The Hob Goblin: North Carolina Mountain Creature Story


North Carolina creature story of two boys whose nighttime possum hunt brings an encounter with a terrifying mountain Hob Goblin! Written by Chris Hallman.

Horse Maynard’s Story

Other night, I stobbed me a hob goblin. Right up back of old Rass Brown’s property it was. Ottis Keaton seen it too. You ask Ottis. He’ll tell you. Reckon I can’t say as we was laying for hob goblin on Rass Brown’s knob. No. I won’t claim as much. Who’d do such a fool thing? But here’s how it did start, as I recollect. That morning Ottis went keen on having some back meat from the opossum for his ma’s stew pot. So we set our caps to bring just such to hearth and flame. You’uns know any campaign what involves ‘possum involves dog. And more than one dog by my preference: a good nose-to-earth, snort-and-follow, hound, and a fierce, sniff-and-bay type dog, what to keep brother ‘possum treed and convenient for my poke.

So Ottis says to me, “Horse Maynard, my daddy’s got a right spry blue we can hunt, but Grady Mathis got the finest ‘possum dog in this valley. Reckon he’d give loan of that dog for one night’s hunting?”

“Well,” I says to Ottis, “Ain’t but one way for us to find out.” And we struck there and then toward Grady Mathis’s house. We found Mrs. Mathis sitting on their broke-down front porch shucking corn. She had her long gray hair pulled right tight to the back of her head like she always done. She hailed us with a, “How you’uns?” when we walked up. Me an Ottis returned her pleasantry with our own, and she allowed as we’d find her other half in the corn patch. So we went around back of the house and seen Grady out pulling late corn. I don’t believe Grady Mathis owns but one pair of overalls. Never seen him wear anything else. He don’t go to church, so I expect he has no need for finer raiment. Grady was wearing a ragged flannel shirt that looked like it came right straight from Rebel Army days under his overalls, and even in all that getup, he didn’t have a drop of sweat on him.”

“Lord, Mr. Mathis,” I said to him. “How can you stand that hot shirt in this sweltering sun?”

Mr. Mathis stopped pulling corn and pushed his ratty straw hat back on his head. “Horace Maynard,” he said. “Bloods got thin. Don’t feel that hot to me.” He eyed Ottis with some suspicion. “You ain’t Big Tom Keaton’s eldest air you?” he said to Ottis.

Ottis beamed. “Why yessir, I am.”

Grady spat a straight brown line of tobacco juice on the ground and wiped the extra from his grizzle. “Thought I recognized you by that long chicken neck. Keaton boys all look like Banny roosters, and strut about the same as well.”

Ottis’s countenance dulled with that. He muttered something I didn’t quite latch on to, and I’m sure Grady didn’t hear it. I took that moment to advance my question to avoid further commentary from either party.

“Mr. Mathis,” I said. “Me an Ottis here is campaigning for some ‘possum meat for his ma’s stewpot. And Ottis was wondering if you might give loan of your dog, this very night, to that purpose?”

“Nope,” said Grady Mathis, and he started pulling corn again.

“But Mr. Mathis,” whined Ottis.

I held up my pointing finger to signal Ottis that this negotiation needed my sure hand. “We thank ye, Mr. Mathis. Ottis and I know pure well how dear a dog such as yours can be. We will ask no more for your assistance and bid you the best of this long, hot afternoon.” I clasped Ottis by one of his drooping galluses and led him back towards the house.

“What’s wrong with you, Horse Maynard?” Ottis hissed. “Why you just walking away from here without making a case for that dog?”

“Watch and be wise, Ottis,” I said. “Watch and be wise.”

“Oh, Mr. Mathis,” I said, turning back to the corn picker. “If we was to procure two opossum this night, would you have interest in receiving a portion of the proceeds of our labor?”

I saw a sudden slowing of Mr. Mathis’s corn pulling and surmised victory was at hand. “Matter of fact,” I pressed. “Ottis here and I plumb forgot our manners on this visit. What if we was to help you pull the rest of this here corn and bring you a nice strip of back meat from one of our ‘possums? In consideration, of course, for the use of your dog this evening. Would that not seem just a horn of plenty spilled right onto your table?”

Grady Mathis snorted and spat another line of tobacco. “You got quite the butter-mouth, ain’t ye? Dog ain’t going less I go too.”

I hadn’t considered this fork in my negotiation with Mathis, and it were a wee bit unwelcome.

“Alright then,” Ottis answered for me. “What time you want get started this evening?”

“Reckon you’uns come by here after supper and I’ll be ready,” said Grady.

“Alright,” I confirmed. I shot a hurtful look at Ottis. “We’ll see you then.”

“Another thing,” said Grady Mathis pointing an ear of corn at Ottis. “Ain’t gone be no firearms on this hunt ‘sept mine.” The brown corn tassel on the ear waved up and down as he spoke. “You’uns liable to shoot me and my dog up in that dark.”

Ottis shook his head up and down.

“So, you’uns wanna pull this corn now or tomorra?” Grady asked.

Ottis shrugged and walked into the patch of corn.

“It seems we’ll discharge that portion of our agreement right now, if you please,” I told Mr. Mathis.

Time we pulled Grady Mathis’s parched-up corn it was getting late. I cut for home and wrapped up two bone-hard biscuits and plucked a tomato from the table on the back porch. Sorry, sorry supper for a night of hunting, but that’s what I had to hand. When I went around the back of the house headed toward the barn, here came Ottis with a blue hound, a gingham sling holding his supper, and the grandest hoe I ever cast eyes upon.

“Where’d you get such a thing as that?” I asked him.

“My grandpa. Special made by old Dewey Tate up Galbreath Creek,” Ottis replied.

“Reckon I needs find me something to take with too,” I told him and headed into the barn. I already had in mind the very implement. In the barn’s gloom I laid hands on it; a long hoe handle, like Ottis’s, except mine had the hoe blade busted off. As I lifted it from a dusty corner, a barn cat shot from amongst the tools, and ears laid back, made for the outside. “Well that just took nine years off’n my life,” I said to nobody in particular. I surveyed my implement. Nothing left at the business end but a spiky point that some time ago I had filed keen. It looked like something a Greek warrior might tote. I strode out of the barn and said, “Let’s go, Ottis.”

“You better make an x ‘fore you do anything, Horse. What with that black cat blowing by here. I already done mine,” said Ottis.

I indulged Ottis by raking my hand through the air in an x. He can be peculiar about some things.

“What’s that you got?” asked Ottis. “A gig? You planning on gigging frogs or hunting you a ‘possum this night?”

“What’s the difference between gigging a frog and gigging a ‘possum?” I asked him. “You eat either one in the end.”

Grady Mathis was sitting on his front porch wearing a faded red cap with the oldest shotgun I ever seen across his lap. His dog was stretched out alongside him with its great head resting on Grady’s left shoe. When we stepped onto the porch with Ottis’s dog, Grady’s dog raised up and let out a long mournful howl.

“That dog’s a fine judge of character,” said Grady.

“Hope he hunts better than he can howl,” Ottis shot back.

“You’ll be made aware when he finds scent of said ‘possum,” Grady said. He stood up, stiff like, and hobbled toward us. “Takes me a spell to git going these days,” said Grady.

“When’s last time you shot that gun of yours?” I asked him.

“While ago,” he said patting the two hammers with his palm.

“Well let’s hope it ain’t necessary to discharge it this night,” I told him. “Nice to have our ‘possum in one piece, and not blowed all over Rass Brown’s hill.”

Grady ignored my comment and said, “I’ll just get me a lantern, what better to keep an eye on the two ah you’uns this evening.

“Ottis and me hunt Injun style. Don’t need no lantern,” I said. We stepped off the creaking porch and headed up the road to ‘possum stew.

Old Sol was getting stingy with his time these late September days and leaving after supper would cut us tight getting top of Rass Brown’s knob before it was good dark. I told Ottis, “Need to step lively if we gone make it past Brown land in daylight.”

Grady pulled up short. “Wait just a minute, here,” he said. I thought we was going to work top of Rass Brown’s hill for these ‘possums. Where you boys think you’re headed?

Now that just flew all over me. This was my hunting trip. I turned around to Grady and said, “Mr. Mathis, everybody works that ridge behind Rass’s for raccoon and ‘possum. We need to pass beyond Rass Brown’s knob and work the saddle t’other side.” Grady Mathis gave me a look that I tell you now I won’t never forget. His face pulled up tight and those rummy eyes got right dry and slitted. When he answered me, it sounded like men do when they take a big sip of corn liquor.

“Don’t nobody hunt back of that ridge, boy,” he said.

“And why not?” I asked. “It ain’t posted is it?”

“He’s right, Horse,” Ottis said. My pa and me roam through all these hills around here, but we don’t never go down to that saddle past Brown’s knob. My pa won’t have it.”

“That don’t make no sense,” I argued. Saddle land ain’t no different than any other round here.

Grady wiped sweat from his forehead. “What gives you the authority to speak such a way.”

Ottis closed in on me. “Yeah. I reckon he has a point.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “You’uns make such a to do about this, I reckon we’ll just stay up on the ridge all night.”

Grady relaxed a little bit after I said that and his face went back to normal. He was still sweating something fierce, even though a cool breeze had picked up through the holler. I heard him mutter something about some things being better left alone, but I just turned and went on up the road. We passed Rass Brown’s house and kept on going, along a big patch of Joe-Pye weed, up well beyond his barn. Directly we came to a creek that ran down out of the high ridge that formed the back of our cove. Ottis and I forded the creek with nary a trouble, but Grady was unbalanced with gun and light and stepped off the fording rocks and into the swift-flowing water. I heard his low cussing, but did him the courtesy of not turning around. The path up Rass Brown’s knob started just past the creek. Cows done most of its making, and to start with we had to step careful around muck and flies and puddles of yellow water. The trail pitched up steep out of the pasture, and bright day turned dim, what with the thick stand of poplar and elm ringing Rass’s grassy patch.

“Won’t be long all this’ll be bright yeller,” commented Grady.

“Be fine with me,” added Ottis. “Ain’t as many chores in winter as summer, on account of the gardening.”

Grady Mathis might take a spell to get going, but when he did, he went with purpose. He passed Ottis and me when we stopped on a switchback to blow a minute, and kept right on without a stop for breath.

“He passed us by like rank strangers,” I told Ottis.

“He’s hungry, Horse,” Ottis said.

With Grady’s fine example before us, we made it to the top of the knob in short order. From up top we had a clear view back over Rass’s property and down the cove before it twisted with the creek over toward Bryson City. The high ridges above us were purple with mountain smoke that deepened as the sun slipped down to the west ridge.

“Best have supper here before it gets dark,” said Grady.

“I thought you had yore supper?” said Ottis.

“I see you,uns brought yours, so figured you wanna eat some time. And it’s fixing to get dark.

