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Authors: Watt Key

Alabama Moon

BOOK: Alabama Moon
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ALABAMA
MOON

 

WATT KEY

 

 

FARRAR STRAUS GIROUX
New York

 

Table of Contents

Title

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

 

Special thanks to Mom and Dad for all they have done and continue to do for their children, Virginia Stallings for convincing me that I could write books, the late Doc Watson for his encouragement and turning me on to great literature, Jeff Makemson for our adventures in the Talladega National Forest, my friend Dr. Andy Smith for his medical research and general support, my wonderful agent Marianne Merola, and my diligent editors Robbie Mayes and Margaret Ferguson for making the publication process so enjoyable.

 

An Imprint of Macmillan

ALABAMA MOON. Copyright © 2006 by Albert Watkins Key, Jr. All rights reserved. Distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd. Printed in July 2010 in the United States of America by R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Harrisonburg, Virginia. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Square Fish and the Square Fish logo are trademarks of Macmillan and are used by Farrar, Straus and Giroux under license from Macmillan.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Key, Watt.

Alabama Moon / Watt Key.

    p.   cm.

Summary: After the death of his father, ten-year-old Moon leaves their forest shelter home and is sent to an Alabama institution, becoming entangled in the outside world he has never known and making good friends, a relentless enemy, and finally a new life.

ISBN: 978-0-312-64480-2

[1. Orphans—Fiction. 2. Wilderness survival—Fiction. 3. Bullies—Fiction. 4. Government, Resistance to—Fiction. 5. Alabama—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.K516 Ala 2006
[Fic]—dc22

2005040165

Originally published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Square Fish logo designed by Filomena Tuosto
Book design by Symon Chow
First Square Fish Edition: 2008
This Square Fish Edition: 2010
10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1
www.squarefishbooks.com

 

 

 

F
OR MY WIFE
, K
ATIE

 

 

 

 

ALABAMA
MOON

 

1

Just before Pap died, he told me that I'd be fine as long as I never depended on anybody but myself. He said I might feel lonely for a while, but that would go away. I was ten years old and he'd taught me everything I needed to know about living out in the forest. I could trap my own food and make my own clothes. I could find my way by the stars and make fire in the rain. Pap said he even figured I could whip somebody three times my size. He wasn't worried about me.

It took me most of a morning to get him into the wheelbarrow and haul him to the cedar grove on the bluff. I buried him next to Momma where you could see the Noxubee River flowing coffee-colored down below. It was mid-January and the wind pulled at my hair and gray clouds slid through the trees and left the forest dripping. I felt the loneliness he'd told me about crawling up from my stomach and into my throat.

I didn't put a cross on the grave. I never knew Pap to believe in things like that. The only way you could make out Momma's grave was the ground that was sunk in over her and 1972 scratched on a limestone rock nearby. I don't remember her face, but I remember somebody else in the bed at night, keeping me warm from the other side. Pap said she reminded him of a yellow finch, which is how she stays in my mind.

I found a rock for Pap and scratched 1980 on it with a nail. After placing it beside the dirt mound, I put the shovel in the wheelbarrow and started back for the shelter. The cedar grove trail was the only one we used enough to wear our tracks into it. It was worn like a cow path from years of walking it with Pap. Not only did he like to come see Momma up on the bluff, but we used it as a main trail to check the northeast trap lines. It had been almost a week since I'd run any of them because I hadn't wanted to leave Pap's side. I was sure the traps were tangled in the creeks, and it only made the sickness in my stomach worse to think that whatever was in them was most likely dead.

Pap had tried to explain death to me, but I couldn't make sense of it. Pap said you passed on and came back as something else. It could be a squirrel or a coon. It could be a fish or an Eskimo. There was no way to tell. The most confusing part of what he told me was that even though he would come back as something else, there would still be a part of the old him that floated around like smoke. This part of him would watch out for me. I couldn't talk to this thing or touch it, but I could write to it. I could make my letters and then burn them, and the smoke would carry my message to him.

