Mud

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Tennessee killer encounters a strange old man along a dark road after burying his victim. What does this old man know about his crime? Find out in this short story by Andy Hinton.

Although the walk should have been easier without the load, the adrenaline and whisky that had fueled Jason earlier in the night is exhausted, and what energy remains is being used to shiver himself warm. As a result, it takes him half an hour to get back to the car. But time is relative, for what is half an hour in a night that never ends.

Jason leans the shovel against the trunk and reaches into his right pocket for the keys; finding none, he goes to his left pocket and digs deeper. Then he runs both hands through all his pockets and rechecks them again.

“Damn it.” Jason kicks the car, but the sound is muffled by the storm. He is angry enough, cold and worn out enough, to break a window, but he knows he needs the keys to drive home if he is ever to be done with this dreadful deed.

Jason takes the shovel and slings it deep into the ravine hidden in the tree line. He hears it clamor and clink then splash as it bounces through the brush and lands in the water below.

Then Jason begins to walk towards the road, relying on the sporadic whims of a weak flashlight. When all goes dark, Jason continues to stumble, hoping a burst of lightning will illuminate a tire mark for him to follow. And whenever Jason feels that he is on the old roadbed, the flashlight flips on again, just long enough to show him that he has lost his way.

Surrounding Jason is what locals call the river bottom, a vast floodplain of the Tennessee River made up of agricultural fields and intertwining gravel roads. It’s where old men go to sip beer and rednecks go to throw out their trash. It’s where parents teach their children how to drive, and where their children teach each other how to drink, how to fight, how to love.

And it is where people bury bodies that need never to be found, for the river bottom doesn’t give up its dead. Jason is sure that he is not the first to recognize this fact. Locals say that in the river bottom there are more ghosts than people.

The wet clothes hang off Jason’s frame, tugging against his every movement. But despite the cold and the rain, Jason takes solace knowing that in a couple of days all of this, acres and acres, will be underwater, covered with the backwaters of the river. Any traces of this night – his footsteps, his tire marks, the grave – will be buried under a fresh layer of mud.

And as far as the body, a man once known as Randy, he will not be missed. The fact that Randy disappeared without a word to anyone will not surprise those who knew him, for Randy was a man with many enemies.

Jason ponders over this as he walks. “He could’ve have done a lot worst than to get shot by a friend.” Jason knows eventually that if he hadn’t shot him, someone else would have and some of those someone’s wouldn’t have been so nice about it. “It happened so fast he didn’t even know it was coming. Hell, it happened so fast I didn’t even know I was going to do it.”

When Jason reaches the road, he gives up on the flashlight and ambles along, relying on the feel of the gravel to keep him straight. The culmination of cold and despair weighs heavy on him now. And as Jason contemplates all the dead that surround him, of all those who lost their way or someone lost it for them, he wonders if their souls can ever escape this darkness. Jason always thought of hell as a place of fire and heat, but now he knows it can just as well be a land of rain and cold. Then Jason begins to weep, for he realizes that if he was to disappear tonight, the only friend that will miss him is buried in a fresh, shallow grave.

Jason’s stamina, both mental and physical, is gone, and it is only a will to survive that pulls him forward. Ahead, the terrain becomes flooded with light and Jason’s own shadow stands before him, but Jason doesn’t even turn to look for the source. He just continues to march ahead with the devotion of a monk, taking all that falls before him as fate. And it isn’t until a voice from inside the truck asks if he needs a ride that the spell is broken. Had it not been raining, the driver might have even seen tears welling in Jason’s eyes. But these are not tears of gratitude or despair or repentance; these are the tears of one who has witnessed great wonders, for in moments of such desperation, even an old pickup truck seems a vessel of divine nature.

Jason climbs into the dark cab and tries to take in the detail around him. None of the dash lights work, except for those on the radio, which seem to pulsate rhythmically with the ranting of an angry preacher. And behind the wheel is a man, old in an ageless way. The man’s skin is weathered and wrinkled, but his eyes are wild, burned with the knowledge of things that Jason can’t imagine, and hopes he never will.

