The Cutter’s Mill Ghoul
The late-summer sky surrendered its bright pink and lavender brilliance, eventually fading to a murky black. Pete pushed his bedroom curtains apart and stared past his backyard into the creeping mist seeping out of the woods that surrounded his subdivision. The crickets and tree frogs sang their songs without a care in the world. The shrill repetitive barking of Megan Case’s Jack Russell, Mr. McDougal, finally stopped. Pete glanced anxiously at his Dark Knight wristwatch, and then mustered all the nerve he could manage for his young age.
He walked softly down the thickly-carpeted stairs, tiptoeing across the faintly lit living room. His step-dad was passed out in the recliner just like every other night. An empty bottle of Absolute Vodka and a variety of pill bottles were all that occupied the pock-marked coffee table next to his chair. Pete looked him over with contempt. It would be so easy to shove a pillow over his slack drunken face. Tim wouldn’t feel a thing if he bashed his face in with a golf club. That would be too easy. Pete wanted him to suffer. To feel terror….to die.
The television blasted a Mexican wrestling match; El Diablo Martinez was clearly winning. Tim snored loudly. A long-dead Camel Wide rested delicately between his smoke-stained fingers. His hatred of Tim was sustaining a long-burning fire in his young heart. Pete quietly opened the door, and crept into the garage.
Pete sat down on the steps, and slipped his tattered shoes on. Tim had been putting off getting him a new pair because times were “tough”. Times were never tough enough to go without vodka, smokes or the pills Tim bought from Brady Shelton’s dad across the street.
One of the laces broke and Pete swore under his breath. Across the garage from him was the yellow mop bucket. Pete’s mom called it the barf bucket, and it was as much a part of his family as Pete was. Pete saw it every other night, making its scraping, scuffing way across the linoleum to the splattered puddle of barf. Tim was usually face-down on the floor. Sometimes Tim would swear to God that he’d never drink again. Other times he was praying for death as he dry-heaved or vomited up his dinner along with burning stomach acid. Tim and his liver had not gotten along well in years. You might even consider his stomach an enemy as well.
Pete had nightmares about the nasty, yellow bucket. It was the same dream every time. He would sneak down the stairs and see it sitting idly on the kitchen floor. He held his breath and slowly walked past the thing. It always knew he was there. The bucket rotated on its squeaky wheels, and grinned at Pete. The thing had no eyes, no nose, just a crooked mouthful of jagged uneven teeth. The mouth was like a garbage disposal contently consuming whatever waste was slopped into it.
All the years of eating Tim’s barfed up meals had caused pieces of rotten food to collect in the thing’s teeth. A noodle hung limply from the top row of rusty metal teeth. Bits of meat and food fell from its grinding maw. The bucket flashed its nightmare grin and rolled across the floor. Pete screamed one of those weird dream screams where you can’t get enough breath to actually shriek. The “scream” was more of a thin squeal. Terrified, he jumped on top of the table. The thing gnawed violently at the table leg, bucking on its rusted wheels. The bucket shredded the furniture apart. Pete always fell, screaming, to the floor, his face inches away from the putrid mouth. Pete fully believed that if he were to die in his dream he would die in reality also. He was grateful the dream never progressed that far.
He grimaced and walked past the inanimate bucket, not taking his eyes from it just in case it sprang to life. Broken glass and beer bottle tops crunched beneath his feet as he ducked under the half-open garage door. He looked back one last time at the bucket.
The crisp, autumn air felt good to Pete. He stopped for a moment to breathe it in. The neighborhood was eerily silent now. A light wind tousled his hair as he pulled his hoodie up quickly. He lived at the end of a cull de sac in Cutter’s Mill, Kentucky, a town with more bars and gossip than roads. There were few things to talk about in the small southern town. Tim and his mother were popular topics at the Knights of Columbus or the Madison County Sheriff’s office, where Tim was booked for two of his three DUI’s.
Pete surveyed the dark neighborhood and found it to be not only secure, but also unnaturally dark—too dark. Old man Webb hobbled out of his neatly organized garage and turned his sprinklers on without even a glance in Pete’s direction. Pete looked up at his mom’s bedroom. The light was off. Tim was passed out. There was no chickening out this time. His older brother, Perry, didn’t talk to him for a week the last time did. He didn’t like to upset his older brother. He was in a perpetually bad mood since the day he had to occupy a home with Tim. Perry would do just about anything to live with their real father. It was time he found out if the ghost stories he heard as a little kid were true.
The dewy grass stuck to his feet as he walked in shadows across his own backyard. The lawn was half-mowed. Tim rarely completed anything except his drinks. He passed out from Xanax and Maker’s Mark twenty minutes into his mowing. Pete’s mom, Pamela, asked Perry to finish, but he still hadn’t gotten around to it. Pete loved his mom so much. He had no idea why she stayed with Tim.
