Peggy Poe Stern, Mountain Author: Ever so common, ever so uncommon

Excerpt from #16, Blind Faith

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First four chapters of Blind Faith

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Chapter 1

New York City

 

Carlee felt good about herself on the chilly December day in 2008 as she rode to the office in the back seat of a taxicab. It was during these daily rides she contemplated her life and took great pride in her accomplishments. Not many women had earned as much wealth as she had by the time they were thirty. At least, not the wealth she had accumulated in the years since she had gotten off the greyhound bus in New York City. Although, she readily admitted, she was not in the same league as Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart, but both those women were a lot older than she was, so she still had time.

Carlee could not begin to describe the fear she felt that day as she got off the greyhound bus. Her mother had insisted it was time for her to spread her wings and fly. That was how her mother had said it; spread your wings and fly, when her mother sent her to live with her father.

Carlee supposed New York City wasn’t much different from Chicago, if one wanted to consider one large city was similar to all large cities. As the renowned Will Rogers once said, “Cities change slower than any other place.” Carlee might add that things in cities did not change because people did not acknowledge anything or anyone.

What the big different was - was Carlee’s father, Harold Vancouver. A piece of trash who had drifted to the city in search of a perfect job that paid well and had no work involved. He never found such a job, but he remained in the city living in a cheap dump existing hand to mouth.

He had been a man she had never known, a complete stranger to her. She was less than that to him. He clearly didn’t want her, and she couldn’t blame him. Carlee blamed her mother for tossing her into this man’s life..

Why did her mother no longer care about her? Carlee admitted Deanne Gray Vancouver was not much as far as mother material went, but Carlee was her only child and her mother was all Carlee ever had.

It was less than three weeks later Carlee learned the reason why her mother had tossed her out. Deanne died from a fast type of breast cancer. A short time before her death, she had been diagnosed with a spider bite on her left breast. It wasn’t a spider bite. Carlee now knew it was inflammatory cancer, a fast and deadly killer that struck its victims like a buzz saw to the throat. Her mother had known her death was near, but never said one single word to her daughter. Carlee felt she had deserved an explanation and a forewarning of what was to come. Deanne obviously didn’t.

If Carlee had thought her mother was not mother material, it came as no surprise that her father wasn’t material of any kind. All he provided was a poverty-level roof over her head and barely that. It was up to Carlee to provide the rest, and she did. She fought her way through her last year of public high school, worked, begged, badgered, and manipulated her way through college, and then to ramrod herself into a high paying advertisement job at High-Tech. Advantage Agency.

As for a husband of her own? Forget it! There was nothing a husband could provide her she couldn’t provide for herself. Carlee found that out a long time ago. She was married for a brief period, from the age of seventeen until eighteen, four whole months. Stupidly, she had thought getting married would give her someone to love and love her in return. Did Chic McGreggor ever give her an awakening! He came very close to making her hate all men. Actually, she did hate all men. They thought themselves superior to her and all of the female sex.

 As for her rare moments of passion, that was easy provided. Play hard to get and any number of men would show up for the challenge. All of them were merely tools, a poor provider of momentary pleasure, and little else. The value she put on men was about the same value she put on a case of chicken pox. Men were a terrible itch you paid for after you gave in and scratched.

In her weaker moments, when she dared to fantasize about having a handsome man by her side, she considered the possibility of a gigolo, but couldn’t tolerate the thought of wasting hard-earned money on so flimsy a thing. So, an occasional date with a pale-faced, soft-bodied executive seemed harmless enough. Few lasted longer than a couple of hours, and to be honest, she neither needed nor wanted company often.

Carlee gave the taxi driver a generous tip, which he didn’t deserve, before she got out and closed the door. She made sure her backbone was ramrod straight as she walked into the High-Tech. Advantage Building, realizing she must always maintain her professional image. One never knew who of importance might be watching.

Once she was alone in the elevator, she checked her reflection in the chrome walls surrounding her. Carlee took time to straighten her skirt, tweak her suit jacket, and smooth her hair before the door opened on her floor.

She noticed the secretaries seemed unusually subdued as she walked past several desks before reaching her office. Several of the secretaries glanced toward her with sad, unseeing eyes as though her arrival meant less than mail delivery. Naturally, she paid them no attention, for a person in Carlee’s position did not pander with lowly secretaries. It was a strict taboo, a way of keeping the high-ranking executives high ranking. Carlee was pure business twenty-four-seven, no small talk, and everyone knew it. Had she or any of the other executives, stopped and said good morning, shocked silence would have occurred throughout the building. Protocol was important and expected.

 That was why Carlee was shocked to see Joseph H. Carter, her boss, sitting at his desk, elbows propped, with his head bowed into his hands. His tie was undone; his usually perfectly groomed hair had signs where his finger had raked through it.

This was not protocol.

“Mr. Carter?” Carlee opened his glass door and stepped inside. Something she never would have done except in finding him in such an absurd display.

He groaned but didn’t move his head from his hands.

“What is wrong?” she questioned, forgetting all about protocol. She feared the man was in the throws of having a heart attack. Indeed, what she could see of his face was extremely blue-ash in color, and it was obvious he was in great pain.

“No!” was all he could mumble.

She grabbed his phone from the desk. “Hang on. I’m calling 911.”

“No,” this time he whimpered the word as though he were fighting tears.

“You need help,” she insisted as she punched in the numbers.

At least he was able to remove a hand from his face long enough to take the phone from her.

“I’ve lost it all!” He got the words out and then suffered a tremendous body shudder that vibrated his thousand-dollar suit.

“Lost what?” she persisted in total puzzlement.

He took his hands from his face and she saw tears streaking his cheeks. She was shocked speechless, which gave him time to get words out of his quivering lips.

“Madoff!” His jaw muscles flexed. “Bernard Lawrence Madoff!”

Worry shot through her head and radiated into her chest. High Tech Advantage was one of Madoff’s chosen clients. Madoff had allowed High Tech to invest just a few short months before. Only a few of the mighty-and-rich and preferably Jewish were allowed to invest their money in his Wall Street stock company. Mr. Carter’s wife came from a wealthy Jewish family and that was how High Tech Advantage got its foot in the door.

Madoff’s record, his dividends, and prompt payback were renowned. Carlee had no fear her wealth would not increase rapidly with Madoff. Fearlessly, she invested everything with plans of cashing-in perhaps two years from now.

A warning chill started on the soles of her feet and crept upward. “What about him?” Her voice sounded strange even to her own ears. She had a terrible fear she already knew what Joseph Carter was about to tell her.

