Yeah, I’m talking to you! Come on over here, and I’ll tell you something that happened when I was ten years old……….
Yeah, I’m Junior Hoffman, and you heard right. I’m an old codger. 96 last Spring. I’m the oldest man in Sandbell County. That lyin’ sap-sucker George Tucker said that he was, but he wasn’t. Had him beat by a day. And anyways, he got struck by lightening two months ago, right in his own front yard while he was cussing at the mailman. So, now, I’m definitely the oldest man in Sandbell County.
So, you’re settled comfortable now? Well don’t be comfortable for long. This story is gonna scare the bejesus out of you. Worse part is, I ain’t no good storyteller. This story is just plain true.
You know how some folks like to act tougher than what they are? Like they ain’t scared of nothin’, right? Well, let me tell you. Comes a time when someone like that meets up with something they can’t understand nor figure out. And that’s what happened with Jill Ledbetter and Paul James. What they learned sure took the ‘tough’ right outta them. Sure did.
It was about June, I think. School had just got out and most of us was working in the fields for our Daddies and such. I had been since it had gotten hot, which as you know, in Florida is about always. So, I didn’t manage to go to school much. But I always hated sitting still, so being out in the fields suited me just fine.
I was takin’ a break and drinking some water that my Mam had put some sugar and lemon in. It don’t sound like much, but man, you put a top on that stuff in a mason jar and cool it in the creek, you’ll find it sure hits the spot. But, I was telling you that story. You don’t care about cold sugar water that you can’t taste the like of anymore, anyhow do you? No, of course not. So, here’s what happened.
You see there was this old graveyard, Mabsey’s, just off the side of town, where nobody who had good sense ever went after dark. Nobody much went there in the daylight. Weird things happened there. Bad things. At night there were lights where they ought not to be lights, and sounds too. Sounds you wouldn’t expect from a graveyard.
No one had been put there for ages. It was an old Indian burial ground. Then a few folks who came over from other places. I think some Spaniards, and old time colonial folks. Well, that yard got full right quick, and someone had the smart thought to put a fence all around it and leave it alone, except for a gate that nobody used, cause no one ever wanted to go in there.
There was a story about how this little gal went in there daily to sit at the grave of her feller, one of the boys who fell down fighting for us at Gettysburg against them Yankees. She just about grieved herself down to nothin over that poor old boy. Then, one day, she wasn’t there no more. Or sorta wasn’t.
She’d sing his favorite song “Listen to the Mockingbird” over his tombstone. Folks coming by at the time she was there got used to hearing it. But then, she wasn’t there anymore, and folks still heard the song. They just didn’t see anyone there singing.
Then, some no-goods from Mecklin country came over and decided to throw a drunk out at the graveyard. No particular reason, just up to no good. They showed up, sat on a few stones, and started out to have a good time. The next morning, the liquor, hardly touched, was there. They weren’t. No one ever saw them again. But plenty was heard of them. Every once in a while, you’d hear them fellers beggin and pleading to be ‘let out.’
So, the graveyard became a thing to be let alone, and pretty much walked a round circle around. I was just like the rest. I was working for my Daddy, and he said if we brought in a good harvest, he’d give me a dollar bill to spend any way I liked. Now, this was when 16 dollars would buy my Mam a brand new cook stove. I was planning every durned day out in that heat what I was gonna do with my riches.
Well, here came Jill Ledbetter and Paul James, laughing and full of beans.
They liked to spend time together, and not cause they was sweet on each other, neither. It was cause they were mean as two snakes in a flour bag, and that was just separately. Put them two together, and there was bound to be trouble. The two were in the same grade, and if they weren’t givin’ each other idears about how to trouble another kid or the schoolmarm, they were laughing about what they did or what they was gonna do, you know.
That day, they was headed my way. I stood in the corn, hoping they wouldn’t see me. Part of why I didn’t like school was the way they lit into me and the other kids who hadn’t grown enough to fight ’em. I knew that me not bein’ in school wouldn’t slow ’em down none. Sure enough, they were talking about payin’ me a visit.
“Let’s grab some eggs and hide ’em….and when they get good and rotten……” Jill was saying.
“Or maybe some dewberries….they’d never come out of that one shirt he never seems to take off….” Paul was sayin’ back……
That day, something just got hold of me, and I decided to take a chance with these two old bullies of the schoolyard. “Ya’ll don’t wanna fool with me, like that.” I said, coming out of my hiding place.
“Yeah?” Paul said, rearing up to the height that made him the most feared kid in the grammar school. I just about lost my nerve. What was I gonna say? What could I come up with to take their attention away from tormenting me?
Then, like the lightening that struck that old lying George Tucker deader than a doornail, the idea hit me. “I bet ya’ll won’t whistle when you walk by Mabsey’s graveyard.”
“What?” Jill said, laughing in a way that made her pretty face, well…ugly. “Who cares about old Mabsey’s graveyard. Just old hoodlums and Indians burried there. No one cares about it.”
I had to think fast. “Well, I heard that whatever you do when you walk by there at midnight, the graveyard….or something in it, will do back.”
The two cohorts looked blank for a minute, minds off whatever misery they planned to add to the berry and egg stoning they had in had in mind for me. “Who told you this, kid?” Paul asked, stepping a foot closer than I would have liked.
