When you look at the holler from a bird’s view, you see a young woman with long brown hair emerging from a house from which white paint is peeling and smoke is curling though it is summer. There is a dirt road leading away from the house, a creek running alongside, a swath of maple, oaks, hemlock, sweet gum, the smell of mountain laurel, the cooling breeze.
The young woman carries a basket, one she made, having soaked grapevine in the creek, twisting and weaving the branches together, tying a decorative red ribbon to the handle. The basket contains muffins she made, muffins made with pumpkin, honey, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg. It contains a special brew of canned coffee of which her grandmother is particularly fond.
The young woman appears neither too relaxed or too anxious, too overconfident or timid. She walks like a young woman with sense but who has nonetheless been warned about what to look out for. She doesn’t foolishly smile. She’s not dreamy, heaven forbid. Though probably, if she’s like most young women, she’s not without hope for a different life, something that is more, more than the peeling paint house of her mother and father, more than the looking after brothers and sisters, more than the trading in oxy and meth to make ends meet, the new economy of Appalachia.
In fact, she feels guilty about homes where she knows people who have overdosed, knowing herself to be the a cog in the wheel that brought these souls from living to dead. This horribly necessary living has taken her innocence. It’s why she doesn’t foolishly smile, why she’s not senselessly dreamy like youth of a previous era and like youth of the upper crust. Death clung to her, aged her forehead, eyes, mouth. In fact, before her town could mail in the most recent census information, death had been so precipitous – from a double dose of opioids and contagion – it would appear as if almost no one was alive in the whole of the eastern ridge.
Furthermore, a young woman on a road like this was bound and determined to meet the descendent of dead wolf souls, Red, a lonely one, ruthless and cunning, near extinction, desperate. And the grandmother had been tasty though she was ill. Red had pre-empted the young woman’s arrival and had greedily eaten his appetizer. Having begun to feel sated, lips and teeth dripping, he ran back, undetected, to where his clueless main course sauntered ahead, clutching her basket. Then he gleefully fled to Granny’s shack, licked up the blood, hopped into bed.
But crows from upper branches cawed a warning to the young woman. And so she picked up a long branch from the forest floor, long enough to poke open the door without needing to climb up on the porch. When the door creaked open, she could see only stillness, darkness, and death. And she could also see two gleaming wild eyes shining out from her Granny’s bed.
The young woman dropped the stick and her her basket and ran. She was no idiot. Who will take care of her family if she doesn’t survive? Sorry Granny, she said to the wind as she sped to the peeling paint house. Let the dead bury the dead, she said out loud.
She retrieved the double barreled shotgun from the wall. She sat on the porch. She watched the sun go down til it set between the folds of the mountains, til a mourning dove sang its nighttime sadness. She sent her family to bed in their innocence – her parents in their stupor which has made them children again, her brothers and sisters in their innocence of childhood innocence.
She sat on the porch with her gun and came up with a fanciful plan. For money, I can make baskets and gather moss, bloodroot, ginger and sell them like they did in Granny’s day, she said. Never mind things like that aren’t selling right now. I can’t think about that tonight, she said.
She knew the meth pedaling was wearing on her, that some nights it didn’t feel worth the dead souls on her conscience, the ghosts that haunt the valley. A loon concerns itself with them, crying out as they walk the vale in the moonlight.