I apologize for going off prompt a bit. My story does not take place in the Wild West, rather in the hills of east Kentucky, but I think you'll enjoy this disturbing tale nonetheless.
The landscape of eastern Kentucky is worth seeing if you enjoy scenic places and Olive Hill is certainly as quaint as any small town can be tucked into a tidy corner of the Western Appalachian Mountains. There is a country road, simply known as Road #2 that meanders through the rolling hills until you happen on a small hamlet called Forgotten Corners just past Sawbones Gap. There is a reason why this place got its name, but if you are fascinated by ancient lore, this small section of the hills will bend your mind. Those of us who have been here a while, know of this strange phenomenon I am about ready to reveal to you. So put another stick on the fire, cozy up and let me tell you of a place in the hills known as Sawbones Gap.
Washington Irving wrote of a place called along the Hudson River in New York where a man lay down for a nap and woke up twenty years later. His story, like most told, does have an element of nonfiction amidst all the fiction. Same with Sawbones Gap. Moonshiners have been running that country route for as long as I can remember with hairpin curves and winding roads that seem to disappear into the clouds, Route #2 is a favorite because experienced moonshine drivers can easily elude the authorities, because, let’s face it, most of them patrol cars are not detailed the way runners are done up with engines that seem to run on Kerosene or maybe jet fuel. There have been legends of runners who are known as ghosts up there by those chasing them.
One day one of the better known runners, Beau Mondone told me of Sawbones Gap and Forgotten Corners just beyond that landmark. Beau is one of my regulars at my dinner opened when my dad got out of the service and on the wall by the cash register is a black and white photograph taken back in 1955 when a young drifter happened by. He told my pa that he was from Mississippi and he was headed for Memphis on account he just signed a contract with Sun Records. My dad served him up some of his best fixings and asked the young man to pose with him for a photograph. And that’s how that photograph of my pa mugging it up with Elvis Presley got there.
“Can I tell ya something, Bill?” He asked me as he finished up his Roadkill Stew. The stew isn’t really made from roadkill, but the name is sort of a favorite as my regulars will shout over to the short order cook, “Rustle me up some of that Roadkill stew woncha Russ.”
Newbies and travelers let their jaws drop at the request for the stew and this gets a good snicker from those who know. Russ Mullins, my lead short order cook will dice up some squirrel sometimes when he’s been out in the woods for a weekend, but for the most part the meet is pure beef, but not some of the finer cuts if you know what I mean.
So I pull up a chair to Beau’s table and lean on over to him so he can talk to me without other folks listening. His face gets this ghostly white all of a sudden and his voice gets kind of croaky like a bullfrog sitting by a pond, “Have you ever been to Forgotten Corners?”
“Can’t say I have. That road is a deathtrap.” I blow air through my two missing teeth making the gap whistle as I do.
“Yeah, well I run that road quite a bit when Shane tells me his home brew is ready for distribution.” Beau takes out a cancer stick from the pack rolled up in his shirt sleeve and lights it with his Bic lighter. After blowing a cloud of smoke in the air even though I’ve gone non-smoking in my dining room, I do not get all hyper if someone lights one up on occasion. “I went up there last night after sundown. I’ve been told by bretherend not to do that, but Shane pays good, real good.”
“So I’ve heard. Ain’ never had the ATF sniffing out his stills.” I nodded knowing his reputation for caution to the trade.
“Anyway, I hardly ever notice that small knothole in the hills, but last night I picked up a cherry top so I stopped into the cafe just before you get to Sawbones Gap. And this guy with a flattop and whitewalls comes strolling on up to me ready to take my order. There was this big old mirror filling up the entire wall behind the counter where he was standing. Pretty routine if you asking me, until I notice the mirror.”
“What about it?” I shrugged trying not to appear bored.
“The only one reflected in that mirror was me.” He paused, “That flattop soda jerk was nowhere to be seen.”
I laughed, because screaming would alarm my other customers, “What was he? Some kind of ghoul?”
“It would seem to be so.” Beau sucked on his cigarette for a minute it seemed like, the red glow at the end burned over half way down toward his nicotine stained fingers. “‘Cept Roy Dauers told me something that made my hair stand up on end.”
“Yeah, what? You know Roy is a burnout from Vietnam.” I shook my head.
“Yeah, but he’s one of the best in the business. Hallucinating or strung out on other mind bending substances, I would trust him until the end.” Beau gave me a glare from his cold gray eyes, “Roy said them people live by a different clock.”
