January 4, 2016

Flash Fiction By DB Cox: "Hope"

DB Cox is a blues musician/writer from South Carolina. He grew up in a Southern Baptist Orphanage called Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in Greenwood, SC. He graduated from high school in 1966, and joined the Marines Corps right after the Vietnam TET Offensive in 1968. After being discharged in 1972, he spent several years playing guitar in bars, juke joints, and honky tonks across the South.

 In 1977, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the Berklee School of Music where he discovered a thriving blues scene. After thirty years of playing the music he loves with some great bands, he moved back to South Carolina where he writes and plays in a blues band called “P.C. Red & Almost Blue.” He has previously published four books of poetry, and one collection of short stories called "Unaccustomed Mercy." The EBook collection of poems called "Low Blue Notes” was recently released by Underground Voices Publishing, and is available at Amazon Kindle EBooks. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize multiple times.

Vietnam, Mekong River


When Levon gets drunk, he rambles on about the war. Sometimes, when he’s really high, he can almost convince you that his younger brother will someday return from the Mekong River where he was lost and left for dead more than forty years ago. Levon has never stopped waiting and hoping.

Levon is sitting on a wooden crate in a makeshift shack—a temporary shelter constructed of a rusting piece of tin held up on one end by a stack of railroad crossties, and on the other, by two metal pipes. The only wall is a paint-spattered canvas tarpaulin anchored to the roof with a couple of bricks. The hut is located on the edge of a hobo jungle—a shantytown hidden in a stand of trees on the outskirts of the city.

A steady rain has been coming down since nightfall. From the corner of his eye, Levon catches a movement just at the edge of the campfire light. When he looks, he immediately recognizes the bony face of the Preacher. The rain is rolling off the brim of his dilapidated fedora and onto the shoulders of a black overcoat.

Once a hard-time, hallelujah hustler, the Preacher now has the look of a man who knows the long shot has gone terribly wrong. He has spent his entire life preaching about, and waiting for the “Second Coming”—interpreting every notable event as a sign of the apocalypse. Years ago, he lost his only church by wrongly predicting the time and date of Armageddon at least a half-dozen times.

The Preacher hitches up his pants, ambles over to the shelter, and sags to the ground beside his comrade. He leans back, spreads his arms along one of the wooden crossties, and stretches his long legs toward the fire. For a few minutes, they sit silently, while the rain drums a solo on the metal roof.

Levon reaches into the left side pocket of his field jacket and pulls out a butt. He lights the leftover with a battered Zippo, then holds the lighter in his right hand clicking the cover open and closed with his thumb.

“I’m plumb tuckered out,” says the Preacher, still lying back with his eyes closed. “God Almighty tired of walking and preaching—back and forth—up and down—town to town.”

“They say if you draw a map to everywhere you’ve ever been, you draw your own face,” says Levon, staring straight ahead.

Levon takes two more drags on the short smoke then, using his left thumb and middle finger, flips the butt out into the rain-filled darkness.

The Preacher opens his eyes and sits up. “You remember old Doc Wells, used to hang around at the mission? Always wore that dirty blue suit—every pocket, full of stuff he’d fished out of trash bins. Well, they found him dead this morning. Somebody put a bullet in his head, doused him with gasoline, and lit him up. Nobody knows why—probably just for the hell of it.”

The Preacher takes off his hat and runs his right hand through his hair. Looking down at the ground, he continues. “Today, I couldn’t even work up enough feeling to say a prayer for Doc. There’s no use talking to the dead—too late for sermonizing.”

The Preacher shakes the rain off his hat and puts it back on his head. “Fact is I’ve lost all hope—lost the calling—no more Holy Spirit left in me. The people on the street don’t even stop to listen anymore. I can’t take up enough collection to buy supper.”

“Preacher, there’s one thing that’s always struck me about ’hope’,” says Levon, the more familiar you are with it, the less beautiful it becomes.”

Levon reaches down and picks up a bottle. He takes a long pull and passes it to the Preacher. The Preacher wipes off the top with the sleeve of his coat, takes a swallow, and sets the bottle on the ground between his feet.

For a few seconds no one says anything and then Levon speaks up.

