Mystery Historical Fiction Indigenous

The Unusual Vase

Matt awoke with a start to the banging on the door of his Airstream.  He never had visitors at 6:00 in the morning.  Heck—he never had visitors and that was planned.  His Airstream was parked behind his small cabin/studio.  Yet someone was here and by the loud and incessant knocking, they were anxious to see him.

            He yelled, “Hold on to your britches, I’ll be there in a minute.”  He hastily pulled on his pants and shirt and stumbled to the door.  

            Looking through the porthole style window he saw Nadine.  She was the town character.   If Mayberry had an Otis, then Clearwater had Nadine, A woman who was different from everyone in town, but somehow, she had become part of the closely knit fabric of the community.  The rumor was that Nadine was the progeny of the indigenous people who inhabited the area before Europeans descended.  As far as Matt knew, Nadine may have been part of Clearwater forever.  She had the parched weathered skin might have been like an Indian.  Her attire was a collage of various pieces beginning with a bonnet that would have been in place on a farm wife from the turn of the century--the nineteenth century.  The next item was a blanket worn as a shawl that was made of native American patterns.  Finally, below her ankle length skirt there were the unmistakable combat boots.  She carried a cardboard box that could have held a pound cake, but with Nadine’s reputation, it might have been a human head. 

            But for all her eccentricities Matt considered her harmless.  He opened the door and Nadine tromped in and sat down without so much as a hello or a howdy.  She sat the box down on the table and waved Matt over.  Her first accusing words to Matt, “Is this your work?”

            Matt was indulgent of Nadine, but he was a bit miffed at her for her attitude and unannounced entrance.  “Well, If I can take a look at what you have in that box, I may be able to tell you.”

            “I know you made it.  You have to take the blame.  Why, it’s got your mark.  Just look here.”

            She ripped the tape off the box and raised the object.  It was a piece of pottery that might have been Matt’s creation, though he hadn’t made anything like that in years.

            Matt had always loved to work with his hands.  From the time he could walk, he would follow his father around his shop.  His father was a mechanic who could fix anything.  When someone in town had been to several garages to get a car fixed without success they would inevitably end up at Mac’s garage.  Matt’s father, Mac, would usually straighten things out.  His talent was not just limited to autos.  He would have all sorts mechanical problems inherited from his customers that he would eventually bring back to life.  

            Matt had inherited his father’s ingenuity, but had gone in a slightly different direction.  Some aunt had given him a toy pottery wheel when he was nine-years-old.  To everyone’s surprise, he immediately began creating bowls, ash trays little blobs of jewelry and all types of notions.  When he was old enough to be a real nuisance his dad had introduced him to one of the many local potters.  It was there that he developed a real talent.  After high school, he didn’t go to a college or university.  He went to the mountains of North Carolina to a place called Penland where he refined his craft.  

            He worked making useful home products, but he also made artistic pieces.  The artistic pieces were sold or given away, but Matt couldn’t earn enough to maintain himself with just ‘art’ so that part of his life gradually disappeared as he made more practical items.  He gradually retreated from the world of artistic potters of Seagrove and Jug Town and withdrew to his small cabin up a narrow rarely used lane in the Clearwater community.  He did keep one remnant of his artistic life.  He had learned early in his career to appreciate the old wood burning kilns.  The type and nature of the wood other combustibles used would always give a different and special glaze to the plates, jugs and mugs.  The result was that there was a market for his unique wares.  His cabin had been his studio and his home, but soon the business part crowded Matt out and he bought and restored an Airstream as his abode.  His home was no secret, but, still, he was surprised that Nadine had shown up.

            Now he was reacquainted with one of his first artistic pieces.  Matt picked up the piece and turned it over in his hands.  Yes, it had his stylized initials on the base.  And the reddish hue on the bottom third of the piece morphed into a azure and finally a deep cobalt blue color at the lip of the piece.  It was created as a vase, but had several small openings about the bulbous body of the piece.  A look through each of those holes would give a view of an intricate combination of colors reminiscent of a kaleidoscope.   The interior was fashioned in such a way that a small candle could be placed in the bottom to enhance the coloration of the inside surface of the piece.   Matt’s special talent for making artistic glazes had made a one-of-a-kind piece of art.  It was one of Matt’s first sales.  It gave him the incentive to continue his craft.

