Jasper’s Jug #Shortstory #Appalachianfolklore

by Bonnie Douglas

Below is a story we did, originally for the #2022 Short Story Challenge, but 2022 is over and we’re still writing. This is an Appalachian-inspired take on the “genie in a bottle.” We hope you enjoy it.



Granny Steinbrecher had been in these mountains a long time.  She had traveled into this territory as a young girl, walking behind her father’s packhorse.  She was married by thirteen and had dug, planted, harvested, cooked, and bore three children all in these hills.  When her man died, she was 30, and when her daughter Aggie made her a granny, she was 33.  Now at 50, she could barely count her grandchildren.

But the oldest grandson was gone now.  Sniffling, she said his name, “Jesse.”

The sniffling turned to sobs, and she leaned against a door frame, weeping.  When she finally dried her eyes, the devastation had turned to anger.  At the age of 16, Jesse had begun running with a group of older boys, and their wild ways had gotten him killed at 17.  The drinking and gambling had led to thievery, and Jesse was shot when their gang tried to rob a store. Now he was gone forever and her anger was burning at the boys he ran with.

Granny knew these mountains very well and was versed in the mountain way, including the darker things that were never discussed in the open. She was one of the original “witchy women” of the countryside.  How she ended up with her late husband she would never tell.  They couldn’t have been more different.  Her husband was a giant.  Granny, was small, almost tiny, with long red hair she kept in a bun unless she was working, and a narrow vulpine face.  She knew vulpine is a fancy word for foxy, which meant sly back then, and not pretty.

“I wish you were here, Hans,” she whispered.

Her husband had been a mason. With a name like Steinbrecher, you could hardly be anything else.  He wasn’t one of those “secret handshake, wink and a nod” masons. He was the real thing.  He was a true master of stonework who could bend and shape stone like no one else she’d ever seen. She felt as if she was made of stone right now, especially her heart. Turning back to her revenge,  her face grew slyer than ever as she plotted.   Jesse was gone, and these boys who led him astray would pay. She would start with the leader, Jasper Turcott.

Jasper Turcott was weary.  He had been living on the run since he and his friends had tried to rob a store in a nearby town.  Some of the others were in jail, but one had died.  Jasper was laying low, sleeping under the stars and planning his escape from this mountain town.  He was sorry for the loss of Jesse.  Jesse knew the land better than he did, and Jasper would have been much more comfortable with him along.  He was sad that Jesse had died, but he had to find a way to get out of here and travel to a city where he could start again.

“Dammit!”  He cursed again at the foiled robbery.  When that store owner pulled out that gun, he’d had to leave before he could get any money.  Now he had to find a way to survive and get out of town.  The thirst for liquor that had fueled his plan in the first place was also stronger than ever.

“Jasper!”  He heard a woman call his name, and stiffened in fear.  Who was this? He peered through the trees and saw a tiny, red-headed elderly woman dressed in black.  She was carrying a covered basket and a jug.

“Come on out here!” She called, setting her things on a flat rock.  “I have some food for you and something to drink.”

Squinting, Jasper realized he knew this woman.  It was Jesse’s Granny, Emma Steinbrecher.  “Why would she help him?”  Was it a trap?  He stayed silent, shrinking back further against the trees.

Granny waited a while, and then sighed. “I know you are scared, but you need to eat. There is nobody here but me.  I’ll leave these things and go.”

Jasper watched her walk away into the forest, and waited at least a half hour before he came out.  A covered basket greeted him, and inside—fried chicken!  He tore into a drumstick greedily.  There was apple pie, and a huge piece of cornbread.  He picked the jug up to drink, and was surprised to discover it contained moonshine.  The food forgotten, he drank his fill. Two hours later, after he had drifted off to sleep, he was awoken by a singsong voice.

Confused, he sat up and saw that Granny was back. She sat on another rock, facing him.

“Hello, Jasper,”  she said.

He leaped up and looked around warily for the police.

“There’s nobody here but me.”  Granny smiled and stood, approaching him with outstretched hands.  “I came here to feed you, not turn you in.”

“Why would you do that?”

She smiled and clasped her hands together, almost in prayer.  “My grandson would want me to.  Now tell me how I can help you.”

Jasper laughed, a dark look in his eyes.  “Unless you can get me out of town, you can’t help.”

“Is that your deepest wish?  To leave here?”

He threw up his hands in the air and snorted. “What do you think?  I wish I could get out of here right now.”

Suddenly everything changed.  Was he in a cave? It was dark and wet, and the space seemed enclosed.   Walls were close around him and Granny was gone.  The smell of moonshine was everywhere.  Was he dead?  Was this hell?  He cried out in fear.

“Don’t worry, Jasper.  You’re still alive.”  Granny’s voice seemed to echo from far away.  “You are inside that jug with the liquor you love so much.”

In a low and lilted cadence, she began to sing, and the words echoed through his prison.

In this vessel you will live
But many wishes it shall give

Make a wish and they will pay
With a stay of three full days

And those wishes will come true
With the penance paid by you

But to this jug you will be tied
And will live until you die.

“You will stay here, Jasper, until someone else holds this jug and makes a wish.  Then you will be released for three days while they take your place.” Her voice now showed the anger she had been hiding. “What you do with those three days is up to you.  Upon the release of your temporary rescuer, their wish will be granted and you will return to the jug. This jug does not break easily, because it’s made with a special stone, so don’t think you can end things that way.”

Jasper felt as if he were being lifted into the air.  “I’ll leave this where the right person can find it,” Granny said, and he could feel her walking along, carrying him with her on her way to more vengeance.


Granny told me when she cursed me that I would live until I died.  Well, let me tell you that has turned out to be a lot more difficult than I ever thought it would! I lived a lot longer than I had a right to, but so far I haven’t figured out a way to accomplish the dying part. She cursed me good, that’s for sure.

Have you ever said something like, “This meal is so good I could eat it every day?”  Well believe me, no matter how much you like fried chicken, cornbread, apple pie and moonshine, after a few months of nothing else you’ll be begging for a change.

Granny Steinbrecher truly knew what she was doing when she stuck me inside this jug.  I wanted for nothing. I had a picnic basket that replenished itself no matter how much I ate, and a jug of ‘shine’ that never ran out.  While there were no luxuries, I had a table, chair, and a tick mattress full of clean straw and blanket to sleep under when I could finally close my eyes. I had a Bible to read, along with tablets and pencils to write with.  I had tried every wily trick I could come up with to escape the curse she laid on me.  No matter what I tried, did, or said, I always ended up back in the jug at the end of the three days.

It used to be a lot easier to get folks–usually ne’er-do-wells similar to myself–to pick up a jug full of things unknown. Even a muttered “wish” for something simple like another drink or a decent pair of socks was enough to buy me three days of freedom.  At first I tried to get back to the holler and talk to Granny, but travel was a lot harder back then.  My jug and I had traveled a lot further than I thought possible the first time I was released.

Stealing a horse was risky, but not impossible, and after an unfortunate soul made a wish and landed in my jug, that was the first thing I did.   I rode hell-bent for leather with the jug bouncing crazily behind me, arriving just before sundown on the third day.

Skidding my stolen horse to a halt in the dirt in front of Granny’s stone house I hollered “Granny Steinbrecher! Please! It’s me, Jasper Turcott! I’ve come to tell you how sorry I am about Jesse!” I stumbled towards the house with the jug in my hands and I saw the door creak open.  Granny Steinbrecher stalked into the yard as the last rays of sun tucked themselves behind the hills and with a twitch of her fingers, the jug tore itself from my hands into hers.

“Now Jasper, it’s barely been three months since you went to your new home.  I hardly think you’ve even begun to feel the sorrow I feel at the loss of my grandson.”  With another twitch of her fingers, I saw a flash of light and felt a tremendous tug. With a flinch, I closed my eyes and threw my hands in front of my face to protect it from whatever was coming my way.

Opening my eyes, I found myself back in the confines of the jug,  surrounded by the objects I was slowly coming to loathe.

I could hear Granny’s voice from outside the jug, echoing her words of comfort to the poor drunken soul who’d just been sucked out when I was pulled back in.

Furious, I hurled everything that was in reach around the confines of my prison.  With a shout at the top of my lungs I hollered “GRANNY!”

I could hear her cackle as she soothed the stranger. “Now, don’t you worry none.  We’ll get you fixed up and headed back where you belong in the morning.”

With a clatter, she sat the jug down and I could tell she was talking to me when she continued, “A lot can happen in three days, especially when you’re drunk.  We’ll just have to make sure that you don’t end up in worse trouble than you’re already in.”

Before long she picked up my jug and carried me away, back into the forest. I assumed she left me where I could be found, because strangers occasionally found me and gave me a three-day reprieve.

As time went by I made it back to Granny Steinbrecher three more times.  Travel had gotten easier but changing her mind proved impossible.  I was trapped in this jug for as long as I lived and so far I had not aged a day since Granny had sent me to my just desserts.

The last time I made it back to the holler with plenty of daylight left. I had no idea how long it had been. This time I managed a ride in something called an “automobile” most of the way. As I strode up the overgrown trail towards Granny’s house I could feel the difference in the holler. 

Climbing the rocky trail and rounding the last curve of rough path into the small cove in the mountains, my heart fell.  “No,” I said, feeling the last dregs of hope leave me.

No one had been here in quite a while. I worried that Granny might have passed on but since my curse continued I had hopes that she lingered as well Not a wisp of smoke from a fire, and the well-tended gardens had fallen fallow long ago. Stones from the house lay scattered in the overgrown grasses filling the clearing.  Only a lonely mound of stone marked by a simple cross met my searching eyes.

“Dammit,” I muttered, as I set my clay prison down on the grass surrounding the grave and knelt down. “Well Granny, I suppose you had the last laugh.  I’ll never be free no matter how hard I try.”

Searching the ground, I found a small pebble and chucked it at the marker.  With a soft crack of stone meeting stone, it bounced off. I heard a slight “tink” as the rock met an object hidden in the tall grass.

With a sigh, I went to see what I had hit.

Running my hands through the grass I found a familiar clay jug.  Grasping it with both hands I tugged it from the tangle of grass and looked it over carefully.  Pretty much all clay jugs look the same and this was no exception.  The only difference between this jug and my prison were the letters “J.T.” scrawled in black paint on the outside.  It even had a corn cob stopper like mine.

Pulling the cob out, I leaned in to look inside the jug. Before I could even draw the breath for a shout, I felt a familiar tug and found myself sprawled on a floor in front of a cozy fireplace.  I heard a creaking and turned to find myself facing an even more aged version of Granny Steinbrecher, sitting  in a carved wooden rocking chair with a bundle of knitting in her lap. Her vibrant hair was almost completely gray.

“Hello, Jasper,” she said, fixing her green eyes on me firmly.

“Is that you in the grave?” I asked, my voice hoarse with fear.

She nodded. “I am gone from this world.  This is a simple message for you.  There is a way to destroy the jug, but you will have to find it on your own.”

I began to sob and got down to my knees, ready to beg.

“No need for that,” she said softly.  “I am only a shadow, a message.  I can’t destroy the jug for you.  My soul is in Heaven, and I’m sure I am sorry for the vengeance I wreaked on you.”

I knelt there on the stone floor, crying until my tears were gone.  When I looked up, Granny had faded away, and soon I was released from Granny’s jug.

I screamed up at the sky, knowing I would soon be returned to the place I had left my jug.  I had stopped carrying it with me because I would be returned to it from wherever I was within three days.

And before long I was back on the straw tick mattress, with the chicken dinner waiting.  As usual, the evidence of the previous occupant was gone.  I had tried for many years to scream out at whoever had been released to help me, but they never seemed to hear me.   I couldn’t hear them either.  The only person who I ever had been able to hear inside the jug had been Granny.  I had no way to communicate, so I was surprised when a piece of paper dropped into the jug.

“What is this thing?” were the only words written on the paper.

Having nothing else to do, I wrote, “my prison,” and was glad that I had learned to read and write before I went astray so many years ago.  I added “My name is Jasper,” and then realized I had no way to send it back up.  Suddenly a string dropped down into the jug.  I folded the note up, tied it with the string, and watched it get pulled back up.  This was how I met Jack.  I slowly, through a lot of notes, explained my situation.  Afterwards, I was surprised by the response.

“I would love to go back in.”

My next note was written in a surprised, angry slash.  “WHY!”

His response left me silent.  “I haven’t had a place to sleep and steady meals in a long, long time.”

I had never thought of it that way.  Although it was always the same meal, when I was in that jug I was fed and dry.  I felt ashamed.

After a bit of silence on my part, another note came down from Jack.

“I will make another wish.  I will wish to come back to the jug.  That will give you three days.”

I had never had anyone willing to make their wish more than once.  Usually, they ran away, convinced they were drunk or going crazy. By the time their wish was granted, I assumed they could never find the jug again.  During my temporary releases, I had tried to get people to help me over the years, but was never able to get anyone to believe me in three short days.  Often I found myself beaten up.  Once I was jailed, but that didn’t keep me from the jug two days later.

“You can wish for whatever you want,” I replied.  That will put you back in the jug for three days. What did you wish for last time?”

“A warm place to lay my head.”

