I Told You So

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Creepy South Carolina story of a single father trying to keep his young daughter away from a spooky construction project up the road. Written by K.E. Moore.

It was about a year ago when I moved my daughter and myself out of Charleston and into Goose Creek, partly to get away from big city life, and partly to put the… business about her mother behind us. Between the crime, busy streets, and bad memories, I felt we could trade up the concrete and street lights for tall grass and trees adorned with Spanish moss. My boss, understanding the tragedy our family had suffered, promised to work with me, allowing me to telecommute as long as I didn’t stray too far from the home office.

I found a house that backed right up against the Goose Creek reservoir, far enough away from the naval base to grant us the tranquility we were looking for. It was a gorgeous two-story house made to look like one of those old plantation houses, though admittedly a little more modest in size.

But the three bedrooms were enough for Chelsea and me. I got the master bedroom, and converted the smallest into my office, and Chelsea, well, she just loved her room being as it was twice as big as her old room with hard wood floors and a window looking out over the reservoir.

We spent a whole day in old clothes painting her room pink. I’m not sure if we got more paint on ourselves or the walls for all the horsing around we did. It didn’t matter. It seemed like the first time either of us really laughed in a long while. I can still hear her giggles echoing through the house.

There, surrounded by the steamy summer humidity and the dizzy paint fumes, we were happy, the two of us. Goose Creek seemed like the new beginning we both needed after her mother passed on.

Well, the summer came and went, as summers do in the South—hot, and muggy. When a breeze came off the reservoir, it would be something of a relief, but summer in South Carolina was summer in South Carolina which means lots of shade, iced tea, and showers just to keep the film of perspiration at bay.

Chattahoochee River at Dusk, Georgia

School came, riding on the winds of autumn. Chelsea was nervous of course, and even started to cry a little on the first day of school. After losing one parent, I knew she didn’t want to let go of me, but it only took her a week or so before she was coming home every day with a big bright smile on her cherubic face. A smaller school meant fewer bullies, and, it seemed, more kids eager to make a new friend.

Before we knew it, we had slipped straight through a mild winter and were staring down another summer. A whole year had passed and we had carved out a simple, pleasant life for ourselves.

I was excited to have my little girl around the house during the day, but there was one huge obstacle: work.

When most people hear telecommuting, they think it’s all waking up when you want to, doing your work at your own pace, and, only putting on proper clothes if you really feel like it. The reality of telecommuting, at least for my employer, was not so grand, and working from home still meant full work days, client calls at all hours of the day, and being checked on by the boss on a regular basis via webcam.

This, however, was another benefit to Goose Creek. I felt comfortable letting Chelsea go out and explore or ride her bike, or walk to a friend’s house. I made a point of making sure she stopped back at the house for lunch every day, and we had a long discussion about how far she was allowed to roam, and that she wasn’t to play near the reservoir while I was working. Chelsea didn’t fuss one bit; this was the most freedom she had had in her life.

And so it came to be that one day in mid June that my little girl walked in the house at half past eleven. Her pink t-shirt and shorts were cleaner than normal and her auburn pony tail wasn’t half as frazzled as it was on most summer days. She met me in the kitchen with a quizzical look on her face. She climbed up onto one of the stools by a big window facing the street and asked, “Daddy? What are they doing at the end of the street?”

I turned to look and frowned. “I don’t know, Chel-bear. What does it look like they are doing?”

Chelsea shrugged as she pulled her plate close. I had made tuna sandwiches and iced tea, and she had taken a big bite and was still chewing when she said, “Dumfkno. Lookth like diggin or somefin’.”

“Manners,” I said in that stern way that comes as second nature to parents.

She swallowed her bite and repeated herself, more clearly. “Looks like they are digging, but I don’t know why.”

It was my turn to shrug. “Probably just road work or something,” I said before biting into my own sandwich.

“Can I check it out after lunch?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Chel-bear. Could be dangerous.”

“I’ll be careful, Daddy, promise.”

She had put on her big-eyed expression, the one that is supposed to melt a father in place, and one that I had fought hard to build up a resistance against. At the same time I remembered when I was her age, and how I probably wouldn’t have even bothered asking my parents. When I thought back to the trouble I would get into I wondered how it was I ever made it to adulthood.

Finally, I relented, but only a little. “You can ask the men – if there are any that aren’t too busy. But that’s it, understand? You aren’t to cross any boundaries or touch anything. We got a deal?”

Chelsea looked at me at first like she was going to try to haggle with me on the terms; she did that sometimes. She thought better of it and with her big bright smile nodded and said, “Deal!”

We finished our sandwiches and tea, and Chelsea hurriedly washed up before dashing out of the house, the screen door banging loudly in her wake. I carried myself back to my office, checked in with my boss, and forgot all about the road work Chelsea had brought up at lunch.

It wasn’t until Chelsea brought it back up later on in the evening as I threw some burgers on the grill for dinner. “There wasn’t nobody there when I went to go look, Daddy,” she said, pouting a little.

“Anybody,” I corrected her. She scowled that scowl that said I knew what she meant. It was her mother’s scowl.

Ignoring it, I told her she could try again in the morning after breakfast, and that combined with the burgers topped with lots of ketchup seemed to satisfy her.

I suppose I half expected her to forget about the whole thing. Maybe I didn’t expect anything at all. It just wasn’t something that was registering on my radar until the morning came and Chelsea could hardly wait to rush out and see what was going on down the road. She was half out the door when I had to call her back to remind her to brush her teeth, and after a perfunctory scrubbing she gave me a half-hearted hug and bolted.

Strange, I thought, and I found myself following her footsteps out to the edge of my front lawn if only to get a better look at what had captivated her so. I looked down the road in the same direction Chelsea was jogging, and saw nothing more than a pile of rubble heaped up on the side of the road. There weren’t any road signs or rope, just a mound of black and gray rocks. It seemed harmless enough, but at the same time I felt a sense of apprehension creep up through my gut and latch onto my spine.

“You be careful and remember what I told you, Chel-bear!” I hollered after her. She looked back over her shoulder and smiled at me, her hand giving me the thumbs-up, before returning her attention to the rubble pile.

I shook my head and made my way back inside. I had a web meeting with some new clients I had to prepare for.

When I got back to my office, I discovered that I could actually see just a sliver of the rubble pile from my office window. I couldn’t afford to pay it any mind what with my meeting, but when I logged off of the group video chat, I grabbed a cup of coffee and found myself staring at the heap.

Chelsea was nowhere to be seen, probably off to go visit one of her friends no doubt, the allure of the rocks already worn off. But it was odd. If it was road work, there should have been some orange somewhere, a sign or something. And there should have been workers too, with day-glo vests and hard hats.

But there was no one there.

I was about to put together a report for my boss on the meeting when movement from the rubble stopped me hard, fear swiftly shooting down my throat and forming a solid, heavy, pit in my stomach. There was someone there working after all, but it was all wrong.

It’s a pretty long street, so I couldn’t be sure exactly of what I was seeing. But day-glo is pretty unmistakable, and this guy wasn’t wearing any at all. In fact, it looked like his tall, gaunt frame was dressed in black from head to toe, long sleeves and all. That bit I found odd—who would dress like that in this heat?

