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FALL LINE excerpts from Part One

ONE: Morning, Thursday, December 1, 1955

This dog Percy is there when the dawn breaks, running beside the river and then

turning away, through the woods and up the hill, leaves crushing under his feet, his path

worn more than ten years, stopping to smell the holes where the chipmunks burrow out of

sight when he trots by. His fur is black and his paws black and even his tongue black, the

blackest of all chows, but he is only half chow and half mutt like the backwoods country

dogs that roam the woods around the old lady’s home. His black eyes are steady and see

the earth up close in the bridge between light and darkness enshrouded in a cool mist

from the Oogasula. Drops of dew sparkle on the evergreens and silvery and bluish

reflections dance on the clear water gurgling on the banks and streaming in the middle,

small white caps breaking in the slow bend of the river.

He runs up through the woods, farther away from the smell of the cold river water

and through the lower hardwoods and into the pine thicket up the hill where the new

shortleaf pines begin, growing every day, a few feet each year, their rough bark trunks

shooting out of the red clay and yearning for the blue sky. He sniffs the fresh pine

needles that cover the ground like a blanket before he crosses back into the hardwoods

and digs in the old stumps and smells for the chipmunks down in their holes. He imagines

their brown fur with the black stripe punctuated with white dots curled into a tight dusty

ball. He can smell the chipmunks clearly, can hear their pitched little grunts and squeals.

He growls softly at them, his fangs showing. He runs on and smells the scent of rabbits
and a possum and the big hole where the groundhog nests. He is on the lookout for

squirrels, the flying one in particular, but they are nowhere to be seen. The old man had

taught him when he was a pup to stay after the squirrels and to tree them and to bark and

point up with his nose, until he could come along with his shotgun. The old man had

become more and more wrinkled until he was carried off in a box a long time ago, and

had missed a lot of squirrels Percy had scared up. Percy runs on, keeping his nose to the

ground but his eyes look up in case the squirrels appear along the break of blue sky

between the pines and oaks and yellow poplars. The image of the flying squirrel coasting

like a bird from tree limb to tree limb with his four paws spread and his fur like a cape is

etched in Percy’s mind. He watches for the squirrel and dreams about him when he

naps…
Elmer Blizzard gazed across the land he might be the last to ever see. He took a

long drag on a cigarette and flipped the butt onto the ground and stamped it under his

heel. Up the hill from the river in a clearing used for a cow pasture stood an ancient live

oak, its bare branches stretching high into the clear sky like they were reaching for

something, hopeful even after hundreds of years of nothing while waiting in the cresting

field. Sherman himself had stopped for a smoke under that tree when the Yankees

burned a swath through here ninety-one years ago. Wouldn’t be long till the lake would

come and that old tree would be nothing but deadwood where catfish would gather if

Georgia Power and the government’s plan played out correctly. He reached into the back

of his britches and pulled out his .38 revolver and moved the cigarette to the corner of his

mouth and aimed at a bobtail squirrel in the neck of tree, pulling back on the trigger and

firing three times at the varmint. It shrieked and scurried down the trunk and across the

ground. Elmer pulled the trigger a fourth time but he had used his last bullet so the

empty shelled clicked hollowly. He put the gun back in his britches and scowled at the

squirrel as it dashed away.

He turned to take in the landscape. Down the slope the river streamed through the

gully, narrow but deeper in the cut of red clay between gently rolling hills. Pulpwooders

had clear-cut all the pines where the lake would go, leaving only a field of stumps, but

most of the hardwoods they left behind. Across the river and farther up, sapling pines

took over and stretched a long way back, the new trees courtesy of the Georgia-Pacific

Plywood Company. Lake must not be going that high over there, Elmer figured, and

that’ll be beyond the shoreline.


