Morgan Absher was only seventeen years old when his mother Esther passed away–leaving him alone in the world. His father Ansel Absher had departed over a decade prior leaving Morgan–at an age when most boys are still being kids–to become a man much earlier than any boy should be expected. Morgan learned at a tender age that if a man is to survive in this world, he had to learn to rely on himself and this is exactly what he did. He was the oldest of three siblings when his father died–a younger brother and a sister–so he swapped duties between caring for the younger children and helping on the farm. Their home–a modest 2 bedroom house tucked way back in the mountains of Stone Hill–was miles from anywhere. Like most folks, the Absher family relied on what they could grow, raise, trap, or hunt for their very survival. There was no electricity, no running water, the bathroom was an outhouse, and the entire structure was heated by a single wood stove in the sitting area. The house was bone-chilling cold and drafty in the winters. Adding to the frigid temperature inside was the house’s lack of insulation. This could be clearly seen during high winds when the rug in the living room would rise up from the wooden floor due to the air rushing up through the boards. At night, while laying in bed, Morgan would often feel his hair move with each heavy gust of wind. In the summer the house was sweltering hot and humid. Sometimes it was almost too unbearable to cook due to the misery of being near the stove so his mother would cook meat over an open flame outside where it was more tolerable. She was an excellent cook–considering the paltry ingredients she was given to work with. Somehow she always managed to take a little of something, season it perfectly, such as rabbit, pheasant, or even raccoon and make it tasty. In the Absher family, a person ate what was on the table or they didn’t eat at all.


Morgan was forced to share a bedroom with his younger siblings but at least had his own bed–if one could call it that. What Morgan used as a bed was actually just a wooden stand with a mattress stuffed with corn husks. The bed would likely be unbearable to most anyone else, but it was all Morgan had known–he had no concept of comfort. Why should he? No other aspect of his life was centered around comfort–things simply had to be functional and sufficient. His clothes were very basic and tattered with the exception of his sunday suit he would don for church each sunday morning. His Johnson work boots were well worn and nearly slick on the bottom and barely even passed for footwear. During the summer, Morgan rarely wore shoes at all. As a result, the soles of his feet were hardened and calloused from walking around barefoot. He worked the garden barefoot often–stomping around in the rows of corn, beans, and tomatoes not being bothered at all by sharp rocks or thorns. For Morgan, shoes were a luxury not to be relied upon; he knew work would have to go on with or without them. Why should he wear out his shoes in the summer knowing he would need them in the wet and frigid months of winter? 


It was the winter months on Stone Hill that were truly terrifying–to everyone in the community. Once October came–while most people ogled the colors of the leaves–the Absher family and dozens more like them were busily preparing for survival. Those were hard months. Technically winter only lasted three months–just like the other seasons, but for Morgan it seemed like an eternity. The first frost often came in the young days of October and that was when he felt the heaviness of the season begin to weigh upon him. The sun would duck behind the mountains early in the evening and darkness was quick to arrive. This did not suit Morgan at all; he was accustomed to working late into the day–busying himself with various chores. Once it began to get dark early, he found the idle time much too mundane and gloomy. 


It was in late 1918 when the influenza epidemic gripped the world in its ruthless fist of death. Morgan helplessly witnessed his mother and his two younger siblings all take ill during the month of November. It started as a simple cough, then a mild fever, then progressed aggressively from there. His little sister was the first to succumb to the literal suffocation brought about by the virus. Morgan watched his younger sister–her skin tinted a pale blue from the lack of oxygen–with tears in his eyes, holding her tiny hand, while she took her last breath. His younger brother died two days later, leaving his mother as the only other member of the household. Morgan did his best to care for her while simultaneously hand digging graves for his two deceased siblings. If there was a bright side to any of it, Morgan was relieved that the ground had not yet frozen. This would have forced him to store the bodies of his siblings in the pack house until spring–something he didn’t want to do. Sacrificing the planting space was not something Morgan took lightly, but he decided to bury his brother and sister in a corner of the cornfield  where the ground was softer and more manageable. The choice to do so seemed morbidly logical the more he considered it. With two–and soon to be three–less mouths to feed, he could sacrifice the planting space. Morgan would often sit by his mothers side, occasionally mopping her clammy skin with a cool cloth–praying that God would spare him just long enough to care for her. He had accepted her imminent death as a foregone conclusion, it was simply a matter of time. Morgan had always been close to his mother and she had always loved him with a tough but tender attitude. She wasn’t the kind of woman to pet and coddle a child at any age because she was aware enough and intelligent enough to know that her children would need to be strong and self-sufficient to survive. Morgan could gauge from her response to his care while confined to her bed–that she was not raised soft either. She resisted being taken care of–not maliciously of course–but resisted nevertheless. Several times she insisted that he go about his other responsibilities or get some rest–she could take care of herself. Morgan didn’t want to argue with his mother so the best he could do was ignore her objections and continue to give her the best care he could. 

“How are your brother and sister?” his mother would ask several times a day. She would ask this through a forgetful fever and labored breathing not realizing she had probably asked several times already that day. Morgan couldn’t bring himself to tell her they had both died. He considered whether or not this was cruel–keeping such a terrible revelation from a mother and not allowing her to grieve–but what good would have come of it? She was too sick to grieve and would only make her plight more miserable. What was the great harm in allowing her to believe the best rather than telling her the worst? 

