The Straw Foot, Conclusion


That evening the president summoned the pledges to the fraternity house, where he instructed them to sit on the floor. One of the fraternity members then distributed to each pledge two gallons of apple cider and two of the smelliest cigars the brothers could find.

“Your instructions are simple,” said Alex. “Smoke these cigars and drink that cider before I finish my presentation, which will last about forty-five minutes to an hour.”

Groans arose from all the pledges except Bobby Joe.

“No complaining,” continued the president. “You must prove yourself worthy to be called a member of our fraternity. Gentlemen, light up.”

Several brothers walked about the room with lighters and lit the cigars for the pledges, while another brother brought in an old-fashioned movie projector and screen and set them up. By this time most of the pledges were hacking and choking.

“I am going to give you a zoology lesson this evening,” said Alex. “We are going to study marine life. Brother Robert, would you turn out the lights and start the projector?”

Brother Robert did as instructed and the ocean appeared on the screen, shot from the deck of a ship, which rolled up and down with the huge waves.

“This was taken by a brother of one of our fraternity brothers when he was in the Navy,” said Alex. “Watch and I’ll say things as I think they need to be said.”

For approximately the next 50 minutes the pledges watched the silent movie. Over and over the ship rose and fell in the sea swells. Occasionally Alex made a brief comment, but mainly it was a silent movie. Alex failed to explain why the person had made the home movie in the first place, but for the past few years it had been used for this same purpose, and it produced the same effect each time.

One by one the pledges vomited and left the room, all that is, except for Bobby Joe. Even a few of the brothers excused themselves at times. When the lights returned he was the only pledge remaining.

“Congratulations, pledge!” shouted Alex. “You are the only pledge who has ever made it through the entire movie.”

“I have to admit,” replied Bobby Joe, “that movie was pretty dull. If you fellas wouldn’t have been nice enough to give us those cigars and cider, I probably would’ve fallen asleep.”

“Do you feel all right?” inquired Alex, looking dumbfounded.

“Yeah, I feel fine. Lucky for me I didn’t eat at the dormitory tonight like everybody else. They must’ve gotten food poisoning or something.”

All the brothers left the room shaking their heads.

The next day they met in the morning. The brothers singled out Bobby Joe because of all the pledges he was the only one not to have lost his cool yet.

“Pledge!” yelled Alex while looking directly at Bobby Joe, at which command Bobby Joe began his ritual. “Be quiet and listen to me,” interrupted the president. “Listen carefully. As you know, we are an organization devoted to the betterment of mankind. We are always looking for ways to be charitable, and we have such an opportunity before us. Are you listening?”

Bobby Joe shook his head affirmatively.

“Good. The brothers have chosen you for this job because you seem to be a good man and this will be a good test to see if you’re worthy of being a brother. As you know, this area is infested with mosquitoes. Chancellor Carter’s house seems to get them worse than any other place. So we want to do something about that, but we want it kept a secret. There’s no way we want the chancellor to know about this. Understand?”

Bobby Joe nodded.

“OK, then, here’s what we want you to do. The only thing that seems to help keep the mosquitoes out is if all the house is coated with petroleum jelly. This means doorknobs, keyholes, windows, shutters, everything. We want you to go over tonight and grease the entire house, which will save the chancellor a lot of money because a professional exterminator is expensive.

“You’re going to have to go sometime after midnight, and you’re going to have to be careful. We don’t want the chancellor to know it was this fraternity that helped him. Any questions?”

Bobby Joe had none.

“You do that and report back tomorrow afternoon,” said Alex.

When the pledges reported back the next day, everyone had heard the reports that Chancellor Carter was furious and was seeking out the individual who was responsible for the deed. The group was in high spirits and everyone patted Bobby Joe on the back and told him he had done a wonderful, helpful deed.

“What do you think?” one of the brothers asked Bobby Joe. “How do you feel?”

“Pretty swell,” answered Bobby Joe. “I never knew that by doing such a good deed that everyone would be happy, especially because no one outside of us knows.”

Pledge week continued and the pledges were forced to do numerous embarrassing things, with only Bobby Joe seemingly unaffected. He seldom said anything, but when he did the brothers laughed, and he would certainly be voted in if he could survive the final two days.

The brothers once again designed a scheme using Bobby Joe, but this one was dangerous, and if Bobby Joe were caught it would cost him his football scholarship, his enrollment at the university, and possibly even his freedom, but no one told him this.

“Bobby Joe,” said the president, “you really do want to become a member of this fraternity, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m here doing this,” Bobby Joe replied.

“OK, then, listen.” The rest of the members and pledges gathered closely. “We’ve got something for you to do that is very, very important. You absolutely cannot let anyone outside of this fraternity know about this.

“This fraternity has gotten some very bad things said about it and done to us over the past few years, mainly by the faculty. One of the worst things they’ve done is they’ve cheated some brothers out of decent grades in certain classes. In particular there is a biology professor who always fails brothers. We’ve taken complaints to the proper people, but we’ve gotten nowhere. What we need is proof that we’ve been cheated.”

“What can I do to help?” asked Bobby Joe, a puzzled look filling his face. “I’m new here. I don’t even know any professors, just football players and coaches.”

“We know, but that’s not important. You can help us without knowing any professors. What we’re wanting you to do could not only help the brothers here, but a lot more people on campus who’ve gotten bad grades from certain professors. Because you’re new here, you’re the perfect person to do it. And remember why this fraternity is here—to help people, and that’s just what you’d be doing.”

Bobby Joe sighed, while the rest snickered in suppressed sounds.

“Here’s exactly what we need you to do,” said Alex. “At the administration building they keep all the records. Everything is stored there on the main computer. We need access to that computer so we can get hold of some of those records so we can prove our case. But before we can use the computer, we need to know some passwords, and the master password list is stored in Chancellor Carter’s office, locked in a drawer. We’ve gotten hold of that key and made a duplicate. What we’re asking you to do is go in there late at night and get that list, make a copy of it, and bring it to us.”

Bobby Joe’s countenance grew perplexed.

Some of the members called Alex to the side and talked to him quietly.

“We’re thinking more about this, Alex. Some of us think this is going a little too far. We didn’t talk about actually stealing. If he gets caught, he’s dead. Probably us, too!”

“Shut up! Some of you are on probation and are likely going to get expelled at the end of the semester if we don’t get those records changed. What better time than now, when we can use this buffoon?”

The discussion continued for a few minutes, and then the group summoned Jack. They explained the situation, the obvious dangers, and their desperation, and then asked his opinion. He told them to go ahead with it, and that he would help Bobby Joe not to get caught.

“What do you think?” Alex asked Bobby Joe a few seconds later. “Are you going to help us fix this injustice?”

“I’m confused,” replied Bobby Joe. “Something doesn’t sound right about it, but you said it would help a lot of people?”

“That’s right!” yelled a brother. “A whole lot of people!”

“Then I’ll do it.”

“Excellent!” said Alex. “Report back to us tomorrow night after you’ve got the list. That’s the final night of initiation, and that will make a perfect end of things.”

The next evening Alex met Bobby Joe at the front door of the fraternity house.

Recall that even though Bobby Joe was as green as they come when he arrived on campus, he was nonetheless a good learner. He had been thinking about his future and had done some planning.

“Did you get it?” he asked excitedly.

“Yes, I have it.”

“Great! Let me have it!”

“No, wait a minute,” replied Bobby Joe. “I’ll give you this list when I’m an official member of the fraternity, not until.”


“I said I’ll give you the list after you’ve made me an official member and my initiation time is finished.”

Alex pondered and then laughed. “Oh, I see. You think I’ll take the list and then we won’t vote you in. You don’t have to worry about that. All the brothers will vote for you, that’s for sure.”

“Nope. I won’t give it up until you make me a member right here and now.”

Alex looked around at the brothers, who unanimously gave their approval.

“OK, then. Listen. I declare that you, Bobby Joe Childress, by the authority I have as fraternity president, are now an official member of Alpha Mu Mu Fraternity. Congratulations, Bobby Joe. Let me have the list.”

Bobby Joe took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Alex, who immediately ran upstairs to his room and accessed the school’s main computer from his laptop.

“Pledges,” said a brother, “the final part of your character test is to pass through the initiation line.”

The brothers formed two parallel lines a couple of feet apart, and each member had a paddle in his hand. Each pledge was to pass through the line and receive one stroke from each member. Bobby Joe stood in the front of the line, and the brothers told him he did not have to participate, since he was already a member, but Bobby Joe insisted.

“I want to say something,” said Bobby Joe after he had persuaded them to let him run the gauntlet.

“OK, what is it? Make it quick!” one of the brothers replied.

“It’s just this. Ever since you started the pledge week, you’ve done nothing but make fun of me and insult me. You’ve told me to do things that really made me look stupid and some things that were dangerous and illegal. Well, I’m getting the last laugh.”

With that Bobby Joe Childress took off running straight at the lines. He tackled outright the first three of each side, and the others scrambled to get out of his way. It was a massacre. He grabbed some paddles and chased the brothers around the house, and after seeing how things were shaping up, the rest of the pledges joined him. When all was finished, about half of the brothers were lying around the yard, beaten and bruised, while the remainder had fled into the darkness.

The president heard the commotion and ran down the stairs, yelling to find out what was the matter. However, after viewing the scene, he, too, attempted escape, but was stopped by police who had just pulled up to the house. Also emerging from a cruiser was Chancellor Carter.

“Arrest him!” yelled Alex, pointing at Bobby Joe.

“Sorry, they didn’t come for me,” replied Bobby Joe, “but for you.”

“Me? Why? What have I done?”

“Even a person you think is a hayseed like me can only take being made fun of for so long. All this time you thought you were using me to pull your stupid pranks and to get illegal access to the school’s computers, but in reality you’ve been set up. You didn’t know this, but I have a relative here at school. He’s my uncle, Chancellor Carter.”

“Hello, young man,” said the chancellor, approaching Alex. “I believe you and me have some serious talking to do. Well, our talk may have to follow your talk with the police, but I’m sure we’ll get around to it sooner or later.”

Alex profusely sweated, unable to get a single word from his mouth.

Bobby Joe continued, “When you first told me to grease his house I went and told him. He said to pretend like I did it because the university has been looking for a way to close down this fraternity because of all the trouble it’s caused the past few years. When you wanted me to steal the passwords, that was just what my uncle wanted. They’ve been monitoring you on the computer and have recorded everything you’ve done to the records.

Alex grumbled as the police took him.

“I think I’ve reconsidered,” said Bobby Joe after Alex had walked past him. “I don’t want to become a member after all, but thanks for the invitation. You thought I was an idiot—what was the term you used the other day, a buffoon? Looks like you may be the real buffoon.”

The outcome was as expected in that the university expelled every member of the fraternity, not that it made much of a difference anyway, for most of them would have flunked out at the end of the semester. The fraternity officially disbanded, but a new fraternity formed the next year, and Bobby Joe was elected to serve as president until he graduated.

Jack, Bobby Joe’s roommate, knew of the entire situation as it unfolded and helped Bobby Joe in setting up the ones who had abused them. He served a vice-president of the fraternity under his friend.

