INTO THE WILD
Harold’s potbelly heaved as he side-glanced the five young men sitting at the bar. “What brings you to Hawkins County?”
“Blackwater.” Larry replied, while he studied the old bartender with a little more than curiosity. “We’re going to hike the Buffalo trail downriver until we get to the Black Mountains.”
“Blackwater? Harold exclaimed, shaking his head while pulling the lever on the beer dispenser and filling another glass. “Now, why would nice young fellas like yourselves want to go there? Ain’t you boy's heard about that place?”
When Larry answered, he avoided any eye contact with his old-school buddies sitting alongside.
“Sure we have. Sixty-five villagers disappear. Blackwater’s entire inhabitants… zip gone.” He snapped his fingers. “But that was a hundred years ago, and it doesn’t concern us.”
Harold had a smug look on his face when he retorted. “The year was 1716 to be exact. “A whole town’s population gone in a blink of an eye. An` over the last three hundred years there’s been another eighty-five unaccounted for. Most of `em hikers like yourselves.”
Placing the beers, one by one, in front of his only five customers, Harold eyed Larry with interest. He wasn’t buying the boy’s cool composure. Then shadowed eyes judged each man as he leaned over the counter; looked left and right like he was surveying traffic and whispered. “Listen now and listen good, `cause I gotta tell you boys. Don’t go down Blackwater river. `Cause if you do. You ain’t comin` back. Those people in 1716 didn’t just disappear. The troopers found `em all right … eventually. An` all the bodies piled up like bloody slaughter at the base of Fiddlers Peak. Every one of `em gutted like a fish. Blood and entails staining the snow. Their hearts missing an’ their eyes−all black and burned out−like someone stuck a hot poker right through into their brains so they couldn’t see what was comin` to `em.”
“Just a bunch of old timer’s tales.” Tommy snickered … Then realizing what he’d implied added. “I mean no offense.”
“No offense taken.” Harold smiled, and the old man’s grin spawned yellowed rot from underneath a knotted and untidy gray beard. The scene appeared like a horror story of neglect and all five men cringed in disgust.
The hike to Blackwater was Tommy’s first first holiday in twelve months. ‘Redbones Butchers’ was going out of business. In Tommy’s part of the world. All small towns were going out of business. Larry had called him two weeks ago offering Tommy a getaway, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea; an opportunity to escape. Do something different, and Tommy was thinking ... A change of scenery would be worthwhile, under the circumstances.
Davey shifted in his chair. The old man’s words were playing games in his mind. “Who did it?” He asked, trying to console the disturbance settling in. “Did they find the executioners?”
“Who did it indeed? The bartender said, raising bushy eyebrows while eyeing each man in turn. “Back in the day. The troopers searchin`, blamed the Malunjins. At least that’s what we call `em `round `ere. But I say, it wasn’t them. `Cause even the village graves had been emptied. Every single tomb opened, and the bodies removed. All that was left was dirt holes an` open caskets. The Malunjins wouldn’t do such a thing.”
Arthur, took a long swig of beer then smacked his lips. “Malunjins, What the hell are they?”
Harold leaned over the counter. “Malunjins are bootleggers. They mush, make beer, low wines and whiskey. A mash potato of blacks, whites and yellows. They live down river in among the Flatwoods and Long leaf. Deep in the swamps between the river and the old Blackwater settlement. Malunjins have always been there. But nobody’s seen none of `em since the troopers cleaned `em out in 1716. An` history says, the troopers killed `em all. Shot or hung most of `em, an` the rest; they buried alive. Nevertheless, what’s believed and what is fact, is still a mystery … an` every month for the last three hundred years the barge comes up-river from Blackwater swamp stocked with booze an` goods, an` nobody steering. It docks `ere in Hawkins County like it knows where it’s goin` an` when it's unloaded an` the money bagged an` stacked. It heads right back down river all by it-itself.”
Larry sniggered. “Yeah well it’s probably got an engine fixed underneath the hull and is steered by remote control.”
Harold leaned back pulling gnarly fingers through his beard. “Townsfolk `ave said the same. But ain’t nobody’s had the guts to go swim underneath that barge an` see for themselves.”
Intent on distracting his companions and to end the conversation. Larry extended his open palm across the counter. “Your stories don’t scare us ole` timer. And if you don’t mind. We’d like the keys to our rooms. We’ve got a long hike starting early tomorrow.”
Harold removed the keys from a drawer underneath the counter. But before he handed handing them over, he slammed the keys on the counter and covered them with his left palm, then leaned forward. “You mind me boys … Those Malunjins are all inbred. They got faces that would scare the angels from their wings, an` their bodies are all twisted an` warped. They ain’t human no more, an` that’s a fact. You see one you run, `cause he won’t be the only one lurking around. Malunjins move in packs. Just like wolves. An` they don’t like strangers messin` about in their territory.”
“I thought you said the troopers killed all the Malunjins?” A...