Looks like the magic is coming back. Just posted this contest, and already Gary Clark has entered with a new work in progress. The task of each author who enters this contest is to connect us to the story fast as fallin’ through a prologue.Each author has to decide for themselves how much information is enough, and how much is too much. It is an act of seduction.
That studly cowboy Gary Clark sets us up for a story that has already got us interested in the outcome. But I ain’t no spoiler. Read it for yourself and then in the comments feel free to agree with me!
Gary also has a published work Dance of the Bull Rider, available here
Coming soon will be another novel, War on Bird Street, about the unlikely relationship between an overweight bullied young boy and a returning veteran unable to cope with PTSD. We hope to be able to submit the prologues and first chapters to these books as well, though, already published (or under contract) they will be ineligible for the competition. And you can say hello to Gary here:
In the meantime, here is
Buddy and Snug (prologue)
by Gary Clark
“I think you’re gonna be ok, Betsy,” Buddy said, patting her belly. “Might be just a little indigestion got’cha down. You’re awful old to be carrin’ a calf but, well, I know how it is sometimes. You’re standin’ out there in that pasture mindin’ your own business, and the Phelp’s bull finds his way through the fence. He looks at you and you look at him and…” Buddy patted his milk cow on the rump and laughed. “Never too old, I guess.”
He walked out of the barn and looked at the sun just cresting above the horizon. “You gonna beat us down again Sol?” he said to the sun. “You been pushin’ the temperature up over a hundred for three weeks straight now. Keepin’ any chance of rain away from us and dryin’ up what little water’s left out there in those stock tanks.” He pulled off his hat and swatted at a big green fly buzzing around his face.
“Water’s no more’n catfish deep out there in those stock tanks,” he said. “River’s down to a trickle, too. Don’t know how much longer we can go like this. But we’ll survive,” he said, kicking at the cracked ground. “We always find a way.”
Walking into the kitchen, he looked up at the ceiling and said, “We will survive this, won’t we, Lord?”
Buddy reached into the pie safe and pulled out a loaf of bread. He cut off two thin slices, rewrapped the loaf in the cheesecloth and put it back in the pie safe. He twisted a big piece of cheese off the wheel of cheddar, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table.
Looking out the kitchen window, he saw dust blowing across the field near the road. “Who the hell is that?” he said, readjusting his cap on his head.
“Howdy, Buddy. You in there?” the Sheriff called as he stepped out of his patrol car.
Buddy carried his coffee out to the front porch. “I done told y’a, I don’t want nothin’ to do with that boy and I meant it. So you can just get in your car and hightail it back to town.”
“I know you did, Buddy. I’m just out here on a friendly visit. Checkin’ up on you.”
“Some reason you need to be watchin’ me now? You expectin’ me to rob a bank or somethin’?” Buddy said.
Sheriff Massey laughed. “No. Just a good day to get out of the office and visit an old friend. Just checkin’ up, seeing if you’re doin’ ok.”
“Well, look up there on that hill up yonder,” Buddy held his coffee mug up toward the hill. “You see one cross or two under that big oak tree?”
“Just one. That’s Ruby’s grave, ain’t it?” the sheriff said.
“Yep. As long as there’s only one cross up there that means I’m still down here workin’ and gettin’ it done. You can bet I’m doin’ ok and no sense anybody comin’ out here to check up on me.”
Sheriff Massey stepped up on the porch, pulled off his hat and fanned himself. “Another hot one.”
“If you came to give me the weather report I can get that by holdin’ my hand out in front of me. If my hand gets hot and dry then that’s what the weather is. If it gets cold and wet, then it’s winter,” Buddy said, walking back into the house. He poured Sheriff Massey a mug of coffee and carried it and his own mug back to the porch. “Might as well sit and rest a bit,” Buddy said, sitting down hard in the old rocking chair. “Maybe the weather will change and you’ll have to go spread the word about it. Then I can get back to my work before the day’s over and I gotta do today’s work and tomorrow’s work all tomorrow.”
Sheriff Massey sat on the rocking chair and sipped his coffee. “Might be,” he said.
They stared out across the fields without speaking. Then both heads turned toward the peach tree beside the porch and listened when a mockingbird began calling for its mate. Looking across the road, they watch a buck and a fawn amble slowly across the field, cropping the grass as they traveled. A coyote bounded out of a thick grove of trees and jumped the fence then ran toward the deer. Instinctively the buck positioned himself between his fawn and the charging coyote, lowering his head, facing the half-starved coyote. The coyote charged. The buck swung its huge antlers to the right, throwing the coyote rolling under the fence, back into the road. The coyote yelped and kicked up dust as they ran back to the grove of trees.
“Natural instinct to care for the young,” the Sheriff said. “He’d sacrifice his life to protect that fawn.”
“Yep,” Buddy said. He struggled out of the rocking chair and grabbed the Sheriff’s coffee mug. “More?” he said.
“Yeah. Maybe half. I gotta get back in town.”
Buddy refilled the mugs and returned to the porch.
Buddy handed the mug to the Sheriff and settled back in his rocking chair. After a long silence, and without looking at the Sheriff, Buddy took a deep breath and said, “I ain’t takin’ that little sonofabitch outta jail.”
“Never said nothin’ ‘bout that.”
“It’s what you came out here for and don’t go tryin’ to tell me no different. But I’m gonna tell you one more time. I ain’t gonna bring that boy out here. I got all the broke down stuff I can pray over and I don’t need nothin’ nor nobody else to fix.”
“You need help out here, Buddy. This place is going downhill, and with just a little help you can get it back like it was – a money-making farm.”
Buddy leaned and spat across the porch rail. “Ain’t no such thing as a money-makin’ farm no more. And I don’t have no money to hire good help and that’s what I need, good help. Not some broke down boy that’s spoiled and got soft hands.”
