Beyond The Uncut Trees: South Carolina Horror Story


Horror story of a frightening creature terrorizing a frontier South Carolina town. Written by Norman Coulson.

(may be too intense for young children)

My name in Julius Smith. I used to be the sheriff in Saint James parish, a hamlet on the South Carolina frontier. My previous career was on the east coast of South Carolina, where I maintained law and order there with the King’s stamp for some time before coming to this eerie land to receive a promotion. One evening I was drinking in Jack William’s tavern my place of lodging for the night. My home was nearer to town but there were reports of outlaws in this area. The woods were invested with the vermin, people displaced by the war with the Cherokee. These brutes now plundered, poached, murdered and raped. My prey was gone by the time I came but hoping the fugitives would return, I stayed.

Jack William’s tavern was a new inn built but ten years ago, but by the look of things it seemed more like an ancient ruin. Most buildings seemed like that here on the edge of our blessed King George III’s country. The folks who live around here seemed rugged and harsh. This tavern was a frequent destination for locals and it stank of their presence.

It was a quiet night at the inn. The only two other guests were two sailors drinking at a table beside me. I think they came so far inland to avoid the crimps. Jack the innkeeper was busy with his lone tavern maid rinsing some glasses. In a few minutes he would be closing the inn and locking the door for the night. It was rare to see anybody enter the inn after darkness. Even the most indecent of men tried to avoid traveling on these treacherous roads at such a late hour. Thus it was shocking when the door was opened by none other than Sir Joseph Waverly.

Historic American Buildings Survey W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 31st, 1934. FRONT VIEW - WEST ELEVATION. - High Street (Old Tavern), Mooresville, Limestone County, AL HABS ALA,42-MOVI,2-1

Sir Joseph Waverly was a respected landowner in this parish. The owner of 5000 acres of land and a hundred slaves, he grew tobacco. I should say he used to be the owner of a hundred slaves because a month ago the most peculiar thing had happened. In town I was informed that two of Waverly’s slaves had been captured by a group of citizens. These runaways had been reportedly easy to catch. Most fugitive slaves fled deeper into the countryside to find refuge among Indians. There were also rumors that some of the slaves had formed their own communities in the swamps where our dogs could not so easily track them. These slaves, however, behaved entirely differently. The two of them ran directly into town. On the approach of a couple of citizens who demanded to see their passes they just kept running. They did not flee into the woods, but continued towards the main road. The only place that would have led them is to the next town and likely more people ready to capture them. That was unnecessary however, as they were quickly caught. I confronted them and told them I would bring them back to their master and let him punish them as he saw fit.

Upon my mentioning Waverly’s name the two slaves fell to their knees and begged not to be taken back to him. They pleaded with me to kill them or sell them to some other master far away from here, even to the sugar estates in the Caribbean, just not to take them back to Waverly. Waverly had never been known as a particularly severe guardian towards his slaves, but I assumed he must have changed his ways. I was somewhat moved by the slaves’ pleas, but I did the job the crown gave me, and took the two back to Waverly.

When I arrived at the estate I knocked on the door. A house servant opened it with a grim look and ushered me into the parlor. The slaves were left outside with my deputy. Almost immediately Waverly entered the room. He wore a huge grin and seemed delighted to see me. Perhaps any company was pleasant on an estate as remote as his. I told him about the two slaves. The moment I said that was why I had come his grin disappeared and his eyes faced the ground.

“Never mind them.” He said. “They are free, in fact all my slaves are now free. I shall write up the papers for all of them as soon as the opportunity presents itself.” I was shocked by this answer fearing that the man, though only in his late thirties, had gone mad with age. Nevertheless, it was not my way to question the decisions of distinguished men such as him.

When Waverly entered the doorway of the tavern that night, he did not seem to notice me. “What would be your pleasure sir?” Jack asked him in his usual humorous tone. Jack, like many in his profession, was an eager old man always interested in discussing the latest gossip and determined to make his customers feel jolly.

“A mug of rum” Waverly responded, sitting down at a table in the corner far away from the door. The tavern maid fetched him his request. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. The speed at which he drowned the rum made even the two sailors snicker. He quickly ordered another one. This one, too, he consumed at a rapid speed. I was shocked to see a man of his station behaving in such a manner, but I kept my distance.

Waverly was now beginning to sway a bit and asked the inn keeper to come over to his table. “Jack dear Jack, I have developed a craving for wolf’s meat, as have my wife and son. Do you have any for me? I want a lot. In fact,” he sighed, “in fact I will buy all you have. I will pay you double what you would get from any other customer.”

“Forgive me sir, but I have none, no customer that I can recall has ever made such a request,” said Jack.

Waverly smiled “How about triple then?” as if he had not heard what Jack just said.

“I am sorry sir I cannot.”

Waverly looked distraught. He pulled out the money he owed Jack, placed it on the table and staggered out the door. I thought I heard him mumble as he left, something about “death,” but I cannot be certain.

As the door closed behind him I could see Waverly get into his carriage. His coachman was a one legged-negro freedman by the name of Johnson. Rumors were that his master, in a fit of anger, had broken his leg which required that it be amputated and replaced with a wooden one, but feeling guilty about it afterwards had freed him. Later he had come to work for Waverly. I learned the next few details of that night from Johnson since I was not there.

Waverly’s carriage pulled up to his mansion. It was a large and ornate building, but it was on the very edge of civilization. On the edge of the estate were uncut woods thick as a swampy underbrush. What lay beyond was largely unknown. The crown posted a few forts with soldiers out in the wilderness on lands captured by the French, but we only heard occasional rumors of their exploits. Somewhere thousands of miles away I knew that the Spanish colonized a place called Alta California. What lay between our land and theirs was a mystery to me.

When I lived on the east coast I imagined all sorts of fantastic creatures lived in the endless wilderness which lurked beyond our borders. I enjoyed hearing the tales of trappers who told me fantastic stories of their journeys. They told me of antlered rabbits called jackalopes, the ferocious monster called the hidebehind which hides behind trees waiting to ambush men, to feast on their flesh. They had tales of wild, hairy, ape-like men, and Indians who could fly. One man even said he had seen the seven cities of gold which the conquistadors had once looked for, and offered to draw me a map to it for a substantial sum. Even back then I was not quite that gullible. Nevertheless, it was all so thrilling and I wanted to believe. Now, however, things were different.

When I moved out here the world seemed to become much darker. The world may be round, but I felt I was at the edge of it, with unknown horrors beyond. I had not the comfort of being surrounded by people, as I had in the port towns in the east. My reading material consisted of books such as the works of rational men, like Dr. Benjamin Franklin. They provided me a little comfort at night, but not as much as I hoped. If the reader will forgive my digression I shall return to the story at hand.

Without saying anything to Johnson, Waverly got out of his carriage and staggered to his front door. Johnson drove the carriage back to his cabin, but then got out and walked towards the mansion knowing he was now about to see the demise of his master. He walked along the right side of the house as quietly as he could with his wooden leg, to the kitchen window where he knew his employer was heading.

Waverly entered the door of the kitchen and saw what he prayed in vain was all just a hallucination. In the corner his now one-armed wife and young son lay. They were frozen with fear lacking even the strength and courage to beg for their lives. In the other corner of the room lay two eyes. They were bright and blue like two large sapphires. They had no visible lashes and blinked less than human eyes did. The eyes were fixed on Waverly’s throat.

“I am sorry, but I could not obtain any wolf’s meat, do with me what you want.” Waverly said boldly, courage increased by the amount of rum he had drunk. In a voice that sounded like nothing known to God or man, the eyes responded. “Then our dealings are complete. It is you, your wife and son who must feed me.” Unlike his wife and son Waverly did take the time to plead. “Take my wife and son, but do not eat me I have been a faithful servant to you.” The eyes however, proceeded to lunge at him.

I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a knock at my door. “Who’s there” I asked.

In a moment I heard Jack’s voice “It is only me Mr. Smith, there is a young Negro boy here to see you. He says it is urgent.” I groaned and rolled out of bed. It took me a minute to locate a match to light the lantern, but I eventually did. Finding my clothes, I dressed, put on my wig, and went down the inn’s stairs where the boy awaited my arrival.

I recognized him immediately as young Anthony, Johnson’s twelve-year-old son. “Good day, sheriff sir” he said, with a child’s eagerness. “My father has sent me here to fetch you. He says our master is dead, brutally murdered.”

“Murdered?” I said with some alarm.

“Yes sir.” Anthony responded.

I sat down. Even though I was sheriff and had seen quite a few murders in the past, it was still a shock to hear somebody I just had seen alive the previous day was now dead. When I recovered I gave Anthony a penny and told him to fetch my deputy Trevelyan, who lived nearby.

When Anthony and Trevelyan appeared I gave him the news and the three of us set out towards Waverly’s manor. The King’s highway was well maintained although there were a couple of fallen logs obstructing our path. The woods around us were fresh from the morning dew, creating a pleasant aroma. We were nearing the house when the pleasant smell ceased, replaced by a foul odor like that of rotting flesh. The three of us stopped in our tracks.

