Who is this Witch that you speak of?

This week’s post is Chapter three as we go through our book. We begin to notice each boy’s personality and watch as their relationship develops. Mark, the class bully, also begins to take his place in our tale. You may also notice a subtle Christian overtone has begun to develop; as a former pastor, I tend to weave Faith in all my work, including the short stories.

In this chapter, “Stick” tells the boys of the Legend of the Witch, and we see each of them react differently.

As you read, try to put yourself in their place; think back to your childhood and the politics of the lunchroom. Note the drone of voices and noise of a busy kitchen. If you try hard enough, you may even catch a faint whiff of food.

I had very much hoped for your feedback, so please let me know what you think. Where can it be improved, what works and what doesn’t? It’s a short read, and I would truly appreciate it.

Chapter 3

                               “Who is this witch that you speak of?”

As soon as we opened the lunchroom door, we met a deafening racket. The large room was, as usual, crammed wall to wall with people. Countless voices stacked one on top of the other, clamoring for food and attention, masses coming and going—all this noise accompanied by the clinking and clanking of pots and pans and utensils banging against trays.

The line was huge, wrapping along the wall and ending at the door. From the back, we heard, “Make a hole, make a hole,” as Mark and his crew came shovin’ their way through the line. Those who didn’t move outta the way were unceremoniously shoved to the side. As he walks past me, he makes sure to plant a sharp slap to the back of my head, hard enough to make my ears ring. Gotta be quick, Miller.

I didn’t even get the courtesy of a sideways glance.

“Cool!” Yelled Stick. “Chicken over cornbread! That’s it, no trades.” He was quick to point the “no trades” clause out.

“That’s fine with me,” I muttered as I rubbed the new knot growin’ on the back of my head.

“I like it good enough,” said David, “But the white beans are the best in my book.”

“Oh dude,” whined Chucky, “Peaches again? I hate those things, they’re all slimy and crap—cain’t even cut ‘em without ‘em jumpin’ off the tray.”

“I’d be glad to take ‘em off yer hands friend,” David spoke up, laying claim to the peaches before Chucky finished his sentence, ensuring he didn’t have a chance to rethink his comment.

At the head of the line sat Mrs. Tuttle, her neck bent and glarin’ at her ledger like Scrooge over numbers. She looked up but just briefly as each kid filed by, making certain to give each tray a thorough examination. All this and never speaking a word.  She didn’t have to.  She knew each kid by name, including address and phone number.

You can always spot the ones with money.  They usually strut through the lunchroom, extra milks proudly on display. Some have as many as three or four stacked on their trays. Once all that food gets gobbled down, and all that milk guzzled, they prance about the room once again, ice cream proudly stuffed into their gapin’ maws.

Ice cream is expensive, a luxury reserved exclusively for the absolute elite. They’re out of reach of normal kids at fifty cents apiece. Most are content with simply watchin’ this spectacle, all the while hoping that daing ice cream hits the floor.

Once we have our trays, we each scan the room for seats. You gotta be careful here as well. Certain groups sit in certain areas; that’s just the way it is.

Without a word, Dave bows his big ol’ head and begins Grace. I’ve never seen him put a bite of food in his mouth without blessin’ it first. The rest of us follow suit, just in case the ol’ boy knows something that we don’t. Quick as amens were said, he raised his head and leaned over to grab Chuckie’s peaches.

Chucky raised his hand, stopping those big sausage fingers. “Slow down, Tonto, you’re gonna get ‘em.  You’re gonna get ‘em.”

Dave looks at him, confused, and mumbles, “Well, I don’t want you gittin’ any of yer slobbers on ‘em.  Might ruin the flavor.”

“Let me tell you somethin’,” replied Chucky, “I can promise you that these peaches were rernt long before they was set on this plate.”

Stick stopped eating for a second and looked up from his tray. “I’ve tried to get mom to fix this at home. She said it sounds nasty; the only thing that should go on cornbread is butter.”

“Not at my house,” I pointed out. “Papaw eats his with milk and molasses says it’s the only way to go.”

Chucky looked up with wonder in his eye. He flipped his spoon around, using it as a pointer. “Have you ever wondered what they do with the rest of that mole?”

David looked up, confused. “Mole? What mole?”

“You know, the rest of the mole, the mole. When they make a jar of mole-asses, what do they do with the rest of the mole?”

Big David stopped mid-chew, almost like he blew a fuse.

“Oh…I git it. That’s a good one friend!”

There it is. This time, I was sure I saw teeth in that smile. Stick and I both shook our heads. Some stuff was simply too stupid to waste a good comment on.

Stick’s not one to give up the floor once he gits yer attention.

“Did yun’z hear about what happened to Scott Porter’s big brother?”

“He tried to take his ol’ lady up to the Leech Cemetery.”

We all stopped; a collective “What?” filled the group.

“Yep, I reckon he was gonna try and impress her or somethin’.”

Ok.  He had me. “What happened?” I asked.

“What do you think happened? Both of ‘em came runnin’ out, screamin’ to beat all hell! That’s what happened.”

“Yeah, right,” I scoffed. “Mr. and Mrs. Cool scared of a graveyard? Yer dreamin’.”

“That’s just what I heard,” he replied.

“Ain’t nobody that dumb,” replied Chucky. “Everybody knows to stay outta there at night. Besides, what’s the point in takin’ a dumb ol’ girl up to a graveyard in the middle of the night anyways? All that fuss, just so you can stick your head into an old headstone and ask some stupid question? I don’t think so.”

“To get an answer, I s‘pose,” answered Stick.

“Answer to what man? And why? Just sounds stupid to me, that’s all.”

David looked up from his peaches. “What are yun’z talkin’ about anyways, all this graveyard and headstone nonsense?”

Even though we had all four grew up hearing the story. Stick was only too happy to tell us all again, with a good bit of himself added in for good measure.

“The way I heard, it goes like this. You see, back nearly a hundred years or so, there was this old woman who lived up around Sinkin’ Creek. I don’t think nobody knew her name for sure. Most folk just called her Wilmide. She lived in the opening of an old spent mine shaft, along with an old one-eyed dog.

“Folks said she s’posed to wear clothes she wove from the hair of whatever animals she ate. She even wore a hat made from chicken feathers and stuff like that. And a necklace that had chicken feet tied to it to boot. Papaw said that if you wanted a love potion, or maybe somebody had wronged you, or even a hex, or somethin’ like that, she was the one to go see. But she wasn’t gonna do it fer free.”

David couldn’t stand this silliness any longer, finally blurting out, “If she didn’t have no use fer foldin’ money, what did a body pay her with then?”

Stick raised his hand, putting him in his place before continuing, “I’m gittin’ there; I’m gittin’ there. Hold ye horses.”

“Papaw said you could bring her anythin’ from dead chickens to dead goats. The deader, the better. What kind depended on what you were askin’ her to do. The bigger the hex, the bigger the price.

“Then came a nasty cold winter, cold like folk around here never seen before. Snow so deep, they say a horse’s belly would rub raw against it. It was durin’ such a winter as this a young lady came to pay the ol’ witch a visit, there she told her story, a truly sad story.

“She said, her ol’ man worked the hooty owl over at the Blue Diamond. At least that’s what he told her he was doin.’ But he was lyin’, ya see. He went and had himself a woman on the side. Nobody knows for sure who she was. Some folk say the mayor’s wife or maybe the sheriff’s; it was anybody’s guess. To make matters even worse, he went and had himself a baby with that woman, whoever she was.

“If that weren’t bad enough, his wife had a baby of her own to tend to, a little baby at that. Well, he was stayin’ gone all the time, sayin’ he was at that mine, workin’ and such. But, even ‘workin’’ as much as he said he was, he wasn’t takin’ proper care and providin’ for his family. Blamed it on the hours at the mine, I reckon.

“One night, it got cold, I mean icy cold, in that ol’ cabin. There weren’t no coal for heat, so that poor little baby up and froze to death. Of course, this drove the wife nuttier than a squirrel turd. Somehow, she had heard through the grapevine about Ol’ Wilmide, and in her terrible grief, took a mind to go see her.

“She wanted revenge on her husband in the worst kinda way, no matter the cost. And she wanted double for the woman he was seein’ as well. She felt she deserved that woman’s baby to make up for the one who died ‘cause of the cold. But old Wilmide asked for a hefty price; she wanted that baby fer herself.

“Why an old woman would want a baby, nobody knows. But the woman was so mad and so wild with grief, she agreed to the old woman’s terms. So, hands were shook, and the deal was done.

“Wasn’t long after that there was a massive cave-in at the Blue Diamond. Twenty-three men lost their lives in that horrible disaster, includin’ the woman’s husband. Mine explosion, they said. Some died right away; them was the lucky ones. The others lingered for some time, days even, until finally, the air ran out. A few even managed to scribble death letters to their families.

“The man’s girlfriend went crazy with grief. I reckon she couldn’t live with his dyin’ and all. So, one cold dark night, she went and jumped to her death over at the bluffs. That same night, the man’s wife found that little baby sittin’ there on her front porch, near froze to death, no note nor nothin’.”

Big David interrupted, “I thought you said the ol’ woman was gonna git that baby.”

“I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there,” Replied Stick.

