The Ghost of Potter’s Road
By Wesley Critchfield
Don’t ever go down Potter’s Road after dark. During the day you can traipse about in the hollow as much as you like. Ride your bicycle. Take your lady friend for a walk. Fish in the stream. Do anything you please. But when the sun sinks behind the hills, stay away.
Not all of Potter’s Road is haunted at night mind ya. You can walk safely from Vincent’s Bridge, all the way down into town. It’s getting past Robber’s Rock, to Vincent’s Bridge that gets you jiggered. Before Robber’s Rock, you’re as free as a bird, past it, and you’re doomed.
It all began forty years ago. Back then Potter’s Road was safe to walk at any time of day. The whole length of it. Other than a tree root or an ill placed rock, there was nothing there that could harm you.
One bright summer’s day a man walked into town. He had no horse and no bicycle, his only mode of transport was his own two feet. Now people say that this man had been lucky from birth. To all appearances he was one of the most vile looking beggars that ever walked into the town. He wore long robes that were old and full of bits of cloth that had been patched on, to keep the garment from falling apart. His face was dirty and his hair was prematurely grey, and wild. Even his shoes were full of holes; he himself seemed to have very little luck.
But the man himself was very lucky.
Lucky for others that is.
If you helped this man out, your fortunes would change for the better.
If your cows had been not putting out enough milk to feed even her calf, she’d suddenly be able to fill every bucket in the state. If your fields had been fallow and fruitless, they would sprout ears of corn three feet long, every last kernel plump and full, as a circus fat lady.
Yet, the opposite was true as well if you gave this man a wrong turn, as one man did, deliberately, tripping him up in the street.
If you went out of your way to give him trouble, your crops would die and your cow would run dry. Aye, the fates were with this man, which just goes to show that you should never judge any man by appearances. Not even beggars, who we all know, are never what they seem.
The roads were not paved back then and they were barely more than through ways of dusty dirt that had been walked, ridden, and galloped over so many times that they were packed together tight. I was playing beside the road and I saw him myself, and while I could never tell you how, I knew that man was special.
All the children seemed to know it. They followed him asking, “Who are you?” and “Where did you come from?” and “Ooh, how did you do that?”
The dogs followed along with the group, panting and prancing, wanting to know what the excitement was.
The man found an uninhabited tree stump, by the side of the road and began to speak to the children, and he told stories! He showed them tricks and entertained them for nearly two hours.
Oh, such stories he told. The like of which I’ve never heard again; stories of far away lands and magical creatures. A boy, who didn’t know the meaning of fear, trolls under bridges, and a man transformed into a monster by a curse, made human again by a kiss.
But as the evening drew on and the sun went down, the children were called away by their mothers. Dinner was ready, or it was time for bed, one by one the children went home.
When the last of the children went home, this traveling storyteller picked up his satchel and slung it over his shoulder. Walking down the dusty road, he made his way to the local tavern.
The sun was gone behind the hills as he padded over the dark street and onto the porch where two old local men sat on opposite sides of the doorway.
“Pardon me sirs,” he said, “but that tobacco smells so good, I couldn’t help wondering if I might have a bit for my own pipe.”
“Go away.” one man said.
“Eh, leave him be Charlie McGee, here sir you may have a bit of my leaf.” Said the other.
The storyteller withdrew a decorative pipe from his robes, “Thank’ee.” He said, stuffing the bit of shredded leaves down into his pipe and mashing it further with his thumb.
The kind old man offered him a match and he lit his pipe.
Puffing gently on it, to fan the flame, he said again, “Thank’ee” and then took a long draw, held it for a moment, and then blew out the smoke in a ring. “Ahhh,” he sighed contentedly, “that hits the spot.”
It was only then that Charlie McGee noticed the beggar’s pipe. It was beautifully made. The stem was ivory, with a ring of gold where it connected with the bowl. The bowl itself was beautifully made and in the form of a bearded old man’s head“Oi, where’d you get that?” asked McGee.
“Oh this?” the traveler said, bringing the pipe forward and examining it as if for the first time, “It’s just a pipe.”
“I know what it is. How’d someone like you come by a fine pipe like that?”
“It were given me by the Sultan of Arabie. He gave it to me as a gift when I saved him from a pack of wolves that attacked him as he walked in his forest.”
Charlie scoffed. “Nonsense.” he said, settling back into his chair.
