Fiction: Provoking Talk

“Be on alert now, boys,” cautioned the teamster. “This is where the bandits cut my friend down not two weeks ago.”

“Be on alert,” Buck remembered. “Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.”  He took a deep breath. He must try to have faith. The huge, dark sky terrified him. If there was no God then what did he have? He couldn’t go back to his old life. Maybe everything was just luck and happenstance or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe everything came down to behavior, or it didn’t.

Buck’s life felt different since accepting Jesus—but how could he be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking? Maybe the stories were fake. Maybe there were no real men named Paul, John, or Peter … but Paul—how could he write so passionately, so compellingly about a fake savior? And all of those centuries after, filled with lives changed and artwork created and, yes, the very hope and peace that came to Buck, a nobody, traveling in the gloomy Arizona desert. Without God, he’d fall into despair. All else seemed shallow and worthless compared to the promises he was just now reading about and beginning to understand. Forgetting himself, he whispered, “I am so thankful, God, that you made them all write it down.”

“What are you saying, Buck?” Fred asked.

“Do you believe in God at all?”

“What? Well, sure, I guess. Whatever you say,” Fred said, the whites of his eyes narrowing as if to prevent an annoying light from entering.

“The things we did together in the past … we’re forgiven.”

“Great. Now what’s the name of the infamous watering hole in town?”

“The Buckskin. We should go back and spend time with the family,” Buck suggested.

“Are you joking? I rode all the way out here with them fools. I need a damned break and a good lay.”

“Oh, Fred, come on. You said I’d be home early.”

“My God, it’s like you’re an old lady. Listen, I do want to hear about your God thing. I admit I don’t understand it. I don’t mean to be aggressive with you, but it’s been a long journey and the last few months of school were very hard on me, having to get everyone sorted out so you could have a chance at success in life. One night out will make all the difference. I need to make some changes too, and maybe, just maybe you’re the one to help.” Fred took a sip of whiskey. “It just occurred to me that this whole conversion thing … well it could be that God is working through you to get to me!”

“I don’t think so.” Buck grit his teeth. What if the one and only purpose for Buck’s conversion was to influence Fred? God was his sanctuary. Buck worried that Fred, if converted, would be a better Christian than he was.

“Buck, are you all right?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh, hell, you do too much of that. Let life play out a little on its own. You’d be surprised at how much fun it can be.”

The teamster laughed. “Yer brother’s right there. Life only gets worse as you get old like me. I got three marriages to awful jezebels behind me—very unaccepting women, schemers in their thinkin’—so I came west and I had me some very nice times.”

“See, Buck, listen to the old saw.”

The man snapped his reins. “Yep. Well, I can’t get it up no more.”

Buck glanced at Fred with a smug smile.

george elbert burr“Yep, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was dead tomorra. I piss blood. Have done for a while now. Old age ain’t no picnic, so live it up while you can.”

“How old are you?” Buck asked.

“Thirty-eight.”

Buck took a deep breath. “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”

Fred punched Buck’s arm hard.

The man chuckled. “‘Course. Many times, but it ain’t done nothin’ fer me. I’m fine on my own.”

Buck cleared his throat. “Well, you need to make peace if you’re going to die.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know if I’m dyin.’ I was just makin’ talk. I ain’t wantin’ any preachin’.”

“It’s just that God will forgive your adulterous ways if you believe!” Buck said.

Fred punched him again.

Buck shoved him back, explaining, “But in Ezekiel it says if I don’t speak out to the wicked they’ll die for their sin, and I’ll be held accountable for their blood.”

“I don’t have to take this no more. Get out of my wagon! The both of you!” the teamster cursed them.

“But, sir!” Fred begged.

“No, get out with your ugly friend,” the teamster ranted. “You promised me no trouble!”

“Jesus isn’t trouble at all,” Buck said, but Fred dragged him from the wagon.

The teamster dashed off toward town, leaving the two in the dark.

“God damn it, Buck. You’re plumb loco! Now we’re in the goddamned middle of nowhere!”

“You shouldn’t keep using God’s name in vain …” Buck said.

“What? You’re crazy!” Fred went to slap Buck’s face, but Buck blocked him and took hold of his arm.

“I will never allow you to touch me again,” Buck said.

“Oh, what will you do about it?” Fred asked pulling his arm from Buck with a confident sneer.

“I’ll stop being your brother. I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need you!” Buck followed the moonlit trail to town. It was too late to turn back. A friend at the stables might let Buck sleep there.

Fred trotted beside him. “Come on, don’t be so hard. Of course we’ll always be brothers. And I guess you did us a favor. The teamster didn’t take his fare so there’s more money for us.”

Buck marched on.

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Fiction: The Only Thing Left

“Then I’ll be eternally damned, right?” William asked with a sneer.

Kenyon said nothing.

“But Buck, who admits to almost killing someone, is saved. Well, that’s some trick.”

Kenyon thought a moment. “It’s interesting that you feel within your rights to judge and require certain behaviors—say from your father—but it annoys you that God, who is all knowing, should require things of you.”

“Well, God’s just imagination and I won’t give over my whole life to a set of dumb rules with no pay-off. I thought God was all right years ago. I even considered the priesthood. I was a dumb kid. I thought if only my parents would stay together I’d do anything.”

“And they stayed together?”

“Yes, but it was a hell for me. I used to have smarts, I wasn’t a cripple—this is all my father’s doing and I hate him for it. When he came back to us he fawned over us or sat staring out the window like a moron. And my mother put up with it! And they let Buck and Fred make a fool of me. I was finally away from all that, but now they’re here again to make me look stupid, and Buck tells you about me?”

“Yes, he said some very kind things about you and your father …”

“I want peace and to be left alone,” William said.

“Now you lie. Your idea of peace is a drunken stupor, and take my word—each drunken episode will get worse and worse till you end up—”

“I’m not you, Mr. Kenyon. I have no intention of opening an evil den of iniquity.”

“I bet you had no intention of almost causing an Indian outbreak, getting Buck and Fahy shot, or nearly dying yourself because of drink.”

William said nothing for a minute. “That wasn’t all my fault.”

“But look what happens when you drink. Don’t you want anything better for yourself?”

“No. I can’t imagine anything.”

“When was the last time your father used morphine?”

“What? Why?” William straightened up.

“I suppose it’s natural to want to be like your father,” Kenyon said.

“That’s the last thing I wanted! I wanted to be so different, and I am different. He pretends to be so good now.”

“Maybe people aren’t pretending or faking you. Maybe they make mistakes—like you do.”

“You can’t compare me to them! I leave people alone,” William said and scratched his nose. “My father stopped doing it for a long time—as far as I know—but Thankful had to go and tell them how I was and out he came to see me, and he did the morphine again and someone saw him—not being himself. He’s not good without my mother. She makes everything perfect for him so there’s no upsets, but he doesn’t deserve it. Anyway, I treated him like shit so he did it again.”

“But how is any of this your fault?” Kenyon asked, handing William a cigarette of his own—though no one ever saw him smoke.

William lit up. “You know, God came to me in a dream once. Promised me if I was good, my parents would be all right. For all I know my father is hiding needles again and my mother is denying it … but there’s Lucy to worry about and Grandma, who’s so different without my grandfather and Uncle Simon … and maybe it’s wrong for me to drink—hell, I know it is. At least my father came by his problem acting bravely on the battlefield. I got this because I was weak and afraid on my own. So I drank once, and this is what God does—he punishes me with it forever. So fine, I should have been good, but now I’m pretty sure I can’t stop it. I did want to—for you, Mr. Kenyon—but it’s all I have. It’s the only thing, so that’s it.”

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“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”