by Alyssa Murphy
The year is 1930, the start of a new decade. It’s around six-fifteen before I roll out of bed and put my breeches on. My morning chores start as soon as the rooster crows. My boots make dust swirl around as I hit the stairs with such force. Ma’s already puttin’ together a full breakfast for my brother and I.
“Mornin’ Ma!” I say as I reach for a piece of ma’s sweet cherry cobbler.
A smack to my head sends me forward and the pie falls to the table.
“No dessert’s before your chores are done and the breakfasts ate!” she huffs at me and pats the sweat off her forehead with the greasy kitchen rag on the stove.
“Sorry Ma wasn’t thankin’ this mornin’!”
“I’ll say, now go find your brother and get back here before the gravy gets cold!”
“Yes ma’am!” I grab my hat and kiss her on the forehead. The screen door slams shut as I skip down the front steps.
After I’m done feeding the chickens and hogs, I dust the dirt from my hands and hang the feed bucket on the rusty nail in the barn. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to look out for Warren. Even though I’m the younger brother, I’m the older one too. I let out a deep breath, I didn’t know I was holding in. “Time to start the two mile walk for town!” I sigh to the chickens pecking up feed.
I lean down and scoop up a handful of rocks and toss them one by one into the creek. If only I brought a pole I could’ve slid down the bank and fished for a few minuets. The shoes of a horse hittin’ the dirt road comes from behind me. Stepping into the weeds, I turn my head to see who’s riding by.
“Whooa, Whoaa now!” Pulling on the reigns, the horse slides to a stop right beside of me.
“Howdy boy!” A deep rusty voice say’s from the saddle. I shade my eyes from the blinding sun, trying to get a better look at the mystery man.
“Howdy!” I reply stepping back on my right leg and placing my hands loosely in my pants pockets. I’m not sure who this man is, so I have to ready myself in case he wants to scrap.
“You Warren Reeds little brother, ain’t cha’!”
“Yes sir!” I said with a tip of my hat.
“Well I been looking for him all over McDowell County!” The old man said, “Got some business needs takin’ care of.”
“I’m on my way to find ‘em, right now, I’ll tell ‘em your lookin for ‘em.”
“Tell ’em Legends lookin’ for ‘em!” He said with a snake-like grin.
Nodding my head in his direction, he grabs the horse reigns and gallop’s away. I take a breather for a second, something was definitely fishy about him, and I can hear his wolf like howl in the distance, telling the horse to go faster. I shake my head, changing my thoughts from the mystery man back to Warren. I start walking again; the trips into town don’t bother me, I like looking at the scenes and hearing the sounds.
I’m walking past a field of tall hay; I run my hand across the fuzzy tops. Feeling the softness of the hay reminds me of a blanket I had when I was a baby. I come to the end of the hay rolls and pluck one from the ground. I break it down to size and stick it in my mouth, letting the fluffy part dangle from my lips. This reminds me of when Warren and I were little we’d pretend that we were Tom Sawyer and Huckle Berry-Fin. We was always goin’ on adventures and getting into trouble. Warren would read me the stories at bedtime and the next day we’d act it out. He would stick a piece of hay in his mouth and I never knew why, I just thought it was cool and I wanted to be just like Warren so I did it to. I chuckle at the thought now cause’ I don’t much look up to him anymore.
I spit out the hay piece, its getting broken down and limp now. I notice a beer can in the weeds beside the dirt road. Walking over I bend down to pick it up just as I’m about to, I notice a mean cottonmouth waitin’ to strike.
“What do you think your doin’ here, just waitin’ for something to bite?” I say with a laugh as I pick up a rock. The snake replies with a hiss. I’m about to drop the rock on its head, but I change my mind. This is his home and I’m intruding. I toss the rock beside him and he launches forward, but then slides off to the creek bank. I grab the beer can, too bad its empty. As much stress Warren causes me I need a good drink. I toss the can to my feet and kick it ahead of me.
I’ve been kicking this can for about ten minuets or longer. I raise my head to see where I’m at, just ahead I can see the hustle’ and bustle’ of all the town folk. Didn’t realize I was this close, time sure flies when your having fun. I chuckle at my own thought, cause’ lookin’ for Warren is never fun.
“Morin’ Jim!” I holler, Jim’s the county bar owner, of the best bar in town, well the only one. Crossing one foot over the other, I lean against the banister on Jim’s wooden porch.
“Morin’ River!” Jim replies, lookin’ up from sharpening his knife. “Watcha’ doin’ in town so early?”
“Lookin’ for my ornery brother, you seen ‘em?’
“Well about six-thirty he stopped by for a drink and left with a few boys in a ford truck, didn’t say where they were goin’.”
“Lord only knows what he’s gettin’ into.” Shaking my head I look down at my feet and back up at Jim. “Thanks anyway, guess I’ll go look for the Bonehead!”
