If you’re ever in Morgantown, West Virginia, there are only a few places I’d recommend for a night out, given my own personal tastes. At the top of this list is the Morgantown Brewing Company. The beer is fantastic (my favorites are the Eighty Shilling Scotch Ale and Coal City Stout) and the food is wonderful (try the Buffalo Chicken sandwich). Lots of places have good food and beer, so the trifecta of those two with awesome people (staff and clientele) really put it over the top. There was such a wide range of characters and I never hurt for a good story when I went in.
One of the best stories was told to me by an older gentleman who had lived further south in the state, where the Appalachian Mountains are deeper and higher than in the northern part of the state. I’m guessing most of the staff had heard the story, as the bartender smiled indulgently when he started talking, but I was enraptured. This guy could talk like an old Irish seanchaí (Irish for story teller). At first it was just about distilling moonshine up in the wooded gullies of the mountains (very interesting to a home brewer such as myself), but as he continued it took on another air completely. The way he spoke of his experience, very straight forward and matter-of-factly, with no hesitation and no embarrassment, went a long way in getting me to think he was earnest about what happened. I was so engaged that I even wrote a short story about it (although it will probably never see the light of day).
Here is the story, as near as I could write it down later that night. Which is to say, very close to spot on, but more than likely not perfect, given that it’s my telling of his tale. It’s a bit polished, since I wrote it later and didn’t record him, but there’s little that can be done for that now.
It was the usual for me. I was walking up the path to check on my still. It was getting later in the day and was considering just staying there all night, it being a nice night and all. What sticks out about the start of all this is that there was a hot air balloon. Of course I’d seen them before, but not up here in this area. It was the darndest thing to see, just floating up above the hills. It was pretty, but I shuddered at the thought of being up there myself. I don’t like heights, unless it’s hard packed earth.
Now I’d been making whiskey for years and years, and had never had any problems with anyone, so I didn’t think anything of it. No one had ever been around my still that I could ever tell, so balloon seemed harmless to me. Later I always wondered if it was a… what do you call it… precursor. Right. A precursor to the oddness of later. (Author’s note: this is where I really got hooked into the story. I even stopped drinking my beer for a bit!)
So anyway. I make it to the still and everything’s fine. I don’t drink the shine when I’m working up there. It’s too easy to make a mistake. Nobody wants that. I do usually have a few beers while I’m working, though. Sometimes something light. I like Guinness, too, and usually have a few of one or the other. Whatever I’ve taken up recently. This time it was Murphy’s Irish stout. A friend of mine gave it to me to try, after I’d given him a batch of my finest.
So anyway, it’s getting late. It’s a clear night and warm. I have a small campfire and cot, for the comfort. All down the way from the still itself. Some of my fellows call me too careful, but some of them have been burnt awful bad, too, so shows what they know.
Along comes midnight and I’m starting to get a little drowsy. I hadn’t laid down yet. Just sitting with my back to a tree and gazing up at the stars. I was maybe on my second beer. Nothing too far gone, so you know this isn’t a drunk story. (I laughed and nodded, to let him know I’m with him.)
Then the oddness happens. Like I said, no one ever came up that way. But I heard music. Just some slight music and song from down the way. It sounded nice, and I wanted to make sure no one came nosing about, so I walked a bit to see if I could find who was being loud. Maybe to see if they were okay or maybe to see if they needed scared off. I didn’t think about anything bad, but I liked my still with no one the wiser, you know?
It doesn’t take long. I can hear the music and some laughter close by, just down a path and across the stream. I don’t ever remember there being a stream anywhere, but I usually stick to my one area, so it doesn’t bother me. I walk across the stream, it being shallow. The current was stronger than I thought and the water was cold. It wasn’t hard to make it across, except that I had to keep walking so I didn’t fall over, and my feet were damp and cold.
The music is just around the bend in the path. I start to go around it. I’m not making much noise, you know? I’m not being sneaky, but I’m not being loud. As I start to go around it, there’s a young man in the path! We just stare at each other for a moment. Too strangers in the mountains and we’re just staring at each other. He was a strange one. Looked like one of those metrosexual people. Shaggy hair, but wasn’t dirty looking. Clean flannel shirt. I thought he was a college boy at first, but he just kept staring. Very strong gaze he had, something an old man would have, not a young man.
