With our cameras set up in three areas around the field, we declined an offer to stay at the Potts farm and drove the lonely road back toward the small community in Adelphia Valley.
We found rooms in a historic, old abbey which had been a nunnery at one time. The three-story building adjoined a large, abandoned church of imposing height. Crumbling red bricks and a tall steeple showed signs of neglect. No doubt the abandoned bell tower had beckoned the faithful for over a century or more.
I settled in a narrow room, finding it sparse but clean, and jotted notes on my reporter’s pad.
I had to admit, this investigation seemed much like the beginning of the old Mel Gibson movie, Signs. The dog, the crop circle, the thing in the sky. I also had to admit, they added up to what could be interpreted as visits by extra-terrestrials. Only I don’t believe in aliens visiting from other worlds. So, what other explanation could there be? The riddle sent my imagination scrambling for answers.
With the night table light switched off, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep on the narrow bed. I’ve never had any trouble drifting off to sleep. Not until after I was singled out by that cult leader Count Ribaldo, who made a mysterious prophecy over my name. I’d assumed that trouble had ended in Haiti. Now I faced a warning about a third circle, and the link to a living flame. Whatever cryptic meaning in those words, I hoped it would amount to nothing.
After a couple of hours of tossing and plumping the pillow, I decided that enough was enough. I dressed warmly and ventured out into the predawn autumn air, thinking a brisk walk might relax me. A pale moon had risen, casting enough light that I could see my way into the old church yard where a few rows of crumbling tombstones stood beneath ancient oak trees.
Normally I don’t read headstones, but curiosity about the people who had lived and died in this valley sent me wandering through the moonlit rows. Only another journalist would understand this kind of curiosity.
Inscriptions, dimly readable in the pale moonlight, told a silent tale of hard work and hard times. Widowers remarrying third and fourth wives. Babies dying before the age of two. An outbreak of cholera and diphtheria had decimated the population at times during the 1830s. I found a row of Civil-War soldiers’ headstones and another row of departed sisters who had once offered faithful prayers inside the abbey’s halls.
The dead can be interesting companions, even if their life stories are abbreviated on a headstone. So much of life and living condensed to a few short lines. It hardly seems fair to leave behind such scant information. Had he enjoyed a pipe? Could she bake a wonderful cherry pie? What had been their hopes and dreams? Silent markers whispered only that they had lived and died, loved and were loved.
The ghostly moon disappeared behind a gray shroud, draping me in thick darkness. I pulled my jacket collar up and headed back toward the entrance gate, deciding against a longer walk.
The night was still and strangely silent. An owl hooted mournfully from the tall trees surrounding the abbey’s grounds. I was near the gate when the clouds parted and a shaft of moonlight glanced off a neglected headstone. A name and date were barely readable, worn by wind and weather. The inscription read simply, “I saw it.”
What could this long-deceased person have seen that impacted him to the point of insisting all the way to his tombstone? I knelt and ran my hands over the stone, searching for more letters which could explain the mystery.
My mind began filling in the blanks. He could have experienced an epiphany of sorts, made a discovery of some kind. Perhaps he saw an elusive, legendary creature hunted by the farmers of his day. A big buck, a black bear or even a giant catfish. However, with my imagination fired by the strange things happening at the Potts farm, I experienced a momentary chill that had nothing to do with the autumn weather.
Kaytie, you’re being silly out here alone, I scolded myself, recalling a line from a book. “The dead are far safer company than the dangerous who are yet living.”
I headed back to the dormitory, wishing I was not alone. Just my echo, my shadow and me. It would have been nice to have Dax at my side under a gorgeous moon.
My grandfather always whistled gospel tunes while walking past the cemetery at night. Once his old coon hound treed a mysterious critter in the mist-covered graveyard. The wind shifted and the limbs rattled, stark and bare in the lantern light. That’s when grandpa’s youthful friend whispered, “Let’s get out here, Buddy, dat dog done treed the devil!”
Such a story is always laughable when you’re inside, safe and warm. Outside in the dark, mist-shrouded graveyard, I wasn’t smiling.
A curious sound made by an unknown creature nearby sent a thrill through my being. Tales of haunted places in unhallowed ground leaped to the fore of my imagination. Of course, a graveyard is considered hallowed ground, but I didn’t feel quite as comfortable in the territory of the dead as I had a few moments before.
