RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Sunday, January 4

Me and Brown

My wife and me, we both had our respective dogs before we became attached legally ourselves. In fact, on one of our first “dates” was after some party, taking what was left of a half-gallon of Jack Daniels green label and about a dime bag of shake, we rounded up both our dogs, and “borrowed” a friend’s minivan to go to Montana, a direct sudden escape from Richmond, Virginia, pressing in on us, except my wife-to be passed out, and I finally did too, behind a K-Mart somewhere near the West Virginia state line.
Once we actually were married and living together, the dogs ran together for years, making it to almost ten years apiece, before they both died in the tragic ways dogs in the country always die – getting hit by unmufflered trucks or mauled by loose pit bulls or always something violently sudden, within a couple weeks of each other. So we probably looked a little too easily for new dogs to replace these old ones.
The first one to come along was a small, gun-shy, lost hunting dog who came cowering from the woods, wagging her tail, looking for food. I didn’t really want her, but the wife and kids, even though she’d never get close enough for you to pet her, had attached themselves to this hound. That became our first new dog – Burdock. You could hardly ever touch her, and if you did it was because you cornered her and she’d cower down onto her belly, holding her head under her body while still wagging her tail - the classic runaway beaten stray.
We acquired our second dog of the new pair from my youngest sister, who still lived in the hopeless home base where I grew up, where the factories have plywood windows and folks’ favorite leisure activities are testing life’s limits through suicidal recklessness. This may involve machines, drugs, or whatever else is conveniently enough at hand. My youngest sister had gotten wrapped up in meth, leaving the house only to go to her job as a waitress, her and her boyfriend holed up in their cave-like tract house along a back road, indulging beyond their limits to pull back. Turned out her boyfriend had also started dabbling in crack use as well, and the whole time together, they had this part lab/part chow, big yellow goof of a dog named Buddy who basically stayed chained up at the front door so as to scare away all the more thievish members of the black folks who lived nearby. One night, while driving home from something or another, my sister dropped her cigarette in the car, and her boyfriend held the wheel while she fished for it. He decided it better to slam the wheel to the left and smash them into a tree since he’d - without her knowing - been stealing thousands of dollars from his job to help keep up with his taste for crack rocks. The car burned up, destroyed half of what my sister owned, and he ran off into the woods and disappeared. When they got there, the cops explained they had already been looking for him, and suspected he wrecked the car on purpose. That was my sister’s wake up call, and she moved back home to get herself together. So we took in Buddy.
Buddy had that strange survivor aura about him. While in transit in the back of a pick-up, when they were moving to their drug cave, Buddy dove out, hobbling off into the woods miles away from where they’d left and where they were going. They looked and looked for him, but never found him. Three weeks later, he came limping down the road, goofy as ever, and he had somehow made it to his new home. My sister’s boyfriend had found him a few years earlier from some other similarly mangled experience, so Buddy was an impervious freak of an animal, more feral than pet-like, although friendly.
Buddy and Burdock – our new pair of dogs – they never quite worked out. They ran the roads around the farms we lived near too much, dragging home deer carcasses, coming back with scrapes from scraps, and just being general nuisances. They scared our kids half the time, and when they dragged in an unskinned baby deer, I realized they weren’t just finding redneck hunting leftovers in the woods, but actually running down weaker deer on their own. I never could see the logic in having a dog in a rural setting and keeping them chained or penned up, so I tried to train them, older dogs that they were. No luck though. Buddy’d chase every motorcycle or dump truck that drove past, and Burdock wandered home with trash or critters in her mouth half the time. I waited for the day when some back road hot shot on his crotch rocket wiped out because the dogs dove out the tall grass in the ditch, trying to bite at his rear tire.
I had tried half-heartedly to find somewhere for the dogs to go, asking around and calling the local shelter, which was always booked beyond capacity. But the last straw came when I got home from work one day, and my wife was down in the field, hollering for me. We had three goats – a mom and two kids - and we never got around to milking like we planned. But I’d become attached to them. Goats are strange creatures, and a lot of fun to roughhouse around with, though they’ll clip your knee from behind like a middle linebacker from the leather helmet days. Growing up a metalhead myself, it seemed perfect having these album cover-like creatures, and I forever wanted to name them things like Exodus or Kreator or Cirith Ungol or some other band name from my youthful doodles of skeletons thrashing stages in front of a thousand impaled, decapitated bodies on notebook paper meant for math problems. Having two daughters and a wife though, the goats ended up with names like Carrot or Gingerbread or Lavender all the time.
