Now there, dry those tears, big girl. The other girls are just jealous of you. I know they make mock and hoo-rah at you. You need to keep your head high and ignore all their hatefulness.
Listen up, iff'n it'll help you understand some things better, I'll tell you a secret. A really big secret. Your daddy - may he rest in peace - told me never to tell you. And your momma would never tell you herself. I guess she's asham-ed.
When I was your age, my grandpappy told me the story I'm about to tell you. That would be your great-great-grandfather. I reckon I was just about 18, too, when he told me. You need to know, I guess, so I'll tell you myself.
This all goes back to my granddaddy's momma. That would be - let's see - your great-great-great-grandmother. Her name was Mary Bledsoe - though a lot of people here in the Piney Woods called her Moaning Mary.
She was a good-hearted backwoods woman - a dummy, too. She never learnt to speak - at least that's what the folks hereabouts thought. Truth was, she couldn't speak. She weren't a woman, too, I guess. Not really. I see I got your attention. You ready for the story? That's a good girl.
Your great-great-great-great-grandfather, Zachariah Bledsoe, lit out of Mississippi in 18 and 36 after killing a man in Natchez Under The Hill in a duel over the affections of a Creole wench.
By the time he got to East Texas, General Houston had whupped Santa Anna's butt at the Battle of San Jacinto, and settlers were streaming into the Lone Star republic.
Zach Bledsoe was shook up bad over the shooting- he was nearly strung up by the man's relations - and he took to living in the Big Thicket in a cabin he made himself. There was a road running from Galveston to Shreveport - Cypressville weren't here then - and he soon found he could keep himself in coffee and tobacco by chopping and selling good burning hardwood to the wagons going up and down the trail.
It was a simple, honest living. Problem was, Zach was only 30 at the time, and not a dead man, not yet. He was lonely. But women were hard to find on the frontier. You know the old saying - Texas was heaven for men and dogs, and hell for women and horses.
The ways my grandpappy told it, one day some wagons stopped at his place for water and wood, and one of the teamsters' dogs was bitch in heat. Zach turned around and saw his hound with the bitch, and he thought 'Shee-yit, even ol' Red can get hisself a woman!' I guess he was feeling pretty damn lonely.
The story goes, one day Zach was deeper in the woods than usual, looking for some virgin timber to chop, when suddenly he thought that he weren't alone. He could hear someone out there - breathing real heavy. And then he heard a whining, like a big old dog. He called out:
"What's the matter, fella?"
He saw some bushes move and this big brown hairy dog came of a hedge. Except it walked on two legs. It shuffled like a man, and was covered all in dark brown dirty fur. But when he looked in its face he could see it had human eyes.
The poor critter kept whining and looking back the way it came. Zach would've been scared, except the way the thing whined made him feel sorry for it. It took him a moment to give it a good look up and down, and when he did, he saw it was a female.
He spoke kindly to the creature. "What's the matter, girl? Are you hurt?" The animal kept whining, and then it turned around and headed back into the thicket. He knew it wanted him to follow, and so he did - keeping a tight grip all the while on his axe, he said, with his musket over his shoulder.
They went back into the deepest woods. The creature kept looking to see if Zach was following.
After some while, they come to an island of tall oaks in the middle of a swampy thicket. The trees were hundreds of years old and the smallest were as wide around as a wagon wheel. They must have been at least a thousand years old.
There under a tree laying on its side was another one of the creatures. It weren't moving.
Zach rolled the creature over and saw it had taken a musket ball clean in the breast. There was blood all over the creature's fur, and he could see a trail leading back another way through the swamp. Another woodsman must have met up with the creature and plugged it.
He saw when he rolled the creature over it was a male. It was much bigger than the female - almost six feet tall. He could see tracks its big feet had left leading far into the swamp. It must have come a long way before falling down dead under the tree.
He heard the whining again and looked up to see the female with the most sad look in her big brown eyes. Zach realized the dead critter was her mate.
He laid his head down and listened for its breath, but there was none. He felt the neck, and there weren't no pulse. He even took out a small knife and pricked its finger to see if any blood flowed.
He said he felt so sorry for the female. He didn't know what to do. He finally looked down at the male and made a flapping motion with both hands - like a bird's wings - to show her that his spirit had flown.
He said he knew she understood. He said she wailed so loud and so sad it would have cracked the heart of a plaster saint.
After a while he crossed the creature's arms across it chest and closed its eyes. The female squatted alongside, whining and rocking. He reached over and stroked her head. He said when he was up close, it was hard to bear because she smelled so bad.
"He's gone to the green pastures," he said. "Where the breeze always blows and the sun always shines." He knew she couldn't understand him, but he thought maybe somehow the meaning of his words would get through.