            Matt handled the pottery as though it was a treasured piece of art.   He thought that it was.  It was a creation from his youth that he knew he could never repeat.

            “That is yours, isn’t it?”  Nadine queried as though she was speaking to a murderer.

            “Yep, it’s mine all right.  I must have made that twenty years ago, but I haven’t done anything artistic in a long, long time.”

            “Sonny, I ain’t asking you to make another, and with God as my witness I wish you’d never made that’n.  Let me tell you, this thing is cursed.  It’s cursed I tell you, and if you can’t remove the curse, then I reckon we’re all doomed.  Let me tell you about this here thing.

            “You sold this to young Harry Mabe about 1997.  I know you did ‘cause I found the receipt with your name.”

            “Yes, now that you remind me, I think I remember Mr. Mabe.  What happened to him?”

            “That’s what I’m here to tell you, but I’d talk a lot better with a cup of coffee and some bacon and eggs.  You got some, ain’t ya.”

            Matt got the message squeezed around her into his compact kitchen so he could fix breakfast for her and himself.  As he was making himself busy in the small kitchen, he kept an eye on his uninvited guest.  She did not further touch the vase, but seemed to be whispering to it.

In a few minutes, as she sipped her piping hot coffee and gummed her bacon and eggs, she restarted her narrative.  “Ol’ Harry loved that vase.  He was going to give it to his daughter for a birthday present, but decided he liked so much that he kept it and gave her a suitcase instead.  About a week later, his house burnt to the ground with him inside.  Funny thing was, even though that darn house was nothing but ashes that vase was just fine, not even covered with soot.”

Matt had no idea how to respond to that.  “That’s terrible.  I really didn’t know Mr. Mabe, but I’m sorry he passed.”

“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.’  His daughter, Millie, took that vase and put it on her mantle.  She sort of liked it.  I guess it reminded her of her dad.   She showed it to her remaining family and friends.  They marveled that it survived, but, just like Harry, they thought it was the prettiest thing they had ever seen.  Things would have been all right except for the incident.”

Matt was more than curious, “Okay, tell me what happened.”

“Millie had a break-in.  A meth-head came in seeking drugs or whatever else he could get and stabbed her to death.  Funny thing is that when the police found her, she was holding on to that vase so tightly, that her hands had to be pried from it.

“I can tell you more, and will soon, but for now let me tell you that there have been ten owners or more correctly guardians of that vase.  All ten have died violent deaths.  You may think that’s a coincidence, but I don’t.  The last owner, John Vann, began research into the vase.  He contacted the Mabe family and found a small locked box that had survived the fire.  That’s how I got your name.  He was somewhat of an expert of pottery, especially Indian pottery.  He told me that the vase seems to be made of materials found more often in western North Carolina.  He concluded that the violence associated with the vase may be related to the origin of the clay used to make it. He knew that I was one of the few indigenous people around and asked me to take it if something should happen to him. That evening he was the victim of a hit-and-run. Now, just where did you get the clay for the vase?”

Matt knew exactly where he found that special clay.  “After my time at Penland, I travelled around western North Carolina looking at different pottery styles and different materials.  In Transylvania County I found some unique clay on the banks of a creek in the Pisgah National Forest.  The vase was made of that clay.”

Nadine’s eyes widened.  Matt saw a knowing smile on her wrinkled face for the first time.  “Well, let’s go!”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re surely not staying here.  I think your vase is cursed.  Back in 1838 President Andrew Jackson fostered a movement to remove five tribes from the East to beyond the Mississippi.  A treaty of Echota, that’s in Georgia, was signed, but it’s not likely the tribes agreed.  Chief John Ross a Cherokee chief protested to the government that the treaty had never been approved by his tribe, but no one would listen.  The native American forced march to territories west of the Mississippi had begun.”

