Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rat terriers, and a cat. She has discovered that her love of telling a good story can be written. Published stories with Palm-sized press, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, Potato Soup Journal, Edify Fiction, Zimbell House Publishing, Clarendon House Publishing, Blood Song Books, Black Hare Press, Fantasia Divinity, Cafelit, Reanimated Writers, Guilty Pleasures, Unholy Trinity, The World of Myth, Dastaan World, Vamp Cat, Runcible Spoon, Dark Christmas, Siren’s Call, Iron Horse Publishing, Falling Star Magazine 2019 Pushcart Nominee, Dark Poetry
The Damming of Milford Mills
In November 1973, the dam on Marsh Creek, a tributary of the Brandywine Creek closed. In less than a year the village of Milford Mills slipped under thirty feet of water. The homes and businesses had been removed before the flooding, but the foundations of a civilization lost, lay at the bottom of the lake. The embankments of the Larkin Covered Bridge, roads leading to and over, a schoolhouse, and thirty-four properties were entombed as the water slowly rose.
The small community of Milford Mills lived with its impending doom for the three years it took to build the nine hundred ninety-foot bank that stood nearly ninety-feet high. The newly formed five hundred-and thirty-five-acre lake on the surface appeared serene. Below the surface, the sins of the townspeople had been encapsulated in cold water, forever.
Milford Mills started to decay when her fate was inevitable. For two years the townspeople fought with the government trying to thwart the proposed dam that would contain two intersecting creeks forming them into a lake over the top of their town. When all legal recourse had been exhausted, the machines moved in. The townspeople watched as heavy equipment removed the existence of Milford Mills. It was heartbreaking for the residents who no longer had an identity. The displaced folks moved out of Milford Mills into the surrounding communities of Eagleview, Lionville, Downington, and Thorndale. Even though the towns were only a few miles from the former Milford Mills, it wasn’t the same. The townspeople drifted into new friendships and bonded with their new cities. A few years after the flooding, Milford Mills was only a whispered memory.
Patch Caldwell’s thinking spot was in a clump of old trees that grew on his parents, former farmland outside Milford Mills proper. He was ecstatic when he came back to the area to find the pooled lake had not touched the trees, a place he had played as a child many years ago was only accessible through the Marsh Creek State Park. Patch was nearly a man when he left Milford Mills in 1971, before it went underwater. His parents moved away in disgust after selling their farm. His father, stating he was too old to start over, gave up farming and entered the coal mines. That was thirteen years ago. How things had changed.
Conjuring up some of the history, he watched over the lake. Patch remembered the Guthrie Farm now just stone foundations and few walls across the lake. He thought of Milford Mills local murderer, Alex Meyer relation to the famous Oscar Meyer meat magnate, who tried to kill a girl by hitting her with a truck and throwing her down a well. Upon discovering she was still alive Meyer tried to blow up the girl with sticks of dynamite he threw down the well. They did not detonate. Four months later after her discovery, Alex Meyer saw the electric chair.
Twisted tales. Shady stories of the town and there were many, all buried. No one knew Patch’s story. The water put to rest the evidence that could have convicted him of his crime. Patch left the area when the town was in the business of disbanding. Leaving, was a convenient excuse to get away from his sins. He signed when he thought of Lettie Hayes, a beautiful woman nine years his senior who lived a few farms over.
Patch splashed a little aftershave on himself. He was going out. His mother asked if he’d be home for dinner. He told her not to wait up. He drove to an out of the way place in his 1964 Mustang. It was his mother’s car, but she didn’t have driver’s license, so Patch was able to use it when he wanted. He was getting ready to go off to college in the fall. It took him two years to save up enough money to pay for the tuition his parents didn’t have. The money from the sale of the farm would be needed to relocate. Patch was going to be somebody in the medical field. Such high aspirations. He’d get his basic classes in and try for scholarships when his money ran out.
The Mustang pulled up in front of an old stucco tavern in Exton. Patch wasn’t twenty-one yet, but they didn’t know him out of town. When he walked into the tavern, he saw Victor Hayes, his neighbor. Patch winced thinking he should go, but realized Victor had his hands all over a young woman who was not his wife. Their eyes met. They formed a wordless mutual understanding after a few seconds of intense staring. Patch would get served tonight, and Victor could have his date without Patch telling anyone. Patch met up with his friends in the backroom. He remembered it being a fun night. He also remembered that by the end of summer, he would do things that would ruin his life forever.
Patch didn’t know that once he moved away from Milford Mills, the incident that changed his life and haunted him, would become so intrusive he could not live a normal life. He hadn’t left the awful memory behind when he went off to college, he dragged it like a lodestone with him.
