A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Four

I came to know the people of Whisper through Reverend Smythe.  He described a picturesque town, full of people you would expect to see portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Pansy Faye, Leroy, Ron, Elwyn and Billy Ray came back to life and for a moment and I found myself wishing I could turn back time.

Days slowly turned into weeks and the rescue equipment sounds became Whispers’ death rattle.  When the earth movers’ bucket scooped up a pile of rubble, there was a high-pitched squeal, as if the town was screaming while it was being eviscerated.

A worker uncovered the crushed, striped pole that hung outside Leroy’s barber shop and tossed it into the back of a truck, already heavy laden with debris.  A large shard of glass with the letter L painted in red, could only be from Lucy’s cafe.

As those remains were being discarded, there were no smells of aftershave or freshly baked cornbread.  There was only the overpowering smell of death.

Reverend Smythe, clutching his Bible, was looking haggard and worn.  It was clear that nobody in the town had survived.  He was trying to put on a brave face and as any “God person” would do, hold on to his unwavering faith.

I had never really been touched by death.  My parents were still alive and so were both sets of my grandparents.  Aunts, uncles and cousins were still “kicking” as well.

I had heard about death and I had read about it.  I had witnessed mourning and the outpouring of grief but one thing I never really bought into, was somebody trying to explain an untimely death with the bullshit rhetoric of “God must have needed another angel.”

My question was “just how many more angels did He need?”  I wanted to know what happened to the ones He already had.

“God has a plan for each of us,” Reverend Smythe said.  I was familiar with that phrase and had dismissed it as casually as if I had heard “to each his own.”

I asked Reverend Smythe, “was Gods’ plan to obliterate an entire town? Was His plan to take all those lives for no other reason than He could?”

I wanted to know why.  Why this town?  Why these people?  Why that plane?  Why those passengers?

Reverend Smythe told me that I was not to question God or His motives, nor was I to question who He chose to call home and when.

He said “we are sent here to leave a legacy.  We may have a short visit or a long stay but each of us leaves a mark and the people of this town will leave an everlasting one.  There is good in the world, son and I have to believe that these people were here to share that goodness, however brief. That is their legacy.”

I wasn’t sure I believed in what I considered to be senseless deaths under the guise of “legacies.”  I was much more likely to believe in Karmic justice. I believed in “the sins of the father.”  I believed in “an eye for an eye.”  I believed in “what goes around, comes around.”

I also knew that innocent people were sometimes collateral damage when the universe went on a killing spree.

I knew about the people of Whisper but I knew nothing about the passengers on the plane.  I obtained a list of their names and decided to delve into their lives.

I picked five random names.  I wanted to weave a tapestry of these people and try to find a reason for the unraveling of the threads that made up their lives.  I wanted to find some cosmic reason for their deaths.

What I would ultimately discover would be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and would leave me torn between feeling justice had been served and questioning the very existence of a merciful God.

 

To be continued_______________

 

The Blue Sky Tag

A big thank you to socialworkerangela – I AM MY OWN ISLAND for the nomination.

The Rules:

1.  Ask 11 questions.

2.  Tag 11 people.

3.  Answer the 11 questions given to you.

 

The 11 questions asked of me:

1.  Ocean or Mountains.
Hands down.  Mountains.  I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and I have never lost my love for them.  The ocean has always seemed too cold and lonesome.

2.  Cat or dog.
Cat.

3.  Why did you start your blog?
To tell the story of my life.

4.  Favorite movie.
I have several but I guess if I had to pick, it would be Gone With The Wind.

5.  Favorite quote.
“Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for, is the one holding the gun.”

6.  Beatles or Elvis.
I didn’t really care that much about either one of them.  Maybe Elvis.

7.  What Harry Potter character would you like to be?
This is completely lost on me.  I have never read the books nor seen the movies.

8.  If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Realistically, Las Vegas, to see my RBS.  Unrealistically, probably Ireland.

