Escape from Appalachia

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Tennessee ghost story of a budding Tennessee guitarist seeking fame in Nashville who hitches a ride with a creepy bootlegger. Written by William Morris.

Most Appalachian coal mines had been closed for over a decade, but the caustic coal dust still clogged the air and covered the stores, cars and clothes of all mountain dwellers. Luther’s grandfather and father had both worked and died in the mines. Pappy died in a cave-in and Pops was killed in a union hall explosion during a miner’s strike when Luther was eight years old. Neither man’s body was ever found. He was the last of six kids, the only male, left behind to care for their mother. His sisters had followed Mom’s footsteps, marrying early as teenaged brides with children of their own before leaving town to look for work. She had birthed the first child at fourteen and Luther at the age of nineteen. As she approached thirty-nine years of age, raising the brood by herself had reduced her five-foot four inch frame to less than one hundred and ten pounds and left her with little hope.

West Viriginal Coal Mining Town

Alcohol and Black Lung had finally taken her last week. Tomorrow, the newest in a long line of failed attempts will be revised by a new mining company taking the house for a new family with able-bodied men to work one of the mines slated to reopen. There was no need for a skinny, nineteen year old kid with a twisted foot, toes dragging in the dirt tracing his struggles with every painful step.

A pickup loaded with drunken teenagers set upon Luther when he was just thirteen years old. After beating him senseless, one of the boys took his hunting knife and severed his right Achilles tendon just above the ankle.

“That’ll keep you from running off the next time we come looking for you,” the punk yelled as they drove off, leaving Luther to crawl back to town. The health clinic nurse had simply bandaged the cut and said it would heal itself in time. It had not.

Luther spent his days looking for odd jobs to supplement the welfare checks the state sent to his mother. Now those checks would stop. He spent his nights down at the only juke joint in town, playing his guitar for the locals who drank themselves into oblivion in order to escape their plight for a few hours. Those nights usually ended in fist fights as the sad lot attempted to regain some portion of their manhood in the most basic animalistic rituals.

With his mom gone and the house pulled out from under him, Luther decided to hit the road after dark, less likely to fall prey to the ne’er-do-well white-trash drunks that still traveled the back roads, drinking and shooting road signs or anything else they found entertaining. He threw his clothes in an old potato sack, grabbed his guitar and ran into the woods behind the house he had lived in all his young life.

It was the first week in May. The skies were clear and the moon provided a soft light erasing many of the shadows cast by the tallest trees enabling Luther to make his way through the woods to the logging road that would take him down from Possum Knob to state highway 61. The heat of the day had left the valley and a cool breeze was rolling down the mountainside by the time his well-worn work boots first struck asphalt.

He walked for hours, navigating the many switch-backs as the roadway meandered over several ridges and down into valley after valley. Luther was able to cut through the woods between switch-backs on the downside. He would slide on the seat of his pants down the mountain, but the terrain was too steep for his bad foot to provide the support for Luther to attempt any shortcuts going up the mountainsides. The only company was the occasional deer or raccoon headed for the roadside streams still bubbling with the remnants of spring rains. He had to stop every hour or so and leave the roadway, finding a tree to lie beside and elevate his swollen foot long enough to drain the fluids and ease the pain. He then returned to the road and continued his trek in earnest.

After walking for hours, with a clear sky and full moon above, he thought it must be around midnight as he was returning to the road after one of those breaks and a quick nap. Up ahead, he saw a large shape moving through the trees accompanied by a low rumble. At first, he feared it might be a bear foraging through roadside trash piled high by those too lazy or too arrogant to drive to the county dump. As the front fenders pushed through the brush, Luther could make out the form of an old forty-seven Ford two-door coupe, either purple or black with rusting primer covering one fender, as it pulled onto the roadway from a well-hidden logging road.

As the car pulled within ten feet of Luther, he still could not see the driver’s face in the shadowed interior of the car. Then, a flash of light filled the car as the driver struck a match on the dashboard and held it to the cigarette hanging from his lower lip. His face was pasty white and smooth, like he was wearing a mask. For just a moment, as the match flared, the man’s eyes took on a red glow startling Luther and causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand at attention. “Hey, kid, come over here,” yelled the driver as he revved the engine.

