BC Williams, Writer/Poet
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In A Georgia Backwoods

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In A Georgia Backwoods   Empty In A Georgia Backwoods

Post by BC Williams on Sun 13 Feb 2011, 6:24 am

“Git up, Lester . . . .”

“Let me alone!”  Lester thrashed his tousled red curls a couple of times, then bounced onto his back. The mattress springs squeaked and squealed, then settled as the boy went still.

His brother, Tommy Lee, smirked then dove onto Lester's bed and began tickling him, “Git up, sleepy head! Singer's loose, an she's arunnin' a hot trail.”

“ Git off me – git off . . . I'm gonna kil . . . hahahaha – don't!”
The boys tussled to the floor.

“Ssh now, it's still the middle a the night.” Tommy Lee whispered.
The boys quickly pulled on their overalls, grabbed their .22 caliber rifles and headed out the door.
In the distance, they heard the long, deep yelp of their 5-year-old coon dog, Singer. She pushed toward the edge of the forest, but the boys easily tracked her beneath a Harvest Moon.

"See, I told ya she's gonna break loose and run with the wind. Singer's a good dawg, knows her stuff, Tommy Lee."

"Aw hell, Lester. She ain't no better'n Pa's dawg."

Singer headed to the same place she always went when she broke loose, down past Gabe Rumble's pond and on into the woods.

“ Tommy Lee, you spose'n she gits ol' Silverback treed tonight?”

“I dunno, Silverback's pretty smart. He ain't got no reason ta think my dawg's not, though.”

As Lester and Tommy Lee got closer to the woods, they smelled the fear. It dangled in front of them like old sheets on mamma's clothesline, flapping bleach-scented air that burned their nostrils if they got too close. Fear's the key to a successful hunt. If a coon's scared, there's no way he'll come out of a tree.
They followed a trail through thick underbrush that stuck at their clothes and hands. The dense woods threatened to swallow them, but the trail was familiar. Their ears prickled, drawn to a sound coming from the direction of Clancy Hashman's still.

“Do ya hear that? It sounds like somethin's hurt over there.”

“Ssh, Lester – quiet so's we can hear it.”

Tommy Lee grabbed Lester's hand and slowly moved off the trail a few yards. The moonshine still bubbled inside an internal clearing. It looked like a monster with tree limb tentacles, standing silhouetted against a fog of smoke. Clancy's gray '38 Ford pick-up was parked near the fire and a late model dark blue station wagon sat beside it.

“Tommmm . . .” Lester gulped, as his brother threw a hand across his mouth.
The boys stared at Singer. Her mouth was tied shut with some sort of cloth.
The dog whimpered, tried to move - even though one of her hind legs was tied to a tree.

“We gotta git her!” whispered Lester.

“We cain't. You know Clancy'll kill us, he sees us round his still. Just hold on, I gotta idea.”

Tommy Lee motioned for Lester to follow him toward where Singer lay tied. They stayed out of sight, stepping quietly over fallen limbs and underbrush as they got closer to their dog.

Clancy was digging a hole. He threw down his shovel and went behind his truck. He dragged a man out from behind the bumper, grunting as he pulled and tugged the body toward the hole.

Gulping moonshine, Clancy shouted at the dead man. “I told ya not ta try nothin' on ol' Clancy. You know'd better.” The wild, drunken moonshiner pushed the body into the hole, kicking arms and legs into forced submission with his steel-toed boot.  The boys listened in horror, heard the dead man's leg crack as Clancy stomped on it, then shoved it with his toe to rest across the corpses' chest. Grabbing up the moonshine, he took a long, sloppy drink, then wiped the back of his filthy hand across his unshaved chin.

A sick little sound oozed out of Lester, and he stumbled as he stepped backward, falling against a rock. An owl hooted, trying to keep Clancy from hearing the boy's scream but it didn't work.

“Who's there? Who's out there?” Slurring obscenities, Clancy slowly staggered the twenty feet toward his truck. “I'ma kill me a trespasser.” The shine had hit him hard, and he went sideways, almost stumbling into the fire before falling against a tree.

Tommy Lee took his chance. Looking down at his brother who lay in pain at his feet, he whispered, “Git up, Lester! Now, git up and run as fast as you can to the house. Git Ma 'n little Becky to the barn. GO!” He grabbed up Lester's .22 from the ground and set it against a tree with his own.

Clancy hadn't gotten to the truck, so Tommy Lee ran into the clearing. Fumbling in his pocket for his pa's Old Timer, he cut Singer loose and pulled the rag off her muzzle.

When Clancy saw this, his eyeballs momentarily dilated, as if lighting had walloped him across the face. Jutting his head forward, he howled like a polecat, “Boy, you'n at dawg a'yers is dead, soon as I git my gun!”