I sniffed for the source of the smell. It seemed to be coming off from the left. I told Trevelyan to follow me and ordered Antony to remain on the road. We crept slowly pistols drawn through the underbrush. Ahead of us was a large clearing which looked like a meadow. Trevelyan moving slightly ahead of me entered the clearing, but then stopped in his tracks. I followed. Right under Trevelyan’s boot was a small weed covered in dried blood. My eyes shifted slightly to the right and saw that it was part of a trail of blood that lead just a few inches away to a severed human arm. Looking up I saw a sight that sickened even my stomach.

There were scattered limbs everywhere, they were from several people, I couldn’t tell how many. All were men as far as I could see, black and white, young and old. There were heads, arm, legs, and feet. Many of the parts were severed open with their contents slowly leaking out. Ravenous flies were everywhere having a feast. Blood trails leading in all directions indicated that many of the limbs had already been dragged off by scavengers but such a feast had been prepared that it seems the few predatory animals in this area were having trouble finishing off this massacre.

Off to our left there was a cracking of leaves. Trevelyan and I turned swiftly our weapons pointed at the potential threat. It was only John Mason, Waverly’s neighbor and a landowner of almost as much means. When we pointed our pistols at him he did not stop or try to talk to us, he just kept walking, though he did give us a stare. In his eyes was a glazed exhausted look. I noticed that he had just come back from a hunting trip. Over one shoulder he held a blunderbuss. Over the other he was carrying a dead wolf. It was an old-looking creature. Its scrawny appearance suggested that in life its meals were irregular. The people of Saint James Parish are not in the custom of making wolves’ lives easy. Mason passed us by and continued on the way back to his manor.

Trevelyan and I did not say another word to each other. We just walked back to the road where we found Anthony and continued with him back to the Waverly house. When we got there, I decided to talk to Johnson before examining the house. When we entered his cabin Johnson was sitting before a small fire. He turned his chair around and bade us hello, but otherwise did not move. I forgave him for not rising in my presence due to his injury and the horror of what had just happened.

“Alright Johnson, please tell me from the beginning what has happened here.” He stared off into space for a moment before beginning his story.

“Well sir, one month ago life on this plantation changed forever, for our master became no longer a master, but a slave like us. A horrible monster came here out of the deepest reaches of that dark wood outside of our plantation. The creature was strong enough to break through locks and force open doors. It was also intelligent and had apparently been observing us from the shadows, living our lives, for some time. It knew English only too well. It also knew who was in charge on this plantation and that it was him who should be its target. It killed the white overseers and the slave drivers and left their corpses in a big heap just outside the boundaries of this plantation. Then as the master was the only leader left, the monster made him its personal servant. It took the master’s wife and son hostage, holding them in the master’s kitchen which it made its own den, and demanded that the master feed it or see them eaten. The master tried to shoot the creature, but this beast is immune to bullets and for challenging it, the beast ate one of the mistress’ arms. In the end Master Waverly had to comply.

“The monster was not like any animal I have ever known. Most predators are happy to have a meal and do not care too much what it is. This animal, however, wanted specific forms of meat. The monster’s first target was the plantation’s supply of hogs. He ate every one of them. Next he quickly finished off what cattle the master possessed. If the creature had not been meat eater only we all would have starved, it was such a glutton. Two days ago the creature requested wolf’s meat. The master went out hunting but could not find any. Men have already killed the wolves who used to live in this area.”

Johnson then proceeded to tell me about the previous night when Waverly visited to the tavern. Normally I might have been able to dismiss such a story as the ramblings of a superstitious Negro. What I had seen earlier that day, however, left me uncertain. I did not let either Trevelyan or Johnson see it, but I was trembling throughout my whole body.

“What does the creature look like?” I asked trying to sound as calm as possible.

“I never actually saw its shape.” he responded, “I only saw its outline looking through the window on that last night. After it killed the overseers, it never left the kitchen. Most animals like the freedom to move around. This monster, however, lingers in one place like a fungus, staying with its victims at all times” Johnson said with disgust. “I can only tell you that the monster is huge.”

Johnson shifted in his chair and sighed. “Since the master freed the slaves me and my boy are the only ones still alive here, his strength gives me strength. Children are odd, they fear the dark when there is nothing to fear, but somehow when faced with a real threat they seem to forget it’s there.”

“Is the creature still here?” Trevelyan asked.

“I don’t think so, I heard trampling in the woods early this morning. I suspect the creature was leaving here, moving on to its next victim. Its appetite for man’s flesh seems to have dulled and plainly it doesn’t think a one-legged man and his twelve year old son will make good providers, so it has spared us.”

“Thank you for your help, Johnson,” I said.

As I turned to leave, Johnson called out to me “Sir, there is one other thing you should know. The monster is a very perceptive creature. It probably sensed you that day you came to return the two runaways. It knows of your existence.”

That was the worst thing Johnson could have said to my terrified mind at that moment.

Trevelyan and I walked to the front door of the mansion. I knocked, hoping that someone would answer, telling me that this was all just some joke. There was no answer, but the door creaked open. We entered. Inside there was some smashed china, but most of the furniture seemed to be in place. We walked down to the kitchen. Opening the door fully, I immediately turned my head away. What I saw there was a picture I simply could not bear to look at and can’t bear to describe to you now. The smell of rotting flesh was again in the air. Trevelyan stood there, his eyes wide with fear at the sight. Tugging on his sleeve I led him away from the kitchen towards the parlor.

“I think I know where the creature is going next, if such a creature exists,” I said to Trevelyan as we reached the parlor.

“I do too,” he responded. “The Mason house.”

Strange as it may seem, my fear gave me an inexhaustible urge to go to the Mason House. I hoped desperately that the creature wasn’t real, and I longed to prove it. In addition, it was getting late in the day. I dared not go back to the inn without knowing whether the creature existed or not, for I did not want to be alone for even a moment at this point. I could not even imagine going back to my home closer to town. All had to be settled here and now. I told Trevelyan to go to the rifle house and grab as many pistols as he could find. Perhaps with enough fire power the creature, if it was real, could be slain.

The two of us started on our way towards the Mason house. As we walked along the road every tree looked menacing. Every bush hid the creature, ready to pounce on us. Trevelyan, I could tell, was just as scared. The autumn sun was lowering in the sky, darkening South Carolina as we reached the Mason property. I could not enter the main mansion without either Mr. Mason’s permission or a search warrant. The nearest magistrate was a hundred miles away and I doubt I could have convinced him to grant me one for this. I decided to check the slave quarters to see if the slaves would confirm our suspicions. As sheriff, I needed no one’s permission to enter the slave quarters to search for weapons or contraband. If they did confirm our fears, I intended to move on the house warrant or not.

As we entered, the slaves looked startled and terrified for a moment, but then they relaxed slightly when they saw we were not the creature. They were all staring out a window which faced the Mason House. The house was barely visible from here, but they seemed intent on seeing anything which approached from it. The look of pure horror on their faces was the greatest confirmation I had that we had come to the right place. I addressed them, asking if any of them wanted to help us get rid of the creature. We managed to get five men among them to volunteer. Trevelyan passed out pistols to them. As Sheriff, for me to arm slaves verged on an act of rebellion against the crown. Right now, however, the hangman’s noose wasn’t any concern to me at all. Men, I think, fear fates they cannot understand far more than fates that they do.

Our pistols cocked and at the ready, the seven of us walked towards the house. I asked one of the slaves and he told me where the window of the kitchen was. As we approached I heard what sounded like loud gargling. When we looked inside I saw a spectacle that was beyond any nightmare I have ever had.

Kneeling, prostate, in a corner was Mr. Mason a look of horror on his face. He seemed frozen in his spot unable even to breathe. Then looking a little to the right in the dimness of the twilight I saw the monster. It stood on all fours, but even then it was almost as tall as a man. Its entire body was covered with black fur. The creature was long too, longer than a horse. The head was round, its small ears shaped like squares extended directly outward from its head. Its eyes were the brightest shade of blue I had ever seen, they were nothing less than glittering gemstones in their brightness. No nose was apparent on the creature’s fur covered face. The paws it possessed were shaped like those of a lion, extending from which were the sharpest set of claws I have ever seen. They were not curved like most animals rather they extended straight out. In all ways they resembled vertical knives. The creature used them to cut the carcass. Below its claws lay the remains of the small wolf Mason had hunted earlier that day. I could see it was nearly finished.

Besides cutting the meat the creature used its claws like forks, skewering portions of the meal and lifting them to its mouth. When its mouth opened I expected to see a horrible set of teeth to match its claws. Instead I saw nothing. The creature’s mouth was a wide gaping hole with no teeth at all. It must have broken down its food completely with its claws, leaving its mouth ready to swallow. This method, however, was not foolproof, for I could see the creature drool its meat a great deal.

