Monthly Archives: October 2013

Blood on the Tracks

I awoke screaming, tangled up in the blue sheets my wife bought the week before she died. Maybe it was a simple twist of fate the sheet wrapped itself around my neck, cutting off the blood flow through my carotid artery. As I unwrapped the cloth I became aware it was drenched in sweat but my body seemed curiously dry. My hand fumbled across the nightstand to turn on the lamp. Lying face down was her photograph. First thing in the morning I was going to toss it in the trash can. Maybe it was useless. I gave away the last of her clothes to Goodwill, burned all the letters she had written and even gave away her damn cat. All for naught. Memory of her still haunted my dreams.
A year ago I stood on the front porch and held her suitcase. Blubbering, she begged to stay, promising to change any way I wanted. I didn’t want her to change. I just wanted her to go away.
“You’re a big girl now. You don’t need me. You think you do, but you don’t. Why you can get a job and make more than I do. I hear Lily at the diner needs a cook. You’re a good cook. The nursing home lady Rosemary has a sign in the window asking for a chief housekeeper. You keep a damn clean house. Before you know it, some guy with more money than I got will come sniffing around you. That Irish guy Jack O’Hearts stares at your ass every time we go into his billiards hall. One day you’ll be driving down the street in a big Cadillac and you’ll see me walking home from the coal mine. You can laugh at me all you want.”
She pulled at my shirt sleeve. “I don’t understand. Everything was so good when we first got married. All was blue skies and fluffy white clouds.”
“You’re an idiot, wind is blowing in a different direction now.”
“You’ll see me every time you go downtown. You won’t be able to go to the movies, church, nowhere without running into me. I’ll start bawling, and you’ll feel real bad for breaking my heart. What will you do then?”
“Maybe I’ll move out of town. These old mountains depress the hell out of me. Anywhere would be better than this hell hole.”
“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.”
She tried to put her arms around my waist but I pushed her away. “You won’t be lonesome. You go see Lily, Rosemary, and Jack O’Hearts. They’ll take care of you.”
Once again she threw her arms around me and clung tight. She was stronger than I thought.
“Meet me in the morning,” she whispered. “You’ll change your mind by then.”
Slinging her suitcase around, I knocked her to the ground and then threw the suitcase out in the dusty street. “What kind of friggin’ idiot are you? Get the hell off my porch!”
Still whimpering she walked down the steps into the street and picked up the suitcase. Her shaking left hand wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her brown eyes darkened.
“I’m gonna tell Lily what you done,” she announced in a hard voice. “She got a lot of men friends who won’t take kindly to what you done.”
“If you see her, say hello.” I smirked at her before turning to go back into the house.
The sky quickly clouded up and a clap of thunder shook the screen down. She came running back on the porch and banged on the door.
“Please give me shelter from the storm!”
Just before I slammed the door in her face, I said, “Go see Jack O’Hearts! He’ll be glad to give you some shelter!”
That night I could not sleep well. Buckets of rain hit the roof, and thunder and lightning filled the sky. But the damn bitch was gone, and I didn’t have to put up with her whining any more. The next morning was clear and bright. Everything washed clean. I fixed my own breakfast like I always did then walked down to the coal mine. All the rain made the shaft muggy though. But enough guys were cracking wise so the time went by fast. At noon we sat under the big oak tree at the bottom of the hill when Lily came running over from her café.
“Is Susiebelle all right?” she asked me.
Taking time to finish chewing my sandwich, I looked at Lily and shrugged. “How would I know? She done walked out on me last night.”
“That ain’t so,” Lily replied, taking a step toward me. “I heard from your neighbors this morning that you kicked her out in the storm.”
