Bishop’s Folly by Guido Volante

Bishop’s Folly by Guido Volante

Goblins and ghosts, black cats, fanged bats, witches and their brews, zombies and all. A good scare now and then does us no harm.

As told by Andrew G. MacDonald

We lived in an area called Bishop’s Folly. I still do. When I was a young man I had little to do with things religious owing mostly to my family home life. I was the oldest of 4 boys and one girl, the youngest. We were share croppers, but had a henhouse, two hogs and a milk cow. We never lacked for hearty food but money was as scarce as catfish ears. Father was up before dawn seven days a week, plowing, planting, mending fences, picking crops or going to Market, depending on the season. Mother was up before him, prepared a hearty breakfast, laid out dad’s clean, pressed shirt and trousers, brushed the mud from his boots, and had already fed the chickens and slopped the pigs when we all sat down for breakfast, in various states of sleepy disorder. As the oldest, it was my job to milk the cow before breakfast every morning. When father died I was almost 16; next came the twins, Michael and Maxwell, 13½, brother Jethroe, 12, and sweet, precocious little Emmy, only 9. He seemed indestructible, weathered face and gnarly hands belying his young age. He was 39 years old when a massive heart attack took him while he was mending a fence on the land he farmed. We buried him on a rainy Thursday morning, April 12th, 1946, near the pond in Bishop’s Folly Cemetery. Mother didn’t cry that morning; she was all cried out from the night before…but we could hear her softly sobbing late that night and many nights thereafter. She was only 34. That Sunday we all went to church before breakfast. The following Sunday I stayed behind and did the chores when the rest went to pray and that’s the way it was from then on.

My school chum, Marc, lived with his family in the big white farm house with neat blue trim, about 300 yards up the road lined with Red Maple Trees. He had an older sister, Margo. The D’Mitri’s owned the land we farmed and a few hundred acres beyond; only a few were tilled and most set aside for deer and pheasant hunting in season. Mr. D’Mitri was a county judge and Mrs. D’Mitri did volunteer work at City Hall, located in the County Court House where Judge Aloysius D’Mitri held court.

My Story begins;

There was only a high crescent moon that could not account for the dawn-like glow all about us. Shadows seemed three dimensional and no visible light source caused their fall and barely perceptible movement. Three AM., and one could even make out the tombstone inscriptions as we cut through Bishop’s Folly Cemetery. We were coming from the main road, County Road 4, named County Road, that passes the stone quarry, before it winds down the mountain side into the valley across the tracks and continues towards Scythe, Hog’s Head, Marionville and Wheaton and among the sleeping villages and towns decorated with pumpkins and Jack O’Lanterns on a quiet Halloween night; it intersects with State Road 9 at the Southern edge of the County. There you would find Mercy Hospital, the usual florist’s shop, Jenner’s Feed and Hardware Store and Larry’s Diner, at the turnoff to SR 9.

Behind us, across County Road, the ivy covered, 15th century, steepled Presbyterian Church was framed by two large Sycamores and a stone archway at the entrance to Bishop’s Folly Cemetery. The gray stone Church was by far the oldest building in the county and there were no more than 20 head stones on the North side of the old church, which was originally called Bishop’s Folly Graveyard; folks say it’s haunted. The locals now refer to the general area as Bishop’s Folly.

Hoar frost was beginning to form on the grass beside the path, but the chill we felt in our bones came from within, not the cool October air. The frost on the stones in the pathway glinted like precious gems and added an additional crunch under our steps. We quickened our pace and looked neither left not right as we picked our way between weathered head stones and could not help but notice the freshly turned earth and wilting flowers with large marble marker on a low rise beneath a gnarled, sprawling Chestnut tree. Once a grave yard, now a cemetery, this burial place spanned nearly 300 years of life and death.

As youngsters this was the path home we often traveled after school, half running, stopping to throw a stone or two in the stream, scattering ducks and geese, but ever so slightly; our carefree intrusion on the serene surroundings barely raising a squawk or honk. I can still hear the laughter and voices of our youth as I reminisce and recount those early memories.

