Son of a Preacher Man, Chapter 1: The Sodomite

Note to my regular readers:  Son of  a Preacher Man, including The Sodomite (Chapter One) arose out of a personal crisis.  My most recent effort, The Slider, started out well but–like a number of other unfinished novels–soon came to a screeching halt.  Basically, if I wrote the story “right,” it was going to bore readers.  If I “spiced it up” for readers, it was going to be garbage.

What, then, was I to do?  It occurred to me that (a) the next effort had to involve something I could “sink my teeth into,” (b) it needed to be told in a setting other than today’s societal environment (where I’ve proven I don’t belong as a writer, at least in my opinion), and (c) it had to be able to “pop!” for the reader without artificiality.

Tall order?  Seemed that way.  Still, there’s much to be said for the idea of “sleeping on it.”  I remembered a few real life incidents that provided the seed.  For most of Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t want to do anything but hide from the world and sleep.

When I finally rejoined the living at around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, I had it.  I can’t tell you how long it will be between chapters, but neither do I expect to “run out of gas.”  Please note that this tale is gritty and entirely fictional.

Here we go.

SKIP BEMIS

My name is Remus “Skip” Bemis.  I’m making my way down the two-rut dirt road  with the usual WAAD of companions talking in my head:  Wariness, Appreciation, Apprehension, and Determination.  Wariness is too deeply embedded in my nine year old nature to require conscious thought.  Every day and night of my young life, so far as I can remember anyway, I’ve had plenty to be wary about.  Plenty of danger.  Plenty to keep my mouth shut about.  From age six forward, plenty of pain.

Mom told me early on, called me her “little genius,” warned me by the time I was five: 

Hide how smart you are, Skip.  Don’t let anyone know you could read by the time you were three.  Use small words when you can, or don’t speak at all.  Only rich children can afford to show their smarts.  Brilliant young ones in these rough-and-ready Territories become targets for the less gifted.  Hide what you are, and be humble.  Realize when you look at another who is just plain mean or stupid that there but for the grace of God go I.

Mom certainly  learned to keep her own light firmly shuttered under a bushel basket, long before I was old enough to realize my own father was a far greater threat than any brain-dead bunch of boys.  An exponentially greater threat.  It was a constant struggle, remembering to use the smaller word instead of the more precise one.

Bartholomew Bemis, Preacher Bemis to the unwashed masses.

Bartholomew Bemis, Mr. Bemis to his family or by God feel the wrath.

Bartholomew Bemis, school of hard knocks educator of the son who’d learned the real meaning of words like sodomite, catamite, hypocrisy.

Yeah, I talk of myself in the third person in my head sometimes.  And critique the grammar of a sentence like that, too.  Sometimes it isn’t easy being me.

It’s easier to remember not to say “ain’t.”

Ain’t, ain’t,

Fell in a bucket of paint.

Not that my schoolmates didn’t eventually figure out my too-much-brain problem at Prescomb and, before that, in the town of Bullwater, never mind that few of those kids could even spell “eventually.”  Neither was a big school but they both bred plenty of boys who acted like they had no more brains than a herd of young bulls, pushing and head-butting, bragging and fighting.  And picking on any Teacher’s Pet they could find.

Problem was, it didn’t take me long to understand things like penmanship, spelling, grammar, addition, subtraction, even fractions and long division…and I never could manage to pretend those things were mysteries to me, especially if queried directly.

Showoff, one boy declared, and punched me in the nose.  Bookworm, another sneered from behind, and kicked me in the seat of the pants.

I’d also been pantsed, had my britches yanked down over my scrawny hips before I knew how to avoid that, or even that such a thing was a possibility.  That was the worst, seeing as how Mom had no cloth with which to make me any drawers and Preacher Bemis wasn’t about to get her any.  Lots of snickers after that about my teenie weenie.

Appreciation?  Oh, yeah.  I had that despite the constant Wariness.  Plenty of gratitude, too.  New school, so no more worry about the former bullies at Prescomb.  There’d be new ones–always were–but none that had seen me pantsed.  Best of all, I’d be a full mile and a half away from home until midafternoon, hence the feeling of relief, burden lifted from my shoulders. Meadowlarks sang the prairie morning on this fine September day in 1866.  Sky blue, weather balmy.  School, at least in the classroom itself, was Heaven for me, a respite, a place where I felt safe.

