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Backwoods Justice: Iron Mountain, #2

Backwoods Justice: Iron Mountain, #2

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Backwoods Justice: Iron Mountain, #2

5/5 (1 rating)
333 pages
5 hours
Apr 6, 2015


When Rubin Sawyer, a former resident of Iron Mountain, partnered with Knoxville detective Thomas Jordan to find who abducted women along trails and cabins of the mountain, he was deemed a traitor. As an act of revenge, his granddaughter is snatched from the banks of Doe Creek and taken to the bowels of the mountain. Soon after, hikers along the Appalachian Trail become sacrificial lambs, part of a bloody, cunning game of maneuvers designed to lead Sawyer to the mountain’s infamous Hanging Tree. 

Apr 6, 2015

About the author

Chuck Walsh is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and discovered a passion for writing in 2004. Since then, he has written human-interest articles for a dozen publications. He also coauthored Faces of Freedom (featured on Sean Hannity’s book list), a book that recognizes the noble lives of U.S. soldiers who died while fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. His first fiction novel, Shadows on Iron Mountain, is about a killer roaming the backwoods of East Tennessee.He has also written A Month of Tomorrows, a memoir of sorts that weaves between the jungles of the Philippines and the rolling hills of Tennessee, seen through the eyes of Samuel Gable, a WWII war hero down to his final days on earth. Chuck lives in Columbia, SC with his wife Sandy. They have three children: Jessica, Brent, and Stephanie.Chuck, a former baseball player, is an avid fiction reader, and when he’s not working on his novels, is busy reading the works of others. His favorite writer is Cormac McCarthy, whom he considers the greatest writer of our generation.

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Backwoods Justice - Chuck Walsh


Monday, November 4, 2002

His footprints measured his life—a life marked only by the tracks from his worn leather boots. Few would acknowledge his existence. Yet there he stood, a shadow in the soft morning light. Evil veiled by lazy streams and wildflowers. His breath was foul, his mouth dry, and his palms sweaty. Sent by the creator of law where no sense of accountability existed.

He’d come to deliver backwoods justice in the guise of revenge, the great equalizer. Down from that land of ten thousand hills, into the valley, below the doorstep of the place time had forgotten. A plague sent from a godless land.

~ * ~

The sun rose above Snake Mountain, carving shapes from the shadows blanketing the hillsides. An easy breeze slipped along the valley, casting a shimmer on Doe Creek, and distorting the mirror image of Iron Mountain in the distance. Carter Valley sprang to life, her pulse running through the winding veins of the creek, with her breath the wind rustling the wheat and cornfields. A mix of Shorthorns and Angus cows were scattered about the valley like a disinterested audience. In the distance, a tractor rumbled. Peace blanketed the land.

Christina chased a butterfly along the edge of the grassy bank of Doe Creek while Rubin Sawyer slid a worm onto a silver hook, his eyes squinting slightly as he maneuvered the hook. The thirty-foot creek ran fast and flat. What seemed like an endless array of rocks battled the rushing water, generating a constant hum of motion and white turbulence.

If this doesn’t work, Sawyer said, I’m wading into the creek and grabbing the fish by its eyeballs.

He rinsed his hand in the stream, the icy water stinging his fingers. In that sting was a familiar warmth like a hearth ‘round a winter’s fire. With a hook in one hand, the rod in the other, he pulled gently on the metal prong just to watch the rod concave as it would when the next fish snatched the bait.

Patience, Daddy, said Jolene. You know this is the first time she’s so much as held a fishing pole.

"I know. But it shouldn’t take so long to catch on. I’ve already shown her a dozen times how to reel in a fish. It took no more than twice for you to figure it out. And you were younger than her."

That’s because I’m the daughter of the great Rubin Sawyer. Command rose in her voice when she spoke his name. I had no choice. I had to be a fisherman and a hunter. You should have named me Annie Oakley Sawyer.

I never forced you into it. Sawyer waved his hand into the air as shooing away all notions in the world contrary to his. You were born with the desire.

She glanced at Christina. That’s true, I guess. But she’s more suited for chasing that butterfly than catching a fish in Doe Creek.

Well, butterfly or bull horn. It’s all the same. She just needs to pay closer attention to the details of it all.

She’s only five, Daddy.

Sawyer kept a watchful eye on Christina as she chased the butterfly. She’s old enough.

Just because she hasn’t taken to reeling trout from the creek, doesn’t mean she’s destined to hate the outdoors. Have you heard her do the wood thrush lately? She practices every day. Her tiny throat just a-flutters when she makes that call. You know why? Because of you. She wants to do it just like you.

I’ll give her that. She’s not bad.

