In honor of Friday the 13th, I present to you this tale:
The Good Folk.
Howard left the greyhound bus and stepped onto the tarmac. He had finally reached his destination, no matter how temporary it may be, and was ready to settle into the small-town life of Toulcher.
For the past ten hours he had sat among other travelers. Some of these temporary companions coming home for spring break while others, like him, where just looking for a new place to live. It had been just as long since he had last visited the town of Toulcher, not much had changed but still the air had a different feel to it. Progress was just around the corner and before long this town, like so many others. would be swallowed up in the bustle of city life. Secretly he wished that this town would be different, that by some chance the world would pass it by and allow it to remain the innocent town that had struggled to live for so many years. Even with the local college, the town had managed to hold onto a serine vacancy of corruption.
He looked about himself, half expecting to see his new roommates waiting patiently for his arrival but found himself much like he had been for the past ten years, alone. The bus driver had wasted no time leaving as soon as the few passengers had departed his vehicle and those few that had arrived had left without a word. The town seemed quiet, not the quiet of the small town he once knew but the quiet of one that was anticipating death. An odd sensation to be sure but something about the air felt thick and foreboding. Dismissing it as remnants of bad memories, he focused on more important matters, he had to locate his friends’ house before the weather worsened or he would be forced to spend the nearing night on a park bench in the damp cold. He would have called his friends but he no longer had a cell phone as such things tend to cost money he didn’t have. Not to mention the last pay phone had been torn out about the time he had last been here so that was not an option either. So, he began to walk.
The weather had gotten colder now that the year was coming to an end. October had begun to chill the air and even the ducks this year had chosen to find a warmer climate that that of North Texas. As Howard walked, his breath formed clouds in front of his face as his body shivered slightly under the old leather jacket that his father had given him several years before. Above him the sky was a pale grey, not a pretty grey, but a grey that reminded one of the face of a lifeless corpse. Those sickly grey clouds covered any possibility of a blue sky and caused the sun to cast a palled light on the ground below. Few birds were out this evening and the ones that remained were busy following the ducks on their journey south.
The wind began to pick up as he walked, causing his nose and ears to take on a reddish tint. With his free hand, he held his jacket closer with the hope that its warmth would somehow increase. As he walked, he passed through the town square, passed the old courthouse and many of Toulcher’s original brick buildings. Had he not been so concerned of the cold, Howard might have stopped to look at the buildings or even laugh at the cow statue that sat on the corner of the courthouse lawn. However, Howard had one thing on his mind and that was to find his new place of residence. Stopping at the corner of Belknap and Long, he pulled out one of the letters his friend Jean had written him before he had left San Marcos. On the top corner in her large looped handwriting the address stood out like a small ray of hope, 302 N. Long St.
He still wondered why Jean and her friend Tammy hadn’t been at the bus stop to meet him. They all had been such good friends so many years ago and now he had hoped to find solace in the friendship. Right now, though, it didn’t matter as long as he found the house and got warm.
He stood at the intersection wondering which way he should go. The houses in this part of town had never been marked clearly due to the smallness of the town. Everyone knew where everything was by landmarks and the such and it was rare for a local to become lost in even the rarely traveled back streets of the small Texas town. The light began to dim as he stood, trying to determine which way the 300 block could be. Looking to the west, he saw the last light of the sun begin to take its dive into night.
I’d better hurry, he thought knowing that the dark would only bring with it a deeper cold. He chose and started to walk when he heard a voice come from a house nearby.
“Are you lost, young man?” the voice called out from the second floor of an old plantation house.
Howard tried to pinpoint where the voice was coming from, but could not seem make out the location.
“Up here, young man.” The voice called out again,” Are you lost?”
Looking up Howard spotted the shape of a head poking through a set of white curtains.
“Well, yes ma’am, I do believe I am a little.” He answered, somewhat embarrassed.
“Just wait at the door and I’ll be right there. “the lady said and ducked back into the confines of the large house.
