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The Adventures of Rowdy Montana by Jon Wesick 

            Rowdy Montana was having second thoughts. Ever since he’d hung up his Colt Single-Action Army revolvers, he’d had a tough time making it in the Wyoming Territory. First rustlers ran off with his herd of Texas longhorns. Of course, he being a new follower of Sri Baba Ganoush’s teachings on nonviolence, this was probably for the best. As a devotee, Rowdy could not turn his cattle into steaks, prime ribs, or rump roasts nor could he sell them to anyone who would. He looked at his loss philosophically. By stealing his herd, the rustlers had relieved him of a karmic burden. Other troubles piled up that no philosophy could cure. A hard freeze ruined his basmati rice crop and his lentil patties weren’t selling at the Rusty Cirrhosis Saloon and Dance Hall. Bankers, each twisting the ends of their handlebar mustaches, circled the ranch just outside the fence line. If Rowdy didn’t catch a break soon, he’d lose everything. 

 

            The Rusty Cirrhosis’ proprietor wasn’t there when Rowdy delivered a bushel of butternut squash the next day.

            “I’ll see that Iceberg Love gets those,” Miss Scarlett said. “By the way, I hear you have a telegram waiting at the Western Union.”

            “Much obliged.”

            In keeping with Sri Baba’s teachings, Rowdy did not gawk at the cleavage plunging between Miss Scarlett’s ample bosoms nor the silk garter on her slender thigh. No doubt, her skimpy outfit provided the freedom of movement a dance instructor needed and it would be wrong to objectify her for pursuing a career that drew cowpokes from all over the territory for private, upstairs lessons. Rowdy picked up his telegram and read it with excitement.

 

            Mr. Barrister Michael Okoye

            First Federal Bank of Nigeria

            One Federal Circle

            Laos, Nigeria

 

            Greetings and good day,

            Please to allow me to introduce myself. I am Barrister Donald Okoye currently employed of the Fist Federal Bank of Nigeria to executor the will of the late Mrs. Francine Burundi who having died lately of prostate cancel and tragically widowed of her husband for forty years left no heir to her fortune of $5.8 million dollars. As so I am contacting you in hoping your assistance in receive this money for setting up charitable foundation in accordance with her wishes because Mrs. Burundi was good, Christian lady. All was necessary to receiving these funds is pay $500 dollars for legal and customs fees bye bank draft and the fortune will be forwarded to yours 100% risk free.

            Please respond soonest,

            Mr. Barrister Donald Okoye

 

            Rowdy folded the telegram and placed in the pocket of his dungarees next to his lucky radish. $5.8 million dollars! With that kind of money, He could pay off his debts and turn his ranch into an ashram. He’d invite Sri Baba over from Bangalore and buy back his herd so the cattle could live out their natural lives munching grass in the warm, Wyoming sun in peace and safety. Why, he could even set up Miss Scarlett with a proper dance studio so the screams and thumping coming from upstairs would no longer disturb the Rusty Cirrhosis’s customers. There was just one problem. Where would he get the $500?

 

            “Arrr, so ye need some money, eh? Well, there might be a way.” Salty Jack Nuthatch filled his corncob pipe with tobacco. He sat in a rocking chair on his porch next to Yukon Wayne his trusty albatross whose wooden leg was fashioned from a canoe paddle. “Have ye heard of the wreck of the SS Reluctant?” Salty Jack puffed his pipe and looked into the distance as he recalled the tragic event. “It were back thirty years ago when she were struck by an arctic squall near far Tortuga while her cargo hold were packed with treasure including the famed Neil Diamond. She went down with all hands except for one fellow from Eerie, Transylvania named Astrophel Yoder. Lloyd of London will pay a reward of $500 for information on the missing treasure.”

            “Where can I find this Neil Diamond?” Rowdy asked.

            “Some say Brooklyn, others Los Angeles, and a few say Basalt, Colorado but I’d start by interviewing the Transylvanian. He lives not too far from here in Big Toe.”

            “Will you come with me?”

            “Arrr, my seagoing days are over but I’ll send Yukon Wayne along to keep ye out of trouble.”

            Rowdy cinched up his saddle while Yukon Wayne took a hobbling start in an attempt to get airborne. The ungainly bird limped and hopped while flapping his wings. Gravity defeated him twice. On his third attempt, he jumped into a wind gust that lifted him six feet off the ground. Rowdy and Salty Jack held their breath in anticipation but the wind shifted and Yukon Wayne fell back to earth. Head hung in shame the albatross walked back in defeat.

