This is Chapter 1 of The Seed Episodical. Click here to go back to the Table of Contents.
From the bumpy backseat, Hudson stared out the window and sighed. The urban familiarities had long disappeared into rural uncertainties. Even though his family had left St. Louis just seven hours earlier, he felt they had been driving for a week.
The winding mountain roads had changed the family’s Honda Odyssey into a carnival teacup ride. Setting his algebra book to the side, Hudson cracked open his widow just enough to breathe some fresh air. The hairpin curves over the last hour had made him feel as green as the mountains around him.
“When are we going to be there?” whined his brother William, throwing down his Nintendo device. “I’m sick of this trip and sick of this van.”
Mom sat in the front passenger seat, staring forward, her mind elsewhere. She looked abnormally disheveled, having traded her business suit for a pair of yoga pants and an oversized sweatshirt. Her blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail with stray wisps falling around her face.
Hudson noticed that Mom’s shoulders tightened with William’s words. He looked at his brother who sat with his elbow propped on the armrest, feet swishing back and forth hitting the seat in front of him. “Can’t you see Mom doesn’t need your whining right now, Will?” he said. “Cut it out.”
Dad grunted and looked towards the backseat through his rear-view mirror. Hudson could see his own face in that reflection, his dark hair matching the color of his dad’s. Being a full head taller than his brother, it was Hudson’s reflection that Dad’s eyes found first, narrowing their gaze in rebuke.
“We’ll be there in thirty minutes, boys,” said Dad. “Try and be patient, okay?”
Hudson opened his algebra book and tried to finish his homework. Signs popped up as they drove, calling for customers: ‘Smoky Mountain Fudge Factory’, ‘Mountain Cave Tours’, and ‘Granny’s Farm Kitchen’.
“Can we stop and eat?” whined William again. “It’s been hours since we ate lunch!”
Hudson looked up from his algebra homework. “Would you stop whining?” he snapped. “You’re acting like a two-year-old. Grow up.”
“I’m not two! I’m nine!” cried William.
“That’s what I’m saying!” said Hudson. “Act like it,” Hudson huffed, turning his back towards William and looking out the window.
Hudson knew he was being hard on his little brother. After all, he was younger, and he was small for his age, having inherited his short legs–as well as his blonde hair and blue eyes– from their mom. Everyone thought he was an angelic cherub; but to Hudson, he was an impish annoyance.
Dad looked in the mirror with his face stern and eyebrows crinkled this time.“We’ll be at Poppy’s house soon. Aunt Birdie’s there, and she’s got a meal waiting for us. No. More. Arguing.” Dad looked over at Mom and patted her shoulder. “Keep it peaceful…for your mom’s sake.”
Dad finally turned off the road onto a rock driveway, winding up and down hills that weaved over a creek bridge surrounded with trees. After several minutes of bumping along, a modest cabin appeared in the woods. Two large bird houses stood on rough-hewn log poles, like sentinels guarding the pathway toward the house. The car pulled up close to the front porch and stopped.
Mom wiped her hands over her eyes and got out of the car. The family gathered their things and went up to the front porch.
Great-Aunt Birdie met them at the screen door. “Wella, hello strangers!” she said in her mountain twang, wrapping her arms around Mom. “It’s been way too long, Sugar. How’s about you come in and get yourself some food?” She took Mom’s bag and led the family inside.
Poppy’s cabin was a two-story cottage made with rounded logs chinked with clay. The family walked through the front door into a cozy living room that greeted them with a fire in the wood-burning stove, bringing warmth to the cool spring evening.
Great-Aunt Birdie shuffled from the living room into the dining area. “He’s a-restin’ now, so how’s about we go ahead and eat, and you can visit with ‘im later?”
Mom looked hesitantly at Great-Aunt Birdie, but obediently sat down at the dinner table loaded with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garden green beans, sourdough bread, and two large jars of home-canned peaches.
“I’m right glad y’all were able to come,” Great-Aunt Birdie said in a husky voice. “He’s been in and out of awareness, and…” She paused for a moment. “And the doctor said he don’t have many days left.” She sniffed and took a big bite of peaches.
