Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00
When Boone Fowler returned to Weeder’s Clump after hearing Conklin Merriweather’s rather meandering tale about the witch’s grave, he did two things immediately. He shared his morels with his three buddies and asked them to meet him at Mom’s Restaurant that evening for coffee.
So at 7:30 on a fine spring evening, Boone, Dr. Wanton Slaughter, August Provender, and Tug Armstrong met at Mom’s. Tug was fondly known in Weeder’s Clump as “The Brown Eyed Nut Twister” because he was the expert mechanic at Poindexter’s Garage. These four men were fishing buddies, and they frequently camped and fished on the Big Sleazy.
After Boone had told them the story of Sadie Stone, August Provender said, “Don’t you see, Boone, he was telling you this tall tale just so you would buy him beer. Can’t you see that he has a drinking problem?”
“I have considered that possibility, August, but I was, after all, in that graveyard, and I did sense something mysterious, even eldritch, about that one grave.”
There’s only one way to find out,” Tug Armstrong declared. “Boone, I dare you to visit that place all alone on the night of the next full moon.”
Tug had hoisted Boone on his own petard, thrown down the gauntlet, and the only way Boone could save face was to accept the dare. “I’ll do it,” he said.
Wanton Slaughter expressed some doubt, “How do we know he won’t chicken out and just tell us that he went up there?”
That’s easy,” responded The Brown Eyed Nut Twister, “I’ll give him my pocket knife, and he can stick it in the ground beside the grave. That way we will know that he was there. Then the next day I’ll go there and retrieve it.”
“Not good enough,” replied Boone, who was visited by an inspiration. “I dare you, Tug, to go there the next night at midnight, all by yourself, and retrieve your knife.”
What could Tug do but agree to those terms? Boone had out-maneuvered him for once. So the plans were made that on the night of the next full moon the four friends would camp near the lock and dam and Boone, all by himself, would pay a visit to Sadie’s grave and Tug the following night.
A month later, when the curtains of night were pinned back by the stars and the full moon was rising, the four friends found themselves camped on the bank of the Big Sleazy. They fished, told jokes, and recounted stories from their youth. At midnight they escorted Boone to the little grocery store, where he was to begin his adventure.
Boone wanted his friends to know that he was not afraid, so as he walked into the woods he sang at the top of his voice:
“It’s roamin’ in the gloamin’
By the bonny banks of Clyde.
It’s roamin’ in the gloamin’
With your lassie by your side.”
Boone had read somewhere that if you were alone at night in a scary place, you whistled or sang as loud as you could because that kept the evil spirits at bay. Then again, he remembered the scariest story he had ever read, “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce, and he decided that stealth would be better than to call attention to himself. So he climbed the hill in silence.
Boone noticed that the night was alive with sounds. An owl hooted way up on the bluff and was answered by another that was too close for Boone’s comfort. He heard the soft swoosh of a flying squirrel and the murmur of a nearby stream. As he listened carefully, he became aware of a world of insect noises—buzzing, humming, singing, whistling, chirping, sizzling, hissing and rasping. It was a symphony of insect sounds, a complex system of life, an invisible universe all to itself that most people never hear.
But then, as he neared the graveyard, he heard a sound that shivered his timbers. It was a female voice singing:
“And if I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears?”
The voice was the most beautiful that Boone had ever heard. The song was more enchanting and lyrical than Keats’ nightingale. And Boone understood what Odysseus must have felt when he heard the song of the Sirens. Boone was completely enthralled and drawn to the singer by a powerful, invisible force.
When he reached the gate of the graveyard, he could see an apparition beside Sadie’s grave. Although the moonlight was ambient, he could tell that it was a pulchritudinous young woman in a white gossamer gown and not an ugly old witch in black.
Then the vision of beauty spoke to him, “Oh, my brave lad, why are you so late in coming to me? I have been waiting long for your embrace. I am so lonely. Come hither and hold me in your arms.”
Boone could not help himself. In fact, he longed to take her in his arms. It was the only thing he wanted to do, to comfort her, hold her hands, and kiss her lips.
“I ask only one kiss of thee, my dear one. One kiss. Is that too much to ask?” she implored.
Boone was about to step forward and embrace and kiss this beautiful vision of the night when something happened to break the spell. All the sounds of the night ceased. No cricket chirped. No night bird cried. No leaves rustled in the breeze. There was total silence as if Mother Nature were holding her breath. It was the closest that Boone would ever come to understanding what Emily Dickinson meant by “a Quietness distilled.”
But it saved Boone Fowler. A seventh sense told him he was in great danger. And he turned on his heel, leaped over the fence, stumbled, regained his balance, bounced off a tree, ran through a briar patch, bounced off another tree in his wild flight to escape. Glancing over his shoulder, he tripped over the root of a tree, flew through the air, and slammed backwards into a shag bark hickory.
Before he lost consciousness, Boone heard a sound he had never heard before. It was a low, melancholy sobbing sound, followed by weeping, then wailing, then shrieking. It was the cry of a banshee with a broken heart.
Meanwhile back at the camp on the Big Sleazy, Boone’s friends were sitting by the campfire singing songs from their college days: “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore,” “Kumbaya,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Old Man River,” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”
The moonlight on the river, the campfire, the singing of the old songs, and the feeling of contentment in this communion of friends touched August Provender, and he voiced the sentiments of all three men when he said, “This is nice. I can’t think of anything nicer than this.”
“What time is it? Boone should be back by now. I’m worried,” said Wanton Slaughter.
“Yes, he may need help. Let’s go find him,” added Tug Armstrong.
They found Boone Fowler lying beside the shag bark hickory, still unconscious. Wanton Slaughter gave him a brief physical examination and reported no broken bones or major injuries.
They carried Boone back to camp and made him as comfortable as possible. They applied a cold cloth to the knot on Boone’s head and sat beside him, watching him carefully.
A few hours later, shortly after daybreak, Boone awoke with a splitting headache. He was all right except for the headache, the scratches on his face, neck, ears, and arms; a slightly sprained ankle; a gash on his hand; a large knot on his head; and what appeared to be a tiny insect bite on his neck. But they all noticed something different about Boone: His hair had turned completely white.
“What happened?” the three friends asked in unison.
Very gingerly, Boone felt the lump on the back of his head. He had not yet discovered his white hair. He flibbered his lips, sighed heavily, and said, “I can’t remember. I heard some music and after that nothing. My mind is as blank as John Locke’s famous tabula rasa.
“What about my pocket knife? Did you stick it in the ground beside the grave like you were supposed to do?” Tug inquired.
“No, that I do remember. I dropped it near the gate. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Boone fainted when he was told about his white hair.
Tug stared down at Boone contemplating Boone’s hair. Then Tug remembered that tonight was his turn to visit the grave. He stared off into the middle distance, furrowed his brow, shook his head sadly, glanced again at Boone’s hair, and said, “I guess I‘ll have to buy a new pocketknife.”
All that summer and well into the fall they called The Brown Eyed Nut Twister “Chicken,” but no one ever called Boone “Whitey.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 September 2013 14:41