“It’s a rough night to be walking,” yells the old man trying to make himself heard over the radio.

“Well, it’s not by choice.” Jason studies his surroundings trying to decide how much information to divulge. The truck’s interior is red but upholstered in a fine layer of dust, no doubt accumulated by riding these roads for untold years. And the floor is cluttered with empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and tobacco juice.

“I lost my keys,” continues Jason. “I gotta go back to my house to grab my spare set.” Then Jason notices a couple of bullet casings rolling around at his feet – small caliber, he would guess. But at the sight of them, Jason places his hand into the chest pocket of his coat, checking the location of his own pistol.

At first the old man doesn’t respond, but then he stops the truck and leans forward, staring into the darkness as if there is an image to be made of the rain and the night. The radio cuts out and the only sound are the wipers bouncing back and forth, back and forth, an insatiable rhythm that seems to sync with the beating of Jason’s heart.

“I can get your car a going,” says the old man who seems to be talking to himself as much as he is to Jason.

Jason looks out onto the road but sees nothing and notes it as more evidence that his driver maybe drunk or crazy or both. But he comes to the realization that this old redneck could be his savior; for even if he does get home, he still has to get a ride back down to his car. And if it doesn’t happen till morning, then some farmer could find it and call the police. No, the longer he waits, the more people get involved, the more excuses he will have to make for being down there.

“I would appreciate any help you could give me,” says Jason.

Car Headlights Ward Lane UK

Jason knows if he gets the car out now, then the only witnesses will be Randy’s body and the old man and as soon as this awareness comes to Jason, he stops his mind, fearful of what scheme will unfold, fearful of what he knows he is capable of doing.

The old man turns the truck around and heads back into the heart of the river bottom.

The water is starting to gather now, and Jason wonders if his car will make it out. If it gets stuck in the mud then maybe he would be better off reporting the car stolen. But then there is the old man who knows his story.

“Are you good at hotwiring cars?” asks Jason, trying to change the direction of his thoughts.

“I didn’t say anything about hot-wiring. I got some ways about me – gifts some might call them.” The old man gave Jason a sidelong smirk. “I’m not going to help you start your car; I’m going to help you find your keys.”

Jason cannot reply; he can’t even breathe. All he can do is clear his mind and guard his thoughts, knowing that any action he takes will have to be without a plan.

There is no marker to note the old roadbed where Jason left his car. Jason doesn’t tell the old man where to turn, and the old man doesn’t ask. He just pulls off the gravel and drives along the edge of the field.

The large puddles that Jason had driven through earlier have begun to turn into small ponds. The old man dodges some and drives through others, sending great waves in either direction like a prophet parting the waters.

They come to a stop when the truck’s headlights reflect onto the grill of the abandoned car. The old man reaches for an old green poncho, stored under the seat and slips it on as he steps into the storm.

“You know we don’t have to do this right now,” says Jason as he scrambles out of the truck. “Maybe we should come back when it’s not raining.”

But the old man is silent. He has a hood over his head and his back to Jason, so perhaps the old man can’t hear. Or perhaps his mind in a trance, for the old man’s hands are spread on the car and his eyes tilt toward a sky besieged by lightning.

The old man’s body becomes rigid and clinched, and Jason wonders if he is receiving some kind of ground shock. But then the old man relaxes and turns towards Jason. “I know where your keys are.” And without taking a flashlight or waiting on Jason, the old man walks away.

Jason starts to tell him he is headed in the wrong direction but then thinks better of it. So instead he just grins and watches the old man disappear into the woods, wandering away from the field where body is buried. Then Jason chastises himself for being so paranoid. “The crazier this man seems, the less likely anyone would ever believe him.”

The flashlight now seems to be working and Jason uses it to trail the old man through the privet and briars and muscadine vines. When Jason gets to the bottom of the draw, the old man is knee deep in the water, bent over, feeling through the muck and mire below.