The divorce exacerbated Perry’s already strained relationship with his mother, but they hated Tim so much. Why Tim? Why did she pick his dumb redneck ass? Pete had asked his real dad this same question. His only response was that’s just how things are sometimes, kiddo. Well, they wouldn’t be that way after tonight. Pete vowed that already.
Pete ducked under the rusting chain link fence and double checked the area for witnesses. The first real wave of nervousness hit him when he gazed into the mist drifting down the hill. Perry had been very specific about what to do. He carefully checked his pocket for a personal item of Tim’s. He pulled out the car keys Perry gave him and dangled them in front of his face, proving to his mind that he was prepared. Pete’s mom and Tim loved Jimmy Buffet, and the car keys reflected that in the way of a mock “pop top” that hung from the key ring. Pete shoved them deep into his pocket and breathed heavily. Perry promised the container would be behind the gravestone.
Pete walked briskly down the sloping hill, and deeper into the clinging mist. The mist was so thick in the lower spots that his vision was totally obscured. He wished that his imagination wasn’t quite so active. As he got closer, he could see the faint, gray outline of the cemetery gates. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes briefly. Pete walked under the weeping willow and dug around in the cold wet leaves. He felt the cold plastic flashlight and yanked it out. He flipped the rigid, rubber switch and a beam of light cut through the ominous night. He slowly made his way to the old wrought iron gates and pushed them open. They swung open silently and effortlessly. He smacked a bloody mosquito dead on his hand and rubbed it on his pants.
The graveyard had been there all of Pete’s twelve and a half years. His dad told him that Native Americans had originally built the burial ground. During the war, Confederate soldiers butchered the naïve Indians and converted it to a place to bury their increasing dead. As the legend goes, there was a young soldier named Clay Ashburn who was a man of great appetites. He had killed several Union soldiers, and not in the usual ways. Once he had intentionally disemboweled a young man on the battlefield and it only got worse from there. Beheadings and torture were common to Clay. They were preferred by him.
If there was ever a defining moment for Clay, it was the day he saw the result of his unconcealed affair. Clay had been seeing a young debutante from Georgia. He was miles away from his wife and left to his appetites once again. He was already scheduled to travel to Virginia when he got the news of the adulterous pregnancy. She begged him to stay, to defy orders, to love her and their developing child. His response was one of pure rage and soon the debutante was begging for her life as well.
Legends of the supernatural are spread over centuries, passed down from one generation to the next. The actual tale rarely survives time’s corrosive effects. The southerners that believe this tale, however, believed this singular tale down to the finest of details. Some even believe that the unfettered evil contained within the legend sustains the tale to this day.
The night Clay was to leave he asked the desperate girl to meet him at her uncle’s stables at sundown. Anticipating a future with Clay, she arrived several minutes early. Clay arrived with the setting sun and promptly killed her. He didn’t mercifully shoot her, ending her life quickly with a bullet. He shoved a bowie knife into her womb and carved her up the middle. She was found the next morning, eviscerated and drained completely of blood.
Locals of that era claimed an angel of Satan himself appeared to Clay. A woman of considerable spiritual blessings had a vision regarding the dark meeting. Her name was Elizabeth Fort. She had lived a long good life for God. She grew up in the small town where the murder occurred and had a reputation for prophecy. She collapsed during a hymn during church one Sunday morning. After she awoke the congregation told her an awful tale that she had no recollection of. She twisted and writhed uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth as she shared her sinister vision.
Clay drank his lover’s blood hoping that he would gain her life force. He was no longer content with the defeat or death of an enemy; he wanted to absorb them as well. Clay hoped the life was in the blood, and so began his taste for drinking blood, a taste that followed him into battle.
Very few people knew of his affair and he was indifferent about the murder. As he left that evening a heavy and rather humid fog devoured the lonely rode he traveled. Even with Clay’s evil heart and desires, he grew concerned about the unusual mist. His horse was unnerved as well and began acting skittish. Clay jumped off his horse and drew his sword. He openly challenged any would be stalkers or devils that might have been waiting for him in the curious fog. He paced a small circle, his sword extended, anticipating an attack of some kind. The fog languidly flowed past him and everything was silent. Content that the mist was of a common nature, he mounted his nervous horse and tread deeper into the silence. He made it less than fifty feet before a cold wind began to clear the road of the blinding fog. Clay stopped dead in his tracks when he saw a cloaked figure standing in his path. Even a man of Clay’s dark propensity was frightened.
“Who’s there?” He demanded. He started to sweat uncontrollably. His heaving chest raced. He swore as he trembled with terror. The mere presence of the stranger had unsettled both him and his horse. His steed made a deep screeching sound, and then bucked Clay to the road. He landed hard, losing his breath. He looked up into the stranger’s hidden face. “WHO ARE YOU?” He demanded.