We sat down on a log in a clear spot with a ring of stones for making a fire. I opened my tow sack and took out the tomato and pulled the two sorry biscuits from my overalls. Ottis sat before a big, flat rock and spread his gingham cloth open. His ma had packed him (and I know it’s his ma that done it) three great big biscuits, and two old tins, one holding some nice thick slices of country ham and the other some fried okra.

“Well, I see you’uns ain’t evenly yoked come supper time,” said Grady.

Ottis looked across at me as I cut open the tomato to slab onto a biscuit half. “Horse needs fend for himself most days since his ma passed,” Ottis observed. “Forgive, Horse, but you know it’s the plain truth.”

“My old daddy ain’t the cook Mama was, that’s for shore,” I agreed. “Mama was a proper Scot, book learned and sure of phrase.”

“Your daddy ever run any whiskey?” Grady asked.

That flew all over me. “No, my daddy ain’t never run any whiskey, Grady. He farms and he snakes logs for old man Culpepper sometimes over to Cullowhee.”

“I meant no offense,” said Grady.

“Reckon none is taken, then,” I answered him.

Grady turned right to Ottis and said, “Okrie is the noblest of the vegetables.”

Ottis regarded the deep-fried spike in his hand. “Reckon I can find no argument with that declaration, Mr. Mathis.”

Grady Mathis stared at Ottis the whole while he ate his supper. Ottis took no notice. Directly he took his last biscuit, laid a piece of thick ham across it, and handed it over to Grady.

“Mr. Mathis, I would be grateful if you would help me finish this supper. I’ve had a sufficiency.”

Grady Mathis took that biscuit from Ottis like it was something off the queen of England’s table. The light had faded nigh on to dark then and it played tricks on my eyes. Grady appeared to hold that biscuit fast with long bony claws that in the gloom seemed more of beast than man. And when his teeth closed down, he wrenched and swallowed that ham like a dog would. Lord, I thought. The world we see by day and the world we see by night are two entirely different subjects. All of a sudden, a strong wind rushed into the trees and set the leaves to flitting and fluttering above us like one of them Homer stories Miss Stevens tells in the school house.

“Mother Earth, she’s taking her a long sigh before she falls asleep,” said Grady.

Mathis and his commentary was getting on my last nerve. We shoulda left him in his corn patch and made do with Ottis’s dog. But here we were, and no way to get shed of him. Why is it we always want for more than we need? Anyway, I says to Ottis the good Samaritan, and Grady the man by the road, “Time we commence to hunting.”

“Ain’t good dark yet,” said Grady.

“Needs to be good dark, Horse,” said Ottis.

Grady expelled a noisy bah-rump of gas and shifted side to side on the log.

“Fine, fine,” I said. “You two sit a spell. I cain’t. I’m going on up thata way and leave you’uns with Grady’s gift.

Ottis Tells His Part

Horse Maynard tromped off with his Greek spear in the very direction we agreed not to go.

“He’ll not wander far by his self,” Mr. Mathis said with a little cackle.

“No. I reckon not,” I said.

“Ottis, how long you known Horace?” Mr. Mathis asked me.

“We growed up together,” I answered.

“He looks older’n you,” said Mr. Mathis.

“He is. By three years,” I said.

We did’t talk for a while until I could stand it no longer. “So how long have you lived back in here, Mr. Mathis?”

“You might say me and my kind’s been here a right long while, Ottis. That place I live now was my pa’s before me. Foundation rocks is from his grandpa’s house and he come straight from the Old Country. Mathises been in this cove an eon.”

“Gracious me,” I said. “And Mrs. Mathis? She grow up here, too?”

“Bryson City,” said Grady. “Can’t get used to that new name.”

“Well garden seed. You married yourself a fine town woman. How’d you ever talk her into moving up here with the likes of you?” I asked.

“Oh, she was right happy to move. I’d be misrepresenting the case, though, if I was to say she moved off up here just on account of me. She wanted to be near the ‘sang.

“The ‘sang?” I asked.

“That’s right,” Mr. Mathis continued. “Ginseng. Medicinal herbs. Healing gifts from vulnerary root. The things she knows, Ottis. The things she knows. Potion, poultice, balm and salve; butter and beeswax thou must have.”

“What?” I asked.

“Never you mind, boy,” said Mr. Mathis eyeing me suddenly stone cold like. “It’s for her to know and you and my kind to wonder.”

Mr. Mathis unfolded his self off the log, pointed in the opposite direction of Horse Maynard’s route, and said, “When the mighty warrior returns from his scouting, I say we work yonder way down this ridge. Trail forks a little distance from here. That’s what I brung the lantern to find. One fork goes on along the ridge and t’other makes off down to a spring. I’m thinking we might just run up on what we seek down in thar.”

“Sounds about right,” I said. “When fine Odysseus crests yon rise, we’ll be off.”

Horse Maynard Keeps Going

“At least you’uns are both standing,” I said returning to the company of Ottis and Mathis. “I found some mighty promising spots just off the ridge over thar.”

“Horse Maynard,” said Ottis. “We agreed as we was not going down towards that saddle to hunt ‘possum. Mr. Mathis knows a spot that way what will be most promising.”

“Tell ya what, Horse Maynard,” said Mathis. “You go on down to that saddle and find yer ‘possum, and Ottis and I will take the dogs and hunt t’other way, down to the spring. Now what you think of that plan?”

“Ain’t yore plan to make, Grady Mathis,” I said. I allow as I did have a smidgen of shame talking to my elder that way, but land of goshen if he didn’t try me at every junction. I stood there for a time staring at Mathis and Ottis. Directly I said, “Fine. I’ll be on my way, then.”

It was full dark now and Grady had the lantern going. He handed it to Ottis to hold while he fetched his shotgun. The kerosene lamp lit Ottis’s face with a sputter from below, casting dark shadows above his nose and around his eyes. Grady hoisted the gun and leaned away from the light. “I’ll call yore bluff,” he said to me.

“Come on, Horse,” said Ottis. “Just leave it be and let’s go on down to the spring.”

“Ain’t going to no spring when I know I can find ‘possum for sure,” I said and turned to head back from whence I came. Right then, Ottis’s dog took off past me barking and carrying on like I never seen before. The dog paced to and fro then turned off into the shadows just past the lantern light. I could here him sniffing and snorting in the darkness like some boar hog.

“What did I tell you’uns?” I asked. “Ottis yore dog’s got more sense than you do. See he’s a going right straight toward the saddle. Told you’uns that’s where to find ‘possum.”

All this brought on a peculiar change of spirit with Grady Mathis. Ottis had moved towards me with the lantern and it’s yellow light cast off the shadows and the light fell full on Grady. He was standing there, both his bony hands working, round and round the breech and stock of his gun. But his face! Lord his face. The skin had pulled right tight against his skull and his eyes were closed down to just little slits again, and I could look into those eyes and see nary but coal black. His back arched up and his head sidled down low onto his shoulders. The sight of him sent a January chill right straight to the marrow of my bones.

I could tell Ottis seen it too. He swung the light away from Grady and said, “Sorry Mr. Mathis. Didn’t mean to shine the light right in yore eyes.”

Grady’s voice was like dry corn stalks rattling in a winter’s draft.

“You’uns ain’t got nary an idea at what you’re messing with up here. Won’t listen to me. Just as soon follow an old hound as take my counsel. Go on then. The both of ye. Follow that fool hound right straight into de Soules’s ruin for all I mind. Glad to be shed of both of you’uns.”

“Ottis,” I said. “We’re best shed of Grady Mathis and his dog. Neither one of ’em will hunt.”

Ottis held the lantern high looking back and forth between me and Grady. I could see his hand trembling on the lantern handle. Scared. Just plain scared, I thought.

“Wha? What do ye mean, Mr. Mathis?” Ottis kinda stammered out his question.

“I mean you’uns don’t have no knowledge. Don’t have no history. You’uns live bereft of any real information about this here Earth. You’uns think you have dominion over it. Well that ain’t necessarily accurate. Think what you may of Grady Mathis, but I act on yore behalf.”

“Gracious me,” said Ottis.

Ottis’s hound circled back to us and entered the pool of light cast by the lantern. He gave a deep, plaintive howl.

“Ottis, he’s on to something,” I said. “Let’s go.”

I turned and pointed toward the saddle as I danced alongside the dog. “Come on boy! Go find me a ‘possum. Go boy. Go get ’em!”

Spooky Georgia Tree Branches at Sunset

“Something happened down on that saddle a long time ago,” said Grady trying to steal Ottis’s attention away from me. “When my great grandpa was first here. He was of the Scots-Irish, come over from Ulster in the Old Country. That hardy lot spread far and wide among these here hills, grateful for land and separation from the eternal mischief of gov’ment. Jacob C. Mathis was early to settle up this here cove and he and his kin learned right quick there was something unnatural lay beyond what you’uns know as Rass Brown’s knob. Horse Maynard, just like you, they set their cap to hunt that land. Only there was something else hunting that land besides them. And it took issue with their intrusion. First time Bethuel Mathis and his sons trod that saddle, trouble commenced. Folks knew something was amiss. They could feel…well, a presence you might say, somewhere back amongst the thick laurel. That night a hunting party of a different sort crept down to the cove. Three good milk cows was slit wide open and left to die by the barn. A run of mischief broke loose all down the valley. Folks soon learned to stay out from where they was not welcome. Those in my great grandpa’s family that would tell of it, spake of having seen something up there. A form that wasn’t typical for these parts. Something made of stone. A kind of broch that only the oldest folk from the Old Country recollected. That’s all that’s come down to us.

“Injuns?” asked Ottis.

“Naw,” answered Grady. You won’t find one of them go anywhere near that place. Think Ottis. Yore daddy ever say why he won’t hunt that saddle?

“No,” answered Ottis. “But he won’t set foot over that ridge there.”

“Uh huh,” said Grady. “He knows.”

I said, “Come on Ottis. I ain’t afeared of no haint tale by Grady Mathis. And ain’t nothing sitting down on that saddle but a big laurel thicket. No such a thing as a hob goblin up here in these woods. Yore blue’s got the scent of something. Let’s go find it.”

Ottis was now next to me, lantern in one hand and hoe in the other. “But Horse, what about Mr. Mathis?”

“Mathis can do as he pleases. If he won’t go,” I said turning around toward Grady.

Mathis was gone. And so was his dog.

“Gracious me,” said Ottis. “Where’d he go to?”

“Where all yeller bellied folk like him go,” I said. “Back to his house and his broke-down porch and his bony old wife.”

Ottis Tells All

Now I never would call Horse Maynard a brave soul. But he puffed his self up and stuck his pikestaff out in front of him and commenced his march right down off that ridge like Johnny Reb. And like a fool I followed him. What a sight we musta been heading down towards that saddle and the sound of my blue a baying some ways ahead of us. Horse Maynard was thrusting his pike out and calling to my hound, “Get ’em Blue. You go boy. It’s ‘possum for you old dog.” And I come traipsing along behind, with a lantern in one hand and a hoe in t’other.