Matt had heard this story before, but not from the Indian side.  “Just what are you proposing.”

One of the native Cherokee chiefs is said to have rendered a curse on the land before leaving the Carolina mountains.  He vowed that anyone using the Cherokee land for any reason would harvest a violent death.  That’s the curse and that’s what your vase is.  It’s Cherokee land.

Within the hour, Matt and Nadine were on their way to western North Carolina. 

They made good time and stopped for a quick lunch and gas in Black Mountain. It was not yet noon and they were about ninety minutes from the site that they were searching.  Leaving the restaurant, Matt saw a big man nosing around his truck.  He approached him.

He saw Matt and confronted him.  “That your truck, buddy?”  the speaker easily outweighed Matt by fifty pounds.  

“Yeah, it’s mine, and you got no business messing around it.”  Matt responded with a boldness he didn’t really feel.

“Well, you got my case on your front seat. If you don’t unlock that door and give it to me this instant, you’ll wish you had.”

Matt saw a pistol on his hip and a knife in his hand.  There were no other cars around and not a suggestion of a police officer.  He had a few valuables in the truck, but nothing worth dying for.  He unlocked the truck and the hoodlum pulled out the satchel and sped off in his dirty green pick-up.  Matt was shaking badly when Nadine emerged from the restaurant.  He explained what had just happened and Nadine was ready to go after him.  “He don’t know what he’s taken.  We’ve got to get the vase back to end the curse.  I’m not sorry for what happens to the thief, but that vase will end up with somebody, somewhere.

Matt and Nadine jumped into the truck and went after the thief.  Within a mile they saw what appeared to be skid marks and a freshly broken guard rail.  Twenty feet below the embankment the overturned truck had a stream of steam drifting up to the road.  There was no movement.

Nadine looked at Matt.  “You’ve got to go down there and get your stuff.  You’ve got to get the vase.”

Matt knew that the elderly Nadine could not get down the hill so he skittered and bounced down the hill.  The thief was sitting in the driver’s seat, but he would not terrorize anyone ever again.  He had a long splinter of the guard rail neatly penetrating his left eye and exiting the back of his head.  He grabbed the satchel made his way back up the hill.  He told Nadine, “We’ve got to get the police. We have to report this.”

“No, we don’t.  If we wait, the police will take your satchel and the vase and it will be in someone else’s possession.  That person will inherit the curse.”

There was no one around that they could see—no onlookers, so they left and didn’t stop until they entered the Pisgah National Forest.

Matt hadn’t been there in twenty years, but the forest was not much changed.  He found the creek by the road and found a place to pull off and follow a path.  With a small spade he eventually found the overhang with the colorful clay beneath it.  Nadine was behind him with the vase.  She had begun a chant in what may have been a native Indian tongue.  Matt was standing knee deep in the creek as he hollowed out ample space for the vase.  Nadine waded into the cold stream and handed him the vase which he tucked deeply into the creek ban. He covered it with two feet of reddish blue clay and smoothed the surface before placing brush over it to obscure the recent excavation.   Nadine had now changed her native chant into English. 

“May our father’s words now be satisfied.  The Cherokee soil has been replaced and will forever be a part of this sacred land.  May the curse on this vase be lifted.  May your spirit rest forever.”

Nadine and Matt left the stream and struggled up the hill.  They started the truck and headed back to Clearwater.  They were both fatigued and bone tired but also satisfied.  They truly felt that the curse of the vase was ended.

Three hours later two college students waded in the creek.  Now, it was totally dark and flash lights were used to identify the site.  They had been whizzing down a mountain path on their bikes when they heard voices.  Crouching in the bushes they expected to see drug dealers concealing a stash.  When they found the site, they used their fingers to dig through the clay and into the bank.  They expressed disappointment when they found an old vase instead of drugs, but decided to clean it up and take it home.   

February 27, 2024 20:37

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