“I am opportunity.” The man said in a soothing tone. His accent was strange. Clay thought he was European, but could not recognize the origin. Clay jumped to his feet and drew his pistol. The man held his open palm out, and then made a fist. The gun twisted into a distorted shape and fell from Clay’s hand. The man walked closer and Clay fell backwards in stunned silence. The tall man in the dark brown cloak pulled his hood away. Blonde hair spilled down to his shoulders. Clay thought he might be Scandinavian or Norwegian based on his bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and chiseled features. “I know who you are Clay Ashburn, and I’ve been waiting for you.” The man turned a gentle smile to Clay and offered his outstretched hand.
Not quite sure what to make of the situation, Clay took his hand regardless. The man’s hand was strong and warm. Clay could feel something beneath it, something fluid and otherworldly, something powerful. He stood unsteady and speechless before the stranger “Clay, we’ve watched you for some time. We’ve noticed your ferocity. We’ve noticed your bloodlust and drive. We’ve seen your handiwork in the stables and we want you.” His voice was smooth and almost warm in his ears. He felt hypnotized.
“Want me for what?” Clay asked.
“We want you to kill, Clay. We want you to succeed in such a manner that even in death you will still have power and influence.”
“I don’t understand. Who are you?” He asked. The man smiled.
“My name is Lucian and I have existed before the earth was formed. I was in the company of a very young Creator when Lucifer turned from God. I fought alongside Lucifer with a third of His angels. Who I am is not as important as what I offer you.” He tilted his head and pushed his thick hair behind his ears.
“What then do you offer me?” Clay asked.
“I offer you the power to annihilate your enemies, gain greater riches than what you thought existed, and influence the world for my master.” He smiled as he spoke.
“And who is it you serve, Lucian?” Now Clay smiled.
Clay grinned and walked close to the man. His skin was so smooth and taught that it almost glowed in the night. His ears were upturned slightly, almost like that of an elf. Clay could see the top of an armored chest plate peeking through the neck of his robe. An impressively large broadsword was sheathed at his side. Lucian extended his hand and Clay took it.
What happened after that is shrouded in pure speculation.
Clay lived over 107 years before he died in his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There were reports that his body was being returned to his native Kentucky when a crowd attacked the horse drawn carriage transporting his body. Clay was made nearly immortal at the battle near Petersburg; killing an estimated 750 men in that battle. His reputation for being a supernatural monster was believed and respected. The group of God fearing men that took his body were brave and blessed in its retrieval. It was a mystery where the men came from; all that was known was that they truly were men of Christ. Local legends claim the men cursed the corpse before the soul had left. The curse stated that Clay must wander the earth for centuries in a state of undeath, a ghoul if you will. In history a ghoul was a thing of evil that haunted cemeteries and remote locations, feeding on the flesh of the living. Some legends say that a ghoul feeds only on the flesh of evil people, people that bring pain, suffering or death into the world.
Now, Clay has been reduced to a myth or local legend. Today’s generation doesn’t care about proof backing up the claims. With each generation such tales become less and less important as technology and science reign supreme. Clay Ashburn survives as a local ghost story. He survives as a reason for guys to take their girls to the cemetery on Halloween night. He survives as a warning from parents—stay away from the dark cemetery at the bottom of the hill. Not quite the reputation he was shooting for or deserved.
Pete walked past looming grave markers and patches of thorny brambles until he clearly saw the tombstone.
Clay William Ashburn
Born July 18, 1840
Died June 6, 1948
May he never rest.
Pete reached into his pocket and examined the torn piece of paper Perry had scrawled Clay’s name on… just to be sure. Convinced he could do it, he kneeled down in the high grass at the base of the gravestone. He reached around the marker and found the warm container Perry had promised to leave there. He shined his light on the clear plastic bottle and saw that it was filled full with blood. Perry never mentioned where he would obtain the blood and Pete didn’t want to know.
He twisted the top off the bottle, dropped the car keys and poured the bottle’s contents onto the ground above the weed-choked grave. Pete closed his eyes and envisioned a Tim-free life. “Please come to me, and kill the source of my suffering.” Perry was very clear about how the phrase must be spoken for the proper results. He made him pinky promise not to mention Tim’s name. The blood smoked and crackled as it seeped into the weeds and soil. Pete gasped loudly and jumped to his feet. A small tremor awoke underneath him. He turned and ran.
His heart was beating wildly when he slipped back into the garage. He was still clutching the empty bottle and hadn’t realized it. The nearly coagulated blood had stained his hand and arm. He grabbed an oily rag, wiped the blood away, and snuck back inside the house. He hoped nothing had followed him back. The thought seemed ridiculous and warranted at the same time.