Now the form of ‘possum hunting what I’m accustomed to involves following a baying dog to where he’s run the ‘possum up a tree. You then take a rock and knock said ‘possum out of that tree, bust his head with a hoe, and put him in a tow sack. That was not to be the case this night. When we caught up with the blue, he was dancing and barking right straight up against the biggest laurel thicket I ever saw. In the puny light of Grady’s lantern the twisted boughs and thick, half-curled leaves, looked like the wall of a great fortress cast before us.

“Okay, Horse. How we gone get a ‘possum outta that mess?” I asked.

“You just go in and get him,” said Horse.

“You crazy, boy,” I said. Nothing big as me gone keep up with something small as a ‘possum amongst all that. Dog won’t even go in such.”

It was then I heard that sound that will be forever between my ears. A sound, like cloth being tore, come from deep in that laurel.

“Horse, shut yore mouth,” I said. “Something’s in there.”

“Yeah. A ‘possum,” Horse answered.

“Ain’t no ‘possum I’m hearing. Way too big.”

The cloth-tearing sound stopped when I said that. Then started again, and this time it was coming towards us. Horse Maynard heard it too and he took a step back from the thicket. I could see clear that the Greek warrior spirit had just departed from him. The cloth-tearing sound settled down to a rhythm that I imagined was bough after laurel bough being pushed from obstruction by some strong and unseen hands. And now, coming along with that, was a sound like a loom batten being thrown to and fro. Thump, slide. Thump, slide. It was a kind of footstep, but not like no animal I know would make. Each step, clear as could be, on those dried leaves in thar thicket. Straight at us. Lord I wished we’d had more rain so I wouldn’t have heard such.

Blue backed away from where he was at our vanguard. His ears was laid back on his head and his fang-teeth showed from ‘neath his curled jowls. He cowered down low, still holding that grimace on his snout, and made naught but a pitiful whimper. I seen it then. Or maybe it’s more truthful to say it seen me. Two red eyes, like back coals on a wee-hours fire, stared straight through me, and lord my blood iced in my veins. Horse Maynard screamed like a woman in first-child labor and reared back with his pikestaff and pitched it straight at them eyes. His shadow danced about in that kerosene light like some warrior on a pot in Miss Stevens’s hist’ry books. Then something hard and heavy hit my arm and knocked the lantern out.

Remember when I said I wouldn’t count Horse Maynard as a brave soul? Well, I was right, and he ain’t. Now he did sling that pikestaff right straight in to that thicket, but soon as he let fly the pike, he let fly his feet, and off he went back up the hill, his screams, and echoes of his screams, careening all over the place. Me an Blue was left holding the bag, so to speak. I put both hands on my hoe and prepared to be tore to pieces by a hob goblin. It was Blue what brought me to my senses. He ran flat into me making for the top of the hill after Horse Maynard, and I didn’t need to ponder too long before adopting that same course of action. Blue and me was on the top of the ridge ‘fore I realized all that screaming wasn’t just coming from Horse. There was something down thar in that laurel making a racket like I cain’t really tell of. Best I can relate is the sound a catamount makes ‘fore it hits a deer. Lord it harrowed up my soul as it spake of pain, and longing, and regret.

Me an Horse laid low for several days following that night. I was shore glad my daddy put me to work in bottom land down by the big creek and way away from anything looked like a hill. Nights, I stayed in. And my mama remarked favorable on my new-found interest in evening Bible reading.

One day I was working a row of field peas when my uncle came driving by in his buckboard wearing his black doctor suit and looking serious and troubled. He stopped at the edge of the creek to water his horse and got down from the wagon and I went over to have a jaw.

“How do, Ottis?” he said as I walked up. “Looks like you got plenty of work down here.”

“Yes Uncle,” I said. “And I’m glad of it. Where you been with your doctoring getup?”

“Been tending Grady Mathis lo these past few days.”

My knees bent under me and I wished I’d had my hoe handy to lean on. I made steady my voice ‘fore I spake again. “Well what’s ailing Mr. Mathis?” I asked kind of casual like.

Uncle shook his head. “I ask you Ottis not to repeat a single word, for it’s private business of Grady Mathis alone. But I tell you, boy, in all my practice I’ve never seen such an unholy wound as that man has. To tell the plain truth of it, his hide just came unknit in a single place on the right side. Frankly, I’m amazed that Mrs. Mathis even called me in, seeing as how she fancies herself a healer too.

“Reckon how it happened?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” Uncle said. “Grady can’t talk and Mrs. Mathis won’t talk. I see plenty of injuries from farm work, but none like this. I just hope Mathis lives to tell the tale.”

Uncle shook his head again all perplexed and got back up on the buckboard and drove off. When he’d gone ’round the first bend in the road I ran for Horse Maynard’s.

Horse was back of the house splitting wood with hammer and wedge. “Horse! Horse!” I hollered. “You ain’t never gone believe what I just heard.” I gathered in real close to Horse and told him what passed between Uncle and me. Horse’s eyes got big as saucers as I spake my news, and when I finished he ran up in his house and came back with a store-bought coffee tin.

“What you gone do with that?” I asked.

“You and me going to visit the sick and afflicted.”

“What?” I said. “I cain’t betray the confidence of my uncle.”

“No time for such as that now, Ottis. We gotta know the truth.”

We slipped around to Mr. Mathis’s by way of the Jenkins Road. It took longer, but we was far less likely to be seen by someone who might take notice going that way. The front porch was empty when we walked up at the Mathis house.

“Ottis, go knock on a door,” Horse said.

I looked at Horse. “What?” I asked.

“Go on up there,” Horse ordered.

I crept up on the porch kinda gingerly like to keep it from creaking too much. Stepping over a few bad boards put me right in to the dog trot. Pondering what to do next, it occurred to me that most folks would have their doors open during the heat of the day. The doors on either side of the trot were closed up tight. “That’s right odd,” I said to myself, and knocked, a little on the shy side, at the frame board of the trot. My fat knuckles had no more than met wood when I looked to the side of the porch and saw sitting thar a broken lantern and Horse Maynard’s pikestaff. Top of that pike, what Horse had filed keen, was crowned with a crimson stain that ran down in places plumb to mid-staff. A voice in my head said, “Run Ottis, run.” But before I took my hand off the wood, a door swung back and there stood Mrs. Mathis a staring at me. Her long gray hair was down like I never seen it, and hung ’round her face as old yarn that got wet.

“You’uns come on in,” she said, meaning me, and Horse too.

We followed her along the dog trot to the back porch. Grady’s ‘possum dog lay stretched along the edge of the porch to our right. He raised up and gave a mournful howl when he seen us. Athwart the left side of the porch was an old cook stove stoked to the brim with dry poplar wood. Sitting on top of that stove was a great big iron pot full of some bubbling stew. While my eyes were cast in that direction a ‘possum’s foot swirled to the top of the pot and then disappeared again down to its bowels. Horse held out the coffee tin like it was a gift from the Magi.

“I appreciate you boys come to check on Mr. Mathis,” Mrs. Mathis said. She took a great wood spoon, swirled it deep in the pot, dropped in a curly root and let out an odd little cackle. “When Mr. Mathis and I were first courting, his mama and I would sit on that front porch shelling peas and she would tell me stories about this cove. She told when Grady was a boy he loved to roam the ridges above us. Day and night, sometimes. He was faithful to bring her wood sorrel, for stew and table, in season.”

Mrs. Mathis poured a foul-smelling broth into the pot. “There was one particular place up there he just seemed to be drawn to, even though his old daddy told him time and again to stay out from there. Still, he went. And one day he didn’t come back down. Well, at least not ’till he’d been given up for dead. They were getting ready to hold his service when he showed up on the front porch of this house wearing a dirty shirt and britches and a crimson cap. Never spoke a word about where he’d been those days. Folks said he was changed after that. Kind of kept to himself. Still does. I like that in him. We met when he hauled a load of late corn into town to sell at market. Why I knew right away I’d found my place with him and this land.”

Mrs. Mathis placed the spoon beside the pot and wiped her hands on her apron. “Oh listen to me prattle on so, taking up your time. I thank ye for the coffee, but I’m afraid Mr. Mathis is unable to accept visitation this day. Given your neighborly concern, you will be pleased to know that just this morning he raised up in bed and said straight away to me, ‘When I’m finished my mending, I’ve set my cap on taking those two boys hunting again. Up past Rass Brown’s knob.'”


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Dixie: Georgia Witch Story


Careful what you ask the local witch for. Your debt must be paid. Creepy Georgia witch story by Kayla Bolton.

I’m from a little town in the South called Rosebud. It’s a small town, filled with tons of humidity in the long summer months and slow-talking people year-round. There’s a Confederate Monument standing in front of the old brick courthouse, a block away from a bed and breakfast that was built when I was a young lady. This is the town I grew up in, and it is the only home I’ve ever known.

The Leightons are the oldest family in town. They descend from Samuel Leighton, the founder of Rosebud. This influential and close-knit family consists of Randall Leighton, my husband, and his two brothers and one sister. We Leightons have a passel of children and grandchildren running amok in the world, as well. There’s so many of them that, for the life of me, I can’t remember all their names.

I have one ingrate child, whom I happen to love only slightly less than I love her beautiful children and grandchildren. I say ungrateful only half-seriously. I’m old, not dead, and I remember the busy days of my younger years, with all the schedules to adhere to and tasks to finish.

I just miss seeing her, visiting with her, being an active part of her life.

Perhaps it’s my old age or something more sinister, whispering to me that I don’t have much time left; warning me that if I’ve got anything left undone, I had better get to it.

I don’t expect to be absolved, but there’s something freeing in admitting secrets, secrets that have clawed at you for decades. This is a confession-my confession.

In 1932, I was a poor girl born into a sharecropping family. We didn’t live in the town back then, but rather on the outskirts, in the “country” part. I was ten and clever, but not nearly so clever as I thought. I lived with my baby sister, Abby Lou, my mama, Ruby, and my daddy, who went by Cricket. Mama got sick that year, and the doctor was clueless as to what was causing it. It was his belief that we should get on our knees and praise God for everyday our mama still lived because whatever the mystery illness was, it was killing her.

Instead, I cursed God. God was no friend of mine. If He was, my mama would never have become sick to begin with.

Day after day, she was put up in bed, growing progressively weaker. Daddy was unhappy because the love of his life’s fire was extinguishing, and he was helpless. Abby and I were unhappy because Mama was dying, and Daddy had gone from a mostly cheerful man (more cheerful than he ought to have been, as poor as we were) to a short-fused shell of a person.

I knew that Daddy would be telling me to quit school any day. Mama couldn’t work in her condition, and Abby was the baby, so he wouldn’t go to her first. It would be me so that I could take on Mama’s workload on top of my own. I ate from the rotten fruit of bitterness, angry that I’d have to quit. I loved school, and I had the foresight to know that I’d be locked in poverty forever if I didn’t finish.

