Three Sixes and a Forked Tongue by James Tyler Toothman, an Excerpt

Three Sixes and a Forked Tongue by James Tyler Toothman

Well, it’s a big round copper pot with a fire under it, and there’s a pipe that curls round and round like this, and runs into a little bucket.

—Opie Taylor

Clockmaker, West Virginia, in nineteen hundred and seventy- one, was a forgotten town, forgotten by most who didn’t live there, and even still by a few who did. The Clockmaker Number

Nine Coal Mine was the chief employer in Clockmaker, and the soul reason for the town’s founding and development. Next to the mine, the second largest employer was Shaffer’s timber mill, which provided jobs for fewer than twenty. The high school employed ten, and the elementary school employed four. There were a few other opportunities, not many, but a few, and other- wise, people got by in any way they could.

Some of the men chopped, split, and sold firewood. Others traded vegetables from their gardens, or game meat. While some women mended clothes, or waited tables at the diner, or served bar, most women and a noticeable number of men didn’t work. Some collected a government check, and others would have rath- er starved to death than accept a handout from anyone, let alone from the United States Government, but one way or another, all but the dead got by.

The town had one grocery market, Layfields, that also served as a general store, selling everything from loaves of bread and

canned sardines to lengths of rope and ten penny nails. There was one bank, owned by the mine of course, and five churches, in- cluding Mount Zion Methodist. Of the others, one was Catholic, two were Baptist, one for whites and one for blacks, and the last was Presbyterian. There was one doctor, Doctor Zonts, a rather brilliant clandestine chemist, who, in the basement of his home, unbeknownst to all, synthesized everything from liquid heroin to LSZ. And interestingly enough, a wide variety of sleeping aids.

Additionally, there were two bars that served liquor, and one that sold only beer, the Clockmaker Tavern and Broken Key hav- ing long since shut down with the passing of Fish. There was a drive-in theater just outside of town. Other than the salvage yard and the creek beds, it served as the primary source of entertain- ment for the youth of Clockmaker. There was E-Rundle’s Diner, across from the white Baptist church, a post office, a fueling sta- tion, and across the street an old brick building that housed the office of Sheriff Maynard White. Unlike the cops on television, the sheriff rarely smiled or laughed, and he most certainly did not play the guitar. He was nothing at all like Andy Griffith. But then again, Clockmaker was nothing at all like Mayberry, either.

The town sat just southeast of the mouth of Buffalo Creek, along the Guyandotte River, and was surrounded by a dense and unforgiving forest that proceeded well into eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Desolate as it was, there still were available many of the luxuries of city life for a number of people in Clockmaker, but while some drove cars and had televisions, quite a few others had little more than a shack and a pair of shoes. Nevertheless, despite the isolation these differences still divided them.

But it must be understood that, whether or not the people of Clockmaker were employed or vagrant, whether they mined coal or pissed away their days on a bottle of rot-gut, they were a people who were not originally meant for the woods. In the

early days, to mine coal in West Virginia was to walk away from the comforts and safety of the developed and civilized world, but for most what was left behind turned out to be of as little value as the things they had brought along, because they had, near all, forgotten to pack an understanding of how to properly survive in such a wild and inhospitable wilderness. They were an industrial- ized people, lured into untapped mountains by the promise of big money. They were out of tune with the seasons and had no feeling for the ground. And inevitably, they suffered for it. Television rich or one pair of pants poor, they all suffered.

Luckily for Priscilla, this was not the case with Joseph. The woods, the ground, the seasons, they were where the young man shined. Joseph spent nearly all of his waking hours outside, and mostly in the forest. He was a proficient hunter, fisher, and trapper, and recently he had taken to tracking larger game by sign of scat, blood, or earth print. He could climb a tree like a squirrel and swim a stream like a trout. He knew which berries and mushrooms would sustain human life and he knew which ones would extinguish it. He could build a fire in the rain and harvest plants from seed. All but the gardening, for which he could thank his mother, he learned from his father and uncle and grandfather, each avid woodsmen. His grandfather in particular could skin a buck hanging from its hind legs in under a minute, a record that both of the old man’s sons had tried for years to beat but never could.

