Welcome back! Here’s the next chapter of Master of the Drunken Fist.
Bright, brilliant, and blinding. It all came back to him as he opened his eyes within the void once again. He wasn’t sure what brought him here or how to leave, just that he was back. It felt as cold as last time, with absolutely no visibility at all. The white nothingness took in everything. Remembering how walking forward helped get him out of it, he started forward in hopes of finding an answer this time.
He stepped forward, slowly, fearing the physical abuse of last time. There was no voice either, which made the void seem even more surreal. He half expected to take another step and then fall to his death, much like last time before Noelle woke him. After what felt like half a block of walking, he saw off in the distance a pinpoint of color. It looked green, like grass. Filled with hope at the prospect of being out of the void, he moved faster towards it. It grew in size as he approached until he stood within what he guessed was about five yards away. He could feel warmth coming from the man sized hole in front of him. He stepped closer.
The sounds of birds stunned him. He didn’t recall hearing them the last time he left the void. It made him stop for just a moment. Where the hell am I? he thought. He still had no idea where he was or why. He only knew that being out there in the green was way better than the nothing that was the void. He approached the hole in the void and stepped through.
Instantly, he found himself in a forest, surrounded by hills and nature for as far as he could see. The sky was a brilliant blue with wispy clouds spread across it. It was so warm, something he didn’t expect this time of year. It was still spring, but somehow the feeling of this place was more like mid summer. The leaves were full on the trees, not the small buds he saw on the drive down to Gene’s. It felt familiar, yet odd. It was wrong but still better than the blinding void he left.
Ahead of him was a small path that went off to the left and up a small hill. He saw no one around, so deciding it was better than standing there, he took off down the path.
After walking up and down hills for what felt like half the day, he finally heard something other than birds. It was the sound of…banjo’s? Great, he thought, I’ve ended up in Deliverance. I’m gonna get killed by some crazy hillbillies! He started sweating, and not from the heat. The prospect of finding anything remotely close to what he recalled from that movie scared him. His imagination started to get ahold of him and he tried pushing those thoughts aside. There was no way anything like that existed in real life so it was stupid to think like that. He didn’t have anything to fear. He was able to comfort himself with that thought while approaching the source of the sound.
Smoke rose from amongst the trees up ahead and the banjo sound came from that direction. Walking closer, suddenly the path opened up to a large clearing. There must have been something like twelve or so…hillbillies. There was no other way of saying it. They wore those old, floppy wide brimmed hats he remembered from shows on the History Channel. Their shirts were white, or used to be, though now they were dingy and soiled. Most had pipes in their mouths. He quickly found the source of the banjo music as he saw one of the men sitting on a haystack on the far side of the clearing picking away absently. As soon as he came out into the clearing, they turned to look at him.
“Well hot damn Mikey, bout time you showed up. We thought y’all weren’t gonna be here in time. Nice of ya to show up,” said the closest man to him. He wanted to call him Abe for some reason, but not sure why. He’d never met these people in his life.
“How do you know my name?” Mike asked. He was puzzled as to how they knew that. It took him a second to realize the voice spoken by him was not his normal one, but a more southern, Kentucky accent, much like Gene. It startled him hearing it come from him and he thought maybe it was a mistake in his hearing. Surely he didn’t sound like that.
“What the hell are ya talking bout Mikey? You’re our brother, of course we know yer name. What you do back there, hit yer head or somethin?” The one he felt was called Abe said to him.
“Look Abe,” he started, and then shut up because the voice was definitely not his own. Their brother? What’s going on? I don’t have a brother. They think I’m someone else. That has to be the answer. “Look Abe,” he started again, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a brother, let alone twelve of them. I..” Just then, the banjo stopped and one of the brothers close to Abe, Elam Mike said to himself, walked over towards him.