“You’re going to grab a hold a cottonmouth or a snapping turtle if you’re not careful,” yells Jason, half hopeful that the old man’s death will be of his own doing. “Let’s get out of here before this storm gets any worse.”

The old man doesn’t reply but stops and yanks at something under the water. “I found it.”

“My keys?” asks Jason, now more confused than humored by the old man’s actions.

“No,” smiles the old man. “I found what we need to get your keys,” and he hoists the shovel into the air and begins to laugh.

Jason falls backwards, landing on his butt with his legs spread like a child who falters after taking his first steps. The old man strides past him, shovel in hand, and begins walking on the path Jason had blazed earlier that evening to the far edge of the field.

“If the old man knows of the shovel,” thinks Jason, “then he knows of the body. If he knows of the body, then he also knows of the murder.”

Jason pursues the old man, not speaking, not acting, just observing as one does in a dream.

As they make their way through the cocklebur and crop remnants Jason has to high step through the mud at a painful pace to keep up. But the hooded figure glides across the field, never sinking into the earth or even leaving a footprint.

When Jason arrives at the grave, the old man is standing over the wet mound of dirt. The poncho hides all of his features except for the hands- one of which is holding the shovel, while the other points to the Earth. “Your keys are down there.”

“You found them,” says Jason, “Why don’t you dig them up?”

“This ain’t my doing, son. Under this dirt lies your salvation or your damnation. It’s up to you to decide.”

For a moment, neither man moves, and the flash of lightening is the only indicator marking the passage of time. But then Jason trades the flashlight for the shovel and begins to dig. The soil is loose but heavy from the rain, and at times, he seems to be moving more water than dirt. But it is also soft, so soft that when Jason hits the body, it is the firmness of it that makes him stop.

The old man points the flashlight into the hole, illuminating the face of a young man whose head is mangled from a bullet. “You’ll find your keys beside his right arm.”

Jason throws the shovel out of the way and digs through the dirt with his bare hands till he feels the keys filter through his fingers. Then he looks up, staring into the beam of light.

“Do what you must,” says the old man, “but your destiny is your doing.”

Jason reaches into his coat to draw the pistol, but it never leaves his chest pocket. His fingers are cold and wet and muddy, and Jason doesn’t realize he is squeezing the trigger until he is knocked backwards, his own lungs torn apart and his legs unable to move.

Over the pounding of the rain and the ringing in his ears, Jason hears the laugh of the old man. But when he tries to look for him, Jason is hit in the face with a shovel load of mud.

A farmer finds the car two weeks later, once the river is back into its banks. The police run the tags and say it is the vehicle of one of the missing young men. The official report speculates that the men had probably wandered off and died of exposure before the river rose. The police say that the bodies might show up downstream or lodged in some brush, but probably not. The river bottom rarely gives up its dead.

-THE END-

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The Journey of Alysis

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Texas myth and kids story of a young orphan girl in prehistoric times who discovers unknown powers to save humanity. Written by Sara Popp.

Long, long ago, when the Earth was flat and the continents were all connected together, there were people who walked on it. The land was dry and bare, except near the oceans. People had dug out man-made lakes to create lively civilizations. Some trees started to grow and children found bushes with berries in them. It is also important to know that there were animals that were bigger than all of the settlements put together living on Earth. These animals were dinosaurs, all kinds of them. They were fierce animals that always got their way, killing almost anything that came in sight. Food was hard to come by with limited amounts of berry bushes and small rodents to eat. Dinosaur eggs were the most nutritious and filling food on Earth, but they were hard to steal from right underneath the dinosaur’s nose.

At this time, the world was starting to become a more populated and efficient place, and then a tragedy happened.

One of the people who walked through the civilizations was Alysis. She walked alone, being separated from her family nearly five years ago, when the disaster on Earth first occurred. One night, while she was sleeping, the shaking got so strong and furious that everyone in her village fled the area, hoping to get away from the horrible shaking. She was in the same hut that her family was in, but somehow they had gotten separated with all of the commotion. It was like everyone in her settlement had gone one way and she ran in the opposite way, but how could they let that happen? She was slightly afraid, but she had to be strong and think positively if she ever hoped to find her family on the big, flat Earth that she lived on. The land continued to shake after she was separated from her family like there were roaring waters underneath them, but Alysis was nowhere near the ocean.