“Crook,” he moaned the word through clinched teeth.

“No!” Sharp pricks had reached her chest along with the creeping chill.

“They nailed him,” Joseph said against the palm of his hand. “Ponzi scheme,” he got the words out but they caused another body-shaking shudder to seize him.

“Ponzi scheme” hit her hard, right in the solar plexus. Although she was not Jewish, she had closed out all her other investments and sunk every dime into Madoff’s company thinking she would gain wealth faster. After all, Madoff was a genius, particular to a fault, and the tops in intelligence according to those in the know. All the money she had not invested was a little cash in her checking account. She sank down on the edge of Carter’s desk, not bothering to find a chair.

At least, she still had her high paying job, she rationalized. However, it was little consolation  considering she might have lost many years of hard-earned income. She wanted to lie down on the desktop and become a worse crybaby than Joseph Carter.

“Gone,” Joseph mumbled. “Everything is gone. Not even a whimper of forewarning. They arrested him for money laundering, securities fraud, investment advisor fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Fraud, fraud, fraud.”

She was amazed Joseph got all those words out. She couldn’t utter a sound if it was to save her Gucci bag and matching shoes. 

After considerable time and effort, she managed to regain breath enough to talk. “I won’t accept this. I don’t believe it. The NASDAQ, the SEC would not allow him to get away with it. This is America. We’re protected from such schemes.”

Joseph Carter groaned, and it was not a groan of encouragement or hope. “You’re wrong. In America, the crooks are the ones protected: not honest, hard working people. You’re wrong,” he managed to say again as though his very life depended on it.

“We will get our investment money back,” she said with a surge of fire and determination which had suddenly boiled up inside her. She hadn’t worked this long and this hard to have a huge investment company screw her out of everything. Carter was over reacting.

Joseph Carter shook his head. “Gone. Madoff and his cronies managed to embezzle over 65 billion dollars of investors’ money, and believe me; he was smart enough to stash it where it will never be found. We won’t see a penny of our investment.”

“Surely . . .”

“No,” Joseph said the one word and it held more certainty than she wanted to hear.

 

 

“What do you mean, I no longer have a job?” she screeched at Carter.

His face had sagged even further. His eyes were dead in their sockets; no life remained as he looked at her.

“I haven’t money to pay you or any of the employees,” he said as though he was reading names from a New York phone book. “The doors are closed as of today. High Tech Advantage Agency no longer exists.”

“You can’t close High Tech down. What about our clients? We are making money.”

Were would be the right word, Carlee. In case you’ve not noticed, ninety percent of our clients were also investors with Madoff.”

“We can manage on ten percent,” she looked at his face for confirmation. He was still sitting behind his desk doing a good imitation of the big business man he had been two days before. His eyes were focused on her, but she knew it wasn’t her he was seeing. The vision of all his hopes and dreams were surely dying and playing clearly in his mind.

A sudden, horrifying thought hit her. She got paid on a monthly basis and it was time for a paycheck. She swallowed the fearful thought down before she spoke, but speak she must. “At least I’ll get severance pay to tide me over while I find another job.”

Carter’s eyes dropped to the top of his polished desktop where his fingers rubbed small circles on the shiny surface. He didn’t say a word.

“Carter? I will get severance pay!”

“High Tech Advantage attorneys filed bankruptcy this morning. No one will be getting paid anything.”

“Not even wages?” her voice was a screech.

“Nothing,” he whispered. “Zilch.”

She had him by the tie, jerking so hard his head bobbed back and forth. He didn’t fight her, didn’t try to get her hand lose. His eyes closed, while tears, huge, nickel sized tears ran from beneath their lids and found a wrinkle in his cheeks to scoot downward.

“What am I to do?” she jerked the tie with both hands now, as though she could shake him hard enough to make money return. “I have nothing left!”

He suddenly and unexpectedly shot up from his chair and her hands slid off his silk tie. He was out the office door at a run before her brain cleared even slightly. She realized there wasn’t five people left in a building that once held over a hundred. Three of the five were secretaries cleaning out their cubicles. With their normal protocol still intact, they paid no attention to Joseph Carter and Carlee. She suspected Carter had informed all others of the state of affairs before it came her turn.

She was not sure she cut an upper-level executive figure as she left the building. She hesitated on the street, her eyes blinded by her loss. Her first instinct was to have the door attendant hail a taxi so she could go home to her apartment, but there was no longer a door attendant.

Carlee’s feet moved and she found herself a block up the street. An empty taxi was waiting in front of a building. She staggered to it, opened the back door, and sank into the seat. The driver looked at her as she showed him her High-Tech Advantage credit card that all High-Tech executives used for taxi service. A different taxi driver had accepted the card earlier that morning.

This driver sneered at it. “No good,” he said in the same foreign accent she was accustomed to hearing, for he had driven her home a few hundred times.

“What do you mean by ‘no good’?”

“Kaput! Gone! No good! You, get out. No ride free.”

She knew it would cost her sixty-five dollars, without the tip, to have him drive her to her apartment. She had seen and initialed the High-Tech bills even when she knew they were excessive. She didn’t have the tip, much less the sixty-five dollars. She desperately needed her paycheck, not to mention severance pay. Just because Madoff, and then High-Tech had screwed her, didn’t mean her own bills were not due.

Numbly, she got out of the taxi, slammed the door hard enough for all the windows to rattle. Nothing broke. She walked away without a glancing look at the driver. Something inside her head insisted he could have given one free ride considering the amount of money she put in his pocket through the years.

Carlee stood there, alone, trying to ignore the squeeze and rush of people hurrying past on the busy street, but it was difficult. It seemed every person was looking at her from behind their sunglasses, knowing she was destitute and without a job.

 

 

She never realized how difficult jobs were to find when a person was down and out. Nor did she realize how long it took to walk the streets of New York searching for employment when there wasn’t money for a taxi ride. It felt as though she was stranded in the middle of a vast ocean in a paddleboat. No matter which direction she went in, there was no safe harbor for her in the form of a job.

Lack of money eroded one’s self esteem. Fortunately, she had learned how to place value on herself. Still, it was a contemptible position for a high-paying executive to find herself in. Her intellectual competence soared into the top ten percent of humanity. She would find another job – a better paying job.

Carlee’s feet were killing her by the time she reached the office of a High-Tech competitor. Not long ago they had tried to steal her away from High-Tech. She had remained loyal to her company. She snorted at her own blind stupidity in doing so, straightened her suit, looked at her stylish shoes, and checked her hair and makeup in a mirror in the hall, before she entered the office.

