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.
A/N: Thanks to MyPosse who served as my sounding board and helped me hash out some of the details. Thanks to my beta reader, sillybella, for her help with the Emmettism. I have references to two fanfictions: Distraction by Cocoa and By Any Other Name by sillybella. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading these two wonderful stories then they should be next on your list of must reads.
CCC – Civilian Conservation Corps – a work relief program, part of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, designed to combat poverty and unemployment caused by the Great Depression.
Prohibition – Although National prohibition laws were repealed in 1933, Tennessee did not repeal their prohibition laws until 1939.
Still – moonshine still - a distilling apparatus, consisting of a vessel in which a liquid is heated and vaporized and a cooling device or coil for condensing the vapor. This is the type of still Emmett mentions in the first paragraph.
White Lightning – moonshine - a common slang term for home-distilled alcohol, or whiskey for the hills, especially in places where this production is illegal.
Bootlegging - the act of making or transporting alcoholic liquor for sale illegally; "the Prohibition amendment made bootlegging profitable"
Challenge: 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'.
I let out a long, low whistle as soon as I was close enough to be heard. Walking up on someone's still unexpectedly could get a man shot. Even though they knew I was coming I needed to let them know it was me and not someone else.
The likelihood of getting caught up here in the mountains was slim. Prohibition was enforced in the larger cities where bootlegging was a bigger business. The private moonshine stills scattered throughout these mountains were hardly worth the law's time. But as long as the threat was there, the owners of those stills would always be twitchier than a near-dead rattler.
The sun had set during my long hike up from Piney Butt Loop, and I could see the light of their fire a short distance away. I gave the next signal – two short, high whistles. Stepping around a large oak into the firelight I stopped abruptly. Jack had his shotgun leveled at my chest. "Damn it! Point that thing somewhere else!" I said sharply as I reached to push the barrel up and away from my body. "What's wrong with you? Didn't you hear me whistle?"
Jack grunted, "Just being cautious. The bears have been active the past few days. And let's face it, you are as big as a bear."
I scowled back, "When was the last time you heard a bear whistle?"
Jack threw his hand up in surrender as he propped the gun against a tree. "Calm down Emmett, no harm done."
I glared for another few seconds before relaxing. With the threat of being shot gone I finally looked around the tiny clearing at the others. I nodded to Alvin and Wendell. My gaze stopped on the third person, a stranger I had never seen before.
Alvin spoke up, "This is Walter. We were school chums. I ran into him a few days ago. He's here looking for work with the CCC."
I scrutinized him. He didn't really look like someone I would trust. But I did trust Alvin, so I pushed my wariness aside. Besides, having a new person here could work to my advantage.
I turned back to Jack and nodded toward the still, "Got any ready?"
"'Course," Jack smiled while reaching into a tarp-covered crate to pull out a pint jar of clear liquid. He held it out to me, but as I reached for it he pulled back. "Whatcha got?"
I frowned, "When have I ever not done you right?"
Jack shrugged, "Whatcha got?"
I chuckled and shrugged off my pack. Jack was a stubborn old coot, and I knew I needed to make the trade up front. I pulled a quart jar out of the pack. "Momma's vegetable stew," I offered confidently. Jack didn't have anyone to cook for him. A good meal was always high on his list of valuable trades.
I took the extra servings just for this. If Momma ever found out the real reason I was sure to find myself on the receiving end of a sermon as she stood over me, Bible in hand, preaching about Hell, fire and brimstone.
Jack eyed the jar hungrily, but then his eyes met mine and I saw his resolve strengthen. "What else?" he demanded.
I was prepared for his haggling and pulled out a bundle wrapped in sackcloth. "Cornbread." I waited, knowing this would be just enough.
"Deal." He thrust the pint jar at me and took the stew and cornbread I held.
I removed the lid and swallowed a mouthful quickly before the smell – a harsh turpentine-like odor that would burn the hairs right out of your nose – could hit me. I fought to keep the grimace off my face as the liquid set my insides on fire, burning its way to my gut. Jack's moonshine was some of the strongest on the mountain.
