Tag Archives: fiction

It’s not too late …

27 Sep
architecture buildings business car

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“You know Ritter,” Reuther said. “Downtown Lancaster looks more busy, I daresay even vibrant, with lots of youngsters in their 20s and 30s.”

“Hipsters,” Ritter said with a snort.

“Even in Chumley’s?”

“Especially Chumley’s,” Ritter said with disgust.

“You mean?”

“Exactly.” Ritter threw up his hands. “Used to be a gathering spot for writers and dreamers and misfits. Now, it’s junior executives. Young fellers and gals with laptops, their gaze on the bottom line.”

“Damn. What happened?”

Ritter used his index finger and thumb to pick up a stray crumb from the muffin he’d just eaten. He looked out the window from his balcony affording him a birds-eye of the Lancaster Barnstomers ballpark. He’d carefully selected this place back in the early 2000s before things had changed, when Lancaster was still holding on as a gritty, tough little city with a chip on its shoulder, very much aware that it couldn’t be little New York, let alone a tiny Philly. But shit … now …

“But Jon. Things change. I mean … look at us … Time was when we were the young rock ‘n rollers. Regularly knocking off fifty miles on the trails in a day, clacking away on our Remington typewriters, banging out thirty pages at a clip.”

“It’s not our town anymore.”

“Well … not your town anymore. I mean … I left years ago.”

“Right. You did the Kerouac thing. Found your true calling as a trout bum.”

“I begged you to come along. Remember?”

“I remember,” Ritter groaned.

Reuther studied his old hiking and drinking buddy. Geez. He was starting to look old, tired.

“It’s not too late you know.”

Ritter emitted a sigh. Shit, he thought. But it was too late. And yet … and yet …

“You know, when it comes down to reality. We’re all here on this earth just a short time. We need to grab the gusto while …”

“No,” Ritter snapped. “You’re starting to sound like a beer commercial.”

“Well … I mean …

Ritter slowly shook his head. The late afternoon shadows from the downtown buildings were throwing long shadows across the streets.

“I got laid off yesterday.”

“What?” Reuther couldn’t believe his ears. “This is it. Your chance … ”

“Er … I don’t think so.”

“But why?” Reuther said, jumping out of his seat. “This is it. C’mon. You can be out of this burg by tonight, on your way to a new life.”

“Yeah. And we could both sit around that stream you’re so fond of … what is it?”

“The South Platte River.”

“Right, the South Platte, build a campfire and belt out ballads like Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean. It’s elusive, a myth.”

Rutter pushed himself away from the table and began walking around the room.

“C’mon Jon. You can do this.”

“No. It’s a myth Reuther. All of it … the West and the outdoors and how it can save your soul.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“C’mon Reuther. Face it. Happiness … you can’t buy it, and you sure as hell can’t find it through geography.”

A tentative knock came on the front door – three soft, tentative raps upon the wood.

Reuther saw a sly smile appear on Rutter’s face.

“Did you order Chinese?”

“Er … you’ll have to leave now Reuther.”

“A girl?”

“Please. Take the fire escape down Reuther.”

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The Bargain

6 Sep

Ritter poked at the campfire as he mulled over the question.

“What if I had choice between giving up hiking and rock climbing or spending the rest of my life with Annie Klondike?” He furrowed his brow and looked quizzically at Reuther.

“Right. What would you choose?”

“But that’s absurd,” Ritter said, tossing down his stick.

“Just work with me here Jon,” Reuther said.

“I would never give up hiking and rock climbing. I mean … those are my passions.”:

“Okay,” Reuther said. “I get it. But what if giving them up would mean being with Annie … the gal you’ve long pined for … for the rest of your life.”

“But it’s not going to happen,” Ritter said, throwing up his hands.

“No. You’re right. It’s not going to happen. Unless you believe in magic and such possibilities, no one is going to suddenly appear and offer you such a bargain.”

“Right,” Ritter said.

“Still … what would you choose?”

“Jeepers. You’re not going to let this go. Are you?”

Ritter studied Reuther’s smiling face as his longtime hiking buddy moved closer to the fire, his face lit up crimson from the flames.  He appeared almost otherworldly. Ritter had a fleeting thought that perhaps Reuther was a kind of supernatural being who could indeed make such a thing happen. A chill ran through him that even considering an answer would involve him in a sort of Faustian bargain.