Pete snuck across the kitchen towards the radiant light of the television in the living room. Tim was gone. Surely the ritual of invocation hadn’t worked that fast. Pete turned the television off and walked silently to the bathroom. Tim’s feet were poking out of the door. He was face down in the bathroom and snoring. Pete rolled his eyes in disgust. Pete was legitimately tired and decided to at least try to get some sleep. Right he thought. This was like ten Christmas Eves rolled into one restless night.
Pete walked into his room and shut the door. Yawning, he stripped down to his underwear. He looked out of the open window that faced the cemetery. The fog was surreal it was so thick. He’d never seen anything quite like it. His head raced with anxiety as he thought about the shaking earth at the gravesite. A lump grew in his throat as he slipped into bed. He pulled the Star Wars blanket up to his neck and closed his eyes tightly. Before he knew it he was fast asleep.
Pete didn’t know if he was awake or dreaming. His young mind was struggling to process the very adult feelings he was experiencing. He thought he heard his mother scream. Guilt washed over him like a wave. What if he got caught? What if the police pinned Tim’s impending murder on him? What if Perry was full of crap and had succeeded in nothing but giving Pete an eternity of nightmares and a full-blown case of the creeps.
The scream echoed in his head. He thought he was hearing a struggle in the twilight between sleep and consciousness. He saw a flash of a confederate uniform and a hellish bloody mouth. Flesh and tissue fell from the gaping mouth. He saw the puke bucket racing across the floor. Laughter and screams blended together in his buzzing ears. He saw bright blue eyes staring into his own. There was a flash of green fire. He thought he smelled acrid smelling smoke and rotting flesh. He wished the dream was over. He gripped two handfuls of sheet in his clammy hands. He arched his back and screamed like a person having a demon driven from them. He felt hands on his face.
“Pete! Peter! Wake up!” Pete’s heavy lidded eyes tightened and fluttered. A blurry shape loomed over him. Pete, wake up!” The blurry shape was Tim.
“What do you want??” Pete lurched up and glared at Tim. He was not dreaming. Pete smelled the familiar smell of liquor on Tim’s breath. The panicked look on his face was what grabbed his attention.
“What’s wrong?” Pete asked. Tim began to cry. His unshaven face swayed back and forth.
“What is it, Tim??” Pete swung out of bed and grabbed Tim by the shoulders. Tim stammered.
“Pete, there has been an…I…I was sleeping and…I thought I was dreaming—“
“Tell me you son-of-bitch!”
“Your mother is—she…” Tim collapsed to the floor and cried. Pete felt his heart launch into his throat. He jumped out of bed and raced and towards his mother’s room. Panic and fear raced alongside him. “Pete! Your mom—she..” Pete threw open the door and his heart all but burst. He fell painfully to his knees on the hardwood floor. His jaw dropped like a shocked cartoon character.
Pete’s mother had been eaten. Not quite eaten, more like….cleaned. Her bloody skeleton had been stripped of all flesh. There were small strips of muscle inside the ribcage, surrounded by what looked like teeth marks. She was positioned just as she was last night. She was lying on her back, her hands open and at her sides, her long hair splayed out under her skull. Her mouth was open in a permanent scream.
Pete felt something wet and squishy under his knee. He looked down and saw he was kneeling in the moist clay that the thing had tracked inside. “Peter, son, that’s not your mom, that’s—“
Pete jumped to his feet and swirled to Tim. “That’s her you son of a bitch!” He screamed in doomed certainty. How did this happen?? His brain scrambled for a believable option. Pete stared down at the car keys on the muddy blood-soaked carpet at the foot of the bed. Please come to me and kill the source of my suffering! Perry’s words reverberated in his head. He was very precise in his ritual steps. Pete did more than one trial run and he was meticulous. Pete grabbed the keys and shoved them towards Tim’s face. “What are your keys doing in here?” Pete screamed beneath tears. His hand shook the bloody keys.
“Those are your mothers!” Tim choked out. Pete winced.
“But I saw you with them…” Tim looked annoyed in his grief.
“I did have ‘em. Lost mine and borrowed hers. What’s the deal with the damn keys anyway?” Tim asked through sobs. Deep inside Pete’s cloudy mind he remembered the words. He clearly heard part of the argument. “You’re the one destroying this marriage, Pamela! Was it worth it?? I hope so, because you sure as hell didn’t think about me or your two kids! And of all the dickheads to sleep with…Tim Mayer?! How many more were there, Pam?? YOU, Pamela, not me, but YOU destroyed this family.”
Pete gasped through his tears when he realized that Perry had made him an unwilling participant. Perry obviously hated her far worse than Pete ever considered. “Dear God…no. I helped kill my own mother.”
Perry stood at the disturbed grave with another vial of blood. “Your turn, Timmy.”