An Appalachian Tale

Prompt Day #234: How does the mutant employ his third arm?


An Appalachian Tale


Some people are just born wrong. Ayuh, they’re out there; goin’ about their daily business and no one is the wiser what sorts of madness is incubatin’ inside. They look no different than you and me. God help us when two of ‘em find each other cause eventually, lunacy tells. It starts to leak out, you see, it’s in the genes by then. Ain’t no good can come of it. Festerin’ sometimes for generations before some aberration of nature is born and it’s too late for the wretched little thing. Yep, by then the derangement if full on and there ain’t no one around to teach ‘em any different. You might think I’m waxing philosophical but you’d be wrong. I got a story to tell ya illustratin’ my point.

The story of Brucie Clanton starts about three months before yours truly was due to make his own entrance into this wild and crazy world. But I can tell it true enough. My mama was a midwife in those parts at the time. You know, I hear talk about the ghettos and vagrants sleeping in subway cars but you ain’t seen poverty til you seen Appalachian mountain poverty. Weren’t no doctors or hospitals around our parts. None would have even been willing to subject themselves to our kind of living. But my mama; well, she was taught by her mama and her gran before her. They’d been bringin’ babies into life in dirt floored drafty cabins for many a year when my mama, all heavy with me in her belly was called to a half shack/half cave like structure in the side of the mountain to deliver Brucie Clanton.

The Clantons kept to themselves and were often the subject of many front porch speculatin’ sessions. Kids dared each other to try to peek inside. They were the type of people I started out telling you about. And people like that tend to keep to themselves. The night one of Ruth Clanton’s brood came running down the mountain shoutin’ for the midwife to come and see to the girl’s mama. No one’d ever been in that strange domicile. The Clantons, they kept to themselves, birthed their own. Fact was, no one even knew how many offspring Ruth and Roy had at this point or how old they might be. But my mama said that didn’t matter none to her, she was called to deliver babies, not to judge how they were made.

Well, Mama made her way up the side of the mountain and they let her in. Turns out it wasn’t Ruth Clanton at all but one of her daughters, who couldn’t have been more than fifteen. Mama said the smell in that place about knocked her over but she had a job to do. So this girl, Delilah was her name, Ruth tells Mama that she’d been laborin’ goin’ on three days now and they figure the baby’s dead. Ruth tells her she felt the head yesterday but it got hung up on something and the girl was just about beat to hell. Ruth wanted Mama to cut that baby out before it killed Delilah.

Well, my mama, being the kind of woman she was, puts her head down to the girl’s belly and listens. This baby’s still alive she tells them. Then she rolls up her sleeve and takes a feel. Now, I ain’t professin’ to know anything about birthin’ babies but Mama reaches up and fiddles around. She figures the baby is just in the wrong position for coming out and she pushes it around until finally and with a few more hard pushes, Brucie Clanton comes out.

The shock of lookin’ at him put mama into labor herself. She says he came out all crippled up like a crab, arms and legs bent up at unnatural angles. His head was all misshapen and his left ear attached to his neck. His right ear was impossibly small and he had a clubfoot. He had a cleft lip and his nose was flattened out like a gorilla. He was covered in a fine pelt of dark hair. This was all terrible enough but the worst part was the third arm that grew out of the center of his chest. The fingers on this hand were webbed together and so were the fingernails. They had grown into a thick, yellowed claw like growth at the end of a crippled hand. Mama said she got queasy then and the stink of the place only added to the queer situation. She excused herself outside and vomited. That’s when her water broke. She said the thought of givin’ birth in that filthy dump with all the wild eyed, unkempt bodies staring at her was more than she could bear and so she ran all the way home. She said I was delivered on the front porch because her fleeing shook me right out.

And so, Brucie and I came to share a birthday but it was Brucie alone that became a local legend. The crab boy. Turned out he was also a dwarf, no matter how straight up I grew, Brucie stayed low to the ground. Brucie was the only Clanton people bragged about havin’ seen with their own two eyes. The stories were as morbid as the boy’s look. Men would tell of coming upon the boy using his claw hand to gut animals and rip out chunks of meat while feeding himself with the other two. Kids would tell each other ghastly tales of Brucie catching fish with his extra hand and eating them whole and the older kids would go out late at night trying to see him. The stories of the mountain monster were as vast and varied as the imagination of us mountain folk. But that’s all they were stories. Tales about a deformed boy from a feral family of inbreeding loonies.

Until Martha McCoy vanished. Martha was two years older than me, she would have been seventeen at the time and she’d gone missing after mushroom pickin’. A bunch of us went out looking for her. We found a pile of torn up guts, coulda been Martha’s innards but coulda easily been a deer or dog’s. What did we know? We never told no one. Probably should’ve, might have had more people out there lookin’ or at least more people watchin’ a little more closely. Might not have lost Billy Dalton. Billy was only ten and was noodlin’ for catfish when he went missin’ too.

