Kristofferson Fiction

Gone Are The Days

“I was writing short stories, and I remember that the biggest thing you could do in school then was they had an Atlantic Monthly short story contest, and I won it. I got first and third and a lot of honorable mentions……………………… I hope someday—and it’d better be fast—that I’ll start writing longer fiction.”

Kris Kristofferson, from a 2009 interview by Peter Macia 5 November, 2009. (thefader.com)

Reader discretion advised. This piece addresses sensitive topics including racial references and violence, and like all work, should be read in the context of the the era.

Note: If you would prefer to listen, scroll to the bottom of the page and let Doug read for/to you.

Gone Are The Days – A short story by Kris Kristofferson

The man in the white shirt stopped talking and ground a cigarette into an ash tray. The other ten men that filled up the dimly lit living room sat in silence. Then one of them spoke up.

“How come you picked Willis, Dad?” He was younger than the rest of the men in the room, thin and raw-boned, and though his face was expressionless, his eyes looked worried.

“Why?” the man in the white shirt asked. “You know him, Chet?” All the eyes in the room were turned on the young man, who was leaning forward in his chair, looking down at his hands.

“Yeah, I worked with him for Clemson before I went into the service,” he said, and he felt his throat tighten as he looked up. “How come you picked him?” His father looked at him for a few moments, then started fishing for a cigarette.

“Hell, no particular reason, I guess. It’s just he’s done better than most, and I think they all look up to him.” He paused to light the cigarette. “And he lives out on the old Point Murietta road, not right in the middle of niggertown.”

“Yeah, I know,” Chet said.

No one said anything until one of the men laughed and said, “Well, Chet, I guess this isn’t exactly a top-notch homecomin’ for a boy that’s been out of touch so long.” 

They all laughed a little, and the man said, “You know, Carlton, that boy’s getting to look more like you than you do,” and they all laughed again, nervously, and got up to leave. Chet’s father looked at his watch.

“We’ll meet at your garage at eight thirty, Harry,” he said. “That gives us two hours. The rest of you spread the word around and tell them to be on time. You don’t need to bring gasoline, because we’ll have enough at the garage.” The men nodded, and filed out of the house.

When they were gone, Chet said, “I think I’ll head on down to Burke’s for a while.”

“Hell, we got anything here you want to drink,” his father said.

“No, I kinda want to look up some of the old crowd.”

“Sure, you go ahead son.” He paused, “You have your watch with you?”

“Yeah,” he said, and he stepped out of the door.

He got into his car, a 46 Ford coupe, and headed into town. He had a sick feeling as he drove along, and he turned the wind wing so that the air hit him in the face. His hands felt moist on the steering wheel, and he didn’t drive fast.

When he pulled up near the bar, he saw there were a lot of cars outside. He got out and walked to the door, which he pushed open. Inside, he made his way toward the bar.

“Chet, you old sonofabitch! I heard you were back. How the hell are you?” one of the young men at the bar said as he turned around on his stool. A few others called their greetings. Chet sat down at the bar.

“Oh, pretty good, I guess. I’m still getting used to this easy living.”

“I’ll bet you hated like hell to get out of the goddam’ army. I did a hitch in there too, you know.”

Chet laughed. “Yeah, it was tough, but I’ll manage.” The bartender came up and Chet ordered a beer.

“How’s your old man these days?” the young man asked.

“Just fine,” he said. The bartender brought the beer and Chet sipped at it. The other man lowered his voice.

“I guess you know all about the party last night. I understand your Daddy’s doing the organizing.” They didn’t look at each other, but Chet caught the eyes of the other men in the mirror behind the bar.

“Yeah,” he said.

“That’s really some house that nigger’s got.”

“Yeah,” Chet said. He felt his throat tighten and he caught himself. “It seems like a damned shame, after he went to so much work building it,” he said calmly. “Hell, he doesn’t even send his kids to the school, anyway, does he?”

“Naw, but that’s not the point.” The other man looked down at his beer. “Anyway, you know where he got the money, don’t you? He got it pimpin’; at least most of it. And all them goddam’ niggers got together and helped him build it. He didn’t pay to have it built.”

