|This is the original un editted copy of the story of Fedders Barn. To see the completed FINAL story please open the new file, marked new file.
By Ken Feeley
as Peter Alden Yule
“Your it, Your it, I found you and now your it,” the young boy repeated over and over until Bettsy Long came out from her hiding place under the canvas covers laying over the old tractor.
“Pauly, you cheated. You always cheat. You looked while I was hiding and I don’t think that you counted to one hundred. You always cheat and I am not going to play with you anymore.”
“Come on Betts, I didn’t cheat, you’re just a girl and you don’t know how to hide real good. You’re just a spoil sport because you can’t hide good at all.”
“I’m not a spoil sport, and I will play just one more time. I’ll count to one hundred and you go and hide cheater, and I’ll find you.”
“I’ll bet you won’t cause I’m a boy and I can hide better than you anytime.”
“Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred” called out Bettsy not wanting to be accused of being called a cheater herself. “anyone around my goal is going to be it.”
The search was on. A seemingly innocent game of hide and seek being played out by two young children in and around the old barns and buildings of the Fedders place out on the Shiloh Camp Road.
It was mid-afternoon on a Friday in July. The boy, young Paul Frost and his family had just moved into the farmhouse across from the old Fedders place about one month before. Paul, although he was a year or two older than Bettsy Long, enjoyed playing with her. It all seemed quite natural, there not being any other children living in that part of town. The two would fast become good friends, and play together often. Before Paul moved in Bettsy had no-one to play with, no friends at all. She had the usual number of pets around the one time abandoned farm property that had been the Fedders place. One animal in particular was her constant companion. It was a dwarf goat, born with three legs. A true freak of nature born right out there in the old barn. Bettsy had taken on the role of mother and friend to the goat from the very first day that it was born. The goat’s own mother shunned it, aware perhaps that it was a deformed beast. Bettsy, just ten years old at the time knew of the animals needs and saw to it’s feeding and care with total devotion. The goat survived and grew and soon the girl and goat were inseparable. She would walk and it would follow, but for some strange reason whenever they would approach the old barn, the animal would become anxious and run from her. When Bettsy walked away from the barn the animal would just as quickly return to her side. The goat would lick at her hand or playfully nip at her leg, again seeking her attention. Now a year latter with Pauly as her friend, she would pen the goat in a fenced in run at the far side of the house while they played.
The search was on! “I’ll find you Paul Frost, you’d better be hid real good, cause I’ll find you. You’re just a dumb boy and I am smarter than you, and I’m going to find you.,” she sang out as she began her search. It was two-o-clock in the afternoon, hot humid and very still as she began her search for her friend. Ten minutes passed as she walked from place to place. Twenty minutes now and no sight of the boy. She circled the house to the far side, out past the animal pen housing her goat. She stopped to pet the animal. “Have you seen him, have you seen a silly boy that cheats go by here?” she asked of the goat. The goat responded with a simple “Bah, Bah” as it circled idly around the pen.
She opened the gate to the pen and the goat took it’s rightful place at her side, nipping gently at her fingers. Bettsy and the goat returned to a spot near the center of the farmyard where she sat on the ground to play with her animal. “He’ll come out soon, you watch and see. He’ll come out to brag that he is smarter and can hide better because he’s a boy, you just watch and see,” she said to the goat.
More time passed and there was no sign of Pauly! Bettsy climbed to the top of an old hay-wagon and shouted out that she was not going to play anymore and that he should come out now. “You win,” she shouted. She jumped down from the wagon and waited for his return. “That silly boy probably went home just to trick me,” she said again talking to her goat. “Well I am just going over to his house to show him he’s not so smart”
It was close to three thirty now as Bettsy knocked on the door of the old farmhouse across the road from her own. Pauly’s mother appeared at the door. “Hi Mrs. Frost is Pauly here?” she asked. “Why no dear he went out to play with you a long time ago.” “Well we were playing hide and seek, and Pauly hid and I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find him at all!” “Oh you will, he is probably trying to fool you, or he is hiding real good. You go back over and look again and I am sure he will turn up.”
Bettsy returned to the farm, and again she called out to the boy. There was, for one more time, no response. “He’s the silliest boy ever born,” she said to her three legged companion. “I’ve told him that I am not playing anymore, and he is still hiding.” Bettsy and the goat left the farmyard and went down to the meadow to pick flowers. “When he comes out, he will just have to find us,” she said as the pair walked away toward the meadow. “One more thing, when he does I am going to tell him I never want to play with him again, that plain dumb boy.”
The afternoon passed and at five-o-clock Bettsy heard her mother call. It would be suppertime soon, so promptly with the goat alongside and a hand full of flowers, she returned to her home.
“Here mother, I have picked these just for you.” “Why Bettsy, they are so pretty, just like you. I’ll just put them in a jar of water while you wash up for supper.”
At five-thirty Mrs. Frost knocked on the door of the farmhouse. “Is Pauly here?” Betsy answered that he was still hiding. She had not seen him since two-o-clock when they were playing together. The two mothers showed great concern now and inquired of Bettsy where she had last seen the boy. She told them that she had not really seen him because she was counting to a hundred and she didn’t cheat like he did.
The two women went out into the farmyard and started to call out to Pauly, They quickly entered into the sheds, the pump house the old corn crib and the tool shop. They stood now before the big old barn. They would have to go in and search the barn together.
The barn was a huge and ominous structure, weathered by one hundred years of New England storms. It’s windows had been boarded up for years and it’s great barn doors shut up to children. The children knew not to enter the structure. Every one knew not to go into the Fedders barn. It was a strange and eerie place and unsafe at best. Bettsy was instructed to go over and sit at the front steps, and as soon as her father arrived home, to send him out to the barn. She was warned by her mother to keep away from the barn.
