The roaring twenties became a different time for all of America as the economy took a massive plummet. The depression sank about every industry like a stone and families of every class felt the impact. Throughout the Hoovervilles set up around Riverbend, there was one man who seemed prosperous despite it all. A master manipulator with “creative” ways to collect his debts, Carter Bale was a moonshiner who specialized in his craft. He was a savior to the working man and the devil to the preachers in town, providing some of the finest corn liquor in the area. If he wasn’t using his silver tongue to work his way out of a jam, he was never afraid to get his hands dirty when money was involved, and many drunkards knew not to mess around with Carter unless you could pay. Being the entrepreneur he was, Carter had several stills cleverly camouflaged from the law and at night you could see the wisps of smoke haunting the night sky as he concocted his brew.
One day as Carter was collecting his debts in town, a red-faced woman burst down the dirt road as if fired from a gun. With tears of rage streaming down her face, she screamed for Carter to reveal himself to her. As he walked out into the open, she stormed over to him whilst rearing her hand back and slapped him with all her might.
“My boy’ll never see again because of you! He wandered off into the woods last night and came home smellin’ like an oil lamp!” she exclaimed.
“Well ma’am, it seems to me like you ought to be watchin’ your youngin’ a bit closer. It’s a shame he won’t get to watch nothin’ ever again ‘cause of you!” he yelled as he spit at her feet.
“Carter Bale, you may have the rest of these folks fooled ‘round here, but I know you’re nothin’ but a schemin’ thief. Your days are numbered, sellin’ gut-rot liquor on this earth, you mark my words!” she screamed as she reached for his head and ripped out several pieces of hair. Although bewildered, he didn’t think much of her actions aside and thought it to be a woman’s scorn. Besides, he had more important matters to attend to.
Later that night he went into the woods to tend to his stills. There were three spread out strategically. He would only run two at a time and leave one on reserve in case Johnny Law happened to stumble onto one of his hiding spots. A wise businessman will always have a backup plan. As he stoked the flames for the boiler, he thought about the frantic woman. There was a sense of guilt that began to overcome him as the flames began to rise and he became absent-minded for a moment. A smoldering ember managed to escape from the flames and landed near his ingredients. He snapped back to reality quickly once a second fire began to consume his consumables. Hurriedly, he looked for anything around him to put out the flames, but it was too late. He knew he would be caught for sure as his entire still became engulfed, but as soon as the fire had its fill, it vanquished. Frightened and in disbelief, Carter fell to his knees. He ran his fingers through his hair and felt where his hair had been ripped out and it dawned on him.
“That woman!” he exclaimed.
He ran off to his second still and saw that everything was still intact. All his ingredients were there, the flames were stoked, and he seemed to be producing as normal. To calm down after his recent trauma, he decided to have a sample of his work. He took a ladle and got a spoonful of shine. As he tipped the ladle into his mouth however, he saw that there was nothing but black, slimy, bile pouring into his mouth. While spitting and screaming in a fit of rage he paced back and forth wondering what he was going to do with the taste of bilge water fresh on his tongue. It was already past midnight and it would take him months to get the materials together to rebuild and clean the wreckage behind him. He had no choice but to try and make a new batch.
When he arrived at his last still, he was still spitting bile from the last site. The burned and ragged man took out his knife to open the burlap sacks of ingredients that lay before him but the contents inside made him leap out of his skin. As the blade cut open the first sack, spiders and maggots began to crawl from the hole and work their way up his arm. Swatting them away, he hurriedly backed away and bumped into a small figure.
“Hi, Carter,” said a female voice from under a dark cloak.
“It’s you!” he screamed while waving his knife. “Stay away from me! I’ll gut you!”
“Now, now, there’s no need for all that,” she said as she waved her hand at him which flung the knife into the woods under sticks and debris. “You know, Carter, I got to thinkin’ about what you said, about my boy not bein’ able to watch anything again. It really is a shame,” she said as she began to walk towards him. “A mother’s job is to always protect and provide for her son.”
“Dear God, lady, what’re you gonna do to me?!” he cried, trembling with tears in his eyes.
“I’m gonna give back what you took from him!” she shrieked into the night as red began to glow from her eyes.
The wind picked up in a howl and leaves began to swirl in a whirlwind, creating a vortex so loud that the whole town grew deaf for a moment. And then there was silence. In the moonlight, there was stillness so peaceful, that even a church mouse couldn’t be bothered.
The following day Carter Bale was nowhere to be found. They checked his shack, the woods, and even with some of his debtors and no one had seen or heard from him. Rumor had it that he decided to skip town on a train car headed south to try his hand at flavoring his moonshine, but before long he became a distant memory soon to be forgotten by many. There was however a little boy who miraculously regained his sight after going blind. He lived a happy and normal life, as most little boys do, but when his mother was asked about her thoughts on the miracle she stated that it was nothing short of an answer to prayer. Just as if he had received a brand-new pair of eyes.
Credit: Shelton Fisher
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