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Mountain Mailman
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 by Frank Shortt
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        A red mule trudged slowly up a deep, dark hollow in upper Buchanan County, Virginia. The trail switched occasionally, leading upward to another cabin. Cardinals chirped a greeting to the invaders. A rabbit, startled at first, soon decided that there was no harm abroad and began chewing his ever present cud. Playful squirrels jumped from hickory tree to hickory tree, squawking cheerfully. All seemed almost too peaceful.
        Astride the mule was a thin elderly man seemingly with a stern nature. His white beard reached almost to his waist. His overalls and blue chambray shirt, though clean, were faded and worn, such as mountain farmers might wear. Although he appeared to look neither to the right or left, his upright confidence revealed that he was very familiar with his surroundings.
        As he approached the young girl waiting for him by a split rail fence, he stopped. The gate hung ajar by one leather hinge.
        The girl, approaching teen age was dressed in a sunbonnet and long dress indicative of this time and place. She wore no shoes. Her blue eyes sparkled as she saw the old man, replacing the scowl she had worn just a moment ago.
        “Well, good morning’ Sis and how’s Sarah Lee this fine mornin’?”
        “Fair to middlin, she replied. How’s the mailman?”
        “Jest fine, are all the folks doin’ well?”
        “They seem to be doin’ fine but my aunt has been havin’ dark spells lately. She’s been speakin’ in short sentences and her attitude to’ards me has been rank. I can’t rightly say what’s wrong.”
        Mrs. Hughes was not really Sarah Lee’s aunt, probably a cousin, but was only keeping her since her parents were both deceased. This was a custom in bygone days.
        “Maybe she’s got the blues as the old folks say, she’ll probably be ok in a few days. Have you been reading’ the scriptures I left with you last week?” Winston queried.
        Sarah had been taught to read at the Mountain Mission School.
        “Shore have, she replied. Boy that thar Jesus feller shore had to put up with a lot. I’m thinkin’ he must have been somthin’ supernatural to have done all them things.”
        “Yeah, he was a little more than a man. He was God livin’ in a man. I’m glad you’re takin’ notice of the holy writin” he said as he handed her a letter showing the address of the county sheriff department.
        “Thanks, Mr. Campbell, hope you have a wonderful day.”
        With that, the mailman wheeled his mule around and headed to the next stop on his route.
        Winston Campbell was mail carrier for his area of Virginia. He was also known as a local parson in the Baptist/Holiness tradition. In the nineteen thirties not many roads were passable enough for automobiles so horses and mules were used to deliver the mail. A mule was more sure footed, the reason Winston used this particular animal.
        Wonder why Mrs. Hughes is in such a tizzy? Winston thought. She’s too young for the change of life and I don’t think old man Hughes wears the pants in that family.
        Winston had a peculiar attribute about him. He could see ‘dreams with his eyes open’. He would merely be riding along and all of a sudden he could see something reenacted right out in front of him. Moonshiners and criminals feared him because he could pinpoint the location of their particular crime. They had even waylaid him but his ‘dreams’ had warned him of the danger beforehand. For this reason he was a good friend of the county sheriff.
        The next week, Winston missed the young girl who usually met him by the Hughes’ gate. After a couple weeks not seeing her, Winston became curiously concerned. He thought he would just ride up to the house, deliver any mail and take a look for himself.
        Bill and Carol Hughes were millers and ground all the corn and wheat for their neighbors. Lately they seemed to have more spending cash than usual on hand as most folks paid for their grinding with a portion of the meal or flour.
       Winston was surprised that no one else had missed the young girl.
        “Wy howdy Ms Hughes, how are things going for y’all?”
        “Everthin’s just fine, she replied, what could go right in this God forsakin’ place?”
        Mrs. Hughes was notoriously, constantly depressed.
        “Well, I’ve been missin’ your niece for a couple of weeks and was just wonderin’ what had become of her?”
        Winston watched Mrs. Hughes’ eyes for any tell-tale signs as he questioned her.
        “Sarah Lee went over on the West Virginia side to visit some relatives, she ort to be back pretty soon. Bill took her down to Grundy and put her on a bus for Welch. Her uncle lives just East of there.” Mrs. Hughes’ eyes darted furtively side to side as she talked.
        “Ok, Mrs. Hughes, if you say so, I guess I’ll be on my way. Have a wonderful day, say howdy to Bill.”
        The woman did not reply.
Departing, Winston noticed a broken chair and also that the mill wheel was not turning. He became perplexed as he rode away.
        He rode several miles pondering deeply what had just occurred and what he had seen. Why would Bill Hughes leave a broken chair unmended? Why ain’t the mill wheel turnin’.