When the shaking of the Earth first started happening, no one thought twice about it. They thought the gods were the ones who were shaking the land, punishing them for some wrongdoing. But throughout Alysis’s journey across the lands in search of her family, the shaking got significantly worse. Although Alysis was afraid because she was in the world on her own, her family had taught her the skills she needed to start up her journey to wherever she wanted. She knew she would survive without her family, but she hoped that one day she would find them so they could be together and safe.

When Alysis was quite young, she had realized she had a skill that no one else taught her or even had, unless they were hiding it, too. Alysis was strong…really, really strong. If she really focused, she could move things not only with her body, but with the force of her body as well. Alysis did not know what this meant, but since she had been separated from her family, she believed that it was important for her to continue on in her search for them and make some good out of the special skill that she had been given.

Sometimes, when Alysis would lie down for the night under the bright and shining stars, something from above would speak to her. Although she did not spend much time learning from her parents, she knew these were the gods speaking to her, telling her that she was going to one day do great things with the powers she was given, if she headed in the right direction. This was confusing to Alysis because she had no idea in which direction she should be traveling. The gods had never steered her elsewhere so she continued to walk in the same direction, towards the West, every day and every night. She hoped that her powers would someday lead her back to her family.

As she continued on her journey, the shaking of the Earth began to worsen, becoming almost constant. One day, Alysis saw something miles up ahead. It gave her determination to continue walking even though the Earth was constantly shaking out of, what she thought, was the anger the gods had. Finally reaching the things she had seen miles off in the distance, she saw three men with joyous looks on their faces.

“Greetings.” Alysis said formally to the men. Her parents had taught her to be the most formal with people you had never met before, even if they were strange looking. “I have been traveling for a long time now, alone, fending for myself. Do you have any dinosaur eggs you can spare that I could eat?” Although Alysis was a strong girl and could fight and kill any animal that came near her, no edible animals had come her way in the past few days.

“Hello Alysis, we know exactly who you are. We have been waiting.” The tallest man said to her.
She looked surprised, wondering what they meant by that. And how did they know her name? Was her family near? How else would they have known a girl like her was headed in their direction?

Another man stepped forward and handed her a dinosaur egg. She hoped these men were trustworthy because she had so much hunger in her stomach, so she started scarfing it down. “No, no.” He said, sort of giggling. “Your family did not tell us about you, in fact we have not seen them since they have not traveled in this direction.”

Another shock came to her while she was eating the delicious dinosaur egg. Could he read her mind?

“Oh yes, dear,” the same man spoke. “You know, you are not the only one with a special skill. I can read minds and I read yours quite clearly. We have been expecting you, the gods told us you, Alysis, were coming.” She almost stopped eating the dinosaur egg because of how surprised she was, but she was too hungry.

“Now,” the last man said, “it is prominent that we move fast. We know this will come as a surprise to you, but you are the Goddess of Strength. You have always been the Goddess of Strength, but the gods were waiting to show you your true powers until it was time. The time has come – it is your job to help put an end to this horrible shaking we have been enduring by using your skill of strength to stop the land from endlessly moving.” He spoke quickly, like something bad would happen if he didn’t get the words out of his mouth as fast as possible.

He hardly gave her time to process what was going on before he gave her a look like ‘do you understand?’

“What do you mean? How do I do it? Right here, right now? I don’t think I am prepared to do this, I am so young!” Alysis said with fear in her eyes.

“Come here, young one,” the first man spoke again. As she walked over to him, he reached out his arm to touch her left temple, staring deeply into her frightful eyes. Knowledge and ideas poured into her, things she needed to know about the challenge she was about to face. Images of bare land cracking, water, settlements of people miles away fearing for their lives and moving day by day to get away from the problematic cracking land.

