In Them Trees, A Southern Dystopian Story

by Miranda Brumbaugh in ,

This is the start of a fantasy novel I’ve been working on forever and have finally come to the conclusion it’s time to finally be done Done DONE! As I’m into this whole serial thing, I’m putting up a few chapters I’ve completed as I complete them. Not all, but some of the first ones :) and then when the book is published you can read the rest of the story. A tasty tease if you will.

Go ahead, meet Swan Greenwood and the rest of the gang in the Muscadine Vine Valley. They bite, too.

Ch. 1 It's Always Autumn! Forever Fall!

When Swan Greenwood was born, the first taste on her tongue was muscadine wine made from the fruit of the valley. Because she was one of the people, the tribe, the community. Those born of the earth here.

The earth here isn’t like the earth where you live or like any earth you’ve ever visited. Earth here is in a continual state of harvest. Yep, it’s Always Autumn! Forever Fall! here at Muscadine Vine Valley. Drinking that first sip of the earth’s sweetness gives Swan and all the other Musky Vale kids the Protection. Or at least that’s what the ancestors said and the elders still say.

They also say you’ve got to leave at least one ripe muscadine on the vine after the harvest. Haven’t had a muscadine before? Oh, bless your heart. Muscadine vines have been snaking through the valley since the beetles were pollenating the mother magnolia trees that gave birth to the Southern Magnolia and its milky white petals we all love. The muscadine is a 16th- century grape, Vitis rotundifolia, all-American and heaven in a fermented bottle.

Those muscadines, they are tough. They handle the Southern heat with a skin thick as a water moccasin, Agkistrodon piscivorus, the Southern pit viper. Muscadines are resistant to most fungal diseases, a hardy fruit. Grape farmers like to grow them better than grapes because they are cheaper. You don’t have to spend as much time primping and pampering these berries.

If you’ve got some scuppernongs then you’ll know it in their golden skin kiss, while a darker purple berry is bound to be a Magnolia or maybe a Carlos. Some prefer the Regale or Noble breeds because they make sweeter wine. I personally go with the scuppernong myself but there are plenty of muscadine varietals growing down here in the valley to fit every fancy.

These grapes do most of the growing on their own. They don’t need pruning and pesticides like those prissy grapes you find elsewhere. These grapes will never be called fragile or precious. Ok, yes. Muscadines are what we call big boned.

They’ve got bigger seeds, and they actually have seeds, rather than those genetically bred sissy grapes. So you’ve got to deal with that, and while someone invents a muscadine berry deseeder like a cherry pitter, then we will just all continue to bite and spit and replenish the earth with muscadine roots.

When you do go through the work, you get a suckling sweet reward dripping from chin to shin. But when you press these sweet bits and let the musty mush ferment, the reward goes from blue ribbon prize to winning the Powerball. A corked bottle of muscadine wine is the single greatest bargaining chip in the Vale.

If you do keep that one last muscadine on the vine, you’ll keep the white devils away to boot. If the vine were to go barren, you say? Well, that’s the thing, the magic if you will, of the valley.

It is literally always harvest time here. Lit. Er. Al. LY. So we always have ripe muscadines ready to nosh. The rule is to never strip a musky branch bare any time of year. If you do, the white devils, they know. They come. They get someone young and tender and pure from your household. They take them into the woods and you never see hide nor hair of them ever again.

The white devils are also the reason why every house in the rolling tree-spoked hills have always stood a full floor level above ground. No, this was never a flood plain. No, these houses didn’t have pig sties or goat pens beneath them. This space must be left unused without a stitch of furniture or clothing. Not for storage. You can’t even drill a well beneath your house, which would make life a lot easier in the valley. Instead everybody has to haul up water from the lake in the year 2119.

It was in the charter code of the community that, “All dwellings for human inhabitation shall be constructed with enough height for the tallest family member to stand upright underneath without constraint.” The reason?

Well, while the charter code omits that piece of information, even in the finest print, everybody is born knowing about the white devils. Those mad dogs that come snarling as soon as the woods get deep-dark and still at night. And if they catch you up out of bed late or hear you making noise in the bed, playing around instead of sleeping like a good little girl, then they’ll hear you.

“Hush! If you don’t be quiet, those mad dogs’ll hear, and they’ll tear through the floor boards and git you!”

And of course as a child you laid silently still, sick to sleep afraid you’ll get chewed on by some wild animal, a beast. Forget hanging a foot over the bed. If a floor wouldn’t stop them, then a bed wouldn’t be any sort of issue.

Some people call them white devils and that makes them even scarier, but that’s also reserved for those older kids who don’t quite believe in the mad dogs anymore. You still had to keep them in line, too. After all, teens get a wild hair every now and again to run off, seek some gold or greener grass or whatnot.

As you got older and had a family of your own, you didn’t think about mad dogs coming to get you. You thought of them coming to get your children, which is one thousand times worse. So, you built your house on stilts with enough space to stand upright beneath just like everyone else did. And then when kids started going missing again, you were glad you followed the crowd. Now you can be somewhat sure your kids won’t get snatched down through the floorboards.

Welcome to Muscadine Vine Valley, a community of Southern Appalachian people who have lived on this same earth for more centuries than are countable. No one knows, but it’s a long time considering. The magic in those hills. And its roots. Here it truly is always autumn, that’s not just a snazzy tagline for tourism.

Because tourism has never been a problem, not since the opening up of Highway 442 that brought their four wheeled buggies right to the doorstep of the community more than two centuries ago in circa 1960, but still far later than the rest of the US. Musky Vale was a phenomenon, is a phenomenon. No where else on the planet does it remain a single season for infinity.