It was getting dark, and he was afraid of being in the woods at night, so he left. The female paid him no heed, but continued to whine.
Zach was a good tracker and was able to find his way back to the clearing where his strange journey began, and then made his way back to his cabin.
He wondered about the forest creature all night - he still felt sorry for it. In the morning, before the sun was high, he set off with his axe and a kerchief holding some cheese and biscuits, along with a water skin.
He found the female hadn't moved, but was hunched over as if exhausted. The dead male's body was beginning to smell. She didn't look up as he left the cheese and biscuits on the dark earth beside her. He sat the water bottle down and loosed the cap.
He stroked her head a bit and talked about the happy hunting grounds or something similar. He left her that way.
He returned the next day, and saw she had lain down and slept that night. He also saw she had eaten the biscuits and gnawed at the cheese. He had brought a spade, and it took almost the whole day, he said, to dig a hole big enough to bury the creature.
The female watched quietly as he first began to dig the grave, and then she began to moan and rock on her haunches. She didn't bother him none, though, and he was able to roll the body over and into the grave and cover it.
With the spade on his shoulder, and the axe on his belt, Zach began the trek back to his cabin. As he pushed through the wooly head thickets, he heard a sound behind him, and saw the female following. She followed him all the way to the edge of the clearing where his cabin sat, but didn't leave the woods.
That night, before he latched the door and blew out his lamp, he left some apples and pears in a bowl behind the cabin, in case she was still out there. The next morning, he saw they had been eaten. Then she came out from the trees.
Strangely enough, Old Red liked her and went up to her with his mangy tail a' waggin'. She just squatted on the ground and looked at them both like she didn't know what to do.
Zach thought he might try to tame her, so went inside and poured water into a basin. He went outside and showed her how he splashed water on his face. He said if she were going to stay around, the first thing she needed was a bath!
He gave her the bowl, and after a while, she splashed water on her face, too. You know, 'monkey see, monkey do.' He figgered he could tame her by showing her what he did, so he began to show her clothes and tools and how he used them.
He eventually got her in the cabin - with the door open - and showed her furniture and the fireplace. After a few days he got her down to the Sabine River to bathe. He said he never forgot how when, she came out of the river, she shook her herself all over, like Red would.
He said he was surprised to see after she washed she was as white as you and me.
After a few more days she put on clothes when he did. Finally, she let Zach take shears to her head and face. That's all he needed to cut - back then, women were pretty much all covered up, anyhows.
Zach named her Mary, because of the sorrowful way she was when he first saw her, after Magdalene in the Bible. He knew she had a good heart, like I said, because of the way she had mourned for her mate.
After a few weeks she was tamed enough that they became man and wife - though no preacher ever attended to them. Nobody minded that much on the frontier.
She even learned to pluck chickens, cut firewood and milk cows - all by following Zach. She gave Zach had three strong boys - including my grandpappy. The boys were never told the truth about their momma until after Zach and Mary both passed.
Although her name was Mary Bledsoe, most folks in Smith County called her Moaning Mary. She never gained the power of speech - Zach said that was one thing these forest critters couldn't do, he reckoned - and when she tried to talk, she made a sound like moaning. That was the best she could so. Zach just told folks she was a mute.
She was a good wife to Zach for 20 years. She had a good heart, said Zach, no matter what kind of creature she was - ape, wild man or what. When he died, she died the next day - of a broken heart, they said. They were buried together.
So that's the story. You have a proud ancestry - oldest in the world, I guess. Over the years, broad shoulders and strong backs have helped the Bledsoe men work hard and honest. All us Bledsoe men look pretty much alike - big and black-headed and hairy. It ain't never bothered me none.
All of the Bledsoes over the years have been men. You can imagine your momma and poppa's surprise when they had a sweet little girl.
You're special in many ways, big girl. If it weren't for you, the Cypressville Cyclones wouldn't have taken the state title this year. Like I told you, those other girls are just jealous. You know I'm right. That's the smile I wanted to see!
Now you get to leave East Texas and go off to Austin. Wait'll they see how you can play post, with those long arms and big hands.
You'll be the best damn basketball player the University of Texas has ever seen!
Lou Antonelli lives in East Texas, where he is a newspaper sports editor. He began writing science fiction in 2002. His stories have been published in RevolutionSF, Bewildering Stories, Surprising Stories, GateWay Science Fiction, Astounding Tales, AlienSkin, and Continuum Science Fiction. He has stories running later this year in Beyond Centauri, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine and Asimov's Science Fiction.
His story "Silence is Golden" in RevolutionSF received an honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty-First Annual Collection 2004 St. Martin's Press, Gardner Dozois, ed. He is a Turkey City workshop grad.
© Lou Antonelli
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