Appalachia spreads itself in grey and green a few hundred miles inland of the Atlantic. Its mountains, caves, lakes, and fields are a delight. It is a garden. It is a temple.
It is where Jim found himself that summer.
His uncle who went by the name of Hant had got a blood clot in the lung. His modest dwelling on the opposite side of a miniscule Kentucky township was always immaculate. And it was in his untrained hand that Jim had received the instruction to keep it that way.
Jim Cleary was a bit of a layabout. Not even committed enough to be a drunk. And though he knew next to nothing about country living the small stipend and the opportunity to daydream made him keen on fulfilling his relatives desire.
If this wasn’t enough to seal his fate. Then the nagging of his equally indigent roommates certainly drove the last nail into the coffin of his urban malaise.
“Where da hell ya goin again Jim?” Tony inquired in his brusque Boston brogue.
“And what the hell for?”
“Family shit…changea pace..ya dig?”
“Hell no, I don’t dig how’s me ‘n Harry gonna keep up with the rent.”
“I already told ya I’d be sendin my share.”
“I dunno Jim you’re always late with that shit.”
“Yea…cause that rat fuck boss o mine thinks it’s cute to take my tips cause of a coupla late deliveries.”
“That old song ain’t gonna help here…So lateness is a habit…how the hell am I supposed to trust ya? We still have four months till the lease is up.”
“Cause my Uncle squirreled away a fortune getting black lung and sellin ginseng. And he’s gonna share so long as I keep the house his dad built from turning back into woods.”
“Hmm…I don’ know man….”
“You’re just gonna have to deal cause there’s no way ya can keep me here anyway.”
“Whatever man….do what ya want…but if we don’t get that rent…I’m gonna tell old Barragan ya flew the coop. And you know his IRA ass is crazy enough to find ya in whatever kind of deliverance style backwoods hollow ya hidin in . YA DIG?”
“Yea, man what the fuck ever.” Cleary said exiting the door.
“Fuck you Jim.” Tony said with a grin.
“Fuck you too Tony.”
And with a double bird salute, Jim Cleary set of for Logan International.
He was unaccustomed to the luxury of flight. He distrusted the cleanliness of first class. Nor did he like the look of the silent burly tour guide that his uncle had sent along.
The guy had a beard that would make Euripides jealous. Went by the name of Dutch and had a pensive air like a wild dog that had found its way into the city.
Made it damned hard to flirt with the stewardess.
After a half hour, Jim gave up on making small talk. A guy that talked less than Hant was a lost cause. He didn’t know why he’d even bothered.
It wasn’t gonna be too long of a flight so Jim just sank into the mind-numbing arms of an inflight movie.
It wasn’t long before Rob Schneider forced his brain to shut down.
It was switched back on by the deep thundering simplicity of. “Wehere, let’s go.”
And indeed everybody was busily extracting luggage and making their exit in that leisurely, orderly, upper middle-class way.
‘Yuppie schmucks.’ Jim couldn’t help but chuckle at the collection of khakis and polos mixing with folk who should also be wearing khakis and polos but were trying their hardest to appear like a Bluegrass revival.
A battered pickup pulled up to them outside the parking lot. It was driven by a spry old bat with icy blue eyes that went by the name of Lizzy Jennings. Said she was a Viking and that Jim had better watch his manners.
“Don’t got any.”
“Well learn ya sum. Hant told me ya were a thick one.”
Jim ignored the insult and wen to light a cigarette. Only to have it smacked out of his hand.
“Don’t ya bring dat filth in my car.”
“Jesus Christ! I just got off the flight lady…”
The steely angular framed gaze never changed as a wiry freckled arm shot forward and twisted his ear hard.
“Don’t ya be blaspheming in here neither!”
“Ahh…god damn you old bitch…”
This only made her tug harder.
She stopped just shy of tearing his ear off.
“Fuck I shoulda stayed in Boston.” He muttered under his breath.
The drive from Louisville to Reed was five long hours.
Five long hours with two rustic sentinels whose eerie silence was only matched by the eerier economy of motion in their smooth efficient movements.
‘At least it’s pretty.’ Jim mused as he gazed down into the sleepy verdant valleys that flitted beneath the fluctuating elevation.
It was dusk by the time they arrived at the half dozen or so buildings that comprised the township of Reed, Kentucky. He guessed the thing with the spire was a church, the square thing was a post office, the colonial thing was the town hall, and everything else was shops.
‘Where the hell are the houses?’ He mused.
“Ya ever been on a horse ‘fore?” Asked the sun-dried Valkerie.
The old bat laughed in an innocent girlish sort of way that threw Jim off even more than the prospect of riding a horse.
What was even more disturbing was the perfect, gleaming white, set of teeth that laugh revealed.
‘This crazy crone has better choppers than me…’
“I’m pullin’ at yer leg. I know a fool like you ain’t got no useful habits. You gonna wish you had a horse tho. Cause that four wheeler is a sight more likely to flip than my Sadie.”
Cleary heard a roar from the building that Dutch had disappeared to.
“Don’ be lookin so down. It’s only fifteen miles afore a warm bed and some whiskey.”
She laughed that weird coquettish laugh again that was so at odds with her appearance and behavior.
He didn’t have too much time to puzzle over it though cause his carriage was already by his side.
Jim reluctantly took a seat behind Dutch wrapping his fingers tight around the luggage mount.
He was surprised by the rough feel of an old rope round his kneck.
He looked down to see a sack swinging down to his solar plexus.
“Now lemme tell ye bout Thursdays.” Lizzy Jennings said.
“That’s ginseng in that pouch there.”
“Today is Thursday and I put some out on the stump. Dutch will show you the stump. Startin next Thursday you’re gonna have to put some seng down afore dusk.”
“I suggest ya follow what I tell ye. Cause ye don’ wanna learn it from another.”
“Just put the root down on the stump. Or else there’s gonna be trouble. ALRIGHT BOY?” She stated with vehemence.
“Put the ginseng on the stump…on Thursday…before dusk…I get it.”
She smiled oddly and whistled.
Jim barely had time to get a fresh hold on the luggage rack before he and the giant roared into the inky mountain.
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