Tales From Tidy Vale [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Gordon Ross
eBook Category: Horror
eBook Description: Gravedigger Alvin Grubbins leads you through a quiet little graveyard-turned-hellhole, bored into the verdant, rugged landscape of Southeastern Oklahoma. Here you will encounter prejudice, lust, greed and revenge among the snakes and bugs, the heat and humidity. Come along as Alvin describes the inhabitants of Tidy Vale.
eBook Publisher: The Fiction Works, Published: 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2006
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"Gordon Ross obviously has a twisted mind ... a wonderful asset for a Horror writer. These tales definitely aren't for faint-hearted, weak-kneed sissies. And I thought I was demented!"--The Sand Man, The Black Rock Hotel.
Welcome to Tidy Vale Haven of Rest, a very unusual little graveyard turned hell-hole, bored into the verdant, rugged landscape of Southeastern Oklahoma. Serving the small town of McMichael and the rest of Pitson County, Tidy Vale has almost three thousand "Permanent" residents. And, like mold, it's growing.
Your guide through our little boneyard is Mr. Alvin Grubbins, a second generation caretaker and grave digger. Here's a little secret you'll find out anyway: Alvin is also the local embalmer.
Alvin will introduce you to the miner who tunnels under a cemetery for bodies; a thief back to claim his fortune ... even if it kills him; a used car dealer who tries to make a killing at home; the carving of a corpse in a dog food factory; a self-anointed disciple taking a step into the hell she creates for others; the woman who is dying for sex with a neighbor; the spoiled little rich girl who comes back from the grave to haunt the dead; and the two undertakers, one black and one white, fighting it out to see who has the right to bury everyone in Tidy Vale. He'll lead you through ghostly coffins reeking of crime, cruelty, corruption, comedy, coincidences, and crumbling corpses ... if you dare follow.--Gordon R. Ross * * * * Prologue
Welcome, stranger. My name's Grubbins, Alvin Grubbins. Drop by anytime. There's always something to whisper about in this old bone pile.
I'm the digger in this-here graveyard. "Tidy Vale Haven of Rest" it's called. Used to be way out in the sticks, but this part of southeast Oklahoma's got a might crowded. Town of McMichael's closing in on us. What was rolling fields and woods is now mostly stores and houses.
Got about 2,700 or so folks buried here ... near all of 'em white 'til my daddy, Orville Grubbins ... well, that's another story. We'll get to that in good time.
Let me climb out of this-here hole and I'll tell you how the place got started. Would you believe there was a boneyard before there was even a village in these parts? How do I know? Local history, and sometimes I hear voices from the nearby ground when I'm down diggin' holes. Don't laugh! I do. Been here long enough that I learnt to listen ... even talk to most of these folk, and they talk back to me. Not so's you could probably hear 'em, but loud enough so's I learned a lot of stories as to what happened to each of 'em.
Don't back up! A lot of the people died easy ... but there's them that have some astonishing tales to tell.
Lots of friends here, white and black. Most I never met 'til just before or after they were planted. A lot of them put in the ground by me, and Dad before I started. Some have been buried, one way or another, for over a century, but when it's real quiet, they murmur-like, back and forth. Sometimes the haunts even let me join in the conversation. But I listen, mostly. Real interesting stuff. And since I'm now part of the family, so to speak, I can pass their tales on to you ... or have some tell you and me directly about what happened in their lives and deaths.
I reckon I embalm, bury or burn a good seventy-five or so souls here every year, so it seems like we'll never run out of stories.
So, take the weight off, stranger. I'm ready if you are.--Alvin * * * * Daddy's Girl
This is the right odd story of the spoiled daughter and how she affected the dead hereabouts. I think I'll let August "Gus" Burnside, who knew the girl and her family, fill you in on it. Go ahead, Gus. They're listening.--Alvin
Thanks, Alvin. It's nice to talk to more'n your own kind once in a while. Damn! Here comes the rain again! As you-all can tell, rain ain't a favorite with us haunts. It soaks the ground and brings out the bugs.
The flyin' insects that come after are no problem, except for the noise. The bugs fly right through us. Wasps, moths, bees, flies, skeeters--all the same. They can see us I reckon, the way they come chargin' if'n we're near a nest. But they just buzz on through. Some keep goin' 'til they hit somethin' solid--like a cow, dog or human bein'.
The damp also gets to the underground worms, grubs, centipedes and beetles. Them are tougher on our remains. They get more active and a helluva lot hungrier--not that that really matters no more.
