Letter to Dr. Frederick Reynolds
A Campbell County Chronicles Short Story
When my Aunt Flo died, husbandless and childless, and with my father not wanting to leave the task to a lawyer who might throw out old papers—such as follows, that may not seem valuable to anyone outside of our family, it was left to me to go through Flo's personal effects, the strain of going through his beloved sister's belongings being too much for my father's weak heart.
I had seen Flo only a few times and found it quite odd and disconcerting to become acquainted with this woman through the many items she had accumulated during her lifetime.
Deep in a corner of Flo's attic, I came across the papers of our ancestor, one Dr. Frederick Reynolds, which she had apparently inherited from her father upon his passing, who had, in turn, inherited them from his father.
Dr. Reynolds was somewhat of a celebrity in the family, having published many acclaimed papers in his field and several books on supernatural subjects. Included in Dr. Reynolds' papers were notes from my great-great grandfather's many investigations into the unknown and other such stories which he collected throughout his life, most of them used for his numerous writings on the subject.
The letter reprinted here, which I found in Dr. Reynolds' papers, stood out to me. True, it is quite plain and simple for a "ghost" story; but it is this simpleness which marks it out from many of the other such letters in his archives. These other letters, from avid fans of his works, are filled with extravagant, long-winded accounts of demons, witches, ghosts and other haints. Many of these letters are obviously contrived; their sole purpose being to impress or shock Dr. Reynolds, a man who had seen pretty much every thing when it came to the paranormal.
This letter, however, is quite direct and lacks the dramatic tone that is abundant in many of the other letters sent to my great-great grandfather. The simple, clear headed record from Sheriff Jackson seems to me anyway-to lend credence to his story. As Dr. Reynolds wrote in his book, Lost Spirits: Their Place in Our World: "The true spirit rarely has a flair for the dramatic. They are simple, every day folk who do not realize that their physical bodies have ceased to live. Rarely are they dangerous, and certainly, are hardly ever scary."
From the personal files of Mrs. Florence Darrel, nee Reynolds. Previously of the archives of Dr.Frederick Reynolds Esq.
March 13, 1865
How are you old friend? I hope circumstances find you as well and as happy as they do me. As it has been many years since we have been in contact, I will start with a brief history of what has occurred in my life since we last parted.
After leaving our great old home town of Sleepy Ridge and moving out west, I acquired a position as deputy to the sheriff of a small town here in Arizona. After only a few months in this lovely little desert burg, I met a marvelous young woman named Virginia, whose father runs the local hotel. My beloved Virginia and I later married and became the parents of four children. Our eldest, John, celebrated his fifteenth birthday last week. Fifteen years. Whoever said that time flies certainly was correct. Soon after our second child was born, I was promoted to sheriff when my predecessor had an altercation with a bank robber; which turned out rather badly for the sheriff, but quite good for the bank robber. That is, until I and a posse of twelve men tracked him down and apprehended him.
Frederick, I could go on and on telling you about my wife, children and all of the other interesting characters in this town; and about all of the wild adventures I have had as a real life western law man. The type I am sure you have read about in those ghastly dime novels you are so fond of; but I have a hanging to preside over in an hour, so I must be short and get to the point of why I am writing you after so long an absence in correspondence.
Now, as sheriff, I have seen and heard many strange things, but none quite so strange as that told to me by a local vagrant. I was astonished, and I must admit, a little frightened, when he first related the incident to me. It reminded me of all those horror stories you used to collect and tell us on dreary nights around a blazing fire. I only hope that this tale is odd enough to deserve being added to your collection.
This vagrant, dubbed "Blue" by the locals because of the outrageous blue hat he is never without, is illiterate and not very bright. He is certainly not smart enough to have made this story up, and, after looking at the evidence myself, I have come to the conclusion that Blue's story is indeed true.
It all came to pass last night. I was in the office late when the door burst open and in barged Blue, pale and looking as though he had just seen his own grave walked over. At first, he was unable to speak, so I got him to sit and eventually managed to calm old Blue down. I poured him a shot of whiskey, and after downing it, he relayed what had occurred to him as follows. I have written everything here to the letter from a transcript I took while interviewing Blue and have done my best to convey the "homegrown flavor" of his story.
"You know, Sheriff," Blue began his tale, "I stay sometime at ah rundown shack at the ol' minin' camp 'bout four miles south of town.
"Well, every night I go there, I run inta this man drivin' a big horse an' buggy cart. One of dem old ones. Not like what they got now; you knows them fancy carriages rich folk drive 'round in. ' When we see each other, we usually sez, 'Howdy' or some sort like that. Maybe even talk a might if one or t'other ain't in no hurry.
"But tonight was different. When he come upon me tonight, it were rainin' so the man asked me if I wanted a ride. It sure is a long walk from town to that ol' camp, specially in the rain, so I sez to him, 'Yes, sah, I do. Old Blue ain't prone ta walks in the rain and would be much obliged to ya.' An' with that, I climbed on up an' hitched in right beside 'im.
"I thanked 'im and we started off. I tried to start up a chat wit' the fella, but he was real quiet. Unusually so. Like he didn't want ta talk.
"It were about this time I remembered I ain't never got a good close look at this man; so's I peered over at 'im out the corner of my eyes, sneaky like, but that didn't help none, so I decided to jus' go 'head an' look at 'im straight on. I couldn't see much better that way though cause he had his face burried deep in his high, upturned collar and had the brim of his wide hat pulled down low. He musta noticed me lookin', cause right 'bout then he turned his head roun' to look at me. Right away I wished he hadn't. And was wishing I hadn't run inta 'im that night in the rain."
