In the midst of the spooky season of Halloween my friend and I were wandering a cemetery on a crisp autumn evening. We roamed the rows and columns of the tombstones protruding from the Earth. The tombstones acted like the last anchors of the dead to the material world; their last grasp to the land of the living as they joined the spiritual realm. The sky was darkening with a dull, yet warming, glow. The leaves swirled through the air with the colors of fall creating a moving mosaic across the cemetery. The light struck the tombstones highlighting every last detail: the cracks in the granite; the weeds and vines slowly consuming the granite as part of the earth; The picturesque Old English font stating first name, last name, date of birth and date of death. We were hunting for one grave out of the hundreds like a needle in a haystack. A hidden gem that was shrouded in rumors. The evening glow began to vanish and darkness creeped over the cemetery but, we had finally found the one we were looking for. We passed rows and rows algorithmic tombstone etchings. Most of the graves had the same pattern of name and date but, the one we were searching for had an added variable. I have forgotten the name and date after all these years that was scribed into the tombstone but, I will never forget the final message for this unknown ladies passing:
“She made good gravy.”
When we finally saw these words in person we were washed in two very mixed waves of sensation. On the one hand we couldn’t help but lock eyes and give a small chuckle at the odd statement hovering above this woman’s name etched into the stone. However, on the other hand there was an ominous, almost ghostly chill, that creeped over us as night fell and we were the only living souls in a maze of corpses.
We paid our respects and began the trek out of the cemetery. As the fog rolled in and the full moon illuminated behind the film of clouds in the sky a chill ran up our spines.We felt like we were being watched. At any moment a hand could have erupted from the soil and latch onto our ankles to drag us into the depths below. Our imaginations were running with fright on that autumn evening and without any conscious knowledge of our actions we found ourselves sprinting from the graveyard as fast as our prepubescent legs could take us. We hadn’t realized how far we had entered into the cemetery until we finally reached the edge and exited the gate. Huffing and puffing horrendously out of breath from both fright and sprinting we locked eyes and burst into laughs about the ridiculousness of this whole situation. We snuck out of my house during a sleepover to see a funny message on a tombstone because of a rumor. When we finally got back to my house we had two thoughts on our mind:
First, totally worth it even if we did pee our pants a little.
Second, what was the story behind this woman that apparently made really good gravy? How good was her gravy? What type of person was she? How could we twist this tale to scare our soccer team tomorrow at the tournament? Our list of questions went on and on.
Like all good boys do at weekend sleepovers we snuck downstairs, raided the cabinets for junk food, and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning speculating on the mystery behind this gravy lady. Some questions were never to be answered for us; in fact none of our questions were answered. All we could do was let our imaginations run wild with the backstory of the gravy lady as we nibbled on goldfish until the morning sun began to rain through the curtains. Sleepy eyed and groggy from our adventurous night we sat at the breakfast table with a large stack of flapjacks drizzled with maple syrup. We had done it. After a long night’s work we had crafted an incredible backstory to this anonymous woman who we deemed, the Gravy Lady, in the hopes to frighten our team at tonight’s game. We spent the rest of the afternoon finalizing our act down to every last detail until it was time to hop in the car and drive to the field.
“How long ago would you say it was Nolan?” My friend Trey began to the tuned in ears of our soccer team, the Hurricanes.
“Oh man, I reckon at least a hundred years ago the gravy lady wandered the town of Templeton” I replied and continued, “She appeared like a ghost, as if out of thin air, to our small town all those years ago. One evening, an old abandoned shop on Main Street was illuminated upstairs. There were rumors spreading across town for weeks as the only visible commotion from the shop was one illuminated window on the top floor. Finally, a sign appeared out front that read three simple words, ‘Gravy Sold Here.’”
Trey picked up where I left off like an orchestrated Broadway show, “Her store was busy from opening to closing, day after day and week after week.”
“Hold on,” One of our teammates interjected, “Who the hell just opens a store to sell gravy?”