Odder still was his hat. He looked like he was wearing one of those old stove-pipe hats like Abe Lincoln wore. I didn’t even know they made those anymore outside maybe costume shops and elementary school classrooms. But there he was in all black with a stove-pipe hat and a shovel slung over his shoulder.

That’s what I thought I saw anyway, right before the curious figure disappeared behind the pile. I was in the middle of debating with myself on whether I saw what I thought I saw when a chime from my computer informed me that my boss needed to chat with me. The noise startled me so much that I spilled coffee all over a stack of my reports, ultimately pushing the image of the dark stranger out of my mind so I could focus on the newly burgeoning coffee crisis along with the numbers and contractual obligations and everything else that came up in the meeting.

At lunch, Chelsea informed me that, again, to her disappointment, she didn’t find any men working at the site. But she did have something new to share. “Daddy, there’s something strange about those rocks.”

“What’s that Chel-bear?”

“Well, I don’t think they’re rocks at all.”

“Why’s that?”

“They’re all smooth and shiny. I’ve never seen any rocks in the wild as smooth and shiny as that,” she said, putting on her facial expression that declared to the world that she was an expert on the subject of the smoothness of natural rocks.

I frowned. “You didn’t go messing about in that pile, did you Chel-bear?”

“Of course not, Daddy. I was just looking. And when no one turned up, I went on over to Teresa’s. Her daddy just put up a tire swing!”

For a moment I contemplated telling her about the man in the black clothes and stove-pipe hat, but then thought better of it. I didn’t know what was going on down the street but I figured the less curiosity I could encourage about the subject, the better.

There was no more thought or discussion of the rubble at the end of the street until that evening. It was too hot to cook, so I made a quick salad and cut up some left over chicken for dinner and the two of us were eating on the back patio when Chelsea said, “Whatever they’re doing, they’re definitely digging.”

“Oh?”

“Mmhm. There’s a big old ditch just on the other side of the pile,” Chelsea said.

“Did you ever find someone to tell you what it’s all about?” I asked.

Chelsea shook her head, clearly frustrated. “No. But I aim to find out,” she declared.

I think now, if it weren’t for the new client and all the extra hoops my boss was making me jump through to make the new contract work, I would have put an end to things then and there. But as it was, I had to spend the evening running numbers as Chelsea watched TV, and the rubble pile was, yet again, pushed aside.

I didn’t even think about it again until a few days later at lunch when Chelsea announced, “Daddy, I think those rocks are broken up tombstones.”

“Now what in the world would make you say a thing like that?” I said as my fork hovered between my plate and my mouth.

“Well, like I said, they’re all smooth and shiny, and I think I saw some writing on some of them.”

“I think one little girl’s imagination is running away with her, is what I think,” I said pointedly.

Chelsea responded with her patented scowl.

I was about to forbid her from looking into the pile any further, but I again remembered my youth, and realized that sometimes the quickest and surest way to make sure a kid does a thing is to forbid her to do it. So I let the subject drop.

We went back to our normal routine. Chelsea running out the front door, me slogging back to my office. Again, I spared the heap of rocks another look. The ditch, the man in black, Chelsea’s assertion that they were crumbled up tombstones, it all just kind of balled itself up into one tiny knot of unease in my stomach, but then I stared at the mound and thought, Hell, it’s just some rocks. Maybe the neighbor is digging them up to lay a new driveway. There were a ton of completely rational explanations, none of which were the least bit worth being scared of.

And that was all I thought about that until Chelsea came back home for supper with a big gray black hunk of something in her hand. She thrust it into my hand as I looked on, dumbfounded, and with a triumphant air, she put her hands on her hips and said, “I told you so.”

I looked down at the hard, heavy, mass in my hand. It was indeed smooth and polished on several of its sides, rough and irregular on others, and it was mottled gray and black, kind of like those fancy counter tops you sometimes see in newer kitchens. And there, on one of the smooth, glossy faces, was a carved upper-case T.

“For one, Chel-bear, this doesn’t prove a thing. This could’ve come from a statue or a plaque, or a sign or anything. Just because someone carved some letters into a rock don’t make it a tombstone,” I explained. “For another, I thought I said you weren’t to be messing around with that pile? I made myself very clear; you were allowed to ask whoever was working what they were doing, and that was it!”

I didn’t yell at Chelsea often; she rarely ever needed it. But when I did yell at her, she always looked so wounded—so hurt. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said in a small voice, and I… well, hell, I just gave her a hug and sent her to go wash up for supper.

I hoped the whole episode was over. I wanted it to be over. But when Chelsea came in for lunch the next day, any thoughts that the mystery of the rubble pile was a thing of the past were completely ruined.

“Daddy, that work. It has to do with dead people, I’m sure of it.”

Caught somewhere between inhaling my soup and spitting it back out, I ended up in a violent coughing fit that only made my temper worse. “Damn it Chelsea! I thought I made myself clear! Now this has gone on long enough, do you understand? No MORE!”

“But..”

“No buts! You seem to have forgotten, young lady, that I am your FATHER! Is that clear?”

Her eyes wobbled in a pool of fledgling tears. Normally, that would have been enough to get me to at least calm down, but there was something about this whole business that just… I don’t even know how to explain it. What I do know was that by now I was yelling, “IS THAT CLEAR?”

She didn’t answer as tears spilled down her round cheeks and her lips quivered. Chelsea opened her mouth, almost as if to speak, but then, a glint of defiance shone through the tears and in a flash she pushed away from the table. There was a single searing moment where contempt flashed in her eyes towards me, and then I was watching as she ran out the house.

I was about to chase her down when my phone rang. I considered ignoring it, but if I ignored even one call from my boss, I could lose the telecommute privileges. Hissing curses under my breath I checked the phone and answered it.

I should have gone after her. I know that now. But next thing I knew, I was chained to my computer, hunting down all the technicalities my boss needed to make this new contract work.

The time for Chelsea to come home had come and gone. I was already worried when she stormed out of the house, but when the sun had started to get bloated and red and she still wasn’t home, I felt myself on the verge of panic.

Outside, the shadows began to stretch and deepen, and the rock pile down the road took on a strange, dark, mysterious quality. Unsure what to do, and knowing I couldn’t call the police when she had only been gone for a few hours, I started looking through the list of moms in my address book.

I bit back the worry in my voice as I called one after another, trying not to let the fear show even as I asked if they had seen my daughter. Each call ended up being a different variation of the same theme. No, sorry. Chelsea hasn’t been here today. Is something wrong?

I was about to call the fifth mom when I heard the back door swing open and slam back shut.

“Oh, thank God,” I breathed, not even bothering to hang the phone back on its cradle. “Chel-bear, honey, I’m so glad you’re…”

The words died in my throat, my muscles locking up as I turned the corner and stepped into the kitchen.

Pure, soul shattering, terror poured over me as I stared at the thing in my kitchen. It was a man, or at least once was a man, though how long ago was impossible to say. Where there should have been skin and eyes, there was now only bone, caked in black soil, eye sockets empty as they stared blankly back at me.

His clothes were once fine, a black tuxedo, maybe, or at least a good suit. But the shirt had been torn to shreds, revealing his ribcage, mottled gray with rot and earth. Underneath, I could make out shriveled, blackened organs, turned hard and formless with time, held in place by clumps of fetid soil.

