Awake and Asleep: A history of the World in One Night and other stories.
by Herman Sutter
Houston, Tx 77004
(C) Copyright Herm 1991
Word count: 4024 words
Precisely as God had planned, the dawn was breaking and the
dazzling firmament of stars were washed away by the brilliant
glow of a crystalline clear morning.
Sam of old Houston was already up and moving about the house
with his coat, tie, and dress white blouse on, but his pants and
underclothes were still missing.
His wife, Margaret --standing in the shadow of the hallway--
was watching him leap about the front room half naked like a
He threw open the windows, the shutters, air vents, kicked
at loose boards until they dropped from the wall allowing slats
of light to criss cross the hard wood floors worn smooth and soft
by the leaping and dancing about of bare naked savage feet. Sam
had once told his wife, ANY PORT IN A STORM! And that included
port holes. He unlatched the front door and pushed it open.
Hollering, "Margaret! Margaret! Where in tarnation are my dadburn
velvet breetches?" Then he stomped out onto the front porch
sending two squirrels scurrying for their lives and petrifying a
rather large and uncommonly ugly wart hog that had been rooting
around in his compost heap. For a moment Sam was struck with the
unshakable sense of having seen that wart hog somewhere before...
perhaps even having shared a tender moment or two with it. He
slapped the side of his head and stomped back into the house!
The wart hog breathed a sigh of relief and with a snout full
of rather blue-ish bread smelling of sour fruit rinds and rotting
apple-cores, lazily waddled back toward the line of pines that
stood just past the clearing.
Margaret stirred from the shadows of the hall and made her
entrance into the front room, her petticoats and flowing skirt
rustling as she did. She approached her husbands frantic
movements with complete and uncomprehendible calm, a pair of dark
navy blue velvet slacks draped over her left arm.
"Margaret, where are my tadgum velvet breetches? I could
bounce around this house all day like a dadgosh savage, wouldn't
nobody tell me nothing about where my golldingle velvet breetches
She held out to him the pants draped across her left arm,
"Here you are, Sam."
He took them and went to the doorway, where he stood
--scaring again with his very presence those same two squirrels--
and without looking at her spoke to his wife, "Margaret, you know
I can't dress 'less I'm in private."
"Would you like me to draw the windows for you?"
"How am I gonna know I'm in private less I can see nobody is
Margaret acceded to his logic and made her exit, returning
to the wings of history where she would again await her moment in
the spotlight, basking in the golden glow of her heroic husband.
Meanwhile she would return to work on the purported historical
romance she was writing. This writing business wasn't easy. After
completing the first 712 pages she found herself still only
introducing the distant cousins of the great grandparents of two
characters who might at some point in the distant future happen
to fall in love and thereby give her book the romance she'd been
meaning it to have all along.
So far her novel consisted of 439 pages of expository
dialogue between the ghosts of Cabeza DeVaca and Renee LaSalle
and a nameless indian chief. Followed by 273 pages of technical
historical conceptualization dealing with the ability of certain
alien races to travel through space and time by simply humming.
To get to earth one has only to hum the aria from Bach's Goldberg
Variations and depending on which variation you hum after it you
can choose where on earth and during which epoch you will arrive.
Margaret tapped a couple of keys, the screen of the IBM
clone came to murky green life, and she sat, staring at her text
humming Bach's variation 14, and contemplating her next
"Margaret!" Sam called out again. "Margaret, I don't want to
talk on the radio. Margaret! I hate talking on the radio. I hate
taking calls. People always ask the same stupid assed question.
They all want to hear about the glorious victory at San Jacinto!
Last time I was on the Roger Gray show some snotty nosed inbred
idiot from Spring Branch had the nerve to question my patriotism.
Said I retreated too much. I should have stopped and stood my
ground sooner. He said my men were about to mutiny at San
Jacinto. How the hell does he know what I should have done? How
the hell does anybody know? Margaret! I can't put my pants on
"Put your pants on, Sam."