Bobby Joe Childress, formerly a straw foot, had a brilliant college career, helping the team reach lofty heights

The Straw Foot, Part 1

This is a short story I originally wrote in 1987, but I have revised it this past weekend. It is a longer short story, so I have divided it into two sections. The second half will follow shortly.


Bobby Joe Childress was a young man of great strength and stamina, hailing from a southern state noted for its football in both the high school and college ranks. Naturally, after a stellar high school career, Bobby Joe was predestined to take his exceptional talents to the state university to help it attain higher glory. He possessed exceptional talents in blocking, running, passing, and catching, and even standing six feet seven inches tall and weighing 278 pounds, he was the fastest runner in the entire state, as far as football players were concerned.

Bobby Joe rebuffed the numerous offers from national powerhouses outside the state, knowing that if he should choose anywhere other than the state university, he may as well move from home permanently, for he would never be welcome inside its borders again, even by his own family. When it came time to leave for college, he packed his one suitcase (he came from a large, rather poor family), boarded a bus because his parents could not afford to take him there personally, and headed off to the place everyone expected him to go.

Bobby Joe Childress was a little green concerning the ways of the world, although he learned quickly. His naivety made him an easy mark for any third-rate confidence man, and his parents had concerns about his safety away from home. A teacher in his high school recognized Bobby Joe’s lack of worldly wisdom and helped guide him through his high school years without much loss, but privately this teacher referred to Bobby Joe as a straw-foot.

A simple definition for a straw-foot would be an uneducated rookie. The term originated during the American Civil War, and referred to recruits who had just come from the farm and did not know the difference between their left foot and their right foot. They were lousy soldiers during training, and drill sergeants had great difficulty teaching them to march in time or on the correct foot during the cadence. No amount of drill or punishment was able to correct this deficiency until finally, in an act of desperation, an instructor tied small bundles of hay to the recruits’ left feet and small bundles of straw to their right feet. Knowing these simple farm boys knew the difference between hay and straw if nothing else, the instructors would yell, “hay foot, straw foot, hay foot, straw foot,” and marvelously the soldiers learned how to march.

The vastness of the campus and the great numbers of people overwhelmed Bobby Joe, and he had to ask for help in finding his own dorm room. Lying on a bed was Jack Brody, and the two were perfect complements. Jack was outgoing and helped Bobby Joe in that area, while Bobby Joe helped to stabilize Jack’s life.

Even though Jack was only a first-day student, he knew every nook and cranny of the campus through frequent visits the year previously, and he was well acquainted with the social customs and nightspots in and around campus. Jack suggested they join a fraternity because he knew several members of a particular fraternity, which was having an open house starting immediately and lasting for a week.

“What’s a fraternity?” asked Bobby Joe.

“It’s a group of guys who get together and try to make life easier to handle at college,” replied Jack. “They throw parties and have fund-raising events, hook up with girls, and participate in a lot of activities, especially during football season.”

At the word “football,” Bobby Joe immediately said he was interested, so that evening they walked to the fraternity house, which was full of people, many of them carrying beer in their hands. The fraternity president spoke to them a short while later.

“Hello, Jack,” he said while shaking his hand. “I’m glad to see you came and brought a friend.” After introducing himself as Alex Murdstone, he asked Bobby Joe about himself, and then said, “Let me introduce you to the brothers.”

Bobby Joe appeared puzzled, but he followed the president into the main room, where many people stood around, talking, laughing, and shaking hands. Jack secured two glasses of punch and brought them back to Bobby Joe. For the next hour or so, they met every fraternity member present, drank punch, and listened to stories about escapades the brothers had accomplished over the years.

“What do you think?” quizzed Jack when they returned to their dorm room.

“I like them,” responded Bobby Joe.

“Do you think you’d like to join?”

“You and me? You think they’d let us?”

“Yes, I think they would. You’re a pretty important man around here, Bobby Joe. Every fraternity wants to have you.”

Bobby Joe again looked perplexed.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jack.

“I have a hard time believing they would let us join.”

“Why? I’m a friendly, ordinary guy, and you’re…well, you’re a football star.”

“Maybe, but…well, I can’t believe it.”

“Don’t you want to join?”

“Sure, I’d like to join a fraternity. I don’t understand why they would let us in, though.”

Jack went to the mirror, looking first at himself, then turning around and looking at Bobby Joe.

“What’s wrong with us? Are we odd looking? Do we look like we come from Mars? What don’t you understand?”

“We’re not related,” said Bobby Joe.


“I say we’re not related.”

“We don’t have to be related. We just join, if they’ll have us. And they’ll have us.”

“But why would that family let strangers come in and live with them?”

“What do you mean family? What family?”

“The family at the house. It’s a big family. Haven’t even seen one that big back home.”

“Bobby Joe, that’s not a family—I mean a blood relation family.”

“Well, everybody there was a brother, so they must be from the same family. Must’ve been tough on their mother to have all those boys and no girls.”

Jack laughed and explained the term brother when used in a fraternity. Bobby Joe was not embarrassed, but he was silent for a short while before saying, “I’d like to join them. I don’t have any brothers at home, just a bunch of sisters, and I’d like to know what it feels like to call someone my brother.”

The boys informed the fraternity of their decision to join, and then they were instructed to return the following Sunday afternoon for a meeting with all new potential members. There were nearly thirty others there, listening to a half-hour speech from the president, the gist of which was that they were trying to become members of an honorable social organization whose ultimate goal was to benefit mankind. Bobby Joe liked the speech, but he did not understand why Jack occasionally laughed aloud.

The president also explained that all new members had to be given a testing time, a week of initiation to ascertain if they were worthy, that was to begin the following morning and last for a week. The ones who wanted to joined, called pledges, were to report to the house before attending any classes.

After receiving instructions the next morning, Bobby Joe went to his first class, which was titled “The Olympics—Past and Present,” a standard course for first-year football players. In fact, the only students who could enroll in the class were football players, as this section was not listed in a regular student’s choices. No student ever failed “The Olympics—Past and Present,” and none ever received a grade lower than a ‘B’.

All of his classes puzzled Bobby Joe, as gridiron teammates filled each class’s roster, and likewise an assistant coach instructed each class. He wondered when he was going to get to take classes he took in high school, such as English, math, history, and science instead of the ones he took this first semester: General Nutrition 101, The Law of Gravity 100, The History of Numbers 107, Geometric Shapes 100, and of course his Olympics course.

Class convened at 9:00 a.m., but the instructor had not arrived by 9:30. Students started to leave, but then the door opened and a football assistant coach entered.

“Anyone absent, please say so now,” he announced without looking at either his roster or the number of students in the class, which contained fewer than half of the number of names on the roster. After receiving no responses, he continued, “All right, then, everyone is present this morning. Good class, gentlemen. Be on the field at 12:30 in full gear. Dismissed.”

His second class was a little different, for the students had to speak. When the instructor called upon Bobby Joe to stand and tell what position he played, Bobby Joe rose and replied, “Rolodolo humphata. Delinquo magnum. The Brotherhood of Casalidas forbids me to answer any questions.” Bobby Joe nailed the required response of the fraternity perfectly.

The instructor moved onto other students, some of whom actually gave their projected positions, after which he dismissed class.

That evening required another meeting at the fraternity house.

“This entire week you are our slaves,” said Alex. “You must not deny us any request by us. If you do, then you will be counted as unworthy to join us. We are brothers and we stick together through thick and thin.”

As Bobby Joe and Jack were leaving the house, one of the members called to them, “Pledge!”

Immediately Bobby Joe stopped in his tracks, stood at attention, placed his hand over his heart, and said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…”

Sometimes fraternity initiation requires the pledges to do some very strange things, and to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, a practice called hazing, which is now officially banned on most college and university campuses, but still used by some groups despite the ban. Bobby Joe and Jack got to witness this first hand as part of their initiation.

The next morning when students arrived at the dormitory cafeteria, they were greeted by Bobby Joe and Jack sitting in chairs atop two lunch tables, wearing only bikini tops and jock straps, and blowing bubbles using Mr. Magico’s Bubble Stuff. As a requirement of their initiation process, they were not allowed to offer any explanation or engage in any conversation with anyone.

However, a fraternity brother strolled into the cafeteria, and seeing them yelled, “Pledge!” Bobby Joe repeated his performance from the last time he heard the command, causing the fraternity brother to shake his head and leave them there.

The pledge business occurred to him numerous times over the course of the week, and he wrote his mother telling her that he was joining a patriotic fraternity, knowing this would make her happy.

— End of First Part —

The Covered Bridge Chronicles – The Wolf Monument


George picked me up at my house one Saturday morning and told me we were going to see a 350-foot long covered bridge that was still in use. Most of the covered bridges in the state are painted red, but a small number are white, as this one was.

We made the 98-mile drive a short one, gobbling the miles like Pac-Man in a little over an hour. George always said the more interstate there is the quicker the trip, and about 60 miles of this journey traveled the Eisenhower system. Our velocity was not quite as good as the time when he piloted us from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colorado, covering 285 miles in three and one-half hours. I do not believe I have experienced as much adrenaline flowing during any of our trips together as the moment I looked down at the speedometer and saw that he was cruising at over 100 miles per hour, followed up shortly thereafter by a journey up a short exit ramp at 85 miles per hour.

The bridge indeed possessed beauty, character, and a relatively new coat of white on the outside. It stood high above the river below, and it had a low hump at its midway point, making us drive slightly uphill after we entered until we reached the hump, and then downhill until we exited the other side. The length of the bridge gave me a few moments of anxiety, but they did not last long.

We took a large number of photographs of this bridge, the Mudcat covered bridge over the White Sands Creek in the east central part of our state. George climbed down the side of a bank and got into the creek to obtain his best angle, but I declined, not being able to espy a path that led down the hill. Instead, I worked my way up a knoll on the far side of the bridge to shoot from above it. Overall, our photos this day proved some of the best we ever took.

There was another covered bridge in the county, and we had planned to visit that one as well, even though from a photographic standpoint it was going to be inferior.

We arrived at a small town called Dunker’s Bend that possessed something that caused us to stop and get out of the car. Directly behind the town’s sign stood a large statue of a wolf, along with a marker similar to an historical one.

“What does it say?” asked George as I approached the marker before he did.

“It says, ‘Dunker’s Bend, the birthplace of Edward McMahon DuPont Wolf, who was stolen from his family while they worked in the fields and lived the rest of his life in the wild. Three hundred feet from this marker Edward met his end when he returned to town and died trying to save his family. That place is marked by a small plaque.’”

“Hmm. Sounds like an interesting story,” replied George. “We haven’t had a good one for awhile.”

“Not since our last trip,” I said.

The statue and marker sat on town land, but adjacent to it began a series of small houses, which if one followed, would lead into the downtown area in about three blocks. A large, unkempt man sat on a dirty, worn, overstuffed chair on the front porch of the first house. The only article of clothing from his waist upward was a sleeveless t-shirt that had many dirty spots on it. Although it was only 9:30 a.m. the man drank beer with enthusiasm. Cigarette butts lay everywhere surrounding him, the products of his chain smoking.

“Reading about Wolf?” he yelled at us, and then before we could answer he jumped from the chair and cussed profusely because he had burned himself with a cigarette.

“We’re just looking at the marker and the statue,” replied George.

