Chapter 1 – From the Book “ The Tent and The Crossroad” A Christian Paranormal Thriller of Spiritual Warfare. 1935 Mississippi surrounding the legend of Robert Johnson. Souls seeking fame.
“For great is your mercy toward me; and You have delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” Psalm 86:13
Some stories have a beginning. Some stories have an end. This story has a crossroad. It is the year 1935. This last decade has tried the hearts of men. White men had lost the power of being white. Black men had lost the hope of gaining all that was lost in 400 years of struggle. Nevertheless, there is always hope in every story. This story is no exception. The history of Blacks in America is always hidden on a plantation road, a sharecropper’s field, or destitute farm. This historical journey starts at the crossroad.
In rural folklore, the intersection of two roads was often regarded as an evil place. It was the place where black magic and evil married. This notion dated back to early myths in Africa. It is believed that many men have followed in the steps of famous blues guitarist Robert Johnson, reaching for fame and supernatural talent at the crossroad. He sold his soul at the crossroad for fame, women, and money. His soul gained the worldwide fame. He also gained eternity in hell.
It is that desperation in a musician’s and performer’s soul that seeks out the shortest path to fame instead of hard work. There is something good to be said about hard work. Many have failed over the years in their quest to follow this legend. They have gotten more than they bargained for. The crossroad is an unconventional costly path for fame. It sadly promises fame mixed with despair, destruction, hardship and for some…. death. This story is a small innocent warning about that cost a soul might pay for fame.
However, there is always somebody somewhere praying. There is always a church mother calling upon Jesus at 3 AM for the ones the world has forgotten. There is always a saint of God somewhere in battle for the lost that do not even know how lost they are at the crossroad.
The spring of 1935 had brought very little rain. It was hot like summer, but filled with spring’s harvest of grief. There was always some poor soul that wanted fame more than they wanted life. So they thought. That desperate soul would come to the crossroad this spring in Clarksdale Mississippi to cut a deal and most likely end up dead.
When they died… and they did, somebody had to bury them. Most of the time they had no local kinfolks to see them off. Meshach Jake LaSalle was the town undertaker for the Negroes. He was the gravedigger that buried the Negroes and the crossroad’s corpses that made their way to town. His parlor was across the tracks in town. His shack consisted of stacks of pine boxes, mud boots, and several sturdy shovels. Meshach believed that a pine box was all the dead needed to get to the other side.
He was a sad grim man. He never smiled. He took pride in being the last dark face a soul would see before crossing into heaven or hell. He was a tall skinny man with lines on his face that carried years of death fighting life hidden under a black derby hat. He was about 6’4” with large thin dark veiny hands. He slid his skinny burdened frame into a striped shirt, gray flannel vest, and larger than life blue jeans tied with a rope no matter what occasion he was tending to. He stood like a question mark with his curved spine.
His voice rang out from his frame like the distant clanging of deep bass-like bells in the church tower. He had no family that anyone knew of. He was just born into the world through an unknown black woman who never looked back to give him love. His dark sulking eyes, hunched back, and thin battered face cast a sundown on the sorrowed faces of broken dead souls. He was afraid of his own shadow. Burying the dead had given him a lifestyle of drinking and fighting to comfort the grief. When he wasn’t sticking some poor soul in the grave he was locked up in the local jail sleeping off the weekend boozing.
Sheriff Lynchburg controlled Clarksdale, Mississippi where our story starts. He hated the Blacks. He hated them more than he hated winter nights. But he had taken a liking to Meshach. He was a regular. He felt sorry for the task he had in life of burying the dead and robbing the living to make ends meet. The Sherriff had just let him out of jail from drinking all Friday night.
“Meshach, I am letting you out early today. I am heading out of town to go fishing. Be a good boy!” Said the Sheriff as he opened the jail house front door.
“I will Sheriff. I got work to tend to today. Yup. It’s Saturday. I am always busy on de weekends.”
“Go on get to it. I don’t won’t to see your grey butt crack my jail house door again to next weekend. Ya hear?”
“Yesumm. See ya next week Sherriff.”
Meshach headed toward his house to start the day. He didn’t charge a lot for burying Black folks because he knew he was the only undertaker within 50 miles that tended to Negroes. He was all they had. Meshach was the only one they could seek out to seeing that their loved ones had a proper going home to the Lord… or to the Devil.
He always did good business in the spring. But he wasn’t burying as many Blacks. It was the visitors to the town that died. His business thrived off of the legend of the crossroad outside town. He made his money from the passion and hunger of musicians, actors, and vaudeville performers who passed through the area to make a quick deal with the Devil for their souls. It seems like that one’s soul should not be for sale for such an eternal price. For many the price was too high so they left town quickly. For some their ignorance of what exactly they were selling cost them the right to grow old.
