“Hi Susan,” the old man said, tipping his top hat to the young lady in her early twenties passing him on the side walk. She walked by as if he wasn’t there, sniffling as if pestered by an unseen allergen, truth being, her sniffles a sign of her addiction. Her face was pale, boney and gaunt, her eyes sunken. Her once flowing, long blond hair was now a rat’s nest. What had been the homecoming queen of her senior class five years before was now zombie like; the walking dead.
“Oh God, Susan. Not you too,” he said, turning to watch her pass, taking the handkerchief from his hip pocket. He wiped the sweet from his brow, brought about by the humid July evening. The girl continued down the sidewalk, completely unaware of her surroundings. He doubted she knew the time of day, the day of the week or what world she was in. He knew she had two babies, three years and one year old, somewhere. Was anyone with them?
The old man continued walking, into the sunset, the city hall of the small town of Mettsville, Kentucky his destination.
“Bob,” his friend Dan, Mettsville’s mayor said as the old man entered the small office in city hall. “I’m glad you could come on such short notice.”
“No problem Dan. I’m ninety one years old and this is Mettsville. It’s not like I had other, pressing issues to attend to. The only things I attend much at all anymore are friend’s funerals.”
He took off his top hat, placing it on his lap as he sat on the other side of the mayor’s desk. Though quite hot here in southern Kentucky during the summer months, he wore his hat any time he went out. It was a custom he had gotten used to when he was a young man in simpler times. “So what can I do ya for?”
“We had our monthly city council meeting last night,” the mayor said, adjusting his position in his chair. “Things are not good.”
“Ah,” said Bob, reaching into his chest pocket, pulling out his check book. “So you need more money?”
Bob had owned and operated the largest coal mine in southern Kentucky before he retired twenty years before. When he decided to stop working, he sold the mine, getting the equivalency of most third world countries total GDP for it.
People wondered why he simply hadn’t retained ownership of the mine, living off of profits, or pass the mine on to his son who had been living on the west coast for the past twenty years. Since he single handedly kept the town of Mettsville afloat with his personal wealth during hard times few people asked any questions.
“No Bob,” the mayor, early sixties, said. “It is bigger than that.”
“Do tell,” Bob said, leaning back, becoming more comfortable in his seat.
“Look.” The mayor said, spreading his arms body width, jazz hands. “We’ve lost two more small businesses. People are tired of the break ins. They can’t afford the losses.”
“More business break-ins?” Bob said, eyes wide. “I thought the trash was pretty much sticking to robbing us old people on medication these days; digging through trash cans for prescription bottles so they’d know who to hit.”
“Oh, there’s still plenty of that,” Dan said, putting his hands on his knees, his head down. “It’s gotten so out of control. No one is safe. The worst part is what this crap is doing to our young people here in Mettsville. Hell, they call us ‘Methville’ anymore in most places in this part of the state.”
The mayor stood up, walked to a shelf behind his old friend. Bob turned to look as Dan took a picture of the graduating class from Mettsville High School twenty years before. Dan’s son had graduated third in the class.
“There are one hundred and twenty kids in this picture, Bob. I can go through the faces and point out twenty teachers, six lawyers, four doctors, nearly three dozen business owners- even an actor.”
“Yeah,” Bob said, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Bill and Karen’s kid. I saw his last movie. Have you seen that singer he married?”
“Yeah,” Dan said, putting the picture back on his shelf, taking up another. “Billy J. told me he’d introduce me to her if he ever brought her here.”
Dan made his way back to his chair at his desk, looking at the picture he had taken from the shelf.
“This is the graduating class from five years ago,” he said, turning it so Bob could see it. “There are only sixty kids in this picture. The town’s population has suffered so much because of the economy. We can directly attribute the economies decline to this drug problem.”
“Yeah, I’ve been here most of my life,” Bob said. “We’ve had tough times before but we’ve always made it through. This mess. This pill problem and meth non-sense; it’s killed us.”
“Out of these sixty kids,” Dan said, turning the picture back around, “I can only pick out three that I know have finished college. Twice as many as that are already dead. Twice that amount are in jail.”
Bob rose from his seat and walked over to Dan’s desk. Peering over his shoulder at the picture, he found a beautiful blond girl, tapped her head with the end of his index finger.
“I just saw Susan here on the street on my way down,” he said. “I’ve known this girl her whole life. She grew up right across the street from me. She always won all the beauty pageants in the county. She’s a druggie now; moved back in with her folks a year or so ago.”
“Worse than that,” Dan said, turning to look up at his friend. “For twenty five dollars she’ll rent you her body for any purpose you desire. All so she can get her next fix.”
“You are kidding me!” Bob said, disgusted. He walked back to his seat. He sat silently, as did Dan for several minutes, both men deep in thought.
“So what are we going to do about it, Dan?”