“Most people think that’s the highlight of the town,” he snarled. “Maybe it is. Young people leave and never return. Farmers can’t make a go of it. The town’s dying. It’ll be a ghost town in another twenty years, as soon as all us old-timers are gone.”

George and I wandered closer to the man, but paused when we got about ten feet away and his body odor accosted us, the dominant scent being urine.

“We are a little curious,” said George. “What’s the story behind it? Is it a good one?”

The man popped another can of beer, drank half of it, and then followed that with lighting his third cigarette since we had stopped.

“I’m about ready to go to bed—I work third shift at the fertilizer plant in Olfron. You know where that is?” We said no in unison. “Nearly everybody in town works there. If that place would close that’d be the end of us overnight.

“I got home about 45 minutes ago. Thought I’d have some breakfast before going to bed. You want any?”

By this time, we had perfected our synchronized negative responses, and executed one here that would have scored high marks.

“Hold on a minute,” said the man, “while I light up a smoke. Name’s Gleeson, by the way. Gleeson Hardesty. Lived here all my life. Will be buried here as well, right up in that cemetery on the little hill across the road.”

George introduced himself and me to Gleeson, who by this time had drained the remainder of the liquid from the can and popped another. He then took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned back in his chair.

“Kind of a sad story, really,” he began. “Back in the late 1800s—1893 I believe—Dunker’s Bend was a thriving, prosperous farming community. That kind of changed overnight, though, when a group traveling in wagons pulled through the town and made camp out in Jude Beldore’s field, just past the last house on your left down there.”

At this point I believed Gleeson Hardesty was about ready to expire, for he engaged in a terrific coughing attack that lasted three or four minutes. He gasped for air, and the sound his lungs made resembled a blacksmith’s bellows. Eventually he regained his faculties.

“Sorry. Think I might be allergic to grass or some type of pollen. Think Mrs. Franke had her grass cut last night. I get coughing fits like that regularly. Gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.

“Anyway, as I was saying, this group of people pulled into town and made themselves a little camp. In the evenings they would bring one of the wagons to town and sell things out of it. Did some singing and fortunetelling, too. People didn’t mind for awhile, but then things turned up missing around town, and people blamed this group.”

“Sounds like they might have been gypsies,” said George.

“That’s what people called them,” Gleeson replied. “The town wanted to run them off, but most everybody was afraid of them. Finally, they talked Horace DuPont into doing the dirty work for them. He was the tallest, strongest man in town, that’s why they chose him. Big old farmer, hands as big as pie plates.

“Horace approached the group one evening, told them they had to leave, and boy, did they ever get mad. Started yelling at him, throwing things at him and making it look like they was going to kill him with something or other. He finally just said, ‘When morning comes you’d better not be here,’ and turned to walk away.

“An old lady, possibly the mother of the entire group, came out of the back of a wagon and started saying things to him, chanting like. The only thing Horace remembered her saying was something like ‘Loopus, Loopus’ over and over.”

“Lupus,” I said. “Latin for wolf.”

“That’s it,” said Gleeson. “That’s what everybody told Horace it meant. Wolf. But the very last thing she said was something about his son and how the curse was on him.

“The group was gone by next morning and everybody breathed easier. Two days later Horace was working out in the field and all eight of his children were either working with him or playing along the side. His youngest, a boy named Edward McMahon DuPont—McMahon was his mother’s maiden name—was playing in the grass beside one of the fields. The child was only three years old. The family dog was there with it, and the mother was inside the house doing work.

“Horace and his kids worked their way down the field and nearly got out of sight of Edward. They completely lost sight of him when the field curved around to the left.

“All of a sudden they heard this terrible cry come up from the dog and some other growling sounds. Horace ran to where he’d last seen Edward and the dog, but when he got there the dog was a mangled, bloody mess. It had been chewed to pieces. But worse than that, Edward was gone. No signs of him, no chewed up body, none of his blood. He had just vanished. Despite a desperate search, Edward was not found.

“Some strange occurrences started happening in and around town shortly after. Small animals were mauled to death and people began seeing animal tracks all around their places. These appeared to be wolf tracks. Soon people began seeing the wolves. The whole town became afraid to go outside. Men worked in the fields with a gun at their side.

“People estimated there were at least five wolves in the pack because sometimes they had seen three to five wolves traveling together. These weren’t coyotes, mind you. They were wolves.”

George interrupted. “Had there been wolves in the area before?”

“Not for years,” replied Gleeson. “It’d probably been half a century since the last wolf had been spotted. All of a sudden a whole group shows up.”

Gleeson paused and looked at me. “You’re thinking something. Get it out, what do you want to know?”

I hesitated before saying sheepishly, “Am I right in thinking where this story’s going? The wolves stole the child from the edge of the field?”

He popped another beer, chugged it, and then opened another one.

“You’re right,” he said. “Dang wolves had kidnapped that poor boy. They kept him alive, too.”

“Oh, come on!” said George. “Wolves don’t really raise kidnapped children. They’d kill them and eat them first.”

“Let me finish my story,” Gleeson said, “and then think what you want.

“Now, nobody knew the wolves had taken Edward until one day about seven or eight years later when he was spotted running around with a couple of wolves across a field. Stark naked he was. Sniffed around on the ground like wolves. The farmer who saw them called out to them, but the boy just howled at him and took off running.”

“This is unbelievable,” I muttered.

“It is, but it’s the truth,” said Gleeson. “Now let me tell you how it all ended.

“The wolves started getting bolder and bolder, actually coming into town. Many times Edward was spotted with them. The worst part was that a couple more children were killed, apparently by the wolves, and a few other people were viciously attacked. People wouldn’t go outdoors at all, they were so afraid. So the men got together and decided they were going to wait for the wolves next time they came around and kill them all. They waited and waited in the street for three days, taking turns going home to sleep.

“Finally the wolves showed up. The men started firing and the wolves started howling and crying out in agony after they got shot. Most of the wolves were down when down the street comes Edward, howling at the top of his lungs. He races in and tries to drag the wolves away to safety. The men tried to come closer, but Edward turned on them and attacked two, biting them and clawing them.

“The men surrounded Edward and the wolf bodies. He was insane, attacking here and there and causing a lot of damage. He finally got one of them down on the ground and started biting his neck. It was obvious he was going to kill the man, so one of the others in the group went ahead and shot Edward and killed him. It was Horace that shot him.”

Gleeson paused long enough to smoke two cigarettes while George and I discussed his story quietly.

“We’ve heard some strange ones, but this takes the cake,” I said.

“I can believe the story about the guy with the washing machine hose down his throat before I can believe this,” George replied.

Gleeson resumed, “It was a terrible day, a terrible day. Poor Horace. Not only did he lose his son, but then years later he had to go kill him as well.”

“Couldn’t that have been some other person and not Edward?” I asked.

“No. Edward had an unusual birthmark on his back, kind of resembled a howling wolf’s head. Everybody in town knew it. This one did, too.”

George laughed. “I’m sorry, it seems a little too far-fetched,” he said.

“Don’t blame you for not believing,” replied Gleeson. “No one ever does except the people around here. That’s why we built the statue and the marker because we don’t ever want to forget. And that’s why we don’t like strangers, either, not that I don’t like you guys, but those strangers caused all the problems.

“See, after all them wolves had been killed, and Edward, too, the men went to look at the wolves’ bodies, and what do you think they saw? The wolves had changed into them strangers, those gypsy people. They’d been running around all that time changing into wolves, they stole the boy and raised him as one of their own. They took vengeance on the whole town because the town run them off.

“Now I don’t mean to be unkind, but if I was you, I think I’d take care of business in town and leave as quickly as you can. Like I said, people around here don’t like strangers, and if you stay too long, well, I couldn’t really guarantee your safety.”

We left promptly, heading in the direction of the next covered bridge, noticing people coming out their front doors as we drove past them. After we exited the town limits, I grabbed George’s arm and told him to pull off the road and stop the car.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you hear that?”

It was faint at first, but then grew louder.

“It’s just the wind, that’s all,” George said. “But it sure sounded like a pack of wolves to me.”

Darryl’s Epiphany


Darryl took off half a day of work because of urgent personal business. He could think of nothing more important, and he filled his mind with anxiety.

Just this morning before walking out the door his wife told him, “Don’t be surprised if you come home to an empty house tonight. I may be gone, and if I am, I’ll never come back.”

These were the final words in a three-day rolling argument. For years, Becca had pointed out his thoughtlessness concerning her, overlooking birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. These made her feel unloved, she asserted. She had continuously complained about his bullying her, his arrogance, his combativeness, and his unwillingness to be humble enough to admit when he was wrong.

Countless times, she had begged him in tears to stop demeaning her in public. “After all, I am your wife, and if that’s what you really think of me, it’s nothing more than a reflection on you—how you weren’t smart enough to make a good choice of a wife.”

When he left for work, Darryl did not care if she left, he might possibly welcome it. It would only go to prove her stupidity, he thought. What woman in her right mind would leave a man like him? He was a good provider, he possessed outstanding physical features, and over the years many women had made overtures to him, all of which he had declined.

Sometime around ten o’clock, while sitting in his cubicle and talking to a client on the telephone, it was if the blindfold lifted from his eyes. His wife’s words over the years came back to him, and for some reason he now understood they were true. In horror, he relieved moments where he had publicly shamed her, and times when he had gone out of his way to make her appear stupid. He recalled the missed special days, how he had made her cry and feel rejected, and how he had completely failed in being a good and loving husband to the woman he had married.

Leaving work at noon, he went to the floral shop, then to the department store and picked up perfume and clothing. He stopped at a gift store and purchased items she had said she wanted over the years but which he had refused to buy her. He booked a vacation—in actuality a honeymoon, which he had never given her—in the Caribbean. Darryl could not think of enough places to stop and things to purchase because he hoped he could make up for 17 years of cruelty in an afternoon of unfettered spending.

Becca arrived home at 5:30 every evening, so Darryl timed his arrival to be a few minutes later. Although he did not see her car, he assumed she had parked it in the garage and closed the door, so he bounded in the front door, calling her name. That itself should have signaled a change to Becca, for he never called her by name.

Silence greeted Darryl. He walked through the house in search of her, but his calls echoed emptily. He found her note on the kitchen table.

Becca had gone through with it. She had left him, and she promised the finality of it. Nothing he could do would win her back. She triple underlined the word nothing.

Earlier in the day, he did not care if she left, but now he did. For the first time in his married life, he ached, he cried, he felt rejected, he felt despair. He had inflicted all this on his wife for 17 years and had experienced it just this once, and wondered how she had endured all that time.

Why the epiphany of his wrong behavior if there was no hope of reconciliation, he wondered. This was not a mystery for long, though. After a few moments of mediation, he understood completely. Without that revelation he could never have suffered as he was now, he never could have understood the torment his wife had endured, and he would have put the blame on her instead of upon himself.

Fred’s Guardian Angel


Fred wore the title of town drunk with distinction, although in practice he was neither the town drunk, nor did he make drinking a state of existence. True, he could tie one on with the best, but he usually limited his imbibing to Saturday nights in particular, and any other night when he felt thirsty.

Fred’s inability to read, write, or perform basic mathematical functions aggravated his reputation in town, and citizens played him for the fool to his face but ridiculed him behind his back. On daily visits to the barbershop to spread and receive gossip, Fred became the butt of cruel jokes instigated by patrons.

