The Holler

The holler is a small valley nestled between the mountains. It is where the light of day filters through branches of towering pines and ancient oaks.  It is where voices bounce off the hills and echo throughout the valley.   It is where I have lived for most of my life.

At one time I considered myself fairly blessed to have acquired a slice of heaven in this small wooded area, but as the days have flowed into months and the months into years I now wonder if I truly found paradise.

When I was a young man of very little life experience, I dreamed of a blissful utopia free of judgment and hate filled voices.  I dreamed of a place where true happiness was attainable.

After searching many years for this mythical location, I was to the point of realizing the frivolity of believing such a place could ever exist when I met an elderly gentleman at the train station.  In the midst of our friendly conversation he mentioned a town where everyone was welcome and no one was ever turned away – even a social misfit could find happiness he said.  I blanched at the word misfit but it was a common enough word and I had heard it all my life.   This fine gentleman piqued my curiosity and I ran home, packed my bags and traveled hundreds of miles to see this Promised Land.

I must admit that on my very first day in town I was overwhelmed by the unexpected warmth and friendliness that spilled forth from total strangers.    Such loving kindness nearly brought me to tears and I realized I had at last found my paradise.

At times it was difficult for me to realize how fortunate I was to be living in such a peaceful and idyllic little oasis nestled quietly within the hills and mountains.  The people were friendly and no matter what a person’s beliefs there was always room for civility.   Well I am nothing if not civil but as of late, I must sorrowfully admit, paradise has lost a bit of its sheen and there are those amongst us who would choose rudeness over civility.

As is my habit I awaken early most mornings to an overwhelming desire for a cup of coffee.   The first sip sends a searing pain through my head in-between my eyebrows.  It is so bitter it makes me wince and yet I take another sip.

I pull aside the curtains to let in the light while looking quickly from left to right.  I feel a certain modicum of relief until a flicker of movement catches my eye.  I had been told by a credible source that by summer’s end they would have all moved further south, but unfortunately, as the season moves toward winter, the chill in the air has not produced the promised effect.   Is it just me or do they appear to congregate only around my house?

As I step outside with coffee cup in hand, I notice they watch me with a peculiar interest.  Their eyes follow me and I hear the rustling of their wings.   They have a shifty look, almost alien and yet…even as I find their dark forms hunched in the trees horribly ugly I also find them incredibly beautiful.  Once upon a time I called them my creatures.  At first it was an affectionate term and then my resentment grew to the point I could no longer stand the mere sight of them.

They do not fear me nor do they shy away from me, if anything they grow nearer staring at me through soulless eyes.   They are accustomed to my wild tantrums even as I rail at them from early morning to late at night beating my pots and pans and screaming profanities.

The creatures perch in the tallest of trees, the oaks and the pines that are furthest into the holler.  They choose the trees with gnarly branches covered in knots and knobs.  They sniff the air.  Do they smell the decay of my body?  I am no longer a young man and with each passing day they wait patiently as I grow closer to my demise.

I have been told there is nothing to fear, unless I am dead or near death, I have nothing to fear.  Should that quell my apprehension and give me solace?  They frighten me to the point I can no longer exist as a normal human being - but as I look back over my life, can I honestly say that I have ever been normal?

I set my coffee cup aside and began to think back to the first time in my life when things began to go awry... . I was younger, much younger then and I would awaken each morning with a cheery little tune lodged deep within my head.  What’s wrong with that you say? Nothing as far as I could tell but as I shared my song day after day people began to complain and say I was trying to distract them from their work.   I must attest to the fact that there were no such willful thoughts inside my heart and even to this day I resent the implication, but honestly after a while the tune became bothersome even to me.  The repetition began to give me headaches and I feared for my sanity, so I decided there was no recourse for me but to see a doctor.

Her name was Dr. Alyssa and she was beautiful. I sang the tune for her several times and although she smiled and nodded I could tell she was becoming annoyed. She gave me that same funny look – the tilt of her head, the cock of her eyebrow and then the frown. I had seen it many times before on other people’s faces.  When she asked me to please stop I found that to be an impossible task - I literally could not stop singing. After a few more visits she began to avoid me. I’m not taking any new patients she told me and when I protested she closed the door in my face and locked it.

After a week of such abusive treatment I arrived at her office once again to see an envelope taped to her door addressed to me. Her handwriting was very clear with flourishes of fancy curls and loops.  I questioned if such ornamental penmanship was proper for a doctor but when I ripped the envelope off the door and read the contents of the note I was intrigued.

Her words were swift and to the point.  She told me I should just accept the song inside my head and then peace of mind would soon follow.   I was skeptical at first but I decided to follow her advice and accept the song and within days my head was silent as a tomb.  I suddenly had the notion of climbing to the top of the tallest mountain and screaming to the world that my doctor was an absolute genius.  Instead I knocked on her door but once again she declined to see me.

I pondered such a curious refusal of my overwhelming gratitude but the very next day I realized my hasty proclamation of her brilliance was all for naught.  Now instead of just one cheery song lodged inside my head there was a veritable Broadway musical.  What was I to do now?   Live with it or die with it?  I was mentally exhausted when I met that fine elderly gentleman at the train station.  I cannot quite recall his name but if it were not for him perhaps my curious self would never have reached the holler.

I tossed out the remaining coffee over my wilted peonies and walked back inside the house.  Such a recollection happened many years ago and wallowing in the past had never served me well.  I sat down at my desk and surveyed the mounds of paper work.   I began to type.  Yes, it is now typing which calms my nerves.  It proves I am indeed occupying my time with noteworthy projects rather than sitting alone in my house staring at four grim walls painted the color of dingy gray.