Her eyes flung open with somewhat of an understanding of her task. In only a few seconds, she was able to get as much information she could about travelling to the land where she would help people. She knew she had to keep going westward and where she would find the land by the ocean where the shaking problem started. What she had received from the man were short clips of the problem she had to fix, but she still did not know exactly what she was supposed to do. But, she was the Goddess of Strength. Why had the gods never told her this before?

“You were meant to find us. When it was time, dear,” the mind reader interrupted her thoughts.

“Wow. This is a lot to take in at once. I am a Goddess? I can help people, save lives – stop the land from caving in and making the land fall into the ocean.” Alysis stated.

“Yes, girl,” the tallest one said, “Now hurry, you have all of the information you need. In many days you will be where you need to be. Look for the cracks in the Earth. Listen to the gods above. And when you get there, only you can decide what is necessary to make the Earth a safe place again, just use your strength and knowledge.”

They gave her a few things in a sack made of dinosaur skin and she was off to do whatever task they had put in her mind. She did not completely understand it, although she did not want to tell the men that, but she thought other people would help her to figure out her task throughout her journey to the unknown cracking area of the Earth near the ocean. These men were powerful, all knowing men who had taught Alysis in a short amount of time how she could save this planet from being empty again. But what would she do when she got to that place, where the land would fall apart if she did not step in?

As Alysis hurried through the daylight and into nighttime to find the place she was searching for, the gods started speaking to her.

“Alysis,” said a noise from the cloud-filled sky, “you must beware of what’s to come.”

What did that mean?

She fell asleep that night wondering what was coming her way and what exactly she had to do to save the planet. It was hard to understand that such a big problem had been laid upon her shoulders, but she would do whatever she could to stop the Earth from shaking.

———-

She awoke with a wetness on her face: warm and thick.

A dinosaur had creped up on her as she slept, knowing that she was similar to the type of thing that had taken her eggs in the past. Alysis, still in a sleepy state, did not know what to do and this Hadrosaurs would eat her right up if she did not think fast.

As she started to come out of her foggy, sleepy state, she quickly remembered she was a Goddess, and more importantly, the Goddess of Strength. As she stood up, the dinosaur lunged at her. She closed her eyes tightly and showed her palms to the deadly Hadrosaurs, and then she heard a screech.

She had become stronger, even though before she definitely had this power with her hands and did not know what to use it for. She never knew she could throw an extremely large dinosaur across an area twice the size of the height of a Hadrosaurs. It must have been the knowledge she gained about being the Goddess of Strength that allowed her to do things she had never done before. She finally knew how to use her force for good. With her goddess powers, she knew she would do great things with the help of the gods above.

“Well, take that!” Alysis screamed from far away. The dinosaur seemed to stir a little, so she picked up her dinosaur skin sack and started to run very, very quickly.

Alysis still did not know how far away she was from the land that was cracking. And she still did not know what she would do when she got there. Would a god give her advice from above or would she have to decide for herself? She knew she could move large things, hopefully even land, with the forces in her body, but were there other secret powers that Alysis had because she was the Goddess of Strength? Would she learn about some more of her powers when she got to the area where the land was cracking, near the ocean and the end of the world? She wished someone would lead her in the right direction, telling her how she could fully use her goddess powers and defeat the problems more quickly.

She continued walking, sometimes fast and sometimes slower. She was always afraid that something could be coming her way when she least expected it. So that night, she went to sleep with fear in her head, hoping nothing would come her way that could kill her in her sleep.

She awoke to a noise that was louder than she had ever heard before. All of the gods were talking at once, screaming at her, at least she thought.

“Hurry! Alysis! Go! You don’t understand! Alysis! Go! Go! Go! You must hurry! Alysis! ALYSIS! GO!!!” and it continued, louder and louder with words that were so jumbled she could hardly make out what they were saying.