One hand clutched a stove-pipe hat, almost as though this thing was too polite to wear it indoors. His other hand rested on the shoulder of my baby girl.

Chelsea. Her skin was ashen, her hair, limp, and her eyes empty, almost as though they had been as hollow as those of the corpse beside her. That dead, empty gaze turned up to me, and in a small voice I could only just recognize as belonging to my daughter, she said, “I told you so.”

-THE END-

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Open Season in Gun Town

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Texas creature story of a group of hunters running into an unexpected monster during a deer hunt. Written by Mark Sims.

“It’s gonna be day break by the time we get there if you don’t stop driving like an old lady,” said Vaughn as the Chevy 4X4 made its way through the thick brush that had overgrown the old dirt trail. “I hope you don’t plan on getting any deer today, takin’ your own sweet time like this. You come from Pasadena boy? Cuz you sure are drivin’ like that little old lady in that Beatle song.” He turned toward the passenger window and spit out a long sticky stream of tobacco juice, and then he started to sing, “He was a white trash sissy from Pasadena, go sissy, go sissy, go sissy go!”

Ray took a swing at him with his right arm from behind the wheel as Vaughn twisted away enough to cushion the impact. Stevie, who sat between the two of them, caught most of the impact on his chest by way of Ray’s elbow. “Knock it off, y’all!” Stevie cried. “I’ll beat the tar outta both of you if you don’t quit this crap right now. You ain’t stopped since we left the farm, you freakin’ morons. Anyway, Einstien, the Beatles didn’t sing that song! It were somebody else.”

“Who?” Asked Vaughn.

“I don’t know who it were, but I do know it weren’t no Beatles.” He answered.

“Yeah Vaughn,” Ray added, “You don’t know nothin’, so why don’t you just shut up.”

Thick mesquite branches swiped at the truck as they passed through like the big cloth wheels in an automated car wash. Some branches reached in through the passenger window and knocked Vaughn’s camouflage hat off. He caught it before it reached his lap and he put it back on.

“I’ll shut up when you learn how to drive,” Vaughn said.

“I’m gonna mess both ya’ll up if you don’t cut it out,” Stevie threatened, “We still got two hours till daylight and we’re almost there. There’s Noose Watson’s gate right up ahead. Get out and open it.”

Vaughn hopped out of the truck, undid the combination lock and held it open for the truck to pass through before closing it and relocking it behind him. He got back into the truck and they headed across an open pasture and parked on the other side. They all got out and grabbed their rifles, jackets, snacks and water bottles, then they walked through the woods to the tree stand. They all climbed up the wooden ladder and settled down to wait for deer.

Noose Watson’s tree stand was built onto a great big oak tree at about 12 feet up the trunk. The tree was on the edge of a clearing that was 50 yards across, give or take. In the middle of the clearing stood a deer feeder like a big, rusty, neck-less giraffe that pooped out a measure of corn every day at sunrise in response to a battery operated timer. The deer knew the sound of that feeder and were quite faithful about being out there every single morning. It was pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. All that the hunter had to do was wait and be silent.

All the ribbing and horseplay had stopped. A gentle breeze blew across the clearing directly into their faces. They were very pleased to be down wind from the game. There should be no trouble at all. But then again, this was Gun Town.

—-

Shaggy Watson was Noose Watson’s younger brother. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War and suffered from PTSD. In addition to psychological damage, he had earned a Purple Heart having taken some shrapnel in the chest and throat, which severely damaged his vocal chords rendering him mute. He survived off of a meager disability check and his skills as an outdoorsman. He stood at six foot five inches and weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds, but his long shaggy beard and wild mane of hair made him look even bigger. Earlier that morning he had made his way from his trailer house, across Noose Johnson’s pasture, past the feeder and down to the river to check on some trotlines he had left in the area.

white-deer-creek

The two -mile trek was easy for him with his long strides and familiarity to walking everywhere. He easily found his first trotline in the dim moonlight and pulled it in to shore much to the dismay of a six pound catfish and a small mud turtle. He hung the catfish by the gills on a broken tree limb and killed the turtle so he wouldn’t have it wasting his bait anymore. He left the turtle where it lay and walked up stream to check his other two lines. He returned a little while later with three more catfish and reached for the one he had left in the tree. Unfortunately he didn’t notice the skunk that was eagerly munching on the turtle he had dropped. The skunk noticed him, however, and released a liberal amount of spray right on target. Shaggy gasped and coughed from the surprise attack then he slipped and fell on the muddy riverbank, losing the three catfish in the churning water. He stood up, slipped and fell again, and tried to get away as the skunk dosed him once again and disappeared into the underbrush. The stench was unbearable and he tried rolling around in the mud for some olfactory relief. It didn’t help much. He gained his composure and retrieved the remaining catfish from the tree. He was soaking wet, covered in mud and reeking like a skunk. He was angry as a grizzly bear when he started home at a quick pace swinging the catfish in rhythm to his long, rapid strides. He spooked a group of deer on his way back and they ran panicked across the clearing where the feeder was.

—-

The three hunters sat silently in the tree stand watching the woods on the other side of the clearing. The feeder was due to go off any minute now and they were as alert as bobcats waiting for a kill. Ray shifted uncomfortably in his position and looked at his watch. Suddenly they heard some movement from the woods across the clearing and all three raised their rifles to get a better look through the scopes. Sunlight was just beginning to break the horizon. Two huge bucks and three does broke rapidly from the tree line and shot across the clearing behind the feeder. They soon disappeared back into the thick cover of the trees.

“What the heck?” Ray muttered.

“Something spooked ‘em,” Vaughn whispered.

“Shh. There’s still another one.” Stevie had seen some movement back in the trees where the deer had come from.

They were not prepared for what they saw emerging at a trot through the clearing. The thing they saw in the dim glow of early sunrise stood nearly seven feet tall at their estimation. Its entire body was ruddy reddish brown and hair covered its eerily human looking face. It carried a large catfish in one hand and made huge strides across the clearing. In a matter of seconds it disappeared into the brush near the place the deer had disappeared. A few seconds later, a nauseous skunky smell was brought to them on the light breeze. They all froze and stared in disbelief.

“I’m going home,” was all Ray could say after a brief moment of absolute silence.

They could hear the thing crashing through the brush and getting farther away.

“What was that thing?” Stevie said aloud without even realizing he had said anything.

“You know darn well what that was,” Ray said, “I’m getting’ outta here.”

“You think that was Bigfoot?” Vaughn asked.

“Well, it weren’t no gorilla!” Stevie yelped.

They were all shaken up from the sight and before long they were all in the truck with the windows up and the doors locked with no recollection of ever climbing down the ladder.

The truck quickly bounded and bounced down the old dirt track and the three hunters were absolutely speechless. Vaughn had no problem with the way Ray was driving as branches exploded on the grill and bumper. Finally they made it back to town and that was when Ray broke the silence saying, “The Beach Boys.”

“What?” Vaughn and Stevie chorused.

“That’s who sang that old lady Pasadena song you was singin’ earlier. The Beach Boys.”

Nobody said another word or rolled down a window until they had made it safely back to the farm.

