The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer, A Novel of a '50s Family

      David Sheppard
The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer, A Novel of a '50s Family

Among the 5 finalists in the Faulkner Society Novel Competition. The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer is a second generation Grapes of Wrath novel. Bobby is just entering his senior year in high school and eager to graduate and go on to college to get out of his rural farming community; however, he must resolve family problems that originated, he believes, with his brother's death.Among the 5 finalists in the Faulkner Society Novel Competition. The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer is a second generation "Grapes of Wrath" novel in that Bobby's parents migrated to California during the 1930s, the "Dust Bowl" days. Bobby is just entering his senior year in high school and eager to graduate and go on to college to get out of his rural farming community; however, he realizes that he must resolve family problems that originated, he believes, with the death of his older brother before he can fulfill his dream. Little does he realize the trail of misery he will cause as he uncovers the family secrets that led to his brother's death.
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    Grand Canyon Lament, A Fateful Lesson in Extraordinary Measures

      David Sheppard
Grand Canyon Lament, A Fateful Lesson in Extraordinary Measures

I wrote this short story for a class in intermediate fiction at the University of Colorado back in 1987 after reading a short story by John Ashbery titled, "Description of a Masque." I wrote it during the spring semester and just before I attended the Aspin Writers Conference, a life-altering event for me.You are blind and standing at the south rim of the Canyon. Gently and with kind words, as if performing a long overdue service for a patient of some convalescent hospital, he takes the cane from you, and you listen to the dull clunk of wood as he leans it against a rock. You learn that place, knowing you may have to return to it alone. The heat of midday sun is on your head, and you wish to see the wall of the north rim, realizing that the image can be nothing more than a mental fabrication. He returns, encourages you to stand a little closer to the edge. "To see," he says, "if you can sense what she must have — the ground plunge downward to the first plateau." He solicits more courage, urging you ahead, creating a comforting, therapeutic confidence in your action. "Don't be so timid. That's where they found her, you know, on the first plateau more than 2,000 feet below, which now has a thin covering of desert grass, just enough to give it a tinge of green. That's where she stopped."This world is a stranger to you, to both of you. But with the untimeliness of her passing, you must take extraordinary measures. And surely, it was your fault. You, who see even the fall of the least sparrow, failed to see the fall of your only daughter, the Little One. And so you are here. And since you refuse to discuss it, he treats it as amnesia. You feel strange standing on the very spot where the accident occurred. It was a very human event, simply a death.Now taking his suggestion, you lean, tentatively at first, then take a short step, feeling the ground gently slope off, the gravel move under your feet. Knowing he's close, you touch the thick hair and flesh of his arm, then feel him move from you, slightly back but still in touch, leaving you a little unsteady. An updraft rushes by, and then you detect a difference, an absence of reflected sound, a void in front of you as deep as that left in the heart from a sudden death. You yearn to cry out, to bounce an echo from the far wall, to make the abyss finite, to make it part of the Canyon. Instead, from within it comes the wordless cry of a human voice, a sound so strange, yet so complete in intent, young and old at the same time like that of a reincarnated child, lost and doomed to walk the face of the earth as an unaging spirit. "Do you hear that?" you ask. "Do you hear the voice from the Canyon?""I hear nothing but someone on horseback hurrying away on the dirt path and the occasional caw of a crow." His voice is now stiff and unconvincing. "If I try to listen with the ears of the blind, I hear the claws of squirrels in the trees behind us and just now the sound of children's laughter around the bend. But if I can't hear it, perhaps it is she calling you. Perhaps it would be only fitting for you to follow.""No. This is nothing like that. It comes from below. Maybe a climber stranded on a cliff," you lie. "There. I hear it again. It comes on the updraft."He leaves your touch and moves away from the edge as if seeking some strategic position. You hear him behind you, shuffling among the rocks, and you wonder if he's moving your cane. You wish to feel the tip on the ground, rake it from side to side, feel the dirt and push around loose rocks. You reach out in front as if with cane in hand, the other arm out to the side for balance. He's talking to you again, his voice subtly changed, hardly disguising an air of inquisition, asking if you remember being here, asking if the presence of the Canyon is somewhat familiar? Is it filtering through your darkness? He's close behind you, too close. "In the past, your eyes would have filled with a palette of colors, painting," he suggests, "the layered rim that cuts off the blue sky and the strata that goes from dirt-pink to chalk-white to rust, and the cliffs that fall away to the green valley and the river below."
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    Walking That Short Distance, Childhood Enlightenment in the '50s