“Well,” I said with a smile curling around the corner of my mouth. “It don’t make no difference if she walked out or was kicked out. She ain’t there now.”
“Rosemary said she found a suitcase in front of the nursing home this morning.” Lily put her hands on her hips. “When she opened it she saw all of Susiebelle’s favorite clothes, wadded up and smashed in, like it was done in a hurry.”
“She was always careless like that.” I laughed but noticed all the other guys were putting away their lunch buckets away and walking back into the mine.
Before Lily could say anything else, a holler lit up from downtown by the railroad depot. Her head snapped back to look at the street and then returned her glare to me.
“I tell you, Walter Burchfield. If anything’s happened to that sweet little girl, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
Nobody talked much through the afternoon down in the mine, which was just as well to me. At the closing bell, I ambled out, only to be greeted by Lily, Rosemary and the sheriff.
“The womenfolk here says you kicked your wife out of the house last night,” the sheriff said.
“What of it? My family life ain’t nobody’s business but my own.” I pushed past them and started home when Rosemary yelled at me.
“I found her suitcase in front of my place.”
“Ain’t my fault if she can’t keep up with her things.” I kept walking.
“Walter Birchfield!” the sheriff shouted. “Stop right there!”
Now I ain’t one to give a damn about what other folks say, but I figured in this case I better behave. Turning around, I took off my cap and said as somber as I could, “Yes, sheriff. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“After the gully washer last night, the depot clerk found something.”
“And what was that?”
“Blood on the tracks.”
Bowing my head, I said softly. “If Susiebelle got hurt last night, I’m real sorry, but I didn’t mean no harm. I told her Lily or Rosemary could give her a job. I even told her Jack O’Hearts might be interested in marryin’ her. Go talk to Jack. See what he says.”
“Jack O’Hearts ain’t nowhere to be seen,” the sheriff replied. “His room is cleaned out. His billiards hall is locked up tighter than a jug.”
“Well, that settles it then, don’t it?” I said. “She done run off with Jack.”
“She wouldn’t leave her suitcase in the middle of the street,” Rosemarie said.
“And Jack wouldn’t have run off without saying good bye to me,” Lily added.
“Why’s that?”
“’Cause he was my boyfriend.” Lily put her hand to her mouth.
“Were you jealous of Jack, Walter?” the sheriff asked.
“Hell no! I was hopin’ he would run off with my wife. I didn’t want her!”
“And why’s that, Walter?”
“Susiebelle was the sweetest girl in town,” Lily said. “Any man with half a brain would have been proud to have her on his arm.”
“You don’t know that blood on the track is Susiebelle’s.” I was beginning to get a little nervous. “It could be anybody’s blood.”
“Like Jack O’Heart’s?” the sheriff said.
I pursed my lips and stared hard at them. “You ain’t got no bodies. You ain’t got no motive. I kicked her out because I didn’t want her. All you got is blood on the tracks.”
Ever since then everybody’s in town and left me alone, which is just fine with me. Never really liked talking much to the other miners. The sheriff even stopped dropping by the house with questions. I don’t go to Lily’s café anymore. Afraid of what she might have done to my food. Other than that, my life hadn’t changed at all. Most folks nodded and mumbled hello, which was what they had always been their habit. Until tonight. I stared at the blue sheet and wondered how it had gotten around my neck. I got out of bed and checked the front door to make sure it was locked. Looking out the window I noticed a storm coming out the west. By the time I shuffled back to my bed and slid under the covers, I heard rain on the roof. Buckets of rain, followed by thunder and lightning. Before I could settle in and close my eyes I saw the blue sheet twisting up all by itself and snaked its way up to my neck. I tried to shout but nothing came out of my mouth. The blue sheet made two trips around my neck before it started tightening. I gagged, and my vision blurred. Before everything went black I swore I heard Susiebelle’s voice:
“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.”

