FREE Excerpt: Altered Parts by Ryan Field
The self-quarantine and social distancing continues, so I’m putting up another FREE excerpt. This time it’s from my book, Altered Parts.
Here are chapters 1, 2, and 3. And here’s a review:
This story will stay with you and you will feel you know every character and the beauty of their home in the mountains of North Carolina. A sequel is in order and a film as well. Bravo Field
On Buddy’s Mountain, we didn’t feel the early stages of the Second World War until around 1940, and even then it wasn’t as intense as the rest of the world. Those of us who were too young to remember the First World War listened closely to the radio for updates on the most recent German invasions, while those who were old enough to remember looked the other way and frowned. I had no idea in the summer of 1940 I was about to lose more innocence than I ever knew I had.
1940 was also the year I graduated from high school and started working longer hours in my family’s general store. On Buddy’s Mountain, Buddy’s Mercantile was the only retail establishment at that time where locals could shop for anything from basic food staples to hammers. Women could buy fabric for curtains or homemade dresses and men could fill their gas tanks and buy fishing gear. Children would stop in for penny candies on the way home from school. Almost everyone on the mountain stopped in to use our telephone, which hung on a wall in the back near a large round pickle barrel and a shelf filled with canned goods. We were the kind of old time family owned and operated general store that was beginning to vanish as each year passed, and my family, though limited in number as we were, wanted to hold on to it for as long as we could.
There was something coming that summer I hadn’t anticipated, something I never could have predicted in my wildest clichéd dreams. When my Aunt Matilda appeared from the main house behind the mercantile one warm afternoon in late July and said, “Joe Buddy, I can’t find the tomatoes I left on the back porch last night,” I had no way to predict the magnitude of it all.
I was on my way to the barn to work on an old car I’d recently purchased with my graduation money. I turned fast and said, “I haven’t seen them. You know I don’t eat tomatoes.” Everyone called me Joe Buddy back then and I embraced it. It was short for Joseph Buddy Barnes. Buddy…my legal middle name…was actually my mother’s maiden name. I never knew her, though. I never knew my father either. I was raised on Buddy’s Mountain by my mother’s two siblings, Aunt Matilda and Aunt Ted. They were both Buddys, too, and neither of them ever married.
I used to wonder sometimes why Aunt Matilda never married. She knew the meaning of discretion and spoke with a genteel southern accent, not a country drawl. She wasn’t a bad looking woman either, with thick red hair, a medium frame, and an eye for simple, conservative fashion trends. She could cook and keep house better than anyone I’d ever known. She’d even gone away to college and she’d had a steady boyfriend for a while, whom she spoke about often later in life.
I could, however, understand why Aunt Ted had never married. Times were different and Aunt Ted was considered “peculiar” in those days. Although she had a slim body and a soft delicate voice, she had broad shoulders, size 12 feet, long legs, and she shaved every morning. If she hadn’t decided to start wearing exaggerated, flamboyant women’s clothing when she was in her early 20s, she would have been my Uncle Ted. Aunt Ted rarely ventured off the mountain and we all understood why. In her own isolated world on Buddy’s Mountain no one questioned or threatened her. Everyone considered her a harmless soul and treated her with a sense of respect she wouldn’t have found anywhere else at the time.
“Well if you see anything unusual, Joe Buddy, let me know,” Aunt Matilda said. “It’s the strangest thing. As I live and breathe, I know I set those tomatoes out on the back porch last night for today’s lunch. Your Aunt Ted is not going to like this. She was planning on stuffed tomatoes for lunch today and you know how she gets when things don’t go just right. And what’s even stranger is I went into the barn early this morning and found a huge pile of messed up hay as if someone had been sleeping there. I don’t know what’s been going on around here. I’m starting to think this place is haunted.”
I sent her a backhanded wave and continued toward the barn. “Okay, if I see anything I’ll let you know.” I really wasn’t too concerned about tomatoes or messed up hay that day, and Aunt Ted could eat a cheese sandwich for lunch for all I cared. I’d recently purchased a 1930 Plymouth coupe and I wanted to get it running perfectly that summer. It had been kept in a barn at a neighboring farm for years and the blue exterior paint looked almost new. The beige interior wasn’t bad either. It’s just that after years of not being driven at all the engine needed work, and I wasn’t totally sure about what I was doing.
