Tales from the Boschard – Chapter 2: The Hooligritz

Skull Stick

The Hex of the Hooligritz

I stared at it and it seemed to stare back, peering into my soul, listening to my thoughts. Deep, hollow eye sockets regarded me with cold intelligence.  The polished ebony stained wood, the hand carved teeth and the deathly grin generated a sinister aura around the black wooden walking stick with the skull handle, propped upright against the door to the shed.  It loomed like an evil sundial, casting a long shadow in the low morning sun.  My breath flowed and swirled, floating for a moment before evaporating –  white wispy fingers of steam in the crisp Pocono mountain air. I rubbed my bare arms to keep warm.  It was late September and the nights often dipped below forty degrees, leaving the grass and leaves wet with dew by dawn. Uncle Charlie stood next to me, his chest heaving slightly.  Beads of sweat glinted from his forehead, in defiance of the cool air.  His eyes darted from the skull stick to the nearby forest.  He pulled a red handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped his head, flattening strands of jet black hair against his pink scalp. Wide blue suspenders kept his trousers snug beneath his enormous round stomach – all held captive by a white t-shirt.

“What is it, Uncle Charlie?”  I asked.

His eyes darted back and forth.  “It’s bad. Gerald, very bad,” my uncle said as he bent down to get a closer look.

There were three leaves tied with delicate vines just under the jaw, one brown, one red and one gold.  A strange symbol was carved on the top of the skull.  It looked like the hex signs that decorated nearby barns.  But it was different, more angular, with small letters from some language I couldn’t identify.

I had never seen my uncle in such a state.  His fingers trembled slightly as he tucked his handkerchief back into his pocket.  He coughed and put his hands on his hips, dark eyes dancing about like twitchy flies searching for a landing spot.  It was Saturday, the first day of my weekend with him.  Just Uncle Charlie and me, fishing, chopping, sawing and stacking wood, playing cards, watching TV – a weekend treat that I enjoyed every September since I was seven.  I was eleven now, and a stark uneasiness began slither up my spine, like a vine, spreading its tendrils upward to my brain.

“Is it a hex?”  I asked and reached to touch the stick.

“Gerald, don’t touch it!”  Uncle Charlie grabbed my arm and jerked me backwards.  I stumbled, shocked.  Uncle Charlie had never shown an ounce of hostility toward me.  He was always as happy as a rooster in the morning, and just as loud, but in a jolly manner.   He was part Cherokee and his Native American genetics bubbled through an ever-smiling face, strong cheekbones and squinting, corner-wrinkled black eyes that twinkled with kindness and good nature.  He sported a textbook beer belly, but never touched alcohol.  His girth came from an unbridled love of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  I had seen him eat two corn pies, a cheesesteak, three hot dogs, and half of a shoe fly pie just for lunch.  He usually washed it all down with a couple of bottles of my grandfather’s home made birch beer.   But all that good-nature seemed to have been spirited away with the arrival of the skull stick.  His grip on my arm still ached long after he had released and my apprehension blossomed into fresh fear.

Uncle Charlie spat and rubbed the scars on his crooked right arm.  My eyes lingered for a moment on his forearm which ran straight from the elbow to about midway to the wrist where it took a thirty-degree jog and then zig-zagged straight again.  Two years ago, he had been working with a mortar mixer, a big blue one with paddles that mixes the mortar to perfect consistency.  One of the paddles got stuck so my uncle reached in to un-jam it without turning off the power.  The mixer resumed and a paddle caught Uncle Charlie’s arm.  It broke it in 3 places and nearly tore it off.  The surgeons did the best they could, but it still looked like something Dr. Frankenstein had re-assembled from spare parts.  Luckily, Uncle Charlie had the use of his arm, however his hand had lost a good deal of strength and dexterity from the damage.  His dauntless spirit just switched gears and re-trained his left arm to do most of the work, leaving his right arm to less difficult chores.

I was with him on the day of the accident. The memory of his agony, his mangled and twisted arm and the merciless power of that machine had a particular effect upon me.  I suppose the trauma gave rise to a fear of mechanical devices.  I was unable to use or even approach nearly any type of power equipment after that day.  Drills, leaf blowers, even lawn mowers terrified me.  I refused to get within ten feet of anything with a motor or spinning blades or gears.  I harbored a particular phobia regarding the old red chainsaw that Uncle Charlie used for fall clean-up and found myself shying away from the roar of its loud engine.  I would take shelter behind the shed or a large tree trunk until he he was finished cutting.  I wasn’t quite old enough or strong enough to handle that dangerous tool anyway, so my uncle was content with my wood-stacking and raking duties, though he often teased me about my aversion, kidding that the chainsaw was going to get me in my sleep.

“It’s a dark pow-wow.” Uncle Charlie mumbled.  I stepped back.  I knew about pow-wow.  My Nana would invoke the ancient Pennsylvania Dutch ritual whenever we were sick.  I remembered something about the sixth and seventh books of Moses called “The Lost Friend.”  It was rumored to have been filled with practical prayers and remedies, incantations to cure illnesses and perform general healing.  I had never heard any mention of “dark” pow-wow.

“What’s dark pow-wow?” I asked.

My uncle frowned. “Somebody wants to put a hex on me.  And them leaves is callin’ the Hooligritz.  Probably that hooftie Eline.  He still blames me for swampin’ his goddamn boat, that son-of-a-bitch!”

Uncle Charlie’s Pennsylvania Dutch accent usually invaded his speech whenever he was truly upset.  I generally knew enough words to follow along.  For instance, I knew that a “hooftie” was a derogatory term for an uneducated country bumpkin.

“Hooligritz?”  I queried and looked deep into the forest.  There were thick trees and foliage as far as the eye could see, with a fresh carpet of orange, brown and gold leaves betraying the approach of autumn.

“Yeah, the beast of the woods.  We gotta get ready to keep him away when it gets dark.”

Hooligritz? my brain was on fire.  Something coming? At night?  A beast?  Now I started to sweat.  “Uncle Charlie?  What is the Hooligritz?”

“We only got about ten hours of daylight to get ready.  I’m gonna need your help.”  Uncle Charlie grabbed my arm hard again. “This is very serious stuff, now.  You gotta really pitch in and help me, OK? And do everything I tell ya, right?”  He let go of my arm and ducked into the shed. A moment later he emerged with a burlap bag, tied shut with a small length of rope.

I nodded and we hopped into his Jeep Cherokee Chief, a 1974 model with wood panel sides and a crank on the back to open and close the big tailgate window.  He tossed the burlap sack onto the back seat and dug through his pocket for the car keys.

