Both Sides Now is a short story collection from 3 writers who combine have more than 100 years of writing experience. I can't phrase this collection enough. Working with these authors one on one is the current highlight of my publishing career. I present to you the first bit of Lucky Loggers, the first short story in the collection. -Colton Nelson
LUCKY LOGGERS BY DEREK HANEBURY
“No sense wishin' dem into holes dey don't want to go into,” says Curly around the nub of his Player's cigarette.
“That's for sure," agrees Spud and takes another chomp out of his apple. “It’s like wishing your wife into an early grave so you can collect the insurance. It’s bound to bring you bad luck.” He chews thoughtfully for a few moments looking down over the slope below them to where a layer of white fog obscures the Ash River Valley. “If you're feeling lucky, we could try to drop it down between those two hemlock over there,” he says nodding down the slope about fifty feet away where two giant trees stand gleaming in the sunlight.
“Five bucks says we can do it,” says Curly.
The two-man saw putts away at their feet, warming up with the choke half closed now or half open depending on how you want to look at it. They make an odd looking pair standing there in the chill September air, bundled in wool and flannel, sizing up a 150 foot fir that stands a good four feet across at the stump. Curly’s a tall gangly Swede and skinny as a scarecrow inside the bulk of his warm clothing. In the two years that they’ve worked together, Spud can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen the man really smile. Most of the time his face looks bland and blank as a bowl of Cream of Wheat. His thin lips usually wrap around a Player’s, lit or waiting to be lit as soon as the next cut is done. His yellow hard hat sports a “ten years accident free” sticker and nestles down on his brush cut and around his oversized ears like he’s worn it since birth.
He’s a bachelor by choice who spends his spare time hunkered down in front of the TV with a half sack of Lucky Lager and an overflowing ashtray always in arm’s reach. Every year he buys himself a handful of tickets on the Irish Sweepstakes. He won himself a thousand bucks the first time he ever played (the first time Spud saw him crack a smile), and he keeps telling Spud that it’s just a matter of time before he wins the big one and can quit hauling a fifty pound saw up the side of mountains for a living. Spud often wonders what Curly does with all the rest of the money he makes, with no family to spend it on, but he never asks. A man’s money is his own business.
Spud’s not a betting man himself. He calls the sweepstakes “voluntary taxes” and refuses to gamble a dime on their lousy odds. Besides, with six kids at home, he can’t afford to take chances. He is a short, blonde haired Italian-Canadian with sparkling blue eyes and cheeks deeply creased by his ready smile. He’s the only vegetarian logger on Vancouver Island and is famous for the enormous buckets of food he hauls onto the crummy every morning when they drive out to the logging show. Most of the food comes straight out of his garden: fat, juicy tomatoes, odd-shaped cucumbers that snap when he bites into them they’re so crisp. He even planted tomatoes in a patch of black dirt he discovered down by the Ash River. At the end of every day, he and the other loggers that ride the crummy with him and Curly dip their hardhats into the river and haul water up to the plantation, and by late August they feast on sweet beefsteak tomatoes the size of Curly’s fists.
Spud figures that having a long term falling partner is a bit like being in a marriage except you don’t crawl under the covers with them at the end of the day and snuggle your way to sleep. Otherwise, it’s not much different though. You come to know their habits and their likes and dislikes, and you’ve got to work around the parts you don’t like so much and focus on the stuff you do or else it’ll never work. Just as it is with a marriage partner, you never know when your life might be in their hands, so it helps to have a good feeling between the two of you even if you don’t care for their habits.
Take him and Curly now. They have worked together long enough they hardly even need to talk. Spud knows the signals inside out already, so when Curly tucks a Player’s in the corner of his mouth but doesn’t light it, Spud knows he wants to start cutting on a tree. Curly prefers to do the cutting without any smoke in his eyes so he can see what he's doing. He’s careful that way, which keeps Spud working with him. Then, as soon as the tree starts to fall, he’ll fire up his cigarette to celebrate the victory of two tiny men over a tree that grew easily 25 times their height. He’ll smoke it on the way to the next unsuspecting stem standing silently in the old growth forest.