We stared at the scene unable to move for a few minutes. Every so often the creature would flick scraps at Mason’s wife and daughter who cowered in the corner. When there was nothing left of the wolf carcass but bones the creature’s mouth curled in to what I am certain was a grin. Then in that disgusting voice which sounded like buzzing and hissing at the same time it asked “Any more of this wolf’s meat on hand?”

Mason did not respond, he simply remained on his knees eyes half closed. The creature licked its lips with a black tongue and turned its head slightly. We were on the right side of the window so it is possible the creature did not see us at that moment, nevertheless we all lost our wits.

The slaves quickly moved to get a good aim and then fired. Trevelyan and I did the same. I do not believe a single shot missed the creature. It reeled in pain from the force of the bullets, but did not fall. The creature’s hide was so thick that the bullets failed to injure its anatomy. It let out a roar more of anger than of pain and came for us. The creature was too large to get through the window so it knocked Mason aside and rushed out the door heading for the main entrance so it could come around to us. We fled in all directions. I followed in the same direction as Trevelyan, while all the slaves went their own way. Mason had a small apple orchard near his home, and we both headed towards it. Since the creature could not smell, I hoped we could hide behind a thick apple tree and not be detected.

The monster was fast. We had only made it a few paces when it was already out the door. Fortunately for Trevelyan and myself the creature pursued the slaves first. We made it to the orchard where we both crotched down behind trees within sight of each other. I could not see anything but I heard the slaves’ cries of pain as the creature caught them one by one. When it was finished with them it galloped toward the orchard. Stopping at the entrance it looked for any sign of us. I was too scared to move, but Trevelyan reached out and picked up a rock. The creature I fear, noticed his hand and it rushed towards him. As the monster neared my deputy’s hiding space he jumped up, the rock in his right hand. With it he moved to strike what looked like the one vulnerable place on the creature’s body; its blue eyes. The creature however, knew of Trevelyan’s presence and was too quick for him. It held up one of its paws and skewered him with one of those terrible claws. From my vantage point I saw my deputy’s blood and bodily matter seep from his chest. He fell to the ground stone cold dead. Now I was certain the creature would soon find me and I would meet my fate, all was lost for me.

For about thirty seconds, the creature resumed looking around; for me, no doubt. All of a sudden however, the creature threw up. The contents of its vomit I will never describe to you. It vomited a second time, after which, resigned, it walked weakly and sickly out of the orchard and back towards the woods. No doubt it wanted the comfort of its own nest somewhere in those deep woods to recover from its sudden illness. I remained in my position, unable to move, petrified with my fear for the entire night. I was terrified that the creature would soon come back for me. Laying on the ground I wept a few tears for Trevelyan. He was my best deputy, and also, I would say, my friend. In a world with such dangers as I had just encountered good friends are priceless.
Dawn was beginning to break, when I felt a gentle nudge on my leg. I looked up to see Mr. Mason his blunderbuss in hand staring down at me.

“You still alive?” he asked.

I chuckled and nodded. Mason looked a little bruised but surprisingly quite healthy considering the way the creature had thrown him about. He asked me to return to his house for tea. As a slave prepared some for us, he explained my sudden good fortune with the creature.

“I poisoned the wolf. While I was out hunting for it I found some white berries. I had previously been told not to eat or even touch berries of that color. I could not poison the meat too strongly or the creature likely would have tasted it.” He sighed and looked down. “If only I had found more wolves than maybe I could have killed the thing.”

“Do you think it will return?” I asked him as I sipped my brew. “I don’t know. I only hope that this experience has taught the creature to look for easier prey than man,” he said, in a bold voice. The thought occurred to me that this creature might not be one of a kind, perhaps there was an entire species of these monsters living out in the endless American wilderness. Perhaps this one had simply drifted too far east. I kept this fear to myself.

I no longer live in Saint James. I bribed a respected physician to write a letter to the governor’s office on my behalf, saying that my health required a change in climate. I managed to receive a reassignment to a post in Florida, recently captured from the Spanish. My fears tell me that I have not moved far enough away. Perhaps this creature possesses not only an ability for man’s speech, but also a hunger for one of his vices; revenge. I wonder whether the creature will come for me, even here.

From that day to this I have had trouble sleeping at night. At home I have even considered asking one of my servants to sleep at my bedside for the company. Such an arrangement was quite common in the past. Since our people discovered the New World however, we have become much more independent. Servants have their own quarters now, and my pride does not permit me to change that arrangement. This incident, however, has made me wonder whether we Christian men have entered a world we are not prepared for. Perhaps we simply should have stayed on our side of the ocean. That dark wilderness contains things we cannot learn to endure.


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True Nature: North Carolina Horror Thriller


Animal fable The Scorpion and the Frog is retold as a North Carolina horror/suspense thriller by Kyle Moore.

I’m afraid I don’t have much time left.

In the gloom of this rotted old boathouse, I put my work down for a moment and sneak along one of the walls. I peek through the slats, the old weather-beaten wood is gray and warped in such a way that it is amazing this shelter stands at all.

I see glimpses of green beneath a dangerous charcoal sky. I move from one gap in the wall to the next, daring myself to make it all the way to the old window. I know what I’m looking for, and each time I fail to see it I find myself feeling more afraid, not less.

I’m now only inches from the window. Just below it there is a decent sized hole, and I look through that first. It’s dark, but not so dark that I can’t see the slate gray sand of the beach, the angry ocean slamming the island with wave after wave, or the trees up on the hill, dancing in the wind. I recognize a few palm trees, but the rest… I don’t know the rest. I never learned the names of trees, and this fills me with a stinging regret. I tell myself if I survive this, I’m going to learn all of the trees’ names.

My fingers gingerly touch the bottom of the window sill as sweat rolls down my back, pasting my shirt to my skin. Most of the glass in the simple square hole has been busted out some time ago, but a few jagged shards remain. Slowly I pull myself up, angling my head so that I could see while revealing as little of myself as possible. I can see more of the surrounding island now. The vegetation up the hill is in a frenzy–dark electric green whips back and forth all along the canopy. Below there is little but hungry shadow.

I pay this no mind. I’m not looking for the storm nor the island, but for him.

I’ve done well evading him so far. I’ve seen his twisted sinewy form from the cover of dense foliage as he hunted for me, my heart thumping so loud I thought it would give me away. I can only attribute my continued survival to some divine grace.

But then I found this boathouse, and I knew it was a risk. I knew the moment he discovered its existence this would be the least safe place on the island. But I had to take the chance because…

“…ational Weather Service… orts… urricane Edn… off the coast of… arolina,” the little transistor radio I found squawks at me. “…dents urged… uate.”

I stare at the silvery box, its volume turned up as loud as I dare, hoping it can’t be heard from the outside over the sound of the wind. I couldn’t make out if the reporter said the storm was off the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina. If he said South, I may have a couple of hours. If he said North, I’m probably already dead.

I creep back to the task at hand.

It’s hard reading the instructions in the gloom. I can only hope I am getting the steps mostly right. On the far end of the boathouse, the ocean crashes in, reminding me of the urgency of my task. Outside the boathouse, somewhere on this island, a killer searches for me, and if he fails, the forces of nature are raging up the coastline, ready to finish the job he set out to do.
There is a crash of lightning, and everything in the boathouse is caught in a freeze frame tableau of black and white–the broken window, the withered boards that make up the wall, the pile of oars and water-logged life vests tossed in the corner, and the workbench with the transistor radio and the raft I am trying desperately to repair.

I fix one patch onto the raft and move on, looking for another hole. I do this three times before I’m as close to sure as I can get that I’ve got everything plugged up. As I work the radio continues to spurt out information in static laden bursts. Wind speeds are in excess of 130 miles per hour, the eye is moving 12 miles an hour. Current projections have the storm making landfall somewhere on the Southeast coast of Virginia.

None of this makes any difference to me. The storm could be a category 1 or a category 5, it could make landfall or stay off the coast; if it catches me on this island, I’m a dead man.

I find an old bike pump on the workbench, but before I start filling the raft with air, I make one last patrol of the boathouse. Panic fills me as I go through the routine of peeking through the slats of the wall. I’m so close to escape. Please, if there is any kind of God out there, and he cares at all for me, please keep my killer away. Just for a little bit longer.

I don’t know what time it is. I lost my watch earlier this morning, and terror has a way of doing strange things to time. I know it isn’t night as I can still make out shapes and sometimes even colors, but I also know that it is darker now than it was when I last checked the window. I’m not sure if that is the night coming, or the storm.

John Constable - Stormy Sea, Brighton - Google Art Project

My eyes continue to sweep over the island. The sky looks angrier, the trees rock and sway even more fiercely, but that horrific silhouette is still nowhere to be seen. It is the first time I feel anything like hope since this whole nightmare started.

