The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Dancing Skeleton Of Quarry Hill

By Eula C. Mantz Handy © 1985

Issue: July, 1985

It was a quiet night, being broken only occasionally when a bird flew out of the underbrush along the path on Quarry Hill. Quiet enough for sleep, Bill thought, as he ambled home slowly along the path.

Not only was he sleepy, but he was hungry too. He had missed his supper tonight. He hoped his mother had put it in the warmer closet, on the cook stove to keep it warm for him because he hated to eat cold food. Also, he hoped that she wouldn't be mad at him for coming in so late from school. He wouldn't have been this late if he and some of his friends hadn't stayed after school to watch a basketball game.

The sun had long set when the boys left the school house. Bill's friends lived on the other side of town from the school and he lived about three miles further up off of the main road in the country.

The moon was high in the sky when Bill dropped his friends off at their house. He had gone only a few steps when he felt something whir across his face and settle on his shoulder. He stifled a scream, then very slowly turned his head and looked eye to eye at an owl. The owl had no intention of leaving his warm perch and Bill felt less alone as he settled down for the long walk home on the deserted highway. There were stretches of fields on both sides of the road and stacks of hay which looked like butter churns with the churning sticks poking up into the night sky.

He liked the night, maybe he belonged to it, he thought, like foxes, owls, rabbits and nightingales. He liked the rustling of trees and bells tinkling softly as the cows grazed in the fields. The deer would be awake too. Only the farmhouses were asleep under their tin roofs.

After awhile the owl flew noiselessly away. Then Bill heard the squeak of a mouse as the owl zeroed in on it.

Dark shadows fell on darker shadows, as a grove of trees darkened the road. Bill walked faster to get out into the moonlight again. He finally came to the lane to his house. It looked so dark, with the old elm trees covering it with their long limbs He decided to take the short cut home across the hill instead of going down that dark lane. Cutting across a corn field, he took off for Quarry Hill. His house was just at the foot of it on the other side. He figured he could make better time going this way home anyway.

The path across the hill was lined with tall pine trees on each side. The pine needles that had fallen to the ground muffled the sound of his shoes as he walked along. The tall pine trees with their massive crowns towering against the night sky seemed grateful for this hour of rest and quiet. They sighed gently as if they felt the same breath of cool air that had touched Bill's cheek.

On the road below, he could hear the hoof beat of horses and the creaking of wagon wheels of some farmer getting in late from the fields. In the far distance he could hear a train whistle blowing, then thunder down the railroad tracks. Stopping, he listened to its sound, then looked at the white clouds floating lazily in the sky above. But just for a second, for he wanted to get to the clearing at the top of the hill before those clouds covered the moon and he couldn't see.

Beginning to feel hunger pains, Bill hastened his steps, until he made it to the top of the hill. On the right side of him was an old abandoned quarry that hadn't been used for over forty years. The farmers had put a barbed wire fence around it so their cattle wouldn't fall into the murky water below. On the left side was a patch of woods.

Suddenly Bill could hear music and then out of the patch of woods came a skeleton. It was dancing in mid-air. It had on a brown ragged suit weaved through its bones. It started dancing towards Bill, its feet keeping time with the music. Closer and closer it came, with arms out stretched as if it wanted Bill to dance with it. Bill froze to the ground as that thing got close to him. He noticed that its right arm was missing up to its elbow. At least it couldn't grab him but with one hand. It got right on top of Bill's head! He could have reached up and touched it if he hadn't been frozen stiff.

Suddenly it stopped and turned as if someone were calling it. Then waving goodbye to the boy, it started dancing towards the direction of the music. Then it disappeared into the quarry on the other side of the path.

Bill didn't know how long he stood there in fear. When he finally came out of it, he started running down that hill as if the Devil himself were after him. He jumped over barbed wire fences, bushes or whatever else lay in his path. He would have gone through a rock wall if there had been one in his path. Food was no longer on his mind and he sure wasn't sleepy anymore as he ran down that hill as fast as his legs would carry him.

