South Carolina Writers’ Workshop announced the list of contributors for the 2012 Petigru Review, the annual SCWW member anthology. Among the 32 authors and photographers featured in the sixth volume of this anthology is McKendree (Mike) Long of Blythewood, SC. The 2012 Petigru Review was unveiled at the SCWW Writers’ Conference, Myrtle Beach, SC at the Awards Dinner on Friday, October 19. For more information about the conference, visit www.myscww.org/conference. Anthologies are available for purchase at www.myscww.org or www.amazon.com.
Here is Mike’s winning submission!
TWO FOR ONE
Mike Jones did not mean to “write” a short story for a little girl with EB that day. Hadn’t thought of cute Baby Mia and her Epidermolysis Bullosa in weeks, Godawful as it was.
As soon as he cleared the normal cluster of traffic around Columbia and settled in for that hour and a half drive to Charleston, he pushed his mind toward the fantasy mode. It was how he wrote; a little focus on a subject, then run rein-free, try to come up with something writable. Rub off the edges, add some twists, don’t even try to put it on paper until he pretty well had it set in his head. Then the paper drill began. Mike couldn’t type. Everything was hand-written on legal pads, his scribble interpreted later by Transcript-USA, a medical transcription service.
Today Mike needed to make some headway on his third novel. It was a follow-on to the other two books; the core fictional characters were already developed and since it was Western historical fiction he also had a plot line of sorts. This book would have the Battle Of The Little Big Horn and the death of Wild Bill Hickok as centerpieces, but would cover several years. He had even written the climax, but had not yet connected it all. He really needed to do that today.
He’d been stalled for months, too busy selling his other two books to write anything. The old chicken-or-the-egg question was faced by all independent writers: if you don’t write, you’ve nothing to sell; if you don’t sell, why write? To be successful, you had to do both, at least until you became known.
Success meant different things for writers, but usually money, fame, or legacy. Mike wanted all three. He had heard many writers claim they were in it for the ‘simple joy of writing,’ but he suspected those folks hated the ‘simple joy of marketing,’ or were already ‘comfortable.’
Mike knew marketing, having been a salesman for twenty-five years before he started writing. In two years as an unknown, he had gotten his books in 226 Indie bookstores and they were selling 165 copies per month. Not enough to change his life or break even yet, but getting better. Even now he was driving to the South Carolina Low Country for another book-signing. The problem was that now he was getting calls for the next book in the series.
That was a good thing, right? But he needed to finish his taxes, and the rest of April and May were filled with out-of-town signings, Civil War re-enactments, gun shows, book festivals, and weddings. June meant five days in Albuquerque for the Western Writers convention. Judas Priest.
As he blew past the Orangeburg exit at 78 mph, his mind went into full revolt. It went back to that little girl Mia, and her awful disease, and her needs. Not his.
“You are not listening to me,” he shouted to himself. “FOCUS!”
“Aw, just go screw yourself,” his mind replied. “You don’t need more money for yourself, you selfish bugger. Merrill pension, Army pension, Social Security, dividends – plenty for you and Old What’s-her-name. Plenty to leave the kids, too. What you need is a big hit, a quick strike, to do something for that little girl and her family.”
“What in the Hell are you talking about?” he asked himself. “She is not my responsibility.”
“Oh, yes she is,” his mind replied, grinning from ear to ear, “and you know it. God gave her to you.”
“Oh, Shhh… Sugar,” he said to himself. “That’s not true. Not really. Is it?” There had been a family funeral in a small Baptist Church in Wilmington a few years back. As he left, he’d missed a poster, a plea for help for Baby Mia and her family. Walked right past it in the church foyer, lost in agony over the loss of a wonderful niece to leukemia. God almost let him escape; there was no reason for him ever to return to that church after that service, or to ever hear about that little girl.. But no; God made sure his son-in-law Rock did notice the poster, and said, “Hey, Mike, you think we ought to do something for her? Maybe direct our memorial gifts to her?” Thanks, God. Thanks, Rock. ThankYouSoVeryMuch.
