One day while riding our dirt bikes on the trails past Superior Street, my best friend, Craig Cline and I skidded to a sudden stop on the trail overlooking a deep ravine. There before us, seated on his own bike, calmly smoking a cigarette, was 18-year-old Dennis Grant, a friend of ours from the Saint Paul neighborhood in Uni. Place.
We shut down our bikes, and Grant gave us a warning that left both us younger boys at 13, wide-eyed and terrified.
“Beware of the shotgun-toting witch,” he said, “who will shoot kids who trespass on her land. Her name is Bloody Mary. She isn’t alone, though. Behind her old haunted house, lives Pigman. He’s a small, burly guy who looks like a pig on account of all the pigs he raises on his farm. Pigman will only shoot you with his salt-loads from his double-barrel. But Mary? Mary will shoot to kill. One night, my friend Mike Douglas was out there with another group of boys pranking Mary, when Pigman shot at them with his double-barrel. He scored a direct hit with his salt loads on Mike’s retreating butt. Mike told me later that when he’d admitted to his mom that he’d been out there pranking Bloody Mary, his mom drove her tweezers into his butt with savage fury, making each burning fragment she tweezed out of his tender butt, hurt like holy hell!”
Grant added, “See, in 1966, Mary Partington, a retired school teacher, who lives alone out here in the country, shot and killed 27-year old Eldon Hill, who had been climbing through her kitchen window. Mary, a recluse by nature, had been plagued by pranksters for the past 20 years, and she finally snapped one night and killed Eldon Hill and became a legend.”
We started up our bikes and Craig and I followed behind Grant as he zipped his dirt bike through the winding, twisting curves of the Fat Lady’s Nightmare, named for the fact that a fat lady would have a hard time making her way between the trees grown close to the side of the trail.
Grant skidded to a stop on the top end of the slope leading out of the Nightmare.
Clamping onto my clutch lever, I stomped hard on my shifter, downshifting to first gear. Tearing up turf for nearly twenty feet behind me, Craig peeled out and shot up the trail towards us.
As the three of us sat there, overlooking the deep ravine of the Nightmare, Grant said, “This is the very spot where Bobby Morgan launched himself into legendary eternity. On a dare from his friends, 16-year-old Bobby Morgan pulled an Evil Kneival two months past. He went full throttle on his dirt bike at 60 miles-per-hour down this straight away here, then flew through time and space, believing he could jump the thirty feet of empty air between the two banks. I remember seeing the diagram in the Newspaper. It showed Bobby remaining exactly on course through the first ten feet of his jump, and then gravity met with reality, and Bobby and his dirt bike plunged at a rapid rate of speed down into Salt Creek sixty feet below. Bobby died upon impact.”
Craig and I looking to the make-shift crosses kids had plastered to an old elm tree at the bottom of the Nightmare as a memorial for Bobby, listened as Grant said, “He didn’t even have a ramp. Everyone knows you would need a ramp to launch yourself over this ravine.”
“So,” Craig said, testing Grant, “if you had a ramp, you saying you would jump this?”
Grant peered down to the creek far below. “Sure,” he said, “no problem. I would make it, too. Why? You gonna build me a ramp?”
Grant offered Craig a challenging glare. We both knew how hostile Dennis Grant could turn if one of us younger boys made him mad. In fact, Craig had been punched many times in the past for mouthing off to Grant. I thought he was coming close to getting slugged then.
Craig opened his mouth to respond, when suddenly the three of us heard the deep rumble of a Harley coming from the opposite side of the Nightmare.
“Cop!” Grant yelled, cranking his throttle, popping his clutch, and peeling out of there.
Craig and I sat watching this cop on his fully dressed 1200 Harley rolling out of Bloody Mary’s woods on the opposite of the ravine. The big cop spotted us and started down the opposite slope.
“What a fool,” Craig said.
“Really,” I agreed, watching as the cop eased his massive machine down the steep trail.
Fascinated, we sat there watching until the cop reached the bottom of the ravine. The big guy then meandered his way through the Nightmare, missing trees by mere inches. But the moment he set his sights on us and started up the slope, we sped out of there. Craig shot ahead of me like a bullet, so by the time I reached a sharp bend in the trail, all I could see were clouds of dust and a blurred glimpse of him disappearing from sight.
As I raced to catch up, I looked back to see the cop easing his bike out of the last trees of the Nightmare. I couldn’t believe he had actually ridden his Harley down through the ravine.
Grant had spun his cycle around and came back to make sure I was following. I braked hard, skidding to a stop beside him. “What do we do?” I asked, starting to panic.
