Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest Writer: Elliott Cox

Lightning Strikes

"Where do I go from here?" I asked. I was driving through an unfamiliar part of the state with my friend Matt, who guaranteed me that the trip was worth it. Matt said, "You go straight, where else would you go?" I said, "What? Drive right through the gate?"

"No, Einstein, you see those tire tracks that go AROUND the gate? Use em." After a knowing nod from Matt, I drove through the ditch and around the gate that had a sign attached to it with barbed wire. The sign bore the spray painted words, Jesus forgives trespassers. I make sure he stays busy. I said, "Are you sure that this is okay?" He said, "Jeez, man, I've been out here in the county dozens of times. Trust me for once would you?" He was laughing as he said it, so I drove on.

A few minutes later, Matt and I pulled into a driveway that led to nothing but trees. I asked, "Are you sure this is it?" He was already out the door and walking backwards toward the edge of the woods, which I thought was a bit odd, until I saw the huge man wearing overalls aiming a double-barreled shotgun at him. I hadn't completely sorted that vision out in my mind before Matt muddied it up even more by smiling in my direction and waving me over. I've never had a shotgun shoved into my back, but I don't think that my first reaction would be to smile and wave my friend onto the battlefield; I've known Matt long enough to know that the crazy prick mostly knows what he's doing, so I followed suit.

When I backed up beside Matt, all questions of what I would do if I ever had a gun shoved into the small of my back were answered: I peed a little bit. Matt said, "Lou, Phil...Phil, Lou." The man that I assumed was Lou said, "The hell you boys doin owcheer?" Matt said, "Come on, Lou. You remember me don't you? I've bought at least three jugs of shine from you. Matt? Come on, man."

Judging by the increased pressure of the twin twelve gauge barrels digging into my back, Lou wasn't impressed with Matt's reply. He said, "Dunno no Matt. You boys is the po-leese ain'tcha? Coupla narcs, huh. Musta dint read the sign when you come past my gate." After he said "come past my gate," Lou made a sound like “uh-huh” that I thought was him clearing his throat, until he clicked his teeth twice. When I made the connection that Lou had such an audible nervous tick, I almost laughed...despite the gun pressed against my tenderloin. I looked over at a wide-eyed Matt, who was pleading silently for me to let it go. The combination of seeing Matt scared almost to death and the hillbilly spitting on the back of my neck made things easy for me: I let it go.

Matt said, “No, Lou. No, man. You’ve got it all wrong. You really don’t remember me? Matt? We’re just looking to buy a couple of quarts from you. We’re not the cops, Lou, I swear.”

Uh-huh click click. “Why’nt you boys lead the way,” Lou said, gesturing toward the wood line. I followed Matt’s lead because it looked like he had been through this drill before. About a hundred-fifty yards into the woods, we walked into a clearing that held but a small wooden shack and a contraption that was about the size of a Buick, but looked like an old steam locomotive. When we rounded the corner between the locomotive and the shack, we saw two old, frail-looking men sitting in chairs that were leaned against the side of the shack. The one with the beard down to his gut asked, “Whatcha got here, Lou?”

“These here boys say they wanna buy some lightnin. Say they ain’t po-leese.” The beard looked to his right and told his buddy to pat us down before turning back to Lou and saying, “Christ, Lou. Put yer gun down offem. They look too scared to run.” He looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “They wouldn’t get too far if’n they tried, anyways.” Note to self: If we get out of this alive, kill Matt. After our uncomfortably thorough pat down, the beard said, “So you boys wanna buy summa Carolina’s finest, huh?” Matt said, “Yes, sir. We would like to get two quarts from you, if you don’t mind.”

“Boy, don’t you never call me sir again. I bet you’s just a couple a college boys, ain’tcha?” Matt cleared his throat and said, “Yes, si...ahem, yes, we are.” The beard lit a cigarette, looked straight at me, and said, “Mmm-hmm. An I betcha boys wanna impress all that college tail by tellin em how you came out to the hills and got some moonshine from the hicks owcheer. I bet you tell em how we was sittin round the liquor still in our overhalls and pickin a banjer, won’tcha. All that ‘purty mouth’ stuff an all. That whachoo gon do, boy?” Matt started to speak, but the beard kept his eyes on me, pointed a finger at Matt, and said, “I weren’t talking to you, boy. I wanna hear what blondie here has to say bout it.” From behind me, I heard uh-huh click click.

