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Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone

Act 5, Scene 1: Irene’s Twilight Zone See whole poem, "The Main Show," and index of scenes.  (Spotlight opens on the lobby of the theater.  Characters who remain in the lobby enter the theater, which remains dark.  Joan the nurse tells the tour guide to also go in, and the narrator hangs back awhile.) Joan: Go ahead in. I’ll stay with my patient.Anyway, this is a family…See More
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Julia Nunnally Duncan at Little Switzerland Books and Beans

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Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock

"The introduction of my new publication, Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock will be launched on Sept 14 2019 at 1:30 PM at the Henderson County Court House 500 Main Street. A talk and a brief slide show follows with refreshments afterward. …"
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Nancy Werking Poling at Black Mountain Library

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Can women rescue the planet from ecological disaster?Nancy Werking Poling will launch her new novel, WHILE EARTH STILL SPEAKS, set in WNC. She'll tell the stories behind the story: How did Mary (more crone than virgin) get into the narrative? And Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth?See More
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Flat Rock history via a road

Travelling back in time on a Flat Rock roadby Rob Neufeld             If you walk the one mile length of North Highland Lake Road in Flat Rock, you step nearly 200 years into the past.            At the east end, the 21st century reigns.  Fronting six-lane Spartanburg Highway, a super-Ingles sits above a bog; and a CVS store faces an Octopus Garden smoke shop, a chiropractor, a cell phone provider, and a six-lane avenue to I-26 a mile away .            Neither Ingles nor CVS carries the big…See More
Apr 8, 2019
Sam Mills
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  • Flat Rock, NC
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Sam Mills, writer-photographer-musician

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Reading Preference:
Novels, short storties, travel, memoirs, photography, narrative nonfiction, film, screenplays, etc.
DOG SOLDIERS - Robert Stone
POINT OF IMPACT - Stephen Hunter
FOR WHOM THE B ELL TOLLS - Ernest Hemingway
LIGHT IN AUGUST - William Faulkner
OF MICE AND MEN - John Steinbeck
RED DRAGON - Thomas Harris
HANNIBAL - Thomas Harris
The RABBBIT novels - John Updike



I thought I would give you another sample chapter from my novel, THE MONEY TREE, an action-adventure chase set right here in WNC.


To remind you, here's the synopsis from the book jacket:


Tom and Huck take on The Sopranos! Set in the wilds of Western North Carolina – near historic COLD MOUNTAIN –  the story turns on two teen brothers' chance discovery of a drug dealers' money drop in the knothole of a tree. The impoverished boys enjoy the "fruits" of "the money tree" until they are caught in the act by the mafiosi whose money it is. (At the same time, they witness the murder of a pot farmer wrongly thought by the dealers of being the one who’s robbing them.) The boys narrowly escape, setting off a wild, downriver chase through the trackless Green River Wilderness – a chase that pits unarmed country boys and armed-to-the-teeth city men in a "guerrilla" war to the death.


Again, I see my story as a counter-DELIVERANCE tale in which the mountain people are the good guys, the cityslickers the villains.


The novel is also a Young-Adult take on Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - though my book predates his by two decades. (It's a crossover novel - not a typical YA - so adults will enjoy it too.)


As this chapter opens, the boys have been robbing "the money tree" for nearly two weeks and are basking in their upscaled lifestyle. In this chapter, the do-do hits the fan: they are finally caught in flagrante robbing the money drop in the tree. At the same time, they witness the murder of a pot-farmer. The chase is joined with  a vengeance!


Tony Vendetti is the feckless mafioso who runs the WNC end of his capo-uncle's drug operation based in Atlanta. Eggar Mosely is a local man who works as mob liaison with area farmers willing to grow the new cash crop.


If you like it and want to read more, it's available as a Kindle at



The buzzards rise with laborious wingbeat, struggling into the heavy summer air. From far up the tracks, Mitch watches the pair climb the thermals above the shadeless right-of-way. Circling as though tied together, wings rocking, wingtips flared like the fingers of a hand. His eyes follow them up and up till they are just wattle-red dots against the blinding cobalt sky; until, squinting, he has to look away. Magenta blobs float on his downward ken, a vision of white rock, black crossties and silver rails.

"Must be something is dead," he tells his brother, sniffing. The sun-warmed crossties give off the chemical smell of creosote. "Hey, Lee?"


"Reckon how long it'll be 'fore we can get the car?"

"Dunno. Purty soon. We got nearly five thousand saved up."

Mitch frowns. "This is great, ain't it?"

"What's that?"

"You know—the money."

"Beats working for a living." Lee laughs. "Never knowed anybody to turn this here kinda profit from trout fishing. And never wet a line."

Mitch frowns. "Yeh, I guess so."

"I know so. What the hell's eating you?"

"Nothing, I guess."

A hundred feet on, a watermarked Sears catalog appears between the rails. As the boys approach, the wind riffles it to facing pages of farm implements. At the image of hoes and cultivators, Mitch remembers his forgotten chores with a wince. He looks up. Far away, the gleaming rails converged in a needle-bright vanishing point. (He knows from science class that this is something called an optical illusion.) Nearer, nearly a mile away, the town of Waycross is an oasis of green trees and red brick on the heat shimmer of the ballasted railbed. As he regards it, squinting, Mitch sighs. What if they just kept walking? At this pace, they would be on Main Street in twenty minutes. At Worley's, they could share a malted milk. Check out the rack for new comics. Inwardly, he groans. The nag of conscience is worse than a mother.

As always, the dogs are with them, noses to the ground. Left of the tracks, only Suellen's crooked tail is visible, moving above the sumac and sawbriars like a periscope. On the right, Mica hikes to pee on a bundle of discarded crossties. He hasn't missed them once in two weeks.

Done, he climbs back to the tracks—where suddenly, he stops to roll between the rails.

"Mica, no!" Lee screams. "Mica! No!"

When he stoops for a rock, Mica takes off, afterburners aflame.