Painfully aware that I was several yards from the doorway, I strode purposefully ahead, whistling boldly. The moon slipped out of its wispy shroud and flooded the ground with a frosty glow.
I could see my shadow moving ahead of me. Was it a trick of moonlight or a breeze in the overhanging limbs? No. A second shadow appeared, shapeless on the ground but clearly following my own.
I froze in place, eyes on the grass in front of me. Shadow figure stopped too, not far behind me. My scalp prickled. The moon chose that heart-stopping moment to take cover behind a cloud. Darkness like a vampire’s cloak settled over the church yard. Spinning around, I called out, “Who’s there?”
My voice sounded clear and brave. Inside I was anything but brave.
The only answer came from the owl hooting softly from somewhere in the woods. American Indians believe the owl is a harbinger of death. I’d written a story on the subject once, but never gave it much thought. Now the legend brought unwanted images of a death angel to mind.
I stood perfectly still, seeing nothing in the darkness. A growing awareness of someone nearby made me afraid to breathe. The feeling grew more intense, until I was certain that if I reached out my hand I would touch someone in the dark. The invisible figure remained still as well.
Finally, unable to stand the suspense, I chanted in the sing-song rhythm of childhood games, “Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Perhaps Dax was playing a joke on me. I expected his laughter and prepared myself for a teasing reply.
I’m not easily spooked, but then I don’t usually go wandering alone in abandoned cemeteries during the middle of the night. What had I been thinking?
Taking a step backwards, I stumbled on the uneven ground and fell to my knees. Light footsteps sounded, running in the opposite direction. They quickly faded into silence absorbed by the trees at the edge of the church yard.
Without doubt, someone had been following me!
Someone other than Dax.
Who? And why?
* * *
A delicious, mouth-watering scent of homemade yeast rolls wafted through the halls of the old abbey at daybreak and sent me scurrying for my toothbrush. Dressed and combed, I reached for my pen and notebook and followed my nose. When I arrived in the dining hall, Dax was already enjoying a plate-size cinnamon roll covered with caramel sauce and pecans.
We were the only two guests in the large room which looked much like a 1950s-style school cafeteria. Black and white tile floors. Institutional green walls stretching endlessly to a cavernous ceiling high above. I could visualize the novice nuns who had eaten hundreds of meals in this very room over the years.
“Ummm. I thought about splitting one of these with you, but you’re going to want the whole thing.” He motioned for me to join him. “These rolls are as fabulous you look.”
I ignored the flattery.
He was right. I’d never tasted anything so delicious. By my second cup of coffee, I was telling him about my nocturnal adventure. His brows raised at my story.
“Oh boy. It seems you didn’t get enough excitement from being chased around Rainy Bay Bayou by a bunch of voodoo goons. Now you’re running from a shadow in the graveyard.”
“Dax, that isn’t fair. I couldn’t sleep and decided to go for a walk. This is a safe enough community, and I felt perfectly comfortable on the church grounds.”
“You didn’t see anyone clearly?”
“No. Just a shadow. But I clearly heard footsteps running away.”
“Uh huh. And that’s when you stopped feeling perfectly safe. Maybe you were not so safe. Am I going to have to tie you to me for your own protection? As much as I like that I idea, I must warn you, Miss Adventure. You can’t go traipsing around in dark, lonely places. That’s how you got into trouble in New Orleans. Remember?”
“Yes, I remember. But we’re a long way from New Orleans now, and I was merely thinking—”
He interrupted. “Hold your right hand up, and promise me right now that you won’t do that again.”
“Won’t do what again? Think?” I teased.
“That too. Unless of course you’re thinking about me.” He flashed a grin. “I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
“I happen to be very good at thinking about you Mr. Larue.”
His grin broadened. “Oh really?”
“Really. I am thinking that you should visit the Potts farm today without me.”
“Kaytie!” He pretended astonishment. “I’m hurt!”
“Actually, I noticed a library in Adelphia, and I’d like to visit there today, if you don’t mind. You can pick up the surveillance tapes, and we can watch them together this afternoon. Somehow, I don’t expect anything to show up except maybe an ordinary run-of-the-mill Bigfoot, but we’ll see.”
He had no choice but to drop me at the steps of a weathered brick building on the outskirts of the village. I waved a cheery goodbye and entered the place, my boots clicking on hardwood floors worn by years of visitors.