The traveler took another long draw on the pipe, “Ah, that is good tobacco.” He said to the kind man, “I was wondering if I might have just enough for another pipe later tonight, or tomorrow?”
“See!” said Charlie, pointing at the beggar, “You see? You give to a beggar and what does he do? Asks ya for more!”
“Hold your gob!” the kind man said, reaching down for his tobacco pouch.
“I’ll be glad to pay you for it.” The traveler said.
Charlie laughed, “Pay with what? A flea? A dead rat?”
“With this.” He held out his hand, fingers splayed.
“There’s nothing there.” Charlie said, “You planning to pay with nothing?”
The beggar looked at his hand, “Oh silly me.” Without drawing his hand back, he wiggled his fingers, and suddenly out of nowhere there was a golden coin betwixt them. It danced over his knuckles as he moved his fingers, until it finally landed in the palm of his hand. The old beggar proffered it to the kind one.
“How did you do that?” McGee asked, dumbfounded.
“When you travel as much as I do, you can’t help but learn a few tricks along the way.”
He turned, and once again, offered the coin to the kind man.
“Sir, I canna be taking your last coin.” He said, offering the man his pouch, “Just take the whole pouch, it’s yours.”
“That’s very kind,” said the Traveler, taking the pouch, “I thank you sir.”
The tramp stood to his feet and walked into the tavern.
“Nice man.” said the kind one.
“He’s a beggar, his lot are all the same. Leeches, sponging off the working man.
“You don’t know what you’re…” the kind one started, and then stopped as he put his hand in his pocket.
“What is it man?” Charlie asked, leaning forward.
The man pulled his hand out of his pocket, and along with it, drew out the same gold coin that the beggar had offered him.
Inside the Tavern the traveler sat down at the bar. “A bottle of Uisce beatha!” he said, placing two identical coins on the counter.
“A bottle of what?” asked the bartender.
“It means, Water of Life.” The traveler explained, “Whiskey.”
Placing a bottle of his best before the man, the bartender picked up the coin and bit it. It was real. The soft metal bent.
An hour later, the traveler had finished the entire bottle by himself, and stood. He was clearly quite drunk, but able to stand on his own two feet. “I thank you gentlemen!” he said to the bar at large, “May your larders never be empty and your coffers always full! Now, would someone kindly direct me to the best road out of town?”
He stuck his arm out fingers together, as if he were a weathervane, swaying from side to side, as if looking for the right direction. The people told him that Potter’s Road was the best way and he said, “Thank’ee!” loudly one last time and stumbled out of the bar.
He walked down the streets, until he came to the hanging sign that designated the road he was looking for. He walked down the middle of Potter’s Road; singing snatches of old tunes as he walked.
Deep in the woods, past Vincent’s Bridge, two men hid behind a large boulder that lay beside the road.
Now, behind that rock, who should be crouching, but Charlie McGee his own self and the very barman that had given the traveler his whiskey earlier that same night?
While the traveler had been enjoying his bottle, The Bartender and McGee had been conspiring. They’d both seen the gold that the Traveler had and they wanted it for their own. Every last penny of it.
“Where do you suppose he got that money?” The Bartender, who’s name was Alan Cage, “It weren’t not currency that I ever seen before.”
“Who cares where he got it, fact is he got it, and I wants it.”
From somewhere in the distance they heard a voice singing. Such a beautiful, hardy voice it was too. A voice that could cause flowers to bloom and birds fall silent, so that they too might listen,
“Such a find lookin’ corpse, ya never did see…
Timmy my boy a-why did you die…
Dance with your partner… whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn’t it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake!”
“Hesh!” Charlie said, putting a finger to his lips, “he’s commin’ now!”
The two men lay in silence as the traveler came up the road, still singing his songs. They could see him as he walked over Vincent’s bridge.
“When he gets by that old broken tree stump,” Charlie whispered, “That’s when we make our move.”
The man fell silent as he neared the tree, the absence of his song made the night seem even darker and more foreboding. He seemed to be listening.
“You don’t think he knows we are here?” The bartender whispered.
“Hesh up!!” McGee shouted in a whisper.
The traveler laughed, a jolly drunken laugh that made you want to laugh along even if you didn’t know the joke. “You can come out now, Gentleman.” He said, “No good hiding, my hair might be grey but I’m only forty-two and my hearing is as good as ever.”