The barn did not match the pictures of so many New England style barns at all. When it was built it was copied from some of the older styles of Northern Europe. The roof line was steeply angled from the highest peak, slanting down to the eaves, just eight feet above the ground. In appearance it looked like a giant wedge stabbing upward to the sky. In the front of the barn were two massive doors, each being twenty-five feet wide, and towering up almost to the roof line. The inner cavernous space of the barn was always dark and foul smelling. Rats scurried about on the floors, rusting tools leaned against the walls. The women labored to swing the giant doors open, and to put braces against them to stop them from swinging shut. The center floor of the barn was not made of wood as most barns were. It was made from large slabs of solid granite, pieced together like a jig saw puzzle. They were worn and smooth, polished by years of daily use. The slabs of rock looked out of place inside such a worn and dangerous building. There were large horse stalls along both sides of the barn. Above each stall, neatly lettered on hand made framed signs were the names of the prized breeding stock that had been the main source of income a century earlier. A few old photos, yellowed with age hung on the walls of the tack room. Great Belgian horses, bred to work in front of a plow or sled or dray used for pulling rocks, all showing the success of the Fedders brothers at their trade. These horses had been used in the logging camps and the quarries, and were the prized possession of every family who could afford the price of such fine animals.
Again, the ladies called out into the void, hoping for a response from young Paul. His mother looked to her neighbor for a sign to enter and search. Mrs. Long instinctively tried to avoid going into the barn. Her memories of the old barn were not very pleasant and she had not dared to enter the barn in more than a dozen years. Bettsy, was her second child. Her first born was a boy, born on the floor of the tack room within the walls of the barn, thirteen years before.
During the last weeks of her pregnancy her husband had painted the inside walls of the farmhouse in anticipation of the arrival of his first child. About two weeks before her time of delivery Mrs. Long being quite nervous from the smell of paint and her condition and had been sitting out in the sun to get fresh air. Suddenly a squall with thunder and lightning swept across the farmland. Perhaps she had been napping before the storm arrived. As the rain started she fled from the yard into the barn for shelter. It would pass soon she thought so she would wait just inside the big old doors. A sudden gust of wind slammed the doors shut with such force that the doors became tightly jammed. The small framed woman pressed against it with no success. She went into the tack room in hopes of finding a tool that she could use to force the doors open with. Once inside the room she was drawn to a large metal bar in the far corner of the room. As she neared the bar, the tack room door swung shut behind her. Again the force of the wind had been so powerful that it became jammed. The thunder now grew louder and the rain fell heavier and the woman began to consider her position. She tried in vain to lift the large iron bar but could not move it. She began to feel cold, as cold as ice yet it was still mid-summer. In one last effort to escape from the room and the barn itself, she again strained to lift the iron bar. It yielded and once in her hands she tried attacking the stuck door, ripping at it with all of her strength. The door would not yield. Now, in an almost complete state of panic, she lunged forward with the weapon, and as she struck the door, she lost her balance falling to the floor as she did. On the floor of the tack room deep within the closed barn her condition grew worse. Pain from her swollen abdomen and a sudden burst of her water and she went into labor. Alone on the floor and suffering and crying out she tried to deliver her child. Her cries and shouts were drowned out by the fury of the storm and no one would be near to hear her voice.
She delivered the child from her womb with great pain and heavy bleeding. As the lightning flashed she could see that the infant was a boy, but it did not move. It did not cry. It did not live. She slumped on the floor with her back against the wall and cried, and in one hours time the storm had passed. She could hear now the voice of her husband calling to her. With all of her last remaining strength she called back. She heard the great doors on the barn swing open and she called again. The door to the tack room swung open with ease and her husband stepped inside. Through her tears and sobbing she told him what had happened. Stung by the news he could not speak. He lifted her up in his arms and carried her out of the barn and toward the house. He opened the windows of the house to allow fresh air to enter and settled his wife into her bed. He returned to the barn. On entering the tack room he could see the small body of the infant placed upon an old burlap sack and left on the floor. He picked up the body and gently wiped away the blood and dirt from it’s form. He could not believe his eyes as he studied the child. A boy child, but with only one leg. A stump hung from the lifeless body where a leg should have grown, but here there was only a stump. He left the stillborn child on the cloth and returned to the house, where his wife now slept. He returned to the barn with clean soft cloths and wrapped the child’s body completely and tightly in them. The man found a wooden box, perhaps a tool box made from solid wood, and he proceeded to place the body inside and then to nail it shut. How he thought, how could such a thing as this have happened. Why and how did such tragedy befall the young couple. He removed the box from the barn and took it to a quiet place beneath a large willow tree and buried it, not wanting his wife to ever see the twisted and deformed infant. He would explain his actions in time, but for now she must not know.
The horrid memories of that time, and that day swept over Mrs. Long as she realized that now she and young Paulys mother, already showing signs of pregnancy must enter the barn together, in search of the missing boy.
As they entered the barn, they agreed that they would remain together, fearing what dangers may be within. They would systematically search each room and each stall on the first level, starting to their left. Rosalie Long and Helen Frost were fast becoming as one as they began their grim task of searching Fedders barn. The tack room was the first room on the left side. Rosalie had not entered the barn or seen the inside of the tack room since the tragic event of so many years ago. They opened the door and laying across the floor was the rusted iron bar and beside it some old discarded rags and a piece of rotted burlap sack. For a moment the images, the pain and the fear swept her body and filled Rosalie’s mind. She felt a quick chill run through her body, and then put her feelings aside. She knew that the younger Helen, would need her help and her support with the chore at hand.
They tied the door open before entering. Once inside they opened the large lockers and chests. To examine, the contents in the search for young Paul. The barn was quiet and still and felt very damp. It was filled with the smell of rotted straw and animal waste. From the tack room, now certain that it contained only memories, they moved to their left and proceed down a long row of oversized horse stalls. There were ten stalls on each side of the barn. Each stall had a door on it, and a small screen window located in each door. Above the doors were the names of the horses once in residence in the large barn. Above the first door, the name PRINCE, still legible. They swung open the door to the stall, and could see in the dim light the remains of an old feed sack, several old tool handles and a few grooming brushes, now encased with cob webs. It contained nothing else. The second door, with the name THOR etched in the sign above it, was opened to reveal similar content to the first stall. They proceeded with caution to examine the third and fourth stalls. There was no sign of Pauly. As they swung open the door to the fifth stall, both women screamed and jumped backwards, as a large well fed raccoon emerged from within, brushing past their legs as he scampered out from the stall and exited the barn. The women completed the search of the first ten stalls and at the furthest end of the barn, they crossed to the right side to continue the chore. Their tension began to ease. Inside of stall number eleven were the remains of several small animals, possibly other raccoons or old cats that had perished in the stall. The names above the stalls were not as clear now, because of growing darkness. Above the twelfth stall, the name HOPE could still be seen. The women tugged at the door, and found it to be very stiff. The barn had settled with age, but with a second pull the door swung open. The stall was empty. The next stall, the thirteenth had no name board above it. The window in the door had been boarded over from within. The door was nailed shut. With fear of growing darkness, they moved on to the next stall and the next, until every stall except one had been opened. They were back at the large doors at the front of the barn. Now approaching the barn was Fred Long, sent by young Bettsy as she had been instructed to do.