“Say, Fred, how old are you?” a man waiting for the next open chair might ask.

“Well, let’s see,” Fred would reply. “I was born in 1929, and it’s now 1984, so I’m 47 years old.” In truth, the current year might be 1987.

The men in the shop would give a predictable answer by staring at him in amazement and telling him he did not appear that old, and they would never laugh at him while present. After he left the shop, though, they cackled and hooted and said they could not wait for the next day, for then he might say he was 73 years old.

Despite his reputation, Fred possessed a gentle spirit, loving animals and children, and both groups reciprocated his affections. Children, who generally have a sense about good and evil about them at a young age, felt safe around him, while their parents harbored the same feelings and never shooed Fred away.

Fred had a long-time companion wherever he went, one of the ugliest dogs ever to walk the face of the earth, a severely mixed breed named Harold. Fred said he had named the dog after his own father because the dog resembled him. His father’s name had really been Jackson, but no one bothered to tell Fred that. Jackson had been a businessman and important person in the town, had served on town committees and had helped establish the bank. He also had spearheaded the drive to improve the local schools. Fred barely recalled his father, though, who had died 40 years previously.

One morning Fred awoke and reached over his arm to pet Harold, but for the first time in remembrance, Harold was not there.

“Harold! Harold, where are you?” he yelled. He kept calling as he walked through the rooms, but no reply came.

When he got to his front room, a room most families would call their living room or family room, Fred looked with dismay at an unexpected sight. Someone had come into his house overnight and had stolen some things, knocked over a few pieces of furniture, and broken lamps and bowls. Technically, it could not be labeled a break-in, for Fred never locked his doors, not possessing the knowledge of how to lock and unlock them.

He cussed for five straight minutes as he walked about the house, examining the damage. Then he washed his face and walked to the police station, walking because he could neither ride a bicycle nor drive a car, even if he owned one.

“What’s the matter, Fred?” asked the chief, Willard Barker, with a smile. “You look all out of sorts this morning.”

“Someone’s robbed me,” said Fred. “While I was asleep. Came in my house, broke things, stole things from the living room, turned over some chairs and such.”

Barker became serious. “Robbed you? Robbed you? That’s hard to believe.”

“It’s true! Come on down to my place and check it out. I ain’t touched nothing. Left it just like it was. It’s a shame a body can’t live in his own home in this town without the fear of getting robbed when he was asleep.”

The chief and Fred got in the squad car and headed towards the house.

“Can you turn on the siren?” asked Fred. “I want everyone to know this is official police business.”

The chief complied, even letting Fred turn the switch.

At the house, the chief surveyed the damage and shook his head while taking notes.

“Did they get anything valuable?” he asked.

“Durn tootin’ they got something valuable,” snapped Fred. “They took Harold!”

“Harold?” quizzed the chief. “Your dog? Why would they want your dog?”

“He’s my bestest friend in the whole world. He’s the most valuable thing I got.”

“I’m not understanding this,” said Chief Barker. “How did this happen when you were home?  They had to have made some noise. And they took Harold. Wouldn’t he have barked or something and woken you up?”

Fred cussed around a little bit and hung his head before saying, “Well, Willard, I weren’t really feeling well last night when I fell to sleep. I-I-I guess I was pretty well dead to the world.”

“Oh,” replied the chief, “you mean you might have drunk a little too much last night?”

Fred still would not look the chief in the eye.

“I suppose so,” he replied. “I mean, I got started and…well, I didn’t stop. Now you know I don’t do that often! Just every once in awhile, particularly when I’m feeling a little lonely, and last night I felt pretty low. Not as low as I’m feeling now. Why’d they have to take Harold? They could’ve had anything in the house they wanted. I ain’t got no use for chairs and tables and dishes and lamps and glasses, but my dog! They took my dog!”

Chief Barker resumed writing, making descriptions of things as he saw them. Then he turned to a blank page in his book and asked, “Could you tell me exactly what they took? Do you know?”

Fred fumbled around for words and walked about the room. Chief Barker felt sorry, knowing that Fred actually did not know what the thieves had taken because he did not know what he had in his house.

“Aside from the dog,” Fred said at last, “the only thing I really know is missing is a box of coins and medals from on top of the fireplace, along with a sword that hung over it. My dad left all that for me. He said they were given to him by his grandfather, or maybe even his great-grandfather, I don’t remember. Dad said they had some value. I guess they did. Never meant anything to me, though.”

He walked sullenly around town the rest of the day. Everyone had heard about his loss, so people treated him with kindness. At the barbershop, the owner, Lawrence Tyler, asked if the police had any leads.

“Nothing,” replied Fred. “All I want back is Harold. They can have the rest. What am I going to do without Harold? He’s my onliest friend in the world. He helps me get home when I’ve been out drinking. If I go the wrong way, he barks until I’m back on the right path. Smartest dog in the whole world, he was.”

Fred openly cried, the only time anyone in town could remember him doing so when he was sober.

Night fell about eight o’clock, and Fred meandered back to his house, crestfallen. He did not bother to turn on the lights, but went directly to his bed and flopped on it, but sleep would not come.

A few minutes after ten o’clock there was an urgent pounding on the front door, followed by a loud voice he recognized as Chief Barker’s.

“Fred! Open up! It’s important! Open up!” yelled the chief, who came to the house personally because Fred did not have a telephone.

Fred cussed at the chief as he walked through the house and mumbled, “Can’t leave a man alone when he’s at his lowest point. Have to disturb a man in the middle of the night,” he mumbled. “What do you want?” he barked at the chief when he opened the door.

“Fred! Come with me! Down to the station! There’s something—you won’t believe it—there’s something you’ve got to see!”

“I ain’t in no mood to come to the station,” said Fred. “I want to stay here!”

“It’s about your robbery. Come on!” and he grabbed Fred’s hand and drug him out the door. Fred had to return to the house to retrieve his shoes, however.

At the station, the chief took Fred to his office. “Look!” he said, pointing at a sword lying on his desk.

“What? Where’d that come from? That looks like my sword!”

“It is your sword,” replied the chief.

“Did…did you capture the thieves?” asked Fred.

“No, not yet anyway. Sit down. You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you.”

Fred handled the sword and sat down.

“I’m glad to get it back, but it’s not really what I want,” he said. “I want Harold.”

“Harold was here!” said the chief.

“What?” said Harold, who perked up. “Where is he now?”

“He was right here. Right here in the police station. He came walking into town with this sword in his mouth, and I was sitting outside on a bench, When I saw it was him, I called him over. He walked right up to me and dropped the sword at my feet. I picked them both up and took them inside.

“I started to look at the sword to see if there might be prints or anything else on it that could help us find the thieves, Harold took off out the door when an officer opened it. I took off after him, but he ran away too fast and it was dark and I couldn’t find him. This was about 25 minutes ago. I’ve got a couple of officers out looking for him. Hopefully they can find him.”

Fred started crying again, saying he wished he could have Harold again. He said he would give anything—even give up drinking—if he could only have his dog back.

An officer radioed the station and told the chief they had not found Harold and did not even know where to begin looking. The chief told them to ride around for another half an hour and maybe they could spot him.

Fred sat dejectedly in the office while Chief Barker examined the sword some more. Suddenly the chief yelled, “Fred, do you know what you have here?”

Fred looked up and replied, “A sword, but no Harold. What’s it matter?”

“No, no. This sword! Do you know what it is?”

“It’s a sword. An old sword.”

“Yes, it’s a sword. Listen, Fred, I collect swords myself. I go to shows and see collectors. Do you have any idea how much money this sword is worth?”

“I’ll sell it to you for twenty bucks,” said Fred. “That’d give me a couple drunks, probably.”

“Fred, I can’t give you twenty dollars for this sword. It’s worth thousands of times that much. It’s a—“

Barking at the police station door interrupted the chief. Fred and Chief Barker raced outside, and there stood Harold. At his feet was the box from the fireplace. His tail wagged briskly, and when he saw his master and friend, he jumped into Fred’s outstretched arms.

“This is all I need,” said Fred joyously. “Keep the sword, keep the box with the coins and stuff. Just let me go home with Harold. I’m the happiest man alive.”

However, when Fred placed Harold on the ground, the dog took off running again, stopped about a hundred feet away, and barked repeatedly.

“He wants us to go,” said Chief Barker. “He wants us to go with him.”

Chief Barker and Fred got in the police car and followed Harold slowly. The dog took them to a house in the country, where the chief found two drunken young men. A little examination of the room determined that these were the thieves.

The entire town rejoiced in Fred’s good fortune and marveled at Harold.

“Smartest dog I’ve ever known,” echoed the entire contingent in the barbershop.

People greeted Fred and Harold on the street with exuberance. Children wanted to pet the dog, something the dog did not object to.

Chief Barker came to Fred’s house two days later.

“I’m not going to go into detail about all thsi, because I don’t think you’d really care,” he began. “Just let me say that’s an extremely rare sword. There are people who would pay you probably two hundred thousand dollars to buy it, maybe more. But that’s not all. Do you know what was in that box? Have you ever looked in it?”

“No, not in years” said Fred. “My dad said it was some coins and some papers. I can’t read so I didn’t care about the papers. The coins were pretty, though.”

“Some of those coins,” said Chief Barker, “are priceless. They’re not safe to keep in your house, same as the sword. Some are over 200 years old and date back to before the American Revolution. If coin collectors knew you had these, they’d be begging you to sell them, and they’d pay you more money than you can imagine.

“That’s not all,” he continued. “Those papers are important. Some of them are bank stock. As of this moment you are one of the most important stock holders in the bank, and you are an extremely wealthy man. Between the sword, the coins, and the stock, Fred, you are undoubtedly the richest man in town.”

“Is that so?” replied Fred, apparently not caring. “Chief, I don’t know nothing at all about money. I can’t add or subtract. Can’t even sign my own name, so I don’t know where having a lot of money does me any good. But one thing I do know—I am the richest man in town because I’ve got Harold. He’s all I care about, and he’s all I need.”

Chief Barker took care of Fred’s financial interests by putting the sword and the contents of the box in a safe until he could find a permanent home for them. He also managed his affairs concerning the bank stock and helped to insure a secure, stable life for Fred as long as he lived.

“What about that dog?” asked the barber of Chief Barker one morning shortly thereafter. “Did you ever figure out why he brought that particular stuff back?”

“It’s beyond explanation,” replied the chief. “I’ve thought about it for a long time, and you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve come to think maybe the dog is the smartest one in that house. Who knows? Maybe the dog has been sent to look out for Fred. Are there such things as angels in the form of animals?”

The Covered Bridge Chronicles – Doreen


The Great Depression is a time in our country’s history that holds much fascination for many people. Our father grew up during the Depression, and he related a few things about how tough times were and about the effects of widespread gambling and control of entire cities by unsavory elements.

George had visited a particular bridge in a county not too distant, about an hour’s drive, and he wanted me to see it and photograph it. On this visit we made a connection to the Great Depression era, one that we will never forget, and one that put us in an uncomfortable position.

The particular bridge—Swan’s Creek Covered Bridge—was not a large span, just a little over 100 feet, but it was in immaculate condition, even though its location was rural. George drove through the bridge and pulled off the side of the road, leaving me to exit the vehicle in weeds up to my hips. This did not concern George, for he left the car and stepped directly on the pavement.

