The woman hunched motionless in her usual spot, in a dry patch of grass, three paces off the footpath which led back from the main Indian trail to the large cabin with two huge chimneys set in a field cleared years ago by Old Trammell himself.
The woman hunched motionless in her usual spot, in a dry patch of grass, three paces off the footpath which led back from the main Indian trail to the large cabin with two huge chimneys set in a field cleared years ago by Old Trammell himself. She saw the trader through sour columns of smoke load his cart with wrapped candles and sacks filled with carved trinkets which clanked dully against each other as they were loaded.
The woman watched intently but mutely, as she always did, unacknowledged by the trader who had become accustomed to the silent witness. The cart pulled away, leaving her alone in the smoky clearing, knowing something the trader did not. He would not survive this particular trip out west, but rather would become a victim of inconsequential circumstances common to travelers in the area aptly named Difficult Run, and leaving her to choose how to consecrate the land the trader had despoiled.
For more than ten seasons the woman had come to the cabin in the clearing with the unusually big chimneys and watched silently as the trader trapped all manner of men, women, and children. Circuit riding preachers, settlers headed toward the mountain gaps with new families, merchants rolling barrels of tobacco, soldiers and even wary Indians, had all become victim of the trader’s promises of shelter, provision and companionship. As he fell on them, the woods would fill briefly with the sounds made by succumbing prey, but would soon be replaced by the natural silence of the woods. Silence except for the sound of the terrible industry of condensing flesh into candles and whittling bones into useful items.
Standing in the clearing the woman peered through the smoky distance and allowed the land to be heard. The victims came first, one by one, nearly two thousand in all. The cursed land then unfolded itself to the woman, showing how the big chimneys, still smoldering from their awful work, would become hearth for taverns and home to the secrets of local families. The land would lay patiently in place as proponents of revolution and war carried out their terrible politics, and as commerce scarred and cut the land. Gardens, smokehouses, and wash houses would give way to turnpikes, churches, apartments, banks, schools, playgrounds and post offices – all cursed by the wicked hospitality of the trader.
When the land had had it say, the woman rose to consecrate it in the memory of the trader victims. She walked forward to the big chimney, and using the handle of a ladle, carved the total number of trader victims into the bricks and plaster of the big the chimney.
The numbers 1 – 6 – 9 – 9 carved by the old woman stayed for hundreds of years on the chimney bricks of the cabin located just off the old turnpike trail. The chimneys were eventually torn down, but the town continues to remember the woman, the trader and the victims by putting the number 1699 on its signs.
Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.