The receptionist cringed when she walked in. The receptionist’s face showed both exhaustion and sympathy for she and Carlee had known each other for years. Sometimes they even shared a glass of wine after work. The cringe irritated Carlee.

“Carlee,” she said on a sigh. “I don’t need to ask why you’re here, do I?”

“Good morning to you, Adelaide,” she tried to sound cheerful, which was not at all the way she was feeling. “Today is Cliff Andrews’ lucky day,” she gave her best smile. “Tell him I am ready to take him up on the job offer.”

“Carlee, you know the job was filled months ago. Besides, we’ve had at least fifty job applicants from High-Tech in the last two days. Mr. Andrews gave orders for me not to bother him regardless of who showed up for a job interview, and that includes his own mother.”

“He’ll see me,” Carlee said with bravo.

“Sorry,” the secretary told her with downcast eyes. “He won’t see anyone. Even you.”

“I’m not his mother,” Carlee tried humor.

Adelaide didn’t find humor. Her face saddened as she looked at the bare wall, anywhere but at Carlee.

Carlee started to insist, but the way her one time friend was suddenly giving her the cold shoulder was more than Carlee’s ego could take. She wasn’t down to pleading, yet. However, she knew she wasn’t very far from it. Her small supply of money was slipping away fast. Soon, she would be drinking water and eating peanut butter sandwiches. She had already given up dinning out and drinking five-dollar cups of coffee. Things she did most every day of her adult life. She felt deprived.

“Thanks,” she said with her bravo still intact. “Should he reconsider, give me a call.”

 

 

She got no call.

Carlee remained jobless and nearly penniless. All she could think about was killing Bernie Madoff and getting her money back. In ten years of working twelve to eighteen hours a day, plus careful investing, her worth had grown to one point two million dollars, a sizable sum for a lone woman. Just thinking about it made her go crazy. It hurt knowing she had been stupid enough to pour every dollar into Bernie Madoff.

 Each morning she pounded the streets until the bottoms of her designer shoes started to wear thin. It seemed every previous employee of High-Tech Advantage was one step ahead of her.

No one was hiring. Even those companies who were lucky enough not to be burned by Madoff were hesitant to hire because of the decline on Wall Street.

“There is a recession. A coming depression,” were the buzzwords. “Get rid of expenses, now.”

Which translated into people were being fired instead of hired. The only professions still holding their own were in law enforcement and health care. Neither of which she was qualified in. If she couldn’t afford food, she couldn’t afford to become educated in a different field.

Dejected, she applied for unemployment benefits. She discover she would be drawing half the rent of her furnished apartment.

She was desperate and willing to settle for something similar to what her father had lived in. His place had been dry and provided the bare necessities of life.

Like jobs, cheap apartments were non-existent. What was available, were the nice expensive places she could no longer afford.

 She had no other choice other than to swallowed her pride and go back to Adelaide.

“Don’t even ask,” Adelaide held up both hands as Carlee walked in the door. “We’re laying off not hiring. Even I may lose my job. I certainly can’t help you.”

“I’m sorry for you,” Carlee said, turned, and went out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Lost Mountain

 

Jason Keller could remember when he was three years old for it was a jolly time, the time when he pulled his first big drunk. It was Christmas Eve and all the uncles and aunts had gathered at his parent’s house to celebrate the holiday in their normal fashion. There was never money for store-bought toys and such foolishness as that, but there was always plenty of liquor to go around.

Aunt Effie excelled in her Christmas concoctions. She mixed ginger root, sassafras root, spice wood bark, and other flavorings with eggs and liquor to make a good tasting eggnog of a little less than one-hundred proof. It was rumored that her drinks could raise a man’s hair until his hat popped off his head.

Not only did Jason drink his share, but developed a love for shine at the ripe age of three years old. He had never felt so good in his entire life as he did that evening, that was until his stomach started to churn and the gagging begin.

“Get yourself outside. Don’t puke in here,” several of the women warned, but he was too drunk to find the door. The next thing he knew, he was in the floor and someone was laughing and kicking him into a corner where he wouldn’t get tromped to death by the holiday celebrators.

It was near morning when he woke up. Jason had lost his long shirt, or dress similar to what mountain children wore back in the early 1900, and many of the young children still wore almost seventy years later. He was as naked as a jaybird and cold. No one had bothered to pick him up and put him in a bed. After all, it was Christmas and all were celebrating in their normal fashion.

Corn liquor was god with Jason Keller’s family, kin, and neighbors, as it was with most of the mountain people in the area. It was corn liquor that made their lives bearable. Liquor boosted their entire spirit with joy and relief. After enough swallows, no one cared if their stomachs were empty, their houses dilapidated, their children ragged. They didn’t even care that their pockets were full of holes. If a person could fill their lives with enough joy-juice, misery couldn’t find a place to linger. It was without question that every man, woman, and child gave it their best try, especially at Christmas.

The corn-liquor, whiskey, and brandy everyone drank on Lost Mountain was mostly bought or traded on from a state-licensed distillery near the mountain. Back in Jason’s daddy’s time, folks were only allowed a runlet – which was a little under five gallons. Back then, most folks took the full amount if they could manage the high cost. Today, folks could buy all they wanted if they had money for it.

Those that couldn’t afford the high cost, devise ways to make their own liquid refreshment without getting caught by revenuers. Some managed, some didn’t.

Lost Mountain was located dead center between Virginia and North Carolina. No doubt, George Washington himself had run the dividing line over the mountain and down the valley between the two states. Some folks made a point of building their houses so they would straddle the line because they thought it was humorous. Not everybody could brag they owned a house in both North Carolina and Virginia. Some folks didn’t own a house, but they still bragged.

Lost Mountain was in the chain of Blue Ridge Mountains, which rose like an ancient wall across a portion of the nation. Mountain folks were confident that no place in the world could hold a candle to its burnished beauty. It was, and is, a place long lived in; a place where many feet wore footpaths beneath the towering trees of poplar, oak, and chestnuts, not to mention forests of pine and spruce.

It was and is a place where mountain folks continue to live independent and as free as is possible.

 

 

Jason Keller’s father was nicknamed Babe without anyone ever knowing why. Babe Keller became known as a liquor-head, as were most of the men living on Lost Mountain. When sober, which wasn’t often, Babe was a hard worker, prized for his size and endurance. Everyone knew that liquor-heads couldn’t hold their liquor worth a plug-nickel. They weren’t worth much when on a drunk.  