"Margaret, where's Jefferson? Where's my horse?"
Jefferson, Sam of old Houston's personal servant and one-
time slave, was out back saddling up the ancient mange-ridden
appaloosa Sam called Chrysler Buick.
Jefferson was singing to himself at that very minute a
spiritual, Shall we gather at the river? The beautiful, the
beautiful river... Realizing, if not intellectually, then at
least innately, that the responsibility of a slave is to reassure
his master that being a slave is all that could be desired of
life and that living as a slave is the fulfillment of all his
dearest and deepest dreams. (Which, and this truly is an aside,
would seem to be a fulfillment of Christ's most essential
teachings. But in the case of enforced slavery there is the
problem of performance rights and the questionable nature of free
choice --which Tolstoi asserts does not exist anyway, so why
bring it up? Regardless, Jefferson behaves toward his master as
if being a slave to a famous semi-fictitious character in a short
story by Herman Sutter was a dream come true.)
Gather we together by the river, that flows by the throne of
"Unsaddle that horse, Jefferson. I ain't going!"
"General, you ain't gots no pants on."
"I know I ain't got no pants on."
"Well, I may just be a nigger, General, but I wouldn't be
going riding without no pants on."
"I ain't going riding."
"What about your interview, General?"
Sam sat down on a step and began to put his pants on, one
leg at a time like anybody else, "I ain't going to no goshdurned
interviews, neither. And don't you be asking me about no Today
Show. Cause I ain't going on no goshdainged TV shows neither."
"I didn't mention any TV shows, General sir, but now that
you brung it up."
"I didn't bring it up. Unsaddle that horse."
"I sure would like to meet that Ms. Jane Pauley."
"She ain't even on the show, anymore. Get that horse
unsaddled and drag her back into the barn. Poor thing looks half
Inside the house the phone began to ring.
"Margaret will you get that? I got my pants on."
"Yes, dear." Margaret saved her document and answered the
phone. It was a woman from the radio station. She explained to
Margaret that Sam's interview was being bumped for a live
simulcast of a nationally broadcast interview with the more
contemporary General Norman Schwartzkopf.
Margaret agreed that Sam wasn't quite as timely, and hung up
"Margaret, Margaret? Who was that?"
"It was the radio station, dear."
At the mention of the station Sam began to get agitated. His
fingers began to fiddle with his belt, tug at his waist band.
"Margaret, I can't do it. I can't." He started back into the
house, then stopped at the kitchen door. "Margaret, I'm taking my
"Keep your pants on, Sam. It's okay."
"They're already off, Margaret. I already took my pants
Margaret was now standing in the kitchen looking at her
befuddled yet famous husband, "I see that, Sam."
"What?" He stared up into her murky green eyes. There was
something strange about them. Her face was no longer her own. Her
eyes... There was a strange familiarity about her face. Sam,
turned and looked back toward the compost heap. Then back at his
wife. The sensation was gone.
"What do you mean, what?"
"What do you want, Margaret?"
"Just wanted to tell you not to worry. They canceled your
"Good. What happened? National emergency? Nuclear melt-down
in Bay City? Another peace-keeping mission break out in the
"No, they got some kind of link-up with a nationally
broadcast interview with General Schwartzkopf, so they felt it
would be more timely to..."
"Well, Sam, I must admit..."
"How many times do I have to say it? The Iliad is timeless,
but who reads yesterday's newspaper?"
"I don't know, Sam. I need to get back to my book."
"Schwartzkopf? What did he do? He bombed the hell out of a
bunch of people who wouldn't fight back! That's the new
definition of greatness?"
"He's a hero, Sam."
"He hasn't done anything yet. Maybe someday, but... I got
shot in the dadblasted ankle and I still led my men to victory.
We were outnumbered almost 4 to 1. They were better trained,
"I know dear. I've heard this story, before." Margaret let
the screen door slap closed as she returned to her work.