“Well, word got out amongst the townfolk, and like it usually does, gossip turned to panic. They just knew it was Ol’ Wilmide’s hex that killed all those brave men. The town leaders put a hangin’ mob together, and they took off up the mountain to git the old witch.

“There they found her, sittin’ in that ol’ mine, the one-eyed dog by her side. I reckon she knew they was comin’ cause all’s she said was, ‘Come on in boys and warm ye’self over by the fire a spell.’ When they made their way over to the warm fire, one of ‘em heard the faint cry of a baby. There by the fire, they found an old basket. In that basket lay that ladies’ baby, wrapped in animal skins.”

The excitement was getting to Chucky, “What did they do, what did they do?”

“I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there, hold your horses.”

“First, they grabbed the ol’ witch, bound her, hand and foot, with iron cuffs, ‘cause everybody knows a witch cain’t escape from iron bindins. Then they went over to the hearth to gather up that baby. Lo and behold, they was no baby there, but over to the side, they seen that ol’ basket held tight in the jaws of that one-eyed dog. They tried to catch it, but it went runnin’ up the holler. Search parties looked high and low, but the baby and the ol’ dog was nowhere to be found.

“They tied that ol’ woman behind a couple of horses and dragged her all the way into town. That’s where the men beat her to the point of death, even tortured her with hot brandin’ irons and everything. Still, she wouldn’t tell ‘em where the dog or the baby was, not even if her hex was to blame for the cave-in.

“It didn’t matter how much they beat her; she just laid there, laughin’ at ‘em. Through all that torture, she never uttered a single solitary word.

“They built a hangin’ post right then and there, and that’s where they hung her, right smack in the middle of town. Some folk say she never stopped laughin’, even as she hung there, swingin’ in the wind. But at the stroke of midnight, she went silent and limp as a carp.

“Now, everybody knows, you cain’t bury a witch on holy ground, so, they picked a spot way out back of Leech Cemetery. Just outside the fence so’s not to be sinful. Then they sealed her body in an iron box so’s she couldn’t escape and buried her there with nary a single marker.

“Some folk say they seen a big dog standin’ on the next ridge, watchin’ the whole burial. And when the first shovel of dirt fell, that dog began to howl, eerie and ghostly. That howl was said to have been heard for miles up and down the hollers.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” scoffed David, “You said there weren’t no headstone.”

“That’s the scary part,” said Stick. “You see, a number of years later, a gravestone mysteriously appeared, almost outta nowhere. No writtin,’ no drawin,’ no nothin,’ just a blank headstone.

“Many folks have tried to knock it down, but it’s always back up the next day. The best anyone could do was knock a hole in the back of it. That’s right. It’s holler. And that hole is said to go down, way down. To what? Nobody knows.

“A lot of folk think it was the child and the dog that put that stone up. If so, they’d have to be as old and gnarled as the ol’ witch herself by now. It’s said they keep it up to this day. Nobody knows for sure.

“Rumor is, if you go there, just at the stroke of midnight, the Witchin’ hour, and drop a dead animal into the hole, she’ll answer a question for you. But be careful; you might not like the answer. If you ask a question and not give her payment, they say that one-eyed dog will come for ya…and yer soul.”

‘Bout that time, a large hand landed hard on my right shoulder, scared the livin’ daylights right outta me. I turned with a jerk, panic in my eyes, to see Burton standing behind me.

“Miller looks like it’s your turn in the washroom next week, don’t forget, OK?”

“Yes sir,” The words came out as a pitiful squeak.

“Oh…and don’t believe all those stories you hear, Okay?” He gave me a wink and went on his way.

It took a second for my heart to regain its rhythm. Chucky was holdin’ his belly he was laughin’ so hard.

“Man, he flat out scared the water outta you! I thought you was gonna fall over there for a second.”

“Ha-ha, Chuck! Why don’t you try shuttin’ up for a while?”

“I don’t believe none of that mess,” barked David. “Just ain’t Christian. All this devil and witch nonsense. Just goes to show a body’s raisin’ is what it does.  Shoulda spent more time in the Lord’s house and less time gossipin’.’’

He got up in a huff and walked to the washroom without so much as a backward glance.

The rest of the day was a strange kind of a blur. Visions of Mark pounding me while my Papaw whipped the tar outta me were all I could think about. Stick’s story made things all the worse. Add a witch into the mess, and you got yourself, well, an even bigger mess.

Snitchin’ was out of the question; a crime of that magnitude was sure to be deadly; every kid knows that. I had only two options. I was gonna get a beatin’ either way, if not by Mark, then from Papaw. I wasn’t sure which one was worse. Right about now, I just wanted to die, or at least disappear entirely.

We here at The Tin Cup Clan know times are tough and valuable. We thank each of you from the bottom of our hearts for spending a bit of it with us. As always, hit a few buttons at the bottom, and give us a thumbs up.

God Bless

The Tin Cup Clan (Mystery of the leech Cemetery Witch)

Below is the second chapter in the Tin Cup Clan’s first mystery. I’m gonna post a chapter about once a week in hopes of needed feedback from the reader. A very good friend Herb Thiel has very graciously spent valuable time editing this work and he has saved me a great deal of embarrassment. You should check his blog out, (The Haps With Herb.) This guy possesses an incredible amount of common sense, and his posts are spot on. Do yourself a kindness and visit.

The following chapter finds our boys in the school cafeteria, and for the first time, we meet Mikey’s sworn enemy, Mark, the school bully. The school cafeteria resembles the United Nations in many ways, albeit at a grade school level. Unspoken guidelines and carved-in-stone protocols were strictly enforced. As you read, see if you can recall what those rules were.

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Chapter 2

                                   The good, the bad, and the bully

The bus finally rattles into the school parking lot and comes to a stop with a groan and a jerk. The jocks in the rear are first to stand and slither to the front. There is a strict order when getting off the bus as well, so we stand eyes to the floor and wait our turn.

Jumping into the aisle at the wrong time might find you gettin’ knocked back to your seat flat on your back. The resultin’ laughter and finger-pointing were sure to follow you around the rest of the day.

As they make their processional, Patrick, the head of the football team, blurts out, “Does anybody smell smoke? I smell smoke.” Big David doesn’t lift his eyes, no point in it. A loud round of laughter goes through the group.

Once the bullies had passed, the big lug just looked up with that simple smile, just as he always does. Lookin’ over at us, he shrugs his shoulders and remarks, “Don’t bother me none.”

Chucky shook his head in disgust. When are you gonna do somethin’ about that jerk, David?”

“Ahh, he don’t mean nothin’ by it. besides, he’s just tryin’ to look good fer the girls. I’m already purdy enough as it is. Reckon I got no reason to impress nobody else.” He nudged Chucky a bit, proud of his comment.

Finally, time for us to get off; Chucky caught Stick starin’ at one of the cheerleaders as she walked by. He threw Stick a smack to the back of the head. Let’s go, dipstick.”

“Hey, that hurt dude.”

“It’ll hurt a lot more if Patrick catches you doin’ that, now let’s go.” We walked down the bus steps and made our way through the crowd to the lunchroom.

As soon as we open the door, the smell of cinnamon soaks into my nose. I yelled to the other guys. Cool! cinnamon toast! I loves me some cinnamon toast.’ Specially if it’s got lots a sugar.”

“I hate it,” snaps Stick, “Burns my throat. you can have mine.” Then, realizin’ what he had just said, “No, wait, if they got raisin-bran, I keep the toast. I hate raisin-bran even more than cinnamon, looks like I got a bowl full of dead bugs or mouse turds.”

While we were gettin’ our trays, Chucky nudged my shoulder, “Looks like you’re eatin’ two cereals man. Look, Raisin Bran.”

“Great,” I snorted in disgust, “Looks like it’s gonna be one heck of a day.”

On each tray, the lunch lady placed a small box of cereal (the kind that you split down the side, making the box a leaky and hard-to-use bowl). They make a mess, and you cain’t ever seem to get all the cereal outta the corners, followed by a slice of warm, buttery cinnamon toast.

When you get to the end of the line, you gotta get past Mrs. Tuttle. he controls the milk, the juice, the ice cream, the weather, well, everything. Of course, you only got juice or two milks if you were one of the rich kids; orange juice and extra milks cost an extra fifteen cents, so none of us ever got any.

Now let’s talk for a bit about the queen of the lunchroom.

Mrs. Tuttle.

Nobody knows for sure how old she is, but she’s old, ancient old. When the good Lord made the earth, she was there, lookin’ over his shoulder, her tall, blue, bee-hive hairdo blowin’ in the breeze. her gaze makin’ sure He didn’t get any extra milks or juice. On the sixth day, I’m certain the Lord turned to her and asked, “Whatcha think about this, Mrs. Tuttle?”

“Well…” she replied. It’s OK, I reckon…You can take tomorrow off.”

But that’s jest my opinion.

Her narrow eyes hide behind a pair of black “cat’s-eye” glasses. her hand-drawn, bright red, pencil-thin lips rarely spoke a word and never ever, I mean, ever, smiled. She sits on an old wooden chair like a queen on her throne.

She possesses absolute power over anything and anyone within the lunchroom walls. She don’t care who you are, ballplayer, cheerleader, nerd, rich or poor; it don’t matter to her.

