The old folks in Kimberley knew Jeremiah, particularly some of the women at the church. Some said, tight-lipped, that he had a way of helping rid women of certain problems. Back then, it was all superstition. If you wronged your woman, the boogieman would take care of you, some day, some way. If you wronged your child, then God help you. Folk stories told of bad men who just disappeared without a trace. And just as a person’s spirit will disappear when it is forgotten on earth, hateful souls were forgotten over time.
In the ’60s in Kimberley, it was almost too easy for certain men just to disappear. It happened everywhere, and most attributed it to bad marriage, bad liquor, gambling, or womanizing. Some disappearances caused folks to talk more than usual. This talk included the men who married Candace and Louise one day and then started beating them up the next.
Now, anyone who knew the Pantry Six automatically assumed rumors would fly after another disappearance, especially with a victim like Sallie Mae, a staunch member of the group and the biggest gossip in town. And then one night, two small children reported to have seen the stalker. They described the monster well—it was tall, thin, and wore all black; even its head was covered with an all-black cloth. The children said it had dark sharp teeth, and long pointed fingers and fingernails. It smelled like rotten meat and groaned like a sick dog, they said. It took hold of a man as easily as if it had been picking up a stalk; the man fell under the monster’s control surprisingly easily.
This is when talk of the boogieman came to life. It was surprisingly quiet around town, and the streets of Kimberley were deserted at night. No one knew when the stalker, the boogieman, would come back and take another husband off the street. People felt sorry for Sallie Mae and Louise, who’d lost their husbands around the same time; they pitied them just like they pitied Caddie Two and Caddie One when their drunken, hateful fathers disappeared a few years before. It must be awful to lose the head of the household, people said, but for some reason Louise and Sallie Mae were more than happy to spread cheer around town, both day and night, acting as if nothing had happened.
One day after church, Gracie, with Mary Margaret by her side, decided it was time to confront Kimberley’s two newest sinners. “How can you be so free, so happy, and acting like normal when your husbands have gone missing?” Gracie asked Louise and Sallie Mae. “You know how dangerous Kimberley is nowadays. Surely you know something horrible happened to them,” Gracie added as she looked directly at Sallie Mae. Neither Sallie Mae nor Louise responded.
“You’ll both go to hell for the way you’re behaving.” Gracie added.
“Now, you listen to me, and listen well,” Sallie Mae shot back, almost yelling. “That man beat me silly every day for more than twenty years. I might go to hell for other stuff, but not for being happy that he’s finally gone—and dead, I hope.”
Caddie Two, Caddie One, and Louise stood beside Sallie Mae as her anger spilled out. All of them looked worried that such talk—especially as a group of curious church members formed around them—would create unnecessary generosity or ill will.
Elsie didn’t step into the ruckus, but watched from a safe distance, shaking her head. “Why is she running her mouth like that? Everyone is going to know our business. It will never be the same for any of us.”
Then Louise decided to chime in. “My old man treated me like a throwaway. I was nothing to him. It’s lucky the boogieman showed up when he did, because I would have—”
Then, out of nowhere, Jeremiah broke into the conversation. “Miss Louise, are you okay? Can I walk you home? Miss Sallie Mae?”
Even today, I remember how strangely Jeremiah Malik and the Pantry Six behaved that day. Caddie One looked like she had seen a ghost, and it seemed Caddie Two didn’t want to hear one more word. Elsie wondered whether the talk had ended soon enough, and Candace was walking home in an uncharacteristically hurried way. They all seemed upset because Jeremiah had been brought into the mix.
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