“I want the ball!” Leslie yelled under the basketball goal.
“You didn’t get the rebound!” Rhonda responded as she dribbled away.
“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 to retrieve it.
Leslie bawled in deep pain. The youngest of four sisters, she generally received little mercy. Rhonda showed no pity as she jumped around the ball, dribbling it on the uneven ground.
Leslie’s screams diminished as her bellow drifted away from the Pettit yard. She marched north, up the old dirt road we lived on. She headed for Grandma’s.
“I hate Rhonda!” Leslie yelled as she marched to Grandma’s. “Rhonda, you just wait until I get there. You’re going to be very sorry for what you did! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you.”
The temperature registered warm but not hot for this Oklahoma day. No wind battled with the tall trees lining the road. The graveled road ran past Grandma’s house.
Halfway to her destination, the breeze whispered her name. “Leslie.”
She paid no attention, thinking the sound mimicked a voice.
She continued, “I hate you, Rhonda! I hate you!”
“Leslie.” The rustling gave a more distinct voice.
Leslie frowned but kept marching. Filled with hate, she knew she only imagined her name in the sound.
“I hate you, Rhonda. I hate . . .”
She stopped in the middle of the graveled road. The clarion call gave no doubt someone called her name.
She peered into the thick wooded treeline all the way up to the canopy shadowing the forest. There, in the highest branch stood a man’s silhouette. He wore a top hat with a cape blowing in shadows behind him.
Leslie’s eyes narrowed on the shape. She frowned, considering it only fooled her imaginatuon with its darker shade among the many dark patches in the forest.
But then the silhouette moved as a man, stepping off his platform toward her.
Her eyes widened. This was a real man, a shadow man.
He reached for her, whispering, “Leslie, I’m going to kill you someday.”
She screamed, turning in a run as fast as her five-year-old legs could take her.
All the way on her breathless race back home, the sound of a bouncing ball echoed in the road from where she knew Rhonda dribbled it in the Pettit’s spacious yard.
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 dribbling and making shots feeling content and at peace to have the space all to herself.
“I hate Leslie. She’s such a baby.” Rhonda spoke to herself.
A breeze whispered from the brush across the road “Rhonda.”
It disturbed her concentration, but intent on her goals, Rhonda ignored the muffled sound of her name from the tall grass.
She heard it again, pausing to scowl across the graveled road, past the barbed wire fence into the overgrown field. She saw only tall stalks of Johnson grass lining the meadow. She eyed it with suspicion.
This time she knew the sound came from the meadow across the road. But no one stood there. She turned toward the basketball goal and shot again.
“Rhonda!” Again her name drifted to her in a whisper.
Anger overwhelmed her. Someone tried to play tricks. She would show them.
She swiftly turned toward the mass of brush with feet spread stubbornly a foot apart, the ball under one arm, and her fist slammed in anger on her other hip, she yelled loudly, “What!”
The tall stalks sat motionless. She scanned the area where now the shadows of the evening danced among the stalks.
At that moment Leslie ran screaming into the yard, falling in the grass, sobbing in terror. sounding like a death knell.
Rhonda stopped her practice and ran toward her, away from her beloved basketball.
Between sobs of terror, and broken breaths, Leslie described what she heard and saw.
Rhonda listened in awe.
After Leslie’s tale, Rhonda nodded in agreement. ”I know that’s true. I just heard my name whispered from across the road.”
This tale of terror occurred in the early 1960s, thirty miles northwest of Ada, and thirty miles south of Shawnee, Oklahoma.
At that time there was no highway 177 only a dirt road named Section Line North-South 341. It led by the Pettit home in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. The old dirt ran in the same place as the highway, right in front of Tom Sanders’ Clinic, Oklahoma’s Indian Herb Doctor.
Tom and his wife, Bessie, the Grandma in this story, were the Pettit girls’ grandparents.
The Pettit home where this story took place sat a mile south of the Sanders Clinic, and four miles north of Asher, Oklahoma. It burned down in 1982.
However, the old basketball goal where Rhonda and Leslie fought is still tacked to the same electric post Dad nailed it on more than sixty years ago.
While the dirt road is now a major highway, a Pettit grandson built his home in the same yard where Rhonda and Leslie battled.
Peculiarly, this grandson served as one of the basketball coaches at Asher, four miles south.