“The Affair at Grover Station”—An Occult Detective Story by Willa Cather, 1900

The Affair at Grover Station

Willa Sibert Cather

First published in The Library, I (June 16, 1900):  3-4.

Part 1

I heard this story sitting on the rear platform of an accommodation freight that crawled along through the brown, sun-dried wilderness between Grover Station and Cheyenne. The narrator was “Terrapin” Rodgers, who had been a classmate of mine at Princeton, and who was then cashier in the B— railroad office at Cheyenne. Rodgers was an Albany boy, but after his father failed in business, his uncle got “Terrapin” a position on a Western railroad, and he left college and disappeared completely from our little world, and it was not until I was sent West, by the University with a party of geologists who were digging for fossils in the region about Sterling, Colorado, that I saw him again. On this particular occasion Rodgers had been down at Sterling to spend Sunday with me, and I accompanied him when he returned to Cheyenne.

When the train pulled out of Grover Station, we were sitting smoking on the rear platform, watching the pale yellow disk of the moon that was just rising and that drenched the naked, gray plains in a soft lemon-colored light. The telegraph poles scored the sky like a musical staff as they flashed by, and the stars, seen between the wires, looked like the notes of some erratic symphony. The stillness of the night and the loneliness and barenness of the plains were conducive to an uncanny train of thought. We had just left Grover Station behind us, and the murder of the station agent at Grover, which had occured the previous winter, was still the subject of much conjecturing and theorizing all along that line of railroad. Rodgers had been an intimate friend of the murdered agent, and it was said that he knew more about the affair than any other living man, but with that peculiar reticence which at college had won him the soubriquet “Terrapin,” he had kept what he knew to himself, and even the most accomplished reporter on the New York Journal, who had traveled halfway across the continent for the express purpose of pumping Rodgers, had given him up as impossible. But I had known Rodgers a long time, and since I had been grubbing in the chalk about Sterling, we had fallen into a habit of exchanging confidences, for it is good to see an old face in a strange land. So, as the little red station house at Grover faded into the distance, I asked him point blank what he knew about the murder of Lawrence O’Toole. Rodgers took a long pull at his black-briar pipe as he answered me.

“Well, yes, I could tell you something about it, but the question is how much you’d believe, and whether you could restrain yourself from reporting it to the Society for Psychical Research. I never told the story but once, and then it was to the Division Superintendent, and when I finished the old gentleman asked if I were a drinking man, and remarking that a fertile imagination was not a desirable quality in a raillroad employee, said it would be just as well if the story went no further. You see it’s a grewsome tale, and someway we don’t like to be reminded that there are more things in heaven and earth than our systems of philosophy can grapple with. However, I should rather like to tell the story to a man who would look at it objectively and leave it in the domain of pure incident where it belongs. It would unburden my mind, and I’d like to get a scientific man’s opinion on the yarn. But I suppose I’d better begin at the beginning, with the dance which preceded the tragedy, just as such things follow each other in a play. I notice that Destiny, who is a good deal of an artist in her way, frequently falls back upon that elementary principle of contrast to make things interesting for us.

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“An Accidental Coven”—A Short Story by Laura Blackwell

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Three women arrive at a party in the same dress. That night, everything changes. This story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

One Saturday night six months ago, my husband and I attended a party where we saw three women wearing the same dress. To save those present from embarrassment, I will not identify them by name, career, or family status, but instead describe the fateful three by their avocations: the Artist, the Athlete, and the Gardener. This is my attempt to piece together the events of that evening, what led to them, and the subsequent fallout.

*

The Artist happened across the dress two months before the party, while shopping for a new set of kitchen knives. As she ascended the department store escalator, the dress caught her eye, summoning her with its exuberant splashes of color against a rich brown ground. When she got close, she saw that the splashes were full-blown blossoms. She tried it on, reveling in the full skirt’s swirl around her legs. She wore it often, no matter what the occasion was.

*

In their natural states, one of the women was fair-skinned, with brilliant red hair; one was dark-skinned, with tight black curls; and one was olive-skinned, with loose waves of deep brown.

*

On the night of the party, one of the women wore her hair short and one wore it up. One had no hair, thanks to the chemo.

Read the rest of this Pushcart Prize-nominated story here:

https://curiousfictions.com/stories/2522-laura-blackwell-an-accidental-coven

This story originally appeared in Syntax & Salt.

