We were still effectively lost on the slopes of Hatchet Mountain, two pilgrims packing garbage bags stuffed with moist, freshly-harvested marijuana, probably trespassing with every step. A full day since harvest, our inventory was no doubt starting to depreciate with geometric progression like organic cotton socks in a hobo's boots.
“This stuff's composting in the bags,” said Fly.
“It might spontaneously combust!”
“This is no time for jokes. I'm serious. If we don't get it hung up it'll start molding. We got to get back.”
“Well you know these garbage bags are pretty much the same as silage wraps. I mean if you squeeze all the air out like this—” I sat on the cumbersome bag and a whoosh issued forth from the crumbled open end.
“Don't! You'll smash the buds!”
“Well, hell they're gonna rot otherwise. But see — you know what silage is?”
“Shut up about silage and shit. You ever harvested buds before?”
Sighing, Fly brushed me aside and groped inside the bag I'd just bear-hugged, my technical superior trying to fluff up the merchandise. “It looks like Mexican brick, now.”
Maybe I'd blown it, but I thought my line of reasoning was right on about the silage part. Chopped corn stalks would hit 130° within a few days if you didn't shut off the oxygen, but they'll more or less keep for a year put up as silage. I decided to let the subject go though, apologizing for desecrating the buds and hoping to make amends by taking up my pack. There was no debating the fact that we had to lug the harvest back to our boss's drying shed, which meant navigating up the slope and trying to avoid stumbling across another grow scene. Every clearing, every dense grove of old growth fir and cedar, every mossy stone outcropping looked vaguely familiar. That's why we were lost. I remembered once attending a Grateful Dead show in Atlanta with a girl whose hair was long, blonde, and straight, and accidentally parting ways with her after smoking a joint. She was my ride and only link, as I had no ticket and very little cash on hand. For hours I wandered the scene in vain, and every deadhead chick with long blonde hair looked exactly like my companion until I'd tapped her on the shoulder and gazed into her inquisitive eyes. Some still looked like her until they told me they were sorry but they'd never seen me before and wished me luck finding her. Some even thought they had seen me before, but at the show in Cleveland in 1992 or something, and I had to assure them this was the first Dead show I'd ever attended. I was lost but not really disoriented. In three days I never caught up with the girl, and ended up hitching a ride to Nashville, Tennessee with a couple of dudes who reminded me of Beavis and Butthead from the cartoon on MTV. Of course this was 1994 and every guy under 25 reminded me of Beavis and Butthead. It was like my whole generation's vocabulary had been reduced to about 20 one-syllable grunts.
There was no way to determine our altitude. “I think we ought to keep climbing like they said, before we start traversing the mountainside,” I suggested. “That way we'll steer clear of Kincaid.”
“But we got to get this shit back. Fuck Kincaid! It's gonna mold!”
“Look, we were warned about this Kincaid character. I say we go way the hell around his place.”
“It just feels like you don't value my role in decision-making.”
“It ain't that, Fly. I swear. It's just that if I have a better idea I'll let you know.”
“But who's to judge what makes a better idea? What makes you the boss?”
“Goddam, since I'm the boss, I say let's stand here and holler like fools at the top—”
Gunfire interrupted me. It zang off a jutting boulder. When the echoes had subsided a youngster's voice rang out from behind a clump of coyote bush. It was hard to say exactly what or where until two boys emerged. They were pre-adolescent but big enough, apparently, to tote rifles. They must have been twins, decked out in green and black camos. “Put your hands up, you pot-thieving sons of bitches!”
“We're not rippers!” hollered Fly. “We're lost! We come in peace!”
All the same, we dropped the bags of hot commodity and marched in front of the boys and their rifles along a meandering trail laid down by horses and motorcycles from the looks of it until we emerged from a sparse tan oak forest into a homestead clearing. Several steel buildings resembling airplane hangars were perched like preening turkeys around a fir log cabin with a chimney exhaling transparent smoke and a woman in blue jeans and a black pullover sweater who was actually hanging a headless black chicken on a clothesline, using clothespins to attach its feet, dodging the dripping, throbbing, blood. The woman's hair was long and blonde and straight.
“Hey, Ma, look what me and Billy done rounded up!”
