Darn hot day, hot and humid, sweat is trickling down and tickling my ribs. Diane is talking and toe kicking little rocks, "I heard Mr. Hendon say Billy put a baby in your belly." We are swapping lies, I tell them all about drinking soda pops and listening to Elmer Gantry out front of the church. I take up lying again like I did Mr. Hendon, "Yes, ma'am, he sure did, right there on that big boulder out in the river. After we gave our soda pop bottles to Kutcher, my Billyray took my hand and invited me to walk over to Mountain Fork to skinny dip." Diane blurts, "Did he put his arm around you?" I keep lying, "Sure enough did! Slid his arm around my waist and held me tight, even kissed me on my cheek!" Johnny just has to brag, "I done know how to kiss, look!" The boy puckers his lips up and makes like he is kissing. Sally tells him, "Quit that, you look like a bull's butt!" Johnny makes an ugly face at her then sticks out his tongue, "I've kissed a thousand girls, I know how to kiss good!" Diane tries to hit his head but he runs off out front of us. "Tell us what happened, Taha!" Sally is impatient and excited, she loves listening to my whoppers of lies, especially lies about Billyray, she has a burning desire for him. "Well, we arm-in-arm walk over to the swimming hole then take off our overalls to skinny dip. I'm looking Billy up and down and darn if the boy," Diane suddenly yelps, almost a shriek which scares all of us to jumping, "Here comes Flora! What are we going to do? She'll kill the lot of us!" Johnny comes running back, "Flora! Flora's coming down the route!" We are about even with Church House Hill, we have to run for our lives.
Although Flora is pretty she is the meanest and most murderous Choctaw woman in all history of McCurtain county, Oklahoma. She lives with her mother, Jinci, over near Mountain Fork River just a mule mile west of Eagletown. Flora spends most of her time walking around our rural community and surrounding forests while enjoying scaring the living daylights out of people, especially kids. Just a month back our schoolmarm, Mamie J, spots Flora walking down this road out front of our schoolhouse. Mamie J calmly walks around our room, while teaching, closes and locks each window then walks over and locks our schoolhouse doors. Boy howdy, does this make us kids fidget and look around along with wringing our hands. Mamie J is the most respected person around and the smartest. Even our teacher is scared to death of Flora. This is not good.
On some Sunday afternoons, Flora and her momma stand out front of their rough plank house and watch through pine trees, watch Billyray and me skinny dipping in the river. They stand and watch us while sipping white lightning from a fruit jar. They stand and stare, sometimes point and laugh. Other times they watch Billyray intently and get to flapping their jaws about whatever while croonin' and swoonin' like old hens admiring a young strapping rooster. I figure they are talking about which of us would make the most delicious breakfast bacon. Makes me want to skip bacon for breakfast and makes me right nervous. If Billyray weren't with me and I saw Flora, I would take off running and screaming all the way to Eagletown. I tell him we have to get out of there because Flora is looking to kill us, slice us up, cook us and eat us. Billy ornery grins, "Nah, Flora just wants to look at me. She has a lot of husbands, she's thinking to ask me to marry her." I know he says this to get me riled and to get me brave, I sternly tell him, "Flora ain't marrying you, I'm going to marry you. I'll kill that woman if she tries to steal you away." Darn boy tells me, "She ain't going to kill either of us. She likes my looks and you're Choctaw like her. Actually, you and Flora are distant cousins. Only difference is one of you turned out mean and the other turned out ornery. I not sure which of you is mean and which is ornery."
Flora is a living legend and a living nightmare for adults and children alike, especially children. We know she killed at least two, maybe three of her past husbands and Flora is married to three or four men living in different towns around our county; she needs a lot of husbands, they often vanish or mysteriously turn up dead. My elders warn me, "Flora ohoyo isht ahollo", Flora is a hag witch.
Our elders tell us horrible stories about Flora, "A bunch of kids watched her choking and slinging her husband around like a rag doll. She chokes him to death then slams him down on those railway tracks for a train to sweep away." My grandparents tell me, "If Flora gets her hands on you, she will choke you to death then use her long sharp knife to cut you up into bacon slices for breakfast. Don't you ever let Flora get close to you." Our childhood monster, Flora, is well known for grabbing a kid by his neck, slinging him around and tossing him through air then poking him with her knife before he hits ground, dead as a door nail.