There wasn’t much work to be had, especially for a liquor-head. All Babe could find was temporary work at sawmills or as a farm hand down in the lower valleys. He didn’t make enough money to feed his nine children, much less clothe and educate them. Often he worked for hog meat, vegetables, or another jug of liquor.

Back during Babe’s time, education was considered silliness, nothing but a waste for kids who didn’t have anything better to do. Babe had nothing to do with such silliness and was determined his children didn’t either. For most part, he succeeded.

It was Angus, his oldest son, who was born cross-grained to his father. Angus believed in the power of education. He had also seen enough sorrow during his meager years of life to believe liquor was neither good for adults nor children.

Jason’s mother was named Axel. Most folks called her Ax. She was tall and slim with pale skin and jet-black hair. Her eyes were the color of woods grass, green with a touch of gold. She was pure Irish just as her redheaded husband was pure Irish. Axel had one huge flaw. She was never happy. She seldom smiled, and spoke very little. She worked hard, even when suffering some sort of illness or was in the first stage of childbirth. She did her own work plus washed and ironed clothes for other people, receiving only what they would give in return, which was little to almost nothing.

Axel was a heavy drinker, as were many of the women on the mountain. First thing on waking, her and Babe would have them a good, stout swallow of liquor in order to brace themselves for the coming day. During the day, they continuously fortified themselves. Once they were ready for bed, they guzzled down another slug to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

Their children thought no more of drinking liquor than they did of drinking a glass of milk. Liquor was certainly more plentiful. Folks on Lost Mountain claimed liquor was good for children and kept down disease plus killed worms. And so went the old wives’ truths that women’s mothers told them, and they could all repeat their mother’s teachings word for word, just as most people who never learned to read could do. No one had the gall to contradict what someone’s mother had told them. A mother’s words were danged near as reverenced as God’s gospel.

All of Lost Mountain’s inhabitants were of Irish decent and loved their freedom and independence just as fiercely as they loved fighting. Fierce fighting was a pleasure, a ritual, and a necessity. No boy was ever considered a man until he learned to fight against all odds, much like a cornered tomcat. Until he won several fights, or killed, he was a boy no matter his age.

Jason Keller was born on January 29, 1969. It was during an old-timey mountain blizzard, one so severe such a blizzard hit once every seven years, much like the plague, or the seven-year itch. Old ice-crusted snow was over two feet deep. The fierce winds were howling and blowing new snow so savagely no one could guess how much new snow had actually fallen.

Jason’s oldest brother, Angus, was fourteen. He ran down the mountain to tell the granny woman, Lum Brooks, that Axel’s time had come. Lum was a huge, raw-boned woman who resembled a man in appearance and size. She was the only thing close to a doctor Lost Mountain’s people had. She treated everything from stubbed toes to belly-shot men. Never once had she refused to go when called. This night was no exception.

Word of mouth had it that Lum never lost a baby she had delivered, or a mother, and she had helped birth hundreds. It was also told she considered every single one a miracle granted from God. The only babies she ever lost were her own. She’d had fourteen miscarriages to date, had named every one before she dug the graves herself and placed each little body in its final resting place. Some said she would run the woods and mourn for days after she put each baby into the ground.

Her husband was a pint-sized man who remained hidden in Lum’s shadow. He seldom showed himself in public. When he did, he shied away from talking or taking part in any activity. Folks called him a boy, for he had never proved himself as a man.

When Angus arrived, Lum didn’t hesitate. She wrapped a moth-eaten shawl around her bent shoulders and headed out behind Angus, trudging through snowdrifts that were now waist high.

Axel Keller became more peaceful once she saw Lum enter through the front door.

“How’s it going?” Lum asked, trying to control her shivering from the severe cold of trudging through the blizzard.

“Stuck,” mumbled Axel.

“Had too many to be stuck,” Lum told her firmly. “A woman having her ninth baby is like a cat having one little kitten.”

“Had enough to know when one’s stuck,” Axel got the words out just before another pain contorted her body.

“I’ll check you.” Lum said as she poured liquor on her cold-numbed hands and then pulled the ragged quilt from Axel’s body. Axel’s dress was already wallowed about her swollen stomach. She placed her icy left hand on Axel’s protruding stomach, pressed down, and then inserted two fingers of her right hand in an attempt to feel the baby. She determined the baby wasn’t so much stuck as Axel lacked the strength to push it out.  She put the quilt back over Axel and looked down on the bone thin woman who was not in condition to have ever gotten with child. Lum almost felt it would be a blessing if this was the first baby she had lost in delivery. Axel didn’t need another mouth not to feed.

“G-ge-t hit ou-tta me!” Axel pleaded.

Yes, Lum knew it had to be gotten out. Eight starving children, with only a mother to sustain them, shouldn’t be left without even that. Much to Lum’s surprise Angus spoke. She hadn’t known he was in the room. It was a tradition for men and children to disappear when a woman was giving birth. For Angus to remain near his mother was nothing short of stupefying.

“I’ve helped pulled calves with a rope,” Angus said with obvious concern for his mother’s condition. “We might oughta pull it out. I’ll fetch a rope.”

Lum looked into his worried, gentle eyes. There was unusual intelligence lurking in this mountain boy. She gave him a reassuring gesture. “Won’t need a rope, son. I’ve delivered a lot bigger babies out of a lot littler women. Go on outside now and don’t you worry none. I can handle this.”

Angus was hesitant to leave his mother. Lum could tell he thought his presence was necessary to keep her safe.

“I can handle it,” Lum repeated. “Don’t you worry your head for one minute.”

Angus slowly turned and went out the door, but stayed on the porch in the freezing cold, afraid to get too far from his mother.

“I’m gonna clamp its head between my fingers and then you’re gonna push like you’ve never pushed before,” Lum told Axel as she inserted her fingers around the crowning head. She knew the shoulders were the problem. If worse came to worse, she’d have to maneuver each arm until the hands were pointing forward, much like a calf being born.

 

 

Lum could not believe the size of the boy baby she pulled out of Axel. It should have been small considering Axel was nothing but a thin, weak, bag of bones. How the baby got enough nutrition to grow to this size was beyond her. It was plain that Axel had starved herself in order to have food for her children. A diet of corn liquor must surely grow big babies.

Lum opened the door and said to the anxiously waiting Angus. “Go find a possum, squirrel, or somebody’s chicken if you want your Ma to live. She needs some protein in that empty belly of her’n. Let’s hope she can make enough milk to keep that baby alive.”

