The Long Black Veil

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Everyone has heard the song "Long Black Veil" before. It's one of the great folk songs from Appalachia that was further popularized in the 60's folk music scene.



I know this song best not by Joan Baez or Johnny Cash, I've heard this song sung by mother Dianna Donahoe my whole life. She would sing many Appalachian folk ballads as a folk singer, mainly
showcased each year at the Mountain Arts Festivals in Prestonsburg. She would sing these songs with such clarity and beauty that you were transcended into the heart soul of the characters. This
Halloween I wanted to put out a quick story to get back to writing again, with some of those stories somewhat intertwined. Happy Halloween 2017 to all. Not much editing done here, but that can be
work in progress I suppose. Enjoy!

Submitted: October 31, 2017

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Submitted: October 31, 2017

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The Long Black Veil

It’s been ten years ago since that cold and dark night in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.  The air was crisp and you could smell the aromatic rotting of autumn leaves.  Coal was being burned in the stoves and fireplaces nearby and the lingering smoke would leave a sweet taste on your tongue.

I sat on the banks of the Ohio river where Mary and I would meet sometimes.  The woods are thick with tall pines there and no one knew about our special hideaway.  The bed of pine needles make a perfect place to lay comfortably and we would sit and stare up at the stars that lit the night sky like fireflies and their reflection danced on the rippling currents of the quiet river.

Mary and I had known each other our entire lives.  My best friend Frank, Mary, and I were inseparable.  We went to school together, we played together, we fished on river’s edge together, and we grew up together.  Mary and I had kissed for the first time right there in that same spot and that’s where we fell in love.

Frank and I were always competing for Mary’s affections and so I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Mary and I had kissed.  We were like brothers and I always looked out for Frank since I was a little bit older.  If you picked on Frank you were going to feel my wrath.  Nobody was allowed to pick on my best friend, nobody.  Except maybe me..

Things quickly changed really fast after that night.  The next day we heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and Frank and I rushed downtown to enlist.

After that, life became a blur.  Mary saw us both off at the bus station and I remember whispering in Mary’s ear, "I’ll be back soon and we’ll get married."  She embraced me so tightly that I can still feel the grasp of her hands imprinted on my arms like tattoos.  At that moment I knew she loved me and we would be together forever.

--

I wish i could tell you about the war, perhaps another time.  I got hit pretty bad over there.  Everyone thought I was dead.  So did I for that matter.  I got captured by the enemy and I think the only thing that kept me going was that picture of Mary that she gave me in a locket the last time I saw her.

Eventually, the war ended, and I finally got to go home.  It had been three years since I saw the hills of Kentucky. It had been three years since I saw my family, my best friend Frank, and mostly since I looked into Mary’s beautiful blue eyes.

When I got into town that summer I decided to walk home.  I hadn't told anyone I was home yet, I’m not sure why.  I guess I needed some time alone in the hills before I saw people.  So that’s what I did, I walked towards home along the creek road and figured I would stop to see Mary on the way.

On my way home that day my life was changed forever.  I saw Frank and Mary together in front of Mary’s old house.  Frank had his arm around Mary and kissed her.  She smiled back at him.  She looked happy, that was until they noticed me there by the road.  Frank came running over to me and threw his arms around me.  “You’re Alive!!”, he yelled.  Mary just stood there stunned and speechless.  Frank said, “There’s so much to say, so much to catch you up on!  Mostly, Mary and I are married, isn’t that something!!  I can’t believe it’s you we thought you were dead!”

Maybe I did die.  I felt like I was in another existence.  I felt like all of a sudden I was in Hell or Purgatory and now I had to pay for some awful sin.  But I didn’t remember committing such an atrocity as that.  Maybe it was to pay for what I would do rather than what I had done.

I should have stayed away.  I should have gone back to town, gotten on that bus and rode it as far as it would go away from these hills.  But I didn’t.  I had to see her again.  I had to tell her how I felt.  How she was the only thing that kept my heart beating for the past three years.  How despite all the horrors in this life I had seen, I pushed through them and past them just to get home to her.

--

I left Mary a note to meet me at the river that fateful night.  I went into town to get a bite to eat and to get a haircut and shave before we would meet later that evening.  I was wearing the same woolen overcoat I had worn for years before enlisting.  It was worn and tattered for wear so I decided to get a new one as well.  After getting properly groomed and getting a new coat I felt and looked like a new man.  A new man who was going to tell the women he loved how he felt and would indeterminately betray his best friend at the same time.  I felt sick to my stomach and nearly dizzy.  As I left the clothing store I saw a fellow soldier getting off the bus.  He was shivering in the cold.  In my hands I held my old coat that I’d worn for likely my whole adult life here at home.  I didn’t need it, so I walked over to the soldier and gave him my coat and told him to stay warm.  He asked me if there was a place to get a drink.  “Well, this county is ‘dry’ and no pace sells alcohol here, but one soldier to another, if you go down to the back door of the pool hall and give them this card, they’ll give you a bottle and you can drink there under the nearby bridge without any hassles.”  I slipped him a card with my name on it.  It was the least I could do for a fellow soldier on his way home.

The sun was going down and it was time to go meet Mary at our special meeting place.  I got there early and laid a blanket out for us to sit on and talk.  An hour or so went by and the sun had finally set on the water.  It was a glorious sight to see and I wished she was there to see it with me.  Finally, I heard the leaves rustling nearby.  It was her.

She stood at a short distance and I could tell she was torn as to whether to stay away or not.  Tears were welling in her eyes and finally she moved quickly towards me and grasping on to me, just like that day at the train station.  Like the embrace was to last a lifetime, or even forever.  She began crying, “I thought I lost you!  I thought you were dead.  You were never coming home.”  I replied, “I’m here.  I’m here now.  We’re both here now.”

We fell into a long kiss and I was transcended.  I left it all in those moments.  There was no war, no horrors, no enemies, no hard work, no tears, no …husband.  Just us, held in a long and loving embrace.

I think time got away from us and then we heard the dogs howling.  I quickly got to my feet and blared out, “What the hell is that!”  In the distance were a dozen flashlights flickering back and forth through the trees.  “You’ve got to go!!  Go right now!” I said in a panic.  “Is it Frank?” she asked.  “I don’t know, just get home as fast as you can.”

Mary took off and I hid the blanket and went towards the men to head them off and see what was going on.  I held my lit Zippo in the air waving it back and forth.  The men approached and I could see it was Charlie, the Deputy Sheriff.  He yelled out, “IT”S HIM!” and then I felt a large flashlight crack against the side of my head.  I felt the warm ooze of blood gushing across my ear which seemed to instantly turn cool from the cold air.  Then everything went black.

--

I woke up the next day in the county jail cell.  It stunk of drunkards and piss who left their mark on this place over the past fifty years.  My head felt like I’d been hit with a cleaver and I wanted to go back to sleep but the place was noisy and bustling.
The local paper was there taking my picture and as the fluorescent bulbs exploded my head screamed inside and began ringing in agony.  Reporters and other people I’d never seen before all set in the station making a fuss, “Is that him!  Is he the one!  He killed old man Levi.  Son of bitch!”  I felt confused and disoriented as I heard the Deputy explaining to the reporters, “Yea he was seen running from the scene at the town square.  Killed Levi right there under the town hall light.  He was obviously drinking some of that hooch before he did by the looks of him.”

I knew Levi, he and I never got along well.  He even fired a few birdshot pellets at me when I grabbed some apples from his orchard.  But I wouldn’t kill him, that’s for sure.

Then my it felt like my heart had quit beating.  In walked Frank.  What would I say, how could I explain..  Frank looked confused and mad.  He was blabbering of how he should have spent more time with me, he should have not let me get so drunk all by myself.  He was saying he should have been a better friend and how he felt like he really let me down.  He then started weeping and said to me quietly, “I think Mary is having an affair.”  She was gone all night and I could smell shaving lotion on her this morning.  I don’t know what to do.  It feels like everything is upside down.”

