Folk Tales

Burnt Corn & Other Creepy Stories

This volume presents nine new stories which seem, to the author, to fit under the rubric of “creepy”. The unfortunate beggar man in Canto do Virapuru is, or was, a real person who occasionally still haunts my dreams and defines “creepy” for me. All of the stories are fiction, of course, but most are based on events and places from my past, both distant (Good Morning Lisbon and The Corcoran Dream) and recent (Bird of Constant Sorrow, I, Agave, Three Suns on the Horizon). Grotto of the Golden Snake is modified from a chapter in a novel that I hope to publish at some point. I have no explanation at all for Ha’boon except to say that the title came to me 20 or 30 years ago, long before I began writing fiction, and rested in hibernation until the present. The title story Burnt Corn derives from my 4H days on the farm where I fell in love with raising rabbits. Later, as a married grad student at New Mexico Tech in Socorro I had to resurrect this skill to supplement my pitiful income and I continued my affair with rabbits well into my first professorship. The title, Burnt Corn, derives from the birthplace of a friend in Commerce, Missouri who died many years ago. I don’t know why that name stuck with me over all these years since but I would like to think my friend would have approved of my story celebrating his home town. My favorite of the nine stories is The Corcoran Dream. I don’t know how many times I have read it, but it brings tears each time. I hope it reminds you of Willa Cather’s prairie novels.

Dreams of Professor Canine

This is a story of a university professor who becomes severely apprehensive as retirement from academia approaches. He fears that his lifetime of study will be for naught when he steps away from the podium. The professor’s imagination invents an alter ego in the form of a Heidelberg educated professor who just happens to be a coyote. With their inflated egos at full mast, the two professors clash, debate and insult each other throughout an outrageous dream sequence extending over several years. In the end, rationality prevails and the professors accept retirement as a “natural consequence” of academic life and part as friends.  

Four Candles of Opogodó

Platinum, in association with placer gold, was first discovered by the Spanish in Colombia sometime prior to 1557 and, until 1823, the steamy tropical rain forest of west-central Colombia was the world’s only source of this precious metal. This region, famous as the rainiest place on Earth (520 inches per year!), was a center for world-class platinum mining during World War II. Our story, set in the early war years, follows the colorful life of river trader and party man, Manfred Huber. He is a young, handsome, blue-eyed German national, who sails his boat, Flor del Rio, up the tributaries of the San Juan River to exchange trade goods for placer platinum. This “black sand” is legally mandated to go to the U.S. but platinum smuggling on behalf of desperate Axis Powers is rampant and enforcement by Colombian authorities is non-existent. Ironically, Manfred’s father happens to be the chief geologist for American Gold and Platinum Company and in charge of dredging operations for gold and platinum along these same rivers which flow red and opaque from defecation by his giant, earth-gobbling machines. When popular Captain Manfred arrives in the miserable mining village of Opogodó, he brings rum and sets off a wild and rowdy party at the Bar de Lluvia. This riotous celebration leads to drunkenness, fornication, outraged jealousy and murder.

Lazarus The Goat

This is a story that asks the question “Do the Miracles of Christ Have an Expiration Date?” It begins in modern times in west-central Portugal when the narrator meets a farmer who claims to own a talking goat. Of course our man must see and talk with this miraculous goat, and when he does, the goat makes the outrageous claim that he is the living Lazarus raised from the grave as told in John: 11: 43. The wonderful discoursing, multi-lingual goat then begins an arabesque story of immortality and transformation from human form to goat-hood by a Moorish enchantress during the Portuguese inquisition in 1607. To our narrator’s frustration, the goat manages to weave this tale into an account of his adventurous life as a bandit goat in the mountains of eastern Portugal. The latter story, in turn, is linked to an amusing yarn about an encounter between the goat and author Miguel Cervantes of Don Quixote fame in 1610. So Lazarus, the immortal goat, appears intent on spinning an endless story of an endless life that would make the good lady Scheherazade blush. But this fabulous narrative is unexpectedly brought to violent closure by an angry farmer’s wife with a very sharp butcher’s knife.

Prisoner of Zarembo

In this homage to Jack London we have a 19th century Darwinian tale of the struggle for survival by a man and a wolf marooned on Zarembo Island. Situated in the panhandle of Alaska, Zarembo is an isolated, uninhabited island graced with a hideous cold, rainy climate, rugged terrain and insanely dense forest. This malevolent isle is no place anyone would wish to live, but this story explores man’s ability to regress to the stone-age conditions of Zarembo. This story is an atavistic yarn revolving around the relationship between a man, sentenced to five years of penal servitude in the green hell of southeast Alaska, and a badly injured black wolf expelled from his pack. Both man and wolf are confronted by the distinct possibility of starvation as they struggle to live under the cruel, indifferent gaze of Zarembo Island. The hereditary enemies are initially bent on killing each other, but when this fails, the man-wolf relationship evolves from mutual fear to tolerance, then respect, and finally to dependence, cooperation and, perhaps, even affection.  

Rocina Leitao

This story is set in Fundão, Portugal, gateway to Europe’s most productive tungsten mine. It is a story of an innocent girl thrust into prostitution amidst the intrigues of British and German spy rings infesting neutral Portugal during the early 1940’s. This was a dark and turbulent period in which tiny, defenseless Portugal cowered beneath the ominous shadows of occupation by Nazi Germany and even Franco’s fascist Spain. Beneath the veneer of humor, sex and murder in this story, lies the stark reality that Germany could not achieve its goal of European domination without the iron and tungsten of neutral Sweden and Portugal. These necessary wartime commodities were purchased with gold looted from Europe’s central banks by the ever resourceful Nazis. After the fall of France in 1940, only the grit and determination of the British spies stood in opposition to Hitler’s insidious and evil visions for Portugal.

Slate and Crows

A sinister 15th century black slate castle in north-central Portugal, overpopulated with insidious, all-knowing crows, is the setting for a mysterious inscription on a leper priest’s gravestone. It reads: Fr. Joaquim, SJ, 32312 This dismal, dark edifice formerly served as a leprosarium for afflicted monks, now long dead, who pursued the practice of mining local ores during the WWII period. A Texas geologist and a French Jesuit priest are drawn into these ancient, crumbling ruins and unexpectedly encounter a mysterious, elderly black Mozambican priest on a mission of his own. The combined efforts of this unlikely triad decode the cryptic message from the grave and the trio is compelled to investigate an ancient Roman mine beyond the black castle walls. When the geologist descends into the hellish, forbidding depths of a near-vertical mine shaft, he makes a shocking discovery that cries out for justice.