I explained to him his wishes could be grander, but was soon sucked back out of the jug.  Instead of walking away, I began to drop notes, and found out his full name was Jack Anderson.  He was 54 years old, which means he could have been one of my great-great grandsons, although I still looked 22. He told me he was having pizza.  I had learned about pizza in my time outside the jug. 

“No chicken for you!” I wrote excitedly.  At that moment, I realized I’d never been happy for anyone else before.

And our friendship began, with both of us exchanging places in the jug and dropping notes back and forth.

Eventually, Jack wished for some money to live on.  It came slowly, but a time arrived when my jug rested on a low shelf in Jack’s house, the “warm place to lay his head” that he had wished for. We continued our written conversations.  When I told him about Jesse and Granny, he was surprised, especially when he learned this all happened in 1882.  He began to research, trying to find the way to end Granny’s curse once and for all.

Jack continued to make wishes for a long time, giving me free time outside the jug.  I had my own room in Jack’s house, so I no longer had to find a home for three days or sleep in the woods as I had for so many years.  Jack would always leave me a letter in my room before he made a wish.   It was always filled with encouragement and a request to look on the brighter side.

“You have a home now,” he would remind me. “You have a friend.”

“My one regret,” I often wrote to him, “Is that we can’t talk face to face.”

“I have wished for that many times,” wrote Jack.  “But that one has not been granted.”

We continued to research, but to no avail.  Then the day came that I had dreaded.  Jack was now 64, and began to write that he was feeling frail.  When he told me his kidneys were failing, I was terrified.  I knew medicine was much more advanced, but he had to explain to me about dialysis and transplant lists.  Jack, like myself, had no relatives.  He had to wait for a miracle.

“Wish for a kidney!” I demanded.

“If I try that, I will have to go in the jug.”  he would respond in a shaky hand.  “I’m not sure I’m up for that right now.”

“You’re right,” I would say in a return note, “It will be tough, but we have to try.”  So after six months of my living in the jug without a break and four days away from Jack’s dialysis, I was released when he wished for a kidney.

I immediately began writing him to see how he felt and kept dropping notes into the jug.  “No change,” he replied.  “I’m so weak I can’t stay awake.”

After it appeared Jack had fallen asleep, I knelt by the jug. I had wished in front of it many times over many years during short releases, begging for the curse to be ended, but to no avail.  This time my wish was for Jack.   “Whoever can hear me, whether it’s Granny or God, or whoever can control this jug, take my life right now.  Take my life in exchange for Jack’s!”

There was a calmness over me as I said the words, but nothing seemed to happen again.  I left the room, filled with anguish as I sobbed for my friend.  When my tears dried, I looked up into Granny’s face.  She was younger, with bright red hair and green eyes.  Jesse, who I had so wronged, was standing next to her, looking the same as I remembered. His eyes were kind.

“I’m sorry, Jasper, Granny said. “I’m sorry for my anger and my curse.  I shouldn’t have done it.  But you have broken the curse.  I set the curse so that it could only be broken when you loved someone as much as I love Jesse.  That has happened.  You are free.

Suddenly Jack was standing beside me.  His face was grey and his hair was whiter than the pictures I had seen of him.

“Jasper!”  He croaked.  “Is that you?”  I nodded, and embraced him while the tears ran down my face.  When we turned around, Granny and Jesse were gone.  All that remained was a jug, split in two.

My request to exchange my life for Jack’s appeared to have been ignored.  I continued to live, and made an appointment to be tested so that I could give Jack a kidney.  Before that happened, he got the call.  A match had been found.  The operation was a whirlwind.  I was by his side, for Jack had listed me as his son and heir.

After the operation, life went on.  Jack and I enjoyed sharing the home and living as father and son.   Eventually, I began to see signs of my own aging, which brought me great joy.  I am living like never before.  I found a job and a girlfriend.  And of course Jack and I kept writing together.  We are actually working on a novel.  It’s about a friendship and a magic jug.

#2022ShortStoryChallenge #Bigfoot #SmokyMountains

This is another entry in the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. See the original post here. I’m a bit behind and have a few more to post so I can have 12 for the year. The theme this year is folklore, and I’ve teamed up with my husband Doug to write 12 stories featuring Appalachian folklore with a twist. Together we write as Bonnie Douglas. Thanks to Gail Meath for editing this for us!

By Bonnie Douglas

It was a simple Fall day in the mountains when I met Ted.  Even a simple autumn day is a sight to behold in the Smokies.  Orange and auburn leaves decorated the ground and drifted softly from the glowing trees.  The mountains above were golden domes decorated with blankets of clouds.  I was driving in my Chevy truck, having just interviewed the leader of a local group for my blog.

I was an IT professional by trade, and working from home gave me plenty of time to pursue my hiking and blogging passions in my off hours.  The interview I had just completed was going to be a great comedy piece for my blog, The Mountain Dweller.  Jonah McCleary, leader of a group called “Bigfoot Lives,” had warily agreed to speak with me, provided I added a request for volunteers in their ongoing search for Bigfoot.  That’s right.  A group of 30 people was actually spending days camping and scouring the mountains for a large, hairy, Wookie-like creature.  Jonah was friendly enough, but firm in his conviction that Bigfoot exists.  He showed me fur samples and pictures of footprints and images of a tall, shadowy, out-of-focus something that could have been a very tall man or an animal.  I certainly didn’t think it was enough proof to abandon a normal life and scour the mountains for a mythical creature, but Jonah did.  He was crazy, and I planned to paint him that way in my blog.   But for now, I headed towards my favorite parking spot, looking forward to my hike. 

He came out of nowhere, a large blur, and I’m not sure if I hit him or he hit me.  But suddenly I was at a stop.  My airbag had not deployed, but I had heard a crunch of metal, and somebody was lying on the ground.  I did a quick self-assessment as I got out of the car.  I seemed to be okay.  Then I stared.

Even lying on the ground, he was enormous.  He was probably at least 8 feet tall.  His body was covered with auburn-colored fur.  His large head, hands, and feet were very much like the depictions I’d seen of a Neanderthal man in one textbook or another.  I also couldn’t get away from the one word that was screaming in my brain—Bigfoot!  He began to stir, and I stumbled backward.

As he stood up, all my estimations about his height seemed to be true.  I continued to gape and tried to speak. “Are…you okay…?” 

“I think so,” he replied in what seemed to be a perfect Southern Mountain accent.  “I’m not bleeding and I don’t think I’m injured.”  He saw my face and added, “I won’t hurt you.”

I was still rooted to the spot.  “What..why?…Where?…I managed to stutter out, and I wondered why that infamous fight or flight reflex was not kicking in.  “Are you…?”

He sighed.  “Yes, I’m Bigfoot, I guess.”  I am being pursued by some people who I would rather avoid.  Can you give me a ride?   I can pay my way.  I won’t hurt you.”  He repeated, “But I could really use that ride.”  

I didn’t see any pockets, or any pants for that matter,  so I wasn’t sure where he would keep money, or how he would get it in the first place.  Should I jump in my now-dented truck and drive away?  Maybe.  But when he lifted his shaggy arm to check a very large Timex watch that was lodged there, I swayed. How could I walk away from this?  I cleared my throat and tried to square my shoulders, a move which seemed tiny and insignificant next to this giant.   “Okay.  Let’s go.” 

He stopped then and grinned.  “You’re the Mountain Dweller, aren’t you?”  He stuck out his big, fur-covered hand.  I’m Ted.  I follow your blog.”

I shook his hand, assuming that to him it felt as though he were shaking hands with a child.  I took a deep breath, and said  “I have many questions.”

And so I ended up driving down the road with Bigfoot wedged uncomfortably into the passenger seat of my truck. He seemed to be perfectly fine and expecting my barrage of questions.  Before I could begin, he held up a huge hand.  “I’ll give you the basic story, and then you can ask more questions.”  He began his tale:

“I live in comfort underground in these mountains.  Living in the national park seemed the best idea, so the land would be undisturbed most of the time.  The way I manage to do that is another story in itself, but I will simply tell you right now I’m not of this world.”

I gaped. “You’re an alien!  But your English is perfect.” 

“I’ve learned many languages during my time here.  I spoke to you as anyone born in Eastern Tennessee might.”

I was astounded, but a little less scared.  The queries began to tumble out.

He held up his hand again.  “First you need to know why I’m in trouble.  There is a Bigfoot research group called…

“Bigfoot Lives,” I interrupted. 

“Yes, exactly, he exclaimed. They have arrived in my part of the woods.  They are camping much closer to me than I would like.  They’re scouring the woods for any trace of me, and they’ve found much more than they realize right now.”

“What did they find?” I asked, mesmerized.

“They collected some of my hair, footprints–things like that.  But they began picking up a lot of electronic interference, which they didn’t realize was from my home.  I was outside and had to run.  I have to get everything shut off before they realize that I have technology and follow it right to me.”

“How do you know about the electronic interference?” 

“ I was hiding in the woods, watching them more closely than they knew.  I heard them talking about it, but I couldn’t safely get to my home to shut it down. None of them seemed to associate that with me.”

“Did you come here in a spaceship?”

“Yes, you would call it a spaceship because I traveled in space.  But it was designed to be much more.  It became a home.  It has the technology to open up an area underground and then transform itself into a community dwelling, which it did.”

So he obviously didn’t plan to return.  It was a one-way trip.

“Why are you here?” 

“My people want to have a settlement here.  We have a few already that are scattered around your world.  The reason I am alone is because I was sent to set up our community.  A few families will join me later.” 

“Are you married?”

“No!” He laughed.  “I’m only 40.  We live much longer than you, so I’m considered almost a teenager in my world. 

“How did you come to follow my blog?”

He smiled.  I see you in the mountains often, hiking and taking pictures.  Sometimes you video your blog posts and I heard you mention the name of the blog.  I started following it.  It’s really good!”  

I had continued driving while trying to process this and realized I was heading towards home, trying to fathom the fact that Bigfoot was digital and used modern conveniences.  “I guess I’m taking you to my Mom’s house.”

He laughed.  “You still live with your Mom, dude?”  Later I would learn much of his English training involved movies, and his favorite was an 80s film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Shaking my head at Bigfoot sitting in my truck and calling me “dude,” I gave him a half smile.  “My parents passed away a few years ago.  The house was my mother’s.  It had been in her family for many years.  It’s mine now, but I still think of it as Mom’s house.”

He nodded in understanding, and we soon arrived at my little piece of land.  Six acres in the Smoky Mountains.  Under the circumstances, the best thing about it was that I had no neighbors within sight of my house, so Ted was able to walk in freely—well almost.  My blonde lab, Dooley, came running up, growling in warning. 

To my surprise, Ted bent towards him, giving a few yips and barks, and Dooley settled down, wagging his tail. 

“How did you do that?”  I exclaimed.

“His language is easy to understand and has some of the same nuances as mine.”

“Can HE understand YOU?”

“Of course. But his language is more advanced than yours.”

I’m sure I must have had a slightly offended look on my face.  “Well at least I can talk.”

Ted smiled, which was almost a friendly baring of teeth,  and lowered his large head a little.  “Dooley can talk too.  Did you ever think maybe you’re the one who can’t understand HIM?”

I would learn more baffling things about Ted and his world later, but for now we had to tackle the problem at hand:  “Bigfoot Lives.” For I had decided to help him.  Bigfoot deserves his privacy too.   We bent our heads together as much as a giant and an average-sized man can do, and came up with a plan.

When I arrived at the site, I was greeted by several men who must have been serving as security.  They were big and beefy, but did not appear to be armed.  I headed towards the biggest one and stuck out my hand.

“I’m Bill Toliver.  I write a blog called “Mountain Dweller” about life in the Smokies.  I interviewed Jonah in town the other day and I’d love to get some shots of him in action.”

The man responded by jerking a thumb towards a semi-official-looking tent. “Jonah’s in there,” he grunted. 

Jonah greeted me with suspicion at first, as I’m not sure I’d hidden my opinion of his group during our interview.  But having learned about Ted, it was easy to convince him that I believed him.    After taking a few pictures, I volunteered for the search and was accepted. 

I was given a grid and told what to look for:  hair, footprints, waste, or anything that looked like it did not necessarily come from any known animal.  Ted had told me where his underground home was, and my grid was headed in that direction, which was perfect. 

Accessing the secret entrance would be the hardest part, because I had to be completely alone.  That’s where Ted came in.  He was back here, running through the woods, dropping clues, and trying to lead them away. 

I heard a shout not long after I started searching, and saw one of the women running towards Jonah’s tent.  “We saw him, we saw him!”  He’s headed east.  More shouts rose up and the searchers began to shift, heading in an eastern direction.  Everyone but me. 

Ted had given me precise instructions and a device.  When I reached the proper GPS coordinates, all I had to do was push a button.  There was a soft whirring sound, and a door appeared in the ground.  I felt like my world was spinning.  Of course I had believed Ted, but here was the proof.  I entered and closed the door behind me.   Shutting down his power was pretty easy.  Levers, switches, and a button or two.  He had written it all out for me. Yes, Ted can write.  His mastery of language is something to behold.

