J.D. Brayton is an artist, musician and writer residing in Maryland – just downwind of the gusty miasma known as the Nation’s Capital. He writes historical fiction, short stories. His Post-Gonzo Crime Pulp novels ‘The Clabber Grrrl’s Retreat’, EYE SKIN, 'THRIP' and historical fiction : The Light Horse are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and wherever books are sold.
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‘The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage. ‘
Though I spend my share of time on Social Media- I think human beings were not equipped to absorb such a continuous, unrelenting amount of information(as opposed to knowledge) on a daily basis. I especially fear for our Youth who have known little else in their lifetimes. Humans need to daydream, recharge, repair broken toys, create,read a long book, laugh about absurdity or simply stare across an open field and LIVE. After the last 4 years a lot of my friends, acquaintances and family have been operating under stress activation mode; it has been really mind-bending and as a nation we are all suffering from PTSD (especially health care workers.) No matter how this election turns out, we all need to focus on repair. I hope all of you are at some stage of Peace. We are fragile, but we are also tough. Be Kind. Stay Human. Protect your mind.
First let me apologize for being so out of touch these past weeks- as you know I had knee replacement surgery less than two weeks ago, and I’m still pulling myself out of the pain drugs and trying to improve my rather limited mobility. My P.T. has given me endlessly boring, repetitive exercises to loosen these disgruntled muscles and tendons, and I tire rather easily. I hate being attached to this damned aluminum walker, but I have made peace with the reality that I will have to rely on this infernal contraption a little while longer. Still, I’m annoyed by my rattling about everywhere. I’ve named my walker ‘Marley’- as in Marley’s ghost from the Dickens Christmas comedy- as it is well-nigh impossible to sneak up on anyone or get to the bathroom six times a night without banging into the doorframe and squonking across the tile to make it to the loo in time- this, as you may imagine, causes my poor long suffering wife to forgo the concept of uninterrupted sleep, and adds to my microwaved sense of dignity.
It could be worse, but judging by the year 2020 thus far, I prefer not to further traumatize myself by random speculation or hysterical conjecture. The entire world, for once, agrees: This year SUX.
The pain drugs are an abomination. They cause untold TMI difficulty in nearly every facet of my current existence- not the least of which is sleep. Trying to sleep on pain meds is quite like being blind-folded and led down a street of dark theaters by a phantom psychopomp , who, after leading you to a seat, abandons you in the bleak penumbra unaware of exactly what the main feature will be; Noir? Horror? Light romance coupled with a wet dream? (unlikely- pain meds kill that entirely) or, if you are very, very lucky: a nice light-hearted comedy. Spoiler alert: There is always a killer clown-puppet waiting for a cameo appearance. (Most times right before the ‘money shot’.) Sometimes you have to stay in the theater and watch the entire mind-film; other times you wake up, readjust your blindfold (or pee) and go back to sleep only to be led to yet another shambolic funhouse mystery mindfuck that never fails to incorporate Fellini, John Huston, Peewee Herman and just for laughs, a leering blood thirsty vampire with a drug problem. I find myself wondering how hard it would be to simply glue my eyelids open and leave a halogen lamp lit in the bedroom 24/7.
Fuck oxycodone. As if I don’t have enough drama.
Speaking of drama; I wanted to tell you about the craziest thing that has happened to me in years- as all such stories begin: On Halloween night.
It was a normal night in the suburbs. Cool for October, wind blowing, some rain, raw and moonless. Our street is on a designated scenic road, which means no streetlights, large lots with spooky trees, and no trick-or-treaters with the stones to troll for Good n’ Plenty candy. Too bleak, too scary – they do much better in the surrounding neighborhoods. In the 25 years I’ve lived here I have seen exactly 5 gutsy Batmen who were desperate enough to venture down my street. ( Wide-eyed and obviously scared poopy by our haunted neighborhood.) Still, out of an abundance of optimism or ritual, we always carve a pumpkin, light a candle inside, and wait for the Vampirellas and evil Chuckies who never materialize. I always end up eating the excess candy (Reeses peanut-butter cups and Snickers) – and always pay for the indulgence the next day.