Thus, the boys discover the buzzards' banquet, a dead opossum so bloated it looks like a Mexican piñata.

Beyond the possum, downwind, the stench is terrific, and Mitch pinches his nose together. He sounds like Donald Duck as he tells Lee, "I'm sure glad it's Friday." He frowns. "I'm gone buy me that hunting coat tomorrow."

"Me too! No more school, Mitchell! We out!"

Lee whoops and throws his cap in the air. He tries to catch it on his head but misses. Now he picks it up and examines it critically for grease stains. Satisfied, he puts it on bill backward like a catcher. Watching, Mitch reverses his own cap and squints in the sudden glare.

"Oh, man!" Lee says. "I'm gone have me some fun this summer. Me and Jenny—and you!"

"You gotta take me to all the away games. Plus, you gotta—"

"I said I would, didn't I? Jesus! Jist shut up about it, okay? Give it a rest. I remember what I said."

"Let's run."

"Nah, too hot."

Since acquiring the letter jacket, Lee has lost all concern with being seen from the highway. He practically saunters now.

"I got practice at six." He grins lustily. "Then me and Jenny's going to the drive-in. Cain't take you this time, Mitch," he hastens to add. "Sorry. It's an R. The old lady would freak."

"Come on. I'll beat you to the crossing."

"Uh-huh, you and who else? Carl Lewis?"


"How much?"

"Five dollars."



"Hate to take your money."

"You ain't got it yet."

"Count it down."

"On your mark. Get set. Goooo!"

And off they go, knapsacks banging, running toward the river road crossing. Mica and Suellen join in the race, barking, running circles around the boys. Many times before, Mitch has noted sadly that the dogs have four legs while he has only two. He considers arms and hands small compensation for Mica's greyhound speed.


An hour later, down at the tree, the brothers go through the motions with practiced nonchalance. They might have been rich kids at the mall, making a withdrawal from an ATM. Lee slips his pack and boosts his brother up. Mitch reaches in the knothole and withdraws the baggie. With barely a smile, they regard the roll of money. Mitch drops down and hands it to Lee—who unseals the top and begins to count.

"Fifty, one hundred, fifty, two hundred, fifty, three hundred, fifty—"

Suddenly, his hands stop. He frowns and looks intently up the mountainside.

Mitchell follows his gaze with palpable unease. "What, Lee?"

After a time, Lee shakes his head. "Dunno. Nothing, I reckon. Thought I heard something. Guess I'm getting—Shh!"

And clearly now, Mitch can hear it too! Men's voices coming toward them down the trail! And already the boys can hear that the voices are loud-pitched and argumentative.

"Dammit!" Lee says.

He stares up the tunneling footpath to where it turns out of sight at the first switchback. The sounds of stumbling, cursing, of tree limbs slapping at pants legs are louder now, closer, and now there is a flash of motion through the trees a turn or two above them.

"They's somebody coming!"

Lee glances frantically around the clearing and sees a log at the edge of the timber. He stuffs the baggie in his jacket pocket, and on the run, snatches up the packs and fishing rods. He grabs Mitch by a suspender, and pulling him along, stumbling, the brothers hurdle the log and fall behind it. Lee wipes off his cap, knocks Mitchell's off and pushes his head down. And pressed to the ground, the boys watch big-eyed from behind the mossy log, as seconds later, two gun-bearing men and an unarmed third stumble out of the trailhead and into the clearing.

The unarmed man is between the other two, and they each grip a red-flannel arm, sweat-stained at the armpit. He is older than the others, sixty or more, unshaven, white-haired, and wears baggy, gallused overalls over red longjohns. The pants are stagged at mid-calf so that Mitch can see—with the kind of pointless indelible detail that comes of perfect fear—that there are no socks beneath the ankle-high workboots.

The men who escort him are a study in contrasts: North and South, city and country, thick and thin, short and tall. The long-legged countryman carries a rifle under one arm, a long octagon-barrelled squirrel gun; but the other man, the city-slicker, has a snubnose revolver that hangs from a ring-encrusted hand. The boys recognize the country fellow as Eggar Mosely from in town, a family friend, a painter who sometimes works with their father, but his stocky companion, a full foot shorter than Eggar's six-five, is a stranger.

Now, as the men come up to the oak, they give the old man a shove, and he sprawls with a groan in the dust at the base of the tree.

Quickly, he sits up and raises his arms defensively. His fear and lion's mane of white hair give him the look of a wild man, a Ben Gunn.

"Tony, now please!" he tells the city man. "I ain't took no money. I swear on my mother's grave. Wunt none to take. I'm telling you'uns the truth."

"Bull!" Eggar tells him. He trains his rifle on the old man's head and draws back the hammer with a click the boys can hear across the clearing. "Was to. Put her there myself."

"Eggar, now I swear to you'uns! I ain't took nothing what weren't mine. Wunt no money. Not since end of May or thereabouts. The hole was allus empty. Jist like I told you."

"And I say you're a lying sumbitch."

Now the man called Tony scales the tree, fells the empty knothole and drops to the ground. In two strides, he crosses to the old man, cursing, his face crimson with rage.

"Ante up, pops—now—and we'll be friends again. Else me and Eggar's gone take it outta your hide. Ain't we, Eggar?"

Eggar nods and gives the old man an evil orange grin. He is about forty, dressed like the man in overalls and workboots. He wears a red Massey-Ferguson cap, and like his overalls and boots, it is paint-spattered. (Of the dozen or so colors, white seems to predominate.) He is three days from his last shave and three decades from his last visit to the dentist. His remaining teeth bespeak a fondness for Red Man, and right on cue, he spits in the dust, and his quid beads up, just inches from the old man's liver-spotted hand.

Of about the same age, Tony is a New Yorker with a heavy Bronx or Brooklyn accent, nasal as Eggar's, but full of dems, deeze and doze. He wears mirror sunglasses in the aviator style, and is well-dressed, dandified, if your taste runs to polyester: wide-lapelled white suit, tasseled loafers and a loud aloha shirt that looks to Mitchell like some sort of surreal jungle camouflage. The top three buttons are undone, revealing thick black chest hair and yards of gold chain.