The inside of the vehicle smelled like old cheese and smoke.  A pair of handcuffs dangled from the emergency brake handle beneath the dashboard, a glinting testament to Uncle Charlie’s secondary duties as Constable.  His first passion was as chief of the local volunteer fire department.  His reputation for valor in the face of flames was legendary. He winked at me as he reached up on the dashboard and grabbed the emergency light.  With a loud magnetic “thunk” he slapped it onto the roof and hit the button labeled siren.  Stones flew in all directions, churned from the spinning tires as we roared down the bumpy mountain road.

“This here counts as an emergency.”  he said, eyes fixed on the winding gravel path ahead.  “We gotta get some special stuff before dark.”

In a flurry of dust and stones, we hit the blacktop of Route 6, tires shrieking in tune with the wail of the siren.  We wound along for a few miles, and then made a sharp left exit onto a tiny backwoods road that twisted through Dekkar’s Hollow, a natural preserve maintained by the Pennsylvania State Fish and Game Commission.

Dekkar’s, as we called it, was one of my favorite places on Earth.  It was a boggy, wooded basin for a slow trout stream that wound lazily between the mountains.  Beavers had dammed it in places, creating serene pools that served as natural labs to a variety of zoological wonders.  It was an endless supply of newts and efts, tiger frogs, snakes, turtles, stick bugs and all manner of things which young boys find fascinating.  I remember relentlessly nagging my grandfather to drive me there nearly every waking hour during my summer visits.  Most of the hollow was designated as state protected game lands, home to wild turkey, deer, bobcats and even black bears.  Thick vegetation formed a curtain of quiet sanctuary around the bog and it was often nearly impenetrable.  There were old wooden bridges, cascading waterfalls, and even quicksand in some areas, all of which added up to adventure of the highest order.

I gazed out the window as we sped along the narrow two-lane road.  My eyes searched the landscape that whizzed by, scanning the mammoth limestone rocks that skirted the shoulder, their gray stoney faces bearded with green moss, ferns and lichens, dripping with dew and spring water, mouths open, revealing dark caverns of intrigue.  We called them bear caves, and imagined families of the black beasts bedding there for the night.

“Where are we going Uncle Charlie?” I asked, staring at the side of his face.  The skin on his cheek looked like worn leather, ruddy and criss-crossed with wrinkles.  Sweat zig-zagged its way from beneath his scalp and ran along the crevasses, changing direction as it found its way down his face.

“The witch’s house.”  Uncle Charlie glanced at me from the corner of his eye and switched off the siren.

“What?”  My body shuddered and my blood turned cold.  “No!  I don’t want to go!”  I shook my head in protest, feeling a little dizzy and nauseous.  “Uncle Charlie, please!”  I pleaded and my mind raced in a frenzy of panic.  Were we really going to visit that place, the witch’s house?

My fear was born at the far end of the hollow, where the great gorge of the Lackawaxan river formed the boundary to the state game lands.  A two-hundred foot canyon carved into the gray limestone by the rushing water, the gorge was a favorite fishing spot for my uncle and me.  The witch lived at the far end of a clearing, just before an old railroad trestle that led to the gorge.  Of course, as kids, we had dubbed the house “the witch’s house” because it looked like the kind of place where a witch would live – clapboard siding with peeling paint, a roof in need of repair and vines and moss decorating the walls, a rickety porch with rotted timbers and an old rocking chair positioned just ahead of the ever-gaping front door.  For a time, my sisters, cousins and I were satisfied that it was just an abandoned shack, with an imaginary witch owner, until one day, as we drove by, we spied the old lady who actually lived there, sitting in that chair on the porch, long raven tresses streaked with white, black eyes sunk deep into her weathered skin like two lumps of coal pushed into a leather glove, wearing a tattered black dress from the last century. I swear she was even smoking a pipe!  It was dusk when we caught that first glimpse many years ago, which further shrouded the event in magical trepidation.

“Naah, don’t be scared.  She ain’t no witch like you guys believe.  She just knows pow-wow.”  Uncle Charlie kept his eyes on the road as we wound along the wild twists and turns.  “Betty’s a real nice lady, you’ll see.”

Betty?  Did he say Betty?  I swallowed hard as we rounded a tight turn.  The trees surrendered to a grassy field, dotted with scrubby pine trees and swimming in ferns and mountain laurel.  Uncle Charlie slowed down as we approached the house.  It was set back about 50 yards from the road at the end of a gravel driveway.  It still looked abandoned, with moss and vines weaving along the surface, diving in and out of holes in the walls and eaves.   The front door grinned open as usual, a black portal to the inner-sanctum.  My heart was pounding as we pulled up next to the porch.  A slight breeze stirred the rocking chair, creaking it back and forth on the rotten porch floor.

“She ain’t gonna hurt ya!”  Uncle Charlie said as he grabbed the sack from the back seat and pulled me along behind him.  We ascended the porch stairs and the ancient wood groaned beneath our feet with each step.

I smelled chicken and cabbage and heard a strange melody from inside the house.  As we passed the rocking chair and crossed the threshold, I could hear more clearly and realized that it was an old woman’s voice, lilting a melody as if sung through vocal chords of burlap and clay, raspy and growling, yet somehow pleasant.  It was something I recognized from church, a hymn, perhaps, but in German.

It took my eyes several seconds to adjust to the dark interior.  There was an oval rug in the middle of the room, with a couch and two chairs in a semi-circle around one side, all facing an enormous stone fireplace at the back of the house.  The mantle was a thick piece of oak and the stones of the fireplace were singed black around the mouth of the hearth.  A low fire glowed beneath a large cast-iron pot suspended by a chain from a hook that was anchored in the top of the masonry.  The smell of cabbage filled the room and seemed to originate from that great black cauldron.  An old woman stood with her back to the door, preparing vegetables and a chicken on the stone counter in the corner of the room.  Her hair was long and jet black with silver-white streaks.  It swayed well past her shoulders and slithered midway down her back in a tangled cascade.

“Charles.” said the woman without turning around.  She tilted her head back and sniffed the air.  “And you’ve got the younger Brunner child with you.”

My heart was pounding as the old woman turned around.  She smiled, baring mostly gums with a few irregular teeth sprouting at various angles.

“Aaah, little Gerald!  You look like a healthy fellow!”  She pointed her boney finger toward me and tilted her head to one side.  “Last time I saw you, you wasn’t doin’ so well.  Your dad brought you here when you was chust a baby.”  She nodded and looked up, remembering.  “You had impetigo.  But ole Betty fixed you up, real good!  Now look at you!  A fine fellow, alright!.  He don’t remember, he was so little!”

“Naw, he don’t remember none of that.”  said Uncle Charlie.  “Betty, I need your help.  Eline put the Hoolagritz on me.”

