Friday Firesmith – The Sins of Brian Laundrie

The odds that everyone in the family is stupid enough to hide the murderer in a state park are low. The odds they aren’t smart enough to hide him anywhere else, given only ten days to figure it out, are high. Hiding is difficult, and it takes a hell of a lot of planning, and it takes a lot of will. You have to hide 100% of the time to be 100% safe. Looking out of the window, letting a delivery guy look into an open door, logging into your social media account, all of this, and everything else, will get you found.

You have to become someone else, somewhere else, and you have to become invisible.

The FBI, or anyone looking for you, could merely go into your computer, check the top twenty websites you look at every day, and then track everyone who goes to those sites. Yeah, that’s a lot of people, but you likely hit them at certain times, and you likely spend a certain time there every day. It’s as clean as a fingerprint.

So no social media, no surfing the net, and because you were watching Season seven episode 10 on Netflix you can never finish that series without it being one small drop of rain in what might become a flood if you keep adding to it. You order a large pizza, extra peppers, spicy wings and a two liter Coke every Friday, and that’s another clue as to who you are. You follow Taylor Swift on Instagram but so does a million other people, but how many of them are also following the same people you do?

You could do a lot of reading, I do, but at the same time, what if you’re a product of the digital age? How many times have you used your fingerprint to open your phone, and what happens if you get a new ID, a new phone, and that fingerprint gets picked up by an algorithm they don’t have to tell you about?

Eric Rudolf spent five years in hiding, but he had put a lot of training and a lot of prep work into his hideout. He had food, water, medical supplies, but eventually he was caught looking for food in a dumpster. Those damn Whoppers are addictive.

But Rudolf was a loner. He had constructed his escape by never being seen by anyone. He traveled in the woods at night and was good at it. A twenty-four year old with no idea how to hide isn’t going to be very good at it at all.

Even if his folks managed to get him somewhere he’s unknown, there’s little chance he’ll last more than a couple of weeks, maybe a month, even if he’s in Mexico by now. He will not be able to stop being who he is. It’s the one thing that Eric Rudolf did for five years and could have done it for five more.

You either have a hell of a lot of preparation, or you have an iron will not to get caught. Or both.

If not, you’re either caught, or you are dead.

I think faced with the idea that no matter what happens next, someone like Brian Laundie isn’t going to be able to live without himself, the way his life was, and lacking the skills to hide, or the will to face what he’s done, I think he’s already dead.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Plague of 2021

Back in 2006 I was dating a woman who was a nurse, and that was my first insight that the job was more hellish than most people thought, even back then. I was a blood donor and had been since I was able to donate. Every time the Red Cross sent me a notice I was sticking my arm out to be stuck. Most of the people I worked with would donate, too. At one point management put us in shifts so the office wouldn’t be empty.

Giving blood wasn’t something that we were being paid to do, or that we thought would benefit us in some way, no, it was an easy way to help other people who really needed the blood, so everyone was happy to give.

In 2006, the Red Cross sent me a letter saying that I had come down positive for what they called a “NAT Test” which mean my blood had tested positive for one of the antibodies found in HIV. A retest came back negative. But because the first test was positive, from that point until the day I died, I could never give blood again. My nurse friend was overly cautious, as you can well imagine. I was tested for AIDS once a month for six months, and each test was negative. I get tested once a year on my annual checkup, too. Nothing but negative tests. But I keep getting tested.

But let’s go back even further in time. Before anyone could go to a public school they had to have a series of vaccinations. measles, whooping cough, and a host of other diseases were still around and still making people sick. I had a smallpox vaccination as a child. I had another when I joined the Army, which is an organization which believes in people getting shots. The biggest fear the military has is a plague running unchecked through the ranks. Once, and not very long ago either, a soldier was more likely to die of illness than war wounds.

Here we are in the present day. Not only are people not wearing masks, not getting the vaccine, and not doing everything they can to help others, but they are deliberately doing the exact opposite. They are also taking unproven and dangerous medications, simply because they heard someone say it might work.

Cattle dewormer is the latest fad in the anti-vaccination crowd, and it’s gotten to the point of absurdity. Even as I write this there are college football games being played with packed audiences, hundreds of thousands of people, as if there isn’t a plague raging across America.

Some of what is happening is driven by the Greedists, who put money above all other considerations. Some of it is driven by people who view every action in their lives as a political statement, and no matter the consequences, they will vote with their actions right down the party lines. Some of this is driven by people who simply do not have the wherewithal to understand science, and that’s a debate to be had about the American public school system.

