CLABE POLK is the author of The Detective Mike Eiser Series and The Adventures of Harry Morgan Series of crime/action novels, as well as The Road to Armageddon. He has also written numerous short stories and flash fiction pieces that occasionally appear in e-magazines and anthologies. He enjoys woodworking when not busy working on his new science fiction series, or adding new books to the Detective Mike Eiser Series.
He brings a deep love of natural sciences and more than thirty-seven years of professional environmental protection and public safety experience to his writing.
He lives near Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, two daughters, and the family’s Cockapoo named Annie.
September 2019 Issue #7 (Theme: Celebration): Rustler Luke, (Won Second Place in RAC’s First Short Story Contest)
Dr. Mark Henderson checked the three-dimensional printer carefully. The scaffolding was in place to support the cells that the printer would soon add. Making the construct vascular to ensure its long-term viability had been a challenge for many research teams worldwide, but a challenge that they had met head-on and overcome with determination, innovation and endless hours of work. Now, they would find out if all of their work had succeeded.
Mark had checked the cell cultures carefully and had inspected the lines moving the undifferentiated living cells to the print head. Soon, the print-head would begin to deliver living cells to the surface of the scaffold, a living framework in itself around which cells would cluster eventually after many passes of the print-head…a model human organ. Then, the miracle; the as yet undifferentiated cells start to heed their genetic imperative and begin to differentiate to take on the functions of the living cells in a normal natural organ. If Mark’s team was successful, that would be a normal, beating human heart.
Hours later, printing completed, differentiation was proceeding as tests confirmed that tissue functions were becoming normal. The vascular structure, too, was evidently successful as well as the synthesized heart not only pumped blood normally but showed signs of robust circulation within itself…unusual at this stage of the technology where internal vascularization was problematic. But in this case, vascularization appeared to be no problem. Fully developed veins and arteries had differentiated and provided full blood flow to the organ. Mark sighed. Not a religious man, he was blown away by the fact that no research team to date had been able to produce perfect internal vascularization for a heart, and yet, his team had been blessed with success. There had to be a reason, he thought, as he turned out the laboratory lights and locked the door.
In the wee hours of the morning, Mark awoke with severe chest pain. Stumbling to the bathroom for a glass of water, he collapsed on the bedroom floor awakening his wife. A call to 911, an emergency ambulance ride to the Emergency Room under the watchful eye of an Advanced Life Support Technician armed with a defibrillator and soon it was confirmed that Mark had had a heart attack. Things looked good for a couple of days, and then another attack…and Mark was in a coma. A new heart was needed, but Mark wasn’t biologically compatible with those available on the registry. Mark’s doctor, Wayne Stephens, had just given his wife the bad news.
“Doctor Stephens,” she said, “Wouldn’t a synthetic heart made from scratch be compatible with his metabolism?”
“I wouldn’t know, Mrs. Henderson, no one has ever made a synthetic heart”
“Mark did…actually, his research team did. It’s beating normally in his laboratory and has been for almost a week.”
“A mechanical heart?”
“No, Doctor, a real flesh and blood heart. It’s what his research team has been working on for years. They have one working…everything you could ever want in a heart…a real breakthrough!”
“Then, his team should publish it, so others can benefit from it. I’m afraid it’s too late for Mark.”
“That’s the point, Doctor Stephens. Mark made his own heart for his own transplant. Oh, he didn’t know what he was doing at the time. If you’d suggested such a thing he would have said you were crazy. But, don’t you see, there have always problems until this heart…this heart works perfectly. Mark was obsessing about why his team was blessed with the breakthrough…some higher power knew he was going to need it!”
“But, I could lose my license implanting an experimental heart!”
“The heart isn’t experimental. It’s been proven for almost a week now. Besides, the heart isn’t experimental, it’s a normal organ. It’s the way it’s made that’s experimental…and you have to admit, Mark has nothing to lose.”
“True. Can the research team transport the heart?”
“I think so, I’ll ask.”
“If they can, and the tests are compatible, I will do it, but only because Mark has no alternatives.”
Twenty-four hours later, Mark awoke with a new heart.
“Hello, Dear…it’s nice to have you back!” she said.
“It’s nice to be back. What happened?” he asked weakly.
“You had a heart transplant.”
“Really, they were able to find one?”
“Yes, indeed…sitting right in your laboratory! I’ve heard of do-it-yourself types, but I don’t know anyone but you who’ll be walking around soon with a do-it-yourself heart! Never question why you do something, or why you were successful when someone else wasn’t successful again! God works in strange and wonderful ways, and you have a strange and wonderful heart to prove it.
Luke, naked as a jay-bird, sloshed through the mud and water hyacinths brandishing a small revolver. Naked as he was, a part of his anatomy dragged along the water’s surface shining iridescent white in the bright moonlight…resembling a frog’s belly…the favorite dinner of a cottonmouth lurking in the water hyacinths. As Luke raised his arms to steady his aim at the cow, the moonlit lure wiggled enticingly and the cottonmouth struck!
Luke’s shot smacked a cypress tree across the bayou. Then, a lot of things happened at once. First, moonlight glinted on the barrel of old man Mahoney’s scatter gun as he rounded a cypress tree. Two, I screamed, “Luke, look out!”. Three, Roscoe and I lit out for high ground. Four, Jonnie’s dog, Demon, leaped into the water and ripped a chunk from Luke’s naked butt. Five, Coon jumped on Demon and a dog fight ensued. Six, Roscoe tripped over a cypress-knee and dislocated his shoulder. Have you ever heard a panther scream? Roscoe did them all in! Seven, when Roscoe screamed, Mahoney tripped backward over a cypress-knee discharging both barrels of his scattergun into the tree tops. Eight, the shotgun discharge scared both Demon and Coon who ran for their lives.
Then, the gator nailed the moccasin. Its mouth opened biting down on the snake; and biting down on plaited leather bull-whip too. Jonnie had snapped her bullwhip around the gator’s upper jaw from the shore. Dragging Jonnie underwater, she made it onto the gator’s back and then wrapped the rest of the whip around its jaws pulling back slightly and slipping her razor-sharp knife hilt deep into its throat.
Then Luke screamed.
We laid Luke on the truck threatening to tie him if he moved. Swollen and in pain, he moaned and whimpered through the jolting drive. At Mahoney’s farmstead, I frantically peeled sour oranges while Jonnie simmered the peel and made a poultice. She bathed Luke’s wound in the orange elixir, bandaging the poultice over the wound with clean linen. The next day, I picked more sour and bitter-sweet oranges from the feral orange trees growing among the oak thickets of their homestead. The poultices worked like healing magic.
Mahoney and I skinned the gator preserving the hide. He sold it in Tampa for enough to pay for Luke and Jonnie’s wedding.
“Yes, they had two boys. One died in Korea, the other returned a hero.
“Wow! Snake bit and still fathered two sons!”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Jonnie nicknamed Luke “Woodpecker”. I never asked why.”