Get Back Jack: Florida Ghost Dog Story

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True (kind of) dog ghost story from Florida of a beloved pinscher who protects his owner from beyond the grave. Written by Patrick McNicholas.

As many of you may know, a few months ago I lost my puppy dog. His name was Jack. He was a miniature pinscher from the Doberman Pinscher lineage. Jack was a small dog. He only weighed about 10 pounds when he died. Jack passed away unexpectedly from a bronchial sickness and I truly miss that dog. We buried Jack in the backyard in the far back corner and I put a statue of St. Francis there to mark his grave. I keep fresh flowers and doggy treats out there at his statue and change them out every couple of weeks. Sometimes when I’m in the backyard, I can feel Jack’s presence. I have three other dogs and I think they can feel him there too. Every once and awhile I will see my other dog Nono just sitting there staring at that statue like she can see something I can’t.

st. francis copy

Well one night at about two in the morning , I woke up to use the bathroom and there above the toilet is a window in to the back yard and you can’t help but to look out the window while you are in the bathroom. I was staring out the window in to the back yard and all of a sudden, I saw something moving in the darkness. I looked more closely and I could see the back gate open up and a dark shadowy figure move across the backyard. Of course, my heart sank in fear. As I stared more closely and as he moved closer to my house from the fence line, I could see a silver shiny object in his hand, reflecting off the moonlight that was shining down in the back yard. When I looked back up I could see the man’s face staring at me. He saw me through the window and raised the knife so I could see it. He had the true look of evil on his face! All I could think of was my phone is on the dresser in the bedroom, so I ran as fast as I could and grabbed it and started dialing 911.

I ran back to the bathroom and looked out the window again to see where the intruder was and I was shocked at what I saw. The man hadn’t moved. He was frozen in the middle of the back yard. Just then I could hear it…this horrible growling noise. As I got closer to the window the noise got louder and louder. It sounded like a mad, mad dog or a wolf of some kind and I could tell that the intruder could here it as well. The noise was coming from the far back corner of my yard back by where Jack was buried. At this point my other dogs came running out in to the backyard through the doggy door barking and growling, but as soon as they stepped off the back porch they became silent and just stared at the man in the darkness. Just then, the 911 operator came on the line and I quickly gave her my name and address and told her there was an intruder in my backyard with a knife. As soon as I got those words out, I looked out the window again and I could see the man now cowering in fear and backing away from the corner of the back yard. Just then I could hear the growling noise again; this time is was so loud , like it was in my head and all around me. All of the sudden the man turned and I could see the absolute fear in his eyes as he ran past my house along the side and over the small fence in to the front yard. My dogs came running back in the house. Following the man was a black mist, like a cloud of darkness. I ran to the front of the house and I could see the man hunched over my bushes and screaming “get it off me, get it off me”! I could see bite marks appearing on the man’s skin and I could hear flesh being ripped from his body, but there was nothing there with him. Just then the police pulled up and the man ran to them screaming, “please save me”! They immediately took the man in to custody. He had large bites marks all over him and was bleeding profusely. I told the officers that I saw the man enter my backyard with a knife in his hand. The police told me they were not able to find any weapon on the man and they searched my yard looking for it, but could not find it.

The officers noticed my dogs, which are all very small and could not have caused such bite marks as what this man had endured. The police were very puzzled and asked me if I had another dog? To which I replied “no.” The officers told me that once they calmed the man down and got him in to ambulance he said he had been mauled by a very large and very mean Doberman Pinscher! A couple of weeks later, the police informed me that the intruder they apprehended in my yard that night was linked to a home invasion and double homicide in another town not far from here.

The next day, after all had calmed down, I noticed all three of my dogs were laying down at the foot of Jack’s grave. Laying there in front of the statue was the large kitchen knife that the intruder was carrying.

I still make sure to keep fresh flowers and dog treats out there for Jack.

-THE END-

jack

FROM THE AUTHOR: To answer your question, yes there are elements of the story that are based in reality. I did have a dog named Jack who passed away on July 10th of last year. I did put a statue of St. Francis in my back yard to mark his grave. All if that is true.

Of course, I never actually had an intruder enter my yard with a knife. That is all fictional.

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True Nature: North Carolina Horror Thriller

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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 END-

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The Organ Player: South Carolina Ghost Story

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What is that mysterious organ music drifting from the creepy house down the road? Read this South Carolina haunted house tale from Tony Young.

When I was a boy I frequently spent some time with my grandparents. They were country folk. Their house was on a dirt road on the county line between Greenwood and McCormick counties in South Carolina. I would sometimes spend the entire summer with them. Grandpa was a farmer and the nearest house to theirs was a mile away.

One day I was riding with Grandpa in the wagon back from Uncle Jake’s when we passed an old burned out house. There wasn’t much left of it, just some old charred timbers and an old chimney. “Grandpa,” I asked, “whose house was that?”

old-church-schoolhouse-organ

Grandpa cleared his throat and said, “That was old Mister Gulledge’s house. It caught fire one night a long time ago when I was a boy and burned up. Mister Gulledge got burned up in it! He was the organ player at our church, you know. But they say he learned to play the organ when he ran away as a boy and joined the circus.”

“My goodness,” I said, sounding real grown-up.

“Yeah, they say you can still hear the organ play on some nights,” he added.

“You mean that house is hainted!” I said with excitement in my voice.