            “That’s okay, partner,” Rowdy said. “You can ride with me.”

            The two set off with Rowdy in the saddle, a rattling case of canned sardines in the bag, and Yukon Wayne perched on the rump of Rowdy’s trusty, neoliberal horse, Milton. After a day’s ride, Yukon Wayne squawked with jealously on seeing a bat with a long beard and wide-brimmed hat fluttering in the dusk sky outside Big Toe. The sun went down hard and fast. A stiff wind picked up and blew freezing rain. If they didn’t find shelter soon, they would freeze to death just like the character Jack Nicholson played in The Shining. Rowdy saw a light on the horizon and negotiated the free-market price of a gallop with Milton who, after a lecture on Adam Smith’s price paradox, held out for a bushel of Yubari King melons, Roman Ruby grapes, and a Cobb salad. Since alternate conveyance was unavailable, Rowdy agreed to these demands. After an expensive, bone-jarring ride, they arrived at a baroque mansion surrounded by dead trees with naked branches that raked the gray sky. The building was baroque in more ways that one. The glass in several windows was baroque as was the lock on the front door. As Yukon Wayne rushed inside, a spider web came loose and wrapped around his beak. He tried unsuccessfully to brush it away with his ungainly wings.

            A pale woman, who Rowdy would have mistaken for one of Miss Scarlett’s dance instructors if not for her prairie dress and white bonnet, glided down the staircase. Her nails were black and sharp as stilettos and a blood stain, no doubt from making scrapple, made a Rorschach test of her apron. Rowdy saw a man with a large, ahem, endowment.

“Is that a copy of War and Peace in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” She licked her blood-red lips and stroked Rowdy’s thigh.  

            Yukon Wayne was having none of it. In a ploy for attention, he interposed his body between Rowdy and the woman.

            “You want to party, too, little guy?” She brushed the spider web from Yukon Wayne’s beak. “I’ve never had a threesome with an albatross before. If you want, I could get my cousin Lavinia. She has an appetite for poultry.”

            “Enough!” a man who wore a silk cape over his suspenders and denim shirt called. “Get back to your knitting!” His beard extended halfway down his broad chest and he’d shaved his upper lip clean.

            “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Rowdy Montana and this is my companion Yukon Wayne. We were searching for a fellow who calls himself Astrophel Yoder when nature brewed up a storm. We’re wondering if you could put us up for the night.”

            “I’m Astrophel Yoder. What do you want with me?”

            “We’re looking for Neil Diamond.”

            “Have you tried Vegas?” Yoder stroked his beard. “We can discuss this further after you’ve rested. I’ll have Fannie show you to your room.”

            “Much obliged.”

            “Just one thing!” Yoder said. “You may hear some strange noises in the night. Whatever happens, don’t leave your room.”

            The woman they’d first met showed them to a cozy bedroom decorated in a Transylvania Dutch motif with samplers embroidered with Edvard Munch paintings on the walls. Rowdy had trouble falling asleep. The thick comforter on the bed was too hot and the smell of Yukon Wayne’s canned sardines hung in the air like Poseidon’s t-shirts on laundry day. Eventually, he dozed into a fitful sleep with dreams of ticks, mosquitoes, and leeches sucking his blood. He woke in the black of night to the sound of hellish music as if the Earth had opened and Satan’s orchestra had crawled into Yoder’s living room. A woman screamed and all was silent. Then the eerie music started again.

            Rowdy had given his word no to leave the room but he couldn’t sit by and let a member of the fairer sex suffer. After grabbing a bedpan to use as a weapon, he rushed downstairs to find the Shaker furniture pushed to the living room’s walls and his hosts practicing the Hokey Pokey in the free space.

            “What the hell’s going on here?” Rowdy asked.

            “I was hoping to get some practice in before performing in front of an audience.” Yoder draped a sheet over a supine body, no doubt that of a neighbor who needed a lie down after such strenuous exercise. “It’s a long story best told over a glass of buttermilk. Please join me in the kitchen and I’ll relate the tragic events of the SS Reluctant.”

