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Granny Mustard

 

THERE IS A THICK, PUTRID stench surrounding her, a rancid mixture of decay, charred pinewood, soaked dirt, and alcohol. She can’t turn her head to find the source of the smells because something heavy and jagged is on top of her, pressing her down, pinning her in place, forcing her eyes to remain closed. Not that she really gives a shit one way or other. Her thoughts aren’t so much thoughts anymore but foggy, vague images that bleed in and out of her brain like custard out a cracked pot, dotted with sparks of light that hurt like nails driven into the back of her eyes.

If she were as she once was, her synapses would have connected those smells to her daily life. Granny Mustard always burned pinewood in her fireplace for heat and light, never having had electricity in her cabin. And the stink of decay was an ever–present companion in the mountains. Raccoons, possums, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and all other form of wild critter often crawled up under her cabin porch to die, and one dead carcass stunk as bad as another. And then the odor of wet earth, of course—it rains hard as a miner’s jackhammer in the Appalachian Mountains when the sky gets a wild hair and decides to cut loose on those below.

The scent of alcohol, now that would have been a good smell. Granny is—was—the best moonshiner in the area spanning the town of Beaver Dam up to Black Rock Ridge and clear over to Desper Hollow, a near fifteen–square–mile area. She has been for the last seventy–some years. Raising corn and barley, or stealing corn and barley, then adding her own special ingredients—sometimes a few drops of apple or pear squeezings, sometimes a bit of squirrel blood or deer urine. Nobody could beat Granny’s shine, and folks didn’t dare try to undersell in her territory, or her grandsons would beat the life out of them. Just the way it was. Suck it up, if you don’t like it. Or move. Either one.

But right now, in this strange and shadowed moment, the smells that are independently familiar and benign are woven together into something disturbing and desperate. Pressing down on top of her, closing in beside her and beneath her.

But the anxiety is not only around her, it is within her, too. Granny’s own physical desperation is acute. She is hungry.

Intensely, insatiably hungry.

Her shoulders twitch and hunch; her hips twist and writhe. But she can’t move whatever it is that has her trapped.

Hungry.

So hungry it feels as if her stomach is coming out through her chest in search of food. With effort she slides one hand up from her hip toward her abdomen, and her pattering fingers discover that her stomach is, indeed, coming up through her chest. It is wet, sloppy, slippery, and gritty with soot.

But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the hunger. It’s hot and demanding. She has to eat.

She must eat now.

NOW.

She tries again to get up. No luck. She attempts to roll, to wriggle, to drag herself out from under the heavy pile; her heels drive into the earth but can’t get enough purchase to do any good.

Her mouth flops open to scream; all that comes out is a strangled, hissing sound. She struggles again, her shoulders bucking against the weight of the pile on top of her. The ball in the left shoulder socket pops and goes loose. Doesn’t hurt, though.

What hurts is the hunger.

What chews her up is the craving.

She has to get out to eat.

And when she does, she’s going to eat whatever she finds. She’s going to devour the first warm, living thing she encounters.