“Holy shit!” Grant gasped as the cop hit a dip in the trail, lost complete control of his massive Harley, and crashed to the ground with the bike on top of him.
He began struggling to pull himself out from under that fully-dressed Harley. He had a tough time. He even gestured at us to come back down the trail to help him. But Grant and I were not about to chance getting a trespassing ticket. So we sat there, watching him work his way free.
When he finally managed to pull himself out from under that beast of a bike, foul words exploded from his mouth and he glared angrily in our direction, gesturing at us to come back to him.
Grant and I made a gesture of our own, then spun around and tore out of there.
It was that evening, gathered around a huge campfire in a wooded area near the cycle trails, that we talked about the event of the day.
Drinking beer as we watched the flames, I probably sounded braver than I had been as I retold our story to six members of the Devils Fly High. I was trying to impress their leader, Tim Campbell. I thought if he thought I was so bold as to flip off a cop that he might let me join his gang.
The place was known as the Woods, and it was there that I met bikers from clubs like the Screaming Eagles, the Association, the Outlaws, the Gypsies, and even one big mountain of a guy who was an ex-Hell’s Angel. At 13, my goal then was to become a biker. I began wearing my cut-off jean jacket with the American Flag on the back, and ideas and images began swirling around inside my head. I began to write with pen and paper, and filled up three entire note books with a 900 page story that I named Wings like Eagles.
The one problem with this story was the name I came up with for the hero biker gang. When I told Craig the name of the good guys in my story, he snorted pop through his nose and explained to me what a certain word actually meant. I promptly changed the gang’s name to the Eagles, because the “Forgotten Faggots” did not have the same ring to it.
“You should have seen it!” I said as a dozen of us sat around the campfire. “He was right behind us! Barreling down the trail at full throttle! About fifty feet behind us!”
“Wow,” little Joey Tate said. “What if he would have pulled his gun out and started shooting?”
“Shut up, Joey!” Craig demanded. “He wouldn’t have shot at us. Geesh, don’t be so stupid!”
“Well,” Joey said, “you did flip him off. He might have pulled out his gun.”
Big Tim Campbell seemed impressed. “You actually flipped him off after he crashed?”
“Yes,” answered Grant, so there could be no doubt.
We talked on into the night. We drank more beer. Things for me, started to get fuzzy. I didn’t remember when five of the older guys from the Saint Paul neighborhood joined us, but there was a big mountain of a guy named Ray, who brought more beer for us. And then there were other big guys like Geno, Marko, and Gary, who came home from the Vietnam war a little whacked, and no one ever wanted to piss him off. Gary could go ballistic in a heartbeat. He once got me out of scrap after the races one night at Midwest, when he tore into these six big guys from Belmont who were flipping me crap about my flag on my jacket. Gary messed them up and ended up breaking the back window out of their car.
“That cop was dumb,” I muttered.
“No kidding,” added Craig. “What was he trying to prove riding down that trail, anyway?”
Grant looked at Craig. “Cops have been trying for a long time to catch any of us riding over on that side of the creek. Today, we were lucky to ditch that one. But now that he crashed his Harley over there, he’s probably going to keep trying to catch us. We might have to quit riding on that side.”
Grant was right. Things were going to change. Pig Man’s and Bloody Mary’s were now going to be off limits to us as bikers. Our favorite riding trails were now going to become No-man’s land. In the light of all that had happened, it didn’t seem fair.
“I’ll still ride over there,” I solemnly vowed. “I ain’t afraid of a dumb cop on a Harley.”
“Yeah, knowing you,” Grant said, “you probably will. But what happens when cops start riding dirt bikes? You’ll just end up getting caught.”
Craig defiantly, he said, “Cops won’t ever catch us!”
Big Tim Campbell said, “You can’t think like that, because, eventually you’ll get caught. Every-body always thinks they’re going to outsmart the cops. Somehow, that never works. Look at Ray Farley and Johnny Bradford. Two of the toughest guys I know. They never got caught for anything they did. But look at them now. They’re locked up because they defied the odds one too many times. It’ll happen to you, too, if you’re not careful.”
I chuckled. “Not me. I’ll never be locked up. No one will ever catch me!”
About two hours into our woodsie, Geno and Grant snatched up a twelve pack of beer and urged me to follow them to the top of this hill about fifty yards away from the camp fire. While everyone else continued to party around the fire, the three of us were going to go sit on top of this tall hill, overlooking the Woods.
It was just starting to get stormy, with lightning zigzagging through the sky and thunder rumbling above us.
A perfect night for those two to scare the crap of me.
