Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the authors. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended. Oh, Susannah is a song by Stephen Foster and is still quite popular as a folk song in the southern United States. Susan-Jane is another southern folk song of unknown origin.
Thanks to Bronzehairedgirl, Master of All Things Emmett, for beta-reading. I have also borrowed a few characters from her story, White Lightning, since I figure Emmett has regular poker/drinking buddies. If you haven't read it, you should.
Author's Note: A party line was, for many years, a cheap means of phone service. Several families would share a phone line. It would ring in all of the homes who shared the line. All of the families could hear any phone call made on the party line, so there wasn't a bit of privacy. Often, family members would share a line.
For the August Challenge, to celebrate the creation of the Emmett Anti-Defamation Society, your choice of Emmett opportunities:
#1. In Emmett and the Bear, Emmett says, "I thought what happened next was my judgment. I'd had a little too much fun in my twenty human years, so I wasn't surprised by the fires of hell."
Write a one-shot about something he did for which he expected the 'fires of hell'.
You may pick one or do both. Posting date is September 1, 2007.
And in case you're wondering, the Emmett Anti-Defamation Society is dedicated to staying true to the information we actually have about Emmett that people seem to keep forgetting: for example, Emmett isn't stupid -- he has a 4.0 like the rest of the Cullens.
Emmett and the Bare
by silly bella
The phone rang in the still night, stirring the members of several McCarty families in their homes as the lay in their beds. They listened carefully to the ring, wondering what sort of disaster such a late call might portend. When the ring-ring-pause, ring-ring-pause indicated another home as the caller's destination, they snuggled closer to their husbands and wives in bed, falling quickly back to sleep. After all, they had all put in a hard day's work. Sleep wasn't a luxury, and morning came early.
Besides, they could just talk to Aunt Nettie the next day. No matter the intended destination of the call, she would listen in and know the details of the accident, illness, birth or other important report. She was better than a newspaper.
But in Jimmy Lee McCarty's home, the ring-ring-pause pattern called the family to attention. Jimmy Lee looked at the clock. Past midnight. Who on earth would call this late? His wife, Dottie, padded softly to the kitchen to answer the phone, hoping her husband could return to sleep quickly.
"Dottie, I'm sorry to call so late, but I need to speak to Jimmy Lee." It was Shorty Buckner, who ran the little store on Muddy Creek Road, not too far from the McCarty farmsteads that dotted Piney Butt Loop. He didn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn.
"Shorty, what can be so important that you need to talk to him right now?"
Shorty's voice pleaded, "Now, Dottie, you know I wouldn't call if'n it weren't an emergency. I really need to speak to Jimmy Lee."
She didn't like it, not one bit, but she put the phone down and headed to the bedroom to wake her husband, who had, indeed, fallen right back to sleep. She shook him, barely able to move his bulk on the bed. He was a big man. Not quite as big as his little brother, Emmett, but big enough to take up more than half the bed when he lay curled up on it. She couldn't blame him for that. When he stretched out, his head against the headboard, he had to prop his feet over the footboard. They didn't make furniture with the McCarty men in mind.
Jimmy Lee yawned, the phone call forgotten. "Is it morning already? I feel like I've barely slept." He didn't smell the usual eggs and bacon.
"No," Dottie whispered. "It's Shorty Buckner. He wants to talk to you."
"Shorty Buckner's here? This time of night?"
"On the phone," Dottie sighed.
Jimmy Lee heaved himself out of bed. There was no other word for it. Dottie watched his bulk fill the door as he left the room. She hoped it wasn't too bad. Shorty wouldn't tell her a thing.
"Shorty, it's Jimmy Lee. This had better be important."
"I'm just thinking 'bout your Momma," Shorty began.
Jimmy Lee narrowed his eyes. "What about my Momma?"
"You know how she is about Emmett."
"Shorty, spit it out. Is Emmett hurt?" He couldn't imagine who might hurt Emmett. Short of a bear, he couldn't imagine anything that might hurt Emmett. And Emmett was ornery enough that the bear might actually call it a draw.
