Christopher Conlon

after Joe Bucciano's "Artists' Monument"

Copyright ©2016 by Christopher Conlon

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Now everybody in the Delta always knowed Willie Ogle was a strange one. Not much to look at, kinda big and bulky, with eyes brown like mud and hair all whichway. Lotta teeth gone from his head, even when he was a boy. Came from a long line a white-trash Ogles outta Bleat County down south, not a one a them worth the powder it'd take to blow 'em up. They was a whole herd a them, six or eight head along with Old Man Ogle who was a thief and drunkard and finally got killed in a bar fight. Old Lady Ogle just up and died not long after that, and the herd scattered to the four winds.

All 'cept Willie. He stayed on at that godawful excuse of a general store the Ogles tried to keep goin at the edge a town, you know, where the train tracks is. Hardly nobody went there. Never did have nothin worth buyin 'cept whiskey and cattle feed, and Willie never had no head for numbers nor for much a nothin else, either. When he was a boy the other kids made a lot a fun a Willie, 'fore he got his growth spurt, and I don't deny maybe waylayin him on his way to school to rub cockleburs in his hair and take his lunch money myself on occasion. Wadn't nothin serious, you understand, just kid stuff. Later when all the young bucks went off to the war Willie stayed behind. Draft board said he didn't have it upstairs, if you know what I mean. We come back four years later, he's just the same as ever. Never stopped bein a boy, really.

Anyway, Willie was a young man by the time his folks was dead and his brothers and sisters all gone. He didn't run the store worth a damn, leavin it even more filthy and cluttered up than his mama ever did, and lemme tell you, that is sayin somethin. Wadn't hardly nothin on the shelves, and he never knew what he did have cost anyway. You'd just leave some change on the counter for whatever you wanted and Willie'd look at you in his muddy-eyed way and his thumbs'd play at the pockets of his suspenders and he might smile a little, that's all. He wadn't one to talk much.

But Willie had some odd ways. Simple as he was, he had some kind a brain workin in there. Never was such a boy for fixin things. 'Lectrical things, I mean. Once my girl Jessie done broke her transistor radio and I'll be damned if I could fix it. It was all smashed, just broke up somethin terrible. Well, Jessie walked the two mile out to Ogle's General Store and showed it to Willie and he said you Bob Fellows' girl, ain't you? and she said yes I am and he said just be a few minutes and he took the radio in the back. Jessie says she heard some weird sounds comin out a there and in a little bit he come out with the radio again, all fixed and workin even better than before. What I mean is it picked up all the regular stations with the gospel music and the rock 'n roll bop Jessie liked, but it picked up other stations too, ones where they was talkin in languages nobody ever heard a here in the Miss'ippi Delta. After a while Jessie got rid a that radio. Said she didn't like it no more with all them voices comin out it. I found it right disturbin myself, to tell the honest truth.

What Willie did in the back room of that worthless old general store don't nobody rightly know, but one day he tells me hey Bob, I got television. Television! Now ain't nobody got television in these parts for at least a hundred mile, but old Willie say he got television and he'll show it to me if I just step outside and look up over the door. See, time was that they was an old sign up there say OGLE'S GENERAL STORE GOODS & SERVICES but it fell down years ago and all that's left is the blank white wall. Well, more like gray, dirty gray. So I wonder what the hell Willie is gettin up to, but I go outside and look up and I'll be goddamned if he ain't got television up there. Color, too! There it is, on the left-hand side, a picture of some old Negro man with a mustache. The whole thing's maybe five foot high. You could see the Negro lookin up and down and movin his mouth like he was talkin, but I didn't hear no sound. Not then, anyway.

Willie come out all happy and proud, talkin 'bout he got television, and I say yeah, that's a mighty fine thing, Willie, but what you gonna do with it? It's just a picture of some old black man's head. Then it hit me like a damn 18-wheeler right in my face. I knowed that old man. He was old Rufus what used to hang around town doin odd jobs and such. Now I wanted to know how Willie got Rufus's face up there all life-like and all. 'Specially since Rufus been dead for fifteen year.

Well, Willie he just smile and giggle a little, then go back into his store. Pretty soon they was more pictures up there on the wall. I knew 'em all. Wendy Bott, wife a Mr. Bott what owned the bar downtown. Mrs. Nightingale, old spinster lady with dyed red hair. Jim Deagle, kid Willie and me went to school with. One-legged Pat Toomy. And little Sarah Stone, who was always too sick to go to school. And yeah, they was all dead. But there they was, in livin damn color, all lookin around on that damn wall.

Old Willie tells me that these here is just his "experiments," he gonna turn 'em back off again and let 'em go back to their eternal rest. I say that seem like a mighty Christian thing to do. Truth to tell, I'm gettin scared witless by now. I don't know 'bout you but I ain't accustomed to seein no livin dead folks on no front-wall color television a no damn store.

I went home that night and didn't hear nothin 'bout Willie for a few days. After a while it all seemed like some kinda bad dream, so I relaxed some and stopped by Ogle's General Store again and looked in. Willie came outta the back and stood there starin at me and gigglin in a way I found mighty peculiar. He asked me how I liked the television I'd seen and it seemed like the right thing to say now Willie, I liked that television just fine. He told me that was good 'cuz he had a new kinda television that was almost ready. Gettin a signal, he said, from real far away, way farther than before. He told me to go look at the storefront and there it was again, only different. It weren't Wendy Bott or Mrs. Nightingale or any of them people from the first time. It weren't a person at all. It was some kinda thing. It was gray and lumpy, like rainclouds, only oily, somehow. When I looked at it I got this awful feelin, just terrible. There was sound now, too, sound like what usta come outta Jessie's radio, weird hissin and rumblin and words like I never heard. The thing seemed to grow as I watched it. And then, I swear, it reached out to me. A piece of that evil greasy cloud just reached right off the surface of the storefront, some kinda arm with awful slitherin fingers like gray snakes. Willie said somethin to me then but I didn't make out the words, or I thought I didn't. Then I heard him laughin, but not for long 'cuz I screamed and jumped in my pick-up and got outta there lickety-split, you bet.

The next morning our neighbor Fred Grange's wife come downstairs to fix him breakfast like she always do and she finds old Fred torn into little bits all over her damn kitchen. Terrible thing. Sheriff was in an awful tizzy, and so was I.

Next night folks heard screamin out to Sam Brown's place. When they went out there they found him splattered all over the inside a his barn. His pigs was lickin up what was left.

Now here's the thing. Remember when I told you that kids used to make fun a Willie Ogle back in school? This may sound silly, but Fred Grange and Sam Brown went to school with Willie and me, and they was two of the worst ones for makin fun a Willie. They used to push him in the river, pour glue in his ears, rub chili pepper in his eyes, just all kinds a things, for years and years. Just terrible. I never went in for nothin like that. But I remember the cockleburs, and old Willie's lunch money that I took again and again.

And Willie never has stopped bein a boy, that's the God's honest truth.

Well, I ain't been sleepin good these past few nights and I'm thinkin of sellin out and movin the family to some other part a the country. But then I wonder if it ain't too late already. Old Willie, always fixin stuff... them voices... that thing...

And just now I recollected what it was that Willie said to me the last time I saw him, before he started laughin and I hightailed it out away from that crazy place.

What he said was, Look, Bob! 3-D television!

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