IN CROCKETT COUNTY, ALABAMA THERE'S A SECTION OF CURSED LAND CALLED HELL'S BACK FORTY. County land records cite "The Devil" as the owner, and though no one seems to know the origin of this peculiar citation, folks assume it was simply a joke, appended to a surveying mistake for which no official wanted to claim credit.

Hell's back forty is an inhospitable swamp, thick with briars, poison ivy, quicksand, snakes, and huge, fat, biting horse flies. A stench, as of rotting carcasses, putrifies the air. There are no fish or game animals to draw anglers or hunters, no ground firm enough to farm or develop, nothing to attract any normal human heart or eye.

And, legend has it, it is the home of a boogeyman called Rufus.

Some say Rufus is the spirit of an escaped slave who leaves Hell's back forty to haunt the shadows of night near homes, a demon who waits for children to wander away from their parents' care, then to snatch them up in his sack and tote them off, never to be seen again.

Most people say it's just a story someone made up to scare children into obedience. "Don't you go out there by yourself, little Jimmy, or Rufus'll get you!"

But some people swear they've seen him, walking along a county road at night, sack slung over his shoulder, and in it, a child, writhing, crying. They say that sound--of a doomed child crying from within Rufus's sack--is one that haunts you forever.

I have never seen or heard any such thing, but I know people who have. As time goes by I will tell their stories.


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