He could almost hear Shorty frown over the phone. "Just come down to the store."
"Gimme a minute and I'll be there," Jimmy Lee mumbled. "But this had better be important." He hung up the phone and walked carefully back to the bedroom. For a big man, he was quiet.
Dottie sat on the bed in the darkness waiting for the news. "It's something with Emmett. He wouldn't say what."
"Must be bad." Dottie shook her head.
"Or something he doesn't want Nettie to get hold of." Jimmy Lee thought about the comment about his Momma. There were too many things that Emmett had done that no one in the family wanted Momma to know about, for Emmett's sake as well as hers. The McCarty men weren't scared of much, but their Momma put the fear of God into them.
He put on a jacket to protect him from the cool night air. What had Emmett done? There was a card game in the back room at Shorty's, no doubt. Jack had probably brought some moonshine to contribute – and to gamble. Why should this game be different from any other game? Could Emmett have gotten into a fight? Had he killed someone? Maybe that was it. Or maybe someone had killed him.
He debated whether or not to take the truck. His brother, Donell, had bought the truck just before the depression. Now the whole family used it from time to time. He didn't want to waste the gas, but depending on what he found at Shorty's, it might be better to have the truck than a horse. Jimmy Lee decided: if it spared Momma some pain, it was worth using the family truck.
The engine rumbled through the still night, probably waking a few of his neighbors. Family. They'd wonder about the truck.
Jimmy Lee wasn't sure what he expected to find, but it sure wasn't Emmett singing at the top of his lungs. "…Her mouth was like a cellar door, her foot was like a ham, her voice was…"
"Better than your voice. Shut up, Emmett." Jimmy Lee tried to sound as authoritative as their Daddy. He glared angrily at Emmett and his friends, Jack, Alvin and Virgil. Another friend, George, poked a passed out Harold, who lay in the floor leaning against the wall, in an effort to stir him. Wendell lay against the table, his last draw still in his hands, under his head like a pillow. Jimmy Lee could see he had a pair of duces and not much else.
"He was bluffin'," Emmett mumbled, beckoning his brother and pointing to another seat, "S'room for another player, Jimmy Lee."
"I did not come down here to play poker with you and your fool friends." Jimmy Lee glanced at Shorty. "I came down here to take you home. What on earth happened, Shorty? These boys usually hold their shine better than that. Emmett knows his limits. He wouldn't risk coming home in that state. He's too scared of Momma." Emmett's friends snickered. Momma would snatch them baldheaded. She might or might not leave them some skin. She might be small, but she was mighty.
Shorty shook his head. "Near as I can tell, Jack was a bit off on his last batch. It tastes as bad as ever, but it packs a bigger wallop. These boys," he glanced around at Emmett, Wendell and Harold, "they drank about as much as they usually do. I'm surprised that Emmett's still talkin'. By all rights, he should be out cold, too."
Emmett had started another song, "It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry. The sun so hot I froze to death, Susannah don't you cry…"
"Shush, Emmett!" Jimmy Lee said, his voice irritated. "Momma's gonna' hear you all the way over on Piney Butt Loop."
"… a buckwheat cake was in her mouth; a tear was in her eye. Says I, I'm coming from the south. Susannah, don't you cry. Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me. I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee." Emmett kept singing, but the volume dropped a considerable amount.
Jimmy Lee eyed Jack and the others. "How is it that none of you are in the same state as Emmett. Or Wendell and Harold?"
"Virgil and George got here late, as usual. Alvin wanted a bite to eat, so he started drinking late," Shorty explained. "And you know that I never touch the stuff."
"And you, Jack?" Jimmy Lee asked.
"I'm just sippin'. I can't afford to pass out on my way up the mountain with the bears startin' to stir for spring. When Harold didn't make it back to the table after a visit to the Johnny, I stopped drinking. Harold never could hold his liquor, but he ain't usually that bad."