The truth is that Joseph had once seen his father skin a buck in fifty-four seconds, beating his grandfather’s best time by five- hundreth of a minute, and when Joseph asked his father why he wasn’t going to mention it to the old man, his father told him that there were things in life more important than winning. “Most things in fact.” He told Joseph, “Yer grandaddy has been knocked down a peg or two many a time in his life, but he always did his

best by me, and by you too. So it seems to me, we oughta just let ‘em have this’n. Dignity’s hard enough to hold on to as it is, Joseph. Time has a way of passin’. You’ll see for yerself someday. We all grow older and weaker.”

Joseph held Priscilla’s hand as she jumped down from Indian Rock, then they climbed up the river bank to the path that led back to Maw Scill’s. Joseph’s plan was to stop at The Hideout for supplies, and then start their search for Lucky at the spot where Priscilla saw him disappear into the wood line behind her house.

When they got up to the path, Joseph said, “Hot damn, yer eyes are blacker than pitch now. You sure yer feelin’ up to hikin’?” Priscilla looked at him unwaveringly, and said, “Everett ain’t

raise no bitch. To the hideout.”
And off they went.
On their way, Joseph, outwardly amazed that he had forgotten,

told Priscilla all about what happened that morning in church. He told her about the new preacher and his snakes, about Kathleen Gibbons fainting on the piano, and about the sound it made, and how he laughed. And though Priscilla refused to believe him at first, thinking that he was, for some reason, putting her on, she eventually had no choice. The perceived gossip was far too detailed to be a lie, and Joseph was absolutely insistent in his honesty. Priscilla was dumbfounded. “Snakes? In church?”

The Fort, sometimes known as The Hideout, was a poorly constructed scrap lumber shack that was nailed into the branch- es of a mammoth White Oak. It was so high up in the tree that it was invisible from the ground, and the only two people who knew about its existence were Priscilla and Joseph. There were pieces of two-by-fours nailed to the tree that served as a ladder, but the first rung was nearly fifteen feet off the ground. In order to access that first rung, Joseph had constructed a removable ladder that was kept in a briar thicket, which, once removed

from the thorns and leaned against the enormous tree, could be used to gain access to the first length of two-by-four. Once up the ladder, there were two padlocks on the floor entrance to The Hideout that Joseph removed, using a key that was kept hidden in a hollowed out knot at the tree’s base.

Inside, Joseph went to the far end of the room and removed a piece of the floorboard, a trick Priscilla had shown him. Then he kneeled down and removed another padlock. Under the floor of the shack, Joseph kept a rifle, a machete, several knives, an old grenade that he stole from his uncle Bob, several sticks of dynamite, and a stack of adult magazines. He removed the rifle and the machete. Then he said, “Well, don’t look at me like that, Scilly, goddamn. You never know, we might need it.”

Priscilla glared at him, her hands on her hips. “We don’t need yer rifle to find Lucky,” she said, impatiently.

“Oh come on, we might see a big old buck along the way. The Hideout needs a rack on the wall.”

“The Hideout needs more nails in the ladder.”

“Aw, that ladder’s fine. And it ain’t like I’m bringin’ the dyna- mite, shit. We can have a little fun. And the machete we actually need.”

Priscilla conceded without another word. She closed her eyes and raised her palm to him. Then she said, “What else do we need?”

Joseph tossed Priscilla a large military issue shoulder pack, a late birthday gift from his father, and started reading to her from a mental list as he inspected his rifle.

“Compass.”

“Check,” said Priscilla, after locating it under a stack of comic books.

“Binoculars.”
They were hanging by the door. “Check.”

“Matches and striker.” “Check.” “Ammunition.” “Check.” “Flashlights.” “Check.”

