Night Poll : Prologue

Blue Ridge Mountains

“Hon?  It’s almost time to go.”

J.T. nodded in the general direction of… well, not his wife.  Partner.  Life-companion.

“In a minute,” he said, staring into his cup of coffee.

Eight thirty in the morning.  That was no time for a decent man to be up, he thought, staring into the last dregs of coffee in his mug.  Not for the first time, he realized that if it wasn’t for Bean, he would be completely useless.  A slacker, his dad use to say.  Sleeping until noon, drifting through life, not amounting to anything.

He chuckled to himself, lifted the mug, and downed the last of the coffee.  It was lukewarm and wonderfully bitter.  He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  Yeah, ok.  He was living in a shack in the middle of the Blue Ridge mountains with his… life-companion.  Might as well be wife.  They made a living, sort of.  By being slackers.

A certain type of slacker.  And they were good at it.

He let the coffee mug drop to the old, scarred oak table with a satisfying thump.  They had found it left out for the garbage man one night when they were coming back from Asheville.  A perfectly fine table, left out for whomever happened by.

Story of his life, he thought.


“Coming!” he called.  He pushed himself back from the table.  Another cast off they had found.  Their whole shack was like that.  Made up of things that looked useless, but still had some good life in them. Just needed the right person to appreciate them and make them worthwhile.

Kind of like him.  Da… Dang.  Some ways, Bean was a pain, he thought.  He sighed.  She didn’t like him swearing, so now he was not just watching his speech, he was watching his thoughts.  “It’s for the children,” she’d say.  Not that they had any, right now, but neither he nor Bean were getting any younger, and she was talking more about kids these days.

He looked around the shack.  It wasn’t the best, but… yeah.  He could raise a kid or two here.  Maybe it was time.

“Hon?  It’s getting late.  We gotta...”

“Coming!” he repeated, standing up.  Time to make the donuts.

He stepped out into the morning light, Bean was waiting for him, two battered old backpacks by her feet.  She already had them all packed up and ready to go, he thought.  She was a woman on a mission.  Bud, their golden lab, was sitting next to her, already panting in the morning heat.  Bud looked at him expectantly.

J.T. raised his arms above his head, enjoying the feel of the muscles in his back stretching.  Yeah.  He was ready, now.  He walked over to Bean, and gave Bud a scritch before looking at his… Well.  Wife.

Best to get used to that, he thought.

He cocked his head at Bean, and enjoyed the sight.  At five ten, she was just a hair taller than him.  Even after all these years, he couldn’t get over just how wonderful she looked.  Even in her jeans and a flannel shirt, she looked good, with her big brown eyes and her dark hair falling around her shoulders.

“Ready?” she asked.  “We gotta get going, or…” she trailed off.  He knew what she meant.  They’d have to head out now if they wanted to make it to their patch by noon.  Any later, and they might as well call it a day.

Which was tempting.  He could imagine a lot of pleasant ways to pass a lazy day in summer with Bean.  But they had done just that, they day before, and the day before that… and they needed to check on their patch.

He winked at her.  “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.  He grabbed his pack, gave Bud another scritch. “Who wants to go for a walk?”  Bud looked at him, and started jumping up and down on his hind legs. “Oh, you do?  Want to go for a walk?”  He grinned at Bean, and she smiled back at him.  Stifling a yawn, he patted Bud on the head, and leaned in to give Bean a quick kiss on the neck.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

They headed off towards the edge of the forest behind their shack, with Bud gamboling around them.  Three hours, more or less, to their patch, assuming they didn’t stop along the way.  A beautiful walk in the late summer morning with his woman at his side and his dog keeping them company.

“So,” he said.  “I was thinking…”

“Mmmm?” said Bean, looking at the trail ahead.

J.T. looked over at Bud.  “Ya know, If we hurry, we might get back in time to head into Asheville.”

Bean looked at him.  “Night out?” she said.  “It’s Wednesday.  Not a lot going on.”

J.T. took a deep breath.  “Yeah,” he said. “But.  Um.  You know, um.” He stopped for a second, there amid the trees.  Bean took a few steps, and looked back at him.

