Odysseus managed to save himself and his men from the siren by putting melted wax in his crew's ears and tying himself to the mast making the crew swear they would not release him however desperately he begged.
The devil's rock was pure siren.
I'd parked and come off an awful mountain. You didn't want to make any mistakes on the creek I was hunting. Not alone. My head stayed down. You have to concentrate to find something. Not to mention, luck.
I'd lost myself. Spring in a wild Kentucky hollow. Alone. Tulips were in the trees. I was sober. Not tied to a mast. The chimerical ripples whispered.
A red rendezvous.
Horseshoe bend. The gravel shoal looked promising. I cut across.
I stepped over a log. There, connecting, two other logs. Two more long ones connected to them. Marijuana. Two feet tall. Thousands and thousands. Seed bed. Bad major.
Then I heard the noise. Four wheelers. At least four. The hounds of hell.
Coming hard and fast. The four horsemen. Coming for me.
DEVIL ROCK----PART TWO
When Odysseus was blown off course he encountered the wild Cyclopes who lived in a state of lawless anarchy. They lived without cultivating food. They built no homes or ships. They had no institutions or laws. They lived in caves and had no sense of community with others of their race. Their diet consisted of the meat of old goats, cheese and wine.
The descendants of these Cyclopes wound up in Estill County. Nothing had changed. Except they roamed on 4-wheelers, carried AK-47's and grew marijuana.
Lots of it.
DEVIL ROCK----PART THREE
I only had a couple of seconds to do something.
I could hold still. Face the inevitable. Suicide. I could try to run up or down the creek. I could cut across and try to make it to the woods. Or I could try to cut across the open field beside me and make it to a cave I'd discovered hiking in.
Being innocent was beside the point.
Nobody from Estill county is innocent.
I ran for all I was worth. Headed across the open field. In the very direction the Cyclops were coming. Jim Thorpe was strides behind. I tripped. Went down in the middle of the open field. A hidden hole in the grass. I started back up. The Cyclops broke through. I dropped. Hugged the earth. The Cyclops didn't see me. I curled tight in the slightest of depressions. The Cyclops convened at their marijuana seed bed. Polyphemus ordered that the ends of the earth be scoured. Then they spread. I lay sacrificial in the middle of their ruthless Appalachian checkerboard. Every square being kinged. One Cyclops came behind me within feet. Two rode parallel along both my sides. Polyphemus paused a few feet near my head. His AK was chambered.
DEVIL ROCK---PART FOUR
When Odysseus escaped by Polyphemus, he did so by clutching the underbelly of a large ram. Polyphemus couldn't see Odysseus. But he knew he was there. Nothing short of a gruesome death would satisfy.
I didn't have any ram to clutch. I didn't have anything. I was just a poor, simple and nearly-innocent agate hunter. All I'd wanted was just a fleck of red agate. Just a glint of the Devil Rock. I lay there in the middle of that open field with the Cyclops repeatedly coming ever so close. Fate was hanging in the balance. I lay on my back and looked up. A buzzard was slowly circling. I couldn't see if it was smacking its lips. At long last the Cyclops gave up. I wanted to inform Polyphemus that my name wasn't, No Sweat. Hell no. My name is, Nobody. If they had seen me, that's exactly who I would have become. I wouldn't have gotten a chance to say anything. I lay there listening to the Cyclops disappear. Only an idiot would have run straight out in the middle of an open field to hide from Cyclops. Such a place was not even considered. Thank God. I prayed they continued their search in the land of The Lotus Eaters. If they searched there, they wouldn't return. Estill County Lotus Eaters do little but dawdle and smile. Some get into politics.
DEVIL ROCK---PART FIVE
Eventually hiding out near my van late into the night, carefully watching from an escapable distance, making sure that all was safe before going near, I returned home.
I found no suitors. I was happy not to have to string a bow and shoot through twelve axe heads.
The next morning I found myself transformed from Odysseus to Jason. My goal was to recruit a stout hearted Argonaut and embark on another perilous voyage to capture The Golden Fleece. Well, not a golden fleece. Actually, a Kentucky red agate. The particular Kentucky red agate that I sought was only found on one spot in all of the world. No other place in the universe can it be found.. That spot is in a rare layer of shale, "yellow rock," found on the Estill county and Jackson county line. On a creek called, Middle Fork. Middle Fork feeds along with North Fork and South Fork into Station Camp. Station Camp feeds into the Kentucky River. The Kentucky River feeds into the Ohio River. The Ohio River feeds into The Mississippi River. The Mississippi River feeds into The Gulf Stream. And The Gulf Stream feeds straight into my soul.