Flora dresses like a cross between a Choctaw and a gypsy. She wears wildly colorful clothes, scarfs and bandanas. Most scary, she always has her long razor sharp knife strapped to her waist. When she walks she flows more like a ghost, like she has no feet. Maddeningly scary are her eyes, her dark seemingly pitch black eyes which are surrounded by pale yellowed whiteness, she has water moccasin eyes, wet glistening snake eyes. She forever wears her wicked hint of a smile like Beelzebub himself. Some say Lucifer is her brother. Grandma tells me when Flora does smile big, which is rare, "Flora's teeth are sharp and pointy like a panther and her tongue is long, slender, blood red and forked on end like a cottonmouth snake. People who see her smile usually end up dead and in her breakfast frying pan."
We spot Flora coming and one of us girls yells out to run. Not Johnny England, nope, he is a braggart showoff. He is persistently trying to impress us out of our overalls. He is a son of one of our favorite ladies, Sookie. She is my best friend. Johnny puffs out his chest, makes fists, begins strutting back and forth, then crows, "I ain't afraid of no Flora." We are, we have some sense and know to be afraid of that horrible witch of a woman. We girls run like crazy up Church House Hill then hide amongst pines. We watch goings on, watch brave Johnny down there marching up the route towards Flora like a soldier boy heading for war.
Johnny struts on up the route like a cocky bantam rooster, chest puffed out, arms swinging too much, legs goose stepping and his head tossed back in defiance. Brave Johnny is maybe half the size of our nightmare Choctaw woman. Flora does not even look at him. She just keeps floating along like a ghastly sinister spirit who doesn't need legs to walk.
About the time Johnny and Flora are dead even, Johnny heading north, Flora heading south, quick as lightning Flora reaches out with her weathered leathery claw like hands then grabs Johnny right around his scrawny rooster neck and lifts him up into the air then begins slinging him around like a tick hound shaking a caught rabbit. His legs and arms are flailing around in ways which ain't natural, has to hurt something awful. Never seen a sight like that, not even at rodeo over in Broken Bow. Johnny's arms are flying out this way, his legs are flying around that way and his body looks all twisted up like a rope wound around a well bucket crank. Looks like Johnny's overalls are sliding off or being ripped apart by heading in several directions at once.
We hear Johnny screaming like all get out, screaming like a fawn being taken down by a forest panther for breakfast. Then the boy starts up making gurgling like sounds, like a hog with his throat slit for butchering. Then, really spooky, silence from him although his jaws are flapping like crazy and his eyes, so horrible, his eyes are as big as a gig stuck bullfrog's eyes. I suppose he is out of air and can't scream anymore, and his eyeballs are about to pop out before his head explodes. Flora is yelling all kinds of Choctaw words, my native tongue. She is screaming about slicing him up and cooking him for breakfast bacon. Johnny does not know this with his not being a Choctaw speaker, besides is he busy being choked and slung and tossed all around like a cowboy rodeo riding an Oklahoma tornado.
Seems an hour passes, but in less than a minute, only seconds, Flora slams down Johnny face first on the route causing him to raise a big cloud of boiling dust. Faster than Flora grabbed him, Johnny is up and bolting like a frightened deer. The boy is running faster than a scared rabbit right on up the route then off into the pine forest. I have never seen a boy run so fast. Flora doesn't chase him, she stands there with her claw like hands on her big hips, stands there screeching and cackling like a witch laughing her fool head off. Shoot, just this terrifying sound of her voice is enough to make a sturdy plow mule drop dead from fright.
Flora turns and narrow-eyed stares at us girls way up Church House Hill hiding behind pine trees. She pulls out her knife and begins waving her throat slitting blade around above her head. Her long sharp knife shines and shimmers and glistens and glimmers with reflected hot sunlight, almost looks like her knife is slithering with crackling stovepipe lightning. She is screaming, "Tushtuli! Tushtuli!" which means "cut to pieces." She is going to cut us to pieces, she is going to slice us into breakfast bacon like grandma warned.
Cannot say with certainty, but I am sure the three of us girls run faster than Johnny. We bolt and run for miles through a dark spooky pine forest while slobbering and crying our entire way back to my grandparents' farm. Pine boughs slap at our faces, berry brambles catch at our overalls and hold on, nearby farm dogs take to barking and howling at us, Flora is working a witch's curse on us so she can track us and catch us.
We sit, hide and fidget seemingly forever at forest edge before daring to cross over the route to our farm; Flora might be coming, might catch us, might cut us to pieces then fry and eat us for breakfast. "Tushtuli!" She screamed "Tushtuli!" She's going to kill us and eat us for breakfast. I just know she is out there somewhere floating along like a ghastly ghost, floating along tracking us and hunting us. She probably made herself invisible so she can sneak up on us.