Luther cautiously walked over near the passenger side of the car so as not to place himself in danger of being run over. The man’s hands were very large and powerful with oversized knuckles crisscrossed with train tracks of scar tissue. The tattoo of a dagger covered the back of the massive hand grasping the floor-mounted gear shift.

“Where you headed, boy?” the driver shouted through the open window.

“N…n…Nashville,” stammered Luther, as he struggled to swallow the fear swelling in his throat.

“Well, hell, then, jump in. I’ll git you there faster than walking,” grinned the driver through a cloud of blue smoke.

Luther slid into the passenger seat with his small bag of clothes at his feet and his guitar across his lap. He kept one hand on the door handle, determined to jump out at the first sign of trouble.

The driver put the car in gear, popped the clutch and accelerated down the highway, turning on the headlights only after they had rounded the first curve on the twisty mountain road.

“Cain’t be too careful, with a full load,” the driver laughed while pointing his thumb to the rear of the car.

Luther looked in the back of the car and noticed for the first time the back seat had been removed and a fifty-gallon steel drum was welded in its place. He could hear the contents sloshing around as they navigated the turns in the road.

Whiskey, he thought. This guy is driving moonshine for a bootlegger! Luther had heard the stories and songs bragging about whiskey runners in the mountains outrunning the law and making good money, even in bad times.

“Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to feed his family,” Pops said the night before he died.

In the glow of the man’s cigarette, Luther’s eyes were locked on the side of his face. As he drew the smoke into his lungs, instead of exhaling like most men Luther knew, he let the smoke roll out of his mouth and nose as he spoke, as though the smoke did not exist. His face was smooth as melted wax with no eyebrows or lashes and thin purple lips framing his tight mouth – not a mask, but maybe transformed from a fire.

“Kind’a scary ain’t it,” snarled the driver. “I rolled my first whiskey run and the car went up in a ball of flames. I was only fifteen and had my seatbelt on too tight. My head was on fire before I could get out. I ran fifty yards before I fell into the creek. Saved my life, but left me with a face that scares the kids!”

“I wasn’t staring.”

“Sure you were. Everybody does, but the girls like it once they get over the first shock. One girl said, ‘It’s like riding with the devil.’ Can you imagine that? Girls sure can be weird.”

“Yeah, I’m not much into girls. My name is Luther, by the way.”

“You can call me, Slick. You get it? Slick, ‘cause of my face. That’s what my friends call me now.”

“Sounds like mean friends to me.”

“Not really. It’s just the way it is,” said Slick. “Besides, I don’t carry no ID, so if the cops catch me they can’t track back to my folks. Slick, suits me just fine. They cain’t ketch me though. My uncle bored out the cylinders in this engine and put in oversized pistons and a blower. He says I got three hundred and fifty horses under the hood. He’s also the one who insisted I wear this special seat belt he installed to protect me ’cause he thought I was too young to run at high speeds when I first started running ‘shine. I’ve never had her full out, yet. Cain’t find a straight stretch long enough to let her run. Maybe when we get close to Nashville we can let her go and see what happens.

“You planning to make some money with that guitar in Nashville? Ain’t never seen a black boy playing country,” laughed Slick.

“That’s ’bout all I know,” said Luther. “Country blues from hard times on the mountain. Folks down at the juke joints likes it just fine. I can play a little rock ‘n roll, too.”

“Play me some driving music, then, boy. We got a ways to go,” Slick yelled above the roar of the engine as he pushed the car through the sharp mountain curves.

Luther strummed his guitar and started into a song he thought Slick would like:

It was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine and white lighting was his load.
It was moonshine, moonshine to quench the Devil’s thirst
The Law, they swore they’d get him, but the Devil got him first.

“That’s a ketchy tune. Did you write that?”

“Oh, shit. Here comes trouble,” Slick yelled before Luther could explain the song was an old East Tennessee favorite and he thought everyone in the mountains knew it by heart.

“That car just passed us is a Revenoo’er sure ‘nough. He’ll be turning around as soon as he can and be on my tail. I gotta make tracks,” Slick said, as he pulled the car to the side of the road.

“Reach under that seat and hand me that box,” Slick motioned to Luther.