I enjoy libraries. There’s always a hushed atmosphere, a silent acknowledgement to the writers who have poured out so much of themselves onto hundreds of pages between thousands of dusty covers. It was comforting to know that each novel had a beginning, the confusion in the middle was purely for enjoyment, and finally all the conflict would be neatly tied up in the conclusion.
In my profession, a tidy conclusion is not always reached. Sometimes the unexplainable remains unexplained to the bewildered reader left seeking for answers. I always hoped to plant a seed of desire for truth.
The single room on the ground floor smelled of furniture polish and newspaper ink. Worn stairs led to the second level. The librarian, a plump, graying woman peered at me over a stylish pair of Ralph Lauren eye glasses. Her eyewear seemed anachronistic in the setting.
“Hello,” she greeted. “You’re the reporter staying over at the old abbey.”
Surprised, I extended a hand. “Kaytie O’Hare, from Beyond Fantasy magazine in Chicago. How did you guess?”
“Word travels fast in small towns. I know the proprietor’s daughter. Lizzy. She’s been here already this morning.”
“I see. She told you about me?”
“Not everything. Just that you’re staying there. You and another reporter. She thinks you’re very pretty, and she’s right.” She smiled in a friendly way.
I smiled back. “Please thank her for me.”
“What are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
I produced a sheet of notebook paper with a name on it: Ezra Daniels, 1807-1887, and the inscription I’d copied from the mysterious tombstone by morning light. “I don’t know if you keep any genealogical archives. Old diaries. Albums. Family histories. I’d really like to find out something about this man.”
The librarian looked at the name. “I may have some old documents with that name. Don’t know. You might have better luck at the Records Division over at the county courthouse. There are probably old land deeds, abstracts and such.”
“Probably so, but while I’m here, could I look through whatever is available?”
“Sure. Follow me.” She led me through the stacks and into an alcove where I saw leather-bound volumes, aging papers, and yellowed documents locked behind glass cabinets. Producing a key, she explained, “These are very old. Please handle them with great care. We’re trying to make photocopies of our inventory and upgrade our system, but I’m afraid we haven’t made it out of the Dark Ages yet in some ways. You can look at them here all day long if you like, but I can’t let you check them out.”
I thanked her and approached the cabinets with enthusiasm, not certain what I was looking for.
The morning passed quickly as I perused old documents. I found a couple of journals written laboriously by hand, recording some of the local history—just what I had hoped for. However, none dated back as far as the time of Ezra Daniels.
By noon, my eyes were tired from reading. I decided to take a break and a walk. Bright blue skies over bare branches presented a sharp contrast to the orange leaves drifting along the walks. Charming, weathered store fronts and white-washed buildings gave the town a picture-postcard look. I was glad the historic district remained free of big box stores and familiar chain restaurants. The old town square was a charming walk back to a pleasant time.
I stopped inside a mom-and-pop diner for a cup of coffee and collided with a slender, pale young woman at the door. “Excuse me.” She turned her face and scurried out.
A woman in a checked apron glanced up. “That’s Lizzy. Don’t pay her no mind. Her folks run the old abbey at the edge of town. She’s a weird duck.”
“Oh?” I settled myself on a counter stool. Since I was her only customer, the lady evidently felt like talking. “She’s alright I reckon. Not mental like her brother, Lesley. Just real shy. She talks to me when nobody’s here. And sometimes she talks to Trixie, the librarian. That’s about all. Coffee?”
She filled a thick mug full with steamy liquid. “I’m Penny. You staying around here or just passing through?”
I introduced myself and explained a little about my job. “Do you know Harry Potts?”
“Sure enough. He and the missus are long-timers around these parts. They’re straight as a steeple on the church.”
“Do you know anyone who might want to buy their place? Assuming it was for sale, of course.”
“Honey, anybody would like to buy their place. It’s right in the path of what might just become a big new super highway. State planning commission wants to build it to bypass all the little towns like Adelphia Valley, so’s the Mark Twain Forest can be more accessible to tourists and such. The Potts will make a fortune if the plans get approved. They own a right sizable chunk of land. But I reckon Harry’s not going to sell.”
I was thinking of laws such as Imminent Domain, allowing a government to seize property proposed for public use. That sounds un-American to me, but it happens.
Under Imminent Domain, Mr. Potts could possibly be forced to sell his family farm if the commission got approval and funding. In the meantime, if he could be scared off, the new owner might have an eye on selling it for a fat profit. I had to consider every angle. Some greedy sneak with a board tied to ropes could have tamped down the crop circle during the night, hoping to frighten the Potts’ couple off the farm.
