I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#62) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
The Death of Samuel Flood
On his last day, old Sam Flood hitched up his mule and pulled his still from its hiding place in the thick weeds beside the barn down to the open patch right next to his gate. Everyone else had their stills high up in the mountain hollows, pulling water from the clear limestone streams in dark dells where nobody was likely to go looking. Sam’s still was clean – a polished copper, curled up compact on a single pallet, with rails, which was how he was able to pull it down there, where everybody could see it, with his single mule. Nobody else gave a damn what their stills looked like, made of galvanized iron where they could, dented and dirty, utilitarian. But over the years he had spent more work getting his to look good than he did getting it to work good.
The gravel road that ran past his place was always busy, it being the straightest way from town into the most rugged parts of the hills. He had a heavy but simple welded iron gate, held with a loop of barbed wire around a wooden post worn thin and mirror smooth from the use. Under the gate was a cattle guard made from old water pipe, which was needed because of the many cows his neighbors would march past to get up into the high, sweet, meadow grass.
Sam went back up with his mule and brought back a tub of mash and a quarter cord of aged oak firewood, about three quarters hand split by Flood with an old rusty maul with the rest used barrel staves. He tipped the tub into into the pot and then build a rick in the fire box. He ran an old cracked green garden hose down from the tank in the goat pen and, sucking on the downside end, started a siphon. He used the screwdriver blade on his folding pocketknife to hook the hose to the condenser with a worm clamp. He took a new, clean bucket and put it under the end of the condenser, waiting hungrily for the first drops.
He stood back, looked at his work, and saw that it was good. He dragged his favorite rocking chair down from the front porch. He sat down next to the still, which was starting to bang and burp, and started to rock in a happy, relaxed way. There was a denim bag hanging from one arm of the rocker, and Sam pulled two thick needles, a skein of homespun, and a growing scarf. He whistled while he knit.
It wasn’t long before young Elisa Markham came strolling up the road, with her milk cow ambling behind. She wasn’t paying much attention to where she walked, instead staring intently at the small slab of a phone she carried in one hand, stabbing at it with quick, dexterous, and delicate fingers. She knew the cellular coverage was about to run out as she approached the hills and wanted to get her weekend plans nailed down.
Sure enough, the last bar faded away as she reached Sam’s place. She sighed as she switched it off to save the battery and shoved it down into the back pocket of her cutoff jeans. Only then did she look around and Sam Flood sitting there, rocking, knitting, next to the smoking still.
“Is that your still?” she asked.
“Sure is,” replied Sam, “A new batch of mash, wanted to get it ‘stilled before it went all bad.”
Elisa nodded, though she knew enough, as did everybody in that slice of country, to know that mash didn’t go bad once it had its alcohol. It would keep for years, if need be. That was the point.
“Sure sad to hear ‘bout the missus’” Elisa said. “It’s a mournful business.”
Sam nodded, “Thank ‘e.”
“I’m sure gonna miss her goat cheese. Used to buy a basket full every few weeks in season.”
“I’m sellin’ the goats,” Sam said. “Up to the Franklin’s. I don’t have the time to go milkin’ ‘em like the missus’ did. Maybe the Franklin’s will have some cheese for you.”
“Doubt it, they’re not cheese folks. Figure your goats’ll be for breedin’ and meat mostly.”
Sam nodded. Inside his head he felt a fury stirring. To keep the tempest down he concentrated on his knitting, “Knit one, purl two,” he said out loud.
“You making a scarf there?”
“Yup, nothing fancy. Just something to past the time, I guess.”
Elisa nodded. “Well, good to talk to ya. I’d better be getting on. The cow here is getting restless. That’s what’s nice about your goats, they’ll eat pretty much anything. I’ve got to get her to that sweet grass or her milk will come out sour.”
Sam set his knitting down in his lap and watched Elisa walk off, wandering back and forth across the gravel, depending on where the cow felt like going. She was sure getting to be a pretty thing. He didn’t realize she was growing up so much. Time flies.