“Now don’t drag yourself down with em’, you understand me?”
“Yes sir!” I nod my head to Jim as I start walking toward the “Welcome to McDowell County” sign.
I’m not really sure where Warren has run off to. He left sometime before it was light outside. He thinks I didn’t see em’ but I did and so did Ma. Warren’s got a mind of his own, won’t listen to anybody. Ever since Pa was shot and killed Warren became angry and rock solid. Pa died when I was four, Warren was the age I am now, thirteen. He thought he was gonna go after the shooter and get revenge for Pa. Ma had a time trying to calm him down, after that Warren wasn’t the same. He started doin’ bad in school and getting’ into fights. I looked up to Warren before he changed; now I just look at him. Warren and my relationship didn’t change after Pa died, He still wanted to be my strong big brother, but he couldn’t hide the anger that built up inside him.
I stumble along the weed banks of the creek and see someone wadding around in the water. A short stalky boy with dirty blonde hair and wide shoulders, I instantly know that’s Warren.
“Bout’ time I found ya!” I holler out to Warren in the middle of the creek, cupping my hands over my mouth so my voice is louder.
“Why ya been lookin?” Warren says, turning around in a sudden rush.
“Ma made breakfast wanted us to eat at the table together.” I say narrowing my eyes at him I notice his eye is blacked and a cut on his lip is still bleeding. “What happened to your face?’
“Nothin’, just fell of a horse.”
“Why ya in the creek walking around like a lost puppy?” I’m curious now. Warren has been up to something in the past month. He thinks I don’t notice but he’s still my older brother and I’m always watching him.
“Lost my shed key when the horse bucked up.”
“I don’t see no horse around.”
“That’s cause it ran off.” He says lookin’ at me with a death glare.
Warren gets that look from Pa. People used to say our Pa was the devil in man’s shoes. I can remember goin’ to church one time and the preacher asked my Pa to come bow at the pew. That made Pa mad, he went to church but he just wanted to set in the back and mind his own business. He gave that death stare to the preacher, got up and walked out slamming the door behind him. I watched as poor Ma cried into her lap never raising her head until service was over.
At school, kids never set beside Warren or me. They never played with us after school either. I walked up to a kid and asked why he wouldn’t; he said his parents said not to play with the kids of a devil man. I ran home that day and told Ma, she said to never listen to other people’s opinions, always say my prayers at night and pray my Pa will change and that people see the real man he is on the inside.
I look down and see Warren holding up his key. Placing the leather strap back around his neck where it belongs.
“Lets head home, Ma’s gonna skin our hide for bein’ late!”
“She’ll be alright lil bro.” Warren says as he grabs me in a chokehold and gives me a nuggie. I break loose, pick up my hat and fix my brown hair back into place.
“Can we just go home now, been lookin’ for ya all Morin’!” I say glancing at Warren
“I didn’t ask ya to look for me, squirt!” Warren shoves me and walks up the bank, back to the road. I ran up the hill and fall in pace with Warren’s steps.
“Yea, but Ma asked me to.” I pause, rubbing the back of my head and look up at him. “She’s been worried bout’ ya all Morin’, heck I have to, we seen ya sneak off last night.”
“No need to worry, I’m just fine, fell off a horse that’s all.” He says and his pace quickens. Lookin’ back he hollers, “Don’t need to be watchin’ what I do.”
For a moment I thought I saw a tear in Warren’s eye. I don’t believe it though—
He’s a stonewall— But all stonewalls break, eventually.
“Warren Edward Reed!” Ma comes running out the house, the screen door slamming just adds gas to the fire. She’s madder then a wet hen. “Who do ya thank ya are sneakin’ off in the middle of the night!” Ma said, standing on her tiptoes to get in his face better. He pushes her finger from his face.
“... And just look at your face!” raising her hand to tilt his face upward.
“I got kicked by a horse.” He quietly replied.
“I’ve seen many of those in my day, and that’s no horse kick!”
Hanging his head low, so he won’t see the hurt in his mother’s eyes he says
“Sorry for puttin’ worry on ya Ma!” sighing, “It won’t happen again.”
Shakin’ her head, she just looks at him speechless. She knows it’s a lie.
“Turnin’ into ya Pa more and more each day.” Warren just stares at Ma. He knows she’s right but he doesn’t care. You can’t bring an arrow back once it’s been shot. Warrens that arrow, He’s too far-gone to be brought back.
They both turn and go separate ways. Warren goes to the barn and Ma goes in the house. “Come on River, breakfast is still on the table.”
I was frozen; shocked at the anger Warren wears on his sleeve now. I got to change him back. This isn’t him and I know it! I’m now the snake and he’s my prey. My eyes are watching every step he takes tonight. I snap from my daze and head into the house behind Ma.