But that wouldn’t explain the thing in the sky. Unless it was rigged by a devious schemer.
“Did you say Lizzy has a brother?” I asked, thinking of my shadowy encounter in the church yard.
“That’s Lesley. He’s not right in the head. It’s never been proved that he set the fire that burned down the old rectory, or the Wilson’s barn either. But folks around here don’t trust him. He leaves the country sometimes but he always turns up again. You keep your distance if he’s around, y’hear?”
I thanked Penny for the warning and paid for the coffee.
Could it have been Lesley following me around the church yard? Whatever for? Not right in the head. I didn’t like the idea.
“Looks like that’s about it.” Dax fast-forwarded the remaining minutes of surveillance tape to the end. “Zip. Nada. Nothing moved in that field but an old coon and probably a skunk. Not even an ordinary Bigfoot.”
We had with a small computer screen set on a table for viewing the film. No other guests were lodged at the abbey, so we had the hall to ourselves.
“Guess we’ll see what happens tonight. Harry’s dog has been quiet. I think old Rex knows when something’s out there.” Dax sipped his coffee.
I silently agreed, thinking it could be years before another episode. Maybe forever. “How long are you going to leave the cameras running?”
Dax knew what I was thinking. “Let’s give it try for a few nights more at least. Could be a waste of time, but who knows?”
I thought it worth the wait for at least that long.
“So, what are we going to do this evening, Mrs. Larue?” Dax eyed me with that gleam in his eye, like he was starving and I was a chocolate sundae topped with whipped cream and nuts.
“You’re not going to forget that little ruse on my part to get a room at the hotel, are you? What did you have in mind?’ My tone and no-nonsense expression were abrupt. I was in no mood for this brand of teasing.
Changing his expression from teasing to respectful nonchalance, he suggested, “I talked with a retired law officer, Sam Uptegrove, about the mysterious Hornet spook light over toward Quapaw on the border between Missouri and Oklahoma. We should check it out while we’re this close. We could drive over this afternoon.”
Why not? I figured if we didn’t get more of a story from Potts, we could always do a story on the Hornet spook light.
We headed the Explorer toward Joplin as the day dwindled.
“Tell me about the light,” I prompted.
“People have been seeing it on a regular basis for over a hundred years. Some say it’s a reflection of vehicle headlights, but that doesn’t stand up because the Osage and Quapaw Indians described it long before automobiles arrived. Farmers saw it too, during horse and buggy days.”
“What’s it look like?”
“That’s part of the mystery. It’s not consistent. Sometimes it’s white. Sometimes yellow, or orange. And it changes size too. Divides into smaller lights. Bounces in and out of cars and even enters houses along the country lane.”
“Have any researchers ever studied it?”
“Sure. Lots of them, including the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s a well-documented phenomenon, written about in numerous publications. TV camera crews have filmed it.”
“Did it ever harm anyone?” To my knowledge, the supernatural seldom wields any genuine force in the physical world with the exception of poltergeists perhaps. If so, there’s usually a natural explanation.
“Did it harm anyone? Only one guy Sam spoke of. Several years ago, a fellow claimed the light burned him. If that’s true it lends credence to the theory of an atmospheric electrical pulse caused by shifting rocks.”
“Seismic activity. The spook light’s path is along a fault line well known for earthquakes. As many as four quakes shook up Missouri during the eighteenth century alone.”
“That makes sense to me. Earthquake activity is often accompanied by strange lights,” I shrugged. “But lights showing up every night for a hundred years? That seems a bit of a stretch.”
“It does. Hey, read to me from the Weird News tabloid you picked up at the gas station. Let’s see what our competition is writing about.”
Hardly our competition, I thought, glancing at the headline: “Texas Woman Captures Vampire Creature.”
At first, I thought it was a spoof. However, in spite of the sensationalized headline, the story was based on verifiable facts.
“Listen to this Dax. Phyllis Canion, of Cuero, a Texas community some eighty miles southeast of San Antonio, discovered three bodies believed to be the corpses of the legendary ‘chupacabra,’ a mythical vampire-like creature that supposedly drains the blood from its prey.”
“A chupacabra? She found one? Any photos?”
“Yes indeed. The photo’s actually from the Associated Press. Wow. Vicious fangs protruding from a wolfish snout. And its bare hide is definitely blue. It says here that Phyllis stored the head in a freezer, intending to have its DNA tested.”
