The Devil Talked Back
Grandma Joan told Moriah that she was selling her soul to the Wendigo the day she moved to Baltimore.
Even though Grandma Joan wasn’t really a descendent of the Algonquin tribe that lived along the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland waters, she still liked to use their myths to scare Moriah and Moriah’s mother Tara. The Wendigo, a half-beast cannibal, was one of Grandma Joan’s favorite scare tactics. It seemed like every summer night that Moriah’s grandmother would call out to her on the pier that the Wendigo would come and get her if Moriah didn’t get inside and go to bed right away. Scared that a half-formed beast would emerge from the woods behind her or the water in front of her, Moriah would dutifully run into the house and wait in her bedroom for her grandmother to tell her a bedtime story, just like her mother used to. Unlike the rest of the children who lived across Chincoteague Bay, Grandma Joan’s bedtime stories weren’t about Misty the wild pony on Assateague Island. Instead, her love for folklore made it into Moriah’s bedtime stories where Grandma Joan would tell her of howling banshees that floated on the water, monstrous turkey buzzards that snatched children from the fields, and deals with the Devil that always went awry.
The air was thick and full of the smell of chicken shit from the neighboring farms up the road the day Moriah left. Usually there was a breeze that came off of Guy’s Point, blowing the smell of saline and fish across the cove right up to the Horn family’s boardwalk. Not ideal, but a better smell than animal excrement. But there was no wind that day, and the smell hovered over the property like a thick fog. Her grandmother kept yelling at Moriah as untied her large black kayak from the pier. “You hear me, Moriah, the people that cross that damn Bay Bridge never end up well. They go to the big city, play all of their cards wrong, and end up in the gutter with the rest of garbage. They make deals their unable to keep. And I’ve always said, Moriah that – ,”
“That the Devil’s in the cards, Grandma Joan,” Moriah interrupted as she made her way over to the pier. It was a phrase that her grandmother used almost as often as the Wendigo threat whenever Moriah wanted to do something new. The Devil was always in the cards, and waiting at every corner for you to make a mistake. “Why are you always so paranoid, Grandma? What, do you think that I’ll end up murdered or something just because I moved to a different bay?” Moriah pressed as she helped her grandmother with the rest of the knots.
“There are worse things than getting murdered, Moriah. Far worse,” Grandma Joan said as she reached for her paddle on the dock.
“You know I’ll miss you, but it will be nice to not have your foreboding superstitions hanging over my head.” Grandma Joan looked up from the kayak, giving Moriah an angry look, her face permanently tan from either being on the water or working in the potato fields, and her dark grey hair taut and plaited from her face gave her the appearance of an old shanty witch that Moriah had read about in the ghost story pamphlets they gave out to tourists on Chincoteague Island. A brief breeze came through, masking the smell of chicken feces for a moment. Her grandmother used the breeze to her advantage and started paddling across the water. “What, you’re not going to even say goodbye to me?” Moriah hollered as her grandmother paddled away with Moriah to her back.
“Not to those who leave their home behind. You’ll be back, Moriah. You’ll see. You won’t be able to leave the Shore. No one ever does,” she croaked as she maneuvered her kayak past the point where the pine trees met the water. Moriah always thought her grandmother’s black kayak looked like a floating hearse. A waterman’s coffin, Grandma Joan would always say. Hidden by the trees at the point, Moriah could no longer see her grandmother’s kayak. Typical Grandma Joan, she thought. No one in Moriah’s family was able to say goodbye.
She looked out onto the Bay. The breeze had stopped and the smell from the farms was back. Everything became stagnate without the wind. It was all stuck. Unable to stay longer, Moriah got into her dirty, old Jeep and drove off of the property.
“Uh, excuse me, ma’am. Um, ma’am. Ma’am!” jolted out of her reverie, Moriah looked up at the gas machine behind her and saw a man wearing dusty jeans and a faded t-shirt with a Damien’s Dairy logo on it pumping gas into his beat up red pickup truck.
“I’m sorry, what?” she asked the dairy farmer.
“I think your gas tank’s full,” he said pointing to the gas oozing out of her tank.
“Oh. Thank you,” Moriah said as she finally released her hand from the nozzle.
