“The Baddest Man in Three Counties”

Israel Spurlock came out of his mama filled with meanness. She thought giving him a Bible name would help calm him, but it didn’t save him from a life of hatefulness. He knocked out teeth from Leslie County to Pikeville before he got kicked off the football team. It wasn’t worth driving a thug around who couldn’t make it half a quarter without getting a flag.

Once, when I was in middle school, he snuck into a DARE assembly and kicked the shit out of Randy White for talking to his girlfriend. It took two teachers and a librarian to pull him off of that boy. His girl Jamie was thirteen then. He must have been seventeen at least, because by the time I moved up to high school he’d been dropped out for at least a year. I heard the stories though.

My brother told me that he got into it with Israel during the ASVAB test and still couldn’t hear out of his left ear. He said that he had a knife with him, but didn’t dare pull it in front of those bald-headed Marines.

Darrell Wayne told me that Israel used to come up to the slow kids on the bus, and beat them while hollering “Ring the bell motherfucker! Ring the bell!”

The kids would ball up in the isle with their coats pulled over their heads and shout, “Ding! Ding! Ding!” Then he’d stop. Pull his hat down. That was his joke.

After he disappeared all the stories I heard were crazy. A girl told me he’d moved to Louisville, joined a gang, and was nearly burned to death when some other boys with gas cans caught him sleeping on a couch. Others said he’d found Jesus and moved away to build houses in Mexico. I’d like to believe that, all church kids hope for redemption, but I can’t.

What I picture is that Israel moved to Lexington like the rest of us. No jobs here unless you want to work at the prison or the school. You see the same people eventually. I imagine he has two kids by now, and a wife that can’t stand him but can’t leave him out of fear and need. In my mind they all live in a little house with rusty tricycles out front, and inside, all the walls have holes.

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Michael Wayne Hampton

About Michael Wayne Hampton

Michael Wayne Hampton earned his M.F.A. in Writing at Spalding University. His work has appeared in publications such asMcSweeney’s, The Southeast Review, and 3AM Magazine among many others. His fiction most recently appeared in Atticus Review and decomP, and this year he was nominated for Best American Short Stories. He currently serves as an English faculty member at UC Clermont, and is at work on a number of creative projects. He can be reached through his blog at motelheartache.blogspot.com