Written by Michael Miller
I’ve traveled a bit. I believe that’s a fair statement, I agree its a bit underwhelming. Towns nestled on the New England shores to the Gulf Coast (and several points in between) have at one time or another been called “home.” They’ve all been small towns, narrow streets lined with brick buildings, streetlamps festooned with baskets of seasonal flowers. I’ve found each to be unique in countless ways. Diner staples such as Lobster rolls in New England give way to Shrimp Po’ boys in the deep south. Frappes in New Hampshire give way to Milkshakes in Tennessee, (funny story with that one, but that’s for another time). You might think the differences insurmountable. We don’t want to talk about the difficulty an “Appalachian American” has in matters of communication with more “northerly” regions.
Once a person takes the time and makes the effort to penetrate the cultural differences, you begin to find common threads. Commonalities connecting all points of the compass, and all manner of people. The love of neighborhood, the pride of community, the education of our children, (it takes a village right)?
The love of legend (in my experience), is universal. The flavor changes from region to region, like salt and pepper on the same baked potato. Common ground for most legends is surely the town’s old cemetery. Every, and I do mean every town has at least one. Rusty steel fences and iron gates containing weathered Grey stones. Final resting places for our dearly departed provide needed points of contact to the living, allowing access to cherished ancestors.
Presently I live in one of the oldest towns on the East coast. The residents of the local cemetery are a varied bunch, pirates, sailors, and soldiers rest beside everyday merchants and a young eighteenth century girl preserved in a barrel of rum. We even have a loyal British officer, buried standing at attention, in full salute to his mother England. All these are tales for later books, future adventures we’ll take together.
The mountains of home, that’s where we need to be at the moment, here is where our tale unfolds. The Tin Cup Clan is about to run headlong into a complicated tale, known to all as the Leech Cemetery Witch.
These hills and hollers are soaked to the marrow in folklore and legend. Not superstitious? Well let’s see about that. Would you open an umbrella in the house, or perhaps bring a rake or hoe inside? How about hanging two mirrors facing each other? Planting in the wrong moon or perhaps have a bird fly into the house? What about that bright colored square that’s on the side the barns? Do you know what that’s for? You see? Saturated.
I believe all legends contain some small grain of truth. That’s right buried deep inside each is a seed. Like all seeds, they do what seeds do best, sprout and grow. Each time the tales are told they grow a bit, spread out a bit. Once grown they make other seeds and the process begins again, just like legends. Just like the Witch in our story.
Prelude to Chapter one (1) “The Leech Cemetery Witch.”
“Such a magical environment is inevitably bound to give birth to endless fairy tales. Stories as ancient as the mountains themselves. Passed down through generations by elders sitting by glowing hearths before wide-eyed children. Who in amazement, absorb long epic chants of hardship and sacrifice, tales of ghosts and wraiths, life and death, bravery and honor. Stories of a fairy tale past which with the passage of time take on a life of their own.
How I enjoyed those stories, sitting before the fire, absorbing them like raindrops on dry clay. As I close my eyes the faint hint of smoke from a roaring fire teases me, calling me back to a time long ago.
Now accepted as fact not simple folklore, time renders these tales carved in stone and just as certain as God’s creation. Ignoring, or heaven forbid denying such tales, was tantamount to blasphemy. After all, granny with her lips lined with dried snuff was never wrong and never to be doubted.
It was during one such particular fall as this, that one such particular fable as this, would capture the imaginations of one such particular, and possibly brazen group of boys as this. And just like all good stories, present itself completely and undeniably irresistible.
The resulting adventure would prove to be the first of many to come. And in many ways shape the lives of four young friends and one other, whom as I look back through the eyes of an old man, realize had just as much to learn, perhaps even more than our-selves. Our adventure starts as many do, in a rather boring, not to mention pitifully small hometown.
A coal-mining town nestled deep in the Tennessee mountains. Small by any standard, and like most towns in coal country; time was slowly but surely passing us by. The town stores and buildings seemed well aware that death was slowly reclaiming them. Returning them back to the earth from where they came. We all felt it in one way or the other, the entire settlement was well and truly fading into history.
Our players include my quite young self, a rather handsome young’un if I may be so bold as to say so. Three somewhat meddlesome friends, but tried and true all of em, and of all people, the class bully.
Add an ill-conceived exchange of home-made liquor, an old cemetery complete with a rumored witch. Stir in a hollow grave-marker guarded by a ghost dog, the promise of answered questions, and you got yourself one heck of a story.
Oh! And I can’t forget; one thin, some-what scruffy old man whom it would turn out, had a far greater role to play in our story, and our lives than any of us ever imagined possible.
So dear reader, if I may have a bit of your time, find yourself a warm hearth, a comfortable chair, maybe a warm cup of cocoa, and let’s get started.”