This is a true story as told by my great-grandfather, Joseph F. Kepler. ~Written and recounted by Jessica Leigh
I would never forget that morning. At the very least, until my dying day. Mayhap even longer should the Lord see fit to allow the keeping of my life’s memories.
We’d had a soaker in the evening hours, well before dawn, and all was damp and the earth quenched. It was very still. Even the birds had ceased their mindless chatter, strangely so, for it being early June – mating season and the like.
Mist hung in the air, great pockets of it, here and there, just draped between the woodland trees. It was right ghostly, and surprisingly thick. I realized, if I squinted just hard enough, I could see through to the other side. I would certainly be able to travel.
I was due to make the weekly trip down the mountainside and into Marsh Creek. My wife needed flour, and sugar, and oh, a few other things not really worth mentioning. It was the spring of my thirtieth year, which brought the date to 1896, if I recall correctly.
My horse knew the way, for he’d done it often enough, leaving me the freedom to sit back in the saddle and take in the smells of the forest, since the view weren’t much of anything but fog and shadow.
There’s nothing quite like the scent of freshly washed pine. Mix it with that damp sweetness of spring earth, ripe for the plowing, and you’ve got a pure heavenly bouquet for a simple man like me. I minded that foggy morning not at all.
Enough on the day, though, I’ve got more important events to recount. At the base of the mountain, before hitting town, we rode down upon the railroad bed. The track itself was raised up, leaving two hefty ditches on either side.
I could see my normal spot for crossing over was a mud hole the likes of which the average animal takes one good look at, and pins his ears. My horse went and did just that.
“All right, then,” I said agreeably enough. I wouldn’t want to walk through mud up to my boot straps either. “We’ll cross it up a-ways.”
I let the animal pick his way along the track about fifty yards. We went smack into a heavy veil of mist then. It was cool, and left a dewy touch behind on my skin. We crossed the track without getting sucked into the mud, and ambled down the other side.
It was then that I saw it. Even through the shrouding fog, I could see the crimson glow of it right through the mist. Being a fairly young man, with more than a healthy dose of curiosity, I turned my horse in that direction to investigate.
When we were about five feet away, it finally hit me – just what I was looking at. My horse did too, for he lowered his head, blowing loudly through the nostrils. He planted his four hooves directly into the ground like tomato stakes in a garden. Wouldn’t budge at all after that.
I dismounted on quavering legs of my own, and made my way over to her. Yes, it was a she. A lady in a flowing, scarlet dress. At first, I thought she was sleeping, just laid out there by the tracks for some odd reason and took her rest. Crazy thought, I know it now, but in that frantic moment, my mind was grasping for other answers than the actual truth.
You see, the verity was, the lady was dead. When I knelt next to her, I realized that the grim reaper hadn’t managed to take a darn thing from her but her breath. Another wild thought, I know this too. You see, this lady was the most beautiful thing I ever saw, forgive me Eva honey, but it’s right factual. Her skin was so pale and smooth, that it looked like porcelain. Like one of those fancy dolls from France that cost more than a month’s work of milking.
There was not a mark on her. Her lashes were black and long, resting softly on those ivory cheeks, and her hair was a crowning glory in itself. It was thick and lustrous, piled under and about her like a blanket. Her lips were full and nearly the same color of her finely made dress.
I’ll admit it now; I was a-feared to touch her. Not because she was dead, either, I know that’s what you’re thinking. There was just something about her, something perfect, something pure, and almost holy. Being a mountain-bred farmer, I wasn’t sure whether I even had the God-given right to touch something quite so gentle. But I did so.
The lady was oh-so-cold, and her skin was stiff and unforgiving of my fingers, like nothing I had imagined at all. I wished hard that I hadn’t touched her then, but I suppose wishin’ is for fools.
I mounted my horse, and headed for Marsh Creek as fast as the cloying mist would allow. At the general store, I spilled my guts to every man in earshot, without even a whit of the composure I had hoped to keep about me.
“Joseph Kepler,” says my neighbor Peter, “You sure you ain’t had yourself a tipple already this morning?”
Well, Peter found out soon enough that it weren’t no lie, and no whisky-trip either. And not one man had a darn clue as to who she was, or where she came from, or even how she had come to die so purely along those railroad tracks.
Like I told you, there was not a single mark on her body. And the doctor himself went as far as to look under that fine crimson dress, too. Not a mark. So how did she come to lie on the railroad bed in the hanging mist that morning, for me and my horse to stumble upon?
I still don’t know, to this very day. Not to this very day, child, and I suspect I never will.
“Grandpap, tell us who she was!” The littlest one climbed higher in my lap, pulling at my whiskers impatiently, as was her nature. I tugged at her own black curls in smiling defense.
“Now, Janet. I told you we never found out. Never, ever.”
She pouted up at me. “But, the tombstone. Tell me again about the tombstone.”
I stopped rocking then, and felt my face cloud over. The memory was fierce, as it always was. For me, each time I recounted this particular story, it was as real to me as the very day. And it always pained me in the same places.
Janet shivered with excitement, already knowing what happened next, but anticipating the end of the story anyway.
“Well, I did not go to the ceremony that was held for her. I just couldn’t, you see. I could not bear to view her in that coffin, or watch the dark, hungry earth covering up what that reaper could not take from such a fine lady. So I didn’t go, and I tried to put it from my memory. It was just to be another of life’s mysteries.
I looked down into the glistening eyes of my youngest grandchild, eyes brown and deep, like my own. She was waiting.
“Must have been a year or so later, that I found myself walking by that cemetery in Marsh Creek. My eyes were drawn to the very spot they placed her. How I knew it, I’m not rightly sure. But I walked to the gravesite where she lay beneath.
“What did it say, Grandpa?”
My eyes filled with tears then, as they always did.
“The only four words it could, child. The Lady in Red.”
About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle.