Every gear in the truck’s engine moaned as it pulled the vehicle down the narrow lane. Hilary checked her side mirror again, still uneasy about how close she had to ride against the side of the road, as it quickly declined into a low stream. Tumbling down wouldn’t do much to the truck, its red paint chipped and rusted. But breaking her neck for the sake of the environment wasn’t worth it in her opinion.
“Neither is getting shot,” she said under her breath.
The sun was setting and the closest mountain was bathed in orange and pink. At the start of her trip, Hilary may have taken the time to stop and admire the beauty of it. Having been in Johnsburg, Kentucky for three weeks though, she was past marveling at nature. On her way to the last house she had to visit, she glanced at the clipboard in the passenger seat. There were only two names agreeing to petition mountain-top removal. Two families out of the thirty in the county. She had several doors slammed in her face, spit screamed into her hair, and a dog set on her. All the while, she had to keep a smile on her face and a pleasant demeanor. After all, environmentalists were meant to be friendly, right?
A house came into view and she cringed at its condition. What once had been white paint was now a depressing gray, stained from the greasy rain that fell thick with coal dust. The yard was a pitiful expanse of yellowed grass covered in miscellaneous trash: an old bike missing a wheel, a tractor tire, a sun-bleached playhouse, and firewood laying in various places. She wasn’t surprised to see that half the house was covered in kudzu. The vines grew in an oily mass everywhere, swallowing whatever it could in the town.
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Hilary let out a heavy sigh as she pulled into the yard and put the truck in park. “Let’s just get this over with.”
She snatched her red curls up into a high ponytail before grabbing her clipboard and fact card. The second her feet touched the property, a dog started howling in the house, sending a sharp chill up her spine. Swallowing around the lump in her throat, Hilary climbed the two steps onto the porch and knocked on the screened door. Staring at the floor, her lip curled at the layer of black dust covering it. It had only taken two days for her to learn that she needed to invest in work boots.
The sound of several locks being turned was followed by the door opening only enough for a brown, bloodshot eye to peer through. “What do you want?”
“Hi! My name’s Hilary and I’m with the Green—”
“You’re one of those hippies.”
Hilary fought the urge to roll her eyes and widened her smile instead. “We just care about our planet. As should you. I’m sure you have noticed the damage that comes with shaving off the tops of mountains. Coal dust everywhere, the pollution, not to mention the destruction of your beautiful mountain view. My associates and I are working to get signatures for our petition to stop the—”
“To stop us from making any money is what you’re doing. Who the hell are y’all to come in here and tell us how to do things? Y’all need to move on if you know what’s best for you.” The eye had not blinked once yet.
A throaty cough echoed outside from one of the rooms followed by a weak moan. Hilary addressed the eye, pointing at the door. “Is that your child?”
“Don’t you worry about my boy. ‘s none of your business. Now get off my property, ya hippie.”
“Ma’am, I’m trying—”
There was a light click and then the door opened a little wider to allow the barrel of a pistol to be pointed at Hilary’s chest. “I said get.”
Hilary flushed cold as she stared at the gun, her hands raised in surrender. Backing away from the door, she traced her path around the garbage back to her truck. Out of immediate danger, her fingers clenched tightly against the clipboard and her cheeks blossomed red from the heat of her frustration.
She spun on her heel and glared at the rickety house, letting weeks of humiliation and irritation leak into her shout. “Listen here, hag! You backwards rednecks are so thick. I’ve been dealing with you lot for three weeks and I’m sick of the rudeness. We’re just trying to help! Y’all don’t seem to care that you’re polluting everything. Y’all won’t even bother to hear that the reason your kids are so sick is ‘cause there’s so much crud in your water that they’ll be dead before they’re forty. So fine. Sit in your toxic water and dirty homes and keep doing nothing about it.”
Hilary was aware that she only had seconds before bullets were being fired, so she jumped into her truck and revved the engine. As she backed out, the front door opened and a feeble, old woman with salt-n-pepper hair blowing in the breeze stepped out, waving her hand for Hilary to stop.
A bit unsure, the young activist held down the brakes and rolled down her window. “What?”
“What’d you say about my grandson?” the old woman shouted over the distance.
“I can tell you all about it. Just no guns.”
“No guns,” the woman agreed, tugging her housecoat tighter around herself. “Come on back in. I want to hear what hippies got to say.”