Billy Watkins stood in the warm buzzing grass and looked down the hill to the water. Small gnats and other flying particulates lit the air and danced in the rays where they fell between the canyon foliage, appearing and disappearing between the bronze afternoon shadows. Roddy, the family's five-year-old golden retriever leaned into Billy's leg and looked down toward the waters edge where the boy's attention was fixed. It was the tree. The one that split down near the base and hung over the river. The one that was just the right height, and the just right angle. He knew what he needed and he was pretty sure where it was. Had just seen it, in fact, when his dad had been putting away the boxes just yesterday. Billy turned and ran for the shed.
They had just moved from Idaho. The year was 1990. Their old house had sat on the bank of a large lake. On the edge of their property was a tall tree that hung over the water from a steep bank. A rope swing had been tied to the tree many years before, and Billy had watched in awe and wonder as his older brother Davey had, like the superhero that older brothers can only be, shimmied and scratched his way up that seemingly mile-high trunk and set about tying a new rope in its place.
"It's a cow hitch, Billy." David said as he rubbed the bark fragments from his forearms.
"Some people would just tie a loop, ya see? Then they would throw it over the branch, put the other end through the loop and pull it tight. But me? I am smart guy, Billy Boy. I tied a hitch, which don't rub as you swing back and forth. See? smart." David tapped his forehead in an exaggerated manner.
Billy still remembered the knot.
The door on the shed was open and he entered the dark space. The boxes and crates lined the walls with a level of organization that can only accompany a cross country move; each box labeled and each green plastic crate stacked neatly one atop another. The floor was unnaturally free of dust. He poked his fingers through the holes in the crates as he looked at the dark shapes and colors held within. He moved one by one till he found the one he was looking for. The one with the big rope.
Billy grabbed the front of the milk crate and pulled. Nothing. The crate he needed was at the very bottom of a tall stack, and it looked like one of the stack had some of Davy's spare motorcycle parts in it, so Billy knew that meant it would be abnormally heavy.
Billy sighed and put his eye to the handle hole. The end of the big rope was close. He stuck his little hand into the hole and grabbed the rope. He was able to get its end worked out through the handle hole in the crate. He began puling the rope out but after about 15 feet something caught. The rope had gotten tangled somehow and a knot stuck on the other side. He pulled and yanked as hard as he could but he could not dislodge the rest of the rope. He threw it to the wooden floor in anger. Dammit! It's not fair being so little. Life sucks. If only he was strong like Davy he could just lift all those crates off at once and move on with life. He looked at the pile of rope on the floor and had an idea.
He grabbed the end of the rope and walked to the door of the shed and looked out into the yard for Roddy.
"Rowdy" Roddy was a good dog, a strong dog.
"Rowdy" Roddy had never lost a game of tug-a-war in his life.
Billy called and the dog came running across the yard. Billy held the end of the rope out and waggled it back and forth. Roddy skidded to a stop and leap at the rope. Billy swung it away from his mouth and the big dog lunged again and again. You can't let him have it right away, Billy knew. You had to get him good and worked up first.
After just the right amount of taunt Billy dropped his hand and slapped the thick rope deep into the dogs jaws. The dog lowered his head and pulled against Billy, who was quickly overpowered and yanked out into the yard.
Billy held on as the dog pulled the rope taught to the crate. Thunk. Roddy stopped for a moment, as if confused by the perceived rapid gain in Billy's strength, then lowered himself even more and gave a great growling pull. There was scraping sound immediately followed by a magnificent crash that was amplified by the silence of the canyon and the thin steel sides of the shed.
Roddy yelped and released the rope, turning to run. Billy spun around and saw a plume of dust lazily wafting through the door. He knew he has to work fast. He ran into the shed. The five boxes from the top of the stack lay on their sides at crooked angles, their contents lay strewn about like ship wreckage on the bottom of the ocean. The one with the rope coming through its handle had been pulled out into the middle of the floor. Only one crate remained on top of this lowest box. Billy quickly shoved the remaining crate to the side and gathered the big rope in his arms, running out the shed door. The end that he had pulled through the handle made a dull buzzing noise as it was pulled back through the handle hole, the cauterized end clearing the space with a light snap sound.
He ran behind the shed. Just as he hit his knees to the dirt he heard the screen door on the back porch screech open.
"What was that?" His mother yelled out into the yard. "Billy? What was that noise?"
He stayed quiet.
He heard the screen door band shut.
