Just finished this one, three more to go. Enjoy!
Jepediah Henderson was born on a sweltering hot July afternoon in 1922. His mother wrote the date on a scrap of paper but later lost it, most likely it was used to start a fire in the cast iron cook stove. The following winter was one of the coldest in history. The only living things stirring on this given afternoon were the incessant gnats, blue green flies, and the writhing of the stoic suffering woman as she gave birth. This was her second child. She knew if she could endure it would eventually be over. She endured. Life was harsh. Mrs. Henderson was in her late twenties but looked fifty. She had married at fourteen. She had given up on control of her life to its harsh reality.
A stern matronly midwife assisted with the delivery. It was difficult and hard. But harshest of all to the mother was the look on the midwife’s face while cleaning up the baby. The midwife had known immediately. Then her concern over his not crying was alleviated. No, it wasn’t normal for a newborn not to cry. But this was not a normal newborn. The thought of a contrived stillbirth flashed across her mind, but then she inwardly sighed and thought that the Lord gives what He will, we are to accept and endure. The baby was obviously retarded. The midwife finished cleaning, and wrapping the child in a not too clean towel, handed him to his mother, and then washed her hands in a chipped blue enamel basin in water brought up from the spring. Instead of a healthy cry there was only a low moan from the baby.
The midwife turned and walked out of the shabby four-room sharecropper house into the hot afternoon July sun. The smell from the outhouse was hung thick in the stale air. Mr. Henderson glanced up from the straight chair in which he was sitting on the porch. A small stream of tobacco juice dribbled down his unshaven chin. Leaning against the wall on two legs, the chair was weathered and frayed. So was Mr. Henderson. He also knew by the demeanor of the midwife something was wrong. The midwife did not meet Mr. Henderson’s eyes as she left. He stared at her ample figure as she strode away. Dust floated around her feet as she disturbed the parched earth.
Slowly rising from his chair, he straightened his lean body and dusted off his faded overalls as he walked through the front room into the bedroom. Mrs. Henderson held the baby close to her breast. He shook his head, stared at the baby and his wife as if all he needed was something else hard to deal with. The sun was hard. The ground was hard. The weather was hard. Farming was hard. And so was he. He left the room. Ms Henderson fixed dinner that evening.
Jepediah Henderson was retarded. His build was squat, he had small watery inflamed eyes and his tongue was too large. He never communicated except by grunts and gestures. There was no thought to doing anything with him. His older brother, Elias, tormented him incessantly. His goal was to bring the retarded boy to a state of trembling blubbering breakdown. He learned how to accomplish this at a young age and refined his techniques. He would grow up to be just like his father (almost anyway). His mother was powerless and his father could not have cared less about the boy.
When Jepediah was six or so sister Sarah was born. Thankfully she was normal. At about the age of five she developed a close connection with Jepediah. She was his constant companion. She cared for, fed, and talked to him. The once a month trips to town were terrible for Jepediah. Mr. Henderson was not ashamed of the boy; he just didn’t want to bother with him. He drew too much attention. So the solution was just not to bring him. He would lock him in the corncrib. This worked for a while but Jepediah grew too strong and would kick the slats loose. Then he would run down the hard packed red clay road after his family howling like a demented coon dog. The result was that Mr. Henderson locked him in the root cellar. It was deep and dark. Jepediah couldn’t get out. When the family would prepare for a trip it was very difficult to catch Jepediah. They learned to catch him first then prepare. The result was that he became very careful and trusted no one except Sarah. Again, his howling could be heard from under the house.
Jepediah raised himself in the backwoods. He was shy of people but at home with the animals. He could care for the mules, chickens, and hogs. He was not afraid of the dark and would wander the woods at night, pursuing a hoot owl or a possum. He instinctively knew where he was and wandered the deepest part of the woods. He wore a pair of his father’s overalls that were way too large for him and went barefooted year round. His feet were as tough as horn. At the age of seven or so he began sleeping on the porch with the hounds. He would wrap up in a dirty quilt and curl up alongside them.
Sarah was too young to participate in the activity of catching Jepediah, and when she was old enough she wouldn’t help. Of course she did as she was told, to do otherwise would result in a switching. But she would change her voice and posture enough that Jepediah knew she was not honest. Elias still glorified in tormenting him. At about fourteen Jepediah began to grow. He also began to split wood with a large double bladed axe. He watched his older brother and tried to mimic him using a broken axe handle. Elias, looking for a way to get out of work, handed him the axe and jumped out of the way. Surprisingly, Jepediah handled the axe very well. His stature and wide shoulders made the work easy. He became involved with the activity, and shortly the logs were split. Elias brought more. They also were handily split.
Mrs. Henderson saw the situation and told her husband about it later that evening. The next day he took Sarah and Jepediah into the woods and located a large tree that had fallen. He gave Jepediah the axe, and the boy started swinging. He shut out the whole world. The only sound was the whack of the sharp blade biting into the wood. He found a rhythm that was steady and efficient. In a remarkably short time the tree was reduced to firewood. Sarah and Mr. Henderson showed Jepediah how to load and stack it on the wagon, and then they brought the wood to a neighbor where it was sold. Jepediah now had a purpose. And Mr. Henderson made sure he would use it. It gave him cash money for cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and white lightning whiskey.