            “I could tell there was something wrong with the entertainment coordinator from the moment I saw him on the shuffleboard deck.” Yoder set a pitcher on the table next to Rowdy’s glass. “Count Damien Leadfoot was his name and he had a suspicious interest in the Neil Diamond from the start. He was supposed to be a hotshot foxtrot master from Brooklyn but I never saw him demonstrate a step. All he did was mock the passengers competing in the dance contests he put on.

            “I still remember that night the ship went down. I woke at dusk to a flooded cabin. Somehow, I made my way on deck and jumped overboard. Spent three days floating inside a player piano before my rescue. I thought I was the only survivor until Leadfoot showed up in Las Vegas. He’s a notorious recluse who’s obsessed with personal security. The only way to get close to him is to become a semi-finalist in his talent show.”

            “That’s why you were practicing the Hokey Pokey,” Rowdy said.

            “Exactly! I propose we travel to Las Vegas. Winning the talent contest will gain us entry to Leadfoot’s mansion for the celebration. From there, you can recover the diamond. Unfortunately, Fannie, Lavinia, and I suffer from a rare, medical condition that makes us allergic to sunlight. You and your companion will have to drive the wagon while we shelter inside.”

            As dawn’s rosy fingers picked the dried mucous from the new day’s nostrils, Yoder retired after giving Rowdy and Yukon Wayne permission to help themselves to the food in his larder.

 

            They set out the following day in a black carriage drawn by a team of black horses. Rowdy drove while Yukon Wayne cradled a double-barreled shotgun beside him. Yoder and the women rode inside the blacked-out cabin with Rowdy’s trusty, neoliberal horse Milton taking up the rear in view of the triangular slow-moving-vehicle placard and Rotary International bumper sticker. At night Rowdy and Yukon Wayne heated canned sardines over a campfire and then dozed while Yoder and company drilled on the Hokey Pokey until dawn.

            After days on the trail, Milton began to falter. Rowdy discovered puncture marks on his neck. Reasoning these must be from large mosquitoes, he applied a liniment that contained ten percent DEET but it failed to halt Milton’s decline. This caused Rowdy a moral dilemma after he did a quick calculation of the relative price of horse jerky to Milton’s constant nattering about monetary policy. The iron laws of economics were clear so despite desperate neighs of protest, Rowdy butchered his old friend. He prayed that Vishnu would forgive this breach of ahimsa but took comfort that Milton had died for economic efficiency he espoused. That night, he and Yukon Wayne dined on horse tenderloin while the tougher cuts dried over the campfire. Rowdy stayed awake to tend the cooking and got his first real look at Yoder’s ecstatic performance of limbs thrust in and out then shaken all about. It was a more than a dance. It was a bliss-fueled union with the divine! After hours of trance-like activity, Yoder tripped over a rattlesnake and twisted his ankle. Rowdy rushed to his comrade and examined the injury. Yoder’s ankle was swollen but no bones were broken.

            “It’s nothing.” Yoder stood, put weight on his injured foot, and collapsed. “Darn it! I don’t think I can continue.” He looked at Rowdy. “You’ll have to take my place.”

            “Me?” Rowdy backed away. “I don’t know anything about dance.”

            Rowdy broke out in a cold sweat as he remembered the square-dance lesson in Mrs. Gunderson’s first-grade class. All the girls chose other partners and Rowdy was left dancing with another boy, not just any boy but Donnie Wiggins who smelled of pipe smoke and horse manure. Since neither was a girl, both bowed and they bumped heads at the beginning of the dance. A humiliating set of Allemande Lefts, Promenades, and Do Si Dos that he swore never to repeat followed. Rowdy ran from the campfire and stood panting in the darkness. Why had he let himself get talked into this foolish quest, anyway? Instead of being home on his ranch, he was stuck in the wilderness with a group of strangers and five hundred pounds of horse jerky. He felt a soft hand touch his shoulder and turned to find Lavinia, the paragon of nineteenth-century womanhood with her blood-red lips, black mascara, and lace cap.

            “Won’t you come back and at least try?” She took his hand in hers. They were soft and strangely cold. “It’s not so hard if you simply concentrate on doing the step at hand.”

            Rowdy resistance evaporated as he stared into her hypnotic eyes. He returned to the camp to follow Yoder’s instructions. Even though it felt as if his leg was encased in concrete, he managed to move his right foot in and then out. After fifteen minutes, Rowdy was more exhausted than after a day of branding his non-existent cattle with his ranch’s eggplant logo.

            “That’s enough for tonight,” Yoder said. “We’ll practice again on the morrow.”