“Can you take care of the store this afternoon?” Aunt Matilda asked. “Your Aunt Ted and I have a meeting with the church women today. We can’t miss it, and Aunt Ted made herself a brand new dress just for the occasion, white lace and a hat with long white feathers to match. I’m afraid it’s quite awful just like most of her clothes, but she likes it and that’s all that matters.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said. “Just let me know when you’re leaving. I’ll be right here working on the car.” I knew Aunt Ted was working in the store that morning. She usually worked most of the hours, without complaint. I couldn’t refuse the request. I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and my aunts weren’t pushing me to do anything yet. They told me that as long as I continued to help out at the store and take care of things around the house I didn’t have to rush into anything.
Of course I knew it was their way of letting me know they wanted me to take over the mercantile eventually. And I wasn’t sure I didn’t want to do that. At the time, it was all I had ever known, and in our small world on Buddy’s Mountain it gave our family a certain amount of prestige I never would have had anywhere else. I’d never been the book leaning type, and I had to use all of my appendages to count change in the store. I knew how to run the store because it’s all I’d ever known, I knew how to work on cars and machines without trying too hard, and I knew I could turn a head or two with a smile and a wink just walking down the street in town. Aunt Ted used to tell me if I didn’t study in school good looks wouldn’t get me too far in life, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that far in life.
I worked on the old car for about an hour and a half and finally reached a point where it almost started to run smoothly when I tried turning over the engine a few times. I knew I was close to getting that knock in the engine out. It wasn’t something I could explain or describe in words, but it was something I knew in my gut. Even though it was the first time I’d ever worked on a car, I had put together bicycles, and whenever Aunt Matilda’s washing machine needed fixing she called me first.
There’s a rhyme and reason to fixing machines that always follows a pattern that’s hard to describe. One part fits into another, and then another, and when all of those parts are moving correctly at the same time the machines work the way they’re supposed to work. Sometimes parts go missing, or they can’t be fixed, and in order for the machine to continue running smoothly something has to be rigged. If you understand how to alter certain parts, there is always a way to make it work. As I grew older I realized life’s a lot like that, too, but back then the only thing I knew about life was getting that car running to perfection.
So I made a face and sighed the moment I heard Aunt Ted caroling from the other side of the mercantile. “Yoo-hoo, Joe Buddy, we’re leaving for the church meeting now. We need you in the store this instant, sweetie.”
I set down my wrench and wiped my grease-stained hands on an old rag and said, “I’ll be right there, Aunt Ted.” I’d lost track of time and didn’t even realize where the last hour and a half had gone. It felt as if I’d just started working. When you’re doing something you love, time can run away fast.
Before I headed out, I walked to a corner of the barn and took a good long pee. I thought I heard something rustle, but I figured it was a mouse. I smiled the whole time I peed because I knew Aunt Ted would have had a conniption fit if she’d seen my peeing in the barn. As far as I knew, even though I’d never actually asked outright, Aunt Ted had been born a man until she decided to be a woman, and the ironic twist was that she always seemed to frown upon the things men did.
After I shook myself off, I headed toward the main house where I knew my aunts were waiting for me at the front gate. Even though our general store was a quaint, white Edwardian era clapboard and typical of most general stores of that era, our main house was a lot grander than any other house on the mountain. My maternal grandfather must have been a lot like Aunt Ted in the sense that he preferred a more formal ostentatious look. No home spun white pickets fences for him.
The main house was set off to the side of the general store, surrounded by a tall black iron fence with scrolls and curls. The huge three story brick manor house with black shutters had impressive white columns, a wide porch, floor to ceiling windows, and a set of wide double doors made out of pure black walnut that had been imported from somewhere exotic. I never paid much attention to those things, though. I’d never known any other front doors or lived anywhere else and they were simply the front doors of the house to me.
