Terror in the Backwoods

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I reckon it was nine in the morning and my girlfriend Jiffy Lube ran out to hide from the sheriff again. The day was slow and lazy as a coon dog on a porch. I figured I’d go down the holler and see Uncle Hant and get drunk. I mean, it was Saturday.

I walked down the old rail cut, mostly weeds since the mines closed in West Virginia. There was bugs flying around and making a racket and clouds way up in the sky, just hanging there. It was the kind of day when you don’t want to do nothing. ‘Course, that’s how I look at most days.

Hant has his still in the woods up a ways from the old tipple that’s rusting away now that there ain’t no work. He’s the biggest moonshiner in five counties. He sells busthead to yups from Washington who want a moonshine experience. If he has any left over, he gives it to the funeral parlor in Bluefield for embalming fluid. If he doesn’t have enough, the funeral parlor gives him embalming fluid to sell to the yups. It’s just how people are in the hollers. Friendly.

I turned into the woods past the big rock where I used to come with Jiffy Lube. Her name’s really Jennifer Imidazole Fergweiler, but everybody calls her Jiffy. She hadn’t come out in sight for two weeks. She was at LouBob’s pool hall when some feller got smart with her and she laid him out with a pool stick and ran like hell so he couldn’t testify against her when he came out of the coma. The sheriff said the statue of limitations was about two weeks and then she could come back. I don’t guess it matters ’cause the victim still ain’t talking.

Anyways, Hant. The old scoundrel was standing next to the cooker, emptying a bag into it. He’s tall and scrawny with a jaw like a front-end loader that needs a shave and when he sits down he kind of folds up in sections. He don’t really exist. He’s a Literary Apparition. West Virginia’s full of them. Some folks say they come out of the old mine shafts.

“What you dumping in that brawl starter this time?” I asked.

“Mothballs.” He looked real close into the cooker and started stirring it with a stick. He don’t always say too much. I knowed why he was doing it. He likes to give that death juice of his a little extra kick for the yups. He’s tried brake fluid, wood alcohol, rust dissolver, everything.

“Oh. I bet you got a jug of Beam somewheres. You got that crafty look about you. Gimme a hit. You hear the Feddle Gummint’s done put in a six million dollar A-bomb finder at Lou Bob’s?”

They did, too. I saw it. This eighteen-wheeler came in from Washington and they put up this thing that looked like a big door you had to walk through to go into Lou Bob’s Beer, Bait, and Tackle. I didn’t see why. The door Lou Bob had seemed to work just fine. These three men that wore blue suits and had one ear plug, ’cause I guess they couldn’t afford both, looked at everybody. I got tired of it so I went around back and used the other door.

“Yeah? What they do that for?” He reached under a log and pulled out a bottle of Beam. He don’t drink them bobcat squeezin’s he makes. He may be a apparition, but he ain’t a damn fool. I took a three-gurgle hit and felt better.

“So nobody could blow up North Fork with a A-bomb. I never thought of that.”

He was nursing so hard on the Beam that I thought he wasn’t listening. But he was.

I said, “Crazy Ray Wiggens come in wearing that radium watch he got in the army in Germany and all these horns blew and they took him off to jail.”

Hant thought for a bit and said, “That’s just good sense. A radium watch ain’t nothing but a arpeggio A-bomb.” Then he looked smug.

“Dammit, Hant, you’re getting out of character again.”

“Oh hell. It ain’t as easy as it looks, being a Literary Apparition. Gimme back that jug.”

“This blonde gal on TV that sounded like something had hit her upside the head said as how the Feddle Gummint’s gonna drop bombs on Eye Ran. It’s so they can’t blow up North Fork with a A-bomb.”

“How they gonna do that if LouBob’s got that bomb-finder thing? It don’t make sense to bomb’em. Better to sell’em busthead.”

Hant’s always thinking.

“Can’t, I reckon. The blonde gal says they’re all tee-total. It’s their religion, she said. I guess they’re Pentecosts or something.”

Hant looked up like he’d just got the horrors.

“Don’t drink?”

“Naw. That’s what she said, anyway.”

“Well, hell. Let’s bomb’em.”

“That’s what I figure. It just ain’t American.”

He grabbed a one-gallon stone jug from a crate of them and started filling it from the still. He sells all his death sweat in authentic mountain stone jars that he gets from China. He says a yup will drink battery acid if you put it in a stone jug. He knows ’cause he tried it once, but he said it wasn’t good for repeat business.

I tried to get him back to A-bombs and all. Hant knows nearly about everything, but sometimes you gotta pry it out of him.

“Hant, I was watching TV at Lou Bob’s and one of them blonde gals that looks like their brain needs a hotter cam was running on. She said the Feddle Gummint’s gonna make bars all get A-bomb finders. How’s that gonna work? Then everybody’ll have to go in by the back door.”

“How much you said a A-bomb finder goes for?”

“This blonde gal said six million dollars.”

He thought a moment. “I’m in the wrong business. How do you make a A-bomb finder?”

“Damned if I know, Hant. I guess you get a box and somebody sits in it and peeks out till he sees a radium watch, and then he blows a horn. That’s how it works at Lou Bob’s.”

Hant got a shifty look to him. For a minute he didn’t say anything. “Reckon Jiffy Lube would sit in the box when the sheriff was after her?”

I said sure, if you fed her beer through a hole in the box, and that’s how Hant got in the A-bomb finder business. He wrote a letter to Washington, DC, and said he was a one-legged Native American princess named Sighing Cloud and had black lung. They sent him a eighteen-wheeler full of money. He started buying boxes. Pretty soon there won’t be a radium watch in West Virginia, I guess.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.

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