It was a small meeting house deep in the woods, but the Baptists who met deep in the wooded Ozarks during the midst of the Great Depression were bond together not only by blood but by a strong sense of communal sharing and love.
They all eked out a meager existence in the midst of the financial chaos that had overwhelmed the country. They all had farms of one kind or another and supplied for the common good of all.
While nobody became rich, they all had enough to eat and be healthy, which was a precious thing to have in such precarious times.
Brother Eli owned a hog farm in a lonely and desolate holler at the edge of the community. Although it was many miles from his farm to the small meeting house, he was there every Sunday morning and evening as well as on the midweek Wednesday prayer service. He made sure to bring his family of 4 with him rain or shine and in sickness or good health. We never cared for church politics so he never held an office even though his parents were life long members of the board. He instead just became the resident church sexton, taking care of the building and its property with reverence and hard work. He spent hours cleaning the inside of the church and repairing the outside, often taking the cost for materials right from his own pocket. His 3 children ranged in age from 12 to 25 were happy and very respectful to their elders, Eli and his wife Emma had raised them with values and love. For the times the wooded hills and valleys surrounding their homestead seemed like an ideal place to raise the family, for it was far away from the financial stresses that had decimated the big cities.
But just a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday something happened to Brother Eli.
Some of his friends in the church said it all started when his hogs had uncovered something while digging a hole in their pen.
It was a blackened statue made out of burnt wood, but to those who Eli had let examine the odd artifact it seemed as hard as stone and had the appearance of being semi fossilized. The statue was that of a humanoid figure with an enlarged head and wide almond shaped eyes and no discernable mouth, ears or nose. It had ling thin arms that folded over its abdomen and held an object that appeared to be a scroll of some kind. Its likewise thin legs came together as one pillar and it could stand upright if you placed the statue on a flat surface. One of the oddest things about the small half foot high visage was the cryptic writing that ran down the back of the artifact. No one had any sort of a clue as to what language these odd characters represented, and when they showed it to the Pastor who was the only one who had an education beyond elementary school he thought it looked a bit like Hebrew. But he stated repeatedly that it was not Hebrew but some odd language that to him looked almost pictographic in nature.
Thinking it to be some odd Indian relic, Eli placed it on the mantle of his fireplace as a treasure to show off to any visitor.
Within a few days of uncovering the artifact Eli found half of his hogs dead when he went out to feed them one morning. There were no marks on the bodies, but blood was caked on the eyes and nose of each of the dead hogs as if there was some sort of internal hemorrhage that had caused the demise of the large animals. The remaining animals acted very strangely as well. They constantly ran the inside of the fence that enclosed the pen. Thinking that the animals were panicked by the death of the other livestock even though the corpses had been removed, Eli tried to herd the remaining hogs to another pen on the far side of his house.
As soon as he opened the pen to move one animal at a time, all of the hogs as one made for the exit and knocked down Eli and his two sons. Quickly they ran off into the woods as if being chased by some unseen predator.
It took nearly all of the next two days to find most of the hogs and drag them back into the reserve pen. A few they found dead in the woods just like the others that had been found in the pen a few days before. And in one instance they had one of the hogs become enraged and attack.. It was odd in that it was not the mindless attack of a cornered creature; rather Eli and his son swear the pig was actually stalking them in the thick undergrowth as they waded through the overgrown foliage. They heard it slowly lumber at the edge of the brush and saw its brownish back just barely peaking out of the top of the brambles.It was circling them like a large cat would circle its prey.
Alarmed and intrigued Eli and his son stood still and waited to see what the large pig would do next.
Suddenly it bolted through the thorny briers as if unfazed by the pain of the thick wooden needles that ripped into its flesh. Like a charging bull it ran straight for Eli, and luckily he had his shotgun ready and took aim at the hog’s head as it popped over the undergrowth. With a blast from his gun the beast came crashing down at their feet. Amazingly even with two rounds of buckshot lodged squarely in its head the mighty hog still tried to raise itself and attack. A quick reload and another two rounds of buckshot finally did the trick. The manic creature was finally dead. There was talk afterward that perhaps the creature was rabid, but Eli swore the hog had blood coming from its eyes and nostrils even before he killed it with the fatal shotgun blasts.
Although it was a great loss, all the dead animals were incinerated in a bonfire for fear of spreading whatever disease they carried. The remaining Hogs still exhibited odd behavior, but after a while everything seemed to settle down.
However three days after the hogs were cremated Eli’s wife was banging on the Pastor’s door in the middle of the night. There had been some sort of conflict and Eli had attacked his youngest son with an axe. No one had been hurt, but Eli’s behavior had become increasingly disturbed ever since the hog had attacked him that day. It had started with him muttering to himself, one night after everyone had gone to bed his wife found him standing by the fireplace staring at the small statue and mumbling gibberish. When she asked him what was wrong he turned around and hissed at her with clenched teeth and fists as if in a rage for some unknown reasons. After a few seconds the fog seemed to lift from his eyes and he seemed confused and wanted to know what he was doing up so late. She guided him back to bed but his sleep was very fitful and he seemed to have violent nightmares as he aggressively tossed and turned the rest of the evening.