Evidently, I’d forgotten to do something after I peed in the barn. Aunt Ted took one look at me and nearly fainted dead way. “Oh, Joe Buddy, please turn around and fix yourself. There are ladies present.” Then she turned to Aunt Matilda and shook her head. “I don’t know what gets into that boy sometimes. Of all things.”
Aunt Matilda just laughed and said, “If you don’t fix things, Joe Buddy, the pony’s going to get out of the barn.”
That’s when I knew I’d forgotten to pull up my zipper. I guess I must have been rushing to finish. As I turned and pulled up my zipper, I heard Aunt Ted say, “Please don’t encourage him, Matilda. He’s a good boy from a fine southern family and I want him to know his place in life.”
“Yes, dear,” Aunt Matilda said. She rarely went up against Aunt Ted on any matter. I think that’s because it was usually just easier to agree with Aunt Ted than to challenge her. I’d seen her win arguments just by deflection alone. Aunt Ted had that down to an art and a science.
As soon as I turned around Aunt Ted asked, “How do I look, Joe Buddy? You haven’t said a word about my new dress?”
I sent her a long glance and said, “You look downright fantastic, Aunt Ted. You’ve never looked better. I think that’s the nicest dress I’ve ever seen you wear. And the hat’s even nicer. You could win a contest.” Then I looked at Aunt Matilda and winked. We both knew that when you were paying Aunt Ted a compliment the most ordinary responses wouldn’t suffice. If you didn’t head things off from the start and exaggerate she’d continue fishing for more compliments until you did.
Aunt Ted smiled so wide I saw her back teeth. She swooped down, almost a curtsy, and said, “Well thank you, dear boy. I’m embarrassed now. I hope the other women won’t be too jealous of me. I copied this dress from a New York fashion magazine. It’s the latest thing in New York, don’t you know.”
I didn’t think she had anything to worry about in that department. No one would be jealous. The outrageous dress was made out of white lace and satin, and tailored perfectly to fit her extremely thin body. The white hat was made out of the same lace and satin, but shaped kind of like a round box with long, curved white feathers sticking out at the top. She wore white patent leather high heels to match, and as usual it looked as though she’d applied her pancake make-up with a putty knife. Even her false eyelashes and red lipstick seemed more exaggerated that day. However, I just exchanged a glance with Aunt Matilda and said, “You look really good in it, Aunt Ted. Like a real high style lady.”
Before Aunt Ted had a chance to curtsy again, Aunt Matilda brought her back to reality and said, “Okay, let’s get the lead out of it, Ted. I don’t want to be late again. We can all tell you how wonderful you look later tonight at supper. Right now I’d like to get this show on the road.”
Aunt Ted blinked. “Well. Honestly. You don’t have to be rude, Matilda. Father brought us up better than that.”
She’d picked up the word, honestly, from a movie she’d seen in town earlier that year and whenever someone challenged her or said something she found shocking she repeated it. But Aunt Matilda had no time for that sort of thing. She headed toward the garage and said, “We should be home before suppertime, Joe buddy. If you could sort the afternoon mail I’d appreciate it.”
“Sure thing, Aunt Matilda,” I said, as I watched them cross toward the garage next to the barn. Buddy’s Mercantile was also the only post office on the mountain and Aunt Matilda was in charge of all things postal related because Aunt Ted said she didn’t like getting ink on her fingers. She claimed it ruined her manicure.
They bickered about whether to take the truck or “father’s Cadillac.” The truck was a fairly new 1938 green Ford pick-up with signs on each door that advertised the mercantile. The Cadillac was a ten year old jet black relic that had been one of my grandfather’s last big purchases in life, and it didn’t even fit totally in the garage. Aunt Ted argued that the Cadillac went well with her new dress and hat, while Aunt Matilda claimed the truck used less gas and she preferred driving it on the back roads. Of course I didn’t have to think about that one twice. And I wasn’t shocked in the least when I saw Aunt Matilda maneuvering the big old Cadillac out of the garage and down the lane a few minutes later. Aunt Ted rarely lost a battle in life.