Back to my tale:
As my knee was mercilessly throbbing, I decided to stay up a little later than usual. My wife went to bed early, put a thick pillow over her head to soften my clunky entry into the sleeping chamber, my son was in the West Wing with headphones on his ears engaging in some video-gaming bloodsport, my daughter, same- but in her case it was loud Gothpop in her earbuds, which meant I was alone with the dog watching an old (you guessed it) Fellini film. At around midnight I was drowsy enough to take another Tylenol and hobble off to bed -but first I double-checked that I had locked the side door and began slogging my way to the front door to do the same.
The dog began to bark. I tried to shush her, not wanting the noise to disturb my wife’s slumber. The foyer was dark as I approached the front door. I became aware of some footsteps on the porch. Unsure if my mind was playing tricks on me (Trick or Treaters at this hour?) I continued to the front door and, in a burst of pure adrenalin induced shock, realized there was a face smushed up against the glass, staring in at me. I barely had time to react when the doorknob twisted open and a rather large man I judged to be in his ‘70’s, burst into my house, and with a crazed gleam in his eyes began bellowing:
WHISKEY, WHISKEY, I NEED WHISKEY.
Needless to say I was freaked out knowing the extreme vulnerability of my position, staples still in my knee from surgery, and quite certain I was unable to dance away or defend myself ( I own no firearms, and anything I might use as a deterrent to mayhem was upstairs by the bed) – instinctively I grabbed the first thing available with which to defend myself- which turned out to be a framed photo of my long deceased grandfather hanging on the wall- which as you may remember- hangs with the rest of my family pictures in the foyer.
WHISKEY, he bellowed, WHISKEY
So, logically, I smashed Grandpa on his head. The glass shattered, the frame broke, the intruder was barely fazed.
WHISKEY, he caterwauled, Whiskey
He seemed much over-wrought as he lunged toward me, so by instinct and impulse I smashed my Grandmother over his head. He began to bleed from his scalp and yowl like the Frankenstein fuc’n monster- grasping about yelling:
WHISKEY WHISKEY WHISKEY over and over.
The poor dog is running in circles like an overfed overwrought spinning flea, barking her poor head off, nipping at the intruder’s ankles, leaping higher than I’ve ever seen a pughuahua jump; I’m watching this maniac scream in despair, blood pouring down his ears from my now depleted arsenal of maternal Grandparents, and he bawls
WHISKEY, I ONLY WANT WHISKEY
I did the only thing I thought appropriate and smashed my favorite Aunt on his forearm, which he instinctively blocked my renewed onslaught incoming relations. Now this guy’s arm is bleeding, and the blood mixed with glass shards on the tile floor is damn near as deadly as Texas on ice.
Now the intruder starts to cry, his eyes red-rimmed, bulging from the sockets, every capillary pulsating, and now I’m absolutely certain he will deal me his deathblow, as he out-weighs me by at least forty pounds, has two good legs and two powerful arms, looming above me at 6’ 3”. I reach over, and in desperation take one last photo off the wall and hit him square in the forehead with Molly, my blessed mother – who dead or alive- was always capable of belligerent anarchy in the face of impossible odds. It did the trick; the intruder sobs and crumples to his knees, and seeing that I might be a split-second away from being summarily overcome by a mangled bleeding house breaking dipsomaniac, did the only thing left- I picked Marley the Walker up over my head (no mean feat considering my entire right knee was sutured with nagging, jutting staples ) and prepared to bend the aluminum around the lunatic’s head if he so much as blinked. After all, I’d nearly exhausted my entire family gallery on the guy’s head, and now he was bleeding like a character from the Oxycodone Night Movie Fun-Time, and I was flat out of other options, except the photos my wife’s relations who were not, in my skewed opinion, capable of crushing monsters or drunken home invaders.
Hence, I gritted my teeth, lifted Marley overhead, took a deep breath and…
Dad! For Godssake what the fuc’n hell?
My son, who despite the animated head-crushing metal Warrior-fest in his headphones, had somehow registered that the dog was barking like a fanged pughuahua banshee flea creature and that there was something amiss and very much off-script.