 

            As they approached their goal, Rowdy mastered moving his limbs in and out but shaking them all about still eluded him. Yoder remained unperturbed as if confident that Rowdy’s talent would ripen in its own time. After practice the two would sit by the campfire while Yoder spun tales of Hokey Pokey culture.

            “I’ve said before that Hokey Pokey is more than a dance. It’s a way of life.” Yoder filled his pipe with tobacco and stared pensively into the distance. “A beginner can do the basic step but the subtleties of body movement and relating to your partners make it an art. The key is in the shaking. It’s how you find freedom within the constraint of the form. Do you understand?”

            “I…I think so,” Rowdy replied.

            “You can study Hokey Pokey for a lifetime and still discover new facets to master.”

            On their final night of travel, they camped so close to Las Vegas that they could hear the Conestoga wagons jamming the I-15 during rush hour. Throughout the long nights of practice, Rowdy had gone sweet on Lavinia and spent his days obsessing over a tendril of auburn hair that had worked its way loose from under her bonnet. While Yoder and Fannie set up the campfire, Rowdy approached the carriage with a primrose for his beloved. Before he could knock, Yukon Wayne stepped out of the wagon, adjusted his codpiece, and spat a sardine bone into the dust. Rowdy turned away and crushed the flower under his boot heel.

            Yoder drilled them hard that night. Rowdy danced through the pain, betrayal, and exhaustion until something primal took over. He no longer danced the Hokey Pokey for Lavinia, Neil Diamond, Mr. Barrister Okoye, or even Sri Baba. He Hokey Pokied for the Hokey Pokey itself. And when it came to shaking his limbs all about, he shook as if he’d grabbed Indra’s palace to dislodge all the gods of India from their heavenly abode.

            “Yes! Yes!” Yoder exclaimed. “Now, that’s what it’s all about!”

 

            “What’s the deal with stagecoach food?” the skinny comedian with horse-sized teeth asked and the crowd went wild.

            Rowdy let the curtains close and returned to his companions, backstage at Nero’s Palace.

            “It’s murder out there.” Rowdy began to pace. “There’s no way we can beat those guys with the blue faces.”

            “Hey!” Yoder held Rowdy by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. “Believe in yourself. Today, you will call the moves.”

            “But… But…”

            The raucous applause meant that the comedian had finished his set and that they were next.

            “No time to argue,” Yoder said. “Go!”

            Rowdy mounted the stage with the others and the lime lights shone in his eyes leaving the audience behind a black abyss. As Yukon Wayne began playing the introduction on a kazoo, Rowdy hitched his thumbs in his suspenders, a posture Yoder had assured him was the height of urban sophistication. Then Rowdy went blank. Was he supposed to start with the left foot, the right, or the hands? Yukon Wayne repeated the intro. Fannie and Lavinia stared. A bead of sweat rolled down Rowdy’s forehead. Out of desperation, he made a bold choice.

            “You put your rear end in…”

            To his amazement, the womenfolk followed his instructions seamlessly. Rowdy called out body parts in a free-form improvisation that was never seen before and would never be seen again. But why stop at the external?

            “You put your pancreas in. You put your pancreas out…”

            Rowdy called out all the organs he could think of: heart, liver, bowels, and even the uvula. When the finished, the audience rewarded them with a polite smattering of applause. A spotlight then illuminated the judges’ table. Wearing a black tuxedo and cape, Count Damien Leadfoot with the most flamboyant of the three.

            “That dance had all the grace and elegance of dodo bird with a broken leg,” a man in a black t-shirt said with a politically incorrect disdain for Yukon Wayne’s disability.

            “Did you sew those dresses in a barn?” the female judge asked.

            Fannie and Lavinia nodded.

            “I give a one, ha, ha, ha!” Count Leadfoot said with a thick accent.

            Heads hung in defeat, Rowdy, Yukon Wayne, and the womenfolk slunk away only to pass Yoder carrying a guitar onto the stage. From behind the curtains, they listened in amazement to his song.

         

            “The legend comes round

            from the Arawak on down

            of the squall that blew in November

            and a theft so mean

            the drown sailors’ screams

            are a crime we must remember…”

 

            When Yoder finished, the audience erupted in applause. The judges had no other choice than to declare him the winner.