Right now there's ten generations or so of us unhappy souls, moulderin' away in this little seven-acre weed patch across from People's Corner Shoppin' Center on what was once the northern outskirts of McMichael, Oklahoma. Actually there is one thousand, nine hundred sixty-six white folks. There's also more than a few black people buried in here. If the livin' rulin' class knew about it they'd pitch a fit, but like Alvin said, that's another story and I guess it'll have to wait a bit.
To get back to what I was sayin', rain ain't no fun for us. We've got our share of clay. It don't take long for additional water to soak into the ground. It swells that stuff--pressin' and bucklin' tops, sides and bottoms of old rotten caskets, messin' up what is already becomin' pretty disgustin' mortal remains.
Bad enough most of us have popped open years ago from poorly embalmed and putrefying innards and left-over dinners, badly drained veins and arteries, and general bacteria-infested garbage floatin' about in our systems. Plenty of reason for us not to visit our coffins much. We abandoned those miserable circumstances shortly after arrivin' here, and have learned to float around the Tidy Vale Haven of Rest, still believin' in the resurrection. Our stones are our principal pillows, places to sit, hide behind, thinkin' and waitin' spots.
We-all just sat there that day, almost all the many generations of us. We didn't move. Just busy starin' at the heavy traffic and the darkened shoppin' center beyond it.
Each perched on his or her own tombstone, waitin' for that second comin' promised us by our individual preachers--or the first comin', in the case of the Berg family. They share a rather unpretentious rock in the far back left hand corner of Tidy Vale--now in the midst of McMichael's new and growin' retail area.
Most could remember when cemeteries meant quiet places in the country. But here whole bunches of cars and customers get lured by the Alderman Department Store and the Sears catalog outlet, the center's fast food chains, the little gift shops, the hardware store and the big independent grocery. These people keep a constant high noise level from seven a.m. to late at night that is hard for even a ghost to ignore.
Not that all of us had a lot to discuss. We're basically kind of cranky--considerin' our individual fates. We really don't have a lot in common other than bein' dead.
What could we talk about? Unless you're a die-hard history buff, important things and events in each of our lives have little bearing on what interested other generations.
How do you compare a good Morgan horse with a Corvette? Or a campfire with a microwave? A Stephen Foster tune with the big bands or the Blue Cult Oysters or whatever the hell they're called?
By the way, I'm August Burnside. I've been dea--I been here about eighteen years now. Used to be the local garage owner and wrecker driver for better'n forty years in these parts. A lot of these folks I seen just after they left their--other existence. And my tastes run more to Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, but I'm gettin' off the subject.
All of us who call this place "Home"--at least temporarily--had somethin' to chew over the night before when the high school graduation party of '89 wound up their celebration by wreckin' our graveyard.
Country boys today seem to gravitate to four-wheel drive trucks instead of sports cars. Them four-by-four toys pulled over and knocked down our tombstones in what editor Clay Bristow down at the Democrat and Herald called an "Orgy of drunken abandon". Too bad he probably won't print it. He knows where he gets his money to run that paper. From his advertisers. They been tellin' him what to print and not to print for a long time now.
Those boys and girls were swacked long before they hit our place. They carried on and got sick, fell down drunk and acted just plain mean when it come to our 'home'. Their big rigs drove over the red clay ground, already slop from that soakin' rainstorm what hit earlier in the day. The trucks' weight made deep ruts in the soil, tore up the turf and pushed the ground down, crushin' the already buckled and rotten lids on many a tired old coffin.
Miss Martha Conover, killed durin' a wild car ride followin' her graduation the summer of '36, had her monument destroyed by them revelers. In one damned moment went the seventeen years of patience and calm we had forced into her that led Miss Martha to a quiet acceptance of her fate.
She started howlin' as soon as the latest Sheriff Allred ran off them drunken bums. He got their license numbers all right. We sorta seen to that. We got our ways. But a lot of the young-uns' parents, including District Attorney Striker, was political friends of his. Allred might have a good talk with their folks in the morning. Maybe they'd make good. They all had the money, but that would mean involvement and publicity.
We would, at best, probably get a fast patch job on the damage. As he left the scene, Miss Martha cut loose with a howl--enough to wake the--neighbors, so to speak--not to mention them cleanin' up the parkin' lot at the People's Corner Shoppin' Center across the street.
Now, you usually don't hear a ghost. They stick pretty much to themselves, mindin' their own business, just waitin' for the "Next step," you might say. Miss Martha proved to be one of them exceptions. She had always got what she wanted. Her mommy and daddy seen to that. Mr. Conover started the bank. Though things was a bit tight in McMichael in 1936, he'd still made himself pretty land rich with some fine foreclosures that Spring.