WHISKEY, the lunatic pleads, WHISKEY!
Here I am, my eyes as wide as a wounded battle steed, frothing at the mouth, teeth bared like a murderous gimpy-cat, ready to utterly dispatch this apparition over his whiskey-loving head with Marley’s aluminum ghost.
Dad! Stop! Wait.
My son rushes forward and blocks my intention, looks at the intruder in horror.
Holy shit. Mister Wallinger. What has happened here?
So, what? You know this guy.
Jesus, Dad. It’s Billy Wallinger’s dad from up the street. He’s got dementia.
Do. Fucking. Tell.
No, really- calm down. Holy shit there’s blood all over the floor! The dog has pissed all over the place and what have you done to Grandma’s portrait?
He helps the babbling traumatized man to his feet, pulls a clean handkerchief from his pocket, (he was raised with manners) and begins daubing Mr. Wallinger’s blunt trauma wounds.
You KNOW this guy? I keep repeating, Marley still held aloft for a death blow.
Dad, I told you. The guy has dementia. Billy keeps him inside the house, so he won’t wander away.
Yeah, great. How’s that going?
That’s why you’ve never met him. I did some yard work for them last year.
Well your garden gnome just walked into our house unannounced.
You realize you have blood all over your underwear, right? Put that damned walker down before you need surgery again.
WHISKEY, sobs Mr. Wallinger, WHISKEY.
Okay. So, your hidden pal wants a drink, I guess.
No, no – Mr. Wallinger- we don’t have Whiskey. Whiskey’s gone, remember?
The poor man stares blankly back, blood dripping off his earlobes.
Whiskey is gone now, remember? My son grabs for his Smartphone and speed dials.
Hey, Billy- get over here. Your Dad got out and there’s been a slight, um…miscommunication. He’s bleeding a little. I’ll explain when you get here. He may need some band-aids. He was out looking for Whiskey.
My son pulls a chair from the dining room and helps Mr. Wallinger sit down.
Jesus, Dad. You clocked him pretty good.
Your Grandparents helped.
Fucksakes. Dad; I can’t expect you to know this, but Whiskey was the name of Mister Wallinger’s Schnauzer- who I helped bury last spring.
WHISKEY, sobbed the old guy, WHISKEY.
Well fuck me runnin, y’know? Why did he come here?
That’s just another mystery, Dad. (He sighs) Like how your mind works.
At this point my daughter arrives, takes one look at the blood dripping off Mr. Wallinger’s chin, me in my gore-spattered undershorts, and down at the amalgam of effluvia on the floor and begins to laugh-scream in a most inappropriate manner.
Coolest Halloween ever, Daddy!
So, Blinky – I can only hope your October 2020 is somewhat less eventful, and that you get that electric fence you’ve been threatening to install to discourage interlopers from tracking through your garden.
As for me, I keep my doors locked and the porch light on 24 hours a day.
I am amazed to report that my wife did not wake up during any of this – in fact, she’s not sure if I’m putting her on about the incident, and that I haven’t enlisted the kids in the ruse just to yank her chain. She’s still annoyed at me and has remarked it was appropriate that I used my bar-brawling ancestors to assault the poor helpless demented neighbor and left her family portraits out of it. I’m still trying to sort out my feelings on how I should react to all of this. (What, pray tell, is my lesson here? Stock up on pepper spray? Never answer the door? Put my Grampys in thick oak picture frames? Make donations to a fund out of remorse or guilt? Install holiday land mines? A 12-foot fence full of razor wire?)
Honestly, it’s a bit much.
Happy Halloween, Blinky dear. To this I add: ABJURE THE UGSOME.
Never underestimate the power of a photogenic family kept within reach.
On January 12th, at precisely 12:01 a.m. – the phone rang.
He didn’t stir from his typewriter. The Zunis dare not be derailed by wrong numbers on cold islands. He ignored it. It stopped.
It rang again, at 12:02. And once more, he ignored it. The third time he jerked away from his work. Levi Cant answered typically. Yeah, so?