-THE END-

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Old Talon

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Tennessee creature story about a mysterious monster named Old Talon terrorizing a remote Appalachian community. Written and illustrated by Seth Boyden.

Old Talon Tennessee Mountain Creature Monster Story Dulcimer

I was younger, in my twenties during the time before the automobile road came to Knoxville, when I wandered through the Blueridge. Back then I made twenty cents a week peddling shoes in the far mountain villages of Tennessee. I was hired by Mr. Barnard, who made goat skin shoes in a stone-built workshop just outside Pigeon Forge, and would send me to journey out to the endless winding trails of the Southern mountains selling his wares. Fortunately, I was given his old pony Gertrude to carry the old flour sacks filled with shoes through the treacherous wilderness, and was the only company I shared as we slept through the black nights beneath the mountain’s towering pines.

The old mountain trails stretched along the Tennessee land farther than my memory could ever strain to recount. The peaks of the mountains were hidden in the day by great veils of blue mist, which rose from the rivers in the valley below. Everywhere the ground was seeped in spongy moss and curling ferns bedecked the trails beside the high cliffs of slick black stone. Most impressively, were the ancient pines of the valleys, which rose high above the brush, constantly creating a gloomy shroud of shade on the forest below, even during the noonday sun. In the shadow of the pines, a sudden cold rush of air would come out from the mountain’s limestone caves that would give a shiver to even the toughest Appalachian ridge runner. At night, the wood smoke would rise from the mountain towns hidden in the forest of the valleys, and as the blackness of the Tennessee night crept in, the yellow glow of the lamp lit cabins could be seen suspended high on the distant mountaintops miles away.

Tennessee Mountain Traveler Campfire Woods

Seasons went by as I trekked all across the Tennessee Blueridge selling Mr. Barnard’s shoes. The Appalachian folk used no modern currency, but traded generously for the shoes with a variety of homemade goods that could be sold back at Pigeon Forge, from amber glazed crockery to jars of molasses, sour mash, and wild honey. Occasionally, I would be paid with English minted coins held on from the revolutionary times. How many years the ancient money circulated from hand to hand in those mountains, no one can tell.

On one of these trips in the late summer, I was headed to an unfamiliar village called Second Providence, hidden in one of the farthest reaches of the Shaconage. With my pony laden with newly made shoes, I hiked up the trail that would reach the peak of the mountain where the town stood. Before making the summit, the trail dipped into a sudden ravine where the air was chilly and quiet. Fine fingers of mist played through the overhead branches of the towering pines, which stood tall and black on the overcast sky. Suddenly, Gertrude stopped behind, jerking the old leather rein in my hand. The old nag began to stamp and whinny nervously, the whites of her eyes visible as she gazed somewhere into the forest. Before I could pull on her reins to keep moving I heard the sound. Rising from the misty forest came a slow resonating tapping sound, tap…tap…tap. The noise seemed to be made from something tapping on the trunk of one of the ancient pine trees, like a woodpecker but it was too slow and to deliberate to be made by a bird. In the stillness of the ravine, the tapping seemed as if it was echoing from every corner of the glen as it continued tap…tap…tap. As suddenly as it started, it stopped, and I searched through the swirling fog hoping to see some sign of the man or animal that created the sound. Finally, as the silence became too heavy, I continued with Gertrude through the glen and to the mountain village above.

Tennesse mountain traveler woods

Second Providence was built in a small clearing nestled on the shoulder of a massive mountain peak. The village was no more than several wood and clay chinked cabins roofed with mossy alder bark shingles. The grass that grew to feed the livestock was yellow and scraggly, and the crops were withered and gray. Surrounding the town, the giant pines stood silently in a close circle around the cabins, barely providing enough of a view to see the endless expanse of blue mountains, stretching beyond the horizon.

The people of the town were exceptionally kind, presumably from having scant visitors. They were frail in appearance, and spoke more softly than the people in other villages, with more caution as if being listened to. I was met by the grandsire of the clan named Jashub, who gave me several finely made wool blankets in exchange for Mr. Barnard’s shoes. Also in return, the people of Second Providence fed me a dinner of salt beef and corn pone, and a place to stay till morning, which they were particularly insistent in giving.

That night in one of the larger cabins, the villagers gathered around the river stone fireplace to sing the old mountain songs. Most were sad ballads written in the Appalachian folk style, but others were older, stranger songs I was not familiar with, about the places and people across the ocean, from where the ancestors of Second Providence must have traveled and passed down the songs for generations. A few of the women played from turtle shell mandolins and an old lap harp known as a zither. One boy named Ezekiel tried his best to play a dulcimer, newly made from cherrywood, but being only six years old, struggled clumsily to keep up with the other musicians.

Tennesse mountain town

As the fire began to settle to a deep red in the hearth, and the children went off to bed, I sat with the men sharing stories about one another’s various travels through the mountains. I told them about the ravine I passed through earlier on that day, and the tapping sound I heard in the forest. Immediately, the eyes of the men flashed, and Jeshub’s wrinkled mouth straightened behind his long white beard. Then, lowering his voice, he explained to me that I heard the tapping of what they called Old Talon. I watched as the other men sat up tense, their eyes gleaming in the firelight as Jeshub slowly recounted his story.

He said that long before his great grandsire settled in the mountains, the ancient Shawnee race spoke of an eyeless demon that wandered blindly through the pines of the Shaconage. It was the spawn of Yakwawi, cursed by Moneto to lurk in the shadow of the mountains, and preyed on the people of the ancient tribe. It lived in the endless labyrinth of caves that wind through the mountains, coming out to capture victims and drag them back into the caverns where no one dared to venture. It was known for its intelligence, and its ability to learn the songs of the ancient people, and tap their rhythms on the trees to lure curious prey into the caves. At first, the early settlers in Second Providence discounted the rumors. But as time went on, strange things began to happen to the folk of the mountain. Children began disappearing in the forest. Women would wake in the middle of the night moonstruck, screaming in the tongue of the ancients, gone mad by what seemed a tapping sound out in the forest. On some nights, the families would wake and see it through the small slats of the cabin window, its black hairy body standing taller than a bear, tapping on the walls and windows of the neighboring cabins. It’s life in the caves removed its sight, and in replacement, massive bat-like ears to hear and listen. Worst of all, Old Talon got its name from its humanlike black hands, which possessed an unnaturally long forefinger, as long as a fiddler’s bow, which it used to play on the trees…tap…tap…tap. Always the people of Second Providence speak softly, in cautious whispers, knowing that Old Talon is waiting in the gloom of the endless pines, listening and learning.

Tennessee mountain lantern woods creature story

Suddenly, Jashub was interrupted by a splitting shriek that echoed through the forest night. Lanterns and rifles in hand, the men rushed out to the center of the clearing to find one of the women wrapped in an old quilt, pointing out into the forest. She screamed that her little Ezekiel had been taken, dulcimer and all by Old Talon. Immediately, the men of Second Providence formed a search party, and with their rusty lanterns burning, they plodded through the dark of the Appalachian night calling for Ezekiel. I was ordered to remain in the cabin to wait. I laid wide awake all through the night, listening to the distant baying of the men’s hound dogs searching through the Blue Ridge, and waited for the long black finger to rap against the cabin wall. Tap…tap….tap…

Morning came, and the men returned late morning empty-handed, covered in mud and scrapes, confounded and heartbroken. As much as I wished to help the families of the village, I wanted nothing more than to turn down the trail and run as far away from Second Providence as I could. I secured my goods to Gertrude’s saddle, said my most respectful farewell to Jashub and his kin, and guided the pony down the trail and back through the woods for home.