I sat down on one of the logs by the fire. "Anyone else comin'?" I asked to no one in particular.
"Virgil and George will be here. But Harold thinks he's found some work and will be going out early in the morning," Wendell explained. I wasn't too upset about Harold. He was too cautious and never any fun.
"Got the cards?" I asked Alvin. He pulled out the deck with a grin and we all moved closer to the large up-ended log that would serve as a table.
George and Virgil showed up during the second game and joined in on the next hand. I won the first game, lost the next three and then won the last game. I hadn't done too badly – another jar of Jack's moonshine, a belt, two rabbit pelts, and a few coins amounting to less than a dollar. The other miscellaneous items I won were of no real value to me other than their potential to be traded.
The stranger watched me as I put it all in my pack. I still didn't like the way he watched me and I felt the uneasiness creep back into my thoughts. I would just have to keep an eye on him and be prepared for whatever he might do.
I tipped my jar back and finished the last of the burning liquid. Handing the empty jar to Jack I asked, "Anybody up for a little arm wrestling before I go?"
Alvin and George laughed. Wendell, Jack and Virgil simply shook their heads. They all knew I always won, and none of them were drunk enough to place a losing bet. I looked at the stranger; he was sizing me up. I could easily take him. He was my height but wiry. I also knew he was no where near drunk.
"What's the wager?" he asked, no doubt thinking about the jar of alcohol I had already consumed and probably wondering how I could still be conscious. I was definitely feeling the effects, but I also knew my limits. Probably due to my size I could handle more than most men. I didn't need to worry about being knocked out cold until around the halfway mark of the second jar.
Looking in my pack my eyes stopped on the money – money that the stranger had lost during the poker games. It had changed hands several times before I ended up with it, but he had watched it closely the whole time. There was no risk of losing it so I laid the coins on the substitute table.
The stranger put two dollars down. "Willing to go higher?" he challenged.
What was he up to? He had to see he was no match for me, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity of a big win from a sure bet. I pulled out an old pocket watch and the belt and then waited to see how he would match it.
He put a small wooden jewelry box down. "May I?" I asked, reaching for the box to take a closer look. The detail of the carving was exquisite. There was only one person in the area other than my grandfather that did work with this level of quality. I knew the worth of the box, but did the stranger?
I touched a finger to the watch. "It's worth more," I bluffed.
He scrutinized my face for a moment before adding three more dollars to his bet. So, he had no idea how much he could get for that jewelry box.
"Satisfied?" he asked.
I looked at the items. His money along with the box was worth twice as much as what I put out. "Yes. You?"
He nodded, "Let's do this."
I glared at Alvin when it looked like he was going to warn his friend. He got the message and kept quiet.
We got in position and Jack placed his hand on top of ours. "Ready?" he asked. We both nodded. "Go!" he said as he yanked his hand away from ours.
Instead of slamming his arm down immediately I decided to see what he was capable of. He was stronger than I had given him credit for, but still not real competition for me. I toyed with him for a bit, letting him push my arm down a little. I watched the amused looks on everyone's faces. They knew I hadn't started to put forth an effort yet.
Finally, growing bored, I began a slow controlled resistance that forced his hand closer to the table. "Winner!" Jack shouted and pointed to me the second I had the stranger's hand pinned to the surface.
I smiled as I gathered my winnings. The stranger's hand clamped onto my wrist as I reached for the money. "I think you cheated," he hissed.
I pulled my arm away, breaking his grasp. "It's not my fault you made a bad bet," I growled back, scooping up the money and jewelry box and putting it all in my pack.
The man erupted, "You've got all my money! How am I supposed to eat?"
"Never bet what you can't afford to lose." The man was off his rocker and I didn't feel the least bit sorry for him. Had he really thought he could win?
I stood and slung the pack on my back. Looking around at the others I saw they were watching the stranger, shocked by his behavior.
