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Archive for October, 2012

In the Gospel of John, there’s a story of how Pharisees brought a woman taken in the act of adultery to Jesus, thinking that he would condemn her to the traditional punishment for adultery: death by stoning.

Jesus gave them an answer that left them slinking off like egg-sucking dogs: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Evidently the good women of Fort Lipantlan in southeast Texas didn’t read that passage, one night in 1839, before they passed judgment on a local woman named Milly Marlow.

Milly Marlow was a young widow living near Fort Lipantlan, a fort originally built by the Mexican army on the frontier and taken over by Texians at the time of the Texas Revolution. Milly had been left in desperate circumstances by her husband’s death. But she had a friend: a local man called Steve, whom she had known before her marriage and who, over time, had become both an adviser and a lover.

Steve was a married man. Milly had tried to stop him from coming to her at night in particular, knowing that in this small place no secret could ever be kept for long; but she was lonely, and he was in love with her.

His wife found out soon enough about their romance. At first she nagged; then she raged; then she cried. Steve listened to her with perfect indifference, and kept visiting his beloved Milly.

Things took a deadly turn when the young betrayed wife confided her sorrow to an older, more determined woman than herself.

Aggie–that was her name, Aggie–told the girl not to worry. She would see to it that Milly Marlow was taken care of.

Steve’s wife may have thought that Aggie meant to run Milly out of the community; but Aggie had altogether darker plans.

One night when Steve was away on business, Aggie and a group of older women like herself–who, as is the way sometimes, believed that Milly was guilty not only of taking Steve as a lover, but was fooling around with every man in camp–went to Milly’s cabin to confront her.

They broke in and found a terrified but defiant Milly hiding in a closet. The mob of women dragged her out and beat her and cut her hair off–a traditional punishment for harlots–as Milly’s defiance turned to screams for mercy.

Then they gagged and bound her, tied a rope around her neck, and dragged her outside to a nearby tree.

They gave a sobbing Milly time to say a few last words, but she, in blind panic, could only scream Have mercy on me! Oh, God, please have mercy on me!

They couldn’t lift Milly very far off the ground, and it took her a long time to strangle to death. They watched with cold satisfaction until, at last, her struggles ceased.

Then they left her hanging there. Justice had been done.

As luck would have it, their murderous scheme backfired, for it was Steve who found Milly’s body early the following morning when he returned to the fort. Horrified, he cut her body down and took it to show to his wife.

Of course she screamed and protested that none of this was her fault. And Steve, unmoved as stone, heard her out.

He buried Milly himself, and then, as his wife shrieked and sobbed and pleaded, he rode away from the fort. His wife never saw him again. One wonders if she ended up like Milly Marlow, taking comfort from other women’s husbands, in some other place.

Aggie and the mob never paid for their crime–a great injustice; there is a reason why the Ten Commandments define murder as a greater sin than adultery.

Fort Lipantlan was deserted by 1842 and stands in ruins today. Aggie and the mob of women, their men, and even Steve’s wife moved on. Milly Marlow’s spirit never did. The locals say that sometimes of an autumn night the wind carries the screams of a terrified woman over the plains–

have mercy on me, please. . .

The words grow fainter and fainter, and eventually die away in hideous choking sounds.

The story of Milly Marlow’s lynching comes from Elaine Coleman’s 2001 book Haunted Texas Forts.

Happy Halloween, my pretties. . . bwahahahahahahaha!

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I have fallen in love with the Halloween Snickers ™ commercial that features a Horseless Headsman, who turns back to his normal Headless Horseman self when he eats a Snickers. It reminded me of this story, the only one I’ve ever written about a headless horseman–originally posted on Blogstream, and here in a somewhat different form in 2010.

Born around 1740, the son of a minor Irish lord called Galty Mallory and his Hungarian wife, who had Tartar blood from her mother’s side of the family, Ormond Mallory inherited Castle Sheela, the family home, upon his father’s death when he was eighteen; his mother promptly moved out, taking his younger brother and two younger sisters with her, already aware of what kind of life her eldest wanted to lead: he cared for nothing but horses, vice, and women—frequently women affianced or married to other men.

He had a favorite horse, the one being in God’s creation that captured and held both his affection and attention. That horse was called Follow, because, from the time he was a colt able to walk, he followed Ormond Mallory everywhere. Ormond taught Follow to come into the house, and climb the main staircase to wait outside his master’s room, on mornings when they were scheduled for a ride or a hunt. He even went so far, eventually, as to build Follow his own special ramp, with four shallow rises, to make it easier for his pet to climb up to the landing outside his bedroom door.