I twirl the fork around and around in my gravy and biscuits. The foods already too cold to eat, But I’m not going to tell Ma that. Ma eats her breakfast in silence, only glancing at me to pass the salt. I eat a few bites so it won’t upset Ma. The longer I’m away from Warren the more trouble he could get in too.
“May I be excused?’ I slowly raise my head to see Ma’s expression.
“I guess, so much for a family breakfast!” she snaps and finishes up her plate and places it into the sink.
“Sorry Ma, I’ll talk to Warren, everything will be ok.” I rise from my chair and the legs skid against the wood floor. “I can change him.” I place my hat on my head and head for the door. I glance back at mom and see her crying at the kitchen table. I walk over and give her a hug. She kisses my cheek and gives me a slight helpless smile. I jog up to the barn determined to get some answers from Warren.
“Hey Warren.” I say knocking on the barn door. “Can we talk?”
Looking back from the makeshift sink Warren nods his head. I flip a bucket over and take a seat. Warren is looking in the mirror fixing his cuts and bruises.
“Did you really fall off a horse?”
“Why, you don’t believe me?” Warren stops and stares back at me through the mirror. “What do you thank happened?”
“I thank you left last night to meet up with Victor, Lloyd, and Jack.” I glance up at him to see his rock sold expression, he never shows emotion.
“Ya’ll stopped by the bar and met some buyers, ya’ll left and got into some trouble that ya’ll can’t handle, and then I find ya dumped in the creek.” I stare at him with such confidence because I know I’m right.
Victor, Lloyd, and Jack are Warren’s best friends, well Warren’s only friends. Everyone from McDowell all the way to Wyoming know that them boys are the youngest moonshine selling bunch to walk into town and the best at it too. They came into town with their heads held high last summer. Warren already had an evil streak in him and he knew they were the right boys to open up business with. Ma warned Warren about moonshine dealing, but he didn’t listen. Pa was the counties meanest moonshiner and Warren wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“Guess you just know everything don’t cha’? Warren pauses with a sigh, “You know anything else bout’ me?”
“I know some guy named Legend is lookin’ for ya.” I stare up a Warren.
“How do you know that?” Warren says with concern in his voice.
“Some old bearded guy stopped me this morin’ and told me to tell ya.” I stand up from the bucket, “What does he want?”
“Nothing. Don’t worry bout’ it, and stay away from people who are lookin’ for me,” Warren says pointing a finger into my chest, “Got it!”
“Yea got it.”
Warren turns back around and starts patching his face. I walk over to the door ready to step out when Warren starts talking again.
“You should be the county sheriff, all that snooping you’ve been doin’!” Warren says turning around to face me.
“Haven’t been snooping, I just know you.” I reply
“Listen kid you don’t want to be like me, ever, and you don’t know me.” He says turning back away from me “Not anymore anyway.”
“Maybe so, but I’m going to get the old Warren back, Cause’ he’s still in there, I can see em’ in your eyes.” I turn and walk from the barn, glancing back I can see one lonely tear roll down Warren’s cheek.
The moon is casting light over the treetops; I’m lying in bed staring at the wood plank ceiling, waiting for Warren to make his move. I have a funny feeling that he has plans for tonight, big plans. Warren slept in the barn last night, I guess to avoid another fight with Ma. I hear a bucket fall over and Warren mumble something. I jump up and look out a hole in my wall. I can see Warren packing up chicken crates into the back of his truck. Funny thing is people don’t buy chicken eggs at night, but they do buy moonshine.
I slip on my boots and tip toe down the stairs very quietly, if I wake Ma up it would be another World War. Getting down on my hands and knees I crawl out the back door. Placing my hand between the frames so the screen door doesn’t slam shut. I make my way to the tree beside the barn, crouching down so Warren can’t see me. Warrens packing up a few more crates from the shed, he slams the tail gate shut and locks the shed door with the key around his neck. He throws a tarp over the back of the truck, now it looks like he’s hauling crates of eggs or milk. The crates have hay packed around the sides so you can’t see the mason jars inside. Warren walks over and jumps in the truck, I sneak over from behind the tree. As he closes the door, I silently jump into the back. The truck starts up and we pull out of the dirt road. I stare up at the stars, praying I haven’t gotten myself into too much trouble.
We hit a pothole in the road. It jolts me awake, I’m not sure when I fell asleep or how long I’ve been asleep. I hear Warren talking to somebody in the truck, it sounds like Victor. We must have stopped and picked him up while I was knocked out. I raise up and peek over the side of the truck; I see a sign up ahead, it reads Welcome to Ohio! Holy Cow, how long have I been asleep and where in tarnation are we going? Warren cuts a turn fast enough to throw me back down. Just before I was about to rise back up I hear Warren and Victor start talking again.