“Well … Reuther said.

“Who do you think will win the World Series this year?” Rutter asked, a nervous lopsided grin crossing his face.

“Jon. C’mon.”

“You c’mon,” Ritter said. “This is just stupid.”

“Maybe,” Reuther said, rocking back on his heels and looking skyward. “Then again …”

Ritter poked some more at the flames. “Well what about you Reuther?”

“What about me?”

“Let’s say you had a chance to have your book be a bestseller and make you a boatload of money, perhaps a movie deal. You even win a Pulitzer. You gain worldwide fame.”

“I … don’t follow Jon,” Reuther said.

“Sure. Let’s say that happens, but only if you agree to spend the rest of your life unplugged, off the grid, in some lonely, one-room cabin in say … Greenland? Cut off from everyone you know and love … forever.”

Ritter watched Reuther consider the question as he chewed on his jerky.

“Interesting proposal Jon.”

“Yeah, it is,” Ritter said with a laugh, jumping to his feet.

He watched his buddy consider it for a few more moments. “I wouldn’t take the deal.”

“Why not?” Ritter said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Reuther said.

“But you’d have everything you always wanted … a bestselling book, fame, immortality.”

“And no one to enjoy it with.”

“Er … right,” Ritter said.

“So.”

“So what?”

“I guess you’d give up your outdoors pursuits if it meant you’d gain Annie.”

“Never,” Jon said.

“But she’s your dream girl.”

“Dream girl?” Ritter considered the very words. Dream girl? A buxom outdoors gal who piloted prop planes around the Northwest and Canada. A sharpshooter and trapper, who drank her whiskey straight and could more than hold her own with any man. Surely not a gentle lass, and yet …

“She’s promiscuous,” Ritter said.

“And your point is?”

“No … no I wouldn’t even consider such a foolhardy notion of giving up hiking and climbing. Besides, this whole dialogue has been ludicrous.” Rutter got to his feet. “I’m going to bed.” He headed toward his tent.

“Funny isn’t it?”

“What?” Ritter said. With his back to Reuther, he stopped halfway between the now-dying campfire and his tent.

“These gals. They sure do funny things to our heads.”

“They sure do,” Ritter said. “They sure do.”

