Today we have an excerpt from Madness of the Turtle by S.R. Wilsher! Madness of the Turtle is an intense coming of age story about a boy trying to find himself in a gang of bandits in the jungle. Check out the synopsis:
“Father Gerard Limerick is the psychotic leader of a gang of uneducated and brutal jungle bandits. Needing to escape the Guatemalan army they are heading to join the revolution in Cuba. But it is 1971 and they are ignorant that the fighting has ended and that Ché Guevara died years before.
Whilst recovering on a farm after being shot, Limerick sees a daytime soap and falls in love with the beautiful Magdalena. Convinced the soap characters are real, and already believing he is a Son of God, Limerick claims he has been resurrected in order to save Magdalena from the soap’s evil Senor Gonzales.
Although pursued by the army and still heading for Cuba, they track Magdalena to a jungle film-set where they await the arrival of Senor Gonzales.
The story narrator is Limerick’s son; Seventeen year old Rico who believes he was kidnapped as a child from a gringo family. When they arrive in the film camp Rico becomes convinced that the writer and an actress are the parents he has dreamt about.
But, as the writer gradually reveals the truth of the child’s Robin Hood book that his father uses as a guide, and the fate of Guevara, Rico finally recognises his own self-delusion, and the crazed rationalisation and dangerous ignorance of his father.
Having earlier failed to protect a farmer’s wife and Alegria, a prostitute he loved, Rico grows determined that no harm should come to Magdalena and, as rivalries among the guerrillas surfaces Rico decides where his loyalties lie.
As the army catches up with them and Father Gerard flees taking Magdalena, it is left to Rico to confront his unhinged father to save her.”
Excerpt from Madness of the Turtle:
I found Miguel Poptun sitting on a low step at the end of a row of houses that headed down the hill away from the main street. He looked like a man whose favourite dog had died. He looked round as I sat down beside him, but it was as if he didn’t see me. I didn’t want to pry. But he also looked like a man who shouldn’t be alone.
We sat and watched the shadows move with the sun.
The dirty and small, box-like houses sat on a mud road and staggered down the hill and yet seemed yellow and pretty in the brilliant morning light. The longer we sat, the greyer they became as it became clear how chipped were the walls, how rotten were the doors and how poorly repaired many of them were. The path was rocky with stones that had been uncovered by the rain. We sat there for a long time before Miguel spoke.
“This is the street where I was born,” he said.
“You’ve been away a long time?” I asked.
“Too long.” He said it with a sadness I’d never heard in his voice before. I didn’t think he meant he was tired with the life we led, because I knew he enjoyed it as much as any man, but I sensed there was something here he regretted.
He stood suddenly and took two steps, then paused. He turned to me, waiting for me to follow. I didn’t know if we were going back or going on.
I followed him down the slope. He was determined at first, then slowed as he got halfway down the slope, as if his will was deserting him. He stopped suddenly. He didn’t check to see if I was still there.
He was looking at one of the houses. There was no door. Just a rug hung between rotten wooden posts nailed to the stone front. Miguel pulled the rug aside and stepped through. He didn’t invite me in but I followed anyway.
It was cool inside out of the sun and the uneven mud floor was damp. There was a table and a chair and a bed in this single room but nothing else. There was a door in the corner and we went through into the back room.
There was another chair and a smaller table. This room had a wooden door to the outside but it was rotten at the bottom with enough room for a dog to crawl through. A dirty window in the back wall let in enough light to see an old woman at a metal tub that was propped on two chairs. She was bent forward her hands wrapped in the clothes in the water. She was dressed all in black and with her back to us. She heard us and turned around. She was a small woman, frail with deeply wrinkled, sun-darkened skin and small features in her aged face.
“Who is it,” she demanded. She looked towards us but it was as if she didn’t really see us.“It’s Miguel, Mama.” There was a gentle care inside his voice that sounded alien from Miguel’s mouth.
“Miguel,” she repeated. She turned her head towards me as if it was me that had spoken. Her head shook, as if the name meant nothing to her.
“Is she blind?” I asked with my voice low.
“No.” Miguel didn’t take his eyes from the old woman. “Her mind’s gone.”
“Who is it?” she asked again.
“It’s Miguel, your son, Mama.”
“Miguel?” She shook her head. “I don’t know a Miguel.” She turned back to her washing tub. It was as if we’d left the room.
“My father was also called Miguel. You think she would recall one of us at least.” There was a great sadness in his voice. “My father died fifteen years ago. She changed overnight. I watched her for a time but I couldn’t stay and see her like this. I left two years after my father died. I have a brother and he and his wife take care of her. He’s a much better man than I am and she doesn’t forget him.”
“You’ve never spoken of this, Miguel.”
“The other men, they all have stories that are dangerous and exciting. Father’s killed by the army or mothers who died giving birth. How can I tell them that my father dropped down dead and my mother lost her mind? It’s not exciting, it’s just sad. How could I look them in the eye and tell them I’d left my home because my mother couldn’t remember my name?”
“Why did you share it with me?” I asked.
He looked at me as if I’d made him wonder the same thing.
“Because, if you remember outside of your head it seems more real. And you don’t judge, Rico.”
Miguel meant it kindly, but it didn’t feel like a good thing to me. I’d begun to think that all I’d accepted before wasn’t what I should accept now. And Miguel’s words made me feel like I’d been too good a son, an unquestioning son. Maybe if I’d judged more, things might have been different; people might have still been alive.
About Rico and Me by SR Wilsher:
Rico’s world is a harsh and brutal place where violence and indifference is second nature, but there is no frontier-glory attached to their behaviour. Instead it betrays all of the ignorance, misogyny and desolation of such lives.
The story came about when I abandoned an earlier thriller and searched the story to see what could be rescued. The only interesting thing of note was the bandit leader Father Gerard Limerick- and so a hundred thousand word thriller was reduced to a single page thought.
However, the more Limerick developed the more absurd he became. And while we all rewrite our pasts to a certain extent to protect our self-image, it’s those like Limerick, whose shamelessness and manipulation of the truth for their own ends that verges on madness, that his character is supposed to spotlight.
When I consider the wilful one-eyed ignorance of the bandits, I have in mind a group of under-educated vigilantes a few years ago who had protested against a local man because they had confused paediatrician for paedophile. So the bandits also became the easily confused and those who are too lazy to consider anything other than a black or white solution for those problems that are only ever grey.
Rico though is plainly different and, of all my characters, he’s my favourite. I love his honour and bravery in accepting the truth, and then his clear-sighted willingness to act against that which is wrong, never mind the cost too himself.
It was never my intention to write a satire, and I still resist the idea that I have, because the narrative was always more important than trying to lampoon types. And because the characters inside, and the segments of society they represent, are not meant to be funny; they are more to be feared than mocked.
Nor do I write for a younger audience. I always spoke to my children exactly how I would anyone else, so see no reason to write differently either. It’s just that I feel the themes of this story are best pitched earlier in life rather than later.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, with my career and my writing each suffering as a result of the other. I chose my degree (psychology) based solely on what it could offer my writing rather than my working day, which for twenty-plus years was in Sales Management. That was cut short by the need for a kidney transplant - although the break was a great boost for my writing. As an aside, I now work as a Clinical Research Administrator and currently live in Dorset, England and am married with two children.
This was my first completed book, but the years of trying to get past an agent meant I had more than one in the pipeline, so I also have available The Collection of Heng Souk and – The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September. A fourth ‘was played by Walter Johns’ should be ready this summer.
For more about Madness of the Turtle check out these sites!