I return to the workbench. The radio’s broadcast has devolved into almost pure static now, with faint phantoms of voices burbling imperceptibly underneath in rarer intervals. I decide I don’t need the news anyway and click the thing off. At this point, if the storm is going to get me, it’s going to get me.

The boathouse sounds strange without the constant crackle of the radio. The wind whistles through the boards of the wall as the ocean crashes and roars at the opposite end. It sounds sinister in here, the way you expect an old haunted house to sound.

I push this out of my mind and hook the bike pump up to the raft. It’s slow work at first, the little pump hissing under my effort with no noticeable change. The sounds of the pump and my own frantic gasps die in the sounds of the oncoming tempest.

I’m about ready to give up when the raft moves. It starts to scoot and lurch with each pump, slowly evolving from a limp rubber mass into something that has shape. Encouraged I redouble my efforts, now throwing my whole body into every single pump. I want to laugh. This was a new kind of hope, better, almost like a drug. I feel buzzing in my brain as I watch the yellow lump look more and more like something that might get me off this damn island.

As I get closer and closer to my goal, I take a break every so often. I press against the raft and listen, my ear skimming across the inflatable surfaces, trying to find a rogue leak I missed. This is my last shot to catch something—better now and use another patch than when I’m a hundred yards off the coast.

My luck continues to hold out. The patches I installed are keeping in place, and I can’t find any new leaks. It’s holding air and eventually it seems firm enough to take out on the water.

I do laugh this time. The sound scares me. It’s high pitched and desperate. All of this hope and joy over the privilege of taking a flimsy piece of air-filled rubber onto an ocean that is already starting to show the rage of a hurricane.

I’m still laughing as I pluck an oar from the pile in the corner and sift through the life vests, trying to find one that fits and isn’t overcome with rot and mold. I keep laughing as I grab the handle of the raft and start to push it to the water.

I’m still laughing when I see him standing in front of me, standing in the surf, blocking the exit from the boathouse. The laughter catches in my throat and dies, feeling like a hard cold lump.

He is tall and knotted with wooden muscles. Long, greasy, hair falls to his shoulders in unruly curls. In his left hand he carries what looks like a machete. In the shadow-filled boathouse, this is all I can make out of this man.

The raft slips from my fingers and skids along the ground, not quite yet touching the water.

I am dead.

Relief begins to fill me in a strange way. I even start to accept my fate. In a moment, this shadow will end my life, he will take my raft, and he will paddle himself to the mainland. To safety.

I am nearly at peace with all of this when he speaks. “I’m going with you.”

His voice is low, and gravelly. His words are not a warning, they are not a threat. They are a statement of fact.

For a moment I can’t find my voice. I know what those words mean, but the sentence makes no sense. “Why not just kill me now?” I think, only realizing at the end of the question that I actually say the words out loud.

The man takes a step forward. I can start to see a few more details in the gloom. His tank top was once white, but is now brown and stained with sweat. He wears baggy cargo shorts, and as the chill from my soaked pants sends wave after wave of goose pimples throughout my flesh, I wish I had done the same.

I see his eyes. They are dark eyes, with yellowed whites. Logically I understand that a killer can have any kind of eyes; a person can have crystal blue eyes with the light of the sun in them and still plunge a blade into your heart. But as I stare at those eyes it is difficult to think of those shining pits of black as anything but the eyes of one who not only kills but revels in the act.

I don’t know how much time passes before he answers my question. “Best chance for either of us to live is to go together. Another oar in the water may be the difference between making it to shore or dying at sea.”

“What about the contract?” I ask.

He takes another step towards me, towards the raft. “Maybe you help me get out of this mess, I make it worth your while. Maybe I give you a head start.” He chuckles, and mirth does not look right on his face. His skin cracks too much at the smile, the dark eyes don’t soften. It is an ugly kind of humor that twists and mangles his features. “You’re good at identity. Maybe, if you help me get out of this mess, I give you enough time to make yourself a new identity. I say you’re lost in the storm, get my money, and as long as you stay quiet, stay out of the spotlight, you get to live a nice long life.”

I don’t even bother asking if I can trust him; I already know the answer. But this is my only chance at survival. The wind outside the boathouse gusts, it whips through the slats in the walls and whistles and howls like tortured ghosts. Rain spatters against the roof in sharp cracking pops. The killer sent to end me stares at me, waiting for an answer.

I crouch down at the pile in the corner and reach for a second oar. I toss it along with my oar into the raft and start pushing it towards the water. I never take my eyes off of him.
He lifts his machete and I feel hope slip straight through my stomach to the floor. But then the blade disappears behind his back with a faint whispering sound. After sheathing the weapon, he walks over next to me and helps me push the patched-up craft to the water.

The ocean curls up our legs in white, foamy, tendrils. At first the water swallows our ankles, then our calves, knees, thighs. By the time we get waist deep into the water, we are no longer covered by the shelter of the boathouse.

I see him now more clearly than ever before. His skin is olive in color, and his hair dark, but not black. He looks as though he could have been carved out of wood—aged and scarred by time. Along his bare arms and on his face there are spears of soft, pink, skin—records of a violent past.

But nothing about this man is quite as remarkable as his tattoo. All along the left side of his face in that black tattoo ink that turns a dark bluish-green over time, is a scorpion. The creatures claws straddle the killer’s eye, one above and one below. The body curves down over the cheek, with the tail swinging along the jawline, leaving the stinger hooking up and looking as though it is piercing the man’s lips.

The image looks so life-like, and I am mesmerized by it. I half expect the thing to start moving, to crawl over his face as he glares at me with those black and yellow eyes.

He looks up from the raft at me, and I flinch. Lightning races across the sky in a latticework of brilliant electric death, and for an instant my killer turned companion is etched in sharp blacks and whites. But that scorpion remains unchanged. I see it move, a twitch of the tail, a trembling of the pincers. Of course this isn’t true; it is just the lightning, and the way the muscles behind the man’s face move. The tattoo is of course just a tattoo, and I am beyond terrified.

That has to be it. It is just fear playing tricks on me.

He climbs into the raft first. The assassin grabs one of the oars and turns to look at me. There is a single second where I think he’s going to leave me behind, that or he is going to start hacking into me with his machete. I can’t stop my imagination from guessing what it might feel like, to feel the blade drawn against the soft flesh of my throat, my windpipe cut open, my life’s blood spilling down the front of my foolishly expensive polo shirt.

The machete remains in its scabbard, and the man barks at me to get in the raft. I climb in, awkwardly throwing one leg in and pulling the other one after. At one point, I feel almost like I’m going to capsize the raft, ending our last chance for safety before it truly even begins. But I feel his hand clamp down on my back and help hoist me up. His grip is strong. Should he turn it against me, I would have no hope of fighting back.

I look around. The hurricane is not yet upon us, but overhead thick and angry clouds race across the sky, harbingers of what is to come. I am heartened to know it is still day time, the sun piercing through the cloud cover occasionally off to the West. I turn my attention to the East, and feel a new, special kind of dread.

You don’t see a hurricane. It’s not like seeing a tornado, the funnel cloud drilling against the ground. To see a hurricane is to stare at a dark wall of death. At a glance, it looks still, almost serene, like a painting. Only when I stare at it do I see the flashes of light and the clouds as large city blocks rolling over each other.

I turn to the scorpion man and see my terror reflected in his face.

We are rowing. I don’t know how far we are from the mainland. I’m not even certain if we are going in the right direction. It seems enough to row towards the sun and hope that is enough to get us to safety.

I’ve never worked this hard in my life. We’ve only been rowing for a few minutes and I already feel my arms burning, like someone coated them in acid. I don’t care. Any time I feel like giving up, I simply look behind us at that impossible wall of deadly black clouds, and I find some new reserve of energy to keep pushing.

Beside me the scorpion man moves like a beast. I can see his muscles rippling beneath his skin—even rowing, running for his life, he looks like a predator, his greasy dark curls draped over machine-like shoulders.

I don’t know how long we’ve been rowing. It feels like my arms are going to fall off, and I’ve got blisters on both hands. The island has all but disappeared behind us, barely a silhouette before the hurricane, when I hear the scorpion man speak for the first time since we started this journey.

“Stop. Stop. Stop,” he pants.

“But,” I begin to protest, even as I find myself secretly grateful for a break.

The scorpion man casts his gaze to the hurricane and I find myself staring again at his tattoo. “We have time,” he says. “Give our arms a chance to rest, or we’ll never make it to shore.”

I nearly collapse from exhaustion, letting the oar rest across my lap. My muscles continue to tic and pop, little spasms skittering up and down my arms like little lightning storms.

Across from me the scorpion man places his oar in the middle of the raft, and reaches for his machete. I feel everything inside me run cold. Now? He’s going to kill me now?

He must see the fear stretched across my face, and he grins. His teeth look so sharp, so big. Smiles aren’t supposed to look that wide—only in stories. But that is what this feels like—trapped in a story. I’m Little Red Riding Hood and the man I’m sharing a raft with is the wolf dressed like grandma.

What big teeth you have grandma.