I headed for South Irvine and located, "Agateman." Agateman lived in a trailer. If you got near the trailer a wolf that lived below didn't growl. It just chomped you in half.
Inside the trailer was why Agateman was called what he was. In a room built onto the trailer was the Fort Knox of the very best red agate in the world. To step into the room was to be blinded by red. I told Agateman of my narrow escape. After a blood oath that I would never divulge his secret digging spot we agreed to set out the next morning at dawn for a day of digging. It was one matter to find a weathered piece of agate in Middle Fork. Entirely another, digging it out of the matrix.
DEVIL ROCK---PART SIX
The next morning before dawn I was back at Agateman's. I threw my pack in the back of his jeep and approached his trailer. Cerberus approached. I had never seen a three headed dog with a snake tail and snake heads protruding from its back. It was almost enough to make me stop drinking. Almost. Agateman opened his door. He could tell that I'd had a drink. Or was it two. "We're headed to Strawberry Fields where nothing is real," I quipped.
"I've known you since you were fifteen. Back when you drove that baby blue Fleetwood and showed off Chesteen. Nothing has ever been real for you. What is it you pretend to do these days?"
"The job titles keep changing. I never last long. Anyone over me always eventually finds out, all I do is write. Sometimes I'm supposed to be something important, sometimes an absolute nothing. Titles don't mean nothing. Writing is all anyone will get from get from me. My writing. Never what anyone wants. Worse thing is, it has me living twice. Once in Estill is torture enough. God keeps punishing me for my sins. Fortunately, tiny purple fishes laugh between my fingers. I don't mean to sound like my guitar is gently weeping. You asked. And I told you."
DEVIL ROCK---PART SEVEN
Heading towards Middle Fork, the sun broke red across the mountains. Or was it my red eyes. Anyways, shapes were emerging. The world was red. Agateman geared down. "There're 60-inch rattlers back in here."
"How come you call it, Devil Rock?"
"I've never known two friends that hunted the rock for a long time that didn't wind up hating each other. Always a fight over who got what. There've been killings. But nobody knows it."
"How old is this agate?"
DEVIL ROCK----PART EIGHT
"The Imperial Reds derive from the Renfro-Borden Formation. Early Mississippian Age. Around 350 million years ago. Kentucky made agate its state rock. Actually, it's a mineral, not a rock. Kentucky's state mineral is coal. Coal is actually a rock. God bless our politicians."
"We've got the best money can buy."
"Be glad we ain’t packing in all the tools we'll need. I've got them hid near the dig. Iron diggers, picks, three kinds of shovels, two sledge hammers, an axe and two rock hammers. You've got your waders, don't you?"
"In my pack. Do you think we'll find one?"
"You never know. You could go a year of digging all day every day and never find one. And we might find three today. You just never know. But I do know that I am in good spot. I've brought some out that, well, are unbelievable. You've seen them. Most have gone to museums."
Two things about Estill County. We grow imperial marijuana and agates. Our politicians smoke one and stare at the other. In both cases, it leaves them in wonder."
DEVIL ROCK----PART NINE
After nearly jarring my liver loose, Agateman finally parked. Everything in me was disarranged. How far we had Jeeped into the seven mile long hollow was anyone's guess. I was desperate to insure that my liver was none the worse. I searched inside my pack and found a pint of Old Fitzgerald. In four successive swallows its contents disappeared. Right off, my liver went into action. Everything was wonderful. Up that red hollow there was red agate. My liver was certain. Agateman observed disdained. He went to church more than me. Of course that wasn't saying anything. If he went to church one second in the past thirty years he had me beat. Even if he had gotten within a mile of one, he had me beat.
I put on my waders and pack and was soon following Agateman's forced march up Middle Fork. It was hard to maintain his George Custer pace. But a true Estill countian can do anything. Well, anything if it comes to smoking and drinking. An Estill countian can light a joint in a tornado. Or drink a quart of shine standing on his head in quicksand. It's just simple pure born in them.
It was really difficult to select anything in particular that was red. After a pint of Fitz, everything was red. I kept trying to put the entire world in my pack. I looked up. Middle Fork was spinning. I held onto a poplar. Agateman cut off of Middle Fork. He began hiking up a narrow, steep branch that fed into the creek. I was lucky I spotted him. If I hadn't, I'd still be wandering around.