A Seance in Black

Halloween of 1890 surprised Arthur Conan Doyle with a mixture of happiness and mysticism.
He was the guest of honor at a party hosted by Ward Locke, the publisher of his first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlett. Ladies, all of them in black evening gowns highlighted with orange flowers or brooches and necklaces, were particularly attentive, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on his dinner jacket.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Doyle,” Ward Locke’s wife cooed, “when you become the most famous in London? You won’t have a moment’s peace.” Her eyes, an uneventful shade of brown, fluttered without producing their intended purpose of luring the single gentlemen with her non-existent wiles.
“I am certain I shall find a suitable safe harbor in the storm of public attention.”
Mrs. Locke practically swooned over the more sensual meanings of Doyles’ metaphor.
“Among my many new-found friends and acquaintances, such as your husband and yourself, indeed all the fine people who are here tonight.”
“Oh. Of course.” She stood erect in the middle of her collapse into the romance of her thoughts. Recovering, she smiled respectfully. “And I’m sure your friends from the hospital with be a great comfort to you.”
A woman wearing too much rouge made good use of her ample hips to force Mrs. Locke from the inner sphere of Doyle’s immediate company. “You mustn’t ignore your other guests, dear. I shall entertain our wonderful young gentlemen for now. I am Mrs. Wickham, a dear friend of the Lockes. They tell me you are a doctor.” She paused a moment to admire his physical appearance. “My, you must have an impressive bedside manner.”
At that moment Doyle caught the gaze of his publisher and turned the corners of his lips into a smile that expressed mild desperation. Locke smiled in return, lifted his glass and clinked it with a dessert spoon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the man of the hour, Arthur Conan Doyle!” Locke announced. After an appropriate pause for all the guests to murmur their acquiescence, he continued, “We wish him continued success so suddenly found at the young age of thirty-one.” Everyone took turns complimenting upon his promising career unfolding in front of him, remarkable for a young man of thirty-one years.”
“Oh, yes. I remember being thirty-one,” a voice boomed from the shadows. “Great expectations can wither on the vine as time passes, leaving you with sad dreams of what might have been.”
Holiday chatter died as all heads turned to watch a tall, swarthy man step toward Doyle, who suspected the man to be in his middle forties and under the influence of liquid spirits. A shrill giggle shattered the silence.
“You must forgive my friend, Mr. Doyle,” Mrs. Wickham said with forced cheer as she left his side to join the darksome stranger and grab the man’s arm, pulling him back. “His attempts at humor are an acquired taste. He’s my neighbor at the Nickleby Arms Hotels, Nathan Ladderly. The dear man has no family so I thought—“
“Mrs. Wickham finds me attractive and creates excuses to be in my company,” Ladderly interjected.
“Oh, Nathan, you’re so wicked,” Mrs. Wickham said with a laugh.
A second giggle erupted, this time from Mrs. Locke. “Ward, darling, what is a Halloween party without parlor games appropriate for this evening of ghouls and goblins?” She pushed her way through the crowd holding a small square table on which was a mysterious wooden board. “This game has just been invented. They call it a Ouija board. It’s a way to communicate with the dead,” Mrs. Locke chirped. “Mr. Ladderly, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Wickham, please pull up chairs, and we shall see what spirits we may conjure.”
“This will be droll,” Ladderly muttered as he sat at the table.