But the end result is we’ve stopped caring about one another. We’ve stopped putting America first. We’re so wrapped up in what we want, what feels good for us, the individual, that the whole nation can suffer if it makes each one of us feel good.

AIDS, by the way, got out of hand for the very same reasons, among the infected, who refused to care, or be careful.

There are lessons to be learned from other plagues, but we refuse to learn them.
Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – September 11, 2001

 I remember being out on a bridge project, one that hadn’t really gotten started yet. The groundwork was about to begin, but there wasn’t any real reason for me to be out there. But I wanted to see things from the start, make contact with the men working out there, and let them know I was a hands on type of manager. It was a beautiful day, cool with a slight breeze, and it felt good to be outside.

We went back to the office, and everyone was in the breakroom, everyone, and the television was on, something that wasn’t allowed unless it was lunchtime. I remember seeing a building on fire, and I stopped and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Two jets have crashed into the World Trade Towers.”

Then came the replays of the planes hitting. I remember everyone in the room gasping in horror. It was surreal, terrible, frightening, and unbelievable.

We all were frozen in place, frozen in time, no one spoke or moved, but after a while someone in the room said, “Those buildings are coming down” and because we all knew something about engineering, we talked about what would happen next and how long it would take. No one believed it would happen soon, or the way it happened, but it did.

We were watching people die. We were watching the nation we lived in change. We were watching a dividing point in history, and we all knew it.

This was long before everyone had a cell phone, and people were calling home, calling their spouses, going home early, leaving work to be with someone they loved, and no one was talking shop anymore.

9-11 is further away in the past to the people born today than World War II was when I was born. I grew up hearing a lot about that war, but it was a distant thing, impersonal in ways that were not comprehendible by a child. Today, I know people who do not remember it happening at all, and only saw it on television years after the event, when they were kids.

Where were you in 2001, when the world changed?

Take Care,



Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Song Remains the Same

The song remains the same. I get a call and it’s always the same question, “Do you remember…?” and it’s someone I once knew, someone we all knew, and that person is dead now. Mutual acquaintance, friend of a friend, someone we went out with to drink, and eventually, someone we loved. Death, to me at least, isn’t depressing, not now, at least, but I can see how it could be. I have been there.

Grandparents, parents, older siblings, then suddenly, people the same age, and younger people, too. And it’s the people who were the most alive who seem to be the most distressing. Why weren’t they able to live longer? They were doing so well. Everything was going right. I remember when they were the life of the party, and now, somehow, they’re dead?

A woman I once knew who really and truly was the life of the party, died last year, but no one told me until today. She danced, she sang, and sang decently. We dated, very briefly, neither of us thinking it would last very long, but it was something we both wanted to do. She married well, had a couple of kids, who grew up to have kids.  I saw her, totally by accident many years ago. We sat in my truck and talked, laughed, and then she had to go, but it was one of the best ten minutes of my life, that someone I hadn’t see in twenty years tell me she loved me. We don’t say that often enough to those people we care about, and I wonder what would happen if we did.

Somewhere out there, on the interstate, one car cut another off, three cars collided, and one person died. It happens every day. It happens even as you read this. Someone out there lost someone, but it happened a year ago, ten years ago, one hundred years ago, lost isn’t new or special or earth shaking. We all live, we all die. Maybe someone will miss you enough to write about you, cry over your death, drink too much, and wonder.

This isn’t new to me. It’s not new to you either, I suspect. But the scar will be, it’s a fresh one, on top of many others. It’s like having a job where you work in the woods with your hands, like surveying, and you get home and haven’t noticed the new scratches, a cut from a fence, or a healing wound reopened. You just stop the flow of blood and go back to work tomorrow, because what else can you do?

One thing I do know is I am still alive. I’m still working out. I’m still writing. I’m still getting up before dawn and taking care of the dogs, and I am still here. I’ve outlived people who knew I would die young, and horribly. I’m still trying to help the people I love, and in the end, death will most certainly come, what else can you do?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Missing Person Report

One of the pieces I wrote about a very long time ago was about a friend of mine who went missing when he was nineteen years old. Terry was one of those young guys everyone liked, and he wasn’t a serious drinker like I had been at his age. He had just gotten his driver’s license when I moved away from my hometown, and then his family moved to Pensacola, where they were originally from.

At a concert one night, Terry told his two friends he had left something in his car, and that was the last time anyone ever saw him.