“If you believe in that sort of thing…” Grandpa said with a bit of disgust in his voice. I decided that the less said about haints and ghosts the better.

After a supper of buttermilk and cornbread Grandpa and I sat out on the front porch while Grandma cleared the supper table. Grandpa took a rollin’ paper from a sheaf of them, pulled the Prince Albert pipe tobacco tin from the breast pocket of his bib overalls, and deftly made a cigarette. I was always amazed how he seemed to do it in one fluid motion with only one hand. I hoped he would show me how to do it when I got older. He struck the match with his fingernail, and in a flash of light he had his cigarette lit. Grandpa exhaled a puff of smoke that formed a ring that floated across the warm summer air. I knew he would teach me how to do that one day too.

The sun was setting in the west when Grandpa said, “Someone’s comin’”. And sure enough I could hear a car coming from toward Winterseat, and it was going fast. It was a flashy new car, and it turned into the driveway. As it slid to a stop a cloud of red dust followed. The door of the car opened, and a man got out. He looked younger than my daddy and had on a white shirt and necktie. I noticed his necktie was loosened and his sleeves rolled up almost to his elbows. There were brown and white wing-tip shoes on his feet. He walked toward us. ‘Bout halfway to the porch he stopped and spoke, “Hey! Is this the shortcut to Edgefield?” he asked in kind of a funny voice. I had heard a man talk like that before, and Mama said people who talked like that were Yankees.

Grandpa let out a puff of smoke slowly and answered, “Well, yessir, young fella, it is. But you’d be better off going back the way you came. Go back down to Bud’s store and hang a left onto the main highway. That’ll take you right into Edgefield.”

“I don’t have time for a tour of the county. I’ll take the shortcut,” he said as he turned and walked back to his car.

“Don’ say I didn’t warn you!” Grandpa said to his back as he was getting into his car..

The fellow backed out of the driveway, slammed his car into forward gear, and floored the gas pedal. A cloud of red dust and gravel followed as he raced down the road toward the Gulledge place and Edgefield.

By this time the sun had completely set, the whip-poor-wills were calling, and in the distance I could hear the sound of the hoot owl. When I was very young my Grandma would tell me that the hoot owl would get me if I didn’t go to sleep. I’ve never figured out how that was supposed to work. I still can’t go to sleep when I hear their haunting sound.

I happened to look down the road toward the Gulledge place, and I saw a flickering light. I didn’t say nothin’ to Grandpa as it seemed to get brighter. And then I heard it an organ playing. It reminded me of the merry-go-round at the fair. I nudged Grandpa as he blew a big smoke ring. “Do you hear it?” I asked.

He said nothing. He just raised his eyebrows. He heard. I turned my eyes back toward the flickering light. The organ played louder, then began to quieten as the flickering light dimmed and then went out. The night became very, very quiet. No organ playing. No sounds of the night birds. Nothing.

We sat there in silence a little longer and then Grandpa said, “Bed time.” And that was the end of another day.

A couple of days later Grandpa and I were picking some string beans in the garden beside the house. A car drove up into the driveway and stopped. The man who got out of the car stretched up to his full height. He was taller and bigger than my daddy. Then he put a hat on his head, pulled his pants up, and walked toward us. Then I saw the shiny star on his chest and the big gun on his hip. Walking toward us he spoke in a big deep voice, “Mr. Dorn!”



Grandpa did not say anything nor look up from the beans he was picking until the man repeated himself. You see, Grandpa doesn’t hear that well anymore. He finally answered, “Yep!”

And the big man said, “ I’m Sheriff Dixon of McCormick County, and I’m looking for a missing person.”

“A missing person?” Grandpa said, now standing.

“Yessir. The sheriff from over in Edgefield called me and said a lady over there had reported her husband missing. Said he had been missing a couple of days. Seems he’s a salesman who travels these parts but didn’t get home when he was s’posed to. She was worried ‘bout him and contacted the sheriff. You seen anything of him around here?”

Grandpa took off his straw hat and scratched his head. “Naw, Sheriff, we ain’t seen nothin’ of ‘im.”

“But Grandpa,” I said, “What about that fellow in that fast car?”

“Oh yeah, Sheriff, there was this young man who stopped by here a couple of days ago looking for a shortcut to Edgefield I told him to go back the way he came and get on the main highway to go to Edgefield,” Grandpa said.

“What did he do?” asked the sheriff.

“He took the shortcut,” said Grandpa and then he added, “But I warned him.”

“Down by the old Gulledge place?”

“Yep!”

The big man put his hand under his chin, seemed to think for a few minutes, and then he said, ” Well, I guess I’ll call the sheriff over there in Edgefield and have him tell the widow… he ain’t comin’ home”.

And he was gone.

-THE END-

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All The Pretty Colors: Virginia Ghost Story

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Young woman’s haunted apartment paints itself in this Virginia ghost story by Kyle Moore.

Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing.

Deirdre groaned and rolled over, a creaky arm slowly reaching out for the source of the offending noise. She felt the molded plastic of her alarm clock, let her fingers slide over its surface until they found the nice, long, big button, and she pressed down with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Sweet, blissful silence followed.

She knew she had to get up. Deirdre had danced this dance every morning for years. The nine extra minutes in bed the snooze button offered her didn’t really do much beside give her less time to get ready for work. Still, with a devotion that bordered on religious, she slammed the snooze button every morning in the desperate hope that nine extra minutes would magically turn into nine extra hours.

Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing.

No such luck this morning.

