Blood on Black Mountain

The news headlines all exclaim, “Travis Hooker Finally Captured Following Deadly Shootout!” in one way or another. It brings me great shame that they write about me like this. Mocking me by exaggerating the severity of my limp, by having the bums who drowned in their own shit back home speak ill of my kin, and, worst of all, reminding me of how far I had come from being the trash left to rot on the side of the street. I write this now, not in defense of my actions, but to take the profit from the reporters who lie and cheat to get to the top, which is the only thing we have in common. It’s only fitting to begin my story on the day I was reborn.

My older brother Jeremiah, God bless his departed soul, was not a very smart man. Since we were the two surviving members of our family, he had to take the leadership role. Dad taught him how to make moonshine just before the incident that took his life, so that’s how we made money. Growing up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was a degrading experience. I had always hated the look of disapproval we received when heading into Raleigh to make a delivery. Honestly, I can’t blame those townsfolk because we looked exactly like how one would expect. Everything about us was disheveled. From my long and messy brown hair to my sun-bleached overalls, we stuck out like a sore thumb when mixing in with the upper-class businessmen in town. Jeremiah had a proverb he would always repeat to try to calm me as we headed into town.

“The ones who look the cleanest and dress the nicest have the dirtiest skeletons in their closets.”

Black Mountain was a moonshiner’s dream. The giant mountain range was hard to reach by car and the wet season usually prevented cars from going up in any capacity. It was beautiful though, with deep ravines, mountain peaks that seemed to stretch into the heavens, and massive oak trees that must’ve watched the first shiners sink their roots into the idyllic land.

Prohibition provided a great opportunity to us and we all planned on capitalizing on it. Since it was the wet season and we couldn’t get a car up to the still site, Jeremiah and I had to go on foot. As we lugged our mash, typically made from fermenting corn, we began to see the hundreds of stills light up in the distance. Jeremiah loved this part and would always watch with childlike amazement as the fires would begin to pierce through the dense fog that tightly hugged the mountain range.

Sitting here now, only a few years older, I can say that I do miss those simple days.

As we began to trudge forward again, through the fallen timber and wet leaves, I remember seeing our still site light up. Jeremiah and I were quickly spotted by those who were standing on our site. In that moment we both knew what this meant. It was either the law or that bastard Liam O’Halloran. We would’ve been better off if it was the former.

“Hell’r there boys!” shouted the voice.

“What’re y’all doin’ up at my site?” asked Jeremiah.

A gunshot rang out through the forest. Time seemed to stop. Only the fires dared move or make a sound.

“Why don’t y’all come on out them woods and we can have us a chat?” the voice asked.

As we began to approach the unknown men, Jeremiah shielded me from them. As I peered from behind him I could make out the figures of roughly seven men. Standing in the middle and armed with a pistol was Liam.

“Take the lame one and set ’em up ‘gainst that tree,” Liam said, pointing to me and a large oak nearby.

As Liam’s men came up to take me away from Jeremiah, I remembered that Jeremiah had a pistol of his own. I immediately knew what was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. Although he was never the brightest, Jeremiah had a deeper understanding than I could ever learn myself of what family meant. Once the men grabbed me I saw Jeremiah draw his pistol, and before even being able to fire a single shot, he was gunned down by Liam.

“Well, I guess there’s only one of ‘ya now. I hope this ‘ere don’t affect our relationship going forward.”

Liam didn’t even care about killing someone. This was a trait that we would eventually share.

“So, do ‘ya know how to run ‘yer own still?” he asked, now looking directly at me.

Back in those days I was still a bumbling little coward. God, what I wouldn’t give to see Liam again and really enjoy watching him take his final breaths.

“Y-yeah, yeah I can run it. Why?”

“Well lucky you! ‘Yer now my business partner! How many gallons can this ‘ere still make in a week?” Liam asked, pacing before me and admiring our, my, still.

“Uh, usually it’d make ‘bout 20 depending on how much mash we have.”

“You might be my new bestest partner! I want ‘bout 30 gallons a week from you. Well, I guess I can take 20, considering I just killed ‘yer brother. You know where to drop it off, right?”

Of course I knew where to drop it off. Liam stayed in one of the biggest cabins in the basin since he basically had a monopoly on the moonshine business.

“Yeah, I know where to take it,” I meekly replied.

“Well that’s damn perfect! Welp, I reckon we oughta see you in a week. Let’s leave ’em to it boys.”

Just as quickly as they had made themselves present, they disappeared into the thick night fog. Now faced with the daunting task of having to bury my own brother, I let muscle memory take over and control the shovel. With each inch of dirt I excavated from the Earth I could feel myself changing. Not only did Jeremiah die, but so did all of my weaknesses. My cowardice was replaced with courage. My indecisiveness was replaced with determination. My shame was replaced with pride.

When I woke up that next morning I knew exactly what I had to do. The week following Jeremiah’s murder was the longest week of my life. I didn’t dread my deadline. Hell, I never even went up that mountain one more time. I knew my fate laid elsewhere. The Hooker name would no longer be associated with drunkards, gamblers, lames, or even poverty. This next action was going to lay the foundation for my “American Dream.” My empire.

The day had finally come and I began to head towards Liam’s cabin. I decided to walk instead of drive. The townsfolk must’ve heard the news of Jeremiah’s passing because no one dared look me in the eyes. No one’s gaze lingered on my limp. They knew what was to come. I was a man hellbent on retribution. With the cabin in sight, I prepared for my metamorphosis.

“Hey boy, where the ‘ell is all the shine?” one of the men asked.

I didn’t even stop to answer. I continued walking toward the cabin. Then up the steps. Then into Liam’s den.

“You’ve got some nerve gettin’ up ‘ere with nothin’,” said Liam.

I said nothing. I stared at him from across the room and I could see his face change from bewilderment to pure anger.

“Limp ‘yer ass over to me right now! I oughta’ beat ‘yer head in for this!” he shouted.

I stood my ground. Liam became even more enraged and began to walk towards me. He didn’t realize these would be his final steps.

“You stupid lame piece ‘o…”

Before Liam could finish the sentence I pulled out Jeremiah’s pistol and shot him once in the stomach. He collapsed to the ground and began to weep, all while praying to a God that surely abandoned him long ago. As he laid there, a pool of blood now forming around him, I walked over and knelt beside him. With a face of pure shock and terror Liam opened his mouth to speak but no words came from him. As Liam died I was reborn. Born into a new class with new ambitions. No longer tied to my derelict cabin, bleached overalls, or even shame associated with my last name, I began to take charge of all the moonshine leaving my new mountain.

It’s fitting that the first time I killed someone I unlocked a door that allowed for a newfound freedom, and, the first time I decided to spare someone, I sit alone, barred from all freedoms. The myth of Travis Michael Hooker is no more. No longer do you see a well groomed businessman that is both respected and feared. All that is left is a dirty and disheveled man with long brown hair and an embarrassing limp.

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Watson Lee

Watson Lee

I'm currently attending college and pursuing a Bachelor's of Liberal Arts. My major is English - Creative Writing and I'm focusing on Fiction and Poetry.