Stuart Watson wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. For fun and low pay, he and his wife later owned two restaurants. His writing is in more than thirty publications, including Yolk, Barzakh, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Mystery Tribune, Bending Genres, Flash Boulevard, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Sledgehammer Lit, Five South, The Writing Disorder, Grey Sparrow Journal, Reckon Review and Pulp Modern Flash. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.


by Stuart Watson


Booger usually joined us for lunch, but he hadn’t showed. Goof and Larry and ‘Sup and I were sprawled across a stack of plywood, eating our sandwiches, when we heard the scream.

We ran toward the noise. Somebody lay on the floor. Blood was everywhere, splattered all over the millhouse wall. I couldn’t believe all that blood could come from a single human being.

But it did. It was Booger. He had got his arm caught in the planer. His screams echoed around the bare, concrete walls and made my own blood run cold.

They stopped the mill, got his arm out, but it was hanging by a thread. His shirt, actually. When they took him away in an ambulance, I stood in the front, watching the vehicle become smaller as it traveled away with the maimed man inside.


Booger spent a week in the hospital, then came back to work with a big wad of padding and tape where his arm had been.

“You look just like one of those poor guys back from the Western Civil War,” Goof said.

Booger actually smiled. I thought it was strange, until I put a few things together. He looked like a war casualty, but his injury bought him a deferral from real combat. The war was on everybody’s minds. I didn’t want to go. It seemed senseless, farmers from Kansas shooting at cowboys from Nevada. The Eastern United States kept trying to pass bills in Congress for peace agreements, but the West had already seceded, so the East had no power to govern outside its own territory. The West had its own Congress now.

The West was fighting within itself, the Midwest against the Far West. At first they had been united, but now they wanted to secede from each other. And the South, one of the parties to the original Civil War, had been the first to secede from the United States.

The Rocky Mountains was the dividing line in this new Civil War. The politics was as messed-up as Booger.

Because Booger couldn’t do the same job, the company had him stamp the company logo on plywood. All he had to do was refill the ink reservoir.

“What did they do with the arm?” ‘Sup asked Booger.

We all looked at ‘Sup like he was nuts. Then we all looked at Booger for his answer.

“Took it home,” he said.

“You can do that?” Larry asked, the amazement mixed with horror showing on his face.

“Shit yeah,” Booger said. “It’s my arm. Why would I leave it with them?”

A few seconds passed.

“Where is it now?” Goof asked.

“My freezer.”

“With your deer meat?” Larry asked.

“Yep. Until I can bury it somewhere.”

“Bury it?” Goof said. “Like in a grave? Isn’t that kind of weird?”

“It’s mine and it’s dead. You bury the dead,” Booger said.

Later, back at the Royal Arms, as we ate burgers on the deck with our ladies, it was all we talked about.

My sweet Cyrees said burying your arm was like having a cemetery where you could visit yourself. “Every few years, chop off another part and bury it there, and by the time you’re ready to die, you don’t have to worry about a casket or nothing,” she said. “You’re already in the ground.”

I started to chuckle, until I realized nobody else was joining in. My party killer Cyrees. In short order, the others drifted off to their apartments, upstairs or down.

I couldn’t make love to Cyrees that night. I was thinking about Booger’s arm. A few nights later, I still couldn’t sleep. I got up at three in the morning, grabbed a beer, and went out on the deck.

The moon was full, behind broken rain clouds over the hospital. The mill kicked up plumes of steam. Off to the right, toward the woods, I saw a shadow moving from around the backside of the Arms. It was where Booger and Sal lived.

I put on my shoes and followed the figure into the woods. He wore a small backpack. He stopped beneath a big old California oak we used to play army in. It was Booger, all right. In his only good hand, he had a small shovel. He tried to dig, but it wasn’t going too well.

“Can I help?” I said.

He jumped. “It’s Will,” I said, stepping closer. “Sorry I scared you.”

He handed me the shovel and I finished the hole. He reached into his pack and extracted a plastic bag with his arm in it. He lay the bag down in the hole among the roots of the tree. I covered it.

I punched his shoulder with affection, the guy thing, as we walked back to our apartments.

“It wasn’t an accident,” he said, stopping me in my tracks.

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing, but the message was clear. What do you say when somebody tells you they cut their own arm off?


The next day at work, I told the story to Goof and Larry and ‘Sup.

“Wow,” ‘Sup said. “His own arm?”

“Did he say why?” Goof asked.

I shook my head, but I knew he had gotten a draft notice. We all saw it coming. Latest word was, the Kansas boys had pushed close to Winnemucca, where the fighting stalled. And everyone in the West was being called to action.

