Author's note: This was a true story that I heard from people who were actually there. It happened in the... Show full author's note »
The HonorableAin’t nothing exciting that ever happens our side of the mountain. We lived humble, working hard and abiding by nobody’s rules but our own. Bear and Woody changed everything real quick. From the beginning, we knew they was trouble, or so my pop told me, and that meant it must be true.
I’d never heard of hippies before Bear and Woody, and I ain’t heard much of them since. See, pop says they disturbed the two things that was best about the mountain, peace and honorability. “Ain’t nothing honorable about a hippie,” he’d say, “and much as they’d like to make you believe, there ain’t much peaceful about them neither.”
They’d moved into the abandoned place down the river at the beginning of spring, and fixed it up as best they could. It was a small place and odd, because it had wooden stairs that were built right out the house and down to a dock that stretched over the water real far, I suppose on account of fishing. I reckoned they didn’t want to fish much though, because pops said that hippies don’t take to respectable things (with them not being honorable and all), and seeing as I liked fishing a good bit, it must be respectable to an extent.
But seeing as they weren’t doing no harm, we let them alone. Of course, that don’t mean we didn’t keep a sharp eye on them. Pop called a meeting for everybody within 20 miles, and everybody within 30 showed up. People were curious and real wary about the hippies.
On account of us living in closest proximity to them, ours was the chosen place to hold a meeting. Strictly speaking, Bob Dickenson should have been the better choice. He got us all of our information about the hippies.
Bob was a tall man, skinny on top, but fat around the legs, making him look something like a candle that’s been burning for a while. Before the hippies, he was distrusted most on the mountain because it was him that was most likely to do something unexpected. He was a strange one. On the mounting, people mostly keep to themselves. Someone must not have told Bob that because he knew everybody, and no matter who they was, he was nice to them, showing up at their door and disturbing people just to talk. Of course, it was a naïve fellow like him that we chose to make contact with the hippies.
It was him that first told us their names, and gave us descriptions. Bear was the shorter one. He was real quiet, but he’d follow Woody through anything. Woody was the one we had to look out for. He was the ambitious one, what with the idea to move out here. He said his real name wasn’t Woody, but that he’d been called that after a show that was real big a few years back. Both the fellows had long hair, which sounded real funny. It was the last news that struck hardest though: he said they was hippies.
Hippies! I had never heard a word such as that, but I could tell by the way Pops sucked his teeth in that they wasn’t honorable.
By meeting time, a good crowd of people had showed up on our doorstep. Jim Burks, a man round as a barrel and strong as anyone I’d ever met, was there, as was the brothers Jim and Tim Dursley. Even Paul Johnson, a reclusive man with a mighty fine beard to turn green over, made an appearance. There was others too, but they were of less reputation. Pops was the unofficial leader on account of it being his house.
Soon as the meeting begun, I was hustled out the door. I didn’t much like being kicked out of their meeting, but Pops insisted. “This wasn’t no place for an eleven year old,” he said. I briefly debated heading through the woods to spy on the hippies for important information. They’d be sure let me back in if I had something useful to add, but I decided against it. They could be done by the time I got back, and then I would know nothing at all. Instead, I just jammed my ear against the door and listened.
One of the Dursley brothers was speaking. “I say we run them off now,” he said. “They ain’t nothing but trouble.
Bob Dickenson’s nasal voice was the next I heard. “They haven’t done any harm. I say we should let them be.”
“Hell with that.” It was Pops who was speaking, and he sounded angry.
The conversation went on much of the same. Some people, led by Pops and the Dursley brothers, wanted to run them out now. Bob Dickenson didn’t agree, but he would have been outvoted if mighty Jim Burks hadn’t sided with him. Jim was well thought of on the mountain, so others followed him just because it was him.
All in all, the meeting was largely unsatisfactory. Everybody left all in a huff with nothing decided other than we were gonna wait and see.
After that, Pops and the Dursleys decided they’d make life as miserable as possible for the hippies.
Once, the neighbor on the other side of the hippies caught them crossed a few feet on his side of the property line. He yelled at them something vicious for being thieves and shot at them. That scared them off. Another night, while the hippies slept, a tree fell sideways and landed just a few feet from their house. It had obviously been chopped down, ‘cause there wasn’t no wind that night. Besides, any fool could see sign of axe marks on the stump. Nobody claimed that one, but the Dursleys sure did walk mighty proud from then on after.
It was after that second incident that the hippies made contact of their own, in the form of a little yellow note they left on everyone’s doorstep.