Uncle Charlie and Betty began speaking in Pennsylvania Dutch and German, most of which I couldn’t follow, so my attention shifted to the room in which I stood.  There were all kinds of jars with mysterious contents of every color imaginable.  Old magazines and books were abundant, but all neatly placed on shelves and in cabinets.  The neatness and absolute cleanliness of the interior was striking, given the relatively shabby, rundown nature of the exterior.

“You’re in for a rough night, all right.”  said Betty, gathering several jars from a shelf above the sink.  “Here, this is bloshter for the thresholds, doors and windows.”  She held out a small mason jar filled with an orange-crimson colored jelly-like substance.  “Smear it across every one of them in the cabin.  Then make a circle in the middle of the room and wait inside of it.  This won’t stop it alltogether, but it’ll slow it down chust long enough.”  She held up a small jar of yellow powder.  “Mix this pulvertranken mit some hot water.  Put two tablespoons in a cup and drink it after sundown.   And this last one is the difficult one.”  She paused and handed Uncle Charlie a bag of what looked like purple and grey dried barley, clumped into fluffy tufts that resembled the insulation commonly blown into attics.  “This is the gashenk, the offering that it must devour.  You MUST feed it from your own hand and you MUST repeat these words while feeding:  Vater, sohn und heiliger geist.  Do you understand?  Keep repeating until it finishes and goes back to the woods or until the sun come up, whichever happens first.”

“Jesus Christ, my own hand?”  Uncle Charlie looked pale as he stuffed the potions into his burlap sack.

“If I was you, I wouldn’t be using the Lord’s name in vain right now, Charles.  You gotta show no fear and hold your hand real steady and let it eat until it’s had enough.  The bloshter will give it pause at the thresholds and outside the circle and the pulvertranken and the words will protect you as long as you stay steady and calm.  Wait for it to break the circle, then slowly, very slowly feed it the gashenk.  And remember, slow, NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS! Just make it to daybreak and you’ll be OK.  It can only be called for one night, and only once in someone’s lifetime.”

Uncle Charlie’s hand trembled as he cinched the bag shut.  “I’m not sure…”

“You gotta be sure.”  Betty said.  “That’s the one thing you gotta be tonight.  And not chust for you, but for young Gerald’s sake too.  Dat beast has been sent for you, Charles, but sometimes they get confused when things don’t go right.”

Then Betty lowered here eyes, clasped her hands together and mumbled something in German.  “All right naw, you best be headin’ back before dusk.”  Betty’s bony hand grabbed my arm.  Her strength was surprising.  “And you help your uncle, junge mensch.  Do as he says tonight!  It’s very, very important!”

She followed us halfway down the front porch as we walked to the car.

“Merken sie, vater, sohn un heiliger geist!” Betty repeated, hands cupped around her mouth, shouting above the din of the Jeep as it roared away on the gravel driveway.

My uncle drove the entire way back to the cabin in silence. I had a vague disconnected hope that I might wake up and realize this was just a bad dream.  But I knew better.  I could still feel Betty’s grip on my arm and my clothes smelled of cabbage.  I don’t ever remember smelling anything in a dream.

Back at the cabin we immediately began smearing the thresholds with the bloshter.  It smelled terrible, like rotten wood, old soap and fetid swamp scum.  I held my nose but smeared gobs of it across every doorway and window.  Luckily, the cabin was small.  It had 2 bedrooms, a living area connected to a tiny kitchen and a bathroom.  There were only two doors, one at the front and one at the back and half a dozen windows so we were done in less than ten minutes.  Finally, we rolled the carpet up in the living room and painted a circle in the middle, just big enough to hold me and Uncle Charlie and a card table.

“Uncle Charlie?”  I said, quietly. “I’m really scared.”

“Now don’t you worry, little guy.  Chust stay behind me keep your eyes shut if you have to. It’s almost dusk, so help me get the drink ready.  Here, hold the Gashenk.”  He handed me the bag.

Uncle Charlie filled a big, tin camping kettle with water and lit a burner on the stove.  I stared out the window into the forest.  The sun was dropping behind the trees, sending golden fingers of sunshine between the branches.  I wished that I could hold the sun up to keep it from plunging into night, but I knew I had no such magic.  I was powerless to halt the approaching darkness.

Uncle Charlie grabbed two chairs from the kitchen and a small card table and flashlight from the closet.  He took three candles from the bathroom and placed them inside the circle.  He set a large thermos full of coffee next to the candles and then hurried to the porch.  He returned moments later with his fireman’s axe and leaned it against the table, within easy reach.    After a minute, the kettle began to boil and Uncle Charlie poured some steaming water into two big, gray ceramic mugs.  He pulled the pulvertranken from the sack and carefully measured two tablespoons of the yellow powder into each mug.  He mixed them with a spoon and set them on the table inside the circle.  We sat down and waited for the sun to disappear.

“Here we go,” my uncle whispered as darkness spread through the forest.  He lit the candles  and we drank the concoction.  It was pleasant at first, like tea, with a slight bitterness.  But by the third gulp, it started to burn, like liquid fire roaring down my throat.  I gasped.

“Keep going, I know it burns but you gotta drink all of it down!”  Uncle Charlie said as he tipped my mug back to my lips.  “Whoo hooo!  That is hot stuff!  But not as bad as the last batch of horseradish I made!” said Uncle Charlie.

I felt woozy.  My face was hot and my head felt like it was inflating.  I thought it was going to burst.  I closed my eyes, swallowed hard and just like that it subsided.  In fact, I felt a soothing, cooling sensation spread throughout my mouth and throat.

“Wow!”  I gasped.  “That is some weird stuff!  Why did I have to drink it?  I thought it was only for you, anyway?”

“Well, I thought better safe than sorry.  Just in case the Hooligritz gets confused.  I thought a little insurance in your system couldn’t hurt.”  Uncle Charlie chuckled and slapped me on the back.

“Now what?”  I said and looked out the back door.  It was a full moon, and the forest was awash in dim silvery-blue light.  I could hear the “Geeky Birds” – the collective cacophony of frogs, katydids and other assorted nocturnal insects and amphibians that sang to each other each night, belting out their mating tunes like some primeval dating service in the trees.  It was a soothing sound, and it usually lasted until dawn.  The air was still, not even the slightest whisper of a breeze disturbed the leaves.  I looked at the Budweiser clock on the wall.  It was 9:30 p.m.

“Now we chust sit and wait,” he said.  “And play cards!”  Uncle Charlie pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and we started to play.  We played blackjack, war, and go fish.  Hours passed and we played gin rummy.  I looked at the clock.  It was 3 a.m.  My eyes began to burn, the lids quivered shut, my head nodded and jolted me back to consciousness.

“Gin!”  I said and laid down my cards for the 10th time in a row.

“Got dammit!  These cards are SOUR!”  My uncle slammed the cards onto the table.  “Why don’t you take a nap for a bit.  I’ll stand watch.”

