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

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

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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