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The Ghost of Timmy Wahl: Eternal Secrets at Hunter's Mill

The Ghost of Timmy Wahl: Eternal Secrets at Hunter's Mill

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The Ghost of Timmy Wahl: Eternal Secrets at Hunter's Mill

5/5 (1 rating)
255 pages
3 hours
Aug 28, 2017


The Ghost of Timmy Wahl: Eternal Secrets at Hunter’s Mill62,000 Words
By Lin Waterhouse

When Caroline Hudson retired to the tiny rural town of Sycamore Bend in the bucolic Missouri Ozarks, she never dreamed she would become known for sniffing out old mysteries best left unsolved in the minds of her neighbors. Caroline wants to fit into her new community, but her insatiable curiosity keeps getting the better of her good intentions. While visiting her mother, Catherine Hudson and her boyfriend embark on a hike of the rugged ridge trail above historic Hunter’s mill, a famous tourist stop in the Ozarks. There they meet a seemingly lost, four-year-old boy. When they try to guide him to safety, he disappears into the fog. The unfolding mystery dates back to the boy’s tragic death, 80 years earlier. A sordid tale of age-old jealousy and murder that prevents restless spirits from finding eternal sanctuary combines with a modern tragedy of neglect, child abuse, and addiction that challenges Caroline’s insight and resourcefulness.

Aug 28, 2017

About the author

Lin Waterhouse is a freelance writer who focuses on the historical curiosities of the Ozarks region. Her work has been published in the Ozarks Mountaineer, Ozarks Magazine, the Ozark County Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After writing an anniversary piece about the mysterious 1928 dance hall explosion in West Plains, she continued researching the story that piqued her curiosity and offended her sense of historical justice. This book is the result.

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The Ghost of Timmy Wahl - Lin Waterhouse


Damn. First you get us lost in the frickin’ Ozark forest. Now, fog!

Scott Mathews glanced down at the ribbon of gray mist undulating around his leather hiking boots as he trudged along the narrow trail. Wisps of vapor reached upward like vines of kudzu climbing a human trellis.

We can’t be lost, Catherine said confidently. This trail is the only break in the woods. Look around us. The undergrowth is so thick, there’s no way we could have made a wrong turn.

The lithesome, auburn-haired woman peered into the forest that surrounded them. Her luminous blue eyes studied the oak, elm, pine, and cedar trees that framed the woodlands and dappled the light from the copper sun that hung low on the horizon. Vines of grape, honeysuckle, mistletoe, and poison oak stitched the high branches together into a dense canopy, and ferns, buck brush, Echinacea, and a hundred other varieties of indigenous plants grew in profusion in the thick undergrowth.

She glanced to the west, assessing how long before the sun would set and leave them in pitch blackness. A shiver along her spine betrayed her concern about being on the isolated trail after nightfall. Darkness and cold settled quickly into the Ozark hills and hollows on autumn evenings. She squared her shoulders and affixed a smile on her lips that did not extend to her eyes.

Quit worrying. It’s like a jungle out there. We could not have gotten far enough off the trail to get lost.

If we don’t know where we’re at, we’re lost, he said peevishly. For God’s sake, I’m a systems analyst, not an outdoorsman. I don’t know how I let you talk me into this backwoods vacation.

I wanted you to meet my mother, that’s why we came here. The Ozarks is one of the most pristine ecologies in this country; how about trying to appreciate that. Besides, I’ve hiked trails just like this one my whole life, and I say we’re not lost. She lengthened her step to match his longer stride. Slow down, my chest is about to explode.

You said this was a two-hour hike. Why are we still out here in this god-forsaken wilderness four hours later?

Two hours at a moderate pace -- that’s what the brochure said – the one I picked up at Hunter’s Mill. Slow down! This fog is getting so thick that we need to take care we don’t step off a cliff or fall over a rock along the path.

Throughout the afternoon, the couple had thrilled to the natural sights and sounds of the forest. Through the stand of tall trees, they watched a golden-tailed hawk lazily surf the drafts of warm air rising from the land. Cumulous clouds, like puffs of snowy dandelion down, drifted across the vivid, cobalt sky. After Scott and Catherine entered the dense woods, the tiny birds of the forest had announced and denounced the hikers’ intrusion into their private territories with the chitter-chatter of an active avian communication system. Reacting to their natural instincts, the thinning rays of the sun, and the downward spiral of temperatures at day’s end, the birds were bedding down for the night in nests of twigs and grasses built on tree limbs and inside tangles of brush. A bushy-tailed red squirrel chattered a warning from a branch then ducked inside a hole in the tree’s massive trunk where he would be safe from the predators like coyotes and foxes that would soon stalk the night.

