�Murders on Fork Mountain� is a specific scene, not told, in the novel �From the Graves of Babes.� �From the Graves of Babes� was number two on Amazon�s top 100 list of best selling new ghost novels in February of 2011 and is currently number one on Amazon�s top 100 for customer satisfaction based on reader reviews for ghost novels. It is currently ranked fifth in customer satisfaction among all horror novels. �From the Graves of Babes� is available for purchase in both print and Kindle from Amazon.com.
Richwood, WV 1926
Young Grady Haines had sat by his ailing father�s bed side almost all day, every day, for more than a month; holding his hands, helping him eat his meals, engaging him in conversation on the days he could talk. Those days were becoming less with the passing of time. This was quite a task for young Grady, something an eight year old boy should never have to go through, but one he could not refuse to do.
On this particular morning, a Saturday, it seemed his mother was off schedule, taking longer to prepare her ill husband�s breakfast than usual. Knowing that eating and breathing were the last two pleasures in his father�s days, the only two activities he could partake in now that he couldn�t even sit up on his own, Grady rose from his bedside seat, assuring his father of a quick return and went into the kitchen.
His heart was heavy, knowing his father�s days were near their end. The elder Haines had developed blood in his stool and urine as well as a fever that would not subside. The town�s doctor, upon a recent house call, failed to make an accurate diagnosis. His only orders? Make him as comfortable as possible until the end.
No one knew how such an illness could have set on so quickly in such a young, healthy man. Grady�s father was only thirty five, full of life and in great health. He had spent nearly twenty years felling timber in the great, black cherry forests surrounding the small town of Richwood, West Virginia, located at the bottom of their mountain; Fork Mountain, so named for splitting the North Fork and South Fork of the Cherry River. The river was named after the abundance of the type of trees Grady�s father and other lumberjacks of the area felled in greater abundance here than anywhere else in the United States.
Creeping into the kitchen, unheard by his mother, he noticed her mixing the bowl of oatmeal. It was his father�s only choice for breakfast now that he had grown so week he could not chew solid food. A pinch of brown sugar and a table spoon of honey and she gave the bowl another stir.
Pausing, she reached to the shelf above the counter, moving a jar of salt and a can of lard. Reaching to the back, she took off of it a small glass jar previously hidden by the items she had recently removed. Grady watched as she spooned out half a spoonful of the jar�s contents. A last ditch effort of healing herbs perhaps, taken from the surrounding forest? Maybe a bit of white sugar for extra sweetness? Grady watched as she sprinkled what appeared to be a fine, white powder into the oats, giving the entire contents of the bowl one last stir afterward.
�Oh,� she said, surprised, detecting the boy�s movement behind her from the corner of her eye. Turning, bowl in hand, her eyes meeting Grady�s. �How long have you been there, honey?� The bulge in her midsection revealed she was quite along with child.
�Just a moment,� he said. �Father is hungry. I hate to see him wait.�
�I know dear,� she said, walking to him, handing him the bowl. �I am so bereaved it seems harder and harder to get out of bed each morning. I only wish his suffering to stop.�
�There is still hope, Momma,� Grady said, taking the bowl, looking up with sad eyes. �We just can�t give up.�
�I know, sweetie,� she said, a pat on the boy�s head. �I won�t if you won�t. You go feed your father and I�ll collect the eggs from the hen house for our breakfast.� She kissed the part she had just patted, as if she had tenderized the spot for a peck.
�Easy, father,� Grady said, lifting the man�s head, the head he hoped was not that of a dying man. He knew in his heart it was. He placed another pillow behind it. �Not too fast.�
�Son,� his father said, voice low, slow. �You have been the best son a man could want. I only wish I could be around long enough to see your little brother or sister when he or she arrives.�
�Don�t talk like that, father,� the boy said. �Mother will give birth soon. You will be well by then. We will go on our long walks and hunts in the forest again. I promise.�
�You are the best,� the man said, allowing his son to put the first bite of oatmeal in his mouth.
�Don�t chew, father,� Grady said, concern on his face. �It will take your energy.�
Nodding, the man did as his young son said. He slowly drank the oats. Enough milk had been placed in them to make this easy. Five minutes of repeated sips and the bowl was gone.