In anxious time, after a lot of crying and clinging to each other, I crawl on my belly out to roadside, slide and skid down into a deep weedy flood culvert then look back at Sally and Diane. I whisper, "Is Flora out there? Is Flora out there?" I see Sally looking up and down the route, Diane is still back in the forest hiding and crying. Sally whispers, "I don't see her," and she fearfully looks up and down the route again. Quietly tell her, "Go get Diane, we have to make a run for it, Flora might be in the forest behind us." Sally's eyes widen then she panics, she did not think of Flora tracking us through the forest like an Indian would do. Sally jumps up and runs to Diane then squats down to talk. Diane shakes her head "No!" and bites at her lower lip. She refuses let go of and leave her hiding tree. There is commotion, Diane is statue scared, she won't move. Sally finally takes her by an arm and drags Diane out to roadside, "Come on, Diane, come on. Flora is in the forest."
Those two join me down in this culvert, we look up and down the route, look behind us, Flora ain't around or seems so. I tell Sally and Diane, "Run! Run for the farmhouse!" I bolt and run, Sally and Diane linger back a bit to see if Flora will appear out of thin air, she doesn't and those two chase after me. I lead Sally and Diane around our well house and to the side of our house just below grandma's kitchen window. I figure grandma will hear us screaming if Flora comes for us.
We stand, we pant, we take to dripping sweat, we nervously look around. Sally points and says, "Taha, go see if Flora is coming to kill us." I don't want to look around the corner of our well house, I just know Flora is standing there, waiting and grinning with her knife up in the air ready to stab me right in the top of my head. "No, you go look, Sally." She shakes her head "no" at me. Diane pants out, "Go look, Taha, you're an Indian, you see better than we do." Sally pushes at me, "Go on, go see if Flora is hunting us down." She pushes me more. I give in, creep over to a corner of our well house, hold my breath then peek around to see if Flora is there. She is, Flora is standing there around the corner waiting to kill us and butcher us into bacon and steaks.
I scream and run backwards until I crash into Sally, Diane and our house. Those two take up screaming and stomping their feet, we grab at each other, cling to each other, then grandma comes walking around the corner. We fall silent. Grandma grins and asks, "What is the Hades are you girls up to now? I'm old but I ain't that ugly. You girls look like you've been in a horse race, you're all hot, sweaty and panting. Did you win the race?" Grandma laughs, we stand there like wide-eyed frightened yearlings. Diane starts up crying. Grandma is touched, "Oh, now, don't be crying, I looked around. Flora ain't out there, besides she is too lazy to chase after long-legged fillies like you girls. Come on around here and rest on our sitting bench under our shade tree. I'll fetch you some sassafras tea to drink." She motions with her old tough farm hand, "Come on, I ain't going let Flora get you." I know to go to grandma, she will kill to protect us, I run right over and take her hand. Sally and Diane are fearful, not so quick but they do come along. We walk around our well house then sit on our bench in the shade, "You girls stay here, I'll fetch some tea and you can tell me what happened."
Soon as grandma is out of earshot, Diane asks, "Are we going to get a butt switching?" Tell her, "I don't know."
Presently grandma comes back out carrying a half full gallon fruit jar of sassafras tea, "Here, you girls take turns drinking some tea, you won't be so thirsty." We take our turns drinking straight from her fruit jar, best tea I ever drank and the best shade I ever sat under. I don't forget my manners, "Thank you, grandma." Sally and Diane chime in, "Thank you, Mrs. Marrs," and Sally adds, "This is really good tea."
Grandma walks over by our corral. Our mules, Kitt and Belle, trot over to our corral fence near her figuring she is going to give them a bucket of sweet oats. Grandma looks out towards our corn field, then looks at me, "Taha, you go fetch a bucket of sweet oats for the mules." I jump right up, duck between fence rails then run over to our big feed bin, open the heavy tin covered lid and reach down for our oats bucket. I know to dump a half bucket in front of Kitt, and a half bucket in front of Belle so those two won't fight over their sweet oats. We only use a bridal feed bag when washing our mules and checking them for ticks and chiggers. After tossing our oats bucket back in the bin, I walk over to grandma, scissor step through our fence then stand next to her. I know what she is going to do but don't know why. If she calls out to grandpa, we are in for a butt switching for letting Flora get close to us. Grandma cups her hands around her mouth then loudly lets loose a "yodel-who" for Billyray. I can't yodel as loud as grandma but I cup my hands like she does and let go a "yodel-who". My voice is younger sounding and higher pitched than grandma's, Billyray will know we are both calling for him. When grandma wants grandpa, she "who-yodels" for him. Grandma gives me a hug and we walk together back over to Sally and Diane who are still swilling down tea like they are dying of thirst.
