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The Ghost Of The Crab Boy

Bryan came to the marsh (he called it the creek) at what is today Huntington Beach State Park to catch stone crabs for his family and for friends like Miss Addie McIntyre. Stewed crab was a staple in his diet, and he believed crabmeat had a restorative effect for one who was ill.

"The house we stay in be a two room house with one of these end chimneys, and it be over there cross the King's Road on Miss Addie McIntyre place. She been sick in bed for four weeks, but she mendin some now. She been mighty low. She feed on crabs what I bring her from the creek, and sometimes it help a little bit, but not too much."

There are about a thousand different kinds of crabs, but the stone crab is noted as the best tasting of the crabs that are consumed. It is a crustacean and lives within a hard shell. The body is broad and more or less flattened, and the five pairs of walking legs are jointed. As if that were not enough, the stone crab has snapping claws that are exceptionally strong. This story of Bryan is justifiable proof of the power of the claws of a stone crab.

Stone crabs live in holes which they hollow in the marsh mud. Those who look for these crabs can immediately identify their holes. As they burrow into the mud on the bank of the marsh when the tide is low, they throw up behind them seashells and debris that had been deposited there by rising tides. Each stone crab's hole is encircled in a mixture of shells and mud.

Bryan could spot a stone crab's hole quicker than a bullet could hit its mark. I mean, he'd lust reach right down into the hole and pull out the crab, and he acquired a surefire technique of getting the crab without the crab snapping his fingers.

"The crab holes." he once explained, "been same long as my arm. I worked my hand down the hole slow, and when I feel like I be gettin near the crab, I dig my fingers down in the mud.

Then I yank out a passel of mud, and the crab be in that mud. I always go in the hole that way, and get what I want. It not be too much trouble. Most people use a long wire, with a hook on the end, but that be a pack of foolishness. I lust reach in and get em.

After filling his bucket, Bryan would go home and pick the meat out of the body and claws. His mother really knew how to stew crabs. She'd put the crabmeat into the stewpot and add a little pepper and salt and a mite of nutmeg. Then she'd add the yolks of two broken up eggs, some crumbled-up biscuit and a spoonful of vinegar. While the crabs were stewing, she'd make a pan of fresh biscuits that were just right for sopping.

Man, when you sopped those biscuits in the stewed crabs, now that was real eating!

One evening Bryan came to the marsh and extended his arm into a crab hole. It was getting late, and he didn't use his usual precaution in taking the crab. Suddenly, the claws of the crab clamped down on Bryan's middle finger and nearbout cut it off. But the crab held on. Bryan let out a hollar that was heard nearly to his home across the King's Road. He flailed around in the air, jumping, screaming, yelling, but the crab would not let go.

The old crab lust clamped his claws tighter. Bryan, his whole arm down in the hole, pictured the crab, his eyes on their short stalks, looking amused at his catch.

After awhile, Bryan got tired and he couldn't scream quite so loudly. His yells became more of a mournful wail than a shrill cry, and his face lay on the marsh mud. By this time it was getting late, really late, and although Bryan told himself that there was nothing to worry about, he knew in his heart of hearts it would take a world of luck to save him. The tide would be coming in soon, and unless the crab turned him loose, the tide would rise over his body. When the tide went back out, he'd be nothing more than a limp corpse, Or maybe a stiff one. He didn't know which.

Bryan continued to wail, but no person heard him. A creeping chill began to possess him, and he peered over the marsh to the trees. He could see a lamp in a cottage in the trees. Everything was quiet, except for the incoming surf. Even the dogs were quiet. Not one howled. It came to Blyan's mind that no one was going to save him. And the crab never once lightened its grip on the boy's finger.

A grim sense of blackness, and the hopelessness of fate, seized the soul of the weary boy gripped in the tongs of the crab's claws. Bryan had gotten himself into trouble, and there was downright nothing he could do in self-defense. What have I done! he asked himself. How did I get into this mess! His voice was little more than a squeak, small and thin, but still human.

"Help me. For God's sake, help me." As the tide came closer, he thought that if the rising water took his life, God would take him to the land of Canaan where he and Joshua were having a happy time.

The tide came in, then went back out. Daylight came. That was when the body of Bryan was found. He was taken to Heaven's Gate Church, and a funeral was held. Bryan was buried at the edge of the marsh, where high-tide waters would cover his grave, since the family superstition ruled that the sea must again receive its own dead or it would claim a new victim.

One night after all the chores were done around the seaside homes, a thunderstorm rolled in. Black clouds skudded just overhead and rolling thunder shook the earth. Moss hanging from the live oaks blew every which way, and rain came in sheets. In all of this, a voice was heard. "Help me. For God's sake, help me." It was believed to be the voice of Bryan.

If you walk the beach at Huntington Beach State Park, and dark clouds come in from the sea, and the color of the ocean changes from blue to gray, and the surface of the water turns choppy, and the soft warm air turns chill, listen. You may hear the voice of Bryan. It's during the storms on that beach that he comes back, still begging someone to release him from the claws of the stone crab.

Taken from "Coastal Ghosts" by Nancy Rhyne, Sandlapper Publishing, Inc.