Melvin’s Campfire

Melvin’s Campfire

“Then it’s true then; what they say?”

Melvin seemed eager to talk. Smiling, he turned to Raven and said, “Maybe, but probably not. At least probably not the way you heard it. Why don’t you tell me what they say; what you’ve been told, and we’ll talk about it.”

“About you being a moonshiner and a drunk and all that kind of stuff.”

“Well, yes and no. No one knows the whole truth and they will never know unless you tell them. Its time for you to know the whole story — the truth, but it will be up to you what you tell them, if ever.”

“I wish you hadn’t brought me here. I always thought they were wrong cause they don’t know you like I do. Why is it I never seen you drunk or acting wild and crazy like in the stories I hear — like Daddy says? They say if you’re not moonshining or missing, you go around dressed like a Philadelphia lawyer — playing poker and stuff.”

“I tell you what. Why don’t you go get us a couple of squirrels while I build us a fire. We’ll just stay here tonight and talk.”

“I thought you said we needed to find a bunch of onions and garlic and stuff. You said we were going to have to find a bunch of it.”

“Look around, Raven. I did say that. I think we’ve found it.”

Raven picked up a handful of dirt and started rolling it from hand to hand; as it escaped from his hands he picked up another scoop and continued shuffling it back and forth. Holding back a sneeze he said, “See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re perfectly fine. Why do I hear all these things?”

With a smile and suppressed chuckle, Melvin said, “Trust me, Raven. You’re going to know everything before you get back home. I will tell you an Alabama Tale.”

Tossing his last handful of dirt to the ground, Raven asked, “What about the stuff for Miss Cookie?”

Laughing, Melvin said, “She’s got plenty of persimmon trees on her property and probably solomon’s seal root too. I think she just wants me drop by.”

Picking up Melvin’s blowgun and quiver, Raven headed for the cave entrance. “That’s another story I heard.”

Melvin's Campfire
Melvin’s Campfire

They took turns turning the spit and at times Melvin would sprinkle an assortment of powders on the three roasting squirrels and every once in a while leaned forward to rearrange the ears of corn and sweet potatoes buried in coals at the edge of the fire.

Raven was recovering a bit from his initial shock at seeing the still and all the stuff in the cavern. He moved his wooden barrel seat a bit closer to the fire and asked, “Pappy, how did you find this place?”

“Its kind of a long story. You sure you want to hear it?”

“Sure I do. I haven’t seen a TV set in here so it looks like we got all night. Sure hate to miss Knight Rider, though.”

“Knight Rider. What’s that?”

“Oh, its great. Its on TV. There’s this guy — Michael Knight. He’s a field agent fighting crime and works for the Foundation for Law and Government. He has this Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that talks and drives by itself and everything — it even has a name. He calls it Kitt. That’s what I want to do some day.”

“What, fight crime or talk and drive?”

“Funny! I think it would be kind of neat to have that kind of job. Me and Scott been talking about building a car like that.”

“You’re a smart kid. You will probably be able to do all those things and more. Still want to hear about how I found this place?”

“I sure do.”

“I was tracking this sounder of boars and was finally where I could get a nice aim on one of them with my bow. I was standing still as can be, not even breathing hardly, and all of a sudden the ground gave way and I was buried up to my chest in a hole that felt like it was trying to push me back out but I was stuck as I ever been. Air was blowing out of that hole like a tornado. Next thing I know this old boar comes right at my face and I hear this gunshot; then I’m out cold as a dead fish laying out in a January snow storm.”

“Did you get hurt?” exclaimed Raven — ready to hear a good story.”

“I was pretty banged up but I didn’t know it till a couple days later. I woke up in a bed in a room that I didn’t know. I hurt pretty bad and saw a couple bandages on my arm and such.”

“Where was you? How’d you get there?”

“Well I just laid there a while trying to figure that out myself. I didn’t hear no sounds except for some leaves blowing around outside. I figured somebody must have found me and was taking care of me cause of the bed and all the bandages and stuff. At least I wasn’t dead. I didn’t think I was anyways.”

“Where was you? Did you ever find out?”

“I must have fallen asleep or something. Some things still ain’t clear in my head even to myself but when I did wake up there was this fellow standing there. He was older than me – maybe forty or so I was thinking. Maybe fifty.  He had on a white shirt and bow tie and of all things a jacket and hat. He was just standing there when I come to and he had this board thing with some paper on it and was writing something with a pencil.

Now I ain’t sure what Saint Peter really looks like but when I saw this guy, I figured I must have died and Saint Peter was checking off all my bad stuff and good stuff on that piece of paper.”

Excited by what he had heard so far, Raven blurted out, “Who was it, Pappy?

“He told me to call him ‘Doc’. He didn’t tell me his real name.  I never asked since he told me to call him Doc. I figured if he wanted me know his name he would have told me. That was back before you was even born. Must have been about ’23 or so — somewhere around there.”

“Pappy, I was swallowing this hook, line and sinker up until you said that about the way he was dressed. Who in the world would dress like that from around here?”