“That brings me to why I called you here Bob. Is your grandmother and her sisters still alive?”
“No,” Bob said.
“No, they are not dead. They are still very much alive. What I mean is ‘no,’ we can’t go that route.”
“It’s the only avenue we have left Bob. Even my police force will do nothing. The handful of doctors left in the county, the very ones handing out these pain pills have paid the cops off to look the other way.
“It’s the only remaining auto-dealership that’s bringing the rest of the garbage in from all across the eastern seaboard. Hell, it doesn’t take a genius to see that every morning they take out the exact same cars they trucked in the day before. They haven’t taken a car off a carrier in a year. All they do is change the tires. That’s where they’re hiding the drugs. They take their meth and pills and other garbage out before sending the truck back for another load. I can’t even begin to tell you how many meth labs are within a five minute walk of where we are sitting! The state troopers took dogs into the high school last month to sniff lockers and had nine lockers turn up positive just from the scent of the labs on the kid’s backpacks and jackets! That’s the home life so many of them go home to everyday.”
“You remember what happened the last time we went to my grandmother and great aunts for help, Dan.” Bob looked up with his eyes only, his head still down. It was an ominous look that matched the tone of his voice.
“We were not specific enough with them that time,” Dan said. “We just told them that the largest bumper crop of marijuana was due to mature in a month and it would destroy the town.
“And they destroyed the town instead, killing nearly a dozen people in the flood.”
“Oh, they didn’t cause the dam to break! That’s Crazy,” Dan said, referring to the former earthen dam that blocked the river ten miles above the small, secluded, Appalachian town, providing its water shed. “It wasn’t a strong structure. It had rained so much that spring, hence the success of the marijuana farmers. The dam simply wasn’t constructed to hold that much water. It was old and should have been replaced a generation before anyway. It was all merely a coincidence.”
“It was no coincidence,” Bob said, his head now rising, his voice lowering. “They have a sick, twisted sense of humor. You always have to be careful what you ask for with them because you’ll ALWAYS get it. It’s been twenty years since that flood. People are still reeling from loses.”
“Minus the deaths,” Dan said, his right hand waving in the air as if he were trying to erase Bob’s thoughts, “look at the good it did. The marijuana crops were destroyed. The governor declared a state of emergency. We even got federal money for it. We got new buildings, new streets and sidewalks; even two new schools. Not to mention a new, state of the art dam. People had jobs due to the reconstruction. Hell, if I remember, you got a couple ‘pity business contracts’ from the state that made you an even richer man by the time you retired.”
“Are you willing to live with the fallout of our actions if we call on them?” Bob said, his voice now higher, one eyebrow raised.
“Yes,” Dan said. “Besides, no one will know we’ve gone. They are just the subject of an old, local wives tale anyway.”
“If you can live with your conscience, then I’ll take you to them. We’ll ask them for help.”
“Can we go tomorrow? Do you get up early?” Dan was excited.
“Of course I do,” Bob said. “I’m ninety one years old. I rise with the sun to make sure it’s not the bright light at the end of some tunnel.”
“Great,” Dan said, rushing over to shake Bob’s hand. “I’ll pick you up at 6:00 a.m.”
“You know this old woman isn’t really my grandmother, don’t you?” Bob said, riding shot gun in Dan’s old four wheel drive Ford. It was the ‘beater’ he used for such purposes; driving into rough, secluded sections of the surrounding Appalachian forest, be it to hunt, fish or camp with the grandkids. They were certainly traveling to a secluded part of the forest today, but not for recreation. “Her sisters are not my great aunts.”
“Common sense would lead you that that fact,” Dan said just before taking a sip from his coffee, fresh and hot from the seven eleven. “I always just assumed they were family friends who took care of you when your parents died. There is no way they could be two generations ahead of you. That would make them a hundred and fifty years old. They are not a hundred and fifty years old.”
“No, they aren’t,” Bob said, sipping his coffee as well. The truck left the hard top, traveling now on a graveled county road.
“So how old are they?” Dan said, placing his coffee cup in the console of the old Ford. “A little older than you?”
“No,” Bob said, slowly taking another sip from his cup, a pause for effect. “They are three hundred and fifty years old.”
The truck bounced hard. Dan missed swerving around a large pot hole, having looked to his right as his friend spoke last.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going,” Bob said, still looking straight ahead through the windshield. “These old bones have grown soft.”
“Did you just say they were three hundred and fifty years old?”
“Are you senile?”
“A little I guess. Who isn’t at my age?”
“Ok,” Dan said, facing forward. “That explains it.”
“Explains what?” Bob said, now looking toward his friend.
“You’re comment. How old are they really?”
“My mental health or lack thereof has nothing to do with their age. The old hags are at least three hundred and fifty years old. Hell, they might be older.”
“What are you talking about Bob?”