Deirdre flipped onto her back, and this time let her fingers search for the much smaller, nastier, evil button that stopped the alarm for good. This of course meant she would have to open her eyes and get up and get dressed and for this reason she really—really—hated that stupid little button.

She took a deep breath and braced herself for the official opening of the eyes. She silently whispered the prayer of the non-morning person—the one that beseeches the gods to let the alarm clock be wrong for once, and let it be the middle of the night instead of way-too-early o’clock—and let her eyelids tentatively drift apart.

On this morning they had parted to paper-thin slits before slamming wide open with shock.

A flood of questions poured into Deirdre’s brain as adrenaline coursed its nauseating, shaky, energy into her body. Wrong. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong. What was it? What was wrong? What happened?

The first truly coherent question Deirdre could pin down out of the panicked webbing of her thoughts was, “Where the hell am I?”

But that question made no sense. For one, there was no reason for her to have woken up anywhere but her own bed. The night before all she did was come home, watch some TV, and eat a microwaved Lean Cuisine dinner because at thirty she was going to get in shape at least once in her damn life. She didn’t go out, or visit any friends. Nothing.

For another, Deirdre was surrounded by her things. That alarm clock was her alarm clock. She knew it; it was her nemesis. The two of them had waged countless early morning battles against each other. This bed was her bed. After divorcing that asshole Tony, she made a big production of buying exactly the kind of bed she wanted, and the pillow top beneath her was as familiar as her own reflection. The dresser was hers, complete with clothes haphazardly trying to creep their way out to freedom. There was even the pile of dirty laundry in the corner which she considered a cherished luxury of single life.



So if this was her room, came the next coherent question, why in the hell were the walls the wrong color?

They should have been off-white. They had been off-white for the two years she lived in the little apartment. They were most definitely not supposed to be the minty green that currently surrounded her.

An absurd thought popped into her head. Maybe someone snuck in and, as a practical joke, repainted her room as she slept. Mindy, from work, still had a key; Dierdre let her crash on the sofa from time to time. But if that was the case, why didn’t she smell paint fumes? Deirdre raised her hand and brushed a finger along the wall beside her. It was perfectly dry. So what the hell happened?

Deirdre glanced briefly at the clock. “Shit,” she hissed. It was getting late and she hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.

Flinging off her blanket and sheet, Deirdre leaped from the bed and made her way to the closet. The whole time she pulled on her clothes, she eyed the green walls of her bedroom. A prickling sensation crawled over her skin and she felt afraid to look away on the off-chance that when she looked back the walls will have changed color again, or jump out and yell, “BOO!”

Hair. Teeth. No time for make-up, but that wasn’t much of an issue. Deirdre, unlike her mom, was not the kind of woman who had to “put her face on” before she could leave the house. Instead she just grabbed her purse, and backed out of her bedroom.

Her first impulse was to leave the door open, but the oddity of the green walls continued to set her on edge, and she pulled the door closed to little relief. The last thing she thought as she darted out of her apartment was, there goes my security deposit.

At work, Deirdre found herself in the odd position of wanting to tell someone, but not really knowing what to say. Nor did she really know who she could trust anyway. How would she sound telling people in the office that her bedroom mysteriously changed color while she was sleeping.

To this end, Deirdre did at least make a point of spending a little time around Mindy. While the unusually tall redhead gabbed on about her latest, greatest, boyfriend, Deirdre nodded and pretended like she cared. In truth she was waiting for some slip on Mindy’s part, some clue that her friend had somehow managed to pull off the prank of the century.

“And then, oh let me tell you about last night,” Mindy said, and Deirdre found herself all of a sudden paying very close attention to what was being said.

“Mike took me to that little Italian restaurant by the airport in Norfolk. You know the one? It is so good. Anyway, we get a bottle of wine, and the lighting in there is perfect and just as the tiramisu comes out he gives me this,” she said as she pulled out a shiny silver key from her purse.

“Wow, Mindy, that’s… impressive,” Deirdre said. What she really wanted to say was, “And that’s when the two of you decided to sneak into my place, drug me, and paint my walls green because, ha ha, that would be so funny, right?” Instead, she simply added, “that’s pretty serious for you, isn’t it?”

“I know but he’s so…” Mindy continued, but Deirdre lost interest almost immediately. Mindy was not this good at keeping a straight face, and therefore not the culprit. The mystery remained unsolved.

When she got home from work, Deirdre headed straight for her room. As she wrapped her fingers around the door knob, she closed her eyes and whispered, “Please be white, please be white, please be white.”

She turned the door knob, opened her eyes, and pushed on the door to reveal that the walls were still green. Deirdre deflated.

No longer worried about showing up late for work, Deirdre took a few moments to inspect the walls a little more closely this time. The paint job was expertly done—no spatters of paint on the carpet or the trimming along the floor. It was all perfectly uniform, no spots where the paint ran a little thin. There were no brush strokes or roller marks to speak of either.

Then Deirdre had a thought. She went over to her dresser and started to shove it away from the wall. The wall behind the dresser was green too.

Deirdre was stuck. She could call the apartment people, but she didn’t want to risk being evicted. She couldn’t call the police; even if she didn’t sound completely insane, Deirdre was sure that the police had more important things to worry about than some phantom interior designer.

The following day, the new wall color did make Deirdre a little uneasy, but the apprehension wasn’t as bad as the morning when she first woke up to discover it. The day after that was a little better.