By mid morning the only sounds in the house are my fingers gliding across the keyboard.  I amaze even myself at how fast and furious I can type.  It is exhilarating how my fingers are able to keep up with all the words inside my head.   At one time I would have argued that music was more calming to the soul, but now it is the click clack click clack of the keyboard which stills my anxious soul.

By the end of every day my fingers are weary and I will have typed more letters than the day before to the powers that be.   In my humble opinion social decency would require a reply of some sort to at least one of my queries, but as of today not one soul has deemed it necessary to address any of my concerns.

As I stare at the growing stack of letters on my desk I can only imagine that the powers that be fear the truth or they just don’t care, or perhaps – and I shudder to say these words – perhaps they think of me as peculiar and even insane.

Is it peculiar that day after day I run around the yard clapping my hands and shouting up into the trees? For years I have been the only one to see the threat of danger sweeping over our heads but instead of praise my neighbors gather in small groups and whisper behind my back.  My motives are pure and yet by some cruel ironic twist of fate I have become even more dreaded than the creatures.

I am but a small insignificant piece of this ever growing dilemma.  There must be others out there of the same ilk, but where are they, why do they not speak up? I have tried to do my part.  I have done my best to make the creatures unwelcome.  How do I prove that my plight is real?  How many times must I repeat myself?

Sometimes I wonder at the number of letters I send out each day but it pales in comparison to the flock gathering outside my window.  There must be over 200 of them by now.

If I should fall outside and hit my head, the creatures would then gather around me as in a wake, but not to bid me farewell, to peck out my eyes and devour me.  They would dine on my insides until they had their fill and then once the neighbors fell across my half eaten body, they would murmur almost apologetically, oh yes, perhaps that odd fellow who lived in the holler wasn't so crazy after all.

If I count up the years I have lived in the holler I would imagine that the better part has been spent researching the end of human kind because of these cursed creatures flying through our lives.  Unfortunately because of my obsession I have very few friends left.    No one is sympathetic to my cause and most have abandoned me for the beasts who dine off the rotting cavities of dead animals.

Those who oppose me have placed upon these death eaters an impenetrable shield of power and strength so that they may be revered and treasured.  They say the creatures have a message for us all and that I should open my heart.   Well if this is true then perhaps it is in my best interest to kindly ask of those who rally against me to clarify the message.

As evening approaches I step outside into the chill reflecting upon my dreams of these wild things carrying me across vast oceans.   I can see my feet dangling in mid air and my reflection in the water below.  They carry me for miles until reaching an unknown destination dark and dreary and filled with wicked trees and moist woodlands.

Fortunately I always awaken in the nick of time safe and sound in my bed, but as I ponder the nightmare, I cannot even say if I am happy or sad at the thought of being carried away by such demons.   I wonder if it is possible in some parallel world that I am actually one of them dreaming of being human.  If ever I should awake in a nest built of mud and twigs instead of the safety and comfort of my own bed, I shall have my answer.

For a moment my spirit rallies and I rant and rail with my fists clenched high up into the air but the desire is soon lost and I falter.  I am spiritually bereft and I wonder if the weariness that fills my soul will ever be lifted. Perhaps it is time for me to rest and let nature take its course.

If I am to be completely honest just the mere sight of the creatures drifting effortlessly across the sky without a care in the world captivates me.  I sometimes watch them early in the mornings spreading their glorious wings and welcoming the warm sun on their backs.    There is a certain humanness about them that unnerves me a bit and sometimes I wonder if they can see straight into my soul.

As the sun sets behind the mountains and the day draws to a close it pleases me to sit outside listening to the soft sound of crickets hidden within the bush.  I settle into my favorite chair and gaze up into the darkening sky.

The creatures always appear around dusk before nightfall, soaring gracefully through a coral colored sunset.  I can see with my own eyes their grotesque beauty as they glide majestically through the clouds.

If there is anything constant and stabilizing in my life it would be this odd satisfaction of knowing I will see these creatures again tomorrow.  They are ever so faithful, and why this unthinkable thought comforts me I could not say but it is true.  I know they would never desert me nor defame me, they are constant and by my side always.

Perhaps I do them a disservice.  Their soul purpose in life is to cleanse the earth bit by bit, day by day.   They are indeed the caretakers of the dead and such honorable intentions I should not ignore.  Can I not leave them in peace to go about their own lives?

As I sit enjoying the evening breeze across my face, it dawns upon me just how mysterious life really is and I think that perhaps I have finally awakened to the message of the creatures.  Why did it take me so long?  Was it not obvious before?  My soul vibrates at the thought that we have but a short time left on this earth.  If their message is clear and I believe now that it is, I should look inside my heart and leave behind my isolation, my fears and my hatred, for after all when I first entered this town I was an empty vessel ready to be filled with love and understanding.   I will shed that which serves me no longer and cleanse my soul of unworthy thoughts just like my creatures cleanse the earth.

As these dark angels float across the sky I am content to watch as they sweep high and low over the many jagged mountain tops.  The beat of their wings brings to mind an old feeling of joy that had long been forgotten and locked away.

At last my creatures are free and we are at peace…we are one.   I believe my day is done.

Share this
Continue Reading
About the Author

Kathy Attwood is a retired teacher who has lived in Eureka Springs since 1998. She divides her time between writing and making art. In 2003 the Eureka Theater Company produced her play Case 3001. Her short story "The Attending Physician" was chosen to be included in the anthology of the Hot Springs Fine Arts Center. She has received awards from The Arkansas Arts Council for art pieces included in the traveling "Small Works on Paper." She was also included in the Somerset Studio Magazine for entries pertaining to "The Sea."

Kathy Attwood
More Posts by this author…