Howard approached the house thankful that the friendliness of the small town had yet to be killed by the oncoming progress. As he walked up the white wooden steps, he noticed that the porch and the surrounding area was covered in subtle yet poignant ways with crosses of every form. Over the door it self was a sprig of some weed and the remains of garlic cloves littered the porch. He looked back to the walkway and then realized that milk jugs filled with different colored waters had lined the walkway.
This town has certainly not lost its friendship but the citizens have certainly lost something else, he thought.
After a few moments Howard heard the click of a lock and the door opened slightly ajar. Peering through the small opening a wrinkled face could be seen.
“Are you alone, young man?” the lady said, her voice now giving away her age.
“I just arrived actually. I’m looking for the house of a friend of mine.” He replied somewhat intrigued by the old lady’s actions.
“Oh, well where are you heading?” she asked as her eye darted up and down over Howard.
“308 N. Long, Ma’am.”, he replied.
“Oh, dear that’s not good. You’ll never make it in time. “The old woman said and pulled back from the doorway. Howard could hear a muttering behind the door and then the old woman’s eye slid back to the small opening, “Do you feel uncomfortable in any way, son?”
Howard stood, not quite knowing how to answer. “I don’t believe so Ma’am.”
“Ok then, you may be safe. If I let you in don’t try anything you hear?”
“Yes ma’am”, he replied.
The door shut with a thud and Howard could hear the rattle of several security chains and then the door opened suddenly.
“Quickly, get in!” the old woman said grabbing Howard by the arm and halfway pulling him in, “Don’t dottle.”
Howard slipped into the narrow opening and the door shut behind him with a force that caused the dust to stir. Howard sneezed slightly as the dirt filled his nose.
“Now, you can stay here tonight, and then in the morning I’ll make sure you get to your friend’s house.” The old lady said as she walked into her kitchen, “Your lucky I saw you before it got dark, young man you may have been caught out there.”
“I appreciate your hospitality ma’am but unless the weather is about to get worse, I’m sure I can make it to my friend’s house before it got too late.” Howard said not wanting to impose on the kind old woman.
“Don’t worry about imposing young man,” the woman said as if she read his mind, “You need to stay here tonight. It is the safest thing to do. Would you lock the door for me?”
“Yes ma’am.” Howard said as he turned to the door. He paused at the sight of the door locks. All along the side of the door were several chains and dead bolts. It looked as if he were locking a bank vault from the inside.” Has the crime rate increased in this parts ma’am?”
“What was that?” the old woman asked from the kitchen.
Finishing locking the door, Howard walked into the dimly lit kitchen. All about, candles and oil lamps were lit, casting an erie yet calming glow on the room.
“I prefer candle light,” the old woman said,” helps me save on electricity.”
“That makes sense” Howard said, “The crime rate, ma’am, has it gotten worse lately?”
The old woman chuckled, “Heaven’s no, if one thing has gotten better in these parts its definitely the crime rate. We haven’t had a break in for several years let alone a traffic violation.”
“Then, why the security? Well, my mother always taught us that you could never have too much security, especially at night.”” She said as she put a sandwich together, “Here, you look famished.”
Howard thanked her and sand at the old table that sat in the middle of the small kitchen. The old lady sat across from him and smiled.
“It’s been such a long time since I’ve had a visitor.” The old woman said as she settled into the seat. “Where are you from?”
“I just got in from San Marcos. My friend wrote me a letter asking me if I’d like to move up here, so I figured it was a better place than none at all.” Howard replied in between bites.
“Good choice.” The old woman said “Toulcher is a nice little town. I’ve been here all of my life actually and never wanted so much to move from this house.”
“You’ve been in this house your whole life?” Howard asked, amazed that a person could stay in one place for a long time. He had never been able to settle. Howard had moved nearly every year since he had left the small border town of San Güey when he had turned eighteen. He had visited Toulcher a few times before and had found it a pleasant visit but not a lifetime home. The place was a great retreat but little more for the nomad soul of the young man.