“Give him a chance. Judge said he’d grant a personal bond if you’ll take him. Snug’s wanting to talk to you and ask you if he can come out here and live with you. I think he’s serious. I think he’ll make you a good hand.”
“He’s serious as long as he’s got those big inmates sniffin’ after him and takin’ his food away from him. Soon as I got him out of there and brought him here, he’d run away and be back in Houston with his drug takin’ friends. I ain’t a’gonna be no part of that. My son and daughter-in-law never raised him to be like that. He turned sour after they got killed in that crash and he got all their money and blew through it buyin’ a big house and fancy cars. You can’t turn sour milk back to sweet. He’s tasted what he thinks is the good life and he ain’t never gonna be happy out here havin’ to work from the dark of mornin’ ‘til the dark of night.”
“If he stays in jail, he’s gonna get hurt. He’s been in protective custody since we got him but I can’t keep him there forever. You willing to take responsibility for what’s gonna happen to him if I have to move him to general population where those guys are twice his size and a hell of a lot meaner than him? He’s a good lookin’ young man, Buddy. Those inmates will trash him and mess up his life forever.”
Buddy struggled out of the rocking chair and threw the last of his coffee over the porch rail. “Good to see y’a, Sheriff. Thanks for comin’ out. It gets pretty lonesome out here and company’s always welcome. Even you. But I got work to do. I don’t have a job like yours, you know, work my eight hours and then go home and come back tomorrow. I gotta work ‘til todays work is done and then tomorrow I have to work ‘til tomorrow’s work is done no matter what time that is. I been sittin’ here with you and half the morning’s gone. Just means it’s gonna be later when I get through and can go in the house tonight.”
“Think it over, Buddy.” The Sheriff pointed across the road where the buck and his fawn were still cropping grass. “You have the same instinct to protect your grandson as that buck did protecting his fawn. If he hadn’t stood up against that coyote, it’d of killed them both and he knew that. He was willing to give his life for his son to survive.”
“I’ll see y’a,” Buddy said, putting his hand on the Sheriff’s back, ushering him off the porch and to the door of his patrol car. “Come back anytime. Always got a pot of coffee on.”
“I’ll see y’a, Buddy,” the Sheriff said, putting the patrol car into gear and rolling slowly away from the house.
Buddy pulled off his cap and brushed his arm across his forehead. “Lord, it’s already nine thirty. Half the day’s gone and I ain’t hit a lick yet.”
He put his cap back on and readjusted it. He turned on the faucet, grabbed the hose off the ground and sprayed the wilted daisies with cool water.
“No sense you flowers goin’ without water,” he said. “She’d never forgive me if I let y’all die. I don’t know how you’ve survived all these years with the drought and all and her not here to nurse you through it. But somehow you just find the strength and determination to keep comin’ back every year. And you reach way down in that dirt and find something that you can use to set these flowers up here for us. That’s the way it is with this old earth,” he said, scooping up a handful of the power-dry dirt. “Just have to keep reaching down and finding nourishment and strength to keep going – keep producin’ even when it looks like everything’s all used up.” He spread his fingers and let the dirt flow out between them.
Buddy looked up toward the hill. He turned off the water and pulled six daisies off the wilted plants. He walked across the field and struggled up to the crest of the hill where she waited for him.
He leaned over and swatted the dead daisies off her grave. Then he knelt and placed the fresh daisies at the base of the cross. He rubbed his old, calloused hand against the hand-hewn cedar cross then sat on the bench beside her.
“This old hill’s gettin’ steeper and steeper every year, Ruby,” he said, sitting hard on the bench he’d built for her. He fanned himself with his cap.
“Looks like I got a few shingles missin’ on the house,” he told her. “’Course they’ve been gettin’ tired of holdin’ on and just fallin’ off for years now. Everything’s getting tired of holding on.” He pointed toward the barn. “Fence over there’s got some posts rotted off at the base, leanin’ over and ready to fall. Barn needs paintin’, garden’s full of weeds.” He looked at the cross. “This place is gettin’ away from me, Ruby,” his voice cracked, “and I just can’t keep up with it no more.” He growled and cleared his throat. “When it was me and you and Casey down there, this place was the best it ever was. We had milk and vegetables enough to give away, fifty head of mama cows, two sheds full of hay, and still had time to help the neighbors that needed helpin’. “
“Then Casey got married and me and you started gettin’ old and the drought set in,” Buddy rubbed his hand across his face, “well, then…”, he stopped and looked at the cross and took a deep breath, “then you… died,” he said. “There. I said it. You died, and… and then Casey and Linda got killed in that crash and now Snug’s locked up over in the county jail.” Buddy leaned forward, slapped his face in his hands and cried.
He stared up at the sky. “If it wasn’t for you being up here watchin’ over me, I’d of give up a long time ago. But just knowin’ that someday I’ll join y’a up here keeps me goin’. Keeps me holdin’ on. I guess the Lord’s not done with me yet. Maybe he’s got a plan in mind for me.” He looked down at the pasture and watched the buck guard the fawn as it continued to crop grass. Buddy smiled and shook his head.
When he finally pulled his pocket watch out of his faded overalls, he saw that it was past eleven o’clock. “Dang. I’ve sat up here all mornin’,” he said, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “Even up here under this big old oak, it’s gotta be a hundred degrees already.”
He put his hand on the bench and pushed himself up to standing, then he brushed his hand against the cross one more time. Without telling her goodbye, he limped down the hill and into the house.
Buddy washed his face and hands and put on his good shirt. Then he walked out to the pickup truck, rolled down the windows and started it up. He drove down the dusty road and out the gate, finally turning onto the road that led into town.
And here is Gary Clark discussing catfish with our president…oh! …wait!