Eventually, his predilection for other men’s wives got Ormond Mallory into deep trouble; he was beaten so badly–by a Jason Fermoy, who caught Mallory in a compromising position with his wife in a lovers’ lane near Castle Sheela–that he was laid up for months. During that time, his mother paid him a visit—the first time she had done so in nearly twelve years—and he was surprised and furtively glad to see her. While he convalesced, he agreed to do two things for her: to have his portrait painted and hung in the Long Gallery with the other lords of Castle Sheela, and to have a sumptuous Christmas gathering for the whole family.

The portrait was soon done, and placed in the Long Gallery. It shows a slender young man with light brown hair tied back, chilly blue eyes, a typical eighteenth century suit of clothes, and a Hungarian Csikos coat, white with brilliant embroidery, in tribute to his Hungarian ancestry.

Time flew by, and soon Christmas Day came. Ormond Mallory and his beloved Follow, who had visited every day of his master’s convalescence, had a hunt to attend that morning. Those who hunted with them would say later that Mallory arrived late and that he appeared to have been in a fight; he had cuts and bruises around his mouth, and he seemed unnaturally nervous, looking around shiftily as if expecting further attack.

Christmas dinner with his family was to begin at six o’clock in the evening, with him presiding from the head of the table. At six o’clock, Ormond still had not arrived home from the hunt. Brother and servants went out looking for him, but soon returned, driven in by gathering darkness and icy cold weather.

At eight o’clock, the anxious family and servants heard a familiar sound at the door: Follow, mounting the steps of the entryway to be let in. Ormond’s brother and a servant girl both went to open it, and collapsed in horror at what they saw.

Follow was in a terrible state of panic, covered in foam and sweat and badly winded. Tied in place on his back was a body dressed in the clothes Ormond Mallory had worn when he left that morning—but only a body; where the head should be there was nothing but a bloody stump, where the head had been clean stricken off. As the brother and servant watched, Follow made the last effort of his devoted life, dragging himself and his hideous burden up the ramp to the landing outside Ormond’s room—where he fell dead.

Ormond Mallory’s head was never found, and his murder was never solved; Jason Fermoy, who had beaten him so mercilessly the summer before, had an unbreakable alibi. Mallory was buried, headless, in the family cemetery. It is said that, for many years afterward, a heavily-veiled woman—none other than Mrs. Fermoy—would visit his grave quite frequently.

Castle Sheela was inherited by Ormond’s brother, Dominic. Dominic’s first order of business was to tear down the ramp his brother had installed for Follow. That destruction didn’t stop Follow—or Ormond—from repeating that terrible last journey up to Ormond’s room. Many, many occupants of the house have reported seeing a shadowy, spent horse with a bloody, headless rider tied in the saddle climbing on thin air where the ramp once stood; other times, only the sounds are heard.

On Christmas Day, the castle’s huge front door will suddenly open and bang back against the wall. Even stranger, something happens to Ormond Mallory’s portrait. On Christmas Day only, the head simply vanishes behind a smudge of dark but subtly glowing mist. The next day, the smudge is gone, and Ormond Mallory again surveys the room with a cold smile and wintry eyes.

The story of the dreadful death of Ormond Mallory and his horse, and the strange haunting of Castle Sheela, comes from James Reynolds’ 1947 book Ghosts in Irish Houses.

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broad, startling
as a witch’s flight,
the moth flits eerie

gray-green across the man in the moon’s face,
blotting out the left eye.
The right eye simply winks.

Frightened by its own audacity
the moth descends
like a climber riding a broken rope.

Porchlight is brighter, closer, smaller,
false flame.
The moth is singed by a cliche.

The cat sits waiting
for a mouse’s unwary stir in the grass,
not for a dizzy moth

that drops like a pretty from heaven,
a puff of dust in a dead faint,
insensible, for a moment,

to claws flashing like silver blades,
sharp as the taste of blood on a bitten lip.
Danger! danger!

The moth flutters madly.
The cat wants to inspect his pretty
and lifts a paw

like a gourmand lifts a lid
from some rare and perfumed dish.
A mistake; the moth bumbles

back toward the moon, a safer place;
the man up there doesn’t eat moths
with crackers and green cheese.

The cat gives chase too slowly.
His pretty lost, he stands
bereft,

heedless of the gold and sapphires
the moon scatters in his fur
by way of compensation.

