The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

nantaylorsmall

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

Maureen Larter, Michael Cottle, Bobby Salomons, Dani J. Caile

The Double ActDani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

I’d never come out of that front door so fast in my life. I thought someone was dying with the amount of hollering I heard. But they weren’t. I looked around, and there he was, my little brother Johnny sitting on the porch, playing Grandpa’s old banjo badly and singing along to it – if that was singing, the only similarity being that it came from his mouth – while Timbo the dog tied up on his chain, normally a vicious little creature, barked and whined next to him.

“Johnny! What the hell are you doing?” I’d been left in charge for the afternoon but I must’ve dozed off in the heat.

“Playing to Timbo,” said Johnny, messing up notes and timing as he went along. His hands didn’t walk along the fingerboard, more like stumbled.

“That’s Grandpa’s banjo! You can’t play that!” I moved closer but the noise only got louder.

“That’s what you think. Timbo likes my playing.” Timbo barked and growled in agreement.

“No, you’re not allowed to play it, Johnny, it’s a family heirloom!” I went to reach for it but Timbo almost snapped my hand off. His saliva dripped from my sleeve.

“It’s not a hair loon, it’s a banjo! See!” He concentrated hard with his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he scratched at the instrument as best he could.

“Johnny! You’ll ruin it! What will Ma and Pa say when they get back?” There was no hiding place from the din.

“They will say what a great banjo player I am!” My little brother and the family’s guard dog. A great double act.

“Please, Johnny, stop!” I was sure my ears had started bleeding.

“I will never stop! I will play forever and ever! I will play this banjo everywhere!”

“Oh, come on! They…they won’t let you play it in school!”

“Oh yes, they will! They will call me ‘Johnny Banjo’!”

“It’s more likely that your life will be in danger, Johnny! You’re gonna suffer a lot of bullying when you get to school! Banjos aren’t cool, bro, trust me! It’ll make you look like some redneck, or even worse, like that mountain hillbilly kid in ‘Deliverance’,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears as he hit some bum notes in whatever song he thought he was singing.

“Who? Is that a place?” smiled Johnny. He continued to twang along as the dog accompanied him with moans and yelps.

“No, it’s a movie!”

“I don’t like movies. I like the banjo!” he replied, plucking away. The noise was excruciating!

“Oh man, there’s a limit to what I can take!” I screamed. With one quick thought, I took Timbo’s chain off. Realising he was free, he took one look at the banjo and ripped it from Johnny’s hands. The strings were the first to go, followed by the neck and finally the head. Good boy!

“You’re in for it now,” I said to Johnny. He ran into the house crying at full volume. Plus one.

Short and SweetMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

“I’m ashamed of you, son.” his father said gruffly. “Standing out there in the street, jiggling about to the music.”

“But I love performing – it gives me a sense of belonging. I really enjoy the sound of the banjo – it makes me happy.”

“I don’t care,” his father growled. “There’s a limit to what we should do to please the crowd.”

“It’s only a front, you know,” Billy nodded to his Dad a wise knowing in his eyes. “I do it so I’m there when the bullying starts.”

His father frowned. “What bullying?”

Billy cleared his throat and stood tall. “The other kids treat my human as if he’s a freak, and it isn’t fair.”

“Stop whining,” His father shook his head. Spittle and hair scattered across Billy’s face.

“But Daaaad,” Billy rolled onto his back and pawed the air. “My human is a happy little chap, and if those bullies get to him his life might be in danger.”

“Oh for goodness sake, Billy,” his father howled. “You keep this ‘performing’ up and I’ll let the cat know – and then it will be YOUR life that’ll be in danger!”

A Glimmer of HopeBobby Salomons

Bobby Salomons

There was something soothing about the absurdity of a young boy playing banjo to a dog. To him a friend was a friend. There was no separation, no judgement, no prejudice to who and what he was – just the simple given of a friendship. Surely the dog knew not what was played to him but he listened intently, as to him the friendship was just as dear.

I reminisced on the meaning of friendship in a small town like this. Though I grew up here, friendship I never knew. There was a strange tradition of bullying, one founded on old principles and targets picked by careful choice. It mattered little what effort would be made, once you were picked on, you’d get picked on again. And word spread like wild fire, who was to be ignored, it knew not a limit to a school or a playground and it grew with you over time. Like a social cancer, without warning and without treatment.