Over the next few weeks they’d learned what a horrible disease EB was. Blisters all over the body, as well as in the throat and nose; blisters which needed to be pricked and treated with expensive oil daily, and which left the tiny victim extremely vulnerable to staph infections. Epidermolysis Bullosa is not contagious, but staph is, and so Baby Mia’s family really needed to upgrade to a three-bedroom house, to give her older brother his own room and a fighting chance against staph germs. The move didn’t seem possible; the mother had to quit her job to care for Mia 24/7, and her dad was working two jobs to keep their heads above water. With Mia around six months old, they learned that half a Pepcid tablet would clear the blisters from Mia’s nose and throat so she could eat; they also learned there was no cure, but that Mia had the least awful version of the disease. “The best of the worst,” the doctor had said. There was an experimental treatment, but Mia wasn’t eligible until she was two years old. All she had to do was live another 18 months on her own. Nothing to it.
Well, Mia was one tough little girl. She’d made it past that first part, learned to sit up and smile a lot, though she couldn’t see well or talk much. With hard work and a little help, her family still couldn’t afford a three-bedroom place, and now they learned about the autism. Where the Hell was Oprah, anyhow?
Here came that lone tree in the interstate median, covered with Spanish Moss, the halfway point to the Holy City. As he went by it in a blur, Mike pounded the steering wheel with both palms and yelled, “Judas H. Priest, anyhow!” The matron in the Buick he was passing gaped and slowed down.
In his best Cousin Vinnie voice he said, “Yo. What am I opposed to do heah, anyways?”
His mind responded, “Cousin Vinnie. Yo yourself, Cracker. You’re on the right track, now. You need a lawsuit.”
“Oh, Yeah,” said the Inner Voice. “You need to drive straight to a Starbucks and spill a big cup of Colombian Blend right in your lap. Then call your lawyer.”
“Whoa, wait a minute there…” Mike reflexively covered his privates with his left hand.
“Come on, come on now, Stupid. Think about it. Selling books is too slow. OK, I agree spilling it on yourself is dicey. You need to get bumped by a truck driver or something, so it’s definitely not your fault. The spill, I mean.”
Mike muttered, “What do you mean, ‘agree with me?’ I didn’t say anything…”
“Yeah,” said the Voice, “but you were thinking it. You are finally thinking.”
And he was. It might not help Mia immediately, but the fantasy button finally clicked on, and the story evolved quickly, magically. As with his other stories, he began to see it clearly. Even for Mia he couldn’t imagine scalding his crotch, but there could be a way…
A Short Story by Mike Jones
Mack Robbins pulled into the Burger Queen and, needing a stretch, went inside and took his place in line. As he scanned the menu, a big guy in a red cap with a County Animal Control sign on his jacket pushed by him and said, “Sorry, Pops, but I know what I want.”
Dog Catcher, Mack thought. Never did care for ‘em. Wish I was big enough and young enough to cut him down to size. But Mack was neither muscular nor young, so he pouted and waited and ordered a BBQ Combo. When it came there was no barbeque sauce in the basket, so he asked for some.
“Can’t you see I’m helping someone else now?” the counter girl said. “You just have to wait your turn.”
When she finally turned back to him and he asked for his sauce, she said, “That’s gonna be extra.”
Mack said, “Actually, no, it’s not extra because it’s not extra sauce. You forgot to give me any with my order.”
“Ain’t nobody forgot nothing,” she snapped. “You just want something for nothing.”
“Just get the manager,” he said, peering at her name tag. “If you please, Miss Buffy.”
Buffy yelled, “Bo – come out here. This man wants something and don’t want to pay.”
A slick-looking fellow, forty-ish and balding, slithered up. His cap proclaimed him to be “Burger Queen Assistant Manager,” and he patted Buffy’s arm. He said, “It’s OK, Honey,” then to Mack, “What seems to be your problem, sir?”