9.  Favorite color and why.
I have two.  Pink and seafoam green.  I’m not sure why.  I just like the combination.

10.  Your most prized possession.
My RBS.

11.  One lesson you’ve learned in life.
Never trust a man.

 

My 11 questions:

1.  Murder mystery or love story?

2.  Favorite color car and why.

3.  Favorite childhood memory.

4.  Last time you did a first.

5.  Best and worst traits you inherited.

6.  Have you ever ridden in an ambulance?

7.  What is your biggest regret?

8.  What is your greatest joy?

9.  If you could meet any famous person, who would it be?

10.  What song gives you chills?

11.  Silver or gold?

 

My nominees:

1.  learningtolivelikewater

2.   survivednarc

3.  creativerational

4.  ifonlymommy

5.  Tikeetha T.

6.  Ogden Fahey

7.  Embeecee

8.  davebarclay1954

9.  Brian Lageose

10.  samlobos

11.  gettingrealwithPTSD

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Three

On June 14, 1965 at 11:53 a.m. the people on the outskirts of Whisper felt the ground tremble and heard what they said sounded like a sonic boom.

The people in the town of Whisper, most likely felt and heard nothing.

I got a call from my editor saying “head to Whisper…some kind of catastrophic event…details unknown.”  I got in my car and I think I drove the 138 miles in 138 minutes flat.  I’m not sure I have ever driven that fast but I wanted to get the “scoop.”  Every reporter wants to make a name for himself and I was unapologetically, no exception.

I remember seeing a sign that said “Welcome To The Town Of Whisper.” What I saw after would be burned into my memory like an unfortunate tattoo is burned onto your body when you’re drunk and becomes an event that you wish you could erase later.

In what used to be the town, debris and body parts were strewn as far as I could see.  In the distance, thick smoke was bellowing like an angry volcano that had awakened and was hell-bent on revenge for having been disturbed.

Something was wrong.  Something was terribly wrong.

As I walked toward the destruction, it was as if I had stepped into the middle of a war zone.  I’m not sure I can find the words to accurately depict what I was seeing.  The famous “oh, the humanity” phrase popped into my mind, but I’m not even sure that saying could describe the gravity of the carnage that lay before me.

Sheriff Monson was the high sheriff from the next county and he allowed me into the area with the warning “be careful where you step, don’t touch anything and don’t speak to anybody who isn’t law enforcement.”  I asked him if it would be okay to interview a few people about what happened.

He looked at me and said “son, I’m not sure there’s anybody left TO interview.”

I asked him if he knew what happened.  He said “as best as we can tell, it was some kind of explosion.”

There was rubble everywhere and I saw pieces of metal, bricks, and cars upside down in what I imagine used to be the street.

I will admit.  I had no idea where to even begin.  The most dramatic thing I had ever reported on was an angry man who got drunk and threw several kittens down a dry well.  When he sobered up, he felt guilty but couldn’t figure any way to get them out, so he started dropping food down to them. They grew up and had more kittens.  When animal control found them, there was a colony of more than 45 cats, living on top of each other in the bottom of that well.

Night fell and amidst the glow of the full moon, the scene took on an eerie feel.  Shadows looked like souls rising up and drifting away and the quiet was almost deafening.

I had already decided that I was going to catch a few winks in my car so I could be there the first thing in the morning.  As I was walking away, I stopped and turned.  I heard birds singing.  It was night-time…a plane had crashed…a town had been annihilated…and birds were singing.

A quote from Rose Kennedy came to mind.  She said “birds sing after a storm.  Why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

Who was going to delight in the next mornings’ sunlight?  The first responders?  Law enforcement?  Me?  Certainly not the people on the plane or the townsfolk.  The sun might be shining the next day but we were going to be in the midst of hell on earth, looking at bits and pieces of what used to be lives.

I was exhausted and fell into a fitful sleep.  I was awakened the next morning by the sound of heavy equipment.  There were earth movers, cranes, firetrucks, ambulances and a plethora of law enforcement vehicles. Several news crews arrived along with reporters from various other papers.