“Bill!”  I heard Jonah’s voice and I froze.  He was out there calling my name.  How was I going to be able to leave?  After shutting down the power, the door would have to be manually opened, which was going to take some effort.  I would have to wait until Jonah was gone.

I would have loved to look around Ted’s home, but without power I was sitting in the dark.  I probably could have used the flashlight on my phone, but Jonah’s presence outside was paralyzing. 

“Jonah, why are you still here?”  One of the other searchers must have joined him.

 “I saw that fool blogger head this way.” Jonah answered.  “I was trying to find him and send him in the right direction.”

“He probably went home.”

“Maybe.  He’s not as invested in this as we are.”

“We might really get him this time.”  The man’s voice quivered with excitement.

“We will get him.”  Jonah’s voice took on a fervor I didn’t like.  “And we’ve gotten more proof than ever before.”  His voice began to rise, almost to a yell.  “And those scientists who laugh at us will see!  They will see when we bring them a new link in the evolution of man!”

Sitting in the dark in Ted’s spaceship community, I could see why Jonah must never be trusted with the knowledge of Ted.  He was obsessed, and he was wrong.  Ted needed to steer clear of him, and I would help with that however I could. 

 I don’t know how many hours I stayed there.  I heard Jonah and his companion leave, but I wasn’t sure the coast was clear. 

“Bill!”  A familiar voice sounded outside and my laugh was weak with relief.  Ted was safe. When I look back on that day, I realize how quickly Ted and I had bonded. 

With his coaching, I was able to turn the manual wheel on the door and open it.  We then slipped quietly back to my truck.

Ted stayed with me a few more weeks until we were sure that “Bigfoot Lives” was gone.  While he was staying with me, we had some more question-and-answer sessions, leaving me more dumbfounded than before.

“When will your people be here?” 

At this he winced.  “Ten years.”

I was thunderstruck.  “Ten years!”  What are you going to do for ten years! 

He explained that some of his duties so far had been to maintain the underground community, set up supply chains, and get hydroponic gardens going.  He had done this but of course, I had to shut everything down. 

“I’ll have to see what kind of shape everything is in when I get back.  I also need some help from you.” 

I looked up calmly at the hairy face that was already becoming quite familiar.  “Whatever you need.”

He began to explain.  “I’ve been here for three years,” he said.  “I have been able to produce food in addition to the stores I have with me.  I also have much better internet than you, and I have been able to build up some nice investments for my people.

I laughed. “Do you spend a lot of time on the internet?”

“Oh yeah,” he responded with a smile.  “Twitter is my favorite.”

He turned serious then.   “But I can’t do it all online.  I sometimes need a friend to sell gold or other items for me.  And I need someone to pick up packages at my P.O. box because UPS doesn’t deliver to the middle of the woods and Bigfoot can’t exactly walk into the post office. That’s how I was able to get my watch and whatever else I needed.”

“Well, who did it before?” 

“Jacob,” he said simply, looking sad.  “He was a “friend” of my people who served as a sponsor when I arrived.  He was quite elderly, but he did those things for me until he died a couple months ago.  I had plans in place with Jacob in case Bigfoot Lives or other groups came around.  Without him, I began to look for someone else.  I was already following your blog, so I began to watch you and waited for the right time to approach.  I was trying to stop your truck when you hit me.”

“How come I couldn’t see you watching me?”

“I can blend into the forest pretty well.  It’s just something my people can do.”

“Do you have other contacts on this world?”

“My people do, of course.  They’ve been coming to your world for a long time. But Jacob was the last one around here. 

“Will you reach out to the whole planet one day?” I asked.

“One day.  But your world isn’t ready yet.  For now, I need your help. Will you do it?  I can pay you, in a way.”

Of course I said he didn’t have to pay me to pick up his packages, but he basically ignored that.  I became Bigfoot’s sponsor, and ultimately, he became my best friend. 

So now Ted visits a lot and spends quite a bit of time in the basement of my house, which is now known as “Ted’s room.”    His love of the internet continues, and he is often engaged in political arguments on Twitter.  If he could vote, I would guess he would be an Independent.  He seems to get a kick out of enraging both sides of the aisle.  For a while back in 2016, he pretended to be someone called “Q,” but I put a stop to that.  He thought it was great fun, but I became worried because people were actually beginning to believe him. For all of his knowledge and abilities, he is still a teenager at heart.

Mostly he gives me great investment tips and great conversation. Thanks to Ted, I was able to retire  a couple of years ago at the ripe old age of 32.  He will not yet tell me how he knows what is going to happen in the investment world, but he always knows.  Thanks to that, I get to spend a lot more time hiking and taking photos.  If I can pry Ted away from Twitter he joins me, blending seamlessly into nature whenever someone passes by. 

What does the future hold for Bigfoot?  His people will eventually join him here, and he is working towards that.  Meanwhile, in his downtime, Ted is considering starting an online blog from Bigfoot’s perspective.  I’ll keep you posted.

Author’s note: We realize there are Bigfoot research groups out there and are not picking on them at all. “Bigfoot Lives” was not inspired by any of them. We just wanted to put a fun twist on the Bigfoot legend and we hope you enjoyed it.

© Bonnie DeMoss and Douglas DeMoss

#2022ShortStoryChallenge: A Helping Hand #DanielBoone #Trailblazers #WildernessTrail

This is our seventh entry in the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary . This year the challenge is all about folklore, and the original post can be found here. We are a little behind, but will catch up to have twelve by the end of the year. We have kept our stories to Appalachian folklore with lots of our own twists added in. My husband Doug and I are writing them together, and we write together under the name Bonnie Douglas. This story is called A Helping Hand and was inspired by the recent search and rescue teams in Eastern Kentucky as well as the Trailblazers who first forged a way through the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Thanks as always to amazing author Gail Meath for her editing help.


by Bonnie Douglas

The rain had finally stopped, and for the most part, the flood waters had receded.  Although the flooding rains had abated, the mess and misery would take a lot longer to disappear.

 “Well Dooley, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” I admonished my mud-covered, happily wagging bloodhound. This part of the mountains had been deluged by rain, causing flooding, mudslides, washed-out roads, devastated homesites, and everything else you could think of.  So many had disappeared that search teams were struggling to keep up with the demand. It wasn’t the first time Dooley and I were out hunting for lost people. Dooley was practically a celebrity among the search dog crews, his nose leading him into many places that you’d never think a human could get into–let alone a bloodhound with his wrinkled hide and long flapping ears. I was just the human holding onto his lead and struggling to keep up with his mile-eating stride through whatever obstacles popped up in our path.

 When Dooley followed his nose, everything else was secondary. This time it had brought us sliding down a muddy hillside and into a narrow crevice, just deep and slippery enough that there was no way we were getting out without help. I’d lost all my gear in the pell-mell slide off the edge of the trail, and in my hurry to get out on the search I hadn’t even signed in on the registry.  No one would even know I was missing for far longer than I felt comfortable thinking about.

 “Dooley boy, we’re in trouble for certain. If you have any ideas, now is the time. I’d love to hear them.”  Dooley looked up at me mournfully, gave himself a shake, and plopped down in a heap on the muddy bottom of the crevice.

 “Well I take it that means you have no plan,” I muttered to myself since Dooley was now snoring softly.

 “I sure picked the wrong time to get in a hurry, and definitely the wrong time to fall off the trail.”

 The modern world had barely touched this whole region.  Get far enough off the paved roads and you’d never know that it wasn’t still the pioneer days.  This trail was part of the Wilderness Road that had been cut through the hills by Daniel Boone and a group of trailblazers.  Eventually, it opened up the whole region to settlement, and over 300,000 folks had passed through heading west and onward to what was then the frontier. So many tales of adventure were associated with Daniel Boone that it had always piqued my interest.  The story went that not far from where I was now stuck, Boone himself had hidden under the flowing curtain of a waterfall, escaping a band of Indians intent on capturing him. “I sure could use a crew of trailblazers right about now,” I thought to myself, peering up into the narrow gap we’d slithered through.

  Leaning back against the rocky wall, I made myself as comfortable as I could and huddled into my windbreaker. I could feel the events of the day catching up to me. Following Dooley’s lead, I closed my eyes.

“Just for a minute,” I told myself, and drifted off to a restless sleep.

  Trying to sleep standing up in a cold, wet hole in the ground is not a choice I’d recommend to anyone.  Jerking awake to something tickling your face I would recommend even less.  Every muscle in my neck and shoulders screamed in protest when I tried to throw what I was sure was a snake away from my head. 

  A low chuckle reached my ears and the light of a guttering lantern cast shadows all around the narrow opening encasing my dog and me.  “Tis naught but my line, young man.  If you’ve a mind, I believe we might be able to get you and your hound back up where you belong.”

Craning my neck back and trying to get a view of my savior against the low glare of the lantern, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I repeated as I scrabbled to get a grip on the slippery line dangling in front of me. 

“How did you find me? No one should even know I’m missing yet.” I asked the shadow above me.

“Plenty of time for questions and answers once we haul you and your hound up out of that hole,” the shadowy figure replied. “I think we ought to bring your dog up first, unless you think he can tie a knot on his own.”

 “Probably a good idea.  Dooley is talented but knot tying is not one of his strengths,” I said, almost chuckling with happiness at the thought of getting out of this hole. 

 “Up Dooley!” I said, and Dooley raised himself up from the bottom of the hole and managed to lift his rangy frame upright enough that I could get a couple of loops of the rope around him and tied off to his harness.  As I tied it off, I got a little better look at the rope in the light cast by the lantern now sitting on the edge of the hole. It didn’t look like any rope I was familiar with.  It was more like braided leather than the fancy woven nylon used for climbing or lifting. 

“Up ye come, hound,” said the shadowy figure. Watching Dooley slowly rise into the air and then scrabbling for purchase with his front paws at the lip of the hole, I quickly put the rope out of my mind.

“Good boy, Dooley!” I called up to the top and I saw Dooley stick his head in to look down at me and give a quick snuffle around the edge.

 “I’ll be up in a minute, Dooley!”

  “Your turn, lad,” said the shadowy figure. “Tie yourself off and do what you can to climb up.  You’re a mite heavier than your trusty hound,” he chuckled.

 The braided line tumbled down on top of me, and in the flickering lantern light, I fashioned a quick loop around my waist.  With a tug, I called up “Ready when you are!”

 “Brace yourself, lad.  Up ye come,” the shadowy figure called.  I immediately started to rise with no assistance from me. The braided line dug into my waist, and dirt showered down on my face.  Rising above the edge of the hole, I clutched at the dirt and pulled myself up further, collapsing onto my back with a huge sigh of relief.

Pushing myself up onto my hands and knees, I looked around for the man who had rescued us.  “What the…..” I muttered as my eyes darted around the surrounding area, finding nothing and no one in sight. 

 Standing up, I caught sight of what could only be the lantern flickering briefly in the woods like a will o’ the wisp, and then it too disappeared completely. Grabbing the woven line, I coiled it up quickly, stuffed it into a cargo pocket, and called Dooley to heel. Trotting towards the spot the lantern light had disappeared on the trail ahead, I called out “Hey! Mister! I want to thank you! Please! Wait up!” Dooley and I both trotted along the trail through the quickly brightening woods.  As the sun rose higher, I realized we had been trapped for a long time. I guess I had slept longer than I thought.  Reaching a bend in the trail, I could see no one ahead of me.

“Dooley, Search!” I said, as my star search hound snuffled dutifully around the trail.  Very quickly, Dooley plopped down with a soft whine and looked up at me, tail wagging and swiping the trail clean. 

“What?  Nothing? You and your super sniffer nose didn’t pick up any scent at all from where someone must have walked just seconds ago?”

Shaking my head in disbelief, I called Dooley to heel again.

    “Well I’m sure we’ll catch up to him at the search tent, he probably just hurried off to report that he found us.”

With that Dooley and I jogged off down the trail back to the search tent as quickly as our stiff, tired legs could take us. As we slowly covered the few miles of winding trail between us and the search tent, I pondered our situation.  Lost in the wilderness, with no realistic chance of ever being found and then an even more unlikely rescuer simply disappears after ensuring our safety.

  Mind reeling with equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration I stumbled into the clearing.  The search headquarters tent was milling with people bustling around, busy organizing workers and search teams.

  Scanning the small crowd of teams and workers, I saw no one that stood out as I expected.  I began to head towards the main tent as voice called out “Ed Jenkins! Glad you and your celebrity hound could make it!”

  Turning, I saw Edith Holden, the chief organizer, waving me over.   “Ed, I know you and Dooley have been hard at work for the last little while but we really need that super sniffer out there on the hunt.  These floods have really got a lot of folks in trouble!”

Drawing nearer, I saw Edith’s face light up with concern. “Ed you look like you’ve been pulled through a knothole by your tail! What in the world happened to you?”

 Confused, I drew up to a stop “What do you mean?  Didn’t he tell you that he found us and rescued us earlier?” I asked.

 “Ed, no one has been in here this morning telling us anything.  Why don’t you sit down and tell me what’s going on and we’ll see what we can figure out,” Edith said.  She pulled a folding chair out and pointed me to another.

