The Coon Hunt – Flash Fiction for 3/23/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

Grandpa, the dogs and I go into the woods at sunset. He carries the rifle and I carry the flashlight. We hike for hours through darkened rough hills to reach grandpa’s secret hunting ground. In a clearing, we build a roaring fire and grandpa sends out the dogs. I lay on a bed of pine needles and watch falling stars. Grandpa nips at his flask and dozes.

We wake at daylight. The dogs came back during the night. We head home. I don’t have the heart to tell him there haven’t been any coons in these woods for twenty years.

Dog Days – Flash Fiction for 3/16/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

When Wes dumped Bobbie, her world crashed. To Bobbie, he was the one. She lay on the couch, watched soaps and ate ice cream for days, but the pain didn’t go away.

She’d never told Wes she was a shifter. When a speckled dog with love and longing in her eyes showed up at his house, he resisted at first, but she wore him down after a few days.

For Bobbie, it was heavenly, snuggling in bed with him every night, going for long walks in the woods, having his hands in her hair.

Then that damned cat showed up.

Cellar Dwellers – Flash Fiction for 3/9/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

Delbert’s my little brother. When he was born, he didn’t come out right. Mama keeps him locked in the cellar. Delbert don’t talk or wear clothes. Sometimes mama makes me hose him down. He whimpers some when the cold water hits him.

Mama went to a tent revival last year. The preacher healed the sick and afflicted. She got him to come pray for Delbert. He went in the cellar and prayed a long time. It didn’t do no good. He gave up, but mama told him to keep praying until Delbert was fixed. To this day, he’s still praying.

The Ritual – Flash Fiction for 3/2/12

Photo courtesy of Madison Woods

The sacred ritual required jewels. All the old books said so. Without them, the magic wouldn’t work.

The jewels arrived as the moon waxed full. To the priestess, it was an omen. She summoned the sisterhood.

The skinny girl stood by the off ramp holding a cardboard sign that read “Homeless and Hungry.” It only took the promise of a hot meal and a warm place to sleep to get her into the car.

They gathered at twilight in the clearing. The girl had been scrubbed, sedated and dressed in a white smock. Everything was in place for the sacrifice.

Writer William Gay dead at 68




William Gay

One of my favorite writers, William Gay died Thursday of heart failure at age 68. I’m very sad for his loss, and the loss of all the beautiful fiction he would have written if he had survived.

William Gay came up poor in the small town of Hohenwald, Tennessee. He never attended college and made his living as a carpenter. For about 35 years, he would write his haunting southern stories and send them off to magazines, and for decades, they were rejected. But he kept writing, kept getting better, and ultimately, he did get published in some of the most prestigious literary magazines.

In the mid-90s, I was living in Flagstaff, Arizona. One Saturday, I was at a yard sale and I came across a cassette tape edition of his first novel, The Long Home. At the time, I’d never heard of William Gay, but the blurb on the case made it sound like my kind of story, so I bought it for a dollar and stuck it in my car.

A few days later, I was driving somewhere and I remembered the tape and popped it into the player. I listened for about five minutes, and I immediately was drawn in completely. So much so, that I thought what I was hearing was just too good to listen to on tape. I knew that the tape was a shortened version of the novel, and I didn’t want to miss any of it, so I went to a bookstore and found the novel and read it and I was hooked addictively to William Gay’s exquisite sentences.

I went on to read everything I could find of William Gay’s. His second novel, Provinces of Night was even better than the first. His two collections of short stories include some of the best I’ve ever read. When I ran out his books, I hunted down his work in magazines and anthologies and read it.

In 1997, I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, home to the University of Arkansas. When I found out William Gay was giving a reading on campus one cold winter night, I went and dragged my son along with me. We found seats on the third row of the auditorium where he would be reading. Local writer of note Skip Hayes, who I remember was suffering from a terrible cold, introduced William Gay.

When he came out, he was a slight, retiring man. He stepped to the podium and began reading one of his short stories from a current copy of Tin House. There was a microphone in front of him, but the public address system wasn’t working that night.

And William Gay was so soft spoken, we couldn’t understand the words he was reading, and we were only about fifteen feet away.

Everyone in the auditorium sat there politely while he read, though not one person in that audience could understand what he was saying. When he finished reading, I went to him and shook his hand and told him how much I loved his writing. I wish I had done even more, invited him to coffee, or a beer. Even if he’d turned me down at least I would have tried. And if he had accepted, I would have been overjoyed.

I’ve replayed that moment in my mind for the past few years and I constructed a fantasy that someday I would be driving through Tennessee and I would go through Hohenwald and I would call William Gay and invite him to meet me at the down home cafe there that appears in his novels. That’s how much I liked this writer.

A couple of days later, I went to the library and read the story I had been unable to hear him read that night, and it was a fine one.

Southern literature has lost a great voice. His time here was not long enough. I told him in the brief moment I met him that I thought his work was transcendent. It’s doesn’t seem fair for him to be lost to us, to be silenced in the prime of his artistic life. I will miss him like crazy.