The new school building was built next to the Old School House and the town hadn’t gotten around to designating it as a historic site, even years after we graduated from the new building. It came up for lively discussion at every town meeting and one got the sense that if they ever made a decision and put the issue to rest they would have no further reason to hold meetings.

The school was not visible from the cemetery but the school bell could be heard twice a day, adding a touch of humanity to the otherwise quiet and secluded hillside cemetery. We weren’t prepared for the difference of being in the cemetery at 3 PM each school day and finding ourselves there at 3 AM., on October 31st, 1947.

Halloween Eve and Halloween Day came and went with the usual decorations, celebrations, costumed children with painted faces trick or treating, haunted houses and hay rides that ended with pumpkin pies, buckets of candy and an occasional tummy ache. A make believe world of animated skeletons, hooting owls and creaking doors, observed once a year to entertain, amuse and scare us just a bit, provides fond childhood memories full of fun and pranks passed from generation to generation. Little did I know how that day would end for me and my best friend, Marcus John D’Mitri.

All Hallows Eve, October 30, 1947.

In June, Marc got a brand new Country Sedan Chevrolet convertible for a graduation gift; the one with wood panels on the sides. It didn’t get any better than that. He started his freshman year at Stanford in September and drove home for the first time on Thursday, October 30, for a long weekend. Marc took to college life like a seasoned partygoer. He was blessed with a gift for academia and despite heroic drinking bouts, covert midnight raids on the girls’ dorm, and constant class cutting, his grades did not suffer. He dropped his laundry at home, stayed for an early dinner and was knocking on our door by 8 PM.

Now that I was done with school, farming was my full time occupation, but unlike my dad, who toted the barge alone, I had the help of my brothers, Michael, Maxwell and Jethroe. Amy was now a young lady at 11 and was already a great help to mom around the house and with the chores. We were glad to be able to lift some of the burden from mom’s shoulders so she could have some respite in her burdened life. It was not easy to be done with all the chores and be ready to hit the town with Marc by 8 PM. I would have stayed home and waited for trick or treaters with mom while my brothers and Amy went into town to do some trick or treating of their own, but I hadn’t seen Marc all summer and mom insisted that I go with him and enjoy myself for a change.

What a difference a month makes. Marc had only been at college a little over a month but the change it made in him was evident in his manner of speaking, a new boldness or confidence, even the way he walked. Marc was always full of mischief growing up and there was always an eagerness or willingness to break the rules. As a college freshman, and only a few weeks at that, his attitude became cocky and slightly irreverent. I couldn’t help notice that his manners toward my mom were overly polite and formal as if he were being introduced to a girl’s parents and didn’t want them to suspect what he had in mind for their daughter later…I’ve seen that side of Marc even before he went off to college; all the kids’ mothers liked Marc.

“Jump in” he said with a knowing smile, in a voice that suggested we were going to do something wicked. As soon as we cleared our driveway, still in first gear, Marc hit the accelerator and in less than a minute we turned off the street onto the side road that followed the tree lined perimeter of the cemetery, well known as lovers’ lane to the neighborhood teenagers. We skidded to a gravelly stop beside a hedge row on the downhill slope and Marc reached under his seat and came up with an unopened pint of Gilby’s Gin. Never lacking for good manners, he unscrewed the cap and offered me first dibs. “Have a swig old pal, we’re gonna have a good old time tonight! Remember Madeline Carey, the hot little number that was always hanging around after school? We’ve been in touch. She’s going trick or treating in town and when she gets home around 10 she’s going to go to her room and then sneak out to meet up with us. Some of our old pals are meeting later to have a little late Halloween fun.” He took a long drink after me, shook his head violently as he swallowed hard and said, “Let’s go!” in a barely audible, throaty whisper.