“Listen,” Bob said as the truck left the graveled county road for a dirt path heading up a steep hill. The road was barely more than a deer trail. Dan locked in the truck’s four wheel drive as he began the accent. “They are of no relation to me whatsoever, and trust me they are no friends of anyone.”
“That’s the story I always heard. When your father and mother were killed somehow during the great depression one of their friends and her sisters took you in to raise as their own.”
“Maybe I should fill in the holes of the stories you’ve heard about me and these women before we get there. You might just change your mind about all this and decide to turn around.”
“What?” Dan said, maneuvering the old truck through the trail, unnecessarily ducking his head as limbs scratched the top of the cab. “What story?”
“My father drank too much. My mother came to the old women pleading for help. She had heard about them from someone who claimed they had cured her husband of the same malady a generation before. I suppose they were the subject of an old wives tale back then as well. They were old then too by the way.”
“Seriously?” Dan said, slowing down to fjord a small stream. “So they were thought of as Shaman? Witch doctors?”
“Witches, more like it,” Bob said, grabbing the ‘Oh my God’ handle above the inside of the truck’s window, supporting himself as the truck bounced on the rocks on the bottom of the stream. “Listen for their New England accents when we talk to them. I believe they fled south during the witch trials.”
“So, why did your mother go to them? She must have had her suspicions?”
“She was at her wit’s end. She heard they could help. They told her that they would make sure my father never drank again. The condition was that if anything ever happened to both her and my father that they could have me as their own.”
“So what happened?” Dan said, making a sharp turn at the top of the mountain, now driving down hill, a steep hollow.
“You are not going to believe this,” Bob said, looking out the side window again, water splashed there from the stream streaking down like strands of a spider’s web.
“I’m kind of having a hard time believing any of this, Bob.”
“That was January 16’th, 1920. Does that date ring a bell to you? It should. You’re a politician.”
“No?” Dan said, more a question than a statement.
“The next day, January 17’th, 1920, prohibition started in the U.S.”
“No way!” Dan said, looking over to Bob again, missing a rock in the road, another bump. Bob reached for the “Oh my God” handle again, wincing.
“So that’s why your father never drank again. Prohibition. He couldn’t buy it.”
“It isn’t that simple, Dan,” Bob said, his eyes glazing over with memory. “A few days after the country went dry, my father heard about the speak easies that were popping up everywhere. He found out where one was and stormed off one night for a drink. My mother chased after him. They got in the door of the place just before the Feds.”
“What happened?” Dan asked, paying attention to the road again, though completely engrossed in his friend’s story.
“Shots rang out. My parents were killed. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, and in violation of federal law so nothing was ever done about their deaths.”
“So the old women got you.”
“Yes,” Bob said, looking out the window to his right, the area becoming more familiar to him now as they neared their destination. It was a place he had spent many years during his youth, but to which he had rarely returned as an adult in spite of all the years that had passed.
“I have never heard this story in all my years in Mettsville,” Dan said. “That would be all sixty eight of my years, minus the four I was away in college and four in the army during Nam.”
“I’ve never told anyone,” Bob said. “I mean the truth about the old women that is. Everyone knew they raised me, but like you, everyone just assumed they were friends of the family. I just let people think that.”
“So what was it like? Growing up with witches?”
“Look at that,” Bob said, pointing through the windshield. A hen turkey and six half grown chicks were making their way across the trail ahead of them. “I stayed gone a lot. The older I got the more I was gone.
“I ran away from home at sixteen. I lied to the government about my age and joined the army. War had already broken out again in Europe. I guess our rich Uncle Sam knew it was just a matter of time before we’d get involved. They didn’t mind taking me and many others who were nothing more than boys who just started shaving. They were thankful they did a few years later when we joined in on the war. I thought for sure I’d end up in France,” his eyes glazed with memory. “But I ended up in the south Pacific.”
“But you came back?” Dan said, slowly easing forward again now that the small flock of birds had passed. “Why?”
“I was grown,” Bob said, voice confident. “I had some money in my pocket. Besides, the government started the G.I. Bill. You could either go to college or be given land. I took the land and started my coal mine.”
“So they must have helped you in some way?” Dan said, referring to the alleged witches. “Are they responsible for your success in business?”
“Unfortunately, they are.”
“I went to them when I wasn’t making a dime. I was thinking about selling out. I was so far in debt I would have never amounted to anything. I asked them to fix my business. They did. But they did it their way.”
“I heard you guys got a big break somehow after the disaster in the early fifties that killed nearly fifty men. Is that when you went to them for help?”
“I went before that,” Bob said, resting his head in his hand, painful memories rushing through his head. “The disaster WAS the break.”
“I don’t follow you, Bob?”
“We were digging and digging and only hitting small veins,” he said, shaking his head, still in his hand. “We were extracting coal, but at a loss. I went to them and asked if they’d allow us to hit a mother load.”