Not bad at all.

It’s good for her to learn the ways of the mountains. Pride in her surroundings.

Bird calls, she likes. Fishing, not so much. Not yet, anyways. With pouty eyes, she said, Go ahead, Daddy. Do the call and watch her reaction.

Sawyer shook his head in contempt of his daughter’s ability to snuff out his cantankerous moods, turning his disposition from ornery to one where life couldn’t be any better.

Come on, she encouraged. Just once. That call always let me know you were close by, watching over me.

Hold the pole, he said.

After she took the rod, he turned toward Christina, flapped his hand across his mouth, his throat emitting a series of quick, high-pitched sounds. As if on cue, Christina, in hot pursuit of the butterfly, stopped and placed her hand to her mouth, responding to his call.

Jolene smiled. Just love the sound. She carefully handed the fishing pole to him. That rod was the vessel conveying a man’s love for his child.

Christina slipped further along the winding bank, nearing a thick patch of yellow grass, tall and rangy. Sawyer cast his bait into the water and glanced at her crouching by the water’s edge as the butterfly lit on a rock.

Go fetch her, and we’ll try this again. I’m going to toss the bait over by the pool yonder, where the fish are schoolin’. All she’ll have to do is reel him in.

Jolene called out to Christina, who ran along the creek with the black-and-gold creature seemingly bored with the world in which it flew. Carefree, she skipped along the bank, her pace not far behind the butterfly. The creek turned northward, an elbow-shaped bend. As she followed the path of the insect, she fell out of Sawyer’s view.

Jolene quickened her pace, making it to the bend in the creek. She took hold of a tree branch while his hand monitored the pulse of the rod. She stepped on a massive boulder rising from the water’s edge, as if strategically placed by God to keep floodwaters from rising on the western bank. Christina? Baby?

You see her?

No, she said with a sense of urgency.

What do you mean, no? Sawyer shouted. He reeled in the line, backpedaling, no longer concerned with what swam in the shallows of the creek.

I mean, I don’t see her. Jolene placed a hand above her eyes like a shield from the sun. Christina! Frantic, she screamed the name again.

Dropping the pole on the bank, Sawyer sprinted toward Jolene. How can she not see her?

The creek bank stood motionless as the waters of Doe Creek surged over the rocky bottom. Despite the continual shifting of the stream, the creek seemed eerily void of movement. Fifty feet away, on the eastern bank stood a cornfield; the brown remnants of the previous growing season rustled, though the winds were still.

Jolene jumped from the rock and for a moment seemed frozen beside the bank. Ten feet in front of her, the butterfly lit on a small branch of a poplar whose branches hung above the creek and she again screamed, Christina!

The panic in her voice set him to motion, his boots pounding the dirt and pebbles.

Sawyer honed in beyond the creek to the cornfield, but a stretch of birches hugging the far side of the stream hindered his view. Christina! he called out, sweat building in his hands. Any sign of stoic calmness was quickly fading. For sixty yards he ran, at times splashing into the creek to get around rocks dotting the bank. He struggled to keep from falling into the water. His gut tightened. Where the hell did she go?

When he made it past the birch trees, his sight line opened. A hundred yards to his right, where the dormant field sloped up to the base of Iron Mountain, was movement near the massive hardwoods. Sawyer leaped into the icy water, wading and sidestepping the rocks, before running into the field. A distressed whimper carried on the breeze. Behind him, Jolene splashed through the stream, calling out Christina’s name.

The shadows stretched into the woods, Iron Mountain now a protective border. Sawyer sprinted into the forest, thick in underbrush, a trespasser on an evil land where he’d long stood witness to rugged soil and ragged hearts. He stopped, the silence suffocating both spirit and hope like some mammoth candlesnuffer.


Saturday—Two Days Prior

Evan cut his cured ham with a dull steak knife, trying to keep the kidney-shaped piece of meat from sliding off the plate. It would be his last hot meal for three days, and he intended to savor every bite. He looked about the room where the morning sun cast a haze of gray across the Beaver Creek Restaurant. The building, once home to Ed Stout, was converted in the twenties to a hotel and restaurant, where it served as an outpost for loggers and bean growers until the late forties. At least that’s what the sign beside the front door of the restaurant said. Evan had read the restaurant history to Trent as they waited for a booth to free up.

Though the sun had barely broken the top of Iron Mountain, the restaurant was buzzing with patrons and workers. Denim overalls and nylon pants were the popular clothing choice, presented by both farmer and adventure seeker alike. Evan read the night before at the Cherokee Inn that Damascus was a crossing point for not only the Appalachian Trail, but others like the Virginia Creeper and the Daniel Boone. Based on the crowd size, the Beaver Creek appeared to be the nexus of the hiking and agriculture worlds of East Tennessee.

