影子与水井

I was futzing around in my desk drawer last night and came up with a thumb drive that had gotten smooshed to the back. Had no idea what was on it.

Among other things were a bunch of stories I wrote 13 or 14 years ago, my last gasp as a would-be fiction writer. They all concerned a desert hermit called Shadow, who had kind of taken things to extremes.

The other thing the stories have in common is that most of them aren’t very good. The problem with Shadow’s life, as a fictional character, is that it wasn’t very interesting. Even when I wrote him half-mad, so that he was never quite sure if he was hallucinating or living in a magic world, I found him dull.

This is one of the best of a bad lot, and unfortunately he spends half of it doing a valve job on an old Briggs & Stratton engine. Which, take it from me, cannot be made to seem exciting.

But hey, it’s free. This is a short story in a never-to-be-finished anthology, and it’s called 影子与水井.

The well was shallow compared to others he knew. Someone had drilled or dug it on low ground down near the wash, used it for a while, and then died or moved away and abandoned it. The wide pipe came out of a concrete pad, in the skeletal shadow of an old broken windmill whose suck pipes stood in untidy ranks inside the tower. Next to the well was a crumbling concrete cistern, and next to that a big stock tank. It was all falling into ruin, but none of it seemed very old. Maybe thirty years old, maybe fifty. Judging from the parts Shadow could see, it couldn’t have been older than that and might be much younger. The brackish, mineral-laden water would have been hard as hell on the metal parts. Whoever dismantled the pump pretty clearly planned to use it again at some point, though nobody ever had. Ranchers still ran cattle here, but the original ranch that had dug this well and put up all this gear was long gone.

但这口井还在这里,这才是最重要的。水是 就在那里:如果你把一颗鹅卵石掉进管子里,它不会在两到三秒钟后掉到水里,你甚至可以听到飞溅声。这口井离Shadow的棚屋比下一个最近的水源还要近一英里,多年来他一直在想办法把水抽出来。在今天之前,他所做的最好的事情就是把一根绳子弄湿。

Shadow不太关心汽油泵和发电机。他们是吵闹的狗娘养的,当你不得不依赖他们的时候,他们就坏了,他们需要汽油。天然气甚至比水还稀有;你只能在城里买到。但是,如果你碰巧有它,并且有什么东西可以运行它,一点汽油可以泵出大量的水。

阴影并不是唯一一个想到那口老井的人。当查克·毕晓普(ChuckBishop)从这台坏掉的旧泵中换出一个人时,他突然想到了这个主意,这台旧泵可能有200英尺长的软管和50英尺长的可折叠软管。“我们要做的就是让它跑起来,影子!”

“Humph.” Shadow took some convincing. Gas engines were noisy bastards. This one, a greasy eight-horse Briggs that was old before Bishop was out of diapers, was never going to be reliable even if it ever ran at all. It was stupid to depend on such a thing for water. But still…even if it only ran once… That stock tank full of water would be something to see.

“It ain’t just water, Shadow. It’s meat! This’d be the only open water for miles…” Well, that wasn’t true. There was that crack in the rocks up on… “Okay, it’d be the only open water for miles down here. Anyway, every cat in the mountains knows about that one. You were a mulie, where’d you rather drink?” He did have a point. A fellow got tired of rabbit, though Shadow would have to figure just how they were going to catch a deer. Get Denny in on the deal, maybe: He had a rifle now.

In the old days, before Shadow learned how to live without regular cash, his last townie job had been fixing engines just like this one. That, and the fact that Shadow’s shack was only about five hundred yards from the well anyway, was why Bishop had tried to get him in on the deal. Bishop owned the pump and the pipe, and technically any water it pumped would be his. But Bishop didn’t know how to fix the pump. Shadow looked at the old machine dubiously: He wasn’t sure he did, either.

But it wouldn’t cost much to give it a try.

Anyway, he’d just been moping around since Dave Fortier died. He wouldn’t have expected to get hit so hard by an old man dying. That was pretty much what old men did, after all. But Fortier had been a good friend; maybe, the more Shadow brooded over it, the best friend he had. And Shadow had known he was sick, and he should have taken better care of him.

It made him hurt to think about it. Maybe this was a good project to get it off his mind.

The pump was small enough for two guys to move pretty easy, but it wouldn’t be fun having to hump it from Bishop’s place to the well. Shadow was happy to hear that Bishop had thought of that: The pickup he’d begged a ride on had delivered it to the well, not to Bishop’s place. Now Shadow met him there to look it over. He’d dug out enough of his old tools to at least hopefully figure out why it wouldn’t run.

“You know even if I get the engine runnin’ the pump might not work, right? And we’re gonna need water to prime it. I’ll try to get it runnin’, but I ain’t bettin’ any water on it.”

Bishop wasn’t as dumb as some of Shadow’s other friends, though. He’d not only supplied a rusty Jerry can half full of gas, but also a couple of gallon jugs of water. That pretty much took care of Shadow’s excuses. Time to get to work.