Randall and I were classmates, and I loathed him. He was a hateful child, full of cruel jokes and jests. I despised him and his siblings, but one day, as I listened to him torment some of the younger kids, a thought peeked out of the shadows of my mind. It was just a fleeting thought, but I snatched at it, and that was the spark that ignited the fire.

‘Lord, I hate that boy, but it’d sure be nice to be his sister, then I wouldn’t have to quit school, and I’d have all the best dresses a girl could want. Too bad we ain-too bad we aren’t older, I could marry him, and Mama and Daddy and Abby and me’d all be rich, too.’

A childish plan hatched in me at the close of that thought, and when I kissed Mama goodnight that evening, I silently swore to her that I’d take care of us all, and she’d get better.

We kids all knew about Dixie Tanner, the rumored witch who lived in a shack in the woods outside of town. We also knew that spells and curses weren’t the only things Dixie sold; she took money for use of her female anatomy, too.

My plan was simple: I’d go to her and ask her if she could make my mama better. If she said no, I was going to ask her to make me a love potion to give to Randall. Without a love potion, the snobby brat would never look twice at the daughter of a sharecropper, a girl in ratty, dirty clothes.

My ten-year old mind rationalized that if he’d fall in love with me, his parents would end up loving me, too, and they’d want to help my family out. All our problems would be solved. I had no qualms about sacrificing myself on the altar of money, if it meant a better life for me and my family. My juvenile, naïve thought process didn’t yet understand words like charity, dignity, and pride, so I really believed this would work.

I’d been to Dixie’s once before, when my friends and I were dared by some older girls to go up to the door and knock. We didn’t have the gall to approach the place; instead, we saw it from a distance and ran for our dear lives when a rabbit disturbed the bushes a couple of feet from where we were crouched. I was certain I could find my way again.

The next night, I sneaked out of the house after everyone had fallen asleep and picked my way through the dark underbrush of the woods, moonbeams shining down on the imposing trees, lighting my way. The woods were creepy that night because they were so damn quiet. To this day, I’ve never been in woods so noiseless.

The trek to Dixie’s felt like it would never end. At one point, I thought I was lost, but then I heard a creek bubbling, and I knew I was almost there.

When I got to the front door, I almost lost my nerve. I felt incredibly vulnerable, numb with fear and doubt. What would happen if she chose to kidnap me and do black magic on me? Or she could simply refuse to help; either route was daunting.

I took a deep breath and raised a fist to knock. Before my balled up hand-made contact with the wooden door, it flew open, and there was Dixie. I’d seen her a couple of times in town, but she didn’t come much, and when she did, I steered as far from her as possible, just like other folks did, even as I was about dying of curiosity for a good gander.

This was the closest I had ever been to her. She was very pretty, in a wild way. Her hair was greasy, but it was long, dark, and wavy. A ribbon held it out of her face. Many necklaces were layered around her neck, some beaded and some woven. She stared boldly down at me, and I got the idea that she’d been expecting me.

“What do you want?” she asked, her thick lips stretching into a smirk.


“Can’t ya talk?”

“Yes…ma’am.” I wasn’t sure if she deserved a “ma’am,” being that she was a prostitute, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

She smiled.

“Damn, girl, just come inside.” She backed up, holding the door open for me.

Timidly, I entered the shack.

Candles were lit everywhere that met the eye. Strange statues of creatures I’d never seen before were placed in various places, dusty books were stacked on makeshift tables, and there was an odor of sage on the stagnant air. Her bed was pushed against a far wall, and my cheeks colored when I thought about the things that were done there.

“What you come here for, girl?” she asked as she shut the door.

I rubbed my hands together and summoned some courage.

“My mama. She’s real sick.”

“She dying?” She fluttered a hand over a chair and I sat. She took her seat in a rocking chair across from me.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Uhn. I can’t help her.”

I jumped up from my seat.

“But you don’t know that! You haven’t even tried!”

She cackled.

“Don’t need to. I ain’t God, girl. There are limits, yes.”

I smoothed my nightgown under my bottom and sat again.

“Alright. Can you make me a potion or cast a spell?”

“I already said, I can’t help your mama.”

“It’s not for…I need a boy to love me.”

“Ahh. That is in my reach. How much money you got?”

Of all the things, I’d forgotten money.

“None,” I answered meekly.

She touched her necklaces and scoffed.

“Get outta here, child. Ain’t nothing in this world free. Spend what time your mama got left with her.”

“No.” I heard myself utter the word and cringed at this newfound spirit.

Her thick brows raised, and she clucked her tongue. I swallowed.

“No, I got no money, but isn’t there something else? Anything!”

Her expression became stony as she reflected on my desperation.

“Yeah, there’s somethin’. I’ll do it, but you got to agree to somethin’. And there ain’t no going back after you agree, ya hear? It’s sealed when you accept.”

“I’ll agree to anything, ma’am, anything you want!”

“I’ll be comin’. I’ll visit you every night for four nights, each time taking something valuable to you. Ain’t nothing you can do will stop me. You sure you want to pay that price?”

“I’ll pay it,” I agreed.

Her hair whipped around like a gust had hit it, but the air in that shack was still. She threw her head back and gleefully laughed. It reminded me of tinkling bells, that laugh.

“All too eager.” She got up and took a scarf off a nail in the wall, draping it over her head.

Without warning, she latched onto my hands with an icy grip and asked, “What’s the boy’s name?”

“Randall,” I whispered.

She closed her eyes tightly and began mumbling words that I’ve never been able to recall, words that sounded both delightful and deadly and made my stomach do flips. I caught Randall’s name a couple of times as she chanted her enigmatic spell, her fingers constricting my hands until I almost couldn’t feel them anymore. Just when I thought I was on the edge of madness, listening to her incantation, she stopped and released me.

“Done.” She grinned. “Remember, four nights. Now, go on-get out of here! And don’t come back!”

I leaped out of the chair and took off running, wanting to escape her big, malevolent eyes.

At school the next day, it felt like my visit with Dixie had been nothing more than a nightmare. When Randall came up from behind and yanked on a strand of my hair, I was sure that Dixie had tricked me. When he relentlessly started calling me ugly and plain, I knew I’d been ripped off. After school, he followed me as I walked home, kicking rocks and whistling a few feet back. I knew he had no reason to go this way; his family lived in a big house in town.

Aggravated and emotionally drained from the night before and the sting of his insults today, I turned and marched up to him.

“What do you think you’re doing? Why are you following me after you’ve been nothin’ but hateful all day?”

He crinkled his freckled nose.

“I-I’m sorry, Augusta. I didn’t mean it, I swear. Let me walk you home?”

I could’ve been no more stunned if he’d socked me in the eye.

When we neared my house, off a dirt road in the middle of a cotton field, he gently took my hand in his.

Dixie had done right by me.

At bedtime, as Abby said her prayers, I pretended to give thanks to God and pray for my loved ones, but all the while I gave thanks to Dixie, and whatever was the source of her power. I expected she’d be visiting that night, so I kissed my only doll-baby goodbye, sure she’d take her first, since she was the item I held most dearly to me.

I don’t know what time it was when I opened my eyes. The wind screeched angrily outside mine and Abby’s window and thunder rumbled deeply in the tumultuous sky. Purple lightning flashed, exposing a figure running away from our house and into the cotton fields. The violent lightning flashed again, briefly illuminating long hair blowing in the wind.

As promised, Dixie had come.

I got out of bed before the sun was up, same as every morning. Abby and I dressed as rain pattered down on the roof. When I picked up my worn down leather shoe off the hardwood floor, I saw her-my most prized possession, the doll, was sitting where I’d left her. I briefly wondered why Dixie hadn’t taken her.

Daddy walked into the room, his eyes bloodshot and glazed, just like they were when he drank whiskey.

“Girls, your mama…” He released a sob. “She passed away about an hour ago.”

We stayed home from school and went in to see her after my aunt and uncle showed up. I loved my mama, but seeing her pale corpse lying there…it wasn’t that she looked like a rotting body, but…I was spooked nonetheless. Daddy had the sense to shut her eyes, at least.

While the doctor went in to take a look at her, I fell silent as I wrestled with the idea that Dixie had taken Mama’s life. That couldn’t be it, though, right? Dixie didn’t say she’d kill someone…right?

dixie-witch-georgia-wooden-coffin-cross-grave small

Daddy and our uncle were to bury Mama in the family plot the next day. Daddy didn’t want to have a viewing. He thought such a practice was obscene and wanted to spare Mama the indignity of having a house full of people stare at her lifeless body.

Daddy went to town to request a coffin be built, and my aunt and uncle were sitting in his and Mama’s room with her shrouded body. My cousins played in the rain like wild children, slipping and sliding in the mud.

In our bed, I held Abby as she cried. My conscience continued to trouble me. This couldn’t be because of the love spell, it just couldn’t. Besides, Mama had been sick. Even the doctor expected her to pass sooner or later.

“Sissy?” Abby mumbled, hiccupping as soon as the word was out of her.


“I don’t feel very good.”

“I s’pose not. None of us do.” I felt her forehead with the back of my hand, the way Mama used to do. “You do feel a little warm.”

“Am I getting a sickness like Mama?”

“What? No. That is just plain crazy. Mama didn’t have a fever, anyway.”

Abby plopped a thumb in her mouth, an old habit of hers that had long ago died, but was now resurrected. Her eyelids drooped until her eyes shut out the world around her, and she was sound asleep.

That night, my cousins slept in mine and Abby’s room, my aunt cooked and sang softly as my uncle dozed, and Daddy sat with Mama. I tossed and turned, not able to turn my mind off. For the first time in my life, I knew what grief and guilt felt like.

As I attempted to sleep, Dixie came again. I noticed a shift in the shadows outside that had to be her, creeping by our window. I was seized by the sudden feeling of needing to make a trip to the privy. I squeezed my eyes closed.

Rays of sunshine poured into my room the next morning. My cousins’ loud banter landed on my ears as I stirred awake. I poked Abby’s back as I yawned.

“Get up, Abby. We slept late today.”

She didn’t move.

“Abby Lou, I mean it. We gotta see if there’s anything Daddy wants us to do.”

She pretended not to hear me. Agitated, I rolled her over. Glassy, lifeless brown eyes stared past me, into the void.

I screamed.

The doctor came a couple of hours later.

“I don’t know what it is, Cricket, but there’s a sickness in this house. You’d best be getting you and Augusta out of here,” he said.

Daddy didn’t seem to hear him. He looked blank. This time, it was my uncle who went to town to request another coffin.

Randall showed up at our front door after the doctor had gone. Judging by the red dust covering his church shoes, he’d walked all the way to my house in his Sunday best. He passed me flowers and softly told me that he was sorry for my loss. Even with his soothing presence, I was suffocating indoors. Daddy was so stricken with grief, that he was openly weeping in front of us, so I led Randall out back, and we climbed a tree. He held my hand after we’d situated ourselves on a sturdy limb, and I let my tears flow freely.

