Chapter Thirty-Eight: Closed Road: An Accounting of the Life of Jonathan Sevier VI

Editor’s Note: I drove out to the Sevier estate, now run entirely by the late Elder Jonathan Sevier VI’s daughter, Evelyn. A saber-tongued old bullhorn of a woman who’s spent her life avoiding people amid a cloud of lesbian rumors thanks to her spinsterdom and hardscrabble, self-reliant reputation, I had meant to interview her about what it was like to be the surviving member of a Vine Elder family with no male heir. Obviously, the Council would not allow a woman to permanently serve after the rule changes following the death of Alice Ruth and the coming of age of Seth Ruth IV. Thus, since Jonathan Sevier VI’s death, Evelyn—who, again, is childless—has had the shroud of inheritance denied very publicly hanging over her. 

Evelyn was cordial, but denied being interviewed. Even after I had explained the project of my book to her, there was no convincing. “Tell the truth about Vine,” she said. “But you’re going to have to do it without me.”

Instead, she gave me this: after her father’s death, which she speculated was syphilis, Evelyn had reached out to all the women her father had known. She’d asked them to write a remembrance of her father. An honest one, she told them. She kept their letters in a shoebox. She was probably going to get around to burning them one day, she told me, but hadn’t yet. She didn’t know why. She wondered if she was doing these women a favor, preserving their memory. 

“Do you believe in vampires?” she asked me.

Allison Friedrichson

The rich are always handsome. They can afford to be. But his eyes—those silver eyes—were those natural? Sometimes feel like I’m just trying to be. Back then I was a waitress. Made enough money where I could almost be. We’d started having rock bands play at Gentleman Jim’s. I guess folks thought the noise covered up them feeling up my legs. I used to wonder if men are the way they are everywhere or we just got lucky with the Holy Humble Servants Of God here in Vine. I was just trying to be. Anyway, job could’ve been worse. And weren’t many nicer than Johnny, at first. 

He was an Elder but he knew how to talk to the rest of us. Would come in wearing flannel and Carhartt, you know? Worked his own farm, hired a couple of guys who said he always paid well. Said he never took well to reading, which is why he listened so hard in Church. His favorite phrase was “I must decrease, God must increase.” I thought it was nice for an Elder to show humility. Learned guitar, too. Rich guys are never good at guitar, but his band was nice enough. They ain’t play original songs. I liked that. 

We had a nice time for a while. He was nice to me. Then suddenly he wasn’t. Well. That’s men. I don’t feel like saying much else about it. 

Dottie Swanson

 I have trouble believing his daughter will be wanting an honest account of her father. 

Stacey Kilgore

Well what sort of self-respecting 19-year-old gets pregnant, anyway? Let me tell you: Drugs change a person. I don’t know what he was expecting, but pretty soon, neither was I. What sort of—all that I must decrease, God must increase. Well. Meaning no disrespect to you, Miss Evelyn, but that’s all I care to say. 

Editor’s Note: Stacey Kilgore remained childless until her death at age 33

Beth Reeves

All I could do was run. Through the forest, brambles catching my denim jacket. A tree branch ripped my hair and I was sure he’d track auburn. He could track a deer days. Those eyes—they could pierce a leaf pile and catch a half a footprint on a moonless night.  Lucky it wasn’t cold out. Where was Amber? We had run in different directions. She had been bleeding. All I could hear were owls and my own lungs. How did I find a clearing? How did I make it home, near-unconscious in the streets? When I got home I burned my clothes. Added any meat that was in my fridge or freezer to the fire. Like making an offering to God, you know? I burned the chicken thighs I was going to cook the next day I burned the hamburger meat I was going to cook that Thursday I burned the venison my daddy had shot and stocked up my deep freezer with. Anything I thought might make myself square with God again, after what I’d seen Johnny do. No illusions about if I’m going to be sitted on the right hand of God when I die, honey, I am not the most humble servant in Vine. But some things ain’t right. I slept in a locked bathroom for a week. 

Jill Headlee

He loved that car. You know that. White Trans Am, kept it spotless. We’d go driving in that Trans Am, places in Vine I ain’t never seen. Didn’t think Vine was all that big, didn’t think it housed too many secrets. Your daddy sure disabused me of that notion but quick. The sides of them mountains have more hidden than people that’s ever been born or died in Vine. Look under a fallen tree branch sometime. Peek into a thicket when you’re bored. Drink from one of the mountain streams. See what you see there. Let me know how it goes! If you can. 

Did you know there are unholy places in the mountains in Vine? The Elders know about them. Suppose lots of people do. Somehow, I didn’t. 

One time he took me driving cruising sunny day no clouds. Maybe a little too humid. Probably August. Trees ain’t lose their leaves yet but the grass all brown and rusted-looking. He had that guitar in the backseat, I asked him was he going to sing me love songs on the mountain. He had that sweet smile but them eyes—I could never make what to read out of them silvery eyes. 