The two men came out from behind, what would forever after be known as Robber’s Rock. They could see him standing in the moonlight, his cloak wrapped around him to shut out the night’s chill.
“What can I do for you?” He asked, “A magic lamp? A handful of magic beans? That’ll cost you a cow, you know.” he waggled his fingers and smiled.
“It be your gold we’re after.” Alan said, taking out the small club he kept in his back pocket for when a row would start in the bar.
“Ah, isn’t it always?” Said the beggar, who was not so poor after all. “Could I interest you in a handkerchief that’s always clean a moment after you’ve used it?”
“Just the gold, hand it over.” McGee said, extending his hand, and drawing a gun with the other.
“Ah, me.” The Beggar said, calmly, reaching inside his robes and pulling out a small bag that clinked with coins.
He passed the bag over to them. “May I go now?”
“Is that all of them?” McGee asked.
“Quite.” The Traveler said.
“And the pipe! Gimme that too!” McGee said, and the beggar passed it over.
Alan moved to the side, as though to let the beggar pass, but McGee pulled back the hammer on his pistol and fired. The beggar fell to the ground, blood pouring from him.
Charlie stood over him and looked down at the beggar, “And have you runnin’ off to the cops and telling ‘em that you was robbed, and who it was, what done it? I think not.”
The Traveler, a man who had been over hill and mountain, river and stream, ocean and sea, one of the last traveling magicians, looked up at his assassinator and said, “Think not that ye shall escape the recompense for this deed. A curse on you and yours. A curse on this land, which shall be my home, until the one whom I deem, shall receive that gold which is taken from me.”
He muttered something in another language, perhaps Gaelic or Latin? No man living can say. And at last, he died.
But that’s not the end of the story, sometimes, a story doesn’t end with death, it begins. For all beginnings are endings, and all endings are beginnings.
Alan the bartender told McGee he wanted no part of the money, because it now had blood on it. He then went home that night and put a shotgun in his mouth. He had not wanted the beggar to die; there had been no malice in him, only greed. His suffering was at an end.
For Charlie McGee on the other hand, miseries would follow him to his grave. Before a week had passed, his wife caught a fever and died. His cows would give no milk, nor would his chickens lay eggs. His crops shriveled and died, even though the rain fell on them, and the soil was rich.
Creditors came calling, demanding payment and he had nothing to give them. He couldn’t spend the coins. Not yet, someone might recognize them and ask how he came by them. He might be locked away for murder.
Day after day, night after night, his life became more and more miserable, until he had to sell his farm, for a quarter of what it was worth, all of which was taken by the creditors. No one wanted ground that would not seed, no matter how rich it seemed.
His misery was doubly increased when, a year later, he was passing by his old homestead. There he saw row after row of golden corn, so plump that the husks were pulling away at the top, cabbages as big as bushel baskets and tomatoes, so big and ripe that if you squeezed them just the slightest bit, they would burst.
But worst of all, in a far corner of his property was a peach tree, a tree he’d meant to rip out years before, a tree which had never borne fruit. It was hung with peaches, each bigger than a giant’s fist. Unable to believe his eyes he climbed up into the tree and picked one. It was so round and full that he had to hold it with both hands. Rubbing his thumb gently over the soft fuss he was surprised to see the skin give away as though it were silk, and juice dribbled down the sides. He sucked the juice from the skin and then bit into the peach. The sweet flavor exploded in his mouth as juice flowed down his front.
If you or I were to have tasted those peaches, our taste buds would never accept the taste of anything else again, and everything afterwards in comparison, would taste dry and woody and stale. But rather than enjoying the taste, he wept. For all this had been his, and had been taken from him and given to another.
It was the coins. Those blasted, blasted, coins! He had to get rid of them as quickly as he could, surely if he returned them to the beggar, his luck would change.
The sun was setting, as he ran back to the one room shack that he now called home. He dug out the money and quick as he could, he was back on the roads of Washington. When he, at last, came to Potter’s Road, the sun was setting and before he reached Vincent’s Bridge, the sky was black as pitch.
“Beggar!” he called into the darkness, standing by Robbers Rock, “Storyteller! Wizard! Whoever and whatever you were, I am sorry! I have learned my lesson! I return these coins to you!” He threw the pouch that contained the beggar’s coins and pipe, down against the stump of the tree where the Beggar was buried, “Now leave me in peace! Trouble me no more! You have what is yours!”
