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Tailypo: An Appalachian Folktale -The Weekly Holler #18

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August 21 · Issue #18 · View online
American Mythology
Welcome to The Weekly Holler. This newsletter is published by Luke Bauserman. Luke grew up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. As a young adult, he worked in a nursing home while studying history in college. During this time, he made friends with and heard many stories from the “old-timers” of his community. Shortly before graduating, Luke won the Randolph Stone Award for Historical Writing from Ohio University. Luke is working on his first novel, an Appalachian folklore fantasy (updates forthcoming). 

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Tailypo: An Appalachian Folktale
Illustration by Katherine Coville
Illustration by Katherine Coville
There are many versions of this tale. Here’s how I tell it: 
Old Man Fletcher lived in a log cabin, up a dark holler, deep in the mountains of West Virginia. He had three dogs that kept him company on the long lonely nights. Their names were I-Know, You-Know and Calico.
The cabin only had one room. Old Man Fletcher had his bed one on side of the room and his fireplace was on the other. His dogs slept in the crawlspace under the porch. On cold winter nights, Old Man Fletcher liked to sit by the fireplace and warm his bones.
One winter night, Old Man Fletcher was feeling mighty hungry. The weather had been bad for several days, so he hadn’t been able to hunt and all he had left to eat was a handful of dry beans. He threw them into his cast iron pot where they landed with a hollow rattle, poured in some water from his gourd dipper, added a pinch of salt, and put them over the fire to cook.
The water in the pot began to boil. After awhile, Old Man Fletcher dipped his wooden spoon in and tasted the beans. They were still hard. Old Man Fletcher grimaced as he swallowed the rough mouthful. Why did beans take so long to cook? His stomach grumbled and he knew that the measly handful of beans wouldn’t be enough to satisfy his belly. He needed meat—maybe some salt pork or a slab of fatback. His mouth watered at the thought.
He settled back in his hickory chair and stared into the flames, listening to the bubbling of the beans. Logs burned down into coals. Old Man Fletcher sighed, and picked up another log to add. It was too big to fit under the pot so he grabbed his hatchet and spilt it into four pieces. He was just about to try the beans again when he heard a scratching sound coming from under the floorboards. He looked down and saw a black-furred paw with long claws coming out of knothole in the floor. It was a hole he’d been meaning to fix but hadn’t got to yet. As he watched, claws dug into the wood and scratched viciously, wood crumbled away and the hole widened. The paw was followed by another paw and then a head appeared—as big around as his fist and set with glittering pair of red eyes. The creature pulled the rest of its body inside. It was long like a weasel, but bigger, and it had thick, meaty tail that drug the on the ground behind it. The tail was hairless and pink, like an overweight rat’s. When the creature saw Old Man Fletcher, it humped up its back and hissed, revealing a jaws lined with pointed white teeth. Old Man Fletcher grabbed his hatchet.
The creature spun around and tried to dive back down the hole. It was fast, but so was Old Man Fletcher, he brought the hatchet down right at the base of the critter’s tail. The creature shrieked in pain and disappeared through the hole, leaving its bloody tail twitching on the floor.
Old Man Fletcher picked up the tail and was about to throw outside for the dogs, when he noticed how heavy it was in his hand. There was a lot of meat on it. His stomach rumbled again. So, he threw it into the pot of beans—skin, bones and all.
A wonderful smell filled the cabin. Old Man Fletcher waited as long as he could, then took the pot out of the fire. The beans were still a little hard, but he didn’t care, the meat tasted wonderful, kind of like squirrel.
With his stomach full, Old Man Fletcher plugged up the hole in the floor with some old rags. Then, he got into bed and drifted off to sleep.
He hadn’t been asleep too long when a sound woke him up. It sounded like something was trying to claw a hole through the wall of the cabin. Old Man Fletcher sat up in bed and looked around, trying to figure out which wall the sound was coming from.
“Tailypo. Tailypo. I want my Tailypo.” The voice came from somewhere outside the door, on the porch. It was high, grating and strange—like a cat with pneumonia whining.
Old Man Fletcher jumped out of bed and called to his dogs. “I-Know! You-Know! Calico! Chase that thang off!”
The dogs started barking and scrabbled their way out from under the porch. The creature scratching on the way scampered away, leading the dogs off into the woods. Old Man Fletcher listened as their barks grew more and more distant. He stayed up until he heard them return, one by one, back under the porch to go to sleep. Then, he climbed back in bed and pulled up his blanket.
He was just about to drift off to sleep when he heard the scratching sound again. This time it sounded like it was coming from one of the windows. Whatever that creature was, it really wanted in! He heard the strange voice again, mewing louder this time.
“Tailypo! Tailypo! Where is my Tailypo?”
Old Man Fletcher was getting a little shaky. He eased up to the window and yelled to his dogs, “I-Know! You-Know! Calico! See what’s scratching on my house!”
The dogs came running and chased the critter back into the woods. Old Man Fletcher was too worried to sleep. He ripped the blanket off his bed, wrapped up in it and moved back to his hickory chair by the fire. He sat there listening, waiting for his dogs to return. They never did. A restless sleep soon overtook him.
The scent of smoke awoke the old man at dawn. He opened his eyes and leapt from the chair, kicking the blanket off him. The edge of the blanket had found its way into the fireplace sometime during the night and the wool was now smoldering. Old Man Fletcher stomped on the blanket trying to put out the flames now consuming it. He cursed and jumped back, nursing a burned foot. Thick smoke, heavy with the scent of burnt wool filled the cabin. Old Man Fletcher coughed, his eyes streamed. He picked up the blanket by the corner, ran to the window, opened it and threw the blanket out. He stood there for a moment gulping in the fresh air and fanning the smoke.
The sun was shining, birds flitted through the tree branches and searched for food in the snow. Old Man Fletcher looked around, there was no sign of the strange, tailless critter. His foot throbbed. Old Man Fletcher limped back to the bed and sat down. He propped his foot up and laid back, exhausted from the events of the night, he fell into a deep sleep.
“Tailypo! Tailypo! You got my Tailypo!”
Old Man Fletcher opened his eyes to find the hideous creature from the night before perched on the end his bed. It jumped onto his chest and fixed him with its blood red eyes.
“I ain’t got your Tailypo no more, I—I ate it,” said Old Man Fletcher.
The creature leaned close and growled.
Old Man Fletcher’s screams echoed down the through the holler, then stopped, leaving a chilling silence.
The single-room, log cabin still stands in that holler, deep in the mountains of West Virginia. Occasionally hunters or hikers will stay there for the night. They say if you stay up late at night and listen closely, you’ll hear a strange voice on the wind.
“Tailypo! Tailypo! I got my Tailypo!”
Did you enjoy this issue? Send Luke some feedback at madaboz@icloud.com
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