The whole thing unfolded very slowly. The concert ended, the friends went to Terry’s car and waited, and when he didn’t show up they got a ride home. They didn’t think to call his parents, on the off chance he had met a girl and gone off with her. Remember, this was long before cell phones and instant communications.

The next day his parents were looking for him. By late afternoon on that first day the police were called, and the missing person process began. Flyers were put out by the end of the first week, and it was clear something had gone horribly wrong. Family and friends scoured the area of any clues. There was nothing. No blood, no torn clothing, no clues, no mysterious notes, and no witnesses. Nothing.

The first year came and went without hope. Then five, then ten, and then twenty years went by. His brother died ten years ago. His parents aged. But Terry remained missing, frozen in time and in the hearts of those who remembered him.

Last year, in a vacant lot near the venue, a skeleton was found under some rotted boards and drywall from a construction project many years old. The dental records matched. Terry had finally been found. Had the body been there all the while? It was found under construction debris but not totally covered. The area is in a populated area, with plenty of people close enough to where the body was found, they would have at a minimum, smelled a dead person who was only partially covered.

The coroner’s report simply reads, “Inconclusive” as cause of death. No sign of trauma, no broken bones, nothing there at all, again.
One of the detectives who was on the case back in the 90’s said, “No damn way that kid is lying there in that lot, and nobody sees him for twenty-eight years, no damn way.” Now there’s a strip mall where the body was found. You can get a haircut, a tattoo, a payday loan, and Chinese takeout there.

There are two possibilities here; The first is the body, for whatever reasons, was there all the time, and the people in that area simply did not report seeing or smelling anything, and for the better part of three decades, no one and nothing disturbed the body. The second is that someone moved the body to that spot after the death, for reasons we can only speculate.

My first question would be this one: If the body was covered, who covered it, and why?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.


Friday Firesmith – The Hickey (Part Two)

(Read Part One here)

Scott awoke to Darla screaming at him. He was late for work, still slightly drunk, and the baby was crying. That was odd for the kid. Largely, the baby boy named after his father, Scott Carl, was known to everyone as “CJ” because he looked just like Clem. Black hair, dark eyes, and the kid wasn’t a crier. But the rage his mama was throwing had cranked him up loud. Scott tried to get ready to work but Darla was in execution mode.

Scott had snuck back into the trailer in the wee hours of the morning and let Darla sleep. But when she woke him up, there on his neck, was a hickey the size of a silver dollar. Scott fled the building half dressed and still half drunk, and with a death sentence hanging on his neck rather than around it.

At work, where Scott was now helping his brother paint houses, he tried to piece together where he had been and what he had been doing the night before. House painting, hot weather, paint fumes, a hangover, and the certainty of death led Scott to go home early, but Darla, and CJ, were gone.

News of Scott’s infidelity spread like wildfire. Darla swore to see him dead, divorce him, change the name of the baby, and to pee on Scott’s grave the day after the funeral. The Duval family went into motion buying both shotgun shells and whiskey.

Scott, in a rare moment of perfect clarity, did the one thing that might have saved his life; he went to see Mr. Duval, and Clem. Darla arrived in due time and demanded two things of Scott. One, he quit drinking, forever. Two, he reveal publicly the name of the woman he had slept with. Scott was ready to stop drinking but claimed he could not remember who he had been with the night before, even after Clem dragged him outside and threatened to kill him, slowly.

Darla had one more demand, in lieu of the disclosure of the other woman’s name; she demanded Scott take her to church every Sunday morning. He agreed, and Clem released his already marred neck.

There was one witness to all of this, one person who might have shed real light on what actually happened, but I wasn’t talking. I was there, buying pot from Clem, and Scott was already three sheets into the wind. Clem was listening to Tom T Hall and when I left, after midnight. He had tossed a dog blanket over Scott for the night, as he lay passed out on the floor.

My theory is an odd one, but the only one that makes any sense. Clem did it. Knowing that the idea of impending death would straighten Scott’s direction out and give Scott the idea the drinking had led him far astray. Years later, I went back for an unrelated funeral, I dropped in on Clem, and asked him about it. He laughed hard, stared at me and asked me what I did with the pig skull. That’s as close to the truth as I will ever get.

