"It was only a game, just a game. We never meant for it to be like this. Iíll tell you what happened but you wonít believe me. You see, Gerald was new in our bunch and he was cocky, even for a fourteen year-old he was cocky. So we decided that...
Whoís we? Oh, Doyle and Milton and Doug and me.... We decided that... that he needed bringing down a notch or two. Somebody, I donít remember who, said we ought to take him on a snipe hunt. Nobody could think of a better...
Whatís a snipe hunt? Well, when you go snipe hunting youíre trying to catch a bird thatís about the size of a hen and canít fly in the dark. You set up a bagman holding a tow sack and the rest of the bunch is herders and they go out and drive the snipe to the bagman who catches it in the bag. Only there ainít no snipe, leastwise not as big as a hen. Iíve heard that there really is a snipe near the ocean but itís more the size of a blue jay. Like I said, the bagmanís holding a sack open and you go out and beat the bushes and holler and carry-on like you was driving a snipe. Then you act like the snipe gets past you and you get further and further away and get quiet so that after about fifteen minutes the bagman canít hear you and you just go off and leave him there holding the bag. ĎCourse heís been told not to let the bag close and not to leave that spot, no matter what. Thereís been some people that didnít figure out till daylight that theyíd been tricked.
Like I said, nobody could think of anything better so we decided to take Gerald on a snipe hunt and let him be the bagman. And Booger Holler was the place to do it.
Whereís Booger Holler? You were elected coroner of this county and you donít know where Booger Holler is, let alone whatís a snipe hunt? Well Booger Holler is on the north end of the county, over where we live. Wolffork community. Itís up under the south face of Pinson Mountain, starts up right where the gravel road goes down and across Moore Branch. Runs about half a mile up the side of Pinson. That cove is full of big rocks and trees that have died and fell over and rotted. Lots of live trees too. Thereís a whole lot of big oaks and maples hanging out over the road, kinda makes a dark tunnel. Spooky as hel... Sorry, itís real spooky even during the day. Everíbody knows that ghosts and bogeymen live in there. If youíre not careful theyíll snatch you away, never again to see the light of day. This is true. ĎSpecially for those who donít do what their mamas and daddies tell them. And panthers. Even the ones who follow orders are in danger if they go in there at night. Lawton Brooks is the only man I know who ever saw a panther in there. Lawton chased him offa the scraps and collar that was all that was left of his favorite dog. That dog had chased a fox into the holler. Lawton said that painter was black and mean looking. Ran off up on top of the ridge and stopped and screamed something fierce, said it like to have curdled his blood. Several have heard them scream but only Lawton has ever seen one. ĎCourse Lawton has been known to stretch the truth to make a better story but I donít believe he would lie about his favorite fox dog being eaten by a panther. Now Gerald didnít believe a word of the fox dog story and neither did he believe that ghosts and bogeymen haunted the holler. Which is why it was decided to let him be the bagman on a snipe hunt in Booger Holler. Gerald jumped at the chance to show how brave he was.
Could I have a drink of water? Throats sorta dry with all this talking. Thanks. That helps. Good water. Now, where was I?
Like I said, Gerald was cocky. He didnít know much. Didnít have much. He was raised up poor, poorer than the rest of us. His daddy made and sold moonshine. Had a still one time right out in the middle of a field. Set it in a little patch of swampy ground. Had to haul in his wood. Sometimes heíd cook it during the day. You could see the smoke just aíboiling out of that swamp. Ran it for six months before the sheriff busted it up. Got two years in the pen. Gerald was raised rough, poor and rough. Came and went as he pleased. Didnít have anyone who cared much for him. Which is why he took up with us.
I reckon he liked us telling him what to do. We laid it on thick. Bragged on him for being picked to be the bagman on his first snipe hunt. Pointed out that only the best got to hunt in Booger Holler since it was so dangerous. We all hiked up the holler to decide on where Gerald was to hold the bag. He wanted to be below Devilís House but we...
Whatís Devilís House? Devilís House is this big rock about halfway up the cove. Sticks out of a steep side. The front wall is about thirty feet high, straight up, with a cave at the bottom. Trees growing up on top. Branch runs just in front. Thereís several good-sized rocks lying around where they fell from freezing and busting off the face of that big rock. The cave goes back under the rock ten or twelve feet and is three or four feet high. The devil lives in that cave; thatís how it got itsí name.