“Once when were on patrol we came across this old Vietnamese guy propped against a tree—just like he was waiting there for us. He’d stepped on a mine and there wasn’t much left of his left foot. So this kid Blake walks over to where the old dink is sitting, and without saying a word, unslings his shotgun and points it into his face. The old man actually manages a smile. That’s when Blake lowers the barrel and blows off his other foot. Nobody says a fucking word. We just walk away and leave him there on the ground, screaming.” Levon’s voice trails off. He seems absent from his words.

“There’s no way to understand things like that,” says the Preacher. “It’s impossible to stamp order on bedlam in a world where life means nothing. And if life means nothing, death means nothing.”

The preacher reaches down and picks up the bottle. He takes a swallow and passes the wine back over to Levon, who stops thumbing the cover of his Zippo long enough to kill what’s left in the bottle.

A sudden strong breeze rustles the leaves in the trees. Levon stands up, walks just outside the cover of the shack, and stares out into the murk. Almost trance-like, he mutters, “There’s something stirring out there tonight.”

The Preacher immediately looks up at Levon with a troubled expression on his face. A huge rat flashes through the shack and stops next to a discarded McDonalds bag. As hard as he can, Levon throws the empty wine bottle toward the rat. By pure chance, the bottle hits the rat, square on. It lies there sprawled on the ground—quivering in the dirt—dead as hell.

“Worthless son-of-a-bitch never knew what him,” says Levon, staring down on the gruesome scene.

The rain has slowed to a steady drizzle. Fog crawls along the wet ground. The Preacher and Levon are wrapped in old Army blankets, sleeping, on opposite sides of a dying campfire.

Crouched in the bushes overlooking the campsite, Lady Speed lights a joint, inhales deeply, and passes it over to Taylor. Taylor White is the creator and producer of “DownHill Films”, an independent film company specializing in documentary-style videos. Lady Speed is the one-person camera crew.

They like to refer to themselves as “reality artists,” or “de-humanists.” They are purveyors of “degenerate art,” out to provide the insatiable public with one more taste of the extreme—attempting to wrest art away from the elitists and put it straight in the face of the people.

This highly motivated team plans to make one documentary, which they will call “Streets Afire.”

These two underground artists know their time is short. They know they’ll probably be exposed in a matter of weeks. To this truth, they are utterly cold.

Taylor takes one last toke off the joint, extinguishes the roach between his index finger and thumb, and slips it into the pocket of his camouflage jacket.

“You ready to roll?” he asks, getting to his feet and pulling a black ski mask over his face.

Lady Speed does a quick inspection of the video cam. “All set.”

Taylor looks into the camera lens and says, “Roll it.”

Then he begins his well-rehearsed prologue.

This is “Downhill” continuing with Scene 2 of the documentary, “Streets Afire.”

The players are innocent, unremarkable characters that, up until now, have lived wayward, aimless lives.

With this movie we are looking to shoot something that lives outside the subject matter—reality. It is blunt. It is relentless. It is something that has always been there, waiting for someone to pick up a video camera, and point it in the right direction. You might want to turn your head, but you will continue to watch—because it will speak to you directly.

The movie will express extreme ideas. Things out of control. Things that move past logic and human reason. You can think of this film as instructional. It asks the vital question: “What is the risk of being alive in this new millennium?”

You can be sure that at some point you will see this movie. It will have to be shown, because it exists. Maybe, it will scare the hell out of you, but you will demand to see it.

“Okay, cut it.”

Taylor touches the .38 revolver tucked in his shoulder holster.

He picks up a red-metal can of gasoline, and steps out of the underbrush.

Two muffled shots, one right behind the other, set dogs to barking in the distance. A few seconds later, the fire breaks out…

Levon dreams he’s somewhere else. Everything moves away—from one dark place to another. Years streak by in a blur of milliseconds until there is no time left. He hears a rushing sound and feels hot wind on his face. Purple smoke blows across a flaming river. When it clears, he begins to make out a familiar figure standing under the war-torn trees that line the red riverbank. He calls out his brother’s name and starts to run in that direction.

A shiver runs through the Preacher, but he does not shake. He is not afraid. In fact he is peaceful. He feels as though he is turning to stone. It starts in his head and moves down through his body until he is completely petrified. Unable to speak, he knows his job is finished. He will no longer have to explain or make excuses for God’s continued absence. And even though his hope has been scorched by anger and disappointment, the Preacher still waits and listens for some purposeful movement in the empty darkness.

~DB Cox

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