Her scepter is a worn black pen held tight in her gnarled hand. Below that gnarled hand sits an old ledger. That ledger contains the complete life history of every student that’s ever gone to this school. I swear she’s gotta have my Papaw’s name in there somewhere. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets past her. The free lunch program allows us one milk, a second cost ten cents. he makes sure we get only what we are entitled to before looking up our name and scratching it down in that worn ol’ book.

The milk and juice cooler sits to her left, and to her right sits the ice cream freezer. Access to either one is granted with the wave of her hand, and denial by a single finger sayin’, “No.”

Once we passed inspection and our names were scratched down for all eternity, Chucky went off to find us a lonely corner so’s we could eat in peace.

Big David made sure we all stopped and bowed our heads as he asked the blessing.

I reached over to Stick’s tray, grabbing my extra cereal and milk.

“Wait, Wait, Wait, dude! said ‘cereal,’ not cereal and milk.”

“Aww, come on, dude,” I pleaded, “Everybody knows cereal comes with milk.”

“No way man! That milk belongs to yours truly.” He snapped the carton from my hand and gave the edge a quick lick to mark it as his own.

“You’re just nasty,” I sneered. How am I supposed to eat cereal without milk?”

“You got milk,” he said, “Use it.”

“But there’s not enough.”

“Not my problem, Tonto.” He took a big gulp of milk and whipped the mustache off his lip. A big, “Aah,” followed, just to rub it in.

David gave a deep snicker as he bit into his toast. He looked up, bread hanging from his gaping mouth. You guys are crazy,” he said, “Just plain ol’ crazy.”

Chucky shushed everybody, “Don’t look now, but Mark just walked in.”

We all stopped what we were doing and turned around.

“Hey, I said don’t look, not turn around and stare.”

There he was, my mortal enemy, my worst nightmare, my one, and only nemesis. An absolute giant by fifth grade standards, or any standard as far as we were concerned. At least 150 pounds of muscle and mean. His blonde hair was cut in a flat top so level you could build a house on it. He wore a varsity jacket even though he was only in fifth grade. We don’t know where he got it, and it didn’t matter. Besides, nobody was brave enough to ask him anyways.

As usual, his cronies surrounded him like he was the President. A pitiful lot, all of ’em, clambering around, bending to his every whim. He took whatever place in line that he wanted, pushin’ the less fortunate aside, slowin’ down only when he came to the Tuttle. He had to stop there.

Other kids vacated wherever he and his posse decided to sit. Stayin’ put was tantamount to suicide. The best one could hope for was losin’ part of your meal. The worst, well, made even the biggest kid shudder.

David still had the toast hanging from his mouth. Whatcha gonna do about him, friend?”

“Stay away,” I replied. If I do what he wants, and Papaw finds out, the ol’ man’s gonna kill me, maybe even worse. Like the ol’ sayin’ goes, ‘there’s worst things in life than dyin’.’ If I don’t get it for him, then he’s the one that’ll kill me; either way, I’m a dead man walkin’.”

“I’d get it if I were you,” said Stick. Your ol’ man ain’t gonna miss that much anyways, and besides, you wouldn’t be scared if you was gettin’ it for one of us now, would ya?”

“That’s different, Stick, none of you guys would ask me. And even if you did, do you think I’m afraid of a beanpole like you?”

David snorted, and half choked on cinnamon. ” Looks like he told you what fer.”

Stick smirked and made a face.

After a few more minutes of small talk, the bell rang. I swallowed what was left of my now soggy cereal and stuffed the other box in my coat pocket. It was time to take my tray to the wash window.

The washroom is a clamor of activity and the gossip center of the lunchroom. The loud clinkin’ of cups and trays bounced about the small space. Steam spewed from shiny steel washers as baskets of clean trays slid along the rollers. Students with bright white aprons and paper hats were busy scrapin’ food from trays before loadin’ them in baskets and shovin’ them into the monster’s mouth. Others waited at the far end, grabbin’ the hot baskets as they emerged, then stackin’ them clean and steamin’ in neat stacks, ready for the lunch crowd.

“When’s your turn?”

“What?” The question startled me.

“The warsh room. When’s your turn?”

I looked back; there was big David, dumping his tray of bread crust.

“Oh, I dunno, pretty soon I reckon. Burton ain’t told me when yet. A solid week cleanin’ every dirty dish in the building. I cain’t wait, whoop, whoop.”

A big hand landed solidly on my back and hurt a bit.

“Look on the bright side friend; at least ye git to stay away from ol’ Mark fer a few days.” He shrugged his shoulders and turned to walk out. I swear I saw some teeth behind that lazy smile.

By the time David and I made it to class, Chucky and Stick were already in their seats. One thing about David, he don’t hurry much. The bell rang the very second we slid through the door.

“Well, well, well. Saved by the bell once again, huh gentlemen?” It was Burton, “I swear you two cut it closer every day. I m gonna get you boys, sooner or later, just wait and see, I’m gonna get ya. Now get in your seats, can’t wait around all day now, can we?”

Mr. Burton is our fifth-grade teacher. He ain’t too bad as far as teachers go. Ma told me the two of them went to school together. even so, he still looks a heap older than Ma does. His curly brown hair and thick mustache seem to have a great deal of grey in ’em. He even blames that on us, says we’re to blame for every hair. I had hoped, see’n how he knew my Ma and all, that this year would be just a little easier. But it don’t appear to be workin’ out that way. I swear. I think he’s tryin’ to make it harder on me just because he used to be a little sweet on her.

His classroom is odd, really odd. It’s set up all backward. He’s got the desk sittin’ at the rear of the room. Now, you wanna talk about messing with yer head. He says this way he can keep an eye on everything we’re doing. It’s kinda creepy is what it is, you can feel him staring at the back of your head. It’s worse than having your Ma lookin’ over your shoulder while you’re takin’ a bath.

The chalkboard is still at the front; he keeps a tall stool sittin’ to the left side, just between the chalkboard and the door. That’s where he stays most of the time. He laughs a lot, and most days, he’s in a good mood. But, if someone ain’t done their homework, or somebody gets caught talkin’, then he gets quiet, and that’s when you know he’s mad.

This cat has the deadliest aim with a piece of chalk that you’ve ever seen. To make matters worse, his aim comes accompanied by a hair-trigger. The slightest whisper or chuckle has found many an unfortunate soul dead in the cross-hairs of an expertly placed throw.

He always aims for the head. I’ve never been hit, but Chucky and Stick seem to make a habit of it. Believe it or not, the chalk’s just a warning shot. They’s something far worse waitin’ for any doomed soul that don’t heed the chalk toss.

In his desk, hidden in the top center drawer, is where he keeps it. It’s legendary amongst kids of all ages, a literal “Excalibur” of discipline. A piece of oak about a foot and a half long and six inches wide. Along the business end of the board are carefully drilled holes, and for some un-Godly reason, signatures cover the entire length. He even went so far as to give the evil thing a name, “Ol’ Painless.”

He loves Ol’ Painless. He talks about her constantly. Sometimes I believe he expects her to answer. He even opens the desk drawer from time to time to have a make-believe conversation. The sight sends chills up our spines. Her reputation floats over the classroom like a storm cloud. Gettin’ hit by the chalk is just the thunder before the strike. And, like thunder, the clap sends all within earshot runnin’ for cover.

He only goes back to his desk after he’s taken rollcall, laid out the lesson plans, and performed whatever manner of small-talk he felt necessary. That small talk invariably turns to football or basketball or some other useless nonsense.

Most of it’s back of the bus talk, so we pass the time makin’ faces, passin’ notes, or just tryin’ to get the other caught and in some manner of trouble.

But, after a few minutes, he makes his way back to his desk and sits there, scannin’ the room for the slightest infraction. That’s why it’s so hard to cheat, pass notes, throw anything, or just be normal; you get the picture.

Mark sits at the back of the room, right smack next to Mr. Burton’s desk. I’m sure it’s on purpose; they whisper back and forth like school kids, ’bout sports mostly, I reckon. Most times, I can’t make out the whispers and chuckles.

Aside from the gossip, and given mine and Mark’s history, I’m sure Burton put him in that particular spot for the sole purpose of staring a hole through the back of my head. Whatever the reason, there he was, and I can feel him givin’ me the stink-eye.

So…there it is what do you think? If you liked it, then hit a button or two. If there was something missing, please let me know. Comments with any and all advice are greatly appreciated.

As always, We understand time is precious, and we are honored you chose to spend a bit of it with us. Thank You and God Bless you.

The Tin Cup Clan

Chapter 1

“The unlikeliest of hero’s”

Well, friends here it is, Chapter one of “The Leech Cemetery Witch.” Plenty of folks have waited far too long to get a peek at it. I’ve decided to post a chapter or two each week, (yes, the entire book.) But there’s a catch, I need your help. We have a lot of seasoned writers in the group whom I respect in every way. as you read the coming chapters, let me know what you think. How can it be improved? What parts are too slow? Where do I need to further expound? Punctuation: I’m sure I’ve dropped the ball there quite a few times. Please let me know. Comments are not only welcomed but encouraged. Drop a note, an e-mail, a comment, a carrier Pigeon, Morse code, whatever it takes. Thank You so very much.