It was starting to sink in. I’d murdered my mama and baby sister.

We buried Mama that day, but had to wait for Abby’s coffin to bury her. We went to spend the night at my aunt and uncle’s house after the funeral.

Too emotionally wrecked to sleep, I crept through the house and sat down on the front porch. I prayed to God, begging Him to give me a sign, to reassure me that the deaths of my mama and sister weren’t related to my contract with the witch.

From my spot on the porch, I hadn’t noticed Dixie slinking around, but that morning, when I heard shrill crying, I knew she’d come. This time it was Daddy who was found dead. The doctor again blamed it on the mysterious sickness.

The fourth night, as I started out the front door of my aunt and uncle’s, a voice called to me from the darkness.

“Augusta-where are you going?”

For a second, I thought it was the witch. A lump rose in my throat before I realized it was Randall, hiding in the cover of night.

“I have something to do. You can come with me, if you promise not to tattle.”

He promised, and we set off to Dixie’s shack.

She waited at her door, as if expecting us.

“I told you, girl, ain’t no takin’ it back.”

“You never said you’d take my family!” I shouted.

Randall glared at her.

“We should leave, Augusta. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know this woman is bad.”

“Scared, Randall?” Dixie taunted.

He balled his fists up and puffed his chest out.

Using the element of surprise, I shoved the witch backward with all my emotional might. Stunned as she was, I managed to knock her down to the floor. She landed on her back right inside the shack.

I had spotted it as Randall and I approached the witch, and presently I pulled it out of the tree stump it was lodged in, walking back to her sprawled out body.

“You going to kill me?” she asked quietly, her eyes trained on the weapon I wielded.

I lifted the heavy ax over my head and swung as Randall belted out loud, terror-filled protests. My arms shook with the effort as the blade plunged into the soft flesh of her belly. Blood sprayed and gushed out of the deep wound, and Dixie howled and wailed, writhing on the ground.

“Bitch! I curse you, you little bitch! Hear me? I curse you!” As she lobbed her threats my way, blood bubbled out of her mouth and drizzled down her chin. In the darkness, it could’ve been chocolate or gravy.

Randall pushed me away from her and wriggled the ax free. He lifted it and planted it in her face. She ceased moving and grew silent.

“Your secret’s safe with me, Augusta,” he reassured me as he straightened back up to his full height.

We left Dixie dead on the floor and went to the creek. Randall told me to get rid of my gown as he ditched his own clothes. He instructed me to bathe in the water, then he told me he’d be right back.

“Don’t worry, I just have to get something,” he said with a smile.

I washed the blood from my body and waited for his return. He came back with a shovel that he said he got from Dixie’s and dug a deep hole. He flung our clothes into it and buried them. After we dropped the shovel back off at Dixie’s, we walked back to my aunt and uncle’s, naked and changed forever.

I relive that night a lot, but to write it down, in detail…it’s as if strangers swung that ax, a long time ago-not me, not me, and not my Randall, either.

In the light of the new day, only the witch had perished, but I think a part of Randall and me died with her.

Randall had only to ask his parents to allow me to live with them; they granted his wish almost immediately. My aunt and uncle were relieved to have the burden of another mouth to feed off their backs, so in the end, everyone was pleased with the arrangement.

The Leightons took real good care of me, even if they couldn’t understand how or why Randall was so smitten. I had my own bedroom and the best dresses. I took piano lessons, learned French, traveled, finished school, and completed an English degree. When we were 22 years old, Randall and I were married in the little white Baptist church my mama had occasionally managed to drag Daddy, Abby, and me to for the Sunday morning service.

Randall and I still live at home, with an around the clock aide. We also have a nurse who pops in daily to check our vitals and whatnot, though the Lord knows why. I think my daughter believes we’re going to live forever.

I am not as spry as I was even a couple of years ago, but I am not in near as bad health as my Randall. Alzheimer’s claimed his mind some years back, and my husband has not been himself for a while now. Every morning, I expect whatever aide is working the day shift to rush in and tell me he isn’t with us anymore.

Earlier I mentioned maybe it’s something more sinister pushing me to spill my guts about Dixie. Well, the something more sinister is Randall.

His behavior gets queerer all the time. Every night for the past week, I wake up to see him leaning over me, his face mere inches from mine, watching me like a cat watches a mouse. He’s even taken to whispering inaudible words to me, and I may not know what it is he’s saying, but I know it makes my hairs stand on end. The wonder of it all is that he has to have assistance dressing and ambulating and taking a shit, for Christ’s sake, but he can go for a midnight stroll into my room all on his own.

Today I heard him crying in his room. When I went in to console him, he bellowed, “Get away from me, you conniving whore!”

Then he added, in hushed tones, “Remember Dixie, Augusta? I see her, honey, see her all the time. She talks to me sometimes, says she’s coming to collect.”

It could be the Alzheimer’s, but I’m certain it’s not. He gazes upon me with knowing, condemning eyes. I think his illness has annihilated the love spell, even if he doesn’t talk about it. I took his free will from him. He’s been my puppet since we were children, so I’ll put up with any abuse he dishes out.

I have something coming to me, and I can live with that. I’m the reason my family was put six feet under. But my child and grandkids? They don’t deserve the punishment that I’ve evaded all these years.

I worry so for them.

Dixie never got her fourth night. There’s no taking it back, she said. She has a debt to settle, a long overdue one. I don’t think she’ll stop at my daughter-I believe she’ll run through all my descendants, picking them off one by one. Somehow, I’m sure of that.

I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess of things. Please, God, don’t let my daughter and grandkids pay for my sins.


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13 Skulls: Virginia Horror Story


Virigina horror story of an heir to family fortune who must solve the riddle of his father’s sinister tombstone to claim his inheritance. Written by K.E. Moore.

(Warning: Adult Language)

Bent Hill stumbled out the front door of the Jackspot into the cool night air. On the other side of the door behind him, he could still hear the din of the bar as it drank its way through the sharp cymbals and strained vocals of the live band performing its last set.

It was nine, and Chincoteague would be going to sleep soon; it was rare to find anything lively after eleven on the island. Normally, Bent would have stuck around to help shut the, for lack of a better word, club down. But tonight was special.

He slouched his way to the charcoal gray Jaguar in the seashell crusted parking lot, his uneven footsteps crunching a drunken jazz beat against the fading sounds of the revelers in his wake. Bent had known going into the Jackspot was a risk, and he only intended to have a few drinks disguised as regular soda to take the edge off. But after the day he had, it turned out the aforementioned edge was not so easily appeased.

He would be fine, he decided. This was Chincoteague, and he was a Hill. The worst that could happen would be him wrapping the Jag around a tree, and even then the townsfolk would likely sweep it under a rug.

Hell, these people might even pitch in and buy him a new Jag.

Bent smirked at the thought as he jangled his keys free from his once-pressed slacks. He hated Chincoteague with a fiery passion, but because his name was Hill, he was revered like a God. Fucking waterlogged hicks, he thought.

He unlocked the car, but only after adding a few more scratches around the already crosshatched paint. The opulent gray leather welcomed him, accepting his considerable girth as he slid into the car, the bucket seat almost enveloping him in a cool, soft embrace. When the engine turned over, it purred—fucking purred—because that, Bent knew, was what Jaguars were supposed to do.

On the seat beside him lay an anonymous brown paper bag, the sight of which made Bent smirk once more. Oh yes. Tonight was a long time coming. A real long time, and there was nothing anybody could do about it now.

At Bent’s command, the twin headlights came to life, casting their yellow pools of light onto the parking lot’s bleached shells. Seashells everywhere, on walking paths, front yards, parking lots—so many seashells if you didn’t watch yourself you’d end up with some jammed in your ass crack—and that was only one small reason why Bent hated this damned island.

The Jaguar whispered onto Main Street while the headlights cast their gaze on some of the other reasons Bent hated the island.

Chincoteague Island Sign 2

Main Street was a postcard. Up and down the street were quaint old stores owned and operated by island families. There was the fairgrounds, home of the annual firefighter carnival, the antique mall operated by a single old lady that would dash from one store to the next whenever someone was ready to check out. But the worst offenders in Bent’s mind were the bed and breakfasts. The whole damn street was lined with them, all looking like they were made from gingerbread and boredom.

This wasn’t life, Bent thought. This was a piss bucket—an old folk’s wet dream about what life was like back in the days when church bake sales were the hottest event on the books and kids stared slack-jawed at ten inch black and white televisions in display windows.

Bent wanted life as it was now. He would see tourists from New York and Pennsylvania, adorned in Abercrombie & Fitch and driving their Mercedes coups. How he wanted their life, night clubs that stayed open until sunrise, bespoke clothing, designer drugs, and women as exquisite and delicious as wine.

And yet, despite being the heir to a pile of money that would make Scrooge McDuck blush, Bent grew up here, in this sea-locked, aw shucks, prison.

The Jaguar turned onto the accurately named Church Street. Half a dozen churches lined the picturesque lane; why a town so small needed so many churches eluded Bent. But first, there was the funeral home.

Without meaning to, Bent slowed as he drove by the funeral home. It was a simple, squat, red brick building with an elegant green archway over the door of finely etched glass. The Jag nearly crawled to a stop as he remembered the first time he stepped foot in the place.

Now, at night, he could barely see through the glass, making out only sparse shards of light that cut sharp and thin into the amorphous shadows. For reasons his drink addled mind couldn’t comprehend, he felt his skin prickle as his eyes searched the nameless shapes beyond the funeral home door, as though some part of him, primal and scared, expected something to move, some dark nameless shadow to shift and drag itself closer to him, saliva dripping from its decayed mouth. His heart thudded, and the fog dissipated from his mind as he waited for it, waited to see a face twisted and decayed look back out at him.

It didn’t. Of course it didn’t.

Bent had been on the other side of that door recently. The whole funeral home was designed to offer comfort and solace. He remembered the cool air, almost enough to make one wish for a jacket even in the heat of summer, and he remembered the rich cream-colored walls and dark stained oak—plush red velvet chairs that wrapped him up like a consoling hug.

He remembered the funeral director, and the Jaguar pushed on.

Soon, Bent had put the churches behind him. He was now encroaching on the real side of Chincoteague, the part of the island not meant for the tourists. The picturesque houses had dissolved, replaced by cul-de-sacs guarded by signs warning that trespassers were not allowed. Mobile homes barely bigger than campers were propped precariously atop stacks of cinder blocks and cookie-cutter houses huddled close together, sharing the spare street lamps that existed in too few a number.

And still the Jag pressed on into the night. Into the darkness.