The women came out from the barn and explained to Fred what had transpired. They told of their search and of the stall that would not open. Fred told the women to remain outside for fresh air while he went back to examine the closed stall. He went into the barn and grabbed up the old iron bar from the tack room. With the bar in hand he forced the door to stall thirteen, the door with no name above it open. He set the rod on the granite floor and with what little light was available, he entered the stall. When the door opened, the stall yielded up its’ mystery. There on the floor was the crumpled and lifeless body of young Pauly. Above the boy, a large hole in the ceiling gave a hint as to the cause of his death. The boy had walked in the hayloft above the stalls and fallen through the rotted floor, landing on top of an old rusted hay rake that had pierced his body, leading to certain death. Fred now knew what must be done. Quickly he swung the door shut and left the barn to give the bad news to Helen Frost, and his waiting wife. Fred refused to allow either woman into the barn and rushed them away to the safety of the house. The sheriff was called as the two grieving women clung to each other in tears. Several neighbors were called to tell them of the tragedy. In minutes, the sheriff and the Doctor, and Pauly’s father arrived at the farm on Shiloh Camp Road. Neighbor women raced to the house and began the process of comforting the women.
The Sheriff with Fred Long and Mr. Frost re-entered the barn carrying oil lamps now to see in the darkened tomb-like interior of the structure. The men agreed on the nature of the accident and the cause of death. They lifted Pauly’s body onto a clean board, and removed the hayfork from the deceased child’s twisted torso. A neighbor entered, along with Mr. Adams from town. They went out and retrieved a large white linen cloth and a large pail of fresh water, and returned to the barn. By the light of the oil lamps, the boys clothing was removed and his body washed, It was wrapped tightly in the fresh white linen and removed to Mr. Adams parlor back in town for a proper burial. Late into the night friends arrived to offer condolences and to learn of the plans for the boy’s funeral. Together now Helen and Rosalie, both having lost a son in the Fedders barn, held to each other in tears. Some of the men had gone back into the barn to remove the last traces of the accident from view. They washed away the blood and disposed of the clothing. A hasty patch was placed on the floor above the stall. The door to the stall was again nailed shut, with a single board, the missing name board, tacked to the outside of stall thirteen. The name on the board, DEVIL CHIEF, plainly visible. On the granite slab floor where the blood had washed away there appeared an unusual sight. A row of single footprints, all of the same foot appeared as the floor dried. It would look like a trail left in some manner by a man with one leg, and not the other.
News of the tragedy spread fast through our small town. Three days later, following the burial service for the small boy, many of the local folks drove out the Shiloh Camp Road, to pay respects to the new family. Many folks wanted to have another look at the Fedders barn following the accident. The older folks expressed concern that the old barn was still standing, and many made reference to “all that has happened in that old place.” No one elaborated on the prior history of the Fedders barn, but young Paul’s parents, with good cause began to question it.
There were very few people among those who came, that would discuss the barn. One guest in particular, one who was often times considered as an outcast of the community’s life appeared quite willing to discuss the barn with the Frost’s. Most kindly referred to as “Mountain Mary” a lonely and strange woman, lacking any of the social graces made her way to the side of Helen Frost. The woman was shabbily dressed and avoided by most of the others gathered. Perhaps because of her grief or her true desire to know more of the old barn, Helen accepted the woman’s company and showed great kindness to her.
Mountain Mary lived alone in a one room cabin one mile further out on Shiloh Camp Road. Her cabin sat back up on a dirt road, hidden from view and it was the heart of her own world. She seldom ventured far from it. Mary had a large garden in which she grew all of her own food. There were some fruit trees on her land and she kept a few chickens around her place. Mary was an excellent hunter using only a bow and arrow. She fished in nearby streams and for sixty of her eighty plus years she had been a mountain recluse, totally self-sustaining. She never refused company, but rarely had a visitor. Mary had lived most of her life in a kind of self imposed exile, in her own world and by choice away from others. Mary invited Helen Frost to visit her cabin and Helen accepted the invitation for the next day, wanting to hear more of the story of the Fedders barn.
Throughout the entire day, people from town would stop by, pay their respects, and almost all would leave the house and cross the road to stand and stare up at the old barn, now once again closed up from the world. Not one-person asked permission to enter the barn and not one would even consider such a dangerous thing. Too much bad in there, too many tales, too much woe. These were remarks heard again and again as the day passed by. Several leading men from town including the Sheriff and the Minister, gathered at one point to talk of tearing down the old structure, even of burning it to the ground. Such talk had been heard before in our town, but it too passed by undone. By the end of the day, as nightfall crept upon the town, all of the visitors had left Shiloh Camp Road. The night came peacefully to the mourning families.