The threshold of being picked on was set by simple principles. Wrong of color, wrong church, parents falling out of grace after a divorce or simple rumors of. Conditions easy to reach with no intent or control of your own. Still they were enough to haunt you.

The chords of the banjo returned me to the present as I had wallowed in self grief. The dog raised its head towards the sky and stretched its chest like a great tenor worthy. From its throat yodelled the ugliest of sounds that hurt the ears like needles. But the young boy smiled with intense delight. They were performing now, together. And that was all they needed.

I sat and watched the two till my ears could no longer give. I grabbed the lid from the hood of the vehicle and placed it onto the lukewarm Styrofoam cup. Before it closed well, I could see how my pigments matched the caffeinated innards of the cup. Bullied for that simple reason.
But as the dog wailed once more, I could not press back the smile that formed from ear to ear. Those days were behind me.

The muffled noise of radio chatter slipping through a window crack. A life in danger.

As I opened the door to step into my vehicle, the light struck my badge and a golden glimmer blinkered across the street. They met the eyes of the young boy – blinding momentarily. He looked at me and smiled. A small hand raised to greet me as I drove passed to answer my duty. To protect and serve – free of the limitations of separation, without judgement and prejudice.

Buster

Michael Cottle

Chip found a spot under a large pecan tree where he settled down upon the sidewalk. He traveled light with a peanut butter sandwich in a sack and a banjo strapped around his neck. Sure enough, Buster came up and sat right down beside him. He looked at Chip and turned his head sideways as he made a small whining sound.

“Buster, you already had your breakfast” Chip said. “This is mine boy.”

Buster whined again and turned his head to the other side.

“Alright boy” Chip said. “Here, take half of this. There’s only one sandwich though, so that half is for you and this half for me. That’s all I got. Ok?”

Buster grabbed his half, and chewed on it until the peanut butter coated his mouth. Buster was still working on the peanut butter when Chip finished his sandwich and washed it down with a thermos of milk.

 “It’s really sticky” Chip said. “Here you go.”

 Chip raised the last little bit of milk in his thermos and poured it into Buster’s mouth.

 “That’ll help a bit boy” Chip said.

Chip put away his lunchbox and turned to his banjo. He began to play a bit of “Turkey in the Straw” as Buster finally stopped licking. Buster rested his face on his paws, and there they sat awhile just like that. Chip played every song he knew a couple of times over.

There may have been many more afternoons to pass like this, except for a kid named Bobby. He rode up on his bicycle popping wheelies and generally showing out a bit. Chip stopped playing and looked away. He never cared much for Bobby. Bobby was never too nice towards Chip, or anyone else that Chip knew for that matter.

“Watcha doin’ there Chip?” Bobby asked as he stopped his bicycle. “Are you playing your geetar?”

“It’s a banjo” Chip said.

 “You wouldn’t know how to play a real geetar anyway. Would ya? I’ll bet your old man couldn’t ford a real geetar. And that’s why you play that stupid banjo. It sounds like a drunk chicken with its head cutoff. You hear me Chip?”

Chip wouldn’t look at Bobby. He wanted him to go away, but he wouldn’t. Bobby threw his bicycle on the ground, and grabbed Chip by his shirt collar.

“Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya’ boy!”

Bobby shook Chip, and Chip swallowed hard. Chip could hardly speak when Buster let go a low growl. Bobby wadded up Chips’ shirt, and that was more than enough for Buster. Buster jumped up and clamped on Bobby’s wrist. Bobby fell backwards and begin to holler in a panic. Finally, Chip recovered just in time to pull Buster off of Bobby before he done much more damage.

Bobby took a few stitches in his left wrist, but he never messed with Chip again. Chip never really got over Buster being put to sleep. Chip lost his audience, and gave up the banjo. Most folks in town said that bulldogs are just like that. They said that you couldn’t really trust them anyway.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Arthur Train Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Arthur Train Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

The Brackets:

arthur_cheney_train

Arthur Train Bracket

Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, Malissa Greenwood, Jacob Stalvey O’Neil

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Banjo

Tina Biscuit

The classroom hushed as Miss Anderson walked in. Don Walker went to the door, where they talked quietly out of earshot of the pupils.