When Spud and Curly cut a tree together, Spud has to hold his end of the saw damn near up to his waist while Curly bends down with his end practically knocking against his knees, but they manage okay. If they’re falling a tree on a slope, Curly takes the downhill side and things practically even out. They’ve remained falling partners for over two years now, ever since Spud’s last partner, Everett, had a rotten cedar barber chair on him and slap him in the temple. It didn’t kill him. Wasn’t his time, everybody said. Still, his ears never quit ringing long enough for him to concentrate on anything after that, so he shut it down and went to work in the pulp mill where everybody’s ears rang and the foreman told him concentration wasn’t a big issue just so long as he didn’t get his shirt sleeve caught in the paper roller and cause a lot of unecessary downtime.
Spud finishes his apple in two quick bites and hucks the core off into the salal.
“Yah, dem hemlock probably keep her from slidin’ clean off the mountain, too,” says Curly. “You remember dat yuniper we cut over on da south side of Sproat Lake?”
“Oh, I remember that one alright,” says Spud. “Slid right down to the lake and damn near punched a hole in one of the Mars bombers that was skimmin’ water for a fire over in the Beauforts.” (The second time Spud saw Curly smile.)
“Dat one went through dem trees like there weren't nothin' there,” says Curly.
“Like grease through a goose,” agrees Spud. He can feel the saw vibrating the ground under his feet right up through his caulk boots, but he’s in no hurry to pick it up and transfer that vibration to his hands. By noon his fingers will go so numb it will be all he can do to hang onto a ripe tomato long enough to eat it. A little hole begins to open in the clouds below him, and suddenly he can see Ash Lake shining down there placid as a piece of plate glass. He watches in silence with the smoke from Curly’s cigarette playing around his nose as a dark crack slowly cuts a diagonal across the lake. It must be a boat, he figures, as a white fringe begins to spread outwards from the crack like frost on a windowpane. “Look at that. Some lucky bastard is down there with a cottage cheese tub full of worms getting ready to slay his limit of rainbows before the sun hits ten o’clock,” Spud says. “And here we are standin’ on the side of the mountain gettin’ ready to work like dogs for the next eight hours. Some people have all the luck.”
“Yah, yah. You better start playin’ de sweepstakes like me. Did you hear dat story on the radio this morning? ‘Bout dat guy who gots da flat tire on da way to the airport and missed his plane, and den da plane crashed.”
“Now, there's a guy with luck,” says Spud. “Can’t say the same for the pilot or the rest of the passengers, but the guy with the flat tire was one lucky son of a gun.”
A little shiver runs up Spud's back, and he’s just about to suggest they pick up the saw and get at that fir, when all of a sudden Curly’s head jerks up and the cigarette flies out of his mouth. He looses a strange startled cry and turns around and starts to run up the hill. Spud figures he must have spotted a bear or a cougar charging up the slope at them, but he doesn’t waste time looking. He heads after Curly fast as his short legs can carry him. They crest a short rise and hit a flat bench, a shelf of rock covered in moss and old downed trees. Curly doesn't go more than twenty feet before he falls over a log and starts rolling around on the ground screaming and smacking himself like he's on fire and trying to swat out the flames.
“What the hell?!” Spud shouts. “Curly, what is it?”
Curly doesn't stop screaming long enough to answer, and Spud's starting to wonder if Curly’s having a fit or something. When he catches up to Curly, he sees something yellow and black leaking out from the top of Curly’s flannel shirt, like a layer of molten gold flecked with black, and as it reaches the base of his neck it turns into a buzzing blur around his head. It takes a few seconds before Spud can make sense of what he sees, and then it hits him like a branch off a widow-maker. “Curly! Get your clothes off!” he shouts.