I took a swig of stale water from a bottle that had been in my car for two or three days and headed toward the scene.  Sheriff Monson was already there and shared some information he had gotten during the night.

He said he heard from dispatch, that a Boeing 747 had crashed into the town.

I remember thinking, “if it was an airplane crash, where is the plane?”

On impact, it had broken apart into what looked like a thousand puzzle pieces and no identifying marks could be discerned.  Only the size of the debris field could confirm that it was indeed a massive plane.

I don’t know why but I asked him where the plane was headed.  “What a ridiculous question,” I thought.  Did it really matter where they were going? He adjusted his belt, put his hand on my shoulder and as he walked away, said “they were going to Las Vegas.”|

Las Vegas.  Sin City.  The place where “what happens there, stays there.” The city where you can walk away a millionaire or lose your entire life’s savings with one throw of the dice.  None of the people on that plane were going to do either of those things.  They had already gambled…and lost.

There were 223 souls on board the flight, including the pilot, first officer, flight engineer and three stewardesses.  All were lost.  The souls lost on the ground were not yet known.

Sheriff Monson and I noticed a caravan of official looking vehicles arriving. He looked confused as he said “who the hell are these guys?”

They were from the NTSB.  This was going to be the first major airline crash they investigated.  They took over and we were left with more or less, slim pickens.  I walked around, in an almost state of shock as I watched body bag after body bag being loaded into unmarked vans.

I learned that only one person on that plane was still fully intact.  One.  It was a stewardess and she was found in a tree, miles from the crash site, still strapped to her jump-seat.

The crash site spanned more than an eight-mile radius.  The National Guard was called in when it was discovered that people from other towns had descended on the area.  They were pilfering suitcases and taking jewelry off hands and arms they found in the woods.

Reverend Smythe had been out of town but rushed back to Whisper when he heard what happened.  He was there to offer as much comfort as he possibly could but seeing death on such a large scale was something he was ill prepared for.

A few of the workers broke down even though they were used to seeing death.  They had seen it many times but these deaths…these deaths were horrendous.  They were picking up legs, arms and even heads.  They were finding tiny limbs that belonged to children.  Some of the bodies were literally fused to parts of the plane.

This kind of massacre could bring anybody to their knees.  More than once, I turned my head and wiped tears from my face.  I have never considered myself to be overly religious but I wanted to raise my arms and look to the Heavens and scream “why?  If you’re such a loving God, why?  What purpose could this possibly serve?”

I watched as Reverend Smythe prayed over every body part recovered.  Who, if anybody had survived in town was still unknown.  The wreckage had demolished the buildings and the hope of finding anybody alive was fading. Reverend Smythe was never one to give up faith that the Heavenly Father would protect his flock and he was going to need his faith now more than ever.

When a Seacrest green Chevy trunk was uncovered, Reverend Smythe crumbled in agony.  Billy Rays’ body was found in the mangled wreckage. That young man was never going to have children and watch them grow up.

That young man was never going to see his black hair turn grey.

 

 

To be continued___________________

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Two

Leroy the barber was what you might call a real hoot.  He was a diminutive man, with a shock of silver hair and jet black eyebrows that looked like huge, wooly caterpillars.  His favorite saying was “I ain’t never seen the beat in my life.”

The walls in his shop were covered with pictures of Hollywood movie stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Grable and Susan Hayward, but his favorite was Marilyn Monroe standing over that subway grate.  When she died, he mourned her death and placed a wreath on his front door.

All the men came to his shop to get their “har did,” sit around telling tall tales and jaw-jacking, as they called it.

When they walked in, they would say “how’s mama?”  Leroy would smile and say “I reckon she’s fair to midlin.”

Everybody knew that Leroy carried his mama around in the trunk of his car. When she died, he couldn’t bring himself to plant her in the cold, dark ground so he had her cremated.

He never could find just the right urn to hold her ashes so he put them in his trunk and that’s where she had resided for the last nine or so years. Leroy loved to joke around and sometimes he would muse that now and then he reckoned mama was gettin’ a little antsy because he could hear a faint voice saying “let me out…let me out.”

