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by Frank Shortt
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Phenomena can often be enigmatic sometimes a paradox.
the Southeastern United States there are stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth that have left many children
with fear and awe. If the already superstitious child visited relatives who were prone to expound these “folk” legends he or she would
usually be afraid to return to their own homes. These tales lingered in their memories along the lonely path home. Each root became
a snake, each bush a monster, each rock an unnamed blob ready to devour the passerby.
As I descended
the steep path to the white frame Pruitt home, the evening was clear, with no promise of bad weather. Birds sang, squirrels squawked,
hawks circled looking for their evening repast. My eyes were ever alert for the wily copperhead which was my only real fear on the
When I reached the sawdust pile at the bottom of the hill I could see my destination
in the distance. The neighborhood kids used that sawdust pile for everything from cowboys and Indians to Tarzan of the Apes. The pile
had been left by the Ritter Lumber Company who had stripped the hillsides of the best trees and most of the vegetation. What they
left were ghostly stumps, rotting logs and sharp twisted snags, hazardous as well as unsightly.
The Pruitt family was our closest neighbors and owned the only television around. This was in the late 1950’s and homes in America
were fashioned after ‘Leave it to Beaver’. The greatest event in our community was the Browns getting a new washing machine. Television
was a completely new idea. The Shortt children were not allowed to have one of those “devil inspired” contraptions.
night left no lasting impressions, probably only Lawrence Welk or Ed Sullivan.
Leaving the Pruitt
home was always accompanied by admonitions of,
“Watch out for snakes, don’t let no haints get
you, watch out for that ole man without a head. Why don’t you just stay all night,” and a host of other warnings or invitations.
Clouds had formed since my descent down over the precipice for my clandestine visit. The autumn moon, big and bright, was often obscured
by passing clouds, so that at intervals the narrow trail darkened. I was not afraid of the path being obscured as I knew every stick,
stone and jagged snag that would rise up and attack me. The night was deathly quiet. I could have heard a dropping pinecone from nearly
a mile. A lonely hoot owl mourned soulfully contrasting the solemn stillness. My bare feet made no sound.
I arose suddenly over an outcropping of rock to be confronted by a glow that surpassed the realm of mortal understanding. At first
appearance my thoughts went to “It Came From Outer Space”. I had recently seen the movie in three dimension. It had left a deep impression
on my untutored mind. The blueness of the ‘glow’ showered the night with an ethereal beauty, but with an omen of disaster waiting
in the wings.
My first instinct was to retreat back down the hillside and throw myself on the
mercy of Mrs. Pruitt. She was always a shelter in time of storm. Many times, on arriving at their home with one or more of the Pruitt
boys from a ‘possum hunting trip, I would be too scared to climb the hill up to Shack Ridge and home. Rosella, Mrs. Pruitt, would
come to my rescue by saying, “oh, just stay all night and you can go home early before your folks get up.” This was music to my ears.
I was a very impressionable teenager and had been scared many times by unthinking uncles. They had no mercy on their nieces and nephews.
Rosella Pruitt has a great reward awaiting her.
“No, I can’t go back down there,” I reasoned.
They are already in bed and I don’t dare admit that I’m scared. I’d be the laughing stock of the county. I’ve gotta confront this
‘thing’ or detour around it somehow. What possible harm can it cause me? When I pass by will long tentacles reach out and pull me
inside? Will the unknown beings spirit me off to a far off galaxy as a guinea pig for some outlandish experiment? Maybe they’ll take
me on a tour of the whole universe and show me worlds that I could not even imagine.”
ran rampant! What could I do? I was too far from the house to call for help. Even if I could arouse someone they would probably just
write me off as ‘crazy’ and tell me I shouldn’t have ‘snuck’ down to Pruitt’s in the first place. What a fix!
“I’ve gotta pull myself together. How can a glowing light have any harmful substance?”
I drew closer, trying to decipher the mystery. It glowed, didn’t move and seemingly had no tendencies toward harming me. The closer
I drew, the more it glowed. It took on the appearance of the ‘Burning Bush’ that met Moses in the Old Testament.
“Maybe I’m being singled out to carry a Message to my people? I’ll just talk to the ‘light’ and see if it will answer me.
“Uh, sir, are you here to contact me or to simply scare the daylights outta me? Have I done a wrong that I need to make right? What
is it you want?” Never a sound! Just the infernal glowing! Finally in desperation I made a dash to the right and hurriedly ran up
the hill to the safety of our basement and my warm bed.
Next morning at sunrise I awakened to
the fact that one of my brothers had wet himself soaking my underwear as well. This being early autumn, frost had already begun to
appear on the outbuildings each day. Luckily we had a small coal burning stove in the basement. We could stoke it up at our leisure
when the nights grew cold or the mornings were frosty. This particular morning I built a fire for the purpose of ‘drying out’ before
I made my ascent to breakfast. I owned two pair of underwear so my only alternative was to dry this pair and continue to wear them
until my other pair was washed. Water was too scarce to bathe whenever we felt like it. Once a week bathing was the norm.
When I appeared upstairs Mom already had breakfast prepared. She gave me a scathing look saying, “Well, did you enjoy your little
sneak down the hill last night?” Her words cut like a razor. “I guess you didn’t think I knew the time you dragged in?” Mom usually
didn’t sleep until she knew that each of her brood was safely abed.
“I didn’t get home that late,”
I replied between mouthfuls of biscuit and gravy. Something strange happened on the way home last night that has me kinda shook up.
As I was coming up the hill, I saw the eeriest glow by the side of the path and I don’t have any explanation for it. It was like a
blue light at first, and then it changed to a more fire-like appearance as I drew closer.”
was probably God trying to tell you to change your ways, “ Mom grated caustically , “You know you ain’t right with Him.”
I was surely taken aback. I would not have discounted her words for a million dollars. I knew my shortcomings as well as anyone. She
could surely ream a fellow.
Arrangements were made between Wendell, my older, wiser brother,
and I to go down to the spot of the ‘appearance’. We were to go that very night.
The day dragged
slowly as I contemplated the visit. Nightfall finally arrived. Taking dad’s old mining light we descended the hill to the spot where
the eerie glow had appeared the previous night. “Turn the light off,” I instructed Wendell as we approached the eventful site. As
he doused the light, sure enough, there was the glow. Before us, just as I had viewed it, was the ‘Thing‘ which had gendered so much
fascination and fear.
“What is it Wendell?” I enquired with a note of fear and wonder. “I’m not
sure, hereplied, but we’re sure gonna find out.” Slowly we stalked the Dilemma, being careful not to arouse its anger, approaching
it as if walking on eggs.
Suddenly, Wendell raised his foot, kicking out at the glow. His kick
scattered the fire. It was reminiscent of the dispersion of fire on the day of Pentecost in the bible. He quickly switched on the
light and there in front of us laid an old rotting log presenting the unearthly glow.
to pick up pieces of the log to share with the rest of the family. Reaching home, we spread the particles on the kitchen table and
switched off the lights as dad exclaimed, “Why, it’s only foxfire!” “We used to see it often in my younger days but this is
the first I’ve seen in quite a while.” I was very disappointed that the mystery was so easily solved.
‘Foxfire’ or phosphorus
forms on downed moist decaying logs much like the phosphorent light in the tail of a firefly. It usually lasts as long as the log
Are we not all a little like foxfire? We glow greatly when first enlightened by
new ideas. As the ‘moisture’ wears off we become dull and lifeless. We should try to keep up our ‘glow’ at all times even if at first
we seem a little eerie.