Sam turned, pants down around his ankles, rubbing his nose,
just in time to see Jefferson come running from the barn.
"Jefferson! Jefferson, did I ever tell you about the time me
and half dozen men beat the entire Mexican army at San Jacinto.
See, they were led by the Spanish Napoleon himself. And yours
truly was Texas answer to General Kutuzov."
"Yessum, General. You has told me that story quite a number
"Would you like to hear it again?"
"Oh, nothing would please me more, General, sir, but they is
a injun squaw woman standing in the barn, and she say she wants a
talk at you."
"You know I don't speak with indian squaws anymore,
Jefferson. Here," Sam handed his pants to the trembling old
servant, "Go back to the barn and shoot her."
"What's a matter? You want me to load them for you?"
"General, these are your pants."
"Are you questioning my order, Jefferson?"
"No sir, only you knows I can't shoot no squaw woman."
"I can't, General. I can't shoot nobody. Savior say if
somebody goin to hurt me, I got to turn the other cheek. Not
shoot at them."
"Jefferson, you shoot her and I'll get you Jane Pauley's
autograph. Heck I'll even get Willard Scott to wish you a happy
birthday on the air."
"General, you drives a hard bargain." And the black man
walked back to the barn clutching the pants, amazed at what
passed for greatness among white folks.
Sam hurried up the steps back into the house, locking the
kitchen door behind him, and running into the front room to close
and lock the door and windows out there. "Margaret! Margaret!
There is an indian squaw out back by the barn. Margaret. Go see
what she wants! Margaret!"
Margaret, too busy to be concerned with secular sounds, was
tapping away at her keyboard furiously. She had suddenly
realized that the aliens had kidnapped several surviving members
of LaSalle's failed fatal Mississippi excursion and taken them
back to their planet for study. When the aliens were done with
these men they implanted tiny organic soundbytes into their
testicles which hummed the men back to earth and served as
tracking devices for the alien scientists. The only drawback was
that these devices stirred up the sexual urges of these already
deviant men until they went on a rampage of forced sexuality
through much of the modern southwest. Every time they engaged in
sexual intercourse they impregnated the recipient with a
minuscule spinoff soundbyte, which would lodge in the womb of the
recipient and develop into what appeared to be a physically
normal human being but for some reason the soundbytes had become
dysfunctional and when the children grew up all of them would
slowly transform into liberal Jesuit priests. The experiment
would have been allowed to continue except that one of the byte
carriers, in a moment of desperation, impregnated a male security
guard in the dressing room of a JC Penny's department store. The
aliens had failed to take into consideration the possibility that
on earth males are not allowed to become pregnant, and when they
realized the magnitude of this error and the possibility
their study would be uncovered, they simply pressed the self-
destruct button on their control panel somewhere in another
dimension less than two miles east of Des Moines, Iowa and
approximately 17 minutes ahead.
When they pushed this button, crotches all over America
exploded. The soundbytes inside the impregnated women all
exploded also, producing a slight sensation of gas, and easing
several minds. For some reason undetected by the aliens a single
soundbyte embryo survived in one of the women and went to term at
7 and a half months. The child was delivered in the alley behind
a Stop-N-Go by the mother and her younger brother. It was decided
that the baby could not be kept, so they placed it inside the
dumpster behind the store, and stole away as quickly as they
"Margaret! Margaret! Come quick. There's some indian squaw
woman out back. Go see what she wants." Sam was standing in the
doorway behind his wife.
"Just a minute, Sam."
"Hurry. She might hurt Jefferson."
"Why don't you..."
"Let me just save this, and..." She tapped a couple of keys,
the keyboard flickered, and then she rose. "Okay. Where is she?"
Margaret turned to face her husband and again Sam saw in her
face something horribly familiar but... unnameable to him. Just
as he was about to scream out, "Who are you?" the words caught in
his throat and came out as a kind of frightened guttural
unintelligible gasp. "Who are you?" and the high pitched sound of
his own words panicked him even more.
