This piece is for the Blog Battle hosted and managed by the seemingly tireless Rachael Ritchey. If you’d like to participate, she has all the details on the Blog Battlers’ WordPress site.
Genre: Tall Tale
Word Count: 1041
The Northern Lights danced across the Alaska sky while two men trudged through the snows. Rings of smoke followed in their wake like Indian signals, and the lantern jangling from a pole spread a warm, inviting light with which the weather disagreed.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Jim’s stronger than any man,” the younger man said. His cigar glowed orange as he took a drag beneath his thick black mustache. “Didja see how he hefted those carts of stone? Bet he could hurl ‘em right over the peak of Denali if he had half a mind to do it.”
“Oh, I know all the stories,” the older fellow replied, hunched and stiff from years in the mines. “Folk say when Ol’ Jim Gibbons was born, he split his Ma right in half. Then the boy saw what he’d done and squeezed her back together again like clay.”
“Aw, that’s a load of bunk.”
“I met Maw-Maw Gibbons, Junior. She’s got a white stretch mark runs straight down her spine an’ right between her bosoms. Limped as long as I’ve known her, an’ who can blame her after that ordeal?”
“Well, that may be, Paw… but ain’t possible to split a person in half and then put ‘em together again.”
“You a doctor of medicine now? Wish you told me! We coulda been makin’ a killing treatin’ the workers on this gold rush instead of joinin’ ‘em in the mines.”
Paw gazed into the night sky and took a deep breath. “Here’s to another year of luggin’ rock and pannin’ for gold. Happy New Year, boy. I’ll get you a mug of cider when we reach Abby’s.”
“Paw, come on now. I think I’ll go for somethin’ a little stronger.”
“Fine, but I ain’t buyin’ no firewater. You need to cut down the carousin’ and cavortin’ with wayward women, get some meat on your bones and some strength in your spirit. Start of a New Year’s a good time to make some changes, Junior.”
“I ain’t Jim Gibbons,” Junior fired back, “and I ain’t tryin’ to be him neither. I’m a grown man now, Paw. I can tend to my own affairs.”
“Jus’ sayin’ a man could choose worse examples to follow.” Paw eyed the glowing stogie between Junior’s lips.”Like quittin’ those Cubans. Might save us some earnings if we didn’t have to keep you stocked up on tabacca an’ booze.”
“Man’s got to live a little, Paw. What’s the point of puttin’ in my fifty or sixty years if I don’t enjoy a one of ‘em? Even your big legend Jim had his days of fun an’ debauchery.”
Paw shook his head and dismissed Junior’s point with a wave.
Junior took a long drag on the cigar, until the end blazed like the anger building in his heart. “Okay, Paw, let’s talk about the Gibbons I’ve heard tell of. Went through bottles of whiskey like lesser men take shots. Walked into sportin’ houses an’ hired the whole stable of women, an’ left no less vigorous than when he came through the doors.”
“Hardly the right kind of—”
“Men say when he rustles up dinner after a week in the mines, he rides out to the Circle-Tee Ranch and purchases beef by the head of cattle instead of the pound of the cut. Why, when the Garveston tobacco plantation went up in the drought, they say Ol’ Jim rode through the flames an’ plumes of smoke, suckin’ in deep breaths an’ grinnin’ the whole dang time. Told the farmhand that he finally got the happy feels ever’body talked about. That’s your bastion of morality an’ clean livin’ right there.”
“Mayhaps he did all that,” Paw admitted with a solemn nod. Then he waggled a finger at Junior. “You forget he turned aside from his sinful ways. Found some religion, put his face into the Good Book now an’ again. Happened during the California Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”
“The what now?”
“Back in Forty-Nine,” Paw started in a reverent tone, “Jim Gibbons found more gold and made more profit than any man west of the Mississippi. Easy to do when you can pick your way clean to China in a week’s hard work. Miners in the Rockies said they’d be diggin’ a tunnel when the walls in front of ‘em burst open and big Jim breaks through, grin splittin’ his face like the Grand Canyon. ‘Ello from California, he’d say in that deep baritone of his, before lumbering back the way he’d come.”
“You can’t believe—”
“Seen it with my own eyes, I did! And yessir, he did all that wicke’ness what you was recounting. But come the end of Forty-Nine, he realized all his money’s gone an’ he got nothin’ to show for it. Resolved to change his ways, right then, an’ wished he could take back those fool decisions you praise so highly.” Paw gave Junior a judgmental squint.
“So Big Jim, what’s he do? Decides maybe he can take it back. So he gets himself a thick chain like they use to lower cars in the mine shafts, the longest length of it he can find. Steps onto the highest peak of the Rockies an’ starts to whirlin’ the chain around. Started the dust storms on the Oklahoma plains, he did.
“Then Jim hurls the end of that chain up into the sky an’ latches it right ‘round the settin’ sun on the first try. Strains with all his might and pulls the ball o’ fire back the other direction, sends it back to the East coast and keeps whippin’ it around, backwards to its normal path in the heavens. Spun time all the way back to the beginnin’ of the year, an’ no one knew what to do. So they called it the Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”
Junior spit into the snow. “They did not.”
“Did too. I got coins stamped with the date to prove it. And what’s more, in Eighteen Forty-Ten, Jim Gibbons turned his life around—made the promise to change, an’ carried it out to the finish.”
Junior scoffed. “A man that completed a New Year’s resolution? Heard a lot of things about Jim Gibbons, but now I know you’re pullin’ my leg.”
Happy New Year, fellow Battlers and readers. Here’s hoping you accomplish above and beyond what you’ve aimed for this year–maybe write some true-to-life tall tales of your own.