I read the story with growing interest. “A local veterinarian, Travis Schaar, is quoted saying the creature was likely a species of coyote or a mutated dog. He says the hairless, bluish-gray hide could simply be the result of mange.”
“How reliable does the Canion woman sound?”
“Reliable. She’s an experienced big-game hunter who once lived in Africa. This woman keeps the mounted heads of many exotic animals on display in her home. Here’s a quote from her: “This creature was no coyote. My chickens were drained of blood, but the meat left uneaten.”
“A coyote wouldn’t do that.”
Always eager to display his knowledge of things macabre, he began, “Chupacabra is Spanish for goat sucker. Puerto Ricans have no doubt that it’s a real creature. You can also find plenty of farmers in Mexico who’ve seen its vicious work.”
I turned a page in the tabloid. “If this thing is real and has migrated to Missouri, it could explain why Harry’s dog is behaving with such fear.”
And I thought to myself, perhaps the same creature was responsible for the cattle mutilations we had been hearing about as well. The poor beasts had been described as being drained of blood.
“Sounds like that reporter picked up on a real story. What else is the tabloid claiming?”
I had to chuckle. “Next to the story of the mythical beast, there’s a story of a marauding killer squirrel on the rampage.”
“Oooh! We’d better keep our windows rolled up,” Dax glanced at me with mock alarm. “A marauding killer squirrel might leap in and gnaw us to death.”
We both laughed. We’d heard the paper was closing its operation after forty years of spinning weird tales and fantastic yarns. Like most journalists, we bought a copy from time to time and enjoyed a laugh at the screaming headlines.
“This paper is going to be missed,” I sighed. “Who else would warn us about a killer squirrel on the rampage?”
“Who else indeed? The world needs its mysteries, whether real or fantasy. Too much reality is hard on the soul.”
Perhaps he was right. Mysteries are fun. It’s only when people go beyond fantasy into the dark realms of the supernatural that the danger lurks.
The moon was rising behind drifting clouds, their edges lined in silver, as we reached the four-mile stretch of roughly-paved road about twelve miles southwest of Joplin. This road crosses the Oklahoma border through a dip in the hills. Thick woods lined both sides, their branches forming a shadowy arch overhead.
A few cars were parked on the roadside, thrill seekers come to view the spectacle. We rolled down the window of the Explorer and pulled up beside a Chevy van.
“You here to see the spook light too?” Dax greeted a middle-age couple who looked sane enough. We could see that they weren’t werewolves wearing space suits. They grinned pleasantly.
“We’ve seen the light lots of times. I’m Ralph and this is Bonnie Yonkers. We don’t live too far from here. Sometimes we stop by this road when we’re driving through the area, just to see if the light is doing anything different.”
“Dax Larue and Kaytie O’Hare. We may be writing a story. What do you think it could be?”
Bonnie was eager to talk. “I think it’s a beacon for a UFO. Some people claim they saw one near the corner by Spooky Joe’s. That’s the old place that used to be a museum of sorts, but it’s shut down now.”
Moon shadows deepened while Ralph added what he knew. “The light is about the size of a basketball and spins along this gravel road at high speeds, sometimes just bouncing up and down or weaving from side to side. No one can ever get close to it. When they try, it’s in front of them one minute, and the next it’s behind them.”
Bonnie leaned forward and peered over his shoulder. “Sometimes it’s so bright you could read a book by it. People say they can feel heat from it too.”
A whippoorwill called from nearby.
“This road gets real crowded on weekends. People come from everywhere to see it. Course some of them are probably doing drugs and drinking beer. Those guys could see anything and call it a spook. But the actual light is unmistakable.”
Bonnie put a finger to her lips. “Shhhh. There it is!”
We strained our eyes to see a tiny light blinking far down the read. A motorcycle headlight soon appeared instead of the mystery light. The rider stopped and spoke with us about his own experience.
“I’ve seen it several times. I have a friend who lived out here when he first got married. The light floated into his bedroom one night and scared his bride half silly. After that, they moved to town.”
The cyclist introduced himself as the director of continuing education from a Missouri state college.
So far, our witnesses were solid, credible people. I had no doubt the phenomenon was observable.
Hours passed without excitement. By midnight, we had seen car lights, a patch of moonlight on the road, and a white cat trotting across, but no spook light. I began to examine rocks in the roadbed, finding them more interesting than watching the dark lane.