DEVIL ROCK---PART TEN
Agateman stopped one third the way up the mountain to leave the branch and retrieve his hidden tools. I got the ones he left and followed. Not far we came to a giant man made hole in the mountain that ran partially into a cliff. Down low in the various formations was an outcropping of yellow rock. I quickly learned that shale was much more difficult to sledge hammer than I thought. Every pounding of the hammer sent vibrations through my body.
We trenched and rerouted the branch to get it to help remove the debris we were digging. It was as dirty and as hard work as you could possibly dream. Agateman would sledge for five minutes until he got tired. Then I would take my turn and do the same. While one sledged the other would dig with a shovel throwing busted rock and mud as far away as you could. You stayed stuck in the mud and you rarely looked up. At times we found ourselves tunneling under the cliff following the layer of shale. It became very dangerous as common sense dictated that a cave in was inevitable. A cave in of 40 feet of rocks over you spared no mercy. There would be only one result. Still, we followed the layer. It had a way of luring you like a liquor store on pay day.
At times the sound of the sledging would be different. It was something like listening to flint in a sifter verses no flint. When we would hit this sound we would stop. Agate. A round geode. Well, not always round, but usually. We knew we were hitting agate. We also knew that it probably wasn't a good red one. But there was always that chance we could be fooled. We worked and dreamed for those chances. You didn't want to hit the agate more than once. And not even once if you could help it. . Every time you hit, you made a fracture. The more fractures an agate has, the less it's value.
Once an agate was hit we would stop. Then we would use a smaller sledge, a pry bar, the pick, and whatever else was best to carefully work around the specimen. Sometimes we found small ones the size of a golf ball. These were normally easy to rock hammer out. But the larger ones took all of our skills and determination. I had been with many diggers and was a fair digger myself but this Agateman, well, he was The American Digger. A human bulldozer that knew no rest or fear.
DEVIL ROCK----PART ELEVEN
"How do you know if you have a good one?" I asked.
Agateman paused. His eyes scanned the woods. "If you don't see any red on the outside, you really don't know, He said "Even when you see color running into its feeder hole, it still might not be good. The good ones usually aren't round. I look for something that is sort of saucer shaped. When you have a good one, it has a solid feel. Like a cannonball. If we get one like that, we pack it out. Run it through the saw. Agate is four times harder than steel. Some minerals inside the agate are harder than the others. If I think one is no good, I'll tap it along its fracture. All of them have a fracture. Sometimes I mess up. When you do, it kills you."
DEVIL ROCK-----PART TWELVE
Having hit into a geode that showed much promise Agateman stopped. He said we should quit for the day. It would be dark before we got out of the hollow. We caved in an area hiding the geode, then left. We packed out several geodes that proved worthless.
The next morning we were back with a small sledge, wedge and rock hammers. It was around noon when Agateman suddenly stopped and grabbed my arm. He didn't have to tell me to be silent. The intense way his eyes scanned the woods, someone was close.
We held motionless for a long time. Agateman had claimed we were digging on his property. But Agateman was an Estill countian. Even if he claimed religion, his inability to tell the truth was uncontrollable. Crows are black, that's just the way it is.
I was so very nervous. I did the only thing anyone from Estill county could. I had a half pint of hid somewheres. Those big pockets on my camouflaged army pants made survival sense. God bless Jack Daniels. Agateman watched. There went Jesus.
DEVIL ROCK---PART THIRTEEN
It’s not easy to drink most of a half pint in perfect silence. "Red skies, red whiskey and red headed women, what else is there?" I said.
"Red agate," answered Agateman.
I wasn't sure the stuff was worth dying over. A red headed wench, maybe. And only if her curvaceous form was covered in freckles. And naturally, she had to have hemp green eyes.
But not some rock. Er, mineral.
After Agateman eased up and resumed digging I spoke. "Isn't shale hardened mud deposited in a shallow sea millions of years ago?"
"Read your Bible. It answers all questions."
"I ain’t got no Bible. I looked at one, once. Nearly ruern't me on reading. According to what it allows, the world is 5,500 years old. You told me that agate was formed millions of years ago."
"Are you saying, you don't believe?"
"Oh, I'll believe anything," I answered, finishing off the half pint. "I voted for our last mayor five times. And I still didn't get a job."