Right then, I could have said it was me that was having an affair with Mary.  It would have killed Frank, I’m sure of it.  But I didn’t.  I guess it was that need to protect my ‘little brother’, my best friend.  I couldn’t.  I said to him, “I’m sure you’re mistaken.  You know Mary, she’s a good woman.  It’s all going to be fine.”

The Deputy burst in on our conversation and said, well the Judge will be here in the morning, we’ll have a trial tomorrow and based on that outcome you go home or you’ll go straight to hell, one or the other.

I looked at Frank, him sobbing there, and I knew I had to pay for what I’d done.  I didn’t kill Levi, but I would kill Frank if he found out.  His heart would die and jealousy would consume him.  I knew him too well.  It was time to pay for my sins.

That next morning the Judge set high on his bench.  I felt like that man could look right into my soul.  I suppose he had been the judge over life and death of many men through his long career and he could see if someone was truly guilty or innocent just by looking in their eyes.  And there the old Judge was, looking into my eyes, deep, like holes being bored right through my heart and into my soul.  I wanted to cry out, “I’m innocent!!”  But just then I looked into the crowd and there was Frank and Mary side by side.  Frank with wide eyes and Mary with an expressionless face.  She knew the consequences as well.  I swallowed hard and looked back at the judge.  He said, “Son, if you have even one alibi, then we can all go home.  But as it stands, you were identified in your long coat under a bright street lamp as killing Levi.”  I’ll ask you again, “Do you have an alibi as to your whereabouts last night?”

I took that long stare the judge was giving me and I gave it right back to him.  Slowly I said, “No. I do not.”

The judge then laid sentence down with a slam of his gavel.  Guilty, punishment is death by hanging.

My eyelids slowly closed dissolving the stare the judge and I were locked into.

That evening the sound of hammers and construction filled the air outside of the jailhouse.  The scaffolding went up until I could hear them testing the rope and slipknot with a bag of sand.  The whizzing sound with a snap of the rope at the end.  The snap would break my neck and instantly render me unconscious, the death would a bit slower as the tightening rope would squeeze my neck until I could no longer breathe.  I didn’t know if death would be instant or torturous but what I did know is that it was coming.  Soon.

--

The sun would be setting in an hour when I was led out to the scaffolding.  There were hundreds of people there, people I’d never seen before in my life, likely from other towns.  I felt a slight amusement at how fast news could travel but not travel accurately.  The Deputy pushed me along through the crowds and to the steps which i climbed slowly.  At the top of the platform stood a man in a black hood with eyes peering through holes cut out.  “Eyes of the devil.”, I thought.  Eyes who had taken many men’s last breath away with a pull of a lever.  A man who hid behind anonymity who was a killer as bad as any outlaw, as heartless as the devil himself, there amongst all of these God-fearing people.  He was likely one of use, no way to know.

Forward I walked to the platform with the breakaway floor and stood.  The Sheriff came upon the platform and his Deputy who then tied my hands behind my back securely.  The Sheriff asked me if I had any last words.

My throat felt so dry I thought I might choke right then.  I swallowed hard and said, “My evil deeds will be washed of this world this day, but my love will transcend this body, this Earth, and this Age and Time and be with you always.”

I stepped back and the deputy put the hood over my head, the fabric stunk of damp burlap and all I could hear was mumblings and murmurs outside of my encasement.  The rope went over my head and around my neck as it was pulled snug.  My eyes burned and itched but I could not move my hands to relieve the irritation.  Then, suddenly the floor left my feet and my stomach hurled upwards.  I breathed in hard and then nothing but blackness.

Now I lay in this dark place in the blackest of nights.  I hear the rustling of leaves in the cold mountain air and I know it’s her.  She’s there crying, crying over my bones, shrouded in black.

Nobody knows, nobody sees.  Nobody knows, but me.


© Copyright 2018 Michael D. Donahoe. All rights reserved.

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