Finally: it’s time to formally introduce you too…THE TIN CUP CLAN.

Time to get up!

Her voice wakes me quicker than any alarm clock ever could.

But ma, I protested. My throat hurts; I can barely talk.

Come on, young’un, get up and go gargle with some warm salt water; you’ll be fine in a bit.

They’s’ no point in arguing with her; we’d been through this too many times before. That old excuse had begun to wear as thin as her patience, and I needed different ammo, a better disease.

Yea, that’s it, maybe somethin’ contagious and oozy. Who don’t like oozy?

I shuffled my bones from the warm bed. The cold floor stung my bare feet, grabbed me by the ankles, and shook the sleepy from the rest of me. After a good stretch, I turned and tugged at the blankets until the wrinkles were somewhat gone. Then punched the pillow a few times, fluffin’ it up good and proper. I stepped back, admirin’ my handy work that there is what’s known as a “properly” made bed. I grabbed my pocket radio (you know; the one you ain’t supposed to have, but everyone does) and hid it under the mattress just as ma poked her head through the door.

Come on, young man, MOVE, she yelled as she slapped the wall with her open hand.

You’re gonna be late… again.

Shaking her head from side to side, she turned in a huff, leaving me to get dressed.

It was cold in the house, not freezing cold mind you, just cold enough to make a body miserable. The kind of cold that seeps into your bones like wet mold, making every joint painful, stiff, and slow to move.

The oil furnace had once again died during the night. Seems like the only time the ol’ girl decides to give up the ghost is when she can cause the most discomfort. Ma had the oven door open in a desperate effort to get some heat into the kitchen. It didn’t do a lot of good; the trailer had so many air leaks we might as well be camping in the great outdoors.

But there we stood, holding our hands in front of the open oven door, pretendin’ the glowin’ coils were a campfire. The two of us rubbin’ our hands together and slappin’ our arms shakin’ off the misery. If it were really cold, she would pull a chair to the front of the oven; there she would sit, waving heat into the room with a piece of cardboard. Once her arms began to ache, we would take turns.

I’ll work on the “ol” girl when I get outta school.

Her face looked worn and battle weary.

We got any kerosene left?

Yea. I think there’s another five gallons or so outback.

I was used to workin’ on the ol’ girl. Heck, I’ve had her apart about a million times. I knew every nut, every bolt, and every mood swing. Yep, we kinda got a love-hate relationship that stove and me. I hate workin’ on her, but I swear she loves the attention.

But enough of that, we had a schedule to keep. Missing the bus wasn’t an option, not that I couldn’t walk to school, No sir. Missing that bus meant I’d end up missing out on school breakfast, and that was somethin’ I just couldn’t allow.

As I stepped onto the porch, Jack Frost was ready to greet me. I stopped for a second, dead in my tracks, just to soak a bit of it in. With a deep breath, I blew into the morning air and watched as the mist floats above my head before fadin’ away into the cold.

Around me, pillars of smoke seep from chimneys; it hovers there, just over the rooftops like rain clouds. When I inhale, each breath brings with it the scent of burnin’ Hickory, Oak, and coal, especially in the mornin’ when the heavy cold air holds it low to the ground.

Yep…this is Fall in the southern mountains, and I love it.

Time to catch that bus.

Funny thing about a school bus; unknown to most, a certain “social segregation” reigns supreme. One might go as far as to say a miniature cold war of class separation.

Now… you might think a body could sit just about anywhere there was an empty seat. But every kid that’s ever sat on a bus knows that just ain’t the case, here or anywhere else.

One simple mistake, such as sittin’ in the wrong territory or next to the wrong person, could haunt a kid for the rest of the school year, maybe even the rest of your life. No kid, no matter how hard they might try, can ever leave one group for another or switch class of friends; such a thing just ain’t done.

I believe the seatin’ arrangements are about the same no matter where you might go to school. Where you sit is a lot more than fate, I’m not sure how, but I think life sifts us a lot like coal through the washer, different sizes fall through different holes, and you don’t really have much choice in the matter. It’s some twisted sort of “natural” order—birds of a feather and all that nonsense.

Oddly enough, it starts at the back of the bus.

First, we have the jocks and their giddy band of cheerleaders; they sit in the very rear. With heads full of cotton, they brag about upcomin’ games, how much each can bench press, and what kind of car they hope to drive someday. Even which poor soul at the front of the bus gets drafted into doing their homework.

All this accompanied by the constant singin’, gigglin’, cheerin’, chitterin’, and whatever annoyin’ nonsense those daing cheerleaders might think up. For the most part, they’re a vain group, with poofy hair and heavy make-up, and not very bright either, but dangerous all the same.

Just a few seats up, you’ll find the “cool” kids.

I’m talkin’ rock music, leather jackets, pretty girls, and long hair. You have to be careful around this group. They can smell fear just by lookin’ at you. When I say aggressive, this is the group that comes to mind. They seem to leer at everyone, forever on the lookout, searchin’ for the slightest sign of weakness within the herd. Herd being everybody else.

They were unbelievably less intelligent than those jocks. If they caught you lookin’ at one of their girls or made any manner of eye contact, you’re probably gonna get a poundin’ or, at the very least, a severe cussin’.

Closer to the front sit the smart kids.

They’re a good bunch at heart, and all are harmless. They don’t say a whole lot, least not to anyone outside their group. Most have an anxious look about their face, and their laps are generally covered with piles of dog-eared papers. Some frantically scratch at the papers in a last-minute dash to finish homework, or more likely, extra credit projects.

When it comes to this group, eye contact must be avoided for an entirely different reason. Most are like deer in an open field, constantly wary of predators; an unwelcome stare or hostile movement may send many into catatonic fits. Desperately digging through pockets and trapper-keepers, frantically searching for the ever-present inhaler. Yea, I reckon they spook pretty easily.

Separating the smart from the cool was the “poor kid” section. I reckon you might call it a homemade demilitarized zone. A buffer protecting the smart ones from the various projectiles flips to the noggins or other insults launched from the rear seats.

This section is the biggest by a long shot, mainly kids whose parents work for the mines in one way or the other; everything’s hooked to the mines around here. The clothes they wear might be a bit tattered, repurposed hand-me-downs from older brothers and sisters. Many have never laid eyes on an iron, even if they had, late nights and busy mornings don’t leave much time for such trivial and vain labors.

Black soot has replaced the fingernail polish common in the bus’s rear, leftovers from gathering coal, feeding animals, or tending morning fires. Guys wear haircuts done at the kitchen table with a pair of scissors and a towel. But the girls proudly show off long, neatly brushed hair that shimmers in the morning sun. Pretty homemade bows keep the hair pulled to back, framing their faces.

It’s only October, so blue jeans still cling to their dark blue color; most have only just now begun to fade. Most ain’t even torn yet; patches of different shades will soon cover knees and the occasional butt-cheek. We usually get a couple of new pairs when school starts; it takes a good while to break ‘em in. Until that time, the denim is generally so stiff I swear they could stand on their own if given the opportunity.

Along with the new britches comes a new pair of shoes. Not the shoes worn by jocks or cool kids; ours are a whole lot more “down to earth.” But that don’t stop most of us from dreaming of high-top All-Stars for the guys or a bright white pair of “Keds” for the girls.

This is where I usually sit, if not in the same spot, then really close to it. A seat saved for me by one of my three closest friends in the world. I don’t remember what brought us together; heck, I don’t know when we all first met; it just seems like we’ve always just, well, been.

First, and in my opinion, the best, is David Owens. “Big” David, by nature, is a quiet sort; he seems to be in a continuous state of mild-mannered happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a slight smile on his face. I’ve come to believe his face is just sorta, made that way.

Whatever the reason, and without his knowledge, he just seems to bring a sense of calm to our group. Ma calls it a “sweet spirit,” from what I hear, friends like that are pretty hard to come by.

But the oddest thing about David is the ever-present smell of wood smoke. He wears it like perfume, and it always seems to arrive a bit before he does, no matter where he’s going.

He’s a big ol’ boy with giant fingers and big hands. His head sits on top of a thick neck and broad shoulders. Nobody wants to get on ol’ David’s bad side; if he even has a bad side, nobody’s really seen it. Usually, his slow deep voice and calm nature are just enough to defuse about any situation one of our little group might get ourselves into.

Next, there’s Chucky Mathews. He’s kind of an odd duck. A dark-headed short kid with an abnormally large mouth. Not big like he talks a lot, even though he does. I mean big bright red clown lips that cover the entire bottom of his face. They remind me of the wax ones you can buy at the dime store. Those big lips also hide a set of the tiniest teeth you ever saw. It makes you wonder if he ever lost his baby teeth.

They make him look kinda silly, and he’s all kinds of sensitive about it. He has a laugh that’s just as weird, like a chip-monk or squirrel, a kind of chittering sound. He uses that weird laugh all the time, laughing at everything even when he’s in trouble, especially when he’s in trouble, which now that I think of it is a lot.

Last but not least was “Stick.” David Byrge is his real name, but nobody calls him that; it’s just plain ol’ Stick. He’s as skinny as a hoe handle, and his bright red hair usually looks like it’s cut around a bowl. When I say red, I mean “RED,” not light, dark, almost, but bright red.