We got to a closed road. I was in the passenger side waiting for him to slow down or brake. Waiting for him to acknowledge the closed road sign. No one was around us for miles. We ain’t seen nobody. But there was the sign and he did not brake. I was hollering, asking him don’t he see the sign, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t stop. Barrelled on through that closed road sign and kept us driving. I didn’t know what was around the bend on that closed mountain road. He looked at me—still driving—he looked at me and I don’t think his lips moved. I don’t remember his lips moved. I don’t remember hearing anything. But he spoke to me he said be not afraid

We drove deeper into the trees. Eventually we come to a stop. Not like we reached a parking lot, or a clearing, or dedicated we couldn’t go no further. We come to a stop and he told me to get out. 

He parted some brush and we walked a few feet and then there was a drop. Right in the middle of the mountain. Not like a cliff, just a big leaf-and-branch-covered dimple God poked in the terrain. There were some dead branches in a circle and some rocks piled in a way I don’t think anyone would notice, really, but seemed it like was intentional now that I’d saw it. 

There hadn’t been a woman there but then there was, she was the color of fallen leaves and her teeth were made a twigs. One look at I knew her mouth was always open like that, and that if God had had anything to do with her creation, it hadn’t been a recent involvement. Before too long I noticed my body felt like I’d slept in a deep freezer. Then I was moving but my legs sure weren’t. 

Johnny, he had those same smiling silver eyes. Whole time. Whole time, those silver eyes. 

It felt like nothing when he bit into my neck. Be not afraid. There was blood running down my shoulders, I knew, I was aware of everything down to how sunny it still was. Here was the thing: it was a great day for a hike. Be not afraid. The woman, she wasn’t biting, but she was dancing in a circle around us. Kept thinking about how her color wasn’t something you found in God’s creation. Be not afraid. Kept thinking am I not here. Something—not blood—was draining out of me. Something had stopped the blood on my neck but something was still draining. I felt it, felt myself decreasing. Like I was losing something, something probably essential but at least I couldn’t tell you what it was. Johnny, though, he felt like he was everywhere. Be not afraid. Felt like he filled that whole area, like his voice was the only sound in the air and his face was the only face on Earth. 

I never married, you know. Never got pregnant, not even by accident, not even that time Preacher was trying. I was 18 when I knew your daddy and 19 by the time I didn’t. I don’t know if this helps you understand or not. Understand your daddy. 

Dottie Swanson (Second Letter)

You know what? You want to know? You want to know, little rich girl? You think your father is sitted at the right hand of God? I’ve heard the stories about you. Maybe since you’re a sick person maybe you can handle it. Your father liked teeth. He used his teeth. Bit my neck, bit my shoulder, bit the soft rolls above my hips, bit where else I don’t want to say. Not where you’re thinking. He bit and he tasted blood and it was like the Revelation of Vine happening right there in my trailer. The blood was on his chin and the blood was on my floors and the blood was on his chest and the blood lined my skin and dried and the blood stuck and he rubbed it off with his thumbs savoring the dried red skincrumbs between his fingers. The blood wasn’t even a lot of blood he just pushed the blood around wanting the blood to stretch the farthest corners it could reach. 

You think you father is sitted at the right hand of God? After that day, he told me he had something to show me. Something in the mountains. When he came to pick me up in that white Trans Am I looked at him, all teeth and silver eyes, and told him I was sick. Told him I couldn’t stop sneezing, told him I had been feverish earlier. He told me to stay home, rest up, feel better—but he put his hand on my neck. My body went cold. My legs couldn’t move. I felt something inside me decrease, felt something go out. After that day I never saw him. Never knew what he took from me. But I felt myself lessen that day. 

There you go you sick freak little rich girl that’s all I got to say about your daddy. 

Sarah Hill

First I remember he was nice to me. But I wouldn’t be telling the whole tale if I didn’t say he excited me. He was very handsome, a way he leaned over the pool table lining up a corner shot but he would take off his leather jacket if he had to swing the cue stick behind his back. We shared pitchers at Gentleman Jim’s and he made me feel like the only girl in the world even if I was 38 and he was actively feeling up Allison Friedrichson’s leg while pouring me another beer. Like I was the only girl in the world, and there were his big silver eyes.

Editor’s Note: what do I make of these letters? Why include these in my history of Vine? God help me, I love Vine. I don’t have a choice. Yet over and over, I see Elders abusing their power. I see a broken down people, almost all of them with a deep, abiding faith in God and a drinking problem. Maybe I’m young and angry, but I see that the people of Vine are good, that they live humbly and serve God. On the other hand, I am told that the Elders of Vine live humbly and serve their God. 

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