By Dale Grubaugh
It sounded like horses runnin’.
The whole thing started nigh on 20 years ago this October. We were living right where we are now — on this old farm here in Taney County. It’s a rugged part of the county and the farm’s not much good for farming, though mighty pretty to look at.
There are hollers and ridges and more than a fair share of bald knobs. It’s a good place for hunting and a good place for camping, too.
Like I said, it was nigh on 20 years ago this month. My son — he was about 14 at the time — and I were going camping off in the hollow ’neath the shadow of one of the balds.
It was long about dark, as we sat staring at the fire, that we began to hear sounds off in the distance.
At first, I figured it was some of the neighbor boys running foxes for we could hear horses — although I heard no dogs.
I reckon it was an hour later we heard those horses again. They were comin’ up the holler right toward us and there were a lot of ’em!
I hollered and we scrabbled out of the way. Those horses ran right through our camp, or at least it sounded like it. The creak of leather and the sound of the hoofbeats and you could hear the horses breathing hard.
The fire flared up bright, lighting up the whole campsite and casting weird shadows on the trees.
But we saw nothin’.
In an instant it had passed and all was quiet.
Dad, what was that? I honestly didn’t know.
I said it was probably just the wind and he looked at me like I had lost my mind.
And I wasn’t sure I hadn’t.
Well, we finally got settled down and was preparin’ for bed. And that was when the noises began again — this time up on the Bald. We could hear the horses — and hollerin’ and men talking rough-like.
I grabbed my flashlight and we went to see what was going on. Folks had a habit of trespassing and if that's what they were doing, it was gonna be taken care of once and for all.
But as we climbed that old Bald Knob, it looked like a cloud of fog had settled in and there were balls of light moving about.
Those balls of light were torches and in the shadows I could see men on horseback. There were noises of a struggle and then a blood-curdling scream.
In the midst of the men and horses was a ghastly sight — hanging from a tree atop the bald was a man.
The riders turned on me. One man spurred his horse to a gallop right at me, his eyes — and the eyes of his horse — glowing red.
They rode through me and then? All went quiet.
The man in the tree was still there, his body swinging. As I looked up, he looked down, and in a voice rough and slow, said one word:
We did. All the way back to the camp.
As we packed up, my son found something on a log near the fire: a flour-sack with holes cut for eyes and mouth and the bottom corners stuffed and tied off to look like horns.
It was the mask of a Baldknobber.
Scared though he was, my son thought we should take it home with us and that's just what we did, hanging it on the wall next to the fireplace.
About the same time a year later, the mask disappeared. I asked my family if anyone had moved it. All said no.
The next week saw us back at that old campsite in the shadow of the Bald, cutting firewood. And there, on that old log, lay the mask.
We took it back to the house and placed it on its hook on the wall near the old stone fireplace.
And you know what? That mask disappears every year about this time and I find it on that old, now-rotted log in the shadow of the mountain.
My son and I have never gone camping up there again.
But when the fog hangs low in the holler and begins to creep up the ridges on a cold October evening, I step out on the back porch and look up to the bald and I can see those balls of light again.
And hear a faint scream....