“I am open to spiritualism, though I am not completely convinced,” Doyle announced with a tight smile. He sat opposite Ladderly.
Tittering, the two women filled in the gaps and Mrs. Locke placed a wooden disk on three small balls in the middle of the board. On one side was a pointer and in the middle a hole.
“Ward, darling, lower the gas lamps,” she said. “We must have the proper atmosphere. Now, everyone place your fingertips lightly on this little wooden pointer. It’s called a planchette.”
As the lights dimmed, Ladderly leaned his head, almost touching his cheek to the board. “Ouija, Ouija, Ouija, is anyone there?”
All the guests gathered around the table gasped as the planchette moved suddenly to Yes.
Ladderly pulled his hands away. “This is ridiculous. I want nothing to do with this.”
The planchette jerked over to No.
“Please, Nathan, dear,” Mrs. Wickham pleaded. “Open your mind. Participate. For my sake.”
“Why should I do anything for your sake?” Ladderly’s tone boarded on insolence.
Doyle leaned forward. “You seem nervous, Mr. Ladderly. Do you have anything to fear?”
“Of course not,” he replied in a huff. Reluctantly he placed his fingers back on the wooden pointer.
“I’m so flustered,” Mrs. Lock admitted. “I don’t know what to ask.”
“Are you trying to communicate with a specific person?” Doyle asked.
The planchette moved to Yes.
“Is it me?”
Again Yes.
“Why?” Doyle continued.
The wooden disk quickly moved around the board stopping to reveal specific letters in the hole. It spelled murder.
“Oh, Mr. Doyle,” Ladderly sneered. “How obvious. I insult you, and you accuse me of murder.”
“My fingers are barely on this device. Those standing over my shoulder can attest that. And why do you assume the board is speaking specifically about you out of all the people in this room?”
The pointer again moved to Yes.
“Oh, this is impossible!” Ladderly said with a hiss. “I refuse to continue with this charade.”
“No, I think we should continue,” Locke announced as many of his male guests moved to stand around Ladderly’s chair.
Again the planchette floated over the letters. I am Dickens.
Gasps and twitters spread through the room.
Someone murdered Drood.
“How foolish,” Ladderly said. “That was a work of fiction.”
Real.
“Then who did kill Edwin Drood?” Doyle asked.
Neville Landless.
“He was the young man from India who was enthralled with Drood’s fiancé Rosa Bud,” Doyle clarified. “Dickens was writing the novel and publishing each chapter in the newspaper as he finished it. Before he could complete his work, he died. Literary circles still discuss who the murderer might have been.”
“Everyone knows Drood’s uncle did it,” Ladderly added nervously.
The pointer moved to No.
“Is Neville Landless in this room?” Doyle asked, staring at Ladderly.
Yes.
“N.L. Neville Landless. N.L. Nathan Ladderly,” Mrs. Wickham said slowly as though the entire plot had been revealed to her.
“These parlor games have gone too far!” Ladderly tried to stand, but several hands pushed him back down.
“Put your fingers back on the planchette, Mr. Ladderly,” Mrs. Locke said in a flat tone. “Perhaps you can handle your destiny.”
“Is Nathan Ladderly actually Neville Landless?” Doyle asked.
Yes.
“So he killed Edwin Drood?”
Yes. The disk’s hole highlighted other letters. Me too.
“No!” Ladderly screamed.
“Mr. Dickens, did Mr. Ladderly know you were about to incriminate him?” Doyle said.
Yes.
“Nonsense! Why didn’t he go directly to Scotland Yard?” Ladderly demanded. “Why write it as a novel?”
“Obviously he had no evidence that would hold up in court. Once he published his novel, the public outcry would be deafening. Of course, he had to change names,” Doyle explained. “Nathan Ladderly became Neville Landless. Edwin Drood… Anyone remember the disappearance of a man with the initials E.D. around the time of Dickens’ death? No matter. Scotland Yard will know.”
Yes, the Ouija board responded.
“Elementary.”

