Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Submitted for your approval, the opening chapter of the time travel book I've been playing with for the past ten years.
A working chapter from PRESCOTT TIME TRAVEL

“JT Star"
by William Snyder
© 2005 William Snyder

                  “Mr. Johnson?”
            JT Star shifted from one foot to the other before his coach-counselor, looking like he was about to explode out of faded jeans and snow-white t-shirt. His coach, a powerfully built fifty-one year old black man who had once been a fullback for the Detroit Lions, sat reading the front page of the Arizona Republic. The rest of the boys were impressed by Johnson’s professional sports career, but not JT. JT liked Mr. Johnson just the same, despite the fact that he has black. His father had taught him that blacks couldn’t be trusted, that they were dangerous, lazy and stupid. JT understood that Mr. Johnson was more trustworthy, more hardworking, and intelligent than any of the full grown white men he’d known in Western Kentucky.
                    “Just a minute, son, let me finish this column.”
             “I finished my chores, Mr. Johnson.”
              Alvin Johnson looked up from behind the newspaper.
             “How’s that work, son? I woke you boys up five, maybe ten minutes ago.”
             “Cause I got up an hour ago.”
             “Couldn’t sleep again, JT?” 
             “You took your meds last night, right?”
             “Yes, sir,” the boy lied.
             “You’re a good kid.”
             “Can I …”

            “Feed the horses? Yeah, make sure you’re cleaned up and at the mess hall by eight.”
            “Yes sir. Thank you, Mr. Johnson.”
            A fantastic white smile flashed across the boy’s handsome face. He grabbed his worn denim coat from the hanger and bolted through the front door.
            “Take it easy boy; them busted up old horses ain’t going nowhere.”
            JT didn’t hear him. He ran hard along the dirt road, pumping his arms with everything he had, his eyes zeroed in the on the derelict stables. He breathed hard as the chatter became louder. A quarter mile out from the cottage and with no one in sight he began to sing – in his mind.
            “Born in the valleys and raised in the trees, of Western Kentucky – on wobbly knees…”
            The horses neighed and whinnied as the boy sprinted into their field of vision. After greeting each horse personally with a hug, JT made sure each horse got its equal portion of hay, oats and molasses. Although he spoke no Spanish and they spoke no English, he managed to charm the mess hall cooks out of a couple of scoops of molasses on a weekly basis.
            The boy brushed the horses and sang out loud.
            All the long, lazy mornings – in pastures of green, the sun on your withers, the wind on your mane…”
JT Starr was free. The horses had the mojo. When he was with the horses, it was as if the chatter was almost not there at all –  almost.
            JT was sixteen and people, especially women, told him he looked exactly like Brad Pitt when he was young. He was tall and his long sinewy physique appeared to be chiseled out of rock. Piercing grey-blue eyes stood out in contrast to his russet skin and disheveled dirty blond hair. He was also a diagnosed schizophrenic. And he’d been off his medication for three days now. The chatter, that’s what his grandmother called it; the chatter was louder, but at least he could stay awake, at least he was alive, not a freaking zombie. Life was a vicious and inescapable cycle. It was three or four days on the meds, until he couldn’t take the life of the living dead, and then it was three or four days with the chatter. The Arizona doctor told him the state of Kentucky wouldn’t pay for a reevaluation so he’d have to cowboy up for a couple of months. If only they’d let him stay with the horses; the horses were his secret weapons, his “chatter busters.”
            Later that day, Jack Sullivan stood in front of JT and the rest of his students.
            “So what was Chekhov trying to say about society?”
            “That we all suck.”
            It was JT’s brother, Willis. JT sunk in his desk and smiled at his brother. They’d been at the ranch for a couple of months now. This was the first time the brothers lived under the same roof since their father was arrested five years ago.
            “Do you agree with Chekhov, JT?”
            “Don’t you? You’re a teacher. You know more about history than any of us. You tell us, Mr. Sullivan. Do you think people suck?”
            “Yes – and no. I guess I could argue either way, couldn’t I? And that brings us to the assignment. Do people suck? Do you agree with Anton Chekov’s thesis from The Bet? Does mankind suck? I’m not askin’ for much, a measly three hundred words. You’ve got the rest of the period and what you don’t finish is your homework.”
            “You’re a beast, Mr. Sullivan,” one of the boys said.
            “Thank you, thank you very much,” Sully said in his best King of Rock and Roll imitation.
            The teacher walked over to his desk, thinking that teaching wasn’t so bad - today, remembering what his old friend, Steve Kirby had said back in the days when they created educational television programming at Planet School. At least a teacher can drive home at night knowing he tried to do something good. It had been almost twenty years since Sully had taken his first teaching position, a one year gig, just to make a little cabbage while he got the stand-up and screenwriting career up and running; twenty years – gone in the wink of an eye. Sully understood it was time to actualize a serious paradigm shift. It was time to accept his career, his life calling, to embrace the path that God or the world or the universe had set before him. He was a teacher. The sooner he let go of the pipe dreams, the better for his students, his family, and Jack Sullivan.
            Sully popped in an Al Green DVD and the boys wrote, all of them except JT, who sat staring at the ceiling, an anguished look on his face.
            “JT, can I talk to you?”
            “Sure, Sully.”
            They stood outside the classroom. The Queen Creek Boys Ranch was a beautiful facility. Cows grazed in the pasture. Alfalfa fields stretched out before the mysterious Superstition Mountains.
            “You’re supposed to call me Mr. Sullivan, JT.”
            “It’s short for Sullivan, right Sully?”
            JT closed his eyes tight for a couple of seconds.
            “How long’s it been since you stopped taking your meds?”
            “Three days ago. How’d you know?”
            “I’m psychotic – I mean psychic.”
            Sully smiled.
The boy forced a smile and stared eastward toward the red Superstitions.
“Sully, you think old Jacob Waltz really had a gold mine up there?”
            “I think he brought gold down from the mountain, I don’t know if he had a mine up there.”
            “So you think he got the gold from the Peralta massacre sight?”
            “Who knows? It could have been high graded from the Goldfield mines just north of the mountains. I take it you read the book I loaned you.”
            “Yeah, before I quit taking the pills.”
            “What’d you do with the pills?”
            “Flushed ‘em.”
            “The voices pretty bad?”
            “The same as always.”
            “You always had the voices?”
            “It’s not voices – really.”
            “It’s mumbling and yelling and singing. For the most part, I can’t make out the words. My granny called it the chatter. She heard the chatter too.”
            “How long have you heard the chatter?”
            “When the pigs busted up the meth lab, I tried to fight one of ‘em – with my dad’s pool cue. Things were pretty crazy. He was pretty big and I was pretty small and that big fat pig son of a bitch slammed my head into the door jam. I woke up in the hospital with a busted noggin and a whole lot of chatter goin’ on.”
            “What did the doctor say?”
            “Said it was from the meth.”
            “You were doing meth when you were, what, eleven?”
            “No, that’s what the CPS people said, that me and Willis was usin’ meth.”
            “You weren’t?”
            “Hell no, Sully.”
            “Could you do me a favor?”
            “Can you tutor me at the stables this afternoon?”
            “I wouldn’t call it tutoring. Yesterday, I graded papers and you groomed the horses.”
            “Now you’re catching on, Sully.”
            JT smiled his million-dollar smile.
            “It’s a deal. But when you go back in there, to the classroom, I want you to write down what the chatter says.”
            “It don’t make no sense, Sully.”
            “That’s okay, JT. I’m interested.”
            “You think the angels and the saints are talking to me – like Joan of Arc?”
            “You never know,” Sully said slapping the boy on the back.

            “You got that right, Sully.