By the time a week had passed, she had just about gotten used to the new green walls. All things considered, the color could have been worse.

Then, after her daily routine of battling with the alarm clock, Deirdre opened her eyes to discover the walls were now eggshell blue.

“What the fuck is happening?” she whispered to her empty room. Only now she didn’t feel afraid quite so much as just bemused. For the price she paid for the one bedroom apartment, there were much bigger problems she could have expected. She could have had rowdy neighbors, or lived in a high crime neighborhood—this was Portsmouth after all. There could have been maintenance issues or, the worst, insects (one of her least favorite things about living in the South, the bugs were huge). But instead, all Deirdre had to deal with was a bedroom that had a hard time deciding what color it liked best.

If humankind were to have one remarkable super power, it is that ability to take the bizarre, the strange, and the impossible, and make it completely mundane. After a month of watching her room go from one color to the next, Deirdre not only stopped feeling any kind of fear or apprehension at all, but instead grew somewhat fond of the phenomena.

Another month passed and Deirdre realized that the changes weren’t just random, but that the room seemed to try to match her mood. If she went to bed uncommonly happy, she might awake to find her walls were sunshine yellow. After a particularly rough and depressing week at work, her walls were cornflower blue.

The morning after Deirdre went on her first date with Brent from accounting, the room surprised her with pink walls, coaxing a smirk out of her. “Very cute,” she grumbled happily.

Deirdre knew she didn’t control the color of the walls, but she did guess that they were complimenting her somehow. After a week of pink walls, Deirdre announced to her bedroom that she rather liked purple. She went to the store, bought purple blankets and sheets, and the next morning, to no surprise at all, Deirdre’s walls matched perfectly.

The walls had become something of a happy little secret for Deirdre—her own bit of daily magic. Looking back, it seemed silly that she was frightened of the color change at all.

It was the night before a big date for Deirdre and Brent. They’d been going out for a month now and she was starting to think it might be time to take things a little further. And by further, what Deirdre really meant was athletic. Clothing was optional.

She liked him. Hell, she had some intense feelings for him, but after Tony, those feelings weren’t easily trusted. But Brent was what she needed, as un-Tony like as could be. It was a scary romance, but Brent made scary easy somehow. If Deirdre was going to make a fool of herself over a guy again, Brent felt like the safest place to land.

As she lay in her bed, Deirdre spoke to the room, which had become something of a habit over recent months. “Help a girl out tomorrow? Can you do something nice and romantic?”

She chuckled sleepily to herself. Deirdre had just officially asked her bedroom to be her wingman. Bet that’s never happened in the history of ever, huh?

And with thoughts of Brent here, in her secret little magical place, Deirdre fell asleep.

It was a Saturday, so Deirdre thankfully didn’t have to wake up to an alarm. She could feel the sun pouring through the window and warming her exposed skin when she sleepily let her eyes fall open. The walls were the color of lavender.

“Very nice,” she purred in appreciation. “A little girly for me. But then, I am a girl, and we definitely don’t want Brent to forget that toni…”

She froze. The color of lavender only covered the walls from the ceiling down to about knee height. Below that, the walls were the old color, a festive lime green (a color Deirdre had come to associate with playfulness and energy. It had been a good week).

“You didn’t finish,” she said, a little disappointed. “Are you getting lazy on me?”

Deirdre swung out of bed and scowled good-naturedly at the walls of her bedroom. “Lucky for you I don’t have anything better to do today. Go on, take the rest of the day off. I’ll run to the store and finish the job.”

With that, she snapped a few photos of the wall with her cell phone, and used those to find the right paint at the hardware store.

As she was getting ready to finish the job, Deirdre noticed a kind of disheveled chaos where the old color and new color met. Her eyes traced the boundary, over jagged knife edge lines that jerked up and down. An eerie chill crept over her skin and she got the intense feeling that she was witnessing the remnants of some kind of fight or struggle. It was almost like the ghost painter that started out turning the walls lavender was wrestled away from its work.

Deirdre shuddered.

There was only one thing to do though, and she carefully used a roller to spread paint along the walls. The people at the hardware store were good, and when she finally finished a few hours later, she could hardly tell where her mysterious friend stopped and she started.

“Don’t worry,” she told the walls. “You’re still my favorite. I’d never try to replace you.”

This time, though, when she talked to the walls, a very different feeling came over her. Of course the walls never talked back, that would just be crazy. But Deirdre always felt like, it was hard to say, but it was like they at least appreciated the effort. Now, as she spoke to the walls, Deirdre was filled with a sense of cold emptiness.

She shook her head. That’s what you get for having magical walls that change color, D, she thought to herself as she hauled the paint equipment out of the bedroom. You start talking to the walls and get your feelings hurt when they don’t talk back.

Pushing the thought out of her mind, Deirdre took the paint and rollers out to the back patio. She’d have to figure out what to do with the leftovers later. It was getting late in the day, and she would have to shower, change, and get ready for her date. If she was very lucky, turned the fan on, and left the windows open, the paint might just be dry and the fumes dispersed in time for a romantic night with Brent.

Deirdre made her way back into her room, took half a step, and screamed.

On the far wall facing the door, in bright red, were two giant letters:

NO

“What the hell is this?” she breathed. That cold empty feeling returned, only this time she thought she could feel something else hiding in the emptiness, something icy and dangerous. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest, the war drum rhythm playing a machine gun beat in her ears.