What a very big, ugly machete you have too. And it is ugly. It isn’t shiny. It doesn’t glisten. It is a dull color somewhere between slate gray and rust brown. I see notches in the blade. And it occurs to me that this is the weapon of a true killer. In movies weapons shine, they cast off lens flares, and they make ringing noises when you pull them out of their scabbards. But in real life, this blade has hacked its way through too much flesh to shine, cut through too much bone to ring dramatically when unsheathed.

And now it is my turn. That is what I think, but then the scorpion man spins around , his back to me. I watch those powerful muscles work in smooth fluid motion. A pointy elbow rises, and then the arm shoots down into the water like a gun.

The scorpion man pulls his machete back out of the water and turns to look at me. There impaled on the end of the blade, is a fish. It wiggles and flaps, its mouth silently opens and closes, gasping for life that it has already lost. I see myself in its cold, lifeless eyes.

The tail flaps about for so long. I want it to stop. But the killer just lets the fish die slowly. He loves it, loves watching the creature struggle against the oncoming darkness. The tail moves slower, and slower, and the scorpion man’s smile hovers over it with those large, sharp teeth. He doesn’t even look human anymore, if ever he did.

The fish’s tail is still swaying, drunkenly, when the scorpion man bites into it. It makes a sick crunching sound that turns into sloppy, wet, slaps as he chews and sucks the pink meat in. He deftly cuts a large slice off the fish and tosses it to me. “Eat what you can. You’ll need the fuel for the rowing.”

I stare at the slimy, pink flesh. I want to be revolted, I want to feel sick, but all I feel is hunger. I can’t remember the last time I ate. I stuff the meat into my mouth and chomp at it greedily. It is sweet, salty, and cold, and the most delicious thing I can ever remember eating.

We finish off the fish, and the scorpion man throws the head and bones over the side. It’s tough to say if the hurricane has gotten any closer, but it is clear that the sun has dropped significantly lower in the sky. We’ll lose daylight soon, and I’m not sure if I can bare this horror at night.

The two of us start rowing again, although this time not with the same frantic pace as before. My arms are sore, but they seem a little better, and the fish meal does seem to help. Things seem to be looking up except the world appears to grow darker with every passing second. Whether this is from the setting of the sun or the approach of the hurricane I can’t say.

I don’t get to consider this much before the rain starts. This isn’t the on again, off again rain we had on the island. This rain is hard and steady. It roars against the surface of the ocean and stings as it pelts the skin.

The scorpion man and I row harder now. We don’t have to confer with each other, we know; this is the outer cusp of the storm. We row now and we row hard, or we are done.

Despite the terror, or maybe because of it, we push the raft to new speeds. The scorpion man and I work well together, rowing in tandem, digging deep into the water and pushing for everything we have. I realize on a logical level that my muscles are in pure screaming pain, but survival won’t let me register that in any real, tangible sense. All that matters now is the rowing.

The sun is down now. It may still be clinging onto the horizon, I imagine, but here and now, it doesn’t matter. We are bathed in nearly perfect darkness, broken up with the flash pops of lightning at our backs. And still we row.

We can hear the hurricane behind us, a mighty, terrible roar.

I look up towards the horizon ahead.

I scream.

I scream, and yell, and holler.

I see light, a new kind of light. Man-made. Twinkling like stars someone smuggled under the canopy of clouds. The scorpion man looks at me.

“Land!” I cry. I lay my oar in the middle of the raft and scoot towards the front on my knees. “Look! We’re going to make it! We’re going to…”

The words die in my throat as I turn around. The scorpion man hovers over me, his machete raised high above him. Lightning sets the world on white fire behind him, and for a second he turns into a specter, a towering hulking thing with his dull, ugly blade.

And then that powerful arm comes crashing down. I move, kicking out away from the coming death. I am too slow. I feel hot pain sear through my thigh, and I scream.

The pain is horrific. I hear a pop, and at first I think it is thunder, but I realize it is the raft. It is deflating.

There is another fork of lightning. It is white and cuts through the darkness. In its light I see the scorpion man’s face. He is wearing the same smile he wore as he watched the fish die. It isn’t a real smile. It is too wide. The corners of his mouth are too high up on his cheek.

My what big teeth you have grandma.

I start to swim, and immediately am punished for it. My leg. The saltwater has entered the wound and set it on fire. The pain is crippling, and any time I try to even move that leg feels like dying. I paddle anyway, my arms flailing, desperately trying to put some distance between me and the grinning thing behind me.

I gulp down air and mouthfuls of saltwater as my limbs beat the ocean. I can feel him, reaching for me, those stony fingers grabbing for me in the black water that surrounds us. I feel his hand brush against my good leg and I kick, and it retreats, and I think I’m free.

Then I feel the grip wrap around the ankle of my bad leg. I am tugged under water. Black. Everything is black, and I pinwheel my arms just to get another lungful of air. I can feel him pulling me towards him, and yet I still struggle.

The strength that yanks me back towards my murderer is unreal. I fight, but even as I fight I know I will lose. I feel his grip on my collar and I’m yanked upward, into the electric air.
There is just enough light left in the world for me to make out the shadows of his features. His wooden, olive, skin, his dark eyes with the yellowed whites, his greasy hair in curls, the scorpion that crawls along the left side of his face.

“Why?” I gasp. “You’re going to die too.”

He pulls me closer, so that our noses are touching. I don’t just see the impossible grin on his face, I can feel it, smell its rank predator stink in the air, feel the hot death wafting off of it with every breath.

“It’s my nature,” he says, his voice sounding itself like the rumble of thunder.

There is one last crash of lightning, and I see him raise the machete high. It is an ugly thing. A killing thing.

His arm pulls the blade back and then it rockets forward straight at my neck…



The Ol’ Jessup Place: Virginia Devil Folktale


Virginia devil folktale about a young man forced to spend the night in a terrifying house, with a terrifying family. But are they really as evil as the townfolk say? Written by Kyle Moore.

NEW: Serena Mott, a radio major at Nova Scotia Community College, has created an audio version of this story:

You wanna know about that place up there? Heh, yeah, she sure looks like hell, don’t she? Paint peelin’ away from the wood, boards on the porch all rotted through, and them windows? Them windows’re black, not from curtains, see, but from the dirt. Yeah, there’s so much dirt on them windows you could put your nose right up against ‘em and not even see what’s on the other side.

Let me tell you; you should see her at night.

That’s the ol’ Jessup place, that is. The Jessups have been here in Porton for as long as anyone can remember. I bet when settlers first put down stakes in this little backwater, there was a Jessup, standing at the back, just a little ways away from the rest of the folk.

See, the Jessups aren’t welcome most places ’round here. Shops won’t sell to ‘em; restaurants won’t sit ‘em. Even the little ‘uns get shunned. Oh, they’ll take ‘em in the schools all right, but that never lasts long before the other boys and girls run ‘em off, throwin’ rocks and callin’ ‘em names. Nah, Jessups just ain’t welcome, and usually they have to go all the way to Suffolk or Chesapeake to stock their stores or ply a trade.

They got a reputation.

Most the time, folks just carry on like they don’t exist. But every once in a while, maybe at a church bake sale, or down at the lodge on a Sunday afternoon, the whispers about the house start skittering along like spiders under the tablecloths. It’s haunted, some’ll say. Evil.

And ain’t no one seen a Jessup attend a church here ever, and that has folks waggin’ their tongues about worshippin’ the devil or practicin’ witchcraft.

Me? I know the truth about the Jessups. No one’ll listen to me of course. That’s my own fault I guess. I found me a nice bottle, crawled in, and ain’t had much interest in crawling my way back out. And you can’t blame me neither.

You weren’t there that night. You didn’t see what I saw.

Lord this was, what? Twenty years ago? Yeah, I was just a scrawny little runt, straight outta high school. Lotsa kids grow up here, they want out of Porton. Not me. I was just lookin’ to raise a little hell, but not so much I couldn’t stand up in church on Sundays.

Back then, my daddy owned this here garage, and I was makin’ a little cash workin’ for him. It was a good life. My daddy was a good man; he charged me fair rent, and if I did a good job, he made sure I had enough money in my pocket to go out and find me a nice girl.

Well, it was late summer, and the mayor gone and cracked the block of his Mercedes. The mayor! When the tow truck wheeled that beauty in this shop, my daddy almost wept, I don’t know with pride, or with thinking of all the money he was going to make offa that job. I can tell you that just about every other car in the garage was put on hold so we could turn around the mayor’s car as fast as possible.

The problem is, as I’m sure you could guess, we ain’t got much in the way of import parts in this little town. After callin’ around to some of the other cities, my daddy found the only place with the parts we were lookin’ for was all the way over in Newport News.

And that’s how I found myself drivin’ my daddy’s truck along that road over yonder in the middle of the night.

It was comin’ down hard that night. In the summer, when it gets to rainin’ ‘round here, there’s no messin’ about. It’ll start with a drop or two, and next thing you know it’s like God’s wrath comin’ down in thick gray sheets of water.