 Almost collapsing into the chair with Dooley curled up at my feet, I launched into the whole story.  I began with our rush to the search and the near deadly fall into a narrow crevice, and ended with our late-night rescue and the disappearance of our rescuer. As I finished my story and leaned back in the chair, I remembered the coiled-up braided leather rope our rescuer had left behind. Pulling it out of my pocket, I put it on the table in front of me. 

 Edith’s face went from concerned to smiling in an instant when she spotted the braided leather.  “Ed, don’t tell me you’ve never heard the story of the trailblazer, especially after all the time you’ve spent out here on the trails,” Edith said, reaching out for the coiled-up leather.

   Picking up the rope, she continued. “There have been stories about the missing trailblazer helping folks since Daniel Boone and his crew finished the Wilderness Road. At the very end of the road they had to take shelter in a block fort when they were attacked by an Indian war band before they managed to escape under the shelter of a storm.  During the escape one of the crew got washed away downriver and was never found.  Ever since then there have been stories of a mysterious rescuer helping folks all along the trail. The rescuer always leaves behind a braided leather rope like this one.” Edith explained.  “I believe that was your rescuer–the missing trailblazer.”

  Unable to help myself, I burst out laughing. “Edith! That’s ridiculous!” I laugh, scoffing. “You can’t expect me to believe that some ghost came and pulled me and Dooley up out of a hole in the middle of nowhere just because of this silly piece of leather.”

 “Believe it, or not Ed.  It’s your choice, but as far as I can tell there’s no other explanation for it,” Edith said, sitting back in her chair and smiling. “Sooner or later you’ll see, or you won’t.  Now take your cord and your super sniffer dog and go home and rest up.”

  Gathering up the cord and nudging Dooley awake, I called back over my shoulder as I left the tent. “Thanks for the story Edith, but I’ll just chalk it up to someone who didn’t need thanks. We’ll see you tomorrow to help find whoever is still missing.” And with that, I walked back to my truck and loaded Dooley up into his shotgun position. I climbed into the driver’s side, pitching the braided cord over my shoulder into the backseat limbo.

    A few weeks later, after the rush of flood search and rescue had finally abated, I decided it was time to clean up and organize the truck and our search gear.  Scrabbling around in the area behind the seats,  I came across the coiled-up leather rope, and chuckling, tucked it into my pocket again.

  At the end of the day Dooley and I had an appointment for a demonstration at the Wilderness Road museum so I loaded him and his gear up and headed out a little early. I was hoping to check out the museum before we began our demonstration of Dooley’s super sniffing nose.  It had been a long time since I had the chance to look around the museum, but I had always been intrigued by the bravery and sheer willpower it took to settle the area we called home.  As I toured the exhibits, with Dooley decked out in his search team harness, I came across an old display case tucked into the corner near the back. It held a dented lantern and a dried-up, cracked, and braided leather rope.  The placard detailed a number of rescues and recounted the same tale that Edith had told me.  Looking down at Dooley, I just smiled and said to him “C’mon boy, even you don’t believe that story now, do you?”

 Dooley sat, and with a quiet woof, pawed the base of the display case, wagging his tail.


Once again we began a story that took a different turn as we began writing.  The recent rains and flooding in the mountain towns and villages of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia brought many stories of search, rescue, and missing persons.  I’ve always been intrigued with the thought of the effort involved in settling this area, especially as we travel distances in hours that would have taken days, weeks, and months in times not really that long past. 

 Stories of mysterious strangers helping others abound.  Growing up in the 1970s we had songs about “Phantom 309,” and even PeeWee Herman had a helping hand from a mysterious stranger in one of his movies. Tales abound of unnamed angels showing up at the nick of time for people in need.  Researching the Wilderness Road is an extremely interesting aspect of our local history that helped us decide to move the story from the GSMNP to the Tennessee/Virginia/Kentucky area.


Our Dooley was half yellow Lab, half Bulldog, and sweet as can be.  He was part of our life for 15 years until he passed away. We miss him so much.


#2022 Short Story Challenge: Sweet Azalea #Folklore

This is the June entry (a little late) for the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. See the original post here. The theme this year is folklore, and I’m very excited about that. I’ve teamed up with my husband Doug to write 12 stories featuring folklore, and we’ve decided to focus on Appalachian folklore. This is story number six. Together we write as Bonnie Douglas. Thanks to Gail Meath for editing this for us!

WARNING: This includes a murder and mentions some other murders.

Sweet Azalea

by Bonnie Douglas

Sylvie Smith breathed deeply, taking in the scents of the holler.  You could learn a lot from the smells around you.  Spring was defined by the earthy scents of freshly turned soil as the family garden plots were readied to begin their task of feeding the household.  Summer brought with it the smells of cut hay and sawdust from the lumber mills preparing the logs cut and hauled in by the loggers. Autumn followed swift on the heels of summer with the smell of apples picked from the small orchards and the creeping damp collecting under the fallen leaves.  Winter inevitably brought with it the smell of woodsmoke filling the hollers and the crisp bitter cold smell that heralded a heavy snowfall.

As Sylvie walked on the hard-packed dirt that passed for a road here in the lowlands outside Bushnell, headed for her best friend Emma’s house, she breathed deep again, inhaling a scent she hadn’t encountered before.  “Mmmm, it smells flowery and very sweet” she said to herself.  “I’ve not smelled that before.  I wonder what it is?”

“Maybe Emma’s Momma found a new flower for her garden,” she thought to herself.   At the thought of seeing a new flower in her friend’s beautiful little garden, she walked a little faster.  Rounding the bend into the small clearing where Emma’s house stood she broke into a run as the sound of a shriek, echoing with the pain of horrific loss, rang from the clearing ahead.

Two Years Later

Sylvie walked out to the kitchen in the tiny cabin and then sighed in exasperation.  Half- filled coffee cups with cigarette butts floating in them cluttered the rickety wooden table.  The wood stove was dark and cold.  Her stepfather Hank had once again left a mess and hadn’t even bothered to keep the fire going. He’d had his scummy friends over for cards again and didn’t bother to clean up.  She poured the coffee into a pan and then dumped it outside.  After dragging in some wood and getting a small fire going in the wood stove, she put the cups and coffee pot in the washbasin and went outside to draw a pan of water from the pump.  She then impatiently waited for it to heat so she could wash dishes and start a new pot of coffee. 

“Useless,” she grumbled, impatiently pushing her blonde hair out of her eyes.  “Why my mother puts up with him is anyone’s guess.”

When the coffee was finally percolating on the stove and Sylvie was washing dishes with newly heated water, her mother, Hannah Haskins, appeared, wearing a thin robe and rubbing her red and tired eyes.

“Where’s Hank?” Sylvie asked, scowling. 

“He was playin’ cards last night,” she replied. 

“I know,” Sylvie said, gritting her teeth.  “He left me a mess to clean up. Is he still sleeping?”

“No,” she replied, puzzled. “I thought he was already up.”

“So he had his friends over, made a mess, and then left with them,” Sylvie said, slamming the dishes around as she washed them.  Perfect!

“Sylvie, don’t get all riled up.  He works hard.  He’s just lettin’ off some steam.”

“How?” Sylvie asked, throwing her hands up in the air.  “How is he lettin’ off steam?  And it was pretty hard work getting this fire going and cleaning up after his card party, by the way!”  She threw the dishrag into the now empty basin and picked up a towel to dry the coffee cups.  She handed one to Momma.  “There’s fresh coffee on the stove.” 

As Momma poured her coffee, she said softly, “He does pay the rent here, and he keeps us fed.” 

“He keeps us fed!” Sylvie scoffed.  He brings home meat, flour, and sugar once in a while, but you plant the garden and manage the chickens and the cow.  You give him more than he gives you.  And how does he even manage to bring that home when he’s gambling all the time?” she asked.  Momma said nothing, but looked away.  “And I know he’s come home drunk more than once,” Sylvie added.  “Where’s he getting’ the ‘shine?”

“Sylvie!” Momma was firmer this time.  “Enough!”

Sylvie softened her tone and reached out to grab her mother’s hand. “I just know you deserve better.”

Sylvie stepped outside and took in the mountain view all around their cabin.  The mountains always managed to calm her on days like this.  The blue and green rounded peaks were iced here and there with smoky white clouds which always seemed to Sylvie to be full of dreams. Anything was possible here in the mountains.  Even in the middle of the depression.

Her thoughts turned to Hank Haskins, her useless stepfather.  This was not the first time he had been gone all night, and he would undoubtedly stumble in later, reeking of alcohol.  Sylvie wondered again about his whereabouts and his drinking.  Where was he getting the moonshine, how was he paying for it, and where was he spending all of his time?  It certainly didn’t look good.  She knew her mother thought so too, but wasn’t ready to face it yet.

“Momma, I’m going over to Emma’s for a while,” she said as she stepped back into the house.  Emma Carey lived about a mile down the road, and Sylvie had been making that trip as long as she could remember to visit her close childhood friend.  She still recalled the day two years ago when she walked down to Emma’s house just as Emma’s parents had been discovered dead, having passed away from a sudden illness.  It was a dark day, but even at 18, Emma had managed to hold onto her land and eke out a living.

As she walked, Sylvie could see the patches of wild Azalea dotting the landscape with vivid color.  From purple to pink to white, they added brilliant color to the rich green mountain landscape.

Emma was sweeping the porch when she arrived.  After her parents had passed, Emma had inherited their house.  She made her living by selling eggs, taking in sewing, and doing whatever other work came her way.   She managed to feed herself from a small garden and the egg money.  The sewing and other odd jobs paid the tax man once a year.

“Hey!” called out Sylvie as she walked up, grinning.  “How are you?”

“Fine as frog’s hair,” Emma replied.  “Just cleaning up a little.”

“You should have seen the mess lazy ole’ Hank left for me this morning,” replied Sylvie, sitting down in a rickety chair.  She huffed in disgust. “Never would have occurred to him to clean it up himself.”

Emma laughed.  “What did your Momma say about it?”

“Not much, as usual.”  Sylvie sighed. “She’ll never admit the truth about her husband.”

Emma looked concerned. “She may one day.  You never know.”

“I’m not gonna wait for that,” I said.  “I’m gonna find out where Hank is getting his drinkin’ and gamblin’ money.

Emma pursed her lips together, pushing her auburn hair away from her face.  “How you gonna do that?  Nothing dangerous, I hope?”

“I don’t know yet,” Sylvie replied, “But I’ll think of something.”

Emma set the broom aside.  “Well, I’ve got some eggs gathered that I have to deliver.  Want to come with me?”

As Sylvie and Emma walked to town, each with a basket of eggs, Sylvie thought again of ways she might be able to spy on Hank. He had worked at the sawmill, but didn’t make near the amount of money he seemed to be spending.

As they neared town, Sylvie saw Roger Crisp loading some bags into his old truck.  Roger was one of Hank’s buddies and had probably been at Sylvie’s house last night.  What if she tried to get close to Roger? 

“Hey, Roger!” she called.  “How you doin?” 

Roger looked up, a puzzled grin on his thin face. He was probably wondering why Sylvie was giving him the time of day.  “Hey Sylvie,” he replied with a curious smile. “Can’t complain.” 

Sylvie smiled and said, “No I can’t complain either.  See you at church?”

“Never miss it,” said Roger, who looked like he’d been run down by his very own truck.

Sylvie winked and headed towards the store with Emma.

Emma looked at Sylvie with narrowed eyes as they walked away. “What you up to?”

“Just lookin’ for answers,” Sylvie replied with a smile.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” said Emma.  “You’ve heard all the rumors about Roger Crisp.  He likes the ladies.”

When Sunday came around, Sylvie dressed carefully for church.  Her Sunday dress was a plain brown, so she added a string of glass pearls that Mama had given her for her birthday last year, and placed a white flower in her mid-length, blonde hair.  Mama had made a fuss when she cut it, but after Sylvie had seen movie posters for Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo, she had to have that pageboy cut. She picked up the hand mirror and her clear blue eyes looked back at her.  She was no Garbo, but she would definitely have Roger Crisp smitten by the end of the day.

And that’s how it went.  Roger was at church, looking shy and uncomfortable in his suit, and she chatted with him prior to the service, fingers toying with her pearls as she talked. After the service, as she left the church and started to walk home, she found him at her side.

“May I walk you home, Miss Sylvie?” asked Roger, stumbling a bit on the gravel road. 

“That would be fine,” she replied, lowering her eyelashes and giving him a ghost of a smile.

As they walked, Sylvie tried to keep up the small talk, but soon switched the conversation to Hank, as she had planned.  “So haven’t I seen you with my stepfather a few times?”

“Yes.  I was even at your house last week for cards.”

“I’m sorry I missed you,” said Sylvie.  I must have been asleep.”

“It was pretty late.”

“I was wondering why you meet so late.  I’d like to see you in the daytime.”

“Well, we gamble for money and a lot of people don’t like to see that.  So we keep it quiet.”

“How can anyone afford to gamble for money during the depression!” Sylvie exclaimed.

Roger suddenly looked a bit closed off, and she feared she had gone too far.

“We have our ways.” 

Sylvie looked at him curiously to see if he would continue, but instead he laughed and replied “It’s not much money anyway.  And if you want to see me in the daytime, that can be arranged.”  He boldly took her hand, and she let it rest in his for a moment before drawing it away.  “Very well,” she said, “Why don’t you come over for supper on Saturday?”