�You go eat now, son,� Grady�s father said. Though his senses were faint, he could smell the bacon sizzling in the skillet in the kitchen. He knew that eggs would soon be fried in the grease. Oh, what he wouldn�t give for a big plate of bacon and eggs, just once more.
�Ok, father,� Grady said. �But when I am done, I�ll come back and sit with you.�
�Such a fine boy,� his father said, the extra pillow being removed from behind his head by his son; his pride and joy.
�Are you excited for school to start next week?� his mother asked over breakfast, an attempt to get her son�s mind off of his dying father.
�I guess so,� he said, nibbling on the end of a crispy piece of bacon. Slaughtering the hog from which the meat had come had been one of the last things his father had done while in good health.
�It will be good for you,� she said. �You�ve been inside too much the past few weeks. You�ve taken on too much for a boy your age.�
�But father needs me.�
�He�ll be just fine,� she said, assuring him. �I�ll devote all my time to him while you are gone.�
�But what about when the baby comes?�
�We�ll get help. We have enough family down in Handle Factory Hollow. My sisters can take shifts. Everything is going to be o.k.�
The boy sat in silence, eating slowly. Just as he was finishing his meal, a great cough, then a moan, came from his father�s bedroom. The boy and his mother looked each other in the eyes, knowing what had just taken place, neither daring to speak the words. They rose quickly from the table, rushing for the bedroom.
Grady�s heart sank upon the site. His father, lying in two pools of blood, pouring from the openings of both ends of his body, was dead.
*Two Weeks Later
Grady�s mother had been correct. School had helped. He was out of the house now, daily. His thoughts were still so often with his father. At least now he didn�t have to wrestle with the guilt of being in school while his father lay suffering; alone. He could not be sure if his mother would truly sit by his bedside all day while he was at school. His parents seemed to have grown apart, even before his father�s illness, as if a light that had burned between them had dimmed. Even an eight year old boy could see this.
Grady knew his mother had other, pressing issues now. She was in her seventh month of pregnancy. She and Grady had decided that if the child were a boy, they would name it Jonathan, after his late father. If it were a girl, it would be named Linda, after his late father�s mother. Either way, the name of the new child would honor the man in death.
�Why couldn�t we have buried him here?� Grady mumbled, kneeling at the side of an unmarked grave, one of many in a secluded, seemingly unknown grave yard on the hill above their small cabin on top of Fork Mountain. �Why did we have to take him all the way to the other side of town?�
It was certainly a day�s effort for Grady to visit the grave of his father. The man had been buried in the Richwood Cemetery, on Rhododendron Drive, on the other side of town. Grady would have to walk all the way down Handle Factory Hollow, across the booming timber town of Richwood. He would have to pass the world�s largest clothes pin factory, smell the mixture of tannery smoke from the local tannery, coal smoke from the handle factory at the bottom of his mountain and all the manure from the scores of horses crowding the boom town�s city streets. These were the very reason�s his family had opted to live so high up on the mountain, out of the bustling city below.
�I could have come to see you every day,� he said, still on his knees.
He had inquired about burying his father at this small gravesite but people were quite superstitious about the area. Strange things had been reported having happened here. Grady himself had never heard or seen anything out of the ordinary.
�Ha, ha, ha.� A giggle, sounding as if coming from a little girl, maybe two little girls, came from behind him.
�Who�s there?� Grady said, quickly rising, turning to see who was behind him. He saw nothing, but heard the giggle again. It definitely sounded like it was coming from two little girls. The sound of leaves rustling behind a large oak tree drew his attention.
He crept to the tree, certain to find some of his school mates hiding behind it. Jumping quickly around to the other side, he saw no one. Something was there, however. A small basket, appearing to have been made out of deer hide. Inside, two handfuls of acorns.
�Who�s is this?� Grady said, lifting the basket. He looked all around him. There was not a soul in site. The laughter had disappeared. It was replaced with a yell. Not from the gravesite though, from below it; his families cabin.