Either you’re a confused mute, or an annoying asshole, he groused, jammed the receiver down on the cradle, went back to work on the unresolved chapter.
On January 13th, he’d just finished wolfing down a coldcut sandwich when it rang again.
In his mildly inebriated state, it spooked him a little. His secret phone was defying his wishes. He hesitated. Answered.
He heard breathing.
So, said the woman’s voice, what did you find?
Who are you, please?
The line went dead, as did the power. For a solid five minutes Levi stood still in the pitch black, feeling each… and… every small hair on his body raise toward the ceiling. Fear antennae. He could scarcely breathe. Alone. An eternity. The whiskey whirl and adrenalin rush stunning him toward a fearsome, solitary, sobriety.
In a rude flash, the power was restored. The digital clock cheeped in protest. The refrigerator dropped the ice cubes in the tray. The furnace blower kicked on. He could smell the dry heat from the floor vents.
Yet, with all these emergent existential parodies designed to soothe consciousness and normality, Levi could only stare at Jared Chase’s chipped, dented, pus green wall phone. There. In the corner. Silently mocking his grasp on sanity.
Outside, in the pitch-black night, on Pewter Sinks Road, it was snowing again.
There is a poetry to the smells of Spring and the mixed bundles that are Man. Father smells of pemmican, tobacco and pewter. Mother of lavender, sheep tallow and pewter. Sisters and brothers of soil, tallow rendered of lamb-fat and pewter. It is two hundred steps up the hill, and another two hundred past the walkway stones, up the road until the Bay wind blows free of Man. It is only the sea and beyond the sound of the sea in a rush of constant song. Better than any song that comes from the Congregational Meeting on our day of worship. Better than the songs father sings after drinking his rum. Better than Mother’s song when we lay in fever or sorrow or the pain of day. My young hand in hers.
Her hands calloused from the loom and the hot tallow.
My walking rod leads me away and all up to the rise by the stones of the bluff where I can hear the soundings of small fog cannon and sea birds circling over my head. The gulls are sent by our God to bring messages, says Mother, one must try to hear without expectation.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the forces which, collectively or individually, draw a person to a place. Not at first. Time and logic conjoined through clarity have precocious beginnings. Sometimes it is a dream, or a series of them. Sometimes it is that wondrous fraction of thought that nearly wakes you, tugs at you, prods you like a past and ever-present lover that has always remained with you in your precious and solitary sleep. Maybe it’s the warmth. Or the touch that needs no mention. Or the clarity of consciousness that comes immediately out of that moment before you wake and consider if the muse and magic you have been handed is worth writing down or recounting in confused mumbling monotone to your bedmate – whom- no matter how dear, can rarely be entrusted with so deep an inner poem.
No. Dreams are your own responsibility.
Perhaps, only when a need or an ill -defined want has been buried so long ago, the only hope you have of recovering and naming that imp is to trust in the fates. I have this place I go to, but rarely by forcing my will to bring me there. It is a familiar place. A place I have never spoken of. A place I have never renamed. As a small child of …well, honestly? for as long as I can remember remembering; for as long as I have been a child – (which is forever)- I named this place Dream Towne. We all have one. You know the place, don’t you? The place where everyone you ever knew, will know or hope to know, exist in lucid color and speak in wise phrases using abstruse language known only to you since the very moment of inception. The Forever Place. The place where the forgotten are intimate, the unattainable or majestic are made as small and tacit as a handshake, where the dead are familiar, warm and quick-slow; where your long buried pets sit up to lick your face and your joy is unencumbered by the facts of waking life. There are no nightmares here. Nightmares are baseless concepts, originating from a horror – specifically -the fear of loss. The Forever Place –Dream Towne is past loss or fear. It is the astral heart. The place that makes your body sigh, or cry, or call out the names of your beloved within a deep corporeal sleep. Dream Towne makes you speak in tongues, just like your very favorite prophet. Dream Towne makes you a child, but wiser than any adult you have ever been or will ever know – in a language only known to you and they who speak with you. It is a language only made real by an individual’s need to translate. To carry quietly. To equalize. To unrealized fear. This is the place we will all go when, finally, our bodies die, and we no longer need air, or breath to breathe. This is the great astral collective. There is no fear in Dream Towne because it is on the Island. The only way off the Island is to be reminded that it’s your turn and your choice to ride the ferryboat to rebirth. In the Island sand footprints never disappear in the tide. The gulls sing. There resides only the calmness and the surety that nothing, nothing,
can destroy the immutable and personal soul.