Now, without warning, he kicks the old man in the side, and he rolls away with a groan. "You are one lying mother, you know that?" Tony admonishes him with the two-inch barrel. "Now where the hell is it? Ain't got all day."

Behind the log, Mitch gulps, eyes wide in his bloodless face. Sweat stands out on Lee's ashen forehead, and dead leaves cling to his cheek. A piece of Mason jar digs into his ribs, but the pain seems somehow miles away.

"Y'all listen to me now: wunt no money!" the old man sobs, holding his side, gritting his teeth. He has the perfect dentition of toothlessness. "I swear to you, Tony! I ain't took it! I swear on my mother's grave!"

"I heard enough BS 'bout your old lady's grave. Hear me? It's your grave we talking here. Where's my money at? No pot, no money. That's the way it works. Ain't it, Eggar?"

Eggar nods.

"Ain't no bull, Tony!" the old man weeps. To Eggar, talking fast, he say, "Eggar, now please! Tell him! You ain't never knowed me to steal afore! Have ya? Eggar?"

Eggar spits, again just missing the man. "First time fer ever'thin', I reckon."

"Eggar ain't gone help you none, pops. Eggar's pissed off too. Ain't you, Eggar?"

Eggar  nods.

The old man turns back to Tony and his words fairly tumble out. "How come me to steal from you'uns? Huh? How come? We had us a good thing going, right? Pardners!"

Tony withdraws a silver flask from inside his coat and takes a drink. He caps it one-handed and wipes his mouth with the back of his gun-bearing hand.

"Till you went and got greedy on us."

"Tony, I swear to you'uns! Swear to God!" The old man is on his knees now, his hands clasped prayerfully before him. "I ain't took nothing! Eggar, tell him!"

"I ain't gone tell him squat. You're the one what needs to tell him."

"Okay," Tony says. "Let's take him down to the river. Maybe a little cold water'll refresh his memory."

"No, no! Please, God! Eggar, don't! Y'all listen to me now! Wunt no money!"

With the old man backwards between them, kicking and screaming, they half-drag, half-walk him to the river. The boys watch, trembling, from the edge of the clearing.

"We'll baptize his cracker ass," Tony says. He raises his free arm—the one with the pistol—heavenward in a parody of televangelism. "Gone wash away them sins of deceit. Evil spirit come out!"

As part of the headrace above the falls, the river runs deep and green with a sandy beach along the near shore. Eggar drops his rifle on the mossy bank, and the men wade in. Waist-deep, with the old man between them, they do indeed look like tent preachers preparing for a baptism, a complete immersion. Tony has his revolver, and now he presses the muzzle to the old man's silver temple.

"Now I'm a reasonable man—ain't I, Eggar?"

Eggar nods.

"And I'm gone axe you just once more. Nice. Where's my frigging money at?"

Again, the old man clasps his hands. "Tony, I ain't took it!" As he looks from one to the other, his watery blue eyes wall with fear. "I swear it, swear to God! Eggar, please! Tell him!"

"Somebody took our money. Wudn't inflation, was it, Eggar?"

Sadly, Eggar shakes his head. "Not hardly."

He spits, and the oily quid strings out in the current. Downstream, a trout strikes at it, rolling, white belly flashing in the afternoon sun.

"Well, hit weren't me!" Desperate, talking fast, he grabs the tobacco-stained bib of Eggar's overalls. "Tell you what! Tell you what! I seed kid tracks all 'round 'at 'ere tree. I did! Dog too. Look fer yourself."

Across the clearing, the boys again taste the ammonia reflux of fear. Mitch shivers as from a chill. Lee licks his lips and swallows hard. The brothers hug the ground with all the passion of soldiers in a firefight.

"Kid tracks, huh?" Tony grips the man by the suspenders and shakes him with such vigor his uppers fly out. "How 'bout tire tracks? Huh? Maybe some woman-tracks?" Tony snorts. "Wid high heels? Hey, Egg, maybe Bigfoot got our bread." Tony shakes his head. "Nah, pops, you gotta do better'n that. You have a nice swim."

And they push him under the silt-discolored water and hold him there a long moment … legs flailing … arms waving … arthritic fingers clawing at the blue sky … till at length, they pull him up, dripping, and hold him by the suspenders between them.

He coughs and sputters and gasped for breath. Water pours from his nose and mouth. His wild white hair is plastered down now, revealing a pink hypertense bald spot.

Tony laughs. "That cold water clear your head? Better'n a week in the country, right?"

With the pistol, he hits him in the stomach, and the old man doubles over, groaning. Together, he and Eggar straighten him up.

"One more time: Where the hell's my money at? Talk to me, dammit."

"I swear to you'uns!" the old man says in a spasm of coughing. His face is scarlet. "I ain't took it! Swear to God I ain't! Wunt nothing to—"

Again, they push him under, and again, his sticklike arms wave, his legs thrash, his hands plucked weakly at Tony's gaudy shirtfront. Eggar stands at arm's length to avoid the lunging legs—when suddenly, the man's exertions cease, his bony arms wilt.

Quickly, they pull him up and see the staring eyes. Water pours from his mouth, and now his nose begins to bleed.

At the sight of the corpse, Mitch whimpers and pushes his face to the ground. Tears leak from Lee's crimped eyes. Such is the depth of his shudder that the leaves adhering to his pale cheek fall free.

"Christ!" Tony says. "Well, this here sumbitch ain't telling nobody nothing now. Dammit! Dammit to hell!"

They drop the old man with a big-bodied splash, and he floats away face-down. Out in midstream, the current seizes him, turns him gently around and sweeps him head-first downriver. In the discolored water, his pale calves are visible to the knees. A moment later, as the boys watch in horror, he sinks.

Eggar shakes his head. "I reckon he never had it."

