The Protuberance

📅 Published on June 23, 2021

“The Protuberance”

Written by Geoff Sturtevant
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.50/10. From 2 votes.
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At one point in time, it was said Putt Putt Mini-Golf and Used Cars was among the top hotspots in Splittail. At some point in time, Sheriff Ron Ball figured, each of us gets a chance to be our very best. Now, however, seemed uniquely sub-par across the board. Mini-golf, and otherwise.

There were eighteen holes at Putt Putt before the owner lost his leg in a diabetes accident. Too proud to hire help, he downsized the course to just twelve holes. By the time he lost the second leg though, even twelve were too much to maintain. Twelve became six, requiring the golfers to play through three times for a full game. One gangrenous arm later and six holes became three. Now limbless entirely, only one hole remained.

Sheriff Ron Ball had no idea how he kept the one hole looking so nice, reduced to a torso as he’d become. He had a sneaking suspicion, though, that the man came out after closing and licked it all down like a cat.

It was the hardest hole in the course that survived the great culling; practically a metaphor for the owner himself. Humbled as the Putt Putt was, the sole hole was in its glory days (on account of every player had to play it eighteen times in a row). And Ken, the limbless proprietor who licked the bird shit off of it every night—well, you can say what you want about the man, but that solitary flagstick still stood tall. He couldn’t make exactly the same claim about himself, but nevertheless, the story was one of survival. And with things going the way they were, surviving was about all anyone could do.

Ball stood at the tee and sighted down the green toward the cow with the rotating udders. Not only must the athlete aim the ball between the front and rear legs, but with precisely the right timing. And with his elbows perfectly straight, and his ice cream cone held between his kneecaps for safekeeping, Sheriff Ball putted it right down the middle. Deflected by a nipple, it rolled back to the tees and stopped right between his feet, almost exactly where it’d been to start with.

“Sun got in my eyes, Deputy. I’m gonna have to take a mulligan.”

Dingle examined the clouds. “It ain’t even sunny, Sheriff. Might rain, by the look of it.”

“Well, maybe the clouds got in my eyes then. Let’s call it a do-over. Extenuating circumstances.”

Dingle huffed, turned over his pencil and rubbed at the scorecard. In a tizzy as he was, he accidentally kicked his own ball and rolled it off of the tee. He and Ball looked down at it, then met eyes.

“That’s a stroke, Dingle.”

“What? I only bumped it by accident, Sheriff, it ain’t even my turn yet!”

“That’s a stroke, Deputy. And an extra stroke for being a poor sport about it.”

“Well, that ain’t the rules! I never heard that one wrote down anywhere!”

“Why, sure it is, Deputy. In fact, if you look real close—I mean if you really squint your eyes and have a real good lookie, you can read that rule right here…” Ball tapped the star-shaped badge pinned over his heart. The one that indicated his authority in all matters, moral and otherwise.

“Well damn,” Dingle said. “Undignified again.”

Ball licked his ice cream cone and centered his golf ball back on the tee. Just then, his radio blared:

Unit One? Come in, Unit One.

Ball keyed the radio. “What is it, Frankie?”

We’ve got a 314, sir. A 314 at Splittail Osteopathy.

“A 314?” Dingle asked.

“Indecent exposure,” Ball said.

“Well good heavens. That’s not decent at all.”

“Even less so when I’m having a perfectly decent day beatin’ your pants off at golf, Deputy.”

“The hell you are, Sheriff!”

Ball keyed up: “Now Frankie, you sure someone’s really doin’ a 314? Who’d wanna do something indecent like that on such a nice, extra-bright, sunny day?”

“It’s not so damn sunny, Sheriff!”

That’s all I’ve got, Unit One. A 314, sir. The gal who called says the suspect is still on-scene, sir.

Ball leaned on his putter and just stood there a moment. Finally, he shook his head. “Ten-four Frankie. The Deputy and I are on our way.”

Copy that, Unit One.

Ball sighed. He regarded his ice cream cone as if it had somehow disappointed him. “What hole we on, Deputy?”

“Number eleven, Sheriff. And it ain’t so damn sunny.”

“Don’t let me catch you messing with the scorecard, Deputy.”

Ball returned his ice cream cone between his knees and lined up a parting putt. Just as he pulled the putter back, though, the ice cream fell off of the cone and landed between his feet.

“Well, goddamn,” he said.