"I'll see ya'll next time," I told the group, keeping my eyes on the stranger, meeting his glare with one of my own.
As I stepped into the darkness of the woods I heard their various replies of "See ya, Emmett."
I hadn't been walking long when I began to hear movement off to my right. The full moon was directly overhead, but very little light made it through the trees; I couldn't see what was making the noise.
Continuing to walk, I listened closely as whatever it was moved closer. Jack's earlier comment about the bears being active had me wishing for his shotgun.
Realizing our paths were about to cross, I stopped, hoping it would pass me by without notice. The noise of movement stopped an instant after I did. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Was it stalking me? I searched the trees, still unable to see what was there. I tried to clear my thoughts. Was I so drunk that I was imagining it all?
In a sudden burst of attack a figure lunged toward me out of the darkness. As I leapt to the side my mind registered the form of a man rather than a bear and the flash of metal just before I felt the searing pain in my side.
I spun, grabbed the man's arm and punched him in the gut with all my might. He dropped to his knees, gasping for air, and I landed another explosive blow to his jaw. As he laid sprawled unconscious on the ground, I picked up his knife, stabbing it into the ground a few times to clean the blade before tucking it under my belt.
Bending to get a better look at him, I realized it was the stranger, Alvin's friend. I thought about just leaving him there – he deserved no better – but I wanted Alvin to know what his old "friend" had just done.
Sighing, I hoisted him over my shoulder and trudged back to the small clearing. They weren't expecting me this time and I wasn't going to rely on the usual signal. "It's me!" I shouted, unable to keep the anger from my voice.
They all stood, shocked, as I stepped out of the darkness and dropped the stranger unceremoniously to the ground.
"Emmett! What the hell happened?" Alvin asked simultaneously to Jack proclaiming, "You're bleeding!"
I looked down to see a rip in the middle of a large blood stain on my shirt. "Shit!" I hissed, pulling my shirt up to inspect the wound. "My shirt's ruined!" I glared down at the stranger. Realizing it was just a shallow cut, I pressed the edge of my shirt to it to stop the bleeding.
I turned to Alvin to answer his question. "Your friend," I spat the word, "attacked me in the woods. He came at me with this knife." I held it up for them to see. They knew I had left weaponless before. "I'm taking it with me since now I have to worry about the blood attracting the bears," I said as I removed the sheath from the stranger's belt and put it on my own before sliding the knife into place.
Alvin starred at me and then the stranger, speechless.
"Get rid of him and don't ever bring him back because if I ever see him again he won't fair as well." The venom behind my threat was unmistakable. Without another word, I turned and strode off into the woods.
I was exhausted by the time I got home. With vigilance I had watched and listened for any predator that might be attracted to my fresh blood. Luckily, and with great relief, I had made it home without becoming bear bait. Next time I would take my gun with me.
My anger had settled to a low simmer. I shook my head as I thought about the stranger again. Why had he attacked me? Was he just that angry? Why had he made such a large bet on the arm wrestling match? Thinking about that as I removed my pack, the pieces began to slide into place. Had he been trying to find out what I had in my pack, intending to rob me later? I couldn't be sure.
I finally gave up trying to figure it out. I had bigger problems to worry about. With a sigh I removed my torn, bloodied shirt. What was I going to tell Momma? I would rather face an angry bear than tell her the truth of what happened. Maybe that was it – I could tell her I was attacked by a bear. No, that wouldn't do. No need to make her worry more every time I went out to hunt.
It was hard to think through the fog of the alcohol. Maybe I could come up with a story later. I stuffed the shirt into my pack. I could just get rid of it, but Momma was sure to notice the missing shirt when she did the wash. I pulled a clean shirt from a dresser drawer and put it on. If I slept in it and then put it with my other dirty clothes maybe she would never notice. Maybe.
Stretching out on my bed I tried to think, but it was no use. Drink and exhaustion were overtaking me. I let my eyes close without a fight. I would figure it out tomorrow.