When I got back to the shelter, I put the wheelbarrow and the shovel away and went inside. I took off my deerskin jacket and hat, lay down on the pile of hides that we hadn't been able to sell, and stared at the roots in the ceiling. There was always a lot of work to do and no time to rest. But now Pap was dead and things were not the same.

I thought about death again. Most things he told me made sense real quick. You boil steel traps to get the scent off. You
overlap palmetto roofing so the rain slides down it. You soak a deerskin for two days and it comes out with two days of softness to it. I could understand these things. But what he said about dying and the smoky messages and his hate for government—they were the hardest ideas for me to understand.

He'd said the government was after us ever since I could remember. The shelter we lived in was set miles into a forest owned by a paper company and was a place no person besides us had any cause to be. Even had someone come by, he would have to just about run into our shelter before he noticed anything unusual. It was one small room built halfway into the ground with low ceilings so that Pap had to stoop to walk inside. The roof was covered with dirt, and bushes and trees grew from the top. Over time tree roots had come down into the shelter and twisted through the logs and made their way into the ground at the edges. Everything that showed above ground was from nature. Even the stovepipe sticking up through the ceiling was encased in limestone.

We practiced with our rifles three times a week. Our windows were narrow slits for shooting through and the trees that you saw out of these windows were pocked and chipped from years of Pap and me practicing a stage-one defense. In stage two we moved into the hole at the back side of the shelter where a muddy tunnel led to the box. The box was about a quarter the size of our shelter and made of steel sheets that Pap took from an old barn. An air pipe went up through the ground and was hidden inside a tree stump. Pap said if we ever moved to stage two, we'd cave the tunnel in behind us. We had dried food and water in the box that would last for a
week or more. Pap said a stage two would be hard, but the box was made to keep people alive when things got really bad.

“It would be a while before they'd find us,” he'd said.

There were no power lines or roads nearby. Except for the path to the cedar grove, we switched our trails every week so we wouldn't wear our tracks into the ground. We made most of our fires in the woodstove to hide the flame. If we had to make a fire outside, we used the driest wood we could find to cut down on the smoke. We couldn't carry anything shiny in the bright sun in case a plane caught the reflection. Our knife blades kept a thin coat of rust on them for that very purpose. Pap even went so far as to sneak up on his game from the south so that the sound from the rifle shot would be aimed down into the river bottom.

From my place on the hide pile I could hear the birds through the small window slit as the forest grew dark outside. I was used to paying extra attention to the late-afternoon and night sounds. Pap said if the government was coming for us, that's when they'd come. He got nervous and quiet when the sun started dropping. He liked to sit inside the shelter and work on chores that didn't make noise. The two of us sewed, whittled, scraped hides, and repaired traps while we studied the forest sounds. But I didn't do any of these things the afternoon after Pap died. I couldn't. I just balled up like a squirrel and cried.

 

2

It seemed like everything started going wrong the summer before Pap's accident. We heard through Mr. Abroscotto, who owned the general store in Gainesville, that International Paper Company had run into hard times and was selling off some of its land. Pap said that the paper company had owned the forest as long as we'd been there and that they were too big to know about us. If they sold out to smaller landowners, we'd likely be found.

I could tell that Pap was worried. He told me that the swimming hole was off limits and that I was to stay close to the shelter unless I was checking traps or getting drinking water. Without the creek to swim in, the days were hotter than any I can remember. We spent afternoons sitting in the shelter, covered with the tannic acid from boiled acorns to keep off the ticks and mosquitoes. Pap had me practice my reading while he carved fish hooks from briars and bound sticks to make catfish traps.

It wasn't two weeks after our visit to Mr. Abroscotto's store that surveyors found our shelter while we were out checking the traps. When Pap and I returned, we saw their orange vests through the trees and we ducked into the bushes and watched them as they walked around the shelter. They stayed there for about an hour, poking at our things. I asked Pap if they were the government, and he said no, but they weren't much better.

BOOK: Alabama Moon
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