It was summer. My best friends and I had all turned 13 and 14 that year and had been friends since we were toddlers. Our parents had all gone to school together and we were like brothers. Six of us in all. We were always inseparable. We decided pretty spur of the moment to take a camping trip up in a part of Appalachia that no one called home, but we liked to explore. No, I will not be telling the actual area. We spent the afternoon setting up our tents and made a game out of seeing who could camouflage theirs the best. We had three tents split between the six of us and they were just small two man things that we covered up with limbs and twigs ––- anything we could do to pass the time. And we were all competitive as hell.
We were a good piece off the dirt roads and trails that ran through the mountains. We had gone up on dirt bikes and four wheelers, but since one had a gas smell we had parked them further down an incline. We all turned in around midnight because we were planning on paint balling early the next day. All we had with us were our paint guns and pocket knives. Rob, my tent buddy, woke me up a while later and there was light shining out into the woods. Bright lights. Very bright. I stuck my head partially out and saw that the other four were already out of their tents and gazing up at two cars. With the way we were positioned, the car lights were illuminating the area above us, but not ON us. We were about 20 feet below that trail in a bit of a holler and inside a copse of trees. We could hear some arguing, some scuffling. I'm pretty sure we were all scared shitless. Neither car engine was running and whoever was up there wasn't too happy about something.
At some point one of the people above us yelled out in pain and someone growled out "cut him again!" Let me tell you ... your flight or fight instinct kicks in pretty damn hard when you hear something like that. We were all basically on our stomachs so we wouldn't be seen, but we were HEARING something that was obviously bad and someone was now hurt. We ALL knew that one of the guys talking was this asshole white trash drug pusher who liked to think he ran the town. He was addressed by name more than once. Not a damn one of us wanted to be on his bad side or be caught. For about an hour we laid there and listened to a man being questioned, antagonized, beaten and crying out.
The guy who was hurt kept saying shit like "a curse on your family" and "no matter what you do to me, you will pay more than me."
Eventually we heard car doors closing and the cars left. Not a single one of us even breathed I don't think. We didn't know if the hurt guy had been left or what the hell was going to happen next. It felt like it took the sun about twenty hours to rise. We all stayed still and on our stomachs even after the sun was up just listening. No, I'm not proud of that or especially keen to admit it. We were cowards and I would have gladly cried like a bitch baby if I thought it would have gotten me home sooner.
We didn't hear anything so we eventually stood up and went up the incline. There was blood on the ground and it was more than apparent that someone had truly been injured. We packed our shit, got on our bikes, and got the hell out of there. My parents demanded that we tell the police what we heard and take them out there to show them.
The blood was gone. GONE. We looked everywhere and couldn't find a single damn thing except the fresh tire tracks of the cars.
A few days later this guy went into the ER where Rob's mother worked and said he had been stabbed. I guess it was infected or whatever because he didn't seek medical treatment. He wound up dying after a few days. We found out that he was the son of the strangest damn people you could ever meet ––- but meeting them wasn't something you went out of your way to do. You kinda crossed to the other side of the road if you saw them coming. They were deeeeeep ass mountain people and folks had talked about them being into Voo Doo and shit from the time I was old enough to remember it. They were those people who your parents would use to scare you into behaving well by invoking their name. Other people would comment on who they had seen coming off "their" mountain and speculate on what kind of curse or blood debt they were dealing the devil for. A lot was blamed on that family. Random accidents, miscarriages, bankruptcy, job loss, you name it.
We didn't go to the funeral, but like any small town where you don't have a thing to do in the summer, people were lingering and making a spectacle out of trying to NOT make a spectacle of themselves. What we had seen had really gotten to Rob. And he was the kind of guy who was the perfect Boy Scout and he was very active in his church. It was weighing on him. Me and Rob found ourselves on the side of the road that the funeral home was on as the casket was being brought out. The old man, either the dad or the grandfather, looked at us and Rob goes, "Sorry, sir. Sure do hate to hear of your loss."
My hand to God, I swear on all that I hold dear, I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that old crotchety man stepped right up to Rob and just stared at him. The old guy was kinda bent forward in the back and taller than Rob so it was like he was causing Rob to bend backwards a little. I don't even know what I can compare it with. It was as if neither could look away. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest with the way he was nearly nose to nose with Rob and just locking eyes with him. It felt like an eternity, but was probably just a few seconds. Damn guy had the coldest gray-blue eyes I had ever seen. Then he kind of nodded his head a little and said, "Thank you, boy. You ought to get on home now."
Within the week the white trash drug dude was in the hospital having a heart attack. He didn't come out of that hospital alive and Rob's mom said the guy did NOT die easy. His son, the only one he had, was scraped up off the mountain a few days later after flipping his truck and being crushed not far from where we had camped. Another guy who supposedly ran drugs for them fell asleep at the wheel of his car and perished as well that summer.
I think about what happened from time to time. The police knew what we had seen and heard, but the bloody stuff was gone when we got back. I think they never really believed us and I'm not sure they ever told that old man what we saw either. I kind of think that old man looked INTO Rob somehow and knew. He never laid a hand on Rob but for about two weeks after that happened ... Rob was sick as a dog. To my knowledge Rob has NEVER talked about what happened that day or what it felt like to have that old man right in his face. We're all still close and our families get together about four times a year. Out of all of us, I'd say Rob has had the most success in life. But he will not step foot in the woods with us guys. He won't hunt, he won't hike, he won't camp out, he won't even go out deep sea fishing with us once a year. Claims that we might get into too much trouble if we're all together in one spot by ourselves again. Tells us to have fun and that's about it.