“Lloyd and Jack said they’ll meet us there.” Victor says, Lighting up a cigar and taking a puff. He blows the smoke through the back window and it hovers over my head. I hold in a cough, it feels like my lungs are going to bust. The cough finally passes and I take deep breaths, felling my lungs back up with cool air.
“Ya tell’em to bring some Tommie’s, Chicago buyers like action.”
“Yea I told em, you think I’m crazy, I packed two in the back just for us!” Victor says coughing from the cigar.
I move the blanket beside me and sure enough there lays two fully automatic Tommy Guns. My mind goes straight to all the bad things that might happen tonight. I almost let the guns distract me from the conversation.
“Ya thank it’ll go smooth with these fellas?” Victor finally says after he caught his breath.
“As long as nothin’ sets them off, we should be al’rigtht.” Warren says.
“I’m not sure about this Warren, we’ve never done business with ‘em before, this is the big city, and they know business better than I know my shoe size!” Victor says, with a worried look on his face.
Warren takes the cigar from his mouth and blows smoke in Victors face.
“Victor do you know who I am? I’m the devil mans son, and I’m a force to be reckoned with!” Warren says looking over at Victor with a cocky smirk across his face, placing the cigar back in his mouth.
Victor just rests his arm on the window and looks straight ahead. Deep down Victor and I both know if something happens tonight, it won’t end pretty.
I’m getting very uncomfortable in this truck bed. My legs are all cramped up and I’m getting hungry. I look over at the crates; maybe just one sip will help my starving stomach. I crack open the one of the boxes and pull out a clear Mason jar bottle. Swishing it around a little bit I screw off the lid and smell the moonshine. I get a sense of hot cinnamon and sweet red apples, but the fire hot smell of alcohol is hiding underneath. I gulp really hard before I ready myself to take a swig.
“Can’t be too bad, just drink you wimp!” I whisper to myself, “1,2,3 …” I turn the jar up and get more then what I expected. I instantly spit the white lighting everywhere. What little drops went down my throat burn from my tongue to my stomach. I’m holding my breath to keep from coughing. The burn that moonshine left in my stomach eats away at the hungry feeing I had. I screw the lid back on and place the bottle back in the crate. I look around to see where I’m at. The night is dark and cool, but it’s warm at the same time. We’re driving down some back road; there are farms all around. That’s something I’ve always wanted, a farm, one day I’ll come home to a family off my own and be a hard working farmer.
“Welcome to Chicago” The sign, reads in big bright flashy lights. I feel sick to my stomach; I just hope nothing bad happens tonight. I shouldn’t have come; I should’ve just stayed home. Let Warren be Warren. This place is so much different from home. Huge buildings, cars parked on every street, trains and trollies. The people are dressed to the nines and out enjoying the sights. Every building has a flashy sign. We’re long ways from home.
“AHAHAH, check it Victor, The big city!” Warren shouts. It startles me and I duck back into the truck bed.
“Women on every corner! Might get lucky tonight!” Warren says as he slaps Victor in the chest.
“Never can go wrong with a city girl!” Victor says back, “There’s nothing else like em.”
“Here it is.” Warren says shifting his tone.
I look over the side and see where Warren is taking the turn. It’s down some ally way, dark and damp. I lean over the edge and see the stoned road is shiny wet, must’ve rained before we got here.
“Were meeting here so we can load up and get ready then we’ll walk down to the spot, where they should be waitin’.” Warren says as he pulls over behind some trashcans. Warren and Victor both hop out of the truck and slam the doors.
“I told Lloyd and Jack to be here.” Victor says fixing his tie, as he walks around to the driver side.
“We can wait a few more minuets but we leave without them if they don’t arrive soon.” Warren replies back. He’s bent down looking in the mirror fixing his hat. He tilts it just above his left eye and grins up at Victor.
As quite as I can, I hop out and run over to a trashcan. I must’ve stepped on a cats tail because as soon as I duck down a loud screech comes from the cat as it jumps away. Warren and Victor stance together and looks around.
“What was that?” Warren says in a whisper, “Did you see anybody following us?”
“No, Don’t thank it was nothin’, just a street cat.” Victor says back.
“Get the Tommy’s times up, were movin’ out.” Warren says motioning for Victor to get the guns.
Victor places the strap of one gun around his shoulder and hands the other to Warren. They make sure they’re loaded and start walking down the ally. I wait before they’re just out of sight and I follow behind. Stopping ever few seconds to hide behind something. If Warren finds me I’m sure he’d shoot me. Just as I’m about to start following behind, I see two silhouettes fall into pace behind Victor and Warren. I’m about to shout for them to turn around as they’re grabbed from behind.
“Give me your loot and drop the guns!” The voice says that’s holding Warren.
Warren back kicks him where it counts and the guy falls down.