McMichael sits in a part of the state that has good water. The drought that had affected much of the rest of Sooner Country never hurt the Conover Bank much. Conover was always busy pickin' up land right cheap for taxes or foreclosure. Then he hired the former owners to work it as low-paid sharecroppers. Mighty kind of him.
With some of the profits he bought Miss Martha that new car she'd been moonin' over down at Hunnert's Ford. Shiny Tacoma blue rumble seat roadster with a white top. Cream-colored wheels, wide whitewalls, twin spotlights, fog lights and a radio in the dash. Conover even hired his young gardener, Mr. Tom Gilly, to teach her how to drive it. The old man musta figured he was too busy and too important with his bankin' business.
On graduation night Miss Martha, Mr. Tom and a bottle of everclear made their way to the South Canadian River. It was time for a little moonlight skinny dippin' at a deep spot they knew.
Trouble was, at two a.m. the car was too new to find its way home. It missed a turn and met a jack oak. Tom got throwed out into the brush tangle 'side the road. Miss Martha, who always got her way 'til then, got left out of the wishes that night.
When we found 'em in the mornin', Tom had been tick and chigger-bit all over, scratched up some and knocked a little sillier than usual. Miss Martha had that banjo wire steerin' wheel wrapped so tight around her pretty little neck she couldn't sweet talk or scream another livin' 'request'--ever.
Tom went on to college, 'sponsored' by Miss Martha's daddy, for Tom was the last one to see the old man's precious darlin' daughter alive. He probably would have finished law school. Instead, he created a family situation with another banker's daughter. At that point the phone wires between banks and the school got momentarily scorched. All funds for Tom from the Conover Bank ceased. Poor Tom had to settle for an itinerant preacher's job--for a while.
Today he's one of the most accepted, righteous, poundin'est and loudest, if not the most pretentious hellfire and brimstone proclaimers goin'.
But, back to Miss Martha, the shattered tombstone, her nerves and those of the livin' and dead near her.
As I said before, years of dull, borin' quiet had lulled most of us into the inevitable wait we'd been told about from Sunday School to funeral parlor. But Miss Martha wasn't about to accept that at first. She'd never had to wait for anythin' in her life--clothes, jewelry, a new car, sex--anythin'. Then just short of her eighteenth birthday, she lost it all. Followin' the plantin', thirty-six years of her whinin' and poutin' on top of that stone brought all of us mostly misery.
I take exception to that. She calmed down some over the past seventeen years. Except for an occasional minor lapse, Miss Martha finally developed that vacant stare we all had learned to put on to endure. Then those damned kids played hell with the whole program.
With no place to even sit, Martha stomped and ranted, howled, moaned and screamed up and down the bone yard road in front of her crumbled marker. She shrieked loud enough to wake the livin'. And they heard her, at least across the street. Lucky for us they probably thought it was more celebrators.
Never the less, we all knew our quiet waitin' would have to take a back seat until we did somethin' about Miss Martha. So we had a meetin' down by the Bergs' stone. Even though it was the area designated as 'beyond the tracks,' it was now in the quietest part of the place--though Martha's howlin' made it hard to hear, even with her maybe a good two blocks away.
Corporal Danner, who come home in a box from W.W.II, thought we ought to shoot her. That was a terribly impractical solution, as the gun Lem Dowdy got buried with from the Battle of San Juan Hill had long since rusted shut. And you really can't kill a haunt.
Miz Ivy Miller, who died the year before Martha would have graduated, had the best head on her shoulders of any of us. She had been a school teacher in all grades for forty-one sessions at McMichael. She even taught in the black schools some after she retired. Volunteered, even. Can you beat that?
Since Miss Martha was back to demanding it, Miz Ivy suggested we try and give Martha her second childhood.
"That's a grand idea", I said, "But about as practical as Soldier Danner's suggestion".
"Not so", says she, her thin old hand passin' right through a blossom-loaded red bud branch, glowin' above us in the moonlight. Among our group, she said, we had enough "Wish power" to "Mortalize" Miss Martha. At least for a little while. Long enough to mebbe work out some of the cravin's in her system. All we had to do was to wake up a little, stop thinkin' so much about the fixes each of us was in, the things we did and didn't do that got us here, and to concentrate on materializin' her out of the graveyard for a spell. The rest was up to her.
After all, it worked for poltergeists and banshees, Miz Ivy figured. Those critters had to energize themselves--with no help from anyone else. It could happen to Miss Martha if we all concentrated our wishin' energies together.