Colorado blues

29 Aug
depth of field photo of two pilsner glasses

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Ritter and Reuther trudged up the hill, dog-tired, but elated to be finished. It had been a long hike, following three days of camping along the river, just south of Dock Gulch. The sunshine, the scenery, the negative ions from the rush of the stream made for a perfect few days. And Reuther had caught some fat trout too.
“Smokey’s is just down the road,” Reuther said, wiping his brow as they both stopped next to the Ponderosa Pine at the trailhead and looked down Route 18.
“God yes,” Ritter said. Already, he could envision the neon sign of SMOKEY’S blinking in tiny downtown Dock Gulch, beckoning him. Hell, he could taste the burger he planned to have after they hopped into Reuther’s rickety old jeep and arrived there, pulling up stools at the long bar as if they owned the freakin’ place, the rustic joint existing for their own pleasure. He was going to treat himself to a big fat burger with fries and wash it all down with a beer. A cold one. Shit, maybe two or three cold ones. He wondered if Candy was working, the feisty fetching blonde with the alluring Southern accent who always flirted with Reuther and him. Hell, maybe he’d even work up the courage to ask her out this time. She was one of those outdoorsy types, like everyone else around these parts. Hell, maybe he’d ask her to go shooting with him. Heck yeah. He had two Glocks stashed away in his car he never used, but he had them ready per chance some gal wanted to go shooting. Or he could take her fishing. He had one rod in the car too, even though he didn’t fish. A guy had to be ready for anything when it came to women. What the hell, he could always fake it if she wanted to cast flies to trout.
All at once, there was the sound of bicycle tires skidding to a stop. What the…? Ritter noticed the legs first, long shapely and tanned legs of a young woman. A fine lass alright, astride a sporty looking mountain bike, a blonde ponytail falling out of a helmet. She was smiling. “Jon?” she said in a puzzled tone, a cock of her lovely head.
“Millicent?” Ritter couldn’t freakin’ believe it. How long had it been? Ten years? His mind reeled with memories of a shy girl, a freshman in Professor Moran’s Journalism 101 class. God, he’d been smitten with her. Of course, he had. Problem was, everyone else was too. He’d been an overage grad student then, finding excuses to steal away from his crappy job as an errand boy at the dean’s office to talk to her as class ended. Heck. There had even been a connection between them, he thought. She was so pure, so innocent, so … gorgeous. Freakin’ Moran, that bounder, had made a play for her. And to his joy, had struck out. Rumor had it that there had come a bit of sexual harassment afterwards. That unethical play chased her away from the university … for good. And now, here she was.
“What are you doing out here in the wilds of Colorado?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.” She pulled off her helmet and shook her head, the ponytail swishing, like the tail of a horse. God. She looked good, Ritter thought.
“Er … ah. Where are my manners? Reuther, this is Millicent. Millicent … Reuther.”
“Pleasure,” Reuther said, with a grand bow.
Millicent giggled. God. That sweet infectious laugh Ritter remembered so well.
“I say … I say … Millicent.”
Reuther and Ritter turned left to see a puffy man in biking attire, hunched over the handlebars of a mountain bike, pedaling toward them with significant effort some thirty yards down the road. Ritter shielded his eyes from the sun. Egads. Ritter thought he resembled a turnip, his flesh bulging against the tight biking outfit that he had no business wearing. The bicycle drew nearer. Shit. Was that Ryerson? Ryerson Marks? No, it couldn’t be. One-time dean of the school of journalism and seducer of young co-eds.
“You two … are together?” Ritter said.
Millicent shyly bowed her head. God. She was still an innocent.
Huffing and puffing, Ryerson dismounted uneasily from the bicycle, clearly a novice to pedaling such contraptions, stumbling before righting himself. Still out of breath and clearly out of his element, he managed to walk the bike up to where they stood. “Jesus,” he said. “Mountain biking Millicent? Are you bloody kidding me?” He was sweating profusely, his face beat red.
“I tried to go slowly so you could keep up honey,” Millicent said sweetly.
No. No. It was wrong, all wrong Ritter thought.

 

“I know what you’re going to say,” Ritter said as they sat on barstools at SMOKEY’s a bit later.

Reuther shook his head. “Jon …”

“No,” Ritter said, raising his hand from his beer after slamming it onto the bar. “Don’t say it.”

They sat staring at the row of liquor bottles lining the shelves behind the bar. Reuther wished to hell they hadn’t run into that dazzling young girl … and Ryerson … the fuck. Another middle-aged, out-of-shape successful guy but admittedly, a charmer, who always got the girl. Of course, this one particularly stung Ritter who clearly still had a thing for this Millicent gal – a real looker.

“What the hell,” Reuther said. “We got beers in front of us and burgers and fries coming. “

“Yeah. Right,” Ritter said bitterly. “Living like kings we are.”

“Jon. Geez.”

It occurred to Reuther that the bar was strangely empty on this late afternoon in August.  And it was a Friday too. Normally, fishermen from up Denver and Colorado Springs way and God knows where else had long ago spilled out of offices to flee to the river for the weekend. Why wasn’t Smokey’s rockin’ and rollin’? Even the jukebox, normally filtering some mournful country and western tune or bluesy song was still. It appeared Luke, the bearded thirty-something bartender who also did gigs as a fishing guide out of the fly shop next door, was running the place solo today.

“You guys need another beer or anything else?” Luke said.

“A freakin’ gun,” Ritter said. “Put me out of my misery.”

Luke brought his head down close to Reuther. “A girl again?” he whispered.

Reuther shook his head and waved Luke away.

“Yeah. A girl again Luke,” Ritter snapped. “Now mind your own damn business and bring us those burgers.”

Luke straightened. “Easy guy. I know how painful these things can be.”

“Er … sorry,” Ritter said. He stared at his beer. Shit. Maybe he should just get drunk. Yeah. That was the ticket. But no, last time he did that he made a complete ass of himself right here in SMOKEY’S. Belting out several renditions of Take Me Out to the Ball Game as he danced jigs around the barroom.

“Where is everybody?” Reuther said.

“You didn’t hear?” Luke said. “Place is closing.”

“What?” Ritter said.

“Damn you say?” Reuther said.