Putting the nozzle back in its holder, Moriah watched as the farmer drove away from the gas station, probably going back to the dairy, she thought. She hadn’t seen a farmer in quite awhile. Ever since she moved to Baltimore, Moriah hadn’t strayed far from Charm City. The closest thing to a rural setting in Baltimore was Patterson Park, where Moriah would go on her evening runs. During her runs she would look at out how the trees juxtaposed with row homes of the city. It was nothing like where she grew up on the Eastern Shore, where nature never began or ended. The fields from the farms would jut up to the woods full of lush pine trees that bordered the bends of the creeks and rivers that flowed along the shores. There was a mystery to the landscape that she could never fully capture. Looking at the trees in Patterson Park always made her feel safe. Nothing was behind them except for a brick house.
Moriah hadn’t completely escaped the shore. Situated on the mouth of the Patapsco River that eventually feeds into the Chesapeake, and flooded with crab houses, booze cruises, and historic warships, Moriah found that Baltimore was very much a marine city. Whenever Moriah would run through the Inner Harbor and see the tourists out on the water in paddleboats designed to look like a dragon – a tourist attraction to make people believe that there was an equivalent to the Loch Ness Monster in the Chesapeake Bay called Chessie – she couldn’t help but think how much her grandmother would hate Baltimore and yell at the tourists for acting like the water was some cheap playground.
Moriah had been in Baltimore for about four years waiting tables at a tourist trap restaurant at night, and working on her graduate degree in museum studies at Johns Hopkins University by day. She still kept in touch with her Grandmother Joan, who still lived on the Eastern Shore, but being as stubborn as she was, her grandmother would refuse to call her and insist that their only form of communication be from good ole’ fashioned letter writing. “Hearing your voice would only piss me off,” her grandmother once wrote in a letter. Grandma Joan’s latest correspondence revealed that their family potato farm was finally going under and was being sold that upcoming summer. Grandma Joan had asked Moriah to come down to the family estate to help prepare the house and all of its wares for auction, and to meet with the developer who was buying the potato fields. Reluctant to return home after so long without visiting, Moriah wrote back to her grandmother that she would be back on the Shore sometime before the end of June, resulting with Moriah back in her much older Jeep on Route 50 headed east this time, instead of west.
As her Jeep approached the incline of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Moriah thought about what her grandmother said about people who cross the Bridge. “They’re liars and cheats,” she would say, “who leave behind what raised them up. They’re quitters.” Moriah’s Jeep crested over the highest point of the Bridge, to her left was the mouth of the Bay, and to the right, as far as her eye could see, was brackish Bay water that would eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean. She couldn’t help but find her grandmother’s words ironic. She called everyone who leaved the Shore a quitter, but wasn’t it her family who had actually failed while staying in the Shore?
Back in Baltimore, Moriah found it hard to explain that she had a trust fund because her family had been the potato barons of the Atlantic Coast. At one point in time, Horn and Family Potatoes outsold all of the Idaho brands, and dominated the vegetable market. The Horns, Grandma Joan’s family, had settled in Greenbackville, Virginia back after the Civil War, when her great great grandfather was disowned by his family for fighting for the Confederacy. It wasn’t something Moriah was proud of, but it at least paid her tuition at Hopkins. The original Horns found life on the Eastern Shore pleasing enough. After they made a bundle on favorable potato crops, George Horn built their family estate on the waterfront of Chincoteague Bay. The house he designed himself during the suburb boom was a large Colonial styled home with brown cedar shake and white shutters, with a wraparound porch that overlooked the waterfront. The perfect combination of magnificence and taste.
For a large part, the Horn Family was respected by the community. They even had a town named after them called Horntown. However, with every powerful family comes a secret. Whispers throughout the coves of the Shore revealed that George Horn had a daughter who was a witch, and that he kept her back on the original property the family first owned. It was never confirmed, but Grandma Joan seemed to take pride in the fact that her ancestor was feared among the watermen and their families along the cove.
Horn and Family Potatoes and its fortune were passed down from generation to generation, each one more successful than the last. That is, until it came into Grandma Joan and her husband’s possession back in the 1930s. A result of the Great Depression, the Horn family struggled to keep their potato empire alive. Everyone was poor, even the potato barons of the East Coast, resulting in the Horns dismissing a majority of their Greenbackville employees and harvesting the lands themselves like George senior. Her grandmother told Moriah that they almost had to sell it, but after deciding to use a new fertilizer, the crops suddenly came back to life and the Horns were rich again.
