But his fascination and naivety of the Company's world could be the death of him.
In his freshman year, Benjamin seizes the opportunity to befriend one of the Company’s junior members, Craig Marse, and he rashly embraces the destructive, illegal, and dangerous lifestyle as Craig’s student.
Ben quickly becomes enmeshed in the world of drugs and violence, deftly navigating the intrigues of this volatile subculture. As he builds his reputation, he begins to embrace his notorietyso much so that the essence, the true character, of Benjamin Porter is at risk of being permanently altered.
"A Fool’s Journey" is a postmodern bildungsroman in a 21-part series of novelettes inspired by the twenty-one Major Arcana of the Tarot. Follow Benjamin Porter, from 15 to 28 (1975 to 1988), in the first seven novelettesand the first part of the trilogywhere he explores the sensual, physical facets of contemporary American life. "The Magician" is the first in the series, and Ben’s first lesson is about the useor misuseof power.
Also, could you please change ABOUT THE AUTHOR text to:
Mark Pannebecker is an author of literary fiction and the founder of the St. Louis Indie Book Fair, an annual event created to foster authors of fiction and nonfiction. He started out as a filmmaker but soon fell in love with the creative writing process and shifted his focus on producing and directing films to that of writing screenplays, which then led to writing in other narrative forms. Mark writes screenplays, stage plays, novels, novellas, short stories, and is currently writing a series of novelettes--he's big on letting the story (function) dictate form. Mark published a collection of poetry titled Motorcycle Boy Lives and a collection of short stories titled Godsfood (both BookLocker, 2015). His first novel Fraternity of Fractures (AuthorHouse, 2016) was written originally as a screenplay.
Mark is always processing storylines for new work. The idea that's moved to the front of the line--insisting, really, for years to be written--is A Fool’s Journey, a 21-part series of novelettes inspired by the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Each of the twenty-one parts will launch as eBook only, starting in 2017 with Book I, The Magician. He hopes you enjoy A Fool's Journey, a postmodern bildungsroman.
Please reach out to him at email@example.com and visit his website: markpannebecker.com
About the Author
I'm an author of literary fiction and the founder of the St. Louis Indie Book Fair.
Read an Excerpt
The night summoned the renegade David Reynolds and his motorcycle gang, the Company, into its fold. Benjamin Porter knew their routine. The loud music of Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet abruptly stopped, and Benjamin ran to his bedroom window to watch the spectacle spill out from the house across the street with no shutters. The unpainted wooden door swung open and a dozen men, the smallest twice the size of Benjamin, stumbled out of the house in single file, with a few discarding their empty beer cans into a cracked clay pot. They kick-started their motorcycles, and their battle cry roared in the suburban neighborhood as they revved their engines. Cracking and snorting like dragons, Benjamin thought.
Reynolds' gang wore faded black leather boots, scratched black leather jackets, and small black helmets. Insignias on the front of their leathers reminded Benjamin of his own Cub Scout patches. I had three before they kicked me out for fighting. On the back of their jackets, they wore the Company colors: a simple design of two white skulls facing each other. As the bikers prepared to leave, they maneuvered around a Camaro on blocks, cut across the front yard, or backed down the driveway, never once coming close to hitting each other. David's always third in line. Their bikes were clean and shining, and the colors exact: black, blood-red, pearl-white. The short, quick procession left the quiet cul-de-sac in St. Louis county, thundering past the two elm trees sentineled at the entrance. Leaving behind the thick smoke of a dragon's breath.
In the fall of 1975, Benjamin Porter, a tall, skinny fourteen-year-old with black-framed glasses, entered high school and met someone who would move him from observer to player in the world of his neighbors' motorcycle gang. Craig Marse belonged to that club by birth. His father helped create the Company and Craig's older brother, in prison for manslaughter, was a member. Craig, a trickster with a slight underbite, had developed his legerdemain to such a degree that many in his circle called him the Magician. In school, Benjamin wondered what Craig, a freshman same as Ben, and David Reynolds, a senior, had to say to each other. To Ben, David — who had moved in across from the Porters last year with his divorced mother — always seemed out of place. On my street and in my school. And now he's here laughing in the cafeteria with the ruffled Craig Marse. What kind of things makes them laugh? What do they talk about? Occasionally he followed them as they walked down the halls, copying their stride with their hands in their pockets. Craig often wore a long overcoat that billowed like a robe when he walked. I gotta grow my hair.
