And so I offer this entry for Flash Fiction Friday - #11. Four words - Pater, Schlemiel, Pest, and Perpendicular were the odd words picked by Cormac for us to use somewhere in our fiction.
The inspiration for the setting and namesake for this story exists. Right across the road from my house as a matter of fact. The pictures are from those woods. And instead of Jessie - the name of those woods is The Mary Grant Nature Preserve. While all the incidents are figments of my imagination, Mary Grant did exist and she was indeed odd. Anyway, hope you like it.
No more foreboding tunnel existed than this black hole cut through the tangled pucker that bordered Jessie's Woods. Pater Schmidt stared into it as he stood wavering at the entrance to Trail #2. No moon or stars broke through the canopy of mixed hardwoods, White Pine, and Hemlock that hovered 90 feet or so over his head. A light westerly breeze stirred the branches to murmured conversations, the trees voicing their displeasure at having been disturbed. The air, moist and heavy began to swirl into wisps preparing to move on from this sinister place.
Pater Schmidt had his flashlight. He checked once again for the long barrel .38 he had stuffed in his waistband. He was as ready as he could be. Yet he hesitated. The man-made courage of a gun and a flashlight could only support what personal courage he already carried with him. Their protection only went so far. It seemed the entrance at Trail #2 was their limit.
Schmidt stood rooted and considered what had brought him to this trail head on this dark night.
A second cat in as many days had failed to show up for supper. Mutter Schmidt had become anxious. With the boys gone now, her cats were all she had to fuss over. She followed Pater Schmidt into the living room after supper. Before he could settle down with his new "Yankee" magazine and his pipe she started in on him. "Aaric, Betty's gone now. Yesterday it was Dilfer. Somethings got em. Ya think ...?"
"Yeah, yeah. Okay.........Goddamn cats....Pain in the ass........ I can go look but it's a waste of time." Pater Schmidt dropped his magazine on the coffee table, stuffed his unfilled pipe back in his breast pocket and turned around. Still fussing, he grabbed his hat, a jacket, the flashlight, and opened the front door.
"Aaric, don't be a schlemiel. Take a gun. What are you going to do if you see a coyote or fox, pick up a stick and fling it at em?" Gerda held out his long barrel 38 with the chipped handle.
"Jesus Christ Gerda. You are such a damn pest. Okay, okay. ………These flippin cats of yours are more trouble than the three boys ever were. I'll take a gun. But I won't see anything. I never do." Pater Schmidt stuffed the gun in his belt and stepped off the porch and walked out into the dark night.
Every town has a spot like Jessie's Woods. A place, a space, a location that has become for one reason or another, a place to dread, a place to respect and tread softly in. It might be an empty house, a patch of woods, an abandoned railroad trestle or the end of a certain dark street where a single tired street light flickers sinister codes. Tall tales are born in these spots. Urban Myths can trace their roots to locations like Jessie's Woods. Words are whispered ear to ear, generation to generation, and Father to son, "Don't go near there, Beelzebub'll snatch your head, toss it in his gunny sack and head back down to Hell."
What became Jessie's Woods started out as a homestead back in the early 1800s. It was covered with White Pines over 150 feet tall. Cleared by hand, it became fields planted in grain and vegetables for a growing Boston some 90 miles away. Each year more "King's Pines" were harvested to build barns, Plank houses and fence posts. The fields of rocks and stumps were muscled outward in ever growing circles until they had found the edge of the property line. By 1890 the White Pines had ceded control to tillable land as far as the eye could see. In 1920, a doctor from Massachusetts named Wrentham bought the property. He allowed the fields to lie fallow. Over the years Mother Nature re-seeded the hardwood, Hemlock and White Pine. By 2009 the second growth looked like the first growth and had reclaimed the 15 acre parcel.
No one in town could agree on who erected the first structure on the property. Especially Willis Cobb and Franklin Pike. These two crusty old farts met every Sunday down to the Tradin Post for a paper, a coffee, and a good argument. They would sit at a small table near the beer cooler, each holding up a copy of the Sunday Telegram and sipping their coffee. Various grunts and “well lookee here” were mumbled as signals for this week’s argument to begin. On the odd Sunday when no recent issue caught them on different sides, they had a go to list of things they could hit up for heated debate. Who first settled Jessie’s Woods back in the early 1800’s was near the top of that list. They would each vent their opinion and as they always did, they ended their weekly dispute agreeing on who was the last person to live there. Jessie Wrentham, Dr. Wrentham’s daughter.
Jessie Wrentham was the last Wrentham on this branch of the Wrentham Family tree. She never married. Some said she had secret love affairs with men and women, but no one could prove these rumors. It was always, “So and so over to Shaw’s Ridge equipment told me Jessie was seeing that fancy woman from away who bought the lake cottage on Horn Pond”. Always someone told them, but no one could ever seem confirm the truth with that someone.