The following morning Helen Frost found her way to Mary’s cabin. She was warmly greeted by the older woman who had been busy chasing chickens from her garden. As Helen climbed the road toward the cabin Mary walked to greet her and taking her by the hand lead her to the small front porch. Together the two women sat now at a well-worn table on chairs that had been tied together with wire to prevent them from further destruction. After a few moments Mary excused herself and went inside the home, only to reappear carrying with her a beautiful silver tray that sparkled brightly in the morning sun. Upon the tray Mary had place two aged porcelain teacups, and a half dozen freshly baked muffins still warm from the oven. These were served with homemade jams of several varieties. The silver tray and the warm muffins and fresh jam were not at all what Helen had expected, in this remote world of Mountain Mary. She knew at once that Mary had gone out of her way to greet her and make her feel welcome at her little cabin. Was it coincidence she thought, that the muffins were still warm and the tea still hot in the pot and ready for pouring? How could Mary have known the time of her arrival so precisely? Beyond her fleeting questioning thought it all seemed so natural, two ladies sitting together sharing tea in the fresh mountain air. So pleasant. It looked to Helen as if Mary had a new appearance, fresh scrubbed and wearing a clean and very pretty cotton dress, just for her visit. Mary was no longer the disheveled crude figure that she had met the day before. The smell of blueberries still on the bush and of late blooming Lilacs surrounded the house. The porch on which they sat was obviously rotting away, the table was tilted and propped up with a piece of wood. There were broken windows now covered with tin and a screen door that had all but given up it’s last bit of screening. There amid it all, a silver tray porcelain cups and a strange woman with a story to tell, and Helen now prodded her to tell it all.
Mary began to tell her story. “The boy, your son, he fell through the ceiling of that stall and landed hard. That’s it, that’s what the men told you my dear isn’t it. Well Mrs. Let me ask you, how did the boy get up into the hay loft? There is no way, no way on earth for a man nor a boy to climb up into that loft. All the ladders up to the loft were removed a dozen years ago, after the last time,” she said. “After the last time the men removed, took out all the ladders and closed every way to the hay loft so no-one would ever go there again. There were no children to worry about. There were no children left on Shiloh Camp Road, not even one except that little Bettsy Long, in this whole part of town, until you and yours moved in. Oh there had been some, but they didn’t last more than a few weeks before the barn got them. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m just rambling on and not minding my manners at all. Would you like another cup of tea my dear?”
“You know of course that I lived at the Fedders place don’t you?”
Helen was taken by surprise at the revelation. “No I did not know that, how long ago was that, I mean,” Mary interrupted her and said she knew what Helen was thinking, “It’s all right dear, you want to know just how I ended up out here living the life of Mountain Mary in squalor and alone for sixty years now. Oh it’s all right, I don’t mind,” she said. “You see my dear. young Bettsy will be the next to live here in Mountain Mary’s place when it is time. Poor thing has her whole life ahead of her, and she doesn’t have any idea of what waits for her. The Longs you know, they won’t talk with me, poor old foolish Mountain Mary. They ran me off of the place a longtime ago after the Mrs. Lost her own son right there in the barn. I tried to tell them then to move out and get on with life but they wouldn’t hear of it. Old foolish woman, daft from being alone and making up stories just to keep folks away is what they thought. Didn’t want me around with the young girl there.”
“Mary, please tell me about the barn.”
“Well love, its really not about the barn so much as what’s down under it. You can hear them you know! Inside the barn, in the middle of that great granite block floor, there is a steel grate put in as a drain. Why I once saw a man drop a shovel, a very large shovel on top of that grate and I stood awestruck as I watched it raise uo into the air, floating like a feather in the breeze, until it came to rest up in the hayloft above. Something to do with the air coming up from below is how the men explained it, before chasing me out of the barn. Well I went right back in and got close to that old drain and I swear to you, if you stood quiet you could feel the air, as cold as ice coming up from below. You could hear voices as plain as day carried up on that air. I minded my ways and never went back into the barn unless I had to. It was a very upsetting thing, to see that shovel and hear those voices and all. No I had heard and seen enough and never went back. I just gave the whole place a wide berth from that day on. My cousin, a boy just turned fifteen years old was sent up to stay with us for the summer months. I was I think just a little older than him. Well no matter, at the end of his second week with us, he was dead. He died in the barn from an accident is what they said. He fell from the hayloft and got tangled up in an old rope that hung down from the rafters, and he died there. Just an accident mind you, but dead is dead, and he wasn’t the first.”
“How awful for you Mary, how terrible it must have been.”
“Mrs. That was more than sixty years ago and since then that barn has taken six, no seven more young ones, all boys, It claimed them all. There were more before them, and there will be more after, sure as rain will fall or the sun will set. Unless someone sets things right with the old ones, that barn will keep on claiming the boys. Mark my words now! Remember that you heard it straight from old Mountain Mary first, and no man or woman has ever called me a liar. It is true, mark my words.”
Helen interrupted to ask want she had meant by others before. “How many others, and how did they die, when did it all start. Please tell me all of it Mary, Please.”
“More tea my dear?” “Well it would seem to me that in my lifetime I can recall seven, Oh and that does not include your son Paul. Yep, all boys, all young, two including Mrs. Longs, within a few days of birth. The rest, all up to the age of seventeen, no eighteen.” she said. “The first to die, well that would be old Jacob Fedders son Seth. That was a long time before I was born, but folks back then could all tell of it. Everyone knew how the boy, Seth, just a day or two after the barn was built, brand new it was, lead the horses in for the first time. They had been out to pasture and he was bringing them into their new stalls, bringing them home. One by one he lead them in one animal to a stall. He got to that one stall, the one that your boy died in, and the horse spooked real bad. The horse pressed the boy against the side of the stall real hard, pressed him until the life ran out of his body. Broke most of his bones with the weight of that animal against his young frame. Took three men to get the horse away from the boy and out of the stall. Devil Chief, that was the animals name. Everyone had warned Jacob Fedders not to build a barn on that land, and he was the first to pay for not listening to good advice. He paid with his own sons life for his stubborn streak. Damned fool. Folks should always heed good advice, even if they don’t agree, don’t you think so my dear.”
Mary continued her story. “The old ones had claimed their first, and soon they wanted more. Next was the son of a hired hand who lived in that same house that you now live in. He was in the barn alone, doing his chores. He was standing alone in the middle of the barn, when a hay fork fell from the loft above. No ideas as to how it got up there, or how it managed to fall, but it did fall, striking the boy in the neck. The tines of the fork cut into his flesh and before he was discovered he bled out on the floor. His blood ran down that old drain and in a few minutes, he was gone.”
“Would you like another muffin and some more tea dear.”
Mary’s offer was accepted by her guest and she continued the story.