So then he smiles at me. It was odd. He waves his hand to come with him and I do. I wanted to see what was going on, but maybe I didn’t have a choice. I walked to him and he puts his arm around my shoulder like we’re old friends. He’s just smiling and we’re walking around the corner, and he tells me that he’s glad I made it.
I must have looked confused. He laughs and tells me it’s okay. We’re close. We walk around the corner and there’s an old cabin. Just a big old log cabin in the middle of the woods up in the mountains. We walk up to the wooden porch together. The music is coming from inside. “You’ll have to stay for a while and have some fun.” He tells me.
We walk into the cabin and it was wild. Several people milled about and some were talking in small groups. They all had mugs of beer, big foamy beer. Some were dancing to a band that was set up in the corner. The music was different. Hillbilly, but not twangy, you know? There was a fiddle and a couple guitars. A tambourine. A flute type of thing. It was wild and the dancers made me dizzy.
Then the young man pointed to another corner. In it was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She was playing a guitar, too, just picking away with the band, but not playing with them. She had dark red hair that fell in soft curls around her face. Green eyes so bright and she was staring back at me. (Author’s note: this girl must have made an impression on him – he described her more deeply than anything else and his voice fell a little when talking about her.) She was slight. And rounded. It’s hard to describe. She was all woman, if small.
She kept smiling at me. She put the guitar down and waved at me to walk with her. I couldn’t have stopped myself if I’d tried. If I wanted to. I didn’t. I followed her through a doorway. We went into the kitchen. It wasn’t a new cabin. The kitchen was just another room with several fires and food cooking on them. The smell made me really hungry. She picked up an old plate. My grandma had something the same, that she called crockery. She filled it up and handed it to me. She took a cup and filled it up from a small wooden keg and handed over the foamy drink to me.
“Eat.” She told me. “Then we’ll dance.” She was smiling at me. All I wanted was her. I wanted to be near her and be with her. She was standing near me and I swear her hair was running up and down my arm. She smelled like spring and autumn, you know? Crushed leaves and fresh grass. It made me miss being a kid and it make me happy that I was a man. All I wanted was to kiss her. (Author’s note: a bit of discomfort for me here – men don’t usually talk to each other about this type of thing – especially strangers.)
I leaned in to kiss her. She didn’t back away. It was the longest kiss I’d ever had and I thought I would die if I didn’t get another. I leaned in again. She pushed me away. She was still smiling, though, so that was good. She told me to eat and drink first. To have fun.
I noticed the youngster I’d walked in with staring at me. So were a few others. I was starting to feel a little drunk, which made me feel uncomfortable. My grandmother’s Irish. She came over as a young woman. Very Catholic. We were at mass every weekend and during the week. She prayed to Mary all the time. She has a statue of Mary in the front yard. She also talked about the fairies and how they would take young children and sometimes adults. She told us that we should never eat or drink from strangers, because if you do, they’ll take you away with them. I thought it was just a scary story to keep us safe from strange adults, but her words hit me like a brick.
I told the woman that I couldn’t and sat the plate and mug down. She looked so sad then. All of her beauty was still there and it broke my heart to know that I’d made her sad. The young man came to me and put his arm around me again. He led me out of the house. I wanted to stop and be with her longer, but I couldn’t. He led me outside. I looked back and she was there in the doorway looking at me, still sad.
I don’t know how I got back to my campfire, but I woke up there in the morning. I tried to find the cabin again, but I couldn’t even find the path. My grandma would be proud, but I’ve always regretted not accepting their food and drink.
He was wistful here, but then moved on to start talking about moonshine again for a while, and then was distracted by some other bar patrons. I offered him his next round, but he turned me down, so at least I know it wasn’t a ploy to get me to buy him booze. The bartender told me that she’s heard the story a few times and that she believes him. Not necessarily that it happened, but that he believes it does. I saw him in the brewpub a few times after that and he was always friendly. We talked a little bit about brewing, but it was all good natured and nothing deep, and nothing again about being approached by otherworldly women to stay with them in their Sidhe mounds for a few hundred years. Did he pull this story from his grandmother or childhood books? He certainly didn’t seem like he really knew Celtic/Irish myths. It was a great story, though, and still gives me chills when I think about it.
© 2016 James Slaven