Meshach had just got out of jail that morning from drinking all Friday night. He went back to his small shop near the tracks. The sun had already started to burn with desert-like intensity before 9 AM that morning. Before he could even think about lying down some more to rest, there was a White man’s body wrapped in red and white checker cloth. Meshach could see one white foot hanging out and one foot with a shoe barely hanging on. Lying next to it was a royal blue guitar carefully placed by the side. A small white piece of paper was attached to the guitar, and was flapping in the morning’s hot wind. It read:
“Pleze bury our friend. We fled 4 our lives. Here is 3.00 to cover his death”
Meshach threw his hand up in the air with anger and frustration. The $3.00 was stuck inside the guitar. He put it in his pocket and sized up the body. He could use the money the guitar would bring, but it didn’t sit right with him to rob the dead.
It was his unspoken task to bury the crossroad’s corpses. He walked over to the corpse to check to make sure he was dead. He kicked the body hard with his right foot. The White man’s brown dishpan hair moved a little then stopped. He waited. No movement was returned. He leaned back and looked up at the morning sky.
The Mississippi buzzards had already begun to fly above his head in slow progressive circles lowering to the ground. He cracked his stiff back and headed toward his shed behind his small row house. He passed by a hand painted sign in his yard that read: LaSalle Funeral Parlor. A big black crow was perched on his sign watching his every move. He picked up a shovel leaning on the back porch wall that would get the job done. Meshach headed back behind the shed to get a pine box.
He had a stack of pine boxes that he used for the dead from the crossroad. They were stacked on the back of his land behind the shed just a stone’s throw away from the tracks. He took care to paint a small upside down black cross on the top of the boxes. Meshach wanted to make sure that the person who might find the graves one day would know the source of those people’s death. A train whistled by as he reached the boxes. He took out a handkerchief and waved it at the conductor with a long tired wave. The train responded back with a whistle blow as he sped through town.
Meshach loaded the pine box on the cart with his mule Heifer. Heifer was his best friend. He kept a straw hat with a flower on her head. Every now and then he tied a scarf on her neck so she felt more like a lady. Heifer pulled the cart around to the front while Meshach walked behind her wiping sweat and Friday night alcohol from his brow. As he reached the front of the house one of the buzzards was nibbling on the poor soul’s toe. He shooed the buzzard away with his black derby, then placed it ever-so-carefully back on his head. It was the most expensive thing he owned.
He cracked his back one more time. He bent down picking up the cold sweating body from the ground. It was still a little flexible. The stiffness had not set in yet. He placed the corpse very gently on the cart next to the box. He took great care in not harming the body. Meshach was known for having a tender touch with the dead. He treated them with more care than he handled the living. The Sheriff gave him $10.00 a month to cover the burial costs of the corpses from the crossroad. He grabbed Heifer’s reigns walking her down the hill away from the tracks toward the cemetery just outside town.
All of that hard work had got him a little thirsty. He pulled out a flask from his pocket and sipped slowly to quench his thirst. His eyes rolled in his head with pleasure. Burying the dead was hard work. It was just as hard as living for Meshach. As he reached the cemetery, he stopped outside the gates. There were two stone walls on each side of the entrance to the cemetery. The stone wall on the right side had a phrase and scripture carved on wood mounted on it. It read:
Dear Soul, Rest in Peace. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”John 14:1-3
On the stone wall on the left it read:
Soul, what more could I say that would convince you don’t go down there? Hell is society at its worst. To live among the vilest sinners, whose lust cannot be satisfied whose cravings can never be quenched. “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.” Mark 9:44
Meshach took off his derby and placed it over his heart. He stood before the two stone walls in silence out of respect for the sea of graves that lay before him. After a few minutes of silence he lifted his head up and patted Heifer on the head to calm her down.
“Come on gal. We got work to do. This old earth is hungry.”
Meshach pulled the mule through the gates into the cemetery. Heifer didn’t like going in there. She knew something Meshach did not know. She could see things his eyes could not see. Most animals do. Which is why he would not bury the souls at night. He followed the dirt path that led to the back row of the cemetery. Heifer hissed at the graves and stones lining the road. It was about ½ mile away from the gates. It was an ancient unkempt grave site. It was flat green land with four lonely oak trees on the horizon.
The four trees marked four sections of the cemetery that divided the four corners of the world that unknown souls came from. The grave plots below the Northern hemisphere were almost filled to capacity. But the Eastern section was catching up. He headed toward the northern trees. He had started burying some of the souls from the North in the East.
Across from the four trees was the Negro cemetery. It had a small chapel that was used for funerals and wakes. It was the only peaceful place in the area. It had a black iron gate that separated it from the graves of the unknown. It had a grove of trees around it and a large garden. It had an iron gates at the entrance of the path that led to the chapel. The wooden white chapel sat in the middle of the Negro cemetery. It had a long steeple with a cross that towered over the land. It had been there for over 185 years. Slaves and sharecroppers shared the grave site. Most of them were on the heavenly train to glory. A few…had another train to take.
