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Gadda Bisby's Grail – 1
a tale of terror, loss, and an old man with an even older wooden cup — alongside Murder Creek in the backwoods of Lower Alabama
A baptist preacher, a Reverend Charlie Charles from Dothan. A palm-reading psychic, a Ms. Leona Bryer from Montgomery. And a national tv news reporter, a Mr. Timothy Forester from some yankee city up north, or maybe it was some heathen locale out west. Anyhow, the three of them is what it took for the message to spread like wildfire, and that message was this: The Holy Grail, the very cup of Christ Almighty Himself, wasn’t locked away in some European vault guarded by his conspiratorial descendants or respectfully buried or forgottenly lost somewhere in the Holy Land.
No, sir. No, sir. That old legendary Cup of Cups had gone and taken up residence somewhere in the backwoods of Lower Alabama. God had a revelated this to Reverend Charles. And the booyah spirits had spoken it rightly to Ms. Leona during a well-liquored summer evening seance. That’s right. A prostitute-loving preacher who didn’t believe in God and a psychic who’d come to actually believe her own nonsense. One stirring the pot, while the pot stirred the other. Naturally, no one would’ve given a shit what either of those two nutjobs had to say if not for the nationally televised segment by the widely respected Mr. Forester, a man who loved cocaine, booze, and taking on wild bets with his colleagues after an all night bender.
And so the search began. A few months of frenzy followed by a slow burn over the next several years as thousands of searchers drove down faded highways and forlorn roads of clay and gravel. Some hiked through dense stretches of longleaf pines, oaks, and sweetgums, crossing creeks and daring bogs. Others scoured cow pastures and fields of cotton and peanuts, crossing bulls and daring farmers. Not a one of them found success.
Reverend Charles’ congregation tripled, as did his naughty indulgences. He said only someone who was true and worthy in the sight of the Lord could find it. He never bothered to explain to his swollen congregation how it was that he couldn’t find it, he who himself claimed to be as deep in the Lord’s favor as one could be.
Ms. Leona, she grew rich reading them palms and seancing and speaking about planets in retrogrades. She resented the money she made but spent it all the same. “A woman’s gotta eat,” she’d say. “And a woman’s gotta have a good pair a heels and as many fine dresses as Sundays in a year, cause you know they be judging at church.” Ms. Leona said one didn’t find the Grail but that the Grail found you. It must not have had any interest in her, and every time someone asked why that was so, why she’d give them a different answer each, all according to her various moods.
And poor Mr. Forester, he regretted the whole embarrassing incident, all the more once he got clean and flipped himself over to a network that didn’t appreciate wild bets or shenanigans. His new colleagues did enjoy teasing him about the whole affair. As right and well they should.
Of course, a grail did, in fact, reside in the backwoods of Alabama, out near Murder Creek. Maybe not the grail, and certainly not a holy one. How was it that Reverend Charles and Ms. Leona knew about this grail? Well, I cain’t tell you that for sure, but I think it’s safe to say that this old cup was the source of the nightmares the reverend and the palm reader had suffered mightily from for years on end. Had others suffered the same and kept quiet? For a few months? A few years? Decades even? Down here there’s just too many profusely devout Christian “why thank you, sir or madam, but I’ll keep my private business to myself” folks to know for certain about that.
As it happens, there was a man who knew where that saintly cup was and that was a mean ole cuss by the name of Gadda Bisby, originally of Burnt Corn, where he was born quite a long while back, back to when there weren’t no cars bumping down the roads or planes dusting the crops. Picking cotton for two pennies a sack and jigging, reeling, and fist-slinging in every jookjoint around, Gadda had bounced to Pineapple then nearabouts to Monroeville only to end up out in the nowhere along Murder Creek, where he’d been as long as anyone, including himself, remembered.
Gadda was a lean, muscly man with a crooked, gap-toothed grin and a mean glint to his eyes. Scars crissed and crossed his bare arms up to his neck, and there was one that zigged and zagged from under his left eye, across his nose, to end just above the right lip. His bushy beard had a mind of its own and done whatever it pleased, until a time or two a year when he’d get a notion to take a pair of rusty scissors to it, not bothering with a mirror, no, sir. Gadda would do just about anything he could to avoid his reflection. He didn’t like the look of himself anymore than anyone else did.
His tattered, mud-stained overalls looked nearabout as old as him, and they’d been patched so many times that was hardly an original scrap left to them. His belt was two bits of leather stitched together with sheathes holding a buck knife to each hip, cause a man ought not to wander around without some weapon to him. He was like to be barefooted, but he had some old boots from WW2 for trekking around come those colder days in winter. Even then, freezing or raining, or on those oh-so rare days when it snowed, he didn’t care none for wearing a jacket nor a shirt with sleeves.