Moriah’s grandfather, whom she never met, had enough sense to put money aside for future generations of Horns in case times ever became tough again. And good thing he did, Moriah thought, because the potato farm had started to decline back in the 1970s when her mother Tara married her father, a waterman from the island, who struck in big when he knocked up the heiress from across the Bay. Sadly, the baby, Moriah’s older sibling, didn’t make it, leaving her mother in an idle marriage. The potatoes stopped growing around the same time the baby died. And year after year, the Horn family would have to sell off parcels of land from their once never-ending cash crop of potatoes just to keep up. Now, over a hundred years after George Horn began the potato empire, the chickens were coming home to roost. Horn and Family Potatoes was done, and as far as Moriah was concerned, so was their life on the Eastern Shore. Moriah would help her grandmother sell the Horn Estate, help her grandmother find a suitable place to live, and scurry back up to Baltimore in time to start her job as a curator for the Walters Art Museum.
Moriah finally touched down on the other side of the Bay Bridge in the town of Stevensville. It was like she was rewinding her live as she drove further and further away from the Bridge. Sports cars and luxury SUVs became more scarce, as pickup trucks and battered Jeeps ruled the road, most of them towing boats or tractors, necessities for living on the Eastern Shore. As she drove through the heartland of the Shore, Moriah realized that the drive to the Shore was an easy one. There weren’t abrupt turns and quick exits off the freeway like it was driving in Baltimore. Everyone was chugging along, but people weren’t switching lanes left and right. Oddly enough, it was pretty much a straight shot from Baltimore to the other side of Maryland. But the one road she was on reminded Moriah that the Eastern Shore she left was a lonely, dusty place. The road wound and curved its way around farms and old plantations, bridges moseyed over creeks and rivers, and occasionally a Walmart broke up the plains. Produce stands and crab shacks lined the road, advertising their homegrown originality.
She knew she was getting closer to the Shore she grew up in when the names of towns and roads stopped sounding like far away places in England, and instead sounded like hillbilly heathens from the Prohibition Era were in charge of naming the areas. Names like: Girdletree, Swan Gut Road, Winders Neck, and Rabbit Knaw Road. When Moriah was younger, these names amused her; they made her feel like she was living in some bygone era that had just stopped, like she didn’t live in the boondocks of Virginia, but in a distant, untouched place. Unlike Baltimore, where nature was deliberately planted by man, life on the Eastern Shore was organic. And everyone on the Shore was somehow tied to nature, working with it like a current does with a wave. People of the shore depended on it, and nature depended on them.
Moriah loved the natural beauty of the Shore as a child. On nights the moon glowed orange, Moriah and her father would plan to go crabbing the next day. Then at the crack of dawn, when the night sky mingled with the morning, the two of them would launch The Black Mariah from their family pier and spend the whole morning on the water. It was during mornings like these when she began to learn of the tandem relationship between people like her father and places like the Bay.
When she wasn’t out on the water with her father, Moriah was often with her mother in the pinewoods of the Shore’s forests that somehow harmonized with the marine life of the Bay. Whenever they would walk through the woods, her mother would teach her the names of the nature that surrounded them on the Shore. Her mother would tell her how the loblolly pine trees, with their long trunks and short, bushy tops, acted as a sanctuary to the smaller lives in the forests. “Who do the lollipop trees protect, Mom?” she remembered asking when she was younger.
“Birds and butterflies, that’s what they guard, Moriah,” her mother told her as they walked around the base of one of the trees that grew on a piece of potato property that was about to be sold.
Moriah couldn’t help but reminisce as she drove deeper into her past. Everything about the Shore held memories of her past, memories that she didn’t want to remember. As she crossed the Accomack County line, she turned on the radio. Scanning it for a few seconds, she came across exactly what she was looking for. The unique southern twang that can only be called a Shore accent rang through her Jeep’s speaker as the announcer of 96.6 FM was talking about the week’s current events in Accomack County. For a few minutes Moriah just listened to the sound of the announcer’s voice, not bothering to pay attention to the content of his words. It upset her a bit that she found his voice comforting. The way he said ‘hase’ instead of house, or how he managed to say Greenbackville in just one syllable made Moriah feel like she was back at The Captain’s Shanty restaurant while she ate heads on shrimp with her dad and his crabbing crew.