“I’m getting to that. He ain’t from around here. He’s from Cincinnati. Cincinnati, Ohio. He said that he was tracking them hogs too. He was just fixing to take a shot when he saw me fall in that hole. He said the only reason he saw me is because of all that wind coming out of that hole blowing the leaves straight up in the air — that and that old boar. He said that boar come at me while I was stuck in that hole and meant to give me a good dose of meanness. Butted against my side and broke a couple of ribs and stuff. Doc said he knew I was good as dead so he went ahead and took his shot. He figured if I died from the gunshot it would be quicker and hurt less than getting tore up by that boar; said I sure was lucky — the boar got most of the buckshot and he pulled one piece of shot out of my shoulder.”

Excitement building, Raven rushed out a “what then?”

“He said he pulled me out of that hole and brought me to his place. Come to learn he was a real life doctor. Said he had come down here once to visit his sister up by Phil Campbell and went hunting with her husband and said he’d never seen anything like it. So many birds and deer and hogs. Said he come back to put a business here.”

“What kind of business? So he showed you this place? I still don’t understand.” Pointing to the ceiling of the cave, Raven asked, “Is the hole up there?”

“No, he didn’t show me the cave. He never mentioned the hole again either. I stayed with him four days and we got to know each other pretty good. He was real interested in hunting and what kind of animals was out here. Other than hunting and fishing and liquor, we really didn’t have much in common. All the time I was thinking about that hole I fell into so I might not have been too good of company. He mostly wanted to tell me Cincinnati —  told me I should go with him some time to visit.”

Raven moved a little closer to the hot embers and asked, “if he didn’t show you the cave, then how did you find it?”

“Raven, I know how you are. I could jump right to the end of the story and then you’d ask a million questions to fill in the blank spots you find; so if you don’t mind, I’d rather just tell you the story my way. That way, when I tell you how I found the cave you’ll know every bit of it and you won’t have to have me fill in the blanks. Besides, there’s a lesson in all of this for you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“As soon as I left Doc’s, I headed for that hole. I knew where it was at but not exactly from Doc’s. It didn’t take me long to find it though and when I did I checked out that hole real good. There wasn’t any air coming out of it so I started thinking it was all my imagination but then I remembered Doc saying he saw leaves blowing straight up in the air. I decided it I was going to figure this out, I was going to have to get more information.”

“So how was you going to get more information. Seems like to me that only you and Doc even knew about it?”

“That’s true and here’s a little bit of wisdom for you; patience and observation. It’s just like all I showed you about tracking and hunting. Haven’t you learned that if you don’t get in a rush; if you just wait, watch and listen you can figure out a bunch of stuff?”

“Yes, sir. You know I have.”

“I made camp right there at that hole. I watched and listened. I poked around and found it was just a deep dark hole. Sometimes I would toss a few leaves into it and they would fall. Other times they would float away on a puff of wind. To tell you the truth, at first I just couldn’t figure it out.”

“How long did it take you to figure out what was going on?”

“Six years.”

“Six years,” exclaimed Raven.

“Six years. I didn’t figure it out right away for sure. I camped right there for over six months. When I could, I would just sit there and watch that hole and listen. It took me a couple of months or so but I finally figured out that when wind was blowing in the trees, then some air would come out of that hole. No wind, no air. So I figured there must be another end to it somewhere where air was coming from. For the next six months I would circle that hole trying to find the other end. I started at about twenty-five feet, then 50, then a 100. I kept that up ‘till I was probably a half mile from that hole and never found it.”

“Well, here we sit, so you must have found it somehow.”

“Off and on for the next couple of years I would camp at the hole and try to learn more about it. I did finally learn that the opening supplying the air must have been west of the hole because when the wind was out of the West, that’s when air from the hole was strongest. That’s when I started going further from the hole but only to the West but I still didn’t find anything.”

“Let me guess. The Little People showed you where it was.”

Melvin could see Raven getting sleepy so he ignored his comment and went on, “In ’29 there was a big fire. There was a drought and somehow a fire got started and it was burning up big parts of the forest. I wanted to make sure Doc was going to be okay so I headed for his place and I was pretty close to the hole where I fell in. I started smelling smoke and that didn’t make sense to me. The fire was at least three miles to the west and the heat had the smoke going straight up. There was no way I should be smelling smoke from that fire. Then it dawned on me, West!”

“So what did you do?”

“I started to run towards that fire. In about an hour I was looking at a wall of fire and just like I said the smoke was going straight up. I couldn’t even hardly smell it from where I was and I was hot enough to feel the heat. I looked around thinking I was some kind of nut for running to the fire but I looked over about fifty yards to my left and guess what I saw?”

“The cave?” questioned Raven.

“The cave, just like you saw it when we first got here. It was covered with growth and was hidden behind a bunch of vines but just the same it was sucking in some of that smoke and that’s what I was smelling over at the hole. Get you some sleep now and we’ll talk again tomorrow.