Replacing the padlock, Joseph said, “Put the key back in the knot, I’ll carry the pack down, we got about four hours ‘fore dark.” Priscilla dropped the pack beside Joseph and said, “Real live

snakes, huh?”
Joseph look up at her and smiled. “I swear it.”
Priscilla stared at him, attempting to read his face, searching

for any sign of deceit, and after finding none, she wearily shook her head and proceeded to make her way through the floor hatch and down the ladder.

From inside The Hideout, Joseph heard Priscilla say to herself, “A girl misses one gotdang day of church.”

They started their search for Lucky at the tree line beyond the field behind Priscilla’s house, and though she was sure that the dog hadn’t been too badly wounded by Everett’s boot, Joseph found a blood trail almost immediately. Fortunately, the rain hadn’t lasted long enough to thoroughly penetrate the forest canopy and wash it away. He followed the trail for some time before losing it, and when he did, he told Priscilla to stay put and he went off by him- self. He came back, then disappeared again, this time at a more westward angle. When he returned the second time, he said that he had found more blood and they continued on.

Further and further into the hills, they walked. The day drew on, and the air had warmed some but it was still quite chilly. Joseph untied a flannel shirt from around his waist and handed it

to Priscilla. She put it on. Joseph had lost track of the blood trail three times since they began the search, but this time, he was fairly certain that he’d lost it for good. He had carefully scoured the perimeter, fifty yards from the last sign of blood, east to west and over again, and found nothing. He could only assume that the dog’s wound had dried up because the blood trail hadn’t led to something dead, as blood trails often do. And obviously dogs don’t just disappear into thin air, either. But just as he was about to vocalize his defeat to Priscilla, something caught his eye.

It was a small patch of dirt that appeared newly unearthed, as if something had been recently buried there. Joseph moved to it, crouched down, and began gently digging into the soil. What he found, shallowly buried, made him recoil with disgust. He leapt to his feet and stared down at it. He had been wrong about the dog’s wound having healed. Lucky wasn’t wounded. Not at all. And he wasn’t bleeding. He’d been carrying something that was bleeding.

Joseph looked to Priscilla who was watching him from behind a fallen and rotting Sycamore, and said, “Well, Scilly, you want the good news or the bad news first?”

Priscilla’s shoulders slumped. “The good,” she said with indif- ference. She couldn’t see what Joseph had found from where she was standing.

“Well, the good news is, I don’t reckon Lucky’s hurt at all. It ain’t his blood we been followin’. But I have a feelin’ we’re still on the right track.”

Priscilla raised an eyebrow. “What’s the bad news?”

Joseph grinned. “I found a right nice size chunk of yer daddy’s …uh, looks like his right hand.”

Priscilla’s eyes went wide, but quickly lowered into a scowl. “He ain’t my fuckin’ daddy, fucker,” she responded.

Joseph raised his hands in surrender. “My mistake, my mistake. I apologize,” he said. Then he bent down, snatched the mangled hand from the dirt, and hurled it at Priscilla. She shrieked, having barely avoided it, and nearly fell over a bed of rocks trying to move out of the way. As she cursed him, Joseph, through howls of laugh- ter, said, “Hey Scilly, I found a right nice size chunk of Everett’s hand.” Then he said, “Hey Scilly, whoever woulda thought that Everett was gonna give us a hand, lookin’ for Lucky.” And they both had a good laugh at that.

They left the better part of Everett’s right hand, which was eaten by a family of birds the following morning, in the pile of fall- en branches where Joseph threw it, with the intention of heading back the way they came. Joseph assured Priscilla that their hunt was not over, merely halted by the setting sun, and after school, the following day, they would return to begin their search anew.

On the way home, however, Joseph decided to take what he thought was a shortcut that would bring them out just above the mine, but it wasn’t long before they both realized that he had made a mistake. He had gotten cocky, keeping hold of that blood trail the way he had. And because of his arrogance, he had foolishly gotten them so turned around that he could not now de- termine which direction was the one that led back to Clockmaker. And to make matters worse, the goddamn sun was setting.