But Curly's rolling around and screaming too loud to hear anything Spud says, so Spud hops over the log and tears Curly’s flannel shirt open. A thick layer of wasps is flowing up Curly's grey wool undershirt. Layers of them pour over each other, their wings fanning in an angry buzz. More wasps are streaming out from under the layer of grey wool. In one motion he yards Curly’s red suspenders down over his shoulders and spreads his flannel shirt open wide. He grabs his wool undershirt at the throat, rips it open like it was made out of paper and starts raking handfuls of wasps off of Curly’s chest. Many of them take to the air and start attacking Spud, biting his face and neck until he has to stop getting them off of Curly to scrape them off himself. He jumps back from Curly just in time to see Curly’s face begin to puff up like a self-inflating Zodiac. The hard hat that is still snugged onto Curly’s brushcut head suddenly scoots up his forehead and pops free onto the ground where it rolls sideways and buries his accident free sticker in the green moss. This is when Spud realizes that Curly could die here and now on the side of the mountain in the prime of his life, and suddenly everything changes into slow motion. The next thing Spud knows he’s tearing at the laces on Curly’s boots, yanking them off, and peeling the pants off his legs. He can’t even hear the angry buzzing of the wasps anymore or feel the fire of their stings. Curly’s screaming has given way to a muted yowling that sounds more like something a badly wounded animal would give off than a human being, but Spud ignores it. He takes Curly’s pants, balls them up around his hands and begins scraping the wasps off of Curly’s legs. Curly’s tight briefs appear to have kept the wasps away from his skin there, but the outside’s still coated with them and they cling to the cotton as though the tiny hairs on their legs are nestled into the fiber.
Curly has quit swatting at himself and instead is digging furiously at his back. Spud rolls him over and manages to strip his shirt and torn undershirt off completely, releasing another wave of wasps to the air. They’re not as thick here as they were on his front, but his back is a sea of welts, and the wasps in the air continue to swarm them. He grabs Curly’s wrist and drags him to his feet. “C’mon, Curly, we gotta get outta here,” he says. He scoops up Curly’s clothes and boots in one arm and leads him off through the bush. After a few minutes the cloud of wasps diminishes enough that they can stand it to stop and put Curly’s pants and boots and flannel shirt back on. Curly’s eyes are swollen completely shut, and Spud has to help him do everything. It’s all Curly can do to suck enough air in through his mouth and swollen throat to stay conscious. His shuddering gasps scare Spud more than anything else. “Hang in, Curly,” he says. “It’s not far to the crummy. Just hang onto my shoulder,” he says and leads him as quickly as he dares down to the logging road below. Twice Curly stumbles in the underbrush and dead branches, and Spud catches him before he starts tumbling in a freefall down the side of the mountain.
When they finally reach the crummy, Curly starts going from bright red to blue. Spud wrestles him into the passenger seat and jumps into the driver's seat. They’re a good hour from town, but he makes it in half that with Curly slumped against the door, his breath scraping in and out in rapid snores. Luckily they don’t meet anybody on any of the corners that Spud takes at twice the speed he normally would, the ass end of the truck fishtailing like crazy in the loose gravel. Later at the hospital the doctor looks over his glasses at Spud and says, “It's a miracle he could get any air past his throat at all. We had to put a tube down there.”
“Is he gonna be alright?” Spud asks.
"Oh yeah, a few days’ rest and he’ll be right as rain. What about you?
You look like you could use an antihistamine or two yourself.”
“No, I'm fine,” says Spud through swollen lips. Truth is Spud wouldn't take an aspirin if his head were split in two. In the army during the war, he got tossed in the brig for refusing to get vaccinated. As it turned out, he was still in there when his unit shipped out for France and he ended up a chauffeur for the General who oversaw all the security operations here on the West Coast. He never did set foot in Europe until the fighting was over. In fact, he spent most of the war hunting with the general who had a thing for wild game. To read more secure your copy of Both Sides Now today. It includes the rest of this short story and 11 more by Derek Hanebury, Vicki Drybrough and Libbie Morin. Links below.
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February 15, 2020