“Did you bring anything to wipe off with?” he inquired, referring to our numerous cases of chiggers and other things that made us itch after our excursions. I looked at him and laughed, which he returned. We never brought anything that would protect us from nature, and we usually suffered for days afterwards.

Most of these covered bridges, at least the ones that are not miniature in length, have approaches to them that rise, meaning the automobile must ascend before entering either end. A house sat in a gully off to the right, and an old woman in an old, dirty dress with mussed hair sat on the front porch. The house was little more than a shack that appeared as if it had not been painted in decades, the growth around the house was out of control, and in general, the house looked as if it were only days from ruin, standing like the House of Usher.

George waved in his most amiable post office counter employee manner, but the woman did not acknowledge him, which was rather unusual compared to most of the people we had encountered in rural areas on our travels.

“Maybe she’s blind,” I whispered, but George did not hear me because he suffered from the condition of all Burton family members—we are aurally impaired.

George then turned to me and attempted to whisper, “Maybe she’s blind,” but it was not really a whisper since people who have difficulty hearing frequently talk loudly, maybe so they can hear themselves. In this case, George’s whisper likely could have been heard over the sound of a passing semi, had one been passing.

“I ain’t blind!” spouted the woman. “And I ain’t deaf! Just didn’t feel like waving.”

She talked loud enough even for us to hear her, so we walked down the slope and to her porch. She made no effort to prevent us, but I visually searched around for her gun nonetheless.

“Hello,” yelled George when we arrived. “We’re here to take pictures of the bridge.”

“You don’t have to yell,” she replied. “I think I can hear better than you. You boys must be from the city. Only city boys would be interested in taking a picture of a bridge.”

“Well, I like photography more than bridges,” said George, holding up his camera. “Bridges are good objects to photograph.”

“I’m just along for the ride,” I added. “We’re brothers.”

“I can see that plain enough,” she said. “So you like bridges?”

“This is a pretty good one,” replied George. “It’s in really good shape, has a fresh coat of paint on it, and I can get a pretty good perspective on it.”

“We do keep it up. That we do,” she said. “This bridge has been around all my life…my entire life. You can see right up there at the entrance it tells the year it was built—1877. Been talk about building a new bridge and tearing this one down. They say we need a two lane bridge. But people put up such a protest they decided to keep it up and not build a new one. A new one wouldn’t last as long as that one anyway.”

I introduced George and me, and she gave her name as Doreen Loevhardt.

“Have you lived here long?” I asked. “I mean in this house?”

“I’m 86 years old,” said Doreen. “My pa built this house in 1905. He wanted to marry my ma, but her parents wouldn’t have any of it until he was established, so he bought some land and built the house and started farming. I guess that satisfied ma’s parents because they married in 1909 and I was born in 1910. Born right here in this house, haven’t lived a day anywhere else my entire life.”

“You don’t have any family?” inquired George.

“None living. I had three sisters and four brothers, but they’ve all passed on. Lost my favorite sister Lula just last winter. She was the last one. I never married…”

A sad, distant look ran across her face.

After an awkward pause, George said, “I think we’re going to take a few pictures and be on our way. It’s been nice meeting you.”

As we turned she said, “No, no, don’t go yet. You boys have time for a story?”

“Sure,” said George with a chuckle. “Always have time for a story.”

“Have a seat then,” Doreen said, and we deposited ourselves on her steps, most of which needed replacing. “I’m getting old and have no friends and as I said no family left. Oh, I have some nieces and nephews, but hardly know any of them by name. They never came around when they were growing up. I was always kind of known as the Old Maid aunt, crabby and not wanting anyone around.

“I am feeling my years, and to be frank, I believe I may be departing this world soon. There’s a story I want to tell someone—I guess to clear my conscience. Would rather tell it to strangers than someone from around here, so you’re it. You boys have to promise me you won’t say a word about this until I’m gone. Do you promise?”

George and I shrugged our shoulders, and then George said, “OK, we agree.”

“Then I’ll tell you. Mind, no one has heard this story, ever. Not even my brothers and sisters. I’m the only living soul who knows the truth.

“The year was 1930, I was twenty years old. It was the Great Depression and times were very hard. There was a lot of organized crime—the mobs, you know. We felt the effects of gangsters even in our part of the state, not a place you’d think they’d be interested in. A lot of farmers lost everything, and there were so many people out of work you couldn’t believe it. No jobs, no money, nothing. Somehow Pa held onto the place, though I don’t see how. I’ve often thought he somehow got involved with a mob, but I can’t say that for certain. He always said he believed there was hidden treasure around there, like a gold mine or something, and maybe he found a little bit to pay the taxes, I don’t know.

“There was a young man who interested me, and he came calling on occasion. John was his name. Pa didn’t particularly like him, but he didn’t forbid him seeing me. I desperately wanted to leave home, get out of this place and move to a city, where I could experience life, have some fun, and get married. John seemed like he was going to be the one who would take me out of here.

“But he got involved with a mob—I don’t remember which one, hadn’t wanted to think about it—but they had influence in the county and grew in power. John told me he ran errands for them. I suspect the errands was running money from their drugs, prostitution, and gambling operations. Used to be a big casino in the county, right in the county seat. You won’t get anybody around here to talk about it, though. People denied it even when it was here. Had the local and county politicians in their pocket, along with the police.

“I talked to John about getting married, but he kind of squirmed around about it. Said he wanted to establish himself first. I don’t know, maybe he wanted to take a bigger part in the mob. Maybe take over local operations or something. But he kept putting me off.

“Still, he called for over a year, and I thought I was starting to break him down. Finally he hinted we’d get married, but he wouldn’t set a date, but that didn’t concern me because I figured it was just a matter of time.

“Everybody around knew John was working for the mob. Pa never said anything, but I could tell he didn’t like it when John showed up. I didn’t care what people said about me running around with him because like I said, I wanted out.

“One of the runners had made out with a bunch of the mob’s money, but hardly anyone knew about it—I didn’t. It was nearly seventy-five thousand dollars. I know he wasn’t involved because at the time the money apparently was stolen, John was right here at the house, talking to Pa for a good long time, and then later sitting on the porch with me.

“The next night John didn’t show up at the house at the time he had promised, so I hitched a ride with someone driving by and went to town to look for him, hoping he hadn’t gotten into trouble. As I said, at that time I knew nothing about the stealing of the mob’s money. The news hadn’t gotten around yet. I knew he hung out at a place called the Lucky 7 Club, which was a place to dance, drink, and gamble.

“Sure enough, when I went inside, there he was, sitting in a corner with a floozy named Sadie Dunston. Sadie weren’t her real name, just what she went by. She was a prostitute and floor worker at the casino. It was obvious that John and Sadie were more than friends by the way they were acting, and more than once I had already found lipstick on his shirt, which he always had an explanation for.

“I thought we’d have it out then and there, and when I confronted him, he told me straight faced that Sadie was the girl he was going to marry and he had no intention of marrying me. Said he never had any intention of marrying me, and in fact he was at that time living with Sadie. She got all smart with me, too, but I belted her one right there in front of everybody.

“I got escorted out and hitched a ride home. I was devastated. I didn’t care if I ever left this place again…”

George put his hand on her arm when she paused. “That’s a sad story. I’m sorry,” he said.

Doreen cried for a short while. “Sorry,” she sniffled. “Ain’t cried since that day. Never cared enough to cry. But with my time running short…”

George and I looked at each other, at a loss for words.

After about two minutes she said, “Just wait, boys. That ain’t the end of the story. That’s not the part I really wanted you to hear. That’s only the story leading up to the real thing.

“I went out on the porch and decided to stay there all night. I thought maybe John would come by and tell me it was all a mistake, that he really was going to marry me and take me away. You know how people talk themselves into such things.

“About two o’clock in the morning I hear a car coming down the road, and I’m thinking it’s John. Sure enough, he comes through the bridge and pulls in the drive. And who’s in the car with him? That tramp Sadie.

“John said he just came around to pick something up, then he would leave, but I stepped in the house and grabbed Pa’s gun, the one he always kept behind the door, and I came out and told him to get and to take the tramp with him. She also got out of the car and together they started walking towards me. I lowered the gun and they took off walking real fast, didn’t even try to get back in the car, and I followed them into the bridge.

“John tried to talk to me, but I wouldn’t listen. Finally he turned around and explained again that I had been mistaken the entire time, that he’d never promised to marry me, and that Sadie was the one he loved. And then she said—I’ll never forget the words as long as I live—she said, ‘Why would he want you? You’re just a farm girl, you’ve got no class, and you don’t even know how to act like a woman. John could never marry anyone like you. You’re ugly and don’t even know it.’

“Her words ignited something inside me, and I killed them on the spot. Cut ‘em down with the shotgun. Their blood was all over the floor. I went and got his car, drove it to a place about a mile or so away and ran it over a cliff and walked back here.”

George’s brow creased. I knew he was thinking the same thing I was—this woman’s going to kill us before we leave.

“I think we’d better be going—“ George attempted.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Doreen. “I ain’t going to hurt you. I already told you I only wanted to clear my conscience before I die.

“Let me finish. The next morning their bodies were discovered. Naturally the police came and investigated. They came and asked everyone in the house the same question: Did you hear anything last night? I told them I’d heard a gunshot, just as others did. No one got out of bed because hearing gunshots in the country is nothing unusual. The police later discovered the car, and then I heard their version of the story.

“They knew about John’s involvement with the mob, probably because they were on the mob payroll as well, and they had already heard about the missing money and figured John had taken it. They concluded that the mob had caught up with him and brought him out here and executed him and Sadie. That was the end of the investigation.

“I think if they’d have asked me straight out if I knew any other information, I would’ve confessed. I was prepared to go to prison or even get executed from the moment I did it. They never asked because they didn’t need any other information, so I kept quiet.

Doreen paused, then she looked around her land, out into the fields that had gone unplanted for many years, and the places where trees had taken over and filled up what once had contained corn or soy beans.

“This land ain’t been worked in the last twenty years, ever since my brother Everett died,” she said. “He and my brothers never really worked it themselves, just shared it out to people. I ain’t got any use for money. Been living off my government check for over twenty years. Don’t have many expenses, just food and utility bills. I got a boy from town does my shopping and runs to the bank for me, and another one cuts my grass a couple times a year. So this farm ain’t much use to me. Now the nieces and nephews are going to get rich when I die. Not from me, but from this land. They’ll sell it off piece by piece and make a subdivision out here, a real nice once. They’ll get a whole lot of money out of this place, all six hundred and twenty-seven acres.”

Doreen brought a stern gaze into our faces.

“Now you boys, you promised me you’d keep quiet about this until I’m gone. You still good for your word?”

We said nothing, only nodded our heads, and then we left, took photos of the bridge, and drove home, talking nearly the entire way about Doreen’s story.

Three weeks later George read in the paper that she had died. We debated if we should tell the information we knew, but decided against it, knowing would make no difference one way or the other.

A few months later, though, an event happened that surprised us, even though it did not change our minds. The house went to the nieces and nephews, and they decided to tear it down. Under the floor of one of the rooms, they found over sixty-eight thousand dollars.