“Are you sure Uncle Charlie?”  I asked, rubbing my tired eyes.

“Absolutely.”  he said.  “Chust lay your head down and take a snooze.”

I put my head down and closed my eyes.  I felt I had not even had a chance to doze when I was awakened by a rumbling vibration that shook the table.  I sat up and looked at the clock – it was 4:30 a.m.  I’d been asleep for an hour and a half.  I looked at Uncle Charlie.  He was slumped in his chair, snoring loudly.  I looked around the room.  Everything was as we had prepared it.  But there was something wrong.  Beyond Uncle Charlie’s snoring, the forest was silent.  The “Geeky” birds had ceased their singing and there was still and hour before sunrise.  I looked out toward the back door.  The wind began to rush through the trees, howling like a banshee.  The lights of the cabin flickered and then went out.  I could see leaves and loose twigs swirling and gathering in the moonlight outside, whirled together by the spinning air.  They seemed to coalesce and then pull apart, gathering mass after each iteration, until finally, they spun together into a hulking form; A great beast of leaves in the rough shape of a giant grizzly bear, but with a death’s head of twisted branches and vines nearly two feet across.  The vines tangled into a pointed jaw, with smaller areas corkscrewing into sharp black teeth, glazed with sap.  The arms and legs were tipped with giant claws of the same twisted branches and vines and it’s eyes were two milky white orbs that glowed from within deep set sockets of the grinning skull.   Its mouth gaped wide and an unholy bellow echoed forth, shaking the walls of the cabin and rousing Uncle Charlie from his slumber.

Hooligritz

Did you remember to rake those leaves?

“Holy Jesus!”  Uncle Charlie shouted and stood, knocking his chair back to the floor.  “Get behind me!”  he shouted as the Hooligritz lumbered forward towards the back door, creaking with each step like a giant wicker basket of evil.

“The bag!  Hand me the bag!”  he yelled as I grabbed the sack from the floor.

The creature was at the back screen door.  It paused for moment, sniffed the air and roared again.  Uncle Charlie crouched down and I did the same,  remaining close behind him.  He reached down next his left foot and pulled his axe closer.

The Hooligritz reared up and crashed through the screen door, knocking it from its hinges straight forward to the floor with a crash of splintered wood and broken glass.  The damp night air washed in through the open portal and across the beast, carrying the scent of rotted wood and eons of forest decay.  I stared as it creaked into the kitchen, its massive form scratching deep furrows into the wood paneling of the walls.

Uncle Charlie opened the bag and grabbed a handful of the gashenk and held it out in front of him.  A waft of night air stirred the dusty stuff into the air.  The swirling particles tickled my nostrils and I fought back a sneeze.

“Steady now.” Uncle Charlie said, trying to calm his trembling hand.

The beast entered the living room and creaked up to the edge of the circle.  Slowly, it pushed its chin across the threshold of the bloshter circle and opened its mouth.  A wave of chilled breath spilled forth, bearing with it the reek of rotted leaves and a damp, foul odor of worms and earth.

“Vater, sohn und Heiliger Geist.”  Uncle Charlie began to repeat, over and over as he unclenched his fingers and dumped the first batch of the purple and grey Gashenk into the toothy maw of the creature, which responded with a low, raspy hiss of approval that seemed to come from everywhere.

Uncle Charlie reached back into the bag and pulled out another handful, slowly extending his fist back into the mouth of the Hooligritz.  Again, the dark breeze stirred the dusty Gashenk into the living room air, tickling my nostrils.  I remembered the witch’s words to remain still so I shut my eyes and pinched my nose, desperately fighting the urge to sneeze.

“Vater, Sohn und Heiliger Geist,”  Uncle Charlie repeated and dropped another handful into the creature’s mouth. Its round milky eyes closed halfway, as if in some state of bliss, and it began to make a rumbling sound from deep within its throat.  Was it purring? I thought.

My uncle reached into the bag and pulled another handful of gashenk and extended it forward.  A strong gust of night air blew the whole handful into my face.  I struggled against a sneeze with all my might.  I held my nose and swallowed.  I could feel my throat and sinuses burning with the urge.  I closed my eyes and concentrated and slowly the sneeze waned and drifted away.  I opened my eyes.  The Hooligritz was in a crouched position, its head swaying slightly back and forth to the cadence of Uncle Charlie’s chant.

Without warning, my nose erupted in a massive sneeze.

Instantly, the Hooligritz reared up and roared, spraying sap across the room.  With flick of a giant paw, it tossed all two-hundred and fifty pounds of Uncle Charlie across the room as if he were a toddler.  I scrambled backwards as the creature lurched toward me, milky blue eyes shifting to bright orange, jagged mouth gaping wide.

I closed my eyes and curled into a ball, trying to get as small as possible.  I thought perhaps I could just melt into the paneling, disappear from view in some magical way, waiting for the  jaws of the Hooligritz to feast upon my frail frame.

Suddenly, I heard a thudding sound, like someone chopping wood, and a voice hollering, “Get yourself back to hell, you horse’s neck ya!”

I opened my eyes to see Uncle Charlie, straddling the neck of the Hooligritz, and hacking away at its head with his fireman’s axe.  He clung to the creature’s neck-vines with his crooked arm, hanging on for dear life like a rodeo star.  Shards of vine and branch flew as the axe rose and fell.  Dark sap sprayed against the walls and flowed from the wounds that he inflicted to the head of the beast.

Uncle Charlie chopped with the fury of a mad lumberjack.  The Hooligritz arched its back and let out a bellow of agony that shook the earth.  It bucked and twisted, trying to toss Uncle Charlie from its back, but to no avail.  One of the vines snapped loose and whipped across my chest, tearing my shirt and slicing my skin like a quartermaster’s lash.  I felt warm blood spreading from the wound and clamped my hand across my ribs, pushing hard to stem the blood flow.

“Run Gerald! Get out now!”  yelled Uncle Charlie.

I stood up but the fray blocked both doorways.  I was trapped.

The Hooligritz began to buck, like a bronco, whipping Uncle Charlie up and down; straining his damaged arm to its limit and ultimate release.  He flew straight up and slammed into the ceiling, then crashed back down to the floor in an unconscious heap; chunks of plaster from the ceiling rained down upon his motionless body.

The Hooligritz loomed over Uncle Charlie’s still body for a moment, head cocked to one side.  In that brief pause, I had the flash of and idea.  Slowly, quietly, I edged around the beast and made a mad dash out the back door toward the shed.

The Hooligritz wheeled and bellowed.  I could hear its claws scratching the hardwood floor in a wild effort to gain traction as it rumbled toward me.  I ducked into the shed, swallowed hard and grabbed the chainsaw. I began pulling the cord like I had seen Uncle Charlie do countless times before, but the saw refused to start.