The Halloween Tree

“Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
“How?”
Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree and then asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, “Pa, George Washington’s pappy did spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”

Crows Over the Cornfield

“Caw! Caw!” The crows were circling the cornfield, and below all the little wild creatures were scared to death.
“Squeak! Squeak!” The field mice were running around and pointing at the sky. “The crows are coming! The crows are coming! Help! Help!”
The big burly rats lumbered out. “Don’t be afraid. The crows want to eat the corn and not us.”
“But what if they swoop down into the dark cornfield and snatch up something, fly back high in the sky and look into their claws. ‘This is not a sweet juicy ear of corn. It’s just an old rat.’ And they’ll throw you down into the darkness. What will you do then?”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought about that. What’ll I do? Help! Help!”
The possums came out next and they were shaking. “W-w-we’re not scared of crows. If they come too near we’ll just roll over and play dead.”
“Then the crows will tell their friends the vultures that there are dead possums in the cornfield. Do you know what the vultures will say?” the rats said.
“N-n-no, what will the vultures say?”
“The vultures will say, ‘It’s suppertime!’”
“Help! Help!”
They made such a racket that the raccoons came out. “What’s going on here?”
“The crows are coming! The crows are coming!” the mice screamed.
“Oh no! Crows are dirty, filthy creatures and we don’t have enough water to bathe them! What are we going to do! Help! Help!”
Cora the snake slithered out and said, “Stop that screaming. I’m trying to sleep.”
“The crows are coming! The crows are coming!” the mice screamed.
“Crows make me mad,” Cora said. “I want to bite them.”
“But what if they grabbed you up before you have a chance to bite them?” the rats said.
“Oh no! I hadn’t thought of that! Help! Help!”
The next thing they heard was “Arf! Arf! Arf!”
The farm dog was running to the cornfield to the rescue. And behind the farm dog were all of the farm kids who were waving scare crows as they ran up and down the corn rows.
Now the crows—“Caw! Caw!”—looked down to see some strange creatures in the corn and a dog barking at them. “That’s too scary for us. We need a calmer cornfield.” And they flew away.
“You don’t have to be scared again,” the farm kids said. “We’ll stick the scarecrows in the ground right now.”
“We weren’t scared,” the rats said.
“Yes, you were,” the mice said.
“W-w-we weren’t scared,” the possums said.
“Yes, you were,” the mice said.
“We weren’t scared, we just didn’t have enough water to bathe them,” the raccoons said.
“Yes, you were scared,” the mice said.
“You mice are making me mad,” Cora the snake said. “I want to bite you.”
“Why bite anybody?” the dog said. “We scared off the crows. It’s time to play games.”
And that’s what they did. The animals played and played in the cornfield all night long.