I turned to Dax. “It looks as if we’re more likely to see a killer squirrel on the rampage than any spook light tonight. Should we warn Ralph and Bonnie about the squirrel before we leave?”
On the drive back to Adelphia, somewhat disappointed that our expedition had been fruitless, I brought up the subject of the chupacabra once more. “You know, that blood-sucking critter might just be responsible for some of the cattle mutilations where the carcasses are drained of blood.”
“Interesting theory. Personally, I think it’s Bigfoot who’s been mutilating the cows. He’s gotta eat, you know. Probably prefers organ meats.”
“Bigfoot? Now there’s a thought. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him order a burger from a drive-up window.”
Dax chuckled. “Can’t you just hear him bellowing ‘where’s the beef?’ Now that would be a great commercial.”
“It would never work. Everyone knows you can’t film a Bigfoot clearly. He’s always out of focus on film. That’s because he actually is a blurry creature. The cameras can’t help it if he looks out of focus, because he is, just like Nessie. They’re both just big, out-of-focus monsters—one of them running around the wilds, and the other swimming around Loch Ness.”
“Interesting thought. An out-of-focus Bigfoot. Harry Potts and his out-of-focus UFO. Think there’s a relationship? Maybe aliens cloak themselves with some kind of screen?”
We made up hilarious theories and impossible speculations, laughing at our combined cleverness. A pair of journalists can sharpen each other, and we were discovering we had the same sense of humor. By the time we reached the abbey, I regretted that the drive was over. Even so, I dodged a goodnight kiss from Dax. His lips landed on my cheek instead.
“Good night Dax. See ya in the morning.”
I hurried to my narrow room, hoping to dream of something besides hairy monsters, wolfish blue creatures, and mysterious lights. My boss’s words, your job can get creepy, are very true. I tried to dispel spooky things by thinking of Dax’s humorous comments. Finally, with a smile on my lips and a tiny brand on my cheek, I turned over and snuggled down.
* * *
The knock at my door was timid, as indeed it should have been at the early pre-dawn hour. “Who is it?” I reached for my robe.
“It’s Lizzy Daniels, Miss O’Hare. I need to talk to you. Can I come in?” her voice was soft and apologetic.
Opening the door, I recognized the same pale girl who had collided with me at the entry to the cafe. Hair the color of corn silk tumbled over blue eyes. She wore a jacket and blue jeans. She held a cloth-wrapped object in her arms.
Puzzled, I gestured for the teenager to come inside.
“I know it’s late, but I saw you come back to the abbey, and I knew you were still awake. I have something you ought to see,” she began unfolding the bundle to disclose a well-worn, leather-bound book.
“After I talked to Penny and Mrs. Shepherd down at the library, I knew that I had to bring this to you. It’s Ezra Daniels’ diary. I’ve never showed it to anyone before, but I figure you’ll need it.” Her eyes were wide and honest.
“How do you happen to be in possession of Ezra’s diary?”
She looked down at the floor, nervously twisting her hands together. “He’s my great-great-great grandpa.”
Her voice dropped to a half whisper. “You can keep it in your room here at the abbey for a while. But you got to promise you won’t tell anyone what’s in it. Folks around here think we’re crazy, Lesley and me. I reckon old Ezra might have been crazier than a mule with bee under its tail. But I want to know for sure. You can tell me what you think after you read what he wrote in that diary.”
She turned to the door and was gone before I could stop her. I glanced out into the hallway, dark and still as an abandoned mine. How had she disappeared so quickly? Back into my chamber turning—Edgar Allen Poe’s words fittingly described the moment as I picked up the quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
Ezra’s diary. The very book I wasn’t sure existed but eagerly I sought to borrow.
Opening the worn, leather-bound volume, I held it under the small lamp by the narrow bed. Entries were few and sometimes years between, marking the dates of seed purchases, farming notations, crop returns on yellowing pages. Records of family births and deaths were kept there too, along with a few scriptures copied from the King James Bible. Toward the middle were several pages filled by neatly printed letters.
These pages caught my eye.
“I have seen it again,” Ezra wrote on March, 18, 1840. His words were an eerie reminder of those carved on his tombstone.