Not like home at all.

And of course….Apprehension, a steady brain-ache, worry worry worry.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not one of those who worries about what might happen.  I only worry about what is sure to happen.

Sure enough, here came one of those happenings now.  Much older boy, trotting his pinto horse up the same road.  One of those rich ranch kids, more likely than not.  Only place out past us was the L+T.  Big operation.  Thousands of cows.

Mr. Trouble pulled up beside me.  Was the hazing going to start already?  I thought about the rusty sort-of knife in my worn farmer style boot.  This kid was man-big already.  He’d likely take Slicer from me if I pulled it on him.  Shove it where the sun didn’t shine.

A blue butterfly flittered through the space between us, going on its merry butterfly way.  Stupid sign of hope.

“Need a lift to school?”

Didn’t see that one coming.  I forgot my fears for a second, studied the boy-man’s countenance.  Cowboy, all right.  Dusty hat over a wide, smiling face.  Merry brown eyes, broad nose a bit lopsided–human fist or kick from a critter? Broad shoulders.  No fear in this one.

I envied him that lack of fear.  Envied so hard it burned inside.

“Thank you, but I can walk.”

He ruminated on that for a spell.  Spat a stream of tobacco juice, nailed a big grasshopper fair and square.  Wow.  “Ain’t no doubt you kin walk, seeing as how you’re doing it.  On the other hand….” He paused long enough to spit again.  “At the pace you’re going, you’ll be late fer the bell.  And Miz Hawkins don’t cut much slack fer tardy.”

“Never, uh, never been on a horse before.”

“Always a first time.”  He kicked his near boot free of the stirrup, instructed me briefly in the process, and when I reached up my free hand–the one without my lunch can in it–he pretty much yanked me up behind him like I was nothing.

“Grab holt of a saddle string,” he advised.  “We gotta keep moving.”  The pinto sped up from walk to trot and I jolted along behind the saddle like a sack of feed, only with less grace and coordination.  By the time we got to the school yard, he’d spit out his chewing tobacco.  He’d also unbuckled his gunbelt and had me lift my right leg out of the way while he stowed the rig in the saddle bag on that side.  Miss Hawkins, I surmised, did not allow revolvers in the classroom, either.  I did wonder at first why he wasn’t afraid someone would steal the valuable gun while he was inside, but then it occurred to me.  His horse would be at the hitch rail.  No way a thief could rifle a saddle bag and not get caught in that wide open area.

My benefactor hadn’t mentioned his name but that didn’t matter.  First thing the teacher did was take roll in that one-room school.  Nearly twenty of us, first through eighth graders, none bigger than the pinto’s rider.  “Remus Bemis,” I announced clearly when my turn came, flinching inwardly, waiting for the snickers.  None came.  Either the rather pudgy Miss Hawkins ruled with an iron fist or being seen with the biggest boy in school had peripheral benefits.  “Ross McCleary,” he sang out when she got to him.

So.  Ross McCleary of the L+T, already a friend to little old me.

Cottonwood School was already looking like a serious upgrade from Prescomb.  Two hundred miles farther west into savage frontier territory but way more hospitable to the likes of Skip Bemis.

When lunchtime came and several kids introduced themselves with obviously friendly intent, I couldn’t believe it.  They even accepted my preferred nickname and called me Skip after that.

Happily, none of them seemed to pick up on “Remus.”  Frankly, that was the final straw that had inspired Bartholomew Bemis to pick his family up and seek a preacher-needed church farther west.  Somebody–I never knew who or how, but word spread among the boys at least–had come to suspect the Preacher’s true nature.  One loudmouth got caned by the Schoolmaster for belting out in off-key song,

Ream-us Bemis, whose daddy swore by God

Had his black earth plowed  by that nasty old Sod

There’d been talk of tar and feathers.  We’d left under cover of night, protected by the dark of the moon.  Even though he believed (erroneously) I’d been the one to blow the whistle, he was so relieved to still be alive that even when he felt safe and got drunk, he didn’t quite beat me to death.