I was no more than a half-mile through the dense forest when I stopped in the middle of the trail. Rising from the pines came the sound of a cherrywood dulcimer, playing brightly in the morning mist. It was little Ezekiel coming back from the woods to Second Providence! But the more I listened, the more I realized I was dead wrong. Echoing from somewhere beyond the tendrils of mist, the melody from the dulcimer began to play faster, spinning into intricate arpeggios dancing in the air wilder and more complicated than any six year old could ever play. I listened in terror as the music became faster and more complex, switching from screaming, sliding glissandos to a heart wrenching ballad, finally distorting to a wild and primal song in which no words could ever achieve to describe. All around I could hear the ancient horrible music, the sound of fingers, as long as a fiddler’s bow, plucking the strings of the dulcimer faster and wilder than any man could ever play music. My legs finally began to move, and pulling the pony as best I could, fled down the trail. I couldn’t help but think I saw what looked like a black shadow, with bat-like ears standing taller than a bear off in the pines before vanishing like a specter into the mist.

Tennessee mountain dulcimer creature monster story

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That Halloween Hike

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Creepy Tennessee creature story from the Smoky Mountains that might make you think twice about hiking alone! Written by Robert Godwin.

Buster was riding shotgun in my old rusty pick-up as we drove up the winding mountain road. Even though the window on his side was open to the cool October air, he didn’t stick his head out like most dogs would. I reached out and patted him. A serious, reserved husky—something mix, he just glanced over to acknowledge the contact.

“Great weekend for hiking, eh, Buster?” Another silent glance brought a chuckle from me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I live in the country in East Tennessee, far enough to be away from people, close enough to use the library, enjoy the symphony, or get to the hospital if I need to. I live pretty “green,” drawing water from my spring and heating my small log house with wood cut on my own land. I have electrical service, but I’m at the end of the line and lose power so often I got some solar panels and a generator. The Co-op long ago learned to dread my appearance, bill in hand, demanding a pro rata adjustment of their basic charge supported by the time my clock stopped to the time power was restored. Now when I appear, they just ask, “How long were you out?” and make the adjustment.

Buster isn’t really my dog. One day he was sitting about thirty feet from the front door, looking as though I was a half hour late. “Hi there,” I said. “Are you looking for me?”

He didn’t answer, but just sat there watching me. He looked to be about eighty pounds with an intelligent face, thick grayish-brown fur, and no collar. There were a good number of scars on his coat, he looked healthy and strong, but kind of underfed.

“I guess you were waiting for me. Would you like a snack?” Again no answer, but watchful eyes followed my every move. “Let’s see what I can find.”

I went back inside and retrieved some leftovers from last night’s supper and set them in a bowl a few feet outside the door. The dog didn’t move. I carried the bowl a little farther out and retreated to my chair beside the front door.

We looked at each other. Finally he stood up, walked deliberately to the bowl and ate, ignoring me completely. When he was finished, he got a drink from my spring, walked back toward me and laid down about six feet away facing the same direction as me. After listening to some doves cooing for a while, and watching a chipmunk brave enough to scurry around the corner of the house, I turned to him and said, “Well, if you’re going to stay around, you’ll need a name. How about ‘Buster’?” He never looked at me, but gave a wag which I took for assent.

Several months later, I thought it would be wise to get him vaccinated and started to put a collar and leash on him. It’s the only time he ever growled at me. As big as he was, with those teeth and that attitude, I decided he didn’t need a trip to the vet after all.

So you see, he’s really not my dog. We’re friends, but he’s his own man. He goes off for a couple of days occasionally and returns when he’s ready and accepts my fond greeting with reserved appreciation. It’s been that way for about three years now.

He rarely comes inside regardless of the weather. He’ll sleep under the eaves if it’s raining heavily, but snow is a welcome treat, and he simply curls up with his bushy tail covering his face. I often leave my door open in good weather, and one time while I was seated at the kitchen table he walked in, toured every room, and went back out and lay down on the porch, satisfied that he’d seen my house.

I always hiked alone before Buster. I was a city boy, but grew up loving the mountains. I went on my first real hike when I was four. My father and mother’s brother and father took me up the Chimneys above Gatlinburg in the mid-1940s. It was only about ten years after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established and the trail was pretty rugged, particularly toward the top where you had to scale a rock face with only roots for handholds.

As an adult, I went hiking to get away from people, not to socialize with them. Most people disrespect Mother Nature or are so insensitive to her charms that they take iPods and cell phones on the trail. Nothing except the trash they leave aggravates me more than having nature’s sounds interrupted by, “Where are you?” “Watcha doin’?” I’m not antisocial, I just prefer a better class of company. Fortunately, such people rarely travel more than a mile into the woods.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Buster and I were headed for Whaley’s farm which backs up to the Cherokee National Forest. He has a couple of hounds that are friendly once they know you. He keeps a cow or two, an old horse ‘fer his company’, a few chickens for the eggs, and raises enough corn and vegetables to feed himself and to sell to a nearby country grocer. They mostly swap out for Whaley’s coffee, salt and sugar. “Don’t raise sorghum no more—too much work for the syrup.”

At the back of his farm were some old trails leading into the forest which haven’t been maintained since CCC days in the late 30′s and 40′s. A lot of places have disappeared due to windfalls, washouts, or just being overgrown—my kind of territory.

As we came to his place, I stopped at his mailbox, got his mail, and turned up his gravel drive. I pulled all the way under a brilliant yellow and red maple beside his back porch. His dogs barked my arrival. Buster didn’t wait for me to open his door, but pushed by to jump out my side as soon as I opened the door. After their ritual greetings, all three dogs trotted off toward the barn.

The rear screen door slammed shut behind Whaley. I never knew him by any other name. Tall, rangy, always in bib overalls and long-sleeve shirt and high-top brown work shoes, he reminded me of the mountain folk my grandfather introduced me to as a child. My mother’s father was a small, dignified city man, seemingly quite unlike the mountain folk. Their meetings were always the same: a greeting, a handshake, a few words about the weather and the family, and only then would they get down to the business of the day. It wasn’t hurried, it wasn’t unduly prolonged, it was a ritual born of mutual respect and courtesy, and often affection.

Whaley still lived in that time. He “howdied” me and the dog, Buster acknowledging his greeting with a single wag between sniffing the west side of the barn and the back of the pump house.

“Sure would like to have that dog,” he said, as he had many times before.

“You’ll have to deal with him on that,” I replied, as I had an equal number of times.

“I reckon he’s made his choice,” Whaley said. “Sure is a fine animal.”

“That he is, my friend! That he is.”

