By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
In the early sixties, as America inched toward the slow, painful process of sloughing its skin, my friend D.T. engendered exploits fondly re-told a half-century later.
This tale is of graveyards, spookery, heinous trickery and things that go bump in the night, and D.T.’s rapier wit.
That quickness of wit often got D.T. into a pickle, and usually out unscathed. To say that his instincts were finely honed would be to call a sword a nail file.
He needed his wits about him one night in the singularly dreadful Old Pisgah graveyard, a bone orchard.
(This is now a twice-told tale, and condensed to the, well, skeleton, and with the finale. Links are provided to the first two).
It’s been recounted that all graveyards are cemeteries, but not all cemeteries are graveyards, and, worse, some graveyards are bone orchards. The differences are these: graveyards are haunted, every one, but a bone orchard is meaner. A bone orchard might get you.
Old Pisgah in northwest Walker County is thought a bone orchard and garish tales are told. Abandoned, desolate, miles from nowhere, it rests (or doesn’t rest) among craggy hills and scraggly forest. It is thought to be furious at being abandoned. Some say it seethes. There’s an infernal atmosphere to the place, especially at night, that calls out to the adventurer, the needy and the reckless for dares and pranks.
In brief, D.T engineered Old Pisgah to be a gathering spot for Friday nights, after the game and dates. A dozen cars would pull up its long sandy road, right to its wicked heart.
All considered Old Pisgah haunted, but few believed. D.T. smiled at that. Coincidentally (perhaps) D.T. purchased the first cassette tape deck of anyone at Walker High. It cost more than a hundred bucks when gasoline was 30 cents a gallon.
The day he got it, he went to his toolshed and recorded sinister sounds, soft at first then louder and louder, full of awful spinetingly noises of moans and chains rattling and shaken tin roofing. Dire tumult.
On a crisp October Friday afternoon approaching All Hallows, he drove to the party place at Old Pisgah, went amongst the tombstones and hoisted the tape deck up into a tree’s autumn leaves. D.T. went home and and waited.
That night, he was last to arrive, 11ish, and safely parked away from the others.
It was a perfect Halloween pallid moon under a scudding cloud cover, the gusty wind carrying the first edge of winter. All were in high spirits when D.T. stepped into the tombstones, pressed the play button and rejoined the party. When the tape noise started the wind blew the sound around until even he couldn’t tell from whence it came.
A reveler, amidst raucous laughter, stopped to say, “Hey, did ya’ll hear that?” D.T. declared he heard nothing. A few moments later, horrendous sounds split the night.
I said those gathered in Old Pisgah at night were reckless, but that is a bit inaccurate. There were three wrecks. One unfortunate snagged his pantleg on an inconvenient limb, blurted “Got me!” He lunged for his doorhandle, missed and jammed his thumb something awful. It never did heal right.
D.T. followed them out, doubled back and retrieved his tape deck.
All weekend, phones rang. Monday, the halls rang with confirmation that Old Pisgah was haunted. There was proof from multiple sources. Fearless ghostbusters could hardly wait for Friday night.
D.T. was pleased, and meant to offer a show. He enhanced the tape with a wolf baying and bells ringing to complement his moans and groans and shaken tin and chains. He, too, looked forward to Friday night.
Ah, but the best laid plans, eh. Friday afternoon, things got in D.T.’s way. Try as he might, he couldn’t get to Old Pisgah Graveyard (bone orchard) that afternoon and that evening he barely got there before the eager. With headlights turning in down the hill, D.T. hurried into graveyard with just time to lean the tape deck behind a tombstone.
More than 20 kids showed up. The mood was fraught with anticipation and giggly fear.
The night, though, was wrong, with full moon and no wind. Worse, some tough-guy members of the football team showed up, including the stud linebacker who was afraid of nothing. He wasn’t big, but he’d tackle a truck. D.T.’s finely honed instincts sensed imminent peril. He considered delay, but the iron was hot and he decided the show must go on.
He conjured lively conversation, saying he doubted there was really anything Out There. Some agreed but most were a-tingle. Midnight approached and he started to move into the tombstones when things went wonky.
A couple of lower school girls sidled up to D.T. just as he was ready to make his move. D.T. needed space and one of the girls gave him opportunity. She hugged herself and said to D.T., “We’re scared of graveyards.”
In a hollow voice, D.T. said, “I was, too, when I was alive.” Ah, sudden space.
Into the stones he went, found his tapedeck, pushed the play button, sauntered back, and soon caught the first soft sounds of fright in the night. The group alerted.
Then clamorous discord came tearing out of the night, full of shouts and chains and moans and the keening wail of an anguished woman. Many turned to flee, but the stud linebacker yelled, “Shut up and listen!” and they did.
Without halt or falter, he went straight into the graveyard and a minute later returned with D.T.’s expensive tape deck, which he proceeded to throw down and stomp.
D.T. said, “I had tears in my heart, but I remembered the wrecks. I could see the guy with his thumb bandaged and figured I didn’t have a choice. I started stomping the tape deck hard as he was.” Then the stud picked up the busted machine and tossed it deep into the bowels of Old Pisgah bone orchard.
Everyone left, including D.T.
I said, “So was the tape deck ruined?” He shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he said, “and don’t want to know. I didn’t go back to see. I haven’t been back and I’m never going back. Far as I know it’s still where he threw it.
“That woman screaming? I’m ninety percent sure it came from the tape. I’m a hundred percent sure I didn’t put it on there. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve got to wonder if I woke something up.”
(Next week: A Modest Proposal)
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com.