Another man at the bar said in a lowered voice, “That’s the way they do all their building. One of them will do the labor on another one’s house, and he pays him back by doing the carpentry on his place. So they do it pretty cheap.” Chet smiled and attempted a laugh.

“Cheap to you and me, maybe, but you can bet your sweet ass that Willis has damn near everythin’ wrapped up in that house.” The first man looked at him.

“Yeah, but you can’t look at it that way. I mean thinkin’ about it personally. It’s a thing that’s got to be done, and it’s just too bad it has to happen to him.”

A man at the end of the bar said out loud, “It’s all right with me if he don’t own a thing but that goddam’ house. I never liked the bastard anyway.” They laughed, and the bartender told them to keep it down. Chet lowered his voice.

“What if somebody gets hurt?” he said. “You know there could be a lot of trouble about that.” The other man laughed.

“I wouldn’t lose any sleep over that,” he said quietly. “You sound almost worried about that nigger.”

“Oh, hell,” Chet said. He drained the rest of his beer.

“Come on, we’re going to go round up some more of the gang. Manny and a bunch of them are down at the union hall.”

“You go ahead on,” Chet said. “You don’t need me.”

“Well, you’ll be there, won’t you?”

“I don’t know; I might and I might not.”

“Well, I thought you’d be going, seeing as how your Daddy’s kind of running things,” the other said. “But suit yourself.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going for sure,” Chet said. “I just don’t feel too hot.” The others filed out of the barroom. Chet sat alone at the bar and ordered another beer.

It was seven thirty by the clock over the mirror, and his hands started to sweat again. In an hour they’d be moving toward Willis’s house in pickups, and Willis wouldn’t know anything about it till he heard them coming.

Image by B Liveri used as illustration in Gone Are The Days, a short story by Kris Kristofferson
Warm Springs General Store – Courtesy B Livieri

He couldn’t do anything about it even if he knew, Chet thought, but it didn’t help much. But he knew he was taking the easy way out. He nursed the same beer until ten after eight, and the bartender said, “You better take off, son, if you’re goin’ to catch up with your friends.”

Chet pushed the glass away and paid the bartender; then he went out to his car. He got in and spun it out into the street, heading it toward Harry’s Garage; then he changed his mind and swung a U-turn in the middle of the street.

His mouth felt dry, and he licked his lips as he headed out of town toward the Point Murietta road. Once on the road he floored the accelerator, and when he had gone five miles he screeched to a stop, in front of a house with a white picket fence around it.

He started to get out, then he changed his mind and pulled the car up the road about a hundred yards, by a row of acacia trees. He jumped out and ran back through the dust he’d kicked up.

He couldn’t open the latch on the gate, so he vaulted over the fence and ran up the steps to the porch. A light went on over his head as he pounded on the door, and a Negro woman opened the door slightly. “What do you want?” she asked.

“I’ve got to see Johnny,” he said.

She turned away from the door, and he went in. A tall, well-built Negro of about thirty-five or forty stood up as he walked into the living room.

“Well! Chet, when’d you get out of the Army? Come on in, boy, an’ have a seat.”

“I haven’t got time to talk, Johnny,” he said, breathing heavily. “There’s a gang coming up here tonight, in about fifteen minutes, and they mean to set fire to your house. What time is it now?” 

The woman said, “Oh,” and started to cry, and Johnny said dully, “Eight twenty.”

“Well, they’ll get here in about fifteen minutes. I don’t know how many of them; probably close to fifty.” 

The Negro didn’t say anything. He just stood staring past Chet. After a while he said, “Well, I appreciate your telling me this, boy.”

“Well, you’d better get what you can and move out,” Chet said. “There’s no time to stand around talking.” He wiped his hands on his trousers. The Negro just stood there.

“I’m not goin’ nowhere.” Chet’s mouth opened. He started to say something, then he didn’t.

“Look, you don’t know what they’re liable to do when they get all liquored up and excited like that,” he said. “You’ve got to think about your wife and kids, Johnny.”

