
He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.
“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.
“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.

*********

“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Then home?”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.

 

–Willow Croft

Writing Prompt Link: https://blackcatastrophy.com/2017/12/03/black-catastrophy-writing-prompt-16-gone/.