Minute or so later I see Billyray come trotting out of our corn field, he is hurrying along. He cuts over towards our smelly outhouse where he scare-scatters a bunch of hens scratching for bugs and worms, then trots right up, "Mrs. Marrs, are you alright, anything wrong?" He is not even panting nor sweating. He is a strong strapping boy. Billyray looks at Sally and Diane sitting there, then looks at me, "What's wrong, you girls look like you've been fighting a fire, is one of you snake bit?" Grandma pats his back, "Boy, go over there and have some of my sassafras tea, Sally there says my tea is right good." Billyray is always mindful of his manners around grandma, "Yes, ma'am," and Sally hands him our jar of tea. While he is sipping some tea grandma tells him, "Nah, son, ain't nobody snake bit. Only snake that got after these girls is that one named Flora." Billyray quickly lowers his jar and hands it to Diane, then he grins like he just ate a lightning bug, "Is that so, grandma!" When those two are funning, Billy calls her grandma. "Well, I reckon that ugly old hag gave you girls a good scare. I bet she waved her knife around and said she is going to slice you up into breakfast bacon! I declare she is the scariest woman I done know," then Billy reaches over and pulls me up close and gives me a hug, "Why that Flora is almost as scary as this little injun girl here." He smiles at me while I struggle to get loose from him so I can hit him. I get loose but decide not to hit him, I love the boy and his giving me attention. He's my boyfriend and those two girls know this. Ask Billy and he will deny being my boyfriend just to annoy me.
Grandma steps over and sits with those girls, exaggerates counting on her fingers, "I counted four of you kids this morning before you went up to town, where's Johnny England?" Sally and Diane don't say a word but I have to say something because grandma asked. I have to mind her, "Grandma, Flora throttled him then threw him down on the route. Last I saw Johnny he was running towards Eagletown, he cut off into the forest there by the livery stable. I reckon he is home by now." Billyray is amused and ornery, "Yeah, he is at home with Flora and she is slicing him into fine tasting breakfast bacon!"
Surprises all of us, Sally up and burst out balling and crying then jumps and runs to Billyray and slams right into my boy. She throws her arms around him and slobbers, "Flora is going to kill us, she's going to eat us!" I swear this way she is running her hands up and down his back the girl is pitching a woo on my boyfriend and ain't one bit scared. I'm suspicious. When Sally slides a hand down and squeezes his butt I know what she is doing. Boy howdy this makes me wet-hen mad! I step over and get a handful of her hair and give her head a good jerk, "You get away from my boyfriend, Sally Pope!" She takes to batting at my hand, screeches and tries to get loose. Billyray starts hollering, "Stop that! You girls quit your fighting!" Grandma is laughing so loud I can hear her over Billy yelling at us. He gets a hold on both of us then sorts us out, "You girls just quit your fighting, that ain't right." Sally and me take to staring daggers at each other, little distracting from my staring to hear grandma chuckling. Billy taunts both of us girls, "Besides, I decided to marry Flora, she'll make me a right feisty wife and I love breakfast bacon!"
Can't help but jerk my head around to him and blurt, "What? You can't marry Flora, you're supposed to marry me." Sally ain't far behind, "Billyray is not going to marry you, he's going to marry me!" I take a swing at Sally to whop her upside her head but Billy catches my arm midair, then Sally darts her hands out to scratch at my face and Billy bats her hands down. Darn if the boy doesn't grab each of us by an ear and lifts us up on our toes, this really hurts, feels like he is going to pull my ear off. Billy sternly says, "I told you girls to quit your fighting. You keep carrying on like this I'll give both of you bare butt switchings." Then he lets go and the two of us girls go back to glaring at each other. I just knew Sally was trying to pitch a woo on my boyfriend.
Grandma walks over, says, "I've had just about all the fun I can stand. Billy, I called you over to walk these girls home. You make sure Sally and Diane get home safe and keep an eye out for Flora, she really is a dangerous woman, she just might kill you, all of you, wouldn't be the first time she killed someone. You girls did right, you're supposed to run when you see Flora. Don't you ever let her get close to you like that dumb Johnny England did. Billyray, you get these girls home then you and Taha walk on up to Eagletown and pay a visit to Sookie, make sure her Johnny got home and ain't hurt. Taha, if you misbehave I'll have your grandpa give you a butt switching." Right off I tell my grandma, "Yes, ma'am, I promise to behave, I'll keep my word." Grandma knows I will, I always obey her.