A shoot out. They were calling for a shootout, and Lord knows there ain’t much people round this side of the mountain like more than a shooting competition. Shooting was an honorable contest, and besides that, him who won the contest was held in high standing for a good time afterward.
Still, some of us weren’t too keen on it. Bob was the only one who’d even made time to talk to them, and we didn’t much trust him. But it turned out that the hippies chose wise; they must’ve known somehow that everyone here about was getting a hankerin’ to shoot something, and it was finally decided that there wasn’t much that could go wrong at a shootout. Who knows better anyways? Maybe we could find a good reason to run them off. Secretly, I hoped they’d be staying, ‘cause they’d given me something to look forward too until summer.
The morning of the shootout, it had rained something terrible, which wasn’t unnatural in the Carolinas. Even after it stopped there was a cloud over the mountain that made sure the sun wasn’t going to shine too bright. Pops and I were the first to arrive even though we had made certain to be a little late. It sure looked like everyone else had come up with the same idea as us. No one wanted to be the first to arrive, cause that’d mean have to talk to the hippies alone.
Fortunately, the hippies weren’t nowhere in sight, but there was a fire that reached high as the house, so we took a seat next to it and waiting. Bob Dickenson was the next to arrive. With his rusted rifle slung over his skinny shoulder, he did not seem all that much intimidating. Still, we thought that maybe the hippies would come out now at the sight of a familiar face. They didn’t and Bob plopped down right beside me, ruffling my hair like I hate.
As the others began to file their way in, we tried as best we could to say as little to Bob as we could, case people noticed and thought bad. Slowly, everyone began to show face. Jim and Tim Dursley were well known crack shots, so they came in proud as a peacock. Jim Burks followed soon behind in his usual solemn way. I always that that he must had had something awful happen to him when he young for him to be so serious all the time, but Pops said it was just his way. There was a good twenty people gathered ‘round the fire when Paul Johnson appeared, finishing off the list of people we’d expected to come. Bear and Woody still hadn’t made no showing.
All around me, I could hear folks muttering, and I knew people was as on edge as a nest of hornets. The fire was just beginning to die down when Woody first stepped out the house, and stood above us on the raised deck.
He was a tall man, and thin just like Bob had said, and he had a nose long enough to poke someone’s eye out if he wasn’t careful. His most distinguishing feature, though, was his hair. I ain’t never seen a man with long hair before, and after a close examination, I decided that he must be a man and not a woman on account of that he would make the ugliest woman I’d ever set eyes on.
The man to his right had to be Bear. He was not as tall or thin as Woody, but he still had that hair crazy hair too. He seemed distant, like he was out of focus or something. Maybe it was on account of all his blinking that I thought he must be confused or nervous or maybe both.
Woody was unquestionably the man who did the talking. He spoke funny, like somebody in a movie I saw once. “Welcome, friends, to the night of your lives,” he said in a theatrical voice. He reminded me of a picture of a demon I’d seen once in a book, what with his face half covered by shadow and half illuminated by the flickering light from the fire. His shadowed danced with the flickering of the flame behind him, and he sounded liquored up ‘cause he spoke real slow and slurred. “I would like to thank you, for your hospitality and for the welcome you have all shown us here, in the Carolinas.” The double meaning wasn’t lost to Pops. He shifted, real uncomfortable. Ain’t nobody besides Bob who’s gave the hippies any hospitality at all. Woody continued. “As you already know, you have been invited here, for a shootout.” If I’d not know much better, I’d have thought that Bear had snickered. “If you would, please load your weapons, and signal to me when you are ready.” I looked around, and saw that everyone was as on edge as Pops. This wasn’t how things was usually done. Slowly, everyone complied and each head nodded to show that he was done loading.
It was then that I noticed what everyone else must already have noticed. There wasn’t no targets to shoot at, and besides that, it was past dark already. We wouldn’t be able to see nothing. Woody’s voice broke into my wonderings. “Now, I would be obliged if everyone would fire their rifle, straight up into the air,” he said. He brushed his hair out of his eyes, pointed his old fashion pistol into the air and pulled the trigger. All at the same time, 20 guns discharged into the air. I closed my eyes and forced myself from clamping my hands over my ears. When I opened my eyes, I could see that everyone was as confused as I was.
There was silence as everyone looked at Woody to see what came next. Finally, he smiled, showing crooked yellow teeth. “And that, my friends, is a shootout. Thank you all for coming,” he said, and he retreated inside. Bear took a good look at our bewildered faces before laughing loudly, and followed him in, leaving us outside, real confused.