Quick witted as always Trey replied, “ Good insight Nick. I am surprised you caught on to the oddities of this particular business endeavor so fast.” Lying out of his ass Trey continued, “Perhaps if you knew more about history you would know that gravy was a rare delicacy a hundred years ago. It was viewed as a rich, privileged sauce in comparison with exotic, foreign spices. Think before you speak next time you fool. Now, where was I? Ah yes, her business was booming and her influence across the town was spreading. She was a younger woman and quite attractive at that, so it wasn’t long before she drew the attention of a dashing young man. As the two became acquainted and began to fall in love the man realized he had no knowledge of this lovely woman’s past and how she had found herself in the small town of Templeton. One evening as they were sitting under the stars by the river he asked her about her story. She told this young man that she had moved from a town only a few miles North of here because it had become unsafe. The man inquired about what the dangers could have been to have made her move from her home. The Gravy Lady responded by saying that there had been a series of unsolved murder cases in this small town to the North and she couldn’t bear living there in constant fear with a serial killer on the loose. She said the bodies were never found but she knew they were murdered. The murders turned that place into a ghost town and the sales of her gravy plummeted, so she figured she would start fresh and continue her gravy making. The man could tell by the look on her face that he had troubled her. To lighten the mood he asked, what he thought, to be a simple, lighthearted question:
“So, what makes your gravy so special? What is the secret ingredient?”
Although he couldn’t see her eyes because of the darkness around them they lit up with a combination of joy and angst. It was a brief flash of emotion but, trained like a prize winning dog for show, she quickly collected herself. She simply looked at him, gave a smile and slipped in for a quick kiss before chuckling and keeping that secret to herself.”
“Ewwww she kissed him? That is gross. Girls have cooties.” Nick exclaimed in disgust at the thought of actually hanging out with a girl.
“Yes Nick, they kissed, gross I know but, not the worst part of the gravy lady. That is still to come,” I added in with an air of foreshadowing wavering through my voice. “Time went on and the relationship of the Gravy Lady and the young man blossomed into marriage. The man was head over heels for this woman and was ready to settle down with her and begin a family. However, hard times were upon the small town; the economy was in distress. The young man lost his job at a small welding firm and didn’t know how he and his wife could support a family. Then it came to him, he could assist in his wife’s gravy shop. He pitched this idea to his wife one evening at the dinner table and she showed hesitation. She seemed to be hiding something from him. Finally, with reluctance, she agreed to allow him to help in the shop on one condition: he was not to bother her during the preparation process for the gravy. He agreed to monitor the register and clean. He was happy to join in his wife’s career and start a family business. Care to take it from here Trey?” I inquired because the story was heating up now and Trey was to tell the climax, just as we had rehearsed.
“Oh It would be my pleasure Nolan. Only thing is, I don’t know if these gents can handle the truth. It might be too scary for them,” Trey was snickering with a maniacal grin. We knew we had these chumps right where we wanted them: hook, line, and sinker.
“Oh come on! We can handle it. This story isn’t scary at all. So far it's just gross with all the kissing and stuff.” The team was in an uproar at having their bravery challenged.
“Well, if you all insist,” Trey glanced at me and gave a wink as he jumped into the final acts of the tale of the Gravy Lady. “The depression for Templeton worsened but the gravy shop remained open. People loved the stuff and it was perfect during a time of hardship because it was hardy, filling, and kept well through winter. The man and the Gravy Lady were like a fine tuned machine: the man owned the register and was the face of the shop while his wife created their delicious product in the back, hidden away. As fall turned into winter the man realized that his wife had been sneaking out in the evenings. Finally, one day as he could stand it no longer, he confronted her in fear for the worst that she may be seeing another man. The Gravy Lady simply chuckled and kissed him on the cheek reassuring him that there was nothing to fear. She said that she had been doing nightly outings to get more ingredients for the gravy because their stock of supplies was low. He was worried with this answer even with the relief that she was not cheating on him. She told him she was too busy during the day to gather ingredients so she had to go in the evenings. Autumn was gone and it was the dead of winter in Templeton. Snow cascaded all around and the temperatures plummeted. The wife was still going out every week or so in the dead of night to gather ingredients. The husband began to protest because recently people had started disappearing, just like the town to the north. One evening his wife was leaving the house again and the husband begged her not to venture into the cold night. She assured him that all would be fine as she slipped on her coat and walked out into the night. He couldn’t leave his wife out there all alone, not in conditions like this, with a potential killer on the loose. So, soon after she had left his angst got the better of him and he threw on his coat and ventured out into the night. He caught up to her and was baffled that she was nowhere near the store. She was going all across town, peering down every alley, searching for something. He kept a distance to not alert her of his tracking. He wanted to respect his wife’s privacy and was just going to keep a watchful eye over her this evening. Suddenly his wife took an abrupt turn down a deserted alley outside of the local saloon. He approached the corner with caution and peered down the dark alley. He wasn’t exactly sure what he expected to see but he certainly wasn’t expecting the horrid sight before his eyes. Down the alley, shrouded in darkness except for a flickering lamp, he saw his wife huddled over something. He couldn’t quite distinguish what it was until she began to shift. From behind her hunched over figure emerged a shoe which quickly grew into a leg followed by a torso and a head. His eyes went wide with fright as he witnessed his own, sweet hearted wife, drag away a corpse with a professional-like movement. As the last of the body disappeared around the corner the only thing left in that dimly lit alley was a trail of red snow. Alright Nolan, you want to take us home?” Inquired Trey.