She reached for her cell-phone and dialed Brent.

“Hey you,” his voice came through on the other side. She could hear the smile in his words.

“Hey,” she said back, and turned from the wall.

“Uh-oh,” he said.

Deirdre frowned. “What, uh-oh?”

“That tone. That was an, ‘I’m canceling our date,’ tone if I ever heard one.”

“Oh, sweetie.” Deirdre tried desperately to keep her voice steady, but she could hear the trembling fear slithering into her words.

“Did I—“

“No, no, no,” Deirdre blurted out, interrupting him. She took a couple of steps out of her bedroom, her free hand resting on the door knob, almost pulling the door completely closed.

“Then why—“ Brent started, only for Deirdre to interrupt him again.

“Look, Brent, it isn’t you. Or us. We’re fine, okay? I just have some… uh… maintenance stuff happening at the apartment. Last second. I can’t let it wait. I’m going to have to call the maintenance people and get them out here, and ugh… just a mess, and I don’t know if I’ll have it all tied up before our date tonight.”

She could hear the relief in his voice when he again spoke. “Oh. Good. I mean, not good. Are you okay? Anything I can help with.”

“No, no. That’s what I pay the maintenance people for, right? Besides, I know you and tools don’t mix. Probably best if you stayed as far away from a wrench as possible.” Deirdre threw in a chuckle for good measure.

Brent laughed with her. “All right, all right. Fine. But if you need a place to crash tonight, you’re welcome here.”

All of a sudden Deirdre’s heart was racing for a completely different reason. “Oh really?” she said, a little more breathlessly than she liked.

“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

You would, she thought, disappointed. Not that she was desperate, of course, but it had been almost a year. “Let’s just, see how things work out. If anything changes, I’ll call you later. But if not, maybe I can see you tomorrow?”

“Deirdre Hart, are you asking me on a date?” Brent gasped in a melodramatic voice.

“Shut up.”

“You’re a true romantic. Look, take care of yourself and let me know how things work out, okay?”

“I will,” she smiled. “Bye.”

Deirdre hung up the phone. There was something about that guy that even now, when some seriously strange shit was happening, he could make her forget it all for just a moment and smile.

She opened the door to her room. “Okay, if you don’t want me going on dates, we’re going to have—“ Deirdre started to say and froze, her voice dying in her throat. Whatever comfort Brent was able to give her evaporated, her fist clenched the doorknob as she shuddered in horror at the sight before her.

The word NO, large and red, glared angrily at her, but it was no longer alone. The word NO repeated itself over and over again, from ceiling to floor, in seething red letters. The words were different sizes and loomed at Deirdre from different angles, each scarlet stroke sharp and jagged like a hunting knife.

Deirdre stared, immobilized by terror, as tendrils of red slid down from the angry letters. A salty, coppery, smell filled the air, curled around her, and twisted her stomach in knots.

Across from her, in the empty center of the O from the first NO, Deirdre watched, transfixed, as a single spot appeared on the wall. At first it was so dark as to almost appear black, but as the spot slowly drew downwards, It too adopted the sickening red color of the rest of the letters on the walls. She remembered watching one of those cop shows on TV, where they were in the morgue doing an autopsy. That’s what this looked like, that first moment when the scalpel pierced the flesh and blood pooled up on the skin.

It was almost hypnotizing, watching as a spot turned first into a downward streak. Then a swooping curve, and another streak. She could not tell how long it took before the message was finished, maybe minutes, maybe hours; the horror that filled Deirdre so complete that something as mundane as time held no more meaning for her. When the new letters had finished spelling their single word message, though, Deirdre sobbed, a tiny squeak that curled around her throat.

DIE

Deirdre’s hand rose, as though to cup her mouth and nose, but before it could reach her face, she felt something wet slap against her opened palm. Feeling numb, she went to look at her hand. Everything felt fuzzy and seemed to move too slow, as though the world had been wrapped in some invisible cotton.

In her palm a tiny red pool glistened sickeningly, the smell of salt and copper now thicker than ever. Some part of her, dazed, had just enough sense to think, What is this in my hand? It was like she had an autopilot somewhere in her brain that took over the thinking when the real Deirdre was too scared to do anything. It was this autopilot that, wondered from where this strange red liquid came, that tilted her head up, her eyes scrolling over one angry red NO after another.

Directly above her, there was a circle on the ceiling that had turned pink. It was faint at the edges, but grew gradually darker until at the center it was almost red. Deirdre watched as a droplet formed at the center. It clung to the ceiling at first, a deep, wine-colored red. But soon it swelled, growing fat and bloated and it dropped.

It hit Deirdre in the face, just above the lip.

She screamed.

Deirdre didn’t stop screaming until she had left the apartment, and even then not until she sat shuddering in her car for at least ten minutes.

That was the last time Deirdre stepped foot in the apartment. She hired some movers, and paid extra for them to pack her things as they were. She hired a maid service too, and, handing one of the ladies an extra hundred dollars, Deirdre said, “Just, do what you can with the bedroom?”

When she went to the leasing office, she had her checkbook and pen at the ready. “I’m sorry about the bedroom,” she said in a quiet, beaten voice. “How much do I owe you?”

The lady at the other side of the desk looked over a set of gold-wired half-moon glasses and offered Deirdre a confused smile. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t I… Figured I would have to pay for damages to the bedroom?” Deirdre said with furrowed brow.