He opened the engine’s gas tank, took a sniff, and recoiled at the stench. “Guh! Gas went bad. Carb’s gonna be all fulla shit.” He closed the tank’s valve and removed the carburetor’s float bowl. Sure enough, it was full of rust and filthy gasoline. “Maybe can’t ever get this thing cleaned out, but we can try. Let’s see what else is wrong.” He planted his feet and gave the starter rope a pull. It turned the engine about half a revolution, then locked up hard enough to pull the rope’s handle right out of his hand. “Valve’s stuck shut. Gonna need a head gasket if this one tears up gettin’ it off. Which it will. And we’re prob’ly gonna need a needle and seat for the carb. You got any money?”

“我们需要多少?”

“可能有一点。不多。如果你有钱的话,我知道我们在哪里可以买到零件。”

“你把它拆开,看看我们需要什么?”

“是的,我能做到。”

有时,如果你非常小心,你可以在不损坏垫圈的情况下取下缸盖。这不是最好的做法,但任何能让引擎启动的事情都是一场胜利。Shadow取下隐藏头部螺栓的风扇盖,然后小心地开始拆卸。果然,最靠近消声器的螺栓几乎卡住了。这在老布里格斯身上很常见。如果他强迫的话,它就会破裂,那就是球赛。他在半坏的帆布工具袋里翻找,发现了一罐渗透油。他把螺栓浸湿,然后脱下化油器开始工作。

碳水化合物的内部并没有他担心的那么糟糕。他希望自己有办法做一次压力测试;针头和针座可能还不错,也可能不好。但他没有压力测试仪。最好的办法是把它清理干净,重新组装好,然后集中精力在发动机上。如果他修好了发动机,发动机只有在他给碳水化合物充注时才能运转,那么他就会知道碳水化合物坏了。如果它启动并运行,那么碳水化合物是好的。这是一种肮脏的诊断方法,但它奏效了。他又喷了一次头螺栓,来回转动:它现在可以移动了,但还没有准备好出来。他开始用抹布小心地拆卸化油器,清洁所有的小部件,然后将其重新组装起来。

The sun was high in the sky and Shadow was getting sweaty and discouraged by the time the head bolt decided it had delayed enough. He got it out – for a wonder not taking the threads out of the block – and carefully tugged on the head. He didn’t want to tear the gasket if he didn’t have to. The head came off in his hand with only a little resistance, and most of the gasket’s coating was intact. Incredible for such an old machine, but you never knew what they were going to do.

Okay, that meant he had to do a valve job. With an engine that had bad gas in it, a stuck valve might just be caused by varnish on the valve shafts. Easy to fix, once you got the valves unstuck. He had to dig through half an inch of grime on the engine before he got the little valve cover visible. He took it off and dug around with a screwdriver until he managed to pop the valve spring keepers off.

Okay: Now he was committed to getting the damned valves out without bending them, and that might be hard. It would take time. Bishop had spent all this time wandering around or dozing under a bush. Time to put him to work. Shadow dosed the valves with penetrating oil, then took the gas tank off the engine and set Bishop to cleaning it out as best they could without compressed air and the right stuff. Then he set to work with a screwdriver carefully working the valves out of the engine.

It was the middle of the afternoon before he had it all together again. Before he primed the carburetor he unscrewed the little yellow cap – so covered with goop you wouldn’t suspect it was there if you didn’t already know – and stuck his little finger into the crankcase. Did it even have any oil in it? If so, was it good or had it turned to sludge? It’d be a shame to go to all this trouble, and then not even be able to try the engine because they didn’t have any oil. The oil that came out on his finger was filthy, but it would be good enough for now.

他给化油器充了油,关上了节流阀。“不能让它在泵干的情况下运行,否则我们会烧坏泵。它里面只是塑料的。但我们至少可以知道发动机是否会运行。”主教走近了,脸上充满了兴奋。影子只是累了。这一天让他想起他是多么讨厌那份城里人的工作。

它在第二次拉动时击中,闷闷不乐地“推杆”,消音器冒出一股蓝烟。这并没有让影子感到惊讶;如果你给碳水化合物充注,几乎所有的发动机都会发动起来。这并不意味着它会运行。他又给它上了底漆,然后拉了拉绳子。这一次,在第四次拉动时,发动机启动并自行运行。他掐住了喉咙。发动机的转速上升并趋于平衡;他看到调速器操纵杆拉着油门。Shadow急忙抓起他的大螺丝刀,把火花塞短路,导致发动机熄火。

“好吧,它跑了,”他疲倦地说。“但如果水泵不工作,那一天的工作就白费了。”

现在是棘手的部分,因为影子以前从来没有这样做过,他很肯定毕晓普也没有这样做过。他们必须给水泵充水,这样它才能在试图将水提升到进气管中的所有空空气中时,将水泵吸入而不烧坏。直到排水口开始吐水,他们才知道这该死的东西是否起作用:里面可能已经被撕碎了。他们齐心协力,将所有挠性管道送入井口。然后他们又把它拔了出来,看看管子到底有多深——如果它碰到了水的话。如果不是这样,Shadow很确定他会去某个地方哭。

But it did – in fact a good thirty or forty feet of pipe came up wet. Now there was really something to win, if only the damned pump would work. Shadow found himself getting kind of excited.