The Turtledove

Everything was looking up on our farm just outside Cumby, Texas, during the Great depressions. Pa, Ma, me and my brother Bill had worked hard to keep the homestead going. Finally, that fall it looked like we was going to have a big crop to cotton coming in. On top of that, ma had just had a baby, a little girl just like she always wanted.
For the first time in a couple of years Pa had to hire a family to help bring in the cotton crop before it rotten in the fields. We knew them from before—the Jones family, the father was a big strapping man, somebody you wouldn’t want to sass. The mother was short, kinda rolly polly with a big bosom and a big heart. And, boy did she love to talk. She could practically talk the cotton balls off the stalks. Which was good because it made the day go by faster under the hot Texas sun and it made you forget how much your back ached from dragging that long cotton bag all day.
The Joneses had two boys that we used to play with but they were almost grown up now and didn’t look like they’d care to bother with a couple of li’l old boys like Bill and me.
Anyway, one day, halfway through the cotton fields Miz Jones had just finished one long story about all the sickness her boys had been through but they were just fine now ‘cause they was big strong healthy boys and she had always worked hard to keep them that way. Fed them good food, made sure they got plenty of milk, meat and greens.
“And, of course,” she added in a low, secret-like voice, “you got to keep them away from the magic.”
“The magic?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s all kinds of magic in the world,” Miz Jones said. “And all of it is bad. Some folks says there’s good magic out there to protect the babies but I says all magic is bad. If it don’t come from the Lord it’s bad.”
“Is that so?” Bill said. I could tell he was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud. “Like witches and such? Potions and voodoo?”
“Well, there’s bad folks out there. I don’t say that. They can do some mighty hurt with them poultice bags, but the worst magic comes from old Mother Nature herself. She’s done got tricks up her sleeve, ooh. You got to be on your guard day and night.”
“Like what?” Bill hung his head low so she wouldn’t see his smile.
“There’s a lotta bad magic out there but I say just about the worst has to be the turtledove.”
“The turtledove?” I asked.
“Now I tell you, if you ever have a turtledove get in the house, nestling in the rafters going, ‘Coo…coo,’ you done had it. There’s going to be a death in the family for sure. No doubt about it. Once you hear a turtledove cooing in the house, boy, it’s all over. Somebody’s gonna die.”
Bill and me, we thought we done real good in not busting out laughing at Miz Jones. Ma had always said it wasn’t nice to laugh at somebody to their face. Besides, those Jones boys looked like they could beat the tar out of us if we made fun of their ma.
The next day pa said we’d been working so hard in the fields that we deserved a day off to go hunting. So ma packed us a lunch and we oiled and polished our .22 rifles and off we went through the woods. We got us some squirrels and rabbits. Mostly we just lollygagged about, joking and laughing about anything and everything. The day was just about over when we heard it:
Coo…coo…
Bill and me looked at each other and smiled. The best joke of all. We stalked lightly through the brush until we spotted the next. Mama turtledove had just flow off, looking for food. There they were, three babies cooing their heads off. We gently stuck out our hands into the nest and scooped up one of the chicks. We hurried back home before the others came out of the cotton fields. We snuck into the field hands’ cabin and placed the baby turtledove up in the rafters.
We could hardly keep from laughing during supper.
“Well, you boys must have had a good time hunting,” ma said as she ladled out the squirrel and rabbit stew made from our catch of the day.
“Yes, ma,” we mumbled.
“That’s good.” She cuddled our baby sister on her lap as she settled in to eat her supper. “Good times. We’re having good times right now.”
Just then there was a loud rapping at the door.
“Mr. Cowling! Mr. Cowling!” It was Mr. Jones. “Come quick! Miz Jones is terrible upset!”
“What on earth…” Pa muttered as he pushed away from the kitchen table.
“Can we come too, Pa?” Bill asked.
“I guess.” He looked at ma. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. They done finished their supper.” She stood holding the baby close to her. “I’m putting the baby down to bed.”
So Bill and me scampered behind pa to the Jones’ cabin. When we walked in Miz Jones was waving her arms, her eyes wide with fright.
“Oh, Mr. Cowling! Somebody’s going to die!”
We tried not to smile because those Jones boys was watching us mighty hard. Mr. Jones was trying to put his arms around his wife but she wouldn’t have none of it.
“There’s a turtledove in the rafters just cooing away. I swear somebody’s going to die, Mr. Cowling, I just know it.”
Pa stood tall and held up his hand. Miz Jones got quiet right away.
“If someone who is not a member of the family takes the turtledove out of the house, the curse is broken.” Pa then climbed up in the rafters and retrieved the little turtledove.
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Miz Jones said, her hands going to her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Cowling, thank you, sir. You done saved our lives.”
With much pomp and ceremony pa held the turtledove which was still cooing, in his hands high above his head.
“Hallelujah, Mr. Cowling. Thank you, Mr. Cowling,” we heard Miz Jones say we closed the door behind us.
When we got back to the house Pa placed the cooing baby turtledove in a box by the door. He turned to stare hard at Bill and me.
“Are you boys behind all this?” he asked sternly.
“It was just a joke,” Bill said softly.
“These are good, hard-working people,” pa lectured us. “We’re lucky to have them working for us. They can’t help it if they’re superstitious. If you pull anything like this again I’ll—“
Ma came running into the kitchen from their bedroom. “Pa! Come quick! The baby’s not breathing!”
He ran into the room and leaned over the crib. As he put his mouth over the baby’s mouth trying to breathe life into her, ma fell to her knees sobbing.
Then Bill and me, we heard something behind us.
Coo…coo…
We looked at each other.
Pa glared at us and shouted, “Get that turtledove out of this house right now!”
Bill and me grabbed the turtledove and just as we crossed the threshold of the front door, our baby sister sucked in a lot of air and started crying loud. Ma and Pa cried too, picking up the baby and kissing her all over her little face. Bill and me didn’t say nothing, just stared at each other.
Coo…coo…
Maybe Miz Jones knew more than we did about the magic of Mother Nature.
The cooing of the turtledove.