You cain’t put a finger on him no-where without covering a freckle, I mean he’s covered with ‘em. So much so that you’d think they were on the whites of his eyes. He’s been known to drop a fib or two as well, but other than big David, so have the rest of us. Talk about dirty jokes, swear he knows about every single dirty joke on the planet, and he ain’t afraid to tell any of ‘em to just about anybody at any time.

Well, there they are, my best friends in the world. My partners in crime if you want to get picky about it. For the most part, we got each other’s back, well, big David does anyhow. And, if one of us happens to shoot our mouth off to the wrong person or get caught looking at the wrong girl, well, we know where to turn.

All of our families work in or about the mines somehow or somewhere. Big David’s dad works in the hole.

Men who work down there are called moles, for good reason. It’s a dirty job and a lot more dangerous than folks realize. Long hours of stifling heat, coal dust, and fumes, not to mention the ever-present threat of cave-ins.’ But the pay is good for the area, and good-paying jobs are hard to come by. There’s always a line of men wanting to get into the hole to make a better living for their families.

Chuckle’s dad works the belt and washer, just as dirty, if not more, but maybe just a little safer.

The pay’s not near what the hole pays, but he’s lucky to get it. He used to work at the mill, but he was one of the first to get the ax when they cut back. Big David’s dad pulled some strings and got him on at the Blue Diamond mine. He ain’t been there too long, so he’s still playing catch up as far as money goes.

Stick’s ol man drives a coal truck.

Takes a special kind of stupid to climb on top of 60.000 pounds, then try to control it down steep mountain roads and switchbacks. It takes years to learn how to operate and control one of those things. They’s been quite a few who lost their lives on the mountainside. Once a truck takes off down that hill, she takes on a life of her own.

If she gets loose, you got two choices, step out on the tanks, look for a soft spot, then jump off and hope for the best. Or hold on and try to ride it out; either way, you’re probably gonna die, simple as that. The secret is picking a gear at the top and leaving her there. Once you try to shift down and break those gears lose, she’s gone for sure.

Once she goes over, the ground’s too steep to get her back up out of the holler. The mountainside is littered with dead trucks, overgrown with weeds, and rusting away just where they landed.

We go up there a lot, scrapping for parts, playing on ‘em, and picking up spilled coal. We’d all get a whippin’ if we got caught, we’ve been told a bunch of times how dangerous it was, but nobody’s been hurt yet.

Death is always hanging about in coal mining country—a constant companion for most. For the most part, we accept it learned to live with it. Most folk deal with it by pretending it ain’t there. “The Lord calls, and it’s my time, and that’s that,” they say.

Others allow it to follow them around throughout their entire life. “Ol scratch” hangs over ‘em like a spirit that lives in the hills and hollers. They’re easy to spot, those folk. They carry a heavy appearance, burdened, like they’re never really happy. Just kinda going through life, waiting for him, looking for him, almost dead already.

I reckon death is part of life for most of us, normal as breathing. We don’t think about it or talk about it much. As a matter of fact, the four of us know the mines are where we’re gonna work when we hit sixteen. It’s what’s expected if you want to make any manner of living. Come to think of it, I reckon that’s what the spots on the bus are there for—teaching us our place in life, at an early age, our pecking order.

Every year there’s an accident of some sort, in those mines, sometimes it’s a collapse, other times somebody gets hit or run over by equipment. Even if that black hole don’t get ya when you’re working, the black lung’s probably gonna get you after you’ve been down there a while.

It’s not unusual to see men in their forties, pasty-faced and hollow-eyed, panting and gasping for breath, sitting with the old men on the benches in front of stores, swapping lies and stories of coal. Not many of ‘em talk about the “good ol’ days,” probably because there just ain’t that many to tell.

But, for the time being, the four of us are pleased to spend our spare time walking the train tracks, digging for fossils in the slag pits, and well, just being us.

Sometimes we walk the tracks picking up coal that’s fell from the hopper cars. We each carry a five-gallon bucket made from an old lard can with a wire coat hanger as a handle. Ya gotta make sure and wrap the wire with something because the thin wire bites into your skin hard, causing your fingers to bleed at the joints. Putting a dab of kerosene on the cuts stops the bleeding; it kinda takes the hurt away as well.

Coal sells for about twenty dollars a ton, and each full bucket weighs about forty or fifty pounds. That’s some good money for four such enterprising streetwise entrepreneurs as ourselves. But most of the time, we just take ‘em home and use ‘em there.

When we don’t find much coal, there’s always the pennies. We place a few on top of the rails. Then, after the train rolls through, we run out to gather ‘em up. Smashed pennies are like trading cards and a popular form of currency among boys our age. We trade ‘em for just about everything. Gadgets and whatnots, pencils, and erasers. One time a kid brought some pieces of honest-to-goodness sugar cane. Cost each of us two rail pennies apiece. But we slobbered on those sticks for two days. That’s why everybody has one or two in his pocket at all times, just in case.

The Tin Cup Clan books are dedicated to my children: Jeremy, Lydia,Emily, and Savanna. To my grandsons: Kaden, Saylor, Landry, Taylen, Lennox, Maddox, Amaris. My Loves.

Thanks in advance for the feedback; THE TIN CUP CLAN

THE TIN CUP CLAN’s final Preface

After the UMP-TEENTH revision, I think we have settled on the preface for The Leech Cemetery Witch. What do you think? Does it make you want to read the book? Does it sound mysterious enough? Does it make my butt look big? I need some feedback; I’m dying here.

PREFACE

Our adventure began many winters ago when the “grey” moved into our tiny town. None of us knew where it came from or when it arrived; it was just “there,” violating everything with its “nothing.”

We lived in a typical coal-mining town nestled deep in the Tennessee mountains, and as with most towns in coal country, time was slowly but surely passing us by. We didn’t know why; perhaps the “grey” made us invisible, no one knew for sure.

The stores and buildings seemed well aware of their fate. Death was slowly reclaiming them, clawing at the bricks and mortar as he dragged them back into the ground. On quiet days you could almost hear a mournful sigh float through the hollows and hills.

In one way or another, we all felt it, a “fading” of sorts. Fading seems to be a good word, and the grey little town was well and truly “fading” into history and memory.

That’s where we began our epic journey, just a small group of boys fighting that “grey.” Our little band of brothers included my three meddlesome friends and me. Meddlesome, yes, but tried and true every last one, and unbelievably, the school bully who, with time, came to realize we had a lot more in common than any of us ever thought possible. Together we would come to be known as “The Tin Cup Clan.”

Our tale begins with exchanging some homemade liquor, a foolish “double-dog-dare,” and an old forgotten cemetery. (complete with a not so forgotten witch) Stir in a hollow gravestone guarded by a ghost dog, add the legend of a long-lost baby, finish with a pinch of murder, and you got yourself one heck of a mystery.

Oh, let’s not forget a thin scruffy old janitor, mysterious to his marrow bones; he knows a great deal more than he’s telling. The mystery swirls around his person like smoke from a pipe. Ol’ Bill will have a profound influence on our story, and, as I look back through the eyes of an old man, I realize he changed the course of our entire lives.

So, pull that chair closer to the fire, sip your hot cocoa, and join us as we follow “The Tin Cup Clan” and the mystery of “The Leech Cemetery Witch.”

“CHRISTMAS” in a CARDBOARD BOX

“Christmas gifts in short supply,” “Shop early to avoid empty shelves,” The black Christmas of 2021.” The headlines go on and on. If a body allowed themselves, all this bad news can really drag a person down, make ’em believe Christmas and all it stands for can be contained, held captive on some random cargo ship floating just off the coast somewhere.

But don’t you think on it, no sir, don’t you think on it one bit. I got some good news for us all. They may be tellin’ us the holidays are being held captive, but they’re wrong! Let me tell you why.

The Owens family are the stars of our little story, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Owen’s and big David from the book snippets. We join them on a very special day, up early, cleaned and pressed, David’s hair combed and oiled, his four sister’s hair carefully brushed and garnished with pretty bows of left over fabric. His Ma had the entire clan ready to go before sun up. The girls, bubbling over with excitement, picked, poked, and giggled at each other, all the while David looked to the Heavens and rolled his eyes. He couldn’t let ’em see his excitement, after all, while his Pa was at work he was the man of the house. This meant someone had to be the voice of reason.

You see friend: before cellular phones and tablets, before designer purses and Nike shoes, before those robot vacuum cleaners and that creepy Alexa lady who talks to you at home even in the most private of situations, before Atari, PlayStation and X-box. There was something more… a simple dog-eared cardboard box, but contained within that humble box, well… contained there was everything Christmas was about, everything Christmas promised and everything Christmas was, and as kids they looked forward to it’s yearly return with as much excitement as Santa Claus, maybe more.

Since it was Christmas basket season, that meant anything was possible, maybe even probable. Most folk have been fortunate enough to have never seen one, and that particular memory, like so many things from our past, seems to be slowly fading into obscurity. But to David and his sisters, all the magic and wonder of the holiday season was waiting for them inside that box.

Oh it’s all there…you just gotta know what to look for, the Christmas story in it’s entirety. From the simple to the sublime, the mundane to the magical, the humble to the most high. And like all good things (I mean really good things), very little, if any, money is required.