She was coming this way, toward the shed. Billy knelt in silence, trying to hear the swishing of the grass under his mothers feet. There were two light taps as her soft-soled shoes hit the wooden floor of the shed. She was inside now, probably looking at the mess and determining if Billy was smushed under the pile of rubble.
He looked down and saw with a start that the end of the rope was still leading around the corner of the shed. He hadn't pulled in the slack that he had used to taunt the dog. Damn. He peeked around the corner, the thick white braid ran down the side of the shed and disappeared around the corner toward the open door. My God! When she comes out she will see it for sure, and it will lead her here right to me!
His mother was still in the shed, poking around in one of the crates, it sounded like. Billy closed his eyes and began to pull in the loose rope. Finally the tip appeared around the corner and he let out a trembling breath and reigned in the last few feet just as his mother stepped back out into the sunlight. She held her hand up to her eyes to shade the sun, "Billy?" She stood for a moment, looked back at the shed, then started back towards the house. Roddy came to meet her halfway and followed her back inside hoping for a stray piece of pre-dinner to hit the floor.
Billy heard the screen door shut and looked around the corner of the shed. Upon seeing that the coast was clear, he gathered the rope in his arms and ran to the path that led down to the big tree that reached out so perfectly over the cloudy slow-moving water.
Recently homeless ex-investment banker Russell Frederick Leonard had walked the 25 miles from the Sunshine Rescue Mission in Flagstaff to Sedona to confront his ex-wife about the money she took from him, money that he had rightfully stolen from his firm. Money that he needed to get back into the game. Money that would fix it all. He arrived at the property only to find a Long Reality sign in the driveway with a large SOLD sticker slapped across the face at a happy angle. Caroline was long gone.
He broke into the old house and found the three-quarter-full 1.75 liter bottle of vodka he had long ago hidden in the crawl space access port, which was a small panel in the ceiling of the hallway closet.
As he was peeing circles into the living room carpet and taking big swigs from the vodka bottle he was startled by a large crash sound outside. He choked on a swallow and coughed, then moved quickly into the guest bedroom to hide, sure that the sound was some authority figure busting into the house to take him away. An hour later, and 1.16 liters of vodka drunker, Russell stumbled out the backdoor and down the path to the creek. The rocks were slick and the thorn bushes pulled at his dirty suite and cut shallow slices through his arms and legs. He looked closely at his bloody hands.
He crawled to the water, angry and maddeningly depressed. He slipped on a wet stone and face planted. He screamed into the water and the sound bubbled up around his head. He rose unsteadily, the blood from the small cuts running into his eyes. Then he saw it.
The large rope was tied to the tree branch with a cow hitch and looked brand new. Unscathed by the elements. He looked around and saw no one. Heard nothing but the birds and the sky and the trees and the mountains and everything else he used to love and as he looked into the warm afternoon light he understood. Russell Frederick Leonard knew at that moment the rope had been tied there for him.
Samantha Watkins stood in the Kitchen cleaning the dishes from dinner. "Rowdy" Roddy sat patiently alert near the sink, watching closely as the leftover food was scraped from the plates into the garbage disposal.
She had asked Billy about the crates in the shed, and he was adamant that he had nothing to do with it. A little too adamant, if you asked her, but he stuck to his innocence and quickly cleared his plate and asked to be excused and she had let him go. She would get to the bottom of it when Walter came home.
She heard a thumping woosh as Billy crossed the kitchen tile and ran out the screen door with a bang. Roddy scampered up off the floor and out the door, following the boy.
She watched out the window as he and the dog ran for the path that led down to the river. Something was up, she was sure of it now. She wiped her hands on a towel and cleared a few more plates from the table, then bent to tie the top off on the black kitchen trash bag. She lifted the bag out of the canister and heard the screen door slap shut.
Billy stood in the doorway and looked pale. "What?" She said, concern on her face.
She put the trash bag down and went to her son. "What's wrong, Billy?"
He pointed out toward the creek.
"There is a man hanging from my swing."
Russell Frederick Leonard now haunts that stretch of Oak Creek. The rope swing is still tied to the tree and can be found there to this day. Those who see it can obviously tell it is haunted. Or maybe it's just me.
Oh yeah, Ben Smith from azwanderings.com and I recently fished Oak Creek, where I saw the haunted rope swing.
Haunted. Rope. Swing.
Pics of fishy stuff:
|Russell did this. Ben Smith Photo.|
|Ben Smith Photo.|
|Unwind, bro. Dammit, Ben, I said bro again.|
-Alex who would totally name a dog after Rowdy Roddy Piper because it's awesome.