“And when the mine caved in, killing all the men, it left literally half the mountain exposed. That half just happened to be nothing but coal just below the ground’s surface. That single deposit made me a millionaire over the next two months! And that’s nineteen fifties money! A million dollars was a lot more back then than it is now. The collapse opened a world of wealth to me but claimed the lives of the best men I’d been in company with since the war.”
A moment of silence passed. Bob looked to his friend. Dan still faced forward, not as much focusing on the road as allowing the story sink in.
“It’s why I sold the mines, Dan. I know every dollar I ever made after that was nothing more than blood money. I was not going to pass that evil on to my son.”
The truck slowed at the bottom of the hollow. One last ascent remained; half a mile straight to the top. The three sisters lived on the next flat, just out of sight.
The men stared ahead of them, up the hill. All the trees from this point on where not only dead but appeared as if they had been destroyed by fire. However, there had not been a forest fire on this mountain in recorded history. A deer’s skull hung from a tree limb in the middle of the trail; one antler with six tines, the other missing.
Dark clouds covered the sun on what had otherwise been a beautiful summer morning. Though it had begun to be another hot, muggy July day, the temperature seemed to have dropped by more than ten degrees since leaving town. Bob knew there was more to attribute to this fact than the shade of the forest.
“It’s not too late to change our minds,” Bob said, looking over at his friend, Dan’s face stoic.
“We have to do something,” Dan said, now turning to face Bob. “I have grandkids at Mettsville High. I want them to know the town we knew, not the one it is.”
“They won’t be happy to see me,” Bob said. “They think I’ve been ungrateful for rarely coming by.”
“Are we in danger?”
“They won’t hurt us here,” Bob said. “They don’t want the attention. But like I told you last night, we need to be prepared to accept responsibility for anything that happens.”
Both men stared straight ahead, the deer skull swaying in a light breeze. The breeze brought with it the stench of death. Perhaps rotting animal corpses close by. Perhaps something else.
The truck slowly moved forward, beginning the final climb, Dan’s mind made up.
“The child returns,” the hideously ugly, humped back woman said, her eyes white with blindness.
“We knew he would,” said another, equally ugly woman beside her. They sat at a small table in the center of a stone house, hand built only God knows when. The cabin was sparse, containing only the table with three chairs, a large mattress on one side of the twelve feet by twelve feet room, with a small shelf with assorted knick knacks beside it, and a large fireplace on the other. The fireplace contained a grill and a kettle. It kept the house warm and allowed the women to prepare their meals. A back up coal stove sat against a third wall, its vent pipe installed to join the fireplace’s chimney halfway up.
“There’s my so called grandmother,” Bob said, pointing at the old lady in front of the cabin. She appeared to be pulling guard for the other two.
“It looks like she’s been waiting on us,” Dan said, a whisper.
“She has been,” Bob said, grabbing the handle of the door as Dan put the truck in park and killed the engine.
“To what do we owe the honor, boy?” the old lady said, approaching Bob. She was petite, five feet tall and ninety pounds at most. She was slightly bent over, though not as bad as her blind sister. Dan could indeed hear the lazy “r” at the end of the word “honor;” evidence of her New England heritage.
“We need your help, Grandmother.”
“Ah ha ha ha ha,” she laughed, throwing her head back. It was the closest thing to a real witch’s cackle Dan had ever heard. Bob caught Dan shuddering out of the corner of his eye, chills running down the mayor’s spine.
The two other women came from the house, the one with sight leading the blind.
“You only come when you need help, boy!” the blind woman said, bitterness in her voice.
“I’m sorry,” Bob said, putting his head down, the scars of the child being scolded by the women returning to the surface as if they had not been buried by so many years of absence.
“Yes you are!” the original woman to great them said. “You sold our coal!”
“That was a long time ago, Mam,” Dan said, leaning forward as if he were going to take a step. Too afraid to do so he rested on his heels again.
“Shut your mouth, politician!” the woman said, spit spewing from the sides of her mouth. She raised a gnarled finer, pointed it in his direction, but did not look at him.
“How can we help you, dear boy?” the lady who had led her blind sister out of the house said, walking up to Bob, taking his hand in hers. Her hand was as cold as death.
“Our town has been overrun by drugs and drug addicts,” Bob said, knowing the old lady was playing ‘good witch.’ “We need help cleaning the place up.”
“Drugs?” said the blind lady, stepping forward as if she could see. Dan’s eyes grew wide, thoughts in his head telling him she COULD see, just in different ways than he. As if she needed not her eyes. “What kind of drugs?”
“Mostly meth,” Dan said, the blind woman’s head snapping quickly in his direction, giving him another chill. “It is known as poor white trash’s cocaine.”