Blue paused here for a moment and scratched at the few wispy white hairs that still clung to his leathery skull.
"Sheriff, you believe in unholy spirits?"
I told him no, not really, but that I always try to keep an open mind about such things. Probably due to your influence, Frederick. This seemed to please him and he continued.
"Well, Sheriff, I'm glad you say that cause that's what I think gave me a ride tonight; for when he looked over at me, his eyes, they was pure green. An' not just the middle part that's normally colored, the parts that's usually white, they was green too! An' tweren't no reglar green either. No, sah! It were a strange green, not like leaves, but like...You know, I don't believe I've ever seen a shade of green like that man's eyes was. They glowed too, just like the lantern man's on the train.
"An', Sheriff, his skin, what I could see of it, was like that of a dead man's. Now that I do know. Youse can be a witness to that cause you know I's burry the outlaws and those poor souls what can't 'ford a proper Christian burrial. Yes, sah, he look jes like he been dead for quite some time, too.
"Oncet I seen how bad he looked, first thing I do is ask him if he's all right an' if he's sick; but he didn't answer, he jes stared at ol' Blue like I ain't even there. Then his face started to change and glow, jes like his eyes wuz doin'. I cain't well say how his face changed, or what it were changing to, I jus' know that it were.
"Then, fas' as a bolt, he done up an' gone!"
"You mean he jumped off of the cart?" I asked for clarification.
"No, sah. That driver he went up like smoke."
"Yes, sah, one minute he wuz there, and the nex' he weren't. It was kinda like when you lose sugar in water. You know how it jus' slowly disappears an' turns into water?"
I affirmed that I did indeed understand what he was getting at.
"Soon after that," Blue continued, "the horse got spooked an' took off gallopin' down the road. I had a devil of a time doin' it, but I's finally got that horse calmed down enough to stop so's I could get off. An', Sheriff, no sooner did my feet hit the ground than that wily ol' driver 'opped back in his seat, right out o' thin air and took off down the road fas' as lightnin'.
"What you make o' all that, Sheriff?"
He looked up at me, his rheumy old eyes glistening, expectant that I would have some sort of answer to put his troubled mind at ease; but answers I had none to give. I told him that I did not know what to make of it, but that I would go out and check the area. I gave Blue another shot of whiskey, which he drank down gratefully. After hearing Blue's tale, I needed a drop or two of that nerve soothing amber liquid myself, so poured another glass for me; for I too had seen that old driver many cold nights as I walked home from town.
It was by now well past the witching hour and I began to gather up my things in preparation of returning home. Blue noticed this and asked, "Sheriff, I sure don't feel like walkin' that lonely road home all by myself. You mind if I's stay here for the night? I'd really be thankful if you were to let me."
There was a pleading look in his eyes that reminded me of those abandoned puppies your sister was always bringing back home, which appealed to my softer nature and I made up my mind to let him stay in the spare room at my house, knowing Virginia, kind-hearted soul that she is, wouldn't mind. "I will do you one better," I said to him. "If you will be so kind as to wait around for a few minutes, you may spend the night with me and my family. Does that fare well with you, sir?"
"Oh, yes, sah, Sheriff! I'd be delighted t' take shelter with you!"
I gathered up my things and made sure all was locked up, then accompanied Blue back to my house where he received a warm meal cooked by Virginia's loving hand, and the first bed he'd lain in many a year.
In the morning, I had Blue take me out to where the incident occurred and he showed me the exact spots where the stranger had picked him up and where Blue had jumped down from the carriage. There were signs that a horse had been going through a stretch of the road quite fast, but of course, there was no hard evidence to prove that what Blue said was true and not some razed vision of his. I believe him, though. I've asked around town and no one seems to know who the driver is or where he comes from, though many have seen him traveling down the road at night. Some of the old timers remember seeing him since they were children, some fifty years or more ago, depending on the person asked of course. Blue is too simple to concoct a story like this on his own, and, except for me, he has no friends to speak of, so I do not think that someone put him up to it. Needless to say, neither Blue nor I will go anywhere near the road to that old camp any more.
It is beyond my ken to explain Blue's encounter so turn to you my dear friend. What do you make of it? Please relay your thoughts and opinions to me, I value them greatly. Both Blue and I will sleep much sounder after hearing from you.
Sheriff Roger Jackson
Unfortunately, so far I have been unable to find Doctor Reynolds' response to Sheriff Jackson's letter; or, for that matter, any correspondence to or from Jackson other than the letter published here. Which is odd because, as far as I can tell, Dr. Reynolds kept every letter sent to him and apparently made copies of every letter he sent.
I have also been unable to find any notes or references, other than this letter, to any investigation the Doctor may have conducted into Blue's story. I have attempted to track down Sheriff Jackson's decedents in hopes they may have a letter sent by my great-great grandfather to Sheriff Jackson; but, as Jackson does not give a specific location in his letter, and no envelope was attached, finding the exact location in which he resided when he moved "Way out West", is proving extremely difficult, practically impossible. However, there are still many more files to go through, and I hope I will find something there.
In the meantime, I am working at compiling more of Dr. Reynolds' letters and other writings for publication.
A note on the letter:
I have presented the letter as closely to the original as possible. That is, I have left nothing out, but did use the correct spelling several times when Jackson's strict adherence to the phonetics of Blue's patois became either redundant or made the letter difficult to read.