"Looks like it. Well, somebody's frigging got it. It didn't climb down that tree and go to town." Tony looks toward the oak. "You ever see any tracks around that tree?"

"Never looked. Hit uz allus nighttime."

"Well, hit ain't nighttime now. Come on."

The men wade out of the river, Tony fussing with his ruined shoes, and climb the mossy bank. Eggar, who has outpaced Tony, stoops to pick up his rifle. Standing, he withdraws his foil tobacco pouch and watches sadly as brown water runs from it. He tosses it away, and when Tony comes abreast, they start for the oak. They are coming straight for the boys, and Mitch and Lee press their faces to the ground, eyes crimped tight and trembling.

As the men approach, they can hear the squilch of Tony's sodden shoes, and the tiny tambourine of pocket change in Eggar's steady gait.

But eyes fixed on the tree, the men walk right past them and on across the clearing to the oak. There, they crouch and begin to comb the ground. It takes only seconds for Eggar to find the lozenge-soled footprint.

"Yo. Here we go."

The men kneel beside the track. As Tony studies it, he drinks from his silver flask. With a nudge, he offers it to Eggar, who declines with a faint shake of the head. Tony smiles at the Bible-belt rebuff and helps himself to another longer swallow.

"Well, whadaya make of it, Tonto?" He caps the flask one-handed and puts it away. The cap is attached to the neck by a short silver chain.

Eggar spits. "Kid track. Looks to be two of 'em. Big un and lit'l'un. Dog too." He spits. "Big dog."

"Yeh? So? Gimme the short version."

Eggar shrugs. "Could be fishermen. Warden stocked this here crick Tuesday. School's out now. Near about it."

Abruptly, Tony stands. "Screw it! Come on, let's go. We falling behind. Frigging farmers!"

Eggar stands, and with a final look around the clearing, the men turn toward the trailhead.

The brothers hug the ground, relief already in their ashen faces, the beginnings of a smile—when Mica and Suellen bound into the clearing back from the hunt.

At the sight of the strange men, they begin to bark.

Eggar kneels and calls to them, and the barks give way to low growls. Mica comes up to him then, tail wagging, and licks his outstretched hand. Eggar begins to gently fondle his ears, talking to him in a low, crooning voice.

"Well now, looky here. Who belongs to y'all? Hmm? Whose is yourn? Whose is yourn?"

While Eggar looks for tags on Mica's red collar, Tony begins to inspect the clearing again. Kneeling, he examines the track. Standing, his eyes scan the clearing and the woods on the flank of the mountain.

Mitchell's whimpers are audible now, and Lee's eyes are clamped tight, tears leaking. Both boys tremble violently.

Abruptly, Eggar stands and claps his hands. "Hunt 'em up, boy! Hunt 'em up!"

And nose to the ground, Mica runs straight to his masters and begins to bark. He dances around them, baying, tail wagging in joyous reunion.

The brothers jump up and turn to run—but quickly, Tony and Eggar brings their guns to bear on them.

"Hold her right there!" Eggar walks toward them, gun up. "Stand, I said! Move and I'll—hold it, I said! I ain't joking neither!"

The boys freeze. Fearfully, they watch the men's approach. Mitch is crying now, and Lee's sweaty clothes cling to his bony frame. There are red twig marks on one pale cheek where he has pressed his face to the ground.

As the men come up, Eggar recognizes the boys, and for a moment, he closes his eyes; his hands tremble as he lowers the rifle. Now he rallies on a sharp intake of breath and forces a smile.

"Well, I'll be," he tells Tony, all hale and hearty. "I thought so. Hit's 'em Rainey boys from in town." He nods neighborly to the brothers, a wooden effort to keep it light, casual. "Mitch, Lee."

Reprieved, the boys manage a nod. Mitch sniffles and wipes his nose with the back of his hand, smearing his tear-streaked face. When Mica pushes against him, whining, Mitchell nearly falls. Like Suellen, the dog can sense something is amiss: a threat to his masters in the tone of voice, the body language, the smell of fear. He moves again between boys and men, whining, not understanding. Eggar is a familiar smell, yet his best boy is crying.

"Hey, M-Mr. Mosely," Lee says at last.

"How's yer daddy? Staying busy?"

Lee gulps. "N-nah, no sir, cain't find m-much work these days."

"Know the feeling, son. Painter-work been real scarce here lately. Past year or so." Eggar spits. "I give it up."

"Wh-what's Lon up to these d-days?"

Eggar smiles. "Well, he best be hoeing corn this evening—if'n he knows what's good fer him."

Tony can't believe his ears. "Who the hell's Lon?"

"My oldest young'un. Him and Lee come up together."

Tony rolls his eyes. "Old home week. You are breaking my heart." He lowers the revolver and smiles at the boys. "What's up, fellas?"

"N-nothing much," Lee says. He can see his big-nosed reflection in the man's sunglasses. "J-jist a little trout f-fishing 'fore dark." He wipes his face with a trembling hand. "Ain't b-biting though."

"That so?" Tony says, eyebrows raised, the grin on his suntanned face a mirthless rictus. "Fish ain't biting but the mosquitoes sure is? That about it?"

"Yes s-sir," Lee tells him. The man's grin maintains its frosty wattage, and Lee notes absently that his teeth are capped. A Harley logo has been ghosted into one. When Lee drops his eyes, he sees a mushroomed bullet in acrylic hanging from one of the man's gold chains.

Tony salutes. "'Yes sir.' We know how that is, don't we, Egg? What you boys using for bait—tens or twenties?"


"Search 'em," he tells Eggar.

"Ah, Tony, they ain't got no—"

"Search 'em, I said!"

Eggar pats Mitch down and finds a pack of gum; but when he frisks Lee, his groping—and chewing—suddenly cease. He looks Lee in the eye as he withdraws the baggie. Eggar pales beneath his painter's tan.

As Tony counts the money, the color rises in his face. "Ain't biting, huh? Why you thieving little punks."

"You boys is in a world of hurt." Eggar trembles in his agitation. "You hear me? How come you'uns to do a thing like this here?"

