Bumbletown, Kansas had been smack-dab in the middle of a “twisted-up funnel mess,” as Sheriff Lincecum called it, for weeks now. It was the “calm before the shit hits the fan,” he would say. Destruction slowly closing in.
Twice a day, Father McEleney would offer last rites in the town's church. Before going to bed every night, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters would say good bye to each other like there wouldn’t be a morning. Only the Sun continued to rise.
“Get on with it, Lord!” Farmer Jessup screamed up at the sky as he stumbled out of bed.
These day the “Farmer” in Farmer Jessup was used more as a first name rather than an actual occupational indicator, as he hadn’t actually done any farming since the town’s would-be doomsday harbinger swirled in.
With a population of less than 1,000 (an exact number had never been determined), Bumbletown already had its quirks to begin with, as any town that size would. But, the serene yet eerie haze of imminent destruction created an even stranger atmosphere.
Take Robert “Doc” Johnson, for example. A once respected and beloved physician, Doc now spent his days in a pantless and anesthetized stupor. Every morning, sans trousers and completely obliterated, he would climb to the top of his former office and crow like a rooster.
Then, he would stumble his way over to Gelmann’s, the town’s since-abandoned grocery store, and throw rocks through the windows. Once all the windows were inevitably busted out, Doc began to just toss pebbles through the empty space.
One day, Lloyd Templeton, who had worked as a manager at Gelmann’s way back when, approached Doc Johnson from behind in the middle of his rock-throwing routine. Standing about 20 feet away, Lloyd pointed his already-cocked gun square at the back of Doc’s head.
“What can I do for you, friend?” Johnson asked, sensing Lloyd’s presence, yet continuing to throw his rocks.
“I’m not your friend,” Lloyd replied.
“Well, who are you then?”
“I don’t think you’ll remember me.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
Doc slowly spun around to face his would-be assassin. His glassy eyes and darting glances betrayed not even the slightest attempt at recognition.
“I’m afraid you’re right, stranger. I do not recall your identity.”
“You killed my wife.”
Doc Johnson spun back around and continued to throw his rocks.
“I see. Well, that puts us both in quite the predicament, it seems.”
“It was seven years ago. Mary had come into your office for a routine physical. She was in peak condition. Not a thing wrong with her. But, you misplaced her file. Mixed it up with some sickly woman’s. Prescribed her amoxicillin. Mary was deathly allergic to amoxicillin.”
Doc continued to throw his rocks.
“For that, I’m going to kill you, Dr. Johnson," Lloyd continued. "I’m going to shoot you down right where you stand.”
“Well, I suppose you best get on with it, then,” Doc chuckled. “I don’t have all day.”
“Not just yet. I want you to beg first,” Lloyd demanded.
“What’s that, son?”
“I want you to get on your knees, and pray and plead to whatever god you believe in before I blow your fucking brains out.”
Doc let the collection of rocks in his hands fall to the ground. He turned back around to face Lloyd, this time with striking lucidity. He closed the distance between them in ten deliberate steps.
“Listen, boy. It appears I made a grievous error once. One that hurt you deeply. For that, I am sorry. Why it has taken you all this time to confront me about it, I do not know. Maybe it’s this recent stifling presence of retribution in the air. Of course, a loss of your magnitude may not have a figurative statute of limitations, and perhaps rightly so. With that in mind, I was inclined to give you what you came here for. To provide you with that satisfaction of snuffing me out. But, I am not a man who begs. I do not pray. I do not believe in God. I believed in myself once, but those days are long gone. While I am truly a broken man, there is still a sliver of pride buried deep within me. Every night, I can feel it in that floating moment between wake and sleep. With your request, you don’t just kill me, son. You kill that sliver of pride, and with it, whatever legacy I have left. And, I will not let you do that.”
Doc Johnson yanked the gun away from the stunned Lloyd Templeton, stuffed the barrel inside his own mouth, and pulled the trigger. His blood stained Lloyd’s yellowed undershirt.
Tiny Perkins was not tiny in the least bit.
Standing six-foot-four, 250 pounds, he had been the starting linebacker for the back-to-back state champion Prairiesfield High School football team. Bumbletown High School was too small for a football team, so every morning, Tiny had made the two-hour-long commute to Prairiesfield, which boasted a population of 7,000, casting a slightly larger net, as it were.
Unlike most folks from Bumbletown, Tiny had once had the opportunity to leave and make something of himself. A five-star recruit, he had big things waiting for him at the University of Georgia. But, with the state of things being what it was in Bumbletown, football stardom for Tiny was now a virtual impossibility.