The forest was still. There was no wind, only the sound of running water from August Creek. Then from behind him a croaking sound, as of a man trying to breathe through lungs that were nearly dust, a horrid sound of a beast trying to speak.
Charles turned toward the sound. Before him on the path toward the bridge, were two glowing eyes. Eyes without feeling. The flames of hell twinkling red in them. He moved and the eyes followed. He stepped forward, past Robber’s Rock and the eyes never blinking, quivered.
He tried to speak, “Ba… Baa… Beggar?” He asked the night.
There was another of those croaking, wordless replies and every hair stood on end.
“You… You have what is yours.” he pointed toward the tree stump where it seemed the ghoul was sitting, staring at him with its hellish glare, “It… It’s there, at your feet.”
He stepped toward the specter and the eyes went out! Disappeared!
Still there was that horrible croaking sound, sounding less and less like a voice trying to speak and more and more like a hungry predator about to pounce.
“Spirit.” he asked, “will you let me pass?”
The growl continued.
McGee gathered up his courage and started back toward the bridge. Passing the tree stump where he had last seen the specter and walking slowly away. He was nearly to the bridge when the growl suddenly became a roar, he turned and saw the fiery eyes coming toward him.
The next morning Charlie McGee’s corpse was found, lying dead at the foot of Vincent’s bridge. Some people say that McGee’s heart gave out from all his suffering, but the wiser ones know that his soul was whisked away by the ghost of the beggar.
So whatever you do, my dearios, my darlings, stay away from Potter’s Road when the sun goes down, lest you too are whisked away by the ghost of a traveling beggar… who was not what he seemed.
All that you have just read was a story that my grandfather used to tell me, from the time I was very young. I have recounted it here because, were it not for that tale, much of what eventually happened to me may never have happened.
I have tried to retell it here as he did, keeping as many of his euphemisms and turns of phrase as I could. But I feel it falls far short of the mark that he made upon me with it.
It is one thing to read, it is another to be heard as he and he alone could tell it. So the reader will forgive me, if some of the parts are not as scary to them as they were to me.
When he would tell the story, the hackles of every person listening would be raised and they would not sleep soundly for many a night.
After the story was over someone would always brush the story off as an “old wives tale”.
To which Grandpa would insist, “It’s as true as gospel.”
Either because I had heard the story so many times, or because I was just plain cocky, I once asked him, “How do you know that he was truly a wizard and not just a man who knew a few slight of hand tricks?”
Grandpa paused for a moment, as though this question had caught him off guard, “Well… umm… hmm…”
“See,” said Mike Lovit, who had been sitting in on the story, “he doesn’t even know the answer to something as simple as that.”
“Be quiet you whippersnapper!” he said, “It’s just that I ain’t been asked that in a long time, I know the answer.” He turned to me, “Bill, it’s because his ghost came back, it’s only wizards what can find their way back from the land of the dead. Besides, he cursed the land didn’t he?”
“I don’t believe that you are falling for this nonsense.” Mike said.
Mike was visiting for the night because his father was on a “mean drunk” again, and he didn’t want to risk getting another beating. We were sure that even as we sat there, his father was destroying the house and calling for Mike, but in the morning he’d be hung over and it would be safe to be around him… At least until six or seven o’clock that evening when he would return to the pub.
“I tell you it’s true, I seen the ghost myself.” Grandpa said.
Mike snorted, “You’re so blind, you wouldn’t know a ghost from a wisp of tobacco smoke.”
“I may not have the world’s best eyes anymore, but when I was a younger man, I had eyes as good as any, and I saw it, just like I described it to you. I tell you, if it had come after me, all hellfire and brimstone, I’d’ve died of fear, sure as shooting.”
Mike began to get angry, as he always did when people contradicted him, “It’s all crazy talk, your Grandfather’s told this story so many times he actually believes it!”
Grandpa’s fighting blood was boiling, “It’s true ya little troll and I’ll prove it to ya! Billy, get your coat, we are going for a walk.”
I didn’t move.
“Billy, I said, get your coat, we’re going to show Michael just how crazy I am.”
“You’re not going to Robber’s Rock are you?” I asked.