Tommy Lee didn't wait. He and Singer bounded into the woods, surefooted as deer. They got to the next clearing when he heard the truck start. Clancy would have to snake through the woods and up around Sam Clemmin's farm. Tommy Lee didn't have much time.

It was dark when he got to the house, except for the oil lamp in his ma's room. Tommy Lee sprang upstairs to make sure everyone was out, then back outside and over to the barn. When he opened the creaking, barn door, Little Becky gasped and begin to cry. He quickly closed the door, shutting out the silver illumination of moonlight.

“Ma, it's me'n Singer. Lester, you in here, too?”

“Tommy, what's this all about?” his ma's shrill voice spoke from one of the horse stalls. “I cain't believe a word what Lester here tells. A body and Singer tied, and . . .” She began to cry.

Tommy Lee groped for the kerosene lantern and lit it with a match from his shirt pocket. He turned the wick low. “Ma, there's no time for explainin',” he said, holding the lantern up and moving toward their voices. In the corner of the stall, six terrified eyes stared at him, so very still they could have been mistaken for knotholes in the barn wall. “Aw ma, I'm so sorry 'bout this!” His family huddled tight alongside the plow horse.  “But Ma, Clancy's drunk, and he's comin' to kill me. Y'all gotta be quiet, now 'n hide.” He helped them into the hayloft and gave Lester one of the .22's. “Don't be afraid to pull the trigger if'n ya need to, little brother.”

The noisy truck screamed down the dirt road.

Tommy Lee and Singer positioned themselves against the front wall to the left of the door.

Clancy nearly careened into the front porch before bringing the truck to a stop. He spilled out of the cab, a bottle of shine slung over his right shoulder and a shotgun in his left hand.

Becky whimpered. Ma buried the five-year-old in her breast and threw an arm over a trembling Lester. “Tommy Lee'll save us, Ma,” he whispered, and scrunched in closer to her, letting the gun fall from his sweaty hand.

Clancy kicked in the front door and stomped upstairs toward the light. He used the gun to poke curtains, lift covers, check behind bedroom doors. He realized they weren't in the house. “You little bastard,” he screamed into the emptiness.  “Ol' Clancy know where y'all hidin'.”

Singer stood still as a statue. Her eyesight was far superior to her master's.
Tommy Lee's heart pounded in his throat like bullets against a paper target. His hands were clammy, but he had a strong grip on his .22. He tightened his hold on Singer's collar and felt the dog's muscles ripple.

Clancy burst into the barn and Singer thrust forward but was yanked still. Tommy Lee brought the barrel of the gun up. Clancy leaned over to sit his moonshine bottle on the floor. Reaching into his breast pocket, he got out his lighter, lit it, casting enough light for the boy to take aim.

The dog growled.

Clancy turned, took a step toward them.

Singer broke loose and lunged full force against Clancy's chest, knocking him backward.  His head hit the opened bottle of moonshine, and the lighter skidded from his hand. The straw-covered floor ignited like a brush fire. Clancy screamed, batting at his flaming head, his clothes quickly catching fire from the half gallon of alcohol spewed around him. Tommy Lee didn't have time to watch, for he and Singer bolted out the door and around back. His mother and the kids hung out the loft window, shrieking frantically for his help.

“Ma, hold on! I need to find somethin' you can climb down on.” The smell of burning wood was intense, as ribbons of smoke escaped through gaps in the boards and spiraled upward into the night. Tommy Lee got his pa's old ladder and shoved it up to the window.

“Ma, pass Becky out.”

The frightened child wouldn't release her mother's neck. “No Mama, no!” she screamed and tied her legs around her mother's waist. Tommy Lee raced to the top of the ladder and tore the frantic child loose. She slapped him, then buried her head in his shoulder as he got her down the ladder, their ma right behind them. The three looked up, but could not see Lester through the billowing smoke.

“Lester . . . Lester, git out!” Tommy Lee screamed.

Then he remembered Lester's fall and flew up the ladder. The smoke almost knocked him off backward as he thrust his hand into the window. He touched his brother's back and knew he was passed out. Grabbing an arm, he pulled the limp body through the window, then carefully backed down the ladder. When his feet hit the ground, his mother ran over and began stroking Lester's head,  cooing softly. She fell to the ground and told Tommy to put Lester in her lap.

“Bad man burn, huh Tommy Lee?” Becky muttered, holding his hand tight. A tear trickled down her cheek as she pointed at the flaming barn.

“Yeah, honey, bad man burn, but we didn't, that's the important thing.” He took his tiny sister in his arms, burying his face deeply against her back.

Singer came and plopped down next to them. She nudged Tommy Lee's arm til he raised it, then slammed herself into him, licking his face and neck as if she hadn't seen him for ages. “What is it, girl?” Tommy Lee chuckled. Singer threw her head back and yelped out a song of the hunt. “Oh no! Ma, Singer's gonna run a hot trail again . . . .”

© 2006 by BC Williams
Artwork: Alfred Klosterman
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