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Knoblich onstage
First-place winner Rich Knoblich. Photograph by Michael Keller.

First Place

Rich Knoblich


People ask me, “Hey, Rich, does it ever get boring up on the old homestead up on the mountain?”

No, man. I got neighbors. I got this one, he’s a retired pirate captain. Now this pirate captain, he’s the fella who figured out that your sails, you could just stretch them from the fore mast to the middle mast to the aft mast, and you’d have this huge canopy. Then you just catch the updraft, and it would lift your ship right up into the air. It would glide just like the hawks do on the air currents. Then you could sail the air currents just like you do the ocean currents.

Well, one day he took his ship — he called it the Golden Opportunity. He decided he needed some livestock for his farm, and he sailed it on over towards the Eastern Panhandle, and settled that ship right onto an open field. He then jumped ship and went on down into the town of Franklin to get himself some livestock.

Now, while he was gone, a caravan of trucks from one of the local churches — the Church of the High Holy Hikers of the Heavenly Foot Massage — were going through the countryside looking to save souls, and they came across this pirate ship. Well, they got out and they pondered it, and they turned to their minister Aunt Marian. She looked at it, and she declared, “The Lord helps them who help themselves.” So, they helped themselves to all that canvas off of the ship and threw it into the back of their pickup truck. They then went on down into the valley where the old logging camp was located. There, with needles as sharp as their tongues and fingers as quick as their wits, they fashioned themselves a revival tent and began revivin’ souls.

Meanwhile, the captain, he comes back to his ship, and it was quite obvious that marauding buccaneers had somehow taken away all of his sails. Well, he had bought himself three sheep. So, he got them back up onto the deck, and he corralled them at the one end. The sheep, they’re baaing and they’re bleating and they’re making all kinds of noise, so he fed them the only thing he had. That was some refried bean burritos. Well, that kept them quiet, and that’s when he got his idea what he was going to use for sails.

He went over to his sea chest and kicked it open, and he pulled out three pair of those extra-large old boxer shorts. The kind that his crew had given him at Christmas. You know those Christmas gag gifts? They show a picture of mistletoe over the back end of them. You give ‘em to your boss. So, he took those, and he stretched that elastic across those spars from one mast to the next mast to the next mast, and he had himself some sails.

Well, right about then, the gastrointestinal tracts of those sheep had been working on those refried bean burritos, and a breeze, shall we say, started to kick up. And that sailing ship, it lifted itself up. But the captain realized quickly that with the added weight of those sheep, he wouldn’t have enough lift to get over the top of Cheat Mountain. So, he kicked open the hatch of the hole, grabbed a shovel, and started shoveling his Spanish gold doubloons over the side. Well, once he lost enough ballast, that ship, the Golden Opportunity, it just rose high into the air. Well, the captain, he grabbed the tiller with one hand, and he grabbed a bottle of fine Jamaican rum with the other, and he started steering a course for home.

Meanwhile, down in the valley, Aunt Marian at the revival tent had just finished her sermon titled “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees.” Showering down out of the sky come gold coins onto that tent, falling all around them. Aunt Marian looked at it, and she thought to herself, “Damn, I’m good.”

The very next morning, I came out onto my front porch. And there in my front yard was that pirate ship. Now, the sheep, they were no longer passing gas. The captain, he was passed out and completely gassed. So the moral of my story — if you ever come out into your yard and there’s a pirate ship, and the captain is three sheets to the wind, and it’s rigged with three shorts for the wind, and it’s powered by three sheep breaking wind, what you got there in front of you, folks, is the golden opportunity for a story.

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