New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Death in a Live Forest

THE LIGHT FROM THE FIRE in the small clearing flickers its wicked dance on the surrounding Ponderosa pines. Shadows move in and out of focus among the trees’ long needles. The booming of an owl out hunting small rodents echoes off a nearby cliff. The sound of a creek bubbling and dancing across its rocky streambed mixes with the crackling noise of the flames. A pinecone bursts into light sending a stream of bright orange sparks spiraling into the sky. Billions of bright stars and galaxies shine in the eternal blackness. The yellow glow of the fire also illuminates the faces of several individuals standing on the fringes of the blaze. One of them holds a side-by-side twelve gauge shotgun that is pointed at two others positioned near a shallow trench that has the dimensions of a grave. The fourth member of the night’s tableau is off to the side of the others, his facial features obscured by the distance from the flames. With swiftness associated with predators everywhere this one covers the distance to the two others being held at bay by the shotgun. He moves like a hungry mountain lion. Coiled within this swift movement is enormous anger and violence. A fist crashes into the nearest one’s face. The man reels backward with the force of the blow as though shot with a gun. Blood spurts from his crushed nose.
The one with the shotgun is motionless. The eyes follow all of this, then the thinnest, slightest of grins creases the face. The one with predacious instincts turns to the remaining victim, who is now shaking and babbling words in a language only spoken by the damned and the terrified.
The predator and the one with the shotgun look at each other. They both smile easily – mean grins. This night’s work is not yet completed.
~ ~ ~
The fish sails through the air. I pull back hard on the oars to give my friend more room to work the brown trout as it crashes and flies down this deep run next to a sheer wall of dusty-yellow rock. When the huge fish took my fly, Dirt and I had been discussing our friend Sam Jones being recently charged with the murder of another friend of ours, Mark Grace, but all of that sordid business disappeared like the line on Dirt’s Peerless reel is doing right now. The Dog is up on the front seat, his large ears flying in the wind, barking instructions to Dirt as he plays the fish or rather as it plays him. The brown is well over two feet long, I saw that during its first leap. The crazed trout is well into the old reel’s backing as it powers its way towards a wicked spate of cascades and mid-stream boulders. He tries to check the brown with no success. More line tears off the reel. I can tell by the pitch of The Dog’s barking that things are getting desperate.
“I’ve got to pull out now, Dirt, or we’ll get sucked into Red Head’s Trap,” I yell. Red Head’s Trap, a quarter-mile of rough water, is named for a woman both of us know, someone who had chewed up both of us in the past. Literally and figuratively.
“Hang on, damnit. I’ve almost got him,” shouts Dirt as the trout reaches for the sky once again taking still more line from his ancient and banged-up Ari Hart reel. “See what I mean.”
I don’t, but this fish is closer to thirty inches, the biggest brown I’ve ever seen on the river, so I look ahead and plot a course through the roaring maze of whitewater that is now only a hundred yards away. I can hear the pounding and crashing of the river even above the wind. I can smell the damp richness of water. What the hell. If we die, we die. I can hear it all now over drinks at Dirt’s restaurant:
“What happened to them?”
Dirt hooked his fish of a lifetime above Red Head’s Trap and that idiot Bouchee tried to row them through while Dirt hung on to the fish,” and the speaker takes a long pull from his drink while those gathered around him lean forward expectantly. “Got pretty most of the way through, then Bouchee lost an oar and they crashed into a boulder. Smashed the boat to shit and they all drowned. Found the bodies tangled in a log jam down by Springdale,” and the speaker drains his drink and asks for another. He’s silent for awhile and then adds “I’ll miss that dog. He was a good one.”
My reverie is broken as we rode the crest of the first standing wave, this one about four feet high. The boat rocks and spins with the force of the twisting water, then we are in the air, briefly, before slamming into the side of a rock shaped like a bottle of Paisano wine. Probably Dago Red. The current holds serve. Both oars snap and are torn from my hands. Dirt is hanging on to the boat up front with one hand, his beautiful Hoagie Carmichael fly rod clutched in the other. The gem is worth thousands and belongs in a museum, but Dirt said “The guy built this to fish with and that’s what I’m going to do with it.” The Dog is not around. Nowhere to be scene. Next a huge whirlpool spinning out of control below the big rock twirls us around at about 45 rpm before shooting us into a series of smaller obstructions. We batter our way through this gauntlet, the cedar sides of the boat splintering and then we blast over and into a submerged rock that tears a three-foot hole in the bottom. The jolt knocks Dirt overboard, my last vision is of man and fly rod going head first into the river, feet high in the air. Then the boat capsizes and I am underwater. The sun is shining brightly. I clearly see the rock through the aquamarine current before I am slammed into it. Then I’m out.
The sun’s heat and white light bring me around. The first thing I see is Dirt and The Dog standing in the river near shore. He’s holding the brown trout at arms length. The Dog is sniffing the fish’s gill plates. I also notice pieces of the drift boat floating languidly in the calmer water and Dirt’s broken fly rod, in several mangled pieces, the reel smashed, lying on the cobblestone beach. The Dog looks fine, but blood is streaming down Dirt’s legs.
“Hell of a fish, Bouchee,” he said. “Between hauling your sorry ass out of the water and dragging this guy in, we had quite a time. Damn dog herded the fish to shore every time it tried to swim away. At least one of you is worth a damn.”
I slowly got to my feet. I ache and hurt all over. There is a fair-sized knot on my forehead, but other than that I’m fine. We’ve been lucky, especially when considering some of the other mayhem we’ve been involved in over the years. Only a gash on Dirt’s leg and my bump, though we are out about seven grand on the custom-made drift boat. So what. We’d had dozen’s of great floats in the thing and we still had Dirt’s old beater fiberglass one. Just another day on the river.