Leroy said he had been a barber “since the beginning of time.”  He had seen wild hair, tame hair, lots of hair and no hair.  He had seen black hair turn grey and thick hair turn thin.

There had only been one mishap in his shop and it involved Billy Ray.  It was prom time and Billy Ray was taking his best girl.  He had come in for “just a tiny little trim.”  The attachment fell off of the clippers just as Leroy was running them across the top of Billy Rays’ head and he skinned him. What initially looked much like a reverse Mohawk, became Billy Rays’ new bald head but he was good-natured and said “aw, it’s just hair and I reckonspect it’ll grow back.”

On that memorable day, as Billy Ray was walking out, Reverend Smythe was walking in.  He chuckled when he looked at Billy Ray and said “good grief, son.  What the hell happened to your hair?”

Reverend Smythe was a hell-fire and brimstone Baptist preacher who taught the fear of God and wanted everybody to be ready for their ever-lastin’ callin’.  He didn’t mind using a bit of profanity now and then, if it got his point across and he would sometimes surprise the congregation with an off-color comment, such as “masturbation makes Jesus weep.”

One thing he wouldn’t stand for was anybody taking the Lords’ name in vain.  When he would hear somebody say “oh, my Lord,” he would say “you ought not be calling on the good Lord unless you’re really needin’ him.”

Reverend Smythe was an avid reader of anything written by Earl Stanley Gardner and he particularly enjoyed the Perry Mason stories.  He could read a paperback novel in one day.  He was even known to read Harlequin Romance Novels on the sly.  He got a twinkle in his eyes when he said “there’s nothing better than a good murder mystery or a great romance.”

Reverend Smythe was married to the church but at one time, he had a sweetheart.  They were a handsome pair.  He was a tall, fetching man and she was considered to be the catch of the town.  She was a free spirit and had her own idea about a “higher power.”  She even suggested to him that God might be a woman.

Being a fundamentalist, Reverend Smythe couldn’t justify her views, nor could she accept his and they parted ways.  He became bitter and found forgiveness difficult but he sojourned on and through his faith, he eventually found peace.

She left Whisper and they lost touch but she was never far from his mind. He kept a worn and tattered picture of her tucked away in his Bible, next to the circled scripture “and when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins.”

He believed in an omnipresent God who heard and answered all prayers. He preached that good would always outweigh evil and honor and integrity were the mark of a true Christian.  He ended every sermon, reciting The Golden Rule and followed it with the Lords’ Prayer.  Outside the church, every parishioner got a handshake, a smile and a “God bless you.”

He had unwavering faith but soon that faith would be put to the ultimate test.

 

 

To be continued___________________

 

 

 

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter One

Pansy Faye Buckner owned the local cafe, where you could get a meat and three for just under $2.00.  Chicken breasts were a daily menu item and every Friday, the regulars flocked in to relish her famous fried green tomatoes, made from a carefully guarded recipe passed down from her grandmother.

She inherited the cafe from her grandfather, a would be entrepreneur who had owned everything from flower shops to fillin’ stations.  He had never achieved wealth in monetary terms but he had been rich beyond imagination when it came to friends.

Pansy Faye was one of those people who had never met a stranger and called everybody darlin’.  She was average in every sense of the word. Average height, average weight and average looks but there was one exception.

She was endowed with a bosom that women envied and men lusted after.  She laughed when she said “the good Lord didn’t bestow me with great beauty but when he was handing out breasts, I thought he was talking about chicken, so I got in line twice.”

She never had time for a relationship because when her parents died, she kept a promise that she would take care of her younger sister Lucy Mae, a late-in-life child who had been born with Down’s Syndrome.

Lucy Mae had been a permanent fixture in the cafe until she was thirty-eight years old.  One day, she started laughing while she was eating a salad and choked to death on a piece of lettuce.  In her memory, Pansy Faye changed the name of the cafe to “Lucy Mae’s,” and never served another salad.

