The Boogeyman of Yarrowmarch

All urban legends start as something real.

I don’t know if that’s actually, scientifically true, but it’s what I believe (and these days, isn’t that enough to make it true?). Sometimes it’s fear-based and the legends become a warning of sorts, like all the child-drowning ladies in white who are used to keep kids away from water. Other times, it’s as benign as Granny getting scared by a big, black dog while out on an evening stroll and suddenly everyone knows somebody who’s seen that same dog and they definitely died after, but only once they’d made sure to mention it to other people, of course.

The dog grows, its eyes turn red, maybe its panting breath starts stinking of brimstone, and sweet little Rover is now the scourge of the countryside, a portent of death to any who look upon him.

Ours started as a gardener.

Back in the early 1900s, a man by the name of Arthur Dalley came to Yarrowmarch in search of work. It was, and still is, a small New England town, but even small towns need their gardeners, and he found employment soon enough. He made quite the name for himself by way of his green thumb, and he became responsible for tending all the public spaces, including the school yard. Everyone loved Arthur Dalley.

What nobody can seem to agree on is who was the first to go missing. By some accounts, it was the pastor’s daughter. Others claim it took a few disappearances before he worked his way up to such a notable victim. But the kids went missing regardless; seven of them between the ages of nine and eighteen, confirmed by piecemeal town records with muddied dates.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

People began doing the math, when he arrived versus when they started keeping the doors locked, and asking themselves how do Mr. Dalley’s gardens grow? As it turned out, with silver bells and cockle shells, and all the children in a row.

I’ve heard a photo exists of some townsfolk and the pulp formerly known as Arthur Dalley, but I’ve never been able to find it. Not sure I really wanted to. Kind of a grim souvenir for a very dark period.

Normally that would’ve been the end of it. They dumped his body in a hole in the woods and moved on until nobody remembered the name of the murderous town gardener.

Except they didn’t.

Parents continued to evoke the name of Arthur Dalley to keep their unruly little ones in line, until he surpassed his former self, horrible enough as he was, and like that black dog out for an evening jaunt, he grew into something else entirely: the boogeyman of Yarrowmarch.

And like all the best boogeymen before him, Arthur Dalley got himself a little nursery rhyme.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

Whose roots grow long and deep.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

Who seeks your soul to keep.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

He slumbers in the ground.

Step lightly or you’ll wake him.

Then he’ll drag you down.

Pretty sure that poem was what kickstarted my interest in ghost stories and urban legends. Instead of scaring me like it was supposed to (much to the disappointment of my older brother), I started reading all the horror I could get my hands on. While the fiction was fun, it was the “true” stuff that really intrigued me. It was also how I became friends with Betsy. We were just a couple of nerds who got to talking one Saturday at the library and never stopped.

Then she didn’t come home.

I don’t know if it was because she was seventeen or not rich enough or not popular enough or not blonde enough or what, but even in a small town, Betsy was only third page news, under the story of Mr. Capsfield’s very large pumpkin. Even during my interview, the detective I was speaking to seemed bored.

When did you last speak to her?

Was she having any problems at home? At school?

Were you aware of Miss Rider having any male acquaintances?

I showed them the texts. I told them what I thought.

Betsy had gone looking for Dalley Dalley Deadman.

She believed she’d found out where they’d buried him. It’d been kind of a morbid pet project of ours, researching the events surrounding his death and trying to pinpoint where they’d left his remains. Too morbid, I guess, for the cops to take seriously. I was used to the looks I got; the way their eyes changed, like they couldn’t see past the “weirdo” label they’d slapped on me. I’d hoped, given the circumstances, it’d be different.

Instead, they asked if I was covering for a runaway.

“It’s just an urban legend,” I was told. Showing them our shared drive with all our research didn’t help, all the real town records, the newspaper articles. It only solidified the label.

I was mad when I left the police station. I was still mad when I got home. At the cops, at our parents, who didn’t have time for more of our “horror nonsense”, even at Betsy. Why couldn’t she have just told me where she thought it was? Why’d she have to leave my last text asking for the location unanswered?

Since they hadn’t found her phone, it was assumed she’d taken it with her, though likely turned off as they hadn’t been able to ping it. I decided to text her, again, and call her, again. Where are you, are you ok, answer me. She didn’t, no matter how many times I checked.

It’s hard to sleep when you’re worried. I tried, shutting off my light at my usual time and getting under my covers, but I just stared at my ceiling, thinking about Betsy and Arthur Dalley and how mad I was to cover up how sad I was.

My phone, always left on silent, lighting up from my nightstand turned my white ceiling a shade of blue-green and I almost fell out of bed grabbing for it. Betsy’s picture filled my screen. I had to keep from shouting her name when I answered.

The line was quiet, and I said her name again.

“Dalley Dalley Deadman.”

Her voice was a whisper, but I knew it anyway. I said all the same things I had before: where are you, are you ok, answer me.

I didn’t think a phone call could be so quiet and had to check she was still there, when she whispered, “Whose roots grow long and deep.”

I told her to knock it off, but her paper thin voice came through again. “Dalley Dalley Deadman. Who seeks your soul to keep. Dalley Dalley Deadman. In Yarrowmarch he hides. Make sure you don’t go looking. For the one that never dies.”

There was no emotion in her voice. No change in tone or pace. Only a flat whisper. When I told her she was scaring me, she started again, all the way through. “Dalley Dalley Deadman…”

I don’t know why I told her those weren’t the right words. It was a stupid thing to get caught up on, but my brain just kept repeating, It’s not right, it’s not right!

“Dalley Dalley Deadman…”

She only stopped when I started screaming for my parents.

