Henry Urbina: –sorry about that. When Carl told me that he let Jon Connelly talk to you, I wanted to strangle him.
Jennifer Ridge: Oh, that’s okay. He was an interesting character.
HU: Well that’s a polite way of putting it. I’m glad you gave me a chance to meet with you and set things straight.
JR: Yeah, I was surprised when the motel told me I had a message. I’ll be honest. On the phone I almost turned you down, but when you said you’d show me what Pinebox was really like, I–.
HU: Heh. Yeah. No one can resist the mighty lure of—PIZZA BARN!
JR: Haha. And here I thought you were going to let me in on some deep, dark community secret.
HU: Oh, I am. Pizza Barn is Pinebox’s best kept secret. Did you notice the stage over there? They have live music and dancing a couple nights a week. This is THE place to be on a Saturday night.
JR: Hahahaha. I hope you’re joking.
HU: Heh. I wish I was. So tell me what local sights you’ve–
JR: Oh great.
JR: Jon Connelly just came in. Crap! He just saw me. He still looks pissed.
HU: Part of me wishes he’d come over here and give me a reason to fire him, but I wouldn’t want you in the middle. Do you want me to tell him to leave?
JR: No, I don’t want to cause trouble. Why don’t we just cut this short? Maybe I can meet you tomorrow.
HU: No way! I’m not going to let that little weasel spoil your visit to Pinebox. I’ll tell you what. I’ll go get them to make our order to go. You just head outside and get in my pickup. I’ll take you on a driving tour of Pinebox and we can eat pizza as we go.
JR: Oh, I don’t—
HU: Come on! We’ve already ordered the food. And you can’t ask for better research for your article. What kind of reporter would pass up this kind of opportunity?
JR: …Okay. Which one is your truck?
HU: It’s white and has the Pinebox Parks and Rec logo on the door. It’s not locked.
JR: Got it. … [long stretch with no distinguishable speech]
HU: Hi. Ready for a wild ride?
JR: Sure, why not? If I end up dead in a ditch at least I told the motel clerk who I was meeting, so you’d better take care of me. …
JR: Sorry. That was supposed to come out funny.
HU: … That’s okay. You’re in Pinebox. You should be cautious.
JR: Okay, you’re not making me feel safer.
HU: Sorry. …
JR: So what’s on the itinerary for this evening?
HU: Well, we’re going to make a left right here at Hamburger City, aaaaaand then we’re going to make a quick right. Now just a couple blocks down this street is Crenshaw’s Woods. This is a good example of how Pinebox has incorporated native flora into the city landscape. Jon probably didn’t tell you, but we’re a National Tree City.
JR: What does that mean?
HU: It’s a program run by the national Arbor Day foundation. Basically to be a tree city you have to have a forestry board, you’ve got to adopt a tree care ordinance, you have to maintain a forestry program with an annual budget of at least two dollars per capita, and you have to host an Arbor Day observance.
HU: Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound very exciting. But it was a big deal to us at the time. Anyway, we’re heading to Crenshaw’s Woods, which is one of the nicest natural areas here in town. It’s got several hiking trails, and in the middle is the Lost Pond.
JR: …Okay, I’ll bite. What’s lost about it?
HU: Haha! Well, since you asked… Back in about 1852 there was an awful drought in these parts. The lake levels got so low that the water was unfit for drinking. Eli Crenshaw was an early settler here in Pinebox and he was desperate to find water for his cattle and family. And here on your right is Crenshaw’s Woods. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to drive real slow and make the block. I just thought of somewhere else really cool to take you, but we’ve got to get there before the sun goes down.
JR: You’re the tour guide. So what happened with the drought?
HU: Well, according to the legend Eli made a pact with the Devil and the next day he found a pool of clear, cool, spring water in his woods. The whole community celebrated Eli’s discovery, but Eli himself was found dead exactly a year later. He drowned and was found floating in the Lost Pond.
JR: What a story! But I don’t see the pond.
HU: It’s in the middle of the woods. You can’t see it from the street, but if you come back tomorrow you can find a hiking trail that leads to it. Of course, the woods used to be a lot bigger in those days so it’s a little more understandable why the pond would be hard to find. Now I’m just going to head back the way we came and get on highway 97.
JR: So what’s next?
HU: Oh, I’ll let this one be a surprise. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m gonna have to step on it. It’s getting pretty close to sunset.
JR: Oh, you should see me drive.
HU: I’ll bet! Anyway, I can tell you about some other places of interest on the way. Lake Greystone of course is the big one. It began as a natural lake, but back during the depression the CCC came in and built a permanent dam. A lot of native and settler historical sites ended up under water, but the Texas Historical Society has sectioned off a few areas around the lake. You’ve got Fort Greystone and the Raven Mounds, to name a couple.
JR: What are those?
HU: Well, Fort Greystone really isn’t anything other than a long mound of dirt. See, back when Pinebox was first settled, some people went missing and the mayor was convinced that Pinebox was on the verge of being wiped out. So he convinced some folks to put together an earth and timber fort as a last defense. But as far as anyone knows it was never used in a battle. These days it’s just a pile of dirt. I know I work for Parks and Rec and all, but even I think it’s pretty boring.