So began her courtship with Roger Crisp.  Hank was surprised to see him at dinner at first, but soon began to accept the fact that his buddy was courting his stepdaughter.  Most of their dates involved supper and walking home from church, but Roger sometimes surprised her with a trip to the movies in Asheville.

“How can you afford gas for the truck and trips to the movies?” she asked one day, as they left the latest show and were walking back to the truck.  “You’re a farmer, and farmers aren’t doing so well these days.”

“Well I found a sort of delivery job,” Roger replied.

“What are you delivering?”

“This and that. It doesn’t pay much, but it keeps the truck running.”

“Can I go on one of your deliveries with you sometime?” she said, looking innocently up into his dark eyes.

“No!” he exclaimed in surprise.  He wheeled to look at her and then seemed to realize the harshness of his reaction. “I mean, it would bore you.  And it’s a long drive.”

“I don’t mind that.”  She picked up his hand and stroked it softly.  “I would love to take a long drive with you.”  She saw his eyes widen and knew she had gone too far.  She was suddenly in his arms and was being kissed, whether she liked it or not.  She gently ended the kiss and backed away. “Think about it,” she said with a smile. She hoped her eyes held promises of more kisses, but nothing else.

It took a few weeks, but with gentle cajoling and strategic kisses, Sylvie found herself in Roger’s truck, late on a Saturday after supper.  After Roger had left, Sylvie had gone to bed and then slipped out, meeting him about a quarter-mile away from her house.  As they careened up a rough dirt road, Sylvie asked, “Where are we going?”

Roger looked tense.  “I’m going to a friend’s house.  You stay in the car.”

They pulled up to a battered cabin about a half-hour later.  A man came out on the porch, and Sylvie recognized him as Bert Piper, another one of Hank’s friends.

Roger seemed to be having a tense conversation with Bert, and then they loaded several boxes in the back of the truck.  Sylvie could hear whatever was in the boxes clinking gently as they were moved, and was sure that this was the moonshine she suspected.  Now she just needed to get eyes on it.  If she could do that, then she could go to the sheriff. 

“Let’s pull over,” she said playfully, stroking his thigh.

“I can’t.  I’m already in trouble for bringing you along.”

“Well if you’re already in trouble, a few more minutes won’t hurt,” she replied, pouting her lips at him.  She had retouched her lipstick while he was out of the truck. 

Despite a longing look from Roger, they didn’t stop. She noticed he was heading towards her house.

“You’re taking me home?”

“Yes.  This was a bad idea.”

“I thought we were going to finish your delivery,” she said, throwing up her hands in surprise.  “We hardly spent any time together.”

Roger said nothing until he pulled up to their meeting spot.  “Sylvie, believe me, I want to take a drive with you.  But not tonight.” 

Feigning anger, Sylvie slammed the door of the truck.  Racing to the back, she lifted the blanket that was covering the boxes and was just about to look inside when Roger reached her.

“Go home, Sylvie,” he said.  “I’ll see you later.”

As he drove off, Sylvie was disappointed that she hadn’t actually seen the moonshine, but began to wonder still if she had enough proof.

Sylvie sat on Emma’s couch the next afternoon, sharing the details of the previous night.  “And I know that was ‘shine in there,” she concluded. 

“What makes you so sure?” asked Emma.  “You didn’t see anything.”

“I could hear the jars when they were moved.”

“That doesn’t prove anything.”

“Well I can tell the sheriff about the nighttime pickups at Bert’s cabin!”

“I guess you could,” Emma acknowledged.  “Maybe he could follow Roger and find out what’s he’s up to.”

“That settles it.”  Sylvie grinned, satisfied.  “I’ll go to him tomorrow.”

“Ok.”  Emma threw up her hands.  “But today we’re gonna have some cookies.  Mrs. Abbot always brings me a couple of dozen on account of me being an orphan and alone.” 

Sylvie smiled.  Emma always tried to brighten her circumstances with humor.  She settled in to eat cookies and drink the cup of tea that Emma brought along with them.

They were still laughing and chatting when Sylvie’s heart began to race.  She felt herself begin to drool uncontrollably.  “Emma,” something’s wrong,” she said, with difficulty.  She could barely speak, and saliva was bubbling out of her mouth.

“Yes, something is,” Emma replied, in a harsh, cold voice Sylvie had never heard before. “You were messing with my business.”

“What did you do?….Why…,” Sylvie stammered.

“You were messing with my business!” she repeated, louder this time.  “I can’t have the sheriff following us.”

Sylvie began to sob.  “Us?” 

“Me. Hank.  Bert. Roger.  Some others.”  She glared at me.  “Look around you! Do you really think I kept my house and land by selling eggs!” 

Sylvie could no longer sit upright and fell off the couch, hitting her head on the floor.  “You were my best friend,” she managed to whisper, as she lay on the hard floor, her head and heart pounding.

“You were my best childhood friend, Sylvie,” Emma replied. “But I’m no longer a child. I tried to tell my parents that.  They found out about my business just as it was beginning, and they tried to stop me. That’s when I brewed my tea.  I brew a very strong tea with the sweet azalea that grows ‘round here. Strong enough to kill,” she said softly.   “I gave it to them over a couple of weeks, and they got very sick.  One day they were dead on the floor when I returned to the house.” 

It was harder and harder for Sylvie to breathe.  She was crying, but couldn’t catch her breath.  Her heart was hammering out of her chest.  As she lost consciousness, she was looking at Emma’s empty green eyes.

When Sylvie’s eyes opened again, she was in a meadow. The mountains rose above her.  She couldn’t move, but groaned. Hank stood over her, holding a shovel. 

“She’s awake,” he called.

“Damn,” said Emma.  “We need this taken care of.”

Sylvie couldn’t move her head, but tried to see to the side.  She thought she made out two holes in the ground. Two?  As she watched, Hank walked away and returned with a limp body slung over his shoulder.  He heaved it into one of the holes.  “Roger won’t be talkin no more.”

She watched as Emma walked to Hank, threw her arms around him, and kissed him hard on the mouth.  “One more thing to do and we’ll be safe,” she said, pointing at Sylvie.

As Hank lifted the shovel high over his head, Sylvie gazed at the mountain sky one last time.


Jenna Roberts was an avid hiker, and she loved her life in the Smokies.  One of her favorite things to do was hike to the old towns that had been mostly flooded when they built the Fontana Dam back in the 1940s.  It was about a 10-mile hike, but the remnants of the towns could be reached by foot.  Once a year, families of those who had been buried there before the dam was built were taken to the cemeteries by boat to pay their respects.  But hikers like Jenna could go anytime, if they were willing to do the work.

Jenna had history in those old towns too.  Her great-grandmother, Hannah, was from Bushnell. She had married Kenneth Roberts, Jenna’s great grandfather, after her previous husband Hank was killed in a shootout while running moonshine in the mid-1930s.  Hannah and Kenneth Roberts had moved to Proctor, where Jenna’s grandfather Charles Roberts was born. They had to leave Proctor for Bryson City when the dam was built.  Bushnell had been completely submerged after the dam was built, but parts of Proctor were still accessible to Jenna if she was willing to hike ten miles.   Hannah had also had a daughter, Sylvie, when she was very young, but Sylvie disappeared at the age of 16.  Most thought she had run off with the boy she was seeing at the time.  Jenna had searched family tree websites, hoping for lost cousins who might have been descendants of Sylvie but could find nothing.

Jenna loved walking in the remnants of these ghost towns, thinking of family who had walked there before.  As she hiked along a new path she had never taken before, she began to smell a strong, flowery scent.  She stopped in surprise.  It was late fall.  There were no flowers around, but she felt as if she was holding a bloom right up to her nose.  The scent was so strong she could almost taste it.  She was surprised, but not alarmed, and felt a sense of peace.  She had heard that sometimes when the dead visited you, you could smell flowers, and this area was filled with ghosts.  She smiled and waved.  “Hello, family!” she called, as she hiked on.

Unseen to Jenna, a blonde girl holding a white azalea smiled and lifted her hand as she drifted by.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This is a tribute to the towns that were flooded and lost when Fontana Dam was built in the 1940s and to the folklore that these are now ghost towns.  It is also a nod to the myth that when the spirits of the dead are nearby, you can smell flowers.  Although most azalea have no scent, the Sweet Azalea is very pungent.  The flower is a pure white, but the long red stamen protruding from the flower like a whip gives it a more sinister look.  Azalea are poisonous, although a human would have to consume a lot before it killed them.

At this link is a great article about the Lost Town of Proctor and the famous Road to Nowhere. 

#2022 Short Story Challenge: Ode to a Storytelling Mom

The 2022 Short Story Challenge started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary is all about folklore, and the original post can be found here. We are finally caught up, and here is our official post for May. For our May entry, we’re focusing on the mountain tradition of storytelling, as well as Mother’s Day, to bring you a story from my Mom, who passed away in 2020.

Dorothy Jenkins Zinser


Dorothy Jenkins was born in 1931 in the mountains of Western NC. Her father, Ed Calloway Jenkins, was a farmer who took on other jobs to make ends meet, including working in a sawmill. Her mother, Edith, worked hard at home and raised 12 children. Dorothy, or Dot, only went to school until the eighth grade because she was needed at home to help take care of the family. However, she loved to read. She read a book a day when I was a kid. Growing up, her mother would read stories to my Mom and her siblings, often Grace Livingston Hill romances or Zane Grey westerns. And my Mom could tell a story. One of my favorites was the story about the jar of peanut butter. I’m calling it Death by Peanut Butter, and you will see the reason why when you read the last two lines. She wrote that story down, and I’m providing it below with some dialogue and context thrown in. I also added a bit of another story she used to tell us about The Swinging Bridge.

This is Appalachian folklore in its purest sense–Mountain parents and grandparents sharing stories of their lives with their children.


One day my Momma asked me to go to the store and a get jar of peanut butter for school lunches. “Ok,” I said, “Can I take Ed and Bonnie?”  My brother Ed was eight years old and Bonnie was only six.   

“Yes, Dot,” she said, “But take care of them!”

I said okay and we went on our way.  It was four miles one way to the store, and we ran along, playing and being silly, until we made our way to town.

In the early to mid-1940s, in order to get to the store in our town, which was Bryson City, North Carolina, we had to cross the Tuckasegee River. That was the scariest part of the trip.  Our little town was split in the middle by that river.  In order to get across, we had to use the swinging bridge that had been put up by the Carolina Wood Turning company, a furniture company where our Daddy worked in the lumberyard.

The swinging bridge had always been a scary place for me.  The river could get very wild, and the bridge rocked back and forth on windy days, with only rope on the sides to hold onto.  I’ll never forget the day, a couple years before, when I brought my Daddy his lunch.  He had always crossed the bridge to meet me, because he knew how scared I was to cross it.  But that day he did not.  He sat down on the bank and called, “Dot, come over here!”

I was terrified, but I had to do as my Daddy said.  I slowly stepped onto the bridge, which creaked and swayed.  I stopped, shaking, afraid to go forward. He called out again, “Dot, don’t be afraid. Just look at me!” 

It was the most terrible trip, that first trip across the bridge.  But keeping my eyes on my Daddy and not on the water, I made it across.  Ever since then, I was able to help Momma more, such as running those errands to the store, because I could cross that bridge and go to town.

Even now, each crossing was a scary event for me.  I held tight to my sister Bonnie’s hand, but my brother Ed scampered across without a fear in the world. 

At the store, I bought the jar of peanut butter plus some other things my Momma needed.  The lady at the counter smiled at little Bonnie and said, “Would you like a peppermint stick, Sweetie?” 

Her big grin and quick nod resulted in all three of us receiving candy for the trip back.  What a treat!

Of course we had to head back to that swinging bridge in order to go home, so we walked across, sucking on our candy and enjoying the day.  I went even more slowly because I was carrying the bit of groceries.

At the end of the bridge, a strange man was standing, swaying back and forth, and he wouldn’t let us pass.  I asked him nicely to let us go past him, but he did not.  The bridge was narrow, and he was blocking the exit.  He kept swaying and talking unintelligibly, trying to keep us trapped on the bridge.  I don’t know why.  He was probably drunk. 

I said very loudly “Let us off this bridge!” but he did not.  I was getting worried now, so I told Ed, “When I say run, take Bonnie and run!”  Again I said very loudly, “Let us off this bridge!” When he didn’t move, I yelled “Run!” and Ed and Bonnie began to run.  I took that jar of peanut butter and threw it at this odd man, hitting him in the head.  And wouldn’t you know it, he fell over and then rolled down the hill! 

Ed and Bonnie were already running toward home, but I looked for the jar of peanut butter. It was sitting halfway down the hill and was not broken.  I ran and got it.  My Momma needed that peanut butter.  I took off for home, catching up with my brother and sister.  We never told our Momma or Daddy about this until we were grown.

My brother Ed, when telling this story, would always say I killed a man with a jar of peanut butter!  I don’t think so, but I sure didn’t go back to check!

Mom in her favorite place–the garden.

At this link is a picture of the lumberyard of the Carolina Wood Turning Company in 1942. If you enlarge the photo and look over the water, you will see a narrow swinging bridge. That’s the bridge from this story.