“Ms. Hart,” the older woman chuckled. Her voice sounded like fine wine. “I’m holding your security deposit here. Most people who live with us don’t typically get it back but we couldn’t find a thing wrong with your unit. The bedroom, was fine.”

-THE END-

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What Lived in the Holler

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Tennessee cat-and-mouse tale of a man versus a creature from an old legend. But there’s nothing to worry about…is there? Written by Bill Arbuckle.

“Don’t you be crossing the holler tonight, Jefferson Boone,” Orville Minton said to the scruffy man standing on the other side of the bar. “You know what they say about that thing what lives there.”

“Don’t scare me none,” Jefferson Boone replied.

“I heard tell from the Preacher that it’s an evil something what rips your liver out and eats it in front of you,” Junior Wofford chimed in.

“Since when did you start listening t’ preachers?” Orville Minton stared at his friend, then took a swig of cheap beer from his glass. “But I’m in agreement. It’s an awful creature been known t’ attack the lone traveler who crosses Egypt Holler on dark, moonless nights.”

“Hogwash,” Jefferson Boone said.

“‘Tis your life, Jeff Boone. But if’n I was you, I’d go ask Old Widow Doyle if ya could sleep on the straw in her barn. Maybe offer t’ do some chores in exchange.”

“Now that’s a clever idea, friend,” Junior Wofford said. “And I concur. The Widow lives on the edge of the Holler’n she knows the stories. Won’t be no shame in askin’ for help. Besides, she’s knowed you since you was a young ‘un. Knowed most of us since we was young enough t’ walk an’ talk. She’ll let you stay safe in her barn tonight.”

Jefferson Boone shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t need no protection from old wives tales.” He bent down to check that the laces of his brogans were tied tight, then stood up, buttoned his coat and headed to the door. “Hogwash.” He gripped the door handle, turned it, and tugged the door open. “Ain’t nothin’ but hogwash and old wives tales.” He stepped across the threshold of Orville Minton’s establishment and into the chilly Tennessee night. “Ain’t no spooks but the ones runnin’ round in your empty heads.” He pulled the door closed, leaving the two men inside to wonder over his fate.

“That’s a strange man, for sure.” Junior Wofford spoke up. “I’d a told him more about that creature. Heard tell many times that Spearfinger’s its name. Old Cherokee legend. Hunts like an animal an’ feeds on the bodies of th’ living. Says she lulls folks into believin’ she’s somethin’ she ain’t, and once they let their guard down, she uses her long fingernail t’ skewer ’em. That’s how she gets her name.”

“You talk too much, you know that?” Orville Minton shook his head. “Besides, it’s closin’ time, so get outta here an’ go home.”

“How ’bout one more for the road?”

The bar owner raised an eyebrow. “You said that two beers ago.”

Junior Wofford was undeterred. “Then hows about one for Jeff Boone?”

Orville Minton thought for a moment. “Guess I’ll drink to that.” He filled two glasses from the tap – one for himself and one for his customer. “Here’s to Jefferson Boone and his crossin’ the holler tonight.”


Dale-hollow-twilight-tn1

(Photo By Brian Stansberry (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Jefferson Boone picked his way through the underbrush until he came to the small footpath that led through the hollow. The sky was dark and moonless. Only the faint starlight guided his cautious steps, but even that faded away as the forest grew dense. In just a few short steps, it would be near impossible to see the trail. Certainly the long walk home could wait until morning. And what if there was something running loose in these woods? For a moment he considered turning back and seeking shelter in the Widow Doyle’s barn. No one would blame him for exercising caution. Besides, there was no one waiting for him at home. No sense risking unnecessary danger. He hesitated and felt afraid. But the realization angered him. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. He stared into the darkness. He knew the trail. Over Butcher Creek. Up a few steps to the hilltop where he could see the roof of the Layne’s house, where it stood in the valley. Down into the deep forest. He’d walked this path a thousand times before with never a worry. But all those excursions had happened during the day. Here on the unlit trail with Minton’s and Wofford’s tall tales ringing in his ears, the fears seemed all too real. But not real enough to stop a man like Jefferson Boone. “Hogwash!” He said aloud. Then stepped on to the path and began his journey.

The man settled into a steady pace as he walked. The only sound was the thud of his shoes against the hard dirt. Jefferson Boone traveled nearly a half mile before he realized something was amiss. He stopped to listen to the forest and then realized what it was that was bothering him. No crickets were chirping. No owls hooting. Not even the sound of tree branches swaying and creaking. Just nothing. The silence unnerved him, but he had come too far down the trail to give in to fear, so he tugged his coat tighter, squared his shoulders, and resumed his walk.

Jefferson Boone had gone only a few steps before a heavy gust of wind sent branches swaying and leaves rustling. Here and there, twigs snapped and fell to the ground. The wind nearly knocked the man over, but he managed to lean against a large tree until the fury blew itself out. He stayed there for quite some time, listening as the trees creaked and groaned. From time to time, Jefferson Boone could hear a soft thud as an acorn or pine cone hit the ground. And then he heard a new sound – a sharp crack – as if someone or something had stepped on a fallen twig. Then all was quiet.

