Today I have a treat for everyone. (The same way TV reruns are now called encore presentations.) The first short story I wrote that anyone thought was worth publishing was called The Sacrifice. A small now-defunct magazine called Artisan, a journal of craft published it in 1997. One day in maybe a moment of sanity, I decided that an uneducated Aborigine with slight brain-damage and a limp could do a better job of writing than I could. I deleted all the files on my computer that had anything to do with writing. (Including Heroes Often Fail, a competed 85,000 word mystery novel I had never even tried to get published.) The Sacrifice was among the files deleted and I figured it was gone forever. The other day I was going through some file drawers and found one of the contributors’ copies of Artisan the publisher had sent me. I excitedly read through it after all these years and decided, it’s really not that good. Pretty rough. I liked the voice when I wrote it, but now it seems tedious. I might have made the right decision to delete it, but I typed it back into the computer so I would have a record of it. Since I’m short of ideas this week for a blog post, I’m going to post it here. It’s too long to put up in one post, so I’ll post some now and maybe post some later on some week when I can’t think of anything to post. So here it is, part one of The Sacrifice, an encore performance, for the very first time.
We were still twenty-five miles from Dante Lake when Buckner’s pickup gave up the ghost. It coughed once, upchucked some dark smoke and coasted to a clattering stop with the red idiot lights grinning at us.
We jumped out of the truck and Buckner popped the hood. Standing there staring down at the engine, I figured it could just as well have been the inside of a nuclear reactor for all I know about motors. The tires seemed to have plenty of air in them, so I was sure that wasn’t the problem.
When a few minutes of staring didn’t do anything, Buckner wiggled some wires. Nothing happened.
He licked his thumb and index finger. “Jump in and give it a try,” he said.
I got in and turned the key.
Sparks like little lightning bolts shot out from under the hood.
“ARUGHAA!” Buckner yelled.
I let off the starter and Buckner poked his head around the side of the hood. His slightly-curly hair now looked like a Brillo pad, and his left ear seemed to be smoking.
“The coil is okay,” he said with a glassy look in his eyes.
He licked his fingers again and disappeared behind the hood.
“Try it again,” he shouted.
I turned the key.
He staggered around to the side of the truck and clutched the fender to keep from falling to the ground. “The distributor’s good,” he said. I could have sworn smoke came out of his mouth when he talked. “I’m not sure what’s wrong.” He looked around with a dazed look in his eyes. “Do you hear a bell ringing?”
Sometimes I thought Buckner’s stupidity was an act. Nobody could be that dumb and be able to figure out how to get dressed in the morning. I often thought he might be a genius who acted dumb while inside he laughed at how he was fooling everyone, and then there were times like now when I was sure nobody was that good of an actor.
“It could be the spark plugs,” Buckner said and licked his fingers again.
“Forget it,” I said. “Even if it is the spark plugs are bad there’s nothing we can do about it. We need to get a hold of somebody who knows what they’re doing to look at it.”
If I had to guess, I’d have said the truck was just out of gas. The gas gauge hadn’t worked since Buckner bought the old truck, but I always guessed things were out of gas. I’m not much of a motorhead.
“We’re going to have to find some place with a phone. I guess we should start walking,” I said, looking at the sun settling behind the trees. “It’ll be dark soon.”
“What are we going to do with all the stuff in the back of the truck? I’m not going to just leave it here for anyone who comes along to take.” Buckner said it as if someone would actually want a thirty-year old canvas tent with one straight pole, two army surplus sleeping bags that smelled like wet geese and beat-up fishing equipment you could pick up for five bucks at any garage sale.
“It’ll be fine,” I said. “The short cut you took is so far out of the way the only things coming by here tonight will be ‘coons and ‘possums.”
Buckner wasn’t convinced. We ended up squeezing everything into the cab of the truck and locking it.
With all the valuables safe, we started down the road looking for a place with a phone. Buckner looked back at the truck every ten steps and grumbled about leaving it there.
I’d hoped we could find a house quickly and call someone to come and get the truck running before it got dark–I wanted to be at the lake fishing by morning—but the night flopped down on us before we’d gone a mile. We kept walking until even the orange glow of sunset disappeared.
Back where I come from there are some bare stretches of road–there’s one spot on River Road that only has one farmhouse in an eight-mile stretch–but we walked for hours without seeing so much as a yard light. The only things out there were Buckner and me stumbling along in the dark and the crickets chirping at us from the ditches.
After we’d walked for what seemed like three miles past forever, Buckner thought he saw a light across the section. We found a little grown-over dirt road that went that way and headed down it.
There are fresh tire tracks here,” Buckner said kneeling down and pointing at the road. “A lot of them.”
“Good,” I said. “Maybe we can get some help before morning.”
The road twisted, turned and wound around through a stand of gnarly willows. When we came out of the trees, we could see the light a short ways off. It seemed to be behind a building of some kind.
“That’s not a yard light,” Buckner said. “Someone’s got a bon fire going.”
When we got closer we could see the fire was on an abandoned farm place with no house, just a raggedy red brick barn and an old machine shed. A bunch of fancy new cars with out-of-state plates were parked in front of the barn.
“What do you suppose all these rich folks are doing way out here?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Buckner said. “As long as they give us a ride someplace where we can get my truck fixed.”
Nobody was in front of the barn, just cars, so we went around back.
As we came around the barn we could see they were having a party. Everyone was dressed in black silk robes. They all were around the bonfire in a big circle, dancing and saying these same garbled words over and over.
“That’s not much of a song their singing,” Buckner said. “Not very catchy, and it seems to only have one verse.”
Right then I started to get a funny feeling about the whole situation.
A bald guy in a red robe walked out of the barn and stopped in the middle of the circle between the fire and a big flat rock. He raised his hands over his head and everyone stopped singing and dancing at once. For a little bit everything was stone quiet, you could hear the fire crackling and popping but nobody said anything. A hen-plump woman with white stripes down the sides of her dark hair waddled out to the center of the circle and gave Baldy a huge sword.
“Oh great Beelzebub,” the bald guy said holding up the sword. “Ruler of darkness. Lord of the night. We your people come to honor you on this un-holiest of nights.”
The bald guy threw down his robe and underneath he was as naked as the day he was born! He stood out there by the fire without a stitch of clothes on strutting around like some nudie model, and I want to tell you he had a long ways to go to be any kind of model. Suddenly, the ones in the circle threw down their robes, too. They started dancing and singing their song again, just hopping and flopping around like it was something they did every day.
I looked at Buckner. His eyes were bugged out and his mouth was open.
“That fat lady looks like a sow scratching her back on a fence post,” Buckner whispered pointing at White-stripes.
Suddenly, Baldy threw up his arms again and everyone got quiet.
“Oh Great Beelzebub. Ruler of darkness. Lord of the night. We your people on this un-holiest of night offer you this sacrifice.”
He pointed the sword at the barn and out came this big muscular guy wearing a leather mask.
“That must be the Beelzebub guy he keeps talking about,” Buckner whispered.
I didn’t know if it was or not, but that funny feeling I had suddenly turned into a chill that ran down my neck like an ice cube.
To be continued