Their initial, informal introduction came through a shared homeroom class where Ben would make a point to sidle up to Craig every chance an empty chair allowed. Not knowing what to talk about he often just pretended to be tired. They seem to be tired all the time, these guys. You can always tell the ones running in that crowd; every class has one or two of 'em sleeping through it. But Craig and Benny's actual friendship began rather suddenly.
Sitting in a corner of the cafeteria, Ben and a few of his neighborhood friends talked about trying out for basketball when Ben caught sight of David Reynolds and Craig Marse. They gestured wildly, and occasionally an angry voice rose above the chatter of teenagers eating lunch. Suddenly David stopped talking and turned his head, Craig followed his gaze, and so did Benjamin. Rick, a popular kid in school and a friend of Ben's sister, walked straight for David. His legs pumped underneath his faded jeans as he made his way through the crowd; his grease-stained boots kicked a chair out of his way, his jean jacket-clad arm shot out and slammed a large Letterman into the wall. Students and faculty scattered.
David stood up and walked toward Rick.
"Watch his feet," Craig warned David then laughed. "He's a yellow belt!"
They were like two titans crossing a sea of rectangular tables and plastic chairs. When David got close enough, Rick kicked out at him, but David grabbed his foot and threw him into a row of stacked chairs. Benjamin couldn't see the fight after that because of the crowd of teenagers rushing in to witness the spectacle. By the time he pushed himself close enough and climbed up on a table, all he saw was the vice principal and the wrestling coach separating the two boys and pulling them away.
"Okay, show's over," one of the teachers yelled over the cacophony. "Go back to your lunches. Get back to your classes. There's nothing to see here. Get off those chairs! Get off those tables! Porter, get down off there."
The crowd broke up, and Ben found himself standing next to Craig.
"Some fight, huh?" Ben asked. Wow, he's already got whiskers! I never noticed that before.
"Rick had it comin'."
"Why, what happened? I missed the best part."
"Where were you, man?" Craig squinted his deep-set eyes at Benjamin.
"Here, man." Ben felt accused of something. "But I couldn't see anything because all these jerks were in my way. I had to climb on top of a table!"
"Nothing happened, man, fucking Burke broke it up."
"So who won?"
"David, but they'll fight again. It ain't over yet."
"Where?" Benjamin hoped he could watch them fight again.
Craig turned his focus to Benjamin for the first time in their conversation. "You're Benjamin Porter, right?" he asked while pulling out a deck of cards from the pocket of his jean jacket. His bushy shoulder-length hair hid most of his face for a moment.
"Yeah, we have the same homeroom."
Craig began to shuffle the deck and then looked up, flipping his hair out of the way and focusing his dark eyes on Ben. "Do you get high?"
"You're not a narc, are ya?" He pulled out a card and looked at it.
"No, man. No way."
Craig put away the deck. "Come on."
"What was that?"
"Don't worry about it."
The two left the cafeteria and Ben thought he saw some students watching them, as many often did when the bad boys walked the halls. He put his hands in his pockets and squared his shoulders as he followed a half step behind Craig.
"I saw you fight some kid last week in the park," Craig said.
Ben thought he heard respect. He saw that? He remembers me?
"You bloodied his nose." Craig hit the bar of a side door to exit the school and headed toward the apartment complex next door, a utilitarian two-story brick building called Castle Gardens. "You should have bloodied his whole body."
Benjamin smiled, remembering the fight.
Craig lit a cigarette, took a shallow drag, and let the thick smoke roll out of his mouth.
"I didn't have to," Ben said, walking through the cloud of smoke hanging in the fall air. "I won, the fight was over."
"If you're gonna hang out with me, you're gonna hafta do better than that."
Hang out with you?
Unexpected snowfall threatened to cover the roads before school officially let out at 3:00. The administration held an emergency meeting and decided to let the students go home early. School buses lined up outside and students started snowball fights.
Craig stopped Ben in the hall and tugged on the sleeve of his parka. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?"
"My girlfriend's pad."