This was a strange statement by any stretch of the imagination, but Beau who never gave into urban myths or any sort of poltergeist bunk, was telling me that Forgotten Corners was a nest of ;paranormal activity. There were enough stories of moonshiners turned serial killer using axes and other sharp objects to cut up their victims into little bite sized pieces. The hills were always fertile grounds for creepy tales of bizarre behavior and horrible happenings.
“Time? What do you mean?” I glanced at the clock hanging on the wall over the kitchen porthole where orders were placed as a bell was rung.
“How many minutes are in an hour?” He asked without batting an eye.
“Sixty minutes. Has always been sixty.” I shrugged and blinked my eyes.
“What would happen if there were, let’s say, sixty one or two minutes in an hour while everybody else counts sixty minutes in an hour?” He snubbed out his cigarette in his glass of water that was half full.
I laughed. “Are you nuts?”
“Wish I was.” He was not joining in laughter.
“So you’re telling me that this place has extra minutes on their clock?” I asked still humored by the thought.
“Something like that, yeah.” He was dead serious and this made me stop laughing.
“This is nuts. Time is the one constant we all have. Gravity is another.” I pointed out feeling like my elementary teacher Miss Gibbs. She made us recite these basic facts during our daily chants. “Thirty days are in September, April, June and November, all the rest have thirty one except for February and that has…”
“What was the world like before we had the Gregorian Calendar? Really screws up the historical facts, but once the standard is set then everything becomes clear, but what if there were pockets or corners in this world that didn’t follow the rules or standards?” His voice was strained and his eyes looked like they longed for the lids to close.
I began to run what he was saying through my central processor on top of my handsome forehead.
“There were no clocks in the place. None of the people had reflections or shadows following them.” He closed his eyes and let his head drop to his chest.
“Why?” I put my hands together on the table in front of me. I glanced over at Russ wearing his toque sitting lopsided on his bald head, but he gave me a thumbs up to let me know all was well.
“I asked.” He closed his eyes again.
“And…” I cued him on.
“He told me that their shadows have not caught up with them in time.” He spoke through his clenched teeth.
“Wha? Shadows? Time?” I shook my head in disbelief.
“He told me that Sawbones Gap there is this vortex, a black hole that sucks in small amounts of light and time and because of that, their hours have more minutes in them.” He put his hand over his eyes and rubbed them vigorously, “Shadows and reflections show up later. Much later, because the time warp, like a ripple in the water, catches up later.”
The last part of his explanation was swallowed by his own mouth as if saying this aloud would make this freakish phenomenon a reality.
I had heard others talk about Sawbones Gap stating that there was a strange sensation when you drove through the rocks resembling a football goal post. Some of those who had been out on Route #2 said that there were strange waves fluttering through the rock formation resembling the refraction of rocks when heat rose up out of the desert rocks. Some even told me that their engines began to pull as if the vehicle did not want to pass through gap. It all seemed like urban legends to me, but then I had never gone up there. I had no reason to. My pa told me that I would be wiser to leave the hills to the moonshiners. But now as I heard Beau tell me his story, I began to feel that I had to go have a look for myself.
As Route # 2 empties into the Olive Hill, a picturesque town that would look quite right on a postcard, but once you travel past the first hill, Route #2 changes personalities from a rolling rural road into a twisting deadly snake winding through the oak and pine trees that seem to smother the scenery with dense canopies that block out the sunlight in many places, giving them the appearance of dark sinister places capable of dispersing evil. Some places receive such sparse sunlight that the rocks and pavement surfaces never seem to completely dry off. Beau rode shotgun as I drove. He asked to come with me when I told him that I had to see Forgotten Corners and the shadowless inhabitants.
About twenty minutes of driving, the road got rougher, pots holes were everywhere and tree roots pushed up against the blacktop creating cracks and bumps that we seemed to catch each and everyone of them.
“There it is.” Beau pointed to the rocks on either side of the road, “Sawbones Gap.”
He told me Sawbones Gap was named after a surgeon from the Civil War who afterwards, moved up into these hills to escape the memories of the carnage he had lived through for four years. He was very successful in his seclusion as he was never seen again. The popular version was that he was killed by a wild animal he encountered trying to gain entrance to his cabin.
There seemed to be some sort of electric field running between the two rocks as the area beyond the rocks was blurred by whatever force was active there. Beau told me to drive through it and I did, but as I was warned the car shook as I drove between the two rocks of Sawbones Gap.
“Are you feeling any different?” Beau asked.
“No, not really.” But when I looked in the rearview mirror, I did not see my reflection and I gasped.
“No reflection, eh?” He shook his head.
“What does that mean?” I was almost afraid to ask, but I knew it was a question I needed an answer to.
“I’m not sure.” His face went white and bloodless.