‘Where’s Randy?’ she whispered, ‘ he hasn’t been in since Wednesday.’

Don moved closer, making a gesture to keep the class quiet.

‘I haven’t seen him, Kate; there was a lot of bullying on Wednesday when he brought his banjo into school. They were threatening to throw it in the dumpster, saying that would be the perfect pitch.’

‘Kids can be so cruel with their teasing’, she whispered, ‘they don’t realise how deeply it can hurt people.’

‘Have you tried phoning his mother?’

‘No answer’, she replied, ‘I think we should go to his house at lunchtime, just to make sure.’

‘OK’, said Don, ‘take my car, but I have to stay here.’

*****

Kate drove up the lane, following the directions on Don’s SatNav.

She could see a woman in the kitchen as she knocked on the door. Mrs Thompson opened the door, while removing headphones from her ears.

‘I’ve come about Randy; he wasn’t in school yesterday’, she started.

‘I tried calling you’, Kate continued.

Mrs Thompson pointed at her headphones, ‘I don’t hear the phone when I’ve got these on.’

‘Is Randy okay?’ asked Kate, ‘we were all worried about him, because the kids were being mean to him.’

‘He’s fine; he’s out the back, playing banjo with Bonzo’, she offered the headphones to Kate, ‘you might want these’.

‘Is his playing really that bad?’ asked Kate, ‘I thought the kids were just being nasty.’

‘It’s pretty bad. I think that’s why the bus driver wouldn’t pick him up this morning. He’s been sitting there all day.’

‘The dog seems to like him.’

‘Well, he saved Bonzo’s life: put his own life in danger, trying to pull him out of the river. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

Go and see if you can get a word out of him.’

*****

‘Hi Randy.’

‘Hi Randy’, she said louder, motioning for Randy to stop playing.

She stooped to Randy’s level.

‘Why weren’t you at school yesterday, Randy?’ she asked.

Bonzo barked.

‘I was worried about you’, she said softly, removing the headphones.

‘The kids on the bus were shouting that they didn’t like my playing; even the driver doesn’t like my banjo. I just like to strum along, and make up some tunes’, sobbed Randy.

‘You have to go to school though, Randy. You can learn the banjo after school, and practise at weekends’, said Kate in a comforting voice, ‘I’ll take you back. Finish your tune, while I have a quick word with your mother.’

Mrs Thompson was at the back door watching them as Kate walked back.

‘Did you get anywhere?’ she asked.

‘I think so’, said Kate.

‘I know he’s my son, but I think his father was playing some kind of joke on me, when he bought him that banjo’, she took the headphones from Kate.

Kate rubbed her ears, ‘Yes, there’s a limit to how much we can take, but Bonzo seems to love it.’

‘Bonzo? Bonzo’s deaf, Kate – stone deaf.’

Adagio

Jacob Stalvey O’Neal

Edgar sat on the creaking steps, his back leaned against the flaking white railing as his pudgy six-year-old fingers plucking ineptly at the strings of his banjo. The atonal notes hovered in the air, tinny and honest, competing with the warbling of the jenny wrens playing about the clusters of wisteria hanging over the trellis. Inside, his mother hummed as she scraped and scrubbed the worn dishes in the sink. At the far end of the porch, sprawling lazily in the shade, lay Buddy. The collie mix paid no heed to Edgar’s plinking, instead trying to nap, tongue lolling out in the late afternoon heat.

Edgar tried in vain to stretch his tiny hand across the fret, frowning in concentration. His father had shown him, once, where to put the fingers, which strings to hold down, which ones to let sing freely. But try as he might, he simply couldn’t reach. It was too far.

In frustration, Edgar made a fist and strummed his knuckles furiously across the strings. No sooner had the first discordant notes sounded when  he heard a shriek from the edge of the porch, off under the parlor window. He glanced over, and Buddy had jerked upright, yelping.

