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Lookin' For Trouble

                  This was the very first Bedtime Story. I wrote it, recorded it, and sent it out to a dozen people all in one sitting. At the time, I had no pop filter and I didn't bother to edit out little errors in the reading. Also, I used an obnoxious, wheedling tone in the introduction that, at the time, I thought was funny and have since abandoned. Also, there were no Discussion Questions back then. I posted this story exactly as it was originally sent out as part of the Special Bedtime Stories One Hundredth Bedtime Story Special festivities. See where we've been, see where we've come.

            Rick was a grizzled, sun-scorched, one-eyed, murderous cowboy at a time and place in this country when to be such a thing was not necessarily a major drawback. In fact, it often had its advantages. For example, when he barged into the saloon, limp cigarettes hanging from both corners of his downturned mouth, one lit and one unlit, any fancy boys who happened to be present would scamper upstairs to lock themselves in their rented rooms, unaware that if Rick really wanted to kill them, which he sometimes did, then he could simply ask the bartender for the master key, receive it in his filthy palm, stomp upstairs, perhaps with both cigarettes lit now, let himself into their rooms, and shoot them in their round, clean faces.

            The law wouldn’t touch Rick because the Sheriff was married to Rick’s half-Indian daughter and also because one time Rick had diverted a cattle stampede that had been heading right toward the Sheriff’s half-completed watercolor painting which he had left sitting outside on an easel while he ran into the house to put some ice on a scorpion sting real quick.

            Rick napped on anybody’s porch he wanted to, sometimes with his fly open. He volunteered to be a guest speaker in the town’s tiny one-room schoolhouse, and when he was given the floor, he told the students a bunch of lies about horses, like that their internal organs are covered with hair too, and that if they get struck by lightning, they can gallop twice as fast for a day or two afterward. When the poor teacher tried to contradict him, Rick rapped her knuckles with a ruler, to the immense delight of the entire class.

            Rick didn’t properly quarantine himself when he got what he claimed was Scarlet Fever. In fact, he spat in the Carlson’s picnic basket when they weren’t looking and never told them until much later, but they didn’t get sick, so maybe he didn’t have Scarlet Fever after all.

            Then, one chilly day, Rick was gone. This made people uneasy and the whole town looked everywhere for him: in water troughs and on roofs, under their beds and in their closets, under piles of straw and under piles of manure, even in places that a man of his size couldn’t actually fit, like inside of their dachsunds’ doghouses and as-of-yet-unfilled coffins for infants. He really was gone. They didn’t even find pieces of him, which wasn’t such an uncommon occurrence even when he was still around. A week passed. Then another week passed. Pretty soon all the holes he’d kicked in fences around town had been repaired and all the mirrors and windows he’d shattered with deliberately errant billiards shots had been replaced. Mrs. Travis had the gall to put a lawn ornament in her front yard and nothing bad happened to it. It just sat there and ornamented her lawn day after day, tacky and unmolested. The church had an ice cream social and no one got branded on the face or horse-whipped for playing the piano too slowly.

            More months passed. Rick’s half-Indian daughter gave birth to a quarter-Indian son and had a nightmare where Rick threatened to nail the baby to a hitching post unless she named him “Rick.” But it was just a dream and no one had seen Rick for so long. Rick’s daughter named her baby “Marco” and no one ever nailed him to a hitching post.

            After Rick had been gone for almost four years, a mysterious letter arrived at his daughter’s house. It had no return address and Rick’s daughter could not verify that the handwriting was her father’s. In fact, she couldn’t even verify that Rick had known how to write. But who else could it have been from? The letter said this:

            Do not fear for my safety. I wear two hats and keep my head down. I sleep with a big hatchet in one hand and a much bigger hatchet in the other hand. You should see some of the hell I raise. There’s a whole world of people and places out here who aren’t used to me yet. They still get agitated like you all used to! Some of them even have varieties of sensibilities that I’ve never offended before. My path is winding but sure. You all hear peaceful sighs and lovers’ laments in the breeze, but all I hear is bunch of lewd whispering. Goodbye.

            Whoever had sent the letter had also included a detailed drawing of a fancy boy getting his face shot off. Rick’s daughter realized that something stunk, sniffed the drawing, and threw it into the fireplace in disgust. But she folded the letter and tucked it into her apron. Meanwhile, little Marco stood in Mrs. Travis’ yard and contemplated her lawn ornament, a pilfered fireplace poker in his hand and his brain buzzing beautifully behind his unblinking eyes. The world was suddenly filled to the brim with dark, swirling  possibility.