My mom lived on this land until she got married at the age of 17 and moved to Cincinnati with my Dad. In 1989, they retired and moved back to Bryson City, where they lived until 2009, when my Dad’s health problems caused them to return to Cincinnati. In 2009, My Mom sold her house and land to me and my husband. My Dad passed in 2019 at the age of 91. Mom passed suddenly at the age of 88 in 2020. In 2024, I will retire and we will spend the rest of our lives on this land.

2022 Short Story Challenge: People of the Moon #Folklore

Below is my third entry in the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. See the original post here. The theme this year is folklore, and I’m very excited about that! My husband Doug is writing with me, so together our name is Bonnie Douglas. We’re concentrating on Appalachian Folklore for this challenge. We are a little behind. Our March entry was delayed by illness and we just missed the end of April, but here is our third entry, with two more to come later in May. This story is a combination of the vast folklore out there about a race of magical people, smaller than us but having powers that we do not. It is called The People of the Moon.

The People of the Moon
By Bonnie Douglas

            My family has lived in these Western North Carolina hills and hollers for as long as anyone can remember.  Before that, our tight-knit clans roamed the dales and glens of Ireland, England and Wales, as well as the highlands of Scotland, with some stray Germans from the Schwartzwald thrown in for good measure.

            Seems like everyone from the same regions ended up here in the wild mountains, looking for shelter in familiar climes, no doubt. Along with their language, work ethic, and hospitable stoicism, they brought their legends as well. 

            My family was no stranger to the myths and legends of the hills. My uncles delighted in telling scary tales of the Wampus Cat, the Will O’the Wisps, and Booger Bear to give all of us kids a good reason to mind our P’s and Q’s and pay attention to what was going on all around us. Although they were fit to keep a child in line, the older I grew the less I believed in these tall tales.

             Long before my people moved into the hills, the Cherokee roamed them.  There was an old war trail that crossed through the holler that generations of Williams’ had called home.  The Cherokee brought their own legends of course, and they inevitably intermingled with ours.  The legends of the rock people, laurel people and dogwood people combined with our stories of pixies and brownies as easily as the smoke drifting from the chimneys of the cabins.

            Now that I was grown, I could afford to scoff at the tall tales and legends, although I still loved to hear my grandmother and my aunts and uncles tell the old stories with their strong mountain drawls. I knew there was nothing to them.  They were just old tales.

            Trying to clear my mind, I stared back across the years and returned to the kitchen, helping Granny snap beans to be canned and holding back some for tonight’s dinner.  “Granny, why do you have that small bowl? You don’t need to save any of those beans. We’ll use them all up tonight, no problem”

            “That’s not for canning or for us.  That’s for my help.” Granny answered. “I know I’ve told you before how many helping hands I’ve got around here”

            “Stop hurting my leg!” I snickered, an old expression I’d used since I was a kid who got it mixed up with “pulling my leg.” 

             “Tim, I know you don’t remember about my helpers, but they remember you.” Granny answered solemnly. “It’s always harder to remember once you’ve grown up.  You grow up and away from the old ways, and then you call things you were familiar with a ‘tall tale’ or whatever helps it all make sense to you.”

            I smiled.  “I’m grown up enough to know a tale from reality.”

She shook her head.   “Why, you were practically one of them until you were old enough to go school.  Your Grandpa had to drag you out of laurels and that old silica mine on a regular basis.”

             I eyed my Granny suspiciously.  I had no recollections of any of that.  I knew she was growing older, but she hadn’t seemed to be losing her faculties at all.  This was getting out of hand.

             “Granny, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing any of your so-called helpers.  Even if they WERE real, why would you let me run around in the woods with some wild creatures?”

            “They are my friends and we help each other,” said Granny, continuing to break beans.  “Why don’t you take these to them?”   She handed me the smaller bowl of beans, a small covered basket, which I saw contained mini blueberry muffins, and a metal tea tin.  

            “They’re going to make tea out there?” I asked with a sardonic grin. 

            “Just go out to the meadow and leave it beneath the apple trees.”

            I shrugged, picked up the goodies, and headed out of the house and up to the hill to the meadow.  Our property spanned 20 acres and was full of hills and valleys, but the meadow was my favorite place to play as a kid.  It was at least two acres wide, and the apple trees offered both a great place to hide and a snack. 

            When I reached the meadow, I put the treats underneath one of the trees and walked off towards the creek, another one of my favorite places to play as a boy.  I decided I’d come back tomorrow and get the basket and whatever was left of the food after the animals got it.  The creek was running fairly slowly today, although sometimes it was so fast when I was a kid that I could race down in an inner tube, hanging on for dear life. 

            “Some things never change,” I said, as I looked at the beauty around me.

            I hopped nimbly from rock to rock, just as I had done in my childhood. My reminiscing over, I climbed up the creek bank and headed towards home.  As I glanced at the apple trees, I saw that the basket and other items were gone.  I saw no signs of animals.  Instead of being plundered, all the items had simply vanished.

            I walked towards the tree line and into the woods, searching for any clue of the treats I had brought, but saw nothing.  As I turned to go, I heard a giggle.  Turning in the direction of the sound, I saw a blonde braid disappearing into the trees.

            I headed towards the trees, intrigued, but saw no sign of anyone. 

            “Granny, I think one of the neighbor kids took the treats,” I said when I returned.

            “A neighbor of sorts,” she replied, “but probably not a kid.”

            “What do you mean?” I asked, shaking my head and sitting down at the table.

            “Tim!” she said, sharply, “Think…remember!”

            I searched my mind, but there was nothing.  “I don’t know what you think I should remember,” I said, shaking my head.

            “Come outside with me, Tim,” she said, heading out the back door. 

            We headed towards the back of the house, where all of the wood was waiting for me to chop and stack.  But it wasn’t. Stack after neat stack of perfectly chopped wood was sitting in the wood bin, although they had been unchopped logs two hours ago.

            I gaped at the wood bin.  “How…what…” 

            “My helpers,” she said.  “In return for the goodies you brought them.” 

            I shook my head.  “I just dropped those off a half hour ago.  It’s impossible.”  Then I grinned. “This is a joke, isn’t it?  You must have had Uncle Stan and his boys come up while I was gone.”

            “It’s no joke, and there’s more I need to tell you since you obviously don’t remember,” Granny said, turning to walk back towards the house.  “After all, we made an agreement.”

            I caught up with her.  “Who made an agreement?” 

            “So many people.  I’m not getting any younger and certain things need to be done.”

            Confusion overtook me, as well as doubts about her sanity.  Was it dementia?  But dementia doesn’t chop a day’s worth of wood in less than an hour. 

            “Granny,”  I began, but she held up her hand.

            “Enough for now. I’m calling a meeting.  Meet me at the kitchen table at 2 a.m.”  She walked briskly towards the porch.

            “2….” I replied weakly, but then threw up my hands.  If this was dementia, we’d face it together.

            Later that night, I heard Granny calling my name.  Stumbling into some sweatpants, I went to my bedroom door.  She was standing there wearing a terrycloth robe and holding a cup of coffee.

            “Time for our meeting,” she said as she handed me the cup.

            I yawned and stretched, bewildered. “Was that for real?  Are we really having a 2 a.m. meeting?”  Why can’t we just talk at breakfast?”

            “Come on out to the kitchen,” she replied.

            When I reached the kitchen, I stopped in surprise.  Sitting at our oak table was a young woman with red hair. She was wearing a green tunic which shone strangely in the lamplight.  Although sitting, she appeared to be much shorter than Granny and I.  She gestured for me to sit down, which I thought was big of her, since this wasn’t her kitchen.  But I sat.                  

            “Hello, Tim.”  Her voice was rich and musical.  “It’s good to see you again.”

            I was bewildered.  “I’ve never seen you before.”

            “When you were a boy of seven, you played in the woods with my children, and we all visited you many times here in your Granny’s house.

            It was impossible to believe that this young girl had children that were my age.  I snorted.  She just smiled.

            “I am Doralinda Casey.  You always called me Dora, and I’d like that to continue.” 

            “How could that be? I’ve never met you before.”

            She looked at me a moment and then nodded her head.  Her blue eyes became stormy gray and then began to glow.  They had the appearance of full moons.  And my memories began to return.

            “Dora, Dora!” I had yelled into the woods.  Can Juney come out and play?”  And eventually a little boy much smaller than me would run out, smiling. 

            “Juney!” I exclaimed. “He must be grown now.” 

            “Well, not as grown as I am,” Dora replied, laughing.  He will still look like a little boy to you.”

            My smile faded.  “I remember taking treats to the woods now and playing with your son and daughter,  but where did you come from?”

            She smiled.  “Where do you come from? Our people, The People of the Moon, have always been on this Earth.  Our family, the Caseys, traveled with your family, the Williams, from England to the new world. She laughed. “Or I should say your grandmother’s great grandfather smuggled us in by counting us among his children.  When we arrived, we found our own spaces, inhabited by our own people, as we always do. Like your people, our people are everywhere.  They go by different names in different countries. Brownies, Sprites and Elves are some the names. In Norway we’re called the Nisse and in Sweden the Tomte.    The Cherokee called us the Moon Eyed People, because of the magic in our eyes.  So after living here a while, we started calling ourselves the People of the Moon.” 

            “You mean when my memory came back just now, that was magic?”

            “Yes.  I hid your memories as you began to grow up.  It was important to see who you would become.  But now your Granny wants you to take her place, so you need those memories.

            “Take her place?

            “Your Granny doesn’t just bring us treats.  She does a great service for us.  We sometimes bring her gold from our land and she exchanges it for us, so we have some money in your land.”

            “Wait!”  I said.  “You’re from a different world?”

            “It’s the same world, but we can get into spaces that you cannot, and it has nothing to do with size.  You need magic to enter our world.” 

            “So you don’t live in the woods!” 

She laughed, rocking back in her chair.  “No, Tim. We have our own village in a place that would be nearly impossible for you to get to.”

            I missed pretty much everything after the mention of gold.  It certainly explained a lot. Every couple of years we’d have a visit from some geologist or prospector who was certain they would strike “the mother-lode” somewhere or other in our mountain hollow.  Inevitably, they would spend a lot of time and money and go back home shaking their heads without even a speck of gold to show for their efforts. Now I knew the gold was there, but it was somewhere that was going to take a special effort to get my hands on it.

            “Nearly impossible isn’t quite the same as completely impossible though, is it?” I asked, I thought quite innocently, but I saw a hardening glint in Dora’s eyes as she looked back at me across the table. 

            “So, with Granny moving to town, you’re going to need help, and I’m sure to need an assist getting used to life here in the holler.  What do you expect from me in exchange?”

            “We expect nothing, Timothy Williams. What we do have is a neighborly arrangement,” Doralinda said sternly from across the table.  “An arrangement that is beneficial to all of us in more ways than you can imagine.”

I realized quickly that I was in danger of offending not only people who possessed gifts beyond my imagination, but my own grandmother.  Quickly I shifted my avaricious thoughts away from the gold nuggets and back onto a generations-long family association.

             Gulping dryly I stammered “N-n-no offense intended, Dora. “You’ll have whatever you need to continue our families’ long friendship.”

            I shifted a glance towards Granny, catching the slight frown and worriedly drawn brows.  I knew she trusted me, but taking over the little family farm in the hollow was really my last chance.  I’d burned a lot of bridges, both personally and financially, with wild “get-rich” schemes. I had finally fallen for one that put me in a place financially that I didn’t think I could get out of.

             If Granny hadn’t reached out to me with the offer to take care of the farm, I would have been in serious trouble.  The last thing I wanted was to let her down.  This was a chance to regain not only some stability but actually do something worthwhile.  How many chances to work with people possessed of magical abilities can you really expect after all?

             “Well, Dora, of the People of the Moon,” I said with what I hoped was a friendly smile, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”  We shook on it.

             I spent the next few days wandering through the hollow, revisiting places and events that I could suddenly remember with crystal clarity.  The mountain spring that fed our babbling branch was surrounded by colored plants and twinkling lights that were never as clear.  The shaded thickets of laurels were filled with the rustling of busy hands and the subtle racket of mysterious labors.

I became familiar again with a routine of daily chores assisted by nearly invisible helpers.  Every labor was made easier by unseen hands, and often I could barely hear subtle sounds of singing and music bouncing around among the rocky, tree-covered hillsides.

             Eventually, the day came for Granny to take a ride from the homestead and check out a more easily managed rental in town. As she traveled down the gravel road, I thought I glimpsed a few wide eyes peeking from the back of Granny’s trusty pickup. 

             Heaving a sigh, I climbed the wide stairs back into the little mountain house.  “Dora! Let’s talk some more about what your people need.” I called out into the sudden silence.

            “Dora isn’t here.  She’s with your grandmother.”

Turning, I saw a shimmer, and a sturdy young child seemed to appear as if a door had opened and closed quickly.

  “Greetings, Timothy Williams. Do you remember me?” asked the child.

            “Juney?  Is that you?  You don’t seem to have aged a day since I was a boy!” I gasped in astonishment.