“A few years passed and most folks became afraid to go into the barn alone. Two boys, working together on a summer day were in the barn when a storm blew into the area. The boys had been trying to flush water down that old drain, past the old iron grate when it happened. Lightning struck down hit the iron and ran back up to the boys. Took them both together. Some folks claimed it to be just another accident, but you do have to wonder at such things now don’t you. My old legs are getting stiff and I know you want to hear more, so come now and walk with me a bit. Let’s take a nice walk up the hill while I stretch my legs and smell some of those beautiful flowers along the path my dear.”
The morning was fast passing as Mary and her young visitor wound their way up the worn footpath to the top of the hill behind Mary’s cabin. From the top of the hill the view of the town and it’s surroundings was spectacular. To the north were the tall woods owned by the paper company. To the east one could see the valley with the river running through it clear down to the state road. To the south were the white tipped distant mountains, and to the west, the border of Vermont. An old fire watch tower lay in ruins at the very top of the hill. From a point in the center of the old cement base of the tower, one could see the whole world just stretching on forever. In the near distance, one could plainly see the cold black slate roof pointing at the sky at a steep angle, of the Fedders barn. It did not match it’s surroundings and looked almost out of place for such a perfect setting. The ladies stopped now to rest, and sat upon some old boulders that had marked the edge of the watchtower site.
“I saw you coming this morning from right there,” said Mary, pointing to a small opening in the tree tops. “See, look through here and you can see your house. When you left your house this morning, I ran down the path and started cooking the muffins so that they would still be warm for you dear. You have been through so much, I wanted it to be nice for you. Will you be staying on now?”
“Oh Yes, I think so, I think we will stay now that we have a child laid to rest here. I will just have to shut that old barn out of my view, out of my mind. Mary, you know more about that barn and all the evil there, please, I would like to hear all of it if it does not tire you out.”
“Mountain Mary does not tire from telling the truth Mrs. Not even a bit. No, I’ll tell you the whole of it while we sit here.”
“Mr. Jacob Fedders was an outsider who never cottoned up to the good folks of this town. He was stubborn and had more willpower than those huge horses of his, those magnificent Belgians that were his pride. Well as it is told, Jacob bought that land, forty acres of it as a place to breed his animals. He began to lay out the land, and he decided to build his barn, in his style, on the very spot where it still stands. Now folks around here, on seeing his plans set about trying to warn Jacob not to build on that site. Old Mr. Joes grandpa, who had lived here forever, was the first to point out to Jacob, the small almost un-noticed hills on the land and one hill in particular, surrounded by several smaller hills or mounds, and in the center a larger mound. He knew that there had been Indians in the area years before the white settlers arrived, and it was in his mind that they had been built as a sacred site, hallowed spots that should never be disturbed. Well Jacob Fedders was not having any part of old legends, old wives tales or Indian superstition. He would not be swayed. He would proceed alone to clear the land, removing all of the trees and shrubs and rocks that were in his way. As he did so the mounds became more apparent. Just bumps on the earth to be cleared leveled and smoothed was all they were to Jacob Fedders. Jacob, using a single team of his horses and working with an old heavy dray sled and drawn plow blade began to level the hills.
In the early morning hours on the first day of his efforts, he started his team toward the mounds. His team moved forward, and as they neared the very first mound and scrapped the first layer of dirt from it, they stopped. He put a whip to their flanks but they would not move. Puzzled by their behavior, Jacob took a shovel and by hand cleared some of the soil from the mound. Sunlight now pouring down on the field reflected brightly from a smooth polished rock laying just below the surface. Jacob swept the dirt away, and soon noticed several more of the polished rocks close by the first. A few more scoops of dirt revealed the truth, alluded to for a hundred years. Jacob Fedders found himself staring into a skull, yellowed with age and cleansed of all skin and tissue by time. He lifted the skull from the ground and tossed it on the drag sled behind his team. “Well, so that’s it,” he thought, “an old grave at Jacobs lot. No one will know, so I’ll just get rid of it and have done with it once and for all.” He began to clear away the remaining soil which yielded up the rest of a complete skeleton. He continued to toss the bones onto his sled. By noon he had moved from one mound to the next and eventually unearthed twelve skeletons that had been laid to rest in a circle. One mound remained. The one in the middle, so he began to dig once more.
His shovel went down and struck metal. He found that the metal was an old axe head of Indian design, most probably the remains of an old weapon, carried in life by the deceased. He continued to dig deeper into the soil than he had at any of the other graves. Finally he came upon one more skeleton. The thirteenth in his search. Feeling quite sure that this would be the last, he swept away the dirt and to his surprise, the grave yielded up a skeleton that was not complete. The skeleton was missing one leg. “This old boy died without a leg was his only thought.”
Now with the sled filled with the remains of thirteen bodies, Jacob again coaxed his team to move. The animals refused. Frustrated at trying to drive the team, he decided instead to lead the animals by walking in front of them. With the reins in his hand Jacob spoke to the huge draft horses. Snorting their reluctance, the animals moved ahead. Suddenly from behind the team a great cracking noise rang out. The bones on the sled had shifted and were beginning to fall. The horses bolted, after rearing up and raced forward knocking Jacob to the ground. Onward they went pulling the sled and it’s gruesome cargo up and over the fallen man. Still holding to the reins, Jacob felt the weight of the hooves of the one of the horses and of sled as it moved up and over his entire body. Yelling and shouting out, to the animals, they stopped just a few feet from where the man now lay. He was bleeding and sore and he looked toward his feet as he tried to stand. His leg, his left leg had been torn away from his body, just below the kneecap. Only an empty shredded pant leg remained. The man removed his leather belt and twisted it tightly around the remaining portion of his leg. Grabbing at the reins of the team, he pulled himself forward and onto the sled. Quickly he pushed all of the bones from it’s surface, and headed his team toward town with the sled in tow. The team and sled made it down the old Shiloh Camp road and were soon within the range of help. Jacob screamed and yelled and was seen by several men who quickly learned from him that there had been an accident, and he had lost a leg. No mention was made of the skeletal remains or the clearing of the land.