Trent worked on the fluffy biscuit and chunky sausage gravy on his plate. They’d ordered fried eggs, two each, over easy, runny. Steam rose from their coffee as Evan looked at pictures on the wall behind the counter. The sad banjo sounds of Kentucky Moon flowed from a radio on a small wood shelf splitting two windows along the eastern side of the restaurant. Evan smiled as a waitress did a quick two-step to the song while she stepped to the counter.

Gotta love this place, he said. It’s like we went back in time fifty years. And this has got to be the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Stock up, buddy boy, because you’ll be chewing on jerky and granola the next three days, Trent said.

How about we just stay here in Damascus? We can hike part of the trail each day and work our way back here by sundown. That way we stay at the Inn and sleep in a warm bed instead of the cold ground. Think about it—a comfortable mattress, a hot shower. I’ll even buy breakfast each morning.

You can’t experience life on the trail that way, so forget it.

Hey, it’s my birthday. I should be the one to decide where we go and when, right? Evan carefully sipped his coffee.

Sorry, but this is my birthday gift. Trent cut into his gravy-covered biscuit and a sly grin emerged. You have to accept it.

Well, how about I treat the trip like I would an ugly sweater? I’ll just return it and exchange it for something I like.

"Tell you what. When we’re done with the hike on Tuesday, if you’re not satisfied, you can exchange the trip for a two-day stay at the Cherokee Inn next year."


Evan’s backpack weighed heavily on his upper body, and he plodded forward like a rented pack mule. They had covered six miles of the Appalachian Trail since leaving Damascus. Their goal was to make it to the Abington Shelter, still three miles away. As they walked, the skyline of Iron Mountain stood dark and cold in the distance, in stark contrast to the baby-blue sky above it.

Evan’s fascination with the Appalachians started when he fished for trout with his father in Boone at age eleven, the winding streams and plush meadows exuding serenity ever since. And yet, Iron Mountain looked menacing, uninviting ahead. Shady Valley lay to the southeast, its soft fields of corn and pumpkin patches golden from the midday sun.

He’d fallen in love with a girl named Lauren at the University of Georgia. They’d taken a trip to Banner Elk their senior year—a group of twelve college kids, spending the weekend partying and skiing on Sugar Mountain. Six years later, he was back in the Blue Ridge, Lauren nothing but a memory.

He and Trent made it to the Abington Shelter by mid-afternoon, gathered wood to build a fire, and went about setting up camp. Under the shadows of the dense trees, the temperatures struggled to make it above fifty degrees. Evan pressed his fingers against the hard concrete slab of the shelter where he laid his sleeping bag. He resisted the urge to remind Trent that the Cherokee Inn would have been a good deal more comfortable and a lot warmer.

Around the fire, the sun dropping in the western sky to where it would soon dip behind Holston Mountain, they drank lukewarm bottled water and snacked on energy bars. Childhood friends from Marietta, they had been roommates at college for four years.

Well, you sure can’t equal this at the Cherokee Inn, Trent said.

Evan shook his head.

Come on, admit it. There’s nothing quite like being in the deep woods.

It’s better than I thought it would be. Good thing the weather’s nice.

Shouldn’t get below thirty so I won’t have to worry about you whining too much. Hope I can say the same tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night?

We’ll be on Iron Mountain. It’s always colder. Winds blow right through you.

Can’t we sidestep it?

Trent laughed. It’s not like skipping a puddle. Iron Mountain is a big one. There’s no way around it unless we’re picked up by chopper and transported.

By dawn, Evan’s back ached as though a giant nutcracker had squeezed it. He rubbed his forehead, adjusting his toboggan. A hot shower would have been nice. Trent squatted next to the fire, making coffee in a small pot held above the flame by the metal hook that was a permanent fixture of the fireplace.

Wake up, pard, Trent said. Check out the sunrise. This is paradise, son.

Evan smelled the coffee and lay back on his elbow, the tall trunks razor-straight above him. I’ll admit this ain’t too bad. Beats sitting at my desk trying to keep Mr. Greenway off my butt.

I certainly could get used to it.

Not sure if I could get used to it, but right now, I’m enjoying life.

Soon they were on the road again, telling lies about former lovers. For a mile, they plodded a looping trail snaking across the meadow where it joined Iron Mountain. The air was crisp and a slight breeze blew. The meadow crested to a wide rolling field of wild grass and clover, a soft glow of green and yellow—a scene so colorful Evan stopped in amazement.