The mercantile turned out to be busier that afternoon than I would have predicted. You never knew what things would be like on any given day of the week. Sometimes you could sit there all day waiting for one person to stroll in and buy a banana, and other times you didn’t know which direction to run first. On that afternoon, I filled Betty Ann Rumson’s old Buick with gas, I handed out the mail to what seemed like half the people on the mountain, I got a package ready to send out for the Reverend Marcum, and I wound up helping Josie Jessup pick out buttons for her new jacket. Then Fern Hadley stopped in for a few baking staples, George Flax needed nails for his front porch, and Hester May Johnson needed white paint for her fence. By the time I took my first break since my aunts had left for the meeting, I realized it was almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon and they would be returning soon. Although, I didn’t mind being busy at all because it helped pass the time and it got my mind off working on my car.
I knew things would slow down. 4 o’clock seemed to be the time of day on the mountain when everyone started getting ready for supper. Although Aunt Ted claimed she preferred to eat later in the evening because it was more sophisticated, everyone else on the mountain ate supper around 5 in the afternoon. In fact, I used to be embarrassed to admit that we ate our supper at 6 o’clock thanks to Aunt Ted. And even that had been a compromise between Aunt Matilda and Aunt Ted. They’d only settled on 6 o’clock because Aunt Ted had insisted on 7 o’clock and Aunt Matilda wouldn’t hear of it. Aunt Matilda claimed it was bad for the digestion to eat supper that late, and that’s how they settled on 6 o’clock. As long as I didn’t have to cook it, I didn’t care what time we had supper.
I grabbed a coke and headed outside to lean against the rail in front of the store. It had grown warmer outside and I caught a breath of that flowery scent that only came around that time of year. Aunt Ted used to wait for that flower to bloom every year but I couldn’t even remember the name of it. I didn’t have much concern for flowers or anything related to gardening, but I have to admit I did like the way it smelled. It wasn’t sweet and strong like most other flowers. This particular plant smelled more like the bleach Aunt Matilda used for the bathroom on cleaning day. The distinct scent also reminded me of the way my own sperm smelled when I touched myself. And since I hadn’t touched myself in a few days, I leaned back against the rail and slid my hand into my pocket.
Even though I knew no one was around, I thought I caught a glimpse of something red rush by out of the corner of my eye. I figured it was one of Aunt Ted’s sneaky cats and I continued touching myself. Those cats were all over the place and you could never tell what they were up to. If Aunt Matilda hadn’t been deathly allergic to cat fur, they all would have been inside the house, too. However, Aunt Matilda couldn’t even stand within a few feet of a cat without her face swelling up like a watermelon, so Aunt Ted kept them as outdoor pets.
A moment later, I spotted the Cadillac down the road and I pulled my hand out of my pants. I adjusted myself and leaned over a little so my aunts wouldn’t see how hard I was. I had just reached the edge when I’d seen their car and now I wouldn’t get a chance to finish until later that day. I didn’t even realize how late it was until I heard the mantle clock in the mercantile chime 5 times.
We usually closed the mercantile at 5 o’clock. There wasn’t much steady business after that on Buddy’s Mountain and if there was everyone knew they could just knock on our door and we’d open the store so they could get what they needed. While Aunt Matilda and Aunt Ted pulled the Cadillac into the garage, I went into the store so I could put the cash in the safe and lock the doors for the night.
By the time I finished, I met Aunt Matilda and Aunt Ted at the front gate. “That must have been a long meeting,” I said.
Aunt Matilda shot Aunt Ted a sour glance and said, “Well if your Aunt Ted hadn’t started in with buying a new organ for the church we would have been home a lot sooner.”
“We need a new organ,” Aunt Ted said. “Don’t criticize me for being honest. I’m only concerned with what’s best for everyone.”
Aunt Matilda glanced at me and said, “You should have seen those women argue. They don’t want a new organ; they want a new pavilion for church picnics. I never thought I’d get out of there.”
“They’re all wrong,” Aunt Ted said. “Music is culture, it’s refined, and that old organ sounds horrible, and it’s an eyesore. You can only have picnics in the warmer months, but you can have organ music all year round. Honestly, you should know these things.”
Aunt Matilda shook her head and started toward the front door. “I truly don’t care one way or the other, Ted. All I know is I have to start supper right now. As it is we’re not going to sit down until 7 o’clock tonight.”