George and I speculated that John had actually stolen the money and hidden it in the house, probably with the father’s consent, and that Doreen’s execution had saved the mob the cost of his elimination. We surmised that Doreen’s father had decided to use the money to save the farm. George did some research a short while later about the father and discovered that he had died within a year of John, making it likely that he had never told his family about the money, and it had sat under the floor for over 65 years.

Element Fixer

The following is a work of science fiction. This is experimental for me.


Element Fixer

 “If this is successful, we’ve got it!” proclaimed an exuberant Roberts, clapping his hands.

“Chamber is secured,” said Kingly in a matter-of-fact voice. “Complete vacuum inside chamber.”

“No one break the seal until I give the word,” shouted Roberts. “At the first sign of anything abnormal, I want to know about it!”

Large red numbers that would begin counting upwards when the experiment commenced displayed 00:00 on a digital clock above the main screen. Twenty-three scientists intently went about their assigned duties at their monitors, yet still watched the main screen, something they would continue to do until the experiment completed. Sweaty, nervous palms punched buttons, and nervous beads of perspiration formed on the foreheads of many.

None was more nervous than Roberts. The whole project germinated from his brain, and success here would have a profound effect upon solving the world’s incessant problems of hunger for a couple billion people. The Element Fixer, as those involved called it, utilized engineered microbes to makes plants absorb whatever nutrients were available—even if the only ones available came from the air—and cause them to grow at an accelerated rate in environments previously unfit for crops. This would provide people with the ability to produce food nearly anywhere on the planet that contained soil—good soil, rocky soil, poor soil, it made no difference. Roberts even proclaimed that people would be able to grow crops in pure sand. He and his colleagues had spent over five years working together in this facility, and now came the climactic moment.

“Introduce subjects,” ordered Roberts.

A door about three feet tall and three feet wide slid open on a wall of the chamber, producing a loud swoosh as air filled it. A robotic cart carrying different types of vegetation in buckets of soil wheeled into the room. After placing the plants on the floor, the cart exited through the same door, which closed.

“Evacuate room again,” said Roberts.

After 15 seconds, Kingly replied, “Chamber once again secured. Complete vacuum.”

A one-foot cube also sat inside the chamber, on the far side of the room in the corner. It had a mechanical arm attached at one side.

“Introduce pure oxygen,” ordered Roberts.

“Oxygen introduced,” replied Brown, sitting in the second row, and the group heard a hissing sound inside the chamber again. After 30 seconds he added, “Oxygen saturation level complete.”

“Let’s begin. Raise Fixer panel,” said Roberts.

“Arm engaged…panel rising,” said Lewis, the scientist staffing a console closest to Roberts.

When Lewis gave the command to raise the panel the display began counting upward.

“Everybody make sure you are recording data,” said Roberts nervously. “Whether this works or something goes wrong, we’ll want to analyze everything.”

The mechanical arm completely removed the panel from the cube. Within a few seconds, the vegetation changed, growing larger and blooming in front of the scientists’ eyes. Roberts laughed heartily and said, “It’s working! Everyone watching? It’s working, just as we had projected, maybe better!”

The group stared at the screen for a number of seconds in silence, and then the scientists began congratulating each other and slapping one another on the back, proclaiming relief after all the hard work they had invested in the program.

The clock continued to run and all completed their assigned tasks, monitoring readouts of instruments. Occasionally Roberts issued an order to individuals or requested specific information. The plants continued to grow and became larger mature ones. Those plants which produced fruit naturally developed fruit within 15 minutes. Roberts and his staff were ecstatic.

At the 23:18 mark, one of the controllers, Walters by name, uttered a curse, and heads turned in his direction. At that same moment, the scientists heard a low hum, which lasted for about two seconds.

“What happened?” demanded Roberts. “Did something go wrong?”

Walters replied, “Yes. It was something I did—accidentally. I don’t know what effect it might have.”

Roberts looked panic-stricken. “What did you do? Tell me!”

Walters hesitated before speaking. “I—I introduced low-spectrum light into the chamber. Near the bottom of the spectrum. I caught it immediately, but I think we had a 1 ½ to 2 second exposure.”

Roberts barked orders. “Shut it down! Shut it down now! Everyone secure data.”

“Look!” said Kingly, pointing at the screen.

“No!” yelled Roberts. “No! They can’t be! They’re withered…useless…dead,” he moaned, staring at the remains of the recently thriving vegetation. Then, as all gazed in dismay, they witnessed the plants dissolving into fine dust.

“Meeting in an hour in the conference room,” said Roberts despondently after a couple of minutes of silence by everyone. “Bring your data. We’ll evaluate the viability of the project up to the light introduction, and analyze how the light made the difference. Or, who knows, maybe we’ll find out the light had nothing to do with it.”

Half an hour later a knock on his office door interrupted Roberts as he was making notes. “Yes? Come in,” he said.

Kingly barged in. “There’s something you’ve got to see,” he said, breathing heavily. “In the control room.”

Roberts demanded to know more, but Kingly ignored him and ran to the control room, where a few of the scientists had congregated and were staring at the monitor. Roberts peered at it for a few moments before he asked what happened.

Kingly spoke. “That was Phillips. He went in there after we had evacuated the chamber then re-filled it with standard air. Smithers was working the controls when it happened.”

Kingly summoned Smithers.

“Tell me what you saw,” said Roberts.

“It happened almost instantaneously,” said the other scientist. As soon as he opened the door, he stumbled and fell into the room. In a matter of seconds he disappeared—dissolved, and all that’s left is the dust you see there.”

“Did you take precautions immediately?”

“Yes. Shut the door, and evacuated and sealed the chamber. There was nothing that could be done for Phillips. Door was open just a few seconds, three or four at the most.”

Suddenly a look of horror shot across Roberts’ face. “Where did you evacuate the contents to? Not to the outside atmosphere, I hope.”

“No, sir. Holding tank number three.”

Roberts convened a meeting with the group, poured over the data, and discussed the possibilities about what had gone wrong. After this meeting, he met again with the four senior scientists on the project, and two hours later he requested the president send his senior military officer and whoever was in charge of the national space agency.


Within an hour the military chief of staff arrived, General Moore. The national space agency director, Dunkirk, came a half hour after that.

Roberts explained the project, about which each had heard, and the hypothesis of what caused it to run afoul and the effects it produced.

“I’ll explain in simplified form, but basically our project caused elements to be “fixed” so they could be best assimilated by vegetation. If you want to look at it one way, you could say that we had found a way to separate elements from compounds so the plants could use them directly. The project had been making excellent progress, and this was in actuality our final experiment before implementation in the world.

“Someone introduced an unintended factor by exposing the chamber to low-spectrum light, a part of the band not found in our world. We’re thinking this exposure somehow mutated our microbe and it took on completely different characteristics. The plants died, and when a person went into the room, he perished as well, in the same manner as the plants did.”

“So what is it?” inquired General Moore. “Has it become radioactive?”

“No, we don’t think that’s it. One of my colleagues, Kingly, has a theory which fits the data we collected, although we can’t explain why the light exposure caused the mutation. Kingly’s theory, and one I’m inclined to agree with until something else gives a better explanation, is that somehow our microbe mutated into an oxygen consuming engine.”

“Oxygen consuming?” said Dunkirk.

“Sounds unbelievable, but that’s what we think,” replied Roberts.

“Then that poses some real problems,” said General Moore.

“Yes,” said Roberts. “Some serious problems. Problems that threaten the existence of every living thing on the planet. Oxygen consuming, as in it can render, so to speak, oxygen out of any compound and consume it. I know that’s against the laws of physics, but we’re talking about something beyond the realm of our knowledge of physics. What container can we isolate this microbe in? Is there anything we have that in some way does not have oxygen in any of its compounds? Not too many. And if it escapes into the atmosphere? Our world would be annihilated in short time, hours or less. Our soil would be consumed, our water would be consumed, our breathing air would be consumed.”

“Where is it now?” asked Dunkirk.

“In a vacuum tank. Apparently being in a vacuum makes it inert or dramatically slows it down, like heat speeds up the motion of molecules and absence of heat slows them down. We’ll monitor the tank and see if there is any sign of decay. If so, we’ll have to find some way to transport it to another tank.”

The military took charge of the crisis, with General Moore in command. He employed Roberts and Kingly as top advisers, and Roberts’ team to handle the practical matters of the planet-threatening microbe.

General Moore also had a private meeting with Roberts.

“This is not a good time to bring this up—I don’t believe there ever will be a good time,” began the general. “I’m not chiding you, but you know you’re going to have to answer to these things eventually. What was your reason for creating this? Oh, I know, to benefit the people of the world. That’s not what I’m asking, and you know it. I’m asking the bigger questions. It has been a matter of scientific and even public debate for a few decades about engineering life. How could we possibly know the consequences of seemingly miniscule changes to something that you probably couldn’t see without an electron microscope anyway? Are we in a position, scientifically and morally, where we can go out and do these things with impunity?

“What about military uses? As far as I know the military has limited knowledge about it, other than the top members, and even what they know they’re not correct about. But what if a weapon was made of it? The whole world could be gone in a few minutes, just like it appears to be going now. Or what if we get a handle on it and use it beneficially for years, then some crazy leader gains control of it, one who doesn’t care about life? Poof! Everything’s gone.

“Sometimes you scientists are naïve in your beliefs. You see the potential for only good, and you refuse even to consider other things that could happen other than what you’d planned for. You remind me of people who go climbing up sheer cliffs in the mountains, or pull some extreme sport stunts, not considering the consequences if something goes wrong. Then when disaster strikes, they call for somebody else to come clean it up or rescue them, and they don’t even consider the cost of cleanup or the damage they do to people or the damage they inflict on those who survive.

“Like I said, the milk’s spilt already, and I’m not calling you to task for it—not yet anyway. I only thought you should think about what’s happened here because it could be all over for us and you might want to wrestle a little bit with your conscience before the end comes, if indeed it is coming.”

Roberts had heard these questions before and ignored them. He had been convinced his motives were correct, so he had deflected all media questions or governmental concerns for years. Sure, he and his colleagues had discussed possibilities, but they considered these extremely remote. At this moment his main hope concerning these questions was that he would find himself one day sitting nervously across from a committee and having to provide answers.

A seal at the top of the tank began showing signs of slow deterioration after two days. Roberts calculated they had three more days until the microbe would breach the seal. He suggested they find another container in which to put the tank, and create another vacuum inside of it should the seal give way. That was something that could not be maintained indefinitely, so Roberts told General Moore that the world had, in his estimation, 26 days to find a solution, to remove the microbe from the planet, or else it would perish, and all living things with it.

Dunkirk summoned a team from the space agency, and they devised a plan to rid the world of the microbe. If the agency could prepare an unmanned rocket to launch in the safety window time, the microbe could be sent into the vacuum of space, where, even if it were to be released, should guarantee the survival of the planet.

The group worked feverishly. Roberts monitored the tank and informed General Moore and Dunkirk of the progress the microbe made on the seal. The space agency transported the tank, along with the outside tank Roberts had suggested, to the launch area in preparation for the anticipated flight.

Time was very short, however, and Dunkirk told Roberts and General Moore that the launch possibly might not occur until there were mere hours or even minutes remaining. The government did not inform the population or any other governments of the threat to the world, so people continued about their day-to-day chores. Meanwhile, the government made preparations in case the rocket launch failed, but Roberts knew any plans were futile. A failed launch, or a tardy launch, meant death to the planet.

