13 min read

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 5 (final)

Gadda Bisby's Grail – 5 (final)

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.

The cave was nearabout the size of Gadda’s one-bedroom cabin, and there weren’t no ways in except to move the stone slab and climb down the ladder. Now, I know you might be thinking it’d best be described as a cellar, but that ain’t what it was. The cave was all natural and proper like. As to how someone knew it was there to dig down to get to it… Well, I just cain’t tell you. Leastways, I won’t.

The damp walls glowed a greenish-gold from God-knows-what, though the right Reverend Charlie Charles would have found a verse or two about it from that Old Testament, even if it required quite a bit of twisting around, and Ms. Leona, why she would’ve said it was some ectoplasmic something or other and would’ve dazzled you with words from a book that sold twenty copies to eighteen nuts. Fact was, regardless of what caused it, the walls glowed bright enough that the lantern Gadda had set on the floor wasn’t even needed.

At the opposite end of the cave from the ladder, Ol’ Wooden Cup stood on top of a dark stone slab like an altar. The cup itself was just a plain, old-fashioned, wooden cup, worn and battered by time, with scratches and pockmarks and a scorched bottom half. For all that it looked like some sharecropper’s trash from a hundred years back, it was beautiful to Gadda. And to anyone else that beheld it, for it held a gleam like that of the walls but twice as bright and the sight of it would make your insides twist up with desire. Like you was near starving to death when someone up and dropped three pieces of your grandmama’s fried chicken, a pan of buttermilk biscuits, and a slice of yellow cake with chocolate icing in front of you. It was also like unto a lover’s first kiss or a naked model lying in wait in your bed, or a warm cup of tea and a kitten cuddled up on your lap on a cold, rainy winter day. Yes, it was all those things and more.

On the cave wall above the altar, someone had painted a crimson cross with widened ends and in a circle around that were seven strange faces with oddly large, slanted eyes. At the back of the altar just beyond the wooden cup there was a small stone basin with an iron spigot from the wall hanging over it. Water dripped from the spigot, a few drops a minute, and when the bowl was full, water’d slip right over the edge and into a drain crudely cut into the altar.

Looking at that cup, Gadda felt a sharp and sudden pang of jealousy, a desire to keep it to himself. But no, he was gone do this for Suzanne and for the girl in his past that he was ready to know again. His mind was made up, and there weren’t no going back, no matter how much he wanted another sip from that cup.

“It’s not what I imagined,” she said. “And yet… it’s so beautiful it hurts. Though not in a bad way.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Gadda said. “I certainly do.”

“Who do you think made this place?”

“I’ve spent many a day pondering just that question. Now, I cain’t figure out how someone found this cave, but I reckon settlers or some of that Spanish guy’s men from way back added the spigot, the basin, and them unsightly faces.”

“DeSoto?” Suzanne suggested. (A wrong guess?)

“Yeah, that’s the one. Maybe they brought the cup over from Spain and left it here for what they reckoned was a good reason, or maybe the cup was an Indian artifact they found and left here for safekeeping. Or then maybe it was woodland haints or creatures from space. I’ve got a dozen or so halfway decent ideas, and it could be any one or none of them.”

“How did you find it?”

Gadda scratched through his beard and stared around at the cave, working his brain as hard as he might. But then he shook his head. “Someone brought me here… And that’s all I recollect.” 

Suzanne wrapped him in a hug that he squirmed out from right quick. “I hate that I’m gonna forget you. I’d like to remember your kindness. I ain’t had much kindness in my life.”

“You just enjoy the peace that cup’s gone bring you and don’t worry about old Gadda at all.”

Suzanne stared at the cup and sighed. “John’s still going to kill me.” She chuckled sadly. “And I won’t even know who he is when he does.”

“Look here, the cup will keep you alive. You don’t need no food nor nothing else. Though you gone have quite the hankering at first. So just stay hidden in the barn or down here as long as you can. A month, two months… a year. He’ll give up finding you eventually.”

“That… that might just work.”

“Hell yes, it will. You drink from the cup and hide out here. Pop out for a bit of light if you get stir crazy, but stay close. Then after a time, you can take over my cabin.”

“Won’t you need to live there?”

“Nah, if I don’t die off right away, then I’m gone wander off somewhere and see what I can see in this big old world.”

“I can never thank you enough, Gadda. For facing your nightmares for me.”

The desire for another drink was welling up in him in response to the pain he was feeling. “You ought to get a move on, girl.”

Suzanne approached the cup cautiously. “Do I need to say anything?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Gadda said. “But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to introduce yourself.”

Nervously, she reached forward and her fingers lightly brushed the cup. She went stiff as a February corpse then gasped like she’d just seen Ms. Leona’s spirits dancing a conga and then relaxed like Reverend Charline Charles after his twelfth of twelve Saturday night tokes. 

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “It’s so… warm and… I don’t even know how to describe it.” She laughed like a nervous child. “Hello, Cup. I’m Suzanne. And… and I’m gonna drink from you now. If that’s okay.”