* * * * * *

The sheriff and deputy pulled up in front of Splittail Osteopathy minutes later. Past the dreamcatchers and Native American doodads hanging in the window, it was clear something unusual was going on inside. Aside from the typically unusual things going on in there, Ball figured. Earthy massages and summoning of orthopedic spirits.

Ball pushed open the door, the deputy on his heels. An essential oil diffuser sat simmering bacon grease on the front counter and the air was thick with it. A dry erase board offered the rates in girly calligraphy: $30/half-hour, $59 for a full hour. The esoteric services provided therein, a law-abiding colonizer could only guess at.

More plainly, though, was the frenzied kerfuffle taking place just around the corner: a robed enchantress swinging haymakers at a half-naked, cowering man. If it wasn’t some manner of Cherokee bodywork, it was an old-fashioned country massage if Ball had ever seen one. Either way, hardly a bargain at fifty-nine-an-hour.

“Dirty sonofabitch! That’ll teach ye!” The voice was familiar.

“Miss Clarissa,” Dingle said. He promptly took off his hat and held it to his chest. “I had no idea you were an osteopacist.”

The woman stopped swinging and turned to face them. Her faced softened for a moment, but quickly turned hard again. The man sat curled in the corner with his eyes like ping pong balls. A mouse was already developing under one of them.

“I was gettin’ ready to put some hot rocks on this fella’s back when he goes ahead and turns over, and he’s got a boner!”

“A boner, you say?” asked Ball.

“That’s right. And before you go asking, Mr. Sheriff, I know a damn boner when I see it! And that’s sure as hell what it was!” She wiped her fists on her clothes as though she’d soiled them.

Dingle gasped. “Good God! That’s about as indecent an act as I ever heard, Miss Clarissa.”

“Goddamn tell me about it! Son of a bitch tried to steal my innocence!”

Clarissa shot the man an ugly look and stepped closer to Ball and Dingle. She had on a kind of Native American tunic and headdress. Ball gave her a good once over.

“Say, ain’t that cultural appropriation, Miss Clarissa?”

She grinned. “Naw, it’s that new Burtney Spears perfume. You like it?”

“Well goddamn,” Ball said. “All I smell is bacon.”

“I sure do,” Dingle put in. “You smell exactly like Burtney Spears, Miss Clarissa. I only wish I coulda smelled ya under more positive circumstances.”

“Thank you, Mr. Deputy. Maybe you can give some gentleman lessons to Mr. Boner Pants over here… Unless you wanna just shoot him?”

Ball turned his attention to the supposed perp. The man appeared to clutch his pearls, only without any particular pearls to clutch. All he had on was a towel, which he held tightly around his waist. “It was an accident, officer! I swear!”

“Accident my ass!” Clarissa cocked a hand as though to swing at him again. The man flinched, though he was well out of range. ”Let him have it, Mr. Deputy! You know where to shoot him!”

“Now hold on a minute,” Ball said. “Why don’t we have a listen to what Mr. Boner Pants has to say for himself before we start fillin’ him fulla lead.”

“Oh, God,” the man said. “It was nothing like that, Mr. Officer! I’m an innocent man!”

“It was pointin’ right at me!” Clarissa said. She seized a bundle of incense sticks and made as though to throw them at the man.

Ball lifted a hand. “Now, now,” he said. “Let’s just slow things down a minute. There’s a reason they call it law and order. That’s ‘cause there’s a certain order you gotta do things in. So first, let’s let the fella explain himself.” Ball turned his boots to face the mysterious man in the corner. “Mister? Did you do what Miss Clarissa says you did?”

“No sir!” the man said. “Well…not like she said. Not on purpose. The uh…you see…the wind hit it.”

“The wind hit it…”

“The breeze, Officer. There was a…a breeze of some sort. It was terribly breezy in here…”

“Ain’t ya heard enough, Mr. Sheriff? With the three of us diggin’, we can bury his ass before his hour’s supposed to be up. I got my own shovel.”

“Oh God, no! Please! It wasn’t my fault! It was the wind, I swear!”

Ball raised a hand indicating Clarissa and everyone else just hold their horses a second. He licked a finger and held it up in the air. He pivoted to the left, then the right. Air as still as the Catalina foothills. Home of the Yaqui Indians.

Ball wrinkled his mustache. “Now I’m no meteorologist, Mr. Boner Pants, but if I were, I might describe the climate in here as exceptionally un-windy.”