      David Sheppard
Walking That Short Distance, Childhood Enlightenment in the '50s

I wrote this short story (1987) for a class in creative writing at the University of Colorado. It is the most autobiographical story I've ever told. It's sort of a compilation of events from my own life with some alterations of family composition. I know it's difficult to believe, but I've known kids who were even more naive at eleven than I was. How things have changed in sixty years.As the bull ran, his huge pink testicles swung from side to side like the clapper of a bell. The year was 1952 and eleven year old Michael was standing in the dirt yard in front of the house with the milk barn off to his left, looking across the corral into Mr Olson's field where the Holstein bull followed a heifer in a half run, his nose at her tail. Michael's father had called his attention to the bull and heifer and had then disappeared into the barn where he was working on the milking machines. His father was sometimes like that, calling Michael's attention to something disgusting and then laughing while Michael watched. But Michael was fascinated with what the bull was doing even though he was ashamed of himself for continuing to watch. He didn't like to cater to his father's more base tendencies. As Michael watched, the heifer slowed and the bull jumped easily with his front hooves, placing his chin on her rump, elevating his chest and mounting her. His hind legs, now carrying his full load, struggled to keep up. The patch of scraggly hair and hide that hung from the center of his belly puckered and out came a thin pointed shaft, so red and dripping wet that Michael thought at first that it was bleeding, and the trembling end of it bent down like it was broken. The shaft was shooting out, hitting her rear end, then off to the side along her hip, lashing around like a whip, until it found the right spot and disappeared inside. Michael thought it must hurt the cow to have that thing in her but then realized that she was running with him not from him, that she was really helping him. But it is so long, he thought, what could it be doing inside her? He visualized it inside her wrapping around her intestines, nudging her organs. Why wouldn't that hurt? He thought of the bull's raw looking shaft and how sensitive it must be, how warm it must be inside that heifer. While Michael was thinking, the bull's front hooves dangled about her shoulders, and his knotty head stared straight ahead, bulging eyes drilling holes in the sky as his huge hips churned.Michael swallowed deeply, looked down at his black-cloth tennis shoes, then raised his dark brown eyes and looked across the pasture to the green fields of cotton and corn. He heard the screen door slam and turned to see his mother, with her apron on, watching him through a frown, her hands on her hips. He didn't understand what the bull and cow were doing, but he knew there was something indecent about it. His mother was making sure he knew. He felt wedged between his father and mother. He would set Michael up, and she would chop him down. Why wouldn't they talk to him about these things? he wondered, as he brushed curly blond hair out of his eyes. First it was the two dogs that got hooked together some how and couldn't get loose. His father had simply laughed and walked away. Michael had tried to talk to his mother about it, but she just shut him up and fell into a mad silence. And now this silent disapproval over the bull and heifer. Why did his mother just stand there like that? Why didn't she say something? Why didn't his father say something?*Michael sat in a chair at the kitchen table with his right leg folded under him, constructing a totem pole for his class on North American Indians, an orange and white striped cat named Tiger sleeping in his lap. He was alone in the house with his mother, and he like that. She switched off the static coming from the small Philco radio and leaned against the sink as she hummed "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," peeling and slicing potatoes into a large glass bowl. It was dark outside, and through the house walls, Michael heard the deep hum of the vacuum pump, the machine that sucked milk from the cow's teats, coming from the milk barn. Through the night air, the hum alternated from high to low pitch. Michael felt comforted by this pulsing heartbeat from the barn.
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    The Mysteries, A Novel of Ancient Eleusis

