Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dead Man’s Creek.

Dead Man’s Creek. (Gee’s Bend.)

Down the street and around the corner is where the old park sits. Returning to this old quiet place seems like a memory or story in a book. Except unlike books and memories, much has changed. Playground toys have been absent from use for sometime. Tiny wooden swing set remains standing without seats. Rusted chains hang downward reaching like fingers toward the ground. Slide flows out in a curve because of a dent in the base. A puddle of water fills the corroded chute. Trails made for walking and biking now overgrown with dead foliage. Lifeless vegetation and fallen branches lay across paths snaking in the hillside.

Mama says don’t go there. Don’t walk in the dead earth. The truth leaves me little choice. The others will be here soon. The answers will come tonight.

Walk a half a mile down the long winding path and you come upon a slow moving river bed. It’s actually quite beautiful to sit and watch the sun go down over the water’s edge. Cooler temperatures bring crispness to the air and the fall colors brighten the reflecting pools. Sometimes it’s a wonder anything awful could have ever happened in such a beautiful place. The reminders of the past have been nearly washed away by Mother Nature. Yet the ghosts still haunt in these parts.

If you keep walking there’s a bend in the road just before the reaching the falls. Even the river veers off in a small rivulet. This creek follows the bend dramatically and the rushing waters never loose momentum. Now, as you round the turn you’ll find yourself standing in front of an old structure. Not much more than a burned out shed with part of the roof caving inward.

This is Gee’s place. Another place Mama says not to go. Unexplained answers require that I do.

She has more than one warning that’ll send a chill up your spine. Most of the time its based on superstitions. This one, however, isn’t unwarranted. According to the stories, Gee was burned alive when his house caught fire nearly fifty years ago. The trouble with Gee, well it wasn’t the first death on the river. There’s something about these parts and dead bodies.

Mama says the dead have always lived in greater numbers than the living in these parts. And says nothing more. This silence implies that I should not ask more.

The best way to tell you about it is to tell you about the creek. They don’t call it dead earth for no reason. Pretty much every step you take around the area is over an unmarked grave. Dead Man’s creek came to earn its name through a series of unexplained deaths over the years. Pretty much anyone that settled near the banks of the falls along the rivulet soon met misfortune. The stories of death go back nearly two hundred years. The creek has always had a life of its own. Yarns of deaths, drowning, hangings, cannibals and murderous madmen surround the mystery of the creek.

Gold fevered Forty-Niner’s settled in the area and used the creek to pan for gold. During these frenzied days, the corpses of dead men fighting over gold would simply drift down the river leaving behind the blood red creek bed. The Niners aptly renamed the blood soaked waters Dead Man’s Creek. Folks didn’t like it much, but somehow it stuck.

Gee was an odd fellow, settling in these parts nearly sixty years ago. Some people didn’t like him from looks. Folks would say a bad sort of feeling would come over you if you laid eyes on him. Settling near the creek didn’t have a way of helping that distrust.

Mama talks about this like it were a picture in a book. Nothing more to say other than it’s in the past. She hides the pictures in an old box up in the attic. The boy’s clothes are buried next to the Christmas ornaments. I’m only two years younger than he was and she acts like I shouldn’t remember.

What’s left of the little shed is surrounded by at least fifty graves. Mass burials. You wouldn’t know it from first glance. The ground is flat and unmoved. No hint of unlevel ground. Tiny bodies lay beneath the shallow earth. By looks, no telling how many there may be. One might speculate that only the missing are there.

Almost ten years Gee lived in silence of the town’s shadow. Never coming in or out of town more than once a month. Living silently around the bend. Most people thought him to be a madman out in the woods. Many avoided the bend because of it. Stay away from Gee’s bend.

Mama won’t talk about this. Warns me to stay away from the dead earth before reminding me to ask the Widow Markle about a cup of sugar. Widow Markle used to have a son 55 years ago. Tells me about him when I get the sugar. A boy my age. We would have been in the same grade school she says. So many disappeared during that year she says before pouring the sugar into a small tea cup and handing it to me. Continues to tell me about how lucky I am to be a girl. Girls never disappeared she says. Only the boys that played by the river around the bend never came back she says quietly before reminding me about her boy that was about my age.

Gee kept mostly to himself. Fishing and swimming in the creek near the falls where the treehouses abundantly housed the children in the late afternoons and more frequently in summer. His absences from the town were never noticed.

Mama wants me to be in the house before dusk and reminds me not to walk around Gee’s bend. Tells me that I can borrow a shovel from Old Mr. Ander’s and then reminds me it’s getting late as she spills the salt. Tells me it’s safer to be indoors rather than tempt the fates and incur a wrath as she tosses salt over her shoulder. As a grown woman I know better than to give into superstitions. Nonetheless, I always wait until she leaves the room before sweeping up the salt.

Notice wasn’t given to the man living next to Dead Man’s Creek until the last of the Bakers’ boys was gone. Someone saw a group of boys wandering down by the playground along Gee’s Bend. Two boys managed to get away. Late that afternoon before supper they returned with a mouthful of something awful to tell. Baker wasn’t standing for it. Took a shotgun to the edge of town and fired. Swore now that everyone knew the truth and it was time something was done.

The shovel is around back says the old man while watering his front yard and whistling the tune of the Brandenburg Concerto. Mr. Ander’s just got a new dog. Reminds him of the one he used to have that loved to bury bones. Ander’s says it’s funny cause he never gave his dog a bone. Somehow that dog, always managed to turn up with a bone. During the summer of ’59, another group of boys went missing and old man Ander’s dog took a liking to Gee’s bend. Spent day after day digging there. The Ander’s dog is particular about burying things. Every house on Main St. happens to have a bone buried next to it courtesy of Ander’s dog. Ander’s also supposed that most of those bones belonged to a human. Ander’s swears there’s a leg bone still buried next to his front porch thanks to that dog.

Mama knows what happened. The whole town knows about it. But no one talks about it. Keeps it hidden. The fate of the boys that played by the creek side down Gee’s Bend. Odd Gee staying in that corner of the world away from prying eyes. Hiding a deep dark secret that still stains the reputation of the town. The small yard surrounding the tiny dilapidated wood shed is a mass grave filled with the tiny bones of over fifty children.

It’s after dark now, the sun has set. Purple and orange hues cast against the side of the hills behind the river. Such a lovely view of the water as it casts a reflection of color upwards. Shovel in hand as I meet with the others. Our lanterns are positioned. Like the others - sisters and now mothers to our own children - seeking a release for our fallen brothers. Setting in to do what I came back for. So begins laborious task of digging up truth. We have no choice; it’s what must be done. It’s dark and I can hear Mama’s words echoing in the back of my mind.

The story most people tell is that they lost a child drowning in the river.

The story they don’t tell is that an entire town burned a man alive before tossing his remains downstream.

Yes, I’m giving up two today. Promised new this week, and had to deliver. Dead Man’s Creek. Working title was originally Gee’s Bend. And it began almost three months ago. The Ides of March I believe. Julius Caesar. I had the story idea in my head, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Played with it in April. A little last month. Now it is complete. The title changed after coming across a place on one of my little trips out of town. If I can find the picture… I’ll definitely include it soon. Been writing all day and most of last night and I still haven’t completely caught up with the typing. There is more. Enjoy! m.

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