Elisa and the cow disappeared over the next rise and Sam went back to his knitting, waiting for the morning to trail away. The still hiccuped and spit out a bit of sour cloudy first-cut condensate. Sam rose and shook this out into the weeds, then replaced the bucket to catch the good stuff which would be coming out next.
The mailman came by in his little three-wheeled vehicle and stuck some junk into Sam’s box. He had white headphone wires running into his ears from the front pocket on his crisp uniform. He was a city man and nobody even knew his name. He never glanced at the still, even though it was sitting right there. Sam doubted the mailman would know a still if it bit him on the ass. The rumor up in the hills was that the mailman had fooled around with the daughter of a boss of some kind and had been demoted, sent out to the backwoods as punishment. Sam didn’t know if it was true, but it was believable enough and a good story to boot.
Sam walked over to the box and pulled his mail out. There wasn’t much. He didn’t even look at it, just walked over and added the paper to the burning rick of oak. Then he sat down, started the rocker and went back to his knitting.
Somebody during the day sent an email to the Sheriff, complaining that Sam Flood was running his still right out in the open, in front of God and everything. It might have been a neighbor with an axe to grind, or maybe that mailman knew more about what was what than he let on.
At any rate, the Sheriff decided what to do about it.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said to his eager deputy.
“But, he can’t just sit there, it’s not right.”
“Now, let’s not get so riled up about it. After that business with Mabel, I think we can cut him a little room. If he wants to run that still for a day or so, we’ll just look the other way for a bit. If he turns it into a regular business, then we’ll take some action, but I’m in no hurry right now.”
The deputy was disappointed but still impressed with the Sheriff’s wisdom and cool judgment. For not the first time, the deputy made a note to himself to be more like that.
They found Sam Flood dead in his rocker the next morning. He had been shot once, right in the center of his chest. The bullet had gone in but not out, and it wasn’t until the autopsy that they realized it was a round lead muzzle load shot. It was hand-cast, not one of the commercial balls that the turkey hunters used.
His scarf was at his feet, finished before he was shot. The women at the ladies auxiliary didn’t know what to do with the scarf. Even though it was a bilious color and the knitting uneven and full of mistakes, it was the last thing that Sam ever did, except for the still, and they didn’t want to throw it away, but nobody wanted it. It had too much death associated with it. They took it to the city and put it in a donation box – hoping some poor inner city kid could get some warmth out of it.
Nobody was ever arrested for the murder. There was no evidence. Since he had been killed with that muzzle loader everybody knew it was an old argument an ancient unpaid debt. Sam Flood must have known it was coming… that was why he set up his still like that and sat there knitting, out in the open. With Mabel gone, he knew someone was coming for him and decided to make it as easy as he could.
At the funeral, there was a lot of staring back and forth over the coffin. The guilty party was almost certainly there, looking as solemn and quiet as the rest.
Franklin came and got the goats, claiming he had already paid for them. First,though, he took the still away in the bed of his pickup truck, before the city lawmen came to investigate the shooting. It ended up at the end of Slaughter Hollow and is still working away, though Franklin doesn’t keep it clean and never shines it. It wouldn’t ever gleam in that thick shade anyway.
When they found him shot, the still was cold but the bucket was full of shine. The folks around there weren’t big on wasting anything so they jugged it up and drank it at the wake. Most figured that Sam Flood had done that batch so they would have something to drink in his honor. They said they thought it was the best Sam Flood had ever made.
Thanks Bill, this is great. Hard to believe it is a quick first draft. You really created a tiny world.
Thanks! It’s funny – the longer stories are easy – it’s the short ones that are tough.
This is AMAZING. I can’t believe you wrote this as FLASH FICTION. You’re very gifted and are awesome with imagery and the level-of-detail. I felt this quiet dread throughout the piece but it was also balanced with introspection. Very wonderful experience to read your story 🙂
Thanks for the kind comment!