Tales of Terror

The anger flew.
“I want the ball!” Leslie yelled under the basketball goal.
“You didn’t get the rebound!” Rhonda responded as she dribbled away with the ball.
“You’re suppose to share!”
“I’m not sharing if you can’t get the rebound!”
The yelling and the ball bouncing continued as Rhonda shot another goal and jumped for the rebound.
Leslie started bawling like a hurt calf. But Rhonda showed no pity as she jumped around the ball, bouncing it on the uneven ground. Then Leslie’s screams diminished as her bellow drifted away from the Pettit yard. Leslie marched north up the old dirt road we lived on. She headed for Grandma’s.
The year was 1961. Mama left my two younger sisters, Rhonda, age eight, and Leslie, age five, in my doubtful care. That dirt road I walked alone often since age five. However, at age ten and not the most conscientious or best of sisters, I now sat in the front room watching TV. I didn’t want to stand as referee when I heard the fighting begin outside.

***

“I hate Rhonda!” Leslie bellowed as she marched to Grandma’s. “Rhonda, you just wait until I get to Grandma’s. You’re going to be very sorry for what you did! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you.”
The temperature was warm but not hot for this Oklahoma day. No wind came to battle with the tall trees that lined the road as a forest. It ran all the distance to Grandma’s house.
“Leslie.” The breeze rustled the leaves making it sound like a whisper.
“I hate you, Rhonda! I hate you!” Leslie continued her march to Grandma’s.
“Leslie.” The rustling leaves gave a more distinct voice. Leslie frowned but kept walking with purpose. She knew she only imagined her name in the sound.
“I hate you, Rhonda. I hate . . .”
“Leslie.”
Leslie stopped. The sound gave no doubt that someone spoke her name. She peered into the tree line all the way to the canopy that shadowed the forest. There, high in the tree top stood a silhouette of a man. He wore a top hat. A cape blew in shadows behind him. Leslie’s eyes narrowed on the shadow.. She frowned. She considered the shape to only be a shade among the many dark patches in the forest. But then the silhouette moved as a man, stepping off his platform toward her. She imagined nothing. This was a real man in a shadow — a shadow man.
He appeared to reach for her. “Leslie, I’m going to kill you someday.”
Leslie turned and ran hard with terror. All the while on her breathless run, the ball’s bouncing sound echoed in her ears.

***

Good. I’ve got the basket and the ball to myself, finally. Rhonda thought. And what makes Leslie think, just because she’s the baby that she deserves the ball all the time?

Rhonda continued to make shots and dribble on the grass. The basketball goal was mounted near the dirt road where Leslie just marched north. Rhonda felt content. She had it all to herself.

I hate Leslie. She’s such a baby.

“Rhonda.”

Intent on her goals, Rhonda ignored the muffled sound of her name from across the dirt road.

“Rhonda . . .”

 Rhonda frowned and looked over into the tall stalks across the old dirt road. This time she had not imagined the sound. No one stood there. She turned toward the goal and shot again.
 
 “Rhonda . . .”

 A rush of anger overwhelmed Rhonda. Someone tried to play tricks. She would show them. She paused and turned fully toward the tall stalks of grass.

Feet spread stubbornly a foot apart, the ball under one arm and her fist slammed in anger on the other hip, she yelled. “What?”

 Only silence came from across the road. The tall stalks sat motionless. She scanned the area where now the shadows of the evening seemed to dance among the stalks.

No one responded.


***

Just at that moment from the old dirt road, Leslie ran into the front yard, screaming. The terror in Leslie’s sobs sounded like a death cry. It also made Rhonda run toward Leslie, away from her basketball goal.
Between sobs of terror, Leslie described what she heard and saw.  Rhonda listened in awe.
After Leslie told her story, Rhonda nodded in agreement. ”I know that’s true. I just heard my name whispered from across the road.” 

***

I remember this place and time because this is a true story. I was the reluctant baby sitter, the older sister, that didn’t respond when Leslie initially ran into the house for help. The dirt road in this story often held the traffic of the Pettit girls. Being the second daughter and reluctant baby sitter telling this tale, I often raced barefoot on the hard gravel to Grandma’s. I personally never met the shadow man. But my little sister met him again years later. That is another tale of terror and for later. In this story, I was the first to hear Leslie’s terror-filled cry in the front lawn after she heard and saw the Shadow Man standing in the tree canopy. I was also the first to watch Rhonda’s serious expression and her immediate nod of agreement with Leslie’s story. Rhonda admitted hearing her own name called from the field opposite our home.

This story happened more than fifty years ago, thirty miles northwest of Ada, and thirty miles south of Shawnee, Oklahoma. At that time a dirt road led by the Pettit home. That dirt road was north-south section line 341. It is now highway 177 in Pottawatomie County. This highway runs down the middle of Oklahoma. But at the time, the old dirt road ran in the same place right in front of Tom Sanders Clinic, Oklahoma’s Indian Herb Doctor. Tom and his wife, Bessie, were the Pettit girls’ grandparents.
The Pettit home sat a little over half a mile south of the Sanders Clinic. It stood four miles north of Asher, Oklahoma. The Pettit home no longer stands there since it burned down in 1982. However, the old basketball goal that Rhonda and Leslie fought under is still tacked to the same telephone post that Dad nailed it on more than fifty years ago. And while the dirt road is now a major highway named 177 through Oklahoma, a Pettit grandson built his home in the same yard where Rhonda and Leslie battled for the basketball. Peculiarly, this grandson serves as one of the basketball coaches at Asher.

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