JR: So what about the Raven Hills?
HU: The Raven Mounds? Those are a burial mound of Cherokee Indians. This story’s a bit more interesting. Back after the Texas Revolution but before we joined the US, a war band of Cherokees rode up to Lake Greystone. The Cherokee had driven off the last of the Karankawas from the area by that point, and these natives weren’t as friendly to the new Texans.
JR: Can you really blame them? We were taking their land!
HU: I don’t think I’ll touch that one. Anyway, they didn’t attack right away so the mayor sent out messengers to see what they wanted. Unfortunately, the only ones brave enough were a few of the rougher lumberjacks, and they didn’t speak a word of Cherokee. They go out and meet with the chief, and through sign language the lumberjacks figure out that they’re talking to a war band there to pick a fight with someone named “Golan”. Sound familiar?
JR: The name of the county!
HU: Right. Well, the lumberjacks try to tell them that there isn’t anyone in Pinebox named Golan, but the Cherokees are determined. So the lumberjacks go back to town and report to the mayor, and everyone spends the night waiting for the attack to come.
JR: Okay, where are you taking me? I didn’t say anything when we got off the highway, but a gravel road?
HU: Heh, don’t worry. It’s just another mile or so.
JR: Okay, so the Cherokees attacked Pinebox?
HU: Actually, they didn’t. The morning dawned with no attack. Then the cavalry arrived—literally. At the first sight of trouble the mayor had sent a runner to the nearest Texas Ranger outpost, and a whole troop rode into town that morning. A couple of them spoke Cherokee, so they went down to the lake to try to sort things out. As they got closer, it looked like the whole Indian encampment was covered in some sort of black blanket. When they got closer still, they realized they were looking at a whole flock of ravens. The entire campsite was covered in them, and every Indian in the war party was dead.
JR: What? Who killed them?
HU: Nobody knows. But the funny thing is that the Rangers explained that the word for raven in Cherokee is golanv. The lumberjacks couldn’t pronounce the last vowel, so it came out Golan. If they were there to fight the ravens, it looked like the ravens won. The Pinebox folks dug a shallow mass grave and piled it with lots of dirt like some Indian burial mounds they’d seen. And that’s how the Raven Mound got its name AND how the county got ours.
HU: In the 50s, the historical society put up a monument shaped like a raven out there. It had one word inscribed on it. Can you guess what it says?
JR: Oh…you jerk! I can’t believe I fell for that! Was any of that story true?
HU: Every word, up to the part about the monument. And here we are.
JR: Is this another joke? Wilson Quarry?
HU: Just a sec. [sound of vehicle door opening and closing, then opening and closing again a minute later]. Don’t let the looks of the place fool you.
JR: Oh, I’m fooled alright. I’m not sure what worries me more—all the no trespassing signs on the gate, or the way you slipped the chain off the post without unlocking the padlock.
HU: Well, technically we shouldn’t be here. But people come out here all the time. The quarry has been closed for decades and the owners live in Houston so they don’t really care as long as nobody hurts themselves and sues.
JR: Henry, you’re not making me feel very comfortable here. What are we doing alone at an abandoned rock quarry? This is something straight out of a movie. The kind where the girl is never seen again.
HU: Oh please. This is a local landmark. Half the people I graduated from high school with lost their virginity out here. We’re just going to pull up here, and… I’ll tell you what. Let me turn around and back up instead. Then we can sit on the tailgate and I’ll tell you all about Wilson’s Quarry as we watch the sun set.
JR: Watch the…? Look, Henry, I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but I just met you. I don’t know if I gave you the wrong impression, but—
HU: No, no. It’s not like that. I promise! Wilson Quarry really is a local landmark. You’ve got to see it to believe it. I swear, just come watch the sun set and as soon as it’s done I’ll take you back if that’s what you want. Come on. The pizza’s getting cold.
JR: …I must be crazy.
HU: Good! You hold the pizza, and I’ll let down the tailgate. Oh, and there’s an ice-chest in the back. You want coke or beer?
JR: Coke definitely.
HU: Suite yourself. Have a seat here and I’ll grab the drinks.
JR: Alright. I’m here miles from civilization sitting on your tailgate eating cold pizza. Are you going to tell me why it was so important to watch the sun set? And if we’re supposed to be watching the sun set, why are we facing a sheer rock wall? If you tell me this is where you lost your virginity, I am SO out of here.
HU: Hahaha. No. That would be Crenshaw’s Woods.
JR: Too much information.
HU: Sorry. Anyway, look at the quarry wall right in front of us. Do you notice anything…odd? Here’s your Coke. Sure I can’t offer you a beer? Mmmmm. Beer yummy.
JR: No thanks. The Coke is fine. What am I supposed to be looking for?
