|The star Celaeno in constellation of Taurus.|
From our vantage point atop Kill Devil Hill, I watched a featureless black buzzard off in the distance. It spiraled high in the sky on an invisible column of wind. “Do you really think there’s gold and Indians buried around here?” I asked my grandfather.
He pondered this question for a few seconds, picking the right way to answer a 12-year-old boy. “Nah, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you found some old bones and spear points,” he said. “I’ve heard tell that the Indians would bring their dead up here and burn them on wooden pyres, them that worshiped what we call Celaeno.”
This was the first time that I had heard the word “Celaeno.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a star in Taurus,” he said. “It’s easy to see if you know where to look. The Indians no doubt called it something else because our name for it is from Greek mythology.”
My thoughts turned to the names of the planets. “You mean like Mars and Mercury?”
My grandfather took a long drag from his cigarette. “Those are Roman,” he said. “Celaeno was Greek. It literally means something like ‘the dark one.’ Who knows why they chose to worship it?”
An eerie breeze blew across the top of the hill. Gooseflesh broke out on my arms.
“Long before you were born, my own Pa told me that in the spring of ’06 – before I was even born – a man and a mule were killed, and three women were hurt bad in a lightning strike up here,” he said.
“What were they doing with a mule way up here?”
“Not using their heads, that’s what,” he said. “The story was that they’d got the idea that this would be a good place to cut out a slab of stone for a grave marker. Back then, not everyone got a headstone. It was for a dead baby and the mother – one of the three women – wanted a headstone. They were going to lash the block of stone to their beast to move it to the graveyard.”
I tried to imagine someone leading a stubborn mule up the side of the mysterious hill.
“Sure enough, they got up here and began to chisel away,” my grandfather continued. “There is nothing neat or simple about that type of job. They worked up a sweat and didn’t pay any attention to a big thundercloud that blew up on them out of the southwest.”
My grandfather pointed to a dust-dry stump near the center of the hilltop, muted sunlight glinted off the fraternal ring on his right hand. “There used to be a big ash tree up here back then,” he said. “That’s all that’s left. When it started to rain, they sought shelter beneath its branches. Lightning struck, killed the man and mule and the tree too, I guess. All the women got knocked out. When they woke up, their clothes were just black shreds.”
“Pa said every bone in that man’s body was broke,” he said. “When folks went to collect his corpse, he was all loose inside, like a bag full of blood jelly. Same with the mule. The smell must have been inhuman.”
I looked to the west, over the Alabama River and into the eldritch, black woods of Clarke County. There was a dark cloud way off in the distance, sliding north across the sky towards Claiborne. “We should camp out up here some night,” I said in a weak attempt to lighten the mood. “Bring our sleeping bags and a tent. Build a camp fire.”
My grandfather turned and looked me dead in the eye. I had never seen him so serious, so grim. “Boy, you need to put that idea out of your head right now,” he said. “This cursed place is bad. As many folks who have died up here, you’d be asking for big time trouble.”
With that said, he threw down his cigarette and mashed it out with the heel of one of his leather brogans. “Come on, boy,” he said. “It’s time to go home.”
(All rights reserved. This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.)