Grandpa’s eyes glittered, “Yer dang right, I am. Ever since the ghost first appeared, people have said I was a fool or just plain crazy for believing the legend. But I saw it with my own eyes and now you’re going to see it, both of you are, then you won’t think I’m crazy.”
“I’ve never thought you were crazy.” I lied, looking for some way to get out of going, “Mike doesn’t think you are, do you ya Mike?”
“Nah, he’s not crazy, he’s just tetched.” Mike said, standing to his feet, “I’ll go and see your ghost and when it turns out to be nothing but your imagination, I’ll tell everyone in Greene County that you are nothing but a fake and a storyteller.
“I ain’t going,” I said, “You two can go get eit by the ghost, I prefer to keep my head.”
Grandpa came over and twisted my ear. “Boy, I said you are comin’ and that’s final.” With one hand, he pulled me out the door, (without my coat,) into the chill fall air.
The moon was all but full, one more night and it would be a perfect circle of glowing light, but it was constantly being obscured by the large dark clouds that moved across the sky.
While cloudy and cold, the night was peaceful. Like most houses this side of Vincent’s Bridge and Robber’s Rock, it’s not near much of anything else, it’s at least a mile from one place to the next. We didn’t live all that close to Potter’s Road, and it was a five mile walk, just to get to where Potter’s joined Iams Road, then another mile to Robber’s Rock.
It might surprise the reader to know that this was the first time I’d ever been to Robber’s Rock, most young boys on hearing a story like my Grandpa’s would have dashed to the site of the tale the next day. I must admit, I never did. The story had always scared me so badly.
The wind blew gently through the trees and autumn leaves fell from the trees, and chased each other across the street. I found myself wishing that grandpa had brought a flashlight, but at this time flashlights were still rather expensive, and we didn’t have one in the house, much less a car with headlights to travel the distance in. Besides, the moon gave plenty of light, even when the occasional cloud would block out its direct rays.
We arrived at Robber’s Rock, half an hour before midnight. In the distance, some hundred and fifty yards away was Vincent’s bridge, now old and falling apart.
People still used the bridge Grandpa later told me, but you wouldn’t dare drive an automobile across it. It would fall into the stream “sure as shooting.”
The road ahead and the bridge itself were hazed in a low hanging cloud of fog that came from the stream over which the bridge crossed.
The gentle breeze of night, or the stream itself seemed to move the fog along, but never cleared it away.
We stood there, looking down the road.
Five minutes passed.
“So when’s this ghost supposed to show up?” Mike asked.
Grandpa, sounding uncertain, said, “It’s a ghost, they are mercurial, they show up in their own good time.”
“Well,” Mike said, sitting down, his back against the boulder of Robber’s Rock itself, “That’s convenient.”
Another fifteen minutes, and at midnight, precisely, the wind kicked, up and the clouds began to move.
Then from down the road, toward the bridge there was a small noise, it sounded like someone making an “R” sound, from deep in their throat.
As one, we looked toward the sound. Only darkness lay before us, as the moon came out slowly from behind a cloud, the bridge was illuminated, but that was all. Nothing.
“Probably, a frog.” Mike said, leaning back to relax against Robber’s Rock again, no sooner had he leaned back something caught his eye. A glint. A sparkle. A tease of red.
As he looked back toward the bridge, the wind died, and again, louder and longer we heard that cry, and it sounded angry this time.
Mike was on his feet in an instant.
There shimmering in the darkness were two glowing red eyes, literally burning into the night. There was a haze around them, a glow.
They weren’t exactly eyes the way that you and I have; they were more like animal eyes. There was no visible pupil to them, and they were extremely large, fully the size of your fist.
Furious, evil, unblinking.
“Think I’m crazy now?” Grandpa asked, not looking away.
Mike didn’t say anything, I don’t think he could.
No words can truly describe those eyes, they were terrifying, they seemed to warn, “Come no further!” but seemed also to beckon, “I’m waiting for you. Come. Come and die.”
I moved to the left, the eyes moved left. I moved right, they moved right. They were watching me.
“I’m going to meet him.” said a strange voice beside me. Through a tremendous act of will I glanced to my left. It was my grandfather who had spoken.
“No Mr. Iams, you can’t.” Mike said, fear in his voice, “I believe you, I’ve seen enough.”
“I haven’t.” Grandpa said, never taking his eyes off the road and the eyes before him.