“Looks like ya did hit yer head boy, look at this Abe,” and he pointed to the bruise on Mike’s head, near his right temple. The same one he saw in the mirror that Noelle couldn’t see. “How’d you do that to yerself? You get in a fight again? You know yer to stay way from them damn Sponsers, right? We’d done told ya hundred times to stay way from them. The’d skin ya live and force ya to eat yerself if ya get too close. Damn Mikey, you know this.” He walked away, visibly disgusted at what he thought he saw on Mike’s head.
Sponsers? What the hell? None of this makes sense! Mike thought. He wanted to scream at these men. He didn’t know them, he was surely not their damn brother, and he wanted answers…NOW!
“Sponsers? What is that? Why would I stay away from them? Where, where am I and who are you?”
Abe grinned as though he thought all of this was just a huge joke. “Ya really don’t know, do ya Mikey? Damn fool, get yerself hit in the head and gone stupid. It’s alright boy, we’ll get ya back ta normal soon nuff. Ain’t got nothin’ better ta do. Them Sponsers got us pinned in fer some time anyway. Best we get ya back ta normal before too long. Gonna need ya soon boy.” And the one with the banjo, Elijah was the name that came to Mike, started back up and picked up the pace.
Confusion gripped Mike. He felt totally lost and helpless. These men appeared to know him and all of them felt he belonged. And then there was that weird sensation that he knew all their names yet he had never met them before, at least not that he remembered. Just looking at them brought up their names to the top of his head. It was odd. They accepted him, not as a stranger, but honestly as their brother. That felt awkward. And then there was the mention of Sponsers, whoever they were. The men, the brothers, all seemed to fear whoever the Sponsers were. He noticed while Elam was talking to him about the Sponsers that most of the brothers got a look of fear in their eyes. It was a sudden shift in the feet that also told him they had no desire to meet up with these…Sponsers.
He walked over to a hay bale on a side of the clearing and sat down by himself. Not too long after, Elam brought over a cup of some kind of liquid and a bowl of the nastiest looking stew he had ever seen. “Ya got lucky Mikey, we got a coon not too long ago and still had some left. Noah here almost ate the whole thing by himself. Ya know how he can be, never thinking bout us, just himself.” Mike didn’t feel too lucky as he gulped down the thick, fatty stew. He almost vomited twice just at the smell of it. He tried to wash it down with the liquid Elam gave him and as soon as he took a big swallow, he felt the familiar burn of liquid fire go screaming down his throat. This was worse than anything Gene had ever given him. It wasn’t cut with fruit and he dropped the cup while it burned all the way down.
Elam laughed. “Lost yer taste Mikey? You bove all of us could drink pappy’s juice without no problems. Ya sure ya ain’t got something more worse going on with ya?” Mike didn’t know what to say. He was familiar with ‘shine and could withstand it well enough. This stuff was just…awful. It had no semblance of being used for enjoyment, just for pure torture of your insides and eventually the rest of you. He felt burning in his belly and just knew he was going to hurl. The disgusting coon stew mixed with the ‘shine was not a good combination. Before he could empty his stomach of it’s contents, he grew tired. He didn’t know when, but at some point after taking the food and drink, he fell fast asleep.
Waking, Mike prayed he was awake in his own bed, in his own home, being berated by Noelle for getting so drunk on Gene’s ‘shine. His eyes opened to a clear sky above him and the sound of a fire crackling nearby. His back hurt terribly as he turned to the side and saw all but two of the “brothers” asleep around the fire in the center of the clearing. Damn, he thought, I’m still here. Mike’s assumption that going to sleep would bring him back home out of this strange dream turned out to be false hope. The two brothers stirring about, Abe and Elam, had their attention turned to the forest south of them. He tried hard to listen to their conversation.
“Abe, we got ta get on the move. I been hearin’ those Sponsers in the night. They gettin’ closer every day we are away from our home. I don’t know what got in ta Mikey, but I recon he’ll get better soon. Old man Jenkins always did tell that if ya see the Sponsers and live, you gonna go dumb and stupid. Ya think that what happen to Mikey?”