Geno said, “Did you hear about that animal some scientists bred up at Ag. College, three blocks away from our Saint Paul neighborhood? It was part baboon and part dog. It had the face of a demented baboon with long sharp fangs, and when it ran, it hunched up like a kangaroo and made these leaps and bounds. Then, one day it escaped from its cage up on campus. It attacked this security guard and fled, making a path right through our neighborhood. It left behind a whole slew of mangled cats and rabbits, and even some guy’s black Lab!
“The creature then made it’s way out here to the Woods, killing coyotes and rabbits, even feasting on Pigman’s pigs! One night, Bobby was riding through here and he spotted this mangled rabbit in the middle of the trail. So Bobby aimed his bike’s headlamp at the slaughtered rabbit, and he moved a little closer. Then, in the bushes to one side of the trail, he saw these green glowing eyes, and then the face of the Salt Creek Creature! It lunged out at him! He said it was a baboon with the body of a deformed dog! Bobby gunned his bike and popped a wheelie, and the Creature would have been all over him, but he tore out of here, not even daring to glance back!”
It thundered. Lightning streaked across the sky.
I shivered as I asked, “Then what are we doing having a woodsie out here? I mean, if that thing is loose out here?”
Thunder drowned out my next words. Flashes of lightning illuminated the black clouds overhead.
In that next flash of light, we all three looked down to the southern edge of the Woods, and there just near the pond we saw a large, dark shape all hunched over near a tree.
Geno and Grant sprang to their feet, peering in disbelief at the crooked, dark shape. I just sat there, my mouth hanging open and my eyes gone wide. Very wide.
The lightning receded, leaving the pond at the edge of the Woods in darkness for a few long moments. When another burst lit up the night, the dark, hunched over figure had moved to the middle of the pond, and appeared to be heading right for the hill where we were.
“What the hell?” Geno snapped.
“It’s heading here!” Grant cried out, clearly spooked by whatever it was we all three had spotted.
I don’t know which one ran first, but before I knew it I was seated there alone with a 12-pack of beer and the Creature shambling its way over to the hill where I sat, having been abandoned by my two brave friends. When the lightning came again, I peered down at the bottom of the hill and caught one glimpse of a hunched form standing there, peering up at me.
I completely forgot about the beer as I raced back to the fire in the center of the Woods.
By the time, I got back there, Geno and Grant were telling everyone about what we had seen. Both were getting everyone creeped out. All the guys there started picking up long sticks and staring off into the shadows.
Finally, Grant looked at me and said, “Did you bring that 12-pack with you? If you didn’t, go back and get it!”
I snorted, “Hey, you want that beer, then you go back and get it yourself! Because you saw the same thing I did out there, so go screw yourself!”
Which, had I said the same thing at any other time in my life, Grant would have beat the crap out of me. Both he and Geno simply exchanged looks with each other, and then peered out into the darkness of the Woods. Neither one went back to get the beer.
Over the next year, us little guys never went camping out there without having our guns and our dogs with us. About one month after we’d spotted the creepy thing trying to stalk us, Craig, Trent and Joey and I went camping out there. Trent, Craig and I had our .22 rifles, and Joey was armed with a Crossman BB gun. We had Tiger, Trent’s black Lab, and Princess his other mutt, and Dexter, Joey’s horny humping dog, who humped your leg if you didn’t swat him away from you.
There in the realm of the Woods, the four of us young boys sat beside a campfire, staring in awe at the blue mist rising above the nearby pond. At that moment in time, we were 13-year-old boys, camping out in the country, trying to remain unafraid of the darkness as blue moonlight turned the wooded grove into a mystical wonderland.
The howls of coyotes erupted in the distance. Ghostly shadows gathered beyond our campsite. I waited. One second. Two seconds.
Three. Four. The coyotes howled again.
I then said, “They called her Bloody Mary, because she blew some kid away with a shotgun. One blast to the face and he was dead. A damned serious consequence for a stupid prank. Kids had harassed her for years. Shooting her goats. Hooting at her from their cars. Sneaking up to her house to bang on her windows. Just bored kids driving out to the country to scare the defenseless old lady. “Someone had a real dumb idea that night. Sneaking into her house would be the ultimate prank. Halfway through her kitchen window, the kid froze in terror as Mary pointed her shotgun at him. She then pulled the trigger, and that unlucky kid was blown into the next life. The thunder of that blast echoed across Lincoln, and a legend was born. And no one screwed with Bloody Mary after that.”
