Don’t Ride the Lightnin’

by Perry J. Colomb © 2003

Trees and the Hudson whistled past in a green and blue blur. The clickety- clack and the endless rocking of the Amtrak soothed my tensions away after mindless hours of final exams and staring at the back side of a cubicle in the University library, studying things that someone else had already accomplished. I was heading home, but not for good; one more lousy year and I will fulfill all my parents’ dreams. I only wished they were mine.

Gone were the days when a train would stroll into a station with pride; belting forth a furious scream with a steam whistle. Train depots used to be a place of action and exuberance, but those days had come and gone. My Amtrak slowed to a squeaky halt as I stared out the window that no one wanted me to open. Three people milled about the empty parking lot, but Robbie wasn’t there, but he would be coming soon.

The train pulled away, as depressed as it had arrived, as if no one cared that it had showed up at all. The three people were gone, but I sat contently on my beat up samsonite, reading my newly purchased X-Men comic, passing the time and waiting to hear the rumble. I didn’t have too long to wait. Robbie made the turn at Williams and Canal Street. Standing, I picked up my luggage and walked towards the curb. Cousin Robbie pulled up with a smile and I smiled back.


After twenty minutes of small talk and two beers, we crept into the earthen drive, maneuvering between the overgrown thickets and ancient oaks that grew on the family property. Richie, Robbie’s little brother, ran beside the jacked up Ford, but I couldn’t make out a word; the prehistoric rumble of the engine and the snap-pop of the cherry bomb mufflers drowned out the outside world. The truck finally shuddered and coughed as Robbie turned the key towards his chest.

“Grab your shit…let’s go…I have somethin’ to show ya.” Robbie smiled that smile that always seemed to get him the new “hot” girl at the lake. Every summer seemed the same as I recall, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I hopped from the cab, ignoring the step that jutted out from underneath the chassis. The air was cool in my lungs and it smelled of crackling wood, baking in a fire pit. Summers with my cousins was what I looked forward to all year long, especially when the snow pelted my dorm room window at school, making life barely tolerable. But I was here now, not at college and I had no responsibilities.

“So what is this thing you want to show me?”

I spit the words out as best as I could, considering the uphill climb to “my” room. Robbie was far ahead of me, practically chuckling as he reached the fourth floor landing. My room was our Great-Great Grandfather’s morgue, so I was told. He was a doctor, but died in 1883 after a bullet split his skull in half. Apparently one of his neighbors was less than enthusiastic about his health care practices. Doctor Cochran treated the “hill folk” when they shot each other up over stupid disagreements, which happened on several occasions. He was more than a little strange, even to the locals that knew him well, because his hospital morgue was on the fourth floor of his house. He liked it this way so the dead would be closer to God, so the story goes. It didn’t really bother me; a room was a room as far as I was concerned. Besides, I only slept there.

Robbie was holding a bottle of clear liquid in it, when I walked exhausted into the room.

“Ok…so what is it?”

“Remember when I told you on the phone that I found Cochran’s Lightnin’ recipe, the one that he used to treat his patients? Well…Bob Hanley helped me make a batch.”

I stared at Robbie, not sure what to say, then it hit me. “You made illegal booze with that old hermit at Bellow’s Falls?”

“Well don’t sound too enthused.” Robbie sat down on the bed. He unscrewed the cap and took a slug, then outstretched the bottle towards me.

“Uhhh…no thanks, maybe later.”

“Suit yerself…I have plenty for later when the party gets started.”

“Well right now I am gonna take a quick nap because after my finals, I am plum tuckered out.”

Robbie laughed at my mountain folk language then walked towards the door. “Don’t sleep too long cousin…there is lots of fun to be had.”

I sprawled out onto the bed as darkness slowly enveloped my consciousness.


“What the…!”

I jolted from my slumber and almost tumbled down the spiraling staircase as I sped towards the front porch of the house. A party of commendable magnitude was completely engaged outside in the yard. I stared in disbelief at the dozens of people that were intermingling, laughing, fighting and wrestling on the ground. Children cried for their mother’s as the crowd swayed in a storm of carnage and visible delight. Bottles of the Lightnin’ were strewn about the leaf littered ground. What was happening? The screaming and shouts of writhing agony filled my ears to capacity.

“ROBBIE!!!” I screamed, not sure if he could hear me. I Followed Richie, Robbie’s little brother, towards the road. Cars and trucks raced down the mountain, acting as if there were in no danger of collision or rollover.

Without warning, Richie ran into the road seeing Robbie’s Ford pickup hurtling down the mountain completely out of control. Richie dropped to his knees then disappeared, leaving behind a shoe and a blood spattered pool. I found his body several yards down the road. In his left hand he held a scrap of paper; the Doctor’s recipe. At the top it said “Don’t Ride the Lightnin’”. I looked down the mountain. Robbie’s pickup was nowhere in sight.

x x x

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