“This is my house, Chet; I cain’t leave it.” He turned to the woman. “Go tell Alma to come here.” She left the room and returned with a young girl of about eighteen. The girl was not pretty, but she had an attractive, fully developed body. “There’s a gang of whites goin’ to be here in a few minutes,” he said simply, “an’ it won’t do for you to be around. Take the rest of the chil’ren and head on up the back road and get on in to town to one of your friends.”

She left the room.

“Johnny, you can’t stay here, there’s no tellin’ what they might do to you, or -” Chet looked at the woman, “to your wife.”

“This is all I got, Chet.” Chet tried to keep his voice calm.

“Look, you can’t do any good by stayin’. You can’t stop fifty men. You’re liable to get yourself killed.” He swallowed. “I’d talk to them if it’d do any good, but you know it wouldn’t.”

“No, I know,” the Negro said. “But you got to look at it from my side. We’ll do the best we can.” The sound of trucks pulling up in front of the house stopped their talking. “You better get yourself out of here, Chet. If they find you here, you’ve had it.” 

Chet said, “For the last time, let’s go. You’ve still got time.”

“You go ahead on,” the Negro said. Chet looked at the two of them and walked out through the back of the house. When he got outside he walked across a field until he came to the row of acacia trees where his car was parked. Then he walked back down the road to the house, where the men were piling out of the pickup trucks.

They were massed in front of the house and a couple of the trucks had their headlights on the front door. Chet moved his way through the crowd. “Howdy, Chet, glad you made it.”

“Howdy, Chet,” people greeted him, and he did not respond. The front door opened and Johnny Willis stepped out, followed by his wife.

“There somethin’ I can do for you folks?” he said.

A man in coveralls, a sport jacket, and a hat stepped forward and said, “We’re goin’ to show you and all the rest of the niggers around here that we mean business about the school.” He turned to the crowd. “Hand me that gasoline.”

He had just gotten the gasoline container in his hand when he was spun around by the big Negro. A smashing blow sent him sprawling, and the whole mob jumped the Negro. He swung furiously, and the first few men went down, but he was finally overwhelmed by the weight of the mob.

The woman screamed as they pounded and kicked him on the ground, and some of the men started sloshing the gasoline on the house. A match was lit, and the walls burst into flame, lighting the front lawn.

Chet saw the blood-streaked face looking at the flames without expression, and then Willis turned and caught his eye, but he couldn’t look him in the face, and he turned and pushed his way back through the mob and went to his car.

He sat in the car staring at the flames that enveloped the house. He felt weak and he had trouble starting the car. Almost unconsciously he headed the car back toward town, taking the dirt road behind the burning house. He stared ahead of him and kept seeing the Negro swinging away at the mob.

I did all I could, he told himself again. I couldn’t have helped him any. Goddam’ him, he should’ve left when I told him to. But he felt rotten. He swung around a corner in the dirt road and stepped on the brakes as his headlights showed a crowd of about fifteen boys, some of them the ones that had been in the bar with him, in the middle of the road.

Then he saw the girl. It was Alma, the Willis’s daughter. He pulled off the road and got out of the car. They were all laughing and shouting, and he could tell they were all pretty drunk. The girl was surrounded by them, and she kept trying to get out of the circle.

One of them grabbed her and she pulled away and was grabbed by another. She broke loose, and the group followed her and stopped her again. “Take it easy, Honey Chile,” someone said, “Don’t you like white meat?”

They all laughed. They grabbed at her and ran their hands over her body as she tried to move away from them. Chet bit his cheek and looked away. He knew what was going to happen to her.

They all laughed and he turned around. One of the boys was holding her up and another was trying to remove her skirt. As she looked frantically around she saw Chet, but he looked away again. She struggled loose, and they laughed at her as she tried to move away from each of them. Then Chet was pushing his way through the crowd toward her.

He grabbed her from behind with his arm around her waist, and spun her around. He lifted her up and shouted, “I’ve got firsts!” and started running out of the circle. They laughed and backed away, and he moved a little way out from the group and dropped her down. Her back was to the crowd, and he ran his hand up the back of her sweater.

“Take it off!” they yelled.

“Where’s the rest of the kids?” he said under his breath.

“They run off,” she gasped.

“Take it off!” they yelled again.

