“Trunk Stories,” Part One

Authors use the expression “Trunk Novel” for books they’ve written that, for one reason or another, never see the light of day. Instead, they’re locked away in a literal or figurative “trunk”, relegated to literary obscurity. Sometimes this is done of the author’s own volition, as in:

“Man, I can’t believe I wrote this mindless, incoherent, steaming pile of crap. I must protect the world from this book.”

Into the trunk it goes.

Other times, books are trunked out of frustration with the literary elite and its inability to spot brilliant writing. As in:

Dear Author,

Thank you for submitting your novel, entitled ‘The Best Goddamn Book You’ll Ever Read, Muthafuckas.’ Unfortunately, we cannot publish this mindless, incoherent, steaming pile of crap.

Sincerely,

Pretentious Publishing

Authors need to guard against this kind of literary snobbery at all costs. We’re talking about the author’s baby, here.I must protect this book from the world,” the author thinks.

Trunked.

Either way, the reading public is probably better off with these “masterpieces” locked safely away. Occasionally, however, one of these rag-filled steamers shakes loose a real gem. Blaze, a novel by Richard Bachman (Stephen King’s 1966-1985 pseudonym) languished in a figurative trunk for over thirty years until King dusted it off and decided (after some relatively minor editing) that it wasn’t half bad after all. And I agree. It’s a darn good read.

As for myself, I have a partial trunk novel, written (and edited) circa 1989 with ballpoint pen on notebook paper. But rest assured. Even I can’t make heads or tails of what it’s about, so there’s little danger of it escaping its musty confines. I do, however, have a few short stories that are at least decipherable, if not examples of great literature. I’ve decided to share the first of these in this post.

You’re welcome.

Written in December of 1986, this story—and the ones that may follow in future posts—was chosen because it is one of the first pieces of creative writing that wasn’t required of me as a school assignment. I wrote it purely for the joy of having written something that I (at the time) could feel proud of and that others may find interesting. I must warn you, it’s presented here warts and all, with no editing whatsoever. That is, aside from transcribing it from the original dot-matrix printout. Damn, I’m getting old.

Also, names have not been changed to protect the innocent, because (as you’ll see) the folks in this tale ain’t so innocent. Enjoy.

“Bushwhack Skiing”

I was first exposed to what I call “bushwhack skiing” on a winter campout I took with my explorer post two winters ago. It was the first day of a three day trip in a central Wisconsin state park. We were all pretty excited at the prospect of three days of cross-country skiing, since it had been a pretty slow ski season for us so far. The weather that day was clear, calm and mild—three conditions sure to make any avid cross-country skier restless. Steve Fenske, one of the skiers in our group, is the kind of person who’s always on the lookout for a chance to embarrass someone. That day, Steve’s unique sixth sense spotted a golden opportunity.

We were taking a break from skiing around mid-morning on the edge of the trail. (which, by the way, was bordered on one side by a thickly wooded forty-five degree embankment) It was then that Steve turned to the nearest person, (victim is probably a better word) which turned out to be Brian Brunner, and made his proposition. Brian is probably the best skier in our group, but I can imagine he was terrified at Steve’s idea.

What Steve said went something like this: “Hey Brian—I’ll give you twenty dollars if you can ski down this hill without falling or running into a tree or a rock or something.”

After several seconds of contemplation and tossing aside any thoughts of doing the sensible thing, Brian mentally readied himself and pointed his skis down the “widow-maker.”

Much to everyone’s delight, Brian managed to avoid serious injury. This was possibly due to the fact that he didn’t go down the hill. Because of a bit of dissension by one of our post advisors, Brian was forced to pass up Steve’s offer. My story, on the other hand, doesn’t end so well.

It was a situation much like the one I have just described, only it was a year later and there were no advisors on this expedition. There was only myself, Steve, and one other die-hard skier, Brian Johnson, on this trek. Because we were in the same park in almost the same spot as the previous year, the memory of his failure to demoralize Brian Brunner may have caused him to take his revenge out on me.

I was skiing behind Steve, and he had stopped at the top of a hill and was thoroughly examining another heavily wooded, off-the-trail slope. When I reached the point where Steve was standing, I again heard those infamous words of wisdom: “Hey Brian—I’ll give you twenty dollars if you make it down this hill in one piece without falling.”

After pondering the hill for only slightly longer than Brian had done the previous year, I decided the hill wasn’t so steep, and maybe a few cuts and possibly a hemorrhaging gash or two would be worth twenty bucks. So, after working out the shortest, most obstacle-free route, I started my adventure.

With a scream of “BANZAII!!” I began descending at a velocity much greater than I had anticipated. Because of the incredible speed I had gained in the first twenty feet or so, my attempt at avoiding the first tree resulted in me losing my balance.

001 (2)
Figure 1: Classic “bushwhack skiing” technique. Note the wide ski placement and random arm positioning typical of this form.

Now, if you’ve ever been cross-country skiing, you know that when you lose your balance, you tend to wave your arms and free leg in the air in the hopes of regaining yourself. Well, at this point, my ski poles were spinning through the air at so many RPM’s, they acted much like a weed-whacker, cutting and hacking away the stand of buckthorn in front of me. I effectively, if not gracefully, did regain my balance, and my speed was also reduced by quite a bit. What lay ahead of me, however, was inescapable.

Feeling pretty good about my death-thwarting maneuver, I got a little bit overconfident, gave Steve a sinister laugh over my shoulder, and failed to plan the rest of my route. “The rest of my route,” as it turned out, was through a maze of hardwood saplings with a mean streak in them. I managed to weave between the first two or three with few problems, but upon approaching the last leg of the hill, my right ski and a maple tree had a minor disagreement.

The basic idea when skiing near a tree is to keep both of your skis on the same side of it. I apparently forgot this, and suddenly, my right leg was parallel to the ground because of my ski’s attempt to mate with this tree. The result of this situation was not pretty. I stopped with a jolt, spun around this tree with my right foot acting as a pivot point, and I executed a perfect swan-dive into a tangle of raspberry brambles. For over a minute, I lay there with snow melting down my shirt, thinking: “I was so close, I was so close…”

Knowing my friends would be worried I was hurt, I yelled up to them: “It’s okay, I’m all right!” It was then that I realized they couldn’t hear me shouting over their own laughter. Mortified, I got up, took off my skis and started walking up the “hill of doom.” I was scraped, bruised and cursing myself for taking on such an idiotic dare. I remember telling myself I would never do anything so stupid or insane again for any amount of money.

When I reached the top of the hill, my “friends” were still rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically, with tears running down their faces. I gave them both a dirty look and they stopped laughing long enough to hear me say: “C’mon, give me another chance.” Instantly, the laughter continued.

The End

Nothing I’d want to submit to The New Yorker, but aside from needing some tightening of the prose, (the humor, for example, seems a little forced) for a literal first try…maybe it’s not half bad.

Thanks for reading!

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