9 min read

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 4

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 4

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.


Mouth agape like a catfish going for a hook, Suzanne stared at Gadda as he jumped down off the porch. Though he felt the itch to get moving something awful, he waited patiently as he could for her to collect her wits, understanding she’d be right flustered.

“You… you know where it is?!” she stammered at last.

“Yes, ma’am, I do.”

Suzanne rocked back, shaking her head. “You?!” She looked around as if searching for someone to confirm she weren’t delusional and she’d heard what she’d heard. “I can’t believe you know where the holy cup is.”

“My name and Ol’ Wooden Cup. That’s all I’ve known for so long. It hides my memories and keeps me going and going. You know, I reckon I’m about a hundred and twenty odd now.”

“That’s… that’s a long time to—”

“To be alone? To be scared of the world? To be scared of my past? Yes, ma’am. A long old time. And when I know it all again it’s gone be bad — real bad. I know it. But the time’s a come.” Gadda gazed around at his place and nodded. “And for that, I gotta thank you.”

“Me?

“Yes, ma’am. You got me turned around on it after all these years.”

The female ghost was sidling up on Gadda, all sly like so as she might surprise him. But he was keeping her hazy form in the corner of his eye, and when he looked her way, she vanished. 

“There was someone I loved once and somehow she suffered. And it’s time I got to know her again.” 

“Maybe you shouldn’t be thanking me,” Suzanne said with a frown. “Not yet anyway.”

“And why is that Ms. Suzy?”

“You might be awful mad and regretful once you know the truth.”

“I might sure enough regret knowing, but I ain’t gone regret facing it. And I ain’t gone blame you neither.”

Suzanne leaned forward so she could look the same direction Gadda was staring, but she didn’t see anything but the darkening woods. “Can you see her?” Suzanne asked. “Like a ghost maybe? Cause I keep seeing you staring out at nothing like it’s something.”

Gadda nodded. “I cain’t make out no details about her, though.” He gestured for Suzanne to get off the porch and join him. “That’s why I gotta stop drinking from the cup. So I can know her story and so you can live a good life.”

“That doesn’t seem possible.”

“Oh, sure it is, Suzy. Sure it is. All you gotta do is drink from the cup. You’ll get all healed up, and then you can live in peace. And you won’t have to remember what your old man did to you — not one bit of it.”

“What’s going to happen to you,” she said, "when you stop drinking from it?”

“Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I’ll age normal like. Don’t rightly know.”

“After you remember, and you’ve faced it, you can start drinking from it again, right? If you decide you want to live on and don’t want to keep hold of what you learnt again?”

“Ol’ Wooden Cup don’t share,” Gadda told her. “One or the other of us, but not both.”

“Are you sure about that?” 

“That’s how it works. It told me as much”

She frowned. “I don’t want you to die.”

“I should’ve died long ago,” Gadda said. “So if it’s my time, then it’s my time. I’ll have to face that.”

“We could take turns drinking from it,” Suzanne suggested.

The voice of the grail buzzed up through his brain. “You cannot take turns.”

“The cup says no,” Gadda said with a chuckle. “I’m passing the torch to you.”

She hobbled down the creaking steps to join him. “Is the Grail why you don’t have any food in the house?”

“Yes, ma’am. If you drink from the cup, then you don’t have to eat. You can if you want to. I still do every now and then. Early on, I used to eat often, but it’s all a bother when you don’t have to.”

“How often will I have to drink from the cup?”

“To keep the nightmares off me I need a regular sip. Sometimes every day. Most often it’s every week. You don’t have that problem, though, so I reckon once a month ought to do. Maybe more at first. You’ll feel the need for it when it comes. I can assure you of that.”

Gadda held his hand out. “It’s getting dark, so I’ll need to guide you there. It ain’t far though. I have to keep it close you know.”