I began reading an account of things I could never have imagined. I decided to copy his entry into my notebook, word for word, but I’ve added punctuation and changed some of the archaic spelling. It reads as follows:
Ezra Daniels Diary, March, 1840
I, Ezra Daniels, take pen in hand to describe a remarkable set of curious events. I am known to my wife Matilda and to the people of Adelphia as being of sound mind. If anyone reads these pages, they may decide the opposite is true.
Still, I must tell what I saw. It could be that one day I will find another witness who saw the same things. Then my story will be verified.
We came to this land from Philadelphia, believing it would be a good place to raise a family. Much of the land was too rocky for farming, but we found a good piece and started our crops. Matilda raises a good garden as long as the dry spells stay far between. We’ve had corn, wild crab apples, pumpkins, bluebells, apples, berries and melons growing in the fields.
When President Monroe admitted the state to the Union in 1821, it was mostly Indian Territory. Those tribes lived off the land, so I knew we wouldn’t starve. They had plenty of clear, tumbling streams filled with crappie, perch and catfish. Badgers, muskrat, beavers and even a few small herds of antelope and elk live in these hills. Black bear and panthers too.
It took a few years before I found something else visits these hills around Adelphia Valley. Something unnatural.
My discovery started after a hail storm with ice pellets the size of aggie marbles. I was out in the field and took shelter under the horse shed. When the hail let up, I saw a shape that looked like the disc of a plow. The disc rose up into the sky from behind the trees near Bear Creek. First, I thought maybe it was sun light reflecting off the ice in the clouds, but it moved like no cloud. It was quiet as a panther on the prowl. Then it darted away and was gone.
I didn’t tell Matilda till I saw the lights a fortnight later, this time in the dark of night. I’d started from the barn after milking the cows. They were skittish and bawling. I figured a bear or a mountain lion was prowling the woods.
I was wishing I had my shotgun when I saw lights moving low behind the trees. I kept walking. The lights moved up higher, drifted over Pilot knob and then disappeared. Next, a shaft of light beamed down from above me, right over my head, like a ray of sunlight from a hole in the clouds. I don’t rightly know how to describe it or where it come from.
Old Rough had his back up and was whining. The hair stood up on the back of my neck too. I reckoned it was a haint for Shure.
“Who goes there?” I hollered and set down the milk pails. Old Rough hunkered down with his tail between his legs and whimpered like he’d been whipped. The light was there a long moment before it faded into the dark. I walked to the house and told Matilda. She must have seen the shock on my face, ’cuz she wanted me to saddle up and ride to the abbey in Adelphia Valley. Said we better get one of the nuns to come out and bless the land since the circuit preacher won’t be here again for months. Matilda feared maybe that old witch woman on Misty Mountain, Queen Bevers, could have conjured up something.
I’ll think on it a spell.
The wagon train left for Oregon. Matilda’s Uncle Marion went with it. That’s a powerful relief to me. He’s been filling her head with stories that keep her awake nights.
Marion heard tell about a slave cured of scrofula over at the springs in Siloam. Now everyone claims there’s healing in those waters, and Matilda thinks there’s a connection between the healings and the mystery lights.
I asked her why she would think such a thing. She commenced to tell me the story about the falls and how Chief Tom Sauk of the Piankishaws was against his daughter marrying an Osage warrior. The tribe’s medicine man believed the girl, Mina, was bewitched.
I’ve heard that story too. The tribe threw her beloved brave over the cliff, and when he dropped to the canyon floor some two hundred feet down, Mina threw herself after him. That’s all there was to it. But Matilda has heard it that thunder roared. Lightning flashed. Strange lights appeared and a stream of clear water gushed out of the rocks and down over the bodies of the warrior and girl.
I told Matilda the lights had nothing to do with it. That Mina Sauk falls has been there since the mountains were formed.
Matilda says the lights are portents and only show up when something bad is going to happen. She swears people saw the lights back before the New Madrid earthquake that shook up the country back in 1811. Course she was only just four and I was six years old then, but I reckon neither of us will ever forget that December eleventh day. Some folks claim the Mississippi River ran backwards.
The Osage and Quapaws tell of a mysterious light they’ve been seeing for years near the Missouri border. I don’t know if it has anything to do with anything, but Matilda is convinced this thing appeared as a warning that the quake was coming.
She’s still after me to get a preacher out here and have the land blessed. I reckon it won’t do any harm, but he’s not due to ride through these parts for a spell.
