Excerpt from ABOVE ALL MEN by Eric Shonkwiler (MG Press)

Above All Men cover
Above All Men
by Eric Shonkwiler
March 2014

             David was standing with Macha on the front porch when Red came around the bend. Macha struggled down the steps and then trotted to meet him and she circled his legs and came back to the yard. Red lifted his hand and dropped it and David raised his. He hung his head out past the railing to see the sky. It wasn’t long after midafternoon and the sun was still far from the western horizon. You want to come riding? There’s a little work to do.
They started down the road toward Danvers’. Macha followed them until David pointed at her. You stay.
The dog halted and turned back. They went on to the barn. The silver bay stood cribbing at the stall door. He led the horse out and they saddled it and David’s in turn and Red took them out. David lifted the emasculator from its peg on the wall and wiped it clean with a rag. He poured disinfectant over it and his hands and shook them dry. Red blanched when he stepped out with it.
You didn’t say you were doin’ that. Isn’t it a little late?
Pretty close. But you’re on the hook now. He took his bay toward the gate and Red followed. He let them through the gate and stepped up into the saddle and he watched Red struggle up. When he was settled they rode southeast, cutting across the property. They rode in silence for a long while, taking in the faltering grass and the few trees. They passed the remnants of old boundaries, fallen fenceposts and the squared foundation of a long-gone shed. They leaned back as their horses stepped down a grade and righted. Topping it they saw the herd gathered at the creek in the distance. Red turned to David.
Know him by sight?
No. But it’s not like there’s two hundred head here. Shouldn’t be hard to find.
Red smirked. They separated and cut into the animals to spread them out and they circled and he watched Red ride around the periphery from the corner of his eye. There was something in his silhouette. The rope in David’s hand turned gritty from memory and he was in the trench by the dry riverbed. It was raining like it always rained and the sky was low over the trees and he could see them coming out from behind the cover of ferns and dwarf bamboo and sliding into the draw and running toward their side. Red was first over the mouth of the trench and David was there with him and they were rushing to meet the soldiers and when Red called to him and pointed he didn’t know how it was not pouring.
He’s right here.
David spun the horse. The calf was at the edge of the herd and David dropped the loop over its head easily and pulled it tight and he dropped from the saddle. Red was still on his horse and David passed the rope to him and he rode off until the calf dropped to its knees and David pushed it to the ground and knelt on its shoulder. Red came over and handed David the emasculator and pulled on the calf’s foreleg. He patted its neck.
Docile enough thing, ain’t he?
Killed his momma comin’ out. David rolled to the calf’s rear and pinned the tail to its back with his elbow and pulled the scrotum free of the legs. He took the knife from his pocket and lined the blade up and cut and pulled. The calf recoiled and screamed and Red lay overtop it to keep it from thrashing away.
There’s the fight.
He took the calf’s testes and pulled them until the muscle in the cord separated and he crimped the first with the emasculator and held it tight. The tail slipped loose from under his arm when he reached for the other testicle and the calf began whipping its tail about and it spiked on the knife lying at angle in the grass.
Hell. Blood was painted across his chest. He crimped the second testicle with his face averted. He opened the tool and stood away to get a spraycan from the horse and he doused the scrotum with it. You can let go.
Red pushed off and the calf stood wobbling. It ran to the herd with the skin flapping red and pink at its rear. David stooped to pick up the knife and he wiped it on the seam of his jeans and put it in his back pocket. There was a spat of blood on Red’s cheek and across the sleeve of his shirt and hands. David spun around to find himself in the field and he saw the horses standing aside grazing and he wiped at his brow with the back of his hand. The smell of tissue and insides were on his fingers. He closed his eyes.
Got a headache or something?
No. I’m alright. They mounted and headed for the gate. The light was just beginning to pull from the air in the east. Red was ahead of him and from his shape alone David was there again with the soil and blood slathered on him like porridge. Red was cutting the femur from a soldier in the middle of the draw. David shuddered and leaned from the horse and vomited. The horse stopped and Red sawed around and helped David into the grass.
Jesus, bud. What the hell?
Between his fingers there was a give like the rubber tube of an artery. His ears were ringing. He felt a pressure like a fist behind his forehead, not punching but pushing.
Hey, come on. Red slapped at his cheek. David rolled his eyes up. He retched once and fell onto his hands and knees and he stayed there for a while with Red sitting on his haunches beside him, holding his hat. The land was beginning to color from the sunset and it was getting cool. Eventually David sat and he wiped his eyes and mouth with a handkerchief. He sat there breathing slowly. He held the handkerchief wrinkled up and he began to fold it and cocked his head.
Do you still have that bone? That femur?
Red put his hand on the earth and he shifted his weight. I think it’s in one of those holes you found me in.
David shook his head.
Do you have yours?
He closed his eyes. What?

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2 Responses to Excerpt from ABOVE ALL MEN by Eric Shonkwiler (MG Press)

  1. Pingback: Midwestern Gothic – A Literary Journal » Blog Archive » Above All Men excerpt at Sundog Lit

  2. Pingback: Midwestern Gothic – A Literary Journal » Blog Archive » Above All men by Eric Shonkwiler

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