Downright creepy, that’s what this place is, said Scott. How did this mist come up so fast? And it has an odd smell to it, don’t you think?

What like a newly dug grave, she said sarcastically. Give me a break.

No, more like -- sulfurous, acrid.

It’s coming off the creek that runs along the base of the bluff. It’s probably fed by springs flowing out of caverns full of gases. This time of the day, late in the fall, the temperature of the water and the air coalesce to form fog, she said.

Thank you, professor, he growled. I guess I should have paid better attention in science class instead of spending my time lusting after the homecoming queen in the front row.

It does seem strange that we walked into such a thick bank of the stuff, she conceded. I can barely see you walking ahead of me.

Suddenly, a golden orb garden spider, as large as a man’s palm, spun out along its filament of web directly into Scott’s handsome face. Dropping to his knees, he shrieked and flailed at the terrified spider that beat a rapid retreat up its web into the trees shading the trail.

Jesus! Spiders! What’s next? Rats, newts, and maggots? he shouted.

Get up off the ground and out of those weeds, Catherine ordered. Or you’ll find yourself a copperhead to round out our day.

Scott leaped to the relative safety of the narrow trail. Catherine rolled her eyes and wondered if he would break into tears if a harmless but intimidating eight-foot- long black snake lay across the trail waiting to surprise them. Shoot. I’d have to carry him home, she thought with a rueful smile.

The hikers forged on along the trail, struggling with prickly vines dangling from tree branches and long, moist fronds that obscured the slippery path. Scott had ceased complaining, settling into an angry pout, and Catherine was grateful for his silence.

Long shadows fell across the forest, and the hush of evening settled over the woods’ feathered and furred inhabitants. The swishing sound of the hikers’ boots in the fallen leaves and the sound of the couple’s labored breathing resonated in the still air.

You and your raging testosterone are the reasons why we’re still out on this trail, said Catherine, finally annoyed at his childish sulk. We had to stop to make love – to have a wilderness experience, you said. Who knew your sylvan wet dream would take place on a bed of stinging nettles with ticks invading all the crevices of our bodies?

He slowed his pace and glanced back at her. I’m sorry, Catherine. I really am. I’ll help you pull them off just as soon as we get out of this damn forest and back to your mom’s place.

My back is on fire from lying in those weeds, and I think I’ve got a tick up my crotch. You have no room to complain, Scott, so stop pouting and whining!

You’re on fire? That’s a good thing, right, joked the man. You always tell me what a great lover I am

Sorry, but the physiology is all wrong. It’s not my back that I want to be on fire -- you’re missing the target by more than a few inches!

We’ll laugh about it later. You’ll see.

Yeah, well, my mom’s the one who’s going to be laughing. It won’t take her a minute to figure out what we were doing to get ticks in the places we’ve got them.

Oh, lord, he moaned. That’s embarrassing.

Their argument was interrupted by a plaintive cry.

Hey, people, have you seen my dog?

The hikers jumped and whirled around to see a small boy standing in the path where they had just trod. The boy was wringing his hands, as he searched the woods around them with troubled eyes.

He’s brown and white, and I can’t find him.

Where did you come from? the man asked incredulously. We must have walked right past you in the fog.

The hikers exchanged surprised looks, and shuddered in the draft of frigid air that engulfed them. Catherine hugged herself for warmth, and she squinted her eyes to see through the undulating mist at the child standing alone on the trail. He couldn’t have been more than four years old. A smattering of freckles crossed his nose, and his white-blonde hair hung long and shaggy. In contrast to the hikers in their L.L Bean boots and windbreakers, the boy was barefoot and wore denim overalls over a faded blue shirt.

What’s a little kid like you doing out here alone? she said. It’s getting late. It will be dark soon and it’s getting really cold.

I’m tryin’ to find my dog. His name’s Pal, and I know he’s somewheres on this trail. He’s my best friend, and I need to take him home with me.

The man rubbed his eyes and peered into the shifting layers of fog. We haven’t seen any dog. You better stay with us until we get back to the mill.

A worried expression creased the boy’s cherubic face. Gazing into the murky forest, he called out, Pal. You come on here now, Pal.

