Sabbatical

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic


Hollow and lonely, the disembodied voice calls in the ghoulish chill of October....

Submitted: March 07, 2018

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Submitted: March 07, 2018

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A fascinating pursuit in which I have ritualistically engaged for the last seven years is traveling around this great country of ours to remotely located small towns to visit their teeny community libraries which are sometimes nothing more than a converted chicken coop with a few hundred volumes - the librarian an aging spinster who, like a docent at a museum, volunteers to have the rinky-dink facility open four days a week, Wednesday thru Saturday.

With digital voice recorder and notepad in hand, I venture forth into what unexpected adventure of steeped lore I know not.  During these spur-of-the-moment journeys of random impulse when I’m absent from campus, the door of my cluttered office in the dimly lit musty basement of the antiquities building is hung with a note which, in my barely legible scrawl, reads “Away on Sabbatical”.

The sacred quest of my far-flung pilgrimages is to pilfer the aforementioned middle-of-nowhere hayseed Podunk libraries for journals or diaries left behind by early pioneers who settled the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as the young country expanded its growing borders ever westward.

Not far from the seemingly endless expanse of waste that stretches its dreary pall into parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska - a desolate windswept wilderness of solitude, shadow, and fear known as the Badlands of South Dakota - I located one of the most interesting depositories of books I ever had the pleasure of perusing.

To my not unhappy surprise, the librarian, far from being a shawl-draped hunchbacked spinster, was a dry-as-dust old cowboy named J. Dean Fletcher the Third.  Ah, good people, you wouldn’t believe the stories this leather-faced range-worn wrangler had to tell.  He was mighty tight-lipped at first - told me from the get-go that he didn’t take kindly to strangers, especially not to an obvious city-slicker such as myself.  I endeavored to explain to the rustic codger that I was a scholar from the university come to review his prized collection of authentic memorabilia for a research paper I was writing about the lost secrets of the early U.S. West.

The wily retired cowpoke politely informed me that my alleged credentials didn’t cut no ice with him, but that my interest in his books would grant me the benefit of the doubt….momentarily.  

Like a hanging judge hammering a gavel, J. Dean Fletcher III, with a sharp clap on the cramped library’s front desk, turned an antique hourglass upside down and told me that’s all the time I had to dig through his collection because his little woman always had supper on the table promptly at 6 p.m., and it was already a quarter of five.

You can well imagine how nervous I was with the gray-whiskered cowboy standing over my shoulder in his ten gallon Stetson scrutinizing my every move on account of he didn’t want any of his cherished volumes to end up missing.  He didn’t permit folks to check out books from his pocket-sized library, because he was afraid they might abscond with one of his valuable treasures.

Well, I can tell you that my nervousness jumped to excited euphoria when he began chewing fat on the tale of how the clapboard library in which I found myself had once been the tack-room of the most affluent ranch on the habitable prairie fringes of the Badlands - a beef cattle outfit known as the Circle B; the B, of course, standing for Badlands.

It was in that very tack-room that a feared bandit known throughout the Dakota Territories as Snake-Eye Bishop had been holed-up when a vigilante-style posse surrounded the shack.  The sheriff and his deputized mob were no match for the deadly outlaw.  In a blaze of lethal gunfire that cost the lives of the sheriff and two thirds of his bunch, Snake-Eye Bishop made a wild daredevil escape deep into the lifeless barrens of the Badlands.  No one ever saw or heard from the legendary outlaw after that.  Some of the locals speculated that the ferocious bandit made it all the way to the West Coast where, in the lively cancan salaciousness of 19th century San Francisco, he lived out his days like a king in the lap of luxury afforded him by his ill-gotten loot.  Others whispered grim tales about how the Badlands mercilessly chalked up another victim to its vast godforsaken desolation.  

No one is likely to ever know the truth, according to the old cowboy librarian, but one thing is certain, my sagebrush chronicler regaled me with his thrilling tales of long-lost high adventure until, by the time the last fateful grains of sand fell into the bottom half of the hourglass, all I had managed to make notes of was a disturbing account of the ghostly disappearance of an eleven-year-old girl named Annabelle McClatchy.

The journal was not as old as I usually search for, the date of the entry of interest indicating October 13, 1954.  It had been handwritten by the unfortunate girl’s grandmother in a remarkably well-maintained Moleskine notebook.  The family - friends of the old cowboy - had bequeathed the sad diary to his collection upon the elderly woman’s decease.

The ghastly account related the bizarre circumstances which took place in the chill of a foreboding overcast day in autumn, just outside the barbed wire fence of Prairie View mobile home park.

The star-crossed little girl had been flying her kite in a cornfield that lay fallow.  She was in plain sight of everyone when suddenly and totally without warning, the ill-fated child mysteriously vanished, as if into thin air.  Her kite drifted ominously down to earth where it landed mute on its back, rustling in jerky spasms like a dying animal among plowed rotting cornstalks in the uncanny coolness of the breezy air.

The girl’s parents and indeed the entire community had searched all afternoon in vain.  At first, the little girl’s disembodied voice could be heard calling out in confused desperation for her mother.  Yet, as the hours dragged inexorably toward the finality of sundown, her sweet innocent yelps grew fainter, until, with spirit-subduing gloom of dusk sinking down upon the tragic scene, the tormented heartrending pleas for help faded entirely into horrifying dead silence.

That was over five decades ago, yet every year in October, farmers and ranch hands, toiling near the lamented spot where the ill-omened little girl went missing, file eerie reports with local authorities.  The spooked sod-busters whisper flesh-crawling statements about hearing a doleful disembodied voice echoing in the somber vespers of the chill prairie wind - the aimless wandering moans of a little girl crying out, hollow and lonely, for her mother.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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