And Night Fell

The total eclipse that spanned across the US provided many people with a unique reason to celebrate with family and friends, creating lifetime memories. Today seems like the perfect day to post a story from my childhood. Hope you enjoy it.

Won’t you please share one of your special memories with me?

And Night Fell

The rolling hills of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri were my stomping grounds as a child. I was free to roam within the sound of grandma’s voice. In the country, a car approaching on a gravel road could be heard from miles away. Sound traveled far, allowing me to do the same.

My grandparents’ clubhouse was a converted chicken coop with a magnificent eastern view, perfect for watching the early morning sun rise as it cleared fog from the valley below. Mighty oaks, towering sycamores and fragrant cedars surrounded the rest of the property. It was nearly perfect, even without running water or indoor plumbing.

A typical day started with a hearty breakfast of pancakes smothered with Karo syrup and a couple pieces of smoked jowl. A pot of water warmed on the stove while we ate so that by the time the table was cleared, dishes could be washed. Chores came first, but once they were done, the rest of the day was mine. The moment Grandma gave the nod, the screen door banged behind me as I hurried outside to explore.

I often wandered the woods admiring all nature had to offer. Among the many wildflowers were spiders and snakes, but as long as I didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother me. Each summer, my confidence grew and the distance I traveled expanded. On occasion, the freedom to roam propelled me to unexpected places.

It was late afternoon when I decided to take my little sister, Carol, on an adventure. The plan seemed simple to my twelve-year old self. Down the rugged driveway, made from slabs of flat rocks, up the seldom-traveled gravel road that bordered a creek, and over a few hills. If I timed it just right, we could watch a beautiful sunset. I had scouted out the location a few days earlier while riding in the back seat of my grandfather’s 59 Ford.

It was my duty as an older sister to teach Carol some of the many things I had learned over the years. I pointed out Queen Anne’s lace growing among the many weeds along the roadside, identified fields of wheat and corn, and even decided to unveil the truth about some tiny yellow and white flowers my sister wanted to pick. “Grandma calls them pee-in-the-beds, but they really don’t make you do that. I picked them once.”

We stopped at an opening between some trees to watch water ripple down a creek bed. When Carol asked if we could go for a swim, I told her that Grandpa once warned me that a farmer would cut off my pigtails with a butcher knife if I got caught trespassing. I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but I decided not to risk it.

The sound of flies buzzing nearby disrupted the lesson.

“What’s that?” My sister’s eyes widened as she pointed to the left.

I looked in the direction she pointed and instinctively pulled my sister away. Maggots and flies covered the hind leg of a cow. It was matted with dried blood and some hide was still attached. It couldn’t have been there very long, I reasoned, or else there would be only bones. “We need to go.”

Disturbing thoughts rattled around in my head as we continued down the road. What killed it? Was someone lurking in the woods waiting to mutilate again? Images of the farmer with the big knife flashed through my mind. Fear settled in my stomach and made me uneasy. Looking for a distraction, I began singing, “The ants go marching one by one, hoorah, hoorah,” My sister skipped to the tune and soon the horrific scene was behind us.

We topped the final hill just in time. The sky turned purple, then pink as the golden globe descended beyond the corn field. It was spectacular and well worth the long hike to see it. We stood in silence as the sun faded beyond the horizon. And night fell. And I do mean fell! Being left in total blackness had not been part of my plan. Even the moon had taken the night off, leaving the distant stars to flicker alone. My confidence dissolved as quickly as dusk.

My heart raced and my pulse pounded in my ears. Finding our way back without so much as a flashlight made my stomach knot again. I was going to be in big trouble when we got back. If we get back.

“I’m scared,” my sister whimpered.

“Pretend you’re blindfolded and we’re playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. We’ll be ok.” I followed the sound of her voice and moved closer, swooping my hand in search of hers. She squeezed tight once we connected.

One step at a time, we inched our way back, trying to stay in the middle of the road. As our eyes adjusted, our pace quickened and the steady rhythm of gravel crunching under our feet, mixed with the hum of locust was almost musical. This isn’t so bad.

The positive thought dissolved quickly with the sound of splashing of water. The twisted thoughts about the dismembered animal resurfaced. Something in the distance caught my eye. I paused and reached for Carol’s hand.

“Ow! You’re squeezing too tight.”

“Shhhh.” The hair stood up on my neck when I saw a speck of light filter through the dense trees.  Oh my God. Someone’s out there. What am I going to do? No one ever traveled this remote area, especially at night.  The light flickered closer. It’s him. He saw us looking at the cow. Now he’s going to kill us.  In the darkness, I searched for a place to hide. My heart raced so fast I felt it would explode.

“Stay behind me. When you get the chance, run. Run as fast as you can.” I whispered, now frozen in fear. I drew in a deep breath as the shadowy figure approached and shined the light on us. This was it. I’d protect Carol even if it meant he’d kill me.

Heavy boots stomped on the gravel as the silhouette moved within an arm’s reach. I swallowed hard and grimaced in anticipation of the unknown.

“Where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you. You’re grandma is worried sick.”

The glow from the flashlight revealed grandpa’s furrowed brow as he stood with one hand on his hip, shaking his head.

“Watching a sunset,” I managed to utter. My sister ran from behind me and hugged grandpa’s leg. His frown melted into a smile as he wrapped a comforting arm around her.

“We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

“Yes sir.” I closed my eyes and released a long sigh. The cow could wait until morning, I had all I could handle for one day.


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