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Hickey (Part One)

It wasn’t that Darla wasn’t cute, or even pretty, but she was a Duval, and as such, many people looked down upon her for that. The Duval’s were the poorest of the poor people in the county, and they barely survived most of the time. By the time Darla reached high school, she had already seen enough trauma for someone twice her age, and I knew it.
The youngest of seven kids, Kenneth Duval, came into the world hard, and his mama died in delivery. Clem, the oldest, was already twenty when Kenneth was born, and Darla was fifteen. There was one other girl, Peggy Suzette, who was a year younger than Darla. The three other brothers were sprinkled like bad luck in between the other kids, and none of them took to education. Peggy Suzette was the lone bookworm in the group, and the only one to graduate from high school.

Darla had a good head on her shoulders, was smart, and very savvy when it came to people. But when she was a junior in high school, she started dating Scott Tucker, who was the polar opposite of Darla. Scott was from a good family, all the school groups had his name on it, and other than beer, Scott had no vices. Oh, and I sold him pot. He wouldn’t buy from Clem. Most people wouldn’t. Clem was spooky, and I was afraid of him. I knew him for ten years and got maybe twice that many words out of him. He gave me the skull of a pig one time, and I could tell it was one of those things that meant a lot to him.

When Darla came up pregnant Clem walked into the Tucker home with a fifth of moonshine in his hand, and no smile upon his face. Scott’s parents were mortified, but the message was very clear; Clem did not care. When it came to his sister, social status meant nothing to him. The bottle was symbolic, too. Clem had done time in the county for hitting a man with a bottle so hard it broke, and so did the man’s skull. Scott knew it, too. There was a proposal and a marriage, in short order.

Darla dropped out of school, and Scott went to live in a single wide with her on her daddy’s property. There was a running battle with her trying to chase her brothers out of the house, and keep them from drinking with Scott, and her tracking Scott down drinking with her brothers. For a middle-class charmer who once dreamed of going to UGA, Scott Tucker was drowning his dreams, and well as his fears of the Duval’s.

But every once in a while, Scott was hard to find, and Darla began to have more than a few suspicions. Scott would tell her he was off with one brother or another, but then that same brother would show up looking for Scott. Darla was smart enough to know that only the Tucker family cash flow kept her from raising a baby in poverty. Scott’s drinking became a problem in a family where you weren’t family if you didn’t drink.

(End Part One.  Part Two next Friday)

Take care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Pitch Forking

If you’ve never been a part of a writer’s group, with a dozen or so regular members, you really do not have as good a grip on politics as you may think. “The Snake Pit” is a place where writers have left in tears, fistfights have broken out, and even a few books have been published. Some of the writers from this group, over the years, have won writing awards, and through it all, the group has changed members, added some, kept a core half dozen or so, and then I arrived, quite by accident.

Quite by accident. That’s an understatement, perhaps one of the greatest, but that’s another tale for another time, and it’s one of those stories that branch out like a lightning strike that illuminates the sky and sears the brain.

One thing I know is good writing, and I knew mine wasn’t. Encouraged by family and friends to seek some place to have my writing evaluated, I forged ahead into The Snake Pit, and crucifixion would have been less painful. Yet like a child whose fingerpainting masterpiece is praised by the parents and grandparents, I knew those who liked my writing didn’t know very much about writing. And as it turns out, neither did I.

But this is what I came for. I was looking for someone to improve my writing, and I learned more about writing, painfully, from a handful of people than I had in my entire life.

A new writer showed up last week, and it was like dropping a lit match into a wading pool full of gasoline and hand grenades. First off, the woman wasn’t aware of the Spell Checker that slept within her word processor. She spelled Nazi as “Natzi” and took umbrage at the idea all writers should spell all words the same. The argument that broke out in The Snake Pit spilled over into the mass email list.

Newcomers, who really believe their family and friends when they are told they are great writers, show up like parents with infants, expecting everyone to agree this is the cutest baby ever. The older members of the group tend to be the most brutal, asking people, “What’s this on your baby’s face, can it be wiped off, Oh my god, it’s the face itself, don’t fret, you’re still young enough to have another.” And people leave with their writing, and their feelings hurt.

This woman took her grievances to the mass email list, claiming people had been mean to her, and had hurt her feelings. I fired back her use of the mail list was inappropriate, and that set off a chain reaction. Other people joined in, calling for us to burn this woman at the stake, and suddenly, people who hadn’t been members of the group since Ford was allegedly president, were talking about the decline of the group when this sort of thing happened. 

Pitch Forking, when people just pile into an argument, without having any real input or stake in it.