“Don’t shoot! Warren, don’t shoot!” The guy says down on his knees, “Its us! Its me, Jack!”
“What in the hell do ya’ll think your doin’!” Warren says as him and Victor lower their guns.
“Just wanted to mess with ya man.” Lloyd says, answering for Jack since he can’t quite breathe at the moment.
“This isn’t the time or place for jokin’.” Victor says.
“Back to business, ya’ll packin’?” Warren asks. Jack gets to his knees. Lloyd and Jack both lift the bottom of their shirts up to reveal Colt 45’s. Without another word, all four of them walk down the ally with fearless eyes. As I follow behind with fear in mine.
I’ve been following behind for about ten minuets, trying my best to stay out of sight. I’m assuming Warren and his gang have made it to their destination. As they walk ahead toward some guys hanging around this dark, abandon building deep inside the ally, I hide at the building just before where they stop. I climb inside a tin barrel, it has rust holes, so I can see everything that goes on but they can’t see me. I peep out one of the rusty holes and cup my ear so I can hear them talking.
“What can I do for you?” a guy says to Warren, as he places his hands in his pockets. He looks to be about Warren’s age. Behind him stand three other guys.
“If I’m understandin’ right, I got a message sent to me sayin’ this spot needs twenty crates of apple moonshine delivered by tonight?” Warren says.
“Yea, I do believe your right.” The guy says back.
“Well if you’ll just pay the price, we can go back to the truck and get your order.” Warren says motioning back toward the truck.
“Right, we got to check the shine first, you know make sure everything’s there.”
“Al right, you can check it but when you pay is when you receive.”
“Fair enough.” The guy lights a cigar and turns to look at his boys, “Go follow them to the truck, make sure everything’s there, make sure they’re not jipping us.”
“Boys, show them to the truck.” Warren says. Just as they are about to start walking toward the truck, Warren grabs Victor by the arm and whispers in his ear. By the look on Warrens face and the sternness of his mouth I can tell he’s warning Victor to watch out. Victor and Warren make eye contact and Victor slightly nods his head in return.
“Didn’t catch your name?” The guy says to Warren
“Warren Reed, you are?”
“Ray Chapman, my boys over there are Eddie, Leo, and Walter.” Ray says glancing his eyes over to where they are walking back down the ally.
“That’s Victor, Lloyd, and Jack.” Warren says pointing to his friends as they walk out of sight down the dark, damp alleyway.
“Pleasure doing business with you.” Ray says with a grin and bringing his hand up for Warren to shake.
Warren looks down at his hand but then shakes it, “The Pleasures all mine.”
“Who’d ya bring with ya?” Warren says looking in the car that’s parked behind Ray.
“Don’t worry he’s not a cop, just my little brother.” Ray says turning around, “Leland wave to Warren, show your manners.” The boy, who looks about my age, rises up from the seat and tips his hat to Warren. Warren tips his hat back.
“Why did ya bring ya brother, don’t care if he sees what’cha doin’?”
“We all make a living somehow, don’t need to hide it from him.” Ray answers. Warren just nods his head. This may be how he’s choosing to live, but that doesn’t mean its okay for his little brother to follow in his footsteps.
I’ve been quietly watching from one of the holes in the barrel. Not sure how I’m going to get back to the truck when everything’s done and over. Footsteps come up from behind me, along with the clinging sound of glass jars. They’ve already made it back with the crates.
“Just in time boys, take it inside the building, we’ll get it tomorrow!” Ray says clapping his hands together.
Everything is about to be over and we can head back home. Ray pays Warren and finish up business. I feel something move around behind me. This isn’t a big enough barrel for two people. I try and turn around and just as I do a loud screech rings inside the barrel. A hot burning sting comes to the side of my face. The barrel rocks back and forth then crashes to the side and makes the sound bounce off the ally walls.
“Cops! They brought cops!” Eddie hollers.
“Set up, Its a set up!” Ray says grabbing for his gun.
“Stop! It’s not a cop Ray!” The little voice screams from the car window.
I stand up from the barrel and wave my hands in their direction. Warren turns around and his face drops. Just as Warren goes to walk toward me gunfire rings out through the ally. I’m pierced with pain in my side; I suddenly loose my breath. My hand goes straight to my side as dark red covers my fingers. I fall to the ground and from my blurry vision I see Warren run toward me.
“RIVER! NO!” Warren shouts, he sprints to where River has collapsed
Lloyd and Jack hide behind the stacked crates of moonshine shooting at Ray and his gang. Warren makes his way to River with Victor guarding his side. Ray’s men fall back after they’ve emptied their guns. They jump in the car and burn the tires as they speed away. Everything is quite, Lloyd and Jack run over to Victor and Warren. Victor has his hand on Warrens shoulder as he’s holding Rivers limp body.