Down the road a piece, stood a store called “Get It Here.”  It was owned by a man named Elwyn Turner but everybody in town just called him “Pop.”  He was a good old soul who would “carry you” until your next paycheck, should you be a little short on cash.

In his store, you could buy everything from a kitchen table to a brand new mattress, advertised as having “never even been peed on.”

He was a grandfatherly type, who wore dark tortoise-shell rimmed glasses that framed coke-bottle lenses.  Due to an unfortunate encounter with a chainsaw when he was in his forties, he was missing two fingers on his left hand.  They’re buried under a tree behind the store and every anniversary of the accident, he puts little flowers on their grave.

His wife had taken a trip up to Heaven to be with Jesus some time ago but not long after, he acquired a new companion.

One day, he saw something scampering around in the back room of the store.  Not wanting to kill one of Gods’ little creatures, he set a trap in an old bird cage.  He was amused when he saw what he had caught and immediately named him “Mousey Tung.”

He fed him corn and peanut butter crackers.  It wasn’t until a few months later, he realized it wasn’t a mouse.  It was a wharf rat…but he didn’t care.

Ron Carson was the local mechanic and had a reputation as did everybody, for being as honest as the day was long.  He never had any formal training and tinkering, as he called it, just came natural to him.  For some reason, how a car ran made sense to him.  He always assured his customers that when he got through fixin’ a car, not only would it run…it would purr.

He was married to his high school sweetheart and they had two boys named Peter Paul and Paul Peter.  It was a family thing and the townsfolk found it to be endearing rather than strange.

Ron had a genetic flaw that prevented his permanent teeth from forming. He kept his baby teeth until he was well into his twenties but then they started falling out.  When he lost the last one, he was given dentures but he didn’t like to wear them because he didn’t think they fit right.

He was always taking them out and leaving them somewhere.  One afternoon, he got a call.  He had left his teeth on the bumper of a customers’ car and by some miracle, they hadn’t fallen off.  His reasoning was that all that denture cream he had used, had given his teeth a “firm grip.”

 

To be continued_____________________

A Town Called Whisper – Introduction

There was once a sleepy little town nestled in the mountains of Tennessee, called Whisper.  Population, 154.

It boasted a single engine fire station, a barbershop, a cafe and an auto repair garage where everybody took their cars to be fixed.

There was a one room combination police station/court-house with two jail cells that to anybody’s recollection had never been occupied.

The post office was in the center of town and mail, weather permitting, was delivered only once a week.

On top of the hill, you would find the local church where Sunday go to meetin’ services were held both in the morning and at night.  The cemetery was right out back, where generations of relatives lay after their time on earth had been served and the angels had come to take them home.

What you wouldn’t find was a golf course, a local newspaper, a locked door or a gun.  In that little corner of the world, the closest thing to a weapon was Billy Ray Beans’ collection of fishin’ poles.

He had one for every conceivable kind of fish and he liked to carry them around in the back of his 1950 Seacrest Green Chevy pick-up truck.  If he wasn’t careful taking a curve, they would be catapulted out and go flying through the air like missiles.

When he came to town, Leroy the barber, would start hollerin’.  “Look out y’all.  Billy Ray’s loose again.”

Aside from the annual Harvest Ho-down and the much-anticipated Christmas Eve parade, not much happened in Whisper.

To the residents, it was and always had just been home.  It was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody’s name and it was jokingly said to be illegal to be in a bad mood.

If you hadn’t heard of it, you were among the majority but on June 14, 1965, a tragedy befell the small town and with my help, it soon became renown.

I am a reporter for the Kentucky Free Press, located about 138 miles from Whisper.

What was assigned to be a story about an unfortunate event, became an obsession for me.  As a seasoned reporter, I had to ask the usual questions of who, what, where, when and why but I went a step beyond the norm.

I took those questions to unexpected limits and the answers they rendered took a twist that would haunt me forever.

This is my story about the people of Whisper, the victims of the tragedy and the results that killed a town and changed my life forever.