Letís see... Gerald wanted to be below Devilís House but we talked him into going on above the rock where there was a pair of big poplars growing close together. It looked like a snipe trail between the poplars what with the tracks and the leaves being packed down. Weíd run the snipe between the trees and straight into his bag. After we figured out the setup, we scouted around a bit for a panther den, all the while talking up ghosts and bogeymen. Just as we were fixiní to leave a cloud came up behind the mountain and we made a dive for the cave. It was lightning and thundering and raining cats and dogs. I tell you I felt uneasy under that rock. A cold breeze blew out from under, felt and sounded like something breathing. Chills ran down my back, hair stood on my neck. We must have laid there twenty-five or thirty minutes listening to that lightning cracking, feeling that rock shake with the thunder and watching the creek splash over the rocks. Gerald didnít help matters any by laughing and yelling for the devil to come on out and meet his match. He talked about that all the way back down the cove. Kept saying he wasnít scared of the devil or anything. We just egged him on knowing that he would change his tune the next night.
Why am I telling you this? Because; you need to know how everything happened. Anyway Iím getting to the action.
We all met at ten oíclock the next night on the road below the cove. Doyle and Milton had their daddiesí kerosene lanterns. Doug and me had cut sticks to beat the bushes with and Gerald had brought a big tow sack. He was quieter than usual, seemed to be a bit unsure as we went up the cove. We stopped at Devilís House to rest. The lanterns throwed double shadows up on the rock, ours looked like flickering twin giants with little heads on bodies way too long.Gerald loosened up a bit, posed like a weight lifter and moved back and forth in front of the lanterns so that his shadows were the biggest. Doug wondered how big a shadow a panther would make. Milton allowed that if there was a panther come along he wasnít staying around to look at shadows.
When we reached the poplars, Doug showed Gerald where to stand and how to hold the bag and close it fast when the snipe ran into it. We left him there, stooped over holding the sack open, determined to catch a snipe. We took the lanterns. I looked back once to see him all lonesome and barely visible in the flickering light. I hurried to catch up with the others. Gerald disappeared in the darkness. A little further along we got the two extra lanterns that I had stashed earlier that day. We sat down and talked about ten minutes, all the time laughing and talking quiet about how Gerald had fell for the trick and how put out and scared he would be when he realized he was alone in the dark in Booger Holler.
Some more of that water would be good. Thanks.
Well, after we had waited some, Doug commenced to yelling that he had scared up a snipe. We all joined in, beating the trees and hooting like we had a hot chase going. We went a ways back down the holler, carrying on loud about how big the snipe was. Milton yelled that he had seen the snipe run back past him and we all headed back up the cove away from Gerald. We yelled a few more times and beat the bushes then shut up and walked on to the head of the cove.
We agreed to meet at Miltonís house the next morning and all go to visit Gerald. Me and Doyle and Milton went to the right across the ridge and down Rickman Creek. Doug took a left towards the headwaters of Keener Creek. We soon heard Doug aíscreaming and moaning like a panther just like heíd planned to do. If I hadnít of knowed it was Doug Iíd have sworn that it was the real thing.
I got home somewhere between 12:30 and 1:00, went to bed and slept real good till Mama called me to breakfast. She asked where Iíd gone the night before; I told her possum hunting. I got to Miltonís around ten like weíd said. Doyle soon showed up. We waited a while for Doug then decided he wasnít coming so we went on to see how Gerald had gotten along. Geraldís mama didnít know where he was. According to her he hadnít even come in.
We walked over to Booger Holler talking about what could have happened to Gerald. Milton said he probably just found a good place and went to sleep. I felt he was just stubborn enough to still be holding the sack, waiting for a snipe.
We got on up to Devils House and there we found him. Laying face down with his left arm in the creek and the blood clotted on his head where heíd hit it when he fell off the top of Devilís House. He was busted up bad, a broke shin bone was poking through his pants leg. He was cold. Dead cold. There was blood all over. Kerosene dripped out of the busted lantern and ran off into the water and floated away making little swirling rainbows. There were paw prints of blood right in the middle of Dougís back. Looked as if the panther had set on him a while.
Milton took off down the cove to get help. Doyle stayed with Dougís body and I went on up to look for Gerald. I made it up to the poplars and there I found him. Laying face up with his throat tore out. Blood all over. Arms and sack up at his face where heíd been trying to fight off whatever had hold of him. I yelled for Doyle and he came running up and we cried and puked till we was wore out.
The sirens finally wailed up the valley road and stopped down below us. I thought they would never come. Thatís all I know. I canít tell you anything else. The sheriff and his deputies were there. The undertaker came with his hearse. They gave you the reports. Like I said, we never intended what happened. It was just a game. No harm meant. It was just boys playing a game.
„J. Harold Thurmond
July 16, 2004