Months went by while as Jacob sat about outside of his house and waited for his leg to heal. He was soon fitted with an artificial wooden leg that would give him stability and allow him to resume his task. No one would come to visit or help with his plan.
Jacob Fedders working alone now, resumed the task of clearing his lot to build his barn. He decided not to tempt fate again and he hastily reburied the bones. He dug a single deep hole, in the middle of his clearing and placed all of the skeletal remains of “the old ones” well below the level of his land. There would be no more hills to cause him problems. He set about the chore of moving the large granite slabs into place on his cleared lot. Jacob hired two transient men to assist now with the work. Piece by piece each slab of rock, being almost two feet thick, was dragged and pushed and pried into place like a giant jigsaw puzzle until they lay, each touching the next in a rectangular pattern that was large enough to serve as the floor of his new barn. Satisfied with the labor, he stopped to look over the finished work. To his dismay, in spite of all of his planning and all of the effort, there appeared in the very center of the new floor, an opening between the rocks almost two foot by three foot in size. There was no explanation for it. He was sure at the end of each days work that no such opening had been seen before. As he walked closer to the opening, the earth beneath him shook and trembled. “A small earthquake,” he thought, “just a small tremor.” It stopped before he reached the opening. As he stood beside the opening he stood in awe. The shaking of the earth had settled all of the dirt beneath the opening and now he stared down into a natural shaft that descended into the core of the earth, so deeply that he could not see the bottom. He grabbed a rope and lowered it into the shaft but found that air rushing up from below would prevent the rope from falling into it’s depths. Next he tried to cover the hole with two large logs, but as soon as he dropped them in place over the opening, they too blew to one side. Not to be outdone by this set-back, he next fashioned a steel grate of heavy metal and dragged it to the site. He positioned the grating over the hole, and quickly secured it to the rocks surrounding the opening. The steel remained in place. This opening, he thought will serve as a drain for washing down his floor. It would, he thought, be perfect.
Still working with his hired men, the barn was finished. Jacob, having come into town alone to buy his land and build his barn and a small house that would grow in time, now sent for his family to come and to join him. They had been living in the northeast corner of Vermont very close to the Canadian border. Well, in due time they came. His wife was a good-looking younger girl with raven black hair. His brother was a very large and very strong man of few words who was always seen smoking a long-stemmed clay bowl pipe molded from snow white clay. The pipe always looked out of character for this large burly man with a thick black beard. Jacobs son, his only child a tall thin boy of fifteen years, came too. When they arrived in town it was his son, Seth, who drove the herd of huge Belgian horses through town, and on out to the Fedders place. What a sight it must have been. Those magnificent animals, followed by two large wagons, one driven by Mrs. Fedders and the other by his brother. The brother, like Jacob had been born in a place in Europe. In the country of Rumania. His wife was born in Canada, some say of part Indian heritage and part from a gypsy clan. Seth was the only one that was born in the United States, in Vermont. They were a strange lot. They each had a strong and wild temperament that would closely match that of the huge animals they were so proud of.
Well, as I told you before, shortly after their arrival, after one or two weeks had passed, the first tragedy struck at Fedders barn. Seth, Jacobs only son was crushed and trampled upon by one of the large horses as the boy tried to settle him into a new stall. An accident? Everyone knew the size of the animals and the strangeness of the place could lead to such an event. Yes it was an accident. Jacob would not be defeated. He hired more help, none of them being from our town. Most folks claimed them to be foreigners not even from around here. When things settled down a bit they built a small house just across the road from Jacobs just for the help. That is the house that you are living in now. Oh my Dear, how I’ve rambled on. Why it’s past noon and I have not done any of my chores. I’m sure that you must be thinking like the others, after what I’ve told you. Poor old Mountain Mary daft as they come.
“No, no Mary, not at all. Surely there is more to tell.”
“My dear sweet girl, I would be delighted to tell you the rest of this story, if you will please come back and visit me again tomorrow. I like visitors you know but haven’t had any as sweet as you.”
The ladies returned to the cabin and young Helen promised a return visit before the week was over. She left and walked to her home.
That evening young Helen Frost sat with her husband on the front porch of their home. She told him all that she had learned from Mary. The man sat quietly listening and shaking his head in disbelief. He tried over and over to convince his wife that an accident had claimed the life of her son, of Pauly. No demons, no curse, no old wives story, just an accident was all that it was. Mr. Frost tried to reconcile his own sons death in a rational manner free from suspicion or legend.
Harold Frost, now set about trying to shatter the story told by Mountain Mary. He explained to his wife that he had inquired about Mary from fellow workers at the paper mill where he was employed. He had asked, to learn if Mary was indeed an addle brained old women or was she a credible witness to past events. He had heard stories concerning his neighbor, old Mary, shortly after moving into the house on Shiloh Camp Road, long before the tragedy now before them. His fellow workers told of days gone by, when during the years of prohibition, men folk from town would find their way to Mary’s to purchase a particular beverage made in an old still that she had built in the woods near her home. Some claimed that her current condition was the result of partaking a bit too much of her own product. Some men alluded to the possibility that Mary in her younger days offered men a more intimate exchange for their hard-earned money. Yes, he insisted, Mountain Mary was not a trustworthy teller of factual stories concerning local folk lore, and he insisted that his wife not take anything she said as true.
Helen defended her new friend against the allegations of her husband. She insisted that Mary was as kind and sane as any person living alone for that many years could be. No one that took time to listen to her or even to visit with her could ever think poorly of Mountain Mary. Helen had found the old lady to be well spoken and very hospitable and worthy of friendship. The couple sat quietly now with no words being spoken.
Late in the evening as they sat there a sound was heard in the distance. Not the sound of the night creatures, that had now grown quite still, but more the sound of moaning that carried on the night air. The light of a full moon above reflected off of the slate roof of Fedders barn, standing ominously in the distance. Trying to hear the sound more clearly, Harold Frost moved away from his home, leaving his wife still sitting on the porch. He moved toward the roadway and as he did the sound became louder and more distinct. In a moment he found himself heading toward the old barn, as if he were drawn there by an unknown force. The man began to imagine whispers in the sounds still growing louder. He crossed the road and walked up the driveway of the Fedders place, now the home of the Longs. Reluctantly and with his heart now beating fast and a cold chill overtaking his being, he moved toward the barn. He looked toward the farmhouse hoping to see a friendly light or even a neighbor, but the house was in darkness. Glancing toward his own home he could see his wife still sitting on the front porch, with the moonlight pouring down from above.