They pushed the pipe back down into the well, connected it to the pump, and unrolled the hose toward the stock tank. There was a threaded fitting on top of the pump housing, and Shadow figured that must be where the priming water was supposed to go. “I dunno if we’re supposed to keep pouring water in, or if it’ll shoot outa there when we start the engine,” he said. “But long as we got it fulla water, we can’t hurt the pump. So we’ll givit a try an’ see what happens.”

It took a couple of tries, and Shadow was beginning to fear two gallons wouldn’t be enough, but at last the flat outlet hose began to rise and more water trickled out its end then they had poured in. Then the hose filled out entirely and water gushed. “It works!” Bishop yelled. “Ya did it, Shadow! Ya did it!”

“Yeah!” Shadow’s smile felt strange on his face, and he wondered when was the last time he’d had anything to smile about. It’d been a bad couple of months, what with one thing or another. The water came out brown at first, then cleared out and they wrestled the gushing hose into the stock tank. Shadow still wasn’t sure this was a good idea: The damned thing would work just long enough for them to get used to it and depend on it, and then it’d quit for some reason and they’d feel stuck till they got used to doing it the hard way. But still, he hadn’t thought it would work at all, and now it did, and that was because he’d fixed it. Yeah.

He sat on the edge of the tank and watched it fill. It was shallow-well water and bound to be not much fun to drink. His favorite watering spot was a spring up the mountain that came up through rock. It was hell to drag water from, and it didn’t run all year. But the water was clear and sweet.

Maybe it was like that with things that were too easy. Here he had all the water anybody could ever need – for as long as the pump had gas, and didn’t break down – but the water would be brackish and thick with minerals and stuff. He’d need to boil it if he wanted to feel good about drinking it. If he was willing to work for his water he could have only a little, only as much as he could carry a long way. But that was really good water.

So maybe it was better to just keep things simple. Hard, but simple. This damned pump would make life a lot easier, while it lasted. But when it failed everybody who used this water would come bothering Shadow and trying to get him to fix it again. Maybe he’d be able to, maybe not. If he couldn’t, it would be all his fault. And even if they didn’t all blame him, still they’d have gotten used to easy water and then it would be gone. What was the point?

Bishop didn’t seem to have any of Shadow’s problems. He stuck his head into the tank and drank greedily. Then with a whoop he pulled off his boots, vaulted over the edge and landed in the tank with a big splash.

Shadow shook his head. “Well, now I’m def’nitely not drinkin’ it,” he grumbled.

Bishop laughed at him. “Aw, lighten up, Shadow! C’mon in!”

Shadow watched him for a few more minutes. Then he seemed to hear Fortier’s voice, something he’d said one evening when they were sitting around Fortier’s cabin, half-blasted on home-made hooch. “Shit, Shadow. You got this much time in life, right? Just this long. And you don’t owe nothing to nobody unless you promised. And once the promise is done you still don’t owe nothing to nobody. I knew folks who moped around their whole lives, worryin’ about this and feelin’ guilty about that. They died miserable, and they didn’t help a soul with all that sufferin’.

“去他妈的,我就是这么说的。尽你所能,趁活着的时候活着,不要为其他的事担心而自杀。”

当然,福捷没有信守所有承诺。或者至少在他向人们做出承诺的人看来是这样的。但影子只是这个故事的一个方面,肯定会有比他所知道的更多的东西。他认识Fortier很多年了,从未见过这个人做过不光彩的事。

他一边想,一边摆弄福捷靴子的鞋带。然后他开始把它们拔下来。天气不错,不太热,也不太刮风。他整天都在做一些他不知道会起作用的事情,最后一切都很顺利。水泵把冷水从地下深处抽出来,在他眼前灌满了这个水箱。即使这是水泵所抽取的唯一一罐水,如果不是阴影造成的,那就该死了。如果他坐在这里为此感到难过,那他就该死了!

“嘿,主教!让开!”影子越过水箱边缘,扑通一声大笑,落在水中。

关于Joel

你知道,你不应该问一个偏执的隐士这些问题。
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7回应 影子与水井

  1. says:

    听起来这可能是一个非常普通的冲沟日。

  2. Big Wooly says:

    乔尔,我一直很喜欢你的故事。如果你能告诉我们更多,那也不是坏事。

  3. 匿名的 says:

    好故事

  4. 马拉托普 says:

    老实说,乔尔,这是一个写得很好、很有趣的故事,讲得很恰当!我知道作者对自己最苛刻,但不要低估自己。这个故事唯一的错误就是你找不到一个好地方发表它。

    If you have enough to put together a book-length collection, you could always self-publish on Amazon. I don’t think it costs much to try.

  5. Tennessee Budd says:

    I think it was pretty good, Joel. We are all our own worst critics, if we’re thinking people at all.

  6. I think you have a much better grasp of writing to entertain than most people on the Internet. More, please?

  7. Big Wooly says:

    Now how ’bout givin’ us a peek at the rest of that thumb drive? purty please?

To the stake with the heretic!