He made it to his house and fell into the kitchen door face down onto the floor. He had run so fast he was out of breath. His parents, hearing the noise, came running out of the living room where they had been. Bill's mother, seeing her son on the floor, ran to him thinking he had been hurt. Turning him over she saw that his face was ghastly white, that his eyes were filled with terror and that he was gasping for breath. "What is the matter, son?" she asked, but Bill could not speak. Getting a wash cloth and a pan of cold water, she washed his face, hoping to bring him out of his shock. Then her husband carried his son to the living room couch.

It was several hours before Bill could speak and when he did he told his parents what he saw. Thinking someone was trying to harm his son, Bill's father, David Mulkay, took his gun down from the wall. Telling his wife to lock all the doors, he took off for Quarry Hill. He carried his gun and a lantern so he could see.

Arriving at the spot where his son saw that thing, Bill's father looked around to see if there had been someone up there waiting for his son. Finding no signs of anyone, he decided his friends must have slipped around the hill ahead of him and had fixed that skeleton to scare the boy.

Bill's father then went to the boys' home, they had retired for the night. Their parents who were still up said their boys had sat down to supper the minute they had come home and it couldn't have been them. Leaving their house, Mr. Mulkay headed home and decided to wait until daylight and then take some men in the neighborhood to search the hill.

Bill's mother sat by her son's bed all night until he fell into a restless sleep at the break of dawn.

The next morning Mr. Mulkay went to the country store to see about getting some men to help him search the woods and hillside. The store was a favorite place for the men in the neighborhood. It was also a place to hang out to get out of their wives' way on cleaning day. As it was a chilly fall morning, some of the older retired men were there. They were all sitting around a pot belly stove on barrels warming themselves, chewing their tobacco and swapping tales about the good old days.

An old timer in the bunch, after hearing Mr. Mulkay tell what had happened to his son said, "Son, you wasting your time. Sit down on this here barrel beside me and I'll tell you why. As you being new to these parts, you probably never heard the story about that old quarry up there on that there hill." Spitting out his tobacco, the old man started telling the tale about the old quarry. A tale that had been passed down over the years.

The old man continued, "Your son's not the only youngster who has seen that skeleton. I guess about all the youngsters here in this town have seen him one time or another. All of us old folks here in this small mining town have seen pretty George before. Only when we last saw him, he was very much alive."

George, it seemed, was a handsome dude, who had drifted into the small mining town looking for work one day. He was six feet tall with jet black wavy hair and piercing green eyes. He was a flashy dresser, and to make matters worse, he was also a bachelor.

He also loved to dance. You could see him every Saturday at the old barn dances. As he was new to the town and didn't know too many single girls, he wound up dancing with all the married ladies.

The married women were so wild about him that they let their house work go and primped all day just in case their husband would bring George by their house after work, they wanted to look pretty for him. Often their husbands would come home for supper and find that their wives had been sitting around all day drinking coffee and talking about handsome George. It got so the women would meet George in a little tavern on the outskirts of town and they would dance until dawn.

The older men in the neighborhood finally got together to decide what to do about George. Someone suggested finding him a wife or running him out of town. But before they could decide what to do, there was a mining accident and George lost his arm up to his elbow. Soon after the accident, George disappeared. Some thought since he lost his arm that he had left town, because believing he couldn't woo the ladies as he had before. Others believed the mining accident was no accident, but that jealous husband had murdered him.

After the old timer finished his tale, Mr. Mulkay sighed in relief. Then he said, "Well I best head home and tell my wife that our son wasn't imagining what he thought he saw. Also, that his friends or anyone else wasn't trying to pull any pranks on him."

If Bill lived to be a hundred, he would never forget that night. He told his father that he would never cross that hill again, that wild horses couldn't drag him up there. He was also home before dark every night. Even his father wouldn't go near that hill anymore, even though it was a good place to hunt.

Quarry Hill is not too far for those who love to dance. But be sure you're not alone, when dancing George comes out for fun.