The Hooligritz bashed through the back door of the cabin, its wide shoulders grazed the frame in a shower of splinters as it ambled forward, closing the gap with surprising speed for a creature so large.  I doubled my efforts, yanking on the starter cord as fast and hard as I could.  From the corner of my eye I could see those giant orange eyes getting closer – I could smell the beast’s foul breath.  He was close – nearly upon me.  My arm burned and I doubted I could complete one more pull when the chainsaw roared into life.

What happened next is still a bit hazy.  I remember jamming the saw into the mouth of the Hooligritz.  I remember a horrible bellowing sound competing with the scream of the chainsaw as I dug the blade into the twisted vines and branches. I remember sawdust and sap clouding my eyes and clogging my throat.  I remember slashing and leaping and screaming.  And then the saw was quiet.  I sat down, surrounded by piles sawdust and cut brush, vines and branches.  I was covered in sap, my arms ached and I had scratches and scrapes everywhere.  The Hooligritz, now a pile of yard waste, was no more.  My throat burned and I began to sob.  I turned toward the cabin, tears washing sawdust and grime down my cheeks.  “Uncle Charlie!”  I rasped.

Before I could muster another thought, the wind stirred, swirling the sawdust and twigs into the air.  It spun and twisted around me, like a dust devil, raging faster and faster.  In a moment, the pieces began to re-assemble, forming the Hooligritz once more.  The beast was restored to its previous form, with the addition of sawdust and wood chips as the majority component, making it seem even more solid and formidable than before.  It reared up on its hind legs and roared, eyes blazing orange once again.

I pulled on the chainsaw cord but nothing happened.  Somewhere, in the far reaches of what was left of my rational thought, I knew that it was probably out of gas.  I began to tremble and backed up against a tree as the Hooligritz closed in, jagged mouth gaping to devour me.

I stared into that black maw, a void lined with wood particles, sawdust, leaves and vines.  So this is it.  I thought.  I die in the belly of this ancient forest creature.  This sucks!  I crouched down and closed my eyes again, one last time.  I felt its chilled breath on my face and smelled that rotted forest scent.  Warm sticky sap dripped and rolled down my arms and the laceration on my chest began to burn. I held my breath and waited for the end.

Nothing.  No viney forest teeth mauled my flesh.  No bone-crushing jaws ground me to pulp.  Just silence.

Then I heard birds chirping in the trees and felt a spot of warmth on the back of my neck.  What the hell?

I opened my eyes.  Rays of sunlight streamed through the trees behind me, across my shoulders and onto the forest floor.  A pile of sawdust, wood chips, leaves, branches and twigs lay in a massive heap before me.  Floating dust particles danced in the sunlight, stirred by the cool morning breeze.  It was dawn and I remembered  what Betty had said,  that we just had to make it through the night.  “Sunlight!” I whispered.

I chuckled to myself at the thought of something as simple as sunlight destroying that evil creature.  The chuckle devolved into an uncontrollable laugh-spasm born of desperation and trauma.  When it subsided I stood up and brushed what was left of the Hooligritz from my arms and legs.  Blood from my chest gash had soaked through my shirt, coagulated into a crusty stain that formed a giant crimson backslash across my torso.  I stumbled across the back yard and into the cabin.

Uncle Charlie was lying against the wall, his back to me.  I walked over to him, bent down and shook his shoulder.  Nothing.  I shook it again, harder.  Still nothing.  I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I shook him again and he coughed.

“Uncle Charlie, you’re OK!” I yelled and pulled his arm.

“Vell, now, OK’s a pretty strong word for how I’m feeling right now, but yes, I’m still alive.  “How are you little fellow?  What happened?” he asked.

“I think the sunlight killed it.”  I said as I helped him up.

“Yup.  That’ll do it.”  he said, stretching his neck and shoulders.  “Good old sunshine.  Oh boy, looks like you got a nasty gash there.”  Uncle Charlie said pointing to my bloody chest.  “Hold on there a second.  I’ll get you all fixed up.”

Uncle Charlie ducked into the bathroom and returned with some gauze, adhesive tape and a bottle of disinfectant.  I pulled off my torn shirt and he swabbed the long gash.  In five minutes I was patched up with gauze and tape across my chest.  Years later, that seven inch scar would become a grim reminder of the fury of the Hooligritz.

“Tell your mom you got cut climbing a tree.  I think it’s best that we keep last night just between you and me,” Uncle Charlie said and squeezed my shoulder.

We took a walk around to survey the aftermath of the struggle.  There were long claw marks across the hardwood floor, rough furrows dug an inch or two deep in places.  The paneling had been scratched by the wide shoulders of the beast and the rear screen door was smashed and flattened on the floor.  We walked outside.  The chainsaw lay in front of the shed next to the pile of sawdust, twigs and branches that had been the beast.

“What’s with the chainsaw?”  said Uncle Charlie.

“Well, I kinda used it to cut up the Hooligritz.”  I said.

Uncle Charlie started laughing.  His face turned red and he laughed harder until he began coughing.  “You little bugger!  I thought you were afraid of that chainsaw?”

“I was more scared of the Hooligritz, Uncle Charlie.”  I said.

“Well, you done good, kid.  I’m real proud of you.”  Charlie said, gazing around at the chaos.  “That’s fireman’s valor.”

“What is?”  I said.

“When you ignore your fears and and charge into the fire, like you did there.”  said Charlie, winking.

“Really?”  I said, shrugging.

“You betcha.” said Uncle Charlie.  “Anyhow, this place is a real goddamn mess.  Whadda say we get it cleaned up?”  He pulled his red handkerchief out and blew his nose.  “Now we’re gonna need paneling, hardwood flooring and a new door.  And that doorframe looks pretty verhuntzed! he said with a chuckle.”

We worked all morning, hammering, sawing and sanding until the cabin was back to its former self.  We raked the vines, sawdust and leaves of the disintegrated Hooligritz into a pile in the yard and set it ablaze.  We stood still for a moment and watched the flames roar; an orange, red and yellow pyre reaching high into the crisp blue sky.  The fire hissed and popped, sending wild sparks into the air.

“Well, now, that ought to do it.  How about a cold birch beer?”  Uncle Charlie said, dabbing his forehead with his handkerchief.

“Yeah!”  I said. “That would be great!”  I smiled and wrapped my arms as far around his big beer belly as I could manage.  We never told anyone about what happened that night.  Perhaps Uncle Charlie was a little embarrassed that he got his butt kicked by a pile of leaves and vines.  I think it’s more likely that the whole incident would have just invited ridicule and questions regarding our sanity, so we kept the tale to ourselves.  We always maintained a special understanding between us from that night forth.