It took twenty more minutes before I saw a sign posted for Forgotten Corners and in all my time in Kentucky, I had never heard of this place. Surely with a name as strange as Forgotten Corners, someone must have noticed the novelty of the name. Driving up to the dinner where Beau had stopped the previous evening, I noticed the parking lot was empty, but as I drove up the dinner appeared to have customers inside.
Getting out of the car, I was stunned by the absence of sound. As soon as I turned the key, both of us were immersed in a cocoon of silence. I looked at Beau and saw he was looking back at me. He offered a quick shrug as we walked toward the door to enter the dinner. Even our footfalls were silent as we walked up the wooden stairs and Beau opened the heavy glass door. I heard Beau gasped.
“Mr. Mondone, good to see you again.” The young man in an apron greeted him.
“You were working here last night when I came in.” He stammered.
“Yes of course.” He smiled, but it seemed out of place. Beau was right, the young man did not have a reflection in the wall mirror, but then neither did we. Beau saw it too, but I shook my head when I saw he was going to question the young man.
“Can I get you something while you look over the menu?” He handed both of us laminated menus.
“Yeah...where is my shadow?” He asked abruptly.
“Mr. Mondone, I believe I explained it to you last night.” He said patronizingly as he removed his pad from the pocket of his apron. “Shadows and reflections are locked into another time.”
Simple. End of story. Or was it? Beau flopped down on a stool in front of the counter and put his head in his hands.
“It doesn’t work like that.” He nearly moaned.
“Here it does. It has to. We are behind. Our day is twenty five hours long.” He crossed his arms over his clean apron. “Over the years that adds up. Even if our clocks were a minute off, in several years we would be a couple of days behind.” The young man patiently explained, but instead of offering comfort to this strange atmospheric reality, it just upset Beau even more. I had to admit this wasn’t sitting well with me either. The pie in the case seemed to fade until there was nothing there but an empty plate.
“No, it does not work like that.” Beau slammed his fist down on the counter, but there was no sound. A few seconds later we heard the silverware rattling noise of his fist hitting the counter. My mouth went dry.
“You see, neither one of you really belong here, but you chose to drive through Sawbones Gap and once you do that, you become part of our world. If you stay for a while, you will begin to acclimate to our time. Stay one day and the next day will be twenty five hours long.” He did not take his eyes off of Beau who was sitting with his head bowed, his eye fixed on the floor knowing that if he looked up he would scream. “The longer you choose to stay here, the more you will find yourself adjusting to our time. I have been here for over one hundred years.”
“Noooo!” His shout was lost in the tick of the clock that went tick...tick...tick...tock. He put his hands over his ears.
“Beau, I think we should go.” I suggested.
“This is crazy. All of this.” He picked up an empty coffee cup that was heavy ceramic and flung it against the clock. The clock exploded without a sound. Glass rained down all over the young man behind the counter, but he just stood there smiling. After a moment or two the loud sound of glass violently shattering sounded. “Delay! Why is the sound delayed?”
“I told you.” He assured Beau who was beginning to have a nervous breakdown. I found it difficult myself to come to grips with what was going on. How could two places operate in different time dimensions within the same area? This strange reality like the glass in the face of the clock was raining down all over us, covering us in this unsettling actuality.
“I can’t take it here for another minute.” Beau stated as he stood up, “C’mon Bill, let’s get out of here.”
“Where do you think you are going?” The young man’s face sported a very sinister smile as we took a step toward the door where we came in.
“Back to where we came from, junior.” Beau snarled.
Suddenly the young man began to laugh and his laughter filled the dinner.
“What’s so funny?” Beau asked as his laughter began to unnerve us both.
“You broke my clock.” He pointed to the faceless clock dangling from the wall.
“Yeah, so?” Beau shrugged.
“What you destroyed was your passage back to where you came from.” He sniffed nodding toward the shattered timepiece where even the numbers were no longer legible. “You destroyed your only means of leaving Forgotten Corners and passing through Sawbones Gap. You see Ol’ Doc Blanchard who found Sawbones Gap works as my dishwasher.”
An ancient man with long beard and scraggly hair poked his face out of the kitchen and gave us a quick wave.
“All the people who come to Forgotten Corners must obey that clock you destroyed and without it you have disrupted the delicate balance-” I heard Beau scream pointing at the parking lot that was completely empty. Upon noting my car was no longer parked out front, I gasp as the young man concluded, “ -you can never return to where you came from, because in destroying my clock, you have both now both citizens of Forgotten Corners. Welcome.”
An hour later I heard the scream that came from deep inside my guts and exited my open mouth.