“Gotta tell ya something,” he said becoming serious. “Day afore yesterday, couple of college kids asked if they could cross my property to go hiking. Said they’d likely be gone three days. But they came a-runnin’ back that night about midnight. Dogs raised a fuss, and I got up to check. Girl jumped in the car, slid down in the seat and locked her door. Never said a word. While the feller was throwing the packs in the back, he said, ‘night sounds—scared the girlfriend.’ But he was pretty scared too, I tell ya. Couldn’t get out of him ‘xactly what it was, but I thought you oughter know since you’re goin’ up that way.”

“What do you think it was, Whaley?”

“Might’ve been a bear. I asked him if it whuffed and smelt kindly rank, but didn’t get no answer ‘cept, ‘never heard nothing like it.’ Then they was gone. It rained right smart a couple of days ago. Even with leaves comin’ down, there might be some prints.”

“Thanks Whaley. Probably wasn’t anything but a possum.”

“Well, keep your eyes open just the same. My dogs have been riled up several nights in the past few weeks, and I never fount what it was. So don’t let nothin’ sneak up on you—you know how the old folks felt about haints, particularly at Halloween. Course, you’ll have Buster with ya.”

I thanked him, not sure if he was joshing me, got my pack from the bed of the truck, waved goodbye and headed for the north side of his farm following the tractor path on the edge of his field. Buster joined me about a quarter mile up the way.

big-creek-road-smoky-mountains-tennessee

As we approached the forest edge, I was startled by a raven’s hoarse cry. I stopped and located him not twenty feet away on a dead limb barely above my head. He was staring at me. I couldn’t resist: “Been reading Poe, have you?” He ducked his head twice as though acknowledging it and continued to stare at me. As I continued along the path, he croaked again, flew a few trees further and did it again.

Strange, I thought. So close. The watchdog of the forest warning me rather than the other creatures. Even Buster took note.

The rain Whaley mentioned had left the ground soft and had cleared the fall air. The late afternoon sun angled through the trees alternating patches of brilliant reds and yellows with shafts of dark shadows. The trail was clear enough here, a wonderful aisle of fallen leaves. As we walked, it led to a windfall. Working around the tree, we found the trail a few yards beyond and followed it until it disappeared into a grove of pine saplings. To this point, I had seen footprints of hiking boots here and there, the distinctive Vibram pattern, just what I would have expected of college kids.

Working my way around the pine grove, I spotted the prints again. OK, going the same way as me—they weren’t too bad in the woods.

We came on a fallen chestnut tree gradually turning to rich red soil, victim of the blight seventy years ago. I could see fresh damage where someone had stepped on it. A little further on as the trail began to rise, tree roots made little terrace stair steps.

The late afternoon air had the tang of fallen leaves and evergreens. We pushed through a rhododendron thicket, the trail reduced to an animal path. Eventually, we came to the open area I had intended to camp in. Not surprisingly, I saw the tent peg holes and the charred remains of the kids’ campfire, again exactly where I would have put mine.

The sun was low now and the shadows long and deep, as I strung my tarp on some trees at the edge of the clearing and collected firewood. Late October was warm in the sun, cool in the shadows, and cold overnight. I gathered a good-sized pile of wood.

I got a fire going, boiled some water and poured it into my dehydrated food pack. I had enough water left to make some tea. By the time the tea had brewed, my beef stroganoff was ready to eat. When I had finished and fed Buster, shadows had engulfed the glade. It was a quiet peaceful time, neither day nor night, rapidly sinking into darkness.

I lay on the thick grass beside the fire on one side, Buster on the other, his head between his paws. As the temperature dropped, I fed the fire, stirring the coals and sending sparks skyward. I had collected enough wood for the evening fire and would bank it when I was ready to crawl into my sleeping bag with plenty enough left for the morning.

The fire was fragrant and popped and crackled pleasantly. I must have dozed off, but came wide awake when Buster’s head snapped up, gaze fixed on the wood line twenty-five yards away. I followed his eyes, but could see nothing beyond the small reach of our dying fire. The new moon gave little light, hardly obscuring the stars nearest it. I strained against the darkness while Buster rose to his feet, low growl hardly audible. He took a stiff-legged step, mane now raised, fangs glistening in the firelight, and growl rumbling through the night.

Adrenaline shot through me. Buster didn’t give false alarms. I had no weapon. I went into the woods believing I was not natural prey of anything except chiggers and mosquitoes. I’d encountered bears, snakes, boar, elk, moose, and bison in my travels. When that happened, I acted as if I was an uninvited guest in their living room, and always had escaped harm.

This was different. Something was invading my space.

Without taking my eyes off the blackness, I stirred the fire, put on more wood, then paused, every sense straining to learn what was there.

Buster’s growl grew as he took another step toward the forest edge. I grabbed a stick burning on one end and stood, waving it back and forth before me for protection and light. My flashlight was a few feet away at my sleeping bag, and I debated whether to get it. Just then, there was a noise from the blackness and Buster responded with ferocious snarls and growls, and bounded half a step.

I could see nothing but blackness ahead of us. It wasn’t the chill that gave me the shivers. In spite of myself, Whaley’s comment about his dogs getting riled, “haints,” and the raven’s warning flooded my mind. I vainly tried to dismiss them. They would be just summer camp ghost stories around the fire, except for Buster’s reaction. I shivered again and zipped up my jacket. My stick was going out, and I returned it to the fire grabbing another one which was burning brightly.

There was nothing to be seen. Buster’s growls had subsided, but his hackles were still raised, and he was stiffly at attention. His ears twitched as we both heard a distant twig snap. I held my breath and strained as hard as I could, but heard no other sound. We stood like statues. Finally, I stepped back to the fire, and heaped more wood on it until it blazed high.

Buster slowly trotted toward the forest, sniffing the air, then sniffing the ground. Even with the fire going briskly, he was hard to see at the edge of the glade. I called to him, and he came back, no longer alarmed, but still on the alert.

I realized my pulse was pounding, and I had broken a sweat, despite the chilled air. Even though it was only a few feet away, I carried a lighted stick to my pack, hunting for my flashlight. I had strung my tarp between some small trees near the edge of the forest, some distance from the fire. It no longer seemed like a good place. I repositioned my ground cloth beside the fire, moved my gear to it, and spread the tarp over it all.

Armed with my flashlight and a burning stick, I reconnoitered the glade’s perimeter with Buster at my side. Nothing. He showed little interest except where the initial alarm had occurred. He stood sniffing intently. I caught a whiff of animal musk, but couldn’t identify it. As we returned to the fire, I looked at my watch. It was barely eleven o’clock, hardly the bewitching hour I chided myself. We made our way back to the fire.

“Didn’t seem like a bear, Buster—too big for a possum or raccoon—boar don’t roam around at night. What do you reckon it was?” It never bothered me talking to animals. They talked enough to me to make it a good conversation. Buster twitched an ear at the question and lay back down. Good enough for me. Danger, if any, had passed. Still, I put on more wood before I crawled into my bag, pack at my head. There would be a bit of frost tonight.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I awoke to the echoes of an inhuman scream. The fire was only a faint glow within its ring of rocks, and the moon was little help. I could sense Buster was standing at attention. Pulse pounding, I slipped out of my bag and grabbed two sticks. I stirred the fire with one and piled on some twigs and leaves. I held the other as a club. As the leaves caught fire, I thought I saw movement at the edge of the woods, but their flare was so brief, I couldn’t tell.