Sally and me behave ourselves all the way to town, Billy won't let us hold his hand or anything. Not much talking, I guess he figures this best we girls keep our mouths shut. Billy is extra polite at their homes, lots of "yes, ma'am," and "yes, sir," for their parents. He is sure to tell those folks their girls did right, tells them Sally and Diane took off running as soon as they saw Flora. There is some hand shaking and "thank you" words for watching over their girls.
Up near town at Sookie's home, this is different. Billyray knocks, Sookie is delighted, "Billyray, you handsome cowboy, what a pleasure to have you come knocking on my door, and you got the prettiest little Choctaw girl around Eagletown with you!" Sookie grabs at me and hugs me tight, "I declare, Taha, you are really growing up. Look at you blossoming out and becoming a woman, you're just about ready to marry," she glances at Billy, "and this here boy would make you a fine husband, if I don't grab him first!" She just has to make me blush, she adds, "I heard tale Billyray is really good at making babies!" I don't think there is a girl or woman around town who ain't after my boyfriend. Sookie is not all this old and she is really pretty. She flirts with Billy every chance she can, I think she wants to make a husband of him and make him a father for Johnny but I'm not certain. Sookie tells she will make sure my boy marries me. Sookie sadly lost her husband to a logging accident, a huge log rolled off a big rig trailer and crushed her husband to death. All around pitch in and help Sookie survive but she does alright on her own, she earns decent money taking in sewing. Billyray goes up to her house often to help her out. He painted her house, nailed new tin on her roof, mended her fence and put in a new toilet for her. Sometimes he doesn't come home until well after dark, sometimes almost midnight. She can't afford to pay him so Sookie fixes nice suppers for him, visits with him and occasionally mends his overalls and shirts. I remember a night he came home with freshly mended overalls, don't know what he wore while Sookie patched his overalls. Maybe hurts my feelings a little but I really don't mind, Sookie is a good friend, she does need help and Sookie does get lonely.
Sookie invites us in. Right away I notice she has an electric sewing machine out and a bunch of clothes to mend. We don't have an electric machine at our farm but we do just fine with grandma's foot treadle Singer. Billy explains, "Sookie, we came by to check on Johnny. Is he home and alright?" Sookie is sincerely surprised, "Johnny is here and he is just fine, might need a daddy." She brushes my boyfriend's cheek and smiles, "but ain't nothing wrong." She hollers for her boy, "John, you come on out here, Billyray and Taha are here to visit with us!" Johnny comes walking out from a bedroom dragging his feet. He is looking down and acting sheepish. Sookie lays a hand on Billy's chest, "What's this all about?" Billyray looks over at Johnny, he has a pleading look in his eyes and looks about ready to start crying. Billy graciously lies, "Well, that damn Flora came out of the forest and snuck up behind Johnny and gave him a good scare. She grabbed him but Johnny fought her off then took to running for home like he is supposed to do." I watch Billy narrow his eyes at Johnny, "Ain't that so, Johnny? Flora snuck up on you and grabbed you from behind." Johnny nods "yes" but stays silent. Sookie suffers a fright, big tears well up in her eyes, she runs to her son, wants to know if he is hurt. The girl takes to frantically looking him over, "Oh no, son, you have bruises on your neck, did she choke you?" Johnny starts crying, his momma holds him close, "Don't you be afraid, I'll kill that woman, she needs killing."
When one of us says "needs killing" this is sincere and serious. Bad people are sometimes killed for the good of our community. This is Oklahoma justice. Although I am only about the age of Juliet in that famous Englishman book story, around thirteen, I know of a man who disappeared during my life, a drunkard who constantly beat on his wife. He up and vanished. I asked one of those old boys who play checkers and spit brown juice out front of Hendon's, I ask about this boy who went away, this old checkers player simply said, without looking at me, "He needed killing."
Billyray goes over and kneels by Sookie, lays an arm around her shoulders, "Don't go talking like that, Sookie, you'll end up in jail if you kill Flora and your boy won't have a momma or a daddy. Flora will get hers one of these days." Sookie nods in agreement, she understands. She knows a lot of people think Flora needs killing. Most likely she will be.