Story: Bulldozers and Indians
By: Ed Nichols
Boyd Johnson lay on the ground under his pickup, working and cussing. It was hot and humid. The ground he lay on was inherited from his daddy, Melton Johnson, and it had been handed down to his daddy from his granddaddy, and had been in the family since before the Civil War. The family had made a lot of moonshine through the years on the land. Way back in the woods, in a mountain draw near the headwaters of the Soque River. But by the time the land had come to Boyd making liquor was a thing of the past. Fact is, Boyd’s daddy had pretty much stopped making it when Boyd was born in 1947. His daddy had gotten a good paying job at the new mill after he got home from World War Two. He had also bought a bulldozer, and after he died, Boyd kept on working the dozer and had bought another one and stayed pretty busy knocking down trees and moving dirt.
“Damn nuts is nearly welded to the bolts,” Boyd said. “Hand me some WD-40, Junior,” Junior Sims picked up the blue and yellow can, got down on his knees and passed it to Boyd. “Gonna be able to fix her today?” he said.
“I sure as hell hope so. Mattie said I had to get to town, no matter what, and get her medicine ‘fore the drugstore closes at six o’clock.”
Junior sat low on the grass beside Boyd’s legs, so he could keep a check on Boyd’s progress. “I hope so, too. We out’a beer. Big Hugo’s be open till midnight, if’n we don’t get
to town before six.”
“Dammit, Junior! We got to get there before six, if we have to ride the horse.”
“Ride-the-horse,” Junior laughed. “Ten-four. That’s good by me.”
“What’s good by you? Damn, that was a goofy thing to say.”
“I know. But I can’t help it. Mama says I been like this my whole life. I heard her tell Mrs. Sorrells once, when I was a little tike, that she knew I was a mistake when I come out. She should’ve never had me, she told Mrs. Sorrells.”
“That was a sorry thing to say, ‘specially to a little boy,” Boyd said. “Hand me that ball-peen hammer will you. I’m gonna knock hell out of this nut holding the muffler bracket.”
Junior handed Boyd the ball-peen hammer. He punched Boyd on the leg and said, “You know what’d be good, Boyd?”
“What’d be good?”
“Take that hammer and knock hell out’a the muffler. Put a hole in her and we’ll sound just like Marvin’s race car when we go to town. People would stare and stare, I bet!”
Boyd turned on his side. “Junior! I ain’t about to knock a hole in my muffler. That’d be
one more stupid-assed thing to do.”
“I know it’d be stupid, but—“
“Just shut up a minute, will you!” Boyd said. “And hand me the crescent wrench.”
An hour later, Boyd and Junior rode to town in Boyd’s pickup. It ran quiet and the muffler didn’t rattle anymore. Boyd was satisfied with his repair job. He was able to get Martha’s medicine before five-thirty, and then he and Junior rode out highway 115 to Big Hugo’s Bar and Grill. Inside, the air conditioning was wide open, and the first thing Junior said to Big Hugo as they eased onto stools at the bar was, “Hey Big, where you got the hams hanging?” Big Hugo sat a Bud in front of each man, pinched Junior’s nose gently and said, “Gonna knock hell out’a you someday, Junior.”
Junior beamed. “Naw, you won’t.” Then he told Big Hugo, “Me and Boyd done fixed his muffler this afternoon.”
Boyd shook his head at Big Hugo and smiled. They had two beers each before Boyd felt the tension leave his shoulders. He looked in the mirror behind the bar and recognized Joseph Hamilton walking toward the bar. Boyd turned on the stool. “Hey, Joseph. Ain’t seen you in a while.”
Hamilton said hello to Boyd, patted Junior on the shoulder, and said, “It’s been a year or more.”
“At least,” Boyd said.
“Still in the dozer business, Boyd?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Just finished a logging road for Billy Joe Henson, back of that mountain on his farm.”
“Still got Cats?” Hamilton said.
“Yep, a D-6, and Junior can run my D-4 pretty well now,” Boyd said.
“You got him trained up, huh?”
“Pretty much. He can run it good, long as he stays on level ground.”
“How ‘bout coming out to the farm tomorrow and looking at a job I need done,” Joseph Hamilton said.
The next morning, Boyd picked Junior up at Junior’s mama’s house just off highway 197. Joseph Hamilton’s farm was nearly as far back in the boonies as Boyd’s farm. Hamilton wanted to clear about twenty acres on the far side of his farm so he could add more pasture, and more cows. As they walked over the twenty acres, Hamilton told them this particular wooded area had never been cleared. “Never been no bulldozer in here, only had my tractor in here a few times when I cut some trees for firewood.”
“Some good-sized oaks here, Joseph,” Boyd said. “Gonna take a little more time. At least eight or nine weeks. Depending on the weather, of course.”
“That’s okay. I reckon you boys be the first ones moving dirt around on this ground since the Cherokees left the area.”