Luther pulled the cigar box out from under the seat and handed it to Slick. Slick opened the box on the seat between them. It was full of cash! More money than Luther had ever seen! Slick reached in and grabbed a one hundred dollar bill from the top of one of the stacks. He crumpled the bill in one of his large fists and then stuck it in Luther’s shirt pocket.

“This is where you get out. There’s a store a couple of miles down the road run by a Chinaman. You can trust him and the bus stops by there once a day. Tell him I sent you and he’ll make sure nobody bothers you ‘til the bus gets there. Good luck, kid.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Luther.

“I’ll double back and blow the doors off that cop’s ride. He’s probably calling up ahead to set up a road block. I cain’t let that happen.”

Slick floored the accelerator while cutting the wheel hard to the left. Luther was covered in flying gravel as the car disappeared in a cloud of dust and tire smoke. Luther headed down the road towards the next town.

Around two o’clock in the morning, Luther came over a hill and thought he could see the lights of a store in the valley below. The throbbing in his foot caused him to sit down for a short nap before going further. He was soon awakened by the roar of a powerful engine and tires screaming down the mountainside, then the faint whine of a police siren followed. In the wink of an eye, the coupe came flying over the hill. Slick flashed his lights and gave Luther a “Thumbs Up ” sign as he flew by faster than any car Luther had ever seen. There was a sharp curve, just as the road took a steep dive into the valley below, about two hundred yards from the spot where Luther stood.

He watched in horror as the coupe flew into the curve at top speed. The rear wheels lost traction and the car slid sideways into the curve, over the edge of the mountain and tumbled into the abyss below. The sounds of tearing metal and breaking glass carried up the mountainside to Luther, followed by the whoosh of an explosion and the glow from the gas- and-whiskey-fueled fire lighting up the hillside.

Luther ran down to the curve and peered over the side at the horrific scene down below.

The car was a mangled ball of fire. There was no sign of Slick anywhere. Luther could not imagine how he could have survived the crash, much less the raging fire engulfing the entire hillside. He ran further down the road to the store a quarter-mile away. As he reached the store, he could see the blue glow of a television peeking through the blinds on a window of the living quarters on the second floor of the store.

Luther began banging on the door and screaming for help. He continued banging the door even after his knuckles began to bleed. A small oriental man, who appeared to be over seventy years old, came to the door after ten minutes of Luther’s cries for help.

“Why you make such noise?” the Chinaman asked with a heavy accent.

“There was a car crash up at the curve. Slick must have burned up in the car!” frantically yelled Luther.

“I know,” said the Chinaman quietly.

“He was running whiskey! The cops were chasing him! His car missed the turn and rolled into the creek below in a ball of flames! We have to get help!” Luther continued to scream.

“You drink whiskey, tonight?” the Chinaman asked.

“No. No. I don’t drink,” said Luther. “We have to help Slick!”

“No can do,” said the Chinaman. “Slick been dead eight years.”

“What! No,” said Luther as he ran back out to the road and pointed back up the hill. It was then he noticed the fire had gone out. He ran back to the curve. His foot was throbbing, his lungs burning and he was wheezing to catch his breath as he reached the edge. He stumbled forward in shock, struggling to push his heart down from his throat.. There was a new guardrail in place and the Kudzu on the other side was lush and green, completely covering the hillside. There was no car, no fire. He could not understand.

He turned to walk back to the store and noticed a small signpost in the center of the curve. He walked over to the post and balanced on his good foot while his eyes scanned the words on the small plaque attached:

Bobby “Slick” Boydd
Last of the Whiskey Runners
May 9, 1955

Luther’s leg buckled as he sat down scratching his head. It was May 9, 1963 – eight years after the crash. Who had he seen? Had he fallen asleep by the road and dreamed it all? He had never heard the story, why would he dream such a thing? He walked back to the store in a daze.

“But he told me you were here. That I could trust you,” he said to the little old man. “He said I could catch the bus to Nashville from here.”

“True. True,” said the Chinaman. “You sit right here. Bus come by at six-thirty in morning. I go back to bed.”

Luther sat on the bench in front of the store trying to make sense of it all until exhaustion carried him off to sleep. The crunch of bus tires on roadside gravel awoke him at six-fifteen. The bus squealed to a stop in front of the store. The door opened and the driver yelled down to Luther.

