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The Tombstone Halfway Up the Hill

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The Civil War was as strong as ever in the US and the two sides were just as bitter. Most of the small businesses in town were declining, but the small apothecary shop on the top of the very steep hill by the train tracks was booming. It was owned by a couple who had just welcomed a baby boy into their family just a few months ago.

On a cold fall day the husband, Mr. Keepling and his wife, Beth were trying to manage the busy shop while their little boy was sleeping. Mr. Keepling rushed to the counter to grab a bag of fresh herbs for the plump woman who was suffering from a headache when there was a cry from upstairs.

“Frederick, I’ll check on Joseph,” Beth said and then fled upstairs.

When she got there she picked tiny Joseph up and cradled him.

“Shh,” Beth muttered into her child’s ear.

When Joseph was calmed down, Beth set him down in his wooden crib and returned downstairs to her husband, who was bickering with a slave rather loudly.

“No, I told Mr. Harving that I was out of green tea and would notify him as soon as more was shipped in. Now, if he is going to be so impatient to have his slave scold me, then I suggest that he get it somewhere else!” Mr. Keepling yelled at the slave.

“Very well, but this will not be the last that you hear from us, Mr. Keepling,” the slave warned and then swiftly left the shop and slammed the door behind him.

Beth quickly went to her husband’s side and put a hand gently on his shoulder.

“Anything wrong, John?” she asked.

“Nothing to be worried about,” he said sternly.

“Who was that, anyway?”

“That was Mr. Harving’s slave.”

Beth recognized the name, but she didn’t know how exactly.

“Mr. Harving, is he the man who came to town a month ago from England?” Beth asked her husband.

“Yes, and I wish he would go back to England and not come back,” John hatefully said.

“John!”

“Well, I can’t help it. He’s selfish, impatient, and most rotten person I’ve ever met!” John exclaimed.

“Have you met him in person?” Beth asked with her arms crossed.

“Well, no, but-, “John started.

“But, no! If you’ve never met the man then you can’t accuse him of being selfish or rotten or anything else,” Beth said giving him a look that made him feel like a fool.

John sighed. “I’m sorry. I just wish that I didn’t go too far.”

Beth looked down at her shoes. “I agree; I don’t want it to hurt Joseph.”

John kissed his wife’s forehead and whispered in her ear. “Me too, me too.”


Later that night, Beth was rocking her son who had just fallen asleep. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she heard a scream just outside. It made her jump. She placed Joseph as gently as she could in his crib and ran outside.

As soon as she made it outside she froze. Her husband was a few feet away, lying dead on the ground with blood everywhere. She scanned the area quickly, looking for her husband’s killer.

“Hello, Mrs. Keepling,” a deep voice says behind her.

She turned around and gasped. There he was, standing on the steps of her house. It was the slave who quarreled with her husband earlier that day. He took a couple steps closer and Beth realized the he had an ax in his right hand.

She was about to scream, but the man hastily covered her mouth with his filthy hand.

“Oh, now Mrs. Keepling, you don’t want to wake the baby now would you?” the slave asked.

Beth’s eyes widened. The man let go of her.

“Why did you kill my husband?” Beth demanded.

“I’m not at the liberty to say. I just do as I’m told,” he explained.

“And what would that be?” she demanded again.

“To kill the Keepling family, starting with your husband, then you, and ending with that little boy of yours,” he stated.

Before she could make a run for it, the slave took a fatal hit to her heart. She didn’t stand a chance. She was dead as soon as the ax made contact with her skin.

The slave didn’t stay long. He instantly went inside the house and crept up the stairs to the child’s room. The child was asleep. He looked at the sleeping infant, not in the mood to rush killing the small boy.
Outside a group of men who were close friends with the Keeplings were walking up the trail to the house. When they got to the top of the hill, it didn’t long for them to find the scene. They rushed to the dead couple.
“Looks like they were struck by an ax,” one of the men declared.
“Any signs of where the killer went?” another asked.

“Not that I can see. I’ll check the house,” one of the other men asked and another agreed to go with him.

The slave panicked when he heard footsteps ascending up the stairs. He hurriedly took his ax and took a hit at the child’s head, but it wasn’t hard enough to kill, not even hard enough to cause any real damage, but it was too late.

Two men with rifles came barging in and as soon as they saw him they grabbed him. The slave didn’t struggle. He let them drag him down the stairs and out of the house. By the time they got outside, there was a boat load of people there. The slave guessed approximately twenty. There were the men who came up the hill, neighbors, and sheriffs all around the scene.

When the slave was gone, everyone was still bewildered.

“What are we going to do?” a man asked while gesturing to the couple.

“I don’t know, but-,” another man started, but was interrupted by an infant’s shriek.

All of them turned to the sound.

“The baby!” a handful of them exclaimed.

Four men rushed back onto the house frantically. When they reached baby Joseph’s nursery they all became flabbergasted. There was the little infant laying in his crib, screaming his head off and a huge cut from the slave’s ax, but alive.
***

The slave was charged and hanged for murder. The baby was adopted by a family close to the Keeplings, and he lived a full, healthy life. He lived, but for the rest of his life he had a huge indention all across the top of his head from the slave’s ax.

When Joseph was all grown up he visited his parent’s grave, which was halfway up the hill to the Keepling’s house and shop. He brought a shovel with him and dug a hole next to the tombstone. When the hole was deep enough, he placed a tree sapling and planted it.

The tombstone and tree are still there. You can’t read the writing on the tombstone very well, but the tree Joseph planted to honor his parents is tall and healthy and nobody has or every will place a finger on it on the request of Joseph Keepling himself.




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