Nostalgia was getting the best of her. Deep in a memory again, Moriah was brought back from the past when she heard the announcer make an announcement about the impending auction of the Horn Family Estate:
“That’s right, folks. The Horn Family Estate that overlooks the Chincoteague Bay will be auctioned off on July 25th. Rumor has it around the Shore that Debeney Brothers Incorporated, the developing company that’s been buying off their potato farm year after year, will bid on the estate. No word yet on how much the property is actually worth. I was boating by the house a few weeks ago and saw that the bulkhead had been completely flooded. Not sure how the matriarch Joan Horn will feel about her family home in the hands of a developer.”
“Well, Grandma Joan wasn’t lying,” Moriah said aloud to herself in the Jeep, “they really are auctioning off the property.” She had been familiar with the Debeney family as a child, when her family began selling them parcels of land each year. Porter Debeney and his brother Lucius were property tycoons on the east coast responsible for creating waterfront communities along the eastern seaboard. They bought their first piece of property from the Horns in 1980, but had yet to build or do anything to it. The same thing happened year after year: the Debeney brothers would by a piece of land and let it sit there untouched and waiting.
As she was driving down State Line Road, Moriah saw a roadside sign advertising the ‘attractions’ of the area with only one thing on the board: Horn and Family Potato Farm. Back in the sixties, the Horns offered a free tour of the farm and the small potato chip factory that was housed on the property, but as business began to suffer the family started to charge visitors for the tour. When no one wanted to pay to see a potato farm on the Eastern Shore, the Horn family sold their first piece of land to the Debeney brothers. Wanting to see what was left of her family’s legacy, Moriah turned off of State Line and onto Horn Family Road.
The road was covered in a mixture of sand, dirt, and dust. It wasn’t unusual for the road to be a little dusty, but it looked like no one had driven on it in years. As she drove further down the tree-enclosed road, branches and brambles got snagged on the soft roof of her Jeep. Moriah shifted the gears to navigate the road. She stalled her motor twice, and debated turning around only realizing that she would get her Jeep stuck in sand. After stalling once more, Moriah made it to mouth of the road that ended up at once prime fields and a potato chip factory. She didn’t know what to expect, considering that she hadn’t been there for over ten years, but the property looked more or less the same. Some of the grass on the edges of the fields was overgrown, the actual fields looked as dead as she last saw them, the factory building was disheveled, and there were Debeney Bros. signs pasted on the plywood that was in the windows. But as she got out of her Jeep to take a look around, Moriah started to feel like something was strange. A breeze ran through the loblolly pine trees, reminding her that she used to call them lollipop trees. The sound of the wind jogged her memory.
Moriah was with her Grandma Joan the last time she was at the property with the closed potato chip factory. Her grandmother had given her a bag of potato chips from the former shop inside the factory and told her to face the road with her back to the factory, and if she didn’t then the Wendigo would come and get her for disobeying her grandmother. It was a week after her mother left, and she didn’t want to risk losing her grandmother, even if she did always scare her. So, Moriah stood next to her grandmother’s grey Chevy with her back to the old factory building eating her potato chips. They tasted stale. She remembered looking at the lollipop pine trees that bordered the potato fields, and thinking that they were now spooky looking with their long trunks and needles looming over her. She couldn’t see much into the forest, but she could hear the cicadas trying to chirp over the wind rustling the pine trees. It sounded like the woods were whispering to her, but Moriah couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say. She heard strange noises coming from the factory behind her. At first, it sounded like an animal trying to get out of a cage, but the sound became much deeper, almost guttural. The wind kept going through the trees and their whispering became louder, almost like a storm was happening in the treetops.
Usually, wind on the Eastern Shore blew away bad smells, but Moriah began to smell something she had never smelled before. It didn’t smell like the chicken poop from the other farms in the area, and it didn’t smell like a rotten batch of potatoes. But whatever it was smelled so bad that Moriah spit out the potato chips she was eating. Frozen in fear from the woods and the sounds coming out of the factory, along with the smell that made her sick, Moriah didn’t know what to do. She contemplated getting in the truck, but she was afraid that the Wendigo would come out of the woods and eat her and Grandma Joan. But, the wind died down just as fast as it picked up. The strange smell was gone, and she could smell the chicken poop from the Judas farm a few miles north. It was quiet for a few minutes, except for the few geese calls that echoed from above.
“BOO!” someone said as they grabbed her shoulders from behind. Moriah screamed so loud that birds flew out of the trees equally spooked.
“Oh it’s only me, you big baby,” Grandma Joan said as she walked away from Moriah and over to the driver’s side of the truck. Still frightened from trees, coupled with her grandmother’s prank, Moriah began to cry. “Oh stop your blubbering right now, Moriah. Stop it or you know who will get you,” her grandmother threatened. “Come on, get in the truck. NOW!”
