Rapture Practice

Original price was: $12.00.Current price is: $10.00.

Stories by

Sam Howie

Poetry book, 132 pages, cover price $12

($10 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)

ISBN: 978-1-59948-194-4

Release date: 2009

Sam Howie has published fiction and nonfiction in such periodicals as Shenandoah, The Writer’s Chronicle, Fiction International, Potomac Review, and Southern Humanities Review. His work has been anthologized by the Hub City Writers Project and Main Street Rag. Sam received his MFA in 2002 from Vermont College. He lives with his wife and son in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he teaches at Converse College. Rapture Practice is his first book.

In the opening story of Sam Howie’s splendid debut collection, a man falls into a well that he comes to see as a metaphor for his own life, “a well,” he realizes, “of my own making.” The characters in the nine stories that follow are likewise trapped in wells of their own making, and Howie traces their attempts to climb out of the darkness into the light. Like the boys in “Rapture Practice,” who jump as high as they can in preparation “for the day they will be raised Up Yonder,” they seek to rise above their own lives. With compassion and wisdom, Howie traces their comical and heartbreaking attempts to achieve various secular kinds of rapture. This is a compelling, beautifully written book. It is a well you will fall into, and rise from, enraptured.

–David Jauss

Rapture Practice

It’s well past midnight when Davis tramps down the hall of the Boys’ Home where I pull twelve-hour nightshifts, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Davis is a small ten-year-old, a notorious liar who concocts his tales because he’s starved for attention. His mother is in prison and his dad is God only knows where. For all practical purposes, he’s an orphan. He’s barefooted and dressed in brown flannel pajamas as he enters the counselors’ office this night and says he’s seen a face at his window.

“He had red eyes like lights and he was ten feet tall.” Davis stands on his toes and holds his hands up as high as he can, as if he can demonstrate the reality of ten feet by stretching his whole wiry body hard enough.

“Sure, Davis. Go on back to bed.”

“I seen him, Will! I seen him!”

I put my finger over my lips to keep him from waking the other boys. “Okay,” I whisper. I pick up the long-handled flashlight. “I’ll go out and take a look.”

It’s February and the cold wind outside haunts the desolate acres of the campus. When the wind stalls, the silence is so pure I think I can fill the entire countryside with a shout.

But instead of yelling, I merely circle the dorm, conscious of my breathing by the sound and the foggy puffs coming from my mouth. I hear something rustle in the brush on the edge of the woods in the back of the dorm. I round the corner just in time to see a white tail bounce into the woods and disappear.

Back inside, Davis is waiting by the door to the counselors’ office.

“It was just a deer, Davis. Probably Bambi looking in on you to see that you’re okay.”

“Must be a mighty big deer then.”

“A ten-footer if ever I’ve seen one.”

“I ain’t never seen a deer with red eyes before.”

“They’re rare in these parts, but you see them from time to time.”

“Oh,” he says. His fear disappears once his hunger for attention is sated. Minutes later he’s back in his bed and before long, he’s snoring.

The next night I’m in the living room of the Boys’ Home helping Davis with his homework. He’s a bright boy who, by making good grades, has earned the privilege of attending the regular public school off-campus rather than the on-campus school. In some ways, Davis reminds me of my big brother Jess when he was younger. Jess had the same natural intellectual curiosity, the same determined learning style. Once he and I camped out in the backyard. I wanted to tell ghost stories and go all over the yard talking on walkie-talkies, but Jess wanted to spend most of the night identifying stars with the help of an astronomy book he’d gotten from the library. Davis has the same drive for knowledge during the waking hours. It’s only after he’s in bed that he becomes obsessed with monsters.

I’m helping Davis learn about sound waves. I remember when Jess helped me learn about them, playing notes of different pitch on his guitar and then explaining how the frequency of the wave determines the pitch. I draw waves of different frequency in Davis’s notebook, then hit some keys on the old, out-of-tune upright piano in the corner. He grasps it so quickly, complaining that it’s too easy, that I’m tempted to move on to timbre.

Most of the other boys are in the back of the dorm, where all of the eighteen bedrooms, as well as the counselors’ office and the TV room, are situated on the big long hallway.

I hear Evan, a quiet boy of thirteen, say from the back hall, “I seen a man outside last night.”

“That was just a deer,” Davis hollers back to them. “Will went out and saw it close up.”

“No, it was a man. I seen him real good,” Evan yells back. “He was just outside my window. At first I almost screamed cause he scared me. Then he smiled at me. He didn’t look scary. He looked nice. He stood there smiling a minute and then he walked off into the woods.”

The other boys laugh. “Yeah, right,” one of them says.

I’m not at all surprised when some of them come up to the living room. I hear their bare feet patter down the front hall past the shower room and the kitchen and then they come around the corner. Others follow, and soon we have a group of fourteen boys and myself, and now it seems that just about everybody saw something the night before.

“I think it was the devil,” says Paul, “so I grabbed my Bible and slept with it on my chest.”

“I think Lyle Cromer might be walking around out there at night,” Terrence says.

The smaller and newer boys shudder. They’ve only heard of Lyle Cromer, whose reputation as the meanest boy ever to reside at the Boys’ Home has survived even though only a few of these boys were here when Lyle was. A recent item on the six o’clock news, which the boys are required to watch, identified Lyle as wanted for armed robbery and assault with intent to kill. The anchor warned that he’s considered “armed and very dangerous.” I only knew Lyle for about three months, but we had our share of run-ins. It’s no surprise to any of the staff that he’s now a wanted man.

We hear a rattling on the porch. The boys freeze.

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