in the Halloween line up is
The sound seemed to rise from the old Leeds house, gliding eerily on the tips of the tall white oaks and sweet gums whose limbs capped the holler leading into Phenix City’s Pumpkin Bottom cemetery.
Woooooooo..ow, dang, not that wire, look out, Mikie….aiiiieeeeeeeee
The first test ended with a screech, not a whimper. The whimper came later.
Moving in next to us in the early fifties, Grubby’s house shared a hillside with ours, overlooking the holler. On the other side of the hill was the old Leeds house. Mr. Leeds had been a drinker, living alone during the last several years of his life before passing away the previous summer. Mrs. Leeds had disappeared several years before under mysterious (to me) circumstances, and despite my best attempts, I wasn’t able to listen in on the hushed whispers among the adults.
Adults discussed the night when Mrs. Leeds had left, or the “happening“ as they called it among themselves. “She swung that umbrella she always carries right into his….. was so drunk he didn’t even know that he had cut himself on his broke bottle when he fell.”
Missing the first few sentences, I’d get close enough to hear the next one or two. “Blood all over the place. So much, it looked like someone had been cut to piec….” A warning look from one adult to the other and the conversation would trail off.
Mikie and I had watched from our tree fort as Grubby and the coroner had helped load the sheet covered body into the dusty black hearse before it bounced back down the rock and clay road to cross the holler, back to Summerville Road. Even though the coroner said he had passed away two weeks before, Mikie and I had picked plums from the little grove behind Mr. Leeds’ house only a week before he was found. I could have swore he had answered me and Mikie’s request we had shouted from the yard. Mikie had heard Mr. Leeds’ response too and agreed with me that it was eerie.
Officer Grubby Jackson
“I tell you 2, I just don‘t know what to do.” Grubby Jackson, my neighbor, legal advisor and member of Phenix City’s finest told my dad. “I almost quit my chew cause of them. I caught them fishing with m-80’s summer before last. Caused me to swallow my chew. And last Halloween, they dang near gave ole Red Jacobs a heart attack in the Pumpkin Bottom cemetery. To say nothing of making me swallow my chew. Again.”
“And those bees Chuckie painted orange had the whole neighborhood stirred up about atomic bombs and mutant bumble bees. And that short list don’t include them blowing a hole in the side of your brother’s in laws garage or when they tried to make hydrogen for their balloon. I don’t know what got into that fool pharmacist, selling those two stuff like that. Heck, I was already havin’ to pass out their pictures to the firework stands and hardware stores. Then I had to add the drugstores.” he ranted before ejecting a stream of tobacco juice at a large rock at the edge of the porch. It was his target of choice that warm October day. The dark stream of tobacco juice hit the edge of the rock and splattered into the dark recesses of the house’s crawlspace. Two misses of dead center in a row, unusual for Grubby. He must be really frustrated.
“Yeah, Chuck and Mikie are just too slick for us” Grubby said in a sorrowful tone. 2 chimed in “I dread this Halloween. I wonder what they’ve been up to“- even though Grubby had been checking our handiwork and reporting to 2 on a daily basis. “I hope they stay away from the old Leeds house. People say it’s haunted now, you know. Sure is a shame they didn’t find Mr. Leeds’ body for a month or so. Gave his ghost time to set up shop.”
This gave Mikie and I pause since we had run our ratty extension cords for our “haints” to the power pole behind the Leeds house. One of the advantages to being 2’s son was that I had access to all manner of electronic “junk” to play with like amplifiers and speakers. Combine that with a roll of army surplus field wire, unknowingly donated by Mikie’s dad, and you had the basics for the “Pumpkin Bottom Haints”
“You know, we never did find out what happened to Mrs. Leeds either.” Grubby continued “She just up and disappeared one night. Mr. Leeds reported her missing the first of November. He took to the bottle shortly after that. I wonder if it was a guilty conscience? Anyway, I have to keep an eye on the place “
“Don‘t worry, Grubby, If I see any thing I‘ll let you know.” 2 said.
“Let me know? You can go with me.”
As Grubby and 2 walked off, I heard Mikie whisper “Think they knew we were here?”
“Not a chance” I replied, pausing to wipe some errant splatter before following Mikie wiggling through the dust to the far edge of the porch.
As Grubby and 2 shook hands in the distance Grubby asked “You think they knew we knew they were there?”
“Not a chance”, 2 replied, “though I thought the jig was up when you kept missing that rock. “Just a little early revenge, 2, just a little early revenge.” Grubby chortled.
Halloween: The revenge
The “late” Mrs. Leeds wasn’t really dead despite Mikie and my theories on why Mr. Leeds lived alone. She had just had enough of her husband’s drinking and moved in with her sister down in Opp, Alabama. Having been notified of his passing, she had shown up back in town that Halloween morning to settle his affairs.