Tony snatches Mitch by the suspender. With the handgun, he indicates Lee. "Bring him down to the river."


"You heard me. These here boys is gone have a little fishing accident. Them orange rocks is slick. They gone fall and hit they heads."

Eggar grips Lee's suspender, but tells Tony, "Nah, Tony, we cain't do it. Them's Cleve Rainey's boys. They be hell to pay fer this."

"It's gotta be done. Hear me? They seen us. You wanna end up in the gas chamber?"

"Dammit!" Eggar cries. He shakes Lee by the suspender. "How come you boys didn't tend to yer own bidness? Huh? How come you to get mixed up in a thing like this here?"

"Save the sermon for the funeral. Let's get this done."

And with that, the men drag the boys, kicking and screaming, to the river. Lee digs in his heels till Eggar's backhand puts him on the ground. Mitch screams, and Tony slaps him silent. The brothers sit up, stunned from the force of the blows. Mitchell's nose is bleeding heavily. By the suspenders now, the men bobsled them backward toward the river. The boys lunge and twist to little effect.

By now, the dogs have joined the melee, swirling about them, barking and growling, charging in to be kicked away, and a great cloud of dust rises in the cabin clearing. Gunshot dogs will be hard to explain; summer gunfire will draw attention; so Tony shouts them back, kicks at them, flings a stick, a rock, the lidded half of a Mason jar that draws blood on Mica's lathered flank.

Yet still, the dogs swirl about them like razorbacks they have brought to bay, feinting, flanking, sallying in. Their muzzles are white with foam. The bark is the frantic, high-pitched, treeing bark, and it echoes up the river valley; cuts through the white noise of the thundering falls.

When the foursome splashes backward into the river, roiled silt makes brown clouds in the green water. From the bank, the dogs continue their frenzied barking. Instinct and encounters with raccoons have taught them they are vulnerable in water, and so they run up and down the bank in a literal lather.

The cold water revives the boys, and Lee renews his struggle. Eggar wrenches him sharply around and pushes his head down. Mitch stands stock-still at Tony's side, frozen with fear. When his bowels released, Tony steps away, arm's length, his nose wrinkled with distaste. Behind the sunglasses, a wince of sympathy touches his hard brown eyes.

"I don't like this, Tony. Not one little bit, I don't."

"Well, it ain't my idea of a good time. Shut up your crying and do it. Do it, dammit! Do it!"

And they force the brothers under the icy water! And underwater, bubbles stream from Mitchell's nose and mouth as he kicks and lunges, but Tony is just too strong for him. And bubbles stream from Lee's mouth as he claws and punches at Eggar's thick wrists, but he can't loosen the viselike grip.

And topside, Tony and Eggar bear down, sidesaddle to dodge the flailing arms and sneaker-shod feet.

It is then that the men hear the growls and look up in time to see the airborne dogs. Arms up, they take the full force of their weight, and with a breaching splash, men and dogs go into water so cold it burns.

When they feel the hands release, the boys kick free and swim for it underwater.


They surface, coughing up river, gasping for air, fifty feet from shore. Out of the trees, the falls are summer thunder; even a hundred yards upstream, the river trembles from the shock waves of falling water. Beyond the sand shoals, the water deepens by shades of green; the current stiffens; the temperature drops accordingly. Mitch thrashes with his arms, trying to keep his head in the dry, but the shock of the spring-fed river, the weight of his shoes holds him in the vertical. By instinct, he swims hard upriver, arms slapping, and the current races him backwards toward the falls.

            Ahead, Lee swims for the far shore with all his strength, but in the sodden jacket, his arms are lead. Though numb with cold, he can feel all along his body the shudder of falling water. As he nears midstream, he glances downriver. Beyond the green-glass lip, spray billows into the sunlight, wide and white as a cumulus cloud. The leaves on the trees that flank the lip wave in the updraft and drip with spray. When the concussion pops his eardrums, warm water runs from his ears, and the volume of the falls redoubles.

Fearfully, he glances back at the homeplace. The men have regained their feet and are lunging, sloshing toward the bank. Mica and Suellen are waiting, teeth bared, barks soundless beneath the thunder of the falls. Lee sees Eggar reach his rifle just as the current sweeps him out of sight.

Now gunshots roar, and Lee hears a dog yelp in pain. Moments later, he sees the men running down the riverbank footpath. Tony's white jacket flashes behind the rhododendrons. There is a break in the thicket just where the springhead entered the river, and there, the men stop to fire. Lee ducks as bullets spang into the water around him; glanced, ripping, through the trees on the bank beyond.

He jackknifes and dives and frog-kicks toward the far shore. Though he angles hard upstream, in the powerful current, he feels himself steadily losing ground. A murky glance at the washboard bottom confirms it.

The brass gnats of anoxia are swarming before his eyes when at last he surfaces. He is facing upriver and his water-blurred vision is instantly filled with sawlog. Already quickening as it approaches the falls, the half moon of its butt-end with the burned-in Stilson logo races down on him like a train.

Reflexively, he lunges sideways and dives to miss it.

Underwater, he feels the rough bark graze his back as it passes.

When he surfaces, the log is already out of reach. "Mitchell! The log!"

Lee swims hard downriver, and as he comes alongside his brother, he grips a suspender. He tugs him along, sidestroking, and in seconds, the boys catch up with the log and duck behind it. Eggar has the range now, and bullets thud into the wood with explosions of sap and bark. Tony is beside him, hunched in the combat position, firing, and the leaves on the rhodies in front of him jerk in the muzzle blast. The snubnose report of the big magnum adds a high note to the roar of the falls.

The men are firing end-on now, the log affords little protection, and so, straining, the boys try to swing it end-around to shield them from the bank. Furiously, they kick their legs in an effort to make the far shore. But the log is just too heavy, the current just too strong, and before they can reach midstream, the glassy green water bends as though molten, and boys and log are swept into the headrace of the high falls.

