Friday, July 22, 2005

EVENING IN THE SPRING OF '68 - flash fiction

(note: My second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, was just named a semi-finalist in the Works-In-Progress category of this year's, William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. Any Doubting Thomas types are free to check out the site:

This unexpeted event is my excuse for re-running the following piece which first appeared back in January. It's a short story version of the opening section to, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age love story set against the background of changing values, the Vietnam war, and racial tensions in a small southern town during the summer of 1968. The story appeared in the inaugural edition of, Chick Flicks. (see links)

Bayou Bill


Evening In The Spring of ‘68
by Bill Fullerton

Headlights off, three large cars glide through the muggy Louisiana night like nocturnal birds of prey. Each front door brandishes an angry, ornate star and the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department.

In the dark cab of a pick-up truck, two men watch as the cars turn right onto a dead-end street with no lights and no name in a nowhere place called Sandtown. On one side of the street a derelict chicken coop, several rusting cars, and a weed-choked baseball field occupy an otherwise vacant lot.

Three small frame houses perch on the other side as if ready to flee at the slightest noise. All are tidy but patched and weatherworn. Short fences outline bare-dirt front yards. The quiet procession halts in front of the third house.

No dogs bark as uniformed white men get out. One circles behind the dark house. The others set up a cordon around the front and sides.

A tall, beefy man wearing western boots and a cowboy hat steps up on the porch. After a last glance around, he hitches up his pants, wipes sweat off his face, and then pulls a pearl-handled .44-caliber revolver from its hand-tooled holster. He yanks the screen door open and bangs on the wooden, hollow-core front door. With his first blow, red lights start flashing on top of the cars.

“Open up! This is the Sheriff. Come on out, Amos. We know you’re in there.”

From inside comes the sound of scurrying feet and frightened whispers. The tall man hits the door even harder. The noise echoes in the night. “This is Sheriff Tobias. Get out here, now!”

“I’m a’comin’. Jes let me gets my pants on.” There are more loud whispers. Someone peers out from behind the curtains of a front window. The door opens a few inches.

A black face with wary eyes looks out. “What’s ya want, Sheriff? I ain’t done nothin’.”

“Don’t give me that shit, boy. Get out here or I’m gonna bust in and drag your sorry ass out.”

“You don’t hafta do that. My Momma’s in here. You already done scared her ‘bout half to death.” The door swings inward. A wiry, barefooted man wearing khaki work pants and a bib undershirt steps out. ”What y’all doing here dis time of night, Sheriff?”

“Shut up, nigger!” The big white man holsters his pistol, reaches behind his bulky frame, and produces a set of handcuffs. “You’re going to Pinefield, to jail.”

The black man steps back. His face shows surprise and fear. “How come? I ain’t done nothin’.”

“I told you to shut up. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back.” After a momentary hesitation, the voice of white authority overwhelms any outrage or bewilderment. The man named Amos does as ordered, and the cuffs snap into place.

The Sheriff spins him back around, steps away, pulls out his revolver and uses it to motion for another white man to join them. Then he glares at his prisoner. “You’re a goddamn pervert—you know that, boy? We got an eyewitness who saw you looking into the bathroom window of a white, widow-lady named Myrtis Oglesby. Amos Little, you’re under arrest as a Peeping Tom.”

“A what? Sheriff, I ain’t been looking in no white woman’s window.” The prisoner turns from the Sheriff to the deputy, looking for support. “Least of all no dried-up, crazy old white woman like Mrs. Myrtis.”

Bathed in the rhythmic, flashing glare of red lights, the sweeping motion of the Sheriff’s right hand resembles something from a flickering silent movie as his fist, and the revolver it holds, smash into the side of the prisoner’s head. A scream comes from inside the house. He staggers in a macabre, jake-legged dance of insensibility, then drops to his knees.

Sheriff Odell Tobias leans close and hisses. “Nigger, you’re talking about my wife’s aunt. Now it looks like we’re gonna have to add a charge of resisting arrest.”

Another deputy joins the first. They pull the prisoner to his feet, drag him off the porch, and shove him into the back of the lead car. A ragged volley of closing doors soon follows. With sirens on and lights still flashing, the three large cars with the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department and an angry, ornate star on each front door swing around and leave. As they drive past the dark pick-up truck, everyone but the prisoner waves at the two men sitting inside.

Thin red streaks emerge from the cab, arc through the still night air, then land with small bursts of glowing embers. Headlights come on and the truck moves down the now deserted street. It stops across from the third house, the one with the front door still open. Inside, a black widow-lady named Bernice Little is alone and crying for her son. The men get out, lift something from the bed of the truck, and lug it into the vacant lot.

A small flame soon spreads up from the base of a wooden cross. Jack Boudreaux and Delmar Bullock get back into the truck. They stop at the intersection to make sure the cross is burning properly. Assured it's another Klan job well done, they head back towards Pinefield.


