October 30th, 2006

The Hunt for the October Hex
By James Castwell


The boys studied it together, the newspaper column said the last one of the strangely blinded guys had just died and would be buried out in that cemetery bordering the river, the spookiest, most run down cemetery ever. They agreed it was a good place for him but they knew any chance of learning his secret was now lost forever.

Rain was slamming sideways and continued to beat the windows and rattle the shutters of their creaking old house. They huddled closer together in the tiny room and read the report once again. Dim shadows danced across its pages, lit only by the light from the fireplace now that the storm had blown out the electricity. But read it they did and made their collective decision. They must investigate the stories of the rare, mysterious, mayfly. The three had heard the whispered tales of it since they were little. Now they were young teenagers and nothing was going to stop them. Not even the 'October Hex.'

Since they could remember, rumors had it that the reclusive fish fly only hatched once every seven years but no one was quite sure which was the seventh year. Tom thought it might be this fall though. Always the natural leader of the inseparable threesome, he was about to take charge of this situation too. They weren't brothers, not even related, just thrown together by chance on the outskirts of the isolated village at the base of the mountains.

The hour was growing late and plans were made for the following day. They must see what they could find out now that the last remaining person who it was said had ever heard the 'POP-POP-POP' of the giant mayflies as they emerged from the thick, gooey, stagnant mud was gone. No one alive now could for sure describe exactly the sound. The last one who ever claimed to have heard it was now food for the worms.

Fred and Steven pulled their thread worn jackets tightly around their throats, pushed open the front door and forced their way out into the howling night and on to their respective homes. Not far really, they both lived just next door, one on each side. Head down against the driving storm they plowed. The old wives tales had it that 'when the giant insects hatched, the brown trout could not get enough of them' and ate as if possessed by the very devil himself.

The river was always low at this time of year, long hot summers with no rain guaranteed the Strangled River would be like that. An isolated stream actually, no one much bothered with it as it crawled its way through the dank cedar swamp and into town by the cemetery. Even the name of the river was enough to give most folks around there pause for caution, the "Heeby-Jeebys," Steven called it. It was said that many strange things happened deep in the swamp at night. More-so in the late fall, the end of October precisely. Early winter when the chilled winds and rains drove down from the north and pounded the lowlands where the rivers traveled.

Lightening shattered the night, punctuating an already anxious evening. The boys scuttled faster toward home and the warmth and safety to be found inside. There would be no sounds to hear tonight, today was only October 30th, one more day left in the month. Another day with a forecast of more rain and the howling banshee sounds of the storm. Certainly no sane person would consider venturing into the swamp under conditions like these. No one unless they wanted to solve the mystery of the October Hex that is, and the boys were up to the task. Even if it was on Halloween night.

The day opened itself angrily, tearing and snarling at the earth. Rain and driving winds offered to rip the very trees from the earth. The trio re-banded at mid morning back in front of the fireplace at Toms house to once again go over the account in the newspaper. The story of the last blind man and how he dies. "Yup," Fred said. "He conked out and never did tell anyone what really happened back then, just that they were all out looking for the October Hex, they thought they had heard some strange sounds. Sounds like a 'whish-whish' and 'POP' 'POP' 'POP,'and then they all the old guys went blind!"

"Ya. What the hell could cause four guys with fly rods sneaking up the Strangled River right at dark to go friggin' blind, added Steven? Only one way to find out," he ventured. With that they began to lay the plans for that evening. They would all meet at the old broken down bridge where the road was washed out. It was just upstream of the cemetery. From there they would work their way upstream. Upstream armed with only flashlights and clubs. Someone needed to see what there was to see, and they were the ones to do it. They would solve the riddle of the October Hex or die trying.

The hour arrived and as the two younger teens, Steven and Fred, waited under the end of the bridge. Ahead they saw a figure approaching through the falling rain. The storm caused a mist to rise from the old road leading to the area.

"Hello," called Tom. "Over here," replied Steven and Fred simultaneously, almost scaring each other with the responses. The three finalized the plan. "Ok, we'll walk up the bank and keep going until we come to the big mud flats. That's where the October Hex should hatch from," Tom said. "Which bank we gonna go up? Two on one and one on the other or all three on one side?" asked Fred. He was always the most careful of the bunch.

They quickly decided that since the river was very shallow at this time of year they would all go right up the middle. Wading wet they called it, just like when they fished during the summer. Since it was pouring rain and they were already half soaked, it wouldn't matter much, except they would get pretty cold on the way back. That is, if they made it back. All being in agreement, they stepped into the river and carefully took off upstream.

Darkness was enveloping the area. Fog had begun to form over the slowly moving water. The only sounds heard were the 'splish-splash' of their wading and the pounding of their hearts as the light grew progressively dimmer, finally giving way to total darkness. They carried two big flashlights and a large baseball bat that Fred thought might be a good idea. They didn't bring the flyrods tonight, this wasn't fishing tonight, this was just a scouting venture.

"What the hell was that? You guys hear it? Sounded like there is something up ahead of us, just past the cemetery, a sort of 'swishing sound'" said Steven. "Aw, it's only a deer or an old coon. You guys are chicken, always worried about things," said Tom. "I'm going to go up there and chase it out. You scaredy-cats can stay right here. I'll show you how it's done," he added.

It was then that they two boys heard it for sure. The 'sounds' as they had been described by those dead guys from the old-folks home. The 'POP-POP' sound.

But, with it they heard a new sound. Suddenly it was the throat tearing sounds of Tom. Screams of pain ripped through the night, tore through the mist of the river, all coming from upstream. They watched in frozen horror as Tom staggered, and lurched back from the cemetery toward them. Stumbling forward with both hands covering his face. A drunken pathway back downstream toward his buddies. Blood streaming down his face and dripping from both bloody hands.

Fred and Steven started to run toward him but stopped dead. With pounding hearts and trembling hands they saw it. There, right behind Tom was the October Hex. But it was not what they expected. In the beams of the twin flashlights they could make out a figure of a man. A spirit. A ghostly image. Ghostly. Headless. Terrifying. It was the very spirit of Ichabod Castwell, who had been beheaded on Halloween night seventy years ago in a car accident right there on that bridge; but tonight he was carrying his severed head in his right hand. And in his left hand was his fly rod, swishing back and forth, 'Swish-Swish' 'Swish-Swish' it went, carving slices of air in the blackness of night.

Fred ran, screaming, downstream. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the ghoulish figure and heard the dreaded 'POP-POP' again. This time it was by Steven. Steven who had just had both of his eyes poked out by Ichabod Castwell with his 'swishing' fly rod. The headless spirit came now for him and no matter how fast he ran he could not stay ahead of it.

'POP-POP.'

Screams echo through the nights yet, some popping sounds too, some say. Every seven years on Halloween, the night of the October Hex...


~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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