Williams is a small dying town tucked away in the hills between Shoals and Bedford on State Road 450, a winding, twisting paved deer trail that follows the ridge lines and valley floors parallel to the White River.
There’s really not much there. I don’t know what keeps people there, maybe some kind of sinister psychic bondage. Maybe a lack of imagination. Maybe they’re all white supremacist doom preppers. It’s hard to say. There can’t be any jobs. There’s a bait shop and a dam. And an old red mill that turned out to be kind of special.
This mill was plagued with cats. They came out from everywhere. At first, there weren’t any to be seen, but then they stalked out of the shadows like vampire acolytes worshiping the Great Beast in some bottom-billed drive-in movie horror double feature. They seemed to ooze out of the walls and rise up from the asphalt. It made my hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I was standing at the fence watching the cats when an old man wearing wrap-around shades, his white hair slicked straight back from his forehead, limped out of the mill and stood there with his hands on his hips glaring at me. I guess he was glaring. I couldn’t see his eyes for the Stevie Wonder shades he was wearing.
I nodded. “Hi,” I said. I like to defuse confrontations before they start.
He nodded, then limped down to the fence. He stuck his hand out to shake, but the wire fence was in the way. He laughed.
“I’m Tony,” I said. “Just passing by. Saw all the cats. I like cats, so I took some pictures.”
He smiled. “Jones,” he said. “You can call me Jim.” He seemed familiar to me for some reason. He reminded me of watching Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News when I was a kid in the ’70s.
“Jim Jones,” I said, grinning. “James Jones his ownself. I read your book. From Here to Eternity. I don’t remember any of it. Sorry.” I laughed a little at my wit. I like kidding around with people I’ve just met.
“No, no,” he said. “That wasn’t me.” He opened his mouth to say something, but I laughed and cut him off.
“James Earl Jones,” I said. “Darth fuckin’ Vader! You know how cool that is? I really liked you in that Conan movie. You looked a lot darker on screen, though. Do you have that disease Michael Jackson had, what was it called?” I snapped my fingers, trying to remember. “It had the same name as an old Alfred Hitchcock movie… Vertiligo!” I smiled.
He gritted his teeth, then his face relaxed. “Come on in,” he said. “It’s hot out. I have some Kool Aid.”
I nodded. “Sure.”
We waded through the cats and went inside the dusty old mill. He handed me a cup of grape Kool Aid. I took a sip and spit it out. It was that cheap Flavor Aid shit. I can’t stand that crap. It always gives me a headache.
I apologized like a madman for spitting on his floor, but he didn’t seem to care. He just wandered off into the dark reaches of the mill shaking his head. I waded back through the cats to my car, already getting a headache.
On the ride back home, my chest grew tighter and tighter. My headache split through my skull like an ax and my hands shook. Great. Coming down with the flu on a beautiful day like this. And I didn’t have any more sick time left at work.
Ain’t life grand?