“If ya give me another helpin’ of biscuits and gravy and peach cobbler I’ll tell ya jist how he come to look that way,” offered Slim. It was the sixth helping I’d seen him ask for, and he was already eating when I came into Smokey’s Café. We call him Slim like people call the all-county offensive guard Tiny. Just our way of having fun.
Slim was always good for a laugh or two, and if he had a yarn about how Polecat Foxx ended up with the shock of white hair right down the middle of his head that garnered him that sobriquet, I was all ears. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill and laid it on the counter for the waitress. As she scurried about to gather his next helping, the scraping of chairs announced the gathering of the diners to hear him tell it.
“Times was hard back then,” he began, between mouthfuls, “and when word got out that there were jobs digging the tunnel near Piney Branch, we started coming from all over…
I’d arrived at Lookout Pass on foot in the middle of winter just at sundown, bone weary from trudgin’ through the mountain snow and hungrier than I’d ever been. It had been three days at least since I’d last ate. A couple of fellows was settin’ up camp and startin’ a fire under a snow covered rock. It was gettin’ a bit dark to be wanderin’ down into the valley where we could see the lights of town waitin’. And we wanted to make ourselves presentable before we went stridin’ in askin’ for a job. I introduced myself to the other fellows, Preacher Ebenezer and Evil Jake. Another guy was there too, but he was just a lyin’ there against a tree stump, coal black hair hangin’ over his eyes.. After a bit, his snores stopped and he got real quiet.
“I think he’s dead,” said Jake. “I seen plenty of dead men, sent more than a few there, my own self,” he bragged. “Let’s see if he’s got any money.”
“We’ll do no such thing!” intoned Preacher Ebenezer, “We’ll say a few prayers to see him on his way to Glory.”
My stomach growled so loud I thought for a minute it was a panther fixin’ to jump us. “There’s always grub at funerals. I’m hungry.”
Evil Jake started pokin’ the dead guy with that wicked knife of his and the preacher started prayin’ with deep and long drawn out words, “Lord we come to you in this sad hour, this dolorous, lachrymose, lugoooobrious hour..”
“I am so hungry!” I said.
“He’s done, stick a fork in him,” laughed Jake, giving the guy another poke with his knife.
All of a sudden the dead guy acted very undead, jumpin’ up with a blood curdlin’ shriek and runnin’ down the mountain. The echoing scream was swallowed up in a roar and I was swimmin’ for my life, bouncin’ off trees and rocks till everything went quiet, dark and wet. I poked my head up and saw the Preacher and Jake poppin’ up from the snow like a couple of surprised prairie dogs. We was at the bottom of the valley near to the town and could hear dogs barkin’ and doors slammin’ an people shoutin’. Over all the racket we could hear the erstwhile dead man shrieking, “Loogoo cannibals trying to eat me!”
Well we hid out, shiverin’ and hungry till daylight till we could gather our things and wander into town like we’d just got there. We got hired for the tunnel along with another fellow with a white stripe of hair right down the middle of his coal black hair. Mr, Foxx had arrived yellin’ somethin’ about cannibals in the middle of the night, but except for that eccentricity, he settled down and became a fine citizen of Piney Branch.
Evil Jake got fired for stealin’ and moved on to the next town. We heard he’d tried to stick his knife into someone with a bigger knife and got killed. We wanted to throw the other guy a party, but the law bein’ what it is, they hanged him.
The preacher built a church outside town. You can always tell his parishioners in town. Their faces look sadder and more mournful than their drab clothes.
And I’ve made sure I haven’t missed a meal since. This cobbler is good! Can I have another piece?”
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