Buster was growling low and steady. The sliver of the moon had moved behind leafless treetops which it barely outlined. I guessed it was less than an hour since I had bedded down—the heart of the bewitching hour.

Buster and I heard it together—rapid breathing of a large beast—and sensed movement in the undergrowth coming toward us. I couldn’t find my flashlight and was too scared to take my eyes off the forest edge for an instant. I poked the fire wildly with my left hand, but it refused to blaze. Snorts and cries mixed with crashing undergrowth grew nearer.

I was sure Buster and I would give a good account of ourselves if attacked, but by what? I knew we’d do better close to the fire, in the open, and we both stood tensely.

Suddenly there was movement—large, dark, with snapping twigs underfoot. It moved into the clearing. Buster erupted into snarls, head lowered for the attack. I gripped my stick, then caught a glimpse well above my head of two stout horns dimly silhouetted against the sky. At the same time, a deep snort. My God, what are we facing? Buster took a half a step and snarling furiously. I yelled, more out of fear than of bravery, and jumped toward it, swinging wildly.

It neighed in fear and reared. We’d terrified a horse! It cried piteously and danced around, unsure where to go with me on one side and Buster on the other.

I called Buster off as relief flooded through me. In the dark, it took a good while to calm the poor beast and tether it with one of my tent lines. After I tied it off to a sapling, I fed it some granola which it eagerly took from my hand as I laughingly scratched its ears, which had struck such fear masquerading as horns a few minutes before.

After the fact, my fire was burning brightly. In the flickering light, our “beast” looked like Whaley’s old swayback horse. No matter who it belonged to, it clearly had broken out of its field and gotten lost in the woods.

I gave it some of our water which it greedily slurped, then nuzzled me gratefully.

I slipped back into my sleeping bag, laughing at my foolishness, and swearing to rein in my overactive imagination in the future. Buster assumed his usual spot on the other side of the fire, but sat thoughtfully on his haunches.

The morning dawned crisp and clear, the light frost adding a bit of snap to a glorious fall day. In the light, I was sure it was Whaley’s old horse and it was pathetically grateful for our company. As I patted him and gave him some more granola, I saw deep scratches on his side. They were fresh and clearly painful. They looked more like wounds from an animal attack than scrapes from underbrush. Unconsciously, I surveyed the perimeter of the clearing, as a chill passed through me.

Buster was tolerant of the new member of our group, but was still standoffish and uneasy. I couldn’t feed and water a horse adequately from our provisions, and with its wounds, we clearly had to head back to Whaley’s. Even if it weren’t his horse, he’d know who owned it.

I packed our gear and made sure the fire was dead. The old horse was perfectly happy to be led as we started back down the trail.

We barely had entered the forest when Buster, who always walked fifteen feet in the lead, suddenly froze, sniffing the air. Then he growled. The horse whinnied and pulled back on the lead, dancing around wide-eyed. I quickly tied him off and joined Buster who was by now sniffing the trail before us, growls unabated.

The early morning light clearly highlighted the footprints which overlaid our prints of yesterday. They were unlike any I had ever seen: long, five toed, but with claw marks at the end of each toe. The beast walked on only two legs. Last night’s terror swept back over me, and I shivered despite my jacket. Buster suddenly snarled, looking to some dense brush on the right as we heard other deep growls. The horse bolted and ran, snapping the twig I had tied him to. I could see movement, but no outline in the brush. We were three miles from safety.

A roar came from the brush, and I saw a tall, human-like figure pushing our way. I yelled for Buster and took off running down the trail. The mix of Buster’s snarling and alien growls followed me for a hundred yards as I leaped and darted, feet barely touching the ground. At last the sound dropped back and shortly thereafter Buster raced by me, an angry red gash on his right shoulder and another on his right hindquarters. His mug was red with blood, so he gave as well as got.

After a while, he paused and turned to face back up the trail. I stopped beside him and tried to still my labored breathing and pounding heart. All was now silent. After another few moments of silence, I checked Buster, whose wounds looked superficial, and we started back down the trail at a fast trot. I didn’t slow down to a walk until we broke into the open at the back of Whaley’s fields. Even then, in the broad daylight, I kept looking back. Buster trotted without pause and was at the truck long before I arrived. I came around the corner of the barn to see Whaley rising from Buster’s side, patting him on the head, a concerned look on his face.

He stood silently, gazing at Buster until I was at his elbow, then asked, “What was it?”

“Don’t know, Whaley. Just like the kids—I never heard or saw anything like it.”

He listened unmoving to the whole story. When I’d finished, there was a long silence before he spoke.

“Well, Pap told the same story fifty years ago when I was a boy. Described the prints, same shape in the shadows, never got no good look at it. We yusta lose a pig once in a while. Oncet the pigs was a squealin’ and Pap ran out with his double barrel twelve gauge and fired one barrel at what he thought was a bar till it stood up taller than him by a good measure, roarin’ and carryin’ on. He drew up to shoot the second barrel, but ole Zeke jumped it afore Pap could get a clear shot. There was an awful fight and it ran off with Zeke tearin’ after him. Couple of hours later, Zeke came back purty chewed up. I seen them prints too. That was purt near fifty-five years ago. Ever since them days, I don’t wonder ‘bout the ole folks tales no more. I don’t doubt ‘em, I don’t try to splain ‘em—I just accept ‘em.”

“I owe you an apology, though. I shoulda told you this afore you took off, but I thought you’d be safe as could be with Buster along. And if’n I’d a told it, you’d a thought I was tetched in the head.” He paused, lost in his own thoughts for a moment. “I’d be much abliged if’n you’d keep this just between us.”

“Sure, Whaley, but what about the horse?”

“It’s mine. I found the broken fence. I’m goin’ after him right now. Pap’s twelve gauge works as well as it ever did.”

I watched him stride up the path, gun over his shoulder, till he disappeared at the wood’s edge.

It was the last time anybody ever saw him.

-THE END-

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The Mischievous Pumpkin

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Georgia farmer brings home a very strange Halloween pumpkin that causes all sorts of trouble. Written by Julie Ann Wallo.

Duckett Barnes was known for growing the finest pumpkins in all of Mountain Creek, Georgia. They were the biggest and the brightest; and that was before a candle was placed inside.

The road leading to Booger Bear Hollow was lined with dense trees. The heavy limbs hanged low over the pot hole-riddled road. It was a place you didn’t want to be after sunset. The stark black branches from the surrounding trees formed a spooky silhouette against the orange glow of the setting sun. Just the sight of the long crawling branches sent a chill up the spine. But if you wanted one of Duckett’s pumpkins, this is where you had to go.

Well, Ottie Brown’s wife, known as “Miss Duella,” sent her husband to get one of Duckett’s pumpkins. It was Halloween. Miss Duella had been after Ottie for days and he had just about ran out of excuses. The truth was, the further he stayed away from Booger Bear Hollow, the better he liked it.

There was a buzzard sitting on the fence as Ottie backed the truck from the driveway. Buzzards were a bad sign and Ottie’s nerves were already frayed.

Driving down to Booger Bear Hollow was a test of bravery all in itself. Ottie never claimed to be a brave man. It was all he could do to keep his knees from knocking as he got out of the truck.

