The one sure thing in Pinch Cove was water. Even in dry times the rocks glistened. Springs seeped up in the middle of the rutted road that climbed from the valley, crossing and recrossing the stream until they became one track, littered with pumpkin sized rocks. This was Creed’s driveway.
Creed McDowell is what outlanders call a hillbilly, his ancestors chased or lured here from their homelands. After old David McDowell spent a hard winter at Valley Forge, they paid him in land, the ultimate possession. David walked into his unnamed cove with a rifle and an axe. When he found time to take a wife, she brought the Bible.
Creed let his thumb glide over the tattered end pages where the generations of his family were recorded. He read the names like scripture. Fine handwriting listed the first generation, a bold hand second, then a shaky hand, his grandfather’s untutored spellings, finally his mother’s scribble. Education had been wrung out of them. The constant labor to eat, to hang on to that soggy ravine in the face of tragedy and want, showed in the uneven lines.
The dead lay buried above the house on the shinbone ridge, close to their God. The living, scattered in trailers and government houses down below. His own children and long gone wife thought he was crazy to hang on to that rocky ditch. From his crooked porch his sight poured over the rocks and flowed downstream at the pace of water. He watched the same eyeful of springwater dodge and leap, splash against a boulder and plunge out of sight.
She left by the same road with a mouthful of cuss words and a carload of kids, bouncing slowly down the creekbed. Found her a man with a plant job. Good money and insurance. Her paradise was doublewide now. She never understood land, what it meant when it was all you had, when you ran the same hills that your daddy ran, hunted the same hollows that fed your grandaddy.
He looked at the crisp white envelope tucked into the Bible. Not the Christmas card he had hoped for when he pulled it from his rusty mailbox, but a letter from the County. “Vacate the premises,” it said. Sold for back-taxes on the courthouse steps. “Removed by the Sheriff.” He had burnt all the other letters, their official seals and signatures. There was no money, only an ancient tractor, a hog and some chickens, a hundred and twenty acres of his family’s soul. Enough to live but that was all.
The straight backed chair creaked as he eased back against the wall, his daddy’s shotgun laid across his thighs. His thumb again combed the soft pages of the Word. He stared down the trail for the first sign of the Sheriff’s truck. He looked down absently at the open Bible. “Thou shalt not kill.” He smiled at the ghosts, laid the book down beside his chair and looked back down the road.
[C.L. Johnson is a native of Western North Carolina with deep roots in the mountains. He lives with his wife, Michelle, on a farm in one of the high valleys of Madison County. He has two children, Jacob and Katie, and a grandson, Logan. Johnson works as a printer; this is his first published story.]