The path that leads to the Black cemetery had been well kept by Aida Polly Jones of the First Apostolic Faith Deliverance Temple. She came by every Saturday to tend to the flowers in the garden of the Negroes’ graves. She prayed very loud and sang hymns over the heavenly souls. She wept tears for the lost who had just missed the heavenly train. Meshach enjoyed the Negro funerals. It was the closest thing he had to going to church. It was the only part of the cemetery that didn’t make him feel jumbled inside. He was a man with many fears like any other man. He knew more than others did about what he was dealing with when he buried the corpses of the crossroad souls.
He pulled Heifer even harder to get her to head further back. As he passed the path to the Negro section he could see a woman bent over tending to the flowers in the garden. It looked like Sister Aida. Meshach tried to pass by quickly unnoticed. Sister Aida had been inviting him to church for years. She figured if she could save his soul, he’d make a great husband. She had made her mind up he was worth saving.
“Brother Meshach. Praise him! Wait up. I want to run something by you. Wait up! My Lord! You are walking soooo fast. Sweet goodness!”
“Morning Sister Aida. Morning.” Yelled back Meshach as he tried to walk faster.
“Hurry up Heifer! If that gal catches me, I am blaming you!” He whispered in Heifer’s ear. Heifer came to a full stop. She rolled her eyes at him.
“I should have known you be on her side!” groaned Meshach.
“Oh my Lord, another lost soul! This might not be the time to talk to you about church, is it?”
Heifer started stomping her feet on the ground as she watched the woman. She was trying hard to move away from her. Heifer began acting violently strange. Meshach tried to calm her down by rubbing her back. She bucked in the air several times braying. She kept watching the woman.
“Whoa now girl! What’s wrong? You normally don’t act this way around folks, calm down girl. Whoa! Sorry about that Sister. No Sister Aida. This is not the time. Out of respect for the dead, wait till later today. I will come by your place.”
“You will! I mean you will? Bless your heart. You iz a good man. I know you are. I was looking for you Friday night. Was you out…”
Just then sun went away. A huge black could swept across the grounds blocking the sun. It became dreadful cold in the cemetery. Heifer started kicking and pulling back. She was trying to turn herself around to head back out of the area.
“Whoa Heifer! Easy now gal. Whoa! Calm down now girl. We got a body back here!” Meshach said as he pulled her reigns tight. The darkness seemed to last for several minutes before the sun came back out. The dark cloud lowered itself to the ground. It hovered for a few seconds and then it went into the earth. It left Meshach speechless. They looked at each other in silence and fear. Heifer began kicking wildly trying to loosen herself from the cart.
“Hurry up and do what you have to do Meshach. I will stay with you and pray. This day don’t feel right.”
“I am in total agreement Aida. I am going to make this quick. But don’t and I mean don’t pray out loud. You will stir up trouble!”
“Don’t worry, I won’t…”
Meshach saw a small patch of ground a few feet away he could use to bury the body quickly. He had already started a good deep hole there a few days ago. Heifer had begun to calm down a bit. He pulled the pine box off of the wagon. The woman helped to speed up the process. They didn’t say a word. They carried the box over to the grave spot. They walked back to the cart and picked up the white man’s body wrapped in the checker sheet. They carried the corpse over to the grave. Meshach had grabbed the shovel off the cart. Just then the Sherriff walked up. He was cutting through the cemetery to get to the lake across the way to fish. He was puzzled by their silence. He knew that Sister Aida was a very talkative woman.
“I can hear death taking a cigarette break it’s so quiet out here. Everything okay?”
“Yes Sheriff. It’s just a very hot day for grave digging.” Meshach spoke lowly. He knew he would not believe him if he told him what had just happened.
“Oh my, Sherriff I am glad you are here. We just…”
“Shhhh. You hear that?” Whispered Sheriff Lynchburg.
“What in tar nation is that noise? It’s coming from the hole you digging!”
The Sheriff pushed back Aida and Meshach. He put his fishing equipment slowly on the ground. Meshach lifted his shovel over his shoulder as a weapon. Then slowly began to back away. The corpse lay on the ground almost in the hole. The Sheriff pulled his gun out as he pierced through the hole. The noise became a little louder. The dirt in the hole was shifting around with movement. It was beginning to lift up as if something was coming from under the ground upward.
“Back up! My Lord. Meshach what did you put in the hole?”
“Nothing Sheriff! We just got here! I tell ya nothing!”
The woman tried to hold in her desire to scream. She covered her hands over her mouth. She backed away with Meshach and the Sheriff. The sun went away again. The black cloud was back, but bigger than it was before. It was as big as the field. It hovered above their heads. The three looked up at the black cloud with fear. Lightning was flashing aggressively inside the black cloud. The Sheriff pulled his gun out of his holster ready to use it. He aimed at that cloud.
The Tent and The Crossroad