“Meth? Cocaine?” the blind woman said. “We don’t know this.”
“It’s like white powder,” Dan said, feeling a bit more comfortable. “People snort it up their noses. They melt it down and inject it into their veins. Some of them smoke it.”
“So this white powder has destroyed your town has it, boy?” the ‘good’ witch said, looking Bob in the eye.
“Yes Mam,” he said, looking at her uneasily. “That and prescription medications. Pain pills.”
“What do you expect us to do about it?” asked the one who had greeted them, picking at a hairy mole on the back of her hand as if disinterested in the conversation.
“We want you to make it stop,” Dan said, jumping in for Bob. “Just make it go away.”
“We need something in return,” she said, looking up from her gnarled, wart and mole covered hands.
“Anything!” Dan said without thinking. The three women looked at each other, cackling in unison at the man’s naivety. Bob threw him an angry look. Dan shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘sorry.’
“We want our coal back!” the blind lady said, barking the command like an army drill sergeant. The other two stopped laughing when she did this and wore looks on their faces as stern as hers.
“What?” Dan said, confused. “How do we get your coal back?”
“We want the entire town’s coal!” the blind woman said. “Every house on every street! Get their coal and bring it to us! We gave that to you boy!” she said, now facing Bob’s direction. “We didn’t give it to you to sell out to another man for his business! We want it back!”
“Let me get this straight,” Dan said, his speech slow. “You want us to go around, collect all the coal from anyone in town that has any, bring it to you and you’ll solve our drug problem?”
“Yes,” the ‘good witch’ said, dropping Bob’s hand, walking over and taking Dan’s. He thought her smile was warm but could feel the coldness in her touch.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, his voice trembling, a nervous smile on his face.
“Then make it happen,” their greeter said, before turning and walking away. “The sooner we get our coal back that the boy here sold,” she said, turning as if forgetting something, throwing Bob a look of disappointment, “the sooner you have your problem solved.”
The other two women turned to go as well. They walked into their small home and shut the door. Bob and Dan heard the latch lock then all three women cackle again. They exchanged a quick look then got back in the truck.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Dan said, making his way back down the hill covered in dead, burnt-like trees.
“This has just begun,” Bob said. “You aint seen nothin’ yet.”
Over the course of the next week, the town’s city council members went about the community, door to door, explaining that a recent acidity reading of the local streams deemed the coal being burned in the area over the past few years too dangerous for the environment. It was a story no one questioned, Bob himself being the lead spokesman. The citizen’s were told they must surrender their coal to the government but that they would be reimbursed.
Bob had worked out a deal with the local mine’s owner, the man to which he had sold the mine years before. The man was to keep his mouth shut; no questions no comments. In return, Bob himself would stroke a check, buying everyone who gave up any coal an entire winter’s worth by October. Being a coal town, it was considered sacrilege for anyone to heat with wood. Whatever stove or furnace fuel was left anywhere from the previous winter would certainly be coal.
“It’s the middle of July anyway,” Dan said to Bob, the two of them making their way back up the mountain to Bob’s adolescent home. “Besides, most of the folks had less than a week’s worth anyway. They were all too happy to give this up, knowing they’d get a full winter’s stock for free.”
The truck went slower this time than it had during its previous journey to the same location. It was loaded down with coal, as were the three pickups behind it, all driven by leery, city council members not filled in on the entirety of the scheme.
“I’m not worried about that,” Bob said, rolling his window down, this day being particularly hot and muggy. He swatted a deer fly that had been stalking him from the other side of the glass as it made its way into the cab. “I don’t trust them. I don’t know what they are up to.”
Upon reaching the bottom the last decent, the dead, burnt-like tree line, they notice something slightly different. Hanging from the deer’s skull, attached to the lone antler, was a piece of paper flapping in the wind. It was tied to the antler with a bit of twine; brown, the old kind rarely seen in modern times. Dan put the truck in park and got out to investigate.
“It says to leave the coal here at the bottom of the hill,” he said, returning, handing the letter through the window for Bob’s inspection.
“Then let’s do as they say,” Bob said, getting out of the truck to instruct the men behind him. Dan turned the truck slightly, waving a couple of younger men who had ridden as passengers in the other trucks forward. At his age, he had quit shoveling coal many years before.
Thirty minutes later, the trucks emptied of their contents, everyone began the trek back to town.
“Do you feel like we’re being watched?” Dan said, he and Bob still outside of the truck, the others now driving away.
“I’ve felt like that ever since we got out here,” Bob said.
The two of them looked up the dark hill, through the dead trees. The skyline against the hilltop revealed nothing.
“KAW!” came the call of a crow. They looked up and saw three large black birds in the tree above them, one with snow white eyes. The large one in the middle let loose a sizable wad of white and black muck from its posterior. It splattered across the center of the truck’s windshield.