As they reach the lip and the great log seesaws down, Lee has a spray-blurred vista of the river beyond; the rope of the road steel-coupled by the bridge; then, stomach in his throat, gravity claims him. Instinctively, he embraces the log. Beside him, Mitch holds fast, his soprano shriek piercing the roar. At the last teetering instant, Lee glances down and sees the phone-pole sawlog standing in the cascade. It lies directly in his brother's path.

A microsecond later and they are falling, boys and log, arms and legs windmilling, banks passing by in a green-painted blur. The great trunk stands between them as it had in the forest, and Mitchell is trying to climb it.

They land feet-first in the boiling cauldron of the infall, their screams lost in the thundering monolith of falling water. The roar is suddenly silenced as they plunge deep, deep in a column of blinding bubbles.

Underwater, the river shudders from the sheer tonnage of falling water. The boys are bounced off the scoured riverbed. Cartwheeled upstream in the furious undertow. Slammed by the backwash into the cliff-face. Rocketed sideways in the sand-mist current. Tumbling, they struggle to right themselves; to fight off the looming rocks and splintered spearlike logs. Lost terminal tackle, hook, line and sinker, streams from the timbers. Finning trout shoot away at their approach. A Coke can, sand-filled, bounces in place. Nearer the edge of the pool, a green bicycle lies on its side, half-buried in the sand, front wheel spinning, a faded piece of trading card still clothespinned to the fork.


Lee surfaces first, lungs bursting, gulping in air. The feet-first landing has driven water into his sinuses, and his whole head throbs with it, one with the shuddering river. Water-blinded, he looks frantically around for his brother.

            "Mitch! Mitch!"

            He is at the center of the cyclone, downstream of the falls and buoyed by the upwelling. The roar is all concussion; the air so thick with driven spray he gasps for breath. In the creaming froth of white water, the piling current breaks over him like surf, yet the backwash holds him fast. He screams to be heard as he turns left and right and left. It is like trying to see through a thunderstorm.

            "Mitch! Mitchell!"

At last, his brother breaks the surface, barely a dozen feet away. Coughing the seal-bark of swallowed water. Sobbing for air. Laterally, Lee can move, and he kicks free and swims to Mitch and takes him by a suspender. The boys are trapped in the upwelling, and Lee struggles break free of the current as he pulls Mitchell toward shore. River Road lies just up the littered embankment. They can outrun the men there; vanish into the second growth; circle toward town.

Now, as Lee watches, a car passes above, visible only as a roostertail of dust. Moments later, the green pickup flashes through the triangular trusses of the bridge below. As it exits the bridge and turns downriver, Lee sees two boys in the truck bed, sitting against the cab, drinking Cokes. He waves and screams, and when the boys see him, one raises his can in hallo; the other gives Lee the finger. Both wear blue Asheville Angels caps. Now, as Lee watches, the pickup tows its dust devil out of sight, and the boys high-five behind a mist of sand.

"Mitchell! The road!"

There is a boulder in the upwelling that breaks the backwash. When finally, Lee reaches it, the boys kick free, spin around it and sluice spreadeagle into the pool.

Side-slipping in the still-powerful current, they swim for the roadside shore.


By now the men have reached the falls and stand on the granite capstone high above the river. Tony smiles as he regards the thundering white water a hundred feet below. Through the soles of his loafers, he feels the granite tremble. Now he looks toward the tail of the pool and sees the logs becalmed in the eddies, their ends white-splintered. Tony's grin widens to include a gold eyetooth. End of story. He pockets the snubnose and turns away.

            "Tony! Look!"


The moment the boys clear the falls, bullets pock the water around them. Strike midstream boulders and glance, whistling, through the riverbank trees. Limbs fall, bullet-lopped. Shredded leaves pinwheel to earth. From one great hickory, a flight of starlings flushes, wheeling like grackles, into the air.

From his sidestroke, Lee looks up. Unawares, they have swum into full view of the men. Tony's revolver leaps as he pulled off another round. The bullet misses widely. But when Eggar fires, his old gun leaking smoke from muzzle and breech, Lee's ears ring from the near miss. Driven water stings his cheek, mists his vision.

Quickly, they change directions and kick toward the far shore. They swim parallel to the falling water, keeping to the boil of the current-deadening outfall. For a time, the lip of the cascade will hide them from view.

            They are nearing midstream when a line of shadow darkens the water before them. Lee looks up in time to see a great sawlog heave up like a catapult as it passes the lip, kick butt-end-first off the face of the falls and kaber down on them in a high looping arc. In an instant, black eclipses the blue sky.

            With a scream, Lee lunges backward to cover his brother. With a powerful kick, he jerks him bodily toward shore. Behind him, the log hits so closely, it slaps the soles of his shoes. The breach sucks them under in a porpoising backflip that sharpens the throb in Lee's sinuses.

            They surface, rocked in the wave sent out by the log, buoyed high, spun around. Lee blinks away the water and glances downriver. The log is already fifty feet away. Without hesitation, he swims after it. Mitch follows, arm-weary, floundering in his brother's propwash, dodging his flailing sneakers.

As the boys swim out into the pool, they come back into view of the men. Both have reloaded, the angle of fire is near vertical and bullets crater the water around them. They strike with a whock more concussion than sound.

Swimming with the current now, it takes them only seconds to reach the sawlog. A collision with a boulder has set it on a bias and given them a screen. They duck under and surface behind it. Hand over hand, Lee hauls himself to the downstream end.

"Help me, Mitchell! Swing it around! Kick your feet!"

The boys strain to turn the log against the current; across the current to make a shield. They are in the tailwater of the pool now, current quickening, and though Tony's snubnose is useless at that range, bark and sap fly as rounds from Eggar's rifle strikes the log again and again. The spruce vibrates with each impact, and the Christmasy smell of pine resin fills the air. At one near miss, Lee winces as a splinter is driven under his scalp. He ducks and pushes his brother down.

"Dammit, Mitchell! Keep your head down!"