We joined up in sort of rows, like a choir, with Miz Miller as our director. She instructed us and we practiced 'til about an hour before dawn. This was new to her, too, but bless her, she had those teacher's instincts that told her she was on the right track, and what she didn't know for sure she would experiment with and wing it.
Miz Ivy got us into the program. We started a-hummin' on the same key--except for Homer White, who was deaf even before the horse kicked him. And before Miss Martha knew what hit her, she plopped down in front of that department store across the street, still rantin' and ravin' about her latest bad luck string.
Manager Rob Lukens showed up for work early that day. Roundin' the corner from where company policy said he had to park, he looked dumbstruck at the obviously pretty but grimy young woman sittin' in his doorway. She positively glowed through the dust and mildew, mutterin' to herself as he approached.
From our vantage point across the street we strained against our tethers and squinted through the dim light of the false dawn to see or hear the goin's-on. From what we could tell, Rob Lukens couldn't have been more startled than Miss Martha, who suddenly found herself out of her old element. There she was, back in the mortal world, lookin' into a set of strangely familiar eyes. Yet they seemed to be terrifyin' to her. We was afraid she might scream, or at the least get sick. Her knees buckled, and Rob caught her--just like real flesh and blood. Now some of us knew that we was goin' to be ill.
"My God!" says Rob. "You look awful! Have you been in a wreck?"
Good question. That bein' the only explanation he could think of, findin' a gorgeous young thing in tattered, dirty party clothes, the results of the debacle with the kids earlier in the night, not to mention years and years of wear.
"Huh?" says she. "Oh, yes! A wreck. And Tom left me." She said no more. Miss Martha may have been spoiled rotten but she was no fool. She still knew how to work men to her advantage and she needed time to figure out what happened.
"Let me know the name of that scoundrel," said gentleman Rob, "And we'll have the police look him up." We heard no more as Rob gently escorted Miss Martha into the store.
The sun rose, a police car came and went from in front of the business, and soon the center's customers began to arrive. The usual classy bunch, dumpin' used baby diapers, empty pop cans, burnin' cigarettes, fast food containers, napkins and candy wrappers. The erratic breezes swirlin' between posts and buildings helped most of the litter find its way across the street and amongst the plastic flowers left up year-'round in the graveyard. That day it didn't matter much. Our "Home away from home" was pretty well trashed as it was.
With the sun well up, the city manager and the cemetery custodians dropped by to survey the previous night's damage. They called in the sheriff. He showed soon after with District Attorney Striker.
"This is one hell of a mess," manager Amos Boggs said, wavin' his arms up and down like he was tryin' to fly. "You got any suggestions as what to do?" he asked his two custodians.
"Well," said one, stroking his chin, "The sheriff could get some of the county prisoners out to pick up the pieces. Then we could have Jacob Warner sort 'em and ee-poxx-ee 'em back together." Jacob Warner runs the drive-in movie projector on weekends and is our local stone mason on needed occasions.
That one suggestion seemed good enough for them. No one felt like out-suggestin' the others this time. They just wanted to get the hell out of there. So they voted to try that. All looked appropriately shocked, though Sheriff Allred and D.A. Striker never let on they knew the slightest thing about how this happened.
We was so intrigued by this little half-hour show, done not for, but at our expense, we plumb forgot about Miss Martha. Forgot that is, until Moss seen her comin' out of the store, all gussied up in a new summer outfit, on the arm of Mr. Lukens. She must'a gave herself a spit bath in the ladies room, 'cause she just glowed! She warn't mad, either. Nosirreee! She grinned and flirted in that pretty white and lilac summer weight dress, white shoes and matchin' plastic purse. An' ol' Rob, for all his single twenty-eight years, was eatin' it up. Hell, he was in love and on the way to an early lunch at McDonald's down the parkin' lot.
Now Miss Martha could see us, all lined up at the edge of Tidy Vale, like spectators at a parade. But did she pay any attention? Hell, no! She was chatterin' happy--about to taste one of them "Big Macs" she only seen the wrappers of, floatin' around our "Estate" for the past ten years. And they had Cokes, too, and fries. Us? We-all started gettin' some of our own cravin's!
The happy pair disappeared inside, 'bout the time the sheriff and the D.A. left. Five minutes later, they came out the door again with two sacks of instant grub. Miss Martha musta fed him some story, 'cause the next thing we knew she brung ol' Rob back across the road to the edge of the cemetery to lunch on the grass. She still wouldn't look at us. Instead, she taunted all her old graveyard companions with a slow devourin' of that fast food feast, remarking with every mouthful how "Delicious" it all tasted.