“Well, not in this very house” the old lady laughed, “Only the past six years or so, have I kept to myself. I used to be well known in these parts. A rather important citizen of Toulcher! Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still well known but the people aren’t as friendly to some as they used to be.”
“Really” Howard asked, shocked.” This town still seems to be fairly friendly, if you hadn’t seen me passing I may have been sleeping on a park bench tonight.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about the natives of the town, I’m talking about those city folks.” She said with a sneer, “They just don’t like to mind their own business these days. They aren’t happy unless they can control your very life.”
Howard shook his head. In all of his travels, he had found Toulcher to be his favorite stop. The small town had always had the delightful cheer about it. Now, from what the old woman had spoke of, the world had found his little safe haven.
“I guess progress can’t be stopped, huh?”
The old lady shook her head in agreement and stood to stretch her weary bones. She looked at Howard with a kind smile, not unlike that of a mother.
“Would you like to join me by the fire, young man? Or maybe you would like to get some sleep after such a long trip?”
Howard stood and placed his plate in the clean sink.
“I’d be glad to sit with one of the last of the decent folk in these parts.” Howard said, causing the old lady to grin.
Taking her arm, he helped he to her seat in the living room and then placed a new log on the weakened fire. Within moments the fire lit up, casting a warm glow on both of their faces. Howard looked around the fire lit room and saw that it had not been dusted in ages. The cobwebs hung thick over the doorways and sat heavily over the various paintings that hung on the walls in the room. The Living room reminded Howard of the old ghost stories he had read when he was younger, how the houses had looked nearly abandoned.
“As you can see, I haven’t been able to clean for some time.” The old woman said, “Since I can hardly get around anymore, I have learned not to waist my energy on trivial things. I keep the kitchen and the privy clean but anything else I let the spiders and the dust have.”
Howard nodded and pulled a sheet from the couch, stirring the dust in the room. Sneezing again, he sat on the couch and let himself relax in the old smelling room.
“May I ask why you keep all of the religious items outside?” Howard asked, hoping not to offend his gracious host.
“Not at all. Those are there for protection.” she said without hesitation.
“Protection from what?” Howard asked, intrigued.
The old lady nodded and looked up to the painting above the fireplace. “Protection from the creatures of the night.”
Howard could hardly believe what he had heard,” Excuse me?”
“The creatures of the night. That’s why those implements are out there. The wolvesbane over the door, the garlic littering the porch and not to forget the crosses all about the place.” She answered as if it were common place,” Its for protection my dear. “
“By Creatures of the night, do you mean…”
“Yes dear, Vampires, Nosferatu, the undead” she answered, “whatever you call them its protection from that kind of being.”
Howard couldn’t help but to laugh though he hated to be rude, he chuckled slightly.
“I’m sorry ma’am” Howard said as he got up, “I really need to find my friends tonight, they may be worried about me.”
“Oh, Jean and Tammy aren’t the least bit worried about you.” The old lady said as Howard began unlocking the door to leave.
Howard froze, realizing that he had never mentioned his friends by name.
“How do you know…” he started as he turned to face the old woman. The old lady was smiling as he faced her, revealing the inch-long canine teeth as she grabbed his shoulder.
“But… But what about the protection? How?” he gasped as she closed in.
The Vampire stopped and grinned wider “I never said who it was protecting did I? The good folk of Toulcher are very accommodating to my kind as long as we are not allowed to hunt. Your friends are such sweet people. I have been expecting you for some time my dear. I almost thought you weren’t going to show up.”
She dove for his throat as his mind fell into shock.
“Yes” she said with a laugh, “Such good folk.”
Late To The Game 4/13/18
This story was inspired by a childhood memory in south west Texas where I saw a house with multi-colored bottles of liquid running up the pathway to the house. The house had all manner of religious implements all over and the image stayed in my head for years until it founds its way into this story.