I was no “goody two shoes” but it occurred to me that “Maddie” was not much older than my kid sister, give or take. I happened to see her recently hanging out at Larry’s Diner with some friends and a couple of older guys, leaning on a very sharp, lowered 1940 Ford convertible with twin pipes and a shaved nose; not from around our neck of the woods. Again, what a difference a month makes. Actually I hadn’t seen her since I graduated high school in June; so three months. Maddie was still only a junior in High School, but as the saying goes, a little “old for her age”.

Marc backed the yellow Chevy out of the brush, dropped it in first and skidded down the hill, leaving a trail of flying gravel and a huge cloud of dust. He took a left onto County Road in front of the Church, squeaking his tires on the pavement as he quick shifted, and headed toward town. In minutes we arrived at Larry’s Diner and pulled up next to that same neat ‘40 Ford convertible. It was maroon with flame decals on the back fenders. “Who’s got the cherry bombs?” Marc joked as we approached a smoky booth crowded with strangers, including the two guys that came with the Ford. “What’re you doing here Marco? It’s Halloween! I thought you’d be out haunting houses and scaring little girls!” “That comes later Richie; meet my friend Andy”, Marc answered; and I never felt so uncomfortable and out of place before in my life. I didn’t even feel that I knew my childhood pal, Marc. This was a tough crowd and “Marco” was one of them. I noticed they called him Marco.

Everyone ordered cokes and Marc passed his pint around and we all spiked our sodas, emptying the pint. Marc offered, “There’s plenty more where that came from” and the next hour was just a blur. At 10:30 on the nose, Maddie sashayed into Larry’s with a girlfriend. My “blind date” was a class mate of Maddie’s, Geraldine. Batting her fake eyelashes, she told me to call her Geri. I undiplomatically asked if her mother knew where she was or did she sneak out too? When we left Larry’s “Geri” hopped in the Ford and cuddled up to the guy in the back seat. Marc said he would never fix me up again. I said “thanks”.

The other gals and guys at the table piled into a 1939 Buick Sedan, midnight blue with wide white wall tires, chrome spotlights, curb feelers and a visor over the windshield. Marc led the way back past Wheaton, Marion and Hog’s Head, stopping only to egg a few houses, ring a few door bells and hide. In one case, we came upon a big house with a wooden front porch. Jimmy, (the Buick) had a bag of horse manure in his trunk. He went up the four steps in a bound, emptied the manure by the front door, doused it with lighter fluid and set a match to it…As Jimmy rang the bell and banged on the door we all made Halloween noises as loud as we could, standing on the sidewalk across the street. The owner came out in a robe and slippers and immediately began to stomp the fire out, messing up his slippers and burning his feet. When he saw us laughing across the street he ran in the house and came out with a double barreled shot gun two seconds later. We ran for the cars and made a quick, not so slick getaway, not stopping until we were back at Bishop’s Folly and parked on lovers’ lane. We laughed till our sides hurt, had another drink and Marc asked me if I’d mind riding in the Buick so he and Maddie could be alone for a while and we’d meet later at Larry’s. I said sure, no problem but to my surprise Maddie wasn’t having any. She insisted it was too late and she wanted to be taken home before her folks found her gone. Words followed. Marc was angry and I think only because I was there he started the car, backed, then lurched up to the Buick, and said we were calling it a night. The Ford was parked behind us, top up, windows foggy. I don’t think they cared.

Burning as much rubber as he could, tires squealing, Marc raced toward Scythe to take Maddie home. I asked, and then told him to slow down. It was as if I wasn’t there. Maddie started to cry and said to please take it easy, she’d see him again soon and make it alright.

Marc reached under the seat, the Chevy swerving just a bit, and found another bottle of Gilby’s. He threw the cap over his shoulder and out of the convertible and we hit the tracks doing at least 60 miles an hour. The train was doing 70.