She waited for an answer, and if she got one, we’ll never know. 

As she picked up the cup, the nightmare chiggers went to crawling about Gadda’s chest like they’d been thrown across a hot plate. He wanted then so so bad to lunge forward and take the cup from her, but he held firm.

As she dipped the cup into the water, her sleeve rose a bit. For a moment he saw on her wrist a black, seething scar just under the stains of what he had thought was red mud. He didn’t think it was mud anymore, as well he shouldn’t have. He at last correctly reckoned it was blood.

He didn’t have no time to think on it, though, cause the fire-lit chiggers knifed all through him — worse than ever before. He clutched at his chest and felt wet cloth and warm, torn flesh. He withdrew his hand and stared numbly at the blood on his palm. The nightmare chiggers, they weren’t playing no more. A dark stain seeped across his shirt. Blood was flowing down his stomach and onto the cave floor.

Memories rushed back to him. He saw his gentle father cry as Gadda’s mother died, and then the man became a cold, unloving, abusive son of a bitch who’d slap him right aside his head with a fist or a belt or whatever else he had at hand — for the slightest of provocations. And if he didn’t have no provocations, then he’d make some up. 

Gadda remembered the last argument he’d had with his father. He was fifteen, and he’d suffered the bitter words and the bitter fists of that man for the last time. So he stabbed him right below the belt with a hunting knife. Then he dragged the body out into the woods and ran up to Murfreesboro, Tennessee where he picked cotton for three years. He returned to Burnt Corn once it was apparent the sheriff didn’t much care for son of a bitch sharecroppers nor the men who might have killed them.

And then he remembered her.

His sweet, beautiful Judith who had the sort of eyes that could trap a man’s soul and the sort of body a man didn’t want to let go of. 

He remembered the times they had spent together — jigging and reeling at a juke joint out from Highway 82 up toward Evergreen… picnics out in the woods at what would one day become the Little River State Park… their bodies curled together in the haystack of an old barn out past the Lambert’s farm. 

They’d had some good times, some damned good times.

But then something broke in Gadda. Something dark twisted around in him, and he got jealous and restless and paranoid. Judith, she was running around on him. And she had seen other men. He knew she must have. And she’d never loved him. 

He had loved Judith fiercely, though, and he couldn’t let her go, so he had forced her to stay with him in the old house he’d inherited from his mean old daddy. After a while, she got herself enough of how he’d talk down to her and decided his threats were all words and that it was time to part ways. But when she tried to leave, she found it wasn’t all words and he beat her with a fist, a belt, or whatever else he had at hand. And on the days when she didn’t try to leave, he figured she wanted to, and so he’d beat her all the same.

But then one fine autumn day when the sun was warm and the wind cool, he felt a bit at ease and he looked in the mirror and saw himself for what he was — a mean, retched, son of a bitch who didn’t deserver her. 

So Gadda got control of himself, said something like unto an apology, then told her goodbye. He hit the road and got all the way to Jackson, Mississippi. 

Leaving just wasn’t enough, though. There was a swarm of jealous chiggers dug into his brain, whispering evil words about Judith’s wicked deeds. 

And so he returned two years later on a hot summer afternoon and found Judith living in his old house and married to a burly man who looked way too much like Gadda’s father… Yes, just too much like that son of bitch. 

Gadda jumped them before they could get their bearings. He slit the man’s throat, rightfully he figured, then he turned on Judith. Those eyes that could trap a man’s soul were filled with tears as he rammed the knife deep into that body a man wouldn’t want to let go of. And he didn’t let her go. He caught her and eased her down onto the floor next to her dead husband. 

And he held her there all through that night and late into next the morning. She was moaning and pitiful, stained all red with guts showing out between her fingers, and her eyes were looking up, not at him but into another world none of us want to see. He didn’t take her out of her misery, like he should have, nor get her some help, not that there was a damned thing a doctor could do back then. He just clung to her, praying that she would miraculously survive, praying to a God who must surely hate him. 

His sweet Judith died before noon. Lord, oh Lord, how had she lived so long? She breathed her last with her head cradled in his lap, his tears splashing down on her face as if that meant a damned thing. 

A moment of clarity came to him. And he understood he had destroyed the most perfect thing in his weary life spent in a weary old world. He had destroyed the one thing he should have cherished. He should have given her the love in his heart and not the cruelty in the darkest parts of his darkest thoughts.

And so Gadda left her there and took up the knife he’d killed her with. As he held it to his chest, he spotted a shotgun leaning in the corner of the kitchen. That would do better he reckoned. So he took it up and trudged out into the woods like a man possessed. He pointed the gun at his chest. He pulled the trigger. The buckshot tore right through him. Angry metal chiggers to battle the evil in his heart.

That was the pain and the hurting and the burning he’d feel off and on and most especially right now. That was them chiggers sure enough. And the blood that dripped from his chest now was that same blood he’d bled back then.