Junior heard Joseph Hamilton’s talk about Cherokee Indians and it bothered him, but he didn’t say nothing to Boyd about it. Boyd had been good to him and had given him the onliest paying job he’d ever had. But, he remembered clear as a bell, his mama had told him she was part Cherokee—which meant that he had Cherokee blood, too—and she had told him how their fore-bares and others had been run out of this part of North Georgia, but some of ‘em had stayed and lived far back in the hills. All the way up into North Carolina. He’d looked at some books his mama had about Cherokees and, he had studied pictures of long ago Indian women, and he could see that his mama had the look of them.
The next day, Boyd and Junior hauled the D-6 and D-4 up to Hamilton’s farm in two trips
with Boyd’s lowboy. Then they went to town and filled up the big tank in the bed of Boyd’s pickup with fuel oil. By then it was mid afternoon, and it was hot and humid again, and too late to drive back to Hamilton’s place, and crank the dozers and fill them up with fuel oil, and check the motor oil levels and hydraulic fluid levels and so on. Boyd decided they would just have a couple of cold beers and rest up at Big Hugo’s Bar and Grill, and that way they could get to bed early, and be ready to get at it, soon as the sun came up the next morning.
That night after supper, Junior told his mama what all Mr. Hamilton had told them about the Cherokees. His mama had listened, and had asked him questions about where Mr. Hamilton’s farm was located. He went to bed early and stretched out on his bed, and stared at the ceiling until he finally went to sleep; and then it was morning, and Boyd was tooting his pickup’s horn and the sun was coming up, and Junior felt happy and was ready to go to work.
For three days, they made good progress. Boyd pushing down big trees with the D-6 and Junior getting the scrubs and smoothing in holes left by the big tree’s trunks, and piling up rocks whenever his dozer blade ripped one out of the ground. Right before noon on the third day, Junior had the D-4’s blade on top of the ground, pushing some smaller rocks into a pile of bigger rocks when he saw the first Indian. It was an Indian man and he had just materialized straight up out of the ground, and Junior had turned the dozer hard to his right to avoid hitting the Indian, and then he had stopped the dozer. He looked all around but could not see a trace of nobody—the Indian had disappeared as fast as he had come up out of the ground. Boyd was working on a big oak a hundred yards away, and he saw Junior do the hard right and stop. What the heck’s he doing?
But soon he saw Junior moving again; he went back to pushing hard against the oak’s trunk.
Eating lunch in the shade with both dozers quiet, Junior thought about the Indian, but had decided not to tell Boyd about it, less it happened again, then maybe he still wouldn’t. He sure didn’t want Boyd to think he was a real retard, like his mama did, because Boyd had been the best thing that had ever happened to him in his whole life.
“You run over a rattler or something while ago?” Boyd asked Junior.
Junior turned red, and said, “Nope. Thought I seen a…ugh, something, but it was nothing.”
“Remember,” Boyd said, “I told you, don’t jerk her around for a rabbit or snake, you hear? Just run over the little sona-bitches.”
“Okay, Boyd. I can do that,” Junior said.
Before the end of the week, Junior had seen two more Indian men and one Indian woman. They came up out of the ground, misty-like, and stood staring at him sitting in the dozer’s seat, then disappeared, sort of melted in the air. The Indian woman had indeed looked like his mama—yellowish skin and night-black hair. It was worrying him pretty much now, but he still hadn’t mentioned the Indians to Boyd. And he hadn’t said nothing to his mama about them. Every night though, he was looking through all his mama’s books, seeing if he could learn anything about the Cherokees. One picture showed Indians circled around a pile of rocks, about the same size as some of the rocks he had pushed around into the big pile on Mr. Hamilton’s place. Pretty soon he came to believe that the Indians must have buried their dead folks under the rocks. Made sense to Junior, that way dogs and bears and such couldn’t get to the dead bodies. Then it dawned on him, big as anything he’d ever thought about before: They, him and Boyd, was digging up Indian graves. Junior started shaking. How could this be? He needed to tell Boyd. But not tell his mama. She’d make him quit working for Boyd. But maybe he should quit. What if some of the dead Indians, ghosts or whatever they was, came after him. He was pretty sure they wouldn’t bother him long as he was on the dozer. Nobody—not even a powerful ghost—could mess with a D-4, but they could sure mess with him—tear his clothes off and put him down in the ground where they had once been buried. He might ought to tell Boyd.
That night it rained hard. Maybe two or three inches, Junior figured. When Boyd picked him up it was still sprinkling, and Boyd said they wouldn’t be running the dozers for a day or two on account after such a hard rain as they’d had, it’d be way too muddy. But they did ride up to the Hamilton place, so Boyd could replace a leaky hydraulic hose that raised and lowered the blade on the D-6. While Boyd was working on the hose, Junior walked over in the mud to where he had seen the Indians. He studied the ground and the rocks and wondered if what he saw was real—or, did he just dream it. His mama used to tell him all the time that he didn’t know what he was talking about. So maybe now, his mind was just thinking about seeing Indians, and he really was not seeing them. This line of thought made Junior almost dizzy. It was way too much for him to absorb and try to unravel. He looked up. The rain had finally stopped and the sky was opening up. It was pretty, and he could feel the rays of the sun warmly covering him and shielding him.
He guessed it’d be best not to mention the Indians to Boyd. But, he might tell his mama. After all, it might’ve been some of their kin he had dug up.
Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. He is currently working on a collection of stories.