Everyone is kind. Everyone smiles. “Welcome, y’all.” The smiles stretch until there is only teeth in various numbers distracting you from the deadness in the eyes. “We are so glad you are here.”
There is banjo music playing. It is catchy. You search and search for the source. The music gets faster, pitch sharpening. At some point, a fiddle joins in. You are lost in the trees and there is only the music and the faint sound of someone stamping their feet.
“Rock me mama like a wagon wheel,” you sing. A woman appears. It is not your mama, but it is a mama. There is another and another. You are surrounded by mamas. “Bless your heart,” they chime.
You are hiking the mountains and there is a bear. It stares at you and you freeze, terrified to move. A bump at your feet distracts you. You are surrounded by opossums. Their black eyes shimmer and their pink noses smell your fear. You look back up. The bear is gone.
It is autumn and the color is everywhere. The tourists are here. The air smells like pumpkin and decay and you emerge from your home to forage. It is a thirty minute drive to food. You arrive in town two hours later. You are not sure where the lapsed time has vanished except that there is a whirl of cameras in every direction. Even the leaves will grow tired and flee in less than a month.
You buy sweet tea from five restaurants. Every cup tastes different. You go home and pour a glass. This cup is just right.
Nearby, a tourist attempts to speak the name of the mountain range. “Appa-” they start. They are still making “a” sounds. They have never left.