What an odd voice, thought Catherine. And that awful smell!

A memory from her childhood pricked at her mind – the scratchy, tiny voice of a woman singing a melancholy song. It emanated from a needle riding the grooves of an old-time recording disc that revolved on the turntable of an antique Victrola music machine. Her Great-Gram loved to play old records on the device for Catherine when she was a very young child. The music device was housed in a tall, ornate mahogany cabinet in the room she called her parlor where the furniture was blood-red velvet and the windows were hung with smothering, yellowed lace. Catherine shuddered, not from the sudden cold but from the memory. She had hated visiting there – Great-Gram touching her cheeks with clawed, arthritic fingers; the musty smell of the dusty old home; and the cloying, lavender-scented odor of age that clung to the old woman. Catherine repressed a gag. Shaking her head to clear away the unpleasant cobwebs, she wondered. Where did that memory come from? What is that smell? It’s the stench of death!

You must be getting sick out here in this fog, said Scott to the boy, interrupting Catherine’s unpleasant reverie. Your voice – you sound like you’re coming down with a cold or something.

Where are your parents? They must be frantic looking for you, said Catherine overcoming her anxiety and reaching out to take his hand.

The boy took a step backward, avoiding her touch, and fading into the mist.

The voice sounded as if it came from the bottom of a rusty metal drum. No, ma’am, they ain’t looked for me for a long time.

Pivoting on his heel, the child ran back along the path, disappearing into the shadows. His tiny bare feet appeared to float with the clouds rising from the damp ground and settling around the trees and undergrowth. In less than a moment, he was gone.

Come back. It’s dangerous out there. Come back, she shouted, trying to follow the boy back along the trail now almost completely obscured by fog.

Scott caught up with her, and he reached out to grasp her arm. Let him go. We can’t see well enough to keep up with him. He looks like a local boy. He probably knows these woods pretty well – a lot better than we do. Besides, he thought, That’s one creepy kid.

We can’t just leave him, she said.

We’ll call the sheriff when we get back to the mill. I’ll bet there’s already a search party. Somebody has to have missed a kid that young.

A half hour later, the weary couple reached their destination, the historic gristmill built in 1893 by Jebediah Hunter. For more than 100 years, the mill served as the commercial and social hub of the tiny community of Hickory Bend, deep in the Missouri Ozarks. Today, Hunter’s Mill is a popular tourist spot, an icon of Ozark history. Every day, dozens of hikers set out along the narrow trails through the ancient hills and picturesque hollows.

Mill owner, Terry Scrementi was leaning her long, slender frame across the counter in the mill’s gift shop. Her ebony hair fell in thick waves around her olive-skinned face as her dark eyes studied an inventory of crafts, candy, chips, and soft drinks. Startled by the pounding on the door, she laid aside her bookwork and hurried toward the sound.

Please, open up, shouted Scott.

My gosh, said Terry turning the dead bolt and flipping the old wooden latch. You two left here hours ago. I didn’t know you were still out on the trail. I would have been worried about you, and Catherine, I’ll bet your mom is holding dinner for you.

We need help, said the breathless woman. We just saw a small boy all alone on the trail. He ran away from us and disappeared into the fog. Someone needs to go back and find him.

For a long moment, Terry stared at the couple. Then, she smiled enigmatically and turned back to her inventory.

You have to do something! Didn’t you understand? He’s just a baby!

Was he blonde with overalls and a blue shirt? asked Terry, closing out the accounting program and shutting down the computer for the night.

Yes, he’s barefoot, and it’s gotten really cold, said the woman. Maybe his family doesn’t know he’s missing yet, because he said they weren’t looking for him.

Was he asking if you had seen his dog, Pal?

The man sighed in relief. So you already know about him. Is there a search party out looking for the kid?

No need to look for him, said Terry.

The couple glared at her mutely, as the mill owner calmly reached for the denim jacket hanging on a peg behind the counter and shrugged it on. After digging through her bag, Terry located a ring of keys and selected the one that fit the lock on the mill’s door.

I don’t understand your attitude, said Catherine angrily. There’s a child out in those woods alone in the dark.

With a gesture of her hand, Terry directed the indignant hikers through the exit door, pulled it closed behind them, and fitted the key into the lock.

That boy -- Timmy Wahl is his name -- he’s been trying to find his dog for the last 75 years.


