Where the hell have I been?

Well, I’ve gotten back into reading for one. My mind had gotten a tad lazy, so I’ve been pouring myself back into books. I’ve also been battling something of a bout of depression, so that’s been distracting me. It’s not really an excuse, to be frank; I’ve let this blog slide, and that has to stop.

Thing is, most of my writing energy has been going into work on a new short story called “Opal Honey of the Big Deep River.” I’m posting an excerpt for your edification. I would very much like any comments you might have on the matter.

“Opal Honey of the Big Deep River”

Opal Honey of the Big Deep River. Casey Stock liked the way it tasted.

The Big Deep River is the reason the town of Bolingbroke exists. Despite the name, it’s a minor river in coastal Virginia, draining into the Rappahannock. The first settlers on the Peninsula simply found it to be the biggest of the rivers and creeks in the area, and so named it appropriately. The Big Deep was navigable, which separated it from most of the little waterways that cut across the countryside, and that combined with flat terrain and fertile soil made the site good for putting down; goods could be easily carted to Tappahannock or taken by boat to Fredericksburg, and Harry Bolingbroke’s little farm, fence posts hammered down in 1828, became a big farm, and then a hamlet, and then a village. The settlers came from as far north as Herlihy, Pennsylvania and as far west as Richmond. Casey Stock came from Lodi, New Jersey a century-and-a-half later. Opal Honey came from nowhere.

It was wooded, too, like the rest of the East Coast, and the first clearing had been done by Harry Bolingbroke himself with his two sons and his brother. The forest in the area was light, and the clearing done slowly as the farm grew; later, as the farm became a village, there were more hands to work at the confounding of nature, to hem in the woods and provide this little bastion of civilization with a little more soil, a little more land. The clearing of a forest is a small war. But with that wood they built the Methodist church and the small town meetinghouse, both of which were the same building and eventually had to be expanded. The new families needed land, too, and so they cut down the trees and blew the stumps, and used the wood to solve both problems. It was really very elegant. But then the word came down that Opal Honey didn’t approve, and for a time, Bolingbroke stopped growing.

Of course, when Casey Stock moved there with his mom in the summer of 1997, it was growing again, and nobody, now, nobody believed in that sort of thing, things like Opal Honey. The old legend was sort of laughed off, a bit of local folklore from the earliest days of settlement. The stories barely even circulated: Opal Honey, known also by the childish Ojja-Wojja, was the boogeyman of Bolingbroke’s children. But a century earlier, this town had been frankly cowed to absolute pieces by the name that Casey found so delicious.

Casey was such a kid, though; wild in his way. Every seventeen year-old is wild in their own way, I suppose, but Casey was particularly such. Not that he was rowdy; he didn’t go about causing trouble like some kind of maniac. He was just a bit troublesome. He liked to stir things up and watch everything go to pot. He was a lanky kid with a tameless shock of hair and that scraggly mustache kids grow when they want to feel like they’re adults. And he felt that way, damn sure; he’d contradict his teachers, wrong as often as he was right, and he hated the town. He would hop on his bike and bike to nowhere, and come back. He stuck to the roads, and all he saw were unhappy woods kept at bay by trucks and asphalt.

School was better; moody though he was, he wasn’t a pariah. He had his friends, likeminded kids who wanted to get out of the town and into the city, or simply wanted something to complain about, who wore black and boots and fancied themselves intellectuals above and against the other boys, who wore flannel and went hunting and loved the town because it sat on the edge of a world where hunting was still possible. But Casey Stock and Sam Del and Andy Lachlan looked down on those guys and so he made his bed in the town of Bolingbroke among the self-professed intelligent crowd who made a show of reading Marx just to confound their largely-Republican neighbors. Not that they understood Marx, or even paid much deep attention; sometimes it was Margaret Atwood or Ayn Rand or Isaac Asimov; there was nothing coherent they were searching out, feeling out, pursuing. But Casey, Sam, and Andy would still trot them out at lunchtime when they ate alone, looking deathly serious as they drank RC Cola and ate their soggy fries.

The Methodist church, of course, wasn’t the meetinghouse anymore, but it still sat at the center of Bolingbroke village, which turned in concentric circles around it, or more specifically, around the square in front of it. Casey discovered this quickly, and used the natural flow of the narrow village streets to direct his travels as he biked through. It was, he would admit privately, a genuine positive that he could bike so unencumbered through traffic so light. It was a primal pleasure, like flight, and distracting and pure, that ceaseless and seamless maneuvering through the town he otherwise despised as a collection of illiterate peasants, not that he’d ever say that aloud. That, well, that was private, and he wasn’t even sure he believed it. As with many things he wasn’t very sure about – Marx, God, and Ellen Macaffey, who was taller than him and lean and dark-haired and certainly used coconut mango shampoo – he could ignore them when he pedaled. He’d focus on the road and its curvature and the little bumps beneath black rubber tires, the bridge over the Big Deep River, with the blur to either side of him (and the one in his head) relegated to memory.

He didn’t really know his mother. Not that she was distant, but more that Casey was thoroughly self-oriented. He would fight with her disinterestedly, about grades and the detentions he’d get from calling his teachers stupid, and ignore her at dinner while considering nothing at all. Elizabeth Stock was unhappy about that, and about many things, but Casey didn’t much care. Terror and infatuation occupied him with startling frequency, but not his mother; he wasn’t very concerned with her or what she wanted from him. He wasn’t resentful of her, really, but he frankly felt he couldn’t be bothered. He felt vaguely guilty about this, but it was only ever vague.

In a year things would be very different. For now, though, you’ve got a good picture of Casey, who came to Bolingbroke in a huff like the moon crosses the sky, and then suddenly eclipsed.

In a year, there he’d be, marching deeply into the empty woods beyond the village, the trees that seemed to stretch forever even as they crowded behind him. Feeling shut in even in this expanse, the road and his bike an unthinking distance behind him, as night crept into the sky and darkened it shade by shade by shade, he would stop, dead in the realization that he was afraid. He’d feel his way through the woods with the same aimless wandering that guided him through town, anticipating turns and stretches and creeks and fallen trees, following the instinct that drew him in, wending and weaving along this invisible path he’d dowsed. In a year, he wouldn’t know how long he’d have been walking, in what direction he had come from, or how to return. He’d hear the water rushing through a gully far away, but wouldn’t know enough to guide himself by it. He would come in search of the Ojja-Wojja, Opal Honey of the Big Deep River. And there he’d see a sudden light crest the curve of the earth like the rising sun.

But he didn’t know that when he first heard the name.