Mom knew.  Sure she knew.  But what could she do about it?  He mistreated her, too.  Never left a mark on her that anybody could see, yet I heard them at night sometimes.  Amazed me that he never completely broke her spirit.

I took strength from that.

At least when the burden was on me, she wasn’t getting hurt physically.  Her heart hurt, though.  Hurt bad.  We held each other sometimes when the old man was away, rounding up sinners, exhorting them to attend his Sunday sermons.  Preacher Bartholomew Bemis excelled at rounding up sinners, being such a fine upstanding example himself.

More than anything, we were both worried about little Eunice Bemis.  My sister would be turning six next month, same age I was when the Sodomite decided I was ripe enough.  I’d seen him start looking already.  I hadn’t figured out how yet, but I knew one thing.

I’d kill him first.

6 thoughts on “Son of a Preacher Man, Chapter 1: The Sodomite

  1. This story is worse than that of Kermit and Piggy: a very dark story of a child much older than his years. And I don’t think he can protect his younger sister since no matter what he does she will suffer the reality of not having a loving father, neither spiritual nor biological… What evil lurks in the life of this preacher’s family? It pains me to remember children that lived what Skip and his sister face.
    Manny

  2. You’re absolutely correct, Manny. This story is worse than that of Kermit and Piggy…for now. Yet it’s real, and we’ve obviously both known children (many of them) who’ve lived this or worse (yes, there is always worse)…and for all the darkness, there is light. Within the limitations of her circumstances and conditions, Skip’s mother has remained strong. True, she cannot stop what is happening to Skip and she must be terrified as well for the future of her daughter, yet she is still doing the best she can.

    More light: Skip receiving instant friendship from a much older student, the burly and cheerful Ross, is not to be underestimated. Who knows where that may lead? Also, the curious and interested students who (in this rural community) seem willing to get to know Skip…they count for something, too.

    Also of importance: The story has me in its grip now. I wrote in the intro that I needed a book I could “sink my teeth into,” but that was inaccurate. I needed a book whose teeth could sink into me–and they have, deeply. When I was writing Chapter One (which ripped through the keyboard in a couple of hours, nonstop), Preacher Bemis was a mere cardboard cutout of a character to me. Despite working on the fencing at the ranch today, which required most of my conscious focus, I am at ten p.m. this evening completely clear on several clear, powerful points of the plot going forward.

    Chapters Two and Three are already bursting in my consciousness, snorting with eagerness to reach the keyboard–although there is much for me to do yet tonight, so beginning Chapter Two may have to wait until tomorrow.

    A couple of keynotes:

    1. I made a mechanical mistake when I started The Slider. Namely, I wrote the final chapter of that story and called it Chapter One–after which there was really no place to go. Tom Slider has escaped the trap and will continue as a free man, The End. That mistake has been corrected as I picked up the Skip Bemis saga at a key point that still gives the tale room to run free…which it is doing, big time.

    2. Most westerns are highly romanticized, edited with an early form of political correctness that is understood in general: Kill all the bad guys you want, throw in a bit of capture, beatings, torture, but never go to the true Dark Side of human nature. There are powerful exceptions such as Clint Eastwood’s ” Unforgiven”–which is so gritty that I’ve only been able to watch it once. (It may be time for me to watch it again, though.)

    Extremely tough home situations in the Wild, Wild West were far more prevalent than most realize. Those situations were, for the most part, simply not talked about.

    I would not blame you or anyone else for declining to comment on this tale–or even to read it–because of the raw pain. Realistic scenes like that can really hurt. I know this from experience, having once “boycotted” a favorite author for 15 years because of a single sentence he wrote that was too tough for me to handle at the time.

    That said, I do hope you can hang in there for at least a little while. This story is (obviously) not out of the Dark yet–and probably will not be until the final chapter–but by the end of Chapter 3, there will be a clear amount of Light as well

  3. Ghost, I am willing to follow your lead. I disagree however, on your statement that the Tom Slider story was over, since for me it isn’t: the escape from Kermit’s grasp has put Tom in a very strange and difficult situation of having a false identity in a country that does not really allow for it, as he and blind Otis start new lives on the reservation, including new loves and adventures where none had existed. Tom and Otis are already buinding a tribe of their own, who can support them as they face off agains the dangers outside, and you have put in lots of possible risks to keep me on my toes. It is definitely not a done deal as far as I am concerned, because the best laid plans of men are laughed at by the Lords of Karma… and we haven’t really gotten deep into the story yet.
    But I understand that the inspiration for Tom Slider might have dried up, and that now it is the Preacher’s Son turn.