Jefferson Boone stiffened against the tree. He wasn’t alone in these woods. Every dark story he’d ever heard about the forest and the hollow flashed through his mind. Tales of dark creatures. Old Indian spirits looking to share their sorrows. Headless soldiers from the War Between the States looking for vengeance. Stories of being followed by an invisible something. Men hunted by the Devil himself. And he had been foolish enough to think that by sheer stubbornness he would be the exception to the rule. He shuddered, then forced himself to stand still and listen to the forest. The trees had ceased their swaying and no longer dropped branches and pine cones. The woods had dropped back into the silence Jefferson Boone had encountered when he first stepped on the trail. But the man was not convinced all was well. Whatever – or whoever – had stepped on the twig was still somewhere nearby. Like the forest, it too was silent.

Boone considered his options. Following the trail home meant a two-mile trek through the dense woods. A two-mile trek with something following him. The other alternative was to head back to the tiny mountain town and seek shelter until daybreak. It was a half mile to the trailhead. A far shorter distance to travel. Of course, heading back to town meant swallowing his pride. The other fellas – Junior Wofford and Orville Minton – would never let him forget that he had turned back out of fear. They’d bring it up every time he stopped in for a drink. “Seen any monsters tonight, Jeff Boone?” That’d be the joke that never died. No one in their right mind would want to face that kind of ridicule. That settled the question. The man-made up his mind in an instant. “Hogwash,” he said. “I’m going home.”

He stepped away from the tree and back out on the trail. But Jefferson Boone had no sooner taken a single step when he heard a slight rustle – as if someone nearby was walking through the underbrush. The sound shook him to the core. There was no longer any doubt. Something in the forest was stalking him. The man wanted to run back to the safety of his friends in the small mountain village, but again, he forced himself to stand still. Jefferson Boone knew better than to run. Running might turn the whole thing into a cat and mouse type of contest. The mouse gets scared and starts to run back to its nest, but the cat’s been waiting for that moment, because there’s nothing a cat likes better than chasing and playing with the mouse before finishing it off.

At this very moment, Jefferson Boone felt very much like a mouse cornered by a very big cat. And there were cats in these woods. Mountain folk talked often about losing chickens and smaller animals to bobcats. Every now and then someone would catch sight of one and out came the hunting rifles. Not every bobcat wound up stuffed and hung above the fireplace, but there were enough stories to lend credence of predators hiding in the thick forest. And maybe, just maybe, Jefferson Boone thought, that’s what was following him on this chilly, moonless night. He almost laughed at himself as he realized he had been scared out of his wits by a cat. Sure, bobcats were no laughing matter. They could kill a man. But Jeff Boone knew that the best way to chase a big cat away was to make enough noise to scare it.



“Hey!” He called out into they night. “I ain’t afraid of you! Shoo, cat! Shoo!” He knelt down, grabbed a stick, and threw it against a tree. “Can’t scare me none! Run away! Run away!” Boone stomped the ground and kicked at the dirt. “You ain’t nothin’! Get away now! You’re just a great big kitty cat…not some old wives’ tale! Now, get! Be gone! You ain’t nothin’ but hogwash, y’ hear me? Hogwash…hogwash…hogwash!” He stamped the ground for good measure, then leaned back against the tree to catch his breath. “Reckon that ought to scare away any big cats.” He said aloud. The man chuckled at his own cleverness. “If’n I’d thought of that half a mile ago, I’d almost be halfway home instead a’ being here shiverin’ at nothin’.” He started for the trail once again, but couldn’t resist looking over his shoulder and laughing at whatever animal had followed him in the darkness. “Spooked you good, didn’t I?”

He turned back to the trail, but before he even set foot on the packed dirt, a hoarse whisper came from behind the tree he’d leaned on. “Hogwashhhhhh…” The voice said. Then came a cracking and snapping sound as if something large was stepping on twigs and fallen branches. The footsteps were coming towards Jefferson Boone.

The man’s feet were already moving before he even had time to get his bearings. Boone guessed at the trail’s location and followed what looked like a narrow footpath. Once on the path, Jefferson Boone ran for his life. Behind him ran a dark shape. It hissed and snarled. The sounds seemed to be gaining on him…each was one step closer than the last. The man ran faster, but no matter his pace, the creature kept at his heels.

Jefferson Boone could barely see the path. The forest seemed to grow darker the faster he ran. He stumbled on a tree root that crossed the trail, but quickly recovered. In that split second, however, the predator gained enough ground that the man felt the creature just a few steps behind. Jefferson Boone pushed himself to run faster, but his strength was fading. He would have to find another way to escape his pursuer. Boone strained his eyes, hoping to see the edge of the forest. There was nothing but more trees. While looking out into the forest, he failed to see a rock in the middle of the path. His foot caught the rock, causing his ankle to twist and snap. Boone fell face down on to the hard ground. He lay stunned and gasping for breath, but his mind told him to get up and move. He rolled over to get back to his feet. A sharp pain shot up his leg. Boone looked down to see his left foot twisted backwards. He tried to straighten it, but it hurt too badly. He cried out and pounded his fists into the dirt until the pain subsided.

It was a full minute before Jefferson Boone caught his breath. He tried to remember why he was running through the forest in the dark of night. Before he could piece it all together, he heard a slight rustle in the pine needles and fallen leaves that lined the sides of the trail. The noise – ever so faint – was enough to cut through the shock and pain. He recalled the chase. The terror that comes from being the hunted, not the hunter. His body trembled with fear and a new wave of pain washed over him. “Who’s there?” He called.

Another rustling noise.

“Who’s out there?” He said again.

A footstep on the trail. Not more than ten feet away. Now nine. Eight. Seven. The footsteps stopped.

Boone trembled. “Who are you? Why are you following me?”