Margaret asked him what was the matter with him but he could
not answer. She stepped past and down the hall and out the
Sam ran quickly behind her and locked the door. He then
slumped down into an old wooden chair at the kitchen table. His
hands trembling, he closed his eyes and could almost make out the
familiar features in his mind, but just as the pieces of the
picture came together a hand passed before his eyes and scrambled
them again sending a cheek between two lips and a nose around
through an ear where an eye dripped from a nostril and...
Margaret walked firmly and resolutely to the barn. There she
found Jefferson holding a pair of pants up at arms length as if
aiming them. He was pointing them at a sack of grain and twisted
saw blade which in the shadows of the barn he had mistaken for an
When Mrs. Houston pointed out the error of his ways,
Jefferson explained that there had been an injun squaw there but
she must have been a ghost cause she done transformed herself
into a saw blade and a sack of grain.
Margaret told him to put the pants down and stop terrorizing
the farm implements. Jefferson took that as his cue to begin
singing again, "Soive si il ventro..."
Sam heard a sound in the front of the house. He sat up
startled. He rose quietly and for a moment contemplated rushing
out the back door locked or no, but something stirred in his will
and he instead of retreating, began a slow cautious
Margaret reappeared at the back door, unable to get it open.
She pulled at the handle, which jerked the already loose door
slightly and caused it to bang against the door jam at the top
and bottom. "Sam. Sam. Let me in. I gotta get back to work,
The darkness of the hall had washed over him, and he could
feel the cool still air, humid, sticky, moist against his clammy
flesh as he paused, silent, listening, waiting...
"Sam!" Margaret called again.
There was no sound. He waded further into the blackness of
the hall, an empty river bed beneath his feet, a vacant sky above
his head, the timbers of a collapsed mine at his fingertips, and
nowhere was he stepping further into and soft and silent and...
"Sam, let me in. There's no squaw in the barn. Jefferson
scared her off with your pants."
She's here. He could sense it. Smell it. Taste the salty
acrid sweat of her body on his tongue the smell was so strong.
She's here. And suddenly the pieces of the picture puzzle began
to shift again and reassemble themselves in his head. His knees
buckled. He slumped against the smooth worn timbers of the wall
and slipped to the floor. Alone in the river bed, alone in the
wilderness, alone in the abandoned mine, he sat suddenly dazed,
dizzy, by the realization... She was a he.
My pants! Sam bolted up. I've got to get to my... but
suddenly he was down again, tripped to the floor. His chin coming
down with a crack.
"Get up, amigo." a voice whispered.
"You. I should have shot you when I had the chance." Sam
turned over and tried to stand, the taste of blood warm in his
mouth. A boot pushed him back down.
"No. Stay down. Sit. That's far enough."
"Still dressing like a squaw, El Grande?" Sam offered a
sarcastic grin to his captor.
"History affords us no humor, amigo." Santa Anna replied.
"To know one's enemy, one must wear his wife's lingerie, am I not
"Why have you come here?"
"For you, Sam."
"Amigo, you are a famous general. War hero. Why are you
so..." The great Spanish Napoleon, dressed up like a squaw,
gestured with his pistol.
"Why can't you people just leave me alone?"
Margaret banged at the door a couple more times, then sat
down on the back step. Sam did things like this quite often, and
she knew she would simply have to wait him out. He couldn't stay
in there more than a week or two, not with his pants off.
From somewhere in the distance Sam could hear the sound of
gunfire and the squealing and squawking of a hog trying to avoid
injury. Where are your men? He wanted to ask, but when he looked
up Santa Anna was gone. The hallway was empty. The darkness now
seemed a river of darkness flowing past him and if he stood he
might be able to rise above it, get his bearings.
"History is not static, Whitebeard." A voice above the
darkness seemed to hum the words into his head. Startled, Sam
swung his arms about trying to feel for anyone present. His hands
suddenly came up against soft weathered leather, the clicking of
smooth round glass beads. "Who..." he began to ask, sensing it
was no longer the he who had just been there, and yet...