Angus was gone before she got another sentence out. He returned an hour later clutching a broke-necked rooster in his near-frozen finger. His teeth were chattering together so fiercely he couldn’t speak.

Lum reasoned that the roaring blizzard hovering over the mountains, trembling the cabins and the timber, would have already covered his tracks. If not, no one would be foolish enough to chance dying in the blizzard to track down a chicken thief – even when a chicken was considered a prized possession.

“She’s going to need food every day if she makes it,” Lum told Angus. “Can you scald and pluck that chicken? Save the feathers for a feather bed. They’ll dry out.”

Angus cooked the rooster, head, feet, and all. The only things he removed were the feathers and guts. The guts he ripped open, disposed of their contents, and rubbed them clean with snow. Nothing could be wasted, ever, when there were nine children and two adults to be fed.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Carlee was beside herself. Rent was past due. All she could find to eat was a stale pack of saltine crackers that had gotten lost in the back of the cabinet. Her bank account was overdrawn. All she had left were her expensive business suits and designer shoes, plus a few rare and collectible knick-knacks. She had even pawned her dishes and cook wear, which were seldom used. 

She would put a for sale ad in the newspaper for her knick-knacks, instead of going back to pawnshops. In her opinion, pawnshop had a license to steal from people who could afford losing the least. Those were the people fate had sucker punched and left down and out without hope or resources.  

She made her face up in flawless fashion, put on her business suit and a slightly worn pair of designer shoes, and headed out. Her instinct was to hail a taxi, seemed instinct was difficult to reprogram. It had been years since she had felt hopeless and years since she had been broke. She didn’t like the feeling now any better than she did years ago. If anything, it was more traumatic. She now knew what it was like to be wealthy.

Lack of money forced desperate women to take desperate measures, and she was desperate.

Besides, she angrily admitted, she should be getting used to walking the streets now that Bernie Madoff had made her a pauper. She tried to cajole herself by asking what did being one in many street prodders matter? No one on the streets knew who she was, or cared. They were too busy trying to survive their own crises to care about her. Fact was lots of people found themselves in similar crisis overnight. She wished she could get her hands around Bernie Madoff’s neck.

 She hesitated only a moment when she arrived at the newspaper office, as she thought about her rare and beautiful things she had collected. “One must do what one must do,” she said and pushed the door open.

A hollowed eyed woman, obviously tired already, looked up at her. “Can I help you?”

“I want to take out an advertisement.”

The woman gave her a knowing look, one that had become instinctive. “Take a seat.” She pointed through a door into a small waiting room. “There are seven people in front of you.”

“Seven? For advertisements?”

The woman nodded. “Now is a buyer’s market, if anyone has money to buy with. Yesterday’s paper had fourteen pages of for-sale items. By this time tomorrow, it will double.”

Carlee turned to enter the room.

“By the way,” the woman added. “It will be twenty-four dollars for twelve words and two-fifty for each additional word. Some can’t afford it.”

Carlee didn’t have twenty-four dollars. She had six dollars and thirty-two cents in her purse. She forced herself to smile and continued into the waiting room. There were no empty seats. She was relieved. She didn’t want to admit that this group of dejected, down and out people had more money than she had. No seating gave her an excuse to leave while saving face, even if it was only to herself.

“I’ll come back later,” she announced to the group, as well as the hollowed eyed woman, and walked out with her head held high.

No one bothered to comment on her departure. They were all too familiar with seeing the last thread of pride escaping, especially in those who still thought themselves one of the wealthy and privileged.

Carlee passed beggars on the streets with more money in their holey, greasy hats than she had. She hesitated at one particularly well filled hat, looking longingly at the crumpled dollars and array of change. She could put that money to better use than the dirty beggar ever would. Unwillingly her gaze met with the ragged owner’s. He was watching her with knowing eyes, eyes that mocked her fancy business suit and carefully applied makeup

Carlee felt exposed, naked before him, not to mention scared senseless. Was she to become a female replica of this?

“Spare a few dollars for the indigent.” The words spilled from his mouth in a whining plea. She longed to slap him for the insult he had just given her, both real and imagined, but his unclean odor assaulted her sensitive nose. She looked the other way and hurried on as though he hadn’t been hunkered there. She could not believe she’d had the impulse to grab the beggar’s hat and run.

On other street corners, she passed hookers who gave her snide looks. She imagined each and every one of them knew her financial desperation. A woman wearing a thousand dollar suit didn’t walk the streets of New York, unless something had turned sour. 

“Whores,” she shuddered as the word whirled in her mind. “Call girls,” she shuddered less. “High paid mistresses,” she didn’t shudder much.

Was becoming someone’s high paid mistress a possible solution for her? It was a better solution that starving to death in a back alley. Of course, being someone’s mistress would be a temporary solution. After all, it was a common practice even with those in her social class. 

She tried comparing herself to the streetwalkers. Actually, there was no comparison. They were street trash and had nothing to do with the high class and successful. She recalled the movie, “Pretty Woman” starring Julia Roberts. That’s what she would settle for – a man such as Richard Gere. Such an arrangement wouldn’t be so bad, but how did an independent woman who didn’t care very much for men go about finding herself a sugar daddy? Taking a chance on luck didn’t seem a sure enough thing. Neither did going from bar to bar looking for a prosperous man.

She stopped on the corner and smiled at a man in a passing Lexus.

“Get you skinny ass movin’,” said a huge woman wearing a tiny skirt that showed fat knees and enormous folds of legs from knees to skirt hem, along with a hind end the size of a yellow taxicab. Her over abundant chest crammed into a lycra top made even Carlee take a second look.

“I’m, uh, . . . not . . . ”

“Shore you is. I’ve seen a dozen rich-bitches just like you today. Lost yer high-payin jobs and don’t know what to do next. So, you’s thinkin’ about selling yer dried-up, bony goods. I say go to it, but not on my corner. Move yer skinny ass afore my man gives it a whuppin you won’t forget.”

Carlee looked around to see a man standing nearby. He gave her a welcoming grin, showing two gold front teeth. Just what she expected to see, gold teeth costing as much as her suit and shoes put together. Her chin raised and she moved on, feeling dirty and insulted by her own thoughts along with the welcoming look the pimp gave her.

“Disgusting,” Carlee mumbled under her breath. It was downright insulting being run-off by a bleach-blonde the size of a beached-whale, not to mention her sleazy, gold-tooth pimp.

“Good gosh, Carlee,” she mumbled as she hurried down the sidewalk. “Get a grip. You really are desperate when prostitution doesn’t seem so bad.”