When she heard the screams from the sky, she instantly started running without being fully conscious. As she awoke completely, she replayed the gods message in her head – she had to get out of the area very quickly. And that is what she did because she knew she was an important part of this plan to save the Earth. She was going as fast as she could, but was it fast enough? Was there another way she could get there faster?

After running for what seemed like hours to Alysis, she started to slow down because of the activity she saw in the distance. Was it the settlements? Or were they travellers? Or were they just random people that had been moving from the place they had previously lived?

Soon she discovered that they were people, running quicker than she had ever seen people run before. With their horses and wagons and children coming towards her with fright in their faces, she decided that they must be the people from the settlements by the land that was cracking. She needed to talk to them and see how much farther it was until she got to the cracked land and find out why exactly they were running. But how? They were so fast and so furious looking, there was no way a little girl like her could stop them dead in their tracks and ask them for help.

Then she remembered she was not just a little girl anymore. She was a goddess: the Goddess of Strength. She could stop them with the power she had within her.

She pushed her hands out in front of her and with all of the force she could push out of her body she stopped the people coming her way. She needed help from her eyes, but they all stopped right where they were, some people flipping and falling over because of the speed they were traveling towards her with, but regardless, they were stopped.

Whispers came from the crowd. “What’s going on? Who is that? How did she DO that?”

“Don’t you remember what the gods told us a few days back? She’s comin’. She’s come to help us. To stop the Earth from shaking so furiously! It’s the Goddess of Strength!” one of the members of the crowd yelled out to the other people.

“I’m Alysis.” She said, remembering how she should properly introducer herself. “Oh, and the Goddess of Strength. It seems like you were in such a hurry. I am so sorry I had to stop you like that, but that was the only way I thought a little girl like me could stop a group of so many people like you.”

“Oh, goddess! You are no little girl. You are so strong and wise. And we know you will save us from the land that keeps crackin’ in. Please!” another group member yelled from inside a wagon.

“Yes! Please Alysis!” the children all cried from inside the wagons. “You have to save us! It is so scary over there! It needs to stop. Please help us!”

“Where do I go and how much farther is it?” Alysis asked, worry in her voice.

“Oh. You are so so close Alysis! You must keep runnin’ and you will be there much before dark! Then do what you can to save us!” another traveler shouted.

“Thank you for all of your kind words and help. I will do whatever I can when I get there to help all of you and the rest of the world, even though I have no idea what I will do when I get there.” She should not have said that aloud because all of the members of the group were even more frightened – they looked like they no longer believed in her. She decided she needed to sound more confident and strong saying, “Now, leave the area and get to somewhere safe!”

They all left again in a hurry and thanked Alysis for all that she did. Alysis felt like she was going to fail them because of her lack of knowledge, but all she could do was try her best. With her newfound skills and knowledge of being a goddess, she believed she could do much more than she ever thought possible.

Again, she started off running, looking back at the flat land behind her to see if the settlement people were still in sight. They were, but hardly, because they were running just as fast as she was towards safer land. After they were out of sight, she continued to look forward to the horrible cracking land that was causing so many problems in the world.

She continued running as fast as she could, but she grew very hungry. She ate the last of the food in her sack, hoping that after she did what she could at the cracking land, she would be given more or taken somewhere that had something for her to eat. She thought the gods must praise her; after all, she was the Goddess of Strength. After she had scarfed down her remaining food, she began to run again.

The sun was getting closer to the horizon, meaning it would be dark soon enough. As she noticed this, she spotted something else about a mile off in the distance. Cracking. Land that looked like it was no longer there anymore. It had to be –

“Yes, Alysis. Go. You are so close. Save the world.” She heard a god speak from above.

Although she had stopped dead in her tracks with the sight of the land she had been looking for for so many days, she started to sprint faster than she had ever before. Sweat dripping off of her face, hunger and thirst in her stomach, she made it to the cracking land so quickly that she had no idea what to do when she finally made it to the edge of the world. Ocean water was flowing and taking pieces of the cracked land along with it.

She thought about her strength. She must use her strength to do something to stop the Earth from constantly shaking. Although she had become used to the shaking after constantly enduring it for so many years, it still needed to stop before anything worse happened.