Not a word was said, but I could tell that people weren’t too happy. Even Paul Johnson looked mad he’d been made a fool of. Tim Dursley muttered a profanity and Jim spit something on the ground. They trudged off into the woods for their long march home, scowls deep set on their faces. After that, everyone just kind of dispersed. There wasn’t a word said. No one wanted to admit they’d been played for a fool, so they just stalked off quiet. Pops must have been the most hurt of all, because he didn’t move until everyone else was long gone. He just stared at the house and chewed on a piece of wood. Then, he grabbed my shoulder and we headed home.
Maybe that should have been the end of things, but heaven knows that there was no way that Pops was going to let it go. I knew something big was going down whenever the first meeting happened. I wasn’t allowed to be in this one neither. I couldn’t even listen in, on account of the man who stood guard at the door. I did occasionally hear raised voices, and more cussing than I’d heard at one time before.
It was only a few weeks after the shooting incident when the barrels started rolling in. They were locked in our shed, so I couldn’t see them, but I know they were big and there was loads of them. The shed smelled something strange when I investigated, too, but it was locked tight so I couldn’t get in. Everyday for more than a week, more barrels would roll on in to be locked safely in the shed, until I wondered how they had room for them. They must have been stacked ten feet high to the ceiling.
At first it was just Pops and the Dursleys, but not long after everyone else began to show up. I even overheard someone saying Paul Johnson was lending a hand in some way. Bob Dickenson was the only one who didn’t show, but that didn’t seem to bother nobody.
The first day of July, I was ordered to bed early, so I knew something was going down. Pops never made me get to bed early. He’d always said he wasn’t no mother, and he wasn’t gonna act like one. But tonight, he’d ordered me to get to bed, so I knew something big was going to happen. Sure enough, not long after I’d hit the sack, I heard the door creak open and the sound of whispering. I could hardly contain my excitement. Things had been quiet for too long and I was getting real antsy of late.
Muffled voices outside my door told me I needed to wait a bit longer before I snuck out, but it wasn’t long ‘till, the door again creaked and the house was silent. Quick as a frightened squirrel, I was up and out of bed. I followed Pops at a safe distance, careful to keep quiet.
He made his way to the shed and unlocked it. There had to be at least a dozen people waiting there for him. He entered into the shed and rolled out the first barrel, handing it to a big man, probably Burke, who lifted it and carried it into the night. Pops went back in for another. A loud bang startled me, and Pops swore. I’d never heard him swear before, but he did, real unchristian like. A yellowish liquid came seeping out of the shed, and I heard Pops yell that he’d busted one. Then he swore again. One by one, all of the barrels were rolled out. I was real quiet, so they didn’t hear me following them, but I recognized the path way, so I knew where they was being taken anyways- straight to the river.
I hid behind a fallen tree and watched from a distance as they busted open the lids of each of the cans. Then, all at once, they dumped the yellow liquid into the river. Even from the far away distance, I could smell it easy. It stank familiar like, but I couldn’t place it for the life of me. Whatever it was, it floated on top of the water.
By the time the last barrel was emptied, the stream was stained a burnt yellow color, and I could tell that the Dursley brothers were real excited. As the liquid was swept away by the current, one of them made a loud whooping noise, but Pops hissed at him to shut up. That silenced him real fast.
I'd had to abandon my hiding place to keep up with the group as they made their way down stream, so I crept behind quite as I could. Slowly, I began to realize where we were heading. Not far down stream was the hippies’ place.
Everything happened all of a sudden. There was scraping noise, and then a spark and then the river was ablaze. Gasoline! That’s what that smell had been. The dock that stretched out over the river caught on fire first, but the flames didn’t stop there. It clawed hungrily up the stairway to the deck and from there it began to eat away at the house. It wasn’t so long before the entire house was ablaze, and Pop and the others took to whooping and hollering stuff about how no hippie gonna take foot on their side of the mountain. As the fire built, so did the roudiness of the men, ‘specially Pops. He scared me, like he was a demon, with his face half covered by shadow and half illuminated by the light from the fire. His shadowed danced with the flickering of the flame behind him. He sounded drunk.
We ain’t never seen the hippies after that day. Turns out that Bob Dickenson caught wind of what was going on, and warned them and they was able to get away just in time. Soon as the community found out about that, they ran Bob off too. I ain’t seen him since neither. It was probably for the best; he didn’t belong around these parts. Can’t say I blame him.
It wasn’t long after that I sat on the old rocking chair outside the front of the house and Tim and Jim Dursley made their way up the path way to our house. Pop greeted them with a handshake, he always done that, and Tim gripped him on the shoulder and said, “You’re a honorable man, sir. The most honorable I know.”