After a few months, college was more that Patch could handle. He dropped out taking a job in Pittsburg until he was called back to Eagleview, for his father’s funeral. Patch stayed long enough to bury the man and went right back to Pittsburgh. A few short years later, his mother died, leaving him with legal matters to tie up. Patch returned to the small town to empty the house and settle his mother’s affairs. That had been three years ago. The draw of Marsh Creek was strong. He stayed letting his apartment go in Pittsburg moving into his mother’s house. He became a sous chef at a Japanese restaurant and spent a lot of his time haunting Marsh Creek State Park sitting at the foot of a cluster of the trees from his childhood.
Lettie Hayes, God, she was beautiful. Patch remembered breaking five or six commandments with that woman. She married young, never had children with her husband, Victor. Victor ran his farm and had a few ladies on the side. Patch knew that for a fact after the night in Exton. Lettie turned a blind eye to Victor’s carousing. Everyone in town knew about Victor’s affairs. When twenty-year-old Patch Caldwell pulled into the Hayes farm with a piece of equipment Victor bought from his father’s auction, he didn’t know that his life would be changed forever.
Victor Haye’s farm was on higher ground and would not be affected by the damming of the creeks. Patch stepped onto the porch of the farmhouse knocking politely. Lettie answered the door in short shorts, and a white see-through halter top tied around her neck and at the back. It left nothing to the imagination. Patch lowered his eyes quickly after he wiped the shock off his face. Lettie was well endowed and had beautiful curves. Patch wasn’t a virgin, so he found it odd that he would look away from her and behave like a shy schoolboy. She was a married woman. Lettie handed Patch the envelope with the money in it.
Three hundred,” Lettie she put the envelope in Patches hand, she didn’t let go she kept her hand on his. “Victor asked me to make sure you got the hitch pin that goes to that?” she motioned out the door to the equipment on the back of the truck. Patch told her he would check if it wasn’t on the hitch, he’d bring that over at a later time. Lettie smiled sweetly. “If you come back tomorrow, say about nine o’clock in the morning, I would be here waiting.” She said this in a tone that made Patch know what her intentions were. He nodded his head, “yes.” He returned to the truck. As he took the farm equipment off the trailer, Patch was hot and bothered. Lettie was a married woman, nine years older at least. She was a vision of beauty. Patch felt she was offering herself to him. When he got home, Patch found the hitch pin, putting it in his truck. He would drop it off at the Hayes farm tomorrow precisely at nine in the morning.
Bright and early Patch found his way into the Hayes home and into Lettie Hayes’ bedroom. She was fire. They spent a few hours together. When Patch was leaving the farm, Victor pulled into the yard with his tractor. Victor nodded, curious. Patch waved, quickly driving down the driveway.
“What was the Caldwell boy doing here?” Victor asked Lettie.
“The Caldwell boy dropped off the pin you asked me to ask about yesterday.” The lie slid off Lettie’s tongue like a coin on velvet. Victor saw the pin on the front porch and didn’t ask any more questions. It did bother Victor some that Lettie walked around humming that day. Something he hadn’t heard her do for a while.
The summer was spent in the arms of Lettie Hayes, as soon as Victor went out into the fields or off to town, Lettie put up the flag on the mailbox, a sign that she was open to a visit. They couldn’t get enough of each other. Patch took to hiding the car in a section of woods. He would sneak across the field, open the door to the farmhouse and enter Lettie’s bedroom without so much as a knock.
Lettie lay on the brass bed with a look in her eye. Patch dropped his drawers climbing into her bed when the door swung open behind him.
“What the hell. What the hell!” shouted Victor. Patch scrambled off the bed grabbing his pants off the floor quickly, putting them on. Victor only had eyes for Lettie, who tried to reason with her husband, but there was nothing to reason with, they’d been caught red-handed. Victor grabbed Lettie and swung at her a few times. Lettie was quick. She bounced around the bed, avoiding the fist that Victor swung wildly. Patch stood in shock. When he came to his senses, he grabbed the drapery cord holding the curtain back from the window. A shiny gold twisted rope with a huge tassel.
Victor had his hands around Lettie’s throat. Lettie had her hands, on Victor’s wrists trying to pull them away from her throat. Victor was bouncing Lettie up and down on the mattress with his choke hold. Patch came up from behind with the rope and slipped if over Victor’s head and pulled it with all his might. The silky rope slid smoothly around Victor’s bulky neck. At first Victor so intent on killing Lettie, didn’t even notice he was being strangled. Suddenly the light came to his eyes, and he let Lettie go, trying to pull the rope from his neck. He was a fool, instead of moving backward toward Patch, he tried pulling away, which only made the rope tighter. Lettie was coughing and choking on the bed. In a raspy voice, she tried to tell Patch to stop, and to let Victor breathe. Patch was too far into the process and could not be called back. When Victor’s legs gave, he slumped to the floor, his face was blue, his tongue hung out. Patch realizing what he had done, let the rope go.