Heather’s Ghost Nanny

Heather was a very precocious little five-year-old girl. She knew how to smile and giggle and always get exactly what she wanted. She and her family, mom, dad and brother, recently moved into a nice house with a swimming pool in a new town. She heard how her parents were very excited about the good price they got for the house, much lower than they expected. Heather’s bedroom and her brother’s bedroom were across the house from the master bedroom, so she thought she was going to be able to get away with a lot of naughty things after her family had gone to sleep.
That was before the first night she slipped out of bed after midnight to turn on the television to watch the shows her mom and dad didn’t want her to see. After she punched the on button and turned to sit on her bean bag chair, the television promptly turned itself off. Hmph, she thought to herself. That never happened before. So she stood and went back to punch the on button again but it went off even faster than it did before.
Frowning, Heather decided that wasn’t any fun so she went back to bed. A few days later a nice lady from next door came to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.
“Of course, you know about the Andersons,” she said.
“The couple who lived here before us,” Heather’s mom said.
“Yes,” the neighbor lady said.
“All we know is that their children seemed eager to sell the house,” Heather’s dad said. “They lowered the price very fast.”
“That’s because they both died in the house.”
Heather wasn’t really paying attention. She really wanted to go out to play but she knew she had to make a good impression on the neighbor. She might be giving out freshly baked cookies one day and Heather wanted to get one.
“Oh,” her parents said in unison.
“He died in his sleep in the master bedroom,” the neighbor said. “His wife died a year earlier.” She paused. “In the swimming pool.”
“What?”
“Mrs. Anderson was a sweet lady but she had a drinking problem. Went to AA meetings but it didn’t seem to do much good. When she went on a bender her husband could not stand to be around her. One night she was particularly out of control, so Mr. Anderson left the house and just sat in the car, waiting for her to pass out on the floor so he could go to bed. An hour later he heard no more banging about inside so he figured it was safe to come back in. It was then he saw her floating face down in the swimming pool. Evidently she had staggered out to the patio and fallen into the pool and was too drunk to get out. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. For the next year he just sat in a lawn chair, staring at the pool and smoking a cigar, until he finally died.”
“So that’s why we got the house cheap,” Heather’s dad said.
Heather was only vaguely aware of what all that really meant to her. After all, she was only a five year old girl. That night she got up after midnight to turn on the television again, and again it promptly turned itself off.
“Mrs. Anderson, is that you?” she whispered.
She could swear she felt a dripping wet hand firmly but gently pushed her toward her bedroom. Heather never tried to watch television again after midnight. As she grew up, however, Heather seemed to forget about Mrs. Anderson from time to time, until the dripping wet ghost decided to become her nanny.
When her girl friends came for a sleep over, Heather was never able to get the refrigerator door open so they could sneak ice cream. No matter how hard the girls tried, the door was stuck, until morning, that is, when her mom easily opened it to get out milk for the girls.
By the time Heather turned thirteen, all the boys in the neighborhood knew the way to her house. She had parties all the time but when she and one of the boys wanted private time in her room, the door would never shut. Each time they tried to close it, the door would swing open and stay open.
By the time she was eighteen, Heather had started going steady with one boy after another. She was always the one to call it off and always had another boy willing to be her plaything for awhile. One night, on the front porch when Heather was saying good night to her latest boyfriend, he decided to get a little closer than she wanted.
Suddenly he felt a hard slap, right between his shoulder blades.
“How did you do that?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Do what?” Heather asked.
“Slap me on the back,” he said.
Heather told him to turn around and, sure enough, there was a wet hand print on his shirt.
“Oh that’s my ghost, Mrs. Anderson. She thinks she’s my nanny.”
Needless to say, she never saw him again. A couple of years passed and finally Heather met a nice young man. One night he shyly started talking about marriage. He jumped and Heather asked what happened.
“I could swear I felt someone kiss me.” He felt his cheek. It was wet.
“My nanny ghost, Mrs. Anderson must like you very much.”
By the next spring, Heather married her nice young man and had the wedding reception by the swimming pool. When the pictures were developed, there stood the beautiful bride and her groom, and standing behind them, very clear in the photograph, was an elderly woman, drenching wet and chugging on a bottle of gin.