During this new normal, Tiny had taught himself how to play the guitar, and most afternoons, he would sit on the steps of his family’s front porch, strum away on the six-string, and warble a new tune.
Lucy Jessup lived right across the street from Tiny. The blonde, spunky farmer’s daughter was the love of every boy at Bumbletown High, yet she never went steady with any of them. Lucy only had eyes for Tiny. In fact, she had loved him since the second grade. And, while she never before had the courage to reveal her true feelings to him, the song he sang strengthened her resolve to finally come clean.
Good time for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man
So please please please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
“That’s a beautifully sad song, Tiny,” Lucy said.
“How’d you come up with it?”
“I don’t know. It just sort of came to me in a dream, I guess. My dreams have been real vivid recently. Ever since everything went to shit in this town.”
Just get it over with, Lucy thought to herself. Tell him how you really feel.
“You ever dream about me, Tiny?”
“Oh, well, I dream about you all the time.”
“That’s nice of you. What are the dreams about?”
Lucy blushed, and after lingering for a moment on the the other night’s passionate fantasy, she composed herself and mustered up the courage to say the thing that she had wanted to say for the past twelve years.
“We’ve known each other for a long time, haven’t we, Tiny?”
“Sure, Luce, almost ten years now, I guess.”
“Twelve. Twelve years. Twelve years of good friendship. It has been a good friendship, hasn't it? I know I've cherished every moment of it. We've confided a lot in each other over the years. At least I have in you, and you're so good at listening. The thing is, I haven't been entirely truthful to you. This whole time we've been friends, I've wanted something more. I love you, Tiny Jenkins. Always have. I don't know why it's taken me so long to say that. Maybe it's this looming presence of uncertainty in the air that's made me say it now. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I think it would just be great if we could be more than friends. So, what do you say? Can I call you my boyfriend?"
Seconds felt like centuries for Lucy as she waited for Tiny to say something, anything. He tuned his guitar and strummed out a few chords.
“Sorry, Luce. I just don’t think that’s a good idea is all. We should probably just stay friends.”
Lucy Jessup hadn’t prepared herself for what she’d say if Tiny had refused her proposition. She stammered, but she couldn't find any words. Her face turned red, but a much darker hue than the innocent blush only moments before. Finally, not able to hold it back any longer, she burst into tears, ran inside her house, and slammed the door.
Tiny hadn't meant any offense. He just didn’t like girls like that.
The prostitution business was booming in Bumbletown, unlike every other industry in the dying town. There were three brothels in Bumbletown, and all of them brought in pretty good business.
Jenny Corver was the madam at The Loose Goose, and she ran a tight ship. She didn't have any tabs or credit lines like Kitty's Corner or The Rump Dump. You paid then and there, or you took your business elsewhere.
One particularly dreary Tuesday evening, Sheriff Lincecum walked through the front door of The Loose Goose. It was his first time in such an establishment.
"What can I get for fifty dollars?" asked Sheriff Lincecum.
"Right this way, sir," Jenny said, leading the lawman into a back room. "Maria here will show you a good time."
About a hour or so later, Farmer Jessup walked through the front door of The Loose Goose. It was his first time in such an establishment.
"What can I get for twenty dollars?" asked Farmer Jessup.
"Right this way, sir," Jenny said, leading the former farmer into a back room. "Bertha here will show you an okay time."
About two hours later, Lloyd Templeton walked through the front door of The Loose Goose. It was his first time in such an establishment.
"What can I get for five dollars?" asked Lloyd Templeton.
"Right this way, sir," Jenny said, leading the would-be murderer into a back room. "Cletus here will show you a lackluster time."
Fifteen minutes later, Father McEleney walked through the front door of The Loose Goose. It was his first time in such an establishment.
"What can I get for fifty cents?" asked Father McEleney.
"You worthless, damned cheap bastard," Jenny said. “You piece of shit. You dirty, old bag. You should be ashamed of yourself. To come in here and ask a question like that? You're not worth the ground you walk on. To hell with you, you lousy, filthy, degraded, detestable, scummy, slimy, decrepit, despicable, no-good boot licker! "
Father McEleney face contorted, and he let out a satisfied whimper.
"Amazing! Fantastic! What a deal! That costs ten-times as much at the place across the street."
And, just like that, with a whoosh and a tremble, the remnants of a mediocre street joke fresh in the air, Bumbletown, Kansas was wiped off the face of the Earth.