It was another turbulent evening in the spring of ’68. Student protests raged from the Sorbonne to Berkeley. Civil rights demonstrations and anti-war rallies were turning violent. Martin Luther King was dead; Bobby Kennedy would be soon. Hundreds of other Americans were dying each week in South Vietnam. Soldiers patrolled the streets of Saigon, Paris, and Washington. Soviet troops prepared to invade Prague. And in a nowhere place called Sandtown, an innocent black man was beaten and arrested.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I'LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU - flash fiction

This is a short (999 word) story about love thwarted, then triumphant. I wrote it for submission to the flash fiction contest at Whispering Spirits,
Any thoughts, either on the story's worthiness or its woefulness, would be appreciated.

Bayou Bill


I’ll Always Love You
by Bill Fullerton

After it was all over, after the last hymn was sung at the church, the last prayer spoken at the grave side, the last condolence given, Mark Cahill came home, hung up the suit he’d need for Willie’s funeral the next day, lay down, and fell into a fitful sleep with the same dream.

Flames and smoke boiled from the windows in the back half of the old, cross-shaped, wooden church. Framed against the stormy, night sky, the fire so dominated their minds no one noticed the parking lot was empty. All they knew was Willie’s family might be inside.

The car skidded, slowed, then came to a jarring halt, its left front tire wedged in a drainage ditch swollen with rainwater. As Willie struggled with the passenger door, Amy Marshall looked over at Mark, her fingertips touching the face of the life-long friend who had, just minutes earlier, become so much more. “I’ll always love you,” she said, pushing away a lock of his wet hair.

“And I’ll always love you.”

As their lips met, the door swung open and Willie started clambering out. Amy turned to watch, breaking the kiss. When she looked back, her expression had changed. “Come on,” she said, scooting away from him toward the open passenger door, “we’ve got to make sure everyone’s okay.”

Mark opened his door, stepped out into the dark, rainy night, and stumbled into the same ditch that imprisoned his car. The fall cost him a sprained ankle, one shoe, and time.

He struggled out of the ditch and hobbled around the back of the car. The rear of the church was in flames, but the sanctuary appeared untouched. In the illumination from a long flash of lightening, he saw Willie trying to open its double front door.

As he limped across the gravel parking lot, his old friend triumphed, and then hurried inside. Moments later, Amy reached the open doors, and paused to look back. When she noticed Mark limping, she started to come for him, but hesitated and glanced inside the church. Fear for Willie’s parents overcame her concern for Mark’s limp. She motioned for him to hurry, and dashed into the sanctuary.

Later, was it a moment, a second, a lifetime, he’d never know, the old wooden building seemed to groan in mortal agony. Unseen, the fire had spread into the cluttered attic. Flames started shooting out of holes which blossomed on the roof. Weakened by this new assault, it began collapsing around the now useless main support columns.

The building shuddered. The walls began falling in after the roof. The once proud building was becoming a giant bonfire. Mark heard Amy scream, maybe his name. But her voice was lost in a wave of noise, heat, and flying embers as the roof and walls disappeared into the flames.

The blast of scorched air knocked him down. At first he just lay on the wet gravel unable, unwilling, to comprehend what was happening to the church, to his friends, to the woman he loved, to his world.

From somewhere came a desperate, animal-like cry. “No. No. No!” He was up, racing towards the flames.

It was dark outside when he woke to the sound of his voice. “No. No. No!”

He dressed and went out the back door. His old Ford was waiting in the moonlight, as if it knew he’d be coming and where they’d be going. It was a short drive. He parked and walked over to the old cemetery’s newest grave—the one covered with fresh flowers.

At the grave, he stood and stared, trying to make sense out of what had happened. But his mind wouldn’t function.

With mechanical motions, he moved the flowers aside until raw, newly-turned, red clay earth came into view, then he knelt and put a hand on the grave. But that wasn’t enough. He lay down, rested his head on the mound and let the cool soil absorb his tears.

And then Amy was there beside him. They kissed and touched and talked about what might have been and what once had been. The time when they were kids and went fishing with Willie and caught all those little fish. The high school game when she missed that crucial free throw and cried for days. The time, back in the spring, when they first kissed. This summer at the lake when he knew he’d always love her. Last weekend when she screamed, “Yes!” jumped into his arms, and agreed that from then on, whether anyone else knew or approved, in every way that counted, they were married. And their last kiss, when Amy said she’d always love him. Those were their times.

A pale light defined the tops of pine trees on the east side of the cemetery. Mark was alone. Though stiff and damp with dew, he felt rested and at peace. He must have slept. But there’d been no nightmares, just Amy. A blanket covered him; the same old Navajo they used as kids when camping out at her grandmother’s farm.

With an effort, he forced his body into motion. Once on his knees, he folded the blanket, then placed his palm back on the earth above Amy. “I’m glad you didn’t have to spend the night alone. And, well, I guess, now we can say we spent at least one night together as an old married couple. I know, another one of my bad jokes, but it’s early.”

He closed his eyes. This time his mind produced a mental image of Amy: tall, slender, and impossibly beautiful. She was in his arms, smiling into his face. “That’s us; already an old married couple.”

Mark leaned over, kissed Amy's grave, then whispered, “There’s supposed to be a time and place for everything. I don’t know about that, but it feels like my time to leave. But till we meet again, never forget, we are an old married couple--and that I’ll always love you.”