 

            Why did Count Leadfoot have an abattoir in his mansion? And why did he make the guests for the after-party pass a gauntlet of butchered beef hung on meat hooks? As Rowdy opened his mouth to ask, Lavinia squeezed his hand and spoke to the bouncer guarding a steel door in a foreign language.

           “What did you say?” Rowdy asked.

            Lavinia kissed him on the cheek and led him through the now-open door into a chaos of bodies gyrating to the sound of a half-dozen player pianos. She tossed her cap and prairie dress in the corner and joined Fannie who had already stripped to her corset. Rowdy tried to match their abandon by moving his foot in and out but some guy body-checked him and sent him sprawling to the concrete floor. No matter. Rowdy was now a Hokey Pokey master and could dance elsewhere. As he pulled his left hand out, he felt something wet. It was red and smelled of blood. Suddenly, a geyser of crimson erupted from the sprinkler system and soaked the guests in gore.

            “What’s wrong, baby?” a woman asked Rowdy before sprouting fangs and hissing.

            Everyone around his sprouted fangs. Vampires shoved him back and forth until they knocked Rowdy to the ground.

            “No! No!” Desperate to escape, he crawled toward the exit while vampires stomped his ribs and kidneys.

            A pair of work boots appeared in Rowdy’s path. His eyes rose from the denim pants, to the denim shirt, suspenders, chest-length beard, and wide-brimmed hat. It was Yoder, fangs protruding from his lips and scythe in his hands.

            “It’s him!” the party-goers whispered as they backed away.

            Time seemed to stop until one of the partygoers yelled, “Get him!”

            Five burly men rushed forward. Yoder swung his scythe, separating their heads from their bodies like Napa cabbages from their stems. Rather than simply falling, the dead burst into flames and crumbled into piles of ash.

            “You can’t stop me!” a woman with fangs hissed.

            Yoder stabbed her in the heart with the butt end of his scythe and she burst into flames, too. One of the vampires turned into a bat. Yukon Wayne appeared out of nowhere hauling a squirt gun loaded with a solution silver nitrate and garlic under his nine-foot wingspan. After a series of barrel rolls and Immelmann turns, he sent the bat down in flames. The stray fluids killed Fannie and Lavinia too but this obviated the need for them to make amends to Rowdy for leading him into the bloodbath. More ass kicking followed using a variety of implements such as shovels, wooden stakes, pick axes, and bear traps. The result was always the same. After seeing Yoder turn his party to ash, Count Leadfoot ran from the room.

            “Quick! To the temple!” Yoder dashed after him.

Rowdy followed him to a marble amphitheater housing a bronze statue of a southern general on horseback.

            “Join me, Astrophel.” Count Leadfoot grabbed the Neil Diamond from a glass case and approached the horse’s rear end. “The moon is in the seventh ha, ha, ha house and Jupiter aligns with Mars so when I can place this jewel in the horse’s rectum, the Confederacy will rise again. Only this time, vampires will be in charge.”

            “Never! Time to pay for all the men you drown, Damien,” Yoder said.

            “Then you must face my eight ha, ha, ha henchmen!”

            Count Leadfoot’s henchmen formed a line to wait their turn for Yoder to kill them with flashy kicks, karate punches, and wooden stakes. Once they were all dead, Count Leadfoot said, “If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.”

            “Oh, hell with it!” Bored with the lackluster showdown, Rowdy pitched his last Morgan silver dollar at Count Leadfoot.

            The coin entered the villain’s mouth like a piggybank’s slot. Count Leadfoot turned green, belched, and burst into a splatter of blood and gore.

                                                                                    ***

            “You put your heart chakra in. You put your heart chakra out,” Rowdy called to the class from his seat on a yoga mat.

            It was funny how things worked out. After receiving the reward for the Neil Diamond from that Lloyd guy in London, Rowdy forwarded the money to Mr. Barrister Okoye but never heard back. Who would have thought that an offer to give a fortune to a complete stranger wouldn’t be legitimate? Without the money, his ranch and dreams of a Wyoming ashram were history. If he hadn’t responded to the job posting for a cobra milker, he never would have traveled to Bangalore and become Sri Baba’s heir apparent. Oh well, life’s about the journey, not the destination. That’s what it’s all about.

                                                                                   END

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Jon Wesick edits the San Diego Poetry Annual. He has published over eighty short stories in journals such as KNOT Magazine, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. He has also published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. Wesick´s novel Hunger for Annhilation published in July 2015 (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). 

 

John has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website.