Racing off the hill Grady got to the cabin, afraid to go in because of the argument taking place inside; his mother and his father�s brother Joe.
�This?� Joe said, holding the jar with one hand, pointing at it, angry, with the index finger of the other. �You fed him crushed glass?�
�It would leave no trace!� Grady�s mother said, trying to convince him she had done the right thing. �The house slaves used to do it to their masters. It was a great idea!�
Grady peered through the window not believing what he was hearing and seeing. Were his senses playing tricks on him? Like only moments ago at the graves?
�You could have been more humane,� Joe said, slamming the jar onto the kitchen table. Another pound of pressure and it would have surely shattered. �He was my brother for God�s sake!�
�But this is your baby!� she said, pointing at her swollen belly. �It must not have mattered to you too much that he was your brother when we made this!� still pointing. �What was I supposed to do? We can be together now!�
�We will never be together, you wretch! The only person you�ll be with is the hangman!� He turned, marched out of the cabin, a man on a mission.
Grady hid himself behind a pile of firewood. He was almost paralyzed from what he had just witnessed, but not enough so to take what he felt was the best action to take; hide.
As Joe stepped off the porch, a shot rang out. Grady watched as his uncle fell hard with a thump, landing face first three steps below. The back of his skull missing, red blood oozing, covering green grass just beginning to brown at the tips from the Indian summer�s heat and lack of rain, the man lay dead.
One Week Later
�Looks like you are in quite a bind,� Judge Gilbert said, pacing the woman�s living room floor. It was dark, after nine o�clock. He had come unannounced and uninvited. �What are we gonna do about this, Ms. Haines?�
Grady lay in bed, blankets pulled to his nose. As if the events of the last few weeks in his young life were not enough. What now?
�I tell you, it was self defense,� the woman said, pleading.
�Self defense, hell!� the judge said, turning to face her, the same face he wore when he had been a prosecuting attorney. �You don�t shoot a man in the back of the head, at the distance of ten feet, if it�s self defense! The evidence is overwhelmingly against you!�
�I will do anything!� the woman pleaded, rising to her feet, making her way to the judge. She put her arms around his waist, attempted to kiss him.
�Get off,� he said, shoving her back lightly, a look of disgust on his face. �Not in the shape you�re in.� He glanced at her stomach. She looked down, grabbing the part of her which housed her unborn child with both hands.
�That can come later,� he said, sly grin on his face. �I�ve seen you around. I like what you�ve got. I�ll reserve that for a few months from now.�
�I can�t go to prison,� she pleaded, taking her seat, sitting on the edge, both elbows resting on her knees, her hands wringing together just below her chin.
�How much land do you have up here, woman?�
�Two hundred acres.�
�I want it,� he said, matter of fact.
�You can have it if it sets me free,� she said.
The land had been in her husband�s family since it was granted to his grandfather and great uncle shortly after the civil war. The men were owed money from the government for their war time service. The government, being broke due to the great expense of the �war between the states,� had chosen to pay them with land.
�I�ll make all charges disappear on a technicality,� he said, looking her straight in the eyes, a pause for effect before speaking again. �Once you�ve signed the deed over to me.�
�I�ll be at the court house before the week is out,� she said, jumping to her feet, racing toward him. She dropped to her knees, hugging his thighs.
�Get up,� he said, irritated. �And remember, once that thing comes out of your belly and you�ve had time to heal up, I�ll be back for the other part of our deal.�
�Whatever you want, Judge Gilbert,� she said, too happy knowing she was going to walk away from her crimes to feel dirty at the thought of blackmailed sex.
Grady lay awake as he heard the door shut, the judge on his way off of Fork Mountain. He listened as his mother took her seat, the sound of the rocker filling the small cabin, covered only partially by the sound of her cries. She wept half the night. The sounds of her weeping finally put her son to sleep.
�I didn�t know who else to come to, sir,� Grady said, confiding in his teacher, Mr. Thicket. The day�s session in the one room school house had ended. The other twelve students making up the class, ranging from first graders, to one student in high school, tenth grade, had left. Grady and Mr. Thicket were alone.