DEVIL ROCK----PART FOURTEEN
"How do you drink so much?"
"Easy. I open my mouth. Gravity does the rest."
"Don't you get tired of it?"
"No. It lets me be me. It lets me be with the dead. The dead are a whole lot friendlier than the living. I tried sober, once. Life was so full of lies, I eventually surrendered."
Agateman worked the geode out of the matrix. A smile. It was oval shaped and felt solid. I put it in a duffel bag. We called it a day. After hiding the tools we began hiking out of the tight hollow. The woods were fantasia. A yellow butterfly. Trees rubbing, talking. Tadpoles surfacing. I love Estill. She is glorious.
But she is not The Gulfstream.
Arriving at Mark's place he directed us to a backroom where his rock saw was set up. Agateman didn't know it, but Mark wallowed in marijuana. Always had a sticky icky rolled and waiting.
DEVIL ROCK----PART FIFTEEN
The air about Mark's business had the nefarious odor of a green snake's breath. Mark smiled. His red eyes guided the geode into a vice. Vice was everywhere. But this vice held all our dreams as the big diamond bladed saw began slowly slicing into Kentucky's state rock. "No Sweat, you still writin'?" he asked.
"Day in, day out. Even when I ain’t writing, I am. It's not me. It's someone else inside."
"Still on that outlaw?"
"Yeah. I've turned it into a love story. Even makes me cry."
"Yeah, he sure had the women."
"It ain’t about women. About him and his dad, a crooked preacher."
"What about that other book? You done anything on it?"
"I live with it at all times. Everyone says it's my best. I can't see it. The journal of a lonely marijuana grower. I'm working it down. Trying to keep it clean.
Honest. Honest ain’t easy."
"You got that right."
DEVIL ROCK----PART SIXTEEN
I walked over to the big box. I leaned and raised the lid. Inside, a saw was running. Oil was flying along the saw blade as it made it's cut. I closed the lid. "I hear that Estill's new Judge collects agate," I said.
"Just the red," answered Mark. He loves it. If you get busted for growing, he'll let you go. Depends on how much you were growing and how good the rock is."
"Sure hope this one is good enough to get us out of murder. Nice having justice on reserve."
DEVIL ROCK----PART SEVENTEEN
Agateman walked over to the box. Like everyone else, his curiosity was up. The saw moved fast. Yet, it moved so slow. Too slow. A half hour had passed. Just a small incision had been made. He looked at the bottom. The oil was covering everything. Red couldn’t be seen. Mark nudged me with his arm, gave me the eye. "Agateman," he said, "We'll be right back. I'm gonna show No Sweat an arrowhead I got."
Going into another room at the end of the hall, Mark lit a joint, took a hit and handed it to me. I took a hit and handed it back. A few hits later, the grime of the day disappeared. We emerged from the room like butterflies emerging from their chrysalis. Walking back into the room where Agateman was in study he looked up and shook his head in disgust. "Is there a hay barn on fire near here?" he asked.
DEVIL ROCK----THE END
When at last the saw did its job there came a THUMP. The three of us walked over. Mark raised the lid. For the longest of time we stood in silence, looking down. Not a muscle moved. Expressions were frozen. Breathing ceased. Then, Agateman spoke. "That's the most beautiful agate I have ever seen."
"Me too," added Mark.
"I've never seen lines come across the chevron," I said.
"Do you want that cut?" Spoke Agateman. "Or do you want the next?"
The rock was being divided into thirds. "I'll take this piece," I said. I couldn't have been more satisfied. A bird in the hand.
"You've probably got ten thousand dollars, there," spoke Agateman.
There had never been such a contrast of deep black and Marlboro red. The agate owned hypnotic powers. Wrapping my third, I left. At home I placed the agate on a table. You couldn't come into or leave my home without seeing the rock.
Years passed. Agateman had sliced his one third up into three slices, getting $2,000 a slice. Mark had done the same. I still have my one third whole just as the evening it fell from the saw.
I learned that the land that we found the agate on actually did not belong to Mark. The story that Agateman told me----us having to give Mark one third of what we found because it was on Mark's land---was a lie. I said nothing. After all, Agateman was a Christian. Devil Rock. Yeah.
Then a man from Powell county actually did buy the land where Agateman and I had dug. He brought in a bulldozer and caved in 80' of cliff over the top of our spot. Nobody would ever find agate there again.
And nobody has.