Finally. He's only been talking about it for two months. Benjamin, who walked to school and didn't rely on a bus to get home, followed his new friend over the six-foot chain-link fence that separated the school from Castle Gardens.
They passed several apartments where Let's Make a Deal or The Young and the Restless could be heard through the hollow plywood doors and arrived at 2H. A young barefoot woman in bellbottom jeans answered the door. Her large breasts moved freely inside her thin halter top.
"Ah, the Magician is here! Come in, Craig, come in, don't let the heat out. We're about to fire up some opium."
She gave Craig a quick kiss on the cheek then turned and walked into the living room. Benjamin stared at her ass as she walked around furniture and over a stack of albums lying on the floor by the stereo. When she sat down, she looked square at Benjamin and smiled. "Grab a seat." Her long brown hair was tangled, her complexion smooth. She had large brown eyes and a smile that revealed a slight overbite. So sexy. Benjamin forgot about Craig and the two strangers in the apartment and positioned himself next to her on the couch, sneaking a peek down her top when she bent over to pick up her cigarettes off the coffee table and again when she grabbed her lighter. She exuded a sensuality he'd never witnessed before. He became aware of the sweet smell of opium, marijuana, and her musky, natural scent. He vaguely recalled the introductions Craig made through the fog-filled apartment.
"Benjamin, this is Rene. She lives here with Judy and Buck."
Rene. Benjamin smiled at the busty girl sitting next to him and said hello, then at Judy, reclining in a beanbag chair, and then at Buck, who was rifling through the album collection.
"Whatcha putting on?" Ben asked, hoping he'd know the band.
"Aphrodite's Child, 666."
Nope. Have no idea.
Judy passed the pipe to Benjamin who took one long hit instead of several short ones.
Rene laughed. "You like that stuff, huh?"
Ben started coughing and Craig squeezed between him and Rene to sit down. Benjamin handed him the pipe, still coughing. Craig took a long, deep hit while looking at Ben who watched a shroud slowly appear, engulfing Craig as he exhaled.
I'm blowing this. Dork.
"Anybody want a beer?" Rene asked. She returned with a six-pack, handing the first one to Ben who downed it. "You like that stuff too, huh?" She laughed again, and so did everybody else. Benjamin watched her grab a pinch of the black tar nestled inside aluminum foil to refill the small wooden pipe.
They spent the next hour talking little, smoking a lot, and listening to the apocalyptic music that rushed out of the speakers and filled Benjamin's mind with images of Armageddon. Ben watched Craig play three-card Monte with Buck for 50 cents a game. After a while, he felt confident he could pick out Craig's ace of spades.
"I'm in for a buck," Benjamin said, pulling out a bunch of wrinkled ones from his pocket.
"You're into Buck?" Craig smiled.
Buck looked at Ben, confused: "What?"
"What?" Ben asked.
Craig started laughing. "Nothing, Benny, don't worry about it."
Ben looked at Rene who smiled. "He's just messing with you."
What the hell?
"You're not too stoned? If you're not too stoned, Benny, then step right up, son. If you're not too stoned."
Benjamin smiled back at him. "I've been watching you."
"Ah, you're stoned, Benny, don't watch me, watch the cards. If you're not too stoned."
What? Why does he keep saying that? Benjamin watched Craig move the cards for what seemed to him an extraordinarily long time; his mind started to wander.
Benjamin looked up.
"— Don't look at me, look at the cards."
Benjamin quickly looked back down.
Craig laughed. "A fool and his money."
"Ah, leave the kid alone," Rene said.
"He's alright. What are you doing for New Year's Eve?"
"I think I'm going with Judy and Buck down to the Ozarks. There's a big hippie gathering down there that sounds like it'll be a blast. What are you doing?
"Probably go to the Company's party. Benny, What about you?"
Staying home. "I don't know." Are we supposed to do something for New Year's Eve?
Judy and Buck got up without a word and went into their bedroom. Soon their fucking could be heard through the thin walls between songs. Craig tried several times to cuddle with Rene but she politely pushed him away.
That's not his girlfriend. Craig is so full of shit. She should be my girlfriend.
When they finally left, Benjamin gave Rene a long, unbalanced hug and thanked her for the high. Her soft body in his arms for that moment gave him fantasies about sex with an older woman of nineteen. He walked out of the apartment excited about the possibilities of coming back again.
