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Author’s Note: A few years ago, this short story placed first in a creative writing competition. The quirky challenge consisted of re-telling a tale penned by William Shakespeare as if it had taken place in the the Ozark Mountains. Soon thereafter, High Hill Press selected this piece for inclusion in the 2013 edition of Coffee & Critique Anthology. So, for your reading pleasure…

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A Midsummer Night Scheme

The biggest dog in these parts, a feller name of Theseus, is fixin’ to get hitched to his intended, Hippolyta. They’re about to tie the knot right here in these Ozarks, come summer solstice. What they don’t know is that Robin Goodfellow, an imp folks call Puck, lurks about. And that little rascal does love makin’ mischief.

 “Lookee here, if it ain’t the happy couple.” Puck made a sassy face and then hid behind a pawpaw tree.

“Hippo,” said Theseus, “the moon is waning. When she’s a sliver in the sky, we start our honeymoon.”

Puck pointed at the bride-to-be and laughed. “I reckon he calls her Hippo ‘cause she’s durn near six foot tall and as plump as a pregnant sow. I believe she’s one of them Amazon women.”

“Not long now,” allowed Hippolyta. “I’d best get to pickin’ Queen Anne’s lace and larkspur. I want a big bouquet of Ozark wildflowers to carry down the aisle.”

Puck pinched his nose, and whispered, “Maybe that’ll sweeten her up a mite so she don’t skunk up the meetin’ house.”

“Philostrate,” Theseus said to his best man, “Hippo’s mighty fond of mountain music and I want the weddin’ done up right. We need us a hoedown.”

“I know some old boys down Athens Holler that pick and fiddle.” Leaning on his walking stick, Phil lit off down the gulch to round them up.

About this time, an old codger climbed up the knob, draggin’ a young gal along by her pigtails. Two strappin’ lads and another gal followed.

“Hey, Theseus.”

“Hey, Egeus. What brings all y’all to this neck of the woods?”

“You know my daughter, Hermia. This feller here’s Demetrius and the other’n is Lysander. That little gal is Helena. She’s a friend of the family.”

“Howdy.”

The young’uns all said ‘hey’ back.

“What you need, Egeus? I’m busier than a one-legged man in a clogging contest.”

“This dad-blamed young’un has vexed my patience. I gave Hermia’s hand in marriage to Demetrius, but the mule-headed gal says she ain’t a-gonna wed him. Says she loves Lysander. I declare, that don’t make no never mind. Demetrius offered up a bride price and Lysander ain’t give her nothin’ but sweet-talk. Tell her what happens to a gal who won’t mind her daddy.”

“Well, young’un,” Theseus said to Hermia, “I reckon if you don’t marry this Demetrius fella, I’ll be obliged to send you off to the nunnery. Here directly my intended and me gonna tie the knot. If you ain’t hitched to Demetrius by then, I might be obliged to put your perty neck in a noose.”

Now, Hermia played along and acted like she would do what her daddy told her. But behind his back, she made up a secret plan with Lysander to run off to a town forty miles north as the crow flies.  They’d a mind to tie the knot amongst his people. Knowin’ they’d need somebody to cover for ‘em, they told Hermia’s friend, Helena, about their elopement. And that right there turned out to be a big mistake.

That two-timin’ Demetrius courted Helena before he took up with Hermia. Poor thing never stopped pinin’ over him. Ain’t nothing worse than a scorned woman.  She had the gumption to tell Demetrius about the lovers’ plan, knowin’ he’d get madder than bull with a hide full of hornets. When Hermia and Lysander snuck off in the woods, Demetrius followed. Helena trailed back a ways to see how it all turned out. She’d a mind to set her hook in Demetrius real good this go round.

Meanwhile, Puck caught up with old Philostrate on the trail to Athens Holler.

“You look a mite peaked, Phil,” he said. “Why don’t you go sit a spell? I’ll run down yonder and get everything set for the shindig.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, Puck. I reckon I could stand a catnap. Talk to a carpenter name of Peter Quince. He knows the rest of the boys. If he ain’t around, see Nick Bottom.”

So, off Puck trotted, as full of mischief as a kid with a new slingshot. He met up with Quince and Bottom at the local tavern.

“Phil sent me to tell you boys he needs you to act out a play for Theseus and Hippo. They’re gettin’ hitched here in a coupla days and he wants to surprise them with somethin’ right cultural.”

Quince squinted and scratched his head. “You sure he didn’t mean play at the weddin?”

“Naw,” said Puck. “Hippo ain’t too fond of pickin’ and grinnin’.”

“Well, sir,” said Quince, “I reckon we can do that.”

And so it happened that the Quince, Bottom and some other Athens Holler boys set to practicin’their parts in the very same woods where Helena was a-schemin’ to drive a wedge between Hermia and Lysander. The story Quince come up with was all about how mulberries come to be red instead of white.

It started with two young’uns, Pyramus and Thisbe, that growed up right next to each other, with nothin’ but a mud wall between them. Their folks were a-feudin’, so they kept them kids shut up in the house. Well, the two took to visitin’ with one another through a chink in the wall. By the time they were knee-high to a grasshopper, they’d done fell in love. They made up a plan to meet by a mulberry bush and run off together. A bobcat come along to jinx it and the lovers kilt themselves with a huntin’ knife. They bled all over that bush, and the gol-durn mulberries have been red ever since.

Puck, feelin’ mighty pleased, moseyed up to the forest, where he met up with a fairy.

“Where y’all headed?”

“Over hill, over dale,” sighed the fairy. “Queen Titiana has me sprinklin’dew on the cowslips and wood violets. She’ll be along directly.”

“Talk down yonder says King Oberon’s all riled up over some Indian she took a hankerin’ to. He’ll be loaded for bear, time he gets here.”

“Ain’t you a hobgoblin, Robin Goodfellow?”

“They call me sweet Puck. I do your work and bring you good luck.”

 “Hush, now,” whispered the fairy. “The queen is coming.”

“And the king’s just yonder. They’re fixin’ to scrap. Let’s hide under this acorn cap.”

Right then and there, the fairy royalty commenced spattin’ over who got dibs on the Indian.

“I believe you’re jealous, Oberon.”

“The boy needs to earn his keep. I got chores for him to tend to.”`

Titiana snapped, “He ain’t set you back a penny.”

“It sticks in my craw, the way you dote on him.”

“Now ain’t that the pot callin’ the kettle black?” Titiana stomped off.

Oberon didn’t take kindly to the idea of the queen having the last word. “Puck, get out from under that dad-blamed acorn,” he commanded. “Go fetch some evening primrose and mix it up with some honey for a love potion. Tonight when Titiana falls asleep, I’ll sprinkle some on her. When she wakes up and lays eyes on me, she’ll forget all about that Indian.

With an impish grin, Puck said, “Yes, sir, your kingliness.”

“And Puck, there’s a sweet little gal from Athens Holler  sleepin’ in that stand of pines by the crick. She’s plumb crazy about a two-timin’ son-of-a-gun. While I’m tendin’ to my queen, you hex him up with some of that love juice. That oughta put an end to his wanderin’ eye.”

“Yes, sir, your royal haughtiness.”

As Puck set about his chores, he spied Quince, Bottom, and company practicin’ their play. Just to be ornery, he cast a spell on Bottom that turned his noggin into a mule’s head.

 Up in the pines, Puck came upon Lysander and Hermia. Thinkin’ those two were Demetrius and Helena, he got all mixed up and cast that love spell on the wrong Athenian. When Lysander woke up, he spied Helena off in the woods and fell plumb head over heels. That left poor Hermia high and dry.

Puck sunk deeper in the brine than a dill pickle.

He spent the whole dad-gummed night tryin’ to undo the mess, but things just went from bad to worse. Lysander and Demetrius both got a hankerin’ for Helena and she thought they were pokin’ fun at her. Hermia felt right peeved about this turn of events and she called Helena out. Danged if it wasn’t the scrappiest catfight you ever seen.

Meanwhile, Demetrius and Lysander commenced to squarin’ off and it took mighty quick thinkin’ on Puck’s part to keep them from comin’ to blows. He ran through the woods, hollerin’ first for one and then the other ‘til they were as lost as Easter eggs.

When Titiana woke up, the first critter she laid eyes on was Bottom. Puck’s knees commenced to shakin’. King Oberon would whomp him good when he saw the queen actin’ all googly-eyed over that mule-headed hillbilly brayin’ like a jackass.

It turned out a mite better than Puck reckoned. Their foolishness gave the king a chance to cozy up to that Indian prince. With their royal highnesses thus occupied, Puck set out to clean up the mess he made with the others.

Climbing up on a toadstool, Puck tipped back a bottle of shine.

“It took a heap of doin’, but I got’er done. By sunrise, Lysander loved Hermia, Demetrius and Helena were smitten with each other, and Titiana and Oberon kissed and made up. That mule-headed Bottom went back to play-actin’… and I don’t rightly know what happened to the Indian. I imagine he high-tailed it home faster than a buck chasin’ a doe in rut.

Later that mornin’, Theseus and Hippolyta took a little pre-nuptial stroll in the forest and came upon them two Athens Holler couples sleepin’ like babies. They reckoned with their weddin’ about to commence, might as well get Lysander hitched to Hermia, and Demetrius to Helena at the same time.”

After everybody got married to the right folks, the shindig commenced with some fine vittles – fried chicken, ‘taters, biscuits’n’gravy, and all the fixin’s. While the weddin’ party tied on the feedbag, the Athens Holler boys acted out their play. A knee-slappin’ good time was had by all.

The sun started peekin’ over the knob before the newlyweds bedded down. The shivaree echoed up the hills to kingdom come. With all the pot-bangin’ and kettle-drummin’, it was enough to wake the dead. When it all quieted down, Oberon, Titiana, and the rest of the fairies flew around sprinklin’ glitter dust on all the honeymooners and castin’ protection spells.Then they flitted off to fairyland, leavin’ Puck behind to set things right.

(Puck addresses the audience.)

“If this story has offended

“Sorry, folks, it won’t be mended.

“You’ll wake up when it’s all over

“Laying in a patch of clover.

“Fairies livin’ in these here hills?

“Why, they’re as scarce as moonshine stills.

“Weddin’s, hoedowns, and shivarees

“On Ozark knobs among the trees?

“A tempest in a buttercup?

“Methinks the author Pucked it up.

“How clichéd, what a hackneyed scheme

“Plagiarizing Will Shakespeare’s Dream.

“At Shakespeare’s Church in graveyard gloom

“The bard rolls over in his tomb

“Tormented by his classic’s plight.

“A Hillbilly Midsummer’s Night?”

© 2012 Janet Y. Bettag – All rights reserved.
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Lowcountry BribeLowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Do not attempt to read a few pages of this book with your morning coffee. You will become so engrossed that it will make you late to work!

There are more twists and turns in “Lowcountry Bribe” than there are switchbacks and hairpin turns on Rocky Mountain highways. Clark lays out a gripping mystery full of Southern charm and redneck seediness as the female protagonist, Carolina Slade, sinks deeper and deeper into a quagmire of conspiracy, shady land deals, kidnapping, murder and more…all because she tried to do the right thing. Who would have expected the life of a rural agricultural agent to be so dangerous?

The descriptive writing is colorful and peppered with updated versions of down-home sayings that give the reader a sense of the Southern dialect without being cliche-riddled. This sentence from the book sums up its pace perfectly: “I shot down Savannah Highway, driving like a bootlegger with badge heat on his bumper.”

The ending tied up the critical loose ends, but left me looking for a sequel. Smart writing! I need to know where Slade’s life will go next, if Wayne, the hunky lawman protagonist, will find his endangered sister, and if the two will join forces to unravel more mysteries.

Attention: C. Hope Clark – Could I have some more, please?

View all my reviews

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