Mack said, “It’s simple. My barbecue plate had no barbecue sauce. Buffy here forgot it, or someone did. I’d like some before my barbecue is cold.”
Buffy said, “I ain’t listening to no more of this crap,” and flounced away.
Old Red Hat the Dog Catcher stood nearby, waiting for his super-sized order. “Durn, Bo. You’d best get him some sauce before he gets mad or something,” he snickered. “He might throw a hissy fit.”
Bo said, “Oh, yeah,” and excused himself briefly, returning with a small container of sauce. “Our special sauce, sir. On the house.”
Mack took the sauce and his basket and headed outside toward a picnic table. He thought he caught a wink from Bo to Red Hat as he left. Mack poured the sauce on his barbecued pork, then saw there were no napkins. He headed back inside, now totally ticked off, only to be bumped by Red Hat heading for the parking lot.
“Excuse me again, Shorty,” said the man, with an open sneer.
Mack kept going. His seventy years and five-and-a-half foot frame wouldn’t mean much against Red Hat’s thirty-five years and three hundred pounds, and Mack couldn’t pull his pistol, legal though it was, because of a simple insult. Or two. Still…
Mack turned back in time to see Red Hat bend over the table and spit into Mack’s plate. He yelled, but Red Hat gave him the finger, hopped in his Orangeburg County Animal Control truck and drove away.
For a moment, Mack stood stunned, then grabbed the contaminated plate of pork and yelled, “I’ve got your DNA, Bubba!” He put it on his floorboard and took off after Red Hat. In less than a mile he was right behind the Dog Catcher From Hell, and had the 911 dispatcher on the phone.
“I’m heading toward Charleston on I-26, in pursuit of a man who just tried to kill me,” he said. That’ll get their attention.
After the South Carolina State Trooper pulled Red Hat, there was a tense moment as Mack explained what happened, but he persevered.
“For all we know he’s HIV positive,” Mack said. “Even if it’s just Whooping Cough or the Asiatic Flu, for somebody my age, he coulda caused my death. It’s attempted poisoning. I want him tested. I’m gonna sue this county blind. And it’s not for me, see, there’s this little girl…”
It still didn’t go well until Mack explained that his son-in-law Rock was the son of none other than Lieutenant James Amick, now deceased but a legend of the SC Highway Patrol. “You serious, Sir? Big Jim Amick? Old ‘Lead-Head’ himself? He died before I’s born, but everybody in the Patrol knows about him. He’s on the Wall of Fame at the Academy. Wow!” Seconds later, Red Hat was cuffed and in the back seat of the patrol car. In Big Trouble.
It got better. A test of the tainted barbecue revealed two DNA samples. Turned out that ol’ Burger Queen Bo had added a little something to the sauce also. Above and beyond the duties of an Assistant Manager.
At least from a financial standpoint, things were going to get a lot better for a certain little girl and her family.
Mike nursed the story in his mind, wishing he could turn his fantasy into something more tangible than a short story. Even if it became an instant success it wouldn’t generate any Real Money. Things just don’t work that way in real life, he thought. Not that easy. Thanks a lot, God.
The yellow fuel light flashed as he approached the Pageville exit. A quarter mile off the interstate was a Fill-N-Go station. They also served All You Can Eat Catfish-N-Fries for $7.00, according to their hand painted sign. Mike gassed up, got a plate, and after FINALLY getting some tartar sauce, went out to a table. There were neither napkins nor salt present, and he thought, it’s Déjà Vu. Again.
Heading back inside, he was stopped by a scruffy man in an orange jumpsuit and blue hat which proclaimed, “Orangeburg County Sanitation Dept.”
“You wanna spot me five bucks towards some wine after a hard day picking up your trash?” the man said.
“I’m trying to quit,” Mike said. He almost made it to the door, but the guilt kicked in and he turned back, digging out his money clip. He was just in time to see Garbage Man lean over and spit on his catfish plate.
“It’s OK, Lord,” Mike said, looking up. “The blue hat didn’t fool me. I know what happens next, and this’ll work just fine.”