I never would’ve taken a man like Arthur to be a sucker for ghost stories. He’s one of those analytical thinkers, you know? A retired engineer to be exact. If there isn’t a statistic or some scientific basis for something, Arthur won’t even entertain the idea of believing it to be true. As I’m sure you already guessed, Arthur’s as atheistic as they come. Not only does he believe that religion – monotheistic religions in particular – are farces, he believes that any person who does believe in a god is as clueless as a country house wife. If Arthur had the choice of having dinner with three people – dead or alive – he’d choose Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin.

Anything with statistical support, Arthur will believe it.

Anything but one though, and that one thing is the story about Slaughter House Bend on the section of the South Platte River that snakes its way from the Spinney Mountain spillway to the Eleven Mile inlet. Slaughter House Bend is a wide, deep bend in the South Platte that has a rundown footbridge running over it and a couple rundown homesteaders’ homes nearby on the north bank. The fishing was always pretty good in Slaughter House Bend, particularly in the summer for big browns. Until this particular day though, I never knew why it was called Slaughter House Bend.

But I heard The Wulff’s Den discussing it one evening, and I just couldn’t resist inquiring.

“Boy, you don’t know the story behind Slaughter House Bend?” Hank asked dramatically.

“No, sir,” I replied. “Perhaps you gentlemen can enlighten me?”

“I’ll enlighten you,” Arthur said. “You know those old homes on the river bank right there? Settlers used to use those homes for cover during the brutal winters on their way to the west coast. Sometimes they’d only stay a few days, a few weeks – sometimes they’d stay a whole season, hunting and fishing at their leisure. But those hills weren’t just the homes of jackrabbits and antelope, Andy. They were the homes of the Colorado Ute tribe. And let me tell you something, those natives hated those settlers more than you can ever imagine. The settlers would come through and kill every living thing in the valley, sometimes making it impossible for the Utes to feed the people of their tribe. Well, after a few years of this, the Utes had finally had enough.

“The story goes that one evening during the summer, while a family was settled good and tight in that little shack there, the Utes sent out one of their hunting parties to get food. But they weren’t going out for no antelope or deer. They were going for human flesh.

“The Utes surrounded the house and ordered the family to line up along the river bank just east of that old footbridge that’s still there today. Two little girls, a little boy, a husband and a wife, the family was. The Utes took a length of rope and tied it ‘round the man’s neck, tied the other end to one of the bridge beams, and kicked him over the edge and into the water. His neck didn’t snap though. Instead, he drowned in the water with his body still bouncing back and forth against the tightness of the rope. As for the woman and children, the Utes treated them like fresh carcasses – they decapitated them, skinned them and filleted them. The Utes did the same thing to any other family that dared to stay in the homes ever since.”

“How many you suppose they killed, Art?” asked Hank.

“I’d guess hundreds, Sheriff. At least…”

“That’s ridiculous,” Reverend Jack replied with a chuckle. “You’re gonna tell me you believe in that old wives’ tale? That’s just some stupid story you tell everybody to keep them away from your fishing hole.”

“I haven’t touched that darn spot in twenty-two years, Reverend.” Arthur replied sternly.

“Why’s that, Arthur?” I asked, intrigued.

“I’ll tell you why,” Arthur began dramatically. Arthur has an incredibly heavy voice, the voice of a man who’s smoked far too many stogies and drank way too many whiskies in his day. If Clint Eastwood had a secret brother, Arthur would be him. The rest of the society, unusually, had their mouths shut up tight and were clinging to every word Arthur uttered.

“It was one of those days out on the Dream Stream where you walk at least fifteen miles because the fish have lock-jaw so bad you can’t find a single one to bite. But you fellas know how stubborn I can be at times, and by golly, I was gonna stay out there until midnight to get a trout in my net. The sun was about passed the horizon, I’d say, when I finally did get my trout, a decent two-and-a-half pounder up by the pool with the big stumps poking out of the water like Punji sticks. Naturally, I was parked in the bridge lot about a mile away, so by the time I had that trout unbuttoned and was heading back, I was walking in moonlight. Let me tell you something, I haven’t ever walked alone out there in the dark since then.”

“What happened?” Robert asked with intrigue.

“I wasn’t in no rush, so I took my time and walked down the north side of the river, sticking to the game trails as best I could. Well I wasn’t sure at first, but I thought I saw a fire light in the distance. Not a fire light like that from a camp fire though; no, this light was coming from inside one of them old homesteader’s homes on the side of the river.”

“The one’s by Slaughter House Bend?” Reverend Jack quickly inquired.

Arthur nodded dramatically as he sipped his pint.

“Well what’d you do?” Robert asked.

“Didn’t think nothin’ of it really. I just figured a fisherman was gonna spend the night in there to catch the dun hatch the following morning. So I just kept on with my leisurely pace and minded my own darn self.

“Well, I was maybe fifty yards from the one of the homes – that little red one with the caved-in roof – when I heard the rustling of grass from behind me. I turned, thinking it was some mice or a jackrabbit, but I didn’t see anything moving, not in the moonlight at least. ‘Course up there, it gets so darn dark, you can’t hardly see anything, right Sheriff?”

“Mmhmm,” Hank answered, his eyes glued to Arthur’s face.

“I figured it was just the wind and turned back around to keep heading to the parking lot. That darn rustling grew louder though – and louder. The closer I got to that little red house, the louder the rustling grew. I was staring at the one window of that house, glowing orange and yellow with the fire from within. My heart started beating a little faster and that was when I started walking a little faster as well. There was something about that house, that lone window glowing like a coal in the pitch black that just made my skin crawl. And that’s when I saw it…

“I glanced over to the river bend, right at that deep pool where that old footbridge is, and I saw a very distinct, white form bent over on the river bank. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me or something, but I’m telling you, this white mass was there and it looked way too much like the silhouette of a man. I stopped dead in my tracks and crouched low in the grass. I didn’t know what it was, but I sure didn’t wanna find out any time soon. So I just stayed there crouched in the grass, watching this – figure on the river bank.

“And that’s when it hit like a bullet – AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!” Arthur belted in his best imitation of a female shriek, making every person in Wulff’s shriek as loudly and jump out of their hides through the ceiling. “A woman screamin’ bloody murder so loud it was like she was being stabbed right in front of my face. Louder and louder and louder it got, all the while the white figure just stayed by the river, hunched over. I did what instinct told me to – I stood up and ran for it as fast as I could. I ran ‘round the back of the house but as I looked back one last time at the white figure, it stood and turned, and that’s when I saw what it had been workin’ on over by the river bend. It looked me dead in the eyes as it held up the severed head of a woman by its long, blonde hair. The figure was white, the head was white, but there was no mistaking the bright red of the blood as it gushed out of the severed neck like a faucet. I turned and ran faster than I’ve ever ran in my life.”

The shop was dead silent when Arthur finished, every person looking intently at the corner table at which The Hemingway Society was gathered. As for Hank, Robert, Jack and Buck, their chins were almost touching the floor and their eyes were wide open.

“I’ve never stayed past sundown since then,” Arthur said. “Don’t have the heart to. And I’ll tell you another thing: I haven’t even thought of fishing Slaughter House Bend since then either.”

After that evening, I haven’t either.