All the next day he did not seem himself, he was constantly agitated and often yelled in rage at the slightest provocation when he usually took life in a very laid back manner. That night she again awoke in the middle of the night only to find him muttering to himself in front of the fireplace once again. That was when she made the connection with his behavior and the relic that was unearthed from the hog pen. Eli was not muttering in front of the fireplace, he was in fact chanting in some unknown tongue to the artifact. As she made her way to the side of the room she could see Eli’s intense stare as he focused on the odd idol, as well as his menacing scowl as his lips formed the hate laced alien words. It was then that he noticed her presence and he abruptly stopped. He turned calmly toward her and seeing the fear in her eyes he laughed a laugh that she was sure had not come from her husband, but rather some ungodly thing had twisted his vocal cords to produce a growling cackle than no mere human could have made. She ran upstairs and locked the bedroom door.
Them next day she talked with her sons and they too had noticed the odd behavior in their father. They were sure that the ebony idol that they had discovered held some sort of curse or evil power. A power that had possessed their beloved Eli. They took the idol and threw it in the fireplace, and as if on cue the front door smashed open in a violent shower of splinters and Eli came in throwing back the remains of the door with the head of the axe which he gripped tightly in his hands. He was screaming the unknown words now and with a powerful swing the aimed at his sons head with as he let loose a heavy blow. Luckily the young boy was quicker than the older man and he quickly ducked and rolled out of the way. Twice more he swung the axe and with that the entire family fled the house. The boys decided to stay and watch what his father would do next and the mother quickly made her way down the dirt path to the preacher’s house for spiritual help.
The pastor listened with grim amazement at the story and vowed to do anything he could, so they cranked up the ministers truck and made their way through the middle of the dark to confront Eli.
A few miles away their hearts sank as they saw the glow of a large fire in the distance. And as they near the homestead they found their fears to be realized as they saw the old farm had gone up in flames and the light of the blaze was lighting the sky up for miles around.
As they pulled around the last bend before the farm they saw the fire had engulfed all the buildings. And lying by the side of the road highlighted by the blaze sat four shadowy figures, one of which was being tended to by the other three.
It was Eli and his sons. Eli had burns on his hands and face and was unconscious.
Illuminated by the destruction of everything they owned Eli’s wife ran to her incapacitated husband and fell at his side. Crying in a mournful wail she screamed into the heavens. As she cradled her husband the sons explained to the pastor that they saw their father try in vain to pull the artifact from the burning embers of the fireplace. As a result he started the fire that had now destroyed every building of the farm. As the flames started to lick up Eli’s arms, his sons ran in and knocked him out with a candle stick. The burning idol fell from his hands and as they pulled him from the house the blaze spread.
They all prayed together a quick prayer for Eli and lifted him into the preachers truck. Within an hour they arrived at a local hospital.
The burns were severe, but luckily there was no infection to complicate the recovery for the farmer. He did have a fractured skull from the blow to the head but it was not life threatening. By morning Eli woke up in the hospital and demanded to know what had happened. He had no memory of his rampage. In fact the last three days were a blur of shadowy memories. Although he had no symptoms of rabies, he was treated for the disease because of the odd behavior of both the livestock and himself. There were no animal remains left to dissect to prove that the incident was rabies related.
Eli fully recovered after a few months and he never had another manic incident. The farm was a complete loss, and the community did help them to rebuild. But they consecrated the ground before the first timber was set in place. No evidence of the dark idol was ever found in the burnt ruins, but they wanted to be safe. Even though the incident left physical and emotional scars his spiritual life blossomed. His family had endured a terrible spiritual darkness and his sons, who were not too spiritually concerned, dedicated their lives to God. His wife became a more devout believer in prayer, and Eli himself found a depth to his soul that he never experienced before. Before this incident he had held a ‘simple’ faith, but now he dwelt in a larger world and knew first hand the victory that God can do in a person’s heart and a family’s life, even though he might have to go through trying times beyond comprehension.
Now this is a story told to me by a minister who had once done charity work in the area that this incident supposedly happened. So although it is second (or third) hand account the tellers claimed that they were the descendants of Eli.
What was the dark petrified artifact? What was its origin? Did it invite a demonic force to the area? Or was it a fetish of evil that opened a doorway for the presence of malignant entities?
Or was it some sort of disease that had an affect on both the livestock and Eli? Perhaps merely the stress of losing so many hogs that made Eli temporarily insane?
Something transformed mild mannered Eli into a homicidal maniac.
Explain it as you will, to me it was something tied to that strange relic that had lay hidden in the ground for untold years.
Until next time,