From my new horror story “The Testament of Harriet Tubman”. What do you think? Would you read it? Let me know in comments!

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“I will help those men, those women, those children. I will help them with you. Or I will help them without you. Make no mistake, Sir. It will be me, not some hero made of shadows, at the front of that line. I will get on my hands and knees and lay each piece of that moaning track, as that line moves along, piece by piece, as the line moves along, till my knees bleed and my back breaks, if that’s what I got to do. I will be there; candle glowing, right up front. A long line of candles, burning like the devil’s footprints in the blackest night. It ain’t about the destination, you see, or what someone told you you need to do to save your soul. It’s about what your heart screams at you, from the pit of hopelessness. You can go for the love of God with a clean conscience. You can go with vengeance laying on your skin red and hot as a brand. Don’t make no difference to me. Just so long as you start walking. Light up the hole of the night with a line of light, hang on, think only about the walking, and it will lead you to freedom.”

The rocker creaked against the rotting green boards of the porch. Back and forth. Like time.

She diverted her eyes upward and appeared to be staring into the oaks that lined each side of a long rutted path that led to the creek; their branches, waist-thick in places, seemed to curl before his eyes like something from a fairy tale. Moss hung from the branches; swayed in the warm air. It made him think of the unkempt hair of old women in storybooks, snagged while night-flying on crooked sticks through the trees.

The moon went behind a wisp of cloud. Crickets sung. The wind picked up. A cluster of moss landed on the porch step. He watched her lift the skirt of her white dress kneel on the ground and lift a delicate gray tendril with one slender finger. He thought he heard her whisper something, but that could have been the leaves.

The moon reappeared, full and white and unblinking as the eye of God. It Illuminated strands of gray that ran like silver threads through her coal-black hair, pulled smooth and tight across the top of her head.

Could he, too, hear the moss sighing from the tangle of dead leaves? “It’s whispering its surprise at so sudden a freedom— after a lifetime of hanging from them trees.”

She looked up at him. Her milky eyes burning into his. “Best thing for you to do, if you ain’t helping, is to forget you ever laid eyes on me. Forget; and be mindful that you stay out of my way.”

She stood slowly, bent to brush something from her dress. Closed her eyes. Her nostrils quivered at the smell of nightime; moist air and rotting leaves; and the smoke from hidden fires.

It was time.

—from “The Testament of Harriet Tubman” (c)2019 by Sanguine Woods. All rights reserved.

“Letter to NY”—A Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

The Sanguine Woods

For Louise Crane

In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road gose round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so teribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field…

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Why Donald Trump Hates Thoreau’s Walden, or: “Do you want an armed soldier to point a gun at you & your kids & tell you what you are not allowed say at a football game or in the food court or in church?

The Sanguine Woods

This letter, from a concerned citizen who loves America regardless of its beliefs, race, orientation, gender, political faction, &tc. I wanted to share it because it is so powerful!

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Dear United States of America:

“There are solider with assault rifles stationed at walden Pond.”

Mr. Trump doesn’t like people like Henry David Thoreau. People who demonstrate—even calmly—concern Mr. Trump.

“You’re an American,” Mr. Trump says: “act happy.”

But what if we aren’t?

Happy that is.

What if we feel as though we have no voice? And so we decide to show our unhappiness with being told what to do and how to live by moving out to the woods, near a lake or a pond, and build a little cabin with our own hands, and decide we aren’t going to tolerate the way things are going in our nation. So we decide to live off the land—OUR LAND—and we grow…

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Great Short Stories, Good Bones, & Jimmy Dean

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The Sanguine Woods

A stellar short story starts with grand bone structure. Just like a beautiful face. I read a handful of short stories every single night and I have for decades. There are many that are very good. There are those that aren’t very good, but good—and you can see where they went astray, perhaps, where they try too hard or not hard enough. Lots of telling not enough showing—dialogue / prose that doesn’t understand how to reveal character / atmosphere…you’ve heard the schpeel. The ones I choose to share on Social Media—and my blog (thesanguinewoods.com)—I consider to be so very good and often in the great category. There’s just not enough time or room to share them all across the quality spectrum. But I learn something valuable from each and every one I read. A lot of commentary on short fiction is opinion. Things like style and voice are subjective. What…

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