The woman is a poor writer. But that’s what we’re here for, to help writers become better. Her material isn’t the worst I’ve read, okay, it is pretty bad, but so was mine when I first started. I recommended she stop contacting the group via mass email and make some changes in the way she writes.

We all started somewhere near the bottom. No matter how good we might be at something, we were all very bad at it to begin with, and none of us have gotten anywhere without help.

Pitch Forking: this mob mentality that happens on social media, or any other group of people is nothing more and nothing less than dirt sliding down from the top to the bottom and helps no one.

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Chased by a Cottonmouth

For decades the story of Bigfoot circulated through my life, along with Nessie, and stories of Cottonmouths chasing people. As it turns out, most of the grainy photos of Bigfoot and Nessie were faked, and as the internet was invented, more and more videos that were fakes popped up like mushrooms in cow patties.

But as more fakes appeared, the ability to spot fakes also got better. Two guys in Georgia sold a frozen Bigfoot for fifty grand, got caught, and both are in prison. DNA proved their creature was roadkill stuff inside a gorilla suit.

There’s a FB group dedicated to this very end with about five thousand members. I’m one of them. Each day someone posts a video, sometimes many people post many videos, of human beings interacting with Cottonmouths, and no one, not one person is getting chased, or attacked. Seems like, if you can trust multiple videos by dozens of different people, Cottonmouths aren’t aggressive at all, and they do not chase people.

In fact, since the beginning of time, there have only been four people in the United States that were killed by being bitten by a Cottonmouth. I can dispute half of those. One was a guy who was in training in the Marines and had just run ten miles. The other was a drunk who didn’t seek treatment, and he was using meth. That leaves two people, ever.

Now, if these creatures are aggressive, and they chase people, they do not seem to be very good at what they are famous for, are they? You’d think after thousands of years of chasing people they would have caught more than two or three, don’t you?

You would think, wouldn’t you, if these stories are true, then there would be many more videos of Cottonmouths chasing people, and not so many of Cottonmouths not chasing people.

Here’s a photo for you to think about, the classic posture of a Cottonmouth, with its mouth agape, fangs out, head thrown back.

The one video many of us are waiting for, is proof of a Cottonmouth chasing someone.

But it is not chasing me, is it?

I’ve been doing this for over fifty years. That’s five decades of fieldwork. Not once, ever, have I been chased.

But let me close with a video. It speaks for itself.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Moccasin

It’s a very strange thing, looking at a vacant lot where the City Pool once was. We lived next door to it when I was a little kid, and as such, it was a status symbol to be that kid that lived next door to the pool. My sisters and I learned to swim before we learned to walk well.

One of the great joys of living next to the pool was we would wander in while the life guards were getting ready to open the pool up, and we were the first ones to see what had been caught in the skimmers. Usually, it was just small frogs or toads, which we would release into a pond in the woods, but one day there were two enormous bullfrogs, and it was a sensation.

We turned them loose in the pond, but one of them refused to jump, and seemed sick. But we left it alone, and the next day, the entire herd of kids went to see if the frog was okay. I cannot imagine in today’s world there being ten children, all barefoot, none of the boy kids wearing shirts, and the ages ranging from the older kids, who were ten or eleven, to the little kids, who were four or five, going out into a cow pasture, heading out to the pond, and there wasn’t an adult in sight.

The bullfrog was dead, and it looked like something had attacked it, for one of its legs looked chewed on. None of us had any real world experience in what ate bullfrogs, but that didn’t stop us from coming up with different theories as to what had happened to the poor creature, and a funeral was planned.

Meanwhile, there was an old piece of plywood half buried in the muck, and we decided to try to pry it up to see what was under it. We played on top of it, thought there might be Pirate Treasure under it, because that was something people always found in movies, and I remember a kid putting his hand under the edge of the board and trying to pull it up. Finally, we managed to get a sturdy stick under it, and slowly the piece of plywood was flipped. Under it was one of the biggest Cottonmouths anyone had ever seen, not that any of us had seen that many before.

We all ran screaming back to our homes, each child telling a story about a giant moccasin, and each story more outlandish than the last. I think it was my father, and another male parent who finally listened to our story and grabbed a gun, and killed the snake. We were banned from the woods for a week or so, and then life continued as if nothing had ever happened, but we did search more for snakes than gold after that.

This is part one of a story about Cottonmouths. Next week, we will enter the digital age of You Tube Videos, and Social Media, and why a lot of what you believe about snakes simply is not true.

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.