�These are some pretty serious accusations you�ve made,� Mr. Thicket said, sitting back in his chair, weighing the information the young boy had just given him. �You�ve cast them upon a pretty powerful man as well.�
�I know, sir,� Grady said, pleading. �And I don�t want my mother to go to jail. But I know what is happening isn�t right. We�ll be forced to live with my aunt and uncle, and that scoundrel Gilbert will own the entire top of Fork Mountain.�
�He�s done it before,� Mr. Thicket said, leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He looked Grady in the eyes. �I believe your story because I know too much about that man. He has a girlfriend in every part of the county. He owns land everywhere and he came about it the same way he�s attempting to come into possession of yours.�
�What can be done, sir?�
�I�m not sure,� Mr. Thicket said. �But I�ll think about it. I�m sure there is something that can be done. Something that will still keep your mother out of prison.�
Grady sat impatiently, watching the wheels in Mr. Thickets head spin.
�Don�t come to school tomorrow,� Mr. Thicket said. �I�ll post a note on the door that school�s been cancelled. I�ll pay the judge a visit myself.�
Mr. Thicket sat in the waiting area of Judge Gilbert�s office at the court house in Summersville, the country seat of Nicholas County. The hour was early; half past nine. He had been so motivated by his plan that he had barely slept the night before, setting out on horseback for the four hour journey before the sun had come up.
�The judge will see you now, Mr. Thicket,� the attractive secretary said. No doubt she was one of the judge�s many mistresses.
�Welcome, Mr., uh,� Judge Gilbert said, stammering.
�Yes. Thicket. Sorry about that,� the judge said. �My secretary tells me you�ve got some information on the Haines case?� sitting slowly, motioning for Thicket to do the same. �I usually don�t allow such meetings, as it could bear a conflict of interest, but this case has special meaning to me.�
�Why is that?� Thicket asked, holding his cards tightly against his chest.
�Well,� the judge said, surprised to be questioned. �I know the �ol gal is pregnant and a single mother now, her husband having recently passed. I would hate to see what would happen to her son and the unborn child.�
�Listen,� Thicket said. �I�m not going to waste your time or mine. I�ve ridden for four hours to get here this morning and it�s an equally long ride back.�
�Well then,� Judge Gilbert said, clasping his hands behind his head, leaning back in his chair. He placed his right foot on the edge of his desk. �Do tell then, Mr. Thicket.�
�I know how you operate,� Thicket began, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. �I know you are going to make all charges go away if she deeds you her land. I further know that if I were to go to the State�s Attorney General with this information you would not only never practice law in any capacity again, but you may never see the light of day once it is found out how often you�ve done this sort of thing in the past.�
�Hm,� Judge Gilbert said, a grunt, not batting an eye. He was a professional. His poker face was much better than Thicket�s. Thicket sat across the table from him, blinking, swallowing saliva that didn�t exist; his throat as dry as if he�d swallowed a spoonful of saw dust from one of the local lumber mills. �So how do you propose we handle this?�
�This is what I want,� Thicket said, leaning forward, placing the palms of both hands on the judge�s desk. �I want half the land.�
�Trying to make a few bucks yourself are you, Thicket?�
�No,� the teacher said. �Money is of no importance to me. I am a school teacher. I�ve never had money and I never plan to. I know that land has been in that family for generations. I know the boy and his mother, and the soon to be new addition have nothing. I will sign my land back to them upon the boy reaching the age of majority.�
�Well, aren�t you a saint,� Judge Gilbert said, leaning forward to meet the gaze; the weak, insecure gaze of the school teacher. �You�ve got my balls in a vice right now and we both know that!�
Thicket sat back, a wry smile on his face, clasping his hands behind his head and resting a foot on the desk as the judge had previously done. He felt as if he had won.
�This is a two way deal,� the judge said, now leaning forward, placing his hands on the desk. �I�ll give you half the land. But if word ever gets out of this, you get disappeared. I think you know what I mean.�
�I understand completely, Judge Gilbert.�
�Get the hell out of my office. I�ll bring the deed to you next week.�
Thicket didn�t offer his hand for a parting handshake, knowing it wouldn�t be accepted. He rose, turned quickly and exited the door. He didn�t stop to look back. He had been lucky, really lucky. All had gone according to plan. The judge knew he had been caught red handed. The Haines family would eventually retain some of their land. Justice had not been done, but it had been done more than it had previously been set up to have been done.