“Mmhp, War… ugh…” River mumbles in Warren’s ear. Warren raises his head and looks at River’s face. Water drops to Rivers ghostly cheeks. Warren frowns and looks up, those aren’t his tears, slowly raindrops fall from the cloudy black sky. He scoops River up and jogs back to the truck. The boys follow behind him. Warren places River in the middle of him and Victor with a blanket wrapped around him. Lloyd and Jack hop in the back. Warren puts the truck in gear and drives out of the alleyway. He’s driving past the welcome sign as sirens sound through Chicago. Nobody says a word. They stare blankly ahead all the way back to McDowell County.
(One week later)
“River…River time to wake, gotta take your meds.” Ma says rubbing my forehead. I rustle under the covers and flutter my eyes open. I look at Ma and smile. Whencing with pain, I pull myself up. I take the pill from Ma’s hand and tilt my head back.
“Here drink this too.” Ma reaches me a cup of dark green liquid.
“What is it?” I ask with a disgusted look on my face.
“Something that your Grandpa used to make; It’ll heal your insides.” Ma says with a kiss to my forehead.
“Get some rest.” She says as she turns and leaves the room.
I lie back in bed and stare at the ceiling. That night Warren raced back home and busted through the door, laying my lifeless body on the kitchen table, right in front of Ma’s eyes. She didn’t have time to fight with Warren about what happen, she went straight to work. Luckily Ma is somewhat of a nurse, without her I wouldn’t be alive. We’re too poor for a hospital. The bullet went straight through my lower left side, just above my hipbone. It cut through a main blood vain and I was bleeding out. Ma clamped the blood vain shut and stitched me back together. I lost so much blood she wasn’t sure I would make it, But I somehow I did. I’m still in pain and dazed by all the blood loss but I’m alive.
Warren blames himself for what happened to me. Ma blames him to, but it was all my fault. I shouldn’t have followed him that night. Warren wants to kill Ray for what he did. Ma told Warren that he has to live in the barn for now, unless he straightens up and changes his devil ways. Her and I both know Warren won’t stop ‘till he gets his revenge. I’m not looking for revenge; I just want Warren to see bad things happen to those who do bad. Luckily, I wasn’t killed, but I could’ve been, Warren could’ve been. If Warren won’t stop what he’s doing, then I won’t stop trying to save him.
I want to try and walk, so I rise back up and swing my feet over the bed. I grab at my side and clench my teeth as I stand up. One foot after another I make it over to the stairs. I let out a deep breath as I look down to the bottom. I bite the side of my jaw and take the first step. Two, Three, Four and on the forth step I take a breather. I taste blood in my mouth; I didn’t realize I was biting the inside of my cheek so hard. Just four more steps. I suck in a deep breath and make it down the last four steps. Letting out my breath when I reach the bottom.
“Hey Ma.” I say to ma as I slowly walk toward the front door.
“River, whatcha’ doin’?” Ma says shocked.
“Just need fresh air.”
“Here let me help you.” Ma says coming over to me, grabbing my arm. I jerk away. “No, Ma I don’t need no help.”
“Well, al ‘right supper ‘ell be done in a minute.” She says walking back over to the stove. I nod my head in return as I reach push open the screen door. I walk on to the porch and breath the fresh air.
I finally reach the mailbox, seems like it took me forever to get here. I place my left hand on the mailbox so I can balance myself. Leaning over I see a small letter inside, I grab it.
“Chicago, Illinois, To River Reed, mailbox 44, McDowell county WV.” I read aloud to myself. Confused I rip open the letter.
“ Dear Appalachia Boy,
You don’t know me, but I know you. Ray Chapman is my older brother. You might remember him; he’s the one that shot you that night in the ally. I’m really sorry that happen to you. I promise you Ray didn’t shoot you on purpose. He thought you were a cop. He just had gotten out of the slammer and he wasn’t planning on going back. My names Leland, I was waiting in the car that night. I saw you get in that barrel. I knew what you were there for. I used to hide away and follow my brother on deals, until he let me come along. Anyways, I thought I would write you to see if you’re alive actually. I found your address on my brother’s desk. Warren, whom I’m assuming is your older brother, sent Ray a letter the night before to conform the sell. How are you doing? Recovering nicely I hope. I was wondering if we could talk, sense were two different people. We live lives that aren’t the same. I wanted to know what its like in West Virginia? I hope you write me back; maybe we could be pen pals.”
I shake my head, trying to understand what I just read, and why would he even want to write me a letter. I fold the perfectly white paper and tuck into my shirt pocket. Holding my side I slowly walk up to the barn to talk to Warren.
“Knock, Knock, can I come in?” I say leaning on the barn door.
Warren turns around, shocked to see me out and about.
“Whatcha’ doin’ walking around?”
