12 min read

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 3

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 3

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 right here — this right here — is where you think you gotta be?” Gadda’s voice came out as near to a shout as it could get what with the pain he was a suffering and as out of shape as his vocal chords were from disuse. “This right here?! I think girl that you had better just think again. Cause this right here is where Gadda is, and it ain’t no place for no one else.”

“Well, I can’t leave now anyhow,” she answered — in that kind of apologetic tone that says you’re sorry for what you’re doing but you ain’t gonna stop doing it. “Not with it coming on night and me not knowing where I’m going nor how far it is.”

Gadda, he started to protest, but then another intense wave of pain struck deep into his breastbone and radiated outward, like a stick of dynamite chucked out into the middle of a stagnant pond. 

“And before you suggest it again,” she said, “I think maybe the world’s changed a lot since the last time you were in it. It ain’t safe for a woman to wander the side of the highway, much less to hitchhike.”

Gadda supposed maybe she was right about that, but it weren’t good for no one to be this close to him, least of all a young woman. He needed her to get gone so his pain would ease up and he’d be well enough to crawl out to the cup. 

“Besides, I can’t leave you like this,” she added.

“This? Oh, I’ve been through this plenty of times, girl. Come night, I’ll be aight.” His eyes narrowed. If I can get rid of you, he thought. But it didn’t look like that were gone be easy. She had latched onto him and this place like a damned tick. Maybe if he slept in the truck and she slept in the house, then the pain would ease up enough, and he could slip off once she was good and asleep.

“I don’t got food, don’t got no lights neither,” he said. “All I got is a roof and walls. No electric. None to eat but that jerky.”

“I can manage,” she said. 

Gadda was surprised she didn’t ask how come he didn’t have no food around.

“Well, I sleep in the back of my truck ‘cept when it’s really cold. Nights are getting a bit cool, but there’s still some bugs out. So I reckon you might like it better in the house.”

Her lips tried to form a slight smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. “Thank you, Mr…”

“Gadda. Gadda Bisby. And you can leave off that mister nonsense.”

“I’m Suzanne Graw. Used to be a Maper.” She pick at her left wrist. “Wish I weren’t neither.”

“Never known any Mapers or Graws.” He scratched through his scraggly beard then shrugged. “Don’t reckon I know any others neither, not anymore.”

He offered the jug of shine to her. That she ain’t had any of the water yet concerned him. “You want some? I only take a hit now and then when the notion strikes me. It’s strong, bitter, over twenty years old, I reckon.”

Suzanne took the jug from him. “If it kills me, I’ll be no worse off.”

With all the strength he could manage, old Gadda shook his head like a dog trying to kill a rabbit. “No, ma’am. No, ma’m. Never ever never say such a thing, girl. Never say such a thing!” He thumped a fist against the porch. “No one should want to die.”

The very thought of wantin’ to die was an affront to his beliefs, what few he had. 

“I don’t have nothing to live for,” Suzanne said. “No home anymore. No money. Nothing, not even a drop of pride.”

How odd it must be to worry about such things, Gadda thought, to worry about anything except keeping the nightmares and pain away.

She glanced around at the house then looked to him all sheepish like. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Gadda chuckled through another stabbing of pain. “I got all I need. Myself, this old house. I enjoy summer days and winter nights, and everything between. I just enjoy living.” After a few moments of silence, he said again with conviction, “No one should ever want to die. Never. Don’t make no sense. Life’s really all you got. And you gotta cling to it.”

She handed the jug back to him without even lifting it up enough to give it a sniff. “You don’t get bored out here?”

“Nah.” He took a swig and considered her words as the cold moonshine burned down his throat. “Well, maybe. Hell, I don’t know. I sleep a whole lot, and I walk about the creek, collecting odd bits of junk and arrowheads. Some years ago I found a couple of skeletons, I reckon from those folks that got murdered here way back… Or maybe it was some others. I dug around looking for more for a while but I got tired of that and put ‘em all back where I’d found ‘em.”

“You didn’t tell no one?”

“And have the law and who knows else crawling all about my property? No thank you.” 

“Well that sounds exciting.”

“It got old fast,” he said. “If I knew anything else, maybe all this would bore me, but that’s the thing, I don’t know nothing else. Don’t much care to. I like my life the way it is.”

Gadda took another swig to clear his throat. He hadn’t talked this much in an age and wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on with it. When he had got riled up about her talking about wanting to die, the pain and the nightmares had eased up a bit, a touch of anger smashing up a few of them chiggers. But that blessed respite was already fast fading.

Suzanne rubbed the heels of her palms against her cheeks, her eyes, and her forehead. She drew up into a ball, wrapped her arms about her legs, and rested her head on her knees. “I came around these parts searching for the Grail, thought it could make my problems go away. I didn’t find it, of course. And I didn’t expect to, you know. I ain’t one to believe in such nonsense and act on it. Still, something drew me here anyway.”

“They come round here all the time, searchers from all parts, looking for it. A few braves ones, a very few, saying, ‘Gadda, you must know something about that old cup, least where it might be hidden.’ And you know what I tell them? I tell them to go home and live their lives and stop looking for something they don’t need.”

“But if home’s not worth going back to—”

“Then it ain’t your home, and you ought to go some place else.”

As the sun sank, the shadows began to swallow up Gadda’s old cabin and cast themselves dark across him and Suzanne. And the shades of people long gone got darker in his field of vision, creeping up on him, and as they did, his desperation to get to the cup grew.

“I don’t have any lights nor lanterns,” Gadda said. “I don’t need them. But you could get a fire going in the stove. There’s wood and kindling, and a lighter someone dropped just last year that makes it easy going.”

“I’m fine, not cold at all. Not warm neither. And I don’t need the light just yet.”

Damn, but it was hard to get her to move away from him. For a moment, he considered that maybe the young woman had screamed on the steps and runoff and this one here was just some sort of apparition, that maybe them nightmare chiggers were just messing him about. But only a moment on account of how solid that jug of shine was in his hands and how clear it burned down his gullet.

“What’s so bad that’s got you running out here?” he asked.

Suzanne stared back at him for some time, then she said with a voice that had all the seriousness of the Reverend Charlie Charles when he wants another donation, “I guess I ought to tell someone. Might take a bit of the burden off me.”

Some light from a deep orange sunset yet clung to the sky — not much, but enough to see by up close for a little longer. Suzanne began unbuttoning her white shirt. Her hands shook as she went, moving awkwardly, as if something wasn’t right about them. They hung too loose somehow, and the skin beneath the stains of red clay had turned pale. She ought to clean up a bit in the creak and wash that mud off. Gadda was gonna suggest that since it might be just the thing to finally get her to move away. But she opened her shirt, and that thought vanished from his mind. 

As far as Gadda could remember, he hadn’t never seen a woman naked before. So he might have enjoyed this experience, but for what he saw… what he saw that just wasn’t right. His stomach turned, and he felt not the least bit aroused, but just sad and angry and sad all over again.

A mess of jagged scars and recently healed cuts crissed and crossed her chest, and the nipple on her right breast hung lower, as if it had been half torn off and healed back. Other scars zigged and zagged across her stomach, and round, white, burn marks dotted her skin here and there where someone had taken cigarettes to her.

“This is what my old man does when he’s drunk or when he takes the notion that I’ve run around on him. As if he lets me out of the house or takes his eyes off me long enough for it. And I don’t have no car or nothing to get anywhere when he’s off to work, so I don’t have the least opportunity for cheating on him.”

“I thought you had a car,” Gadda said.

“I borrowed a friend’s to run away,” she answered. And I’ll tell you that by borrowed, Suzanne meant stole. “Though I don’t know why I bothered.”

“Seems clear to me,” Gadda said with a surprising amount of strength rising up in his voice.

“Sometimes he won’t be drunk or suspicious at all, and yet for no good reason I can figure, he’ll lay into me with a belt or whatever else strikes his fancy. I scream, I cry, and he just beats the shit out of me every time.”

Gadda turned his head, and she buttoned up the shirt. 

“You gotta stay away from him,” Gadda said with a conviction that flared so hard it burned up some of them nightmare chiggers right on the spot, and pert near half the pain, too. “You’ve gotta stay away from that man!”

“I’m trying, but he’ll find me again. I know he will. Several times now I’ve hidden out away from him somewhere not far from where we live in Natchez. He chased me to Georgia once and back to Arkansas twice. He can always find me, and he makes it worse when he catches me. He beat my little sister to punish me for going back to my folks the last time I tried. She stutters now. So I don’t dare go back there.”

“Your folks won’t do nothing?”

“Truth be told, my daddy didn’t treat us much better growing up. He says I got to live with the life I’ve got, says I’m just a whore for choosing a man like that. Momma, she don’t do nothing but drink and stare out the yard and watch the cars drive by. And even if they were inclined to do something, they wouldn’t on account of they’re both scared John’ll kill them.”

### Start Here ###

“I’ll tell you what I would do,” Gadda said. “I would kill him.” His conviction on that was like an inferno ripping through Alabama timber land after a summer without a drop of rain to it. “That is what he deserves.”

“Lord knows I’ve thought about it, and just how I would go about it, too. But I’m too scared… or maybe I don’t think I deserve to be free. Sounds stupid, don’t it?”

No, sir, it didn’t. Not to old Gadda. He knew fear, the kind of fear that kept him from leaving this house, from getting too far away from his wooden cup, from facing those nightmares easing up on him, and most especially from the pain.

This girl, Suzanne, she struck fear in him, too. Every word she said brought the nightmares closer. And yet they didn’t have a hold of him like as usual because of the anger burning in him right now.

She took a straight razor from her pocket and tossed it on the porch. “I came out here to find the Grail or peace… or something… something to make me think it was worth carrying on, knowing John would track me down. And I had decided that if I didn’t find that something then I’d kill myself.”

“No one should kill themselves!” Gadda’s voice rattled the old timbers of his cabin and thundered through the darkening woods.

She jerked back with wide eyes, and he muttered an apology for yelling. 

“You got too much life ahead of you to do something like that.” He managed to lower his volume, but his passion was all the same. “Way too much life.”

“But even if I could escape, I’d have all those years remembering what I’ve gone through… And do you think anyone else would ever want me with the scars I got, inside and out? I can’t imagine they would.”

Gadda shook his head again. He knew life could haunt a person even if he couldn’t remember exactly what haunted him. But maybe if a person forgot and then moved on to new things… maybe if…

Gadda found the strength to sit up straight and climb to his feet. 

A new pain ached in him now, one in his heart for a girl that deserved much better than what she’d gotten so far, for a girl who deserved to live a full life, left alone in peace. 

An image burned in the back of his mind, though he couldn’t make it out well enough. It was of a girl so much like her, in so much pain. And a ghost to match lingered in the corner of his eye, a shade with just enough shimmer to it to stand out against the dark.

“I couldn’t kill myself last night,” she said. “I tried but I couldn’t manage it. But I’ll do it before he takes me back. I swear I will.”

Though he’d never once considered such a thing before, the furnace that burned within him and the pain in her eyes moved him to wonder: Could he share the wooden cup with her? That would take away her suffering, her scars, and all her bad memories. She could live out her years in peace like she should, and maybe when she’d had enough rest she could go on back to the world like normal.

“You cannot,” said a voice in his mind, the voice of Ol’ Wooden Cup, cold and alien, not human at all, a voice he knew but had heard only once before. “Only you, Gadda Bisby, or only her.”

Gadda picked up the razor and put it in her hand. “You have to do what you have to do. If you’re going to go slinging that thing around, though, I think you should cut his throat. You’re a nice enough girl, and you deserve better. You deserve to live.”

“You’re kind, Gadda.”

She said something else, but he didn’t hear her words. Instead he heard another voice, one a lot like hers but from many decades gone. “You’re hateful and cold, Gadda. You’re just like your daddy. One day you’ll wake up and you won’t have a thing to your name and not a drop of love in your life nor a feeling worth having. And you for damn sure won’t have me.”

Gadda tried to remember this woman now. He tried to remember his daddy, too. But he couldn’t recall either one. But they were lingering nearby — he knew that much — shades waiting to make him suffer again as soon as his anger abated.

“If only there was some other way,” Suzanne was saying.

If only… Gadda looked at his cabin and his truck and thought of what little he owned and what little felt and how there wasn’t no love in his life and hardly any feelings aside from his fear.

“I don’t have much here do I?” he said.

A little confused, she shook her head.

“My life’s simple cause I’ve got a terrible fright of the world, Suzanne. I don’t have memories of anything before what you see here. Not family, not growing up. Don’t know if I ever had a job, though I must’ve have done. When I got here, I knew my name and none else.”

“You forgot your family?”

“People say you should face fears, but they don’t got fears like I got. Nor do they got the regret lurking behind them.”

“Something terrible must have happened to you to make you forget.”

“I can’t go on like this forever,” he said, “with naught but an empty peace. I don’t even know why it should hurt.” He took a few faltering steps down the length of the porch and peered directly at the shade of the woman that haunted him. “Why does it hurt?” he asked. “Tell me why.”

“I–I don’t know,” Suzanne replied in confusion.

The shade reached out to Gadda and said in a soft voice, “You know me, Gadda Bisby. You know me, and you know what happened.”

He didn’t, not yet, but he would soon. Gadda had made his decision. 

He was ready now. He could stop drinking from the Ol’ Wooden cup and know and feel what he had run from all these decades. And Suzanne could take it and forget, until her soul mended.

“You wanted the Grail, Suzanne,” Gadda said with tears in his eyes. “Now I gone take you to it.”