Dad took hold of Mom’s hand and spoke for her. “We’re glad we could come too,” he said.
Mom pushed her food around the plate. “I just can’t shake the fact that this happened so fast, Aunt Birdie. I mean, do they know what caused Dad’s rapid decline?” Tears pooled in Mom’s eyes again, and she quickly wiped them away.
“My brother always had a weak heart, Dearie,” said Great-Aunt Birdie.
Mom put down her fork. “But he was just fine the last time I saw him…” Mom pursed her lips and paused for a moment. “I should’ve kept up with him,” she whispered softly.
In reality, it had been four years since they had been in these Appalachian woods. Hudson had vague memories of playing in the forest behind Poppy’s house the last time they were there, around his ninth birthday. Poppy had shown him the waterfall on his wooded property, a place that began as a trickling creek that traveled downhill into a cascading shower of endless entertainment.
But life seemed to get in the way of their regular visits. Mom and Dad’s work deadlines, Hudson’s science fairs, William’s karate classes, and the family’s church meetings all seemed to pile up, constantly filling up their schedule. And now at age thirteen, Hudson could see that their family had waited too long. And his mom was full of regret.
After dinner, the boys cleared the table while Great-Aunt Birdie washed the dishes.
Dad looked at Mom. “Hon, you go visit your father. I’ll help your Aunt Birdie with the clean-up.”
As Mom headed up the wooden stairs to Poppy’s room, Dad looked at the boys. “We’ve got a few hours until dark. How about you boys go play outside for a while?”
Being banished to the outdoors, Hudson and William decided to hike towards the waterfall in the woods behind Poppy’s house. William proudly donned Poppy’s straw hat and marched outside with a walking stick that was just as tall as he.
After twenty minutes of hiking, William whined again. “When are we going to get to the waterfall?” he said, stomping down the trail.
“Come on, Will, can’t you stop complaining, even for a second? I know the waterfall is around here somewhere. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back here.”
Hudson’s mind swirled with memories of Poppy leading him on this trail, so reverent in the way he treated the plants and animals of the forest. Poppy considered all of nature to be miraculous.
Hudson shook his head. He still couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that his grandfather was really sick.
After a while, Hudson realized he had made a grievous mistake: he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Their walking path dwindled, and then completely vanished. Passing through unfamiliar ground, Hudson proceeded carefully. He couldn’t let on to William that the big brother who studied the ways of ancient navigation had gotten them both lost on a simple trail.
He was pondering how he could find his way back when, without warning, a clearing suddenly appeared. Bright shafts of sunlight beamed down into the treeless space before them. A mass of Kudzu vine blanketed the entire area, creating a creeping green carpet over the earthen floor.
“Oh, wow,” said William. “The leaves are almost silver.”
Hudson agreed the Kudzu leaves shimmered a silvery green. They fluttered in the mountain breeze, glittering as they waved in the sun. The vines covered the entire ground, like a sea of emeralds, undulating up and over the rolling land.
William pointed toward the edge of the open space. “I think there’s something under the vines,” he said. “Don’t you see? They rise up high over there.”
Hudson cupped a hand over his eyes and stepped closer into the ocean of leaves, peering ahead. “I’m not sure we should venture farther, Will. I think we’re off course. Why don’t we turn here and head back?”
William paid no attention. “I think it’s a house, Hud. Look! A chimney is poking out of the vines at the very top!”
As William stomped further in, Hudson felt compelled to follow. Making their way towards that chimney, they waded through the mass of creeping vegetation, crossing the entire distance until they arrived at the corner of the open space. They stopped at the place where the vines changed direction, growing upwards over a rising mound. As the boys stepped closer to the mound, they were amazed to discover a shack hidden beneath the carpet of Kudzu. Pulling back a curtain of vine and leaves, Hudson discovered a wooden front door, warped at the edges. He pushed with his fingers and it budged open.
“Oh man, we gotta go in! It’s too cool to pass up!” said William. He held his walking stick like a weapon. “Don’t worry Hud, I’ll protect you!”
Hudson glared at William. He couldn’t look worried now, not in front of his younger brother. “Not a chance,” he said. “I’m going in first, got it?”