Uncle Charlie passed away decades ago and was honored with an epic fireman’s funeral.  Dozens of fellow fire fighters delivered heartfelt eulogies for their fallen chief and 20 fire trucks led the final parade to Charlie’s resting place; a fitting send-off for a lifelong hero of public service.  I can still picture him on that night, swinging his axe and whooping like a wild Cherokee warrior on the back of that creature from the Pennsylvania woods.

The events of that night have slowly dissolved into the past and I now have a family of my own, living far from that cabin in the Poconos.  Sometimes, however, when I find myself alone, gazing deep into the night forest, I feel a tingling sensation from the scar across my chest.  It’s as if I carry a piece of that dark creature within my skin, forever connected through some ancient blood bond to the primeval night forest.  And I always make sure to keep my chainsaw ready with a full tank of gasoline, just in case…

Chainsaw

Gassed and ready!

Tales from the Boschard – Chapter 1 – The Mound


Tales from the Boschard Logo 
Forward
I grew up in an area of northeastern Pennsylvania that was struggling from rural to suburban in the early 1970s.  New housing developments elbowed their sterile green lawns into seventeenth century farmland, upstarts shaking their fists at the old Pennsy Dutch hex signs and traditions.  In many ways, it was a culture clash, but it also provided an interesting fusion.  Much like turn of the century railroads, telegraph and automobiles invaded the old west – with Model-Ts chasing horses past swing-door saloons, modern times were hot on the heels of the stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch agrarian ideologies.
A
These same ideologies had deep roots in Germanic storytelling.  Grimm’s fairytales, the original German ones, lived up to their author’s namesake for they often veered into dark waters.  Consider Ashenputtel (Cinderella) in which white doves peck the evil sisters’ eyes out at the conclusion.  And who can forget the adorable ending of Schneewittchen (Snow White) that finds the evil queen locked in a pair of red-hot iron shoes and dancing herself to death.  Fusing the dark, traditional tales with modern interpretations and mutations, I heard plenty of creepy stories, deviously attached to the real places and characters around me.  Compound that with my childhood home being legitimately haunted (just ask the rest of my family).  Perhaps that’s part of the reason I gravitate toward dark corners of the psyche with my content.  Or perhaps I’m just a bit twisted.
A
Tales From The Boschard was born of that fusion – the name Boschard is a mash up of old and new.  The ‘bos’ from the Old German for a wooded area (Bosc) and the new English word, orchard, providing the ‘chard’ part.  I’ve tried to re-create that linguistic fusion in some of my characters as best I could as well – particularly for the old-timers who routinely lapsed from English to German to Pennsylvania Dutch, often in a single sentence.  Here’s a commonly used example of Pennsylvania Dutch  that my father asked me to decipher when I was a kid:
A
Saville der dago
tousand buses inarow
nocho demis trux
summit cows and summit dux
A
Here’s the translation:
Say Willie there they go
a thousand buses in a row.
No Joe, them is trucks,
some with cows and some with ducks.
A
Many of these tales are haunted folklore passed down from family members and acquaintances and others are based on actual events.  I think that all of them will give you a glimpse into that place where my darkest dreams routinely came true – haunted, weird, northeastern Pennsylvania.
Hex signs

What The Hex?

Chapter 1 – The Mound
 
He had us corralled like sheep – trapped between the garage and a chain-link fence too high to scale.  His snow white hair, breeze-blown up in the back, completed the portrait of a mad white rooster.  He squinted at us through black, beady eyes, barely visible between the leathery creases of his withered face.  His skeleton right hand clutched a hefty cane – that bone-white instrument of retribution.  We had all seen him hurl that rod with frightening accuracy at cats, dogs and wicked children.  He clutched the polished weapon with hands covered in worn, yellow gardening gloves. It was strange, but we had never seen him without those gloves, even in summer.  His long sleeve shirt hung on his gaunt frame like rags on a scarecrow.  Even his work trousers seemed two sizes too large for his wiry legs.
 
A
“Naah I got yous!” his gravelly voice rumbled.
 
Pappy Zanders had finally caught us.  Nearly a month of torment at the hands of three eleven-year-olds had come to an end, right here and now in the old devil’s yard on a sunny day in July.  Not that we didn’t deserve a show-down with our nemesis – we had surely earned his attention through apple thievery, tomato tossing and numerous other pranks that would likely have resulted in lawsuits in today’s world.  Perhaps it was the challenge that lured us to this moment – Pappy was old, but he was angry and very agile for man of his years.  The thrill of the chase and the ultimate satisfaction of eluding a mysterious old man was just too good to pass up.
 
A
I glanced over at my accomplices, Steve and Ritchie – their eyes were as big as pie plates.  Steve’s lip trembled beneath his enormous nose.  Had I not been so scared, I would have chuckled at the sight of an eleven-year old boy with the face of Jimmy Durante, twitching and pale with terror.  In that distracted moment, however, Ritchie , the smallest but arguably the most daring of the three of us, decided to make a break for freedom.  He darted to the right of the old man, his spindly legs slipping on the dewy grass.  I watched with astonishment as Pappy wheeled around and brought his cane down across the shins of the floundering young boy who dropped to the grass, clutching his legs.
 