Death Visits Savannah

This story comes from Boris Karloff, the original Mummy, the original Frankenstein monster. He was in his last movie which was the first movie directed by Peter Bogdonovich. It was called “Targets” and was inspired by the sniper shootings from the University of Texas tower in Austin in 1968. Mr. Karloff played—basically—himself, an old actor tired of his image as the King of Horror. In one scene he tells a simple story, the camera fixed on his face. His story took place in the Persia during the Middle Ages. I place my version in Atlanta in the 1880s.
Joe was a servant who worked for a wealthy merchant in Atlanta, Georgia, Percival Hawthorne. Hawthorne had the largest mercantile establishment in not only Atlanta but also Macon, Valdosta, McDonough and Savannah. Joe was his personal valet, tending to his every need. For his loyal service Joe slept in his own room at Hawthorne’s mansion, wore new clothes and ate as well as his employer. He was never whipped, never had to do heavy lifting, nor did he ever break a sweat.
One day at noon Hawthorne called Joe into his office and asked him to walk a few blocks down the street to the farmers market to buy apples for his lunch. Nodding with a big grin, Joe left the large store and walked down the street. He was happy and content with his life. When he reached the open air market he carefully examined each vendor’s produce. He wanted only the best apples for Mr. Hawthorne.
Suddenly, Joe stopped short because standing before him on the streets of Atlanta, was Death. When their eyes met, Joe saw that Death was surprised. Death’s mouth fell open and he pointed his boney finger at Joe.
Joe knew when Death pointed his finger at you, no one else in a huge crowd but you, it meant only one thing. Your days on this earth were numbered. Joe turned and ran away, knocking people out of his way, going back to Mr. Hawthorne.
“Sir, forgive me. I did not buy your apples.”
“And why not, Joe?”
“I saw Death,” he replied. “He pointed his boney finger at me. And you know what it means when Death points at you.” Joe choked back the tears. “I am not ready to die.”
“And I am not ready to see you die, Joe.” Hawthorne stood and put his arm around his loyal servant. “Go now to my stable. Tell them I order them to pick out the fastest horse and give it to you. Mount the horse, Joe, and ride all night to the store in Savannah. There is a bedroom over the store. Stay there. Death will never find you there.”
Joe did exactly as his employer told him. He went to the stable and asked for the fastest horse. As he rode out of Atlanta and down the dusty road to Savannah, his spirits lifted. Death would never find him now. He would live a long and happy life.
The next day at noon, Hawthorne left his office and walked down to the farmers market for his apples for lunch. There, standing among the fruit and vegetable stalls, was Death. Hawthorne approached Death and accosted him.
“Why did you point at my man Joe yesterday in this market?”
“I am sorry, sir.” Death said. “I did not mean to gape and point at your man, but I did not expect to see him at the farmers market in Atlanta. I have an appointment with him at midnight tomorrow in Savannah.”

Blueberry Patch Ghost

Missouri Palestine Shirley loved two things—her father, a coal miner in West Virginia, and blueberries.
Every morning, before the sun crept through her window, she forced herself to wake up, making her eyes as wide as possible, and forcing her mouth into a great big smile. Missouri burst through her bedroom door and ran into the kitchen where her father sat having his morning cup of coffee.
“There’s my little ray of sunshine!” he said, hugging her tightly.
Then he was off down the road through the middle of the company houses where all the miners lived and into the far hollow to the mine entrance. Missouri stood on the porch waving until he disappeared in the crowd of other men carrying their lunch pails and picks and wearing their miner’s hats.
One morning, after her father left, Missouri heard running down the rocky road. People were talking in whispers.
Her older sister Trudy took her by the hand, picked up a bucket and smiled at Missouri. “Ma says she wants us to go blueberry picking up in the holler.”
Missouri grinned, grabbed the bucket and ran ahead of Trudy to where the blueberry patch lay hidden because next to her father, there was nothing Missouri loved more than blueberries. As they began to pick the succulent fruit, Missouri heard wagon wheels rolling, horses clomping, bells ringing, and a low rumble of voices.
“What’s all that noise for, Trudy?”
“Never you mind, Ma wants a full bucket of blueberries before the day is out.”
After the sun had rounded the top of the sky, Missouri noticed all the noise had died down. The bucket was three-fourths full and the last berries were up the slope a little, too tall for her to reach. Trudy would have to pick those.
“Trudy!” She heard her mother yell from the bottom of the hill. “Come down! Right now!”
Her sister looked at her, the bucket, and the blueberries up the slope and frowned. “Wait here,” Trudy said. “I’ll be right back.”
After Trudy ran away, Missouri frowned wondering how she was going to get the last of those blueberries by herself.
“Don’t look sad, my little ray of sunshine,” her father said.
Missouri looked up and beamed when she saw her father. “Daddy! Please help me get the last of the blueberries?”
In a few minutes, Trudy and her mother slowly trudged up the hollow. Missouri’s pride that she now had a full bucket of blueberries faded as she watched them.
“Missouri,” her mother began in a serious voice, “you have to be my big girl right now. I have something bad to tell you, terrible bad.”
“How did you get the rest of those blueberries,” Trudy interrupted, pointing to the full bucket.
“Daddy helped me,” Missouri said. “He got the high hanging berries for me and then left.”
“But Daddy’s—“
“That’s all right,” their mother interrupted Trudy. “It doesn’t make any difference now anyway.”