They were on Cross Mountain, a bowtie hill linking Holston to Iron, running perpendicular to both. The field they walked was awash in sweet fragrance, surrounded by trees heavy in red and orange. They came upon Roan Valley Highway, which ran along the backside of Iron Mountain and into Virginia fifteen miles north. When they crossed the road, they entered a gravelly lot with a half dozen parked cars.

What’s this place? Evan asked.

It’s where day hikers park.

A glass sign near the lot mapped out the Appalachian Trail from the entrance to Iron Mountain southwest to Roan Mountain. Beside the sign a 1983 red, El Camino sat under a tall oak. Sitting on the tailgate were various items made of wood.

Let’s see what they’re selling, Evan said.

The pair approached the car. Two men, probably in their early twenties, sat on stools in the bed of the El Camino. Sitting in front of them on the bed, her jean-covered legs crossed, was a girl who Evan guessed was no more than eighteen.

Trent rubbed his finger along a smooth-handled walking cane. Check this out, Evan. He looked at the guys. All right if I hold it? One of them nodded, and Trent picked up the cane. What kind of wood is this?

Ash, the one who nodded said. He wore army-fatigue pants and a beige thermal shirt with a black, sleeveless down jacket. His hair was straggly, shoulder-length, dirty blond, and hung from underneath a denim cap.

This is sharp looking, Trent said. He touched the ground with the end and took a few steps. It sure would make hiking the trail easier. He turned toward Evan. What do you think?

It might. Evan regarded the men in the truck. How much?

Normally we charge fifty for that ‘un, the man replied, lifting his cap and shaking his hair before returning the cap to his head. But I’m feelin’ generous today. Forty bucks, and it’s yours.

Evan took the cane from Trent’s hand and examined it closely. I don’t know. Got some cracks. Not sure how much pressure it could take before it splits in two. He handed it back to Trent. I wouldn’t pay more than ten.

The girl shrugged and let go a sarcastic laugh. Hell, city boy, you don’t know mountain quality when you see it. This ain’t crap made in China. This is hand crafted.

Hand crafted by who? Evan asked. You?

The man who’d given the nod for Trent to pick up the cane rose, tossed his cigarette to the gravel, and jumped off the side of the truck.

You disrespectin’ my girl? he asked as he advanced toward Evan. He stood a good six inches taller than this stranger who questioned the cane’s craftsmanship.

Trent moved in front of Evan, who was starting to bow up his back.

He didn’t mean nothin’ by it, Trent said.

Didn’t mean nothin’ by it, the man said in sarcastic repetition.

Listen, hillbilly, Evan said. Speaking of respect...

The man reached over Trent’s shoulder, shoving Evan in the chest. Evan fell on his backside, his backpack cushioning his fall.

When Trent held the cane to the man’s throat, the second man leapt from the truck bed.

Be a huge mistake to use the cane on my cousin. He grabbed the end of the staff. I’ll be forced to beat the chicken shit out of you.

Evan slipped his backpack off his arms and jumped to his feet. He squared himself in front of the man who’d pushed him, poking his chest with his finger. And I’ll be forced to kick your ass, he said.

Trent yanked the cane free from the mountain man and pointed it in the air like a gun ready to shoot. Okay, let’s everybody chill. No need for things to get out of control. He held the cane in front of him like a snake he didn’t want biting him. Here, take it. He regarded the two mountain men. Everything’s cool.

It ain’t cool talkin’ to us like we’re dumb hicks, said the man in the fatigues. You’ve come into our world so you best mind your manners. Otherwise, your experience is bound to be a bad one.

You’re right, Trent said. We were out of line. So, my buddy and I are going to get back on the trail now, and you boys can get back to selling your woodwork.

He handed the cane to the one who pushed Evan. The man’s brown eyes locked in a cold stare with Trent, and neither seemed ready to break their gaze.

Come on, Evan, Trent said as he snatched Evan’s backpack off the ground. Let’s get back to hiking.

They spun and slowly trudged away.

~ * ~

The door creaked when he slipped inside. A smell of must and dampness hovered in the windowless hut. If not for a hole in the corner of the rusted tin roof, he wouldn’t have been able to see. He searched among the rusty tools in the shed. Then he rustled about on the two shelves and kicked around the back walls until he saw it—just enough steel showing to catch the light slipping in from the roof.

Weapon of choice in hand, he trekked down a trail leading to an overhang. Finally, he had the chance to prove his worth, to walk the mountain with purpose, to fulfill his destiny. He stood on the granite rock jutting out from the mountain like a jagged tumor, and stared off in the distance to the peace and serenity of Doe Valley. In his hand, he carried the representation of backwoods justice.