A
“Get in the garage, naw yous hooligans!”  Pappy shook his cane and hissed through crooked yellow teeth. We pulled the groaning Ritchie to his feet and shuffled through the open door and into our purgatory – the garage of Pappy Zanders.
A
My eyes took a moment to adjust to the dark interior.  The smell of auto tires and turpentine with a just a hint of Pine Sol bullied the air.  The tools were meticulously arranged – hung on pegboards in perfect symmetry. The boxes were neatly stacked and aligned with precision.  The floor, painted and buffed, seemed clean enough to eat from. There were glass jars of nuts, bolts, nails and other hardware tidbits, carefully arranged along the top of a massive wooden workbench with a giant iron vise anchoring the left hand corner.  To most, the immaculate workspace would have seemed shocking.  But to those familiar with the ways of Pennsylvania Dutch craftsmen, this garage was more the norm. Old Pappy Zanders was no exception.  His garage was a model of cleanliness and order – the pride of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
A
“Sit daun!” he snapped and waved his cane toward a bench against the wall.
We complied and Pappy slowly approached, tapping the cane upon the shiny concrete floor.
A
I saw a grin begin to twist it’s way across Pappy’s gnarled face and I stared up at him, my mind racing with images of a sadistic old man beating the consciousness out of my head and then burying me in the back yard – only to have my own father dig me up and rescue me so that he could beat me again for my indiscretions. I heard a  raspy chuckle wheeze it’s way through Pappy’s leathery throat.
A
“So yous like my apples, huh?”  Pappy reached up and pulled a dark, dusty bottle from a high shelf.  “Me too.” he sniffed and pulled the cork from the top with hollow “plunk.”  “Bet yah never had apples like these!”  He handed the bottle to Ritchie.
A
“Go ahead, have a swig – puts hair on your chest.”
A
Ritchie took a sip and grimaced but managed to swallow a solid gulp.  He coughed and sputtered.
A
“Ha!”  Pappy laughed and took the bottle back.  “Here, you try it!”, he said and handed the dusty bottle to me.
A
I looked down the barrel at the silvery liquid and gave it a sniff.  It smelled good, like apple cider.  I put the bottle to my lips and took a mighty swig.  Instant fire raced down my throat and spread warm fingers through my stomach.  I felt my dinner begin to stir and try to come back up but I managed to cough and choke back the urge to vomit.
A
Pappy chuckled again and yanked the bottle away. “Naw that’s good apple jack!” he hissed.  It was Steve’s turn.  Pappy pressed the bottle into his hands and bade him drink. Steve took a big, deep swallow.  He paused and looked up. His eyes began to tear, his face turned pale and his stomach began to heave.  He dropped to his knees and spewed a seemingly endless waterfall of chicken pot pie all over Pappy’s clean garage floor.
A
“Naw you’re cleanin’ that up, yah hooftie!”  He snarled and tossed a shop towel to the wretching boy.  And then Pappy began to laugh.  He swung his can back and forth and laughed loud enough to echo through the rafters of the garage.
A
I glanced at Ritchie who shrugged.
A
“I remember ven I vas your age.  I used ta do the same dumb stuff as yous do.”  the old man mused. “I would hop on da trains and ride ’em all da way to Wilkes-Barre and my mom would give me such a beatin’ ven I got back!  Onced, I even stole da cow from Shitzy Emery’s barn.”
A
He pulled a stool over and sat down.  He pointed a crooked finger at me.  “I know you, your Cheralt’s son from up the hill on first awenue.  I know your pop.”
A
I nodded.
A
‘Well naw.  Tell yous what.  Sit here for bit and listen to an old man’s story and maybe I’ll keep dis incident chust between us.  ‘stehen sie?
A
We all nodded.
A
“Vell then.  I’ve got a real good one for yous today.  You know that mound up the hill in the cemetery?”  He pointed his cane out the window toward the graveyard beyond the woods.  “Ever vonder vat’s inside that thing?”
A
We nodded again, recalling the thirty foot hump of grass in the middle of the graveyard affectionately known as “the mound.”  It looked like a big sodden pimple in the middle of Fairview cemetery.  We had tugged on the chains that kept the massive gray slate doors of the crypt closed.  We’d even shouted down the vent in the top – calling to the dead that we presumed were listening and waiting patiently for someone to set them free so they could haunt the tombstones and neighboring woods.  We all imagined hideous things run amuck inside the mound after sundown.
A
“Ahh, I see yous all know the mound real well.  Did cha know I was the caretaker when I vas younger?”
A
We looked at each other.  Steve was still a bit pale, but he shook his head.  I nodded and spoke up.  “I think my dad may have mentioned it to me.”
A
“Vell, what dit he tell ya?”
A
“Not much, just that you worked up there when you were younger.”
A
“Ha – I worked up there every summer until I vas twenty-two.  I used to clean that mound every other Saturday.  One Saturday, July 7th, I got locked in that place ower night.”
A
Once again, old Pappy Zanders had us – but this time, we were happy prisoners of the old man’s story.  We leaned forward, eager to hear the secrets we had only been able to imagine.  Even Steve managed a grin through his vomit flecked lips.
A
“It was summer, so I was up there later than usual.  I always kept the mound for last – I don’t know why.  Naw yous boys know that place is cursed, doan cha?”
A
We looked at each other.
A
“Well it is.  The West Catty Witch cursed that whole cemetary in the early twenties.  And the Delaware indians before dat.  Ever notice how cold it is up dere?  Always a good ten degrees lower than the rest of da woods around.  But that’s another story.”  He shifted in his seat, settling in for the long haul.
A
“So it was gettin’ dark and I was chust finishin’ everything up for the evening.  I unlocked the padlock on them big chains and pulled doze heavy slate doors vide open.  Naw remember, there was no real lock on them doors, chust the chainz and padlock and I always brought dem inzide with me.”
A
Steve cocked his head.  “How could you get locked in then?  And what’s it look like in there?  Are there coffins and stuff?  Can you see dead bodies?”
A
Pappy’s eyes became slits and his nostrils flared.  He thumped his cane into Steve’s chest.
A
“You gonna yap all through MY STORY?”  he snarled.
A
Steve clutched his chest and recoiled, shaking his head. “No” he sulked.  “I was just curious…”
A
Pappy interrupted, “That’s Okay.  Everybody wants tah know what it’s like in there, but I’ll get ta that in a minute, chust keep your shirt on, Gibby.” He pointed his cane at Steve who returned a nervous grin.
A
Pappy took another swig from the bottle and exhaled.  “So, I remember takin’ them chains in with me that night too.  I put ’em on da bench chust inside the doors. But when day showed up to get me aut that night, they was on the outside, wrapped up und padlocked shut chust like I vould ah done.”
A
Ritchie had recovered from his shin whippin’.  He leaned forward.  “So what happened in there?” he queried.
A
Pappy’s face seemed to change before our eyes.  The ruddiness of his skin gave way to a more ashen tone and his eyes softened.  His voice changed as well.  It no longer carried the ferocity it had moments ago.  Even his shoulders seemed to slump forward as he rested his cane on the garage floor.
A
“Yah sure yah vanna know?” whispered Pappy.
A
We glanced at each other and nodded “yes” in unison.
A
“Vell alright then.  I’ll tell yous the story.  Like I said before, I saved cleanin’ up the mound for last.  It was around sewen-thirty or so und the sky was getting that pink glow chust before the sunset.  I unlocked da doors and took them chains in an set ’em on a bench in the back.  Now it’s alvays dark in the mound ’cause there ain’t no lights, but with da doors open and the sunlight comin’ in, you can see pretty good in there.”
A
Steve raised his hand.  “What’s it like in there, Mr. Zanders?”