Never one to disobey her grandmother, Moriah climbed into the passenger seat of the truck and wiped away her tears. The half empty bag of potato chips crinkled in her hands as she tried to click her seatbelt in. The Chevy struggled to start, like it always did, but Grandma Joan somehow managed to get the engine roaring. “You gon’ finish these?” she asked as she snatched the bag of potato chips from Moriah. Too afraid to look out of the windows behind her as they drove away from the factory, Moriah turned to her grandmother who was tilting the bag of potato chips into her mouth. Missing her mouth, the crumbs fell into her grandmother’s unusually loose hair. Moriah had never seen her grandmother look so wild, so unruly. “What are you looking at, you crusty barnacle?” Grandma Joan spat.
“Nothing,” Moriah said as she looked out of the windows at the whispering pines.
Walking around the property years later, Moriah felt unwelcome there. The trees looked as foreboding as the day she last saw them there. Other than the trees rustling on the edge of the property, everything else was still and quiet. She wanted to leave, to get back in her Jeep, and drive straight back to Baltimore, but the feeling of being unwelcome somehow drove her to walk towards the dilapidated factory. As she walked closer to the building, she saw that the main doors to the shop were propped open with a crate. Moriah wondered if the Debeney brothers had finally started to clean out the building. Finally making it to the door, a crash sounded from inside the building, followed by the same guttural animal noise she heard so many years ago. Being as frightened she was back then, Moriah sprinted to her Jeep, put it into gear, and sped back down the road not caring about the damages the potholes were doing to her car.
She flew back up Horn Family Road, turned back onto State Line without looking at traffic, and barreled down the road passing the remainder of fields that used to belong to her family. It was like the day at the property with her grandmother all over again. The sounds were the same, and so was the feeling of being unwelcome, like she was disturbing someone. Moriah never confronted her grandmother about the day they went to the factory and fields, or about the noises she heard from inside the factory. She didn’t know why. Maybe she didn’t want her grandmother to concoct some ghost story out of it and tease her about something else besides the Wendigo.
Barreling down State Line, the Jeep’s gaslight dinged on. Forgetting that the last time she stopped was over three hours ago back on the western side of the Chesapeake, Moriah pulled into Mayor Barry’s gas station. Even though the Shore was an isolated place with only a few grocery stories peppered along the many counties, it made up for the lack of proper grocery stores with dozens of gas stations. Every couple of miles a gas station would pop up, usually boasting some nautical or rural name, with a handful of trucks parked in the lot. Moriah remembered when Mayor Barry’s used to be called the Rusty Scupper, when Barry Boon’s father was still alive and acting proprietor of the station. But after Barry got his nickname as Mayor of Greenbackville, a result of occupying the same barstool at the Ageless Alehouse night after night, he changed the name. Barry Boon never was a modest guy, Moriah thought.
She wasn’t worried about anyone recognizing her at the gas station. In their heyday, the Horns were like local celebrities, according to her Grandma Joan. But ever since they started selling their land, the Horns lost social esteem with each passing parcel of land. Some of the other generational families made a big stink that the Horns were selling their birthright away. Some even stopped buying what was left of Horn and Family Potatoes as a way of showing their disappointment. And Moriah definitely was not the Prodigal Daughter of Greenbackville. She had friends at school on the Island, even was on the sailing team when she was in high school, but for the most part, Moriah spent most of her time on the other side of Chincoteague Bay with her family. And she never really went out of her way to draw attention to herself and her family. The dwindling of their fortune made the Horns private people, rubbing off on Moriah’s personality.
She was wrong when she thought no one would recognize her. Moriah made the mistake of peering into the windows of the gas station as she pumped gas only to make eye contact with Mayor Barry himself. Hoping to play it off, Moriah concentrated and pretended that the advertisement above the gas pump was the most important thing in the world, as she heard Barry leaving the store coming towards her.
“Moriah Horn, is that you?” Barry exclaimed as he walked over.
Unable to ignore him Moriah smiled and finished pumping her gas. “Mr. Boon! How are you?”
“Just fine, just fine,” he said twanging the i’s.
“I see, Mr. Boon, that the gas station business is doing just fine with you in charge,” she said gesturing to the several trucks in the lot.