Nothing mysterious in the sky for the last four years. I had nearly forgotten the episode. Then it started again. Just a blink of red and blue that might have been a star except there weren’t no stars. Night was as black as the inside of Lost Cave on Misty Mountain. The blinking moved along at a good pace and passed behind Iron Mountain. I didn’t tell Matilda.
Next day, Aaron Cook rides over and tells me how Queen Bevers put a spell on him. Turned him into a horse and rode him to a dance, then tied him to a thorn bush for the night. His arms were all covered with scratches to prove it. I says, “Aaron, looks to me like you had too much corn liquor and stumbled into a briar patch.” Aaron just laughed, but Matilda raised her eyebrows at me.
Next day the kids come down with fevers. We was plumb scared of cholera. I remembered what Matilda warned about the lights showing up before bad things happen. Matilda prayed a far piece into the night. The kids both got better in a few days.
I got my hands on a wrinkled-up Missouri Courier newspaper from Hannibal to see if I could find any news about the war with Mexico. It was mostly about that stubborn lawyer Abe Lincoln and his Whig party, and whether or not Missouri is going to side with slavery or agin it. I’d have tossed the whole paper in the fireplace, but that young feller, Sam Clemens sure has a way of telling a story. He wrote about a bunch of folk calling theirselves the Millerites. Two years ago, they all quit working and climbed up on Lover’s leap which is a hill over Hannibal, so’s they could see the end of the world. Clemens says some of the group is probably still waiting up there, but for his part, they won’t see the END lessin’ they jump off the leap.
Now here’s the peculiar part. These folk claimed they were seeing strange lights in the sky during that time. The lights formed three big circles darting across the night sky.
I didn’t let Matilda read the paper.
Three circles. The hair on the back of my neck prickled.
Jessie Winthrop come through here telling news of the fire in St. Louis. It raged through fifteen blocks and destroyed twenty-three steamboats. He left town because of the cholera epidemic. People there are dying by the hundreds.
He left me a newspaper. I read it clean through, and then I found it. A little piece in the back section about some people claiming they’d seen mysterious lights in the sky.
Sent a shiver down my spine. Were the lights really portents sent to warn about the fire and the cholera outbreak?
Can’t tell Matilda what I saw. She’d weary me to the bone. GOT to tell someone. It’s eatin’ away at me.
Does it mean something bad is going to happen? Is it really a spirit of some kind like Matilda says? She reads her Bible and tells me there’s going to be signs and lying wonders in the sky performed by the devil in the last days to deceive even the very elect if possible. Satan will call down fire from the skies.
I was afeared she’d join up with a group like those fool Millerites, but she seems more at ease since she’s commenced to reading her Bible.
Me, I’m skittish as a rooster in a pen with a fox. I know what I saw and it wasn’t no angel.
Told Aaron Cook what I saw and that was a sorry mistake. He’s been tellin’ it all over the valley that I’m plumb loco. The Iron Mountain miners’ kids have teased my grandson ’til he wants to quit school. Dern fool Cook has told more wild yarns hisself than Davy Crocket ever thought about.
I don’t know what I saw, but I know this.
I saw it.
I realized at once what the words on his tombstone meant. A sight chill ran up my back also when I read the words about the lights forming three big circles. Beware the third circle.
The rest of Ezra’s journal continued much as the first pages, with crop notations, and family events. I noted that between the last two entries about the subject of the mystery lights, there appeared to be some pages torn out. That piqued my interest.
Closing the volume, I realized I shared a common experience with Ezra. I didn’t know what I saw, but I knew I saw it. However, there remained a nagging feeling that he had seen something more than lights. Whatever it was distressed him greatly. I understood, too, how Daniels’ progeny came to be labeled strange. In a small community, it’s easy for a family line to be labeled peculiar and less easy for the group to change the perception.
With a click on the bedside lamp’s off-switch, I snuggled in for the night, wondering what to tell Lizzy. She obviously hoped I could solve this mystery and somehow vindicate her ancestor, perhaps clearing both herself and Lesley of the stigma attached to the Daniels name.
Actually, I felt more helpless than before at solving the riddle of lights in the sky. Perhaps the missing pages from the journal held a key. I drifted to sleep with the hope that Lizzy could provide them. Dax Larue appeared in my dreams, a hero rescuing me from some big, hairy, out-of-focus creature.
The scrabbling sound at my door? Was that part of the dream? I wasn’t alert enough to recognize the reality. I only vaguely recalled it the next morning. Perhaps part of my dream scene?