He scuffed the dirt with his foot, and carefully said, “Well.  The JP stays open a bit later on Wednesdays.  I was just thinking, um…” He stopped, and looked up at Bean.

She was grinning like a madwoman.  The sight of her melted his heart.

“Why, J.T.,” she said.  “Are you thinking of finally making an honest woman out of me?”

He looked at her for a moment, then took a deep breath before lowering himself to one knee.  Bud immediately came careening over towards him, and he pushed his dog away with one hand.  “Well... yeah.  If you’ll have me.” He fended off Bud’s kisses again, and looked up at Bean.  “Whatd’ya think?”

Bean got a serious look on her face.  “I think that if we stop along the way, we won’t have time to make it to the JP tonight,” she said.  Then she grinned again, and reached down to take his hand and pull him up.  “And we will stop, you dork!” she said, just before she planted a kiss on him that was… well.

If he had known it would be like this, he would have proposed years ago.

When they she finally let him go, she looked him in the eyes, and said, “I don’t think we’ll make it back in time, do you?”

“Um.  Probably not?”

“Darn sure not!” she said, kissing him again.  She pulled back, and grabbed his hands.  “But tomorrow, right?  First thing?”

He looked at her.  God, she was beautiful.  Everything he had ever wanted in a woman, and she loved him.

“Yeah,” he said.  He smiled at her.  “First thing, for sure.”

They had met in high school.  At first, they were just part of a crowd that hung out and smoked together.  Stoners, the lot of them.  Some of their crowd had drifted away, into harder stuff or onto the wagon, but he and Bean were content to just be themselves and enjoy whatever came their way.  That attitude brought them closer together, and before long, one thing had led to another.  By the time they graduated, he and Bean were a couple.  A couple of what, he wasn’t quite sure, but they fit together like peas in a pod.

Right around graduation, folks started asking them what they planned on doing with their lives.  They both made some noises about going to college, or maybe getting a job.  By then, though, they both knew they had the same dream.  A small one, sure, but they agreed that small dreams were the ones that you could actually work out.  A cabin in the woods, just enough work to keep their bellies full, and… well.  Just time together to smoke and contemplate life, and each other.

By that point, “contemplating each other” was a big part of their lives.

They might have ended up going their separate ways, like a lot of high school couples seemed to do.  Except that right after they graduated, Bean’s uncle Lucas died.  Out of all the folks in her family, she’d be the closest to him, his favorite niece.  She was the only one who had patience for the old man, the only one who loved being out in the middle of nowhere in God’s own creation as much as he did.

After the funeral, a lawyer sent Bean a letter, letting her know that good old Uncle Lucas had named her as the sole inheritor of his few worldly possessions.

Including his little shack in the woods a couple hours north of Asheville.

It was a bit of a rough time for Bean - she really had loved her uncle - but that cabin, falling into her lap like that, had made half their dream a reality.  J.T. saw which way the winds of fate were blowing, and called in some favors with some friends.  With some seeds set aside, and a bit of scouting, he found the perfect place, and made the second half of their dream a reality.

Their own little patch, up in the hills.

They worked their tails off that first year, making everything work.  Cleaning out the shack, tending their patch.  J.T. and Bean both worked odd jobs to make ends meet.  It wasn’t the easiest life, and they didn’t have a lot except each other.  

That was enough.

By their second year in their shack, it felt like home.  J.T. had scavenged enough materials from construction jobs he worked that they were able to build a wood shed, and off further into the woods, a drying shed.  Just in time for their first harvest from their little patch in the woods.

More than enough to keep them both happy, with some to spare.

The idea was to just grow enough for themselves.  Keep a little patch, off on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest, somewhere where nobody would bother to look.  Big grow operations attracted attention, but a little clearing with a few plants?  Nah.  Nobody would ever pay attention to that.  Especially if they were careful, and picked a good spot well away from the cabin, and just, you know, let it grow.