Finally, out in midstream, they swoop into the headrace of the pool below. There, the current seizes the log, swings it heavily inline and canoes it swiftly downriver.

Another endless minute, and the brothers are out of range.


From his vantage high atop the falls, high above boys and log, Tony watches their escape. Watches the black log, bucking and veering, down the glittering river. The boys hang from either side with just their heads above water, and the sleek seal-heads bob and bounce like they are on a roller coaster. As he watches, the log goes out of sight around a bend in the river; the white-splintered end vanishes like taillights into the gloaming of the gorge.


When the gunfire finally ceases, Lee elbows onto the log and looks back. The men are just refracted silhouettes now; cave-art stick men struck by the declining sun. (Eggar's cradled rifle sharpens the illusion.) With relief, Lee watches them recede. Somehow, they have made it. Still, the men lie between them and home. Supper is on the table now, as distant as if it lay in another galaxy. Lee flashes on an image of his mother, flour on her forearms, watching the kitchen clock, and inwardly groans.

At length, he turns and takes in the way ahead. The river has narrowed, deepened, cleared itself of rocks. Even so, Lee can feel the muscular current all along his legs. On the upstream side, the icy overalls cling to his body.

Now, as the log rounds the bend, it opens the river before them. Ahead, two squat cliffsides flank the channel, sandstone abutments for the rust-streaked bridge above. Together, cliffs and bridge form a dark gateway, and the current wrinkles white as it sluices into shadow. A single line of graffiti adorns the bridge's deck beam: John 3:14. All things considered, Lee would have preferred John 357. But he quickly pushes the sacrilege from his mind. No sense adding fuel to the fire. Lee, who is unacquainted with Pascal's Wager, takes to it natural-like.

As they enter the tunnel, he looks up. Swallows' nests hang from the black bridge timbers, and pale sheets of dust still sift down from the passage of the pickup. There is a river gauge in the abutment on the right, and Lee sees the spinning conical cups that measure the current. Beside it, a graduated glass pipe reads the water level. Both are inset to protect them from the logs. Deeper now, he whiffs creosote, sun-warm. Beyond the bridge, water glitters in sunlight, white darkening to emerald as the river widens to meet its banks. Virgin spruce and balsam and hemlock line both shores. From the end-on perspective, they seem thick and limbless as palisades.

When finally the boys barge into daylight, Lee glances at his little brother. Teeth chattering, Mitch regards him with wide expectant eyes. No help there. Well, go with the flow. Isn't that the motto of Waycross High? And so Lee sighs and lets the river take them.


"Dammit!" For a long moment, the men stand immobile, watching the empty river. Eggar's dirty face is slack with dread. Tony glares at the riverbend, mouth working, as though it alone is the cause of the debacle. Already, his mind is awash with the rejected options of damage control. "Dammit to hell!"


"What we gone do, Tony?"


Abruptly, Tony turns away. "Let's get the others."




Hey, I'm a local guy, back home to stay after most of the last 40 years away.


The University of Chicago's literary magazine, EUPHONY JOURNAL, recently published a memoir from my boyhood here. I've put a link to it at the end of this bio. It opens the pdf of the magazine and takes a little time, so be patient.


It's been a real odyssey - first to Chapel Hill as an undergrad in our great journalism school – AP recently rated it America's best - then on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for grad school - just in time to be blown out of bed by the SDS Weather Underground's bombing of the university's Army Math Research Center across the street from where I lived.


Recently, I wrote a 10,000-word memoir of that event for the same EUPHONY JOURNAL, and the link to it is also below.


From Madison, I moved to the counterculture's other extreme - the elite resort outpost of Hilton Head Island, SC. I was there 12 years, working in journalism, commercial photography and finally, real-estate marketing.


I was what's called a "launch" expert - someone adept at bringing new projects to the marketplace.


FYI – and in the unlikely event you're interested - here's the "algorithm" for "launch marketing": you're trying to create a brand so desirable that demand outstrips supply – which creates urgency to buy and supports price-per-square-foot and speed of product absorption. I was trained in Intrawest's "Envisioning & Storytelling" approach – about which you have no interest whatsoever.


Over the course of my 36-year career, I launched nearly 80 major projects and of all kinds - from oceanfront condo towers to townhome projects to equestrian communities to marina villages to condo hotels to patio-home projects to mini-estate "neighborhoods" to beach clubs, golf clubs, etc. All in all, it wasn't writing – but it was fun and lucrative.


I was in Atlanta for a couple of years, working as a tennis photographer and an instructor at the Art Institute of Atlanta (Advanced Darkroom and Landscape Photography).


Later, I returned to Hilton Head where I resumed my marketing and commercial photography.


In 1988, thanks to Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986 – which demolished the rental condo as a tax shelter and butrned down resort real estate - I moved to Amelia Island, FL, off the coast near Jacksonville to be the PR director - and later, the real-estate-marketing direct – for  Amelia Island Plantation.


In 1995, I moved to Destin, FL, to be the real-estate-marketing director for Intrawest's Sandestin Resort. In 1999, I left Sandestin to become a freelance marketing consultant. Until the Bush-Bernanke Train Wreck – not country roads – brought me home a year ago, I launched numberous real-estate projects from Panama City Beach, FL to Biloxi, MS.


Three months after I arrived in WNC, BP's deep-well blow-out added tar balls to sugar-sand beaches. The Bush-Bernanke Train Wreck had been rear-ended by a fast freight!


By now, surely – barring a history of frontal-lobe trauma - you're wondering what a marketing prostitute is doing on a writing site. Well, listen up and I'll tell you.


Long ago – after the slaves wages of teaching and newspaper work – I came to a realization: For the serious writer – while struggling toward "breakthrough" - the thing to do with one's "bread-winning" was to figure out a way – i.e., a profession – that allowed you to earn the maximum possible incomes for the minimum number of hours expended so as to maximize the hours available to write. Ta-dah! A marketing guru was born!