“Here’s the key to my car,” he said. “Don’t talk. It’s right over there about ten feet from you. I can hold the first couple of guys off, but you’d better be gone quick. Now get going!” He gave her a shove and she stumbled for the car.

She waited at the door looking at him, and his heart stopped beating. “Get going!” he shouted.

“I cain’t,” she said, and she crumpled down on the ground, crying, “I cain’t drive!” The words hit him and seemed to suck out all his breath. He turned and faced the mob. Stunned at first, they began slowly to realize what had happened.

“Why you dirty, nigger-lovin’ sonofabitch,” one of them said, and lunged at Chet. Chet hit him flush on the face and sent him backwards with blood spraying from his nostrils. He swung again and hit someone on the shoulder; then a light exploded in his head, and he found himself on his back. He was being kicked, and he grabbed at a leg, and another foot crashed into his groin. He doubled up in agony and felt a fist smash his face. Then he lost consciousness.

When he woke up, the road was deserted. He moved, and pains shot through his chest, and he guessed that he had cracked some ribs. Every muscle felt as if it were tearing when he moved, and his face and clothes were caked with blood.

He couldn’t shut his jaw all the way, and one eye was swollen shut; he could feel a couple of vacant spots where his teeth had been broken out. He tried to spit, but couldn’t open his mouth wide enough. He finally managed to get up, and saw that his car was gone. One of the girl’s shoes was by the side of the road.

He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and made his way toward the highway. Once on the highway he stopped, and waited until he saw the lights of a truck. He thumbed it down, and climbed up into the cab. “How’s it goin’, but – What the hell happened to you?” the truck driver said.

“Bit off a little more than I could chew,” he mumbled. 

“Where you headed?”

“Can I take you to a hospital?”

“No, I’ll wash up when you stop for gas. Where you headed?”

“Hell, I’m going all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

“Well, that’s just fine with me,” Chet said.

“We’d better stop and get you cleaned up at the next station,” the driver said. Chet looked out the window.

“Yeah,” he said. “I guess we’d better.”

Doug Mckenna Reads the Story

Gone Are The Days, by Kris Kristofferson, read by D Mckenna

Credits and Thanks

Reading by Doug Mckenna, find him on YouTube

Formatting by G. Cannada

Images courtesy of B. Livieri

IG @blivieriphoto

FB @ https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraLivieriPhotography/

Read Kris Kristofferson’s other short story, The Rock

the_rock

The Rock

“I was writing short stories, and I remember that the biggest thing you could do in school then was they had an Atlantic Monthly short story contest, and I won it. I got first and third and a lot of honorable mentions……………………… I hope someday—and it’d better be fast—that I’ll start writing longer fiction.”

Kris Kristofferson, from a 2009 interview by Peter Macia 5 November, 2009. (thefader.com)

The Rock – A short story by Kris Kristofferson

Ft. image is rock art by Emily Gmitter

“Well I’ll be gone to hell!” my father said. He stood there with his hands on his hips and his Stetson pushed back far on his head.

Then Harve Ginn said, “I was checking the flood damage to see what we’d lost when I saw the damn thing. It must of been covered mostly with dirt and all before the water come up here.”

“Well, I imagine there was some mesquite around here to cover it up before the flood. And you wouldn’t notice it unless you came up on the right side of it anyway,” my father said.

“No, I don’t suppose you would at that,” Harve said. “Boy, it’s really something, though, isn’t it?”

Well, I had to admit that it was really something, all right. I couldn’t hardly believe my eyes when I saw it. What Harve had found was a big rock, oh Jeez, it must of been forty feet high, I guess. About the same size as the other big smooth rocks around there near the canyon wall. But this rock looked just like a big, naked woman. No kidding, that’s just what it looked like. She was lying on her back, sort of leaning up against the canyon wall, in a kind of embarrassing way, and she had a sort of smile on her face. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anything like it. My father kept saying, “Goddamn!” like he couldn’t believe it, either. He and Harve decided that nobody could of done it, I mean made the thing, and that it must of always been there. “It’s just a freak of nature,” I remember he said. Well I didn’t care what it was, but I was sure going to let people know about it when we got back to town. I mean to tell you this was really some rock. I went up and rubbed my hand on it, and it was rock all right. I think they say the rocks around there are some kind of granite.