There was an old tin bucket hanging on a nail in a hundred year old oak tree. The pumpkins were paid for on the honor system. Just throw a coin or two in the bucket, choose a pumpkin and off you would go. As long as you were happy, Duckett Barnes was happy.

Ottie threw a couple of coins in the bucket, listening as the coins rolled round and round, then finally settling with a clank on the bottom of the rusted bucket.

Stepping in a hole and twisting his ankle, he sat down on the first pumpkin he came to and rubbed his foot. He did not put much thought into the pumpkin he chose. The one closest to the truck would do just fine. A pumpkin is a pumpkin he mumbled to himself.

Halloween Pumpkin Patch

He got out his pocket knife to cut the pumpkin from the vine. That was the toughest vine he’d ever cut. Carrying the pumpkin, he hobbled back to the truck and struggled to load it on the tailgate. Ottie noticed for the first time that while the other pumpkins were sitting straight, this one was a bit caddywompered. And the closer he looked he noticed this pumpkin was tinted an odd greenish color. You could tell this pumpkin came from bad seed; but there was no way Ottie Brown was going back into that pumpkin patch.

Ottie scooted, pushed and pulled the thing to the corner of the truck bed. He had never known a pumpkin to be so much trouble. He packed corn sacks and corn cobs tightly around it to hold it in place. If this pumpkin were to bust, Miss Duella would send him straight back to Booger Bear Hollow.

Ottie got in his truck and dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief. His nerves were already on edge when something caused the truck to backfire. Poor Ottie, he thought someone was shooting at him.

He mashed the gas pedal to the floor. As he sped off down the winding road he had to swerve to keep from hitting a squirrel that was sitting in the road. When he did the back end of the truck slid off into the ditch. Immediately he could hear the “hiss” of a tire rapidly loosing its air.

He pulled over, got out his jack to change the tire. He thought he heard someone laughing at him. He looked but no one was around. He knew it sounded crazy but the sound seemed to be coming from…the pumpkin!

As he was putting away the jack, W. T. Allen was racing down the road. Mardell must have sent him to Booger Bear Hollow too. No one would go there on their own accord. W. T. stopped to see if he could help. “No thanks, W. T. I’ve got it; you go on and get out of here before sunset.”

You didn’t have to tell W. T. twice. He was off before Ottie finished his sentence.

When Ottie Brown finally got home, Miss Duella was mad as an ole’ wet hen! Whatever took so long?

“Never mind you, Duella, next year we are planting our own pumpkin,” he said, and went to lie down on the couch with a cold rag on his head.

Miss Duella put her hands on her hips in disgust as she inspected the pumpkin Ottie had brought home. It was the bumpiest, most discolored, crooked thing she had ever seen. It was too late to do anything about it now, she reasoned. She would have to make do with what she had.

When Miss Duella cut the lid from the pumpkin, she could see the seeds inside were a slimy black. Black seeds in a watermelon, yes. Black seed in a pumpkin…well, she had never laid eyes on such a thing.

Miss Duella carved triangle eyes and a zigzag mouth. As the evening grew darker the expression on the jack-o-lantern’s face began to look…well, downright spooky!

Of all the pumpkins in Booger Bear Hollow, why did he have to pick THIS one?

With Ottie still recovering on the couch, Miss Duella struggled to get the pumpkin to the porch. Every time she tried to light the candle, the flame would go right back out. It was almost like that pumpkin was blowing it out itself. She must have lit that candle a hundred times.

No sooner than Miss Duella was in the house…the wind blew. The mischievous pumpkin rocked back and forth and then rolled over Midnight’s tail. ME-OW! MEOW! The cat cried. Midnight was Miss Duella’s cat and seldom did she hear a peep out of her.

Miss Duella came to the door to see what was happening. When she opened the door, Midnight jumped up with her hair raised and her back arched. She hissed and extended her claws toward the jack-o-lantern. Meanwhile, the mischievous pumpkin had rolled right back in place.

The first trick-or-treaters to arrive were dressed as a ghost, a witch, and a scare crow. They walked up the stone lined walkway crunching leaves and twigs with every step. As soon as they stepped onto the porch they heard a whisper…coming from…the pumpkin?

“Black cats, bats, and spiders galore,
Adding to the Halloween lore.
Shadows dancing in the night
from the candle’s light.”

All Miss Duella heard was high pitched shrills and the sound of children running away.

By the time she rushed to the door, everything LOOKED to be normal. It must be the squeaky shutters or the rustling of the leaves she thought.

Then she saw Midnight.

“Midnight!” she scolded. “Did you scare those little trick-or-treaters? You naughty, naughty cat!”

Midnight meowed trying to explain herself but Miss Duella scooped her up and carried her in the house.

The next trick-or-treaters were dressed in cowboy boots and hats. They had blue and white bandanas tied around their necks. They were the twins, Joshua and Jacob, from down the road.

What happened next made the mischievous pumpkin laugh his evil laugh. Just as he began his chant…

“Boo to you and all of your kind
The frights tonight are mine all mine…”

…the little cow pokes hollered and took off running as quickly as their little boots could carry them! Jacob snagged his britches on a thorn from one of Miss Duella’s rose bushes. He was running so fast he left a patch of his pants flapping in the breeze.

Miss Duella hastily untied her apron and raced to open the screen door. She called after the twins to see what happened. All she could hear was “the pu, pu, pumpkin!” and they kept on running. She was at her wits end. What was frightening the children? She had spent all morning and afternoon making candied apples and popcorn balls. She loved Halloween and only wanted the children to have fun.

The pumpkin found great delight in scaring the children. The more trouble he caused the brighter he glowed.

He rolled his way to the barn. As he entered, the mischievous pumpkin grinned even bigger. He wondered what trouble he could stir up here.

The mischievous pumpkin caused a terrific fright. He sneaked up behind Bessie the cow and shouted “BOO!” When the pumpkin said BOO she said MOO-O-O!…kicked up her heels and sent the milk bucket flying. It ricocheted from the rafters to the walls. The bucket knocked the lucky horse shoe upside down draining all of its good luck. When the bucket finally came to a rest, it was sitting on top of Bessie’s head. Her brown eyes, big as saucers, could barely peek beneath the rim of the bucket.

The goats were baahing, the chickens were clucking, and poor ole Bessie let out an exasperated “moo.”

Miss Duella ran to the barn with a pitchfork in one hand and a lantern in the other. She had no idea what was upsetting the animals. But she was determined to put a stop to it.

Entering the barn she could see Bessie with the milk bucket on her head.

“Oh, my poor Bessie,” she couldn’t help but chuckle. “What in the world have you gotten yourself into?” She gently worked the bucket off of Bessie’s head. She rubbed Bessie’s nose trying to comfort her.

Miss Duella spotted the jack-o-lantern trying to roll away.

“YOU!” exclaimed Miss Duella, shaking her finger sternly towards the pumpkin. “You are behind all of this! Well, I will fix you!”

And fix him she did. The next evening the sweet smell of warm cinnamon and spices filled the kitchen.

After supper, Miss Duella placed the most delightful pie on the table. And for the very first time ever, the mischievous pumpkin was good…really good! And Mr. and Mrs. Brown gobbled it all up.

-THE END-

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