I still remember the sound of the rain, like someone takin’ a needle gun to the roof. The whole time I’m hunched over the steerin’ wheel, eyes screwed up, tryin’ to see the road through the two feeble shafts of yellow light comin’ from the head lights. I had the radio up, but you couldn’t hear nothin’ from the racket of the rain, and really, I was so scared I don’t think I’d have been able to pay attention to the music if I could.

When I saw the Jessup place down the road, I actually felt a bit of relief. Yeah, the place was creepy, especially in that rain. It was just this big black hulking thing lurkin’ at the edge of a street light. If the circumstances had been any different, it’d have scared the bejesus outta me, but at that time… it meant I was almost home.

Yeah, I thought I was good to go and then BANG! I nearly soiled my britches when Daddy’s pick up started buckin’ and lurchin’ like that ol’ mechanical bull they got over at Larry’s. I thought I was gonna tear that steerin’ wheel straight off, I was holdin’ on so tight.

Well, she finally came to rest and I knew somethin’ was wrong ‘cause she was sittin’ real low on the passenger side. I threw my hat on and hopped out the truck to go see what was the matter. “Shee-it!” I hollered when I saw it. I ain’t a cursin’ man; my momma brought me up right. But way I figured it, I musta hit a pothole or a rock or somethin’ so hard it popped the damn wheel clean off.

There I was, the head lights nearly blindin’ me, the rain just beatin’ on my back and soakin’ through my clothes as I stared at where the wheel used to be. I swore again, and I ain’t ashamed to admit I wanted to cry. Almost did, except I knew my daddy would give me a tongue lashin’. My daddy was a good man, but he didn’t raise no sissies, I’ll tell you that.

So I’m standin’ there, tryin’ to think of what to do next when I looked up. There it was, that old house over there. It was awful. The street light didn’t reach it, almost like the lamp was afraid, and the rain just sorta draped over it like a shroud. And underneath? Just this hulkin’ black mass, the porch all crooked and warped, like teeth. I felt it starin’ at me.

Wooden Front Porch, Farmhouse, Milledgeville, GA

Now I grew up here, so I heard all the stories, all the whispers, and as much as I wanted to be inside out of the wet, as much as I needed a phone to call my daddy and tell ‘im what happened, just the idea of going up to the Jessup house was unthinkable. I’da rather just walked into town on my own and found somewhere still open from there.

That’s just what I was fixin’ to do, too, when I hear this loud bang.

“What the hell are you doin’ out there, boy?” someone called out after me.

I looked up. Castor Jessup. I’d seen him about here and there. Not much, of course. But every once in a while, I’d catch him in the yard wrenchin’ on one of the Jessup cars or cuttin’ the grass. The man was cut outta wood. I’d wager he was only a coupla years older than me, but his face was hard, you know? Whiskers and hollow cheeks and stern eyes.

He was glarin’ at me.

“Lost a wheel, Mr. Jessup,” I hollered back, strugglin’ to be heard over the rain.

Castor just stood there, his arms rested up against the crooked picket fence of the yard. It was comin’ down in buckets and the man was actin’ like weren’t nothin’ but a little sprinkle. He stayed silent a spell, lookin’ at me, and lookin’ at the pick-up, and then I saw somethin’ strange in his eyes. I can’t rightly say what, it was dark, and I only had the street light to go off of, but his look darkened, and he craned his neck to peer down the road where I came from.

I couldn’t stop myself and I looked too. All I saw was the rain slammin’ down like a bucket of nails, and behind that, blackness. Maybe I say this ‘cause I know now what was going to happen later, maybe I’m rememberin’ it wrong, or maybe I just knew, even then, but I tell ya, there was something in all that black. Felt like when you’re playin’ hide and seek, and you think you got that perfect spot, but then you can hear whoever’s it comin’ by, and all of a sudden you know, just know, that they see you, and they’re just bidin’ their time, waitin’ for the perfect moment to get you.

Castor grabbed my attention before I could look too long though. He said, “Bad night for you to be out here, boy.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied. My momma always taught me to treat people with respect, even if those people are the Jessups.

As I answered, I looked up at the sky with my eyes all squinted up tight. Now I remember this because I was just lettin’ Castor know that the weather was somethin’ awful. But Castor, he didn’t pay the sky or the weather any mind at all. And when I looked back down at him, he had that shadow in his eyes again.

It was like he was tryin’ to say the bad night had nothin’ to do with the weather.

He took one last look down the road, and I swear he was nervous. It’s a strange thing to see a hard man like that lookin’ nervous.

Then he looked back at me one more time, sizin’ me up almost, the way a coyote’ll look at a sheep, and finally he said, “I reckon you ought to come inside.”

I stood there for a moment, rain rollin’ down my back and soakin’ into my drawers, and even then I wasn’t sure. This was the ol’ Jessup place, and they worshipped the devil, or did witchcraft or stole babies or somethin’. But then I felt the darkness lookin’ back at me from down the road, and all of a sudden goin’ with Castor didn’t seem that bad an idea at all.

Now, you gotta understand somethin’, to the best of my knowledge, I ain’t never known anyone to cross that fence who’s name wasn’t Jessup. I remember when we was kids we’d dare each other, and little Matty almost did it, got a hand on the fence before he chickened out, but no one, and I mean no one had the guts to get as far as I did that night.

Every step felt like I was walkin’ onto some foreign land. Cuttin’ through the lawn, seein’ all that crab grass, still sharp and stiff even in the rain, walkin’ onto that porch, feelin’ every board creak under my step, it all felt new and dangerous.

We got to the front door, and I just wanted off of the porch at that moment. Like I said, I was scrawny back then, no beer belly or anythin’ yet it still felt like the floorboards were gonna give and I was gonna go crashin through. I was relieved when Castor pulled open the front door, even though it squealed like you hear in those old horror movies. I just wanted off of that porch, out of that rain, and if I’m bein’ totally honest, away from that darkness beyond.

Inside weren’t no better though. It was worse. The lighting was dim, just a few weak table lamps with these thick lamp shades that turned the light all dirty yellow. You could see stitch marks along the sides of some of them, made it look like they was made from skin. And the shelves! Everywhere there were these shelves that looked like they was made by hand out of old used-up wood. There were… things on those shelves, dried up lumps of stuff I ain’t never seen before, boxes with strange stains all across their surfaces in ugly brown and black clouds.

I remember there was this jar, and it was old, with metal latches on it. It was coated in dust, like them windows you see over there, and cobwebs just draped off of it like a table cloth. There was this murky gray green liquid inside. It was hard to tell in the low light, but I couldn’t stop myself from takin’ a closer look. You know what I saw? There was somethin’ in there, somethin’ black and bulbous, just restin’ on the bottom, and I swear to this very day, just as my nose was about to touch the dirty glass, the thing inside moved.

“This way, boy,” Castor said quietly, almost like I was in a museum on a field trip and one of the folks that works there was getting’ nervous I was about to touch one of the paintings. So I followed him through that front room, cramped with a beat up recliner stuffed in a corner, and blue green carpet that had been pounded flat over the years. He took me through the kitchen, over the cracked linoleum tiles, dodgin’ around the olive green appliances with streaks of rust runnin’ down ‘em on all sides.

And then we were in a cramped hallway.

Pictures were all over the walls, generation after generation of Jessups, all of them lookin’ hard and cut from wood like Castor. There was one picture, an ol’ black and white, of this one woman in one of them frilly dresses, all black and high collared. You couldn’t say she was pretty; I couldn’t anyway. But I could see how she mighta been handsome; that’s what momma would say sometimes about some of the girls about town that didn’t catch all the boys’ eyes but weren’t what anyone would call ugly. She mighta been handsome, but she had that same look in her eyes like Castor’s: dark, a shadow, almost like she was lookin’ for something that weren’t there.

It gave me the chills somethin’ fierce, but I didn’t have time much to dwell on it as Castor led me down the hall and through a door with green paint that was rippled and bubblin’ up. The dark metal knob turned in his hand, and this time, when that heavy squeal came as the door swung open, it felt like it was shreddin’ my bones into bits. I wanted to run, but the sound of the rain patterin’ off of the roof told me there really wasn’t much of any place to run to.

The room inside was small, and cramped. There wasn’t much in it, just a bed and a dresser with another one of those lamps with the eerie shades over the bulb, but it was plain that it had been years since anyone stepped foot in that room. Dust coated everythin’ and the corners were thick with spider webs. I ain’t ever been afraid much of spiders, but there was one hangin’ from its web, thick and brown and it made me jump when I saw it scuttle off into a hole in the wall.

“You’ll be fine here,” Castor said. I looked at him, tryin’ to read if he was really takin’ me in on a bad night, or if I was bein’ set up for somethin’… what’s the word… sinister. But his face was as grim as ever, his eyes full of shadows, and his normally blond hair dark and clingin’ to his skull as water dripped slowly down his face. “You ain’t got to worry about messin’ up the bed with your clothes; there’s a cover under the sheets.”

