The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Ridge Runner by Nicole Yurcaba


The Ol’ Bear Hunter, he never tried to stop me. Knew better than to try, too. Knew I’d merely look at him with a smart-assed smirk on my wind-reddened face, mentally challengin’ his lightly spoken cautions with a thought-but-not-said “Make me”.


No, he never tried to stop me. Never once protested with “Ya ought not to do that.” He let me learn on my own. Maybe because he remembered. Remembered what it was like to be



The Ol’ Bear Hunter, slippin’ a few essentials–water, mainly–into the worn knapsack strapped to my broad back, offered one simple bit of friendly advice–“Ya be careful. Ya don’t know ‘er like ya know them others, so don’t get all hotheaded an’ go t’ runnin’ like a hellion.”

“Okay, I lied, “I won’t.” And before I slipped feet first on her creviced face’s rocky dimple, I glanced over my shoulder. To see him, cross-leggedly sittin’, on a moss-licked boulder. His mouth, upturned at its corner slightly. Quiet pride, glistenin’ vibrantly, in his sixty-somethin’ blue eyes. Pride because he had taught me. Taught me his mountain ways. Taught me well. And I could tell he remembered. He remembered. Maybe, he even wished he could be, once again



Lowerin’ myself onto her leafy cheek, my Guide Gear leather boots hit the ground with an unladylike THUD! A few angled paces I walked. Dippin’ down further on her cheek’s downward slant, I turned around. Turned around to make sure the Ol’ Bear Hunter could not see me…


Instinct. Instinct kicked in. The sort of instinct most young woman lack. The sort of instinct The Ol’ Bear Hunter had seen flickerin’ wildly in my fierce eyes years ago. Instinct he and his backwoods trainin’ had helped hone. Trained ears narrowed in on the hounds’ deep baying. Instinct. Mind over matter. Woman over mountain. Grace would not defeat me. After all, I was


Arms pumpin’. Legs leapin’. Findin’ footin’. Huffin’. Puffin’. Heavin’ lungs burnin’. Mind over matter. Woman over mountain. Instinct. Separatin’ beauty from brutality. Separatin’ woman from girl. Guide Gear hunting boots thud-thud-thuddin’ over leaf-hidden stony pimples, narrowly lippin’ leaf-hidden crevices.


Her jagged, angled features grew narrower. Sloped downward. Narrower, nearly instantaneously. One strainin’ stride, the trail was wide open, cascadin’ down her rock-pocked cheeks. The next strainin’ stride, narrow, barely one boot-length wide. My free-for-all boundin’ slowed to a tight, calve-clenchin’ airborne shuffle. Hidden rocks threatened stumblin’ carelessly landing steps.

The Ol’ Bear Hunter, he’d told me once that when in his twenty-somethins, he could run. Run across two ridges–mean ridges, separates-men-from-boys ridges. Run right behind his racing footloose hounds. And never break his stride.


Hounds. Below. Hounds in the holler below me. Down. Down. Down. I angled. Perpendicular to the holler’s flat bottom. The hounds. Keepin’ the black bruin treed. Amidst them I saw him. Him. The Ol’ Bear Hunter. Standing, greyed head tilted back, surveyin’ the current situation. Bullheaded, I rushed to the tree. Rushed in amongst the bayin’ hounds. Unsnappin’ the well-used lead strap from around me, I rushed in. “Were ya skeered?” The Old Bear hunter called.

Lookin’ up, meetin’ his aged blue-eyed gaze with my young, brazen brown-eyed one, I grinned. I grinned the widest nothin’-gets-the-best-of-me grin I could exhaustedly muster.


“Hell, takes more than ol’ Grace Mountain to skeer me,”

I snickered.

Mind had conquered matter.

Woman had conquered mountain.

Grace Mountain did not defeat me.

I’d defeated her.


And the Ol’ Bear Hunter?

He knew.

He knew.

But he didn’t yell. Didn’t raise his voice. Didn’t chastise.

No, he didn’t.


He smiled.

And I smiled.

Knowing he remembered. Remembered what it was like to be