A
“It’s like nothing you ever seen.  There’s one big room in there with wooden drawers all round da sides.  The ceiling is made of big wooden arched trusses, all hand carved with the strangest stuff I ever seen.  Old pagan symbols from ancient times, indian words, stuff in languages I never recognized.  Looks like a bunch of weird totem poles them indians used to make.  In the middle was this brass bowl on a vooden stand and a five pointed star was painted on the floor – musta been five feet across – in dark red, like blood it looked.
A
“Now them wooden drawers along the edges, that’s where the bodies are.  And the fronts of them is all carved up wit strange symbols and other words I couldn’t make no sense aut of.  I didn’t like to get too close to them anyways ’cause I know them bodies were right there.
A
Pappy took another swig of apple jack and swallowed.  “Anyhow, I went over to the right side where I kept the broom and I headed to the back of the mound – I used to sveep it aut from the back to the front an chust sveep all the dust aut them doors.  But when I got to the back and before I could turn around, them doors slammed shut and I heard the chains bein’ wound around the handles.  Everything vent pitch black chust like that” Pappy snapped his fingers.  “The only light was chust that little sliver that leaks through the vent way at the top of da mound.  I thought “somebody is playin’ a joke on me.  And not a wery funny one”.
A
Ritchie spoke up.  “What did you do?”
A
I ran in the darkness to them doors and threw my veight against those big slates.  I pushed and pushed but I could hear them chains clinkin’ on the other side, so I knew I was locked in for good.  But I kept on pushin’ until I chust about passed aut.  I slid down against the cold doors and sat on the damp floor.  And that’s ven I heard it.”
A
“What?”  I gulped. “What did you hear?”
A
Pappy’s eyes narrowed and he took another swig.  “I heard this soft swishin’ kind of sound.  All muffled, like sandpaper rubbin’ together inside a shoebox.  I thought maybe it was rats scratchin around in the dark but then I realized what it was.  It was breathin’ –  real slow and raspy, comin’ from inside of them coffin drawers.”
A
Steve shook his head.  “You’re fulla crap.”
A
“Naw, you’ll change your tune whan I’m done, I’ll guarantee that!  ‘Cause then I heard them drawers slidin’ open.  I couldn’t see nothing in the dark, but I could hear everything and it vas comin’ from all around me – all da drawers was creakin’ and slidin’ open.  I grabbed my broom, the only thing I had to defent myself with.  And then I heard this other sound – like a long hissing visper.  And I smelt da most awful smell I ever smelt.  It was like earth and rot and mildew and sawdust all rapped up in one – and it was gettin’ clozer und clozer.”
A
“Holy cow”, I muttered and looked at Ritchie.  He was leaning closer to Pappy, his eyes wide.  Steve had a smirk on his face.  “I’m not buyin’ it,” he whispered.
A
“So I stood up and and kept my back against the doors and started screamin’ and swingin’ that broom.  I could hear what I imagined were five or six pairs of rotted feet, shuffling across the floor – all headin’ straight for me.  So I started svingin’ as hard as I could.”  Pappy demonstrated with his cane, swinging it wildly through the air of the garage.
A
Ritchie was smiling.  “Did you hit any of ’em?”
A
“Well”, Pappy stopped swinging his cane. “I ain’t sure ‘cuz of the darkness in there, but I hit somethin’ and I swear I knocked somethin’ loose, cuz I heard it fly off and clatter across the floor.  Maybe it was an arm or a hand.  I kept svingin’ an hittin’ and svingin and hittin until my shoulders nearly popped off.  But they kept on comin’ at me – gettin clozer und clozer.  That’s wen the got damn broom snapped in two.”
A
Pappy dropped his cane.  So I started svingin’ my fists.”  Pappy threw wild hooks and upper-cuts in the garage air.  “It felt like I was punchin’ flimsy, rotten fabric with brittle twigs packed inzide that would crack with each strike.  The smell was almost too much and I started gettin’ goofy.  I could hear ’em breathin’, raspin’ and shufflin’ and then, one of ’em grabbed me by the arm.  The hand vas nothing but bone and dried grizzle but the grip was like iron.  I tried to get loose, but a couple more grabbed my arms and legs and held me still.  Then, dey started to moan.  Low at first, but then they got louder and louder and I could feel my hearbeat gettin’ slower and slower.  My chest felt like it was in a vice and I couldn’t hardly breath.  I remember this burnin’ pain climbin’ up my arms and wrappin around my ribs.  I felt like they vas drainin’ the life outa me and I finally must’ah passed aut.”
A
“But how’d you get out?” I asked.
A
“My parents called the cops when I didn’t come home at the regular time.  They searched the cemetary and finally got a pair of bolt cutters to get the chains off the doors of the mound.  They said I was layin’ on the floor, unconscious against the doors ven they finally got in.”  Pappy took another swig of apple jack.
A
Steve stood up.  “That story’s a load of crap. There’s nothin’ but old, dead bodies in that mound and you were never locked in.”  Steve smirked and walked out of the garage.
A
Ritchie and I looked at each other.  “Did that really happen?  Did you get locked in there that night?”, I asked Pappy.
A
Pappy frowned.  “What I didn’t tell your goofy friend is that when the cops found me, my hair was the color you see right now – snow white!  But when I went in it was chet black.  It had changed in the time I was trapped in there.”  He paused. “How old do yous think I am?” grinned Pappy.
A
“I dunno, Seventy or Eighty?” Ritchie shrugged.
A
“I’m thirty-eight” , whispered Pappy, the smile withering from his face.
A
“Holy crap, that’s just six years older than my dad!” I said.
A
“Them things in that mound drained the life outa me that night.  And anyone who spends any time with me gets drained too.  Every woman I ever courted died after a month.  All my dogs and cats, dey don’t last two veeks with me after I pet ’em.  Here, look at my arms where they grabbed me.”  Pappy rolled up his sleeves.  I gazed in horror at the black marks that criss-crossed Pappy’s arms.  Deep indentations furrowed his skin where the boney fingers had grabbed.  The black color spread from those furrows like vines winding their up way past his shoulders where they disappeared beneath his sleeves.  He lifted his shirt to expose his chest.  The black vines swirled around his ribcage and encircled the center of his chest – surrounding his heart like a thicket of doom.
A
“What da ya think ah’ them apples, huh?”  Pappy chuckled and pulled his shirt back down.
A
Ritchie and I backed up towards the door.  “Ah, Mr. Zanders,”  I stammered.  “Um, I think I gotta get home now.  Thanks for the story.”  We ran out of the garage and up the hill to my house, not stopping once to catch our breath or look back.  From that day forward, we never went near Pappy Zanders again.  We would wave to him and say hello if we saw him, but we never played any pranks on him.  He passed away 2 years later – my parents told me it was a heart attack.
A
Now it’s possible that ole’ Pappy Zanders had some kind of weird disease or heart condition and very possible that he was NOT thirty-eight years old and that he made the whole thing up.  Perhaps it was the dim light or stagnant air of the garage that made our imaginations run wild, or maybe there were some tailings left in that apple jack that made us hallucinate the whole thing.  Years after that, we ran around that cemetery and played in the nearby woods, but none of us ever ventured anywhere near that mound again – just in case.  To this day I still remain uneasy for having shared a bottle with old Pappy Zanders and I can’t help but wonder if someday the black lines will appear on my skin and begin to drain the life from me just as they had done to that old man.
A
Beware the mound

Beware the mound

Copyright SkullDug Films 2013

Jerry SkullDug