Then he was gone, leavin’ me alone in that tiny room with the dust and the spiders. It didn’t occur to me until then to ask to use the phone; my nerves were stretched so thin I know I wasn’t thinkin’ straight. I thought about goin’ and tryin’ to find Castor, but the thought of walkin’ around the Jessup place without a guide was somehow worse.

So I pulled off the top blanket off the bed, kicked off my muddy shoes, and stretched out on that lumpy mattress. I don’t know if I actually slept or not. I remember tryin’ to look out the window and seein’ nothin’ but grime and rain, and wasn’t sure where one ended and the other began. I do remember closin’ my eyes… but I don’t remember if I actually slept.

I must’ve though, ‘cause the next time I opened my eyes, the rain was gone. I could see out the window again, sorta. I could make out the blackish purple night sky, and even blacker shapes hulking in the backyard. And the sound of the rain had quit.

But it wasn’t quiet. Just above me, I could hear a low mumblin’ or mutterin’. Occasionally it would get louder, and then it would quiet down again. Sometimes the ceilin’ above me would creak like someone was walkin’ around, but the whole time, there was always voices. More than one, too.

I got up out the bed, and strained to try to hear what they was talkin’ about, but the sound was muffled. So I stood on the bed, and I waited. Around me, the dust remained unmoved. The spider must’ve thought I wasn’t gonna bother it none, as it had come back out from its hole some time through the night. And there was me, ear pointed to the ceilin’, tryin’ to make out what the Jessups was talkin’ about.

I dunno how long I stood on that bed. Maybe five minutes, maybe half an hour. But finally the voices picked up loud enough and I could tell they weren’t talkin’ at all. They was chantin’. All of them, at least four or five of ‘em, all sayin’ the same thing, over and over again.

What were they sayin’?

Shoot, I couldn’t tell ya. It weren’t English, I could tell you that. That’s probably what spooked me the most. Whatever they was sayin’ weren’t in any language I’d heard before, not that I’ve heard many if I’m bein’ honest with ya. Whatever they was sayin’, it sounded wicked.

That was enough for me. I hopped down, shoved my feet in my cold wet shoes, and I flew. I didn’t care if the Jessups heard me. I didn’t care about anything besides gettin’ out of that evil house!

When I got out onto the front lawn, it was clear the storm had moved on. There was still a few clouds left in the sky, but the stars was shinin’ and a half moon was slung low and fat, leavin’ everything in this eerie silver glow.

I didn’t take but a second to realize this. Like I said, I wanted to put as much distance between me and the ol’ Jessup place as I could. But half way to the front gate I stopped hard, frozen, and feelin’ a chill down my back.

There was this man in the road, slouchin’ towards the town proper. He looked normal at first. Maybe his clothes looked a little messed up, and his hair was all over the place, and his skin was maybe a bit too pale, but that coulda been ‘cause of the moon light.

But as he drew even with my daddy’s pick up, the man looked up, looked me straight in the face, and he grinned.

Only half of his face was normal, only that ain’t the right word for it. It was… like a mask, limp. I remember when my granddaddy got old, they put him up in one of those old folk homes out in Norfolk. We’d visit him sometimes and he would just stare off into nothing, his mouth hangin’ open and snot dribblin’ out his nose. That’s what this man looked like down half his face. Like no one was there.

The other half—I still have nightmares of that other half. The deep gashes that ran back and forth all over the place, the chunks of skin that had come clean off so you could see the dark red meat underneath. And that eye. You know, I read a bit, and I watch movies, and you always hear folks goin’ on about the eyes this, and the eyes that. But you know what?

Ain’t a one of ‘em seen what I saw that night because that eye… lookin’ into that eye was like lookin’ through the gateway of Hell.

I wish I could say that was all, but it wasn’t. That whole half of the… I can’t call him a man… monster’s body was horrible. The clothes were tattered, and caked with blood, gouges of flesh had been ripped out here and there, almost like it was done by some kind of animal. And there was a hole about where his stomach was, and out of that hole somethin’ wet and black flopped about whenever the monster moved or shifted.

“It’s a beautiful night, don’t you think?” he asked. He spoke like a gentleman, and his voice sounded like graveyard dirt, and when those words hit my ears, my jaw wired itself shut and I could feel the piss spreadin’ in my pants.

It laughed. It laughed to see me so araid, and the laughter filled the road and the night. He wasn’t even done laughin’ when he started makin’ his way towards me with that slow lurch of his, and said, “No? To each his own, I suppose.”

With each step he took towards me, I could feel the fear risin’ inside of me like a pot full of boilin’ water, and this thing seemed to enjoy every second of it. At one point, he even licked his lips, like he was gettin’ the last drop of barbecue sauce.

“I was just going to pay your little hamlet a visit. Oh, I’ve long been aching to do so. How delicious, to savor the sights, the foods,” and here he stopped walkin’ and leveled that eye at me hard, I could almost feel it you know? Like when a fence board falls on you. He looked at me with that eye that opened up onto Hell, and I could feel the hunger oozin’ off of him when he said, “…the people.”

He was at the gate now, and I knew, I just knew, he was gonna get to me. I couldn’t run. I wanted to, but it was like my body just up and quit. I was as broke down in the gaze of that creature as my daddy’s pick up was across the road.

When I heard the front door behind me bang open, I thought my knees was gonna give out and I was gonna crumple to the ground. There was footsteps, and next thing I knew, Castor had come outside with his little brother Billy.

Billy. That boy couldn’ta been a hair over fourteen, but there he was, already lookin’ like a man who seen too much in his life. Baby fat was still clingin’ onto them cheeks, but the eyes were still as dark and terrible as his brother’s.

“How delightful!” the thing said, soundin’ almost like a cat purrin’ as you pour its food out from the can.

I heard metallic clicks on either side of me, and the Jessup boys hauled up a twelve gauge each and trained it on the monster. Outta the side of his mouth, Castor said, “Boy, you go on upstairs and you get Ma Jessup. Now.”

I did nothin’. I said nothin’. What the hell was I supposed to do? At some point, I think your brain just gets to tellin’ ya that whatever is goin’ on, it’s so bad it can’t be real. That’s where I was, I guess, and this time Castor took his eyes of the monster and looked straight at me. I could see what that shadow for what it was right then; it was fear. “I said go get momma, now!”

That was enough to snap me outta my daze, and I bolted, my pants smellin’ of piss, and my heart feelin’ like it was gonna drop right through my stomach. I musta looked like an idiot when I hit that house–yellin’ at the top of my lungs, “Mrs. Jessup? Mrs. Jessup?” as I climbed up the stairs, like I was too scared to keep from wettin’ myself like a baby, but not scared enough to forget the manners my momma taught me as a youngun.

I found the ol’ woman upstairs in a wicker chair, surrounded by black candles, each givin’ off flickerin’ yellow light. In one corner, there were a pair of girls with dirty blond hair, chantin’ like I had heard earlier over a weird shrine. But Ma Jessup was the focus of the room.

She looked like she was born old, with skin like old onion peels, and hair like the bristles of a broom. She had pudgy cheeks, and lips that were flat and cracked. The moment I saw her, I recognized her; she was the same woman as the one in that old black and white picture in the downstairs hall only much older.

“Mrs. Jessup?” I breathed.

“He’s here, isn’t he?” she said, her voice like sandpaper, her eyes tired and wary.

“Yes ma’am,” I nodded.

She gave a heavy sigh and stood up. It was odd, watchin’ her climb out of that chair, like watchin’ a piece of paper unfold itself. And when she did stand up straight, I wager she didn’t hit five feet, but you could feel it, the power, when she walked. She may have been a tiny, wrinkled up prune of a thing, but when she walked, you almost expected the ground to crack beneath her feet.

I followed her down the stairs and out the house. She was all wiry gray hair and ancient shawls and dress. She smelled of mothballs and somethin’ pungent, and if’n I’d seen her in the light of day, and I hadn’t seen all the things I’d already seen that night, she’d look almost silly. But not then. Not that night.

Ma Jessup held her head high, and marched straight towards the thing in the road. She paid no mind to her kin holdin’ shotguns. She barely paid attention to the gate as she went through. When she stopped and faced the monster, I could see her face, round and wrinkly, framed in the orange light of the street light, and the silver light of the moon. She sneered at it.

“What business you got comin’ ‘round these parts, demon?” she said.

It smiled sick and sweet at her. “Oh, so you know who I am, do you?”

“I know what you are; I don’t need to know a name,” she said with a little nod. Her voice still sounded like sandpaper, but there was somethin’ else underneath. Some kinda power. “I know of that poor fella you brought with ya, too. Mr. Felray—the banker.”

