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E. L. Noel, 2001 EPPIE Winner for The Threshing Floor, Best Historical Novel, has published in both print and electronic formats.

Here is one of her stories, The Rock Hound, a tale of dark humor.

The Rock Hound
E.L. Noel

No matter how I dreaded it, the time had arrived. I pushed against the steering wheel to boost myself from the car. Beautiful scenery in the Rocky Mountain National Forest. Made me wish I’d spent more time here.

Wally levered open the trunk, and I helped him drag the heavy bag over the bumper. Heat rose from the parking lot pavement. The bag thumped to the asphalt with a solid thud and lay there, still as death. No movement, but I heard faint chattering and a soft giggle.

Wally wiped sweat from his face with the grubby tail of his shirt. “Sure is heavy. What’s in this, anyway?”

“Rocks,” I said. “Got a problem with that?”

His thin, red hair hung over his forehead in greasy strands. He shrugged his skinny shoulders. “No, just asking.”

“Good, because at fifty bucks for twenty minutes worth of work I’m not willing to listen to any whining.” Yes, they were heavy. Rocks possessed that quality, the idiot. He wasn’t blond, but I figured there was one in his background somewhere. “Let’s go,” I said, and picked up my end. “Start earning your money.”

Wally bent from the waist, groaning like he was a hundred and ten instead of twenty-seven. The world was going to hell in a hand basket, and Wally numbered among those willing to give it a push.

The parking lot remained empty. The heat kept folks indoors, snuggled up to their air-conditioners. The sun burned my shoulders through my shirt. We took our load and walked down the trail, backs bowed beneath the weight. A sheer drop bordered one side; a gentle slope the other. Tall pines kissed the sky. Not a breath of air stirred. After a quarter mile, Wally the superhero gave out.

“I can’t go any farther,” he said, huffing and puffing, and laid his end of the sack on the ground. He grabbed the small of his back with both hands and leaned back, stretching his muscles.

I turned off my hearing aid, and pushed him. Both hands to his scrawny chest. Right over the edge, the little sniveler. I’m seventy-three, and time is too precious to listen to whiners. If he screamed, I didn’t hear it. Good thing. Screaming gets on my nerves. I didn’t worry about Wally suffering; he fell two hundred feet or more, so he enjoyed a blessedly quick end, the lucky devil. Can’t say the same for myself. I glanced at my watch. Yep. Less than a day left.

I grabbed one end of the sack and dragged it down the path alone. By the time I got to the end of the trail, I was done in and feeling every one of those seventy-three years. I turned my hearing aid back on and listened to the excited chatter coming from the sack. I pulled out my pocketknife. The blade gave me some trouble. Arthritis flares up sometimes, but I worked at it until I had it open and gleaming in the hot sun. I slit the sack and all my rocks tumbled out and rolled down the mountain, calling good-byes and thank yous, as they bounced and slid down the steep grade. I waved and watched them go, each one so happy to be free and tumbling, growing no moss. Not yet, but they would. I wouldn’t have to see it though. They were free. That’s what was important.

On my way back to the car, I thought about them, their different personalities and quirks. I dragged the empty sack behind me, glad they were free, but missing them, too. Each one had been so supportive and kind.

My surgery is first thing in the morning. The doctors all pat me on the back and tell me there’s nothing to worry about, but the rock garden in the hospital waiting room says different. Oh, yeah, they clued me in. They mentioned it after my second visit, afraid of being too forward. Said I wouldn’t make it through the surgery. They didn’t want to tell me, but I pestered the truth out of ‘em. It’s okay. I don’t mind. I’ve had a long and wonderful life. And I thanked them for being honest with me. Enrique, the little Spanish stone, nearly cried. Velma, the river rock, told me it wouldn’t hurt. Marshal, the geode, said it wasn’t for sure, but Marshal is a notorious liar. He lets his glitter get the better of his common sense.

Tomorrow they’ll try to patch my old ticker, but I know they’re wasting their time. I’ll stop by the waiting room to say farewell to my friends in the garden and let them know I’ve tied up the last loose end by letting my own rocks go. Didn’t want them to end up in somebody’s driveway, unappreciated and forgotten. They’ll be better off in the wild.

A voice on the trail startled me. I stopped. “What? What did you say to me?”

He wouldn’t repeat it, the little menace. Pebbles can be so snotty. I picked up the offender and shoved him in my pocket. He said he’d be singing in the sun after I was six feet under. We’ll see. Before I go in for surgery tomorrow, I’ll swallow the rascal and take him with me.


For more information about E. L. Noel and her work, please visit her website at http://www.isp101.com/~mikenoel/index.htm

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