In April, Black Lawrence Press will release R. Cathey Daniels’s debut novel, Live Caught. Joshua Mohr said of the book, “Daniels’ language in this book is both mesmerizing and terrifying, a master class in extracting every drop of drama. Its unique alchemy has ingredients from A Clockwork Orange and Huckleberry Finn—and whatever that oddball combo makes you imagine, this book is better.” Please enjoy the excerpt below.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Live Caught
He’d been lucky.
Lucky to escape.
Lucky to make it through that first night, to see morning light stalk the misty river bank. Lucky to find safe enough coveys, hide the skiff, sleep the days, paddle the nights until he hit Lake Norman. He’d made it halfway to the Atlantic, by god.
Paddling into Lake Norman, Lenny had lifted his oars, let the skiff glide through a deep pool, and scanned the dusk for a place to rest. His stump strap was holding. Both upper arms were quaking, but they were equally quaking. At least there was that. One shoulder, really, just as good as the other.
That was the thought he’d hung onto as he turned the skiff toward shore.
His stump and his arm, one just as good as the other.
A deep silence settles over the pilings, except for the gentle lapping of water.
He goddamn dreamed up the green-eyed geezer. Dreamed up another rescue. Number three of the morning, a morning full of boats spouting wakes that ran up his chest, big boats hemorrhaging water up and over his head. The mud swirling, water flooding up his nose, stopping up his ears, sheer choking terror, submerged panic that the dock pilings would shift, hold him under forever.
You couldn’t just find your thought hole and dive into it. You had to stay alert. You had to tell yourself, mental yourself into believing, it’s not the ocean, it’s not a goddamn rising tide. No. He can figure the timing, hold his breath between waves of terror, ignore the mud building up under his head, tell himself he’s not wearing out, no he’s not wearing out, not choking, not gagging, he can shake caked muck from his nose, his eyes, his mouth. Make a game of it. Estimate how many more wakes it will take for the backwash from the bank to start sliding over his hair, over his forehead. Testing, testing whether the numbness in his legs, his arm, his stump, has completed its work.
Shit, would he know when he’s dead?
Lenny pushes hope back down into the muck, like the rest of him, but it just won’t go. It’s too much like drowning your last friend. Or more like your enemy. Even if you could, even if the possibility sits right there at your fingertips, you just won’t do it. Besides, could the old man possibly be a dream? Would Lenny have ever put “taint” and “Jesus” in the same sentence?
But if he’s not dreaming, what a whacked out, unlucky way to die. Even for a kid who’s been hung by the neck, who’s been rolled off a freaking barn roof resulting in half an arm being sawed off. And just as he was starting his first solo and therefore his best adventure.
A long, splintered plank drops into the muck beside Lenny.
“Anything broke-broke down in here?”
The old man’s legs reappear, fishless this time, because wouldn’t you hang your slimy catch right back in the water to keep it fresh? To keep it alive?
The ridge-lined face drops low as the old man again squats below dock. Green dazzle eyes run from Lenny’s head to his toes then back.
“I say, Mister Dead Dick, anything broke?”
Would Lenny call himself “Mr. Dead Dick?”
Lenny gathers his strength, because getting it over with was the one thing that three years without a lower right arm had taught him, you gotta do it early because you just absolutely cannot take people by surprise with a thing like a stump, getting it over with is one of his only defenses against ignorant scorn, so he siphons in a deep breath and slowly, slowly wills his raw stump into a reverse suction out of the muck. The twisted seam of leathery healed up sutures hang in the air between him and the old man.
In Lenny’s experience, people generally head one of two ways when confronted with such an unsightly remnant: hell-bent in the opposite direction, or, and this is what Lenny’s hoping for, head-over-heels determined to help out a one-armed boy.
Seemingly of its own accord, Lenny’s stump drops back into the mud with a loud thwuck.
The old guy rocks back and splats on his butt. Sits there, peers at Lenny like he’s just found him under the dock pilings all over again. Then a raspy giggle escapes the geezer’s throat.
“You,” he says. “You little fucker you.” Abruptly his hands clap twice, then he sucks in a deep breath. “I can see you got a joke or two left, you little pea head.”
Again, the hand clapping. Like his own live punctuation.
“Okay, okay worries be gone, we believe you. We believe you, just fine. But don’t be thinking I’m easy fooled, though, just because you got only half a what you should have, don’t be a thinking that-a-way.”
The old man pulls his sweatshirt off over his head and crawls in closer under the dock to flash the dragonfly eyes at Lenny. Neck hairs sprout sporadically over what appears to be … a clerical collar?
Lenny strains to focus.
Where would an old geezer find a clerical collar? In a Goodwill bin? A church shelter? Jesus, maybe he murdered a priest and stole the clothes right off the holy man’s back.
Lenny tries to call his neurons to order. Just let this homeless, murdering priest-man, or whoever he is, find a way to release him from this aching muscle press, from this nothingness from the waist down. Then, hopefully, his legs will have time enough to wake up and run the rest of his aching body out of here. Surely, he can outrun this scrap of rags.
© Cathey Daniels 2022
R. Cathey Daniels is the author of Live Caught, a novel forthcoming and available for pre-order from Black Lawrence Press. Daniels grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina where she attended Brevard College before graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in education. She taught high school mathematics in East Tennessee prior to becoming an award-winning newspaper reporter for The Oak Ridger, covering education as well as science coming out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She is a 2016 graduate of the Stanford University Novel Writing Program, won first prize in the 2018 Retreat West First Chapter Competition, was a semi-finalist in the 2020 University of New Orleans Press Novel Contest, and was a semi-finalist in the 2021 North Carolina Writers’ Network Doris Betts Fiction Prize. When she isn’t writing, she can be found at Crossfit, in her garden, hiking, or shooting hoops in her backyard. You can visit Daniels at https://www.rcatheydanielsauthor.com/ and find more of her writing at The Marvelous Paragraph Project and at Black Lawrence Press.
Photo by Rachel Garrison Photography