Grandpa started forward, and somehow, I found myself moving with him. We’d only taken four steps when the eyes suddenly flared, like a stoked flame.
Grandpa squeaked in fear, and we both stepped back, standing next to Robber’s Rock again.
“Come on Mr. Iams,” Mike said, “let’s go.”
“I’m with him Grandpa, lets go.”
Grandpa was still in another world, staring at the eyes, “Alright.”
Without any further discussion, we all backed away from Robber’s Rock, not daring to take our eyes off the thing.
When we were nearly twenty feet from the rock, the glow of the eyes was no longer visible, and fearing the spirit of the storyteller, all three of us turned tail, and ran.
As we ran I heard the last thing I’d expected.
I was even more surprised when I realized it was coming out of my own mouth. Then I looked at Mike, and he was laughing too. All three of us were laughing, and I had no idea why.
I know now of course that it was a release, we were laughing at ourselves, we were laughing at each other, and the fear we’d felt just moments before.
We slowed to a jog and then a walk, “Man, you were so scared!” Mike said, pointing at me, still laughing.
“Me,” I said, “what about you? ‘Don’t go Mr. Iams! I believe! I believe!’ You sounded like a charismatic! Isn’t that right Grandpa?”
Grandpa was out of breath, and grabbing his knees, “I… got, no room… to talk. I’m still scared.”
“If you were scared, then why did you go toward it?”
“Don’t know… felt… drawn. Hard to resist.”
There was no sleep that night. The three of us stayed up talking about what we’d seen until five in the morning, and even when we did retire, I could not close my eyes without seeing those fiery red ones that glowed so close to the bridge.
That afternoon I told my Ma, everything that had happened the night before.
“Bill haven’t I always told you that there are no such things as ghosts?”
“But Ma, I saw it, I saw it with my own eyes.” I said, gesturing wildly, “the eyes flared up when we walked toward them, they saw us, they knew we were there! The ghost knew!”
“Billy, whenever a person dies, their soul either goes straight to heaven, or straight to Hell, there are no stops in between. Now, I don’t know what you saw. You might have seen something; then again it could have been all in your head. What I do know is, you did not see a ghost.”
“Not another word, young man!” she said, turning back to her dishes.
I turned to go, when I reached the doorway, she added, “There’s nothing there in the dark, that ain’t there in the day. Why don’t you go over there now and see your ghost.”
“Ghosts only come out at night Mom.” I said, walking away.
As I walked down the street, I thought about what Mom had said, I decided that I would indeed return to Robber’s Rock, and I would do it now, in broad daylight.
I approached Robber’s Rock carefully, and when I neither saw, nor heard any sign of the ghost I moved past it, still no sign or sound.
By the time I’d made it to Vincent’s Bridge, I knew that, (at least during the sunlight hours) it was safe. I turned around and looked back at Robber’s Rock. I was surprised at how much the view looked just as I had imagined it, from all those years of hearing Grandpa tell the story of the traveling stranger.
The cracked white paint on the ground-supports of the bridge, the large oak tree, now turning colors, its branches over the road. The old rotten trees stump from a tree that had been destroyed by a bolt of lighting, long before the beggar came to town.
The stump had broken in such a way that there were two prongs like points on either side of the stump, forming a U or V shape. And then there was Robber’s Rock, sitting there as it had for who knew how many years.
It was one of the great mysteries of Green County, how a limestone boulder ten feet wide and eight foot high, had managed to plop right smack dab in the middle of the woods when there were no cliff faces in any direction.
The reality would be discovered several years later that the “boulder” was actually part of a larger rock that had pushed out of the ground when that part of the world was formed a million years ago.
There were many things in Greene County, which were not what they seemed.
I explored that area for nearly two hours, and I still could not find one thing that could have caused the apparition we’d seen the night before. I was convinced, we had seen a spirit, maybe not the ghost of a beggar, a traveling wizard, but we had seen a spirit of one kind or another. I knew it, as surely as I knew I would come back to this place again, to see it.
That very night I returned, I could not stay away.
To this day I wonder why I couldn’t have waited a day or two.
I had planned to. I wanted to wait at least a couple nights, but something drew me.
Again the entire area from Vincent’s to Robber’s was coated in fog. I arrived around ten o’clock and waited till midnight. The moon was completely full now and caused an otherworldly glow to rest on top of the fog.