Well, the dogs, which apparently had gotten more feral than we realized, cornered our oldest goat in the pasture and mauled her good. My wife fought them off and was holding them at bay, standing protectively over the dying goat, holding our two-year-old on one hip, who for months afterward would ask in broken child talk, “Goat hurt? Goat die?”
I grabbed both dogs and threw them in a couple rabbit hutches I found at the dump one time, and went down to tend to the goat. She was bleeding heavily and had innards dragging along underneath her. I’d always been the one to feed and play with the goats, and I’ve got a weight bench out there by their pen, so I’d get high and lift weights and sit on a milk crate and just hang out at the edge of this field with the goats a lot of the time So they became attached to me, goats being pretty social creatures. This goat perked up when I got there, so instead of dying like she should’ve done, she wobbled on her gnarled-up legs, looking at me like, “You gonna fix this?” But there wasn’t anything I could do, and I didn’t have money enough for phone bills and car insurance, much less something like getting a timid, animal-loving, pseudo-doctor to overcharge me to act like my goat was my grandfather and sew on her and operate on her and all that noise.
After about an hour and it getting dark, it was obvious the goat wasn’t going to go on her own, so I threw a towel over her head. She was pretty weak from the blood loss, and I leaned on top of her hard, suffocating her, finishing off what the dogs had started. A friend we called who has farm animals told me the quickest way was to slit their throats or shoot them, but I don’t keep guns and couldn’t quite build myself up to using my Marine knife to slice the family’s elder goat.
The problem now was the dogs had to go as well. Growing up, we had stray dog killings from time to time, when we’d look around and realize there were about seven half-wild, mange-ridden beasts running around the yard all the time; and my dad and his buddy would pull out pistols and shoot them all down when necessary to thin the herd. But like I said, I don’t keep guns, so the knife was the only choice, and that still seemed pretty twisted to me. I took the smaller dog – Burdock – with a rope looped around her neck for a lead, as neither dog wore a collar, and took her back into the woods behind the house. I thought about how easy in physical effort it had been to choke out the goat, so I mistakenly convinced myself I could just strangle this little stray hunting dog, without having to use the knife I’d brought with me. I tightened the rope hard, wrapped it four or five times around my one fist and pulled, pushing against the back of the dog’s neck with the other hand, straddling the mutt in the pitch black woods. But no matter how hard I did this, the dog wouldn’t die. I’d let up, and listen to see what was going on in the darkness underneath me, and the dog would whimper meekly, still struggling to wag her tail.
Here I was, a grown, educated man, sitting on top of a dog who’s whole life had been beat downs and abuse, trying to strangle her away. I felt like some degenerate killing a hooker, the whole affair putting me far too in touch with some primal urges buried inside us all. Finally, after about ten minutes of this torture, when I realized there was no turning back since I’d probably brain damaged the dog, so there was no letting the rope loose and have her wobble around like a halfwit, I had to slit her throat. Now I’ve sliced at deer before that have been dead for a short time already, but never cut the throat of a living animal. Sitting there in the heavy dark on a stump, wanting to make sure the dog was dead, hearing the sounds of the blood pumping through the gaping slash I had put across her neck… it was the worst sounding noise I’d heard, etched right into my heart. There was no way I could do that to the other bigger dog, the same one that had been chained up outside my sister’s house for years. I don’t know; maybe I’m too weak or too emotional, but I didn’t want to start making a practice nor even one more memory of doing things like that to a dog.
I took the bloody rope lead off of Burdock, buried her, went back to the rabbit hutches, and slipped it onto Buddy. I dragged him to my car, and drove to the forever overfull shelter that was forever overfull in the middle of the night, looping the lead to the front gate for them to find in the morning. It might not have been right in their eyes, but they’d probably mind that less than me killing him with a foot-long blade.
The whole incident, though normal old school farm activity, knocked my non-old school, non-farming ass out of whack. The creepy degenerate killing a hooker parallel kept bouncing around in my head, and I just didn’t feel right, dirty over the whole ordeal, even though all I’d done was what I had to do.