What was obvious to all who knew her, Jessie was odd. She kept to herself, never engaged in more conversation than was needed, and was never without her straw hat and hand carved hiking stick. She walked everywhere. Jessie had taken over the family place and lived there maybe five years, when she was found sprawled dead across the threshold of her front door. Her skull had been crushed. Her hat and hiking stick were never located.
And another local legend began. Over the next 50 years, her odd ways became wicked ways with tales of her being part of an evil cult somewhere. Another story had her coming back as a ghost haunting the orchard and woods behind her house looking for her murderer. It was this tale that stuck. Off and on, people would contend they had seen her in the woods, often in the vicinity of the two Indian Mounds at the back of the property.
With no heirs, Jessie left her property to a land trust in Massachusetts. They were not interested. They turned it over to another land trust. That trust turned her old property into a park. Demolished the house, saved the barn and cut in 2 trails for folks to enjoy.
Pater Schmidt knew the stories. He had even briefly known Jessie. He had briefly lusted after Jessie. He grew up and to this day still lived across the road from the old Wrentham place. At the age of 14, it was he who had found her sprawled over her threshold. At age 14, it was he who had crushed her head earlier with that walking stick of hers. With this image of Jessie, her head misshapen and bloody, her dead eyes staring up in his mind, Pater Schmidt stepped into the darkness of Jessie’s Woods.
The hole in the darkness his flashlight created seemed to stop a paltry ten feet or so in front of him. The improved trails were easy enough to follow. But Schmidt knew he would have to step off them into the undergrowth to have any luck locating the foolish cats or their remains. Prey caught by varmints is not eaten trail side. Predators liked their privacy. In the pucker, up against the old stone walls, or in small clearings with no apparent access were where Pater Schmidt knew to look. And if for some reason either cat was still alive, they would surely be hunkered down inside one of many nooks and crannies in these woods, not near the trails.
Jessie’s Woods was defined by two old stone walls that ran perpendicular to Sam Page Road on the North and another old stone wall some 500 yards South. Pater Schmidt cut off from Trail #2 and headed to the East wall. Soon after stepping off the trail, the wind picked up. The groans and creaks of tightly bunched branches stepped up their complaining. To his left, he heard some dead fall come down. Big dead fall that took out smaller branches as it crashed to the ground.
Suddenly what might be going on over him was as important as finding something on the ground. He lifted his flashlight up. Above him in the canopy, a world of angry branches violently clashed with each other. Their long limbs twisted and turned with the rise and fall of the westerly wind. The wind had awakened an angry mob. Small pieces and parts of the canopy flashed through the beam of his flashlight as they came down. Schmidt knew he had picked a bad night to head into the woods. His light found the wide trunk of a large Hemlock in front of him. Following the trunk downward, his light passed the expected dead branches of a tree that had never experienced the kind hand or human stewardship. All of the large softwoods in Jessie’s Woods had dead stubs sticking out of them. About six feet from the ground, Schmidt’s flashlight brushed by something that did not fit. He retraced the trunk up with the light, and there it was. A patch of white.
Pater Schmidt immediately felt sick. At eye level not 7 feet away, his flashlight had found the headless corpse of Dilfer their white tom cat impaled on a Hemlock branch. In the distance he could hear another big branch crashing to the ground. Schmidt stepped closer. Dilfer’s head was indeed missing. Not brutally torn off like some forest predator might do, but cleanly sliced off.
Uncontrollable spasms gripped Pater Schmidt. He turned and took some steps away from the tree. Doubling over he fell to his knees and vomited. Up came his undigested supper of sauerkraut, potatoes and bratwurst. The stench made him go into the dry heaves. Finally, his body back under control, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He thought it odd that no concern for Dilfer was in his mind, just the memory of holding Jessie down while he beat her head in. Again and again he had pummeled her until her head broke like a melon dropped on the ground. Schmidt staggered to his feet and stumbled backwards. A fallen log caught his heel. Lurching backwards out of control, he lost his flashlight as he flailed for some footing.
When her husband did not come home that night, Gerda went into panic mode. She called 9-1-1. The county police told her in a bored tone a cruiser would be by in 45 minutes or so. Gerda ran to a neighbor’s house ¼ mile down Sam Page Road. They collected some locals and they searched until dawn for Pater Schmidt. At 6:45 AM, Willis Cobb discovered Schmidt only 100 yards into Jessie’s Woods. He was on his way out from several hours of stomping around in the woods when he spotted a light in the shadows of a tangled mess of downed trees. It was Pater Schmidt’s flashlight still on and struggling on its last remnants of power. Fifteen feet away Willis located Pater Schmidt impaled on the dead branch of a huge Hemlock. His hat was missing and in his hand was gripped the handle of a beautifully hand carved hiking stick.
One can only imagine what made up the conversation down to the Tradin Post that next Sunday.
(1920 / 15,573)