This was the second missin’ kid in a month. All the men got together and had a meetin’ about it. At fifteen, I was part of that meetin’. All them tales of Brucie Clanton and his wild animal behavior came up over and over until we were all whipped up into a frenzy. The whole lot of us headed up the mountain to the Clanton cave. Looked like the angry mob from that old Frankenstein movie. Well, good sense kicked in ‘bout halfway up and it was decided only two of us should go up. One to do the distractin’ and one to look around. The rest of the men would scatter about around the place in case back up was needed.

‘Twas me and Ol’ Roger Brundel picked to go have a talk with the Clanton bunch. Roger’s always been a talker, so naturally he took the job of knockin’ at the door (which I might add wasn’t a door but just a wood frame with a heavy blanket tied to chicken wire). I went around to the side, tryin’ to peek through the cracks and tripped over a pile of bones. Looked like they’d just been chucked out the window. Now, I ain’t no rocket professor but they sure did look like human bones to me. And they had some tissue still attached. There was a mix of smaller ones and bigger ones. I didn’t see no skulls though, in fact I don’t know that they ever did find the skulls for those two poor kids.

Now, while I was falling over femurs, Roger was chattin’ it up with Roy Clanton. Roger, he said the stink comin’ out of that place was something fierce and his throat kept closing up on him trying to bring up his lunch right there on the Clanton’s doorway. So Roger’s tellin’ Roy ‘bout the missing kids and askin’ if either of ‘em came up this way. Well, Roy is protesting in a most suspicious way when little Brucie came galumphing out from the cave squalling like a wild boar. He held his arms up for Roger to pick him up and Roger, being the kinda soul he is did it instinctively. He’s since told us all the boy looked so pitiful and mistreated no one could have denied the poor creature the least bit of kindness. Well, Roger’ kindness led to his own downfall. The little beast reached out with that crippled up third claw hand and sliced Roger’s belly open.

I heard Roger’s surprised grunt and the wet splash and plop of his bowels hitting the ground. Then I heard the mass of incestuous cannibals as they too heard Roger’s disemboweling and headed to the doorway for dinner. Yep, you heard me right, my friend. The whole lot of ‘em turned out to be cannibals. When I heard Roger’s cry, I whistled to the others and headed around the side of the house where Brucie was using his good hands to pull out Roger’s intestines and his third hand was scooping them up and to his mouth. He was shoving them in his mouth, pulling and tearing at them in a frenzy the likes of which I’ve never seen nor hope to again. Ol’ Roger, he was a moanin’ and cryin’; begin’ them to stop. The others were ripping at his clothes when the first shots were fired. The Clantons retreated back into the house. Well all of ‘em ‘cept for Brucie and Roy. Roy had a cleaver in his hand and when he heard the shots, he brought it down on Roger’s outstretched arm. I watched him rip it free from the old man’s torso just as a gunshot exploded in his face. He was there one second and a shredded mass of bone and brains the next. His head rained down on Brucie who stopped to see what was going on above him.

That’s when I made my move. I dove across Roger and landed on the boy who should have, by all rights, been the same size as me. But he hadn’t grown much since he was four. We wrestled around; Brucie slashing out with that damn third arm of his. I couldn’t control all three. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me. His stinking breath sickened me. I was choking. He brought his third arm up and was trying to slit my throat. He would have done it too, ‘cept somehow Roger had gotten up, his bowels draggin’ at his feet like a sagging jump rope. He had the cleaver Roy had used to chop his arm off. I thought for a moment he was a ghost, so white and frail looking. But that old buzzard was tough, like all us mountain folk. He brought that cleaver down into the middle of Brucie’s forehead and then Roger passed out.

There was a humorous moment where Brucie crossed his eyes to look up to see the cleaver buried in his head before he fell off me dead, and I suppose it was my nerves that made it so funny but I started laughin’ and didn’t stop til they shot me full of Thorazine in the city hospital.

Now, I’m not so big on doctorin’ and hospitals; I’d take my mama’s herbal teas over their IVs and catheters but they managed to save Roger sans a few feet of intestines and a left arm. But Ol’ Roger gets around just fine without ‘em. I got some nerve pills I carry ‘round with me but otherwise, there’s nothin’ to show for my ordeal with my dichotomous twin. That’s alright anyhow. When I heard about all them body parts they found in that cave shack and the great number of Clanton kids that had to be placed in a juvenile care facility while their parents stood trial for murder and cannibalism., well, I decided that sometimes its best when all the damage is on the inside with no one on the outside the wiser. Some people are born wrong and some go wrong because of circumstances beyond their control and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.