The notes faded. Buddy’s head was cocked to the side, ear raised. Experimentally, Edgar raised his hand again, and with a sweep of his arm swept it across the strings once more. And again Buddy yelped, a loud, plaintive howl, tapering to a mewling whine. His head shook from side to side, and he whimpered.

Edgar smiled, slowly at first, his lips spreading into a grin of mischief.

Again he strummed. This time, down, and back up. And down again.

Buddy writhed piteously, crawling and shaking, pressing himself against the siding of the house as far from the steps as he could get, as if to disappear into the wall. He clawed for purchase as he backed against the house, crying, howling.

Edgar kept strumming.

But now Buddy stopped howling.

Instead he parted his lips, showing his teeth, almost as if to smile. He let escape from his throat a soft, purling noise, the beginnings, just the stirrings, of a growl.

And Edgar, blissful, heedless, with all the terrible ignorant bravado and invincibility of childhood, raised his arm once more.

And once more was all it took.

And the banjo sang.

And Buddy leapt.

And Edgar screamed.

*****

Buddy was long gone, barrelling merrily down the street, when Edgar’s mother pushed open the screen door with a slam and let out a screech of her own. The mangled, inanimate thing that had been Edgar was cradled limply in her trembling arms when Buddy spied a little girl, swaying lazily in a rope swing in her yard.

“Hi doggy!” she called brightly.

Buddy wagged his tail.

“Do you like music?” she cooed.

From the pocket of her dress the girl pulled a small silver harmonica.

She smiled as she put it to her lips.

And Buddy smiled too.

Trading Bills for Banjos

Malissa Greenwood 

Janine stared at the computer in disbelief. This can’t be happening, where is all of our money going. Of course she could see where the money was going. Doctor visits. School supplies. Vet bills… The list of expenses was never ending. But the list of income, on the other hand, was short. And the credit cards were at their limit.

“Mom!” “Hey don’t hit!” “Mom!” Her two boys were yelling for her simultaneously and then, as though on cue, the dog started barking on his way through the dog door. In an effort to suppress the noise she marched into the living room where her sons were.

I swear to the lord above if those boys wake April I’m going to beat ‘em within an inch of their lives! Endangered brothers, that’s what they are. “Hush now! The baby is sleeping! What is going on out here?!”

A slurry of explanations spewed forth from her rowdy four- and six-year-old sons. She held up a hand to stop them “One at a time please! Marcus, why is your brother crying?”

“I don’t know but he hit me with the controller!” Marcus exclaimed, pointing a chubby finger at his little brother Keenan.

“Because he called me stupid! Stupid is the not nice word Mom!” Keenen choked out between subsiding sobs.

“Marcus, stop bullying your brother! He’s only a little guy. Keenan, buck up. You can’t just hit someone because they call you a mean word. Ok?” They nodded slowly, considering their options. “Now If you two can’t get along and keep quiet I’ll gonna bust your butts!”

A jumble of “No!” and “But mom!” were met with her patented look of serious discipline.

She heard the dog continue to bark outside. “Alright then. Well you need to be quiet and so does your dog. Go out to the backyard and play with him please. Keep him from barking for thirty minutes and then, if your civil, you can go back to the Xbox.”

As the boys trudged off to the backyard, Janine settled back behind the computer to continue deciding which bills could be paid and which could be put off.

*****

Janine woke later to the sound of music coming from the backyard. She glanced at her watch and wondered how she managed to fall asleep in a house as loud and stressful as hers. She checked the video baby monitor to find April was already out of her crib. She stumbled to the back door, relaxing only when she saw her husband holding April in one arm and the video camera in the other.

“Hey sweetie, didn’t want to wake you. But you’re just in time for the encore show.” He smiled and nodded to the grass where Marcus and Keenan were standing side by side facing their dog Scruff, matching banjos in hand.

“Banjos?” She asked.

“Garage sale down the road.”

She sat down next to her husband, pleasantly stunned at her lifting mood – a beautiful summer evening, a happy baby and husband, and her two sweet, no-longer-arguing boys playing some banjos for their dog. Maybe their lives weren’t endangered after all.

