THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- TWILIGHTED

by: Wes Ishamel

First quarter and the Cowboys were up, and then they scored again. Next thing Hooter knew, it was the second quarter and the Boys were down.

He didn't feel like he'd dozed. Must have been what his old friend Pockets Geronimo called the walking twilight—dozing, but not really asleep, awake but unable to really see what was in front of you. At such rare times, which could never be planned or prompted, Pockets said humans could at least come close to looking between dimensions.

All Hooter knew was that on the occasions when it seemed to happen to him, the experience could be pleasant, spooky or downright befuddling.

“Long pass to Beasley—incomplete,” said the announcer.

Clear as life, Hooter saw Nelda Isselfrick tottering up to the porch of the old Thayer Place, where Aunt Pinky was measuring Squeak Jablowski for his magician's finery. Nelda waved her cane and yelled at Squeak, “Anything that's supposed to be magic is the work of the Devil. That makes your hands the Devil's hands.” Her gray face was turning a splotchy shade of red.

Nelda pointed her cane at Aunt Pinky. “That makes your hands the Devil's hands, too.”

“As Satan's older sister, you ought to know,” Aunt Pinky seethed. She picked up a wayward hammer and stepped toward the blue-haired puritan.

In order to stave off what he sensed to be to be an imminent medical emergency—natural or induced—Squeak held Aunt Pinky by the back of her apron and agreed to reserve Nelda a front-row seat so that she could be on hand to exorcise demons as the need arose.

“First down,” came the announcement that sounded like it was from yesterday.

"This is starting to feel like old times. Give Zeke his due, but I still think Alfred Morris is our best running back."

Funny, thought Hooter, it had been several years since Squeak—the retired bull rider cum magician—mounted a show in Apache Flats, featuring the classics of magic.

"Just like I said, Vern, look at Morris run, like a runaway train up the middle, running over one more defender. He's breaking free..." The Cowboys were up again.

There was Squeak on opening night. After placing a bright red box on the table, he held up Delmar Jacob's giant Siamese rabbit, Matilda placed her inside the box and closed the lid. Squeak tapped the box with his wand. He opened the lid to show nothing but emptiness. He unhinged each side of the box so the audience could see there was no secret compartment. Still, no Matilda.

“I'm going to miss her,” Delmar said with a sniff before taking a long draw of his party punch.

“That's Morris Claiborne with the interception. It sure is nice to have him back this year.”

Lonnie Johnson was seated across from Squeak atop the elegant stage. The magician was asking Lonnie to find the Lady—it was Squeak's version of the three-card Monte. Lonnie had been reluctant to participate, thinking it was just a con game. In the hands of Squeak Jablowski, he discovered it was magic.

Squeak riffled through the deck, pulled out three cards as he found them, showing them to Lonnie and the audience

“As you see, we have the Two of Clubs here. Next, we have the Queen of hearts, the Lady, the money card. Finally, here is the Two of Spades.” He repeated the identities as he slowly turned each card facedown in front of Lonnie, side-by-side with the Queen in the middle.

“So, where is the queen?”

Lonnie pointed to the middle card.

“Unfortunately, it appears the Queen has let you down,” Squeak said. He turned the middle card over to reveal the Two of Spades.

“Looks like she moved over here.” He turned over the Queen of hearts to the left of the center card and then turned over the other card, the Two of Clubs.

“Tell you what, let's start with just two cards,” Squeak said. “We'll use the Two of Spades and the Queen.” He pocketed the other deuce.

Squeak pointed to the queen on Lonnie's left and then to the deuce on his right. Again, he repeated it as he turned each card facedown. He never touched the cards again.

“So?”

Quickly, but with less confidence, Lonnie pointed to the card on the left.

Squeak turned it over to reveal the deuce. “I'm afraid that Queen is deceptive.”

“But how did…”

Squeak put the deuce in his pocket, leaving the Queen face-up on the table.

“I believe you deserve one more chance to find the lady,” Squeak said. He pointed to the card and then slowly turned it facedown in front of Lonnie

Lonnie pointed at the card with a look of wonder.

Squeak turned the card over to reveal a joker. “I'm afraid the lady can make fools of us all.”

There was a moment of silence and then applause, hoots and hollers three times larger than the crowd.

"Fumble!" Shouted the announcer. "Cowboys Fumble on the one-yard line. They were within a whisker of scoring the go-ahead touchdown, now it looks like they'll lose this hard-fought contest.”

There was the bull named Night Witch—the massive, tiger-striped brute Squeak the rodeo clown dove at during the finals at Steamboat Springs. The bull never changed direction, catapulted Squeak into the starry sky, came back around to stomp him as soon as he landed, then used mammoth, stubbed horns to pitch him over the fence, beyond the front row of the exhibitor's parking lot.

No one ever found him...until he showed up at Hooters all those years later.

The story was right, the events happened, but they were all out of order.

"First and 10, but it doesn't matter much. No chance for a field goal with one tick left on the clock..."

It was the last performance of Squeak's magic show—standing room only. He was closing with a disappearing livestock illusion made famous by the infamous Harry Houdini.

Left to his own devices, Hooter chose a pot-bellied pig named Jasmine that balanced a marshmallow on her short snout, tossed it in the air and then sucked it down with a high-pitched wheeze that sounded like air forced from an over-inflated balloon.

Riding atop the pig—decked out in purple vest, orange chaps and a red hat—Carl the capuchin monkey spun a miniature rope.

As soon as the magician turned to see the menagerie, it was obvious that something was horribly wrong. Squeak was paler than bleached chalk. His eyes were empty and his mouth hung open. Both eyebrows were doing the caterpillar boogaloo.

There was no way Hooter could have guessed that the shock therapy used to get Squeak over his fear of bulls was watching endless clips of Jack, the undead capuchin monkey from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean.

There was no way to anticipate that Nelda Isselfrick would choose that moment to conclude that the pig was a demon in disguise. She charged the stage, as much as she was capable, brandished her cane and shouted in defiance, “Get back Satan!”

Carl screeched. Jasmine wheezed. Squeak squealed.

Squeak hurdled the front row with Jasmine in hot pursuit, Carl hopping up and down, screeching, spinning his little rope faster and faster.

Nelda tried to follow. “Come back Satan!”

That part happened, but Hooter couldn't remember all of the newspapers floating in Squeak's wake, not really papers, just two headlines floating in the air and repeated endlessly:

"Trump Wins!"

"Clinton Wins!"

"It's a Hail Mary," cried the announcer. "The Cowboys only chance. Prescott pedals back, dodges one defender, cocks the gun..."

Walking twilight was over. Hooter was soaked in cold sweat. Somehow or another, it was all true.







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