David and his sisters didn’t know “poor”, to them it was simply”life” and life needed no special words to quantify it, it simply was, and that was that. But… it was a different time and folks defined “poor” differently than we do now.

There they were, like a momma duck and her babies, all waddlin’ up the narrow road into town. If they were lucky, a neighbor would stop and offer a ride, if not there was plenty to talk about on the five mile hike. All the children could talk about were those boxes and what wonders waited inside. Each shared tales about what they hoped to find within, minds raced and imaginations soared as tales of last years treats and which ones were favorites flew though the cold air.

Before they knew it, the lodge came into to view and they could see the line of folks wrapping around the building like a black snake, all patiently waiting their turn. Now before we go any further we need to get one thing straight friend…this weren’t charity. Around here folk look out for each other, we share the gift as well as the burden. We didn’t need the government, we didn’t need a handout, and we didn’t need some politician deciding what our folk deserved. We had neighbors and friends who cared, and felt the pain of hardship like we all did.

The sights,sounds, and smells in that building were in a kids eyes, beyond words. Boxes packed full of holiday greatness were stacked floor to ceiling. The aroma of chocolate, citrus, cinnamon, and other treats unknown floated about the room before simmering into an aroma that brought goose-bumps to the skin. The roomful of voices and excited clamber mixed just as easily, composing a soothing hymn. This must truly be what Christmas was all about, those children were in Heaven and never wanted to leave.

A booming HO, HO, HO, snapped them to reality. The three girls pulled and tugged at David’s shirt, begging to go see Santa. David shot his ma a pleading glance.

Oh fine, she replied. Take your sister and go see Santa, I got some things to drop of at the tables anyway.

Without waiting on their brother, the girls ran to the short line of children, all waiting to tell the Jolly ol’ elf their most private of wishes. David knew it as soon as he laid eyes on the ol’ boy. The yards of red velvet and white fur trim couldn’t hide the tin toys and whistles dangling just below Santa’s coat. The ivory pipe he held clutched in his teeth could belong to no other, it was ol’ Shag Branch in the flesh. The wonderful ol’ man sat there, his lap full of children. From time to time his head fell back as a thunderous laugh filled the room. Shag was in his element, he loved those children and they loved him in return. Christmas seemed to fit Shag, his well worn stories of travel to far off and exotic lands were replaced with reindeer tales, and elf updates, the intricacies of toy manufacturing, and flight zones. The children (young and old) gathered round him as usual, mouths wide open and eyes star struck as they absorbed the tales like raindrops on dry clay.

Mrs. Owens used the opportunity to finish some business. She placed a large basket on the table under the watchful eyes of the chief and mayor. A loud gasp was heard from both as she laid six fresh baked “cornmeal” pies in a neat line. Quit that she scolded as she swatted away the mayor’s hand. Those are for the raffle, you want a taste then go buy ye’selves a ticket.

Grumbles were heard as the two men turned to go in search of the ticket table.

We’ll be back Mrs. Owens replied Mayor Weaver, yea said the chief, with winning tickets too.

I hope so boys, she answered, I hope so.

To be perfectly honest; each family was to get just one box, but the men behind the tables, well… they knew things, the kinda things only a small town knows. With a wink, a finger to their lips and a quick shush, a box appeared before each of the children. The girls could scarce wrap their arms around the treasure. Once the boxes were held tight against they’re chests, they were quietly scatted outside.

Ma led her little band of ducks to a large sweet-gum tree, there beneath the gnarled branches they examined they’re spoils.

One large frozen roasting hen

Cans of pumpkin, green beans, corn and untold other vegetables

A bag of flour, cornmeal, and sugar

A large bag of tree nuts

A bag of pretty ribbon candy, creme drops, horehound candy, gum drops, and a box of Cracker Jacks

A large poke of oranges and a few grapefruit

But the best lay hidden at the bottom. All four filled their mouths with gum drops and began to dig. I found it yelled the youngest, soon followed by the other three. Four pairs of hands lifted the prize into the air. A brand new pocket New Testament. Still cold from the frozen chicken, leather bound with gold letters on the outside and red letters on the inside. (The red letters are the important ones).

Mrs. Owens let her little ones enjoy their newfound prizes for a few minutes before giving word that it was time to make the way back home. David secured each girl with a their own box before picking up his own. The little band began the journey back home.

The journey home was dominated by tales of Santa and the things he might bring. A thankful grin lay across the face of both David, and his ma. The hope and dreams of the three girls lifted they’re hearts and made the steps lighter.

As the four marched, the wind brought the scent of cinnamon and Liquorice to the nose. The aroma mixed and mingled with the scent of citrus and apples, until finally joining with the smell of cardboard and the cold of the chicken. The end result was nothing short of magical.

We all have special “triggers” in our lives, simple little things such as a TV. show, a special taste, a smell, or familiar tune. Something so small and innocuous that it means nothing to others, but to us, those “little” things have the power to instantly transport us back to simpler times and our childhood, or treasured memory. The smell of a Christmas basket is one of mine, and I’m sure, for David and his three sisters as well.

Remember when I said those boxes contained Christmas? Well…let’s talk about that a-bit shall we?

You may be, (and I pray that you are), unfamiliar with the concept of a “Christmas Basket” and what it meant to so many mountain families, not to mention children. Every year when the leaves began to change, local churches, businesses, friends, neighbors, heck, most of the whole town came together in the spirit of Love and Sacrifice. A humble yet grand effort to gift another with the simple respite from worry.

Food drives would be held, bake sales and raffles. Collection plates circulate in churches ,meeting halls, and even local beer joints. Most everyone gratefully shared what little they had, no avenue was left unchecked in the effort to fill as many boxes as possible.

Do such labors work? Do these humble actions of neighbors have lasting effect. Well…here sits an old man, typing away at his keyboard. As I write this story I smell that box,I feel the cold from the frozen bird against my face as I walk home. I feel the weight as I carry it close to my chest. The smell of citrus, chocolate and cinnamon fill my head and I’m transported back, way back.

Strip away the tinsel, the twinkling lights and greenery. Remove the silver, gold and blown glass. Forget about spending money you don’t have, to buy people you don’t like, things they don’t need.

Whats left?

Just an old cardboard box, much like an old wooden manger, both filled with hope, joy, and promise. The return of which was looked forward to every year at this special time. Remember that pocket New Testament those little ones were so desperate to find too? Oh it was there in that manger as well. Oh not a little book mind you, but nothing less than the word manifest in flesh, the Christ child. A promise made, a promise fulfilled.

Oh I nearly forgot; Remember those pies Mrs. Owens baked? There’s a lesson there as well. In my simple mind I believe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost is best described as a cornmeal pie cut into three slices. Each separate at the surface,but the middle, the ooey gooey sweet part, is still as one.

Mary had a little Lamb, so very long ago.

Though our sins be as crimson..

The Lamb can wash them white as snow.

My sin debt was paid by that Little Lamb, in that manger long ago.

And now where that Lamb has gone, I shall surely go.

MERRY CHRISTMAS from the Tin Cup Clan. It’s been a wonderful year, God has allowed me to continue sharing these tales with you even though the doctors tell me other wise. We thank each of you for your prayers and support and continue to pray that the Lord bless you and your Loved ones without measure.

So…next time you hear or read of all the evil afoot in this ol’ world. Stop a second and think of Big David and his sisters, a corn meal pie, and a humble little “cardboard box.” Then with a deep breath, smile a bit and smell the citrus. God’s got this, I promise.

Please like an share this story. I’m certain we all know others who need to read it. I don’t get out much anymore so leave a comment or two as well, we certainly enjoy reading them. THE TIN CUP CLAN

Riding the Ribbon

Riding the Ribbon 

Have you ever sat in your car watching as the train rolled by, wondering what it must be like to run alongside, grabbing a hold of the iron and stealing a free ride to God knows where? To simply sit on your perch and feel the rhythm of the rails in your bones and listen to the roar of the wind as it glides past your ears. Freedom, that’s the word, freedom in its purest. 

     I’m gonna do something a little different with this story. Today we’re gonna join the boys as they are off in a new adventure. Today for the first time…you’re gonna read just a little bit of the Tin Cup Clan’s next mystery. “The legend of Blue Hole” 

Some time has passed since the cold, wet Witch adventure and there are still a number of unanswered questions. Our boys continue to probe, investigate rumors, and at last, get to the bottom of those fateful days. 

Now, it’s the dog days of Summer, and like any would do in heat such as this, we ride along as our boys find yet another method of finding cool comfort. In this little town that quest usually results in a visit to the Blue Hole.       Enjoy.   

Hot…six-thirty in the morning and it was already hotter than blue blazes. Apparently, a few Jar-Flies were up as early as me and had begun their customary brain numbing calls, Weee-ooo-weee-oo, the noise travels up and down the hollers, invading the senses of every living soul. But I reckon that’s the price you pay for summer, and days like these.  

I looked down the driveway and see the guys waiting under the tree, fighting for a spot in the early morning shade. They’re waiting on me, so I begin a trot down to meet ‘em. 

We were beginnin’ ta worry ‘bout che friend. Figured ye might be up there in front of the TV a watchin’ cartoons ‘er somethin’. laughed big David. 