HU: Keep watching. The sun isn’t quite low enough. So let me give you a bit of history. This used to be a sandstone quarry started by a guy named Henry Wilson in 1921. I think he was a descendant of one of the original settlers–John Henry Wilson. Anyway, the operation only lasted until 1929 when part of the excavation collapsed and crushed him. It was that part over there, back behind us.
JR: Somehow, I’m not surprised. Why does it seem like Pinebox isn’t such a safe place to live? HU: Because it isn’t. Even before Wilson died, eight other workers died in on the job accidents. After Wilson died, his widow moved back with her family in California. She tried to sell the quarry, but the depression was coming on and nobody would touch it. So it—
JR: Mmf! I see it! Holy sh–.
HU: Cool, huh?
JR: It’s a huge face! It’s like looking at a movie screen.
JR: How is it doing that? It’s a perfect silhouette. I see the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the ears.
HU: Yeah. We’re lucky the weather cooperated. It’s a good, strong sunset. Keep watching. It’s not done yet.
JR: How can the sun be doing this? I mean, it’s too perfect!
HU: Take another look over your shoulder at the rock formation where Wilson was killed. When the sun dips down that notch in the rock and shines on what was left standing after the accident, it projects this face on the wall.
JR: Ooooh, that’s kind of freaky. The way the shadows are growing makes it looks like his face is changing.
HU: Just wait. [a few minutes pass]
JR: Uh, Henry? I think I’ll take that beer after all. [Silence, followed by sound of can opening.]
JR: That absolutely can’t be natural. I mean, the teeth. The eyes.
HU: … You know, I haven’t been out here in years. I thought it would be something funny to show a reporter, you know? Seeing it again, it doesn’t seem so funny.
[several minutes pass]
JR: You’re awfully quiet.
HU: Oh, sorry. I was thinking about alligators.
HU: Golan county has one of the highest rates of alligator attacks in the country. Higher than most parts of Florida or Louisiana. But you know what? I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t think I’ve seen an alligator more than ten times.
JR: …What are you saying, Henry?
HU: You were right, what you said earlier. Pinebox is a dangerous place. About ten years ago, the mayor was found dead in his office. At least, they found the top half of him. The bottom half was just gone. Do you know what the police ruled it? Alligator attack. In his office!
JR: You’re kidding me.
HU: Do you know why we’re called Pinebox?
JR: Something to do with the timber industry, right?
JR: Oh please! Is that what they told you? Back in the 1860s, one third of the town died in one night. Some people woke up, and some just didn’t. At least one from every household. It was like a plague or something, but there’d been no sign of illness before or after. Even the town’s first mayor, William Greystone, was one of the taken. The saw mills had to build nothing but coffins for three whole days. After the funeral, the new mayor calls a town hall meeting and the whole town votes to rename the town Pinebox from Greystone.
JR: So why give me the runaround?
HU: It’s hard to explain. Most folks just don’t like talking about the things that go on around here. It’s almost…embarrassing. We don’t even like thinking about it.
JR: But you are.
HU: Yeah, it’s funny. I guess it’s Wilson’s Folly up there that got me talking. Or maybe it’s the beer. Anyway, any time someone dies and there’s parts missing or the body’s tore up, they write it up as alligator. See, it keeps the official murder rate low. Either that, or they declare it a missing persons case.
JR: Missing persons? Look Henry, do you remember a couple of years ago hearing about— what was that?
HU: I don’t know. It sounded like someone yelling. Oh hell, it’s probably someone down at the Pit.
JR: Is that good or bad?
HU: It depends. We’d better go check it out though. We’ll have to walk. Come on. The Pit is a small spring-fed pond down at the other end of the quarry. Kids sometimes go skinny-dipping there, but it really isn’t very safe. Once you get in it’s not easy to climb out, and the water is ice cold. Kids have cramped up and drowned because they couldn’t get out.
JR: How deep is it?
HU: Good question. Really deep. They say that back in the 70s a high-school girl murdered her boyfriend and drove his car into the Pit. A few days later she broke down and confessed and the police called in a scuba team to recover the car. The divers said they went straight down something like sixty feet without finding the bottom. They had to give up because the water was too cold on account of being spring fed.
JR: What is it about this place? Why does every story involve a gruesome death?
HU: I don’t know. I guess growing up here it didn’t seem that strange. Did you know there’s even a ghost-hunting company starting up here?
HU: Yeah, really. Pinebox, Texas is going to have its own ghost busters. I read about it in the paper just last week. It’s a bunch of folks from the University with money to burn, from the sounds of it.
JR: There it is again!
HU: I can’t tell if that’s laughter or crying, can you?
HU: Let’s pick up the pace. Someone could be hurt or in trouble. It’s hidden by that outcropping up there. It’s getting dark quick, isn’t it? I should’ve grabbed the flashlight out of the glovebox. Anyway, I think the ghost chasers gave themselves some sort of silly name like Quarter to Midnight or something like that. I don’t really know what they’re going to do. Maybe try to hold ghost tours like over in New Orleans or something.
JR: Before seeing that face, I would have just laughed.
HU: Yeah. Right? Okay, it’s just around here. … WHAT THE— [recording ends] ->