Our town held a parade for the local guys who got sent home, hurt too bad to keep fighting, or hurt too much to never hurt again. The guys and me and the wives took folding chairs, fired up small BBQ grills on the sidewalk and roasted brats—like it was some crazy-ass tailgate party.

Most of the injured troops rode in cars. One guy, Floyd Fisher, used his crutches to walk down Main Street. Two legs when he left. One leg now.

“Wouldn’t want to be like that,” Goof said. “Especially for such a senseless and useless war as this one.”

We watched a flatbed truck roll by, four caskets draped in flags on the back.

“Better to have only one leg than be in a casket in that flatbed,” ‘Sup said.

It made me think of Booger.

Even after we went home, we didn’t say much, but we were all thinking the same thing: People with disabilities got deferrals. Booger got a deferral.

The message had clearly sunk in: Better to lose a limb than a life.

Larry got it. Stuck his hand in a bandsaw. He watched his hand fly into the sawdust beneath the blade, and the blood that chased it.

After they put a tourniquet on his wrist and wrapped his stump in a shirt and took him to the hospital, Goof retrieved Larry’s hand, put it in a plastic bag, and put that in the bottom of his beer cooler. Doctors told Larry they could try to reattach it. He told them no.

“It’s only my left,” he said.

Goof gave Larry the cooler. “You’ll want this.”

Goof came next. He made like he slipped and slid his leg under a pallet of shakes as the lift driver was setting them down. His leg fractured like glass. The doctors said they couldn’t save it. He asked if they could put it in a bag for him, like he was at the grocery checkout line.

‘Sup told us he was thinking about doing a foot.

“They can fit a fake foot on me, and I can pretty much do what I do now,” he told us at lunch.

“Which is pretty much nuthin’,” I said.

“You got it,” he said.

He told the docs he had been walking across the trestle when a train snuck up on him and cut his foot off. Plunk, right in Crabtree Creek.

That was what he told the police. But to us, he told the truth: he did it himself, with an ax, chopping wood, so he could clinch a belt tourniquet around his ankle and slip the foot in his cooler before calling his wife.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to sacrifice. I never asked the boys why they made the choices they did. At one level, we were united. In the end, we had to make our own decisions. For several nights in a row, I lay there in the dark, listening to Cyrees snoring, trying to figure it out.

Then it came to me.

The next day, I took a two-by-four out onto our deck, set it on our patio table, lined up my power saw and cut off the index finger. On my shooting hand. I tried not to scream, but Cyrees heard me going “Shit shit shit shit shit!”

She came running and cried “Oh, no!” and started dancing around kind of helpless until I suggested she grab a towel. We put my finger in the freezer before she ran me to the hospital.

“A dog ran off with it,” Cyrees told the doctor. “I couldn’t chase it. I had to get this idiot to the hospital.”

So we were set. After we all healed enough to party, I invited the boys over for burgers. We talked about a lot of things before I suggested we all get together under Booger’s tree some night and bury our body parts. They liked the idea.

We invited Booger and Sal, and had a nice service, each of us digging—or getting help digging—our own holes. After we had finished covering up our parts, Cyrees sprinkled a bucket of oak leaves over the disturbed ground before we all walked back to the Arms.

Less than a year later, the war ended. The boys from Kansas just quit. Figured they were killing their customers. Went home for harvest. None of us had to serve, thanks to the deferrals from our injuries.

I’m not the sentimental type, but on the one-year anniversary of our burial service, I suggested we visit the tree. Pay our respects to our parts. 

Goof’s wife, Biddy, helped him through the brush with his crutches. ‘Sup had his fake foot, and it was working well enough. He and Larry and I all held beers—Larry in his good hand—as we emerged from the bushes to stand before our tree.

We just stared. Nobody said a thing, but I knew we were all thinking it.

Up among the gnarled bark of the woody branches and leaves, the tree had grown several new limbs.

One that looked like Booger’s arm.

One like Goof’s leg.

One like Larry’s hand.

One like ‘Sup’s foot.

And, almost pointing at the four of us, one that looked just like my missing trigger finger.

That wasn’t all. I didn’t know about the others, but I could clearly hear what sounded to me like the beating of a tiny heart. The sound was coming from the center of the oak’s hard and aged torso. It was the sound inside us all, our hearts still beating despite our self-inflicted injuries.

I wondered if the others heard it. I waited for someone else to mention it. No one did. One by one, we turned from the tree and walked silently back to our homes.