        What happened next was not new to Winston but would have astonished anyone not familiar with Winston’s ways. Suddenly it was as if he was having a dream but the strange thing, his eyes were wide open.
        He saw the bottom muck of the mill pond at the Hughes place. On the bottom lay the lifeless body of a young girl. She was fully clothed and even had her shoes on as if dumped very quickly. Her body had been weighted down with a heavy plowshare. The look on her face was one of surprise and of pain. In the dream she seemed to be pleading with Winston to do her a favor.
        Unbeknownst to Winston, the Hughes had been filching groceries at night from a neighborhood store and had been caught. The sheriff had arrested them but didn’t have sufficient evidence for an indictment.
        As soon as Winston finished his route, he headed for the county sheriff’s office. He intended to tell the sheriff everything he had seen in the vision. He had to wait patiently for the sheriff as he was out on another matter.
        “When’s the sheriff scheduled to be back, Winston inquired. I have a matter of most importance to tell him about.”
        “What is it Mr. Elijah, the deputy chided, another still up Benson’s holler?”
       “My business is with the sheriff if you don’t mind. I can see that you are not experienced enough to handle your duty. If I ran this department, you’d have a more civil tongue in your head.”
        Young persnickety deputy! Winston said under his breath.
        Senile old man, thought the deputy.
        Winston saw the sheriff’s car arrive outside just as his patience was wearing thin.
        The sheriff, a rotund, well-mannered individual with a penchant for duty, was always glad to see Winston as he made life a little more tolerable for him on an otherwise thankless job.
        “How ya doin’ ole timer, asked the sheriff. Hev’ you been finding any more leads for me to follow up on?”
        “I’m a little perplexed about this one, Winston replied. I just visited Mrs. Hughes at the mill and she told me that her niece was away visiting some relatives in West Virginia, but I saw one of them ‘dreams’ and I b’lieve I saw the young lady layin’ in the bottom of the mill pond.”
         On Winston’s word, the sheriff acquired a triple horse trailer for his steed, Winston’s mule and the deputy’s mount. They went as far as the highway would allow then mounted the steeds for the torturous ride up to Hughes’ mill. As they rode, the sheriff questioned Winston further.
        “What do you think happened, Winston? Do you think someone killed the girl and dumped her body in the mill pond?”
        “Hmm, I won’t be able to rightly say as the spirit of the dream told me to wait until things proceeded then I would be told what to do.”
        When they arrived at the Hughes place, Carol Hughes panicked, turning as pale as a white leghorn chicken. Bill Hughes was nowhere to be seen.
        “Well, what do we do now, have you been directed what to do?” asked the sheriff.
        “Give me just a few minutes alone,” Winston replied as he walked behind the cabin.
        After a spell, Winston appeared with a grim look of resolution.
        “Uh, get one of Sarah Lee’s petticoats, lay it on the water and float it out to the middle of the pond. When it reaches Sarah’s body, it will sink and there’s where the body will be. This is what I’ve been told to do.”
        The sheriff did just as Winston directed him. The petticoat floated out to a certain spot, and all of a sudden sank as if sucked down by a powerful vacuum.
        “Dive in the pond,” the sheriff directed the deputy.
        The deputy complied, and sure enough the body of Sarah Lee lay on the bottom just as Winston had said.
        “Well, I’ll be hornswoggled! The sheriff exclaimed. We’ll get a crew up here to retrieve the body as soon as we get back to headquarters. Now, Mrs. Hughes you have some tall explainin’ to do. What do you have to say for yourself?”
        The woman did not know where to turn. She squirmed miserably and then, as if a heavy load fell from her shoulders, she confessed.
        “I was trying to coax Sarah to lie for me about the grocery theft, but she refused to do it. She wouldn’t budge even after I beat her almost senseless. I hit her over the head with that broken chair over thar and broke her neck. I’m the most miserable wretch that I know.   Just kill me and get me out of my misery.”
        “Was Bill involved in any way?” The sheriff asked as he handcuffed the distraught wretch.
        “He helped me rig up the body to sink it, but he’s been hidin’ out in the mountains since this happened. You’ll find him in that old cave at the head of the holler. He’s scairt that Sarah’s gonna come outta the water and haint him.”
        Winston turned to the sheriff and said, “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
        Carol Hughes was indicted for murder and given life in prison. Bill Hughes was given a lesser sentence for aiding and abetting his wife in the crime as well as the theft of the groceries.
        Once again Winston Campbell’s dreams had proved that the Word of the Lord is a two-edged sword, dividing asunder the soul and spirit, and discerning the very thoughts of the heart.