Bob and Dan exchanged a look, the sound of the bird’s wings flapping causing them to look up again, just in time to see the birds head for the top of the hill.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Dan said.
“Now you see why I’ve never been able to stand to listen to people crying about their childhoods,” Bob said, pulling his door shut. The truck, now lighter by the lack of a load, drove off the hill quicker than Bob, bouncing violently, preferred. He held on to the “Oh my God” handle for dear life and said nothing.
Bob lost a night’s sleep, his mind racing through the possibilities of what would befall the small town of Mettsville. The morning light coming through the window gave him reason to rise. Opening the curtain he was happy to see the sun peaking above the hills as opposed to some long, endless tunnel.
“I’ve cheated death yet again,” he said, making his way to the kitchen for coffee. Coffee brewed, he walked to his front porch to drink it. Stepping outside his bare foot retracted quickly upon touching the cold porch, normally warm this time of year in spite of the hour.
Returning a moment later with slippers and a light shawl from the back of his couch, he sat and watched as the paper boy made his rounds, tossing a dying form of media from his Trek mountain bike, house to house. Something was different about the boy this morning. Normally garbed in shorts and a t-shirt, he was wearing pants and a light jacket. A glance at the porch’s thermometer revealed a temperature of fifty five degrees, fifteen degrees cooler than every morning for the past six weeks.
“Oh, no,” he said, now chugging his coffee instead of sipping casually like usual. “This is not good.”
“This is Mayor Hedges,” Dan said, answering the phone only minutes after arriving to his office just before 9:00 a.m.
“Dan! This is Bob,” the voice from the other side of the line. “I need to see you. Have you had breakfast?”
“Yeah, but I’m always up for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.”
“Meet me at the diner in fifteen minutes.”
“Sure. See you then, Bob.”
“So what’s going on Bob?” Dan asked, the waitress leaving the table with their order.
“I think something bad is going to happen tonight.”
“Any idea what?”
“No,” he said, leaning forward, peering around the room. No one else in the small greasy spoon was within ear shot. “You still have a daughter here; grandkids. You need to get them out of town for a while.”
“How can I do that without starting some sort of wide spread panic?”
“I don’t know. But you need to do it.”
“They won’t listen,” Dan said, leaning back as the waitress placed a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of him. She laid a piece of peanut butter pie beside it.
“Then have them come to my place,” Bob said as the waitress left.
“Dinner,” Bob said. “We’ll have dinner at my place. Just tell them that I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately, something like that. They’ll believe it. Most people think I should have been dead long ago anyway. Hell, I love my boy but I know he’s been waiting around on it for a while so they can retire and live off of his inheritance.”
“Ok,” Dan said. “What time do I have everyone come over?”
“Six.” Bob said, leaning back so a plate of eggs, bacon and toast could be placed in front of him. A tall glass of milk was lightly laid beside it, his self imposed daily allowance of coffee already met at home this morning.
“We’ll be there,” Dan said, talking with a mouth half full of pie. “I hope you are wrong, but I get the feeling you aren’t.”
“We must have a cold front moving through,” Dan’s daughter Erica said, entering Bob’s two story brick home in the oldest neighborhood in town.
“I don’t ever remember a summer this cold,” her husband Tim said, coming in behind her.
“They closed the pool early,” their daughter Emma said, adding to the conversation, kicking her sandals off at the door, bending over to rub cold toes.
“It’s warm in here,” Bob said, motioning them in. Dan had been there several hours, helping his old friend prepare dinner.
“Wow!” Tim said, viewing the already set table in the dining room. “Turkey? What’s the occasion?”
“Dinner with friends,” Bob said, walking over to shake Tim’s hand. “How have you been Timmy? I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
“I’ve been good, Bob. How about you?”
“Great thanks. Every day I wake up without hearing angels sing or smelling singed souls is a good day for me.”
Dinner prepared, they took to table. Bob had moved the thermometer from the front porch earlier in the day, placing it just outside the dining room window so he could see it from his vantage point. It now read forty five degrees.
Everyone enjoyed dinner, talking of recent events in the community, Tim’s job and Emma’s post high school plans. No one noticed the two hours that slipped by, engrossed in food and conversation. Nor did they notice the temperature dropping outside, now down to thirty eight, with an hour of summer day light left.
“What was that?” Erica said, hearing a bang. Everyone stopped to listen, just as hot air began blowing out of the vents at their feet.
“That was my furnace,” Bob said. “It’s old. It sounds like someone knocking on the back door when it kicks on.”
“I don’t remember a furnace kicking on in southern Kentucky in all my years,” Dan said, eyes wide, staring directly at Bob.
“It’s Friday,” Bob said, rising. “No work for you tomorrow Tim. What do you say we all go down to my bunker. The men can have some drinks and the girls can watch some movies on the big screen.”