�Hey, Sugar,� Judge Gilbert said, leaning into his beautiful, young secretaries face, giving her a kiss. She was his daughter�s age. In fact, she had recently graduated high school with his daughter. �Will you run down and tell your papa I need to see him for a minute?�
�But you�re my papa now,� she said, rising, thrusting her young, excited hips into the middle aged man�s groin.
�Time for that later, you little temptress,� he said, stealing another kiss from her young, barely of age mouth. �I need to talk to your papa.�
�I�ll go get him,� she said.
Judge Gilbert returned to his office. He had his own plan. He always got what he wanted. He did not lose.
�You needed to see me, Judge?� Sheriff Simmons said, entering the office.
�Shut the door, Bill,� the judge said, motioning with his right hand. �We need to talk.�
�Is it Rhonda?� the lawman asked, referring to his daughter out front. �Is she doing ok?�
�Oh, she�s doing great. If I were a younger man and wasn�t married, why�� he trailed off, seeing that his friend had no idea of the fact that he didn�t need to be a younger man or single. �I have a job for you and your boys,� he said.
�How much?� the sheriff asked, the money always being his first concern.
�A thousand dollars.�
�The hospital or the mortuary?�
�Who, what, when, where and why?�
�Listen up,� the judge said, leaning forward. �His name is Thicket. He�s a school teacher at that shack of a school on top of Fork Mountain over there in Richwood��
One week later
�Hm,� the family patriarch, Mr. Hammonds said, news paper opened before him. The fire burned ten feet further ahead in the fire place of the small home on Cranberry Street in Richwood.
�What is it, Paw?� six year old Billy Hammonds asked. He missed his father dearly during the day while he spent his daylight hours working in the local lumber mill, the Cherry River Boom and Lumber Company.
Billy had been playing with a set of blocks his father had whittled for him out of scrap cherry wood from the mill a year or more ago.
�Looks like they�ve found another dead person on Fork Mountain.�
�Weren�t there just two deaths up there recently?� Mrs. Hammonds asked, laying down the knitting she had been working on.
�Yeah,� her husband said, pulling the paper closer to his face, the print of the article being smaller than that of the headline.
�Mr. Andrew Thicket was found hanged, a believed suicide, from a tree above the school house where he taught up Handle Factory Hollow on top of Fork Mountain, above Richwood, West Virginia. It is believed that Mr. Thicket had recently abandoned all hope of being with a lady of his fancy and could not bear the sadness that had filled his heart. He had been a good teacher for more than five years on Fork Mountain, liked by all and will be missed by many.�
�There sure have been some strange things happening on top of Fork Mountain lately,� young Billy Hammonds said, eyes wide, staring at the front of the paper that blocked his father from view.
�Strange indeed,� his father said, not lowering the paper, instead flipping the page to the next story; Richwood High School�s football team, beaten by a military school in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, by more than one hundred points.
The little boy went back to his blocks. His father continued reading. His mother went back to knitting. The fire continued burning. Time marched on.
Kevin E Lake
Copyright Kevin E Lake 2011
*For a complete understanding of the significance of this scene, be sure to read �From the Graves of Babes,� by Kevin E Lake, available on Amazon.com
Kevin E. Lake grew up in the Mountains of Richwood, West Virginia. He was a sports writer for both his high school and college news papers. He was a state champion high school miler and ran track at the NCAA II level in college, where he also wrote poetry and short stories for several publications….
… Lake served honorably during a tour in Iraq as a machine gunner for a convoy security team in Mosul, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s last urban stronghold. While in Iraq, with what little free time he had, he wrote “Serial Street,”…..
From Kevin E Lake’s Author Page
Other books by Kevin E Lake
�Serial Street� � fiction- thriller/suspense
�Homeless Across America� � non-fiction- Americana/US History/Autobiography