“That’s right. This is the last day. The finale. Didn’t you see the sign out front?”

Reuther and Ritter looked at each other. “No,” they said in unison.

“Someone buying the place?” Reuther said.

Luke turned up his palms. “Some retired college professor from back East, I heard.

“Shit no,” Ritter said.

“Yeah. In fact, the guy was just in here yesterday with his hot girlfriend poking around.”

“Freakin’ Ryerson,” Ritter shouted confirming his initial suspicions. “Can you believe it?”

“I do believe that’s the guy’s name,” Luke said.

“What are they going to do with the place?” Reuther said.

“Don’t know. Rumor has it they want to turn it into a brew pub. Take advantage of the weekend crowds that come here to fish and hunt and ski at that new place those rich dudes from Jackson Hole are building down the road.”

Luke stood on the other side of the bar staring past the two of them. “I’m moving back with my mother in Durango. Nothing here for me.”

“What about guiding?” Reuther said.

“They bought out the fly shop too,” Luke said, shaking his head. “I lose big time.”

“Jesus,” Reuther said.

“Your burgers should be about ready fellas.” Luke walked toward the kitchen.

“Candy around?” Ritter called out.

“She quit last week. Went back to her hometown in North Carolina.” Luke slowly turned and looked at Ritter. “Sorry fella. I know you always had a thing for her.”

“We both did,” Reuther said.

“Right,” Luke said. “Well … nothing stays the same.”

They both watched Luke disappear into the kitchen.

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28 Dec

Jack McAllister knew every hatch on every trout stream of Central Pennsylvania. Much of his life revolved around casting dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and other food imitations at that elusive creature known as the trout. He would have it no other way. Jack had gained a reputation as one of the most respected fly fisherman in the state, a dubious distinction in that it gained him no great rewards or wide renown other than that realized in fly-fishing circles.

His had been a mostly quiet life–a true trout bum’s existence–one of fishing, guiding and tying flies. In Jack’s mind, nothing was finer than catching an evening hatch down at the Shad River, just before dusk, when the trout were rising. Jack built this life for himself, an unhurried and quiet existence in this remote mountain area where the living was easy, and a man’s word was as good as a handshake. But it all changed in the year of the Great Green Drake Hatch.

In the years before the arrival of the Great Green Drake Hatch, when Memorial Day weekend in the Green Spring Valley was nothing more than a camper’s holiday and many a fly fisherman would have been hard put to find the Shad on the map, things had been different. In those days, Jack’s home was a ramshackle cabin just a long cast from the Shad. He had lived well there, perhaps even somewhat happily, or at least in a state that didn’t approach anything that could be even remotely referred to as misery.

Happiness, as Jack liked to say, was a damn elusive proposition, but with proper planning, you could latch onto it, and then “hold on like hell” as if you’re hooking up with one of the Shad River’s healthy sized Brown Trout.

“Hell, even if it breaks your damn line, you can have yourself a nice ride,” Jack had said more than once to Max Soothsayer.

Soothsayer nodded and smiled as he gazed out toward the water.

Jack and Soothsayer had spent countless hours together wading the pools of the Shad and the other streams feeding into it. Soothsayer was getting along in years now, and didn’t head out to fish as much as he had in his younger days. A bum knee forced him to use a wading staff even in the calmest stretches of water. Most of his time was spent tying flies in the back of the Roll Cast, the general store off Route 6 he owned, where Jack dropped in nearly every day for a sandwich, to meet a client needing guiding, or for the latest gossip. Although it was in truth a store, it was also part barroom, part eatery and more or less the social center of the village, that is, if you could call the half-dozen homes clustered nearby along Route 6 a village of any kind. Many of the homes were summer cottages, used by hunters or trout fishermen who could be depended upon to show up at the Shad every spring.

Soothsayer was one of the few people Jack could stand to be around for any stretch of time. For one thing, Soothsayer had more knowledge about the Shad River hatches than anyone he knew. Soothsayer also had a keen sense of just what the fish would take. More than once Jack had come tromping into Soothsayer’s store in his waders, frustrated over a particularly troublesome hatch the trout were feeding ravenously upon, but which were ignoring his every cast. Soothsayer, always calm in a crisis, would make a few simple suggestions, or perhaps calmly trim the hackles off some of Jack’s flies before sending him back out to the water. Often, Soothsayer’s sage advice turned around what had been a horrible fishing day.