“You looking to catch the bus?”

Luther rubbed his eyes and tried to stand, jiggling his bad foot still tingling with pin pricks of sleep.

“How much to go to Nashville?” he asked.

“Forty-seven fifty to the stop on Music Row,” said the driver eyeing Luther’s guitar. “Not too much for a chance to live the dream.”

Luther was pretty sure he did not have enough money for the ticket, much less for food once he reached Nashville. For just a moment, he thought he might have to keep walking and thumb for a ride. Self-consciously, he went through all his pockets looking for any cash, although he knew he had little.

Then, a smile crossed his face as he pulled the crumpled bill out of his shirt pocket and smoothed it across his knee. He grabbed his clothes sack and guitar and boarded the bus. He laughed out loud as he handed the driver the smoothed bill.

“Just give me fifty in change,” he said.

“I guess that’ll make us Slick!”

-THE END-

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Conjurin’ Woman’s Daughter’s Curse

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Engaged couple makes the mistake of visiting a haunted Louisiana plantation. Ghost story written by Cheryal Hussain.

Conjurin’ woman’s daughter was kidnapped on the eve of her weddin’ day. Drums said it was the white ghosts men who had taken her away.

Drums don’t lie!

Conjurin’ woman’s daughter toiled her life away amisdt tears, pain and sorrow. The earth she walked was wet with her tears, blood and sorrow. Folks called the plantation Terra Rouge, because of all the blood red clay, said to be stained with slave blood. No other place could be found, as such.

As conjurin’ woman’s daughter laid on her death bed, she cursed ol’ Master Pressqueet for generations to come, sept one. Generations of Pressqueets would be cursed and know tears, pain and sorrow.

Time passed, the plantation fell to ruin. No one spoke the name of Pressqueet, in that town, in the backwoods of Louisiana. Old timers about town said the lands and plantation house was haunted by the ghost of conjurin’ woman’s daughter, and previous generation of Pressqueets who dared to set foot in there!

The family had moved up north, but some made there way down south, as the curse had prophesised.

The myth said that on one night, the plantation would come alive and be as it once was. The freshly plowed earth’s scent would be carried on the evening breeze and be smelt by the folks sittin’ on their rockers in the warm evenings. The folks would shake their heads and say “Terra Rouge lives again.” Clinkin’ of glass and ghostly whisperin’ of woe to come, with the faint drum beat of long ago!

The country folk knew it was time to turn in, lock the doors and turn down the lights!

Conjurin’ woman’s daughter walked the night. Lookin for a Pressqueet soul to rob.

Vernon Presscott on the eve of his marriage, with his fiance, had travelled down south to see the plantation mansion. Vernon being young and progressive, had changed his name from Pressqueet to Presscott, thinking he could be the one to outdo the family curse. Anyway he thought it only a myth. The day was turning into evening as Presscott and his bride-to-be drove along in silence.

As he and his bride-to-be turned on to the long dirt road that led up to the mansion, the stately magnolias draped in spanish moss moved in the breeze, giving a hypnotic effect on young master Prescott and his bride-to-be. Though the mansion was in ruins and deserted, the mansion was lit up and as they drew near, the plantation servents met them with much pomp and ceremony. It was the eve of Master Pressqueet’s weddin’. In their hypnotized state, young master Presscott and his fiance danced throgh the ruins of the once grand mansion. Their eyes seeing only what the spirit of conjurin’ woman’s daughter wanted them to see.

“Dance, dance, dance your life away!” she whispered. “As you are now, so was I, and in a little while, as I am, one will be.” Her ghostly whisper echoed through the chambers and halls, as the host of ghostly denizens looked on.

Prescott awoke on the debris laden floor and tattered surroundings, howling in despair: “My bride! My bride! Where do you hide?”

Nothing could be heard, except the early moning breeze, carrying the faint drum beat from a distant place and time.

Drums don’t lie.

Folks around those parts, never heard or seen of ol’ Master Prescott again. Some claim he died of grief. Others say they seen him sittin in the moon light, on conjurin’ woman’s dauther grave, waitin for absolution.

-THE END-

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Absence of Light, and Occurrence of Time

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True story of unexplained paranormal phenomena in a Virginia suburb. Written by Benjamin Stevens.

