Stories from along the path

Published 10:02 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

by Clarence Foster

The quarter-mile path to my house had a 250-yard stretch to the woods’ edge. Halfway, there was an old house that was alternately vacant or inhabited for months at a time.

The old path has quite a story. There was the time of that particularly vicious, brutish problem that dog’d my trek to and from the school bus, for several weeks. It was usually escorted by two or three midsize mutts that circled and snapped to their hearts’ content.

The savage brute perfected a sneering snarl that displayed a flashing set of canine cutlery that went well with a sheath of gory purplish saliva’d gums.

I met the threat by stationing a lengthy club on the approach to the house.

Problem, and his companions in fierce command of the moment, raged on, up to and past the house, with me a flailing, whirling dervish, passing with honors — and a daily confrontation that ultimately spurred my confidence, while sapping their will (and sparing their snouts.)

We would part, a bit winded, in grudging admiration but grim recognition of further hostilities when next we’d meet.

The old house was a fading, haunting malignancy, sinking in weedy riotous foliage. A minor has-been of no matter, except for a seasonal saving grace: a magnificent pear tree. A burgeoning banquet of prime yellowish-green fruit of firm grainy pulp.

And then the day of the ghost! I emerged from the tree line on an otherwise normal school day and found myself assaulted by a sweetish, cloying, unsettling odor that seemed to fill the whole of hundreds of yards of open space. An uncommon smell that grew more intense as my eyes fell upon what appeared, at 60 yards, to be a partially opened vault. A vault!?

The countryside was dotted with untended, long-forgotten, old cemeteries that hung on as tiny specks of forest in open fields. But this open expanse had always been a continuous uninterrupted field of cultivation. There had been no hint.

It appeared for three days, and just as mysteriously, it was gone. An inadvertent discovery by a farmer’s plow?

The responsibility of a closer look? Perhaps. But, that sometimes bedeviling push of manhood stalled and never came to shove. The craven urge to move on sustained me.

The Black Porch
They’d gather after dark
when moonlight silhouettes
in lilting motion spark
the tales that dusk begets

The darkness coiled to spring,
while steeped in superstition
an elder’s voice would string
a web of intuition.

Entranced by the spell,
real woes shied and froze.
A breeze rose and fell,
the voice rivaled the prose

As shamen engineer
a catharsis in pretend,
an ephemeral feral fear
a brink beyond the ken.

The Saffron Fall
Up and down, all around
it tumbled to the ground.
A lamenting leaf
of fall, in grief
from shade, to shade of brown

The convict had an aura
beyond all mortal men,
a contagion of horror
a boogie-man, back then

Heralds screamed the news
“Escaped!” –into the dim,
shadows on the mews
“Shush! Is it him?”

The crime was secondary,
Lost in weighted word
of transcendental worry
beyond all else we heard.

The reason brought to bay
the happenstance of crime,
in rural yesterday
the creature of his time.

Parlor Tricks
Mortimer the mortician
claimed a body rose,
arranged an exhibition
a farce of tickled toes.

Then while chanting, kneeling
(hecklers fainting, feared!)
floated toward the ceiling,
bowed, and disappeared.

CLARENCE FOSTER is a resident of Southampton County and graduated from Hayden High School in 1963.