Despite all the distractions, I felt in my bones (sorry, a slip of the tongue) that there was somethin' very familiar about Mr. Robert Lukens. Somethin' I remembered from when I owned the local wrecker service back in the '30's. Then I saw that Martha noticed it, too, though she wasn't lettin' on to Lukens. It was his eyes and voice. He had those same steel blue eyes and the same spell-bindin' voice as Mr. Tom, Miss Martha's first and only lover, far as I knew. She had brung him over to our plantin' ground to have me check him out! After all, she knew I knew 'em both, though in all these years she'd never let on she remembered me from the wreck.
Miss Martha looked straight at me and she knew I suspected the same thing. Ol' Rob was Mr. Tom's grandson--only prettier, with a better job.
Here, I figured, Miss Martha would start up what she'd missed out on for almost fifty years. She couldn't go to the preacher. He was too far into TV religion to understand what was happenin', and way too old. His daughter, for that's what he'd fathered in college, must've had all the dominant genes, 'cause Rob sure favored his granddaddy. And though Rob seemed more conservative emotionally than old Tom Gilly, he was richer, by Martha's standards, more respectable, and more eligible now than Tom had been in her lifetime.
Miss Martha got her way for a change. She was a total pain--if we could have such things. We was both wary and pleased that we could set her life into motion like we done. And Rob was havin' a great time, chatterin' to Miss Martha. Just like real flesh and blood.
But then it happened. In the middle of trying to pick up a french fry, her fingers went right through it. We all seen it, and so did Martha. At that moment Rob had his head turned to check store traffic across the street and missed Martha's major physical miscue. The power was leavin' her. Now you know the real meanin' of the expression "Fadin' fast."
When Rob turned back, nothin' remained of the girl but the new white and lilac summer weight dress, a pair of white shoes and matching plastic purse. Here he had been talkin' to the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. Next moment she had totally disappeared, leavin' the clothes he bought her lyin' amongst the tombstones in the bright midday sun of a busy Saturday.
He was miles behind in his work and had to get back to the store. The help all saw Rob leave with that girl, and now he comes back with her clothes. How would he ever explain it all? And what's far worse, what had happened to Miss Martha "Whatever-her-last-name-was?"
Of course, we could see her, plainly visible, hidin' in her skivvies behind the stones. Sure modest for such a wild one!
Stuffin' the dress, shoes and purse into an empty McDonald's bag, Rob retreated across the street again to his store. The rest of the afternoon we watched him peerin' out the display window at where we was standin'. He looked so guilty and forlorn!
Miss Martha? Well, she kinda hid out some, but she quit rantin' at us like she done before. In fact, "Yoo-hoo'in'" at us from behind one of the big pines they planted on top of my coffin, she brought us all together for a quick meetin' around five o'clock.
"'Member how miserable I git when I don't git what I de-sire?" says she kinda quiet-like when we had all assembled. I remembered she hadn't ever got what she really deserved, but I kept that to myself. "Well, I got a new cravin', and if you don't help me scratch that itch, you ain't heard nothin' before like what you'll be hearin' now!"
We all knew about that "Itch"--Mr. Rob Lukens. And when that store manager got off that night, we knew exactly what he'd be doin'.
Sure enough, at straight-up eight p.m., here come old Rob saunterin' across the street once more real casual-like, but with his eyes full of panic. He carried a brand new heavy duty Sears flashlight in one hand and a McDonald's sack in the other.
In and out of the rows of tombstones and the rubble he walked, callin' Martha's name real soft but often--shinin' that nine-cell light into every nook and cranny. We waited 'til he was in front of the spot where the four-by-four had sunk in Jeff Hollin's coffin lid. The "Quiet chorus" gave its second concert, startin' with that really neat hummin' sound.
That's all we needed. Ol' Rob-boy heard it, and took a startled step in reverse. His foot sank into the soft track left by the truck and a coffin lid gave way below it, causin' Rob's leg to drop suddenly into the hole in the ground.
The heavy flashlight somersaulted into the air, coming down hard on Rob's temple. With a grunt, he just sort of folded up backwards, striking his other temple hard on Hollin's broken marker.
Within moments, Rob was one of us, and his spirit found Martha's--still in its skivvies.
It was kind of a dirty trick, but you can't say any of us will "Live to regret it." And, after all, all we did was hum! Rob and Martha seem quite happy now that he's adjusted a bit. At least things have calmed down some. Or maybe they have only 'til "Daddy's girl" thinks up somethin' else she wants.