“Please, call me Barry. And you know how gas stations are down here,” he said running his hands through his greying brunette hair. “This is actually my side project now. A coupla years ago I started my own commercial crabbing company called Mayor Barry’s Crab Company.”
“What an original name,” Moriah teased.
“Yeah, I thought it best to keep all my here business ventures the same. Pretty soon Greenbackville is gon’ be filled with Mayor Barry and Debeney brothers businesses.” Thinking he struck a chord with Moriah, Barry quickly apologized, “Oh I’m sorry ‘bout that. Forgot that y’all are selling off the last of the land.”
“Please, don’t apologize. We all knew it would happen sooner or later,” Moriah said.
“I reckon that’s why you’re back down here on the good ole’ Shore?” he said scratching his Coors Light induced belly.
“Yeah, Grandma Joan asked if I could help out with the estate sale and meet with the Debeney brothers for some reason. Say, you don’t know if they’ve finally begun developing the property? I drove by the road that leads to the old factory and some of the fields, and thought of going back there, but my gas light came on,” Moriah inquired. She didn’t want to tell Barry that she actually went down to the property.
“No ma’am. Everything is still untouched as a female peeler crab. Besides you wouldn’t be able to get back there anyway, on account of that security guard.”
“What security guard?”
“Oh, Porter Debeney hired out this guy to make sure no one comes on the property. A lot of kids were sneaking into the building and taking drugs, and Porter didn’t want that kind of stuff happening on his property,” Barry answered.
“Oh I see,” Moriah said, unsure of where to take the conversation.
“Well,” Barry said putting his hands on his hips, “I’ll let you get going. I know how testy your grandmother can be.”
“Don’t I know, don’t I know,” Moriah answered back.
“Make sure you say goodbye before you head back to . . . where’d you move to?”
“Baltimore. I was getting my graduate degree in museum studies at Hopkins.”
“Museum studies,” Barry said as if it were a foreign country, “I’m sure that would have made your parents proud. Well, I gotta get back inside. And I mean it, don’t forget to say so long before you head back up there.”
“I won’t, Barry, I won’t,” she said as he walked inside. Moriah got back in her Jeep and pulled back out onto State Line Road with nowhere to go but home. What did Barry mean about a security guard, Moriah wondered. Surely, if there was a security guard, then the road would have been in better repair.
Barry’s insistent need for a goodbye made her uncomfortable. It seemed that no one in her family was capable enough to say goodbye. Grandma Joan barely said see you later the day she left for Baltimore. And then there were her parents. Moriah’s father dropped dead on his boat while crabbing one morning during the fall. He had been missing for two days when the Coast Guard found that his boat, named The Black Mariah, had run aground in Mosquito Creek, just over the state border. The doctors in Berlin were never able to determine his exact cause of death; they just chalked it up to cardiac arrest. At least he had an excuse, Moriah thought.
Moriah turned left off of State Line Road onto Castaway Creek Drive where her family estate was. When she was younger, Moriah’s mother would tell her that it was called Castaway Creek because Captain Bluebeard used to send crew members who disobeyed him to the plot of land where the Horn Family house sat on. Driving down the road, Moriah noticed that the condition of the road was much like Horn Family Road, like no one had driven over it in years. The forest enclosing the road was overgrown, and her roof snagged on the vegetation like it did on Horn Family Road. Moriah stalled her engine when she almost drove over a dead bird. Afraid to actually get out of the car, Moriah stuck her out the window of the Jeep to get a better look at the road kill. It was a dead turkey. Turkeys were fair game for hunters on the Shore, but only during the autumn. Her father was a decent hunter, and always participated in the Greenbackville Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot, often taking Moriah along with him. Hunters were only supposed to use a crossbow when hunting turkeys, but Moriah saw that the turkey had been hacked several times, with gashes all across its body. She made a note to tell her grandmother, even though she got sick of her grandmother’s incessant folklore superstition growing up, Moriah was eager to hear what Grandma Joan might have to say about a dead turkey.