She spent the late afternoon preparing paper work with her lawyer, Mr. Corner, before arriving at the house after dark in a misting rain. Walking to the house after parking her old 52 Pontiac, she noticed our ratty extension cord snaking across the yard to the power pole. Wondering how it had kept from shorting out and burning down the house in the misting rain, she unplugged it and set her umbrella next to the wood pile before going in the house. She thought to herself she would have to have a talk with Grubby since he was the one who had agreed to keep an eye on things until she could get back to Phenix City. Once in the house, she flicked the light switch on and off a time or two, before realizing that the screw-in fuse at the power pole had blown. She went ahead and changed into a set of the late Mr. Leeds pants and shirt since she intended on doing some cleaning and packing after changing the fuse.
Meanwhile, Mikie and I arrived after a long lecture and search from my rather frazzled mother. She was rather suspicious at not finding any eggs, rolls of toilet paper or other assorted Halloween paraphernalia and spent a longer amount of time than usual lecturing us on proper decorum for young Southern Gentlemen. A rather useless gesture when your role models were Grubby and 2.
We hotfooted it across the holler to our position near Mr. Leeds’ house and flicked the switch to activate the “Pumpkin Bottom Haints“. Soon ghostly sounds would fill the holler as lights flickered on and off around the Leeds house, luring 2 and Grubby to our ghostly conditions like an ax murderer to a cutlery show.
Silence and darkness filled the holler. The only sounds being the quiet splatter of the soft rain hitting the leaves. Mikie said “Go check the power plug, Chuck.” Eyeing the dark house while recalling the dead Mr. Leeds answering our request to pick plums the previous summer, I asked Mikie why he didn’t go. “ Because your dad’s the electrician” Mikie replied, like that meant that I had some kind of knowledge beyond idle curiosity of 2’s work.
Gathering my thirteen year old courage up, I followed the cord until I saw the plug on the ground next to the power pole. I was standing with my back to the house trying to figure out why nothing happened when I plugged the cord in, when Mrs. Leeds, wearing one of Mr. Leeds old hats to protect her hair against the light rain that was falling, opened the door, stepped on to the back porch and reached down next to the wood pile for her umbrella.
Mikie’s scream filled the air. “Run Chuck, the Haint’s getting the ax.” I turned and saw “Mr. Leeds” on the porch above me, raise the ax. Once again on a Halloween night something warm ran down my leg. Unattended vocal cords did their thing while my tennis shoes, unable to keep up, were left firmly rooted in place as I ran up to and over a already sprinting Mikie.
A startled Mrs. Leeds retreated into the house and peered out various windows, seeing nothing in the dark through the rain streaked windows. “Oh it’s Halloween. It must have been some trick or treaters”, she uneasily thought to herself.
“Let’s go 2. They’ve started .“ Mistaking our screeches of fear as part of the sound effects, 2 and Grubby put on their masks and approached the house in order to scare the pee out of me and Mikie, completely unaware that Mrs. Leeds had already done the job for them.
From our tree fort, where we had sought safety, we saw the familiar shapes of the lanky 2 and the rotund Grubby approaching the house.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Leeds built her own courage up and again went outside to change the fuse. She stepped out on the porch and again reached down for the umbrella as 2, followed by Grubby, came around the corner. 2 took one look at “Mr. Leeds” reaching for the ax next to the woodpile and showed that our genetic strain ran true. Unfortunately, 2 didn’t. Running into the corner of the porch, he fell in a heap as Mrs. Leeds tried to protect herself from the haint with the only weapon she had, her umbrella. From our vantage point we saw the ghost repeatedly swing the “ax” into 2’s prone body. In a flash of sudden lightening, Grubby recognized that the ghost was really Mrs. Leeds and ran yelling “Mrs. Leeds, Mrs. Leeds” intending to help 2.
Mrs. Leeds, hearing “make her bleed, make her bleed” turned the business end of the umbrella on Grubby, giving him a sharp jab to the solar plexus causing him to, sharply and deeply, inhale his chew….again.
Moments later the roar of the Pontiac and the screech of tires filled the air as Mrs. Leeds raced down the drive and headed for the safety of Opp.
The next day, Mr. Corner, the Leeds lawyer, told Grubby he had a phone call from Mrs. Leeds telling him to sell the house furnished for what he could get and to send her the money. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have swore she was drunk. She kept ranting about haints and such. You got any idea what she was talking about?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about haints up at the old Leeds old house.” Grubby replied. “I would imagine that 2 is performing an exorcism on a couple of demons even as we speak”
(C) 2004 LCM3