Bully For You

Vance Rowe

Aloysius sits on the sidewalk and is playing his banjo for his dog. He isn’t very good at it yet but the dog is a captive audience for him. He even squawks out a tune for him: “Ah’m a’ pickin’ on my banjo for my dog. I sit and pick for hours right here on my log..”

His song was interrupted by a local teenager who likes to bully the younger kids. 

“Hey, Stupid. What did you do with the money?”

Aloysius stopped picking and singing and looked up at the bully with a sigh.

“What money, Tommy?”

“The money your parents gave you for banjo lessons,” the bully replied with a laugh.

They young boy did his best to ignore the bully and tried to go back to picking his banjo.

The bully didn’t like being ignored so he snatched the banjo from the young boy and ran away with it, laughing maniacally.

This bully picks on younger kids everyday and Aloysius is a target just about everyday and he is sick of it. Aloysius groaned got up off of his log and followed the bully. He is red-faced with anger. This boy has been absolutely pushed to his limit of tolerance for Tommy and his bullying. He grabbed the dog’s leash and led him in the direction that Tommy went. As they walked, he could hear the bully strumming the banjo every once in awhile. He followed the sound and then saw the bully walk up on the porch of his house. The bully sat in a chair on the porch and strummed the banjo until he was called into the house. The bully set the banjo down and went inside. Aloysius quickly ran up on the porch, grabbed his banjo and walked away. The bully soon came back outside and was angered when he saw the banjo was missing.

Tommy went off in search of the young boy. He went right to the spot where he saw the boy earlier sitting on the log and there he was strumming and singing to the dog again. The bully ran up to him, pushed him off of the log, grabbed the banjo and ran off through the woods, cackling with laughter. Aloysius sighed and went off into the woods after the bully. It was starting to get dark out and the woods were even darker. The bully was in unfamiliar territory and ran until he came to a high drop off. He stopped suddenly but lost his footing and fell over the ridge. He grabbed a thick root growing out of the side of the ridge and hung on for dear life. It was about a hundred foot drop with rocks and water below. He yelled for help and Aloysius appeared above him.

“Kid, help me. Please.”

“Where’s my banjo?”

Up there somewhere. I dropped it. Please help.”

He looked around and found the instrument and began strumming it and then began singing as he walked away. “Strumming on my banjo and I can’t lie. I have a feeling that bully’s going to die.”

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The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Linda Fairstein Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Linda Fairstein Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

linda_fairstein

Linda Fairstein Bracket

D. Lee Cox, Amy Kasim, Matt Henderson, SzeTeng Ong

Introduction to Wim Meeks

– A Scene from Marie ClemLee Cox

D. Lee Cox

Walking in the southern heat and humidity in late August was like moving through warm broth. The 9:05 Central line arrived at Junction Hall on Sims and 3rd avenue early in the morning.

Into the bright sunny hot morning walked William “Wim” Meeks.

The street corner lacked any color but brown. Brown brick, brown dirt roads, brown water, gas street lamps browned with dust, brown people with brown hats. The smell of manure and body odor and mildew wafted up from under the splintered and rotten boards.

Outside the diner two dusty men sat on a bench smoking cigarettes, an empty pop bottle lay in front of them. Heads tilted down, fedoras over their eyes, laughing in gruff throaty grunts. Upon the edge of the boardwalk a young boy of eight or ten sat playing a banjo to his dog.

Meeks stopped short of the pop bottle, dead in his way.

“Excuse me.”

Neither dusty man moved. 

Long pause.

Meeks picked up the pop bottle and put it next to the boot of one of the men.

Continuing on his way he patted the shoulder of another as he passed.

Six strides down Meeks felt the tap on his shoulder and stopped quietly. 

“Excuse us,” growled a voice behind him.

Meeks turned slowly to view the two shady characters, standing one behind the other.

Their skin was leather, eyes sunken and red. One slightly taller than the other, but favoring in a familial way. Dirt encrusted nails as one reached for his cigarillo.

“What can I do for you?” asked Meeks.

“Just what do you think you’re doin, mister?”

The boy stopped playing his banjo, the dog dipped under the boards.

Meeks took a step toward them.

“I said ‘excuse me’ and you didnt move. I assumed you were asleep. I moved your pop bottle so as to not disturb you,” Meeks leaned into the shade of the other mans filthy hat, “is there a problem with that?”