Yep, one good look at him, and you’d sure enough get moving along. That’s how it had gone for decade upon decade. And that’s just how Gadda liked it.
He didn’t take to others in his business and appreciated the same. Fact is, Gadda was true to form and easily as mean as he looked. He would’ve knifed a fool to keep them out of his business, if ever it came to it. And until the reverend, the reader, and the reporter stirred up the fuss, things had never gotten close to him needing them knives on his hips.
Up to that point, Gadda’s life had been simple. He roamed the woods and waded the creek now and then. But mostly, he dozed in oak dappled sunlight to the tune of cicadas, to the clinking of his homemade bamboo chimes when the winter breezes came along, and to the sloshing of Murder Creek year round. He drank water and sipped a bit of shine he’d made many years ago when he still wandered into town now and then. He also ate some game and fish he caught. But neither eatin’ nor drinkin’ was necessary. The cup took care of that, so long as he took a sip from it once in a while.
But that wasn’t the only reason Gadda clung to that cup with a feverous might like you’ve never seen nor felt. He could’ve survived on that scrap of land just fine if he’d had to. No, sir, Gadda was needing that cup for so much more than life’s basics.
Sometimes every day, sometimes once a month, but usually once to each week, terrible, terrible nightmares of awful, awful memories would descend on Gadda like chiggers on bare skin, and they’d dig into him, and his chest would start hurting something fierce. And there weren’t no cure but to drink from that old Cup of Cups.
Whenever it was to happen, Gadda would suffer with that affliction till night — then under the cover of dark he’d crawl out to his secret hiding place and drain a swaller from the old wooden cup. Then those nightmare chiggers would crawl out from his chest and die, not to be felt… for a little longer yet.
Gadda could no longer clearly recollect his kinfolks, friends, nor anything else prior to drinking from the cup, except for some bits and bobs terrible when the nightmares came upon him.
He’d been lonely in those very early years out beside Murder Creek, but being around folks had made the nightmares all the worse, such that they’d visit several times a day, and with a fearsome vengeance. After a decade, he got used to being alone and stopped caring about other folks altogether.
He’d never thought of it as the Holy Grail until people got stirred about it and started coming around asking — those who dared a moment to speak to him anyways. I tell you, there weren’t many of them, and they kept quite a distance. It’d just been Ol’ Wooden Cup to him.
Gadda didn’t tell no one about his old sipping cup. He clung to it and couldn’t bear to think of anyone else having it. He’d have fought tooth and nail to keep that thing all to himself. It was more precious to him than that ring was to that little fellow in them books and movies.
Gadda reckoned rightly that he was over a hundred and thirty years old, but he wasn’t sure and didn’t much care one way or another. He looked to be sixty, and if he’d had the hankering to bathe and get a clean pair of clothes, he’d have looked roundabout forty. But he didn’t care none for clean clothes nor skin, and if there was a stank to him, then he’d grown used to it long ago. His last bath had been nearabouts twenty years ago, when he’d gone into town and bought new overalls and some grain to make a couple dozen bottles of hooch.
Grail-hunting folks who’d stroll by would poke fun at the ramshackle cabin he’d built for himself some eight decades back, and they’d laugh at his rusted, burned out ‘42 Ford parked next to it. Mostly that was folks from other some parts who maybe have less poverty where they live, or leastwise have grown used to ignoring the poverty in their neck of the woods. Of course, not a one of them laughed if Gadda stepped out onto his broken porch steps, or if he was lying in the bed of the Ford on a pile of Spanish moss under the shade oak. And any that stumbled upon him traipsing nearby would yelp and run, which would bring a rare, fleeting smile to Gadda’s face.
You might think Gadda laughed at them grail folks on account of him knowing where the cup was and them fumbling about. But he was terribly afraid one of them would stumble up on his hiding place and start to digging around. He’d had to take some extra precautions on account of that.
Gadda hated them searchers, but as their quest grew old and cold and people’s interests moved elsewheres, he began to believe things would go on as they had before the preacher, the palm reader, and the boozy reporter had stirred up trouble. Ah, but even in those sleepy southern woods, things couldn’t stay the same forever.
And so there came a day when the October wind blew sweet and cool with big oak leaves tumbling across the ground and piling through his broken windows that a pretty thing walked right up onto Gadda’s crumbling porch, just as the sun was setting and he was stepping out his front door.
That’s right. Trouble hadn’t turned up on his grail tucked away in its hiding spot. No, sir. Trouble had blundered right up on Gadda in the form of a young lady.
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