What happened next defies logic, common sense, physics or mortality. Three teenagers in a speeding car, far too much alcohol and hardly any brains against a speeding train; two survived without a scratch. Poor Maddie, old beyond her years and only 16, crushed in a frenzy of mangled steel and glass. I remember what happened next as in a dream sequence. I opened my eyes in time to see the train come to a spark flying, screeching, and death inviting halt.

I looked around. Marc lay not 20 feet from me, stirring slightly, but not awake. I peered through the smoke in the lights from the locomotive; what remained of the Chevy was not recognizable, only a twisted agony of crumpled steel straddled the tracks. And yet, there’s Maddie! She made it out! She’s OK! She’s not even bruised but she seems confused, poor thing. I rub my eyes; words will not come…An inexplicable feeling of awe comes over me; there in the distance a cylinder of light shining down from the sky…I’ve never seen such a light. A thousand times brighter than any light I’ve ever seen and yet it does not hurt my eyes. There are figures near the light, beckoning to Madeline…Why do I call her Madeline? The people from the light are so beautiful…they are smiling but they seem concerned. Madeline will not go with them. She takes several steps forward; all the while waving her hands as if to say no, no, no, don’t ask me to go with you. She stops, turns, turns once more and again waves off the beautiful people. Finally she turns and flees toward Scythe. I wonder how she can run so swiftly and gracefully, seeming not to touch the ground at all. Madeline is going home, I think to myself. I watch her disappear before I turn again toward the beautiful people. I want to know who they are and about a light from on high that fills me with awe…but when I turn the light is gone and the beautiful people are gone too. I seem to wake even more now, somehow more aware of my body and surroundings…It’s as though a feeling is returning to my legs and torso that I didn’t realize was gone…I was weightless and now I am not.

Marc is sitting up now, looking bewildered, feeling his legs and his head as if checking for broken bones. I ask if he’s alright. He nods. “Marc”, I say, “it’s a miracle we aren’t killed! Look at that wreck! How can anyone survive such an accident? It’s the hand of God!” Marc sneers at my words and half sobbing tells me that Maddie is in that twisted wreck. “Your God saved two idiots and let a 16 year old kid die? What kind of a God is that?” “No, no! Madeline is fine! She came out of the wreck somehow and ran home! Didn’t you see her? Did you see the light and all the people that wanted her to go with them? She kept refusing them, then turned and ran home like a deer! Madeline is fine I tell you!”

“Then tell me whose body they just removed from my car.”

I began to doubt my sanity. I began to wonder if I really survived the crash or if I was hallucinating. I decided then and there not to mention what I witnessed or dreamt to anyone, ever again.

It was almost 3 AM before we could go home. We answered questions, signed papers and begged the police not to take us to Mercy hospital. It took a lot of convincing to have them finally believe that we survived that crash. The police promised to contact us the following day and we declined a ride home, opting instead to walk our old route across County Road and up through Bishop’s Folly Cemetery at 3 AM, October 31st, 1947, Halloween Day.

We walked quietly at first, each of us deep in our own thoughts, perhaps beginning to realize more with each step what an extraordinary experience we had. Finally I asked Marc if he thought we should visit Madeline’s parents to tell them how sorry we were. Marc laughed in a derisive way and told me I was crazy. I said that God spared us that night and we should be forever in His debt. That we were blessed with a miracle and we should go to church and thank God on bended knee and ask for forgiveness…Marc became enraged. He shouted “there is no God you jerk! Only fools believe in a God! We were thrown clear by the impact and a 16 year old kid was killed! Is that the work of a God…or the rottenest luck that ever happened? My new car was totaled! What am I going to tell my father? What will my mother say? My life is ruined and you talk about God and asking him for forgiveness? If there is a God then let him strike me dead right now! I dare him! I double triple gazillion dare him to strike me dead as I stand here! I’ll stand on this dead guy’s grave so God can see me better. Now I beg him! If there is a God strike me dead! Look Andy, I’m still here. No God, nobody’s going to strike me dead or you! It’s just rotten luck! I’ll catch hell when I get home, you can believe that! Take that to the bank!”