“Boys! What'd I tell you about— Oh, my lands! What have you fetched now?”
“Caught these here rippers sneaking on our property. Aim to tie 'em up and wait 'til Pa gets back.”
“They was fixing to rob us, Ma.”
“We were just lost, I swear,” said Fly.
“Shut up and take off your muddy boots 'fore you go in our house,” said one of the boys.
Once inside, Billy and his brother confiscated the pruning shears from our pockets and used orange extension cords to tie our hands behind the backs of chairs, strapping our torsos to the intricately-carved oak. Part of me entertained the possibility of resisting enough that I could manage to work the knots loose, subtly, over the course of hours or days if need be, But once again I was reassured by the strong inclination that the worst these people could do was execute us point blank, and they weren't likely to commit two unnecessary, unprofitable murders at a time when pot was going for $3500 a pound and they had us red-handed with what would no doubt prove to be someone else's weed. With truth on my side, I submitted to being tied to a chair and rendered temporarily helpless, not that there was much choice. The boys attempted to extract confessions from us. Fly stressed that we'd been harvesting buds for a neighbor, Sharif Hefeweisen, and we got lost. The boys had clearly seen a few war movies, westerns, or New York cop dramas the way they pressed on with relentless interrogation. Maybe they'd listened in on the campfire recollections of paranoid hippies on cocaine. Our stories didn't add up, they said. We had no alibi. I judged the real situation to be that these kids had us tied to chairs and were living out their own cop fantasies. They'd caught us with weed and were convinced it belonged to one of their neighbors — a fact we didn't dispute, but in their minds they'd be the heroes of Hatchet Mountain when the story got out, when the rightful owner of the marijuana in the garbage bags was contacted. Glancing around the dining room, we'll call it, I noticed a skeet shooting trophy, apparently, that had been awarded to a “Gary Kincaid.”
“Mom, what're ya all dressed up fer?” asked one of the Kincaid boys when their mother appeared in a black mini skirt, pointed boots, and a top I couldn't classify exactly except to say it was red as satin sin and wrapped this way and that to cover whatever geography reluctantly shunned the limelight like advertisements that yearn to be noticed without being seen. “Looks like yer going to a danged funeral.”
“Can't a girl get dressed up? Now go get yerselves washed for dinner.” Traces of eyeshadow ringed her lashes like a telephone number faintly scrawled on a barroom napkin. When the boys were gone to scrub their mugs, Mrs. Kincaid muttered to us captives, “I would untie you so could help yourselves to dinner, but how do I know you ain't dangerous?”
I could only shrug while Fly once again tried to protest that we were working for Sharif, a neighbor, and merely lost on our way back from his squatter's claim in the National Forest.
“You boys prefer breast or thighs?”
“Actually I"m a vegetarian,” said Fly, glancing my way as if searching for reinforcement.
“Yeah, he's a vegetarian,” I said. “But not me. I'll take legs or breast. You do up this bird yourself?”
“Sure enough. Chopped off his head just like that.” She made a motion, actually holding a carving knife, and sliced off a drumstick from the chicken on the table. “Looks like I'll have to hand-feed you, honey.”
That was all fine except the meat was still fairly steaming as it approached my undefended lips like a branding iron, and I winced. Beyond the searing drumstick I could peer clearly into Mrs. Kincaid's top wrap where her breasts hung like pale stalagtites in a mostly dark cave, and when my eyes drifted from that awesome sight they lit on the glare of the twin boys. This was the first time I'd ever tried a leg of chicken that wasn't the normal soft white crap you got from the grocery store. The meat was a little more stringy and its strands did not shear in my canines so I had to rip away with her clenched fist pulling against my jaw. That was when I started losing it like in church when some do-gooder butchers a choir hymn and farts right in the middle of it. There was nowhere to vent my true feelings. I chuckled in the wrong place at the wrong time and accidentally sent a chunk of partially-chewed, stringy rooster meat into the network of satin threads that Mrs. Kincaid had woven around her supple upper body, as if my immobile tongue were lashing out in last second desperation.
“You don't like it!” she shrieked, shrinking out of sight, presumably to her bedroom, leaving Fly and I to glare at each other and guess at our fate while the Kincaid boys devoured chicken and pumpkin pie.