”The vent, Officer… Right over there. That had to be it. It was just very unexpected. It just became very breezy in here, and it…it stimulated me, I suppose. It was purely reflexive, that’s all. I meant nothing by it.”

Ball walked a little ways, then stopped below a ceiling vent dangling a small dreamcatcher in the airflow. He held his finger under the register.

“Well how about that. Could this be the wind you were talking about, Mr. Boner Pants?”

“It’s Schwartz,” the man said, getting back to his feet. “And yes, that must be it. It’s just awfully windy in here with my trousers off. No offense intended.”

“My ass!” Clarissa said.

Ball scrutinized the angle of the air vent’s dampers. He eyed the massage table, calculating the air’s probable trajectory, like a little golf ball on its way to the hole. It’d be a hell of a putt to make. But impossible? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Nah.

Ball turned to face them. The man, still standing in the corner, Clarissa clenching and unclenching her fists, and Dingle, watching Clarissa with his hat clutched to his chest. ”Well, I’ve done a little science about it, and there is a little air coming’ outta this vent. So what do you suppose we do, Deputy? Put up a little crime scene tape over this lascivious air vent and call it a day?”

“Well that sounds reasonable,” Dingle said.

“Oh no you don’t!” Clarissa snapped. “I can’t believe you two! Deputy, you ever get a boner from just a little air blowin’ on it?”

Clarissa and Dingle both looked down at his crotch as if the answer were clearly written there.

“Well, I don’t know about that, ma’am.”

“So you wanna shoot him right now, or have him dig his own hole first and shoot him into it?”

“Oh God, don’t kill me!”

“Well hold on just another minute, Miss Clarissa,” Ball said. “I understand you’re upset about what happened, but what if Mr. Schwartz here is telling the truth? Could be he’s got some kind of medical condition. Maybe got a real sensitive…mechanism. Ain’t that right, Dingle?”

Clarissa stomped her foot. “If any of that was the case, he wouldn’t have had all sorts of rubber bands wrapped around it!”

A long pause. Schwartz averted his eyes.

“Ahem… Mr. Schwartz? Did I hear that correctly? That you’ve got rubber bands around it?”

“I don’t know what she’s talking about. This is crazy talk.”

“Well have a look yourself, Mr. Sheriff! It’s right there under that towel if ya don’t believe me!”

Every eye in the room was suddenly on Schwartz’s towel. “Deputy, go check Schwartz’s wiener for rubber bands.”

“What? That’s undignified, Sheriff!”

Schwartz’s fist tightened around his towel. “Eh, no you don’t!” he said. “You can’t strip search me without probable cause of a crime. I happen to know a thing or two about the law.”

“It’s pretty goddamn probable!” Clarissa said. “I seen it with my own two eyes!”

“Now Mr. Schwartz,” Ball said. “I’m always willing to give a man the benefit of the doubt. But here I am tryin’ to defend what you claim to be a little incident, and here she is sayin’ something I can barely believe with my own ears.”

“It’s a lie, Mr. Officer. I don’t even own a rubber band! Besides, I’m very sensitive to latex!”

“He’s fulla shit, Sheriff! Now gimme back that goddamn towel!”

Clarissa made to charge the man, but instinctively, Ball grabbed her arm. “Now hold on, Miss Clarissa. See, the thing with law and order is, many things can be true at once. Mr. Boner Pants happens to be correct that we can’t rightfully strip search him without his consent…”

“It’s Schwartz,” Mr. Boner Pants said.

“…and it’s also correct that if what you say is true, it somewhat invalidates the incidental nature of Schwartz’s supposed boner. Ain’t that right, Deputy?”

“I’d call it a plain indignity, Sheriff. Perpetrated on not only a beautiful and chaste young lady, but on one’s own body and wiener.”

“Well put, Deputy.”

“Well dammit with the order! How about you just law the fucker? Gimme yer gun, Deputy, I’ll do it. You got .38’s or magnums in that thing?”

Clarissa tried pulling away from Ball. Likewise did the prospect of a trouble-free afternoon. And what good was this kind of order when it did little to assist the law? But with a sudden glance at the dreamcatcher wobbling gently on its string, Ball found himself inclined to a different tact. Perhaps the path forward in this instance lay not in your typical law and order, but in a greater order.

