8 min read

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 2

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 2

About this series

A tale of terror, loss, and an old man with an even older wooden cup — alongside Murder Creek in the backwoods of Lower Alabama.

This young lady, she could not have been much older than nineteen or twenty, had the face of a classic beauty with deep eyes that wavered between blue and green and waves of hair to match the setting sun. Her skin was fair with golden freckles. She wore a long-sleeved white shirt that hugged her breasts tight, and dark blue jeans that hugged her hips tighter. The ends of her white sleeves turned orange then red as they neared her wrists. On her blue jeans, roundabout her knees and shins, there were a half-dozen or so pink and red rhinestone bedazzled patches. 

All in all, she was like unto an angel. Or so old Gadda thought. 

But then what was left of his screen door banged shut behind him — like thunder following a bolt of revelation of the sort Reverend Charlie Charles might preach — and that’s when the truth of things was revealed to Gadda. Well, the first hints of it anyways. He began to see her then, not as she should have been, but as she was.

If this young woman were an angel, then she was one with a pall of despair and things unnatural hanging about her. Ms. Leona Bryer would’ve told you the young woman had a dark aura about her, and she would’ve named a color to match this aura, making it sound something special. But it didn’t take no special gift to see things weren’t right with this young lady.

Red streaks weaved through those blue-green eyes, and bruises rounded those deep sockets. Her skin was sallow and sunburnt, and scratches weaved through her freckles. Forest debris dangled in her wild, unkempt hair. Dark red clay stained her hands and wrists and the sleeves of her shirt. There were no sparkly bedazzled patches on her jeans, but only rips and tears that revealed bruises, scrapes, and bug bites. And those jeans, they hung loosely on her hips, as if they were two sizes too large, or as if she’d lost a lot of weight recently.

Gadda expected the girl to let out a yelp or holler and take off. He’d seen it plenty enough times after someone came up on him. The girl flinched, and her eyes widened, and her body got all tensed up, with her hands balling into fists. But like a deer in the headlights, she stood there stock still. 

After a few moments, she scanned him over once… then a second time. She took half a step back and then let out a sigh like she’d been holding her breath for an hour or so.

“Thank God I found you,” she said.

Her voice was also that of an angel — an angel covered in thick layers of tobacco, after a few hours of screaming and a day without nothing to drink.

“You… You found me?” he croaked.

His voice was little more than an awkward cough at first cause he didn’t never talk to anyone and only used his voice to cuss if he were to stub a toe or to sing a tune or two he yet remembered, though that was little more than hums and mumbles.

Her lips twitched as if they might be capable of a smile. “Not you, no. Just anyone. It’s nearly dark.”

His chest tightened. “You cain’t… You cain’t be here.”

“I’m lost.”

“Then what you be… wanting to do… is to take this here road… and follow it out to the highway.”

Gadda gestured toward a stretch of somewhat cleared ground about eight feet across that eased away from his cabin. It was the road he’d used to get back and forth when his Ford still ran and he still went out into the world. Vines and bushes and a number of pines had shot up through this road of his, but it was still a bit clearer than the rest of the woods.

“That’s a road?” she asked.

“Well, it was, and I reckon it’s still clear enough for you to follow.” His voice was already exhausted. He waved his hands at her, like he was shooing off a chicken. “Now you’d best get gone before the sun sets.”

“My car’s a long way off,”she said. “Don’t know which direction.”

“You’re a smart girl. You’ll figure it out. Hitch a ride if you need one.”

“I’ve been lost a long while, since night before last, wandering these woods. I need a rest before I head on.” She paused a moment then added, “I need to rest right here.”

“I’d get going, cause you might get lost again once it’s dark out.” He pointed a thumb toward the old Ford and lied to her. “I’d drive you to your car if I could.”

The young woman collapsed down onto the top step, and the board creaked as if it might splinter in two. “I can’t go on,” she muttered. “I’ve got to rest.” Tears welled in her eyes and began to drip down her dirty cheeks. “I just can’t go on.”

Without the usual warning or build up, the pain knifed right into Gadda’s chest. Deep, deep went the blade and twisted. And all those tiny, eight-legged nightmare chiggers went crawling down the blade to burrow inside him. 

He clutched his chest and doubled over. She stood and rushed over. She went to grab his arm, and as soon as her fingers brushed his skin, he tumbled back and slammed into an old wooden tub and washboard. The tub creaked, the washboard shattered, and Gadda fell right onto his ass, cracking two porch boards.

She grabbed his hand. Her touch was cold and dry. “You alright, mister?”

Glimpses of nightmares and memories he never wanted to visit again danced faintly in his vision.

“You havin’ a heart attack?” she asked.

“Worse,” he replied hoarsely, “so much worse. But I’ll live.”

She gave him one of those I don’t believe you but okay frowns. “Can I get you something, aspirin or water?”

“I ain’t got no aspirin. No need of it or the like. I do got a pitcher of fresh water.”

“I’ll get that for you.”

“Nah. You have the water. There’s an open jug of shine inside. You can bring me that.”

The young woman climbed to her feet. Her knees wobbled a bit, but then she steadied. “Anything else?”

Gadda clutched at his chest and nodded. She waited till he could manage the words. “Some them Grail searchers dropped a backpack last year. There’s some jerky in it if you’re hungry.” He figured she had to be half-starved, looking all skin and bones like she did.

The young woman opened the screen door and stepped inside Gadda’s two-room cabin. I ain’t about to trouble you with all the details of of what you’d find in there. Suffice to say, the inside was like a museum dedicated to southern poverty in the early 1900’s. A badly kept, never updated museum with none but a few pieces left that weren’t half-decayed or broken. And you know they had hard poverty back then.

Nearabout everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. A cabinet in the far left corner of the main room held a set of blue, depression era glasses, some yellowed porcelain plates that looked like they’d been thrown into a dishwasher with a couple of rocks, an old Victrola wind-up gramophone and a stack of scratched records, and a pink radio from the 1960’s that he didn’t have the batteries to use. Last, but I assure you not least, not by any stretch, in a basket there were scraps of an old blue jacket, of the sort a woman might have worn a long time ago. 

In the far right corner to that was a wood-burning stove Gadda fired up a dozen or so times each winter. He had an ax and a stack of wood beside it. In front of it was a half-rotten mattress and a musty blanket. The nearby shelves had a collection of rusting iron skillets and pots and some old potato chip tins.

The bedroom was packed to the gills with all manner of junk he’d collected for one reason or another, a practice he gave up on after a couple of decades. Mostly it was old broken furniture, spare parts to trucks and tractors, rotten clothes, and a small collection of moldy, scandalous paperbacks. He’d gotten them on account of he liked the covers, back when that sort of thing still interested him. He couldn’t read none of them. He’d barely learned his letters before his daddy had pulled him out from the little one-room school he was a going to and had told him to get to working the fields, cause that’s all that mattered.

In the near right corner of the main room was a table and two chairs — one dirty and heavily used, the other cleaner than anything else in that place, looking as if it had hardly been used. Once upon a better time, that chair had been used a bit, and for reasons he didn’t understand no more, Gadda now and then took it upon himself to wipe it clean of dust and cobwebs.

On the table was a glass pitcher filled halfway up with water, along with the items Gadda had collected recently, items dropped by them Grail searchers: two watches, three flip phones, a gold necklace, a couple of small notebooks, and the backpack he’d spoken of. Inside that she found some clothes a man would wear and two packs of beef jerky. She took out the jerky, stared intensely at it, then tossed it onto the table. 

A cabinet in the near left corner held two dozen jugs made of dark glass. Three were sealed, one was open and about halfway full, and all the others were open and empty. Gadda was running low, and he hated that, because he knew the world had changed too much for him to be going into town to get the things he needed to make more shine. And he didn’t have but three dollars and a reckoning that that wasn’t about to buy him enough booze to be worth the effort.

She took the pitcher and the opened jug and went back to the porch. She sat down beside Gadda and offered him the jug. He took the shine and tried to scoot away, but he was blocked by the wooden tub. He didn’t have the strength yet to get up. She slid a few inches back, which he appreciated, but he would’ve preferred her to get about ten feet away if she weren’t gone leave rightaway. 

He took a swig from the jug. The shine burned pure down his throat, and he hoped it would ease the pain soon, cause this was the worst he could remember since the early days. Gadda was certain she was the thing making him suffer so. And he knew he ought to be threatenin’ her with one of his knives, or doing some else to chase her off. But for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to it. Hell, the look and smell of him ought to be enough alone to make a young thing like her hightail it out from there.

The sun was about a half hour from setting, and a half hour after that, he’d feel safe enough to go to Ol’ Wooden Cup and get the swig he really needed. If he could get this girl on along first.

She stared at the pitcher of water and set it aside. 

“Something wrong with it?” he asked.

She looked to him then the water again and shook her head.

“You look something thirsty, girl.”

“This ain’t what I need.”

Gadda offered her the jug of shine, but she gave him a quiet, “No, thank you.”

“You find the jerky?” he asked.

“Yeah, but I ain’t hungry.”

He doubled up again as the nightmare chiggers stirred around in his innards. For a moment, the ghost of a woman floated in his vision. He closed his eyes and groaned like a man who’d actually been stabbed in the chest.

The young woman shifted toward him, reached out a hand, but then didn’t touch him.“You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Come night I will be.” But only if you aren’t here, he thought. 

“Why are you here?” he asked, not out of curiosity but out of the hope that if she said her peace she’d move on.

“I came here searching for…”

“The Grail?”

“I don’t know what I expected,” she said distantly. “I just knew this was where…”

She went quiet, and after a few minutes, he ran out of patience. “Where what, girl?”

She startled, as if she’d forgotten he was there. “Where I had to go. And I think this here is where I’ve got to be.”