Aunt Ted followed her and said, “There’s nothing wrong with having a nice civilized meal at 7. People in New York don’t have supper until 9 or 10.”
“Well you’re not in New York, Ted,” Aunt Matilda said. “You’re on Buddy’s Mountain and we eat supper around here at 5.”
As they continued bickering all the way to the front door, I smiled and said, “I think I’ll go down to the creek and have a swim. It’s getting hotter and we had a busy afternoon at the store. I’ve been thinking about that creek all afternoon.” I really wanted to go down to the creek, take off all my clothes, and finish what I’d started in my pants a few minutes earlier.
“I’ll ring the bell when supper’s ready, Joe Buddy,” Aunt Matilda said. Then she sent Aunt Ted a sharp look and continued, “Plan on 7 o’clock…if we’re lucky.”
I didn’t wait around to hear them quarrel a second longer about what time we would have supper. I turned toward the barn and jogged down a narrow path that would lead me into the woods and down to the creek. I had needs to take care of…urges that were stronger than my willpower. I hadn’t pleasured myself in three days. The creek was about as private a place as any on our property. I’m not sure how far away the creek was from the main house and the store exactly, but I knew for a fact my aunts would never venture down there, and no one else on the mountain would be bold enough to use our private property. People had honor and a sense of respect for each other in those days. If anyone did want to use that creek for anything, I knew they would have asked for permission first.
Even though it was warm out that day I knew the creek would be cold. When I reached a large rock near the edge of the creek I stripped out of my overalls and shirt as fast as I could. I wasn’t wearing shoes that day. In the warmer months on Buddy’s Mountain most kids and younger guys went barefoot. I thought about leaving my baggy white boxer shorts on, but then looked around fast and decided to remove them, too.
There’s only one way to tackle an icy cold creek on a hot summer day: hold your nose and jump right in. The instant I hit the water I felt my balls shrivel and my penis shrink. But I also knew that wouldn’t last for long because once I got used to the temperature of the water I’d be hard like that big old rock where I’d left my overalls and underwear.
I waded out to a section of the creek where the water came up to my chest. Then I crouched down a little until the water was up to my neck and reached down to touch myself. I grew hard almost instantly. I closed my eyes and began stroking. And then all of a sudden I heard something in the woods beyond the big rock at the edge of the creek. When I glanced up, I saw something move and I squared my shoulders.
I pointed and said, “Who’s there?” I didn’t want to get caught doing that in the creek.
I saw something move again, but no one replied. I thought it might be a wild animal and was hoping it wasn’t a bear. We had plenty of wild animals on Buddy’s Mountain.
I pointed again and spoke with a deeper more authoritative tone. “Who’s there and what do you want?”
A second or two later a young guy about my age stepped out of the woods and gaped at me with such a forlorn, innocent expression I tilted my head to the side and sent him a smile. “Why are you hiding in the woods like that?” I’d never seen him on the mountain before that day. He had dark hair…almost jet black…dark eyes, a lean body, olive skin, and stood an inch or two taller than me. I knew for certain I’d never seen him before because he was one of the best looking young men I’d ever seen on Buddy’s Mountain, or anywhere else for that matter.
He frowned and said, “I’m not hiding. I’m just walking. It’s so hot out today I thought I’d cool off in the creek. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I didn’t think anyone was here.”
He was wearing tight blue jeans, a red plaid shirt, and the kind of cowboy boots and cowboy hat I’d seen in the movies. I had a feeling he was that flash of red I’d seen out of the corner of my eye earlier, but I couldn’t be totally sure about that.
“You’re not disturbing me,” I said. Aside from the fact that he was good looking and dressed like a cowboy, he had a nice even expression that suggested he’d never harmed anyone in his life. “You can come in and cool off. I don’t mind. Just leave your clothes on the rock next to mine.”
“Take off my clothes?” he asked, staring down at the clothes I’d left on the rock.
“Well you can’t very well jump into a creek in your clothes,” I said. “That wouldn’t make no sense at all.”
“Yeah, I think I know that, wise guy. I’m just worried about how safe it is here.”
“No one else is coming. I promise. This is my property.”