During the month of September, back in 1939, Sarah Binlow was found lying dead on her kitchen floor. It happens. Cause of death was fracture to the C1, C2 and C6 vertebrae; her head was facing in the wrong direction. Method of death was undetermined. Sheriff Lewand had never seen anything quite like it before, and he shrugged it off to be some sort of slip and fall incident with “horribly unusual consequence”. It truly was a tragedy, most people of the small Georgia town would say, because her sister Anne Fredner had died only a month earlier. Though rumors persisted around Anne’s death, and Sarah was most certainly involved in those rumors.
A handful of people knew better. Some would call it a matter of the heart, not the neck.
Some of the older folk knew Sarah had it coming to her because they had seen the ‘signs.’ Actually they saw only one sign, and that was enough for them. Anne’s grave had glowed for two straight evenings before Sarah was found dead, and also on the day Anne was buried. Seen from afar, the glow seemed to dance around, just above the soft laid soil. Up close, and some did get close to inspect, a swarm of fireflies would be seen buzzing and lighting above Anne’s grave in the twilight.
Those who knew the sign said it meant the soul was at unrest, and the fireflies were lighting her way. If you have never heard this superstition, it is understandable. Only the false, harmless superstitions live on. The real ones are those we want to forget. Sheriff Lewand was not a superstitious man, and he made no mention of the fireflies crawling all over Sarah’s front porch on the day they removed her cold body.
Geneva Bouder, a woman known for her dabbles in herbs and wise tales, would tell you the sign of fireflies does not necessarily mean murder or mischief was afoot. In 1952 George Smillen, who also was a resident of the same little Georgia town, died in a terrible car crash while on his way to propose to Linda Bellfont. She had no idea of his intentions when they pulled him from the wreck, and the modest diamond he had saved up for was not found, so presumably no one knew. Three months later, on a hot July night, Linda had noticed gatherings of fireflies most everywhere she looked as she walked home from Wednesday night service. The next morning, by her bed, in a muddy little box, was a diamond ring. The box was from Truester’s jeweler, it being the closest one two towns away, and upon inquiry of the ring there, she learned George had bought it there two days before his wreck. The jeweler spoke of the pride and excitement in the young man to Linda personally. To be sure Linda’s heart was broken, but in a good way.
Strangely, there is not much difference in the two incidents. Everyone knew Sarah had murdered her sister Anne and gotten away with it, over a small bit of inheritance of all. And those who knew the ‘signs’ had a good idea Anne would be returning to ‘settle business’ at first news of the fireflies on the day of her burial. No one knew George would be coming back, but then no one was watching after his grave for the sign. Believers in the old superstitions become sparser over the years, and there was no controversies surrounding George.
Geneva Bouder would tell you George placed that ring by her bedside, the fireflies had led him on, and it had more to do with the strength of George’s heart and the urgency of his unfinished affairs than the fireflies themselves.
But probably the most disturbing event happened in August of 1976 in that same, small Georgia town below the foothills of the Appalachians. Geneva Bouder had been dead for ten years, and her daughter, a striking and feared beauty; Alice Bouder may have been the last resident in those parts to still cling to the lost superstitions. She dabbed in the herbs, kept the old manuscripts, hummed the old chants; but more than any of these, she believed. The prudent ladies of the town had run the bewitching beauty out of the county, Misses Bednet and Misses Lewand, (married to the mentioned grandson of Sheriff Lewand,) during the spring of 1975.
Neither Misses Bednet nor Misses Lewand died any horrible or strange death, but perhaps it would have been better they did. Misses Bednet took up with hysteria on August 4th, 1976, over something she experienced and could never repeat. She spent the last of her days in Milledgeville, Georgia, hiding in closets and shrieking when the afternoon sun would set. As for Misses Lewand, on that same evening, she had fallen down in her front yard and bitten her own tongue off. It could not be saved, because it was never found. She swears she was pushed down, from behind, and when asked by whom, she reported she turned and there was no one there. She only remembers being struck by the beauty of the many fireflies drifting about as she clamped her hand over the gushing mouth in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Denny Barker, the resident alcoholic of those days, rest his soul, swears three days earlier he had seen the dazzling Alice Bouder returned to town, a complete year after she had been run off by Misses Bednet and Lewand. His testimony would have to be accurate, because it is full of detail. He was propped by a headstone, drinking from a bottle, and he saw the lovely Alice dancing while the sun fell. He says she was, ‘smack in the middle of graves.’ He said he has never seen so many fireflies in his life, and that he believed she was singing to them, and they were dancing around her.
On those late evenings, when that golden light begins to change to blues and violets and you see the sparkles of the fireflies in the still air, wonder why they are they are. Beware who they may bring.