“Yes, it’s me.” He smiled.  “Hello, Tim.  My mother decided it was time for me to take a more active role while she oversees your grandmother’s move away from the hollow.  Although it may not seem so, I have aged and grown. Time works differently for us than it does for you.”

“Can you explain more about what you need me to do?”

“One of the things your grandmother does for us is exchange small amounts of gold for cash.”  We don’t need cash in our world, but we do need it in yours.  In return, we make life easier for her, as I’m sure you’re beginning to notice.

“Why don’t you just exchange the cash yourself and then remove the gold dealer’s memory of it?” I asked. “Just like you did with me.”

Juney hesitated.  “Memory changes are not something we take lightly, and we do it only when absolutely necessary.  This is not necessary.  Our families help each other instead.  It works well.”

On the outside I smiled, but inside I was absolutely beaming. Gold was within my grasp!

Juney handed me a container, which looked like the tea canister I had dropped off earlier.  He nodded at me and I opened it up.  I could see tiny gold nuggets and flakes inside. 

            “Take this canister to Asheville.  There is a dealer there who will exchange this for cash. Your grandmother knows him well.  All he knows is that she sometimes finds gold in the mountains.”

“They never ask any questions?”

“No, not so far.  She has a few different dealers she can go to, so we spread it around.”

“Ok,” I replied.”  “What do I do with the money after I return?”

“Place it in this canister and put it under the apple trees in the meadow.  We will pick it up.“

I was giddy.  Money, free and clear, with no questions asked!  “Ok, Juney,” I smiled.  “How do I get the address of the dealer?”

“Your grandmother left it on the kitchen table,” he replied, handing it to me. 

Suddenly, with visions of gold in my head, I had no time to catch up with old friends and was soon on the way to Asheville.

The exchange was fairly easy.  I mentioned my grandmother and it went off without a hitch.  The container held 4 ounces of gold. At $1900 per ounce.  I walked out of there $6,500 richer, after paying the exchange fee.  I headed toward home, but as I glided past the exit, I realized I was never going there.  There was a casino a few short miles away in Cherokee.  And that’s where I was headed.  I’d make a nice profit and then return the $6500 to Dora and Juney.  What an easy life I was going to have!

The light coming through the cabin windows was murky when I jolted awake. Something did not feel right, but I couldn’t place it.   “Where are my glasses?” I mumbled as I stood up and fumbled for the bedroom light.  Suddenly the mountain noises did not seem welcoming, and as I walked out of the bedroom, the house seemed very small.


Granny sat across the table from Dora, disappointment etched into her face  “He lost it all?”

Dora nodded.  “He headed straight to the casino and lost it in a flash.”

“What will happen to him?” Granny asked, wiping away a tear.

“His memories of my people are gone.  He won’t remember the gold or anything about our agreement.  He will suddenly feel an urge to get a fresh start in a new city.”

Granny sighed.  “I’m so disappointed.  I really wanted him to be the one. If only he knew the treasures he just gave up in exchange for a few thousand dollars.” 

Dora reached across and gripped Granny’s hand briefly. “We are not angry at him. That’s why we do this test.   He just isn’t the right person to continue the covenant between our families.   Of course, if he had proved trustworthy, he would have found riches beyond anything he ever dreamed. ”

She smiled reassuringly. “I’m sending Juney along with him to the city for a while, but Tim won’t ever see him.  Juney will nudge Tim in the right direction, without his knowing it.  Tim will have a nice life, but not a magical one.”  She nodded firmly and patted Granny’s hand.  “We will find the right person, I promise.  Our families have always supported each other, and one of your grandchildren will be the one.”     

“I have a lot of grandchildren,” Granny replied. “Looks like my move is delayed for a little while.”  She pushed aside her disappointment and took a sip of coffee.   “Who should we invite next?”

AUTHORS’ NOTE:  This folklore is based on many legends from across the world about magical little people.  It also is combined with the Cherokee legend of the Moon Eyed People, who were rumored to have been small, nocturnal people with white faces and round eyes who lived underground and couldn’t come out in sunlight.  In Cherokee legend, the Cherokee drove them out.  In our version, they were never driven out.  They are magical beings who go places on this Earth that regular humans beings cannot go, and they use their magic to travel back and forth from their home to ours. In our version, the term “Moon-eyed people” refers to their magic, which comes from their eyes, and they are not nocturnal.  The 2 a.m. meeting was a nod to the nocturnal legend, however.

Many thanks to Gail Meath, who has edited all three of our stories!

© Bonnie DeMoss


Short Story Challenge: The Gift of Gab #2022ShortStoryChallenge

This is our February story for the 2022 Short Story Challenge started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. You can find the original post here. The theme this year is folklore and we’ve decided to set our stories in Appalachia. I say “we” because my husband Doug is writing these with me. We’re using the pen name Bonnie Douglas. This story is about the water in the mountains, and the old sayings “gift of gab,” and “there’s something in the water.”

The Gift of Gab

By Bonnie Douglas


  “Blech!” erupted almost involuntarily from my mouth as I took the first sip of water fresh out of the tap.  “I had almost forgotten how much I hated the taste of the water!”

            I could see my Mom shaking her head and hear the laugh hiding underneath her answer.

            “Well, Frances, you never were one to mince words. Tell me how you really feel.”

             “Now Mom, you know I just can’t take the iron taste of that water, fresh out of the branch or not.” I huffed, exasperated.  I knew it got under Mom’s skin that one of the things she loved about the mountain holler she grew up in was one of the things I disliked the most about it.

            Mom shrugged.  “The water is one of the things I will miss most.”

            Years ago, I had decided to go to college in the city, and I had not returned permanently until now.  My parents had decided to spend their retirement nearby in town, with much less lawn to mow.  It also put them closer to the grocery store and hospital.  By the time they offered to sell the house and land to me, I was much older and ready to make the jump from city living to the more laid-back mountain lifestyle. I was sure I could solve the water problem.

            The water that intermittently trickled or flooded down the branch depending on the season was one of the reasons Grandpa had picked this holler to settle in.  Mom and her whole family had grown up drinking that icy cold water, carrying it in buckets to fill the barrels that provided water to the dirt-floored cabin they grew up in, long before anyone had the means to drill a well or even think about piping water from the small town to the “country folks” houses.

            “You just don’t know what you’re missing,  Child,” Mom said softly.  “I hope you’ll remember to bring me jugs of water ‘regular’ once I move into town.  It means a lot to me.  You don’t even know how much!”

            “I know Mom, and I promise,” I said with determination.  I remembered all the stories about the land and how hard my Grandpa had worked to not only buy it, but to keep it. It was the very definition of hard times. When most people in the little mountain enclave were lucky to have any kind of food or shelter, my Grandpa worked two jobs in town and then came home to work some more.  Raising cattle and crops, cutting and hauling timber, building the little cabin and ramshackle barn,  and somehow finding the time to create a family of twelve with my Grandma. 

            There were also whispered family rumors about certain “activities” taking place in the hidden coves and almost impenetrable stands of mountain laurel that studded the hills.  These rumors involved a “special recipe” for moonshine that made it the most desired and sought after in a three-state area.  That all changed after one of the younger children, Cecily, died when the rickety wagon used for illicit deliveries in the dark of night rolled over and off the edge of the mountain trail in the light of day, with Cecily playing inside.     

            It was then that Grandpa became a preacher.  The death of his daughter brought him to his knees.  The moonshine no longer flowed out of the “holler,” but the Spirit did.  His sermons were famous throughout the county. 

            “Your Grandpa was such a good preacher he could save half the county on Sunday and the other half on Wednesday night!” Grandma used to say.  “Those lawbreakers and sinners would come running down to the altar like a pack of wild dogs after a bone.”

            I had always laughed at her joke, but Grandpa did have a way with words. His sermons were intertwined with stories that seemed to touch each listener personally, and they would come up the aisle, seeking the same relationship with Jesus that Grandpa enjoyed.  I had admired his extraordinary ability to share God with everyone in such a personal way. Grandpa had eventually expanded that relationship, going home to Heaven.

            As much as Grandpa could touch the soul of his parishioners with words, Grandma could tell a tale. When she was alive, she entertained us all with stories.  Some were mountain legends,  some were her own made-up tales, and some were from her life experiences.  She was even part of a mountain storytelling hour at the library in Asheville, and her stories were in great demand.   My favorite was The Hungry Toads, a story from her youth.  I used to beg for that story as a kid.  In the evenings after gardening was done, she would sit at the table with me, drinking coffee and eating pie, banana pudding, or other treats, and tell me her tales.  I smiled as I thought back to this story.

            “When I was 7, my socks started to go missing!” she would exclaim.   “This was something of a problem, because money was scarce and socks were not free.  My mother spent a lot of time darning socks to keep them wearable.  It all started when one day I went to my bedroom and one of my socks was laying on the floor.  Next to it was a small green toad, who hopped away when he saw me.  I scrabbled after the toad, caught him and took him outside.  Momma would not like a toad in the house.”

            I smiled as I recalled how Grandma would sit back, sip coffee, and continue.  “The next day, another sock was laying on the floor, and another toad hopped by me on his way out the door. And then I began to think the toads were stealing my socks.  But where had they put them?”

            I went into the kitchen and announced, “I’ve lost two socks to toads!”

            Lots of giggling from my brothers and sisters followed that statement, and Momma just looked at me. 

            “What do you mean, Gert?” She asked.

            “Two times I’ve found one of my socks on the floor, the other missing, and a toad in my room!  I think they’re stealing my socks.”  “Then a thought struck me as I picked up a biscuit. “Maybe they’re eating them!” 

              “Toads don’t eat socks!” My brother Ed scoffed.  “Toads eat flies and other bugs. They don’t eat wool or cotton.  I think you’re going crazy, Gert.” 

            “You need to find your socks, Gert,” said Momma.  I promise you, the toads didn’t eat them.”

            Grandma would always smile in remembrance as she thought of her Momma, then she would continue.

             “This went on for two more days, as I would go into my room, find one sock, and see the inevitable toad.  Eventually, I was down to one pair of matching socks, and a lot of socks without mates.  This was becoming a family mystery, and Daddy was beginning to take notice, looking at me thoughtfully as I described another visit from “the hungry toads.””

            “Gertie, you’re going to have to wear mismatched socks if you can’t find the missing ones,” he’d say softly.  “No extra money for new socks.”

            “I knew the truth of this and had not even planned to ask for new socks.  When my shoe went missing, though, that was another story altogether.  I went into my room on a Sunday, and one of my “Sunday best” shoes lay by itself on the floor.  Next to it was an impossibly large, green toad, with a white stomach and unblinking yellow eyes.”

             “Now they’re eating my shoes,” I yelled, running out into the front room.  Daddy looked at me skeptically but said nothing.  A missing sock was one thing, but a pair of new shoes was impossible.”

            “A couple of hours later, I saw Daddy walking down the hill with my brother Rufus, his fingers clamped tightly over Rufus’s left ear.  Rufus was howling, his ear redder than the embers in our woodstove.  He was carrying a bundle of socks.  And Daddy had in his hand my other Sunday shoe!”

            “Rufus will be washing your socks, Gert, and doing your chores all next week.”

            Grandma would laugh as she thought of that day.  “Rufus would steal a sock, replace it with a toad, and hide the socks up in the woods.  When he advanced to taking a shoe, Daddy had had enough!  He followed Rufus up into the woods and caught him trying to hide it in a hollow log.  So that’s how I learned that toads can’t eat socks!”

            Grandma was full of tales like this.  Like many other mountain storytellers, she could keep the listener mesmerized and leave them begging for more stories.   

            My mother had her own way with words.  She wrote poetry and short stories and submitted them to contests, often winning.  She had recently finished a book of poems and submitted it to a publisher. 

            I did not seem to have inherited the family talent with words. Though I would have loved to have written a book, I was always more comfortable with numbers, and owned my own accounting business.  I had already factored all the costs involved with getting water from somewhere that didn’t involve drinking something I simply didn’t like.

             “Mom, just so you know I plan to have well-drillers out here as soon as you move to town.”  My plan was to avoid that spring water by drilling deep enough to get into a completely different water supply.          

            “Good luck with that, Girly,” Mom almost giggled.  “You think you’re the first one to try?  There isn’t a well in this entire holler that produces anything but a lot of cash for the well driller.  That’s just one more reason everyone drinks that branch water you turn up your nose to.”

            “We’ll see Mom.  We’ll see.” I answered determinedly.

            Well, we did see, that’s for sure.  Three months and four different drilling companies found nothing.  I even hired six dowsers, all walking around with their “witching sticks,” and all claiming to find water.  Not a trace, not a trickle of anything remotely resembling water fit to drink was actually found.

            I’d spent every bit of the money I had earmarked for well drilling and even more besides.

            Disheartened, I scrounged together some more cash and built a reservoir and all the filtering and purifying equipment I could find.  I purchased advanced oxygenators, UV sanitizers, multiple stage filter systems and technical equipment I couldn’t identify.  It was all sold to me by a “water adviser,” who assured me I would have nothing but the best quality H2O that human intelligence could deliver.  If I had to drink that branch water I’d be darned if it was going to taste like anything but pure, fresh water. 

            It had taken a couple of days for the reservoir to fill from the branch and for that wretched brew to begin making its way through the convoluted intricacy of the purification system into my completely re-piped and re-plumbed little cabin. 