“Oh, my God!” Lettie screamed naked on the bed. “You killed him!”
“He was going to kill you. I had to do something.”
“I didn’t want him dead!” Lettie protested. “He’s my husband, for God sake Patch, why?” Patch sat down on the bed staring at the vacant eyes of Victor Hayes. He had killed the man. He would go to jail for the rest of his life. He was only twenty-years old.
Lettie was an unfeeling machine. She pulled the sheet off the bed. “Here, help me roll him up.” Patch could see the marks on her neck and the swelling under her eye. “Help me put him in the pick-up truck. We need to get rid of his body.” Patch started to protest. “Hush, I’m thinking of a way we both get out of this mess.”
Lettie got dressed. She and Patch carried the body down the steps and put Victor in the bed of the pick-up truck on a tarp. Lettie threw the other half of the tarp over Victor’s body. “Ok, I will drive the truck it should have my fingerprints on it. You follow me in your car. Let’s bury him in the dam tonight. Then I’ll take the pick-up to a place where it won’t be seen for a few days. You follow me and drop me off home. I’ll go to the police station and report Victor beat me and ran off. Patch was numb. He was letting Lettie call all the shots.
They waited until nightfall, taking Victor out of the truck, they dragged him over to the construction area on the tarp, digging a hole in the containment wall. Victor was pushed into the hole they’d dug. Stones were placed over the body to keep him down and they packed dirt over the stones. Tomorrow Victor would be part of the containment wall surrounding Millford Mills.
Lettie had Patch follow her out of town. She pulled the pick-up into a wooded area near the Pennsylvania Turnpike. She took the tarp from the back of the pick-up in case it contained any bodily fluids. She ran back to Patch’s car parked down the road. When they returned to the Hayes farm. Lettie got out of the car and waited for Patch to get out of the driver’s side door.
“Hit me.” she told him.
“What?” Patch answered incredulously.
“Hit me. I need fresh marks. I will say I took a beating earlier, but when Victor came after me again, I had enough. I came in the police station to report Victor’s attack after he ran off.” Patch doubled up his right fist poised to strike Lettie.
“No! Victor’s left-handed!” Patch changed hands, closing his eyes as he struck her on the right side of the face with his left hand. Lettie fell from the punch. She was a tough woman. With tears in her eyes she stood up next to Patch swearing under her breath. “Again, once more.” Patch slapped her in the mouth that started the blood running. “Get home now. I don’t ever want to see you again.” Lettie jumped into her car and drove off, headed for the police station.
His parents were in bed when he got home. He took a long shower, numb to what he’d done, what they’d done wondering what Lettie would say to the police. A week went by. There was no word. Patch drove by the Hayes farm the flag up on the mailbox stayed down. Lettie had banished him from her life and her bed.
Patch left for college that fall shortly after the police found the truck near, the turnpike. Nothing suspicious. Three sets of prints, Lettie’s, Victor’s and a pair of suspected female fingerprints that were never identified. The police surmised Victor ran off with a woman because he didn’t want to be arrested for breaking his wife’s jaw and the bank was foreclosing on the farm, the reason Lettie told police Victor beat her that night. The story was in the paper. But a short time later with the town being ripped apart, people focused on their new lives and saying goodbye to their town. Eventually, Lettie sold the farm at a cut rate price and moved out of the area.
Patch sat on the bank, looking over the water. Across the lake, folks would find the foundations of the former mansion, the Guthrie Farm, along with several other foundations built in stacked stone. Under his gaze, the remnants of the farm he’d grown up on, as a child covered in thirty feet of water. To the far end, the containment wall that held the remains of Victor Hayes’ body, the man he murdered. The man he saw in his nightmares every night for the last thirteen years. He waited for Victor’s body to float up, like it did in his nightmares. Victor Hayes would forever haunt him. He wondered what ever happened to Lettie. His life was stuck since that day of the murder. He felt lost. He felt guilty. It didn’t seem right not to come here, to apologize for what he’d done. He hoped the Good Lord would forgive him, because he couldn’t quite forgive himself.
He woke up with a start. He’d fallen asleep in the warm sun. Patch sat up trying to get his bearings. A log floated along in the water bobbing up and down.
No, it wasn’t a log. My God! It was Victor! Patch screamed waking himself up. It was the nightmare again. Would he ever be free of it?