Suzanne stared at him a moment, and we can all appreciate what must’ve gone through her head. That this old coot was gonna take her out into the woods and murder her right out there beside the creek named for doing just such a thing. But she decided to trust him. Maybe it was the tone in his voice. Or maybe she figured he could’ve killed her at the cabin as easily as out in the woods.  

She placed a cold palm into his hand.

“Lorda mercy, you got some unnatural cold hands, Miss Suzanne.”

“I don’t feel cold,” she replied.

“Well, if there’s anything wrong with you causing such a thing, Ol’ Wooden Cup’ll take care of that.”

“How did you find it?” she asked.

“Well, I lived in these parts and… something happened I don’t recall… and then I think someone guided me to it. Maybe how I’m guiding you. But I’m afraid I don’t remember nothing else about it.”

They trudged out into the woods, the leaves crunching under their feet, a cool October breeze at their backs, the creek slopping and gurgling nearby.

“I brought the pain on you by coming here, didn’t I?” she said all of a sudden. 

“I don’t ‘sociate with folks, not just cause I don’t like ‘em — I don’t — but because it brings on the hurting worse. Women-folk especially.”

“I’m sorry for that.”

“You don’t got no need to be,” Gadda said, “but I ‘preciate you saying as much.”

Ahead of them, the ghostly form of a young, slender woman in the sort of simple dress a farmwife would’ve worn a century ago danced a jig between the pines and hickories, while the shade of a big man in overalls lumbered through a thicket of privet. As time went, their forms were getting clearer and clearer. Gadda paused, not wanting to get any closer to them. The woman spun on her heels, but didn’t go any further forward, while the man stood lurking amongst the bushes. The woman, he still didn’t have a clue who she might be, other than someone important to him. The man, he got the inkling that hulking bruiser was his daddy, and that inkling didn’t give him any comfortable feelings.

“You okay?” Suzanne asked.

Gadda stepped forward, and the ghosts moved forward too. He released a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m alright. Let’s get on with it.”

There was naught but a sliver of sun left, lighting the treetops, but it was enough to make out the collapsed shed in what would’ve been a clearing ahead, except that it was a giant tangle and twist of kudzu that was just starting to brown on the edges after getting bitten by an early frost the week before. Broken timbers and scraps of tin that Gadda had scavenged from his cabin and other places lay scattered about. 

It was the sort of backwoods crumble that said, “Come on in and get snakebit and spiderbit. Lose an arm, a leg, or maybe your life. And hey, if the creepers and crawlers don’t get you then maybe some old weird codger that lives out here will murder you inside. And if all else fails, you’d best be up to date on your tetanus shots.”

“Alright now, Suzy,” Gadda said, his voice breaking from the strain. “You follow me exact. Once them Grail searchers started traipsing around, I had to add me some protections.”

“Why not just keep the Grail with you instead of hiding it out here?”

“Well, for one thing, moving it out of its spot don’t seem right since I reckon someone put it there for good reason, and it ain’t moved in a long old time. And for a second thing — the most important thing — you cain’t stay long in its presence. Nope, you cain’t stand it long at all. Leastways I cain’t.”

They took a winding path toward the shed, tramping through the kudzu and dodging tangles of barbed wire Gadda had hidden in the vines and stepping around the sharp edges of rusting tractor disc blades he’d partially buried in the dirt.

When they reached the shed, it didn’t look like there were a way in, until Gadda shoved through some kudzu, knocked over a half-rotten pine door, and then pulled away a sheet of tin roofing. The space leading in was only a few feet tall and across. Gadda dropped down onto his knees and unfastened two strips of barbed wire he’d set to block this small entrance.

“The Grail must be giving you good eyesight,” Suzanne said, “cause I can’t hardly see a thing.”

“You know, I reckon it must.” He scratched through his beard. “Yeah, I reckon it must, though I’ve never thought much about it.”

“You go through this every time?” she asked.

“It’s a bit easier in the winter once the kudzu dies,” Gadda said. “I worry about it more then, though.”

Suzanne knelt beside him. “I would think people coming through looking for something would definitely search a shed.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But I watched folks for a while. Only a few in ten would ever even approach this shed, and they wouldn’t get much close to it.” Gadda chuckled. “I don’t have a clue what people expected to find out here, just wandering around like headless chickens — not poking around my cabin or shed or digging through the creek. If the Grail was shining bright and all, the first one out here would’ve been the one to find it.”

“I guess most were like me,” Suzanne said. “Not looking for anything so much as just wanting to be found. Wanting something bigger than them to reveal itself in all its glory and say, ‘You’re worthwhile.’”

Gadda chewed at his lip thoughtfully then shook his head. “People are a funny lot — no offense to you.”

They scooted through the gap and crawled beneath a couple of fallen timbers. 

“I can’t see a thing,” Suzanne said.

Gadda took her increasingly cold hand and helped her up. “Stay put.”

He fumbled about for a minute, then a dust-covered lantern sputtered to life. “Haven’t used this thing in an age. I’m right surprised it works.”

The inside of the shed was in much better condition than the outside on account of Gadda making the outside look much worse than it was to discourage people. But that wasn’t saying much. Due to collapsing timbers, crumbling walls, intruding kudzu, and the shed’s small hayloft having collapsed, only about a third of the inside was accessible. And most of that space was taken up by empty crates, broken jugs, and rusting tools and farm equipment of the sort that hadn’t been used in more than half a century. 

“What’s that gleaming over there in the debris?” Suzanne asked, probably thinking it was the Grail.

“Beneath what used to be the hayloft?”

“I guess.”

“That’s the remnants of my still, God rest its soul.”

“Well, it’s a good thing that’s not visible from the outside,” she said. “Copper’s worth a lot of money these days. You’d have people digging around in here for sure.”

“Is that so? Well, we ought to do something about that then.”

In the center of all that mess was a rusty anvil on top of a piece of canvas.

“It’d be nice to have some help moving this old anvil for a change,” Gadda said, turning toward Suzanne, “if you don’t—”

Gadda stumbled back at the sight of the young woman in the lantern light. She looked half dead, she was so pale, and those stains on her sleeves were a hell of a lot darker red than before. Her eyes were sunken and glazed, and her skin was sagging. There sure enough was something wrong with her. He figured she must’ve been out wandering these woods longer than she claimed. But he didn’t figure too much on it because he knew Ol’ Wooden Cup would soon take care of it.

Gadda squatted down and pulled the canvas before she could stumble over to help. The canvas dragged the anvil away, revealing a stone slab all a decorated with squiggly marks of writing Gadda couldn’t read nor anyone else, not even Ms. Leona Bryer who claimed to decipher quite the number of obscure dialects passed down to her from Atlantis and other parts most ridiculously mysterious. 

The slab had an iron handle with a profile so low you could barely slide your fingers under it. Gadda grabbed that handle and heaved the slab to the side. 

“Look’s heavy,” Suzanne said.

Gadda scratched through his beard, staring at it. “I reckon it must be.”

“Maybe the Grail makes you strong, too.”

“That just might be so,” he said. “Alright now, ladies first. I’ll hold the lantern so you can see. The ladder’s old and a might bit tricky, so take it slow.”

Suzanne clutched at her sleeves nervously. “I think I’d rather you went first.”

“Suit yourself,” Gadda said, and he started down the ladder.

Suzanne was just about all the way to the bottom when her foot slipped off the second rung. Gadda caught her — it seemed she weighed next to nothing — then shivered cause she’d sent an awful cold down him. And there followed a stab deep and twisting in his chest, and he cast her aside so that she stumbled into the ladder then fell.

“Sorry,” Gadda said, “but I cain’t have no woman’s body against to mine.”

She climbed to her feet awkwardly, like her legs could barely work. “I ain’t hurt none,” she said. “Thanks for—”

Her eyes caught then the sight of the cave she was in, and they went wide — so very wide.