Meeks had a dead stare in his eyes that might startle the average church-goer. But these men had given up their spirituality a long, long time ago. They were not intimidated.

The first man slowly leaned forward, “You dont touch a man you dont know, mister.”

Meeks looked up at the first man, said, “Didnt mean to offend… friend.”.

He hooked his thumbs into his leather jacket and stared at the first man.

Across the way a butcher was standing in the doorway of his shop. White apron mottled in blood red, yellow fat. Smoking a cigarette, watching a cat drink something out of a saucer.

Two strong wills do not experience “fight or flight” – they experience something more akin to a bookie doing the math. The effort just doesn’t seem worth it.

The second man said, “Tom, I’m gonna go get another pop.”

The first man spit on the ground and snorted, like an angry bull deciding today wasnt the day to gore the bullfighter.

Meeks said, “Good day,” touched the brim of his hat and turned to continue on his way.

Always Had It In Meamy-kasim

Amy Kasim

What happens when a person is ill-treated? Who is to blame; the one who committed the offence or the one who caused the offender to commit the offence? More often than not, people who do wrong are not to blame for what they do. The offences they commit are mostly triggered by past experiences such as broken home, a horrendous incident like continuous bullying in their teenage years or sometimes, it is just the way they are.

In my case, I could be referred to as the guy who played it safe. I was not a bully, the bullies were my allies. It was I who designed the pranks they would use on the innocent ones. Well, don’t hate on me! A brother needs to do what he can to survive boarding school! I had the brains; they had the strength and the fame. I needed them just as much as they needed me. I didn’t have friends, the only one I had was Thomas.

Thomas, my faithful friend, was a stray dog I found lying wounded in the bush behind the school. I slowly nursed him back to health and with the permission of my house master; I got to keep him as a pet. That dog just had an ear to listen to everything; so when I would sit with him on the bleachers at the school field playing the dis-tuned banjo my grandpa left me, Thomas would perk up his ears, wagging his tail with his tongue hanging out as if he understood every single out-of-tune note I played.

My grandpa always said, ‘people do not change; character is just imbedded in them’ never made sense to me till a few years after I had started working at a tech firm. I was a bully all along; the situation needed to bring up itself.

There was this new intern at the firm where I worked. His name was Louis; very shy and timid. He skinny with a crooked nose, always avoided eye contact and would stammer when trying to answer questions. He reminded me so much of myself in high school that it infuriated me. I needed to get rid of him.

I tried talking to my supervisor to change his department but he would not budge so I knew I had to do something. I would usually put him in embarrassing situations like sticking gum on his seat and sticking pads on his shirt which read ‘slap me!’ or ‘I am dumb’. I would taunt him endlessly and make up silly jokes about him, debunking his contributions during meetings and throwing his work in his face. I never saw the need to stop even when he begged me but I guess there is a limit to everything.

One day, out of frustration, Louis almost jumped off our 7 storey because he could not bear the torture anymore. I finally realized who I had become; a bully, someone who always put lives in danger.

Appalachia, Keep Me Dancing

Matt Henderson                                        

“I’m here with ‘Sonny Boy’ Latham,” I started in, coming back from a commercial break. “We were talking about bluegrass and how you started playing the banjo as a young boy.”

“Yeah. I reckon I’s four when I really started playin’,” Sonny Boy half laughed, half sang—He was big on emotion, short on words, and I wasn’t very interested in the subject anyway, and hardly in the mood for pulling teeth.

This was regional cable television in the mid-seventies and I wasn’t excited about most of the assignments I was sent on. I was young and had my eyes on real news; major broadcasting. The trips in a white station wagon, and a minimal expense account were depressing as hell. I felt like I was a million miles from civilization; maybe I was. It seemed like once you hit a certain mile marker on those back roads, the miles started passing exponentially.

“Sonny, do a lot of children still start at such an early age around here?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Sonny Boy’…Told ya that…it was in the papers,” Mr. Latham said rather curtly. No song in his voice; no laughter. “Some do, some don’t. Always been like that. Always will.”