 

To be continued_______________________

 

Out Of The Ashes – Chapter Seven

“Please come in and sit down.  Could I offer you something to drink before we get started?”

Burke politely declined and said “do you know why I’m here?”

“Of course,” she said.  “You’re here about the murders and you want to know if I had anything to do with them.”

Burke said “did you?”

She didn’t need to answer.  He already knew she was the ice pick killer.

She poured herself a cup of tea with her left hand and took a deep breath.

He listened as she calmly and methodically began to speak.  Her mannerism was matter of fact and had an air of neutrality as if she was recounting details from a rather boring novel.

“I’m sure you know that I was married to Karl Pittman.  I’m sure you know that the marriage didn’t end well.  I’m also sure you know that he’s a philandering, narcissistic sociopath…but this wasn’t about him.”

“For forty years, I tried to be perfect.  I tried to be the perfect wife.  I tried to be the perfect mother.  I tried to be the perfect hostess.  I tried to be the perfect friend.  My honor and loyalty was never questioned but unfortunately, never appreciated.”

“When I made the decision to leave Karl, all of our friends disappeared…but only for me.  They called Karl and offered him a room or a shoulder to cry on or a hot meal.  Not one of them ever called me.  These were friends that I had known for years and years and they were suddenly gone.”

“I entertained these people in my home.  I walked them to spare bedrooms when they could barely stand because they were so drunk.  I prepared gourmet meals for them.  I allowed the men to come over and smoke their cigars while playing poker.  I never complained when they broke my Waterford crystal.  I never sent them a bill for the beer and wine stains I had to remove from my furniture and carpet.”

“I drove them home from events when they were too drunk to drive themselves.  I made the specialty quilts they requested and didn’t question why they never offered to pay.  I was always there to lend an ear or offer help.  I helped plan birthday, anniversary and retirement parties.  I made sure they all received Christmas cards and thoughtful gifts.”

“When George and Lisa were fighting, I invited Lisa over for a girl’s day of pampering.  I tried not to resent it when I didn’t get a call the next day, thanking me.”

“When Marvin’s wife was so ill, I took meals to him so he could keep up his strength.  I went over and tidied up his house so that every spare minute he had could be spent with her.  I tried to understand when he offered no gratitude.”

“I didn’t complain when I promoted David Ludlow’s books at our club and never even received a signed copy or a thank you.”

“I knew what was expected of me.  I was Karl Pittman’s right hand man and that was the only part I served as his wife.  All the praise and glory went to him…the self-proclaimed God, but I had hoped that at least a few of those people would stand by me.”

“You see Detective Burke, to me, loyalty has always been paramount.  Betrayal has always been fatal.”

“You felt like they had betrayed you?” asked Burke.  “That’s why you killed them?”

“Every one of them turned their back on me,” she said.

“It was so easy to make them pay.  I could hear the guilt in their voices when I called and cheerfully asked for a moment of their time.  They offered insincere apologies for their absence and I offered deceitful forgiveness. They found no reason to believe that I was being anything but genuine.”

“I had welcomed them into my home.  Likewise, they welcomed me into theirs.  Thinking they had been given absolution, they expected me to be the same faithful friend I had always been.  None of them ever expected retribution.  I took them because they betrayed me and the taste of that retribution was deliciously sweet.”

The satisfied smile left her face and the tone in her voice changed.  “All those people acted as if I had never even existed.  It was like everyone suddenly had amnesia.”

“All of them moved on.  All of them…but I didn’t.  They left me laying on the ground and walked away.”

Burke was questioning himself.  Was he staring into the eyes of a true psychopath or just a woman with a grudge?

His question was answered when he asked why she had killed Detective Slaughter.

She looked at him with taunting eyes.  His blood ran cold when she smiled and said “because I could.”

Burke slowly reached for the weapon he had confiscated from a drug dealer years ago and placed it against her temple.

“This is for Slaughter,” he said…and pulled the trigger.

 

Ka Hopena.