“Now wait one minute, Miss Clarissa. Before we go ahead and do something that’s gonna take all afternoon here, let’s really think about just how osteopathic it would be to shoot Mr. Boner Pants.” Gently, he let her arm go. “See, Miss Clarissa, it’s like Luther Standing Bear said: The Great Spirit flows through all things – flowers of the plains, the howling winds, rocks, trees, birds, tomaters – the same force that breathes through all men. The same force breathing right through that very air vent. Thus, all things are kindred, and Mr. Schwartz’s untimely protuberance was no more or less than a part of the Great Mystery. Wakan Tanka.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment. Ball steepled his fingers with chieftain solemnity and repeated: “Wakan Tanka. The Great Spirit be with us all.”

“Y…yes, Wakan Tanka,” Schwartz agreed.

Clarissa sighed. “Well shit on a toadstool,” she said. ”Maybe I did overreact just a little.”

Dingle regarded Ball with great reverence. It was like the Great Spirit had channeled directly through him. “Well said, Sheriff. Wakan Tanka indeed.”

“See that?” Ball said. “Because same as the sun rises in the east. Same as the north winds blow. Same as the bears do their business in the woods. The Great Spirit is both the reason and the answer for all things. And if you study it real close – I mean if you squint real hard and have a real good lookie-loo, you can see it embroidered right on the fabric of the universe itself. Sometimes the sun gets in your eyes, sometimes the breeze hits your peter. And what binds us all; what we all have in common, is we all need a second chance from time to time. A mulligan, if you like that better. Now ain’t that right, Deputy? Ain’t that just as right as right can get?”

Dingle’s reverie seemed suddenly shattered. “Wait, a mulligan? Oh, hold on Sheriff, this is undignified!”

“Now waddya mean, Deputy? You’re supposed to be part Cherokee, aint ya? By the way you’re acting, it doesn’t seem that way to me…”

“That’s got nothing to do with golf, Sheriff! It’s no more sunny out there than it’s windy in here!”

“Dingle, I’m surprised at you. And you can add another stroke for cussing in front of a lady.”

“Now what the hell are you all arguing about?” Clarissa said. “He’s the one been stroking in front of a lady!”

The atmosphere was suddenly less holistic than it had been moments earlier. Schwartz had inched along the wall to stand behind the sheriff and deputy. “Look… Why don’t I just, uh… I’ll take my refund and get outta here. Like nothing ever happened.”

“Refund? My ass, Boner-pants! You violated my terms of service!”

“I was never informed of any terms of service. I’m perfectly entitled to a refund. Isn’t that right, Mr. Officer? And if you refuse to provide me a refund, whether they were violated or not will be decided by a jury of your peers!”

“A jury of queers? Sayin’ you wanna sue me?”

“Well hold on just a minute now,” Ball said. “I thought we were being holistic with all this.”

“Not to mention a case against the police department for showing up so late! Can’t you see I’ve been injured? And what kind of crummy inspector approved the ventilation system here? I’ll sue him too! I’ve incurred damages all over the place!”

An alien kind of dread seemed to fill the room; nearly as strong as the simmering bacon fat. Images of Ball reading statements in court, having combed his hair and wearing a rented suit. Strange people saying strange things all around him; speaking the esoteric language of law, full of nuance and slippery suggestions. To spend even one afternoon, miss as much as one hole of mini-golf entertaining such an infamy. There was nothing holistic about that. Not just one little bit.

Ball turned to face Schwartz. “Well you hold on right there,” he said. “You just hold on right goddamn there, Mr. Boner Pants, or Mr. Schwartz, or whatever you wanna call yourself. The deputy and I risked life and limb to get here as fast as we did, and here you are spouting all sorts of legal rigmarole. Now, I’m not sure who you are or where you came from, but I can assure you this: No jury of queers from around here is gonna believe you’re all that osteopathic to begin with. Because there’s nothing spiritual at all about threatening cops with such a violence as participating in the legal system. Now ain’t that right, Deputy?”

A pause. Dingle’s expression was a kind of retarded dissonance. A little tap on Ball’s badge brought him out of it.

“Well, I suppose maybe you are, Sheriff.”

“That’s right. So I strongly suggest you take your mulligan and twenty-three skedaddle before the winds of the Great Spirit stop blowing your way.”