Jepediah now worked daily cutting firewood. At first Mr. Henderson would accompany him, then he sent Sarah along. It was an odd sight: the squat wide shouldered small-headed Jepediah wearing overalls walking hand in hand with the skinny dark haired Sarah in a faded cotton dress. He carried the large axe over his shoulder. Mr. Henderson had shown him how to sharpen it and its razor edge sometimes glinted in the early morning sun as they walked. Sarah would bring him to the work location and remain close by all day while Jepediah worked. She made sure he drank water and ate. She would collect the money and they would return to the sharecropper house, many times well past dark. She would hum a small song she heard from a neighbor’s wife.
Time passed. Sarah grew into an attractive well-developed young lady. When she was thirteen she began to notice the looks men were giving, it confused her. But she always felt safe with Jepediah. He had developed into a muscular expert with an axe. He could swing it almost effortlessly all day. She stayed close to him. Jepediah didn’t understand but the older men and boys did. They did not think Jepediah would hurt them but they weren’t going to take any chances. He was too handy with the axe. Sarah tried to be inconspicuous but there are some things that can’t be hidden.
Once or twice a young man came to the Henderson’s under the auspice of seeing Elias or some type of business, but everyone knew the real reason was to see Sarah. After an hour or so of the unwavering glare of Mr. Henderson and the unfocused watery-eyed drooling Jepediah the visitor departed and did not return. This was fine with Sarah. She never liked them anyway.
Sarah was now fifteen. She still accompanied Jepediah to his work locations. Sometimes it was a farm for splitting firewood, mostly now it was land clearing. Sarah was uncomfortable when there were other men around but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. She went with Jepediah early one morning to a farm about five miles distant. Instructions were given and she showed Jepediah what was needed. The farmer had a son named James who was a friend of Elias. Elias had told him not to pay any attention to Jepediah, that he would break down and start blubbering if you stood your ground. Just had to let him know you weren’t afraid. James was interested in Sarah. He worked close by, keeping Sarah and Jepediah in his view, waiting for the right opportunity.
During the heat of the day Sarah asked if she could get some water for herself and Jepediah. Of course James agreed, and told her the well water behind the house was always cool. He insisted on taking her to the well. Sarah was hot and simply was not thinking when she followed him behind the house. James lowered the bucket down the well, the chain rattled lightly as it was brought up. The bucket was filled with clear cool water. Sarah lowered the enamel dipper into the bucket and just as the water touched her lips James grabbed and threw her to the ground. She was so shocked she couldn’t scream or fight back initially. James was strong and intent. He held her down with the weight of his body and began pulling at Sarah’s dress. She began to fight back and scratched at his face. He hit her with his fist, almost knocking her unconscious. She took a deep breath and screamed.
The last thing that went through James’s mind before the axe blade split his head open like a ripe watermelon was that Sarah had stopped fighting. Jepediah had run to the sound of the scream and seeing the man attacking Sarah had swung the axe like he was felling a tree. It split James’ head instantly. But Jepediah had swung with the same power as he used on a tree and it passed through James’ head and also split Sarah’s head. The axe bit into the ground. Blood from the two people gushed over the dusty ground, pooling in dark red coagulating puddles. Jepediah was frozen by what he had done. He stood in shock, watching the blood gush and the bodies twitching in their final spasms as their life flowed out of them.
James’ mother heard the scream and ran up from the garden. She saw the two mutilated corpses, the axe, and Jepediah. Jepediah had been retarded all his life. Now he simply went mad. He grabbed the axe, and holding it over his head, ran at the woman. Her eyes reflected pure terror as she realized her imminent death. She turned to run, but Jepediah was faster. The axe hit her at the base of the neck and split her open all the way down her spinal cord to her waist. Then Jepediah hacked off her head, both arms, and a leg. Jepediah then killed the cow in the barn, a horse, two dogs, two mules, three hogs, and a dozen or so chickens. He went about it as methodically as when cutting up a large tree.
Jepediah left the farm and began his way home. On the way he encountered a wagon with a man, his wife, and three small children. He killed them all including the horse. He met no one else until he reached his farm. Mr. Henderson was plowing. Jepediah waited in the trees along the field until Mr. Henderson passed close by. The mule and Mr. Henderson died. Jepediah then killed his mother and brother in the house. Blood spattered the walls and ceiling. He then, or its assumed anyway, walked off into the deep woods and has never been heard of since. There were supposedly sightings over the years, but nothing definite. No one ever lived in the sharecropper house again.
The sharecropper house still stands where Jepediah was raised. Legend has it that Jepediah regularly returned to the house over the years when he would see lights in the window. He was looking for Sarah. He still carried his axe. Jepediah is most certainly dead now. He probably drowned, starved, fell into a sinkhole or got lost in one of the numerous limestone caves many years ago.
I don’t visit the house often but know exactly where it is. The root cellar is still there although collapsed and grown with weeds. The barn has collapsed. What might be bloodstains are still on the walls. While coyote hunting a few months back a sudden winter storm swept across the Tennessee valley. I took shelter in the house. Within a short while I had a fire built in the fireplace, coffee boiling, and was grateful to have a shelter from the cold sleet outside. Just as I was relaxing in a straight back chair in front of the fire, every sense I’ve developed in years of hunting screamed at me to be alert. I immediately stood and drew my revolver. Then a door slammed in a back room. I slowly crossed the front room and saw the back door swinging wildly in the wind. It slammed again as I stood there. I crossed the room and closed the door. When I turned to reenter the front room I saw large wet footprints on the floor. I packed up my gear and left immediately. The sleet wasn’t so bad after all. I haven’t been back.
Kewl Story.......Jepediah was a bad ass retard, wasn't he???????..........Another great story.....I love the way you tie yourself into the story at the end.........
thanks for the kind words (you have no idea how many folks you most likely pissed off with that last comment)