Moriah maneuvered her Jeep around the dead bird and continued down the road until she finally pulled up to her childhood home. The property her family house sat on was similar to the property with the old potato chip factory. The road leading to it was enclosed with trees and lead to a large plot of land that was surrounded by trees. One difference between the house and the potato property was that house sat in front of a huge cove that lead to the Chincoteague Bay with boardwalk and pier that jutted out into the water. Loblolly pine trees mingled with oak trees on the edges of the property, along with an ancient weeping willow that was on the eastern side of the property. Pulling up to the house, Moriah was shocked. The landscape of the property looked maintained, despite the overgrown road, but the house was in shambles. The white shutters hung crooked and looked like they would never be clean again. Shingles were missing from the roof, and the stairs that lead up to the house had been eroded from flooding. Moriah looked down at the waterfront to see the state of the pier and boardwalk. The radio announcer was right. The bulkhead was completely flooded over, with the pier barely staying above the water. She knew that there was a pretty bad hurricane about a year ago, but Grandma Joan was never one to let her family’s house be in such disarray. The house was the last remaining figure of the Horn family’s legacy.
The sun was starting to set, and despite the state of disrepair of the house, it somehow still looked sort of beautiful set against a backdrop of water and setting sun. Over on the sandy car park was Grandma Joan’s grey Chevy truck. It looked just as beat up as Moriah’s Jeep. Suddenly eager to see her grandmother, Moriah walked up to the house and began calling her name. “Grandma Joan! I’m home. It’s me Moriah.” Several seconds went by without a response. “Grandma Joan! Grandmother, are you here?”
Not hearing anything inside the house, Moriah walked outside to the pier. When her father was alive he used to tie The Black Mariah to the family pier, but after he died her grandmother put the boat in a storing facility up in Pocomoke City. After that they just used the pier to launch their kayaks. When Moriah made it to the edge of the dock she saw that there were ropes and a pocketknife strewn about the pier. She assumed that her grandmother was out kayaking considering that the black kayak was nowhere to be found.
With nothing to do, and not wanting to go inside the dilapidated house, Moriah decided to sit on the pier and wait for her grandmother to paddle back. Being there made her think about her mother. Moriah was twelve-years-old the last time she saw her mother. Just like her father, Moriah didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her mother. Not because she died, but because she left the Shore. Her mother left in the dead of night during one of the hottest Julys the Shore had ever experienced. Moriah and her mother used to sleep in old sleeping bags on their pier when it was hot so they could get the cool breeze coming off of Guy’s Point. The pier wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it beat being shut up in their family’s stuffy two-hundred-year-old house. The last memory Moriah had of her mother was of her kissing her on the forehead and telling her to go to sleep. The next morning Moriah woke up alone on the pier with her mother gone.
Her grandmother never reported Tara missing. She just told Moriah that her mother could no longer live on the Shore, and that Moriah had to stay with her grandmother. Moriah believed her grandmother when she was younger, but one night in Baltimore, after having one too many gimlets with her classmates at Hopkins, Moriah drunkenly called a private investigator to find her mother. After six months, the PI came up with nothing. There was a lead in Chesapeake City in Cecil County, Maryland, but it went cold. He took Moriah’s money and simply said that her mother disappeared into thin air. She gave up looking for her mother, and chalked up her leaving to the fact that her mother had married too young and wanted something more from life. Moriah could live with that.
She was just about to go inside because the wind stopped and the smell of chicken shit lingered. That’s something I didn’t miss, Moriah thought. But the sight of a black vessel coming up the cove stopped her. It was her Grandma Joan in her black hearse of a kayak. She paddled slower than Moriah remembered, probably because of her age, and it looked like her left-side paddle was strained.
“It’s about time your yuppy ass got here,” Grandma Joan said as she continued to paddle to Shore.
“It’s nice to see you too, Grandma,” Moriah said throwing her grandmother the ropes.
“I told ya, that you be back,” Grandma Joan said tying up the kayak, “Ain’t no one that leaves the cove.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just here to help you pack up the house, stay for the estate sale, and help you get set-up. Have you looked through those assisted living brochures that I sent you?”
“Ah, I’ll look at them later. Come here and help your grandmother out of this thing.”
Moriah walked over and helped pull her grandmother out of the kayak. Her grey hair had started a little white, but it was still as taut and braided as the last time Moriah saw her. It looked like she had some leftover crumbs or food residue caked on her face. “Forgive me Grandma, but what happened to the bulkhead,” Moriah said gesturing to the flooded area.
“Oh, that’s from Hurricane Patrick from last year. I was going to have it drained, but I figured why would I do that if this place if it’s just going to go to the Debeney Brothers.”
“I guess that’s why the house is also all beat up?”
