Skip Navigation

Liars Contest - Vandalia 2005

Justin Wood


First Place

Joe and the Pirates


Justin Wood
2005 first-place winner, Justin Wood, hoists his coveted Golden Shovel prize. Photograph by Michael Keller.


I wasn’t actually planning on telling a lie this year. But then my friend Joe called me. He said, “You want to go on a trip?”

I said, “Sure.”

What followed was the greatest adventure of my life. Now, you might have read part of it in the paper — about Governor Manchin taking a state plane down to Alabama to get his yacht and bring it up. Now, that’s true, but that’s not the real story.

You see, Joe calls me up and calls up a couple of his friends and says, “I got a yacht. I got to go get it.”

So we all hop on the plane. We all go down to Alabama. Alabama’s a nice place to visit, being from West Virginia. When your state ranks 49th continually, it’s nice to see who you beat out.

We get on the yacht — beautiful yacht. This thing is decked out. It has a kitchen, two bedrooms, full bath, jacuzzi, shower, ballroom, orchestra, kitchen staff. This thing is, to the “t,” the perfect yacht.

So we get on, and we start sailing up, coming back to West Virginia. Do a little fishing, have a little fun. No big deal. Three days pass, and we’re almost back in Charleston. We get on the Kanawha, and Joe says, “I want to fish.”

I look up to the sky, and I say, “Joe, I think those clouds want to grow up to be thunderstorms, and I think they’re growing up quick. I don’t think we should fish. And it’s the Kanawha — what are you going to catch in the Kanawha?”

He says, “No, we’re going to fish.”

And I say, “We’re going to be cold, and we’re not going to catch anything.”

And he says, “Justin, fishing’s a lot like women. Sometimes it’s great, and it’s more than you can handle. And sometimes it’s cold and angry that you didn’t fix the faucet.”

Now, Joe didn’t make any sense. But if what he said was true, that fish are really like women, I was starting to reel in the Jennifer Garner of fish. Just as I start to feel the tug, the storm starts. We could hear it coming from the side. Big splashes in the water. Hail, rain, piercing thunder. It keeps on coming closer and closer.

I’m trying to reel in this fish before the storm gets there. Joe looks at me, and he says, “Don’t give up, Justin. If that rain storm hits us, you just keep on going. ‘Cause if I’ve learned one thing in running for governor, it’s never good to give up — and to put your name on everything — but especially never to give up.”

That hail, that rain starts coming. Big, monstrous waves are crashing in from either side. I’m scared, I’m worried. But I’m not going to let that fish get away from me. I dig in. The rain’s piercing. People start crying out. It was tremendous and traumatic. I was so focused on saving the fish, and they were so focused on saving their lives, that no one noticed the barge coming towards us.

The rain started to let up. The hail left us. Lightning stopped. Thunder stopped. I started to pull that fish in, and I see it to my side — it is none other than Captain Cletus Clearwater’s pirate barge. Before I can scream out, the pirates have already come on deck. They’re fighting the kitchen staff and the orchestra, who are no match for those hillbilly pirates.

With my last ounce of strength, I pull that fish up, and I start wielding it around like some medieval ball-and-chain. I’m hitting pirates left, right, knocking them out, knocking the two teeth they have out, taking them out.

And then I see him — fear struck my heart. I drop my weapon, fish and all. It was the captain himself. He stood towering before me. His bare feet and overalls, a mining pick in one hand and a hook in the other. His teeth made out of coal. A patch over one eye. And a blood-red cardinal sitting on his shoulder.

Very calmly, he grabbed me and the rest of the crew. He tied us up and put them on the barge. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us.

That night, he called Joe and I into his chambers, and he told us the story of his twisted, twisted life. See, Captain Cletus is the product of an unholy matrimony between a West Virginia University Mountaineer and a Marshall student. At the time, such a marriage was looked at as immoral and ungodly — looked down upon by most states, but for some reason, West Virginia allowed it.

The mother of the Mountaineer was so disgusted by it that she put a curse on the first-born child’s head. He would sail the West Virginia rivers forever, cold and alone, never finding peace until the day Marshall beat WVU in football.

So, Joe, being smart and intelligent, well, being a talker, starts coming up with a plan.

He says, “Well, I can’t promise you a win, but I can promise you some games.”

So, with that they negotiate for awhile, and, actually, a pirate and a politician negotiating is amazingly cooperative. But they work it out that Joe will set up the games in exchange for our lives and the beautiful yacht.

So, we come back to Charleston, and here I am today, and we have games set up for Marshall and WVU to play. It’s not a happy ending, though. I might be safe and so is our governor, but poor Cletus. He’s just a twisted, twisted soul, searching for peace. But we all know it’ll be a cold day in hell before the Creator above, who made the sky blue and the sun gold, allows His heavenly and beloved Mountaineers to be beat by the Thundering Herd.