“They are doing a little better today,” he lied. “Lucy ate some eggs this morning and Robert is drinking water.” He had to look away as he said this so that she couldn’t see his eyes–welling up with tears–the obvious pain of lying to her and his own grieving over their deaths. He wasn’t sure she was able to see him clearly with her condition coupled with the room being poorly lit. She reached out and took his hand in her clammy palm and gave him a weak smile. 

“You are not a good liar,” she said weakly. It’s true–he was a terrible liar and his mother always had a way of making him feel even more uncomfortable about not being truthful.  She simply looked at him–her eyes glassy and sad–with an expression that told him she knew. Morgan dropped his head and watched his own tears drip on the floor. 

“I’m sorry momma,” he said, “I promise I tried. I tried to take care of them, but I–” She squeezed his hand to let him know she understood. 

“You are a good boy Morgan,” she told him. “You’ve always been a good boy–” her words were interrupted by a coughing spell. “I’m so proud of the man you have become. I wish I could be here to see what a fine husband and father you will be.” Morgan felt a great deal of doubt. He had never considered the idea of being a husband let alone a father. It was a scenario he had never taken the time to ponder.

“I don’t know momma,” he replied, “not sure that’s the life for me.” She smacked his hand showing her disagreement. 

“It is the life for for you!” she argued. “You’re a good man and you deserve a family–a wife and children! Don’t you dare live out your days in this run down old house alone. Promise me you won’t do that!” Morgan said nothing but looked at her and nodded. “I want to hear you say it. Say ‘I promise momma,’” 

“I promise you momma,” he said as a tear streaked down his face. “I promise I won’t be alone.” 


His mother died the following day while he slept. He had been sitting with her for most of the morning and finally drifted off to sleep succumbing to total exhaustion. While he slept, Morgan dreamt of the last Christmas he remembered before his father passed. Lucy and Robert were very young–Robert not even walking at the time. His mother looked so strong and beautiful and he could distinctly smell the sweet tobacco aroma of his father’s wooden pipe. It was a glorious season even for a poor family in Stone Hill. They didn’t have much, but they had their love for each other and for that they were thankful. Morgan awoke from his dream with a smile–probably the first smile he had displayed in weeks and looked at his mother resting more still than she had when he last looked at her. He knew she was gone. Her eyes were closed and she looked as peaceful as he had seen her in years. Morgan reached out to touch her cold skin and then stood up to kiss her forehead. 

“I love you momma,” he whispered. “I’ll always love you.” 


Several weeks later, Morgan was out late one evening hunting. He had been very fortunate that the rabbit population was fairly plentiful and he had plucked several in the meadow near the creek. They typically came hopping up near dusk to eat what little clover had not been killed off by the frost and were easy targets. Morgan headed back home with three fat rabbits slung over his shoulder which should keep him fed for a few days. He sat the carcasses down on the porch and started to open the door and realized somehow he had locked himself out of the house. The front door to the Absher house to the best of his recollection had never been locked. It had a lock of course, but it was never used; Morgan didn’t even have a key. He tried the knob several times, twisting it back and forth in frustration and groaned. How could this have happened? Morgan felt a wave of sadness overcome him–he collapsed onto the front porch and cried. He had shed a few tears during the deaths of his family, but nothing like this. All of a sudden the pain, grief, and sorrow hit him at once provoked by something as seemingly minor as a locked front door. Morgan sat on the cold wooden porch, the wind blowing his long dark hair and beard unable to do anything except cry. 

“I’m trying momma,” he said through his tears looking up at the roof of the porch. “I promise I’m trying.” As soon as he got the words out, he heard a faint click behind the door and the creak of the hinges as it swung open. Morgan lifted his eyes to the door and standing there as beautiful and young as she had looked that Christmas in his dream was his mother. Morgan was speechless. She looked at him, smiled, and turned away. He stood up and called to her. 

“Momma?” he cried. “What are you doing here?” He watched her make her way through the living room then pause to look at him and smile once more. She disappeared into her room and upon entering, Morgan found the room to be completely empty. “Momma,” he called out, hoping he would see her again. But the room remained silent and empty except for him, the bed in which she had passed away, and the bare walls. 


Over sixty years passed before Morgan mustered the courage to tell anyone the story. He was sitting around a large dinner table with his wife Eliza, his two sons; Morgan Jr. and Thomas, his daughters Lucy, Mary Lee, and Sara along with five grandchildren shared between Morgan Jr, Mary Lee and Sara. Morgan was reminded of the promise he had made to his mother to not live out his days in that house alone. He told the story of his mother, his brother and his sister, and how the influenza had taken their lives. He described to them what life was like back in those times and how much it meant to love and be loved by a family. They sat silent with their stares fixed squarely on him when he spoke of his mother and the night she came to visit him once more. 

“I look around at my beautiful family,” Morgan said, “and I hope Momma would say that I kept my promise. I have more than any man deserves and it’s because of my promise to her. I don’t know why she came back on that particular night, why she visited me in probably the darkest and loneliest moment of my life, but she did. She unlocked that front door and didn’t say a word. Maybe she just wanted me to know that she will always be watching–making sure I kept my promise.” He scanned the entire room noting the tears in the eyes of his wonderful children. “I knew that night when she came home she expected me to do what I said because when you make a promise to Momma, you keep it.”


Submitted: September 13, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Magikchef88. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Literary Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by Magikchef88

Short Story / Horror

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Fantasy