Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ghosts, Part 2

So you came back? Want to hear more, do ya? Look, you seem like a nice person. This isn't a story for a nice person. Maybe you shouldn't learn any more 'bout it. It's up to you. I'm giving you the choice.

I'm not saying you're afraid, mind you. After all, stories like these are as common as dirt in the Ozarks. Always some ghosts wandering here and there and raising unholy hell. But this story is different. I'll tell you the difference in a bit.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes, I remember. Now before you can understand the story, you need to know the people. The Watts family. Let's start with Jacob. Folks thought of him as a nice man when they thought of him. Nothing remarkable. He had pale blue eyes, a straight back, and a body hard from work. His father Ezrah was a drunk who fell into a pond and drown one night, but not before he gave Jacob the hard side of his hand too many times. Jacob's mother Laura died from the flu when Jacob was five, so Jacob fended for himself from then until his father finally died when he was 15. The next year he met Mattie.

Mattie was the sixth girl in a family of eleven who could only feed five well if that. Despite how poor her family was, Mattie always had a ready smile, and her green eyes and long black hair outshone her hand-me-down clothes. She helped her mother as best she could and knew how to milk the cows and shuck the corn and snap the peas. She had to leave school in the eighth grade to help the family, and every time she entered her family's overcrowded house, she had to fight down desperation.

Mattie and Jacob met at the old Arbor Creek Holiness church during a hellfire and brimstone revival when they were only 16 and 15 respectively. They married the next year, Jacob in a gray suit borrowed from his brother Sam, and Mattie in a wedding dress her cousin Ailene gave her. Their clothes didn't quite fit, but Jacob beamed and Mattie had tiny white flowers in her hair, and they were a right good lookin' couple. Everyone remarked on that.

They moved into Jacob's house up there on the hill. They fixed it up real pretty. Jacob and Mattie were young and worked hard and pinched every penny until it squealed. Maybe things would have gone differently for them if the babies hadn't started coming so fast, but they did. First, Bettie, then Nate, and finally little Davey, one right after the other. On Davey, something tore inside Mattie, and she nearly died. She spent five months in the Baptist Hospital and recovered, but she could never have any more children. And the medical bills ate them alive.

Jacob ran a few cattle on his place, raised a handful of chickens, and planted just about anything that would grow on his thirteen acres. He sold what the family didn't eat, and it had been enough until those bills started arriving. Mattie and him talked a long time about it, but finally he took a night job over at Sumark City working in a chicken plant. He'd work all night, come home, and do chores until he couldn't, then collapse.

Mattie took to sending the kids outside to play for hours so Jacob could sleep. She told them to stay in the yard and near the house, but summer heat drove them into the woods behind their house.

On a hot day in July when the sun blazed mercilessly and no wind stirred the browning grass, the children would go farther into those dark deep woods, and beside a trickle of water in a rocky creek, they found the Curious Box.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

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