Poem copyright 2012 by Faire Lewis.

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Stories of people who, whether in dreams or by the appearance of a “crisis apparition”, witness the deaths of faraway loved ones are quite common in paranormal literature. The most famous such involves two Cornish brothers surnamed Northey and dates to the year 1840 or thereabout.

This story, from late nineteenth century Ireland, has a touch of the grotesque that sets it apart from others of the sort.

Eli Hayson of County Waterford was one of a set of twins. Eli was still living at home with his parents, in a house by Waterford harbor; his twin, Jack, was a sailor, and presently moored with his ship some fifty miles away in Cork.

One night when Eli was starting to bed, he was startled by the sounds of running footsteps outside on the quay. He looked out the window and saw, to his horror, his brother Jack racing along the quay at top speed, toward the house. He was about to go downstairs to let Jack in when he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of three men–or were they?–chasing his brother. The three had the bodies of men but their heads–good Lord!–were not human.

Frozen in horror, Eli could only watch as his brother was overtaken by the three weird creatures. He heard Jack scream For God’s sake help me! as he was overtaken.

Then a cloud passed over the moon, and all went dark. When the cloud moved on, all was quiet, and Eli rushed downstairs and opened the door on an empty and silent night. His twin, and the three pursuers, were nowhere to be seen.

The next morning, the Hayson family received horrible news; Jack had, they were told, fallen overboard from his ship in Cork harbor while sleepwalking and was dead. An inquest found that Jack had died by accidental drowning.

Eli, though, had shared his strange vision with the family, and they were by no means convinced by that verdict. Neither Eli nor Jack had ever walked in their sleep, yet Jack’s shipmates testified over and over that they had seen Jack do so many times.

The court was unmoved by the family’s protests, and so the matter stood for twenty years.

Eli Hayson, in the course of business, frequently traveled to Cork. On these trips, he would customarily stop after his business was concluded and have a drink at one particular pub. In the twentieth year after Jack’s death, the host at this pub gave him a message: another customer, known to Eli, had asked that Eli come to visit him on a personal matter the next time he was in town.

Eli met with the man, whose name was Webster and who was nearing ninety years of age. He had information about Jack’s strange death, not on his own account, but that of his son Tom, a onetime night watchman on the Cork quay. Tom had died a short time before, but on his deathbed he had told his father a story of a terrible night twenty years before, when he had seen a man chased to his death.

Tom had been sitting by his fire between his rounds when he heard footsteps on the quay. Looking out, he was startled to see three men walking along it. Two of them had the heads of apes; the third, of a deer.

He walked out onto the quay, and watched in horror as the three boarded a dinghy and headed out to one of the ships at anchor in the harbor. A few minutes later, he heard screams of terror, and saw a young man running along the deck of one of the ships, named Thomas Emery. In pursuit were the three figures he had seen before, with their grotesque heads.

The young man in the lead, with a final shriek of For God’s sake help me! flung himself overboard, struggled briefly in the water, and then sank. He did not come up.

And as Tom Webster watched, the three men laughed and, reaching up, pulled off their faces. Only then did he realize the three had been wearing masks.

Tom Webster knew, when word got around of the death by drowning of young Jack Hayson, that he was the lone witness other than the participants, but, afraid the masked men might come after him, did not come forward with his story. But it weighed on him that he had made no attempt to help the boy, and, as he lay dying, he had told his father the story. The father had now passed it on to Jack’s twin brother.

That was all Eli Hayson was ever able to learn of his brother’s death. No motive was ever established, nor were the masked men who chased Jack to his death ever identified.

Eli was haunted to the end of his days, though, by the memory of his brother’s frantic race–in spirit–for the safety of home.

J. Aeneas Corcoran collected the story of Eli Hayson’s vision for the book Irish Ghosts (2002).

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Ancient Egyptian curses have been a fashionable source of shivers ever since enterprising members of the British press invented the curse of King Tut’s tomb, shortly after its 1922 discovery. This story, which comes from antebellum Georgetown, South Carolina, predates that event by nearly a century, but it has all the chills one could wish.

It begins with romance–of course–and ends with a haunting.

Anne Withers was a gently bred young belle whose parents had fond hopes that she would marry a man from their class–planter high society–and settle down to be that gem, a great southern lady.

Anne, like daughters all over, had other ideas. She fell in love with a sea captain, somewhat older than herself, named Christopher Corbitt. When her parents saw that disapproval cooled Anne’s passion for her seafaring man not one whit, they agreed to a marriage, to be celebrated as soon as he returned from his latest voyage to the Far East–a matter, in those days, of years.

Anne remained true to her lover, and when word came that he was nearly home, a Charleston dressmaker undertook to make her trousseau. Her wedding dress was a confection of white satin and lace, the likes of which Georgetown had never seen.

Captain Corbitt arrived the day before the wedding, bringing with him a beautiful, exotic gift for his bride to be: a golden bracelet, in a design of carved beetles with ruby eyes, linked together on a thin gold chain. An enthralled Anne listened to his story of how he had acquired the unusual bauble: he had bought it from a man in an Egyptian port city, a drunken disheveled man who told him an involved tale of how it had been stolen from the tomb of an Egyptian princess, how he had purchased it from a man in far-off India, how the bracelet had brought him nothing but bad luck–

all the usual stock in trade. Skeptical Captain Corbitt didn’t believe a word of the tale; he bought the bracelet for its strange beauty, and figured the man was suffering from delirium tremens.

Anne didn’t put the bracelet on then and there; the clasp wouldn’t open for her or the captain. She promised she would wear it on the morrow; her maid Cindy’s deft fingers could surely work the clasp.

The next day, Cindy dressed her mistress in her lovely wedding gown, and then, at Anne’s insistence, placed the beetle bracelet on her wrist.

Anne walked to the stop of the stairs and smiled down at her waiting groom.

And then, without warning, she began to scream.

An instant later, still screaming, she pitched headlong down the staircase. She died at the bottom of a broken neck.

Captain Corbitt and Cindy were the first to reach her. They found, to their horror, that the delicate skin of Anne’s wrist, beneath the bracelet, bore tiny bleeding puncture wounds. The wounds had been made by barely visible claws on the undersides of the golden beetles. As the captain removed the bracelet, the claws retracted.

Anne’s parents and the captain promptly packed up the necklace and sent it off to a London chemist. His report was many months in coming, but all were shocked by what he told them. The claws on the bracelet, he wrote, contained a deadly and ancient poison from the Far East in their wee gold shafts. The warmth of Anne’s body had triggered the mechanism, and the poison had entered her system when the claws punctured her skin. Had she not died in the fall down the staircase, she would have died in agony within a very short time.

Captain Corbitt, heartbroken, left Georgetown and never returned.

The old Withers home was sold, sometime after the deaths of Anne’s parents, to a family called Powell, and was known thereafter as the Withers-Powell house.

For many years, especially in warm weather, there have been reports of a beautiful, ghostly girl in a white bridal gown and veil who walks in the gardens of the Withers-Powell house. Other times, she has been seen seated and rocking in a chair on the veranda.

She could be, so the legend goes, none other than Anne Withers, dead of an ancient curse.

For more about the deadly Egyptian bracelet, see the following sources:

Nancy Roberts, Southern Ghosts (1979)

Michael Norman and Beth Scott, Haunted Heritage (2002).

My Vols are playing the University of South Carolina at Columbia today. The only stories I had to hand that actually come from Columbia involved a) some alien being said to live in tunnels under the campus of the university and b) the ghost of the not-very-attractive Confederate general Wade Hampton. I like this creepy (and possibly apocryphal) curse story much better than either.

And with that said, let’s fry a chicken! GO VOLS!!!!!

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He was just a little boy, a big talker with a big imagination. He loved the little Arizona gold mining town where his family lived, and he loved the dusty country around it.

What he loved most, though, was the stagecoach that used to come through town once a week, bringing new miners and gamblers, fancy ladies and families.

Unfortunately, the stage didn’t come through his town anymore. The mine was played out in just a year or two, the miners, gamblers, fancy ladies and most of the families had left, and there was no longer any need for a regular stage run. Such hauling as was done from the tiny town was now handled, on an irregular basis, by a livery stable owner, too stubborn or too broke to leave himself.

But the little boy was sure that, one day, the coach would come back. He reasoned that, if somebody could find another mine, then it would run in, big coach and four, with a driver and a shotgun guard bringing mine engineers and miners, fancy ladies and grandmothers, preachers and saloonkeepers and grocers and–

The possibilities were endless as his dream.

As for finding another mine, well, why shouldn’t he be the hero who walked into a cave and found veins and veins of gold in the quartz of the mountains?

He would go out on his burro, packing a lunch and dreaming his dream and searching diligently for such a place. He was always careful to be home before dark, and after a night’s rest would head out again, ever hopeful.

One night, he didn’t make it home.

The men of the town were about to mount a search when he showed up, alone, right about midnight, on the outskirts of town, in a happy, excited state.

It came back! he announced joyfully. The stage came back!

As grownups will be, the townsfolk were skeptical. One must admit, the story he told was pretty farfetched.

His burro, in a stubborn spell, had run off on its own, he said, somewhere way out on the mountain. He had hunted and called and called and hunted for hours before deciding to let it come home on its own; he needed to get back to town before sundown.

He had only just reached the old road the coach used to take into town when sundown came. Worse yet, he could hear a pack of wolves in the nearby scrub that covered the foothills.

Wolves don’t usually attack people; they’ve learned over ages of time that humans are treacherous and generally armed, and prefer to hunt deer or bison or other critters against whom they have an even chance. But the boy was young and unarmed and tired and scared by their howls. He managed to climb up on a great rock and waited, expecting to be surrounded by the pack at any minute.

He could see them loping in his general direction when over their clamor he heard other sounds: the neighing of horses, the crack of a whip, and the rumble of heavy wheels on the dirt road.

THE COACH WAS BACK!

The coach halted alongside the rock and the boy jumped onto the high seat beside the driver. The driver cracked his whip and away they went, the wolves–maybe hoping for a horse dinner?–running and yipping behind them. At one point, the boy felt the coach bounce as it ran over something, but in the dark and dust he couldn’t see what they had hit.

The coachman dropped him off just at the edge of town. The wolves had fallen behind long since; he could hear their howls growing fainter and fainter as he ran toward home.

The grownups might have laid it all to his vivid imagination, a likely story made up as he dragged himself back to town after dark, had not someone decided to go out to set poison bait for the wolves.

Right at the edge of town, that man found tracks that he recognized as being from the wheels of a stagecoach. There were no tracks of a turn back out toward the rough country; they simply stopped, as if the coach had vanished at that point.

And, a few hundred feet farther out, he found a dead, mangled wolf, crushed by something heavy–either a wagon or a coach.

The story of the phantom coach that brought a lost boy home comes from C. B. Colby’s World’s Best “True” Ghost Stories (1988).

No doubt folklorists have a motif number for phantom rescuers. Me, it just reminds of another Arizona story about a ghost train.

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My alarm didn’t go off this morning, which got me thinking about the iniquities of clocks in general–which reminded me of this story, from the family recollections of my friend Sharon–originally posted in 2010.

A pair of young lovers decided to marry. After the ceremony and the honeymoon, they settled into a new home and began to raise a family. Over time they made improvements to their home, but their last purchase, the finishing touch, was one made both for utility and “just for pretty”: a tall grandfather clock. They set the clock running, and it ticked and chimed the years away as their sons grew up, married, and set up homes of their own.

And then the wife died. Nobody seemed to know the how or why; her husband, quite old by then, simply let it be known that she was dead, and she was buried. Strangely enough, the clock stopped the day he made the announcement, and though, many times over the years, the sons tried to have it repaired, no one succeeded in making it run–then.

As he aged, the husband and father seemed to develop an antipathy toward the clock, and yet he did not take the obvious step of getting rid of it. He kept it in the house. Eventually he went so far as to move it into the bedroom he had shared with his late wife, and there it sat silent, until the old man took his bed with what would prove his final illness.

His sons were at his side through those days, and they would recall later that, exactly a week before their father died, the clock, which had not run since their mother’s mysterious death, began to tick again.

Its sudden revival seemed to bother their father badly. It ticked, softly, ominously, for five days, and then, two days before he died, it began to chime the hours—as it had not done in many years. And the old man seemed even more agitated as it chimed each hour away.

On his last day he lapsed into a coma, and the family began to gather in to await the end. And the clock ticked and chimed—ticked and chimed.

They reported that, at the moment the old man breathed his last, the clock began to strike the hour:

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

Nine.

Ten.

Eleven.

Twelve.

THIRTEEN.

And then it stopped again.

Some in the family would report that, as that thirteenth chime rang out and then died in echoes, there was a sudden flash of blood-red light behind the glass over the clock’s face.

The old man was buried, and the oldest son moved the clock to his home. It sat there, silent again, for five years, until the house burned down when one of his younger children accidentally set it afire. The whole house and contents, including the strange clock, were reduced to ashes.

is it just possible that the clock witnessed what truly happened to the old man’s wife—and if, just perhaps, her spirit, angry and vengeful, stopped, then restarted, the clock—and haunted her husband to his death?

What do you think?

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