    Warriors of the Light need to learn to walk into and work with Darkness much as the martial arts master learns to work with the enemy’s strengths and attacks to overcome them. I will use this story to face the great evil and destructiveness that many people carry within them, and to learn how to bright Light into their darkness.

    Take care, dear friend.
    Manny

  4. Appreciate it, Manny. When it comes to Tom Slider, I see your point. From my perspective, I guess living under a false identity is not at all a “strange and difficult” situation (as it is for you), perhaps because I’ve personally known any number of people–both in my early years and recently–who were (and are) doing just that. In thriller novels, of course, spies and such do it all the time, but I’m talking about “regular folks.”

    Examples:

    1. Some of the hobos who drifted through western Montana in my youth, especially during the years between 1946-1959. Not all of them went by their given names. Not by a long shot.

    2. The “best hired man Dad ever had,” who first arrived on the ranch when I was 13. Using initials only, his legal name was FB but we knew him as DC. Turned out he was wanted for manslaughter in California after killing a man in a bar fight. Former Marine, a Korean War vet, age dead center between my Dad and me. Got caught when he confided in his local-to-us “best friend,” who promptly called the FBI. (Best friend’s name was BJ, no comment.) He was arrested, sentenced to ten years, got out in 1 1/2, and worked for us again the year I was 16.

    3. My best friend even earlier, when I was six, was Slim Plummer, son of the Virginia City Sheriff, Henry Plummer, who was hanged by the vigilantes for operating a bandit gang–a hanging that has long been controversial. Henry has his advocates, very much including his family, who swore he was framed, and he may well have been. All I know is that Slim when I knew him was a great Soul, using his own name but hiding out in a sense, or at least keeping a low profile, living in a hand built log cabin in what was then a remote part of our mountain summer range for cattle. He was killed when a horse fell on him and crushed his chest. His cabin was also rigged with a shotgun set up to discharge if anybody but him opened his door when he was away. (My Dad knew to be careful and did set it off–but was standing off to one side of the door–when he checked out the abandoned cabin a year after Slim’s untimely death at age 55 or so.)

    3. A close friend here in Deer Lodge acquired a girlfriend a couple of years ago who turned out to be seriously controlling, abusive, and living under a false name after jumping parole in California. The authorities might never have picked up her trail, had she not gotten herself into the system here in town. (Her abuse finally prompted my friend to seek a restraining order, which got her back in court. Not a place you want to be if you’re using a false identity. I remember her obvious concern at the hearing as she queried the judge: “Will this go on my record?” She may have stolen the entire identity, as I know she had a driver’s license under that name.)

    Interesting paragraph about Warriors of the Light. Manny, I strongly suspect you already automatically bring “Light into their darkness,” just by being you. As for me, I’ve long pondered the technique (though admittedly I don’t use it as such) utilized by a long time friend of mine. He once told me that whenever he meets anybody, anybody at all, he asks inwardly, “What do I need to learn from you today?” and also, “What do you need to learn from me today?” And that works for him.

    One reason I don’t do that is I believe there are many times when the meeting is not about learning but scheduled for some other reason altogether. Basically, I just try to stay open, wait to see what Spirit has brought to the table. If my warning bells clang, sure, a few inner defenses go up; the moat is raised and all that.

    Most of all, I try to remember to LISTEN. (Operative word in that sentence being “try.” I’m not always successful. But there are worse things than always having room for improvement, right?)

  5. Manny: Yo, bro, guess what? I just got up from a nap–so I suppose I must have slept on it some more–with clear and unequivocal inner guidance directing me away from publishing the rest of this story, never mind that Chapter Two was already 2/3 written.

    Basic clue I got was this: The story IS too dark and not something as uplifting as I’m capable of writing.

    So, THANK YOU. I have little doubt that your qualms helped prep my consciousness for this decision, worked my mental ground a bit, helped it be ready for the crystal clear guidance when it came.

    I’m going back to the Tom Slider tale after all. 😀

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