She passed the entrance to what was once High Tech Advantage and couldn’t resist going inside. The doors to their once luxurious suites were now locked with a for rent sign on the glass door. There was something final about the empty space. It was as though an accidental death had occurred before its time.

Renewed anger hit her. How dare Carter leave her in the lurch? He still had his home, his wife, his savings account, while she had nothing. He owed her big time. If it hadn’t been for him and his suggesting she invest with Madoff, she wouldn’t have closed out all her other investments along with her savings account and sunk them down a rat hole. She would be financially stable right now. Renewed outrage flooded her. Carter owed her big time.

She had been to his home on several occasions, always in a taxi. This time it took two hours of walking for her to get there.

She found the place empty. No curtains hanging in the windows. No signs of anyone living there. She knocked on neighboring doors, but no one she asked knew anything about Joseph Carter, and they certainly didn’t want to be bothered by her and her questions. It was as though Carter had disappeared as easily as High Tech Advantage had disappeared.

She might as well face it. Her life-style along with her wealth was gone overnight. New York and stability didn’t belong together. Businesses and people disappeared without anyone noticing their absence.

Bag ladies and soup kitchens were on her mind as she trudged her way back to Adelaide’s desk. Adelaide’s expression was not one of welcome, nor were her words.

“I can’t help you,” she hissed.

“Yes you can,” Carlee told her with a smile. “We can help each other.” Before Adelaide could get words out, Carlee rushed on. “Let’s move in together and save on rent.”

Adelaide’s face hardened. “Don’t shit with me, Carlee. I know you’re being evicted and haven’t enough money left for a taxicab. You’re wanting to sponge off me.”

Carlee was stunned by her bluntness. How could she know a thing like that?

“Gossip travels fast, even in New York,” Adelaide told her. “If it didn’t, all I have to do is look at your shoes.”

Carlee tried not to look down, but couldn’t help a quick glance. Her designer shoes were scuffed, the soles worn, and the leather walked out of shape.

“I need a job and a less expensive apartment. Madoff almost destroyed me.”

“You’re not alone, so stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Carlee was insulted. “I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m desperately trying to find a solution.”

“Sponge off your relatives, not me.”

“I have no relatives. I told you before that my parents are dead.”

“You also told me your grandmother left you an inheritance.”

Carlee scoffed at the remark. She vaguely remembered telling Adelaide about that once after work and after having too many glasses of wine. “That was years ago, besides, it was something minuscule in some uncivilized place.”

“That’s your problem not mine.”

“Some friend you are.”

“I can say the same to you, Carlee. Get it through your head the queen who lost her queendom isn’t sponging off me.”

With that, Carlee whirled around and marched out the door with her head high. Queen without her queendom! How dare Adelaide say that to her.

 

 

It was getting dark when Carlee reached her apartment. A uniformed police officer was waiting for her. She had been ignoring her eviction notice.

“Are you Carlee Vancouver?” he questioned.

Her very insides rolled over. Her instinct was to say no, turn around, and rush away; but what was the use? He’d ask her for ID. Lying would only get her in deeper trouble not to mention what it would do to her self-respect.

“Can I be someone else until tomorrow?” she asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not.”

“Then can you go away and come back tomorrow?” Now, she was pleading.

He grinned slightly. “Sorry, Ms. Vancouver.”

All the emotions she had been holding in swamped her chest. Tears came to her eyes and she tried not to let the policeman see them running down her face.

“What am I supposed to do?” she squawked as she fought tears. “I can’t find a job and I haven’t any money left.”

“Do you have relatives or friends you can stay with?”

“No, none.” She was surely the only person in the whole, wide world without a single living relative. She never missed having them much – until now. “I don’t know what to do,” she mumbled.

“I’ll wait while you pack your things and then I will take you to a homeless shelter,” he offered in a kind yet professional manner.

“But . . .”

“Ma’am, this apartment doesn’t belong to you, plus you have had sufficient eviction notice. I have no other choice than to put you on the street.”

“How dare . . .” She was going to say how dare her landlord toss her out after paying the exorbitant rent for years. Couldn’t he give her a little more time to find a job and repay him? She didn’t finish her sentence. This was New York City. It was always pay-up or shut-up. There were never emotions or promises involved in the business world.

“The law is the law and I’m only doing my job,” the officer was kind enough to explain.

“Homeless shelter?” she mumbled. “I don’t belong there.”

“As you wish, but if I were in your situation, that’s where I’d go.”

A sprig of common sense hit her. If she didn’t take what the policeman was offering, he would see her along with her belongings were on the street. She couldn’t walk the streets all night with several suitcases filled with her belongings, and she certainly couldn’t leave what little remained behind. Besides, she needed some place to stay and a homeless shelter was better than a stinking back alley where she would end up robbed and sexually assaulted if not killed.

“Please wait. I would be grateful for the ride.”

“Yes, ma’am, but hurry. I’m off duty in an hour.”

 

 

Not since she was forced to leave her mother and live with her father had Carlee been this frightened and helpless. Strange how an adult could be as frightened as a child. Somehow, she even felt guilty for being in a place like this. It was as though she had deliberately done something terribly bad and was being punished for it.

She was tossed into the homeless pile along with drunks and drug addicts. The smell of unclean human bodies was a continuous thing, as was the attempts to take advantage of her. She had to drag her suitcases everywhere she went - knowing they would be stolen if she ever left them unattended. She envied the women who possessed a rickety shopping cart. She felt as though she was fighting for every breath of air she took. She was no longer a successful person, but another piece of unwanted trash no one knew how to get rid of.

She thought of Hitler and his cleansing of his nation as she came into contact with these people - people in situations similar to hers. She shuddered. She wasn’t like the rest. She was . . . she was still a queen - one without her queendom.

She almost laughed at the thought as she waited in line for her watery serving of soup. She suspected most every one of the new people in the soup-line felt the same way she felt. It was only the ones who had been in line for years who seemed to accept their circumstances without embar-rassment.

Question was; what was she going to do about her situation? She certainly couldn’t allow herself to live this way. It was . . . it was inhuman not to mention degrading to her capabilities.

“Your grandmother left you an inheritance,” came to her mind. She had never followed up on that bit of information. Could it possibly be she really did have an inheritance somewhere? She shrugged it off years ago as nothing of consequence. As she remembered it, some lawyer from some Podunk town had written her a letter, and later called her by phone. What had she told him? Where was that Podunk town, and what was the lawyer’s name?  