My friends and I will never forget our most eerie night together, intertwined into an everyday regular rural neighbourhood. The events that I will be describing are entirely true, with multiple witnesses and multiple happenings. This writing will show you about a possible curse, which may or may not be transferable by the simple telling of the story.

As most juvenile delinquents do, my friends and I liked to explore the neighbourhood on occasion, and loiter at the local park. Our neighbourhood was in an average rural setting in Virginia, with the occasional section of wooded areas in between houses. On my 15th birthday, I had a party and invited my four best friends as usual, Seth, Isaiah, Matt, and Anthony. However this time, we decided to go explore the Mission Township park during the night for a while.

We readied our backpacks with our snacks, soda, and other supplies that all teenage boys thought were necessary. We left my house at 12:34 A.M and started heading toward the park, which is a mile and a half away. As we got out of my backyard toward the road, all of my neighbor’s yard lights turned on. This didn’t surprise us at first. Seth suggested that there must have been some kind of sensor to detect movements. I lead the way toward the park, walking slow and quiet, so we wouldn’t wake any neighborhood creatures. We came around the first corner that had a street light, which was on the side of the road that was closer to my house. We checked the time on our watches underneath the light. Right then, the unexplainable began happening. It was 1:11 A.M. The light above us burnt out and shot sparks across the road in the direction of the park. While Anthony only laughed, the rest of us jumped back from the loud noise. After pondering the freaky light post for a while, we decided we were going to continue walking and just ignore what had happened, although the strange occurrence still lurked in the back of our heads.

As my friends and I drew closer to the house opposite of the corner, I noticed something through the rows of trees that made up the tree farm to our right. There was a bright yellow light at the end of the horizon. I looked across the road to my left, through the woods and across a lake, and the same bright yellow light was there, but on the opposite horizon. A bolt of fear shot through my spine. I checked my phone to distract myself from looking scared to my friends. It was 1:23 A.M. I began to see that there was something going on that was very unusual, but I continued to keep it to myself. I looked toward the next house in curiosity of more strange things happening, but all I saw was a dim LED yard light, and a large lakefront house behind it. We rounded the corner and got close to the house, and the light shut off. We all stood there in silence, listening for anybody who might come out of the house to tell us to go home. There was nothing; absolute silence.

The silence I heard struck myself more than it did my friends, because in my neighbourhood, there always seemed to be some type of background noise. Whether it be the wind, the lake, generators, or nocturnal creatures of the woods, the noise was always there. At that point of hush, I began to hurry towards the park, as if it was going to be some kind of shelter from the newly discovered eeriness of my neighbourhood.

My friends followed closely, as they began to see more and more spooky things happening to themselves. We approached the next house on our right which had a light on inside it. We looked at each other as if we know what was going to happen. We slowed down when we drew close to the house, and watched very carefully to see what would happen next as we continued down the road.

When the light inside the house turned off just like the previous lights, my friends and I began to jog. The next house had an outdoor light also. When we passed that house, we began sprinting as that light also shut off. With about half of a mile left to go, and none of us being conditioned for a run while carrying backpacks, there was no way we could continue at our speed. Before too long, Isaiah tripped and fell. Seth went back to help him, as Matt, Anthony and I looked back to see the lights behind us turning back on. One at a time, in our direction, the lights came back on. Our bodies froze with fear instantaneously. I am positive that this was the most terrorized that I had ever seen my friends, or been myself.

Luckily, the lights stopped turning back on before they got to us. Seth, being the Vulcan of the group, tried to use logic and reasoning to come up with why the lights seemed to be avoiding us. Matt and I just wanted to go back home, but the other three insisted to get to the park. Majority rules. We agreed to finish our journey to the park, staying as calm as possible on our way. We also decided to stay there until daylight.

Tentatively, we made our way toward the park again. The walk felt as if we were walking for miles. Just as I suspected, every light that we passed had turned off as we walked by. I checked the time. It was 2:22 A.M. The hair on my neck refused to recline. As we came close, I saw six sets of lamp posts that illuminated the park. Would they also burn out? Although we did not know why the light was avoiding us, we were horrified of what would happen if we were to tarry around the lights for too long. This was when I realized that every time we would check the time, it would either show repeating numbers, consecutive numbers, or reversible numbers.

