This story can only be found bundled with the Erotic Novella “First Taste”
Once a high-yellow business girl named Clarissa lived in a dead cropper’s place at the head of a trail in a hollow up Tobaccoville way. The trail was made by deer and widened by men and narrowed again by the mountain itself in the years after the last cropper died and burly leaf dropped cheaper than souse meat and the bank let the fields go to laurel and huckleberries, so as she picked her way up the hollow the first time, she must have been walking on faith that the way led anywhere at all. Or maybe instead she had no faith, and walked into the woods for that reason instead, which is another kind of faith and one often borne out in the hills. But walk she did, and was surprised or not by the one room cabin she found at the head, and that very evening the folks on the other side of the ridge saw smoke pluming up from the dead cropper’s chimney and resolved to coon hunt elsewhere for a spell, for the dead have been known to kindle a fire. Soon the trail started widening up again, as fear of the dead lessened or grew, either way leading men all over the country to tramp the trail to pay their respects to Clarissa. On a chestnut stump at the edge of the clearing she set an unopened box of Red Devil Lye: on its side meant please abide; standing straight, no need to wait. Those who waited stood several trees apart, smoking, not speaking, each imagining himself alone between the great black woods and the lighted window.
One new moon night when only a granddaddy coon could have found his way from the turnpike to the head of the hollow, a stranger named Charlie Poole sauntered up the trail whistling, banjo in one hand and bottle in the other. As he passed the Red Devil he kicked it over. When he reached the front door he kicked it open. “Whoa, now,” said Clarissa as he plucked her up dripping and kicked the washtub a-slosh across the floor. Her wet cat shot onto the stove, snarling.
Later Clarissa said, “I got a good notion to gate that trail. How’d you find me in the pitch black dark?”
He fought free of the friendship quilt, grabbed the back of her head and said, “This dowsing rod here.”
Later she said, “I purely hate a banjo.”
“For the rest of your life on this round Earth,” he said, “whenever you hear a banjo, that’ll be me, talking.”
Still later Clarissa padded naked as a jaybird through the dewy gray grass, snatched up the Red Devil box and carried it back to the porch. A groundhog watched her from the garden patch.
“Look, then,” she told it, and went inside, slamming the door.
Months passed. Visitors got no farther than the stump, where, confused, they turned back. No one entered, no one left the hollow.
(Many years later, a young woman writing notes by hand amid a stack of books and records at a little desk in the college library in Chapel Hill asked herself what Charlie Poole could possibly have been doing for four and a half months in the spring and summer of 1924. The answer occurred to her even before she set pen to paper to record the question, and she snorted with laughter at herself, a sound that so emboldened the young stranger at the adjoining little desk that he peered over the partition and spoke to her. Whatever he said wasn’t much, but it was enough.)
One afternoon in the cabin in the hollow, Charlie Poole was laughing fit to bust. Clarissa’s tabby had decided his bouncing pecker was a play-pretty and was trying to jump up and bat it as Charlie galloped from one end of the cabin to the other, daylight breaking through the floorboards each time he landed, Clarissa’s arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and her lips against his ear murmuring giddyup. But Charlie’s laughter faltered and died as he slowed to a canter and then to a walk. Clarissa had to lick him to get his attention.
“Charlie! I said, let’s fetch that tick and straw from the yard and get this bed back together. It’s aired enough, and there’s thunder coming.”
“You hear it, too?” Charlie said, standing still.
When his pecker quit bobbing, the cat lost interest and went to wash itself under the stove. Clarissa slipped off Charlie’s back and knelt beside the water bucket, drank deep from the dipper. “God damn, it’s hot in here,” she said. “Wish that storm would come on. Might break the weather a little.”
“Ain’t no storm,” Charlie said. The way he said it made her look at him.
Another boom boom boom sounded, closer now, as if just the other side of the ridge. The canning jars rattled.
The cat yowled as Charlie trod on its tail in getting to his clothes. The rocker righted itself a little at a time as Charlie relieved it of britches, brogans, shirt.
“Charlie,” Clarissa said. “Charlie?”
The booms were in the hollow now, continuous and evenly spaced, like a heartbeat or a funeral march.
Charlie’s gaze met hers for a second as he slipped on his braces. “You ain’t dressed yet?” he asked.
One more deafening boom, then a silence painful to the ears.
A voice rumbled from the front yard.
“Charlie Poole, come out and be known to the Lord.”
Clarissa stood, mouth open, arms at her side, staring at the door, heedless of her nakedness, of the dress Charlie was trying to thrust into her hands. He finally draped it over her shoulders like a shawl.
“Charlie Poole, come out.”
A heavy thump like a body flung down made the porch boards groan and jumbled the knick-knack shelf. A souvenir dish from the Natural Bridge fell to the hearth and smashed. Another thump, then another, coming closer. With each one a bit more daylight appeared beneath the door.