“It would be my pleasure my dude,” I responded. “Paralyzed with fear and nausea from the horrific site he just witnessed the only motion he could muster was a regurgitation of his dinner. He knew his wife, he loved his wife, and she could never do something like this. He needed answers. He kept trying to trick himself into believing that this was all just some horrible nightmare. He had to confront her; he had to know the truth. He forced himself to move; initially in a clumsy fashion tripping over his own feet as he passed the pool of red snow. Slowly, he gained momentum and found himself following the trail of red snow. He already knew where this trail would end. When he lifted his gaze he was face to face with the back door of the gravy shop. His breaths were short, his heart pumping out of his chest. Until this point he hadn’t even considered what his actual plan was to confront his wife. His mind was racing with thoughts like an ADHD child attempting to sit still in class. The only option was to open the door. With a hesitant turn of the knob and a fearful glance through the door he peered into the kitchen where his wife cooked their gravy. It seemed quiet and deserted. He proceeded with caution taking baby steps to enter. He realized that this was actually his first time seeing this room. Nothing looked amiss. No weapons of murder or forgotten blood stains like evidence at a crime scene. All seemed normal. Maybe he really was just hallucinating this whole thing until a sound emerged from a side room that chilled his heart like ice. He had never heard the sounds of a body being chopped up but with some innate instinct he knew it couldn’t be anything else. The snapping of bones and the chopping of flesh were unmistakable. Slowly but surely he approached the door and gave three small knocks preceded by a timid inquiry, “honey?”
All sound ceased as he turned the doorknob to the other room. As he opened the door there was a rushed, hurried sound of a person in distress trying to put herself together. Finally he committed and flung open the door. Alone in the room stood his wife over a cauldron as big as a bathtub filled to the brim with boiling gravy. “Hello there dear, I thought I told you long ago that this was my space. If you are here though you can see how I make our delicious gravy if you like?””
“With trembling legs he wandered over to the cauldron. He felt like a mouse being hunted by a cat. He could neither confirm or deny what he had seen in the alley. As he approached the cauldron his wife handed him a ladle and encouraged him to give the gravy a stir. As he began mixing the cauldron he was terrified thinking about what ingredients were lying underneath the cloudy liquid. The wife leaned over him and whispered something that stopped her husband in his tracks. His eyes were popping out of his head until suddenly they relaxed and a small grin grew across his face. From that day forward the man never entered his wife’s kitchen or question her when she went out in the dead of night shopping for ingredients.”
“What did she say?!” The whole team inquired in unison as I had finished up the climax of the story. Trey and I were barely able to stifle our laughter but we had to remain strong to finish off our joke. Trey finally chimed in after relaxing his giggling belly and suppressing the wide grin that was attempting to grow across his face:
“ No one knows what the Gravy Lady told her husband on that winter evening. Some say the man cracked, went insane, full blown cuckoo and just suppressed all memories of seeing his wife murder her victims for gravy ingredients. Eventually the two bore a child and raised him on their demonic gravy. Unfortunately it wasn’t long after until the gravy lady passed away due to unknown causes. Some believe the husband killed her and used her for the gravy; Others think that one of her attempted victims overpowered her. This story is shrouded in mysteries that will remain forever unsolved. However, we do know this, when it was time to bury his wife the man etched her tombstone himself and it read four simple words…”
“She Made Good Gravy.”