His focus returned to the barn. Steadily, with cold sweat forming in his brow, and an uneasy shaking in his legs, he approached the barn. The noise grew louder and was, in his mind, coming from within the barn itself. Not yielding to his fears, he boldly opened the large doors.
Instantly as light now filled the barn, the noise stopped. Silence reigned. The sound that had been as loud as any that he had heard at the mill where he worked, was no more. In the absolute silence, he felt an unstoppable desire to enter the barn. The night sounds of croaking frogs, and distant creatures, an old hooting owl returned, all seemed so natural. He allowed himself to enter after swinging the doors as wide as they would go. Near the middle of the floor of the barn, he thought he saw a trace of firelight, a lantern perhaps. As he walked forward he seemed to sense the light again, now coming up from the old grate in the floor before him. Carefully he approached the opening, and leaned forward to look in. At the very bottom of the shaft, as far below as any man could imagine, he saw again the flicker of firelight. He knelt down now to get a closer look and as he did so, a fear unknown to him in his lifetime swept over every part of his body. A roaring sound, almost deafening started it’s way up the shaft. The voices of a dozen or more men shouting and screaming surrounded him as he jumped to his feet. He raced to the doors and as he did the doors started to swing shut before him. Running now and moving with every bit of speed in his legs he jammed himself half out of the doorway as the great door swung toward him. Another voice, the voice of a young boy now rang out telling him to push harder. The voice was joined by other voices all of young men urging him to “fight back, fight back against them,” they said. Now pressing with all his might he felt that a helping hand had joined him. A new presence was at his side helping him to pry back the huge doors and slowly he was free from their grip. As the doors slammed shut behind him he saw in the moonlight the face of his helper. It was Mountain Mary. His wife had rushed to the barn as she saw the doors starting to close and soon with her husband now free from the danger, she took the occasion to introduce Harold formally to her new friend. Shaken by the experience, Harold thanked her and acknowledged her as a good friend. Mary, had few words to say. She had just been out for an evening walk in the moonlight, and thought she heard voices and so she stopped by to see who was there. Harold tried to explain what he had seen and what he had felt, but Mary would not listen. “You poor man,” she said. “You and your wife have been through so much, and now this. I don’t think you should tell anyone of this. After all, soon folks in these parts will think your as crazy as old Mountain Mary herself.” She hugged her friend Helen and in a moment was gone down the path toward home.
Harold embraced his wife and with her locked to his side the couple returned home.
Two days later, Helen Frost again set off to visit the cabin of Mountain Mary. She looked out through the trees at the distant hillside, toward the site of the aging woman’s cabin, and could clearly see her waving back from her vantage point. Helen returned to her kitchen and sliced a plate of freshly cooked ham to take to her new friend. She walked out toward Mary’s, and noticed that she was walking at a much faster pace than on her previous trip. She was anxious to learn more of the stories surrounding the old barn.
Again as before, the tea was hot and ready to be served on her arrival. Helen spoke first, bringing up the events of two nights before. Had others heard sounds or seen the lights? Mary was willing to talk, but she had it in mind to let the events speak for themselves. She would tell Helen, of a night filled with the light of the full moon, long before Jacob Fedders had even been born. “The beginning of all evil started on that very night,” was Mary’s way to begin the tale. “Yes, yes it was a long time before the town existed and before permanent settlers came to live in these parts.”
In the last days of the seventeen hundreds, following the revolutionary war that gave birth to this nation, these lands were owned, or at least were the homelands of Indians from several tribes. It was in those days, having fought both for and against the white settlers, some of the Indian leaders became very much aware that their lands were about to fall to the settlers. Now history, like you read about in school, makes the life of the white settlers in New England sound like a wonderful and friendly time. This was not the case. Some of the worst atrocities in history took place in New England, and that is a fact! Indians would form alliances between tribes and set out to massacre white men. White men would gather their militias and take off to chasing and killing Indians. The Indians most often were outnumbered and not as well-equipped as the white men. Well, what happened here, right here at Oxnard Bow, was very much a part of those dark and unmentioned days.
The big and powerful companies that would become successful in the new country, saw opportunity to grow big. Logging companies, paper companies, land speculators of all stripes were going about making deals with the friendlier Indian Chiefs. Some of the Chiefs, seeing new wealth and fortune falling on them simply sold to the companies whatever they wanted. Well in this area, it was the paper companies that took control. They set about getting the rights to all of the land in this whole part of the state. The old chiefs, tired of battle, sold out to the white man. This did not set well with the younger members of the tribes who felt the white man’s presence would destroy their life-style, and they planned to take action. Mind you, they did not object to white men making a living, but they did not want settlements being built. So it was that several young Indian men who would themselves become chiefs, planned to attack the paper companies first attempts to build anything at Oxnard Bow. The Indians gathered to plan their attack, and the paper company learned of their plans. It was on a single night with the full moon as bright as day above, that the Indians gathered at the very spot where Jacob Fedders planned his barn. Shortly before midnight, the Indians gathered. There were thirteen in all, from several tribes. They had built a campfire on the land, and one Indian was chosen to lead. He had run up against the white man’s guns several years before, when in a raid his own son was shot and killed by lead poured out from a white mans musket. He saw the boy fall and ran to his side. A second shot rang out and hit it’s mark, tearing away the Indians leg. Now recovered and walking with help from walking sticks, this man was given the title of Chief.
The white settlers and workers for the paper company learned of the Indian plans, and of the meeting that was to take place on that night. They vowed to end it all in a single event. They would gather a small army of men and surround the encampment and when the time was right they would take action. Well child, it did not take long. At midnight, beneath the full moon, muskets rang out from all quarters. The Indian men, all of them, all thirteen, fell dead in one minutes time. No white man would approach the dead, and so they were left there on the ground as the white men departed from the site. No one ever spoke of it publicly again. The secret massacre at Oxnard Bow died with the Indians, or so they thought.