            With my hands quivering, I turned on the tap for the first time and filled one of my moon and stars patterned goblets with the first taste of the water I labored so hard to get. 

            Sniffing the goblet carefully, I could detect not a hint of the iron scent that generally accompanied a glass of branch water.  With trepidation, I lifted the goblet to my lips and let the merest trickle of water onto my tongue.  Swishing it around like a wine connoisseur, I tasted nothing.  Not a hint of the dreaded iron or the tiniest fleck of grit from the rock-filled branch.  Chuckling with glee, I filled a pitcher and poured a stream of delicious iron-free water into my coffee maker. This sure beat trying to get a water delivery company to make the journey up the rutted gravel path that was commonly known as a road in the holler.  I finally had it made! Water I could drink, cook with, and everything else that modern life required, all without an unpleasant iron taste.

             Today was the day I usually visited Mom and Dad in their rented little bungalow in town. I had a jug of Mom’s branch water already in the car. I grabbed my keys, and with a grin, I picked up an empty jug and filled it from the tap.  I’d take this along with me and slip it to Mom instead of her usual branch water, just to see if she could tell the difference.

             Whistling cheerfully, I jogged up the path to the house, carrying my substitute jug of water for Mom. Letting myself in I hollered into the kitchen “Mom, I’ve got your water!”

             I could hear Dad plucking on his banjo on the back porch and crooning a song to Mom as she worked in her garden patch.  I stepped onto the porch and listened.  For as far back as I can remember, whatever house we lived in had been filled with music, jokes, and stories.

            I walked up and listened as he sang “Carolina Sunshine Girl,” to the woman he adored.  His voice was wonderful, and he was often in demand to sing in church.  He’d never had any voice training that I know of, except from his mother.  As a boy, he had had a very pronounced stutter, and his mother figured out that if he sang his thoughts instead of speaking them, the stutter was greatly reduced.  Later in life, after he met Mom and came to live in the mountains, he lost the stutter completely.

            “I brought Mom’s water,” I announced, after he finished his song.  “And I love your singing,” I smiled. 

            “I have great inspiration,” he replied, gesturing at Mom.  “Emily,” he called out, “Your water’s here.” 

            “Oh good,” Mom replied walking up to the porch.  “That chlorine city water they have here in town is just not cutting it.”

            I handed her the jug, watching carefully.  She sipped it and smiled.  “I see you’ve been trying to change the taste.  It’s not quite what I remember, but it’s much better than the city water.” “And,” she grinned, her eyes twinkling at me, “You haven’t changed the soul of it.” 

            “Water doesn’t have a soul.” I replied.

            “Oh you might be surprised!” she answered. “But time will tell.” 

            This was not the first time I was unable to decipher one of Mom’s cryptic statements, so I didn’t even try. 

            As time went on, I acclimated to the cabin and basically forgot my battle with the water, checking that off as done and won.  I was operating my business right out of the cabin, having amazingly secured working internet, and my little gravel road even greeted the occasional client who wanted to talk in person.

            One such client was Jeannette Crisp, who preferred to do her business face-to-face.  I had been helping her settle up the estate of her late mother, who had died before I arrived back home. 

            Jeannette came in the door, appearing flustered.

            “Well, I’m at my wit’s end,” she said, taking a seat on the sofa in my little office that used to be a spare room.  “I just heard from the County.  Momma left five thousand dollars in property taxes unpaid.  They have extended it three times, but they can’t do it anymore.”             

            I was a little concerned.  Jeannette’s mother had left her the house and land, but there was nothing else of value, and no money.  We had used any extra cash paying off outstanding debt. 

            “If I can’t come up with the money by next month, I’m going to lose the house and land that’s been in my family for 100 years!” She twisted a handkerchief in her hands as she almost sobbed.  “I don’t know what to do.”

            We talked about options and possible items she could sell, but there was nothing that would bring anywhere near five thousand dollars.

            “I guess the only option is to talk to the bank about a loan,” I replied.  The house and land are paid off and worth a lot of money.  You can get an equity loan and pay the taxes with that.” 

            Jeannette sniffled and nodded. “I was trying everything I could to avoid getting a loan against the house. Momma was so proud when she paid it off.  She would hate getting a loan against it for any amount of money.”

            Agreeing that it couldn’t be avoided, we looked up interest rates for some of the local banks and settled on a course of action. 

            As she gathered up our research and prepared to leave, Jeannette said,  “Thanks, Fran.  You’ve made this a little more bearable for me.”

            “She kept a savings bond,” I blurted.  “It’s in the house. She forgot all about it.”   

            Jeannette whipped around, paused, and looked at me strangely. “What!” She paused again and said, “What!”

            I began to stammer. “I—I don’t…” I took a deep breath.  “I don’t know where that came from.  It just came out of my mouth.”

            “O…Kay…” Jeannette walked slowly to the door.  “Okay, Fran, I’ll talk to you later.”  Her voice was falsely bright and she scurried to her car.

            “Well I think I just lost a client,” I said out loud after she was gone.  “What was that!”  I had never lost control of my own voice before.  It had taken on a life of its own.  I gave up and went to lie down.  Maybe I needed a rest.

            A few days later, while at church, I was soaking in the sermon, still unnerved by the incident with Jeannette, and trying to find some peace.  I watched the family in the pew in front of me.  Clive and Mary Sanders and their three children.  They were all so beautiful.  Clive, son of a local banker, immediately caught the eye with his chiseled chin and brown curls, cut and pomaded into a style that models would envy.  Mary’s blonde hair hung down her back and she wore the latest designs well on her trim frame.  The children were all perfectly beautiful combinations of them both, and so well behaved.  I was sure they didn’t blurt out inappropriate things for no reason.  As the sermon wound down, I felt guilty for being distracted by my own silly predicament.

            Mary came up to me, smiling, as we all began our exit after the final prayer. “Hi Fran! How are you doing?”

            “Leave him,”  I said.  “You deserve better.”

            Mary’s face paled and she stood stock still, her eyes filling up with tears. 

            “I’m sorry,” I began. “I don’t know why…”

            She reached for my arm and pulled me into an empty corner. “How did you know?”  The tears were spilling down her face now. 

            “I’m sorry!” I repeated, wiping at tears running down my own face now as well.  “I don’t know why I would say such a horrible thing.”

            “But it’s true.”  Mary began to pull herself together.  “It’s true, and I haven’t faced it.”  She smoothed her hair and looked me in the eye.  “He cheats on me over and over, and then blames me for it. I thought I should keep the family together, but your words just now seemed to shake me out of it.  How did you know?”

            “Would you believe I didn’t know?” I said, putting a shaking hand out to her.  “It just came out of my mouth.”

            Mary sighed. “Maybe the Lord works in mysterious ways after all, especially in church.  Thank you, Fran, for making me face this.” 

            She dried her tears and had a firm look in her eye as she walked away. I, however, was a mess.  I was even less prepared for Jeannette, who was waiting for me at my car.

            “How did you know?” seemed to be the question of the day, and she greeted me with a smile and a hug. 

            “Know what?” I asked, still struggling to process my conversation with Mary.

            She was waving something at me.  It was a savings bond. 

            “After I met with you last Wednesday, I thought you were strange to say the least!  But I still couldn’t resist looking around the house for a savings bond.  I found it in a frame behind Grandpa’s old picture up in the attic.  Momma bought a $750 savings bond when I was a little girl!  I looked it up and now it’s worth $7500!  I can pay off the taxes and have a little left over!” 

            She hugged me, ecstatic.  “But I can’t figure out how you knew.”

            I threw my hands up in the air.  “I didn’t know!” I exclaimed.  “It just came out of my mouth.”

            Jeannette paused, thoughtfully.  “Maybe Momma’s spirit was with us.”

            “Maybe,” I said, still thinking to myself that I might be going crazy.

            After Jeannette’s many thanks, and a promise to come see me at tax time, I got into my car and headed home.  My mind was racing with the events of the day.  Instead of heading out of town and back to my cabin, I found myself driving to Mom’s house. 

            “Fran!” Mom hugged me after I arrived, and then stepped back, taking in my somber face and desperate eyes. 

            “What’s the matter?”

            “Mom, I’m going crazy!  I’m blurting things out to people who are just acquaintances, things I couldn’t possibly know!”

            She put her hands on my face.  “Try and calm down,” Her soft whisper held so much strength that I did begin to relax.

            “Now tell me, “What things?” “What do you mean.”

            So I related my encounters with Jeannette and Mary, and their surprising conclusions.  Her face relaxed into almost a smile as I finished.

            “Well, I’ve never seen it manifest itself exactly this way before.”

            I started in surprise.  “Seen what!” I exclaimed.

            Instead of answering, she picked up a letter. “It’s from Blankford and Dunn.” 

            I recognized the name of the famous publisher instantly.

            “They say I’m a unique talent and they will be pleased to publish my poems.  I’ve been offered a contract for four books, with the option for more.”

            I forgot my own dilemma for a moment and gleefully grabbed her in my arms, jumping up and down and taking her with me.  “Congratulations!”  “That’s amazing!” 

            “Don’t you see, dear, that this family has a special talent for words?” 

            “Not me,” I said.  I can’t write a coherent sentence or tell a story.  I certainly can’t write poetry, like you.  But I was balancing your checkbook at the age of 10.”

            “Well, Fran,” she said cautiously, piercing me with her gaze. “Think about it and tell me what’s different about you.”

            I started to feel a little self-conscious, even though I knew my mother would never insult me.  I shook my head, bewildered.

            “You rarely drank the water.”  My father’s deep voice boomed behind me, making me jump.

            He put his hand on my shoulder and came around to face me.  “Sorry to startle you, but think about it.  You took a couple sips when you were little, declared you didn’t like the water, and avoided it whenever you could. You drank milk, Mountain Dew, Orange Crush, and anything else that wasn’t our spring water.” 

            I laughed. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

            In answer, he grabbed my hand.  “I first met your Mom in the city, where I grew up with a pretty bad stutter.  My mother, as you know, taught me to sing the words I found it difficult to get out.  But I still stuttered quite a bit and I couldn’t go around singing all the time.  Then Emily brought me down here.” He grinned at Mom.  “In a few weeks, my stutter began to ease, and within a couple of years I found myself with a pretty good singing voice.”  Then he smiled and tipped up my chin.  “And what was different about being here, Fran?”

            It couldn’t be.  I didn’t believe it, but there was only one answer.  “The water.”

            Mom piped in, her voice taking on a musical quality.  “You ever hear the phrase, “There’s something in the water?”

            I nodded. 

            “Did you ever wonder why we have such a storytelling tradition and so many great tale-tellers here in the mountains, all with the “gift of gab?”

            “You’re telling me it’s the spring water?” I asked. My voice had taken on a higher pitch as I struggled to take in what I was hearing.

            “Well, have you ever done anything like this before?” Mom asked.  “Before you began drinking the water regularly?”

            I shook my head, my mind reeling.

            Mom smiled. “The closest I can recall to it is my father’s gift for preaching.  He had a sincere desire to help people and he always seemed to be able to say the right thing.  It’s close to that with you.  You have been given the gift of helping others, not with eloquent speech or writing, but you’re helping them all the same.”

            “But how do I know these things?”

            “Well, maybe you’ve just been given the ability to sense things that the people you are helping already knew.  Jeannette may have a forgotten memory of that savings bond from her girlhood.  Mary certainly knew her husband was cheating on her. You’re just helping them remember or deal with the truth.  Or maybe it’s more than that.”  She shrugged. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

            “But I’m not consciously doing anything!”

            She shrugged and smiled, putting her arm around Dad.  “There’s something in the water.  Filtered or not, that water is changing you.  We’re living proof as well, and it’s been going on for generations.  I really wasn’t sure until your Dad came down here. Some people, for some reason, have a “gift for words” that is magnified when drinking the water.  Your father’s speech was healed by these waters.   Your talent is different, but look what you’ve done with it!  You’ve already helped two people.”

            Again, without any control, I blurted, “You need to move back!” They looked at each other in surprise.  I looked back at them, just as disconcerted.

            “Well, the water has spoken again,” I laughed.  “You don’t really want to be in town.  We can build another cabin on the land and you can come back home. I can help with the shopping and take you to medical appointments.  We’ll find someone to mow the grass.  It will work out.”

            After they promised to think about it, I once again hit the road for home.  I knew when I said the words that they were the truth.  My parents were moving back onto the land, and that was the right thing. 

            I thought about my situation.  What was I going to say next? What embarrassing predicaments would I end up in?  But I knew that if it helped people, it was worth it.   I knew as sure as that branch traveling down the mountain, that if I could make others happy and help resolve their problems, I was all in. 

            Come to think of it, I felt a little thirsty.

Author’s Note: For this story, we took the tradition of mountain storytelling and combined it with the sayings “there’s something in the water” and “gift of gab.”  A branch runs through our property in the Smokies, and Bonnie’s Mom drank from that branch as a girl.  Bonnie’s Dad actually did have a stuttering problem as a child.  He lost his Mom at the age of eight, and it was a nun in the orphanage he was sent to who helped him overcome the stutter by singing.