Category Archives: country noir

Silenced Song


Norman actually bragged on his body’s ability to create such an incredible level of stench. “I damn near ran everybody outta the bathroom at a bar in Dallas,” he laughed and hooked both thumbs in belt loops to hike up the waist of jeans trapped under his burgeoning girth. “That’s what they get on burrito night!” The man had no shame.

People joked about those generous bodily functions, even when they were canvassing the shoulder of the road for trash along a stretch emblazoned with a highway cleanup sign that read, “Sponsored by the Friends of Norman Blevins.” When the fellas down at the MFA heard about his passing, one commented, “That ornery ol’ cuss had a heart of gold. We all just loved him.” They’d slap him on the shoulder and laugh at his bad jokes. Many people felt the same way and ignored his flaws in favor of his endearing, if not slovenly, charm. He’d help anybody if their dead battery needed a jump or give them a hand with livestock.

Norm’s entrance at the tavern seemed an episode of that old show Cheers, with people calling his name when he walked through the door. He’d holler, “Lemme buy you a beer,” upon seeing a friend. Someone else would show up, so they’d have a few more. Most patrons thought the world of Norman and thought nothing at all of his getting behind the wheel to drive himself home.

They couldn’t believe the tragic newspaper headline announcing the accidental deaths of Norman Blevins and Brian Johnson..

Mrs. Johnson didn’t know Norman. She never met him since they lived in different parts of town, she on the opposite side where mostly black folks lived. The white patrolman who told came to deliver the news of her son’s death didn’t know her either. He’d only been in that neighborhood on past calls. If not for a few boys from there playing high school ball, cops only knew the ones who caused trouble.

Brian was a shy kid who made good grades. He hadn’t arrived home from band practice when his mother opened the door to find a state trooper who asked, “Are you Mrs. Johnson?” She didn’t hear anything else he said after he first uttered those words every parent dread. They felt like a blow to her stomach.

Brian died at the hospital after being hit by a truck on his way home after school. A witness going in the other direction saw Norman Blevins’ truck tires drop off the shoulder and him swerve across the road and over-correct. A teenager walking on the opposite grass shoulder got struck, thrown into the air, and propelled into the ditch. Much like the discarded bottles thrown out of vehicle windows and strewn along the road. The boy’s trumpet case lay hidden in the tall weeds until his younger brother found it in his search a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from the local bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day the man may not have realized he hit anything. The man they knew would never even hurt a fly. Blevins’ friends had the highway department put up a memorial sign within just a few weeks.

It disappeared in a couple days, though. Blades of foxtail later grew up through holes in the metal “Friends of Norman Blevins” signpost that stayed hidden in the ditch where Brian’s brother threw it in desperate anger and grief. His brother replaced it with a cross made of sticks, wound together with torn handles of Brian’s backpack he would never carry again. The boy meant the marker as a clarion so people might notice his brother’s absence from the world.

Brian didn’t hold a position like Blevins or his friends, but Brian’s brother wanted to show that he’d been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew him, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember Brian, too. Although he would never play his trumpet again, it would still be heard.

*Writing prompt – ornery from Our Write Side

photo: Karen via Flickr


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Snug as Two Bugs in a Rug


If not for being hidden out in the middle of nowhere, the farmhouse’s slanted red roof would’ve seemed a beacon meant to draw people’s attention. The residents within sure didn’t want anyone to notice their whereabouts, not with what went on elsewhere on the property. Leastways, not with what got buried behind their small outbuilding.

The pair labored under a starlit sky that cast just enough illumination for their work. James Earl shot his sister a stern look. “Poppy, you would just about give Mother the fits if she seen how you left that pick ax laying around like that.” He pointed to the ground where the implement lay. “She learned you better than that, girl.”

Poppy resented his constant badgering and focused her icy glare on the ground in front of her instead of on his face, her primary target. “It’s not like she’s here to see it, James. She’s been dead and gone for almost 10 years.” The woman disguised her expression to a more neutral visage before looking up at her sibling.

“Don’t you speak ill of my sweet mother,” he warned. It was not as if he owned the exclusive rights to her memory.

Poppy kept her tone steady. “Don’t you imagine Momma would be a bit more disturbed to know what you used that ax for?” Their parents left the farm to the pair as an inheritance, never suspecting they would remain together indefinitely. Those years put them in a close proximity that often tested Poppy’s nerves.