      David Sheppard
The Mysteries, A Novel of Ancient Eleusis

Available for the first time complete in one volume. Previously published in two volumes as Daughter of Darkness and The Dadouchos. In 480 BC, fifteen-year-old Melaina's biggest worry, she thinks, is wishing to follow Artemis and remain virgin when her mother and grandfather want her to marry and became a priestess. But when the Persians invade, the gods themselves have plans for Melaina.Available for the first time complete in one volume. Previously published in two volumes as Daughter of Darkness and The Dadouchos. In 480 BC, fifteen-year-old Melaina's biggest worry, she thinks, is wishing to follow Artemis and remain virgin when her mother and grandfather want her to marry and became a priestess. But when the Persians invade, the gods themselves have plans for Melaina, including carrying a divine child and divining for the Greek fleet in a battle to determine the salvation or ruin of all Greece.
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    High Heels, With a Touch of Prufrock

      David Sheppard
High Heels, With a Touch of Prufrock

I wrote this short story during the summer of 1992. It helped me flesh out a couple of characters in my first novel, The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer, which I was writing at the time. I wrote it one Saturday evening, and the next afternoon, I read it to a rather large writing class. Our instructor loved it, and the class, mostly women, gave it a loud round of applause, something unheard of.Brenda is sitting up in bed leaning against the headboard with the white sheet and pink quilt pulled to her neck. She's naked and has her right hand down between her legs and her left hand on her right nipple squeezing hard. She's also thinking hard about Norman Todd, so hard in fact sweat is breaking out on her forehead and in her armpits. Spit is filling her mouth so fast she has to keep swallowing to keep it from running down her chin. She's thinking of the future, on a fantasy date with Norman, and he's got her where she wants to be most, pinned on her back in the seat of his brand new '57 T-Bird. She's also thinking of the past, about losing her virginity two months ago with Thomas Powers in the grassy foothills just outside of town (wondering why it happened with him, he's such a jerk), and the steamy date she had with Melvin Swensen last night. She can't believe how delicious he was. Her problem is, she can hear her mother's high heels clicking rapidly on the hardwood floor down the hall toward her bedroom. Brenda hopes she can come before her mother does. And, she's wondering why her mother is wearing high heals. The reason Brenda's mother has hurried down the hall and is now turning the doorknob to Brenda's bedroom (Brenda is at this very second in the throes of ecstasy) has a lot to do with the reason she's wearing high heels. Her name is Ramona, and today she is forty. Just yesterday she was thinking that when she was born, her grandmother was forty, and she had always thought her grandmother was very old. Now Ramona is the same age her grandmother was then. That's bugging the shit out of her, even though she's not a grandmother, maybe in part because she is not a grandmother; maybe she could accept her age if she was a grandmother; but the fact is, she's not. She exists in this woman's no-woman's-land; she still feels young and vital, and she has never crossed over into that state of mind, that state of mental existence, that state of being old and knowing it, as she expected she would. She specifically does not mean a state of acceptance; no that is not what she means at all. When you are old, she thinks, it should be like you were always old. You shouldn't have to accept it. You're just that — old. Enough said. It is on you just like skin. You don't even have to think about it. Someone asking about your age should be like asking about your skin. "Do you have skin?" "Yes, I have skin, of course I have skin," you would reply. Just like that. No question about it. "Are you old?" "Of course I'm old. I'm forty. I've always been old. What a silly question." But it just isn't that way. That isn't the way she feels at all.So Ramona at her advanced age, and yet still feeling very young, put on her high heels this morning just after breakfast, after she fixed a breakfast of ham, eggs and toast...
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