Disclaimer: The story of Christy is owned by the Marshall-LeSourd Family. I am in no way seeking profit or credit for her story. This fiction is written for my own amusement only. This story uses themes from the book, CBS series and the PAX movies.
October 26, 1913
I froze in my steps when the doe raised its head and looked straight into my eyes with its large brown orbs. Its tail flicked, then she lowered her graceful neck and kept eating.
I had rarely seen anything so beautiful . . . walking along the river, I suddenly saw in the very center of the flowing waters, a doe eating the last of the green snake grass. The sun was setting and a keen autumnal wind caught the hair escaping at the nape of my neck. The water gurgled as the deer silently caught up blade after blade of grass.
I stood there till my legs ached from being so still, trying to imprint the picture into my memory forever. Finally, with one long gaze up towards the mountain, the doe daintily crossed the water, and disappeared into the glen.
"Thank You so much, God, that You allowed me to witness that. You've done simply one more thing to brighten my day. You're very considerate," I smiled half-jokingly, directing my thoughts heavenward. It made me smile even larger—I had never spoken to God this way before I came to the mountains of Tennessee.
"I take it you enjoyed that, Miss Huddleston," a deep voice said.
I whirled, surprised to hear the familiar accent. Neil MacNeill sat on the bank, several yards away from me, smoking his pipe. He was not looking at me, but staring into the forest where the deer had been enclosed from sight.
"I did, Dr. MacNeill. You saw, didn't you? I've never seen anything like that back in Asheville."
"Indeed not. One of the Appalachian Voices."
"What?" I asked, coming closer.
For the first time he glanced at me. "The Appalachian Voices. That's what my people call it. I remember, as a lad, Grandam Spencer would always say that of the whistle in the wind, the song of a sparrow—"
"Or the ripple of water or the grace of a doe," I added impetuously.
The doctor gave a half smile and regarded me closely. "Aye. All around you. I wonder if maybe that belief originated from the Cherokee, but I don't know. It surely makes sense to me. I believe I feel it as deeply as my ancestors did when they first came here. Sometimes I imagine it was on a day like this—when the trees still show their greens and blues, but the orange and scarlet and gold has begun to show as well. Have you ever seen a sky as blue as that, Miss Huddleston?"
I shook my head, hoping my slight confusion didn't show on my face. He could be distant one moment, poetic as Longfellow the next, jesting like Creed Allen directly after that, like he was opening a door, and then slamming it in my face before I could get a good look inside.
Slam! went the door right then.
The doctor stood up abruptly. "Well, a pleasant evening to you, Miss Huddleston. Try to not fall in the river on your way back. What would your reverend say if you had to dry off at my cabin again?"
Then he was gone, shaking his head and clucking his tongue before I could offer a retort.
The smells of pumpkin and spice met me heavily as I entered the mission house. "Miss Ida, you are a wonder," I said cheerily, walking into the kitchen. "That pumpkin pie smells wonderful!"
"Hmph, it's another offering from the McHone clan. Isaak brought it by earlier. I'll get three pies out of this one."
"Oh, that was sweet of him. I wonder, Miss Ida, do you think . . . well, could I take one over to the McHones?"
Miss Ida smiled. Really smiled. "I was going to suggest just that, Miss Huddleston. You know, these people do show some sort of kindness after a while."
"Hello? Anybody home?" came Miss Alice's voice.
"In here," I called. "Hello, Miss Alice. Oh! Good evening, David."
"Evening, Christy. Ida," nodded David.
"It is beautiful this time of year," Miss Alice was saying, taking off her hat. "All the families are harvesting the crops of their hillsides. Reminds me of when I was a girl. I see you've been enjoying the outdoors, Christy."
"Harvesting their hillsides is right," David said. "This is the time of year for moonshine. Lots of trouble will be coming up. The O'Teales are in a bad way right now, thanks to Nathan. I visited them today, and they're not doing well on food. I've heard he's around. Probably selling his liquor."
"I wish we could do more for them," I said.
Miss Ida caught my eye. "And a pie for the O'Teales?"
I was furious, with good reason, and was going to see if the doctor had an answer for me. I hoped he was at home, and after I knocked—well, banged on his door for a while the sound of movement from inside evidenced he was.
"Come inside," he shouted.
He was going back and forth from his den to his laboratory, jotting something down here, filing a thick stack of papers there, checking one bottle after the next.
"Dr. MacNeill, I need your help . . . please. I don't know what to do."
"Well, that's something new. And you even said please."
"Yes, I'll say it again. Please, no joking right now. That's what David does."
"Right then. What seems to be the problem?"
"Oh, it's awful! George and Mountie came to school today barefoot—in this weather—after they earned those beautiful shoes. I asked them where they were and George wouldn't say anything, but Mountie said the banshees took them. Well, then John Spencer told me that Nathan O'Teale took his own children's shoes! Heaven knows for what! He's probably selling them for moonshine . . . or . . . something."