Suddenly, something came over her. Her head filled with knowledge of what to do to save the remaining land from falling into the ocean. “Dig. It is time to dig. To push all of the dirt to places where it isn’t now. To create holes in the Earth so the water can come up between the landmasses. There is too much pressure – the land does not have enough strength to hold itself together with the roaring water rushing around and trying to get underneath it. I will dig and build up the land on the edges to make a large whole across this land.” Alysis said and no gods disagreed, so she started without hesitation, because it seemed like she did not have much time.

With the most amount of concentration she had ever given to anything, she focused all of her force and power on the land in front of her. Pushing so hard on the land that had already started cracking, moving the areas apart that were naturally being pushed apart from the ocean water. The first hole she dug was wonderful, so smooth on the edges. And when the water started to come through the bottom, she stopped and held her breath, and then the water stopped squirting up through the bottom of the Earth. It started flowing and stopped where the land was still put together.

The land seemed like it was floating on water in these places, but she knew it was just underneath the land pushing up, like where every edge of land meets the ocean. That’s why there was too much pressure coming from the water, trying to push the land apart. The water wanted to be where the land was. If she could fix this area then the pressure should not be too strong in other places and the land should stop shaking all over Earth.

Alysis continued, digging holes and building up the land around the edges in some places. Some edges were smooth; some were rough when she had to start moving land somewhere else if there was an unexpected crack and she thought the land might come crashing down. Water was flowing through the whole vast amount of land as it started going out to the ocean. Although the area was so incredibly large, Alysis found that she could see every edge and crack and crease in the area, like her eyesight had improved with her knowledge of being a goddess. There were some places in the immeasurable area that were dry with no water near them because the water had not cracked through these parts yet. Some land was taller than others, but with every move Alysis made, the Earth stopped shaking a little.

After what seemed like hours of protruding the land and fixing every last crease she could see, the Earth was hardly shaking anymore. The last crack she could see was right next to her feet and it was almost bursting at the edges with water spurting through the land. She was exhausted, but she knew after this last bout of strength, she would be able to stop and look at the land that she had saved. With the most force she could put towards the land, she dug out right next to her feet and created a very shallow opening to this new created land. She felt still for the first time since she could remember.

Then, a roar louder than the gods shouting at her earlier that day, came from the sky. The gods. She had saved Earth and all of the people who settled in this area. Although they were no longer in the area, she was sure they would come back and see the creation she had made as soon as they felt the stillness of the world.

“Alysis,” Zeus, the king of all gods, spoke to her. She knew this because he showed himself – for the first time ever, she could actually see a god. “You have proven your strength. You are truly a goddess who has created a wondrous area for all to look at on this Earth and even better, saved the land from falling into the ocean. Just look at what you have made, given water to the land around the surrounding the area. Soon you will come up to the heavens to be with us. It is beautiful. You did this all on your own with your goddess strength with little help from us gods above.”

She took her time to look around and see the land she had created with the strength in her little body and mind. It really was beautiful, flowing land.

Brazos River below Possum Kingdom Lake, Palo Pinto County, Texas

Today, people all over the grand Southern state rely on the water from the area Alysis created so many years ago. It is the important area where the Goddess of Strength came and saved the planet from crashing in on itself and the ocean. Alysis still looks down on the land and water in this area today from up in the sky as the Goddess of Strength and she is proud to know that the people of Earth have named the land something so powerful like her: The Brazos River in Texas.

-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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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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This Moment Is Your Life

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Tennessee horror story – just don’t ask what’s in the basket.  Written by C.G. Fewston.

The side streets of Slayden, Tennessee were dead in the late afternoon. In the shadows of one building a fat balding man sat, cigarette dangling between his tight little lips, smoke further obscuring his face as he stared down into several baskets at his bare feet.

The doorway was empty and then there was a little girl standing, squinting at the old man seated in the darkness by his wooden table. The little girl’s figure was small and strong and in her hand was a small rope that held three medium sized fish. He knew she could see the orange glow of his cigarette but little else. She stood staring into darkness and he sat looking out at the light.

