Our tale of supersition and the supernatural begins:
With a nervous sigh, she grasps the rusty knob with a shaky hand before allowing the weight of the heavy oak door to pull itself ajar with a resounding creak.
Upon entry, the overwhelming aroma of rotted vegetables strikes her nostrils in a nauseating wave. Instinctively, she reaches up and pinches both nostrils, calling out for the property’s caretakers in a high-pitched nasal whine. Despite having parked her carriage a decent walk from the home’s planked front porch, she can clearly hear Madge whinny and snort as if the filly is growing increasingly agitated.
Tip-toeing through the sparsely furnished living room at a snail’s pace, she clutches her handbag to her chest with great intensity, her eyes darting wildly from side to side, all the while continuing to repeat the same three names in random order. Side-stepping an overturned stool whose underside is littered with cob-webs, she peeks into the tiny kitchen and is equally perplexed at its wholly abandoned appearance, what with dishes still haphazardly scattered about near the wash basin and several weeks dust having accumulated atop the cabinet tops.
Glancing through the lone, curtain-less window, she sees the sun begin to dip below the distant tree-line, bathing the kitchen in dusky layers of orange hue. Though all calendars speak that Fall is but a scant few weeks away, Indian Summer refuses to release its ever-stubborn grip on the surrounding area, leaving not only the outside air thick with humidity, but the cramped confines of the cabin like the inside of a locomotive's broiler room.
Backing from the kitchen, she begins a gradual, cautious descent down a narrow hall leading to the rear of the cabin. She completes less than two full strides before first stepping onto and subsequently bowing to retrieve the two sheets of partially crinkled notepaper at her feet. Ignoring the horses’ increasingly fervent cries as darkness slowly bathes the landscape like a descending black cloak, she is instantly hypnotized at the sight of a very familiar name scribbled at the top of page one.
Trancelike, she steps towards the living room on wobbly knees, practically falling onto the first awaiting chair…and begins to read.
Year of Our Lord 1858
Dear Aunt Charlotte,
Don’t think I’m going to get the chance to mail this off, but I’m hopin you or somebody else will be abel to find it when you get here so you can know what hapened to us.
My writin and spellin might not be so good, cause I’m scriblin this in a mitey big hurry. Don’t really know how long fore whatever is out there desides to come inside to pay me a visit. I just know there ain’t a blessed thing I can do to stop it when that does happen.
I peak out the front window ever now and then, but its as dark as Foley’s Swamp at midnight. All I can see is the edge of the forrist and the growin fog. Finally stopped rainin at least.
I ain’t never been this scart in all my thirteen years, Auntie C. I thought about runnin, but somethin ain’t lettin me. Like my feet are stuck in kwik sand or somethin. Papa would have forced me to go, I think, but Papa ain’t around no more to do so.
The whole blamed mess started a week ago today, when Uncle Cyrus came by to help Papa find a new wellspring. The old one had gone bone dry, so Papa was havin to make trips into town and load up the wagon with water pulled from Uncle Cy’s well.
I was with them when they found that natural spring on the east edge of Kane’s woods. I heard Uncle Cy keep telling Papa to pass it up and keep headin west for a closer source. Uncle Cyrus is a big man, and probly the strongist I’ve ever knowd. Stronger than Papa even. But that partickular day, Uncle Cy was shakin like a pup dipped in freezin creek water. He was tellin Papa that the land was damn land, or doomed land. Something like that. He said that the well was to close to an old Cherokee buriel ground, and that any water pulled from such a well would be poison to a mans soul since the grounds themselves was soured. Papa laughed at Uncle Cy and called him yellow, saying that those old injun stories were nothin more than cow chip tales made up by old women with nothing better to do than flap there gums after Sunday prayer meetin.
They dug out the well that very day, and I recall Uncle Cy’s face turnin a scary shade of white, kinda like a dreid up dog turd in the summer sun. Two or three days passed before Mama got real sick, doublin over at the kitchen table like somebody socked her in the guts. Papa said her head was sizziling hot with a terrible fever, and rode into town to get Doc Campbell. While Papa was gone, I heard Mama screamin and carryin on like a bobcat with its paw caught in a bear trap. Auntie C, I ain’t never heard a human bein make noises like that before. It had the hair on my head standin on end like a lightnin strike had peeled my hide.
By the time Papa and Doc Campbell got here, Mama had stopped makin any noise at all. For some reason, Auntie C, I just could not make my self peak inside that room to check on her. I think I was too scarrt at what I might see. I recall Papa and the Docter openin the door and both of em fallin back like somebody had just slapped em square on the jawbone.