She racked her mind until she remembered the town, Landreys Fork, and the name of the lawyer, Samuel Reese. How she wished she still had her cell phone, but it was long gone. The only good thing she could think of was the phone company couldn’t charge her a penalty for the cell phone’s discontinued service. She searched her pockets and her purse to find enough money to make a phone call from the shelter’s pay phone. It was no surprise to find every cent gone. Despair threatened, but she was not easily discouraged. She didn’t get where she was, used to be, she corrected, by giving up. In two days she could go to the unemployment center and collect her unemployment check, but she didn’t want to wait that long.

Impatiently, she got her bowl of soup, gulped it down, and returned her utensils to a tub of bleach-water. She carried her luggage to the nearest pay phone and dialed the operator.

“Operator. How may I assist you?”

“I would like to place a collect call to an attorney, Samuel Reese, in Landreys Fork,” she hesitated. Which state was Landreys Fork in? North Carolina or Virginia? “I think Landreys Fork is in North Carolina. If not, it will be in Virginia.”

  She held on for a minute.

“Who is calling?” The operator asked.

“Carlee Franco Vancouver. Tell Mr. Reese it is in reference to my grandmother’s will.”

After a considerable wait with nothing but nerve-racking silence, a man’s voice came on the line. “This is Sam Reese.”

“I’m sure you don’t remember me, Mr. Reese. I’m calling to check on the inheritance my grandmother, Willa Dean Gray left me.” She hoped that was her grandmother’s correct name.

 “It has been a long time, Ms. Vancouver. I do remember your grandmother’s will. You’ve crossed my mind on various occasions.”

Carlee ignored his friendly Hicksville tone of voice and came straight to the point. “Exactly what did she leave me?”

“Let me see now. I’ve got the file here in a drawer, somewhere.”

She heard squeaking as though a drawer pulled out, and then papers rattling, before a satisfied grunt came over the line.

“Ah, yes, here it is. She left you all she possessed. It seems you are her only living relative.”

“What does her possession consist of?”

“A house, ten acres of land, and her livestock. Of course, it is doubtful her livestock are still viable being it has been almost ten years since her death.”

“Do I still own the house and land?”

“Yes, you do.”

Her hopes soared. Maybe she wasn’t in such a fix after all. There just might be money for her to start over. “What is the dollar value?”

“I couldn’t answer that question. You’d need someone in real estate to give you a fair market value.”

“Give me a ballpark figure. I’m not familiar with the area.”

He made a point of telling her again he wasn’t qualified, but he did give her an average price of land and a house of similar value.

Carlee was shocked. How could ten acres of land and a house be valued so low, but it was better than nothing. “Can you handle the sale of it and send me the money?”

“I’m afraid not. First of all, I have no proof you are Mrs. Gray’s granddaughter. Second of all, Mrs. Gray stipulated in her last will and testament that you must live in the house for two years before you will be permitted to sell the place.”

“What?”

“Mrs. Gray was very specific on that count.”

Carlee was momentarily speechless. Then a degree of common sense prevailed. She did need a place to live until she could find a job. She was well educated and far more qualified for management jobs than anyone living in that Hicksville town. What did she have to lose? She certainly wasn’t finding anything in New York City. North Carolina might prove a more lucrative area. Unfortunately, she knew nothing at all about North Carolina or the area her grandmother had lived in, except that land and house prices were cheap. Of course, Mr. Reese might be quoting the price at the time of her grandmother’s death.

“Was I left any money?”

“Yes, some.”

Relief hit her in a wave. “How much?”

“Let’s see. Mrs. Gray had a total of forty-seven dollars and sixty-two cents, which I still have in my escrow account.”

“That’s all?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What about the house? Has it been rented?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“It brought in no income?”

“None at all.”

 In ten years time, she imagined the place was falling down. “Is it in livable condition?”

“I think so. Mrs. Gray specified that a neighbor was to receive use of the land in return for maintaining the house until you took up residence.”

“That’s not very reassuring. The neighbor could have allowed the place to disintegrate in ten years.”

“I can’t answer to that, but I doubt Mr. Burns would allow anything he was responsible for to disintegrate. He’s a responsible man. However, it would be advisable for you to come to Landreys Fork and qualify at the courthouse if you are interested in taking possession of your inheritance.”

“Qualify at the courthouse?”

“Take proof, such as birth certificate and social security number, that you are indeed Mrs. Gray’s granddaughter. Once you arrive, come by my office and I will give you a copy of the will and death certificate for you to take by the courthouse.”

Carlee knew she was going to Landreys Fork before she hung up the phone. Business gossip, as well as truth, had her at a homeless shelter in New York, not a good recommendation, or a good address, when seeking a high paying position with a responsible company. At least she did have a house in North Carolina. She hoped desperately her unemployment check would be enough to buy a bus ticket with a few dollars remaining for sundry expenses. Goodness knows, it wouldn’t cover a plane ticket.

She found herself hating Bernard Madoff all over again for the despicable circumstance he had put her in.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Angus was a serious boy. He seldom laughed, although he wished he could. Truth was he had no reason for laughter. Survival was too difficult to leave room for laughter. He felt the responsibility his father, Babe, never felt. Somebody had to see that Axel had enough food to live, and that his eight brothers and sisters could at least eat something once a day.

At fourteen, Angus considered himself a man, one who would never drink a drop of liquor. He had witnessed, all too often, what it did to people. It wasn’t pleasant to see his own father wet his ragged britches in public. Neither was it pleasant when his mother was bent over trying to heave up food that wasn’t in her stomach as she dry-puked after drinking too much liquor.

To Angus, folks on Lost Mountain were nothing but a pack of uneducated drunks. He consoled himself by knowing he, at least, wasn’t a drunk.

It was mid-July when Angus came across his sister, Annie, sitting at the creek soaking her feet in the cold water.

“What you doing?” Angus asked her.

“Thinking,” she answered.

“’Bout what?”

“Marrying.”

Angus was stunned. His sister was eleven months younger than him. She was no more ready for marriage than he was. Besides, she was Axel’s main help with all the younguns. There was no way he could look after his brothers and sisters without Annie. Their mother certainly wasn’t in any kind of fit shape.

“Who in the world would you want to marry?”

“It’s not that I want to, exactly.”

Angus felt a knot tighten in his chest and anger started to build at the idea of some fellow getting his sister in the family way, not to mention another hungry mouth to feed. He’d kill whoever harmed his little sister in such a way.

“It’s that I need to marry,” Annie continued. “I’m sick and tired of being hungry and workin’ myself to the bone yard because Ma and Pa continue to have kids. It’s sickening what they do with each other. They ought to know better. All it does is make more babies.”