This was dark Chincoteague. The shadowy Chincoteague. As Bent coaxed the car through the unlit streets, he could easily believe that there was a reason why the island went to bed so early. Because here, where street lamps dared not to dwell, there was only the tall untamed grass, a bitter wind that knew nothing of civilization, and the dark—the kind of dark wherein predators slinked, hiding, waiting for their prey to stumble in cold and afraid and confused. Here, where the shadows had shadows, and things waited patiently with yellow, sharp, jagged teeth.

Cemeteries on Chincoteague are an odd entity. Most are small, maintained by family and friends. There is even a cemetery with exactly one occupant. The Chandler cemetery, at the north end of Main Street, is the final resting place of Captain Joshua Chandler, something of a local hero and rumored friend (or, as the more scandalous rumors told, lover) of the famed German composer, Richard Wagner.

But Bent’s Jag carried him to one of the most crowded cemeteries on the island.

It wasn’t until the last street lamp, faint bluish-white in the rear-view mirror, had come and gone did the twin headlights of the Jag pour over the painted green railing that contained the Bunting Cemetery.

A crooked garden of tombstones leaped and danced as the yellowed light of the car slipped over the markers. Shadows darted behind one tombstone before dashing to the next as Bent slowed the car to a halt. Somewhere under the haze of alcohol, and the cynicism of being in the mid-twenties, there was ten-year-old Bent, gaping at the dancing tombstones, knowing that under the tilled earth, corpses slept, but slept uneasily, tossing and turning from wicked dreams. Deep down inside, Bent knew that at any second, any of those corpses could rise from its rotted coffin and tear through the soft earth, the flesh eaten away by worms, leaving behind only a mask of rotted bone and yellow-gray teeth.

Bent eased the Jaguar to a halt as he shook his head. He was not some silly ten-year-old out on a dare. Corpses didn’t rise from the grave.

He looked up, his eyes following the headlights of the car, past the green fence, and through the headstones. They looked to him like rotten teeth. And there, at the very back, he found his final destination.

The tombstone in question stood out, to say the least. He stared at it, and it stared back at him. Those eyes, he thought, all of those ugly, hollow eyes. Fear covered Bent like a blanket, cold, prickly, and paralyzing, before he scolded himself silently in the plush cabin of the Jaguar.

Grown men did not piss themselves with fear at the sight of a cemetery. It just wasn’t done.

Bent studied the tombstone from the safety of the car, and recalled the moment he first laid eyes on it.


“It’s quite a remarkable piece, Mr. Hill,” the funeral director said in a silken, practiced voice that hovered somewhere just above a whisper.

Bent nodded. Compared to the blistering July sun, the air-conditioned sitting room in the funeral home was cool and soothing. And yet, something about the chunk of rock on display gave Bent chills of an entirely different sort.

Finally, he spoke. “It’s exactly as dad wanted,” he said, doing his best to sound like the loving, grieving son.

“Well, your father…” the director began. To Bent, the funeral director looked… well… like a funeral director ought to look. He was short and bald, thin and small. His eyes were kind, but it was a sort of manufactured kindness, almost as if he spent an hour every day in front of a mirror practicing. “…your whole family means so much to the island.”

Bent started to roll his eyes, blinking instead just in time. He raised a finger to his right eye and made a show of wiping away an imagined tear. It was far too close of a call, especially now when he was so near to the end. Bent simply had to keep his shit together for a few more days and he could put the whole thing behind him: his sainted family history, his revered father, and this stupid hick-spunk island.

Selling the act of the grieving son, Bent sniffled and squinted at the tombstone. Just on the edge of his vision, he saw the director smile understandingly at him, making the youngest Hill left alive wonder who was really bullshitting who?

The tombstone was… it was hideous. Horrific. No sane person would request a tombstone like that, and even if they did, good luck finding someone to make it. But the Hills of Chincoteague were special. And, in the end, Bent wasn’t sure which was worse, the subject of the sculptures adorning the stone, or the epitaph etched in its face.

“I know the material I gave you to work with wasn’t… common,” Bent said finally.

The director breathed deep and offered the man a modest smile. “Well, Mr. Hill was an eccentric. I don’t think there’s a one of us on this island that would have expected something normal out of him.” The director rested his hand on Bent’s arm, just above the elbow, the pressure perfectly calculated to show affection and commiseration. “But of course, you knew him better than any of us.”

Bent nodded. That was a complete fiction of course. Bent knew Thomas Hill III about as well as he knew the insides of the panty drawer of Ms. Haley Cox—that is to say, not at all.

It was then, as Bent studied the hideous tombstone, that he realized something. What if this was all just a joke? One last punchline, a zinger aimed at the people he worshiped, and worshiped him back in return. Those sculptures, that epitaph—if anyone else had asked for that tombstone the general consensus would have been that such a thing was in poor taste. But not for a Hill. Ol’ dad asked for a grave marker that was borderline offensive, and these hicks practically applauded him for it.

That thought was immediately followed by another; what if the joke was on Bent? Make him jump through all of these hoops, explain all of these oddities, just to get access to the family fortune? That seemed right. That was more like the man he knew.


Bent squatted and ran his fingers over the chiseled stone. “Fine craftsmanship, though,” he remarked. There was something gaudy about this dance that reminded him of buying a used car (an act that someone of Bent’s station shouldn’t have been forced to experience, but good ol’ dad strikes again).

“Ah, yes,” the director said in a voice that managed to somehow get even smoother, oozing from his lips warm and sweet like chocolate syrup. “That was one of the reasons I wished to speak with you, Mr. Hill.”

Bent rose and looked at the director. “Oh?” he said as though he didn’t know what was coming.

“Yes,” the little man said. He looked away, his fingers worrying each other as the man exuded embarrassment through every pore in his skin. “You see, Mr. Hill. This sort of craftsmanship—we couldn’t get that kind of work here on the island. Oh, I assure you, for your father, for your family, if we had the capabilities, there wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“But…” Bent said, fulfilling his half of the tango.

“But we had to go off island. That was the only way to get the work done in time for the service.” The director bowed his head. “I assure you we have done everything we possibly could to keep costs down, but I’m afraid that the final cost is more than the initial estimates by a sizable sum.”

Bent just stood there, his face unreadable.

“I understand that remuneration at a time like this is a difficult subject. Believe me, Mr. Hill, your name goes a long way here, and we will work with you in the days ahead, if need be.”

“How much are we talking?” Bent asked.

The director looked away, “two thousand, Mr. Hill. I do wish I could have done more, please understand.”

Bent had decided that either this troll of a man was in the wrong business, or Bent himself was. This was a scam, he knew he was being scammed, and he was almost positive the funeral director knew he knew. What was more, he was being scammed over his recently deceased father—a fact that might have had more impact if he cared for the old bastard. This tiny man was fleecing Bent, and the whole time he was consoling him about it. Bent was a little jealous.

He gave the funeral director a warm little smile, a smile he himself practiced in the mirror. Bent worked hard at that smile that said, “Yes, these are difficult times, but I’m soldiering on so please don’t worry about me, really, life goes on.” It was time to take it out for a spin.

“I’ll cut the check right now,” he said.

The director bowed and humbly said, “Truly, your father is so lucky to have such a dutiful son.”

Yeah right,, Bent thought. What he actually said, though, was, “When it comes to dad’s funeral, the checking account is bottomless.” What he omitted was that dad’s funeral was the only thing for which the checking account was bottomless.

For now, anyway.


Bent’s Italian shoes crunched against the seashells that coated the ground like brittle snow. His father hated Bent’s love of the finer things, and outright refused them throughout childhood, but when Bent turned eighteen, he regularly spent his monthly stipend on luxury and smiled at the old bastard as he walked by.

What’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it?

The brown paper bag on the passenger seat had a delicious weight to it when Bent picked it up, and as he slid out of the Jaguar, the contents of the bag glugged slowly.

Standing up was a little easier than it had been since he had left the Jackspot, and Bent could feel the buzz quietly drain from his brain. That was fine, it would be making another appearance in the very near future. Now, nearly sober, Bent was able to better appreciate the sound of the door silently swinging shut, and that special ker-chunk that you only ever seemed to get from the higher end luxury cars.

Darkness enveloped him. That was another reason he hated the island as much as he did, a reason he wasn’t keen to share. The further in one got into the island, the darker it got at night until it felt like being smothered in blackness, the few tiny shards of light scattered and feeble.

A chill wind wrapped itself around him and Bent’s arms prickled with gooseflesh beneath his silk shirt. He shivered as he let his eyes grow accustomed to that special Chincoteague brand of darkness picking out the porch-lights and distant street lamps that glowed like morbid fireflies on the periphery of the cemetery.

At first he could only make out shapes, curved patches in the night that weren’t quite as black as the rest. They looked like gray, teeth, all of those tombstones, each one etched with decay, staring at him, cold monoliths of stone molded into an army of the dead.

Finally his eyes fell back upon the one he was looking for. Its gruesome shape beckoned him, and he mindlessly pushed past the creaky green gate and threaded his way through the other grave-markers until he was standing before it. His father’s final resting place.

Bent took a step back and studied the grave-site. All of those eyes, black in the scarce light, stared at him, and those words, so familiar and yet twisted, wound their way through his mind. The macabre stone was offset by a fountain of flowers and American flags that rested at its feet that somehow made the whole setting seem more eerie not less.

To the rest of the inhabitants of the island, Bent knew, this whole thing was probably just one last joke, a dark punchline from a man who, despite his apparent greatness, had a strange sense of humor. But Bent knew better. This was only a small piece.

Bent braced himself against another tombstone and slid down its back face until he was sitting on the ground and resting against it. A small part at the back of his mind noted that he had probably just ruined a thousand dollar pair of pants, while another part of his mind noted that tomorrow morning, he could buy a new pair. Hell, once the sun came up, he could fill his entire closet with bespoke tailored suits if he liked.

He reached into the bag and let his fingers curl around the smooth glass neck of a bottle. The paper bag fell away like dead foliage as he cradled the bottle of Macallan in his lap and grinned. This, he knew, was just a taste of the life that waited for him.

Just as Bent was about to work off the cap, he paused and looked at the offensive tombstone before him. Mock mortification filled Bent’s features as he looked at his father’s name etched in stone. “That’s right. You don’t approve do you?” The melodramatic expression on his face drained, replaced with spiteful glee as he added, “Yeah, well I’d like to see you do something about it now old man.”

He opened the bottle and took a long, slow sip from it, letting the fire like gold slip over his tongue and down his throat. “To you, dad. It was a hell of a ceremony.”


If nothing else, it was a hell of a day for a funeral. Clouds stretched across the sky in lazy grays and whites, while a sharp breeze wound its way through black pant legs and rustling leaves.

A large number of mourners showed up, Timothy Hill III being a local celebrity and all. Bent recognized more than a few of them, though, to be fair, most of them looked the same to him. Most of them looked out-of-place in their cheap black suits, each pairing of coat and slacks struggling to contain the knotted muscles and leathery skin of fishermen and boat guides. Men squinted beneath their unruly mops of wiry gray hair, and women with skin like the melted wax of a dying candle sniffed and shuffled in old-fashioned dresses.