I turned Don’t say sir, don’t say sir over and over in my mind before I said, “My friend here told me that he knew where to get some really good moonshine. The pure stuff. I’ve never had any before, you see. We’re having a party this weekend and thought that it would be cool to have some there. We do want to impress the girls, but there’s no way in hell that we are going to tell anybody where we got it.” I realized that I was rambling because I was scared almost to death, so I cut myself off. The beard held my gaze and I saw his eyes soften a bit. He said, “Get em two quarts, Lou.” Matt and I both sagged a little from the rush of relief. Matt said, “So how much do we owe you?” I could’ve slapped him.

The beard’s eyes hardened again. He said, “Gimmee your wallets.” My hand was immediately in my back pocket, but Matt hesitated until I dug my elbow into his ribs. He handed me his wallet, I handed both of them to the beard. He opened mine, looked at my driver’s license, and closed it. As he opened Matt’s wallet, the beard said, “Goin rate’s twenny five a quart.” He thumbed through Matt’s cash and pulled a hundred dollar bill out and put it in his shirt pocket. “But I think you’re a little asshole, so you pay double...an you buy both of em.” He nodded toward me and said, “Don’t you never ask him for his half, neither.” The beard pulled Matt’s driver’s license from his wallet and examined it before putting it in his shirt pocket alongside the money and said, “If we get raided by the po-leece in the next month, me an Lou will see you after our bail gets posted.” He handed my wallet back to me and threw Matt’s on the ground in front of him.

Lou came around the corner holding two mason jars filled with clear liquid and asked the beard, “They squared up, pops?” The beard nodded and Lou handed us a quart each. The beard said, “Nice doin bidness with ya, boys. I reckon you can see your own way out.” Without a word, that’s what we did.

After thirty minutes of silence on the ride back home, Matt asked, “So are you going to give me half?” I laughed and said, “Why don’t you just consider it a ‘stupid tax’ and take that as a lesson in keeping your mouth shut.” I made sure that Matt was in charge of passing the quart jars around at the party that night, and I made an extra effort to let everyone in attendance know that we had some “real stuff” available, “All you have to do is go ask Matt for a snort and he will hook you right up.” I followed each and every person that staggered up to Matt that night seeking a taste of Carolina’s finest. Like clockwork, every person brave enough to take a taste would say, “You got a purty mouth, boy” before turning the jar up. Matt would screw his face up almost as much as the person that was experiencing moonshine for the first time. Without giving Matt a chance to recover, I would say, “Hey, Matt, you have to tell them how you got the shine! You guys are going to love this story, uh-huh click click,” and I would walk away. A hundred bucks and a driver’s license says that he will never give me any grief about it.

© Elliott Cox 2011

Elliott Cox is a father, son, aircraft mechanic, college student, writer, and musician. Not always in that order, and never all at the same time. Elliott writes in both of his spare minutes, but never without the help of his friends.
Editor's Note: A very special thanks goes to Elliott for his putting together of a terrific video helping MuDJoB celebrate its first anniversary of Guest Writes. The video can be seen here.

4 comments:

  1. Now I know why I've been missing your writing Elliott - this is such a richly woven tale, wonderful characters and thoroughly entertaining dialogue ... reads absolutely 100% true, too ...

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  2. Reads awful real, there. You just reinforced my distrust of dirt roads, driving around warning signs, and the woods. Really enjoyed this, thank goodness. It could have gone so terribly wrong....

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  3. Well done, Mr. Cox. I think I'd have peed a bit myself. Very authentic, and thanks for not making someone squeal like a pig.

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  4. Thanks, folks! I'm always inspired when people that I admire say something kind about my words! Your thoughts are always appreciated.

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