I was stuck. You see, I was lyin’ a blue streak. I gulped hard. “Why, I heard it myself. I was walkin’ by it on the way home last night. I was whistling as I walked by, so I wouldn’t be scared. And something in there whistled back. Like it was callin’ for me.”
I knew it all sounded stupid, gushing out, but I was trying to save my hide from a good pummeling from Paul at this point. One that I knew Jill would help him do. And I might try to hit Paul, but my Mam told me to never hit a girl, even a mean one.
Jill squinted her bright green eyes at me, and considered what I said. “Don’t believe you a bit.” She said. Then, she looked at Paul. “I think we should put him in a sack, and tie it up and put him in there to stay the night. Maybe something in there would eat him the way it ate up them bunch of drunks that camped there. Remember?”
“Ummm hummm.” Paul said, considering. “It whistled, you said? Like it wanted you to come to it?”
“Sure did.” I said, wondering how long it would take my Daddy to think of looking for me in a tied up burlap sack in a haunted graveyard.
“I’m gonna try it. In fact, I’m gonna go right at midnight and try it” He said, surprising the heck out of me. “But if nothing happens, get ready to like living in a burlap sack.”
Well, that night, I went home, ate dinner, and told Mam and Daddy I was sick to my stomach and could I go to bed early. Since I don’t normally take on like that, they let me. Mam came and checked on me before they went to sleep. I climbed out the window and ran to the graveyard, wondering if Jill and Paul would come. I wasn’t much at telling time, sides’ looking at the moon, and listening for the church-bell and countin. And they was a little late. But, just after midnight, both of them came. Jill first, then a minute later, Paul.
I hid behind a tree near the fence of Mabsey’s scared to be so close, but still watchin. I knew nothing was gonna happen like what I said would happen, but I wondered if something else would…….
Paul started up the whistling first. He walked one time the whole length of the weathered old fence, and then back, whistling up a storm. Jill joined him, her own girlish whistle.
“See, nothing….I told you….I….” Jill was saying. But then, from somewhere within, a sound was heard.
“You hear that?” Paul whispered.
The whistle, sounding somewhat cheerful came from the back of the burying ground. Those two bullies, so quick to pound fear into others, seemed to freeze where they stood. Then, they recovered. They began to whistle back, again walking up and down in front of the graveyard.
The whistle, closer this time, got louder. And had a strange quality to it. Even I wanted to leave the safety of my hiding place and get closer to listen. I thought of the story my Mam told me about a pied piper leading children plum out of town….she told me that story when I was a little feller. I liked it and made her tell me it again and again. I wondered why I thought of it now.
Then, I saw Paul, as if being pulled by something walk towards the rarely used gate of the cemetery. Jill tired to grab at him. “Stay away from there. It could be anything. Watch, I’ll throw something at it. It’ll stop!”
She grabbed some rocks and threw it at the sound of the whistling, which was quite close by this time. The source of the whistling nowhere to be found. When Jill threw them, out of pure idiotic defiance, she began to whistle, loud. “See there, I can do it too!” She hollered.
The whistling was so loud by this time that it was hurting my ears. I looked and saw that Paul had begun to move, quickly towards the gate, though it was clearly not his idea. He had gone into the cemetery. And then, he was just gone. Poof. Like he’d never been there. Jill, half her defiance gone by the sight of that, tried to run, but couldn’t seem to use her feet the way she wanted. The whistle took on a new tone, one that sounded charming, mysterious, compelling. And she moved towards the cemetery….and was gone.
It was all I could do not to follow them. The pull from the whistling was so hard that it was like being gripped with the fever and ague. You just don’t feel in control of yourself. I grabbed onto that tree I was hiding behind with all my strength and started saying the bedtime prayer Mam taught me, but that I usually forgot to say. Suddenly, the sound was gone. Shaking to my toes, I took off, ran home, and woke up Mam and Daddy.
They was too shocked by my crazy story to be mad at me for leaving home in the middle of the night, and they came out to Mabsen’s. The gate was in place, as if nothing had happened….except for one thing…..skid marks up to it, as if the kids had truly been pulled into the place by some huge force. The marks of the struggle stopped just inside the yard…and there was nothing there.
“Now this don’t mean nothing. Boy, are you playing a joke? I’ve got a razor strap that will cure that…” Daddy said. But Daddy knew I didn’t tell wild tales. He went into town and stopped at Jill’s house, and then Pauls. Both kids weren’t in their beds.
Now, they were bullies. And none of us other kids ever missed ’em to be sure. But nothing was ever found of either of them. Except, about a month later, one of Jill’s shoes…….near an old grave.
Now, I’m here to tell you. 96 years old, and never heard of such anywhere else………except that in the years since, a few others have tried it…..walking by and whistlin’. And these were grown folks that ought to have known better. No one ever saw anymore of them neither.
It’s a bad place, Mabsey’s. So, why am I telling you? Cause someone will, sometime or another. And you look like a kid that likes to take a dare. You say you’re gonna try it? Well, son, I’m here to tell you, you’ve been warned.
I’m the oldest man in this county. I didn’t get that way by doing foolish stuff….you better listen to me and not do it…….
Well, durned if he didn’t go. But I’ll tell you folks readin’ this story. If you walk by Mabsen’s tonight or some other time, you better not whistle at the graveyard.
Chances are, likely as not, you’ll probably get a response.