This story comes from the great West Virginia collector Ruth Ann Musick’s 1965 book The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales.
Don’t know about y’all, but had I ever been loved by two men, one of them a kind, gentle man whose first thought was to make me the happiest woman on earth, and the other a jealous cuss whose first thought was that I was his possession and the hell with my happiness, I’d take the kind, gentle one in a heartbeat.
It so happened, in the years before the Civil War, that a young, remarkably beautiful young girl named Mary Meadows was loved by two such men. One was named Tom Dixon. Tom was as handsome as Mary was lovely, and his good looks were not the only good things about him; he was, like that ideal lover I described above, good clear through. He was as sweet as he was handsome, he was a hard worker, and he clearly regarded Mary as a rare treasure, someone to cherish.
Her other suitor’s name was Jack Wilson, and if Tom Dixon was an angel on earth, Jack Wilson was a devil. Oh, he was handsome enough, and a hard enough worker, but he was, as the old people used to say, “quare”—that synonym reserved for the strangest of the strange. His love for Mary Meadows bordered on the obsessive. He scared her half to death.
When it came time for her to choose a husband, therefore, it was only natural that she chose sweet, bighearted, loving Tom Dixon. They were married, and settled on a farm he was building into a going concern, and they were ecstatically happy.
Jack Wilson, thwarted in his twisted love for Mary, went out of his mind. He gradually withdrew into his oddness, becoming a virtual hermit. He stopped talking to people, his hair grew long and shaggy, his clothes gradually went to rags, he stank of sweat and lust, and the look of madness in his eyes scared off the bravest of men. And in his madness, he lay in wait for a chance to kill Tom Dixon, and claim Mary for his own, and devil take the hindmost.
His chance came when he spotted Mary in Fairmount, the next town over from their home in Mount Harmony, without Tom, one late spring day when the crops were just beginning to sprout. Wilson didn’t approach Mary; he made for their farm, where he found Tom out in the field hoeing corn.
Tom knew from the look in Wilson’s eyes that he was a dead man unless he made a fight of it. With no good weapon near at hand, he ran as hard as he could until he fell by the well he’d hand-dug, filled with good sweet water from an underground spring. Wilson was upon him, but Tom got up and made it to the nearby shed, and found a weapon there—a scythe, that curved, sharp tool used at harvest to cut down wheat, cornstalks, whatever needed cutting.
Without hesitation, knowing it was his life or Wilson’s, he swung the scythe.
It took off Wilson’s head, slick as a whistle.
Tom Dixon, needless to say, was sick as a dog, watching the blood spurt from Wilson’s neck in great crimson jets, until his heart finally stopped. He vomited until it felt like his toenails were coming up. And then, he began to think. He knew that, more than likely, no charges would be filed against him, given Wilson’s known mania about the loss of Mary to his rival; it was a clear case of self-defense. But he didn’t want Mary to know; terrified though she was of Wilson, it would grieve her to know her husband was a killer.
And so, he threw Jack Wilson’s head into the well—irretrievably fouling the water—and dragged his body out into the woods. He even killed a suckling pig and tossed it into the well, vowing to tell Mary the pig had somehow fallen in and drowned and they couldn’t use the well anymore. He would cover it, first chance he got, and dig a new well, and that would be the end of it.
Of course it would.
Two weeks after Jack Wilson’s disappearance—no one, in truth, missed him; the people around were frankly glad he was gone–, Tom Dixon sold the farm. He and Mary—who seemed, inexplicably, to have aged twenty years in the two weeks—moved somewhere far west, across the Mississippi, and were never heard from again.
If their experiences in those two weeks were anything like those of the man to whom Tom sold the farm, no wonder they left.
His name was Salters. He didn’t stay long; long enough only to be the first to tell of how, on nights of the full moon, a man’s deep baritone would come from the direction of the woods: Where is my head?
And the voice would answer itself, from the site of the now-filled well: Down here in the well.
The voice from the woods would answer plaintively, Where is the well? I can’t find it.
There was no answer to that question. After a few minutes, the questions and answer would begin again, and would keep up their desperate, fruitless call and response until the moon set in the morning.
Salters made it, at a guess, through two such moon cycles. He sold the farm. And it was sold, again and again, with each new tenant leaving very shortly after moving in, after hearing the mournful voice talking to itself.
Finally, the farm was abandoned altogether. If Jack Wilson is still calling for his head, and it’s answering, no one hears anymore, for now, where farm and well once stood, the woods have taken over, burying him for good.