My great Uncle Bink started his 1970 Monte Carlo and crept out of his garage moving like chilled honey. I stood beside the driveway ready for the weekend's lesson, wondering if we'd ever make it to the spot.
"Hop in, Sport," Bink said, as he pushed the passenger door open, car half out of the garage. I was twelve but considered asking him if I could drive because I figured I'd have my license before we reached the paved road. He put his arm around my headrest and turned to look down the driveway. When the tires stopped crunching rock, when the tires rolled onto blacktop, he asked if I was ready.
"Shovel and hatchet in the trunk."
"Not for digging, boy. For the ride."
I relaxed on the bench seat which smelled of old man and old leather. Bink drove in reverse on the paved road for a few seconds before I asked him if he knew where we were going. He said he did, said he had to show me something first: "A reverse drop."
"What's that, Uncle B..."
At a slow roll in reverse, Bink dropped the column shifter to D and punished the accelerator. He laughed the whole time I tried to steady myself against the armrest while the tires squealed and smoked.
"Still got some pep in her," he laughed.
"Pep, boy, balls. What doesn't kill ya."
I nodded, looked ahead to a turn in the road approaching through the windshield, and asked Bink to slow down. He laughed, lit his pipe, and turned with one hand as he blew smoke into my face and watched the road with one eye. When we came out of the turn, Bink pedaled the car again. I watched the speedometer respond like a metronome needle. 70. 80. 100. Bink blew a smoke ring and the air rushing past the Monte sucked it out before it could float over to me. All the smoke vacuumed out of the car, I saw the railroad tracks approaching.
Bink puffed his pipe as we sped toward a red octagon and a pair of white 'x's. He was not stopping. We hit the road berm at the tracks and the car flew, bounced twice, and Bink was back on the gas, laughing. He laughed and laughed and then we were at the spot.
I shook out of the car when we stopped because the last two miles on dirt roads were scarier than the railroad tracks. Bink pushed a shovel into my chest and I noticed his hands weren't swollen anymore.
We had eggs and toast for breakfast and we always had fresh honey because Bink knew I liked to collect it. I put on the bee suit, Bink in bibs and flannel, and walked out to the hives where Bink pulled the comb out, bees swarming. I scraped honey into a bowl with my pocket knife.
After we got the honey, Bink disturbed the bees at the hive entrance, a direct threat to the queen. Then he'd hold his hands, knuckles riveted by arthritis, every swollen joint evident, over the hole and the bees attacked, leaving stingers in his skin and falling dead. His hands swelled like balloon art, then the swelling would disappear during the morning and he could use his hands the rest of the day, the same hands that held the shovel to my chest.
"Thought you wanted to learn something?"
I did. I was okay. I was fine. Bink dropped the shovel.
Bink talked while we walked. He told me he'd never been to a doctor, and showed me his finger as proof. A scar the color and size of dental floss ringed his middle finger.
"Hatchet. Put some comfrey root on there and glued it back on. Can't feel it, but I still got it."
I made a note to ask mom if this was true when Bink took me home. Then he went on.
"Got polio too. Beat it with ginseng. Don't even limp."
It was true.
"Don't have a crying piggy toe. Your Grandmother. Hatchet again."
I was relieved Bink left the hatchet in the trunk.
I could tell we were getting close to digging when Bink's conversation switched to business. He told me our family's fortune lay in this spot, that it had financed four generations. He told me we had to dig it from the earth. He told me all about its uses and its claimed uses, about its allure, its mysticism, its magic. He told me I could never tell anyone. He told me only he and I knew where this place was, that I must show my sons. He told me how long he'd been trying to find it and how difficult it was to locate. He told me only a trained eye could find it. He told me what it looked like above ground.
"Like that?" I asked, pointing to the ground.
Bink couldn't believe it. It was it.
"You little shit," Bink said. We walked over to where I saw it and he started blading the ground with his shovel. He scraped two shovelfuls of dirt away from it. I couldn't believe it. I asked if it just grew like that.
He pulled it out of the ground and dropped it in his burlap sack.
"Is that another one?" I asked, pointing to the ground a few feet away.
"I should've been bringing you along for years now. You little shit."
As we walked to the next spot, Bink yelled stop and his shovel sliced the ground next to my shoe. I thought he tried to maim me, jealous of my natural ability to find it, until I saw the snake.
Copperhead. Six inches of the snake rested next to the shovel blade, mouth open, fangs dripping, while its disconnected body writhed in the grass.
"Body won't stop wiggling 'til the sun goes down, but it's dead."
I asked if he was sure, the headless tube twisting.
"Course. Be alert now. When there's one there's more."
We walked over to the next spot I found. Bink wanted me to shovel this one, so I pierced the earth with my shovel. When I turned back to Bink for approval, for recognition, another snake hung from his ankle, fangs embedded in wrinkled flesh. Bink pulled the snake off his leg, flung it to the ground, and chopped off its head. He never made a sound. I panicked and Bink saw it.
"Not the first time I got bit, boy. They give you a dry bite as a warning, most times."
We dug a few more spots until we filled the burlap sack and then we started walking back to the car. I followed the trodden grass from the walk in, but Bink meandered all over our prints.
"You okay, Uncle Bink?"
"Sure. Fine. Just need some goldenrod."
He stuttered over to a fence line where he found some goldenrod and ate it right from the ground, but in the car his eyelids drooped, then on the final turn to his house, our morning tire marks still visible, he vomited while he tried to roll the window down, but was too slow, spraying the driver's window with toast chunks and a few pieces of scrambled eggs that ricocheted off the window onto the dash, the steering wheel, the 8 track player.
In the driveway he ordered me out of his car before he rolled into his garage. I stood beside the driveway watching through the Monte's back glass as Bink covered the windshield in more toast and bile. I stood paralyzed for a few minutes waiting for the engine to die.
I walked up to the Monte and opened the driver's door like a sarcophagus. Bink lay across the front bench seat covered in half-chewed goldenrod, his fingers microwaved hotdogs. His breathing was erratic. I slammed the door and cried. As I ran to the house screaming for Aunt Sis, I smelled old man, burnt tires, and fresh honey. When Sis and I got back to the garage, Bink was cleaning the windshield.
BIO: Ean Bevel lives with his wife in St. Louis, but dreams of living on the road. When he is not chasing his toddler or teaching English classes or swinging a hammer, he puts pen to page. His work often contains the grotesque and/or magical realism. He began collecting rejections a few years ago, then completed his MFA in writing, and continues to collect rejections. His fiction has appeared in Literary Orphans and Bartleby Snopes.