Bent wore the same suit he would later ruin by sitting in the damp grass of the cemetery as he sipped expensive scotch. That, and the sunglasses—don’t forget the sunglasses.

He could never manage to squeeze out a tear for the old man, but he could wear sunglasses and pretend to wipe away an imaginary tear for the sake of the townsfolk. He only had one more day to go, so he might as well sell it.

“I am the resurrection and the life, sayeth the Lord…”

The funeral was, as it turned out, harder to endure than Bent anticipated. Not because he had all of a sudden found a nugget of emotion for the bastard. Oh no. The difficulty came from trying not to laugh at the reactions from the other attendees.

Many gasped when they first caught sight of the tombstone as hushed whispers skittered throughout the crowd like spiders. Others stared quizzically back and forth between the strange epitaph and the front page of the embossed programs clenched in their liver-spotted hands, at the bottom of which was inscribed, “Per the wishes of the deceased, we thank all attendees to not read the epitaph out loud.”

Bent had to stifle a smile as he heard things like, “scandal,” and “what is that even supposed to mean?” whispered behind cupped hands. If only they knew the whole story.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…”

Bent spent much of the funeral wondering what the people would say if they knew everything else he had to do to protect his inheritance. He wanted to fight it, to be sure. He had even hired an outside lawyer to see if all of the provisions in his father’s will were legal.

To his dismay, they were.

In retrospect, Bent was glad at least for the tombstone. It made for some entertainment on what would have otherwise been a boring, annoying day.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

Pastor Simmons presided over the funeral with the same voice he used to put people to sleep every Sunday. Bent hadn’t attended one of his sermons since childhood, but he could never forget those early mornings, his ass aching from the hard wooden pews, and the sonorous drone coaxing his eyes to droop shut.

There was even a moment when he thought the ancient cleric might put him to sleep again all these years later. But Bent persevered.

Once he had tuned the pastor out, in fact, he was able to let his mind drift to other more important things. For a while he entertained himself with what he was going to do with all of his money, but that couldn’t cover up a darker thought that had been nagging at him all day long.

The list.

“He restoreth my soul…”

That was the real last punchline. The tombstone was part of it, to be sure, but only a part. There was the vial of blood that had to be hung from his father’s neck, and a sprig of rosemary for his left hand. He was not to be embalmed, per his will, nor were any organs to be removed under any circumstances.

This list of burial requests was so strange that Bent had taken to carrying the will around with him as he made arrangements. There was the folded linen napkin, and the ivory bracelet, and of course the tombstone.

Compared to all of that, the pack of cigarettes and matchbook placed in his breast pocket were downright quaint.

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life…”

Bent delivered the eulogy. He had only written a paragraph and a half at which point he had planned to fake being far too overwhelmed by emotion to carry on. He was proud of his performance, going so far as to think maybe he had a shot at Hollywood.

And why not? He was still young and good-looking. He could easily sell off the family estate and move out to somewhere in Beverly Hills. His name might not mean a thing in California, but money talks everywhere, and he bet it wouldn’t be a thing to get in the right parties.

The possibilities opened themselves up to him, as long as he could make it through this last day.

Meanwhile Simmons had navigated the funeral like an expert, taking the host of mourners from one prayer to the next.

“To ashes from…” Simmons had said, his eyes affixed to the tombstone, before everything fell silent. The crowd in attendance sucked in a collective breath while every muscle in Bent’s body tensed. Don’t you dare ruin this for me old man, he thought. All of the work Bent went through, all of the acting, all of the waiting, all of it would be for nothing because some doddering old minister couldn’t follow simple instructions.

Bent’s eyes flickered over to Mr. Prescott, his dad’s lawyer, and he saw an entirely different future. In this future, the Hill estate would be donated, cut up and shared amongst the volunteer fire department and some charity for ponies. In this future, Bent wasn’t partying with Hollywood socialites, or cruising around in luxury cars.

In this future, Bent loses everything.

“Excuse me,” Simmons coughed. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”


“The old bastard almost had me, didn’t he, dad?” Bent chuckled before taking another swig of scotch. “And I bet you were rooting for him, weren’t you?”

Bent shook his head. The tombstone stared back at him silently.

“You’re an asshole,” Bent said with a sense of finality. “Sometimes I think you liked it. Like how they worshiped you. That’s why you never left the island. Out there, you would’ve been just another businessman, some nameless old fuck in a suit with more money than he knows what to do with. But here, you were a god.”

He pointed at the tombstone. “I mean look at that!” he said in a voice somewhere between a whine and a guffaw. “Thirteen skulls on a tombstone and no one says a word.”

Bent took another drink and stared at the tombstone again. There, all around the edge of the tombstone, were thirteen skulls carved from stone. Each one was positioned as though it were taking a bite out of the marker, making it look less like a tombstone and more like some ancient shrine to a dark and terrible god.


The thirteenth skull at the very top of the tombstone, larger than the rest, glowered at Bent with its wicked black empty eye sockets.

“And what the hell are those words even supposed to mean? ‘To ashes from ashes, To dust from dust?’” Bent could feel the buzz from the scotch spread through his brain as he shook his head more violently, giving the tombstone the kind of smile a parent may give to a bemused child.

“You know what, dad? The money? It’s almost not enough to make up having you for a father.” More molten gold slid down Bent’s tongue before he climbed back up to his feet and pointed at the grave with a wavering finger.

“But I did it. I did everything you asked, didn’t I? You can’t say I didn’t, because… well… ha-ha, you can’t say anything because you’re dead. But still, even if you weren’t dead, which you are, you still couldn’t say I failed you this time because I followed the instructions to a… to a T!”

Bent braced himself on an anonymous tombstone. This, he decided, was some really good booze. He would have to make sure to stock his bar with lots of it when he got to Hollywood.

“Oh, but there was one more rule, wasn’t there, dad?” Bent said. “No alcohol. Isn’t that right? ‘Cause my dad, the great Timothy Hill III is far too great a man to be brought down by the booze, isn’t he?”

By now, Bent was swaying gently from side to side. Yet, no matter how much he moved, those skulls always seemed to stare at him, like those trick paintings where the eyes follow you down the hall. Somewhere under the haze of alcohol, Bent could feel something dark and dangerous in the hollow voids that glared at him. But the scotch was running the show now.

“Oh well,” he said. “Looks like I screwed another one up, eh dad? Like you always say, I’m not perfect… just one big, spoiled disappointment. Right?”

One foot lurched in front of the other, carrying Bent closer to the tombstone, to those slightly twisted words, to the skulls. He rested a hand on the center skull and patted it with false affection. “But it’s okay, dad. ‘Cause you’re dead, and tomorrow. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Bent laughed wildly at this, the bottle in his hand glugged with the effort, sounding like a deep, dark guffaw. “That’s right, father dearest. You’re dead, and I’m off to go put your money to some good use. But hey, I can be a good sport. Just like you always taught me right? Hell I’ll even share. Drink up, dad!”

Bracing himself on one of the smaller skulls with one hand, Bent took the bottle of scotch and upended it onto the center skull. One of the closer street lamps caught the flow of the liquid as it splattered off of the stone skull, sending out shards of reddish light that died in the darkness.

Bent laughed. He laughed as the booze drenched the skulls and fell over the face of the tombstone in a dark curtain. He laughed as thick tendrils of scotch, black in the shadow of the marker, stretched and reached for the freshly lain sod and the grave dirt underneath. He laughed even after the bottle was emptied, leaving only the bottle wavering in his hand.

“Drink up, dad,” Bent snorted. “Drink up and rot in Hell.”

Laughter died. All of a sudden, the whole scene didn’t seem all that funny to him anymore, instead feeling as empty as the bottle that dangled from his hand. Bent sniffed, and turned to walk away.

He only made it past the second row of graves before a strange sound stopped Bent fast. It was a soft sound, so soft he wasn’t even sure he heard it correctly. It could have been the sound of his foot against the soft loam of the graveyard, or the beating of a heart.

With his eyes closed, Bent focused his scotch addled mind on the sounds that surrounded him, carried by the night breeze.


He started walking back to the car once more when he heard that sound again, this time louder and sharper. Bent’s eyes scanned all around, looking for someone in the glow of a porch-light out for a smoke, or the yellow-green glow of the eyes of some small animal out foraging for food.

But the noise came again, a hard thump. The buzz quickly evaporated as Bent tried to home in on the source. Alarm bells were going off in his head like Klaxons even as his rational self refused to accept from where the thumps were coming.

They came louder now, faster, more insistent, and Bent’s feet drew him toward them, back through the garden of tooth-like grave-markers, back to the thirteen skulls biting into stone. And then there was a crack.

Bent flinched and felt his knees go wobbly as more sounds, different sounds emanated not from the tombstone, but from the ground beneath.

By the time Bent saw the ground actually move before him, he was dead sober, and quickly losing his sanity. There was just enough of his rational self left when the hands burst through the sod, pulling it apart with a terrible ripping noise, to know what he was seeing.

A shadow pulled itself out of the earth, clutching the grass with its black claw like hands until it spilled out in its entirety, sprawling onto the ground just a few feet from Bent.

His knees gave out and Bent fell on his ass. He tried to scream, but what came out of his mouth was more like a strained squeak, his hands scrabbling against the cemetery grass, his legs kicking futilely as though trying to run before he was even upright.

But when the thing that had oozed from the earth pulled itself to its feet, all of Bent’s will to move, to scream, to run, died. It wasn’t a shadow; it was his father.

Clumps of soil clung to the man’s scalp, and the faint glow of the distant lights gave him a ghastly, pale hue, but it was definitely Timothy Hill III. “Well, son, I gotta hand it to you. When I needed you most, you finally came through.”

“Wha…Wh…” Bent stammered, causing the older man to cackle a hoarse, gravelly laugh.

“Relax, Bent. I’m not,” and here the old man chuckled again, “some sort of movie zombie. Lord, no. Though I must say, zombies are grossly misunderstood. The mindless slouching about? That’s all Hollywood hooey. Now, the brain eating, we’ll have to come back to that one later. But it don’t matter. I’m not a zombie, son. I’m resurrected.”

Bent blinked dumbly.

“And I got you to thank for it.” The reborn corpse smiled at his son, his teeth brown and gray, rounded and crooked like the tombstones that surrounded the pair. “You didn’t know, of course. But then with your lazy ass, I didn’t expect you to care much beyond doin’ whatever you had to do to get my money!”

The man crouched down right in front of Bent with that graveyard grin still on his face. This close, Bent could see his eyes, bleached with the haze of cataracts, but still staring at him as though they weren’t there. What was worse, he could smell the thing, the sour-sweet, putrid stench of death pouring off of him. It made Bent want to vomit.