"Holy shit. Look at the snow!"
"Damn. I just remembered I don't have a ride. You live nearby, right?"
"Yeah, but I don't know if my mom can give you a ride."
"What? No. I don't want a ride home from your mommy. You live close, walk home. I'm gonna go back and hang out with Rene. I'll get a ride from her. Or, maybe just spend the night."
"Oh, okay, that's cool. Can we come back tomorrow?"
"Nah, ya can't take advantage of these things, Benjamin. You don't wanna wear out your welcome, man. If ya got a good thing going, don't push it. Maybe I'll bring you again."
On a balmy spring afternoon, Ben waited on his front porch for Craig to arrive. Craig, who'd been kept back a year in junior high, turned sixteen a month earlier and had his driver's license. When Craig arrived, a half-hour late, he pulled up in a Cadillac DeVille and honked the horn twice. Benjamin, unfamiliar with the car, just sat there until Craig opened the passenger side door and yelled for him. Benjamin jumped in, wrapping his fingers around the chrome handle, and closed the door. The car smelled of pine freshener and cigarettes.
"Where'd you get this?"
"It's my dad's," Craig said as he reached over with his gloved hand and wiped down the handle Ben had touched.
"What are you doing?"
"I want to keep it clean."
"You guys own a Cadillac?"
Craig shot Ben a look of disappointment and didn't answer.
I insulted him. Of course they could have a Cadillac, why not? Ben lit up a bowl as a peace offering.
"When did you get hash? Alright, Benny. Grab a beer. Let's go."
By the time they pulled onto a seldom-used back road that led to the Missouri Bottoms, they were both in good spirits. Whenever Craig and Ben wanted to just drive and get high, they'd head to this spot, a fertile area filled with corn and wheat fields near the Missouri River where deer and eagles were more common than cops.
Craig handed Ben a rag. "Here, use this to roll down the window." Craig finished his beer then flung the empty out the open window, hitting the stop sign he just ran.
Nice stop. "Uh, nice shot."
"You try it."
Ben grabbed a beer from the 12-pack of Budweiser in the front seat and flung it out the window, hitting a yield sign.
"Not a full can, ya boob!"
"I needed the added weight!"
"Ma ... an."
Ben finished his beer and threw it out the window, missing his intended target. "See?" he said and grabbed another beer.
"Don't waste another one!"
"I'm not, I'm not, calm down. Hit that sign."
"Okay." Craig swerved off the road and ran it over.
Benjamin sat dumbfounded while Craig laughed.
"I meant with a beer can," he finally said, joining Craig's laughter.
They continued to drive the winding roads, drinking beer, smoking, and occasionally swerving off the cracked two-lane road to mow down small signs.
Ben looked around the new, clean car, at the driving gloves Craig wore, and the rag on his lap. He listened to the noise coming from the undercarriage that didn't seem to concern his friend at all. Yep.
Got it. "So, when did you steal this?"
Craig burst out in laughter and pushed his tangled hair out of his face. "Finally, he gets it! Damn, Benny."
"Shut up. Hit that sign."
"OK." Craig swerved off the road again and plowed over a line of wooden signs advertising, in Burma-Shave fashion, fresh produce. Benjamin could feel the signs under his feet banging into the oil pan, exhaust system, and struts. Craig turned up a small hill and drove into a wheat field. "I came across it this morning, with the keys just sitting in the ignition, so I thought I'd teach the guy a lesson —" He spun out of the wheat field, careening into a ditch and then back onto the road. Craig offered a guttural laugh and then turned the car off-road, toward another sign. "You can only use something like this and credit cards for one day; after that, you'll get busted."
They turned a corner and saw a landscaping truck on the side of the road with a tall woman with long silver hair tying something down in the back. As they approached, she stopped what she was doing and turned in a fluid and methodical movement that felt like slow motion to Ben. As they passed, she stared directly at Ben and cocked her head. Do I know you? Ben caught himself holding his breath.
"What the hell was that?" Ben asked.
"A fucking witch, man."
Excerpted from "A Fool's Journey"
Copyright © 2017 Mark Pannebecker.
Excerpted by permission of Mark Pannebecker.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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