Pausing for several seconds, I then said, “Mary had a guardian, though. Some thing that stalked the banks of Salt Creek near the Woods. Two kids on dirt bikes claimed they saw it one July evening. Glowing green eyes. Gleaming white fangs. The face of a demented baboon. The deformed body of a massive dog. Rumors soon began to spread that it was a beast bred by scientists at Ag. College. And seen or unseen, it was no longer fun to go anywhere near the old lady’s house. Someone named it the Salt Creek Creature, and . . . another legend was born.”
There we were, seated around our campfire, with me telling ghost stories. The second the train whistle blew down by the train bridge half a mile away, the coyotes started howling like crazy. It sounded like they were closing in on our campsite inside the Woods, so we all sat there on our wooden stumps, aiming our guns toward the darkness outside our fire light.
It then became deathly quiet.
The train roared off into the night. The coyotes ceased howling. Pretty soon, all we could hear was the crackle of the flames before us.
We heard a howl come from the Woods behind us.
All four of us spun around on our log seats, aiming our rifles at the trees to the north.
A second later, twigs snapped to our left, so we spun around, aiming our guns to the east.
An owl hooted from the west, so we spun around, aiming our guns in that direction.
A second later, Joey ripped a blaring fart, and Craig, Trent and I spun around and aimed our guns at him. Joey held up his hands and fell backwards off the log, shouting, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”
Craig snarled, “That was actually the loudest fart I’ve ever heard in my life!”
Trent said, “Gawd, it sounded like you shit your pants, Joey!”
No one did that much sleeping during the night, and when I took my turn at guard duty, I was glad Tiger was sprawled on one side of me and Princess was curled up on the other. During the middle of that night, I spotted bright lights moving slowly through the sky over the Woods. “Hey, guys!” I shouted, scrambling to my feet to peer up at the V formation hovering directly overhead.
Craig, Trent and Joey scrambled out of their sleeping bags to join me at the edge of the Woods. We all four looked up in wide-eyed shock as the V formation of lights began to move slowly above us. “Damn!” Craig gasped. “It’s true! There really are UFO’s! My God, you guys, do you actually realize what we are seeing?”
“But,” Trent said, “couldn’t they just be planes? Sometimes planes fly like that, don’t they?”
Craig shook his head. “One–two–three–five–eight–nine . . . whoa, there are ten lights all flying in formation! When have you ever seen airplanes doing that?”
I nodded. “He’s right. And they are just like hovering there. If they were planes they would be moving through the sky.”
“Maybe,” Joey said, “they are up there looking down on us! Maybe they are observing us!”
The moment he said this, four lights on either side of the arms of the perfect V, veered off and flew in different directions. “Gawd!” Joey wailed, dropping to the ground and clutching his gun. “They’re dropping their little green men!”
Then, one-by-one, the lights simply vanished. I swear this is what we saw out there at the Woods between Bloody Mary’s and Cornhusker Highway on that hot July night back when we were thirteen. I am not making up any part of this story. Even now, I still do not know what we saw that night.
But as they vanished, Trent said, “I thought we were about to be abducted!”
“Yeah,” Joey gasped in relief, “rectal probes and all!”
Craig laughed. “They’d do a rectal probe on you, Joey, all you would have to do is fart and hell, they’d dump your sorry ass overboard.”
Joey ripped three really loud ones right after Craig said that, and relieved laughter erupted from our mouths. Trent said, “Better check your pants, Joey. I think you shit them.”
I nodded in agreement as Craig muttered, “I think we all about shit our pants when we saw those lights.”
My biggest dose of reality came one day while Craig and I were riding our cycles past Bloody Mary’s house. She was seated out there in a rocking chair, with what we just knew to be shot-gun in her lap. Always ones to tempt fate, Craig and I raised our hands and gave her the finger.
A second later, this tall, lanky guy came off her porch and started running out to the road to cut us off. Craig and I clamped on our brakes and skidded to a stop, practically running the man over. He smiled down at us and pointed toward the pasture beyond Mary’s barn. “See those horses?” he asked us. “I’d like you to chase them around with your motorbikes, tire them out, and herd them into the corral by the barn. You do, and I’ll give you five bucks.”
The two of us gave a quick glance up at Mary seated in her rocker, staring silently at us. We just knew the moment we started chasing her horses, we would feel the sting of buckshot from her shotgun. But we rode out there, and had a great time, chasing and herding those three horses. After we finally got them captured inside the corral, the guy came and closed the gate, then paid us five dollars a piece.
It was as we drove away that we got the biggest shock of our young lives.
Mary stood up from her rocker, holding a broom in her hands, not a shotgun.
And she actually waved at us and smiled.
From that day on, every time we rode by her place we would wave at her and smile, too.