It was true that Jack loved to fish so passionately that he was thought to be a little off his nut by the local folks. Indeed, he was obsessed with the whole business of catching trout. Jack was never able to explain this fever or love affair or whatever the hell it was he had with fly fishing, but he didn’t have much time for folks who elevated fly fishing to art or religion or other nonsense either. Damn it. He just liked to fish. Being out on the water with a fly rod when the trout were surfacing to grab white mayflies or March Browns or sulphurs. Well … there was just no better time to be alive as far as Jack was concerned.

He’d fished the Shad and every one of its feeder streams from Green Spring Valley to the New York state line. And if there as any prettier stretch of God’s lush landscape or any more productive trout water in America than that fifty-mile swath of terrain, he’d be damned if he knew where it was.

He’d been on some of those legendary trout streams out West and wet his line on more than a few of the other rivers famous for big brown trout, in the Adirondacks and up through Vermont. He took trips every August out to Montana with the local Trout Unlimited group for some serious angling on the fabled waters of the Madison River. But the Shad River right back here in Pennsylvania remained his favorite.

Jack didn’t claim to be a poet but there was something about the Shad he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He knew damn well that to the non-fishing crowd there was probably nothing special about the Shad. It was hardly the sort of stream that drew the canoeists, the kayakers searching for a white-water thrill. A narrow meandering sort of stream, its waters often ran shallow. In a dry summer, it became little more than a trickle in a lot of places, creating marginal trout water and lean economic times for him and Soothsayer. Summer brought a few hikers and campers but few anglers.

Before the arrival of the Great Green Hatch the Shad had been a decently productive trout stream holding the usual amount and variety of insect hatches. It had a fly-fishing only section and a handful of the more noted members of the fly-fishing fraternity were known to occasionally make appearances at the stream. Then came the Green Drake Hatch. It had been something not unlike a religious awakening for the Shad.

The meaning of life on a fall night

1 Nov

Professor Fred Moran peered into the darkness of the woods. The rustling sound from deep in the forest had faded.
“Hell-o-o-o-o … ” he yelled rather tentatively.
“Forget it Fred. The bear is gone.”
“Bear? Who said anything about a bear?” Moran lowered his trusty cane, Misty Blue and came back to the campfire where Ritter and Reuther were huddled, their faces aglow from the flames.
“I suppose the Penumbra State Spy Network is out there again,” Reuther said.
“Yeah,” chortled Ritter. “Out to track down Fred and his stolen manuscripts.”
“Real cloak and dagger dangerous missions,” laughed Reuther
Moran took two steps forward and pointed a finger at them. “Now that’s enough right there.”
“Aw lighten up Fred,” Reuther said. “The days of cold war literary espionage are gone.”
“Quite right,” said Ritter, pulling out his pipe and his pouch of tobacco. “They want to steal your stuff they go online.”
Moran looked deflated. He shuffled off toward the fire and slumped to the pile of rocks he’d fashioned earlier that evening as a seat. “Alas. Who cares about my stuff anyway? I’m a hack.”
“Er … now wait a minute,” said Ritter, taking a long drag on his pipe as he studied his old mentor. “That piece you wrote earlier this year on Annie Klondike. Top notch, I thought.”
“Right,” added Reuther. “I mean … the sexual tension was not only erotic, but clearly showed the underpinnings of fading youth.”
Moran nodded his head. “It certainly was one of my favorite sections of the book.”
“Buck up Fred. You still have it.”
“Even if your powers of sexual virility have faded,” added Reuther.
Moran looked from Ritter to Reuther. He emitted a long sigh and peered skyward. “What the hell are we doing here anyway?”
“Camping,” shrugged Reuther. “What else?”
“No I mean … What are we doing?”
Ritter took a long pull on his pipe and studied Moran.
“Sometimes I think life is just one long masturbation,” Moran said.
“Mmmmm …” mused Ritter as he took another long pull on his pipe.
“Just might be at that,” said Reuther.
The three of them stared at the dancing flames of the fire. A soft wind shook the bare limbs of the trees on this late October evening.
“You’ve certainly given us something to think about Fred,” said Ritter.