Clarissa was back to clenching and unclenching her fists. Schwartz appeared to consider his options, his lips worming into various shapes. Finally he said: “If you agree to refund my fifty-nine dollars, I’ll consider not pressing any charges. And that’s my final offer!”

Ball cleared his throat. He sauntered back to the vent in the ceiling and reached up and grabbed the little valve lever. He shut it to the off position, and so went the winds. The little dreamcatcher hanging there fell still.

“Well, I have a pretty good feeling our job here is done, Deputy.”

“Well hold on, Officer, first I’ll be needing my—yeeeargh!”

“Terms-of-service-violatin’ son of a bitch!”

The simmering bacon fat hit Schwartz’s face like napalm. His hands went to his face and the towel dropped to the floor. He turned and crouched over. Clarissa started pelting him with the hot rocks. One hit him square in the nuts.

“My balls!”

“Here’s your refund, boner pants! And here’s some store credit!”

The next rock careened off his skull. The way the rocks came after that, it was pretty clear nature was taking its course. Because if Ball had learned anything in his decades of law enforcement, it was this: Everything that ever happened was gonna happen anyway. If there was any one constant in the tumult of earthly possibilities, it was this: Whatever Ball did, things just went on happening—as natural as the rise and set of the sun. As High Sheriff of Splittail, it was Ball’s commission to shepherd the unenlightened down those less-rocky paths. To appeal to those less morally qualified or clouded with irrationalities or emotions. But to intervene in the order the Great Spirit himself had set in motion?

Not a chance in hell. The best you could do is pretend for a while.

“Let’s get back to that game Deputy. I believe Clarissa said she’s got her own shovel.”

* * * * * *

Back at the Putt Putt, the ice cream stain by the tee was gone. Subsumed by the vermin of the Earth. Or perhaps the limbless proprietor had wormed his way out onto the turf and licked it clean while they were away. There was no way to know without seeing it himself, Ball knew. And he was perfectly happy with that.

Because whatever course the wind takes; the spirit that breathes through all things; who but Wakan Tanka should be privy to such mysteries? Without wonder, who are mankind but the flowers of the plains, the howling winds, the rocks, the trees, the birds, the tomaters? Maybe the search for answers isn’t about finding answers at all. Maybe it’s only about the search. The journey of being human. At the very least, something to keep you busy so you stay out of strange massage parlors.

Much like policework, Ball decided.

“No worries, Frankie. Just a little misunderstanding is all.”

Another misunderstanding, Sheriff?

“I tell ya, Frankie… Some things just defy understanding.”

…Copy that, Unit One.

“Say, Sheriff… Do you think Miss Clarissa is single?”

Ball eyed Dingle and pushed his sunglasses up on his forehead. “Are you asking me what I think you’re asking, Dingle? Because I believe that gal’d beat you like a garage sale couch.”

“Why do you say that, Sheriff?”

Ball considered making his case, but stopped himself. Who was he to get in the way of what was natural? When things come down to it; when the rubber meets the road; when the bear shits in the woods; when the sun gets in your eyes, or the kindred wind of the Great Spirit hits your wiener; there’s just one fact you can’t get away from. Sometimes a man needs to make his own decisions. Whether they’re good or bad hardly matters, because you were gonna make the same decision anyway. Just ask the fella buried in the gravel behind Splittail Osteopathy. If it weren’t the truth, he might’ve been able to answer you.

“Suit yourself,” Ball said. “‘Cause I’m about to beat you even worse.”

“The hell you are, Sheriff!”

Ball lined up his putt and let ‘er go, straight down the middle. But a breeze must’ve hit the rotating udders, because the ball hit a nipple and rolled right back to the tee.

“Well, goddamn,” Ball said.

Rating: 9.50/10. From 2 votes.
Please wait...

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Geoff Sturtevant
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Geoff Sturtevant

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Check out Geoff Sturtevant’s critically-acclaimed collection of short stories, Occupational Hazards: The Blue-Collar Omnibusnow available on Occupational Hazards is an omnibus of acclaimed novelettes from the “Return to the Dirt” and “Just Speculating” collections, and new, exclusive stories only available in this book. The stories exemplify the unsavory side of our everyday existence. Existentialism, absurdism, and outlandish humor merge with ordinary, workaday life for a unique and hilarious perspective of the human experience. Occupational Hazards is an unflinching ride through the absurdity of it all. Not recommended for the faint of heart or easily offended. But if meaty stories are what you’re after… I hope you’re hungry.

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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