“Who is he?” Angus demanded. “Who you gonna marry?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll find somebody who has enough gumption to work and feed me.”

The knot began to loosen. “You’re just thirteen. You’re a baby yourself.”

Annie’s lips puckered and she shook her head. “I’m no more of a baby than you are.”

Angus hadn’t thought about himself as being young, but Annie was right. She’d taken care of six children younger than her since he could remember. She’d never been a little girl. She was a replacement for their mother.

“You know yourself a girl gets married when she’s my age,” Annie continued.

“Some don’t.”

“Most do.”

Angus couldn’t deny that. Nor could he deny that he wasn’t man enough to protect his younger sister, much less his seven other siblings. “I’d rather you didn’t,” he told her as a strange sort of feeling of failure ran through him.

Annie turned her sad eyes on him in a soul-searching gaze. “Why not?” she asked in all sincerity. “You know I’d be better off.”

Angus wished he had a good answer, but he didn’t. It seemed most anything would be better than what Annie now had. Plus, he didn’t want to admit he didn’t want to take her place in raising all the younguns. He couldn’t find food to feed them if he had to care for them at the same time.

“You’ll only end up with a drunken husband and a bunch of your own kids,” he told her.

“At least it will be my husband and my kids I have to care for.”

“Annie,” he said gently. “Please don’t marry nobody. Get yourself an education.”

A knowing light filled her eyes. “How?”

“We’ll manage. I’ll help you more than I do now. I promise I will.”

“How?” she repeated. “Reckon you can steal me an education the way you steal us a chicken?”

Angus didn’t have an answer for that one. He hung his head for a moment. “A body does things to keep his family alive he don’t want to do.”

“I know,” Annie returned. “And I’m tired to the bone of doing it.”

“I’ll help you. I’ll make it easier on you,” Angus promised again. “I’ll take care of the baby.”

Annie reached out and placed her thin, white hand on her brother’s skinny arm. “Thanks, but . . .” she didn’t finish. Jason cried from where she had laid him on the creek bank.

Angus moved from her hand and picked the baby up. He looked from the baby’s crying face to Annie. “I don’t know how the little’uns would live without you caring for them. You know Ma’s worse off than normal. I’m thinking having Jason not only damaged her body, it did something to her brain.”

“It wasn’t the baby,” Annie told him in her clear voice. “Ma’s always been like that and you know it.”

Angus knew.

 

 

Axel started roaming the woods and fields. She would leave her children behind and head to the highest mountain peak where she would sit for hours staring off into the distance. Sometimes she would be gone all night long.

Babe never reprimanded her for her disappearances, and seemed not to notice the times she was absent from the house.

Annie and Angus noticed.

Normally, Axel really did get a lot of work done, never smiling, never talking, silently working. She scrubbed floors, scrubbed on a washboard what few ragged clothes for her family of eleven, and then hung them on a line to dry. She swept the wood floor of their one-room shack with broom-sage tied to a stick, and then scoured the wood planks with a stub broom made from a pine limb with the stub end cut into thick shavings. She also kept the yard swept clean. Not a weed, not a blade of grass, was allowed to grow in a yard. If it did, according to the mountain custom, it proved the woman of the house was slatternly. Cleanliness was next to Godliness when someone else was being judged.

“What’s Ma doin’ in those woods?” Annie asked Angus as they dug for cattail roots near the swampy creek. Cattail roots were almost as good to eat as potatoes, when there was nothing else available.

“Don’t rightly know,” Angus told her. “I’ve studied on it some and I reckon she’s taking time to gather herself.”

“Gather herself?” Annie was puzzled as her pale, little face turned to Angus.

“Yeah. I figure she’s like a bucket with a tiny hole in it. All her spirit leaked out over time. She runs off and stops up the hole until she’s full again.”

Annie was silent as she thought about what Angus had once told her about her getting an education. Finally, she spoke. “Preachers say education is a sin. Folks with educations can’t tell what the Lord wants them to do. Education makes them get crazy ideas in their heads. They start acting like they know more than most, and because of it, think they’re better than other folks.”

“Who told you that?”

“Preacher Johnson. He says he sends his praises to God because he’s ignorant, and he would praise him even more if he was ignoranter. A person who isn’t ignorant can’t and won’t do God’s bidding.”

“Sounds to me like he’s already ignorant enough,” Angus assured her.

“Is what he says true?”

“Not to my way of thinking.”

“Most folks say he’s right.”

“Annie, have you ever heard the term ‘sour grapes’? It’s when somebody don’t have any grapes to eat. They claim all grapes are bitter and unfit for human consumption when they would dearly love to have them a big bate.”

“I know what you’re talking about. It’s like telling folks you ain’t hungry when your belly has done met your backbone.”

Angus nodded. They were well aware of the not hungry fib. “You’ve been going to the meeting house right often lately.”

“I don’t have to take care of things when I’m there. I get to sit on the bench and do nothin’ for a while.”

“I thought you might have your eyes on some bloke.”

Annie shook her head and hesitated in the muddy digging. Her chin trembled slightly but she said the words anyway. “The fellows won’t even look in my direction. I’m the one they tease each other about when they want to insult each other.”

Angus’s face puckered in anger.

“It’s the truth” she insisted. “We’re the poorest of the poor. Folks say we’re nothin’ but white trash and I’m afeard they’re right.”

“Don’t you say that.”

“Truth is truth, Angus. Denying it won’t change a thing.”   

He was mad because her words hurt him to the core. “Ma and Pa do the best they can,” was the only defense of them he could think of.

“No, they don’t,” Annie told him. “Pa lays off somewhere drunk instead of working, while Ma runs the woods like a Looney bird. They leave me and you to take care of their children. That’s not doin’ the best they can.”

Angus couldn’t argue with Annie, but it didn’t serve to lessen his anger or his hurt.

“Folks on Lost Mountain are all alike,” Angus finally told her. “I reckon folks are all alike no matter where they’re from.”

Annie didn’t bother to comment. She had already spent long enough away from the house. No telling where all the younguns had scattered while she’d been gone. If one of them had left the door open, little Jason could have crawled out now that he was big enough.

 

 

 

 

This excerpt is from Peggy’s sixteenth novel Blind Faith. Visit your local library www.publiclibraries.com/ for the rest of the story. If her books aren’t in their collection, Peggy would be most appreciative if you would share this site and request that her books be added for their readers’ enjoyment. To purchase books or to get a list of local or online sources contact Peggy at 828-963-5331

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