Where have you two been? asked Caroline Hudson. I’ve been worried about you.

The mother’s silver-streaked, reddish hair, blue eyes, and pale skin revealed the attractive visage into which the daughter would mature. Only her straight hair, cut into a shiny bob, contrasted with the younger woman’s thick mane of wavy, shoulder-length, auburn hair.

The hike took us longer than we expected, said Catherine, as she pulled her windbreaker off over her head. And we had the strangest experience. I‘m still not sure I believe it!

Sit down. You can tell me all about it over dinner.

Caroline had arranged three colorful Talavera Mexican bowls with matching saucers, red cotton napkins, and silverware on her round oak table. A fragrant, flickering candle in a centerpiece of autumn leaves and decorative gourds completed the table setting.

I don’t get much chance to entertain any more. I love having someone here to cook for.

Something sure smells good! exclaimed the young woman, lifting the lid of the pot on the stove. Is that potato soup?

Caroline smiled at her lovely, healthy, all-grown-up daughter. I remembered it’s your favorite. There’s cornbread, too.

Scott, you’ve never tasted potato soup until you’ve tasted my mom’s special recipe, gushed Catherine. I can’t make soup like my mom’s.

That’s largely because you never cook, said Scott, exhausted and irritable after the day’s adventure.

Catherine stared at him in annoyance, and Caroline lowered her eyes to avoid becoming involved in another of the couple’s frequent spats.

Excuse me? Catherine snapped. Which one of us works 12-hour days? I’m not a trust fund brat like you, working for the family business whenever you choose, just for the fun of it. You play more golf than you work.

Never mind. I’m sorry. I’m tired. Mrs. Hudson, would you mind if we took a few minutes to shower before dinner? We’ve had a tough day, and we need to clean up before sitting down to a meal.

Scott, you look as tired as Catherine looks radiant. But then, she always has had an abundance of energy. Take as much time as you need. Soup can always wait.

Thanks, Mom. She leaned close to her mother to kiss her cheek.

Is that a tick on your neck? asked Caroline in alarm. "And another on your arm?

Scott sighed audibly.

As the young woman brushed at the spot on her arm and fingered the bump on her neck, she glanced angrily at her beau. I see one or two on you, too, smartass.

You’d better do a good body check, said Caroline. "I’ll get you a roll of duck tape from the garage. Before you get in the shower, try pressing a piece of tape against the tick, then pull. If you’re lucky, it will stick to the tape and pull out of your skin. If that doesn’t work, there are tweezers in the drawer.

Be sure to use some disinfectant on the bites, directed the concerned mother. We have a lot of tick-borne illness around here. Catherine, I thought you’d remember that you have to spray up with DEET before you go into the woods.

We’ll keep that in mind before our next hike -- a hundred years or so from now, said Scott. Come on, Catherine. You can check my back, and I’ll check yours.

Don’t put your clothes and shoes in the hamper either. Put them outside on the back porch where you can check them for ticks. I don’t want the house full of those nasty little suckers.

Caroline watched the young couple head down the hall toward the guest room. Her daughter was an experienced outdoorswoman. She certainly knew to protect herself from the parasites so common to the Ozark woodlands.

What do you suppose they were doing to get themselves so full of ticks? she wondered. Then, she smiled with understanding. Was I ever that young and amorous?

Cedar logs snapped and popped in the stone fireplace in Caroline’s cozy great room. Shadows danced around the open beams in the high ceiling, and the fire filled the room with a woodsy, cheerful fragrance as mother and daughter sat laughing and reminiscing over bowls of hearty soup and wedges of cornbread. Mute and barely attentive, Scott sat hunched in a chair beside Caroline’s dining table.

Is there any more cornbread, Mrs. Hudson? he asked, interrupting one of Catherine’s childhood recollections. This simple meal is surprisingly good.

Caroline raised an eyebrow at Scott, as she ladled a third helping of soup into his bowl. She

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  • (5/5)
    After reading Bred to the Bone, I had to read all Lin Waterhouse has ever written, then Timmy Wahl came out. Oh, my! The Ghost of Timmy Wahl is the best one yet. Send chills, keeps you turning pages, and makes you want more. And, it is based on a little boy named Judson Warden and his dog. That boy really did die in the mill. Her nonfiction The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion is written as if it plays out on a movie screen. Well done. All the Waterhouse works are exemplary.
    — CJ Loiacono