The Mulberry Black Thing
To hear the tale of the Mulberry Black Thing told properly, you would have to hear my father tell the story. He grew up there, until the age of fifteen, when he joined the Army Air Corp. The legend of the Mulberry Black Thing is known in those areas around Poplar Creek and Mossy Gap and by any one who has ever stepped foot into those serenic hollers nestled along the Cumberland River between Williamsburg, Kentucky and Jellico, Tennessee. Nobody knows how the legend got started, because... well many people out there don't know how to read or write, but the spoken word is passed down and cherished. They may not be able to tell you the source of some bit of information, but they know what they've heard.
Apparently, the Mulberry Black Thing is some amorphous collection of psychic energy which acts as a prism on the person who encounters it. Some hunters who would have evil in their souls have been mauled by a big black bear charging through the woods. Other unfortunate travelers who have had the misfortune of their automobile breaking down have found puddles of oil, enough to put in their engine, and acting as if it were some mechanical elixir, the car would start and carry them far enough to where someone would help them.
But the story is always the same: "the air got really still and very dense, almost if you were standing at the bottom of a pond; then a chill started to build up my spine, and then it happened! My encounter with the Mulberry Black Thing...." It could be a kitten or a panther or a bear or just about anything, but it was always black.
Well, I remember being about twelve when I heard my dad tell his story. We were out camping, and it was by the campfire just after dusk. It had the feeling of a ghost story scare session that the counselors would always pull at summer camp so us kids would go to our bunks and not be running around after dark. They were usually pretty boorish and not really that imaginative, so I never really paid attention, never really got scared. So when pa started telling about the Mulberry Black Thing, I wasn't really listening too much. But as he continued talking, I found myself drawn in, hanging on every word.
"When I was about the age of ya'll here," my cousins and I were out camping with my dad and his brothers, "I had to rise before dawn and go out and get some squirrel so's we'd have meat on the table that day. Well, this one morning, I was out waiting for the squirrels to start movin' around, 'cause you have to get a squirrel before they're fully awake. When the sun's up, they just might not let you see them. Well, I was sittin' there, waitin' on squirrel motion, when I hear a rustlin'. I didn't think much of it, because I looked around and didn't see nothin'. Now, squirrels are pretty crafty, and they'll pick pieces of bark off the tree and throw 'em into the leaves around you to distract you. So I started lookin' closer into the limbs. Well, I heard the rustlin' again, and it sent a chill up my spine. There was no movement from the trees. I looked around again, didn't see anything. So I's decides to move to a different spot when the air got really still. It's almost as if you were swimming in tomato soup. Kinda like it is now." And we all jumped, because all of a sudden there was the sound of brush moving. Dad continued:
"Well, I'd heard stories growing up of the Mulberry Black Thing, but I never paid 'em much mind, 'cause I'd been roaming these hills for years, and never come 'cross nothin', but all of a sudden, another chill went up my spine, and there was a terrible rustlin' in the leaves. Well, I tell you, I was never so scared in my life, and I was in Korea when it was a warrin'. So I was gettin' ready to run, when I hear this crashin' off to my left... out comes this big black dog, pads up to me, and starts a lickin' all over my face, and I tell you what, I was a never so happy in my life; I was a cryin'." Sighs of release from us kids. Nods of knowing from the uncles. "So when you go through these hills and when you go through this life, keep good in your heart, because you never know what's out yonder."
We were all relieved, and it was quite obvious, 'cause some of us just fell back, but it was also very dark, and humid. Then we heard a crashing through the woods, and this big hairy black thing comes out from behind the trees, jumping up and down and making noises. We screamed in terror. Well, I looked around because I was going to start running, and I saw that my dad and all my uncles, except for one that wasn't there, were just rolling on the ground laughing. So I started laughing, too. Pretty soon, my cousins caught on and started to calm down. Apparently, one of my uncles had slipped off into the woods during the story, covered himself with mud and leaves and sticks and came back to scare us.
Looking back, I think it was a funny experience and never really thought about the Mulberry Black Thing again. Whenever I've found myself in a ghost story telling situation, I'll help the storyteller by sneaking off and punctuating the tale with moans and sounds or whatever it takes to give the event the impact that it requires.
Well, I just buried my grandfather next to the plot my father is in up in the family graveyard nestled atop one of the mountains that form Mulberry Holler. I decided to go back to the old house where my father was born, which had burnt down long ago. The road up into the holler was overgrown, and I could only get the car in so far. I started walking in. Being the end of July, it was very hot, very humid, and the air was very still. After walking a good country mile through the bramble, a cold sweat soaked my clothes. All of a sudden, a chill went up my spine, so I stopped in my tracks, started to look around 'til a puddle of black near my left foot caught my eye. I looked down.
There was the biggest, blackest snake I have ever seen, sitting in a coil. I froze. The snake unwound and slithered off to the left, through the brush. I took a step, a deep breath or two, and looked over to the left. And for the first time in all the years that I had ever been up in those hills, I saw this pond, this glorious body of water. It was like a pool of obsidian, and the reeds of Memphis lined the shore, and quiet and peaceful and still.
I cried; tears of joy and rapture.