~ * ~

Evan sweated underneath his fleece jacket, his feet hot and blistered, though he didn’t complain. He counted down the time until the hike would be over and they’d be on their way home. It was too much work, this traveling across the mountain trail. It now qualified as the kind of event where the best part would be reminiscing about it back home while sipping on a cold beer.

We’re just three miles from the Iron Mountain shelter, Trent said. We’ll stop there for the night.

The woods thickened as the winds quickened. The air was heavy, cold to the skin. The deep shadows tightened Evan’s world into a tapestry of green and black. His sweat cooled his body, and he zipped his jacket. You want to go back and camp in that field? He scratched his dark, scraggly three-day stubble.

Trent spun around wearing a puzzled expression. We’re going forward. Say goodbye to those meadows, son. Besides, no need to sleep on the frozen ground when the Iron Mountain shelter awaits.

Man, I feel like I’m in a friggin’ tunnel. Evan adjusted the black toboggan that squeezed his head. These woods are like walls moving closer with every step I take.

We’ll only be there one night. Tomorrow we’ll be on Roan Mountain, and Tuesday we’ll arrive at Hampton where our car awaits.

Yeah, right. For all you know, your car has been stripped down and sold for parts.

Bennie’s a trustworthy guy. I’ve used his services before. Trust me, the car will be waiting for us when we arrive.

Off to the south, Doe Mountain ran perpendicular to Iron Mountain, the quiet valley of Laurel Crossing between them. Evan stopped to admire the colors of the hardwoods on Doe; even the distance couldn’t dim their sharpness. They were much more brilliant than those around him. Why was Iron Mountain so pale in comparison to Doe Mountain when only one valley separated them? Though it puzzled him, it wasn’t important enough to ask about.

The trail they hiked continued to narrow, ferns lying flat and prostrate from the cold. A harsh gust rushed up from the hollow, whistling along the mountain floor, stinging Evan’s legs. The soil beneath his feet was rigid. His calves burned. His warm breath snuffed like a candle when it met the chilled air. The sun was quickly falling, allowing the sky to regain some of its blue luster, the shadows growing deeper along the trail. Red clouds, linear and layered, gathered in the western horizon, a veil to the world beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

The pair had not seen a hiker all day, and Evan wished they would. He’d seen enough of his best friend in the last two days, and it would be a nice change of pace to speak to someone else, proving they weren’t completely alone on the trail.

Trent had announced five months prior the trip was Evan’s thirtieth birthday present. With map in hand, his best friend showed him a section of the trail he hiked three years earlier. When he suggested they make it a yearly tradition, leaving behind future wives and children to keep their friendship perpetually young in nature, Evan nodded and faked a smile. Since he’d never so much as carried a backpack, other than the one that held his books when he walked to class in college, he held no desire to start a new tradition now. Hiking was not at the top of his birthday wish list, but how could he turn down his best friend?

They made it to the shelter as dusk settled in. Fifteen-feet wide, the cinder block structure had wood beams underneath a tin roof. It was three-sided, the front an open face allowing a view of the endless collection of hardwoods on Iron Mountain. The shelter was empty and gave no indication anyone had visited it recently. Evan held onto the hope a pair of beautiful hikers would stop in to stay the night, perhaps Swedish cuties exploring the Appalachians.

A dead oak lay fallen onto a massive elm, suspended in air. They pushed on it and forced it to the ground. Trent began to snap small limbs from the brittle oak. Evan joined in and soon had an armful of wood for a fire. Twenty feet in front of the shelter, they placed the wood within a circle of rocks that had no doubt held many fires.

Soon the flames grew, the wood entombed in orange and white. Evan glanced to the distance, the final traces of light fading and the trees losing shape.

Their dinner was granola bars, apples, and deer jerky Trent kept in a plastic wrapper in his pocket. You can’t get back much further in the sticks as we are right now, he said.

You got that right.

They sat on pine logs facing the fire. The light from the flames cast Trent’s eyes in smoldering red, a continual movement as if his eyes were a mirage, distorted by a fiery desert sun. Evan watched the light play on the nearby hardwoods, casting shadows so it appeared the woods were swaying. They sipped on two beers Trent had carried in his bag from Damascus.

Cheers, birthday boy, he said as he clanged his aluminum can with Evan’s.

A wolf’s cry echoed from higher ground, and

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  • (5/5)
    Backwoods Justice, the sequel to Shadows On Iron Mountain by Chuck Walsh will keep you glued to your couch until the last word. Just knowing there would be a sequel to Shadows On Iron Mountain had me reading it as soon as it came out. Walsh never disappoints; tension on every page.
    —CJ Loiacono