My father—Son of Comet—was a History teacher who was particularly adept at the retelling of old stories from the African American Folklore genre. I think that, at one time or another over the course of his teaching career, he must have brought home every book on Black Folklore that his school library possessed.
Once he’d mastered a story, he’d put his own spin on it then either; retell it to me, my brother and sister or, for the more risqué ones, to the guys sitting around the town square.
The square was actually a “squircle” but, that’s part of another story.
My favorite were the “Ghost Stories”. In addition to the stories, he had the “Shaking Hand” routine. When executing the “Shaking Hand” routine, the room would be darkened. We would lie in bed with the covers pulled up to our chins, anxiously peeking into the dark.
Then silently, the much anticipated, “Shaking Hand” would begin its stealthy advance from the next room preceded by a spooky moan that slowly rose in eerie volume and spooky intensity until suddenly! It was would be upon us; “The Shaking Hand”. In its claw-like embodiment, it reached; searching then pouncing into our abdomens; tickling us until we laughed ourselves into convulsions. Such was the advent “The Shaking Hand”.
The following is one of the ghostly tales my father would spin on those dark nights, after the “Shaking Hand” had eaten all of the childish laughter it could hold. I’ve taken his recipe and liberally added my own spices.
One dark, cold, winter night, he told this story: “’A weary jongleur and his equally weary horse were traveling a lonely road one dark and dreary night. The massive black thunderheads of an impending, violent storm lurked on the horizon, and the only shelter in sight, was an old, “abandoned” shack. The jongleur petted his trusty steed and prayed feverishly, “Dear God please watch over me tonight”.
He put his horse into the barn and made his way to the house, just before the storm broke. The door creaked open even before his hand touched it. Inside was a fireplace. There was wood laid for a fire. He put a match to it then sat down next to the fire, pulled out his old guitar and began to play it; humming to himself.
Gradually, the fire burned down to smoldering coals as the wind whipped around the shack, rattling the shutters, and whistling through the cracks in the walls rotting boards. The troubadour was suddenly jostled from his reverie by the door slamming open.
In walked a very large black cat, who sat down in the midst of the red hot coals. It picked a coal up in its paw and licked it slowly. The red hot coal sizzled as the cat’s wet, red tongue, slid roughly across it. Steam from the coal, slipped silently upward. The cat got up, shook off the ashes, and walked to where the jongleur sat transfixed. It stared at him with blazing red eyes; its long black tail silently slashing the air. Then, unexpectedly, it spoke, ‘you’d better not be here when John comes’ it hissed.
The cat slinked over to the far corner of the room and curled up on the floor, blazing red eyes fixed on the man. Nervously the man began to play his tune again. However this time striking a few sour chords.
Two minutes later, a midnight black bobcat skulked through the open door. It too lay down among the smoldering coals. It grabbed two of the hot coals and threw them into its mouth. Then, slowly chewing on the hot coals, it meandered over to the corner where the other cat lay. When he had finished his meal, he growled to the man, ‘You’d better not be here when John comes’ then it lay down and stared at the man; all the while flashing its glistening white teeth at the jongleur.
Suddenly! A high pitch scream, like the scream of a woman in pain, arose from outside the door. The man, frozen in fear, warily glanced towards the door as a jet-black panther cat stalked into the room. He walked over to the coals and blew on them until the flames were resurrected. He snorted the flames into his right nostril. He then snorted the flames into his left nostril. He breathed heavily; leaned back on his haunches and purred, ‘You better not be here when John comes’.
With that, the man quietly got to his feet, gathered his belongings and tipping his hat in the general direction the cats said, ‘While I certainly enjoyed the company of you cats, I must be going. When John comes, tell him I’m sorry I missed him but I had to go’. Then he lit out like a bat out of hades.””
The Moral of the story is: WHEN CONFRONTED WITH OVERWHELMING ODDS, TIP YOUR HAT.
Since we’re on the subject of panthers and the like. Join me next week for another of SON of COMET’S tales, “THE PANTHER TRUCK”.