The little girl coughed into her fist and held up her fish and asked, “Fish, sir?” Nothing happened. The fish swayed a little from the yellow rope, eyes bloated from the heat and death. Again she spoke, “Fish, sir? Do you want to buy my fish?”

The man raised himself up from the table where he had been sitting, removed the cigarette from his mouth, and walked over to the doorway. His dirty bald head, brown and wrinkled, stuck out of the darkness and into the bright light of midday. He squinted down at the little girl and replied, “Fish? You want to sell me fish?”

At the clarity of the man’s question the young girl’s eyes became a little confused and she replied again with her fish still hanging between them. “Do you want to buy my fish, sir?”

New York, New York. Baskets of seafood at the Fulton fish market

The old man looked at the three scrawny fish and then toward the body of the young girl. Her hair was short like a young boy’s, her chest and arms and legs all lean and brown from too much sun.

“Well, why don’t you come in and I will see about your fish.” The old man half-turned back to go inside when the little girl’s “No!” bellowed back at him. He turned and faced her and asked, “What? Do you want me to buy your fish or not?”

“Yes, sir,” came her reply. “I do.”

“Then come in and I shall pay you.” The old man said.

Again the little girl repeated, “No.”

This time the old man became irritated and stepped out of the house and into the bright street. His eyes became very small and he shielded them with his hand from the sun.

“What do you mean?” He asked the little girl, leaning down and almost touching her face with his.

“I mean for you to buy my fish. To buy them here. Not there.” Her free hand, the one not holding the fish, pointed into the darkness.

“Ah, afraid are you?”

“No, sir,” the little girl answered. “Do you want to buy my fish?”

“Of course I do.” The old man took a drag of his still smoldering cigarette and continued, “Well, you see, darling, my money is there on the table, and if you come inside I will give it to you, and you shall be paid nicely for those fish of yours.” The old man’s eyes searched the empty street.

“No, sir,” came the girl’s response. My fish stay here.”

The old man laughed to himself and said, “Very well then,” and went inside. The darkness consumed his figure and after a few minutes he returned with several wrinkled bills in his hand.

“Here you are,” he said. “Is this enough for all three fish?” The old man gave the money to the little girl and she inspected it to see that indeed the money was a great deal more than what he believed she had hoped for.

“Yes, sir,” she said with a smile. “Here are your fish.” She held out the three dead fish and the old man took them. He stood in the doorway, between darkness and light, holding a cigarette in one hand and the lifeless fish in the other. The little girl pocketed the money and said, “Thank you!” She ran up the street and out of sight.

The old man looked down the street and said, “Smart girl.” He then threw the dead fish into the vacant street where a few scavenging dogs began to eat. He went back inside, sat down in the darkened room at his table, lit another cigarette, and his eyes grew wider when he glared out the lightened doorway at a little boy or girl crossing in front of his door. He listened for their laughter and watched them play in the glowing light.

After a time the old man said, “Smart girl.” And then he reached down into a basket by the table and picked up a bloated head that had once belonged to a little boy. He placed the object onto the table and tried to blow the flies away from the eyes and mouth with smoke. He leaned close to the lips, stared and whispered slow and smooth, “Smart girl.”

-THE END-

About the Author: C.G. Fewston has an MFA from Southern New Hampshire University and an MA in Literature from Stony Brook University and is currently a working writer/university professor. He has stories and essays published in Bohemia, The Writer’s Drawer, Nature Writing, Travelmag: The Independent Spirit, and Go Nomad and is a contributor to the Ho Chi Minh City’s premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre. He has also self-published one novella A Father’s Son (2005), one collection of short fiction The New America: A Collection (2007)- a Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards – and a novel set in modern Vietnam called Vanity of Vanities (2011) . He also had a Highly Commended short story “Lazarus, Come Forth!” in the Tom Howard Short Story, Essay, and Prose Contest.  

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