One step. Another.

“What do you want?” Boone stared into the darkness.

A figure came into view. Five feet tall, give or take an inch. Thin, but with rounded hips and shoulders. The figure circled the fallen man, then knelt down beside him.

Jefferson Boone stared into the soft features and breathed a sigh of relief. “You’re a girl,” he said. “I got scared and chased by a girl.” He tried to laugh. A fresh wave of pain washed over him and his laugh turned into a moan.

The girl reached over and clasped his hand. She stroked his arm as Boone struggled to control the pain. When at last his body stopped shaking, he looked at the girl. “I broke my leg. It’s pretty bad. All twisted ’round. Ain’t no way I’m walkin’ out of here. You’ll have to go and get me some help. The folks in the village’ll know what t’ do. You go get ’em now, OK?”

The girl shifted to a sitting position and gently lifted the man’s head into her lap. She stroked his forehead and ran her fingers through his hair. Boone was puzzled by her actions.

“You go now, y’ hear?” He said. “It’s gettin’ colder out here an’ I’m shiverin’ bad.”

The girl continued stroking his face. “Please, girl,” Jefferson Boone pleaded. “Go an’ get a doctor for me.” The girl said nothing. The man grew agitated. “Can you hear me, girl? I’m hurt bad an’ I need some help.”

The girl sat still. Boone breathed a sigh of relief. She was listening. “Go an’ tell ’em I was in th’ woods and tripped. Just don’t tell ’em that I was runnin’ from a girl. They’ll mock me for the rest of my days an’ they’ll always say somethin’ like, ‘Didja think she was that Spearfinger creature we was telling you about?’ I think they was making up tales – Orville ‘n Junior – they do that. Even said that the Spearfinger disguises itself so’s it can stab ya in the side an’ pull out your liver. Eats it, they said. Some friends, huh? Whatcha think about that?”

The girl was quiet for a moment, then leaned her head down so that she could whisper an answer in his ear. Her answer was a single word that set Jefferson Boone shaking with fear. “Hogwashhh…”

“No…” he whimpered. “No…you’re not real. You can’t be. Please don’t…” He looked up at the girl just in time to watch her face transform into the face of an old, haggard crone. “No…” His body tensed as he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his side followed by a hard tug like someone was pulling his insides out. “No…You’re not real…” He said again. Then his world went dark.


Riley Layne removed his hat as he entered the bar. He walked slowly to a stool and sat down. Orville Minton had never seen him look so pale. “Evenin’, Sheriff.”

The man nodded. “Whiskey. Just a shot before I head home.”

The bartender filled a shot glass and slid it over to the lawman. Sheriff Layne grimaced as he downed the liquid. “It never gets any easier.” He said after a moment.

“You OK?” Orville Minton asked. “You look a little shook up.”

“Couple a’ college boys from down the way came t’ the station this morning. Pretty shook up. Said they’s hiking here along the Egypt Holler trail ‘n found a body. Took me an’ Tommy White down t’ see it. Y’know Tommy? Been on the force ’bout six weeks. Rock-solid deputy. He like t’ passed out when we seen it. It musta been there a good two weeks, judging from the decay. Animals got to it too, so it was pretty mangled up. But…uh…” He paused. When he spoke again, he sounded like his mind was far away, trying to forget the scene. “Pretty sure we made an identification.”

Junior Wofford was seated two stools away. He leaned over and asked, “Anybody we know?”

Sheriff Layne nodded. “Yeah. ‘Fraid so. We’re about ninety-nine percent certain it’s Jefferson Boone.”

Orville Minton choked up. “Jeff Boone?”

“Best we could tell he’d fallen and broke his leg. Pretty bad. He’d a probably died from exposure, falling in the woods with nobody to help him out…but that ain’t what killed him. When the coroner came up, he noticed right away that it looked like Boone had been stabbed in the side. Deep. Killer musta been a real sicko too, cause th’ coroner got to looking and discovered that the same knife was used t’ cut out Boone’s liver. What kind a’ person does that?” He stood up to leave. “I hate to do it, but I’m gonna have to call the state investigators from Nashville t’ drive down ‘n look into this.” He walked to the door and pulled it open. “Might want t’ be extra careful leavin’ to tonight.” He stepped outside and closed the door, leaving Junior Wofford and Orville Minton alone in the empty bar.

Junior Wofford looked at his friend. “Spearfinger. We warned him. Jeff Boone’s as stubborn as a mule. Wouldn’t listen.”

Orville Minton filled two glasses with beer and slid one over to Wofford. “I’m gonna miss that hard-headed old cuss.”

Junior Wofford raised his glass. “To Jefferson Boone.”

Orville Minton nodded. “To Jefferson Boone.”

Outside the bar, a gentle fall breeze flung a pile of dried leaves across the parking lot. Not content with its petty vandalism, the wind picked up strength until it battered the building and shook branches off of nearby trees. Then as suddenly as it blew in, it stopped, leaving everything still and quiet. Too quiet. Not even the crickets were chirping.

-THE END-

From the Author: I grew up in southeast Tennessee, and imagined it near that area. The name “Egypt Holler” is an actual location in Sequatchie Valley, TN, and it was reportedly haunted. At least my friends told me “The Booger Man” lived there…

Thanks again. I had fun writing this! My dad was a minister, and we traveled all over southeast Tennessee, so I got to hear a lot of weird stories as I grew up. Some of them were even true!

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