We walked into the park worried about what might happen to us. We sat down at a picnic table under the roof of the large gathering area in the center of the park. I took out snacks from my backpack and started nibbling, I wanted to eat, but i couldn’t out of nervousness. My watch read 2:34, which would excited me, but my adrenaline had already run out. The lights around us slowly began to die out. I just simply closed my eyes to avoid what was going to happen, but it turned out, everyone closed their eyes. We woke up a little bit before dawn, at precisely 4:56. We walked home talking about the crazy night, constantly checking the time, but whenever we would do so purposely, the time was not lined up like it had been before.

Later, at Matt’s birthday party, we had a serious meeting and discussed if it was going to keep happening to us if we went out at night again. We tried to go out that night, but was discouraged after his own yard light shut off as soon as we opened the door and saw that the time was 11:11. Since then, anytime my friends and I are together, we stay inside and watch the time closely to see if anything happens at the correlating times. We still don’t know why these things happened, or what they meant.

-THE END-

NOTE: Actual location of incident kept hidden per author’s request.

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The Ghost of Bill Sketoe’s Hole

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The story of Bill Sketoe and the “hole that would not stay filled” is one of Alabama’s most famous (and true?) ghost stories.

Outside Newton, Alabama on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River is a spot where, in December 1864, Confederate soldier Bill Sketoe was wrongly executed for desertion. But the ghost of Bill Sketoe would continue to haunt the town and his tormentors. Watch the Legend of Bill Sketoe below (courtesy of Roger Powell/WDFX-TV in Dothan, Alabama).

Want to find the haunted spot for yourself?

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Bill Sketoe Hole, Newton, AL

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Bill Sketoe Hole, Newton, AL 31.344099, -85.613596 Story: The Ghost of Bill Sketoe\'s HoleOutside Newton, Alabama on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River is a spot where, in December 1864, Confederate soldier Bill Sketoe was wrongly executed for desertion. But the ghost of Bill Sketoe would continue to haunt the town and his tormentors.

If you’d like to learn more about The Legend of Bill Sketoe, check out these outside pages:

Current Photos of the Haunted Area

The Ghost of Sketoe’s Hole

More on the Sketoe Bridges

-THE END-

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The Buried Red Brick House

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Kentucky ghost story of a gravedigger who hides a horrible secret in the nearby haunted house. Written By Nathan Oser.

The stately old house sat next to one of the few grassy fields left in the old tobacco town of Hazel Mead, Kentucky. The place was built with a lottery of Indian corn bricks–brown, black, yellow, red–mostly red. Husk strings of leafless ivy ribbed the mortar and crawled over the dark, empty glass panes of the only window visible from the park. Surrounding the lonely house, hiding the house, burying the house, stood a tall wooden fence and a long row of trees, their gray pillars of bark like raked steel. The limbs were still full and green but a cloudy, late September green. Leaves flitted and fluttered. Branches bobbed lazily in the breeze.

Clyde Redding zipped up his crunchy nylon jacket. It was cool once he stopped moving, once he finished filling in the murdered man’s grave.

Clyde was in charge of the grounds. He told himself it was his park, since he tended the gardens, and he did with it as he pleased. And day after day, working through twilight and into the still night, he planted the land in bodies and sifted seeds into the topsoil. In time the grass would grow over and he would add flowers, sunny and bright, to please the daytime visitors. No one would know his midnight toils.

He laid his spade back in the rusty wheelbarrow with the rake and the hedge trimmers and the two large, black garbage bags. He eased himself into a rooty chair at the base of an elm and breathed heat into his blistered, dirty hands. The chill always started in his fingers. Or was it his spine? He shuddered at the sight of the red brick house looking down on him, forever watching with its endlessly dark, shot-silk window eye. It nibbled at his nerves and took fanged bites out of his conscience.

abandoned-haunted-house

Nothing worried him, frightened him, teased him more than the house. When the sun was flying high over the park and the afternoon breeze bending the long green grass families would pass through, some with young children who lingered here and there, unaware of the death that lurked everywhere, some with dogs, sniffing and digging and testing his patience. But none of those people had ever seen him filling in holes.