“I asked about that, ‘Sonny Boy’ because we were hoping to get children interested in joining band in their local communities and schools. It was in the papers that we sent. Do you have any words for the children who might want to start playing music?” I nearly yawned.

“If they want to play music, play…Ya can’t make ‘em.” He snorted. “Besides, ain’t no community bands ‘round here, and ain’t no band in the school, neither. Not for miles. They is only family bands. We like it that way.”

“Strange thing, but I get to say this…we do love to say this: A funny thing happened on my way in this morning. I saw this little boy…Looked about four. He was sitting on this wall playing this ancient banjo…the kind with animal skin stretched over the base. He was playing it well, but what struck me was he was playing for this big black dog. The dog was dancing…and he looked like he was smiling. Have you ever seen that boy with his dog?”

“Ain’t no such thing. Cut that camera off. I ain’t got nothin’ else,” the veins stood out as Sonny Boy spoke. Then he walked out of the makeshift studio and jumped in the passenger side of a pick-up that sped off.

The man he called his manager walked up. “You saw the boy?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Look. Don’t take this wrong. You’ve been depressed. A number of us have. This is Appalachia. It’s a country within a country. Runs through a large part of your country. But it’s real. Solid. Spiritually intelligent and coherently humane. Cherokee, Irish, Scottish. Not the hicks you people like to intellectually bully. Everybody sees the dog. Mister, Sonny Boy’s brother killed himself from melancholia a long while back. People say the boy is him, keeping the black dog away. Dog’s name is ‘Bami Jo.’ Nigerian word for ‘Keep me Dancing.’ The banjo’s original name.”

Pack

Ong Sze Teng

The hare was messily torn down the middle, no longer able to stand the strain from both ends. Ozo dropped the end he was holding, but at least he had the decency to look ashamed. Naga was frowning as he tossed the half of his prey to the hound beside him, as if someone had merely made a small slip instead of ruining the pack’s meal. “Well, now you’ve done it.”

“I didn’t mean to pull so hard,” Ozo mumbled.

“Which is surprising, seeing how scrawny you are,” came the scoff. Ozo glanced up immediately, growling at the sneer directed at him.

He hissed back, “Maybe Berry won’t think so.”

“Maybe she will. What happened?”

The whole hunting party stood at attention, flanks still for a moment before turning to gaze calmly at the sleek, lean female gliding into the clearing.

“Our new member seems to think he’s in charge,” Naga reported coldly, head jerking at the hare at Ozo’s feet. A quick inspection, confirmed that the hare had been torn apart, not bitten through neatly, of course. “The hare was in one piece when I caught it.”

Ever one to make wise decisions, Ozo jumped to defend himself. “Naga wanted to claim it, so he snatched it from me! I just pulled too hard, I know I shouldn’t have.”

“Is that why we found the herb store trampled? Or the pups’ prey bitten before they ate?” Naga asked innocently.

He cringed inwardly. The hunting party seemed to be nudged from their silence. Banishment, they uttered, or he’ll will think he’s in charge of the whole pack.

He barely heard anything past that, but he did catch his leader’s somber last words.

“This is not the first time, Ozo. Even I have my limits,” she said quietly. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

The slippery woods wouldn’t have been as hard to maneuver if he was calmer. Relentlessly, droplet after droplet slapped across his jaws, the wind slamming against his face as he surged between trees bending in the gale. He could stop, as his legs were begging him too, but a mixture of fury and stubbornness told him the only option was to keep moving forward, because I didn’t deserve this and I am strong and don’t need shelter to survive.

He was still charging aimlessly, when a strong brown blast cut his path off. Mud, and not the roll-about-in kind. He hadn’t realized his camp had been near a hill. It was almost pathetic the way his last thoughts were still on his traitorous pack before the mudslide descended upon him.

Something prodded his flank. Ozo shifted instinctively, immediately restraining a groan at the ache in his hind legs. There was no darkness nor rain; he was out for quite a while. The human lazing across him, had a short tree in its paws, pounding against the bark. If he wasn’t injured, Ozo would gladly have rose to fight. Oddly enough, the sound the human was more soothing than aggressive.

Well, they hadn’t hurt him, merely garbling as he dove deeper into his nest. Maybe he could stay awhile.

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