“I’m shot, not dying, I’ll heal up, so why lay in bed all day and cry about it.”
“Yea guess so, that shouldn’t have happen to ya!” Warren says gripping his fit.
“Yea but it did, and it was my fault. I wasn’t suppose to be there.”
“Ray will get what he deserves, me and the boys are leavin’ tonight.”
“Warren, don’t do anything stupid.”
“It’s not stupid, its revenge.”
“Warren I did what I did to save you, try and get you to stop before you end up where dad is!” I raise my voice at him, “Let what happened to me be what changes you from going down this path!”
“Dad would never let this go, and as your older brother I’m suppose to take care of you and ma, and I’ve done nothin’ but fail at that; I can’t help what I do but it puts food on the table and clothes on our back, so I’m gonna keep doin’ what I’m doin’, and Ray thanks he’s gonna get away with shootin’ you, but he’s not, you understand me!” Warren says getting right in my face and pointing his finger into my chest.
I go to say something back, but there’s nothing to say to Warren. If me getting shot and almost dying doesn’t stop him from causing an all out war then nothing will stop him. He’s on the path of destruction. I turn and limp out of the barn, leaving Warren there staring at me as I go. I make it back to the house, just as the sun goes down over the mountains, take a breather on the porch and walk inside.
“There’s no hope for Warren, I’m gonna go rest.” I say to Ma whose washing dishes, I crawl up the stairs before she can say anything back to me. I light my candle by my bed and take out Leland’s letter and write him back.
“ Dear Leland Chapman,
I got your letter, I’m alive and sore but at least I’m not dead. The bullet hit me just above my left hip. Clean shot through I think. I came close to bleeding out, but my Ma saved me. Now I’m just takin’ it easy. I don’t blame your brother for what he did; I shouldn’t have been there. I tried to see what Warren was doin, I assumed he was selling moonshine but I wanted to make sure before I called him out on it. Our father was killed because of moonshine dealin’ and I didn’t want Warren to end up the same as him, but I have to let Warren do what he wants cause I cant stop him. Life in West Virginia is poor. Not a fun place to live. Normally we start work at a young age. West Virginia sure ain’t as cool as Chicago was. I guess we’re pen pals now, whatever that means.”
I hear Warrens truck start up. I lean over the bed and look out the crack in the wall. The headlights shine in my eyes. Watching Warren drive down the road sends shivers down my spine; he might not return.
Wednesday June 21, 1930
The postman runs today. I’m patiently waiting by the kitchen window, eating an apple.
“What are you doing Leland?” Ray says as he walks into the kitchen.
“Ugh… just waiting on the mail.”
“You expecting a letter from a buyer.” Ray says chuckling.
“No, I wrote a letter I’m waiting to see if I get a reply.”
“Oh ok, well have fun with your little pen pal.” Ray jokes as he leaves the room. I watch him leave and turn back around to stare out the window. Finally, I see the mailman walking toward our yard. I hop off the counter I was sitting on and run outside. I bump into Ray as he’s walking down the steps. He hollers out and tells me to watch it, but I keep moving toward the mailman.
“Afternoon Leland.” The mailman says tipping his cap.
“Afternoon, anything in there for me?”
“I do believe so.” He reaches into his satchel and pulls out a discolored envelope. I grab the letter and run back to the house.
“Thanks Mister Roger!” I holler back to the mailman.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, I rip open the letter from West Virginia. This has to be from River, My heart feels at ease knowing he’s alive. My eyes speed across his handwriting. I chuckle at the fact he doesn’t understand the meaning of pen pal. Grabbing a piece of paper and pen and ink I begin my letter to River.
Glad to hear that you’re alive and the shot didn’t injure you that much. Really happy to hear back from you I didn’t think you got shot in that bad of a spot. If you ask me, that’s the spot id want to be shot at. I’m sorry for the loss of your father. I too lost my father to moonshine but its business and that’s how you play the game. I don’t have to worry about work until after school, go to college and then get a job. Chicago is boring there are no mountains, no funny talking people, Just buildings and men worried about making more money then their enemy. I have to go to school everyday, not weekends though that’s when I go on business with Ray. To us moonshine is our work; I guess we don’t consider it a bad thing. I can’t believe you don’t know what pen pals are; didn’t you learn that in school? Pen pals are friends who write to each other because they can’t see each other.
Sincerely, Leland Chapman
I lick the envelope closed and run back outside placing it in the mailbox. I see Ray talking to his gang over by the oak tree in our yard.
“What are you guys talking about?” I say walking over to them “Got another moonshine seal tonight?”
“No Leland, this is strictly business.” Ray says taking a puff of his cigar.
“I thought I was part of this business?”
“You are, but not this kind, now run along back in the house.” Ray says shooing me away. “And tell mom not to be worried I’ll be gone a few days.”