Anyways, I had been building myself up for months for a springtime road trip out to rural Illinois to see this once-a-year, giant demolition derby called Metal Mayhem, with a $10,000 purse. It’s one of the biggest there is, with a couple hundred cars, and me and my travel buddy named Brown were hyped. I was hoping this trip, wandering the road free of responsibility, even if just for four or five days, might wash me of my guilt.
I’d never been out to the Midwest before. The endless sprawl and sterilized looks of Chicago creeped me out. My mother was actually born there, and it was strange to imagine I could’ve been bred amidst that instead of rural Virginia. Before and after Chicago on the trip through, the Midwest just tweaked me and Brown out, nothing but flatland, forever.
Apparently, demolition derbies are big-time in that part of the country. Back home, they might have five or six in the whole state all year long, usually at county fairs. Out there, demo derbies are large affairs, and crews of guys actually form teams of drivers and travel together a couple of states in any direction to go for bigger trophies and the promise of less meager pay-offs. The make-up of the land has to have something to do with it, because back home with all the hills and mountains and curves and creeks, you’d be hard-pressed to drive for half an hour without seeing a plastic bouquet on a guard rail or wooden cross in a ditch where someone died in a car wreck. Out in the Midwest, the roads are so straight and the land so flat, it’s got to be really to wreck a car bad enough to maim yourself, so the demo derby gives these guys, who all seemed to be pretty young, a chance to test life’s limits through recklessness, just like the folks back home.
The first day of the derby starting out, it was drizzling and cold, just pure miserable weather, which also made the derby pits muddy and slow. The forty car overflow heat for $2500 we were watching took almost three hours to finish up. The whole event was obviously going to take forever. It was great enjoyment for a while watching how cars could become so mangled, fenders crumpled, tie rods broken, one car even having its wheel turned sideways so that one tire laid flat on the ground like a frisbee, but its old Detroit engine still powering through, forcing the smashed metal to move around further than it ever should. But demolition derbies end up a lot like pornography in that any sane person doesn’t need to sit there and watch it eight hours straight, there being no ultimate climax to be gained from such a sensual over-indulgence. This Metal Mayhem was at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Nowhere, Illinois, whole families hunched together inside the cover of the drizzle-free grandstands. Sad sacks like us stood around, jockeying for visual positioning against the concrete railings bordering the derby area, getting rained on and mud splattered at us from the crashing cars. Me and Brown made a pit stop out to the car to pull a couple beers out the cooler on the back seat, and sitting in the car, in that rainy, miserable flatland field, we decided to forget it. We’d go back to the hotel and get good and drunk and come back tomorrow for the second day when hopefully the weather would be better.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a roadside dive called Labon’s Oasis for a beer or three. It was a comforting place – biker-style rednecks sitting around in satin jackets drinking Old Style tall cans. I put “Longhaired Redneck” on the jukebox, and we drank a couple, soaking in the local vibe. All these guys and girls looked like the type of folks who would’ve ran with my parents, except all they all talked funny, with an accent that hadn’t had the Europe baked out of it by the Southern humidity. Labon’s jukebox had nothing but outlaw country and southern rock, full of my homeland twang. The entire scene was amusing, and if we’d stayed, one of these guys eventually would’ve talked trash at us, being we were strangers. But for that moment, I just flashed my chipped-tooth smile, wild dimple hiding inside an unkempt beard, got a knowing grin from the sad waitress while we settled up, and me and Brown went back to the hotel.
The next day it was raining even harder, and we made the decision to meander back towards home, so we didn’t have to drive the whole twelve hours on Monday. And most of the Midwest still was not to our liking. We had occasional joys – riding through the Hispanic chunk of south side Chicago where folks appeared to still understand the importance of laying back. We ended up getting a cheap room in Dayton, Ohio, surrounded by the underclass comforts of a ghetto, complete with bass-thumping vehicles passing by now and then, dingy Chinese buffets, check-cashing joints and the like. Methed-out chicks were walking through the hotel parking lot, two of them even catching me opening the door to stand there and drink a beer, and trying to talk their way into coming in to wait for a ride, which in all likelihood would’ve ended up being wherever we drove them. Forget all that noise. I know tweaker chicks, and they never look as good as they remember themselves looking, and it’s almost always never worth the trouble.