“And she was my mother, too.” She was finding it more difficult to mask the contention in her voice. Not that James would notice.

Random visitors limped their vehicles along in seek of help on the road, and often fancied them a couple at first meeting. Not many people stopped by any other time. Three RVs out front used to belong to random stragglers who had the bad luck of mechanical problems. Some lacked the gasoline to get them to safety.

Those drivers didn’t know that pair long carried a grudge against the world that intersected with their own path. James Earl and Poppy continued to work at the hole where the latest set of passersby were set to spend their eternal rest. Each of three other mounds had finally begun to settle to an even plane with the surrounding earth. Those spots shouldn’t draw any attention from an otherwise unsuspecting eye.

Poppy and James Earl hoped no one would find out about the treasures they collected from those unlucky travelers. The jewelry and cash locked up in a safe nestled inside a wall in the house, all the souvenirs they hoarded from their victims. Any clothing or other possessions had long since been burned elsewhere and not a trace left of the folks. 

Thinking about that loot made James Earl smile as he stood beside the indented place, hands on his hips, surveying their handiwork. He said, “You know, Poppy, at this rate we ought to have enough together by next year to take that trip up to Des Moines like we always hoped. It will finally be time for a celebration.” His head bobbed up and down with satisfaction.

“I don’t know, James Earl,” Poppy seemed to disagree. She picked her tool up from the ground and moved strategically around behind her brother. Just before she raised the pick up over his head to land a fatal blow, she told him, “I might just be drivin’ that road on my own.” 

Our Write Side writing prompt – celebration

photo: “shed rust” by Rusty via Flickr

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Stranger Danger


The white van parked sideways across two spaces in a side lot of Pine Creek Wildlife Area had a homemade trailer hitched to the back that took up extra room. An unlatched wooden box sat atop it that emanated such a stench passersby stopped to sniff the air in search of the source for the miasma. Had the driver realized how the box’s timber would fail to contain the foul odor within, he would’ve parked elsewhere to keep any suspicion at bay.

He’d driven half the night to escape the scene of his latest crime and now risked being found elsewhere because he couldn’t keep his eyes open for another minute behind the wheel. This park seemed out of the way in the dark. In daylight, not so much.

A noticeable funk leaked out from between the pine slabs of the box, which drew the attention of a young boy who chased his ball across the blacktop. Brendan looked at the van and trailer when the ball bounced off its back bumper. His imagination put eyes within the wood’s natural grain and told him monsters peeked back at him from inside.

No wonder it smells so bad, he thought. Maybe a tiny ogre lives in there with his fish dinner he left out to rot in the sun. The boy grabbed his ball and backed away at a snail’s pace, fear having shifted him into slow motion. His stomach rolled at the thought of eating that stinky lunch instead of the PB&J that actually awaited him.

His grandmother hollered, “Brendan, get back over here.” She could see someone with long, greasy hair slumped against the driver’s window of the vehicle. Those dirty tresses smeared a streak down the film of its cigarette-yellowed surface. The body didn’t move. Brendan’s grandma presumed any manner of drug-addled state in which that person might be, maybe even a dead one, asleep behind the wheel at this time of day.

Their family couldn’t have known this picnic spot would bring them so close to a real-life monster who drove it there.

Brendan stood transfixed to stare at the timber he perceived was ogling at him. His mouth hung agape until his grandma yelled his name again, and he startled so abruptly he shoved the ball away from his body. It hit the driver door with a thud like a hammer pounding a tin can.

When the man shook awake, he whipped his filthy head from side to side as if to gather his bearings before he fixed his gaze on Brendan. A sneer curled from his lips to reveal brown teeth that could’ve recently gnawed away at rancid smelt, and the boy shook at realizing he was the target of that nasty smirk.

Brendan ran back to his grandparents, the front of his shorts dark from an accident not experienced since pre-school. The van’s ignition caught and tires spun to narrowly miss the boy in its path as it sped away to exit the park. It took a lot of soothing by Brendan’s grandmother to get him settled down enough to eat his sandwich and return to play afterward.

The family never heard the news story of the van driver later arrested for speeding and what, or rather who, the authorities uncovered inside the box on its trailer. Had Brendan’s curiosity gotten the better of him to lift the latch and look inside, his discovery would’ve certainly ruined everyone’s lunch. Although the kidnapping occurred several days prior, a garrote still surrounded the neck.

Our Write Side writing promptmiasma/stench

(photo: Wikipedia Commons)


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