Jonah Epperly lived in a log cabin atop a low ridge known as Patriot’s Hill. That prominence drew its name from having been the site of clashes in both the Revolution and the Civil War. Jonah believed that the spirits of the fallen did indeed linger on the slopes and in the valleys below.
When out hunting for squirrels, it was not too uncommon to hear a shot answered by a distant sound, much like a volley of musket fire. While educated men dismissed these as merely an odd echo bouncing from the hillsides, the peculiar events were not limited to this. At night, sometimes strange lights could be seen drifting slowly between the trees. Jonah knew from experience that it was foolish to follow the lantern-like illuminations.
One night while hunting ‘coons with his cousin, they had seen such a light. His cousin was fascinated and determined to discover the cause. Jonah had flatly refused to go and had been left trembling as his cousin disappeared into the darkness. He was never seen again.
A search party was formed, with good trackers and bloodhounds setting off on the boy’s scent. But the trail went dead in the middle of nowhere with no clue to where he had gone or what had happened to him. It was not until years later, when he told this story at Del’s Bar that he learned the truth about what the town had made of it.
Old Sheriff Cutter had believed, instead of phantoms or will-o-the-wisps, that Jonah had done his cousin in and hidden the body. It turned out that he wanted to arrest the boy and only the total lack of evidence had prevented it. While he couldn’t charge Jonah with a crime, he told his theory to everyone, and the town had collectively tried and convicted him of the rumor.
To have lost his cousin was bad enough, to be called a liar and a killer made it all the more horrible. His drinking became worse after this revelation, but was it any wonder why? It haunted him in his waking hours and terrified him in nightmares.
In these dreams, he would be walking behind his cousin, so eager for a target that his finger rested recklessly on the trigger. His feet would become tangled in weeds or the roots of a tree. He would fall and the shotgun would go off. When he regained his feet he would see the horror of what his shot had done.
In the dreams, even though it was an accident, he would panic. He would see himself dragging the lifeless body through the trees. Sometimes he would throw it in the river, sometimes he would bury it in the soft, sandy bank. He would then see a hunter or hiker stumbling on the remains. Waking, bolt upright in the bed with tears in his eyes repeating, “No! I didn’t do that! It didn’t happen that way!”
Nonetheless, he would wonder if his mind was so flawed that it had. But if it had, why had trained men lost the trail? Why had they not found the body? Why could he remember his cousins last words, “Just stay here, I want a closer look. I’ll be right back.”
Story by Joe Stanley