The scientists, the military, and the space agency personnel worked impatiently, attempting to see the plan to fruition.

“I don’t believe we’re going to make it,” said Roberts to General Moore a few days before the potential last day of the world. “It takes a whole lot to send a rocket into space, more than 26 days, anyway.”

“They’re ignoring standard precautions,” replied the general. “Why take all the precautions and lose days or a week. It won’t do them any good to have everything lined up perfectly if the world’s dead.”

When the final day arrived, the people working on the project had been four consecutive days without sleep. Roberts said that if this did not work, everyone would be sleeping permanently.

The rocket stood on the launch pad. Workers had carefully loaded the tanks in the payload area. The seal on the inside tank had failed many days previously, and according to Roberts’ calculations, the outer tank’s seal would do the same within two hours.

In the launch control room, engineers in charge of different parts of the operation begged for more time. Dunkirk viciously rebuked them, telling them to go with what they had and not to make the request again.

“We must launch within the hour!” he yelled into his headset. “Anyone who can’t be ready by then, tell me now and I’ll get someone to replace you. We launch in an hour!”

“That only leaves us 48 minutes,” murmured Roberts to Kingly. “Even if they launch in an hour, if the seal breaches while the ship is still in the atmosphere, it’s all over—life is over. “They must get it up.”

An hour passed, then another 20 minutes.

“Start the countdown!” ordered Dunkirk.

“How long will this take?” asked General Moore of Roberts.

“Fifteen minutes, assuming there’s no holds.”

“That cuts us down to 13 minutes,” said Kingly, shaking his head.

A warning light flashed and a buzzer sounded. A problem with an ignition sequencer made it impossible to continue the countdown, so Dunkirk ordered it on hold. A computer restart for that system synchronized all the systems again, but there remained only four minutes.

“Roberts spoke to Dunkirk via the headset, “Can’t stop any more. The next stop everybody on the planet dies.”

With 25 seconds remaining before lift off a technician begged Dunkirk to hold, but the director ignored the request. “Put me on speaker so everyone can hear,” he ordered. Then at the 10 second mark he counted audibly, “10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…go, go, go, go, go!”

Slowly the rocket lifted off the pad, and then climbed through the atmosphere. Among the cheers of “Fly!” and “Go, go!”, Roberts bit his lip, hoping against all hope. It must leave the atmosphere before the seal breaches, he thought. Only the vacuum of outer space will do. There the metabolism of this thing will drop to nearly nothing and the ship will coast endlessly. Then loudly he yelled, “Go! Go! Fly!”

The rocket propelled the small capsule beyond the atmosphere, then next stage engines propelled it to a velocity where it would escape the world’s gravity, and finally the planet was safe.

General Moore approached Roberts and grabbed him by the shoulders, and then looked him in the eyes. “Destroy the notes, destroy all data, destroy everything about your…project,” he said. “There are no hands in this world that can handle it safely, but who would only destroy us. We’ve been rescued at the last minute. This cannot happen again.”

Roberts merely nodded his head.

The tiny capsule moved through space. Roberts could not guess how many years it would continue on its journey. He hoped a star would suck it in, but he could not know whether that would destroy it or not. Maybe the light energy emitted by the star would cause another mutation, this one even worse and more destructive. Perhaps a piece of space rock would crash into it and end its existence.

The capsule had a trajectory that headed it towards another star system billions of miles distant. Perhaps it would take 1,000 years to reach, maybe even longer. If it remained on course, eventually it would cross paths with another planet full of oxygen and teeming with life on land, air, and in the water. The inhabitants of this place had at least a millennium to prepare if the capsule maintained its heading, but they were unaware they needed to do so. They loved their home, this bluish sphere they called Earth.

The Covered Bridge Chronicles – The Contest


The did not start out to be a good one for George and me. We had been used to jumping in the car, traveling fast via George’s leaded foot, and covering a lot of territory in 12 hours or less. This day shaped up early to be a frustrating one and each of us sensed it.

To begin, our sister and her husband had arrived in town earlier in the week, and wanting to spend some time with us, volunteered to go bridge hunting, which we enthusiastically agreed to do. Our sister Jane and her husband Tom had rented an automobile and Tom offered to drive.

As I have mentioned once or twice in earlier stories, when George drives we arrive at our destination well under the projected time as determined by AAA or web mapping services. With Tom behind the wheel, the time factor has a significant multiplier to it because he is at the opposite end of the spectrum as George.

The drive lingered, with us making a couple of stops that George and I alone would not have made, plus with the slower driving rate it took us a good hour to hour and a half longer to arrive at our destination than it had taken George and I to complete a couple of weeks prior to this.

We left at 7:30 a.m., and normally we would be taking pictures by 10:00 or 10:30. This day, however, found us approaching our destination nearing noon and searching for a fast food restaurant, which we spied and went inside with the intent of eating sitting down. Normally George and I ate food on the run to conserve time.

There were about 30 covered bridges in the county, and when we had last visited, we had photographed all of them in a day. That did not appear possible for this excursion.

A young man waited on us. I use the term man because he was not a teenager, but likely in his early twenties. The first thing one would notice about him was his face, which bore the appearance of having been beaten with a club or brass knuckles. He took our order and George ordered one of the meals that came with fries and a drink.

George desired a larger drink, so he asked, “How much more for a large drink?”

This question obviously bewildered the young man, for he stood speechless for a number of seconds, and after deep thought replied, “Just a little bit more.”

George waited for a better answer, but upon realizing none was imminent, he agreed to get the larger drink.

Meanwhile, waiting for our food, we overheard the young man arguing with a supervisor.

“But I’ve got to leave,” he protested loudly. “I’m still in the competition, in the championship!”

After considerable squabbling, the employee briskly walked out the door, not too happy.

We left the restaurant and headed to a town about 10 miles away. From there we could fan out in one of five directions and encounter numerous bridges. When we arrived in that location we came upon a mad scene, for it appeared as if the entire town had congregated along the main street, filling it completely. There were numerous cheers coming from the throng and faces looked happy.

Naturally, we parked and made our way to the crowd to discover what was taking place. At first we had difficulty seeing but then spied bleachers off to our right, which offered us a good view.

Inside a rectangular marked off area covered with tons of dirt were two men who were participating in various events, with each man apparently trying to prove he was the stronger, better man. Scattered about the rectangle were large objects, including automobile engine blocks, tremendous hunks of stone—limestone, I believe, from a nearby quarry—30-foot logs, and sundry other large things.

At this moment, the two men stood at one end of the rectangle behind a line. In front of each of them lay an anvil. A man dressed as a circus ringmaster held up his hand, in which he held a starter’s gun, and fired. Each man picked up his anvil and tossed it as far as he could. Meanwhile the crowd began counting down from 30. As soon as each man tossed his anvil, he ran to it, picked it up again and heaved it with all his might. At the end of the countdown, the man who had tossed his anvil the farthest was declared the winner and he was presented with a basket full of prizes, some of which we assumed was money.

George and I wished silently that we could have seen more of the competitions.

The items were cleared away from the arena, and men replaced them with rakes, hoes, shovels, bean poles, post hole diggers, sickles, and other objects that belonged in a tool shed or a barn.

Then the ringmaster roused the crowd with the announcement, “This is what you’ve all been waiting for. The competition’s been going on all week, and we’re down to our final two contestants. Give them a huge welcome as they make their way to the arena.”

The crowd complied and two young men went inside the marked-off area.

“Look,” said Jane, “it’s the guy from the restaurant!”

The young man who apparently could not tell a 30-cent difference in drinks strutted, bare-chested. There were welts, cuts and scars all over his arms, abdomen, face (which we had already seen) and back. The man at the other bore a similar appearance.

“I wonder what this is all about?” I asked no one in particular.

However, Tom had momentarily left us, and when he returned, he provided us with the necessary information.

“There’s been some type of man contest going on all week,” he said, “but it’s not just a strongest man or baddest man type of thing. They’re competing for a woman and a whole lot of money. The money and the woman go together. She’s an heiress or something. When she came into the money she knew every man would be out trying to get her to marry him, so she announced she would not entertain anyone’s advances, but that a contest must be held which would determine the worthiest man.”

“What’s the deal with all the farm equipment?” asked George.

“That’s part of it,” continued Tom. “They were each told they could choose 10 farm items to use in combat against their opponent. The only stipulation was that it could not run, like a tractor or chainsaw. But anything they can lift they can use as weapons. There’s no time limit and no time outs. When one of the two is not able to fight, the match is over.”

“That’s barbaric,” said Joan. “Something out of gladiator times. And fighting for a woman? How sexist can you get?”

“It was her idea,” observed Tom, but that did not appease our sister, who fumed and said she wanted to leave at least half a dozen times during the fight.

The fast food worker’s name was Billy, and his opponent went by Tad.

The fight commenced, and it was brutal. The opponents grabbed things that lay near them and mainly used them offensively, although at times the items had to be used in a defensive manner. Billy took a blow to the back with jumper cables, and blood immediately began to flow. He whacked Tad over the head with a garden hoe and later dodged a swinging spade.

The fight continued for nearly 15 minutes, but finally Tad finished off Billy with a rake handle to the gut, followed by an uppercut by the same weapon that left Billy in an unconscious heap. The crowd cheered violently throughout, but none so much as when the ringmaster raised Tad’s left hand in victory, declaring him the winner. He had attempted to raise Tad’s right hand originally, but the wrist lay at a crooked angle, obviously broken.

After tending to Billy’s wounds and bringing him back to consciousness and taking him out of the arena, the ringmaster announced that now it was time for Tad to receive his reward for winning the contest.

“And now, here is the object of this battle for manly mastery, Miss Isabel Greathouse!”

The crowd cheered their loudest cheer, and a path was parted along the side, as when Moses parted the Red Sea, and into the arena trod Isabel Greathouse.

George, Tom, and I laughed out loud at the sight of her, but Joan glowered in disgust. Isabel Greathouse was a woman who appeared to be around 50 years old, stood less than five feet tall and weighed at least 400 pounds. She moved as quickly as she could, but in no way could it be called running, to her future husband, put him in a bear hug and kissed him profusely.

We left the scene and hunted covered bridges, of which we found four. Neither Tom nor Joan were impressed with the marvels of covered bridge construction, so we cut our stay short in covered bridge country.

On the return home, George volunteered to drive. We stopped at the same restaurant that we had in the morning, and sure enough, Billy was again working, although his face was so swollen and bruised I do not see how he could do anything.

“We were at the contest,” said George as he stepped to the counter. “That was quite a fight you had.”

Billy mumbled something unintelligible from his swollen lips.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, I think you came out the winner, though. I mean, that’s about the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen,” George said.

Billy looked through one eye at him and replied in an acerbic tone, “Who cares what she looks like. I don’t want to be working here the rest of my life. I’d take the beating again if I could’ve won.”

“I don’t understand. You’d need an awful good reason,” replied George.

“Fifty million dollars is plenty of reason,” said Billy. “I’ll get over being beat up. Don’t know if I’ll ever get over being poor and having to work here the rest of my life.”