The next day, after what seemed like forever driving along 35 South through Ohio, we started to see signs of depth to the land, instead of it being stamped into long, square fields. The four-lanes of 35 through Ohio narrowed down to two once we crossed into West Virginia, the ground started to rise and fall, and it started to look like home again. Me and Brown began to unclench. Sometimes, a road trip is good for nothing more than reminding you of what you love about where you ended up in life. Piedmont Virginia’s been my home my whole life, outside of brief forays in one direction or another, and whenever I end up getting back towards that part of the country, whether in my own car or someone else’s or on a Greyhound bus, it feels like home more and more each time. Hell, I’m raising my own kids there now.
About half an hour along the increasingly rough two-lane road into West Virginia, we passed a conversion van pulled over onto a patch of gravel along the side of the road, with a frizzle-haired woman frantically waving her arms. There were a couple cars in front of us and a couple behind, and the ones in front kept on trucking. Me and Brown decided to turn back around to see what was going on, the car behind us honking at us for slowing below the speed limit, searching for a spot to turn around. When we got back to where the van was, a tractor and trailer had already pulled over, the driver running back at the van full speed. I pulled up behind just as he reached into the back of the van, and a teenage boy’s body fell out, head first, into the gravel, feet still stuck inside the van. I ran over and asked if anybody had called 911. The truck driver pointed me to his rig, to grab his cell phone. After dialing, I passed the phone off to the frantic woman, having no idea know where the hell we were. The kid, looking about fifteen or so, and with cut mark scars all over the inside of his forearms already, had somehow wrapped the seat belt around his neck in an attempt to commit suicide while no one was paying attention to him in the van’s back bench seat. He was lifeless, no pulse, foaming at the mouth, his eyes open and glazed over like my goat’s looked when I took the towel off after choking her. A long minute after the truck driver had cut the belt from around the boy’s neck, he started gurgling and gasping a little, and a pulse came back. He was still alive. There was a thick, purple ring around his throat from where he’d tied himself up. As he regained consciousness, the first words he choked out were, “Am I dead?” We told him no, made him lay there still, and wiped water on his head. Coming back now, he started to freak out, asking about his mom and about what happened and how he didn’t mean to do it. I leaned over and told him to calm down, don’t worry about none of all that right now. Still laying on the gravel, feet hung up in the van, mangled-looking and sobbing lightly, he asked, “Am I going to be all right?”
The frizzle-haired frantic woman who’d been driving assured, “You’re going to be just fine. These angels stopped and helped you.” She looked at me and Brown and the truck driver. “Every morning, I pray for angels, and they came today.” And she hugged us all, and the volunteer rescue squad showed up, so me and Brown cleared out quickly and anonymously.
And even though I don’t feel like I did much, that incident seemed to have righted me after bending over top of a dying dog’s backside in the dark behind my house that night the goat got killed. I don’t feel like there was anything special about me and Brown stopping, nor do I feel like I did myself any karmic good along that foreign road, throwing in a small hand to keep some sad kid from killing himself. But I do feel like I got myself on an even-keel again. The old cliché says life’s a gamble, and clichés tend to still have a bit of truth hiding inside; but in most gambles, there’s a lot more losing than winning going on, to guarantee the house comes out on top. I feel like if I can play my way through all this noise called life, and deal with the bad hands it feels like I’m dealt, coming from where I come from and thinking the way I think, if I can come out even, then I’m doing pretty damned good.

A couple months later, I went back to the local animal shelter, looking for some kittens to get as a surprise for my daughters, and on the dry erase board by the front door walking in, it had “Buddy adopted” written on it. Now, our Buddy had no name tag, so it couldn’t have been him. But also knowing his history of dodging all the death that surrounded him, who knows, it might be. And he could be digging his dirty, yellow snout into someone’s back yard trash can right now.
Also, the biggest demolition derby that happens in Virginia is going on next week at a local county fair, the same place I go to watch the dirt track races from time to time. It’ll be nice to watch cars destroy each other in a comfortable environs where people have the same bad accent that I do, and I can still see that familiar blue ridge skyline along the edge of it all.


Andrew TSKS said...

That was fucking amazing. Really well-written. You brought it to life for me. I was moved. Thanks.

Raven Mack said...

thanks man. I am hoping to start putting stories up every couple of weeks now.

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I've been here..pure awesome, great way to start the day!

Anonymous said...

Hail Raven
We may be related. My name is Michael McMillian and I live in Roanoke, but my family is from Illinois/Indiana. You can email me to dutch218@yahoo.com or Michael Greendragon on Facebook. If you are kin, we need to meet...as I am in Richmond occassionally.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow.