A Sherwood Anderson style short story. employs tragic themes.
By: Nathan Izzo
I see your eye is drawn to this larger than normal plot of dirt. While the marker that had born his name was a simple wooden cross, paid for by the township that sentenced him to death, the sizable mound that remains tells you that this person was larger than normal. He was a giant of young man, he harnessed all the power and potential of youth. He was a smart young man who excelled at anything and easily grasped everything he was shown. He was dutiful and devout and held as an example at his local church. He was near the top of his class and stayed competitive with his grades. He was a quick learner and was handy around the farm. He could work for 12 hours in the fields, hauling brush or lugging bushels, and still be a font of energy and joy to his parents. Listen to how such a beacon of youth and potential for the future in a small farming town, ultimately finds ruin. The town eventually abandoning him and then killing him, telling themselves it was the right thing to do.
The lad worked on a neighbor's farm after school, on weekends, and on vacations. It was a lazy sunny Sunday when he was leading the plow-horses in to eat their dinner, when a belligerent alpha male pulled the lead rope from his hand and spun on him. The boy was still getting over his shock, when the big horse reared up and planted an iron horseshoe squarely on the side of his head. The old farmer found him hours later, half dead in a pool of blood. The doctor stabilized him and sent him to the hospital in the city. Many months and many surgeries later, the doctors agreed they had done all they could. The distraught parents, though grateful, were left in charge of a broken shell of a person. The horse kick had left the youth with a misshapen skull that flattened on the top, resembling a bucket. The smart, quick personality was gone, leaving behind a slow, confused husk that one had to take on faith that what was said to him was eventually understood. That somewhere in that gaping maw and behind the big uncomprehending eyes still remained the boy they knew. From that day forward the town knew him as Buckethead, a giant, strong body with a fragile, diminished intellect. His parents made sure he ate and got to work in the fields, but mostly moved their hopes and dreams to his younger siblings. They thought themselves kind by sweeping his previous life quietly under a rug, and tried to make the best of having a son who was only a little smarter than the plow he operated. Buckethead went to work and helped around the house, resolved to live out his life with nothing more than the joys he can draw from the fleeting moments of clarity that passed him by like a summer breeze. After a few years, he was able to be trusted with some slightly more important tasks, like taking a wagon to town to pick up feed or lumber. As long as he had a list pinned to his jeans and he didn't have to exchange money. It was on those trips that he would unknowingly come into contact with his one-time schoolmates, who had grown up normally and have taken up important positions in the town. The few good ones never forgot the potential that was lost when Buckethead suffered his accident, but the majority treated Buckethead as a plaything that could be toyed with without consequences, because the town elders have a plan for everyone, and Buckethead must have done something wrong to have suffered such a cruel fate. Therefore, tormenting him was aligned to a greater plan, where everything will work out fine. Those former classmates would play tricks on him and con him out his possessions. They would pretend to talk to him about politics or women or crop expectations, things that Buckethead wasn't able to understand, so he would politely nod and pretend to understand, much to the bullies' enjoyment. Buckethead reached adulthood and was able to work manual labor, enough to bring money into his family. He was diminished and stuck living under limited means, but he was functioning. Buckethead was unable to maintain that small plateau of achievement, because his former classmates and one-time friends pushed Buckethead too far one day. During the Fall Harvest Festival a woman who had once dated Buckethead before the accident was encouraged to flirt with Buckethead now. The friends laughed at Buckethead as he tried to make sense of the social situation, while trying to understand the feelings the woman was conjuring in him. Buckethead was left feeling confused and adrift as the girl dismissed him and returned to her group of friends. He may have been able to come to terms with the highs and lows that result from interactions with the opposite sex. He may have been able to take away the specialness she made him feel and forget the rejection of his eventual dismissal. But the one-time friends weren't done with him. As Buckethead left to return home, as he was instructed to do, three of the men followed him as he walked out of town. Buckethead didn't notice. He was awash in sorting out his experience with the woman. Plus he was feeling amazed at how different the party made him feel, as compared with his normal night of watching the fireplace burn down as he whittled wood until he drifted off to sleep. Buckethead eventually stopped by the covered bridge to relieve himself. He finished and turned back to the road when the men from town caught up with him. They blocked his path home and the way back to town. They accused him of embarrassing their whole generation, of being the bad joke that will be remembered from their age group. They wanted Buckethead to just "snap out of it" and return to normal, as if it was a choice that he had been putting off. Their attempt to heal Buckethead through negative reinforcement failed. They pushed him and knocked him down. They kicked him and spat on him and called him names he didn't understand. They fed off one another's anger until they were beating Buckethead, as he curled up to protect himself, wailing like an injured goat. Sometime during that beating, Buckethead remembered or found his survival instinct, and the simple, docile behemoth became an engine of destruction. He caught a kick mid-swing and tripped one. He absorbed a kick from a second to purchase his footing. He moved past a punch to get face-to-face with the third. He grabbed the third by his throat with his left hand and began punching with his right. It was a level of violence the town boys didn't understand. He punched slowly and calmly. Planting his fist in face and body with a fluid evenness that came from tens of thousands of hours of field work. He beat those men with the dull repetition of chopping wood. The men soon realized that the tide had turned and what they thought was fun had turned into a life-and -death situation. It was luck alone that when they broke and ran, the closest one was caught and held by Buckethead's stone fists. The other two ran off. The one who got caught, met with a horrible end, being beat to death by a calm and silent force of vengeance. Buckethead beat his already dead body well past death, and when he tired, he simply dropped him and finished his walk home. He had the sense to wash off the blood and gore before retiring to bed, but he curled up under his blankets and slept the sleep of the innocent. He gave not a second thought to the strange and extreme night he had experienced, because he felt that way every night. Everyday was just a series of strange and unexplainable wild events that smashed together for no greater reason. The next day brought commotion at the town. The authorities were greeted with two bloody and panicked young men, claiming a third had never returned from an altercation in the woods. They claimed that Buckethead had attacked them as they wandered the south street outside of town. The town was slow to react. Buckethead was considered a tragic piece of town lore, but violence and the big man was never in the same conversation. A search party was sent out to find the missing man, with expectations being that they would find him asleep and hungover. A second group went to talk to a woman Buckethead was seen talking to. A third, accompanied by the sheriff himself, went to collect Buckethead from his parents. The sheriff had a tough time convincing the parents to turn Buckethead over to him, but a general confusion from Buckethead made his presence necessary. By midday, the town had found itself confused, as it had stories of a violent and angry Buckethead that the town had never seen. The woman had insisted that Buckethead had lecherously come onto her and tried forcing himself on her. The two beaten men stuck to their story of Buckethead having attacked them by the covered bridge. And the pulped body of the third man was found by the bridge, mangled and left to rot, as if he were a rat or crow that threatened the crops. By evening the town was left with a story of a peaceful man turning violent and murderous for no reason, versus three respectable, fully functional citizens claiming one thing against a silent and unintelligible stone of man, who couldn't speak for himself, let alone explain his side of a complicated legal matter. The following days left the town with the realization that they had a murder and a murderer, but justice eluded them. Their hands were tied, legally on side, and socially on the other. The trial was quick and certain. The sentencing became a months long struggle to find justice, but after years of psychological examinations and electro-shock, the need for a legal resolution grew large. The death sentence passed and they strapped Buckethead into the electric chair, knowing that the big lug had no idea what was happening. The dull uncertainty stayed in his eyes until the grip of the electricity took hold of his muscles and nervous system. A flash of pain and fear and questioning shock flashed across his visage just before the light behind his eyes went out.
And that was the end of the man known as Buckethead. The town's greatest unspoken tragedy grew and became the county's greatest unspoken tragedy. They brought his body out to the Pine Barrens and laid him to rest in this graveyard. His spirit still resides here, incapable of passing on while his soul is still unable to grasp the how's and why's that led to his death. He doesn't understand how this happened to him. He cannot comprehend why the smarter people would do this to him. He can only reason that there is some tragic wrong that he committed that he doesn't have the capacity to recognize. Perhaps there is a functioning soul that is still trying to resolve this poor wretch's lot in life. But until that day arrives, he remains mine, here among the pine needles and sand.