The Covered Bridge Chronicles – Alfred the Meteorologist


George and I had heard about a covered bridge a long distance away from us, the longest distance we would drive within the state, one that supposedly had a breathtaking view. While the location of nearly every bridge we visited was rural, this one seemed uniquely remote, not close to any town. Naturally, we took the long drive and the obscure location as a challenge and proceeded before daybreak on a Thursday in our continuing quest.

I used a vacation day to go with George and I had worked the previous evening and slept part of the drive, an action I knew might lead to navigation disaster, but when I awoke after a twenty-minute nap, I discovered George had somehow managed to say on the correct route.

“I’ve been flying on autopilot,” he said, chuckling because he knew my concerns about his ability to remain on course.

“Well, I figured I’d have to recalculate our course,” I replied, yawning and stretching. “Especially since it’s still dark.”

“If necessary I can navigate by the stars,” he replied straight-faced, which was an interesting statement considering it was impossible to determine which way was north on our map.

As has been previously related, the maps we had were considerably inaccurate most of the time, and once again, after not finding what should have been apparent, we elected to find the nearest town and ask for directions, hoping we were at least within an hour of the sought-for bridge.

A middle-aged man sat in his front yard in a lawn chair, and a well-mixed dog rested peacefully at his feet, so we elected him to be our direction-giver due to the lack of any other individual within view.

“Morning,” the man greeted us. “You strangers passing through?” The dog remained silent.

“Yeah,” said George, “we’re looking for Darr Creek covered bridge. You know where it is?”

The man spat on the ground near the dog, which did not move.

“You’re in the wrong part of the county, boys,” he said. “That bridge is about twenty miles southwest of here, along county road 575 south. It’ll take some figuring to get you there from here. No easy was to get there. I said twenty miles, but you may have to drive thirty or more to hook up with the right roads.”

We groaned and shook our heads.

“That’s a mighty fine bridge, though,” the man continued. “Why did you want to go there?”

“We take pictures of covered bridges,” I said, “and heard about that bridge. It’s supposed to be really pretty, we heard.”

“That it is. That it is,” the man concurred. “Name’s Dixon. Glad to meet you. Too bad, you shouldn’t go today.”

“What’s the matter?” asked George. “Is is closed off or being repaired? It hasn’t burned down, has it?” he said, recalling our recent outing at Carver’s Mill.

“No, nothing like that. The bridge is fine and still as lovely a place as ever. Just kind of stuck out in the middle of nowhere, though. When they built it, they put a lot of money into it for no reason. Probably aren’t five cars go over it a day. That’s because nobody lives out there, just a half dozen or so families. Really strange they’d build a nice bridge like that for a few people. People always said that the Monroe family paid for it. They’ve lived out there for a hundred and fifty years, and they’re the richest people in the county. Guess they didn’t want to drive their buggies or cars over a rinky-dink little bridge.”

He paused and George looked at the dog.

“Then why shouldn’t we go out there today?” I asked, hoping this time for a direct answer.

“Well, it’s like this,” Dixon continued, as I wondered whether Dixon was his surname or Christian name. “The weather’s not going to cooperate with you today. You’ll be taking pictures from inside your car to stay out of the monsoon.”

George looked at a partly cloudy sky. “It doesn’t look threatening,” he said. “In fact, this type of weather is ideal for picture taking.”

Dixon bent over and scratched the dog’s head. The dog turned inquiring eyes to him but remained in the same position.

“No, it’ll be coming down in buckets before you get there,” he said. “You haven’t got much time before the heavens open up.”

We could not disguise our unbelief. I peered into the sky and shook my head.

“You don’t see anybody outside this morning, do you?” Dixon took it up again. “That’s because they know a big storm’s coming. If I was you, I’d find me a nice place to ride it out. You’re welcome to come inside my house until it’s over if you want. I’ll be going in shortly myself.”

George laughed, but I studied the man.

“The weather service have a bunch of equipment out here?” George asked.

“No,” the man smiled, exposing big teeth. It looked like he may have had 40 or 50 of them in the confines of his mouth. “Got something better. Alfred tells us what kind of weather we’re going to have, and he’s not been wrong in fourteen years.” He bent over again and scratched the dog’s head. “This here’s Alfred.” He snapped his fingers and the dog immediately went into a sitting position.

“That’s pretty good,” I said. “How does he tell the weather?”

Alfred looked at me not unpleasantly, then he looked at the man, barking once.

“There, there, boy. They’re just curious. Guess you’ll have to show them.”

Then looking at us he said, “Alfred and I been telling people the weather, like I said, for a long time. I think he’s been able to do it all his life, but it took me awhile to figure out what he was trying to tell me. Once I ask him to tell me the weather, he sniffs the air, turns his face into the wind, and does some other things. Then he gives me the signs.”

“Signs?” said George. “What do you mean signs?”

“Signs,” replied the man. “Kind of like a baseball coach gives batters or base runners signs. Alfred has signs and that’s how he tells me. For example, after he does his thing, if he lays flat on the ground and puts his front paws over his head, there’s going to be a thunderstorm. If he runs under the front porch and does the same thing, there’s going to be a whole lot of rain and a whole lot of lightning with it. If he just sits there and looks around at things, it’s going to be a nice day to be outdoors. If he curls up around my feet, it’s going to be really cold. If he goes inside the house, snow’s on the way. He can even tell if there’s going to be frost or fog, hail or strong wind.”

George and I made some sounds, attempting to stifle a belly laugh and not insulting the man.

“Don’t you worry about thinking I’m crazy,” said the man. “The people around here they thought so too for a couple months before realizing Alfred’s amazing ability. Now everybody stops by in the morning to find out what the day’s going to be like. You want a demonstration? He can do it anytime. Just remember what I’ve already said. There’s going to be a pretty good storm today.”

“All right,” said George. “I think I’d like to see him predict the weather. This is interesting.”

Dixon addressed Alfred, told him he was a good dog, and explained in English that he was going to have to tell him the weather again. The dog remained impassive, waiting for a command.

“All right, Alfred, what’s the weather? What’s the weather?”

The dog sniffed the air a few times, emitting a low growl, which produced a quizzical look on the man’s face. Then he turned on an axis slightly to his left, directly facing the wind, emitting another low growl. After this he turned 180 degrees and stood, tail in the air and sniffed again. Finally he turned his head to the left at a right angle.

“All right, boy. Tell me,” said the man.

The dog barked five or six times. Then he dug a small hole with his front paws and put the muzzle of his nose in it. The man grunted, “This isn’t good.” Suddenly the dog whirled around, his rear end facing the wind, and took off running as fast as his legs would carry him for a hundred feet or so. He then turned abruptly to his right and ran another hundred feet. Then he stopped for maybe three seconds and ran to the street and down it to the right, barking the entire time.

“The school!” the man yelled. “The kids are in danger! Help everybody!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as suddenly the wind picked up. “A tornado’s coming!” he yelled and heads popped out of houses. “A tornado’s coming!” he yelled again, “and it’s heading right for the school. Quick! Let’s get the kids out of there before it’s too late!”

The rain commenced, falling from a horribly black sky, which seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. It came down in huge drops, and then started falling at a slant as strong winds propelled it.

People frantically ran or drove down the street, going towards the school, we assumed. George and I jumped in the car and followed those in cars, stopping twice to pick up people on foot.

When we arrived at the school, Alfred was barking madly at the door. As people from the town arrived, they ran inside the building and brought crying children outdoors.

“Where do we go?” inquired someone to Alfred’s owner.

“Go southwest,” he pointed in the direction of a community building a number of blocks away. “Alfred says it’s coming from the northwest and going southeast. Take them that way. It’s the safest place.”

The citizens took the students to the place the man indicated. Everyone sat with their hands over their heads as we heard the storm rolling through, with the typical freight train sound. The wind diminished a few minutes later and people ventured outdoors, though it was still raining.

“Look! Over there at the school!” exclaimed a woman.

“I don’t believe it!” said another. “Flattened.”

“The kids would’ve been…would’ve been…” sobbed another woman, unable to complete her sentence.

Dixon called for his dog, but was distraught when he could not find him.

“I saw the dog standing at the school door like a sentry,” said a neighbor.

“He wasn’t going to leave until everyone was out,” said Dixon, and then he broke into tears.

However, those tears dried quickly as we heard barking from a couple of blocks farther southwest of us. Alfred came running in, straight to Dixon, who hugged him with all his might.

The story became a sensation and was picked up by several news agencies. Alfred and the man had their pictures in local and regional papers and magazines, and a feature story appeared on a television newscast.

George and I did not get to take a picture of the covered bridge that day. We saved it for another trip later in the year. When we returned later that summer, we were pleased to find that the citizens had erected a small monument to Alfred right in the middle of the main intersection of downtown. We visited Dixon again, and Alfred, who seemed to remember us, wagging his tail as we approached, and then he came and stood next to us, nudging his head underneath our hand until we petted him. The man assured us Alfred still predicted—completely accurately—every day’s weather for the town, and no one ever doubted him.

140th Burton Family Reunion

Base of monument to John Pleasant
and Susannah Burton

This Sunday marks the 140th Burton Family Reunion at Burton Grove and Burying Ground in Mitchell, Indiana. I have participated in 20-25 of them, including almost every year since 1996, and a few years growing up when my parents would drag me there.

My branch of the Burton family arrived in Indiana in 1826, although the father of this tribe, a man named John Pleasant Burton, had been in Lawrence County earlier to secure land and seek out a place to move his family.

John Pleasant Burton and his wife Susannah Stamper Burton were prolific, as were there children. John and Susannah had 13 children, plus written records indicate they had adopted six more children. The attendees of the family reunion this Sunday all trace their roots back to John Pleasant and Susannah. A tall monument to them stands in the cemetery, erected in the 1800s by their descendants.

Neither John nor Susannah are actually buried at this location, but in an original and smaller family cemetery about three quarters of a mile away, tucked into the corner of a cornfield. Their markers are still there, although we had to repair them in the last 15 years.

Nearly all of the 13 children were adults with their own families in 1826, but they came to Indiana as well. Only one of the 13 remained in North Carolina. John and Susannah’s children harvested a great crop of children as well, and John and Susannah had 167 grandchildren.

Over the next couple of generations Burtons spread out all through Lawrence and Orange counties, and census records detail 1,700 of us there in the mid-1800s. Many moved west with the country’s westward expansion, though. A large group moved to Kansas, while others continued to the northwest part of our country. A big group has its annual family reunion in Kansas about the same time we have ours in Mitchell.

Our numbers of attendees have dwindled as people have moved away, and our attendance this year will likely be somewhere between 60-80. For our 125th reunion we had 165 attendees, the largest number anyone could remember.

There certainly have been bigger crowds than our 165. Two newspaper articles late in the 1800s ran a photograph and story of that year’s reunion, and it was much larger than any we have had of late.

All families have stories, and the Burton family is filled with them. A favorite is the story of John Pleasant Burton’s burial, in which a newspaper story gives an account of the large number of people there to pay their last respects. The number the paper gives is quite unbelievable, but it remains a family story nonetheless.

Also, John Pleasant Burton is reputed to have been buried in a vertical rather than horizontal position; that is, he was buried standing up. The lore also says that he was buried with a musket under one arm (he fought in the American Revolution) and a whiskey jug under the other (nearly everyone ran a still in those days.)