We walked a little further. I prayed. I knew Marc was wrong and I was asking God to help him or help me to help him. I was asking God to help me. What took place this Hallows Eve? Why am I alive? What happened to Madeline? What did I see after the wreck that no one else took notice?

Finally I turned back to Marc. We were by the pond, at my father’s grave. I begged him to keep an open mind. I told him to explain the events of that horrible night and if he couldn’t to please don’t blaspheme. “Marc, you and I have been best friends since the 2nd grade. You’ve changed…or maybe you just grew up faster than me or different than me. But as God is my judge I love you as a friend and want only the best for you. We must make a pact; a sacred pact. I have to take care of my mom and brothers and sister. There’s no time or money for college and after tonight I want more than ever to be with my mom and brothers and sister and take care of them and feel their presence in my life. Everything happens for a reason. You’ll go off to school, your mom and the judge will forgive you, and you’ll get another car and in a few years you’ll be a lawyer and that will make your folks very happy. I hope it makes you happy too. I’ll never leave Bishop’s Folly. But one day our luck will run out or we’ll grow old and whatever, one day we will die, that’s for sure. I’m cutting my palm and I want you to cut yours and clasp our palms together and swear an oath that whoever dies first comes back, no matter what, to tell the other who is right. In death we will know if there is a God, as I believe there is a God with my whole soul and every fiber of my body; and you choose not to believe. Swear with me on all that is holy, sitting on this, my father’s grave, to come back and tell the other what we learn and may God have mercy on our souls.”

“Yeah, yeah, I swear. You’re an odd one Andy, anyone else and I’d write him off as a fruit cake. But I know you believe and mean what you say. So, Okay, I swear. If I die first, no matter what, I’ll come back and tell you that there’s nothing there! When I get home my folks will probably kill me and I’ll get back to you by tomorrow.”

Do you wonder if there is another world, truly sinister and frightening, where unhappy, lost spirits roam, existing in a dimension neither of this earth nor a final destination where souls may find peace and solace? Is there a dimension where condemned souls are transformed and take the shape of gargoyles, fiery dragons, mangy rabid dogs or wispy transparent images of their former selves, destined to roam the earth in search of peace they will never realize, forced to drag the chains of their mortal sins and misspent existences on earth? Is there a dimension where tortured souls spend eternity in the realm of Old Nick, in eternal fire with screeching serpents, where every path they choose is burning with flames licking at their open wounds?

Sit across from me that you will know from my expression that I have witnessed what I am about to tell you. I have lived long and seen much. But nothing this life has to offer can prepare one for even a glimpse of the world I describe. I do not know where it is; only that it exists beside us, around us and despite us. Ever since that horrible Halloween accident, my life has changed. I have been living in a world that is half on earth and half in another dimension. I know two worlds. Sometimes curious spirits visit me or visit places they have known when in the flesh and I see them. I know things before they happen. I see events before they happen. Death is no stranger in either world.

Do you know the story of Bishop’s Folly? It is a tale of deceit, jealousy, greed, murder and revenge. Bishop’s Folly indeed! and aptly named at that. Do not tarry long at the North side of the old Church on the main road, my friend. It is evil here on earth.

There are buried the remains of an evil Bishop, an unfaithful woman and a jealous, wicked, greedy husband. The Bishop did seduce the wife of a woodsman and in return she demanded expensive gifts and other riches, else she’d ruin his reputation and standing in the Church. In a rage the Bishop did murder the woman, stabbing her 20 times as she pleaded for her life and choked on her blood. He did this before the very alter where he praised the Lord and held weekly services. As he stood over her lifeless body, still crazed with violent rage, soaked with the blood of his victim, the husband entered the Church, tree ax in hand. The Bishop cursed the woman and shouted that the world would be a better place without this Jezebel and the cuckold should be grateful for the service he performed to rid the earth of this vile and worthless woman. He hardly finished his sentence when the woodsman’s ax, expertly thrown with all the force at his command, struck the Bishop and split his breast bone in two, exposing his vital organs, blood gushing as if from a fountain within.