My phone showed I’d just had a call, that it lasted as long as I said it did, but the number wasn’t Betsy’s. I cried and shouted it was, it was her! But Dad looked it up online and showed me it came back on a bunch of those “Whose Number Is This” sites labeled as spam.

They took me to the police anyway, where I was told the same thing.

Spam. Her phone is off. Hasn’t been on. Must’ve been a nightmare.

Mom let me take a benadryl when we got home. If I couldn’t get to sleep naturally, store bought was fine. I just wanted to put the day behind me. I crawled back into bed with my phone facedown on the nightstand in case it rang again. I shut my eyes, willing the benadryl to do its work. It never took long.

But as I was just beginning to drift off, I swear I heard Betsy’s monotone voice whispering, barely perceptible, from my phone.

“Dalley Dalley Deadman…”

I had wild, frightening dreams of long stemmed flowers that bowed with the weight of the heads sprouting from their ends. They all looked like Betsy. They all wept.

Mom didn’t need to be convinced that I should stay home the next day. My head felt full of sand and my stomach bubbled. I just wanted to stay in bed. Mom said stress could do that to you. She left me crackers and ginger ale in case I felt up to eating and went to work, leaving me home alone. I wasn’t able to fall back asleep, but kept my face buried in my comforter with my eyes squeezed shut.

My phone, always left on silent, dinged. It’d been so long since I heard any notifications, I wasn’t sure if it was a voicemail or text. I tried to ignore it. I only thought I’d heard it. It was the stress, like Mom said. Then it dinged again. And again. And again and again and again.

I slammed my hand over my phone and lifted it. A barrage of texts had flooded in, all saying the same thing.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

Whose roots grow long and deep.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

Who seeks your soul to keep.

Dalley Dalley Deadman.

In Yarrowmarch he hides.

Make sure you don’t go looking.

For the one that never dies.

Betsy’s name was across the top of all of them.

I screamed, angry and afraid and confused, and threw my phone across my room. It smacked against the wall and landed with a thud on the ground. I stared at it, a stupid, nonsensical fear welling up that it would sprout spider legs and come charging across the room toward me.

Of course it didn’t. It just lay there, unmoving, silent. No more dings.

My cat wall clock ticked the seconds by so loudly. Each one pounded in my head until they sounded like Betsy’s voice.

Dalley

Dalley

Dead

Man

I covered my ears, tears running down my face.

Why, Betsy? I thought, yelling in my own head. Why are you doing this? Where are you? Where are you?

She didn’t answer, and I cried myself back to sleep. I dreamt again of her head growing from long stems, bobbing in the breeze, her pale lips moving without sound, her sunken eyes wet. Neat little rows of Betsy blooms, and around them, other plots. Other heads. Their faces were indistinct, blurred, like old, poorly developed Polaroids. I only knew Betsy, and the way she stared at me.

When I woke up, the image of her flower-heads was still sharp. I knew why she was doing this. I’d seen it in her face.

My legs felt like jello when I got up and went to get my phone. Its screen was cracked, something I usually would’ve been devastated by, but all I could think about was Betsy and the way she was begging for help. Begging me to help her.

And I knew where to look. The place where we always stored the information we couldn’t wait to share and pour over together.

The texts were gone. It barely registered as I went to our shared drive. I scrolled through our research, carefully organized in subfolders, until I came to “Dalley Dalley Deadman”. According to the timestamp, it hadn’t been updated in over a week.

I opened it to find every document had been changed to the same scanned image; a page of yellowed paper from a book of handwritten nursery rhymes. Dalley Dalley Deadman, but not as we’d learned it. Something older, an original, dated 1923. No mention of slumbering. Only the one that never dies.

Drawn along the bottom of the page was a row of plants dotted with clumps of tiny flowers. White yarrow.

Yarrowmarch hadn’t been a reference to the town itself.

It was the woodland trail from which the town took its name, marched right through swaths of wild white yarrow.

Dad didn’t understand why I wanted him to drive me out to the preserve. I didn’t explain. I wasn’t sure he’d believe me. He finally gave in when I started crying. He kept asking what was wrong, what was at the preserve, begging me to talk to him.

The car hadn’t stopped completely before I was jumping out and running past the entrance signs, the barriers, down the path into the woods. Dad chased behind, calling my name.

Everyone knows where the March is. It’s a popular hiking trail and field trip destination. As soon as the flowers came into sight, I was diving amongst them, pawing at their stems, digging at the dirt, all while Dad yelled for an explanation.

I clawed at the earth, stopped, moved, clawed again. At some point, I’d started screaming for Betsy. Dad was tugging gently at my arm, telling me it was time to go, and I almost gave in, but a cluster of flowers set amongst many like it caught my eye. Brighter, taller, their leaves greener, it stood out only slightly.

The one that didn’t die.

I tore myself from Dad and fell on my knees beside it, my nails raking at the dirt.

She shouldn’t have come. She shouldn’t have looked. She shouldn’t have found him.

She shouldn’t have woken him up!

I scraped something in that dirt, and came away with Betsy’s phone clutched in my hands.

She couldn’t be buried there, cops assured me. The ground was undisturbed except where I’d dug. Cadaver dogs didn’t detect anything. It was likely, I was told, that Betsy had dropped her phone.

I begged. I pleaded. I called and called and called. But it was impossible. Betsy could not be there.

That’s what they said. What they still say. They’ve written Betsy off as a runaway and me as crazy.

But I know better, even if no one believes me.

All urban legends start as something real. Arthur Dalley, the boogeyman of Yarrowmarch, was real. He is real. I know he should be dead, but he’s not. He’s hiding. And somewhere beneath the wildflowers, he has my best friend.

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