Wednesday, October 7, 2009
A Mountain Tale
The unexplained has always fascinated me. I imagine it’s partly because my family always loved telling ghost stories and tales of odd or unusual occurrences. Once such story was told by my grandfather ...
Ambrose had found the love of his life, and it was Louisa. She was smart and pretty. Louisa was the oldest daughter a local midwife and healer, and Ambrose knew he’d found the perfect woman. His pa didn’t think too much of Louisa’s ma, and that troubled him a bit, but he was sure it would work out for them. He was in love.
Louisa was in love with Ambrose as well. She couldn’t wait for each Saturday. Though it was five miles from his home to hers, he came calling every week, walking the distance across the mountain with his shotgun in hand. Ambrose was a good man, a fine man, the son of a preacher, but her mother didn’t care for him. She didn't like him and didn’t want him near Louisa. It broke Louisa’s heart her mother despised the man she wished to marry. Ambrose still came calling week after week, and Louisa hoped her mother’s heart would soften. But it didn’t.
One night in the late fall Ambrose bid Louisa goodnight, took the shotgun he carried for the five-mile walk through the mountain road and checked it. Three shells. Since he'd never needed the weapon, it really didn't worry him he had so little ammunition. At the last minute, Louisa called out to him. She ran to the white picket fence lining her yard, removed the bag of Asafoetida she always wore about her neck and placed it around his for good luck.
He was about to tell her he didn’t need it, but her round eyes were so full of fear and angst, Ambrose just thanked her, kissed her, and started walking home over the mountain in the twilight. He knew good and well it would never do for his Pa to see that bag around his neck. Louisa’s ma was a healer it was true, but some folk said she was more...she could speak away your pains, or fix you up a tonic. She made charms. He touched the bag. Good luck, Louisa had said. He knew it was for protection, but his pa would say it smacked of witchcraft. He had his shotgun. That was protection enough for him.
As a full harvest moon rose high Ambrose could see thousands of stars in the cold night sky. The road through the woods was wide and well-packed, but he still didn’t like the rustles in the forest, the sounds around him. There were mostly deer, raccoons and ’possums in these woods, but there had been an occasional bear or wildcat. He was still thinking about the dangers when he heard it behind him. The distinct sound of hooves came closer. But this wasn’t the deep sounding gait of a horse. He looked over his shoulder and puzzled to see a big gray billy-goat. His head was lowered and he was charging. Ambrose aimed and fired his shotgun. The buckshot hit their mark, the animal fell.
He continued down the road. He would wait until the light of day to return for his kill. He picked up his pace, now little over a mile from his house. At first, he thought his mind played tricks on him. Then, he stopped and listened. The familiar clops made his heart race. He didn’t turn at first but when the sound grew close once again he turned. The same animal was bearing down on him. The same goat charged his way. Once again he fired. Once again the goat fell. Ambrose now ran, shotgun in hand toward his father's house. Well aware only one shot remained he hurried up the next hill. Soon, he could see wispy fingers of smoke rising from his father’s chimney and smelled the fragrant burning pine. He had almost reached the trail to the house when he heard the sound again. He ran as fast as he could to the edge of the yard, then to the front porch. He once again fired from the safety of the house, and once again the animal dropped as if dead.
Ambrose's father came out of the house, his white hair wild from sleep. Ambrose recounted the tale of the goat and the shots. His pa was focused elsewhere. He had noticed the charm about his neck. The preacher man told him to remove the charm before entering the house-it was no wonder a devil goat was chasing him with that around his neck. As Ambrose removed the charm he thought of Louisa and her sad, worried eyes. Had she known something waited?
Though his father and brothers could clearly see the tracks the animal left on the road, the body of the large goat was never found—nor was there any blood. The next Saturday, Ambrose took his horse and Louisa from her small mountain home, and she became his wife. The mystery of the goat was never solved, but my grandfather told the tale of the mysterious creature that chased him one cold autumn night for the rest of his life.
In my Cactus release,Snakes, Jails and Puppy Dog Tales, the woman who took Arabella in and raised her after her parent's died was inspired by my great-grandmother It always amazes me what she accomplished. She sewed for people, was a healer and midwife, and as a widow, she raised four children by herself during the depression, Louisa being the oldest. Although my grandfather called her a witch and feared her to his dying day she was an independent woman, an oddity in those days.
I can't say whether my grandfather's story is true...but always enjoyed hearing it. Happy Halloween.