Shorty nodded in agreement and motioned with his chin to Wendell and Harold, "These boys passed out on half of what they usually drink. Emmett had his regular jar-full."
Jimmy Lee frowned. He'd have to take care of Emmett. Bringing him home in that condition would end up with Emmett dead and their Momma in jail. "Shorty, thanks for the call. Momma doesn't need to know about this. And thanks for your caution on the phone. If Aunt Nettie heard about it, you know everyone in Gatlinburg would know what happened by nightfall, if not by noon."
"I knew you'd understand when you got here," Shorty grinned.
"Come on, Emmett. Time to get you home," Jimmy Lee grunted.
Emmett held onto his chair with both hands. "You know I can't go home. Momma will kill me." The others smirked, enjoying seeing Emmett scared of anything, but especially of a woman as small as his mother. "'Sides, I want to play poker. I've been winning." Emmett grinned, obviously proud of himself.
Jimmy Lee stared at the others. "He's winning in that condition?"
"I don't know how he does it," Jack said, his voice filled with awe. "He has more luck than a four leaf clover. Anybody but Emmett, and I'd call cheatin', but Emmett would lose the shirt off his back before he'd cheat."
"Shorty, can we leave his winnings here for now?" Jimmy Lee asked. Shorty nodded and Jimmy Lee gave his brother a stern look. "Emmett McCarty, get out of that chair this minute or I will tell Momma myself. I'm taking you home with me and you are going to be quiet. And if you wake up my wife or children, I will personally hand you over to Momma and tell her about the Corbett sisters. Do you understand?"
Emmett pressed his lips together and nodded his head gravely, but silently.
"Now get up!" Jimmy Lee commanded. Meekly, Emmett stood and followed him to the truck.
The ride to the house was short and silent. Emmett was taking no chances on his Momma finding out about his escapades. Any of them. He tiptoed behind Jimmy Lee, who led him to the room where Jimmy Lee's son slept. Jimmy Lee picked up the young boy and carried him to the girls' room, leaving him there on the bed that was big enough for all three children.
When he returned to his son's room, Emmett lay stretched out there on the boy's bed, his head lowered over one side on one end, his feet nearly dropping to the floor at the other. He breathed peacefully, a slight snore marking each inhale and exhale. In a pile on the floor lay Emmett's clothes. Jimmy Lee couldn't help smiling at his brother's cherubic face as he slept. No wonder Emmett got away with things the rest of them never could. Not only was he the baby, but he still looked like one sometimes. An enormous one. Jimmy Lee chuckled as he headed to his own bed, dropping Emmett's clothes in the hamper on the way. He hoped that Dottie had managed to sleep through this. He glanced at the clock. Just past one. He had to be awake in three-and-a-half hours.
Something kept Jimmy Lee from sleeping. The cool spring air made him wrap the blanket more tightly around him. He shifted in the bed, trying to get more comfortable. He listened to Dottie breathing steadily beside him. He rolled in the other direction, unable rest. The house was quiet. He could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in their parlor. It had belonged to Dottie's grandmother. It beat like a pulse through the house. It was the only noise, so quiet.
Jimmy Lee rolled out of bed and slipped into his son's room where Emmett lay sleeping. At least, where Emmett was supposed to be sleeping. The bed was empty. The window was open. Where could Emmett have gone?
Shaking his head and muttering quietly so he didn't wake anyone else, Jimmy Lee left the house again. He had to find Emmett. Maybe the boys were still at Shorty's and would help him. He pulled the truck away as quietly as possible, praying that no one would notice a second night-time run.
When he arrived at Shorty's, Jimmy Lee frowned. His plow horse stood, unsaddled, near the back door. Inside, he could hear Emmett. At least he didn't have to look far for him. He threw the door open angrily, ready to let Emmett have it. Instead, he burst out laughing.
There, in the back room of Shorty's store, Emmett sat playing poker. Buck-naked, in all his glory. He looked up and grinned at Jimmy Lee. "I'm winning."