"Now Christy, why would he do that? Are you jumping to conclusions? Yes, you are."
"Oh don't you tell me what I'm doing! Or tell me to stay out of this. These sorts of doings have now directly affected my children and I will see it stopped."
"Oh? And how? Maybe he's had to sell his children's shoes for food, you think of that?"
"Well you seem to be taking it awfully calm. I—"
"I know he's taking their shoes. I put two and two together, Miss Huddleston. He's probably trading the shoes in exchange for copper tubing. I heard tell his still was broken. I've already tried to talk with him, but to no avail."
He seemed drained all of a sudden and stopped milling about the room. He walked to the window and stared out.
"This is one of those Appalachian Voices, Christy," he said slowly. "One of the cruel, relentless ones."
There was a pause before I asked tentatively, "Neil, what's a banshee?"
He turned around, chuckling. "You don't know what a banshee is?—Wait!"
He ran to a cabinet and pulled out a jug full of—
"For medicinal purposes," he explained, catching my look. "Now, Nathan O'Teale is one of the most superstitious people I know. I wonder . . . if we just might be able to do something about this."
"About the moonshining business, of course."
"Will this do anything to help the O'Teale children?"
"It should. Let's get to work."
"Neil MacNeill, have you gone crazy? I think maybe you've taken a drop or two out of those jugs. This isn't like you at all. Ooh, I can't believe I'm doing this!"
"Wheesht! Would you hold your noise, Christy? I think this will work."
"Think it will work? Oh dear God, please help us, and please make this work. I can't believe I'm in this mess."
"But you would do anything to stop these doing's, wouldn't you, Christy?" He looked at me with an impish grin. "And anyway, you do look lovely in that costume."
It was pitch black all around us as we climbed the mountain towards the O'Teale cabin. The night was terribly cold, especially for what I was wearing. Putting on an abundance of heavy things underneath, I had clothed myself, at Neil's direction, in a ripped up white nightgown. Strands of other flimsy white cloths—dress scraps, dish towels, bandages—all hung off of me in every direction. My face and hands were covered in a white paste-like substance which the "brilliant" doctor had concocted and smeared all over, and my hair was covered in a long white scarf.
"You've made sure of the children, doctor?"
"Aye, each and every one is at someone else's house for the night. And Swannie?"
"Safely away in the mission. I didn't think it would work, but how you charmed her to stay there tonight I'll never know. For that matter, I'll never know how you charmed me into this ridiculous outfit. My mother would die if she saw me."
"Well let's just hope Nathan comes close to that. He'll be confused right off at not finding anyone at home. Hush now, we're almost there. You know what to do?"
"Yes. I'm ready, may God help me. Are you sure we shouldn't try . . . um, talking to him again?"
"Trust me, Christy. And don't worry about him shooting at you, no matter how intoxicated he is. He would never dare shoot at a banshee."
"What! Shoot at me?"
"Here's the jug, and the other . . . I'll be right behind you. Do it all up, now. I have faith in you."
"That's good to know, but—"
"Shhh . . . Look there."
Through the dark I was able to make out the silhouette of the cabin. It had not changed much since my first memorable visit. How I wished I could erase those memories forever from my mind. And this? Would I end up regretting this as well? A light flickered inside. Nathan was there all right, probably drinking away. I was glad Neil had had the sense to send the children elsewhere for this little escapade of his.
I felt Neil's gentle hand on the small of my back, urging me forward. Through the last few bushes I went, till I was completely exposed in the yard. My heart pounded and my throat went dry, yet I somehow managed to whisper many urgent prayers. I swallowed and took a deep breath.
"Nathan O'Teale," I shouted in a strange voice. "Nathan O'Teale! The spirits greet you with a message from . . . from beyond the mortal sphere!—How's that?" I whispered to Neil.
"Not bad," he whispered back. "But try to use language he'll understand."
I heard a crash from inside the cabin, and a weak light suddenly stretched across the grass towards me. A tall, scraggly figure with a rifle in his hand appeared, darkened against the light. "Who's thar?" he shouted in a trembling and slurred voice.
"A banshee," I continued, wincing and half-laughing at the picture I knew I created. "A banshee. Those spirits who foretell of death and misfortune. I bring word to you—a warning from, um, that beyond that I mentioned."
There was a clatter as his rifle fell onto the rotting boards of the porch. "Wh-what do ye want with me?"
"This I bring you, Nathan O'Teale!" I strengthened my voice, raising in front of me the doctor's full jug of moonshine. "This omen of your life. This is what it will become!" I threw it on the ground in front of me as hard as I could, and—nothing happened. It didn't even crack.
Oh dear. I fumbled towards it, and, picking it up, threw it down again. It burst open, and the liquid, dark with night, seeped all over the ground.