I just nod my head and walk back inside. When Ray doesn’t let me go on business runs with him that means his getting into a lot more trouble and I can’t be there to watch it.
(Wednesday June 28, 1930)
Sorry I didn’t no what pen pals was. I don’t go to school very often. I’m 13 now so I’m planning on quitting school and getting me a job. That’s what you do around here. I guess we have the same feeling losing our Pas and all. Moonshining isn’t business for us; Warren doesn’t need to get into that kinda life. Nothing good comes from it but death. Chicago was cool to me. It has everything we don’t, like money, houses, education, and food.
That’s odd you don’t have to go to school like I do. I don’t have to worry about a job till I’m 18. Then go to college, I want to be a journalist for the New York Times. What do you want to be when you grow up? Ray chose to follow in his Fathers footsteps; I’m not doing that though. He can deal with the business but I want to be something better than that. I want to write for the New York Times Newspaper. That would be great, since I love to write. The violence and stuff that comes along with moonshining isn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t know it was that bad there. Maybe your family could come here one day so you can have better.
Sincerely, Leland Chapman
(Wednesday July 5, 1930)
I’ll never make it to college, that’s just not an option for county people. Barely have money to put food on the table. I guess if I ever did go to college I would love to be a sheriff. Stop all the crime that goes on. That’s just a dream though, not something I could ever do. Movin’ to Chicago will never happen, Ma won’t leave her hometown and I can’t leave Ma. I have to tell you something about Warren though. Warren wasn’t always like this, after pa died that’s when he changed. He is very destructive; I think he is planning on going somewhere tonight. Maybe to meet Ray, cause Warren wants revenge for what happened. I know Ray didn’t shoot me on purpose, but Warren thinks he did. If the two of them go after each other, it won’t end well. Just be prepared for the worst.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve gotten a letter from Leland. Two weeks that Ma or me has heard from Warren. In the back of my mind I have a feeling he’s gone. He’s let the moonshine take him just like Pa. I can tell Ma feels the same way, but she doesn’t say anything. I’m setting on the couch staring at the floor. Ma’s setting at the kitchen table with her head down. There is a loud knock on the door. I get up and answer the door Ma follows behind me. Without saying anything to each other, I know that we are thinking the same thing. Warrens dead, dead and gone just like Pa. I guess we already prepared ourselves for it on the inside. We still had hope that maybe it wasn’t true.
“River, Mrs. Reed, I’m sorry but we have some bad news…” The county sheriff says as he takes of his hat. Ma screams and falls to the floor. I freeze with shock.
Warren and Ray met up that night on June 21, 1930 and ended up killing each other over revenge. I never heard from Leland. Ma wanted me to leave, to find better for myself and have a better life. She wasn’t losing another person she loved. She became a bar tender at Jims bar and made enough tips to buy me a bus ticket.
August 1, 1930 I walked up the front steps of a huge two-story house. I knock on the big white door and wait for an answer.
“River…what are you…” Leland says answering the door.
“Hey, yea I know should’ve wrote before I just showed up like this.”
“No, its okay, what are you doing here, in Chicago, how’d you even get here?”
“After Warren died, Ma wanted me to leave and make something of myself so I came to the only place I knew.”
“Yea, Ray and Warren were too caught up in the moonshine to see any danger.”
I just shook my head. Leland invited me in and I met his ma, nannie, and dog. It really made me miss home but I’m doing this for Ma and Warren. Leland agreed to let me stay with his family; I slept in the guest room. Sooner or later it became my room. Leland’s family became like my own, but it didn’t replace the one I have. I wrote Ma letters everyday so she wouldn’t worry.
Ten years later
Ten years ago I showed up at Leland’s front door. I’m now the Deputy Sheriff of McDowell County. Ma’s very old and fragile now; she just sits on the porch in her rocker and knits all day long. Today on my walk home I stop by the graveyard.
Warren Edward Reed
1910 – 1930
Beloved Son and Brother
James Ray Chapman
1909 - 1930
Beloved Son and Brother
“Hey big brother…” I’m silent for a second, taking it all in.
“I miss you like crazy, Ma misses ya too… I hope your in a better place, I should’ve followed you again that night. I guess things happen for a reason. I’m the sheriff now… ya I know that’s hard to believe, I went to college and everything… I wish you were here to see me…” I wipe a tear from my eye and bend down to put some blue lilies on Warren’s grave. Blue was his favorite color. I kiss the tips of my fingers and place my hand on top of the headstone.
I walk home down the same road I met that strange man who was looking for Warren that day so many years ago. When I arrive home, I sit next to Ma on the front porch, grab the New York Times newspaper I bought on my way home. I find and article from this new journalist, Leland Chapman, He’s something else I tell ya. Chuckling, I put down the paper and look over at Ma, and smile.