"Whitebeard, our child is gone. Her cold flesh is yellow
with death. I am alone now." The face in his head, crystalline
clear bright and shining vision of sunlight glistening through a
web of dew.
Sam drew back with a shudder. "Why..." was all he could get
"History has forgotten you, Sam. You are a bronze statue
men wish were not there. It gets in the way."
A large dark skinned squaw was standing behind him in the
kitchen, the light from the opened windows illuminating her
outline. She did not move.
A clock was ticking loudly and the soft grumble of thunder
rolled in the distance.
Margaret, on the back steps was busy with a stick sketching
in the dirt an outline for the second half of her massive tome.
What will happen to my surviving child, she wondered.
Suddenly the squaw was a little girl in a pink dress, and
she removed a piece of chalk from her own tiny pink ear and began
to write upon a blackboard. She wrote:
Weeny, mustard, bun, relish, inner tube, lemonade.
Turning from the blackboard she held out the piece of chalk
to Sam of old Houston and she, the little girl in the pink dress,
was no longer little or a girl but now an old man, a priest. Eyes
half closed, half asleep. The old priest spoke in a voice like a
river running backwards, What had I intended to say? I had
intended to tell you something important.
Sam heard the distant glittering of plipplop on petals as
the rain softly came plipplop plipping forward.
The old priest turned back to the board, What is this
nonsense? He wiped away the words the child had written and with
each wipe of his eraser new words appeared. Each sentence,
phrase, word, seemed to have its own voice, the first being that
of the little girl, speaking in a language he did not know, yet
understood, saying "I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
and the next being the voice of the squaw, "Sam, it is cold in
the ground." and the third was Santa Anna whispering in lower
case letters, "the lessons of history are only learned through
Jefferson, in the barn, grooming the Chrysler Buick, his
hands working with the utmost care, was ruminating on the
political historical and sociological ramifications of a
mercantile society whose capitalistic system was born on the back
of stolen land and slave labor, once there was no more land to
steal and the slaves had been set free, What would happen?
--Economic chaos, he hoped. All the while still humming his
obligatory slave song.
Margaret, was now squatting in the dirt. Feeling herself
somehow freed by the sensation of scribbling with a stick in the
dust, she had begun to actually compose her next chapter there in
the earth about their house. Every uncovered inch of dirt between
the house and the barn had already been filled, and now she was
moving around to the side of the house that stretched out toward
the road, and the sound of the oncoming rain was but music to her
ears. The thought of what God might do with her work had always
troubled her, but now she was about to find out.
Meanwhile, inside the house, Sam was removing his coat, and
scratching his head, thinking to himself, "I wasn't a bad man.
No. But everyone turns on me. Why is everybody turning on me? I
kept my men alive, led my country to freedom, got wounded doing
it, became their first president, tried to keep them from making
the stupidest mistake they ever made. Seceding from the union.
Jesus. And what do they do? Kick me out of office. Question my
goddamn patriotism." He set his coat on the back of a chair,
untied his tie and began to unbutton his blouse. "People
celebrate my birthday. Name cities after me. They won't forget
me. They..." He unfastened his cuffs and removed his blouse. Now
he stood buck naked, listening to the coming rain, the scratching
sounds of his wife with her stick, and the soft dark sad singing
of his own personal slave, and he, Sam of old Houston, thought,
"They're all jealous, cause I'm famous and they aren't. Hell,
anybody can be happy. I'd rather be famous." Then he got up on
the chair by the table and stood, rather like a famous statue
might stand, and he thought to himself, "I am King David, chosen
by God to lead his people out of the wilderness. I am Moses. I am
the Solomon of Texas. Christ. Who's gonna turn the other cheek
when somebodies pointing a goddamn rifle at your ankle. What the
hell does Jesus know about living anyway?"