At last, I could wait no longer, and I stepped out from my hiding place, behind Robber’s Rock.
As though it had been waiting for me, the eyes were there, burning, staring into the darkness, “RRRaaaaarr!” it cried, in that horrible sound that was more and more like a man trying to speak with his lungs full of water, as though saying “Ah, there you are.”
I stepped toward the flaming eyes, that now seemed more green or yellow, than red, but no less fearsome.
It felt as though I were the prey of some great cat, which was ready to pounce on me.
Somehow I managed to find my voice, “Wizard!” I cried, and it seemed to me that the eyes flared, “The men who wronged you are dead. Why do you stay here?”
To this day, I do not know why, and I had no conscious recognition of it until I was very far along, but at some point I had started walking down the road toward the bridge.
There was another cry, and the closer I got, inch by inch, the longer they seemed to last, as if it were one long noise that got louder when the ghost would actually speak. I listened hard, trying to hear the words, but there was nothing discernable.
I felt then as Hamlet must have when he approached the ghost of his father, the warning of his friends ringing in his ears. I kept moving toward it, I decided, like Hamlet, that no matter what happened, I would meet this ghoul face to face. Even if I was killed, I would not turn back, I would not run.
Suddenly, without warning, the green glowing eyes flared up brighter than ever before, and went out.
I stopped dead in my tracks, not daring to move forward, or back.
If I moved toward it, I could no longer see it and something deep inside would not allow me to step back, let alone turn tail and run. I could see nothing in that fog, but the gurgling cries continued. After standing still for nearly five minutes, that seemed like forever, I moved forward again.
The eyes reappeared, but dimly and hazy in the fog, now seeming too long, not so much like eyes, but large greenish gashes, tinged with red. I was now less than five feet from the eyes. They were huge in the shrouding fog, and staring, unblinking.
I put out my hand, and advanced the remaining two steps before my hand. As I put my hand between the eyes they went out again. Stealing myself, I put my hand down and felt something beneath my hand.
It was soft and spongy. I feared that I had actually touched the body of a ghost.
Drawing my hand back I saw that there was something red on my hands, it glowed in my hands and for a crazy moment I thought it was Ghost Blood, but even then the realization of what it was, dawned in my brain.
Reaching forward again, I grabbed the spongy stuff before me and pulled on it, and by the light of the moon I saw that I was holding a mass of dead wood and glowing, bioluminescent moss.
The Ghost of Potter’s Road, the thing that had made this place full of fear was nothing but Foxfire, glowing plants living in dead wood!
Laughing so hard, I thought I might die from it. I fell to the ground, leaning against the stump of the dead tree, the same stump that I had noted had a peculiar V shape.
The Foxfire had grown up and populated those two highest peaks of the wood. When the moon shone down on it the glow of the wood intensified, and became visible from Robber’s Rock.
I could still hear the croaking cries, but now, being closer to the sound and without the fear of a ghost in my mind to cloud it, I realized that the gurgling cry had been nothing but a group of frogs croaking down by the stream. Mike had been correct!
I rocked back and forth on the ground laughing and gasping for breath, when I felt something underneath my rear end. I thought it was a dead tree root and put my hand back to feel it, but rather than being spongy, like dead wood, or solid like a rock, it felt soft, like cloth.
Getting up, on to my knees, I looked down at the thing, buried in moss and lichen and mud. I pulled from the ground a rotten cloth bag, full of holes from the ground. I bounced the bag in my hand and heard and felt the clink of coins, and metal on wood.
Ripping one of the holes in the rotted cloth wider, and into my hand fell 8 large gold coins, and a beautiful clay pipe, in the form of an old man’s head.
I had found the traveling wizard’s treasure. I laughed and laughed now because I was rich and my grandfather’s tale had been right all along.
But I stopped laughing as the woods were filled with a high musical laughter that would have made me want to laugh along, except for the fact that it came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
One final note, when we took the coins to a reputable dealer, we found that each coin was worth nearly two thousand dollars apiece. But the pipe, which as it turns out was a Meerschaum pipe from the 17th century, was worth nearly one million dollars.
Needless to say, we moved away from Greene County, into a nice new house with hot and cold running water, and basically never wanted for anything again.
The coins as it turns out, by the way, were Arabian.
(*Uisce Beatha is pronounced Ish-Ka-vah-ha)