They had never really meant to start dealing, but… well, that first year, they got a bumper crop. J.T. had found the perfect little dell a couple of hours into the woods.  There was a nice little natural clearing in between a couple of ridges, right next to a spring.  They tilled the land, laid down some seed, and the stuff grew like… well, like weed.

Excellent, primo, mellow, smooth weed.

J.T. didn’t know if he had scored some really good seeds, or if he had just picked a good spot, but their little patch produced more than they could possibly use in a year.  When they looked at the excess, and looked at each other, selling a little bit to make ends meet just seemed like the easiest thing to do.

Bean stopped taking the odd job that fell into her lap, and soon after, J.T. was more or less out of the work force as well.  Oh, he still took the odd construction job just to keep busy, but really, once a year, they would meet up with his friend Chaz and pass on a bale or so of really, really good stuff.  J.T. knew Chaz made more from selling it off than they ever saw, but even then, they made more than enough to keep food on the table, money in the bank and just live the life that they had always wanted: the two of them, a shack in the woods, and enough weed that they could just kick back and enjoy their life together.

J.T. was broken out of his reverie by Bud.  They had covered a good five or six miles or so, hiking through the woods.  Bean would occasionally check her GPS, and reorient them so they were headed in the right direction. They tried to never take the exact same path twice, to keep from beating a trail that anyone could follow.

Right around 10:30, though, Bud pulled up short next to J.T., and started whining.

J.T. looked at him and sighed.  He hadn’t always been like this.  Last year, though - no, the year before that, he corrected himself - Bud had started getting antsy around the patch.  As time went on, he got more and more anxious the closer they got.  Today, they were still a good two, three miles out, and Bud was calling it a day.

J.T. couldn’t really blame him.  He told himself that Bud was just getting old.  About the time that Bud started getting freaked out about the patch, though, he noticed that there was a change in the woods.

The first couple of years, he and Bean would generally head up to the patch later on in the afternoon, and make their way back just before it got dark, in the cool of the day.  Then things started getting… well, spooky, he admitted to himself.  There was no other word for it, he thought.

One day, Bud had balked at going into the clearing.  He had sat at the edge of the woods, whining the entire time Bean and J.T. were checking on the plants, pulling weeds and making sure everything was good.  It had freaked both him and Bean out, to be honest.  Without really mentioning it to each other, they had moved their departure time from the shack up so that they ended up arriving at their patch earlier and earlier in the afternoon.

Now, they only came out in the full light of day.

Bean looked at J.T. as he leaned over to scratch Bud behind the ears.  “Already?” she asked.  Her brow was furrowed.

“Guess so,” said J.T.  He gave Bud a pat, and straightened up.  “We’re going on, Bud.  Head on home.”  Bud just sat and stared intently at him.

“Go on, git!” he shouted, slapping Bud on the butt.  Bud jumped, and looked over his shoulder, and let out a low growl.

J.T. looked at Bean.  She looked a the GPS and gave him a quick, nervous nod.

Bud was barking towards where their patch was.

J.T. stooped down and gave Bud a quick hug.  “Go on home, boy,” he whispered.  “We’ll be fine.”  Bud gave him a quick lick on the face, then stood and trotted back the way they had come.

J.T. straightened up and glanced at his watch.  10:30, on the dot.  He look at Bean, and took a deep breath.  “Let’s go, then,” he said.  His voice seemed suddenly loud to him, and he realized that the normal woodland sounds of the forest - the insects, the birdsong - had quieted.  He could hear the soft sound of the wind in the trees, but nothing else.

“In and out, right?” said Bean, quietly.

“In and out,” he said, just as softly.  “Then back home, and I’m thinking maybe a night out after all.  We can get a room, stay in town, visit the JP first thing in the morning, OK?”  He gave her a smile.

Her eyes got wide, and she smiled back at him.  “Sounds like a plan.”

He looked back at where Bud has disappeared for a few seconds, before saying, “Yeah.  Then maybe next week we, we should maybe look for a new place for our patch.”

Bean glanced at the woods, and whispered.  “Yeah.  Works for me.  Let’s go.”

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