I also recall the smell comin from that room. Reminded me of that dead squreal I found on the creek bank last summer, all swoll up and rollin in magots.
I heard old Doc Campbell tell Papa that Mama had some kinda food poison, more n likley. Papa talked about the new well and the Doc’s eyes lit up. He asked if me and Papa had drunk from the same, and Papa said we all had. Doc handed over a bottle of some kinda dark medisine that looked like lubercatin oil and told Papa to give Mama a teaspoon full every hour, then call on him late the next day if the fever stayed at a pitch.
When I woke up the next mornin just after sun-up, I was alone in the cabin. I checked on the bedroom after hollerin there names. It stunk like high heaven in there, Auntie C. Like a mashed skunk left to rot on a hot rock. Front door was standin wide open with the mornin chill blowin in pine straw and dust by the handful.
I wondered around outside in my nightshirt and bare feet, but the only livin thing I ran into was my old hound Willie, who looked about as woried as me, with his ears all purked up and his eyes wide as Mama’s best servin dish. Willie trailed me as I made a kwik circle around the barn and tool shed. I checked the garden and pasture, but even the cows were stayin out of sight. Wazn’t til later that I thought bout checkin the barn stalls. Thinkin back on it, I’m fairly certain they would have been empty too.
I stumbled back into the house and found Papa and Uncle Cy sittin at the kitchen table, both there faces red as beeks and sweatin like somebody had stuck em in the cheeks with a red hot poker.
I tried to ask Papa were Mama was, but never found a place to break in as he and Uncle Cy talked about what they had seen.
From what I gather, cause they was talkin real fast and some of it I wazn’t able to understand, Papa had woke up to find Mama gone from the bed. He ran up the road and woke Uncle Cy, and both of em took off into Kane’s woods lookin for her. Papa figured she had just wondered off, bein led around by her sickness more than common cents.
Uncle Cy said something about finding her on the creek bank near the old creakin bridge, telling Papa he still wazn’t sure it was really Mama at all. He said the shape he saw, Uncle Cy said shape, not person, Aunt C. That kinda sent a chill up my back, as I recall. Anyhow, Uncle Cy said the shape he saw on that bank wore Mama’s clothes, but looked all together diffirent. Said its hair was glowin white, not dark brown like Mamas. He also said he saw its hands, and that they were big, like a man’s hands, with fingers as long as a Granddaddy Longlegs, and sportin claws to boot. Claws, I swear he said.
By the time Papa caught up to him, Uncle Cy said the shape had run off, even though he said he never really saw it move. He said it was just there and then it was gone, like a mornin fog pushed away by the suns early light.
They found Hershel Bettis on the bank where Uncle Cy said the Mama-shape had been standin. I saw Papa look sternly at Uncle Cy, then nod towards me, and Cy droped the subject. Needless to say, Auntie C, Mr. Bettis was more than likely expired, and probly not lookin to spry niether.
A little while later, I was in my room, bitin my nails and listenin to my own stomach growl when I head Papa holler that he was ridin into town to fetch Sheriff Barton. Uncle Cy stayed at the cabin with me, and he cooked us up some eggs and ham while we waited.
The rain started in bout middle of the day, pourin down so hard that it made even peakin out the window a waste of time.
I went into my room after lettin Willie in from the storm, and ended up fallin a sleep soon there after. I was dreamin of my Mama, standin inside the kitchen makin biscuts and gravy and smilin at me like she does…did…sometimes. I could almost smell those biscuts cookin as I woke, cryin a little too, I recall. Willie was sittin in front of my bedrooms door, growlin like he had just treed a fat old coon. The room was pretty dark, so I figured I had been sleepin at least three or four hours. Rain hadn’t let up a bit, explanin my sleepin spell. Willie almost tripped me up soon as I opened the door, runnin into the kitchen and out the open back door like somebody shot him out of a kanon. For the second time that day, I found myself alone in the house. Auntie C, I ain’t to proud to say how shook I was. I almost peed my briches right then and there. I prayed that Willie come back, even more than for Uncle Cy. Not sure why, but I reckon deep down inside my chest, I knew both of em were gone for good. Just like Mama.
The wood floor was wet from the rain that’d blew in, and Uncle Cy’s boot prints were the only ones I saw trailin out towards the pasture. I put on my slicker and followed em a little ways, wishin the good Lord had given me better cents.
Look like he’d been draged through the mud right fore the prints left dirt for grass, then I lost the trail all together.
I shut the back door and pulled the board lock down on the front, then went to the kitchen and got my Mama’s biggest carvin knife out of the spoon n fork drawer.