The demon raised his arms and looked at them, almost like watchin’ someone try on one of the fancy suits at the Dillard’s over at the mall. “This old thing?” he said, and you could hear him wantin’ to laugh. “Yes, I do so appreciate the depravity of a greedy man. Very useful in my line of work, don’t you think?”

Ma Jessup spat off into the dark. “You ain’t answerin’ me, demon. What business you got comin’ round here?”

He just smiles at her and says, “I just thought I would take a little stroll. It seemed like the perfect night to see the sights, meet the people—“ And here, somethin’ about that ol’ demon turned even darker. He licked his lips and lowered his eyes and stared at Ma Jessup like a wolf, and not them cartoon wolves either, but like the real ones, all cold and empty and hungry inside. “—sample the delicacies.”

Ma Jessup didn’t flinch. Instead, she took a step, almost like she was puttin’ herself between the demon and the town, and she said in that croaky ol’ voice of hers, “I reckon I may have a problem with that.”

The demon raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you really believe you can stop me, old woman?”

It was then that Ma Jessup reached into all them shawls and waddya call ‘em? Afghans? I dunno, all I know is her hand disappeared and when it came back out she was holdin’ this big, curvy knife. I ain’t seen nothin’ like it before nor since. She turned it over in her hand and I could see symbols sparkling in the street light.

“I reckon I can,” she nodded at the demon.

Oh, he laughed at her, laughed at her hard, pointin’ at the knife, and almost doublin’ over and fallin’ on the ground. Ma just stood there, lookin’ at him, waitin’ for him to quit actin’ a fool. He was still laughin’ when he finally spoke, “Your grand plan is to stab me with that little thing?”

And then Ma Jessup laughed. She didn’t carry on like the demon did, but she snorted a dry chuckle and shook her head. “The knife ain’t for you, idiot. It’s for me!”

Ma Jessup held up her empty hand for all us to see, and then she whipped the blade of that knife straight across her palm. At first nothin’ happened, but then blood started to bubble up from her hand and spill down her wrist and forearm. In the night, it looked more black than red, and everyone stared at it as more blood oozed out of the wound.

“You a stupid little demon!” she hollered, and now the power in her voice seemed to fill the air and shake the ground. As she shouted down that demon, she flung her empty hand at him, sprayin’ him with her own blood. “You come up here, walkin’ on our soil, usin’ our bodies, tryin’ to cause a ruckus up here? Well Ma Jessup may have a thing or two to say about that!”

She flung the blood pumpin’ from her hand at the demon, and it sizzled and hissed when it hit its skin, like it was boilin’. And oh, how that monster howled and moaned, “What kind of backwater hokum is this?”

“Ain’t hokum,” Ma Jessup spat. She was only a foot away from him now, paintin’ the blade of the knife with the blood from her hand. The look of the knife, streaked in dripping red in the orange street light… it looked like somethin’ ripped right out of a human body, like a mangled bit of bone. I felt somethin’ in my stomach threatenin’ to rise up and spew sick all over the Jessup’s lawn, but somehow I bit it down. “Ain’t hokum at all, and if you wasn’t such a stupid, arrogant little demon, you might know better.”

The demon had collapsed to his knees. Ma Jessup’s blood had burned holes into the demon’s flesh, leaving foul smellin’ wisps of smoke curlin’ up out of the wounds. Even on his knees, Ma Jessup only barely stood taller than the monster. But in that moment, as she held the knife over the demon, she towered over him.

“Then what is it?” the demon begged.

Ma Jessup bent down and looked him in the face so close their noses almost touched. “It’s the blood of a matriarch, you stupid son of a bitch, and I’m gonna use it to send you right back where you came from!”


That’s what it sounded like. I ain’t never seen no one get stabbed before, didn’t know what it sounded like. But when Ma Jessup slammed that blood covered knife into the demon’s heart, it sounded strange, and hollow. We’d play cornhole, and that’s what it sounded like. A bean bag thumpin’ against an empty wooden box.

The demon gave the old woman one last look, and it was filled with hatred. Then the body just… slumped over, squelchin’ in the mud.

Everythin’ felt numb after that. Ma Jessup ordered Castor and his brother to take care of the body, and I helped her back up the stairs where the girls quietly bandaged her up. No one talked for a real long while, and I just stood out of the way as everyone else went about their grim business.

The rain had long since gone, and the danger had passed, and on any other night I’d just as soon walk home than spend a second in the company of the Jessups. But I felt different after everythin’ that had happened.

They let me stay ‘til sun up. Even gave me a fresh change of clothes. But that was nothin’ to the kindness that family heaped upon this dusty little town every day.

See, I learned that night that yeah, the Jessups is scary. They’re into all the dark stuff everyone round here accuses them of bein’ into. What the rest of this town gets wrong, though, is the why. The Jessups ain’t a curse upon this town, they’re its savior. And you’ll do well to remember that, should you find yourself walkin’ down a dark road on a night when the rain is comin’ down like sheets, and things that ain’t supposed to set foot on this green earth are about and ready to eat. You’ll remember that, ‘cause if you make it to see the next mornin’ it’s probably a Jessup that done saved your life.


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Spot On The Lawn: Georgia Horror Story


Georgia horror story of a woman invited to the home of her new suitor – a home with terrifying secrets. Written by Alex Soderstrom.

Driving up the windy path to the home of Mr. Danvers, Grace was awestruck by the sight of pure American beauty, something she had rarely glimpsed in her lifetime. Willow trees, mixed among the towering pines, hung over the road, which lead to the white columns of Robert’s antebellum dwelling. This went far beyond anything Margaret Mitchell could have captured in any number of words or pages. Her host awaited her on the front porch, ready to welcome her in the home and present her with a cold glass of sweet tea as smoothly as he had his invitation for dinner. Grace felt as if she was entering an island of nobility and she was about to isolate herself from the world. To Grace, this was not a terrifying notion. She had chosen to not tell her naturally intrusive cousin where she was going this evening. After the whirlwind of change she had brought upon herself by leaving a man she did not love and a Ohio town that had been her only home, Grace needed her own space. If Robert Danvers wanted to enter into that space too, she did not mind.


Her arm hooked around his, their feet moved in step as they took a stroll across the expanse of green grass that was Robert Danvers’s backyard, rows of towering pines acting as natural boundaries of the green square behind the antebellum home. A gentle breeze carried the swooning words of Ray Charles from the record player on the back deck to the ears of the pair. Robert talked about his family’s origins in France and the perilous trip they had made to the New World over two hundred years ago before settling in here in Georgia. As she listened to him talk, Grace could see his bright eyes twinkling, as if they were the first stars to come out amidst the setting sun. The crickets and cicadas began playing the background for Mr. Charles and the pure wonder of a southern evening came to life.

Much better than Ohio, Grace decided mentally, grateful for the first time since leaving that she had found a new home, with a new beautiful face.

In the middle of the yard was a pond, its surface sporadically broken by cattails and the frantic activity of water bugs. The pond was surrounded by breathtaking bronze sculptures, Greek figures acting as protectors of the pond’s quaint beauty. Grace was amazed by the realism of the sculptures; it was obvious they were created by artists of high skill and acquired at an even higher price.

“I buy them from Europe,” Robert smiled. “They are beautiful pieces.”

“Quite beautiful,” Grace agreed.

“True beauty is a fleeting thing,” Robert commented. “It is so tough to preserve it.”

Grace silently nodded, still admiring the beauty of the statues. Robert indicated an open spot at the edge of the pond, between two statues.

“I have a spot for you right here, Grace. Come help me with the food and we will dine in style.”

Grace was all too happy to accompany her gentleman back across the lawn, her head swirling from the unexpected majesty of the evening. Upon entering the home, Robert excused himself to enter the cellar and grab a bottle of wine. After he had descended, Grace seized the opportunity and used the restroom. As she washed her hands, a loud thump resounded from outside the square little room she occupied. Grace exited and slowly approached the door to the cellar.

“Robert,” she called, “are you alright?”

Receiving no response, Grace pulled the cellar door open, revealing the figure of Robert Danvers, which soon collapsed on the floor, blood flowing freely from the back of his head.

Grace’s hand instinctively went to her mouth, which began uttering moans of terror and confusion. Another figure stepped out of the darkness of the cellar stairs and stood over Robert’s body. It was a woman, her appearance as tattered and crazed as her face. Her hands gripped a shovel, covered with splotches of blood. Large sections of her body were badly burned and other parts were covered in hardening bronze.

“Oh God, no!” Grace screamed, paralyzed. “Please, no!”

“Why are you screaming?” the woman hissed. “Did he not have a spot on the lawn for you?”

Grace slowly backed away, her head beginning to spin again, this time with images of the impossibly realistic faces of the sculptures she had seen. Sick realization began making her stomach contort and her brain was fearfully urging her legs to run.

As she began to break into a sprint out of the white – columned home, Grace heard the woman’s screams echoing behind her.

“There is always a spot on the lawn! He always finds you a spot!”


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Mud: Tennessee Ghost Story


Tennessee ghost story of a killer who 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.


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