“Yeah, I figured I’d just let it all go to the shitter,” Grandma Joan said. They started to walk up the pier back towards the house. Her grandmother’s behavior and carefree attitude was strange. She always prided herself on the condition of their family estate, and suddenly letting it fall into disrepair was not like her. She wasn’t sure if the Debeney Brothers would even want to buy the house based on its state of disrepair. “So how’s life on the Chesapeake? Better than Chincoteague?” her grandmother asked.
“Oh it’s nice. You know, lots of steamed crabs and Natty Boh. Definitely less mosquitos.”
“Humph. You yuppies just love to complain about mosquito bites. Come on inside. I think I can fry us some flounder or something,” Grandma Joan said as they walked inside.
Grandma Joan wasn’t able to fry the flounder. She burned it to a crisp. So, Moriah heated up a probably expired frozen pizza, which Grandma Joan complained about the entire time. “I don’t know what you just won’t eat the flounder. It’s just a little burnt. What did you grow wussy taste buds up in Baltimore,” she said over dinner. After dinner, they went outside on the stable part of the wrap around porch and drank cheap bourbon. Moriah wasn’t a fan of brown liquor, but sipped at it anyway to appease her grandmother. They sat there in silence for the most part. Her grandmother asked her a few questions about life in Baltimore and her upcoming job at the art gallery that Joan called “hoity-toity.” And when Moriah asked about life on the Shore, all Grandma Joan did was complain about the tourists and the damn mosquito planes that sprayed pesticides all over the Shore.
Their tumblers were empty for a third time when Grandma Joan decided to go to bed. “Alrighty then. I think it’s about time for me to go to bed. Make sure you clean up out here before you come up,” Grandma Joan said.
“Don’t worry, I will, Grandma,” Moriah answered.
“Now don’t stay up too late, ‘cause the Wendigo might come and get you,” Grandma Joan said with a snicker.
“I’m not little anymore, Grandma. You can’t scare me with the Wendigo anymore,” Moriah said as she started to gather the tumblers.
“Oh you know I’ll always be able to scare you just a little bit, Moriah. I’m serious don’t out too long,” she said as she closed the screen door and made her way up stairs.
Even in her older age, Grandma Joan still liked to try and spook Moriah. She can try all she wants, Moriah thought, but she can’t scare me anymore. She grabbed the rest of the bourbon, and walked down to the pier. The day was straining for Moriah, but the orange moon and the sound of the lapping waves over the bulkhead relaxed her. On a night like this about fifteen years ago, Moriah and her father would make plans to go crabbing the next day, followed by a walk in the woods with her mother. Her mother. The thought of her made Moriah anxious. Not knowing where she was and who she was with frightened Moriah. The night her mother left, she told Moriah her classic bedtime stories about a young girl who sailed along the shores of the Chesapeake and Chincoteague Bays in her yellow sailboat, looking for pirate gold hidden long ago by Captain Bluebeard. After dazzling Moriah with adventure, the two of sat there on the pier, breathing in the salty breeze and letting the water lull them to sleep. Sitting there, looking out at the Bay and the island across the way, not looking at Moriah, her mother whispered: “The Shore and its land are wild, Moriah. There are mysteries here that no one will understand, but that’s what makes it special, a faraway place.”
Those were the last words her mother ever said to Moriah, and they haunted her, especially at night. The bourbon bottle was suddenly much lighter, and Moriah stumbled a little bit standing up on the pier. For a second she thought she smelled chicken shit, but the breeze carried it away. Walking from the pier, with her back to the water, she looked at the woods behind the house. The trees looked like a black wall, with slivers of moonlight cutting through the darkness. Ominous and foreboding. She couldn’t figure out which ones were loblollys or oak. Suddenly, the winds picked up, making the trees shake. Moriah was drawn to them. She walked toward the woods. The trees were whispering again, more like screaming this time. Moriah didn’t know what she wanted to hear, but she stood on the edge of the woods for a few moments listening to the wind. She started for the house when the sound of the rustling didn’t change. With her back to the forest she heard the strange animal noise that she heard back at the factory property. Drunk with bourbon and adrenaline, Moriah ran back towards the woods. The sound came again. Standing on the edge of the woods, too afraid to go in, the wind picked up even more. It was like she was in a hurricane.
Something was in the woods. She could hear it, along with the animal noise. She could hear someone, something, moving. It was coming toward her, toward the edge of the woods. Was the Wendigo finally coming Moriah after all these years? Between the trees and slivers of moonlight, Moriah saw a shadowy figure moving closer to her. It was like it was gliding on the forest floor.
“Mom?” Moriah said.
Everything went black.