Way out in the farthest, least populated back reaches of the Mississippi Delta, rows of wrecked automobiles, engines, transmissions, and tires crisscrossed a huge junkyard owned by four brothers.
Everybody in the Delta knew where the junkyard was, and referred to its owners, not by name, but as the Neanderthals. Antisocial, they seemed to have no use for females, who were terrified of them (as were no small number of men), not to mention children, for whom they were the source of screaming nightmares.
Where these Stone Age giants came from, no one knew. They were tall, powerfully built clones of each other, with deep-set, pale blue eyes that glared — unblinking, stone cold, and pitiless — from beneath granite brow ridges protruding from nearly nonexistent foreheads.
Against their tangled, matted, yellowish blonde hair and black, grizzly beards, scissors and razors were useless; their tobacco-stained teeth were as big and as thick as dominos, and their necks were virtually nonexistent, requiring that they swivel their massive torsos to look sideways.
Despite their diet — mostly baseball-sized wads of chewing tobacco and homemade alcoholic concoctions they called mead, so potent that mere mortals would just as soon drink arsenic — they were marvelous specimens of health, and the only doctor who ever attended them was the one who initiated their journey from womb to tomb.
The junkyard, unnamed and unadvertised, was accessible only by a winding gravel road and the same railroad that passed through my dad’s farm.
When a part for a car or truck couldn’t be found anywhere else, the Neanderthals had it. Year-round, they worked outdoors, bare-chested and greasy, oblivious to the hottest or coldest days, dismantling wrecked autos and salvaging every usable part.
At daybreak one morning, several farm employees and I gathered around a small convertible that lay overturned alongside the railroad tracks. Apparently unhurt, the driver must have walked away, abandoning the wreck, which the brothers promptly claimed.
One of them measured the distance between the tires on either side of the car and determined that it matched the space between the rails. As if reading each other’s minds, the four hulking titans crouched at the car’s corners, and with no apparent strain, picked it up clear of the ground and flipped it over onto the railroad tracks.
After lowering the tires’ air pressure until they sagged slightly on either side of the tracks, they tossed mirrors, bumpers, windshield and other parts that had become dislodged into the car’s trunk.
Nodding to us and grunting approvingly to each other, they filled gallon-sized tankards with mead, stepped over the car’s sides, plopped into its seats, cranked it, wedged a brick on the accelerator, put it in gear, and rattled off down the tracks, with the doors flapping in the breeze, and a rear fender dragging along, flinging sparks when it banged against the rails.
Watching them fade into the distant haze, clanking mugs together in a toast, I thought to myself … no one can doubt what they are: Neanderthals.
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