He ain’t gonna miss this, replied Stick. He too scared he might miss catchin’ a peek of Teresa in her bathin’ suit. 

Chucky thought the whole thing was hilarious, being the smart aleck he was, he started making kissy faces at Stick and pretending to be me. Stick fluttered his eyes loving at Chucky, “My hero” he swooned in a girly voice. I was getting madder by the second. 

A long slow distant horn blast immediately shut everybody up, demanding their attention. 

Here she comes, said big David. Sounds like she’s a crossin’ McKamey bridge, right on time. 

That’s right folks…We were train huntin’ 

They’s two kinds of trains around here. The silver L&N, she’s fast, loud, and the caboose is usually full of yard dogs. The only contact we have with this train is when we hide behind bushes and throw walnuts at the passing engineer. Other than that, it’s best stay out of her way when she’s a coming through. 

The other is the slow and steady black Southern. She’s a gentle southern lady, and when this ol’ girl rumbles through town she’s usually taking her time. Slowly sliding along the rails at an easy pace, you seldom see any yard dogs barking at her heels, and that friend, is the one we’ve been waiting for. 

We’ve done this a few times before so each of us knows our place. We spread out along the track about fifty feet apart and hide in the bushes. Big David’s the first, followed by me, then Chucky, and finally Stick. 

It’s important to wait until the middle of the train, that way you’re outta sight from the engine and the caboose. As she gets closer the vibrations increase, they build until you can feel ‘em in your marrow bones and your heart speeds up to match the rhythm. Big David is the first to make his move. 

It’s his job to pick the car, suddenly he darts from his hiding place and begins to run alongside his target. When he finds a good hold, he grabs the rail and pulls his self onto the ladder, then with a quick jump, plants his feet. He leans out from the side, outstretching his big hand, it’s my turn. 

I jump from the bushes, run alongside till David gets to me then grabbing ahold of my arm pulls me up the ladder. He does the same for Chucky, and finally Stick, who he nearly throws off the other side since he weighs next to nothing. With a sigh of relief, we find a seat and make ourselves comfortable for the ride. 

The world looks different when you’re riding the Ribbon, scenes pass by like a movie script, making your forget you live here. As the train reaches the crossings, we wave at the waiting cars and laugh as the occupants stare in confusion. It’s not long until the train runs through the center of town, here the whole world plays out before our eyes, but from our seats we’re not part of the madness, only spectators, watching the goings on like we would ants or bees. 

The town falls beneath us as we begin to cross the trestle. The trains rumbles over the top of the Piggly-Wiggly and hardware store. We feel special somehow, just for the simple knowing of what the roofs of those buildings look like. A lot like an old friend that knows your worst secrets but keeps ‘em to his self. Soon we begin to leave the town behind and the change in the drone of the engines can be felt in our behinds. We are beginning the slow grade to the mines. 

The rhythm changes…slows a great deal, with it so does our heart beats. A comfortable calm takes control and the smells and scenery change. 

I take in a deep breath, letting the smell of honeysuckle and pine fill my head. As I look around, I see the others in the same pose, noses lifted to the air and eyes closed. Only after we’ve filled our heads do our eyes open. 

Green has replaced the grey of the town, green as green can be, everywhere. Green has a smell, (yes it does), not cut grass or saw dust, but a clean smell, it cleans out the head and clears the mind, putting life in its place and numbing worries. The branches flip and flutter as the cars pass, and they wave to us as we glide along the ribbon. The creek runs to the left of the tracks, tumbling in folds of white as it cascades from boulder to boulder. I stare as thin beams of sunlight sparkle in the nooks and craneys. Yep…life is good

Blue Holes comin’ up fellers, better wake up. Big David wakes us from our trance as our destination approaches. 

Reluctantly we stand and take our places, ready for the drop. 

At this point the train is slow but dangerous just the same, Generations of riders have worn a soft-landing spot, cushioned by honey suckle and wild Heather, all that is needed is a slow pace, a mild tuck and roll, and you’re here. Sounds simple right? There have been times when things didn’t go as planned and a few unfortunate souls bear the scars from it. But once you get the hang of it it’s as easy as falling off your bed. 

We line up like paratroopers, hearts in our throats, waiting for a sign, once big David gives the signal, we all move. One by one jumping from the ladder into the honeysuckle and straw followed with a quick roll. Once we stand and get our bearings, a wonderous world greets us, straight out of the movies. This little bit of Heaven known to all as…The Blue Hole.

We hope you enjoyed this little peek into our next adventure. Oh Yes…there’s more to come, a lot more. In the mean time we would appreciate a like, especially a follow. Heck share it…tell some friends. Until next time…Thank You from the bottom of our hearts.

THE TIN CUP CLAN  

Be “Still” my beating heart

Just finished another edit on Chapter eleven. So I thought I would share another excerpt. Here we find our character as he first enters the shed. He knows what will happen to him if he gets caught. But he has no other choice. As you read remember, he’s only eleven, put yourself in his place. How would you react.

Except: Chapter 11…”Karma is a fickle mistress”

To most folk, it’s just an old shed full of hog feed and tools. An ancient weather-worn building that looks like it might collapse at any moment if not for the briars and poison vines holding it up. Don’t let appearances fool ya, it’s true purpose lies hidden just inside, on the left just behind a weather weary 6-panel door. The ol’ man keeps it pretty well hidden with sacks of feed, rolls of barbed wire, and piles of rusted tools. 

I had to make sure and study how every sack and spool was stacked or placed. If even a single one was out of moved, the ol’ buzzard would know someone had messed with them for sure. 

I poked my head out one last time, making sure I wasn’t being watched, then quickly went to work. I was on a strict timeline cause the old man was sure to notice if I took too long. Once I had enough sacks moved to the side, I slid through a narrow opening. 

 There she was…the dim light gave “her” a menacing appearance. The bottom was covered in black soot, scars from years of green wood and coal fires. Age and use had turned her copper skin an ugly shade of olive brown, it’s no telling how old she was. A large copper pipe came from the top of her big belly, then into the top of a smaller barrel called a “thumper” (So, named because of the thumping sound it makes when filled with steam). A small copper coil called the “worm” came from the top of that tank and curled its way into another barrel. It’s empty now but gets filled with cool spring water when the Ol’ man is a cooking. A small outlet sticks out of the bottom, the Ol’ man usually has the bone from a coon’s pecker stuck in the end, (it’s a mountain thing), and liquor drips from the end of it into the jar. 

Sunlight entered the shed through gaps between the weathered boards. Eerie streaks of dusty sunlight tend to play strange tricks on the eyes. In this setting, it was easy to believe she was almost alive. Sleeping for now but waiting for the Ol’ man to come and wake her. I couldn’t help but to touch her, when I laid my hand on her I half expected to feel a heartbeat. But she was cold and dead. I lost myself for a few seconds I don’t know why, it was almost like she was trying to talk to me, but the cold made me shiver and snapped me from my trance. 

The back wall was stacked with shelves. On them sat jar after jar of liquid, some of them clear as spring water, others, golden amber like fresh honey. Realizing I had lost some time staring at the still, I picked up my pace a bit. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I could feel each beat in my head. I stuck a shaky hand into my pocket and pulled out the first bottle. 

I grabbed the closest jar and gave the lid a twist, nothing, my hands were so sweaty I couldn’t get a grip on the lid. What if they were on to tight? What would I do then? I put the jar back and choose another. Twisting as hard as I could, still nothing, to tight. In desperation I put it back, wiped my palm on my pants leg before grabbing another and twisting so hard that I bit my tongue. It turned, whew… now, how was I gonna get the whiskey poured into the little hole. I hadn’t thought of that. I thought of every-thing but that, how stupid could a person be? 

I looked around the dark room, there had to be something I could use, but what? Then out of the corner of my eye, in a beam of dusty light I saw a tattered notebook. Papaw’s recipes and inventory. I carefully tore a page from the rear and twisted it into a funnel. Taking great care, I poured the liquor into the small bottle, I was running out of time. If I tried to take a little out of several it would take too long, I was sure to get busted. 

I made the risky decision of pouring all three out of the one jar and then swapping places with another at the far corner of one of the shelves, maybe he wouldn’t notice. Poking the last of the bottles into my pocket, I left the room but not before making certain to replace the feed sacks and coils just right. By the time I was finished I was dripping with sweat even though it was thirty-five degrees. 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

How many remember fifth grade? More importantly; how many remember the lunch room? Most don’t understand the politics, social exchange and class warfare that transpired there. So…for just a bit, experience the “lunch-room” through the eyes of the Tin Cup Clan. This is just a small excerpt from Chapter Eight, I hope you can get a little “feel” for the boys and maybe even catch a faint hint of frying sausage and burnt toast.

Excerpt from Chapter 8 “Was She Flirtin’ and Best Laid Plans”

Whatever conversations or business transactions that were taking place were put on hold for the time being. A far more important matter was at hand. Breakfast. 

The opening of the lunch-room door was held with nearly as much high spirited anticipation as, well… Christmas morning. This morning the planets were obviously in perfect alignment and Madam Karma was apparently in an extraordinary mood. 

Because when we opened that door… the air hung heavy with the wonderful soothing aroma of sausage, eggs, and toast. It had to be a sign straight from the all-mighty himself. Maybe, just maybe, things were finally going my way. 