“Come on, Kenny, get away from there,” my father said.

“How come?” I said. “What’s the matter with it?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s such a good thing for a boy your age to be seeing.”

Well that kind of stuck in my craw, and all the way home in the jeep I said “hell” and “damn” and talked as old as I could until I said, “That sure is a hell of a damn looking fence ol’ man Palmer put up.” They both stopped talking and looked at me, and I felt a little silly and didn’t say anything else the rest of the way home.

When we pulled into the driveway my father said, “I’m going to call up Earl Bright from the Herald and take him out to see it.” I jumped out of the jeep and ran across the yard to the house. My mother was standing outside handing up clothes and I said, “We found a big rock that looks like a naked lady,” and I went into the house.

My father and mother followed me in, and my father was saying, “It’s the damnedest thing you ever saw, a natural rock formation, and it looks like some sort of dirty statue.” He was dialing the phone and said, “It’s damn near thirty feet high—really a big thing,” and my mother was saying, “What? What? What are you talking about?”

I said, “It’s at least forty feet high, and it’s a rock that looks just like a naked lady.”

“Do you mean…all over?” she said, with a worried look.

“Yes,” I said, and I was going to go on when my father motioned for us to be quiet.

“Hello, Earl?” he said. “This is Len Tipton. Howdy, yes, I’m fine, say, we’ve run across a thing out here that you might be interested in looking at. I think it was uncovered by the flood. It’s a big rock formation that’s in the shape of a nude. Yeah, a woman. No, this is really big, and it looks as real as any sculpture.” He listened for awhile, and said, “Well, actually, what it looks like is a prostitute,” and he laughed, and my mother sent me out of the room.

Well, Earl Bright came out, and he and my father drove back out to the rock and took pictures and things, and the next day there was a big story about it on the front page of the Wheatonsville Herald. Of course by this time the whole school knew about it, and they all thought I’d found it, and I guess I was sort of a hero. A lot of us went out to see it after school, those of us that had bikes, because that’s just what everybody seemed to be doing. And when we got there, there were people all over the place. Why I’ll bet half of Wheatonsville was there, and the other half on their way. They were all in a sort of half circle in front of it, staring, and pointing, and talking a mile a minute. A lot of the boys started making nasty remarks about it, and laughing, and the women carried on something terrible. A lot of them acted mad, or embarrassed, and a few of them left, but most of them stayed.

Well, the crowds kept coming to see it for a few days, and the women never stopped talking about it. The way I understand it, some of them were downright mad, and said it was a disgrace and all. So they decided to call a town meeting and talk it over, and my father was supposed to go, seeing as how it was on our property, and I finally talked them into letting me go too. My mother said she didn’t know if it was a thing for children, and my father said, “What the hell, he won’t hurt anything,” and so I went.

I’d never been to anything like that before, except maybe Sunday school. Everyone sat in rows facing up to the front of the church, which was where it was, and my father and I sat in the front row. The place was full of smoke, and hot, and everyone was red and sweating. They started right off when one man got up and said that something had to be done and he wasn’t letting his children see that filthy goddamned thing and what were we going to do about it. And everybody started saying “Yeah,” and “That’s right,” and about then I decided I had to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t leave since I was in the front row and my father motioned me to be quiet every time I’d go to say something about it. Another man got up and said it was a slap in the face of every decent woman in Wheatonsville, and he looked red in the face and all hepped up like he wanted to fight somebody. I thought that over awhile, about the slap in the face, but I never did get what he meant.

Well they went on like that for quite a while, each one getting up and saying just about what the other had said and looking pretty pleased with himself when he finished. Then they all started saying, “What are we going to do?” and somebody said, “We could ask her at least to cross her legs,” and everybody laughed. I tried to tell my father I was going to go to the bathroom, but he couldn’t hear me for the noise. Then the man that had said that about the slap in the face got up, redder than ever, and yelled that maybe this was funny to a lot of people but he had a wife and three daughters and didn’t think it was very funny. Well this quieted the room down just like that, just as I was bellowing to my father again that I was going to go to the bathroom. It was like bellowing at a funeral, and I was so ashamed I felt like never going to the bathroom again, but I went out anyway, and when I came back they were still going at it. Mr. Ludlow, the Baptist minister, got up and said that it was the something-or-other of Sin, and that any fool could see that, and that it was up to my father to do something about it, since it was on our property.

