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posted by Jonathan Thompson

Jan 8, 2020 • 2:29AM PST

A sneak peak at “Behind the Slickrock Curtain”

An excerpt from Chapter 8 of Behind the Slickrock Curtain, a novel by Jonathan P. Thompson slated for publication in July 2020 by Lost Souls Press, that your donation will help bring to life!

… Was Joshua’s riddle-poem simply a means to reawaken memories or a call for help? Was Malcolm’s older brother in trouble? And if so, why was he coming to Malcolm, of all people? Malcolm vowed to call Joshua when he got a chance. Or better yet, to email him. Maybe even send him his own cryptic message. Yeah, that’s it, he could establish a code language that only the two brothers understood, just like —

“FUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!” The figure had bounded out of nowhere, right into the middle of the lane, forcing Brautigan to scream a string of expletives and yank the wheel to the left, sending him into a sideway skid. Somehow, his Colorado winter driving reflexes kicked in and he steered into the slide, and within a couple hundred yards, he and his car had jerked to a relatively unscathed stop alongside the road. He gripped the steering wheel and stared forward, scared to look into the rearview mirrors where he might see the mangled body of whatever it was he had hit.

The passenger-side door swung open and a booming voice spoke: “Yo, bro, thanks for the lift, but you shouldn’t drive in the shoulder. You almost took me out back there. Damn!” The hirsute man, shirtless, wearing cut-off jean shorts, tossed a guitar case, presumably with a guitar inside, on the backseat before plopping himself rather fuzzily into the passenger seat. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be going up toward Superior? I have a gig there tonight.”

“A gig?” Brautigan had a policy against picking up hitchhikers. Not because he was afraid of being raped and killed, but because he didn’t want to be forced to make conversation with a stranger. But then, he had almost run the guy down, so giving him a ride was the least he could do. “Don’t I know you?”

“You’ve probably seen me play. I’m Mannfred Mannia.”

“Man Fred who?”

“No, no, dude, Mannfred. One word. As in the Mannfred Mann Earth Band. I’m a Mannfred Mann tributary.”

“Tributary?”

“Yeah, like a solo version of a tribute band. The term’s trademarked, by the way. Dude! You have a tape deck in this car!? Awesome! I do all of my recordings on cassettes. You just can’t beat the tonal quality, you know?”

Brautigan looked down at the old stereo. “Yeah, well, a lot of good it does me these days. My wife … er, ex-wife … sold my whole tape collection at a garage sale she held when I was out of town. Sucks.”

“Well, shit. That ain’t cool, man. That’s like … selling your testicles at a flea market or something. No wonder you ditched her.” He pulled a cassette out of his little man purse and inserted it into the stereo. “This thing isn’t gonna eat my tape is it, yo?”

Brautigan was silent, still trying to figure out how he knew the guy, who looked like Sasquatch and talked like a middle-aged version of Jesse from Breaking Bad. The music started playing — acoustic guitar accompanying a solo singer, presumably Mannfred Mannia, wailing in a creaky voice: “… wrapped up like a douche another runner in the night…” Brautigan looked at his newfound companion with raised eyebrows, but remained silent.

They were entering what’s known as Arizona’s copper triangle: mining country: a land of violence, ongoing and remembered. Today’s violence — the blasting, gouging, pummeling, poisoning — is a re-creation of yesterday’s violence, when General James Carleton, predecessor and inspiration to Herman Goering, brought the weight of the U.S. military down onto the Apache people who had lived here for generations, routing them in order to make more Lebensraum or, in this case, Bergbauraum, for the white colonists who invaded in the nineteenth century.

“Hey, see those huge piles of gray stuff over there,” Mannfred said, pointing to a pair of symmetrical, perfectly flat-topped, monochrome mesas. “Mine tailings. Nasty shit. And they’re just sitting out there on the banks of the Gila River, waiting for some sort of catastrophe. Breach one of those things and the tails would smother every bit of life in the river — or what’s left of it — for miles and miles downstream, and the acidic soup within would poison the watershed for decades.” Suddenly, the yo, bro, dude Mann had become articulate.

“Uh huh.”

“Hey, can you pull over up ahead. At the scenic viewpoint?”

Brautigan pulled off into a parking lot that could have accommodated Grand Canyon-sized crowds, but that was occupied by a single, pearl-colored, late-model Cadillac sedan. He parked in the middle of the clearing and cut the engine. The two men climbed out of the car, one excessively hairy the other excessively sweaty and hairy, both shirtless but too old and lumpy to be seen in public that way. An elderly couple were cuddled up on the sole picnic table, engaged in a public display of friskiness. But when they heard Brautigan’s not-so-quiet car pull up, they were torn out of the moment, and when they saw the two men approaching them, they quickly scurried back to their car and sped away, leaving the place to Mannfred and Malcolm. They walked over to the fence and leaned against it, trying and failing to take in the entirety of the yawning earth-wound known as the Ray Mine. Terraces lined the pit’s edges like stairs, each one as wide as an interstate highway, and tiny-looking yellow dump trucks, each far larger than Brautigan’s apartment, crawled along the terraces, carrying hundreds of tons of copper ore.

“Sublime,” said Mannfred. “Truly sublime.” …

 

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