“Bunker?” Emma asked, her face crooked.
“Oh yes, young lady,” Bob said, a chuckle following his words. “You are way too young to remember, but your parents, grandfather and I lived through something called ‘The Cold War.’ A lot of us went a little overboard and made fortresses out of our basements and cellars.”
As the party made their way to Bob’s basement Tim explained, short version, the cold war to his daughter. Bob and Dan hesitated at the top of the stairs before descending.
“It’s almost freezing outside, Bob,” Dan said, nervous tone in his voice.
“It’s gonna get worse,” Bob said. “It makes since to me now why they wanted the coal. I’m afraid this is going to be a long night for Mettsville.”
As day turned to night, the shadows on top of a certain mountain above Mettsville grew not only longer, but twisted. An evil was brewing on top of the hill, around the small, rock house of three sisters of whom no one knew anything other than speculation; a past thought of as only possible of being true in horror stories, movies and urban legends.
“They like white powder, huh?” said the blind woman, taking a snow globe from the small shelf of knick knacks. “Let’s give them a Christmas in July!”
All three women cackled as she shook the globe violently, white powder racing furiously inside the glass, covering the artificial village within.
“That movie gets better every time I see it,” Erica said, Celine Deon’s voice cooing like an angel as the credits for ‘Titanic,’ streamed across the screen.
“You are old,” her daughter said, rolling her eyes. “Let’s watch something more recent.”
“I’ll be back with more beer,” Bob said, addressing Tim, who by now didn’t need any more beer. The men had finished off a twelve pack and half a bottle of scotch chased with coke while the girls had watched their movie. “Why don’t you come with me, Dan?”
“Oh my God,” Dan said, reaching the top of the stairs, the upper part of the house cold in spite of the continually running furnace. “What is the temperature now?”
Both men stopped in their tracks when they looked out the kitchen window. It wasn’t the thermometer that stopped them, they hadn’t seen it yet. It was the nearly two feet of snow that covered the ground, more blowing frantically in the chill wind.
“Five degrees,” Bob said, pulling his eyes off the white powder, viewing the thermometer. “We have to do something!”
“What are we going to do?”
“We need the coal,” Bob said.
“But our agreement?”
“To hell with our agreement. You can’t have a town anyway without people. People are going to die tonight! This is only going to get worse!”
“How do we go about it?”
“Get on the phone! Call the council members! Get the trucks and go back for the coal. I’ll call Richland at the mines, see what he can do.”
“Got it,” Dan said, pulling out his cell. Bob made his way to his land line on the kitchen counter. Having already been retired and his wife dead for years when it came, the advent of cell phones was something he had felt he didn’t need to participate in and had chosen not to.
The snow was already two and a half feet in the woods. It did not keep the three, four wheel drive pickup trucks, Dan’s in the lead, from making their way to the recently deposited pile of coal.
“Oh my God,” Dan said, one bend away from the coal. An orange glaze painted the white backdrop ahead of them.
“Fire!” the young man riding shot gun said as they rounded the turn. The entire pile of coal was on fire, the forest ablaze. The fire’s reflection from the falling snow made it look like hell was raining down on earth.
“Let’s go back,” Dan said. He turned quickly, his truck sliding out of the trail. “Oh no!”
The truck behind him had been too close. It could not stop in time as Dan’s truck left the path. It rear ended it, pushing it further into the woods, getting stuck in the deep snow itself.
“I hope he can pull us both out,” Dan said, looking in his side view mirror at the trail truck, the only one not yet stuck. “Before it gets colder or this snow gets deeper.”
“The number you have dialed is either out of service or has been disconnected,” the computer’s voice came across the line for the seventh time.
“Damn it!” Bob said, slamming the phone.
“Where’s Dad?” Timmy said, staggering up stairs with a half empty bottle of beer. Bob had given him another six pack before starting his call session.
“He went to get some coal,” Bob said, pointing toward the kitchen window. Even drunk, Tim could tell something was seriously wrong as he peered outside, the snow lit up by the street light.
“Oh my God,” Tim said, suddenly sober. “What the hell is going on?”
“I’m not sure,” Bob said. “But we’re better off downstairs.”
Tim turned and began making his way back to the basement. Bob followed, but not before turning to look at the thermometer again.
“Negative thirty degrees!”
“I’m freezing,” Emma said, already covered with two blankets, lying on the long section of the L shaped couch in the basement.
“It’s burning as fast as it will burn,” Bob said, shoveling more coal into the coal stove. It was the backup heat source for the house, installed when he had finished the basement, turning it into a bunker in the nineteen sixties.
“It’s almost gone,” Tim said, head tilting to the small pile of coal Bob had kept in reserve behind a wooden wall. He had conveniently forgotten about it when taking the rest of the town’s coal to the women in the woods.