Somehow he hadn’t died that hot July afternoon with the sun blistering down and the cicadas screaming all around him. He had wandered through the woods like a stoned fool, with a gaping hole in his chest until he found a black-haired Spanish woman dressed in a fancy blue gown and talking in them Spanish words he couldn’t understand. With gestures she lead him to the Grail, and she seemed might relieved when he drank from the cup. There was more he should have recalled about her, things that could sober the drunkest of men, but time and the cup had stolen those memories. 

Suzanne took a deep swallow from Ol’ Wooden Cup. 

And Gadda felt a brief moment of peace. 

He hadn’t deserved all the years of life the cup had given him, but she most surely did. He hadn’t done anything with them extra years, never anything but this one good deed.

Suzanne finished drinking. She had probably already forgotten that he was standing behind her. It didn’t matter. She didn’t need to see a man like him. No one did. So as she blissfully took another drink from the cup, Gadda scurried up the ladder into the old shed.

As he crawled out into the night, the ghost of his daddy was standing there, glaring at him. The ghosts had waited outside cause they couldn’t stand in the presence of Ol’ Wooden Cup.

“Be gone, you old son of a bitch!” Gadda yelled at him. “I ain’t afraid of you none. Be gone or I’ll kill you again.”

The ghost spat and disappeared.

Then Judith stepped out from a tangle of kudzu. She didn’t say nothing. She just stared at him with sad, dead eyes — eyes that couldn’t steal a man’s soul no more. All the brightness she had brought into the world was naught but shadow now.

“Judith, I was an awful son of a bitch,” Gadda said, his voice weak and faltering, “as awful to you as a man could be, and I don’t even deserve the right to say this to you, but I am sorry, my dearest. I am sorry for every hurt I caused you, from the littlest word all the way up to killing you like I did. And I’m sorry for what I did to your husband too. I suspect he was a fine man and didn’t deserve it.”

Judith eased up to him, and her dry lips parted, and her voice whispered out from those lips. “Rot in hell, Gadda Bisby. Rot in hell and know for eternity the pain you caused me. And if there ain’t no hell, then I curse you to rot all the same.”

And with that, she disappeared, and he would never see her again.

“I had that coming,” he muttered, though he’d hoped the ghost would stay a while so he could talk to her and try to explain… as if he ever could have — especially since he didn’t rightly know himself why he was the way he was.

Feeling weak all of a sudden, he stumbled over to a tree, sat down, and leaned back against it. Something wasn’t right with him. Something was off.

He raised his hands and flinched. They were turning all wispy and see-through. He was becoming a ghost like Judith and his daddy. And once he was one of them, what then? 

Then like a clap of thunder, the voice of the Grail returned to him, booming in his mind. “There is one more thing you might do in this life, Gadda Bisby.”

“I’m finished here. Let me have my peace.”

“You will not have peace, Gadda Bisby. You will wander this world as a ghost for a while, and when your soul tires of that, you will pass on into the hell Judith cursed you to.”

“What would you have me do then, Ol’ Wooden Cup?”

“A certain man will come looking for this young woman Suzanne.”

“She’ll be fine, Ol’ Cup. She’s gone hide out from him.”

“Perhaps that will be enough. But know, Gadda Bisby, that this man, he is so like you. And if he cannot get to Suzanne, then he will find another and do the same to her. He will do a Gadda Bisby on her… and maybe more than that.”

“My life’s spent.” He tried to pick up a leaf, and his hand passed through it. “Look at me, Ol’ Cup. As much as I want to, there ain’t nothing I can do about it one way or another.”

“Become my sword, Gadda Bisby, and I will give you life and strength enough to stop him. And maybe… just maybe… you will get a taste of peace after that is done.”

“I’ve had your peace before, Ol’ Cup.”

“What if I gave you the real thing this time?”

“True peace?”

“True peace.”

Gadda scratched through his dirty beard as he considered the offer. “Can I can keep my memories? I don’t want to go back to being haunted by things I cain’t quite recall.”

“You will need your memories.”

“And all this is in exchange for becoming your sword?”

“Like the one before you, the one that led you here.”

“She was your sword?”

“And a damned fine one at that.”

Gadda thought of Suzanne and the long life she deserved. Then he thought of his Judith and the eyes and body he’d ruined.

“I will become your sword, Ol’ Wooden Cup, whatever that means,” Gadda said with conviction. “Just tell old Gadda what to do, and he’ll do it.”

The Grail whispered to him, and Gadda’s eyes sparked a malevolent crimson. 

He would deal with Suzanne’s Gadda, sure enough.

But first, there was a visit to be paid on a Reverend Charlie Charles and a Ms. Leona Breyer on account of they had babbled on about the dark things of night that they shouldn’t have babbled on about. And a Mr. Timothy Forester who should not have spread their message to the world.

And after that? 

After all that, Gadda Bisby would go wherever else Ol’ Wooden Cup told him to go, and do whatever else Ol’ Wooden Cup told him to do… until the end… whenever that might be.