We stood just inside the doorway, frozen in our tracks. Each of us staring at the other three. I didn’t want to take any chances, blurting out “that’s it no trades” as quickly as possible. 

Big David’s eyes narrowed into thin slits. He turned his head looking down at Stick with a look that could kill. 

That’s fine by me friend. How about you Stick? 

Stick looked up, swallowing the lump growing in his throat. What are you lookin’ at me for? I ain’t done nothin.’ 

Big Dave never broke his stare, “Just am friend that’s all, just am.” 

Before us lay a veritable smorgasbord, the sight of steaming pans full of scrambled eggs, stacks of sausage, and hot biscuits made our mouths water. The four of us gazed at the food like kids in a candy store window as hair-netted lunch ladies filled our trays. 

Sure does look good, don’t it friend? 

Chucky looked up at David, you do realize, those are just powdered eggs don’t ya? They ain’t real, they just add water to ‘em and fry ‘em up, that’s all. 

Well, they’s’ allot of stuff that’s good when you add water to it, argued big Dave. You ain’t forgot ‘bout Tang, have ye? And don’t fergit ‘bout Ovaltine.  

Mark and his cronies were ahead of us in line. We watched in disgust as he and his buddies flirted with the lunch ladies. Grinning under their hairnets as they piled the boy’s trays high with double portions. Our blood boiled as we watched them buy extra milks and juice when they reached Mrs. Tuttle. I thought about it for a second. 

Ya-know… I’m gonna do that one of these days. 

Do what? Asked Stick. 

I’m gonna git it all, milks, orange juice, extra food, all of it. For the four of us, just like the jocks. 

Oh… that… sure said Stick, I cain’t wait. He looked over at Chucky while rolling his eyes. 

Hey! I snapped; I saw that. 

Chucky snickered. What-cha gonna do, start boot-leggin’ at school or somethin’? Some rich uncle about to get out of the poorhouse. 

I just might do that… yep, never can tell, I just might. 

Now it’s your turn, if you like the story, tell a friend, tell your Ma, Pa, tell an enemy, just tell somebody. Don’t forget to Like, Follow, and Comment. Until next week…Thank You for your time. The Tin Cup Clan. God Bless.

WOPERDINGERS and ALLSTARS (Life brings us both)

I’ve been promising to write this story for some time now, just been waiting for the right time. But today is a special day, well..in our little corner of the Universe anyways. You see, today is my birthday, a small feat for most adults but given my situation I rather make every one count.

The morning greeted me with grey skies and wet weather. I peered out the window and let out a long low sigh, “hope this wasn’t how the rest of the day was gonna be” I thought to myself. There was work to be done, the house wasn’t finished and I dreaded the thought of working on it.

Sandra (bless her heart) began her morning by getting an early start on the Birthday dinner. All my favorites, beef roast, green beans mashed taters, yeast rolls, caramel cake and all.

By eleven o-clock I had all but forgotten about the glum weather. Actually feelin’ a bit content…then the phone rang.

A pleasant lady greeted me before introducing herself. She was calling from my doctor’s office. It seems my last scans had revealed some worry-some spots on my right lung. They wanted to get me in for additional scans and formulate a plan of action. Just like that, the proverbial carpet was jerked from under my proverbial feet. I’ve been playin’ this morbid game of whack-a-mole for nearly four years. A couple of moths ago the latest cancer was found on my pancreas, and the resulting radiation burned me up. Now the lungs? Well…I didn’t get much work done the remainder of the day. The big “C” was chewin’ on my brain. And speakin’ of which brings me to the little matter of the afore-mentioned “Woperdinger.”

What’s a “Woperdinger” you might ask. Well my friends, sit back and permit me to enlighten you with a little mountain folk-lore. Here a little snippet from the book.

“Just what is a Wolpendinger anyway?”  

         Chapter 33

The five of us walked to the downed fence. There it was, a footpath in the mud. The big light shining down the path made it look like a tunnel through the woods. Briars and brambles were thick as lumber along both sides.

Branches protruded into the path, looking like gnarled fingers, ready to grab who-ever might walk by. We could hear the creek roaring louder as we walked further. Big David’s light our only means of sight lit the path like a train in a tunnel.

Suddenly we beheld a sight that made our blood run cold.

Just beyond the cover of the trees. Just forty or fifty feet from holy ground we saw it. Thinking about, dreaming about it, hearing about it was one thing. But seeing it was different. Seeing it in the dark on a stormy night was entirely something else.

Our eyes strained in the dark, desperate for a clearer view. Just then a distant bolt of lightning lit up the sky. We all fell silent as the grave, fearful of what might hear us. I felt a morbid sensation of accomplishment tinted with large amounts of pure mind numbing fear. There was no color, no grass grew around the grave. Instead weeds and gnarled thickets spread around the stone. At some point, some-one or some-thing had placed stones around the grave. Clearly marking the boundary for others to see.

We all stood there, frozen in the wind and rain until one of us broke the silence. Who’s goin’ first? asked Chucky.

Not me shouted Stick, that place is chocked fulla’ Wolpendingers just waiting fer us. Waitin’ fer every last one of us, I can almost see their eyes lookin’ at us now.

WHAT?! Screamed Chucky, and you thought now, in the middle of the night, in a graveyard, at a grave owned by a witch of all places was a good place to bring somethin’ like that up?

Surely to God you don’t believe in those bedtime stories do you.

Stick was instantly defiant. And you don’t? he screamed back over the thunder. Everybody knows they’re real, everybody. They’s just a waitin’ fer the first one of use to get close enough to that brush then “whack” gone forever.

Big David had finally reached the end of his tether. With a jerk he turned to face the shaking redhead, his big hands were noticeably shaking as he aimed his light at Stick’s face.

Now look here friend: I’ve had jest about of this nonsense. Keep it up and yur about to find ye selves without a light to walk by. Besides. they’s no way I’m a gonna set my foot on unholy ground.

Ya see…a Woperdinger is a mythical creature of German decent, (or as best I can figure). And seeing as a great many Appalachian folk are of said German blood, the ol’ Woperdinger legend invariably followed. Legend has it this varmint is an ungodly mishmash of any manner of creatures, a good example might be the famous “Jack-a-lope.” But to us kids…well we just knew there was always one in the woods in the deep dark of night just waiting for one of us, dragging us away kicking and screaming to an untimely death. Our folks did little to dispel such rumors, using it instead as a means to keep us home at night. A gnawing fear of the unknown planted firmly in our brains.

Now lets get to those All-stars.

Some fifty-odd years ago the coolest (can I still use the word cool) of the cool kids strutted around in a pair of high top Converse All-stars. Of course I was never able to have a pair but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about those shoes. They were the very essence of cool, every thing from the laces and badge to the squeak they made on the varnished gym floor. Yep I wanted, no needed a pair…but I never got any. Until today!!!

Yep after fifty seven years, four children, seven grandchildren, four mortgages, countless cross country moves, and a nose weary and sore from being held against the ol’ grindstone. My daughter placed a birthday box on my lap, not just any box mind you, oh no. But a box emblazoned with that all to familiar star. Yep sure enough, I lifted the lid to find a brand new pair of high top All stars.

In a split second there I stood in all my glory, grey beard, plaid shirt, worn Liberty overalls, and a sparkling pair of navy blue sneakers. Yea…not the teenage picture I had in my head either. Que that phone call I mentioned earlier.

See where I’m going with this yet? Yep, you guessed it, on the other end of the line that ol’ Woperdinger got me. I mean reached right through the line and took hold of me. That gnawing fear of the unknown. Now I’m not saying it ruined the rest of my day, naw sir. The day was great, after all I got a lot to be grateful for. But it was there, chewing at the back of my mind, as I sat there eating caramel cake, it was there. As I enjoyed the beef stew, it was there. As I wiggled my toes inside my new All-stars it was there. Even when I talked to my grandbabies, it was there.

Friends… be careful of those Woperdingers. No they may not steal “all” your joy in life, but somehow they seem to have a knack for taking the edge off of it, dull the blade so speak. That gnawing fear of the unknown. Yes, Yes, I’m still a bit scared of ’em, but I’m learning (however slowly) to put them in their place. Our boy Stick was scared to death of ’em, but David, (being the voice of reason) snapped him back. Please…if you do anything, find yourself a “David.” Find that one person or group of persons to ground you, keep that “gnawing fear” at bay. Life’s too short as it is, no point worrying about what Woperdinger may or may not be hid just beyond sight, or in the shadows.

Me? Well I reckon I’m ready for what may just be out of sight. I spose I got little choice at this point, but I’m ready. I don’t expect to get shed of the unknown or times when the fear seeps in and you shouldn’t either. The secret is kicking it back into those shadows where it belongs, oft times that means we gotta have some help. For now I’ll just keep kicking, after all… I got me one heck of a pair of shoes to kick it with. And…quiet a few “Davids” to keep me grounded. Bring it on

Once again “The Tin Cup Clan” thanks you for your time. Lord knows there so many other things you could be doing and we are honored that you chose to spend some of it with us. If I may ask a favor; please share these stories with family and friends, leave a comment (we like those) and talk with us a bit. A like and follow would be great as well. GOD BLESS and see you next time. The Tin Cup Clan.

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