It was a chill autumn night deep in the woods of Appalachia. The old hermit and his three dogs had failed in their hunting efforts for days, and were ravenous. Soon after sundown while gathering firewood, the old man heard a scratching noise coming from behind the trees. Producing his axe, he peered around and saw it- a strange catlike creature with glowing yellow eyes and sharp, dripping fangs. Desperate for something to eat, anything, he lunged at the creature...
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The monster dodged quickly, but not quickly enough; his axe caught the long, black tail as the beast tried to escape. Disappointed with his catch, but happy to have at least a morsel of meat to stave off his debilitating hunger, the hermit trudged back to his ramshackle hut to make what he could of a meal. A few chives from the surrounding landscape and some bark from a nearby tree later, he had created a nearly serviceable stew. Not being the type to hoard his own dubious bounty, he kindly ladled a bit in each of his dog's bowls, then finished off the remainder. The flavour could have been better, but he was grateful to have something to sate his appetite. Nearly satisfied for the first time in days, he settled in for the night.
The moon had risen bright and full, but it appeared as though a storm was coming: a dark cloud overtook the light and rendered the hut and surrounding areas utterly dark. the hermit was startled awake from his comfortable sleep by an odd sound: as if something was scratching at the door of his cabin. He grasped for a candlestick and match next to the bed, lit the candle, and called out, "Ino? Uno? Cumptico-Calico?" His three dogs came rushing to his side, but the scratching at the door continued. Perplexed, the man ventured to the door and called out, "who's there?" The scratching stopped briefly, then continued. As he listened, a raspy voice seemed to come across the wind in a ghostly whisper... "Tailypo... tailypo... give back my tailypo..." Unnerved, the man commanded his dogs, "Ino! Uno! Cumptico-Calico! Sic 'em!" he flung open the door to catch a glimpse of the very same odd creature he had encountered hours before, this time looking twice as ferocious and clawing at the air where his door had just been. The monster fled at the onset of the dogs, and the man listened until the baying faded into the distance towards the swamp. "that'll take care o' that 'tailypo'" he murmured to himself. Satisfied that the creature would not return, he crawled back into his cot for a fitful sleep.
It was nearly midnight, and the cloud cover had not thinned, but seemed even denser, if that were possible. The darkness was so thick that it felt stifling, weighty. A light mist was descending, adding a clamminess to the already chill night air. The wind whispered through the trees and branches screeched eerily against the cabin walls. The hermit had hardly slept since his encounter with the strange creature: he couldn't help but strain his ears for a hint of anything out of the ordinary, despite reassuring himself that the dogs had taken care of the mysterious "tailypo." His confidence had faltered, however, when Uno and Cumptico-Calico had returned with no trace of Ino. "he's prolly just a-huntin'," he had murmured not-so-convincingly to himself.
He had just drifted off again when in his dream he heard the same mysterious scratching. Jolted awake, he realized that it was no dream; the scratching was closer this time, just outside his window. borne by the wind was again the raspy voice, though a bit louder this time: "Tailypo... Tailypo... give me back my Tailypo!" Shaking, the man again lit his bedside candle and desperately called out, "Uno! Cumptico-Calico! After 'em!"
He flung wide the door again, and again the dogs dutifully pursued the monster towards the swamp. The hermit waited, hoping to see the triumphant return of his dogs with the beast dead and being dragged by a faithful canine. Instead, to his dread, the flickering light of the candle presently revealed a dark shadow slowly emerging from the cover of trees.
It was Cumptico-Calico. Alone. "Cumptico, boy! Where's yer mates?" the dog looked back towards the swamp mournfully and gave a quiet whine. The hermit started in terror. It was no good trying to make a break for it; the night was far too dark. He also couldn't bear the thought of losing his last dog, his only companion and sense of protection. He decided to wait out the long night with Cumptico-Calico and his trusty axe. The beast had tasted its steel once before, and would surely flee were he to brandish it.
He settled back into his bed, this time with Cumptico-Calico at the foot, and tried to sleep. The hermit was awakened sometime in the wee morning hours by a thunderclap that shook the cabin. The storm had finally come; the heavy beating of rain combined with the sound of wind roaring through the trees overhead. Cumptico-Calico was pacing nervously at the foot of the bed; back and forth, back and forth. Through the din outside, the man kept hearing what he thought was the scratching noise again, but each time realized that his mind was playing tricks on him. He hoped against hope that the creature would remain holed up somewhere out of the melee for the remainder of the night, and he and his final companion would make a break for it at first sign of dawn. It was not to be. Borne across the wind in what seemed to be an effort to match the intensity of the storm, a shriek with the rancor of a banshee filled him with terror. TAILYPO! TAILYPO! I MUST HAVE MY TAILYPO! He snatched up his axe in shaking hands, realizing that he must either kill the beast or... he dreaded to think what.
Cumptico-Calico joined him at the door, looking as terrified as he felt. He flung it open with his axe held high...
The creature lunged at the dog with his claws slashing and fangs bared. Cumptico-Calico crumpled to the ground, lifeless. The hermit swung at the creature with his axe, but it was too quick for him this time. It leapt over his wild slash, and deftly swatted the axe, sending it clattering to the floor. Utterly defenseless and terrified, the hermit began to back away, pleading, "I'm sorry! I didn't-I meant- I don't even..." his stammering died on his lips as the creature began to stalk slowly, calmly stepping over the dog and glowering at him through slits of yellow, fangs bared. It was back to a raspy whisper as the hermit found himself in the corner of the room with nowhere to run. "tailypo... tailypo... I will have my tailypo."
Some say that if you are ever in the wild of Appalachia on a chill autumn night, you can hear the raspy whisper borne by the wind: "tailypo... tailypo... now I have my tailypo..."
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Be on the lookout for more beer and tales to come in our Appalachian Storytellers Series!