Joseph tried the compass. He rotated the housing but the mag- netic needle stayed pinned, and wouldn’t orient with the arrow. It was busted. “We might be up shit crick,” he said, as he contin- ued to spin in circles, eyeing the compass.

Priscilla adjusted the pack on her shoulder and watched him. “So what do we do now?”

Joseph scratched his head. “Welp, best I can figure is we hole up in ‘at old cabin we saw back yonder for the night, I seen a stove pipe comin’ outta the top of it. You may as well pull ‘em flashlights out. Dark’s comin’ on quick.”

“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? We gotta sleep in the woods?”

Joseph hung his head. “I don’t see another choice.”

Prisicilla dropped to one knee and began undoing the pack’s draw strings. The cabin would have to do. Its windows were bro- ken out, and a part of the roof was caved in, but it would have to do. It was getting cold. Priscilla threw one of the flashlights to Joseph and then she attempted to turn on the other one, but it was dead. Joseph tried his. Dead too.

“Jesus Tap Dancin’ Christ,” said Joseph. “We really gotta’ start inspectin’ our gear a little better ‘fore goin’ on missions, Scilly.”

Priscilla closed her eyes and hung her head over the pack. Grinning down at her, Joseph said, “You prayin’ the matches’ll work?”

Priscilla looked sternly up at Joseph. She was not amused. “I’m prayin’ for the strength to not kick you square in the nuts. Now let’s go.”


Three Sixes and a Forked Tongue by James Tyler Toothman

Three Sixes and a Forked Tongue by James Tyler Toothman

The year is 1971. Lost deep in the woods of West Virginia, a desperate young girl discovers a book of witchcraft and pledges herself to Satan. But the Devil’s checking into town, and he’s got something special in store for this new little witch.


When Black Lavender Luci, the Devil himself, rocks up to Clockmaker, West Virginia in a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, wearing alligator boots, a chinchilla coat, Porkpie hat and a gold-plated grin, he’s got his sights on only one thing: fifteen-year-old Miss Priscilla Carpenter, the baddest witch in town. Tired of being on the receiving end of Old Red—her father’s favorite paddle—Priscilla doesn’t hesitate when she stumbles upon a book of witchcraft and stains the pages with her blood.

At first, signing her soul away to Satan was just an opportunity to have some fun, help the people she loves, and get a little revenge on the townspeople that turned their backs on her and her mother, Lavinia. Flanked by her childhood best friend Joseph and her loyal disciple Big Tommy, Priscilla makes her way through the increasingly demanding spells of her beloved grimoire. But when the Devil calls in his favor and seduces Priscilla deeper into the world of dark magic, drugs, and desire, she unwittingly unleashes a torrent of death on Clockmaker, causing dams to break, women to go missing, and rabbit piss to fall from the sky. And pretty soon, she finds herself the baby mama of Hell himself.


Badder than Louisiana Lightning, flyer than Sly Stone on a seven-forty-seven jumbo jet—THREE SIXES AND A FORKED TONGUE is a thrill ride through the mountains of Appalachia laced with sex, drugs, hard rock, and a double dose of witchin’.

James Tyler Toothman

THREE SIXES AND A FORKED TONGUE James Tyler Toothman

 James Tyler Toothman was born in a small town in West Virginia. The only son of Jimmy T and Pammy K, James was raised by his father in a house built out of cinder blocks and tar paper. He received a Bachelors in Marketing from University of West Virginia and Fairmont State University, and after graduation, spent most of his twenties were spent traveling the world, from Arkansas to Asia, Pokhara to Paris, Doha to Alpharetta. He followed good times and music wherever they led him. James has written songs of all genres throughout his life, several short stories, and has been published in multiple magazines. He was awarded the 2019 Best of the Rockies Award for Journalism and now lives in Denver, Colorado. Three Sixes and a Forked Tongue is his debut novel.

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  • Jim Mcleod

    Jim "The Don" Mcleod has been reading horror for over 35 years, and reviewing horror for over 16 years. When he is not spending his time promoting the horror genre, he is either annoying his family or mucking about with his two dogs Casper and Molly.

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