Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00
About nine miles north of Weeder’s Clump, on the Big Sleazy River, there is a lock and dam, which maintains the depth of the river and controls the heavy barge traffic going north to Upperville or south to Saint Louis.
A small community is situated near the lock and dam. Ten houses and a tiny grocery provide for the permanent residents, who are either employed at the locks, earn a living as commercial fishermen on the river, or farm the rich soil between the river and the rugged bluff that parallels the Big Sleazy in a five mile stretch.
This bluff is a wild place, heavily wooded, with deep hollows and ravines so steep as to discourage even the most agile of people. The area is virtually the same as it was when the first settlers came here in the early 1800s, a wilderness so wild that if a Sasquatch does exist, he would probably be found living safely in the heavy timber and thick brush of the area.
One spring morning Boone Fowler came to this quiet community, not to fish but to hunt for morel mushrooms on the bluff. He was brave to do so because one could easily become lost in the woods and wander around perhaps for days or fall into one of the ravines and disappear. Hungry for morels and confident of his sense of direction, Boone went deep into the woods, climbed nearly to the top of the bluff, and was rewarded by filling his sack with morels. Just as he was about to turn back, he saw a small, long abandoned graveyard. It struck Boone as curious that this burial place would be located in such an inaccessible place so remote from any human dwelling. Of course, his curiosity got the better of him, and he had to investigate.
Boone climbed over the rust-encrusted remains of an iron fence and began to search the enclosure. As best he could tell, there were about 10 graves there, but most of the small headstones had faded so badly that he could not read the names. Also, a fir tree had grown up beside one of the graves, dislodging the marker as well as the one on an adjacent grave. But one grave drew his attention because it was different from the others. Someone had piled heavy stones on the grave, almost as if to make sure the person buried there would stay buried there. And a six-inch margin around the grave was completely barren of weeds and grass as if someone had carefully manicured the ground. But there were no other signs that anyone had been here for years.
As Boone bent down to remove one of the stones, he was overcome by a strange sensation, an eldritch feeling of danger, a sense of imminent evil, and an unpleasant tingling in his hand. He quickly dropped the stone back in place and recoiled from the grave as if he had been stung by hornets. Hastily, he left the graveyard and made his way back down the bluff to the tiny grocery store.
Boone proudly displayed the morels he had gathered. Then he said, “Do you know anything about that graveyard up there near the top of the bluff?”
The grocer, who reminded Boone of Jabba the Hutt in “Star Wars,” answered in a somewhat surly tone, “Don’t know nothin’ bout no graveyard. Folks round here get buried over in Gilbrids.”
“Yes, but would you know anyone who could tell me the history of that place. One grave there is unique, and I am curious about it,” Boone replied.
“Look, Mister, I would let well enough alone if I was you. Don’t do no good to poke around in things that don’t consarn you. Besides, you can’t live in a graveyard.”
Boone was going to say, “Thank you for your assistance, Dr. Kevorkian,” but he concluded that any levity would go right over this fellow’s head.
Boone picked up his sack of morels and started to leave, and he noticed an elderly, gnome-like man, who looked to be two days older than the Lord, get up to follow him out.
Outside the store, the little old man, who reminded Boone of Barry Fitzgerald in The Quiet Man, introduced himself as Conklin Merriweather and said, “I can tell you what you want to know. Let’s just sit down here on this bench and I’ll give you the story. But first, my throat is as dry as a woodpecker’s lunch. Would you go back in the store and get me a beer?”
Boone did as was requested. He handed Conklin a can of Blotto Beer and sat down beside him, eager for the story.
“Well, this community is the result of a split off from Weeder’s Clump over intense political disagreements that have been forgotten over the years,” Conklin said. Then he told Boone about the first people to come here, their individual names, the names of their children, the major events that occurred. He went on and on with minute specific details, a wealth of information with little coherence.
When Conklin paused, Boone said, “Yes, but what about the graveyard?”
Conklin pointed to his throat to indicate the need for another brew. Boone got the message and went back to get him another can of Blotto.