I reached behind me, waving frantically till I felt the stick of a match being pushed into my hand. I brought it before me. Yes! It was lit. I tossed it down into the puddle of moonshine, and flames burst into the air.
"Your evil practice brings nothing but destruction upon you and your kin. I warn you, Nathan! Unless you give up this wickedness, this shall be your fate!" I took the other jug and threw it closer to him. Thankfully the ceramic broke into many shards near his feet, and Neil pushed another match into my outstretched hand.
I raised my hands above me and walked slowly towards him, thinking that I was enjoying this far too much. I cast the match into the liquor, and more flames rose before me.
"You have taken the very shoes from your children's feet. Ill it shall be for you lest you make your peace with God and mankind—"
I heard a sharp whistle from behind me and guessed the doctor was telling me I was going too far. "That is all the warning I can give you, Nathan. I am being called away by the higher power." Some power. "You must heed my words . . . heed my words . . . heed my words!" Flourishing and bending like an actor to an ovational crowd, I drew back into the shadows.
I felt the doctor's hands grab me before I careened down the mountain. We turned, peering at Nathan. Slowly he eased himself down on the porch, just staring at the dying flames. Finally with a shiver, he rushed away for a bucket of water, returned with it, threw it onto the flames, took a large gulp, and doused his head, then entered the cabin and slammed the door.
The doctor grabbed my hand and we rushed down the mountain, till at last we collapsed near the mission house, both shaking with suppressed laughter.
"That was a wicked, wicked thing to do!" I gasped. "Such witchcraft as a banshee . . . the poor man!"
"Some sermonizin'," Neil laughed. "And I'll have you know that the banshee is yet another Appalachian Voice. You were astounding, Christy. I almost ran for my life."
"Where on earth did you come up with such an idea?"
"Oh, based on the inspiration of a few young friends of mine, but Alice is sitting up for you. We mustn't keep her waiting."
Miss Alice had allowed the whole plan, and was indeed waiting to clean me up before anyone saw.
That Saturday was the community apple butter stir, something I had never attended before. How I wished my parents could've seen! The field in front of the schoolhouse was alive with all the sights, smells, and sounds. The Spencers had brought their huge copper pot, and everyone in the Cove brought their apples. The whole morning we worked away at coring and cooking them as some others played away on fiddles and dulcimers.
Everyone looked up in surprise when Nathan O'Teale came strolling over the hill, not a whiskey jug in sight. Swannie ran to greet him.
She called Alice, David, and myself over to them. "Preacher, I jest wanted to tell ye the good news. Nathan here done give up blockadin'."
David looked so happy, Miss Alice was beaming, and I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. "Yep, sure did," Nathan said. "Dangerous business. Never know what might conjure up. I tell ye sure, evil thangs come out'n the darkness when ye breed likker. Evil things . . ."
"What kind of evil things?" David enquired.
"'Twas a sure-fired banshee. Never did know what they looked like myself, but now I know."
"And what do they look like, Mr. O'Teale?" I asked sweetly.
"Like ugly, ailin' women covered in dish cloths. Who woulda thought?"
Miss Alice and David kept rejoicing with him, discussing job possibilities. I was flabbergasted the whole shenanigan had come off. And my crowning joy; the O'Teale children were all wearing sturdy shoes.
I approached the doctor. "Did you hear? It worked! It really, truly worked!"
"Oh ye of little faith," he chided. "You see, Christy, these mountain superstitions sometimes work a grander purpose. I'll warrant you that tomorrow, Nathan will be in a pew in church, listening respectfully. No doubt the real reason he'll be there is to learn how to ward off spirits, but, something will come of it."
"You speak as if you thought that would be a good thing, doctor."
"And what if I think it is? What would you say, Miss Huddleston, if I just happened to appear in a pew tomorrow as well?"
"I would shout, Hallelujah! as loud as I could!"
"I'll hold you to that," he grinned. "Now if you'll excuse me, the reverend and I have a little competition to take care of."
That man! I would never understand him . . . earlier that week he had been distant, the next moment he was gallivanting around the mountain, and now here he was, threatening to come to church.
"You work in mysterious ways, Lord. You allowed this to work for good, and I thank you with all my heart."
I looked over at Nathan O'Teale, his arm around his wife, their children laughing with joy. I looked towards the highlanders, the Spencers, McHones, Allens, Aunt Hattie . . . my friends. They were the purest melodies of the Appalachian Voices. I looked up towards the forested mountains, their smoky blue, melting, fading away into an ever changing tapestry of crimson and gold. A gust caught their branches and carried a shower of leaves falling like snow into our midst, among all the laughter and music. I heard their song, the song of the falling leaves, the whisper in the breeze, these Appalachian Voices.
And I knew. I knew in my secret heart that God was there amongst us, creating this whirlwind of beauty and love. His was the strongest voice of all.
Everyone stared at me when I shouted "Hallelujah!" at the beginning of the service this morning. But I didn't mind; I was so happy!