He was a jealous husband, yes, but in league with the devil and his own amoral wife, planning to profit from her infidelity…and when the Bishop refused, the logger Thorne came to confront the Bishop, to threaten him with exposure and disgrace and extract a price for his wife’s favors. Little did he know the Bishop would first kill his Martha Lee! In a week, after a trial of less than 10 minutes duration, the woodsman was hanged from an old Oak tree and buried in the very same churchyard; he beside his adulterous wife and the Bishop at the front of the yard. Soon after, folks began to call the area Bishop’s Folly. That was in the year 1749.

Every night, just after midnight, that horrible scene is relived, and folks have told of hearing screams and seeing flickering lights coming from the old Church or a glimpse of a rigid body hanging from a tree in the yard but I have witnessed the entire episode, and seen what no mortal has seen in 200 years; gargoyles jump with glee and snakes hiss and slither about darting in and out of the orifices of deformed creatures, demons dancing all about, some with tails, some with horns and some with both; all dance with glee and cackle with joy each time the Bishop Holtz plunges his dagger into the wretched soul of Martha Lee Thorne, the wife of Jonathan Thorne. Their dancing and spinning, cackling and screeching is even louder as Thorne’s ax splits the shocked Bishop in half, night after night!

It hasn’t been an easy life but I am a man of faith. My life was spared while another was taken. I live my life in service to the Lord and repent each day for my role in an innocent girl’s untimely death. My soul aches each time I hear another account that the ghost of a young girl is seen running from the rail road crossing, down County Road toward Scythe.

I never married; I took the job of caretaker at the old Presbyterian Church and I tend to the land and the animals as best I can. I’ve never left Bishop’s Folly, not even once. My brothers and sister have married and after mother passed they left this wretched county, one by one, finding my company too tedious or too depressing. That awful day has left me broken, thoughtful and withdrawn, I admit, but I can say with certainty on this day, that there is a God. There is a Heaven and there is a living hell.

This morning the paper reported the death of an elderly man, as the result of a car hit by a train at the RR crossing on Route 4. The report said the driver had been drinking. That happened last night, October 30th, 2011. I hadn’t heard from my childhood friend Marc in nearly 60 years and was waiting for a visit last night. He never arrived and didn’t call.

As I lay in my bed, just before dawn, I heard footsteps in my house. I didn’t stir or call out because my room was filled with an awful, acrid stench, like burning flesh, and was filled with an eerie, yellowish light. I waited, not knowing if the visitor had come for me or what to expect. I was oddly calm and composed. Soon the intruder entered my room, emanating the yellow glow and unbearable stench and with that the room grew icy cold; I could see only agony and sorrow in the gnarled, pained and wart encrusted features. Yet there was something eerily familiar about this pathetic apparition; something that made my heart heavy. The stench was unbearable and the yellow haze was so thick you could part it with your breath; if I dared to breathe. Then came the voice; tortured, gravelly and raspy, almost hissing…barely intelligible at first, repeating over and over, growing in volume until the words were unmistakable. “Andrew MacDonald! I have come to keep our oath. Damn you Andrew, there is a God! But I have not seen His face. I know only the agony of Hell! Damn you Andrew there is a God! But I have not seen His face! I know only the agony of hell! Aarrgh…the agony of hell! Here I am condemned to spend eternity, all for a worthless little tramp. Well so be it! Damn her too, I say!”

The unrepentant Marco turned, grumbling, growling and cursing and slowly left my room; I heard the front door close. As suddenly as the stench and aura of yellow hazy light had engulfed my bedroom, it was also gone.

I will tell my story to whoever will listen until the ravages of life claim this sorrowful, repenting human being but not my eternal soul. Thanks be to a just and forgiving God. When He calls I shall find peace at last.

The End

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