Conklin took a long swallow of the drink, looked thoughtfully at the can, and said, “We only go around once in life, and we should grab for all the gusto we can.” He took another swallow, belched, and then resumed his story. He told Boone all about the lock and dam. It had originally been situated about a mile south, but for some reason the government decided to move it to its present location. He told Boone all about the engineering problems in construction and the names of all the lockmasters who had worked on it. And even the names of some of the famous paddle wheel steamboats such as The Golden Eagle and the legendary tug named The Robert Huarte.
He told about an accident on The Robert Huarte when a deck hand fell overboard and drowned and his body was not recovered until five days later. It had been caught in an undertow by the dam and held there until, also by accident, a lockmaster named Bismark Logsdon discovered it; otherwise the body would never have been found.
Conklin paused and cleared his throat several times. Finally, since Boone was impervious to his meaning, he said, “Would you kindly fetch me another beer?”
Boone did so and was about to remind Conklin to tell the story of the grave, when the thirsty little gnome resumed by informing Boone about the trouble at the lock and dam during World War II, when the government feared that our enemies could sabotage the river by destroying the dams. As a result of this fear, the Army deployed military personnel to protect the place.
Conklin then told of a young girl in the community who fell in love with one of the soldiers, and they were caught in a love tryst in an alcove in the dam’s outer wall when the soldier was supposed to be on guard. He was court martialed and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for dereliction of duty. The girl promised to wait for him, but absence sometimes makes the heart look around and try to find another main squeeze, and she married a husky young farmer from the other side of the Big Sleazy. Conklin started to name their children when Boone intervened.
“Wait just a minute. I’m not buying you another beer until you tell me the story of that grave up there.”
Conklin seemed hurt and abashed by Boone’s crispy tone of voice, but he segued into the story that Boone wanted to hear. “Well, when people broke away from Weeder’s Clump in the olden days there was a woman among their number named Sadie Stone. She had a look in her eyes that could shiver anyone’s timbers, and she was meaner than nine miles of bad road. And she was loud. People on the other side of the Big Sleazy could hear her shrill voice when she laughed or lost her temper. She would put a curse on anyone who crossed her path. She even regarded those who disagreed with her as enemies.
People started to take her seriously after Biff DeWitt, who had a shouting argument with her, was found dead of a broken neck. He had tried to climb a tree to dislodge a squirrel he had shot, but he had lost his grip and fell to his death.
Then Syfax Harvest, who had demanded his money back when he found that the eggs he had purchased from Sadie were rotten, discovered that five of his cows had escaped their pasture and had foundered and died in Charter Oak Wilson’s cornfield. Apparently someone had left the pasture gate open.
It seemed that anyone who had trouble with Sadie ended up on the short end of the stick, so to speak,” Conklin said. “I could go on and on giving you examples of people who suffered at the hands of Sadie and her curses, but I sense your impatience, and I would indeed enjoy another brew. So I will cut to the chase, as the learned people at Heliotrope University would put it.”
“To be brief, the people agreed that Sadie was a witch, and everyone, even those who scoffed at witchcraft and superstition, gave her a wide berth. It is amazing how one person can tyrannize an entire community. We see it many times in life, from the schoolyard bully to the ….”
Here, Conklin halted because he saw Boone shake his head, signaling him to cut to the chase or not get another brew.
“When Sadie died,” Conklin resumed, “they buried her up in the old graveyard where the original settlers were laid to rest. Still fearful that she might return, the people piled heavy rocks on her grave to make sure she stayed put. Even now people around here shun that place as if merely to be near is enough to expose them to the malignant power that resides under those rocks. The legend goes that the full moon empowers Sadie, and she struggles to free herself, but the rocks are too heavy, and she can’t move them. Also, the legend warns that if anyone is close to the grave during a full moon, Sadie can summon their strength and use it to gain freedom.
Finally at the end of his story, Conklin shook his head sadly, looked off into the middle distance as if imploring divine protection, and said, “NOBODY DAST GO NEAR THAT GRAVE DURING THE NIGHT OF A FULL MOON.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 13:59