“Don’t know bout that Elam, I spose so. He do seem like something aint right with him. He seem to lost all sense a himself and us. If he did see them Sponsers, then we gotta keep him safe. They won’t stop till they get him and take him back. I don’t think they make ya eat yerself like ya said. I think they take ya and ya never return back. They take ya fer good an that’s that. Old man Jenkins told me how his boy got taken by them and never returned. He held vigil day an night, fer near a whole month, and they still not let him go. After almost a year, he figured they done killed him and he mourned and still aint right. I tell ya Elam, them Sponsers are scary. We best get the brothers up and going since daylight is coming. We gotta get back like ya said. Maybe Mikey will feel better there. If not…”
Abe left off when he noticed Mike, wide eyed and listening to their conversation. He motioned Mike to come over and he did quietly so as to not wake up the other brothers.
“How long you been listening Mikey?” Abe asked.
“Long enough to hear about those…Sponsers.” He still couldn’t get used to the strange dialect coming from his mouth. In his head, he still heard it as normal and it was a slight disconnect as the words spoken sounded like the brothers and not himself. “Who are they and why are you afraid of them?”
“Mikey, you know full well who they is. Hell, I recon you saw them and it caused you to ferget who you is.”
“Well, maybe if you tell me, my memories will start to come back.”
Abe looked to Elam and a flash of understanding crossed between them. Elam nodded slightly and Abe motioned them all to sit down on the hay bale.
“Well Mikey, these Sponsers are evil creatures. They is dark as the blackest night. They are like spirits, but worse than anything ya can imagine. They chase us till they get their claws in us. When they do that, there aint no escape from them. They aint human at all. They want to turn you, me, Elam, all of us to their slaves. They want to work us till we is dead, and then they steal your soul.”
Mike laughed a little. This sounded so ridiculous to him. Steal your soul? Ha! Who were these guys kidding? Nothing like that existed.
“You best watch what you think is funny Mikey, they is real. Real as I am and that hay you sitting on. Why do ya think we’re out here? They came a few weeks back to the homestead. We ran off to hide from them till they passed. Old man Jenkins, if ya remember him,” and Mike shook his head. He couldn’t recall that amongst his pre-set memories, “Well he is tha only person saw them and not turn crazy or die. They took his boy, John. He talks of how they came in the middle of the night and steal the boy from his bed. Ol’ John was a big man too, much bigger than Jed over there,” he said pointing at the largest brother, still sleeping near the fire. “John wasn’t no easy target Mikey, he was all brute, but them Sponsers just came in and took him. And they never travel alone. They always go in groups, maybe five or so, but no one knows for sure, That just the rumor since aint no one who encountered them live to tell bout them.”
Mike’s face went from amusement to concern. “You actually believe this, don’t you?” Abe nodded. Elam too. They actually believed this bogey-man tale about the “Sponsers” and they seemed genuinely afraid of them. That began to scare him. If these good ol boys were afraid enough to leave their home and live in the forest for a while to escape them, then maybe he had a right to be scared. But what if they were just messing with him? He remembered a story his mom used to say all the time about a crazy man that lived in the woods at the end of his street in order to get him to stay out of them. As it turned out years later, it was all a lie. At the time, he would have walked over hot coals instead of go in those woods. She scared him good. Maybe that’s what they were doing. Out of a sick sense of humor? He wasn’t sure. He started to smile again, but the serious look on Elam’s face told him this was real to them. As real as the sky was blue.
Abe stood up, “It’s bout time to go boys.” He walked closer to the fire and began waking the brothers carefully, as he didn’t want to startle them. “Let’s get at it boys, we gotta get moving back home today. We found Mikey and it seems to be clear of those Sponsers. After about half an hour, they were all packed, the fire was out, and they were on their way. Where to, Mike could only guess. It seemed as though he was going to be here for a while.
Thanks for reading! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Come back tomorrow for chapter 6 of Master of the Drunken Fist. Click here for the Table of Contents and links for the chapters.