“Had to use a little reverse psychology on a couple of things though, didn’t I? The vial of blood, the napkin, the ivory, I knew you would do. The tombstone, Hell, Prescott would have that money out from under you so fast you’d bust your ass on the ground if the tombstone wasn’t right. But the phrase, that was tricky. Couldn’t have anyone saying it too soon, but I knew if I forbade you, you’d wait until no one was around.” The corpse clapped its hands right in front of Bent’s face and laughed.

Bent felt something hot and wet spread out over his legs and realized with hardly a glimmer of embarrassment that it was his own urine.

Timothy looked down at the steam rising up from the piss in the night and chuckled. “Look at the little piss boy,” he sang.

The old man leaped back onto his feet and stepped away. “Bent, Bent, Bent. I knew I could count on you. I knew I could count on you to be a greedy little shit. Just like I knew I could count on you to disobey me when you could, to come out here and say my words when no one was listening, and drink your booze when no one was watching. And here we are. I was worried for a little bit, but after all this time, you came through.”

The old man fished for something in his breast pocket, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “These weren’t part of the ritual, just figured I could use a smoke after a few days on my back. Not like they’re gonna kill me now, right?” he chortled before putting a cigarette between his lips and lighting it. The flame illuminated his face a glowing red, each line and wrinkle etched in flickering darkness. That face was a nightmare mask, grinning, and breathing smoke.

“The ritual,” the old man nodded as blue smoke faded into the night. “We’re a little too far north for voodoo to be easily accessible, but after a while I managed to throw a few things together. What you did after my untimely demise was a kind of patchwork—a little voodoo here, some witchcraft there.”

“See, I knew I couldn’t leave the family legacy up to you. Probably fuck your brains out and overdose in some whore’s arms before the year was out. So I had to come up with another option, don’t you see? And here we are.”

Bent nodded as though he was listening and agreeing to everything his father was saying. Meanwhile, his fingers had found the smooth, cool weight of the bottle, and he was trying the best he could to wrap his fingers around the neck without his dad realizing it.

“Stupid and greedy, that’s my son. You weren’t worth a shit when I was alive, but I realized you could finally do something good once I had passed on,” the corpse nodded. “Oh, what do you have here?”

The man stalked towards Bent, his foggy eyes affixed to Bent’s hand. “I told you, boy, the bottle will do you no good, but did you ever listen?”

One big shoe lifted itself up and stepped down on the hand holding the bottle. Bent looked up at his father’s face, milky green eyes and tombstones curled into a crescent moon smile. He felt the shoe press harder, just as he felt the glass shatter from the force, the shards tearing through his flesh and slicing their way deeper into his fist. That smile continued to grin at him as Bent felt his fingers snap like twigs.

This time Bent screamed. Even when his father raised his foot again, Bent could do little more than hold his mangled hand and whimper.

“Still a little crying piss-boy, ain’t ya?” the old man said before flicking the cigarette off into the night. “Lord knows I tried. But maybe this is for the best.”

The corpse crouched down again, this time his face only inches from Bent’s. Bent could feel his father’s breath, hot and toxic as it smothered him.

“You see, Bent, originally I was going to give you a pass. Maybe even give you one last chance to redeem yourself, one last chance at becoming a true Hill like this island deserves. But you know, it’s the damnedest thing. Being dead makes you very, very hungry.”


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The Boo Hag Woman: Song Inspired by Georgia Witch Story The Boo Hag


Song based on Georgia witch story “The Boo Hag” about a man who suspects his beautiful new bride might be a witch. Song written and performed by Frank Whitaker. Original story written by Veronica Byrd with Craig Dominey.

Way out past the salt marsh, by a creek that leads to sea;
There is a spooky four-room shack beneath a twisted live oak tree.
A strange young lady lived there with a man she’d met in town.
Her perfect skin, it lured him in, but after ‘while he found;
That she was creepin’ out at night;
And she was slippin’ out of sight;
And she hardly ever acted right at all.


He thought she might be cheatin’ on him, but his friend said, “Son;
You done married yo’self a Boo Hag, and she’s slippin’ out for fun.”
“Boo Hags shed their skins at night, like evil spirit crones.
They suck the air from young men’s lungs;
And try to crush their bones.
She may look good by the light of day;
But at night, she’ll never stay;
And if a man can’t slip away, she’ll ride his back until he falls;”
And I said . . .

Boo Hag Woman, get on back – I don’t believe the things you say!
You can’t spook me with your sweet-talk, Girl —
I’ve got to live to see another day.
It is a sin to shed your skin.
You gon’ get got, I guarantee –
Boo Hag Woman, get on back from me.


Now, to get rid of a Boo Hag, there is just one thing to do –
If she can’t get back in her skin, then her Boo Hag days are through.
So late one night, when she went away, he searched around the shack.
Her slimy skin was hangin’ in a closet in the back.
He took the salt and the pepper down;
And he shook it all around;
Inside that skin that he had found, ’till he was done.

She came back ‘fore the morning, when the sun was ’bout to crest; And she said, “I am a Boo Hag, and Lord knows, I needs my rest.”
But when she slipped back in her skin, and gathered it around;
That skin, it started smokin’, and it made a bubblin’ sound.
And then that lyin’ witch;
She started jumpin’ from the itch.
He saw her body start to twitch and melt there, in the risin’ sun;
And I said . . .


He boiled her Boo Hag body in a barrel full of tar;
And poured himself a brand new roof, that hasn’t leaked so far.
And now, he lives there all alone, beside that crooked stream.
That Boo Hag taught a lesson, ’cause she was not what she seemed.
If there’s a pretty girl you know;
Then you’d better take it slow;
‘Cause there’s no tellin’ where she’ll go;
When she slips-out at night;
And I said . . .


. . . I don’t want no old Boo Hag attack, I said;
Boo Hag Woman, get on back from me.


Are You Roger? Georgia Halloween Horror Story


Georgia bullies terrorize the wrong trick-or-treater in this Halloween horror story from Harris Tobias.

I hear them upstairs. Bands of costumed kids coming to the door for handouts. “Trick or treat,” they yell in chorus and thrust out their bags for filling. Each kid dressed as something outlandish, something not real. In fact, the more unreal the better the people like it. I wonder what they’d think if they saw me. It makes me laugh to think how they’d react if they knew that I wasn’t wearing a costume. No, no costume, this is how I look. Like some special effects monster from a grade B movie. Halloween is the only night of the year I can go out in my Atlanta neighborhood and be with other kids without frightening them to death.

It’s getting dark. Soon mother will come down and unlock my cage and let me out. I can go outside and pretend I’m a normal kid instead of a horror movie freak. The joke in all this trick or treat nonsense is that I don’t even like candy. I still have the bag I collected last year. Oh well you can’t expect them to hand out raw steaks now can you?

Well, the candy is besides the point. It’s being outside with real kids for a few precious hours. It’s all I have to look forward to. They always want to know where I got my costume and ask me to take off my mask. They wonder if they know me. I tell them my mother made my costume which I guess is more or less the truth. They’ll say things like, “I remember you from last year.” or “Are you from around here? Are you Roger?” Sometimes I say no, sometimes yes. It all depends on how I feel.

I hear mother coming to unlock my cage. She keeps me locked up for my own protection. She says the state would take me away for medical testing if they knew about me. I wouldn’t want that to happen so I live in the basement. It’s not really so bad. I have a TV and books to read. Mom home-schools me. I have crayons and paints. I’m a good drawer. I’d like to be an artist.

Mother puts a cape around my shoulders. “To keep off the chill,” she says. The cape really completes my costume. I look like a werewolf trying to be a vampire. Well at least the fangs are real. I might look like a wolf but I’m a normal kid. At least that’s what Mom keeps telling me. I’m a normal kid that just happens to look like everyone’s idea of a Hollywood werewolf. It’s not my fault. I don’t thirst for blood or anything like that although lately the idea doesn’t seem quite as yucky as it used to.

Mother gives me a pat on the rear and sees me to the door. “Have fun,” she calls after me and then adds, “Be careful.” She worries about me. I join a bunch of goblins, ghosts and comic book superheroes and I’m off on my one night of freedom.

The other kids are curious about me. Some of them ask what school I go to or what grade I’m in. I don’t answer. After a while they leave me alone and we go from door to door. Things are fun until we run into some big kids who are working our street. The big kids aren’t even wearing costumes. They push us aside and take our candy. I hold on to mine. This annoys one of the bullies and he calls his friends over. “Mr. Dog Face here doesn’t want to share his loot,” he says to the others. Three big kids surround me and block my escape.

“I remember you from last year,” one of them says. “You wore that same stupid costume. What’s the matter, you can’t afford another costume?” Then they all start pushing me around. I drop my candy and run but they chase me into a vacant lot and one of them tackles me and knocks me to the ground. They’re all older and bigger than me. I’m scared but I’m angry too. I just want to be left alone. To be a normal kid for a couple of hours. But the bullies don’t let up.

“We want to see who you are,” one of them says. Two of them hold my arms while the biggest and fattest sits on my chest. He starts pulling at my face as if it was a mask. How I wish it was a mask but of course it isn’t. All he gets is a handful of fur for all his pulling. It hurts and I snap and growl. I bite his hand and he really gets mad. “Why you little freak! I’ll show you!” And he starts slapping me around and the two holding my arms join him in punching me. They hurt me. I taste blood but I don’t know whose. I’m thrashing and snapping with all my might but there are too many of them.


“Hold him down, boys. I think we caught us a real werewolf. Hold him while I look for something to kill it with. Any of you know how to kill a werewolf?”

They try to remember what they know about werewolves. Whether it’s wooden stakes or silver bullets. One of them is pretty sure it’s fire. By now I’m really frightened. I feel like crying but I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. I’m angry too. Angrier than I’ve ever been. What right do these kids have to torment me? I never did anything to them.

The ringleader is looking around for a weapon. The two holding me down are saying how they can’t let me grow up to kill innocent people. “You got to kill werewolves and vampires. It’s the law.”

The third bully comes back holding a big rock with both arms. I can see it’s heavy as he’s straining to lift it to his chest. I wish I was back in my cage. I want my mother to protect me. I look at the sky. The last thing I’ll ever see. The moon comes out from behind the clouds. It’s nearly full. It fills me with a funny feeling. I feel a surge of exaltation. I am suddenly very strong. I lift my voice in a glorious howl and the three bullies freeze, their bravado drains away. I have no trouble getting to my feet. Their weight is like so much paper to me now. Now it is their turn to be afraid. I look them in the eye and a deep growl rumbles in my throat. They turn to run but it is too late.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think I might have really hurt those kids. I don’t remember. When I got home, there was blood all over my face and hands. Mother washed off the blood. She kept asking me what happened but I didn’t know. She locked me in the basement. I can hear her crying upstairs. I’m afraid I did a bad thing to those kids. I’m afraid I might do it again. I’m afraid of what I might be. I can’t wait for next Halloween.


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