Well my father hadn’t said anything as yet, but I could tell he could’ve said plenty. He got up slow and said, “Look, this whole thing’s getting out of hand. It’s nothing to get excited about.” He said it was just a natural rock, and it didn’t seem to him there was anything anybody could or should do about it. If you didn’t like it, he said, you shouldn’t pay any attention to it. “I didn’t ask anybody but Earl Bright to come see it, and no one has to see it that doesn’t want to,” he said.

A man got up and said, “How can we ignore it when that image of a leering strumpet is always over our shoulder? What kind of thing is that to show our kids?”

I didn’t know what a strumpet was, but I agreed with him, it was a pretty hard thing to ignore.

My father stood there, working his jaws like he does when he’s about to blow up about something, but he didn’t, and he said, “Well, let me know when you decide what to do.” We stomped out of the church.

After that there were a lot of articles in the Herald about it which my father read out loud to my mother, and it looked like they were hearing about it all over the state. More people than ever came to see it since the meeting, and the kids were always sneaking over to take a look. My father read us where a board of censors was studying it, and that they weren’t allowing any more pictures to be taken. One minister said it was made by God and couldn’t be bad and we should leave it like it was, and some others followed him up—ones my father called “crackpots”—and tried to start a new religion about it. He said the nudists were claiming that it was proof that God was on their side, and that Billy Graham said it was proof that we were all going to hell.

Then one day a bunch of men and women came storming up in pickup trucks, and the men had guns. A man got out of the first pickup and I saw it was the man that had said that about the rock being a slap in the face, and he came up to my father and said, “Leonard Tipton”–which sounded funny because no one ever calls my father Leonard–“Leonard Tipton, since you refuse to do anything about this, we’re taking matters into our own hands!” And he wheeled around and went blustering back to his pickup before my father could say anything. They all pulled out and went down the road to the rock, and pretty soon all the people started pouring out of there, and one of them told my father that the man with the guns had made them leave, and had set up a guard around it.

My father went into the garage and got the jeep, and I jumped in, and we drove to the rock. The men were standing pretty far from it with their guns, and my father pulled up the jeep. “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” he said. I looked at the rock and saw that they had taken a great big canvas tarp and covered up all but the head of the woman. It really looked silly, I’ll tell you, with that grinning head sticking over the top of the tarp. I’m not sure it didn’t look worse than before. And they had the tarp staked down at the sides so it wouldn’t come off. I thought it looked funny enough, but the men guarding it were serious, so I didn’t laugh or anything. My father didn’t say anything, he just put the jeep in reverse, and we wheeled out of there. Well the thing was up before the state council for about a week, and we weren’t too popular around then. My father said the people were acting like idiots, and he quit talking to them, and they quit talking to him. My mother said that maybe even if he was right, he ought to be sympathetic with the neighbors’ feelings and tell them he’d do whatever they wanted him to do about it. He said, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Alice, they’ve completely lost their senses. They’re making this thing into some goddamned monster or something.” Then he laughed and pointed to the newspapers. “Or if they’re not doing that, they’re practically worshipping it!”

He said, “It’s only a rock!” and she said, “Oh, Len, do you always have to be so difficult?” and I said, “What’s so only’ about a rock?” and they sent me to bed.

Well, we didn’t have to worry about it for long, because some men from the state came up in trucks and one of them showed my father some papers and they drove back to the rock. They set up a bunch of dynamite and commenced to blast that rock until it didn’t look like much of anything, and believe me, that was a show. So I guess that’s about all there is to it, and there’s nothing there anymore. And everyone feels a little better. But when you think about it, and I don’t guess I’ve thought much about anything else since they started making the fuss over it, that was some rock all right.

Doug Mckenna – Reading “The Rock”

Reading “The Rock” – A short story by Kris Kristofferson

Special thanks to G Cannada, E Gmitter and D Mckenna

Read Kris Kristofferson’s other short story, Gone Are The Days