Dream Towne is where I hope to meet my maker and not tremble in fear and awe. Dream Towne is where my maker will prepare me an astral peanut butter sandwich and point to the horizon. Peace and morning sailboats. My maker is an old woman who bakes blueberry pies by lunchtime. My maker trusts me to take no more than my share of that beautiful warm pie, and that I know just which piece of pie is mine.
It is through the great instigator – remembrance; and the great equalizer, death, that I was brought back to Prudence Island.
~ Levi C. Cant- Upon the 3 p.m. Ferry Crossing From Bristol to Prudence- Monday Nov. 6, 2013
The Light Horse is the story of two men who join forces to capture one of the most dreaded murderers in history; one man driven by sworn duty, and the other man by vengeance; a psychological thriller based on documented fact, written after years of research into this compelling and nearly unbelievable chapter in the true history of 19th century British occupied India.
While no one knows for certain, it is estimated that in the 18th and 19th centuries there were no less than 50,000 unsolved murders in north-central India. By other estimates, more than one million died at the hands of a secret cult of murderers known as the Thugee. The indisputable fact is that for centuries entire caravans of innocent travelers in India would simply disappear without a trace. There were the usual reasons offered, any or all of these may have been a factor – but the truth was far more macabre, gruesome and horrifying. It was cold, calculated mass murder – carried out with methodical precision by a cult devoted to the goddess Kali.
In the year 1829, Captain William Henry Sleeman, an officer in service to the British East India Company, began to suspect a pattern to these disappearances. After capturing and deposing suspected cult members, he convinced the Governor, General Lord William Bentinct, to appoint him head of the newly formed Department of Dacoity and Thugee. Sleeman quickly discovered that all the rumors were true: The Thugee, a secret cult of clever and stealthy murderers, were responsible for stalking and slaughtering hundreds of travelers each year on the lawless frontier roads of India. The Thugee were masters of deception. The cult was so secretive and brutal that the modern term ‘Thug’ survives to this day.
When a Thug named Fandoor Das Gupta allows himself to be captured by Sleeman’s Hunters, a new twist to the drama unfolds. The Thug, an admitted murderer, is also a remarkable artist who, by perfect recall, draws portraits of wanted criminals with a degree of accuracy that astounds Sleeman and his officers. Fandoor, in return for a temporary commutation of his death sentence, promises to become an informer and help Sleeman find the dreaded and wily Feringeea, ‘Prince of Thugs’. His intimate knowledge of Feringeea’s hiding places, the fact that he is an adoptive brother to the murderous criminal, and his superior talent as an artist makes Fandoor Das Gupta extremely useful to Sleeman. The Colonel conditionally agrees to Das Gupta’s offer to lead him to capture Feringeea, the most vicious Thug in all of India. Colonel Sleeman has no idea that the Thug artist, Fandoor Das Gupta, has a secret agenda –he wants to kill The Prince Of Thugs with his own hands once he is secure in Sleeman’s prison. Because of the murder of Feringeea’s scorned wife, Kali Bibi a high priestess of Kali, who was also the artist’s secret lover, Fandoor Das Gupta is willing to give up everything, including his freedom and his life, to avenge her death.
The Light Horse is a meticulously researched novel set in 19th century British India. This bold adventure novel will appeal to readers interested in British Military History, life as an Anglo/Indian trooper in an Irregular Light Cavalry unit, true crime mysteries, and military tactics and armament. It is written in the style of roman à clef; using factual persons and events, and warmly rendered in the style of a classic historical fiction.
It will be published by Booklocker Press, and available in Early April as an Ebook.
Please visit jdbrayton.com for excerpts and other short writings.
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