Don’t ask me how I knew bad trouble was circlin the cabin, Auntie C. I just knew. Maybe the man upstars was warnin me, I don’t know.
Papa beat on the front door for a while fore I got nuff coruage to let him in. I had heard his voice good nuff, but for some reason wazn’t real sure it was him. Know that sounds crazy, but it will make more cents in a minnet, Auntie C.
Papa was soakin wet, his hair all stuck to his head and his beerd drippin like a fontain. He ran past me like I was a ghost, payin no mind to me askin him were the Sheriff was. He came chargin out of the bedroom with his shotgun in one hand and his horse pistol in the other, breathin like a train runnin low on cole tryin to climb Stone Ridge Hill.
Right fore he walked back out into that ragin, howlin storm, Papa pulled me aside and placed the pistol in my left palm. He told me that he was goin out to find Uncle Cy and the Sheriff. Said he and the Sheriff had taken the Potter cutoff back to the cabin to save some time, and saw something haulin Uncle Cy into Kane’s woods by the hair of his head near the old burned out church. Papa never said who or what was doin the draggin. I think he started to tell me, but his lips just kept on shakin and squrmin about without any words ever leavin his mouth. He then said Sheriff Barton had jumped off the buckboard and sailed into the woods fore he even had a chance to tie the team to a nearby oak. By the time he got around the other side of the church’s one remainin wall, Papa said the rain had turned to hale, and he was pretty much blinded. The cabin is only a short run to the old church, so he came back to get a weapon fore startin a new search.
Papa ain’t no mountain man, Auntie C, but you know like me that he ain’t no coward niether. I’ve heard tell he was a scraper in his younger days, and I saw him shoot a black bear not a dozen feet away on a huntin trip last year.
That said, Auntie C, I could pretty much smell the scartness in him fore he left the house. My father was sweatin fear. I ain’ never felt so much like a no count child in my life as right then. I wish I could have helped my family in some way. But what could I do? The pistol Papa gave me might as well be made up of rotten wood, glued together by tree sap and shootin rabbit pelets.
Land sakes alive….if only Papa would have listened to Uncle Cy an dug that gall blamed well somewheres else. Somewhere were the dirt wasn’t…soured and spoilt like Uncle Cy said.
If only Papa hadnt been so blessed stubborn, as Mama always said he was want to be.
Course, I once heard Granpa Wills tell my Mama that frettin over ifs and butts is like nailin the barn door shut after the cows done ran out.
That well water was cursed, Auntie Charlotte. Couple of months back I heard Uncle Cy talkin to Papa bout Kanes woods. They was sharin a jug of Mr. Palmers best lightnin, both of em snozzeled to the gils and not payin much attention to me. Uncle Cy was sayin how the Cherokee Chief had put a curse on the whole blamed forest after a US Army solider had killed his daughter while runnin the tribe further into the woods, up towards Hacker’s Mountain. Said the Chief had said that anything that growed out of the ground would be soiled rotten and not fit for the white mans touch. I quit listenin after a while cause my skin started to crawl neath my shirt like a chigger itch.
I never was one to believe ghost stories though. My friend Chester says they al
I had to stop writin for a minnit, Auntie C. Mama wuz at the door. I was ascart to answer at first cause she sounded diffirent, not like Mama at all. Her skin is fish belley white, almost like the chalk they use on the school bullitin bored. She smells funny to, Auntie C, kind of like pork meat startin to turn. Just like Uncle Cy had said, her hairs a shade of white now, and moves around like lake water even if the wind ain’t blowin it.
The wool gunny sack she carried into the cabin is layin on the kitchen table, leakin something feirce. Leakin somethin redder than a bloomin rose. Something that smells a little like the time Papa took me to that slawterhouse in Macon.
Its Mamas eyes that scare me the most, Auntie C. They ain’t blue no more like before. Kind of look like plum pits instead. Her lips are all smered in something, like shes been eatin cherry pie. I got the feelin she was gnawin on somethin else entire, Auntie Charlotte. I’m tryin not to think about that though.
I want to quit writin and go to her as she moves about the room, floatin like a sheet caught in a summer days breeze, but somethin won’t let me. My hand wont stop scriblin, Auntie C, even though all I really wannt to do is run away. I cant even breath good anymore, like somethins chokin me real slow like. I droped Papas pistol by the door as soon as I let her in. Don’t matter none anyhow. Wont help none anyway, I recken.
Mama is movin towards me now, like she just now saw me.
She is openin the gunny sack and empytin it out on the table.
Mamas smile is a terrible thing to see, Aunt C. Worsen than any nightmere I ever had.