So while I was producing "master-concept brochures" for The Anchorage or Southwinds III – and I was deadly serious about it and always did a professional  job - I was also writing away.


I completed my first novel in 1984 - while also becoming a widely published writer-photographer in the areas of outdoor sports, boating, golf and, best of all, travel. By the mid-1990s, travel writing had taken me to nearly 40 countries.


They say for us Boomers - who had the good fortune to be part of the counterculture - that life after the Radical 60s/70s was all anticlimax. Thanks to travel writing and photography, I'm here to tell you that was not so – for me, at least.


I've put a link to one of my online travel articles below – "GOTHIC GHENT (BELGIUM)."


But even better, I was writing novels, screenplays, short stories, memoirs, narrative nonfiction, interviews (John Jakes, Walter Cronkite), creative nonfiction, etc.


In 1999, I got an LA manager who managed to get one of my scripts optioned – THE MAN IN THE WHITE STRAW SKIMMER. As usual with Hollywood script purchases, it never got produced. Only one in 30 options ever get to "green light," and this one was upended by the writers strike in 2001. But still, it was a writing milestone. I was thrilled!


Here's the book-jacket bio from my WNC-set, action-adventure novel, THE MONEY TREE, available as a Kindle Book at


Articles, fiction and photos for the SATURDAY EVENING POST, GRAY'S SPORTING JOURNAL, GOLF and TENNIS magazines, MOTOR BOATING & SAILING, HOME & AWAY, the DENVER POST, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and websites have taken Sam Mills to nearly 40 foreign countries.


In addition, his work has appeared in the literary magazines of both the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago.


Born in Brownsville, Texas, Mills grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, locale for his teen action-adventure novel, THE MONEY TREE


He attended UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

He is a former staff member of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS, the SAVANNAH NEWS-PRESS, the ISLAND PACKET and ISLANDER magazine, and for a number of years was the Hilton Head Island, SC, sports stringer for both AP and UPI.


For a time, he was a photography instructor at the Art Institute of Atlanta.


He is a winner of both the University of Wisconsin short story contest and the Ned Ramsaur Travel Writing Award, given annually by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to the State's top travel writer.

He now lives near Asheville, NC, and can be reached at


The story itself is an "over the top" re-imagining of growing up in Green River Cove near Saluda, NC. From the same book jacket:


Tom and Huck take on The Sopranos! Set in the wilds of Western North Carolina – near historic COLD MOUNTAIN –  the story turns on two teen brothers' chance discovery of a drug dealers' money drop in the knothole of a tree. The impoverished boys enjoy the "fruits" of "the money tree" until they are caught in the act by the mafiosi whose money it is. (At the same time, they witness the murder of a pot farmer wrongly thought by the dealers of being the one who’s robbing them.) The boys narrowly escape, setting off a wild, downriver chase through the trackless Green River Wilderness – a chase that pits unarmed country boys and armed-to-the-teeth city men in a "guerrilla" war to the death.


There's been some serious movie interest in the novel. Jack and Joe Nasser of Nasser Entertainment tried to set it up in '03 – I did the script for them – but I guess all the special effects and action made it just too expensive. An idie prodco called Riparian Entertainment also has an interest. I have an actor attached to it: muscian-actor Bubba Lewis, star of the new MTV remake of the hit British TV show, THE INBETWEENERS, has been interested since he was 10 and young enough to play the younger brother. Now he's 22 and will soon be too old to play the older brother. Such are the perils of movie-making!


Finally, I've been a guitarist since 1965. I'm a little rusty now, due to the press of other interests. I'm still good at bluegrass - the People's Key of Greasy G being pretty easy - and I've written a numbrer of bluegrass songs. I had a Martin D-35 - a miraculous creation - for a time, but I sold it. Steel strings are too hard on the fingertips if you don't play enough to maintain your calluses. I get along these days with a Spanish classical that I bought in Mexicco City during one of my trips.


 Here are the links to my two memoirs in the University of Chicago literary magazine.


This first memoir, "The First of December," is set here in Asheville. I'm on page 41.


This second is set in Madison, Wisconsin, where I went to grad school. It is an account of my being blown out of bed by the SDS Weather Underground's bombing of the University's Army Math Research Center as part of the Vietnam War protest.


Here's an example of my travel writing. I wrote this originally for the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION Sunday Travel Section. This is an online reprint. I don't know what happened to the photos. I'll post some of my travel pix under photos here. In fact, I'll post these. Watch for Ghent, Belgium pix.


Here's an interview with me on MediaQuire:


Sam Mills's Photos

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At 10:22am on June 10, 2011, Mary A. Berger said…

Hello! Hope you're enjoying your time on The Read. The amount of talent and information here is amazing. When you have a moment, come on over and visit my blog at Mattie's Mysteries. Hope to see you soon!

At 8:57am on March 12, 2011, Tipper said…

Sam-really enjoyed looking at your photos!



Sam Mills's Blog

Another chapter from THE MONEY TREE. Enjoy!

As promised, here's another chapter from my literary, action-adventure novel, THE MONEY TREE, set on Green River here in Polk and Henderson Counties. This chapter is from deeper in the book.

Posted on August 14, 2013 at 4:52am

"Goldstein's Sporting Goods" in Eclectica magazine.

Hey, my memoir, “Goldstein’s Sporting Goods,” has apppeared in the summer number of  Eclectica (, a well-respected literary magazine.

“Goldstein’s” is set in 1959 in our area. Here’s a teaser from my query letter:

“I've attached a memoir/essay that I feel provides insight into the…


Posted on August 3, 2013 at 4:30am

Another chapter of THE MONEY TREE!


I thought I would give you another sample chapter from my novel, THE MONEY TREE, an action-adventure chase set right here in WNC.


To remind you, here's the synopsis from the book jacket:


Tom and Huck take on The Sopranos! Set in the wilds of Western North Carolina – near historic COLD MOUNTAIN –  the story turns on two teen brothers' chance discovery of…


Posted on April 24, 2012 at 2:49am


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