He would agonize through that harsh daytime, watering his flowers, cutting his grass, pulling his weeds, and cautiously waiting to watch the last of the visitors clear out before picking up his veteran shovel. After dark he would do what he came to do. No one would be caught dead in the park at night. They were all safe at home, full with supper and prime-time television, and falling quietly asleep in their beds. Asleep, he thought, just like all the skeletons he’d laid to rest beneath the ground, beneath his feet. Tens, hundreds of them, perhaps.

Still Clyde double checked the latch at the gate. Locked. The only way into the park at night was to jump the bony wrought-iron fence or to enter through the cutaway slab of door in the length of wooden fence that entrenched the red brick house. But no one ever passed through that door. It was padlocked. And Clyde, who had eyed the house feverishly for years, knew of no one that lived inside.

Returning to his wheelbarrow, he couldn’t help gazing up at the buried prison tower of bricks with its backdrop of windswept gray clouds and smoky moonlight. In that high, solitary window he caught flashes of ghosts like reflections of his own wicked deeds. All those buried by his own wicked hand.

A tear ran over his cheek. He swiped it away furiously at the thought of the house, the ghosts, glaring down at him and pushing forth their judgments. The weight of his nightly tasks bore down on him like the globe in Atlas’s arms. His heart felt paper-thin and halfway see-through. He had to do something–something to erase his evils. He would dig another hole.

He chose the spot carefully. Each one of his precious, secret skeletons he had marked. Mr. Eldritch.

“Mr. Eldritch. Yes,” he spoke aloud, with a lick of his lips. “How did you go? Ah, that’s right…”

He stabbed the earth. He drove the spade, crunching into the ground, with his booted heel. He tore at the fleshy dirt, lifted heap upon heap of dark clay from the icy hole and–and breathed deep the air of solace when he met Mr. Eldritch, half sunken to Hell.

He heaved and hoisted the body over his shoulders. No time to fetch the wheelbarrow. Next was Mrs. Crane. Then Senator Lister. Then who? The Tanner twins? The night was a burning wick, and before long his darkness would extinguish with the hated break of dawn.

Carting the body, Clyde raced in uneven steps to the tall, wooden fence. He felt his pocket. He felt the clinking of keys. He turned a small key in the padlock, and the door swung open. The house bore down on him full-chested and severe.

“Here!” Clyde shouted.

The house only stared with the black silence of a deep, deep sea.

“Here! Here is what you want. I buried him, yes! I hid him beneath the dirt. But I dug him up! His burden is no longer on me. I have righted my wrong. Judge me no more!”

The house creaked and moaned as Clyde burst into the foyer. He vaulted up the carpeted stairwell, flipped the stiff four-by-four of Mr. Eldritch off his shoulder and onto the second-story parlor sofa. He dusted his hands and, in a smile, bared his teeth to the shafts of moonlight sliding through the empty eye-socket window.

He and poor Eldritch were not alone in the room. There on the end of the sofa, the reading chair, the roll-top desk, the window box, the hardwood floor, the foreign rug, the stony hearth, he met a whole crowd of people. And it wasn’t the first time he’d met them. He could remember clearly now the old school teacher, Ms. Bracht; and the sheriff’s father, Mr. Moore; and Widow Wheatley’s husband John Wheatley. And then all the others, so many of them. He remembered the stone markers he’d left at their resting spots, remembered burying them in the night, digging them up in darker night, wiping the sweat from his brow, hauling them to the house, gasping for breath, pounding up the stairs, throwing them down in front of the window, and finally filling their empty graves with clumps of dirt and beds of rich black soil–all to appease the ever-watching house.

He would fill the room even fuller tonight. There was still space. Still a little time. After that, tomorrow night and the next and the next.

Like an early winter draft, he rode the halls and the stairwell, clapped open front door, flew outside toward the grounds, passed the mailbox… There! On the mailbox. Something caught his eye.

REDDING

His name on the side.

He glanced up at the house, his tears drying in the pelting breeze and his vision clearing as he spotted the curling wrought-iron letters arched above the fence, facing out for visitors.

He read the words backwards for the hundredth time and, as always, in utter horror and disbelief.

YRETEMEC SKRAP GNIDDER

Sobbing, Clyde gritted his teeth, shouldered his shovel, and lurched out to the next grave.

-THE END-

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