Least ways I know what became of Papa, Uncle Cy and Sheriff Barton.
Crazy. At first I thought they wuz big ol’ gords layin there. Big red gords drippin soot colored raindrops.
Mamas got an injun tommy hawk in her left hand. almost big as Papas ax blade, it is. Funny, she werent holdin it before. saw a drawin of one just like it in my school book. Cheroke or apaches caried em like that, I recall.
Mama wants me to tell you somethin, Auntie Charlotte. Wants me to write down the mesagge real clear like, so there wont be no confucion later on.
After ward, she promises to tell me a secret. A secret shes goin to whisper to her only son to prove her internul love. My hands aer shakin like craazy…but it wont turn loose
Mesagge is this, Auntie C..
There is InDEED something infinitely WORSE than the White Man’s HELL
I aint sure who wrote them words, Auntie Charlotte, but I swear to the lord above that it wern’t me
Mama ain’t mama no more, auntie C.
Don’t rightly think she ever wuz, now.
oh Lordy, I don’t think your ever goin to see this letter, Auntie C.
I pray that whatever happens….you don’t come here.
Guess that’s a good thing…it might be best that... best that everbody just….stay away from these woods….
Mama’s reaching for me now…like she wants to give me a great big, lovin hug….her eyes are so bright…un-natral-like…they glow like red-hot coals pulled from the fireplace…I surely hope that’s a mother’s love reflectin my way…
I may be a young’un, Auntie C, but somewhow….even I know better…
Staring at that final word as the flesh of her hands and face tingle with an inexplicable numbness, she sits mesmerized for an untold spell, snapping to only as a sudden wave of cool air dances over her bare neck.
Turning towards the cabin’s door, which had remained slightly ajar since her entrance, she flinches as it flings open as if shoved forcefully from the opposite side. Still clutching the letter to her chest with gnarled fists, she departs the chair in ever-so-gradual increments and begins a deliberate back-peddle towards the kitchen while never breaking eye contact with the gaping entranceway.
Just as she reaches the outer edge of the kitchen, she sees Madge’s mad dash from the property, the animal sprinting eastward in a cloud of dust
as the driverless carriage rocks and shimmies as if on the very edge of tilting over.
Another wave of cool air washes over her just as her name is whispered as from a faraway distance.
Clamping her eyes shut as her clinched fists dig a groove into her breastbone, she tells herself it is nothing more than an overactive imagination…a series of unfathomable happenstance brought on by the theme of dread created by the letters’ doomed and damnable prose.
The third and final breeze is akin to stepping buck-naked into a well-stocked icehouse, and she feels a blanket of gooseflesh riddle the whole of her being.
The voice beckons…pleads…seduces her with its child-like innocence. She turns to see the boy standing in a wall of shadow at the rear of the narrow hall with his spindly arms outstretched.
“You came….after all…you really came…without ever reading the letter...must be a...a miracle,” he croons softly, moving towards her without benefit of taking any actual steps.
“We’re…so glad…ain’t we….mama?” he asks, tilting his head as to address the area near the cabin’s front door, his filthy, bared feet levitating several inches from the dust-covered plank flooring while inching ever closer to the woman's paralyzed frame.
Just before she diverts her eyes similarly, the woman notes the unnatural shape of the boy’s head, as if a large portion of his skull were missing just behind the left ear.
“Why, yes…yes we are, dear….” The newest arrival exclaims while floating through the entranceway as if propelled forward by some invisible guy-wire, her stringy, whitish locks pulsating like probing tendrils submerged beneath running waters. Though her eyes shine with a greenish hue, the woman’s flesh is horribly ruddy….like partially melted candle wax.
“Well, don’t be shy boy…welcome her the proper way…”
As her hands fall to her sides and the pages of the letter take flight to parts unknown, the woman falls to her knees with a loud thud.
The boy leans in and kisses her gently on the jaw, the sensation like having a sliver of ice pressed snugly against one’s cheek.
“Aww, don’t be scart….you’re with family now…” the child whispers…the boy with hollowed-out eye sockets whose neck contains a deep, bloodless gash that causes his head to swerve about like a shifting marble. The boy whose scalp looks to have been…gnawed away.
Peeking between trembling, splayed fingers that unsuccessfully attempt to block out the horror that slowly drains her very soul, Aunt Charlotte soon surrenders to her older sister’s gentle embrace…as well as the rusted edge of the blood-stained tomahawk that so soon will transform her earthly miseries to those of a more hellish variety.
Check out Terry's latest novel, 'Sidekicks Incorporated' at Amazon.com, Fictionwise.com and other on-line retailers.