“We’ll run out in an hour,” Bob said. “We have to make it till morning.”
Thinking quickly, he looked at Tim, his face lit up by the idea in his head. “Come upstairs with me!”
The two men went upstairs, Tim having to push forcefully on the door.
“It was frozen!” Tim said, astonished. “There are ice cycles in your damn living room!”
The men gazed, shivering, though they were wearing blankets around them like robes.
“Grab anything that is wooden!” Bob said. “If it’s too big to fit in the stove, break it!”
They both began grabbing anything fitting Bob’s furnace.
“Gang way!” Tim yelled downstairs before tossing an antique rocker down the stair case. It shattered on the way down. “Makes less work,” he said to Bob, shrugging.
“Good idea,” Bob said, tossing down a matching end table.
“What are you looking at?” Tim asked a couple minutes later, seeing Bob staring out the window, across the street. He pulled up beside him and looked as well. “Oh my God!”
The two men stared across the street, the sight of two very small children on the porch of the house across the street.
“Whatever happens, stay inside,” Bob said.
“You can’t go out there,” Tim said, grabbing the old man by the shoulder.
“No,” Bob said. “This is all my fault. I’ll go. Whatever you do, don’t come outside.” He grabbed his top hat from the rack by the door and went outside, the snow now four feet deep.
“What do you mean, this is all your fault?” Tim yelled as the door slammed, snow coming in, dancing around his feet before coming to a halt. The house was so cold it did not melt. Tim grabbed a picture off the wall, wooden frame, and tossed it down the stairs.
“Come to me,” Bob said, to the three year old boy, lips blue, playing in the snow on the porch. The child was too cold to move. His little sister was lying on the porch, shivering. Both of them only wore diapers. Bob grabbed them both, one arm each, and began wading through the snow, waist deep, back to his house.
“Take them!” he said, handing them off to Tim. He had kept watch while breaking a Bob’s lifetime collection of furniture, framed memories, antiques, anything wooden. “I’m going back for their mother.”
“You can’t!” Tim said. “She’ll fend for herself. Just like we are.”
“She hasn’t fended for herself in years,” Bob said, heading back out into the snow.
“Why do old people always have to talk in riddles,” Tim said, carrying the children downstairs.
“Oh my God,” Bob said, the sight of Susan’s parents huddled, frozen to death on their couch. “Susan!” he yelled through cupped hands. “Susan!”
He quickly made his way upstairs. He opened the door to the first bedroom on the right. Susan, high as a kite, was sitting on the floor, huddling in a thick comforter, a crack pipe lying beside her on the floor. The room was freezing, revealing to him his breath when he exhaled, yet it still reeked of the stench of the rat poison he and Dan were trying to rid the community of.
“Come with me,” he said, bending over.
“Huh?” she said, nothing more than a groan. She looked at him, or rather through him. He could tell she had no clue where she was, what was happening around her.
“I can’t carry you,” he said. “I’m too old. You have to get up and walk!”
Slowly, he was able to guide Susan to her feet. She fell once, before they reached the bedroom door, but was able to stand again. He focused on keeping the comforter wrapped around her.
“Whatever happens,” he said, stepping onto the porch, the wind blowing forcefully in their faces, “keep going straight!”
It was almost white out. And black out. The street lights were no longer on. The ice, too heavy now, had snapped the lines. Bob and Susan stepped off the porch, now up to his chest and began the arduous task of walking the next twenty yards to safety.
One Week Later
“The Kentucky National Guard has finally made their way into the town of Mettsville, Kentucky,” the attractive brunette, on the scene correspondent for FOX News said, “in what is definitely the most freak snow storm in U.S. history, if not world history.”
“What have they found there?” her partner, the most recent defector from CNN said from back in the studio said.
“It is a tragedy,” she said. We are getting reports that so far, there were only six survivors.”
“Six?” he said. “Who were these people? Was it one family or was there more than one household?”
“We’re not sure,” she said. “They are being taken by helicopter to the hospital on the other side of the county. The roads are still impassable except for the military vehicles we came in on with the Guard and other emergency personal. I’m told there was one man, who women, a teenage girl and two babies.”
“It looks like there is still a lot of snow behind you,” he said. “Can you pan the camera for the folks back home?”
“Certainly,” she said, giving the unspoken order to her cameraman with the wave of a hand.
The camera spanned as she spoke into the microphone. “You see behind us here the house were the only survivors were found.”
The camera showed an old house, one of the first in the community, snow still up to the porch, at least four feet high. Three crows on top of the snow picked at an old top hat.
Witches of Methville
by Kevin E Lake
copyright Kevin E Lake 2011
### Witches of Methville is only one of 12 short stories in my collection of short stories, “A Demon’s Dozen,” which is available in Kindle format for only $2.99 on Amazon.com. Thank you for reading my work.