It was December but the sun was warm and the brown grass rustled in the easy

wind. The road where he’d parked curved down toward the Oogasula and ran parallel

and close to the water for about fifty yards before it veered back the other direction in a

lazy curve, a mirror image of the river’s course. He ambled down to the water’s edge

where he stood in plain view of old Mrs. McNulty’s house, the little shack across the road

from the kudzu-covered junkyard situated in a flat low spot at the bend in the river. From

about a hundred yards away he could see her, squatting on her porch by an antique

bathtub, fooling with something under it, her back to him. She was a big-boned woman

who carried herself proud, her posture like that of an old Indian chief, her hair dark

despite her age. She’d been living in the house without electricity or running water as

long as he could remember, that tub sitting out front the whole time. A black chow came

hesitantly out from under the porch and stood next to her, his wide tongue hanging from

his mouth. The dog looked at Elmer and then back at her. Elmer turned to face the river,

unzipped his fly, pulled it out and peed into the current.

“Big water’s coming,” Elmer said. A long stream of urine arched through the air

and glittered golden in the sunlight before splashing in the stream. “Yep,” he continued,

looking back at Mrs. McNulty’s shack, not opening his lips very wide when he spoke but

still speaking loudly in a scratchy drawl, “the power company gonna flood you out,

honey pie.”

He zipped up and spat in the water, the little white gob floating on the surface like

a water bug until it submerged in a riffle about twenty feet away.

“Big water’s sure nuff coming.”


Mrs. McNulty didn’t turn to look at Elmer until he was up on the top step, the

board creaking like it always had. He was a little man, wiry, 150 pounds at most, so it

didn’t squeak much. Wasn’t any point in fixing it now, that old step, all those years of

being loose. She’d let all those things go when Ralph died. Ralph never was a finisher

anyhow. He had been promising to do something about the bathtub he had brought home

and abandoned on the porch a generation ago. The tub was chipped and dirty and it was

packed full of rags and shoeboxes containing car parts, mainly door handles and hood

ornaments. All the things Ralph had left behind.

“Hey, Elmer,” she said, regarding him cautiously but friendly—she’d heard

stories and knew he wasn’t a deputy anymore. “What you shooting at over there?”

“Hey…Mrs. McNulty. Aw, just an old squirrel. I figure I’d get him ’for he

drowns.”

“My old dog here is scared to death of guns. Didn’t you here him whining?”

Elmer looked at the dog, sitting next to Mrs. McNulty.

“No ma’am. He looks all right to me. I know he’s seen guns before.”

“But that don’t mean he likes ’em.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I disturbed him,” Elmer said.

He glanced around her yard and then down toward the river.

“What you still doing out here? They want everybody out today. Paper said you

got to clear out by sunset.”

“Yeah, I know it.” She was still squatting by the tub. “I’m just trying to figure

how I can get the feet off this thing.”


“You worried it’s gonna up and run away?” He spat off the porch into one of the

wild hydrangeas alongside Mrs. McNulty’s steps.

“Now that I’d like to see,” she said. “Who knows what’s gonna happen when that

water comes? This old tub just might try to run.”

She laughed, a hacking chuckle, and continued, gesturing across the road to the

vine-choked junkyard.

“Man from the state said all these cars will make this part of the lake one of the

best fishing spots in the whole mess. Sumpin’ about the fish wanting somewheres to

hide.”

“Yeah, I reckon they right,” Elmer said, turning to look at the leaf-covered old

cars dating back to the beginning of automobiles—Model A’s and T’s and old trucks, a

tractor here and there, a Stanley Steamer, all rusting away. “How long ago did Mr.

McNulty start hauling vehicles out here?”

“It’s been near forty years, I guess.”

“Yeah, I wonder what he’d think of this. I guess this part of the lake’ll be fifty

feet deep down here in the gully. And I bet the top of that old oak tree will be sticking up

through the surface of the water.”

“I wonder why they didn’t cut it down, like they did all those pines?”

“Ain’t no telling,” Elmer said.

Mrs. McNulty put her hand on the tub and looked toward the river beyond the

junkyard.

“You think that dam is really gonna fill up the land, like they say it is?”

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