Before daylight several more Indians, followers of the fallen leaders came upon the site. They found the Chief still clinging to life. He told his followers of what had happened and swore vengeance on the white men. He told his people that the white man now owed him the lives of their sons, for having taken his own and they owed him a leg for the one he had lost. His followers agreed that his vows would be kept. The Chief died. The remaining followers arranged the burials for the fallen men, and in the style of Indians they arranged the circle and placed the rocks, and at the center they placed the body of the Chief, still holding his war axe in hand. It was done, it was over and from that time forward no white settler would ever disturb the hallowed ground of the Indians. No one until Jacob Fedders decided to build his barn. Jacob Fedders unearthed hatred, violence, curses and evil like no man has ever seen in these parts. That is what lays beneath the floor of that old barn. Evil, hatred, fear, it is all down there waiting for it’s due. Jacob knew that and he paid for it and good folks have been paying for it ever since. It must be put right or it will go on forever I tell you.
Helen had listened without speaking at the story told by Mary, and when Mary had spoken her words she knew that Helen wanted to learn of her own part in all of it. Mary offered tea and muffins before continuing on.
“Shall I continue now, or would you like a second cup?”
“Oh please go on, how will it all end, how will it be put to rest, and how did you learn all of this Mary, I must know”
“Very well then, let me tell you the rest.”
“Jacob Fedders lived on for many years after building his barn. Each time that a family with a son would move out to live here, the results were the same. The forces of the dead reached up from below, claiming revenge and seeking out a leg for the Chief. After a while, it stopped. No family would move to the Fedders’ place or even to Shiloh Camp Road until sixty years ago when my own family moved here. We paid the price, and so now have you.”
As a girl, I had been hiding in the barn one afternoon, not wanting to do my chores. I was there when my young cousin, a boy died by hanging in the barn. As always everyone called it an accident but it was not so. I saw from my hiding place the wind come up from below and lift him up like a bit of straw in the breeze. The wind swung him toward the ropes and dropped him from the highest parts. He tangled in the ropes and fell, stopping only when his neck snapped and his body hung a few feet from the floor. I was frozen with fear and I tell you now that I saw the fire creep up through the old iron grate, and surround the boy. The voices spoke in their own tongue but I knew I was hearing the warriors of old. The old ones came in the firelight to claim another son for their Chief. They claimed his spirit and left his body hanging there. I was terrified. Just as I was about to run from the barn the other workers came in and saw my cousin on the ropes. I escaped unnoticed and ran home.
That night when it had all ended, as I was sleeping I became aware of a presence in my room. My cousin, was there with the Indian Chief. Right there in my room in the rear of Mr. Fedders house. My father had been hired by Mr. Fedders several weeks earlier and we were allowed to stay in the house until we could find a place of our own. Well they stood there in my room and I feared greatly that I would die. The Chief spoke to me and said he knew I had been in the barn, and that if I ever returned there he would come for me. He said now that I had seen his powers that I would have to tell others of his demands, and of what I had seen. My cousin spoke too. He said that he had seen terrible awful things and that I had to promise never to let anyone use the barn again, and that I had to warn others of the dangers. If I ever tried to leave the Chief would kill me, because I had seen him. Several years went by, and I told the story over and over again, but no one would believe me until it was too late. The evil from the barn has claimed many more sons and brothers and it will not stop. Not until the barn is gone and the grave filled in and the circle rebuilt. The chief is coming back every time to get his revenge. He does not know that he is in another world, the world of the dead. I have told my story so many times that now I am blamed of being crazy, daft, a drunkard and all manner of things, but stay I must for if I try to leave I will surely die.
“When my parents moved out of the house, they went to live across the road where you live now. They both passed on years ago, and new folks came to work at the Fedders place. They were given the house to live in and I moved up to the old cabin. It has been a good home for me and I have all that I need. Now I am getting on and soon, it will be the chore of a newer younger girl to take old Mary’s place. I will tell you now why Bettsy has been chosen. Fate has been cruel to that poor child.”
“Oh Mary, you can’t be right about that, I mean how did it fall on her to do what you have tried to do?” asked Helen.
“Sad, it’s just plain sad, but as I was watching over the place a week back. I saw young Bettsy and her friend your Pauly playing their game of hide and seek. I saw them go into the barn, first your boy and a few minutes later pretty Bettsy. She was going to find him. I raced down to the road and tried to get there before it happened. I was too late. I opened the door to the barn and Bettsy ran out screaming and in a real bad way. I ran with her away from the barn and caught up to her in the meadow. At first she would not speak, and then she let it all come out. As she entered the barn, she saw young Pauly being lifted by the wind to the hay loft. She watched as he ran to get away, and then saw him fall through the floor into the stall. She heard the voices and saw the fire and she hid. She said Pauly yelled to her to run away and when I opened the door she tried. She told me that she had seen Indians in the Barn and they were riding on the wind and were holding fire and they were saying words she did not know. She said that she heard Pauly say to her that she must tell others what she saw, but she was afraid. I stayed with her until she was calm and helped her to pick flowers for her mother. I know, that it will be her chore to tell others when she is old enough, when Mary is gone and she will end up here just like me. No one will believe her, not now, after all it was just another accident. That is what folks want to believe, and that is what they will believe. There can be no end to it until the barn is gone and the graves replaced forever, but who will do that, who?”
That night, just after dark, Helen Frost, and her husband with Mr. and Mrs. Long went to the barn. By accident, an oil lamp fell to the floor on the hay, just inside the door. The fire spread quickly and before any assistance could reach Shiloh Road, Jacob Fedders barn passed into history, just another story from Oxnard Bow.
A fresh circle now fills the space where the barn once stood, and in the middle a small mound rises above the grade. The area is surrounded by a wall made from stones once used as a floor in Jacobs Fedders barn. Fresh flowers are grown there and all has been very quiet on Shiloh Road. Bettsy has grown and soon will marry and is planning to move to Concord. Fedders Barn is no more.
Peter Alden Yule