Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Hiram and Ethan Escape from the Fair Folk

Preston's Station, Kentucky,  July 1800

In 1800 Kentucky was still called the Dark and Bloody Land, wild and lawless.  The state was only 8 years old; Hiram's town of Preston's Station (now Prestonsburg), only 3.  You never went into the woods at night, not because of any ghosts or will-o-the-wisps, but because of the highwaymen and renegades and savage Shawnee who might be prowling about.

But here was 16-year old Hiram (model is over 18), trudging down a road that was little more than a deer path, in the moonlight of the witching hour, tired, hungry.  And lost.

With worse waiting when he got home.

His father, 60-year old Aulse Hicks, was the preacher and schoolmaster of Preston's Station.   Well respected, a scholar -- he spoke five languages, and he had published a book proving that the Indians were descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  But he was strict, demanding, and unforgiving. He expected the son of his old age to spend his time at Greek and Hebrew lessons, and reject worldly temptations like dancing,  ninepins, and games of cards, to prefer -- or pretend to prefer -- the company of God's word to the layabouts down at the tavern

Yesterday Aulse sent Hiram to pray with two brothers from Virginia who had a homestead about five miles from town. He expected to be back before dark, but company was a rare thing in the hills, so they asked Hiram to stay for dinner, and then they sat up, gossipping  and singing and playing games. Before he knew it, the sun was down, and it was dusky twilight.

Five miles in the dark, on a road that was little more than a deer trail?  But there was no help for it, so Hiram set out.

Somehow he got lost --he should have been home in an hour, but the moon was high, the jackdaws were crying, and there was still no sign of the Preston's Station.

He decided to turn back and spend the night with the two brothers after all.  But he couldn't find the homestead again, and now it was the wee hours of the morning, and he was so tired and hungry that he thought he might faint.

Suddenly he saw a light -- not on the main trail, off through the woods.   He approached cautiously, worried that it might be a robber camp.  But it was a house, much bigger and grander than any he had seen in Kentucky.  Could he have walked all the way to Lexington?   (not likely -- Lexington is over 100 miles from Prestonsburg).

Lights and music -- a party going on! Where there was a party, there was food, and a fire.  So Hiram approached the house, and for a reason he couldn't explain later, he slipped in without knocking and made his way to a huge parlor all done up in Christmas red and green.

He couned about thirty people, men and women, all ages. Most were normal sized, but a few were so tall that they had to bow to avoid the chandeliers, and a few were so short that they could bump their heads into other guests' stomachs , Some had pale skin, others the deep purple of night, and still others bright red, like embers.  Even more surprising, some were naked.

They have queer customs in Lexington! he thought.

An elegantly dressed woman  (normal sized, ember-red skin),   approached.  "Why, Hiram Hicks, as I live and breathe! Welcome,welcome!" Before he could be surprised that someone in  Lexington knew him, she grabbed his arm and led him to one of the very tall folk, a leering, bug-eyed man.  "This is old Aulse the Preacher's boy."

"A Preacher's boy!" he exclaimed.  "How delicious!"

Hiram managed a bow. "Do you know Father?"

"Oh, delicately!"

"But you must be famished after your long walk," the ember-red woman said. "Come this way."

She led him to another room: empty except for a table was heavy-laden with every delicacy Hiram could ever imagine:  corn fritters, onion pie, leek pie, broccoli, asparagus, apple ginger, blueberry pie,  lemon cake, alma pudding, even orange marmalade.  But no meat.

He wondered why no one else was eating.  Perhaps it was not yet the dinner hour?

"You sit down to dinner very late in Lexington," Hiram murmured.

"Oh, we'll be eating and drinking through tomorrow,and the day after that," the ember-red lady said."Well, I'll leave you to it."

She wandered off into the main parlor. Hiram found a plate and a wooden fork, and began dishing out...then someone grabbed his arm.

 He turned to see the most beautiful boy in the world: about his age, normal height, dark brown hair, pale hairless skin, hard like a picture of David in one of his father's books.  And naked! .

"Don't eat anything," he said.  "That's how they trap you. Once you eat their food, you will be   theirs forever, forced to obey their every command."

Hiram dropped his plate in shock. It shattered onto the floor. A naked woman quickly appeared with a broom and dustpan to clean the mess.

The most beautiful boy in the world still had his hand on Hiram's arm, as if he was afraid that he would flee.  "My name is Ethan," he said.  "Or it was, once. Now I am no one at all."

"How long have you been here?"

"I don't know -- I lost count of the days and nights long ago.  Maybe years." He leaned close as if to kiss Hiram, and whispered.  "In all those years I've felt neither hunger nor thirst, nor have I slept, nor have I known a moment's peace.   I live only for their pleasure.  Go now, before you are trapped, too."

"As a Christian, I cannot leave without you,"  Hiram said.  "There must be a way for both of us to escape  this foul place."

Ethan thought for a moment.   "They keep us naked. Perhaps it is not to degrade us, but needful for the glamour of the house.  If  I were dressed...but you cannot clothe me.  You have only what you are wearing."

"Perhaps my shirt will be enough."

Hiram tore off his shirt and gave it to Ethan, and they made their way through the parlor. The odd folk ignored Ethan, but they constantly grabbed at Hiram's bare arm and chest, murmuring "But the night is young!"; "You haven't yet eaten!"; "You're just in time for a game of quist!"; and  It's so late -- you must stay the night."

They crossed the threshhold and ran to the trail, afraid to look back. No one followed. And in a few moments, they saw the steeple of the Preston's Station church in the distance.

They agreed to tell no one about the mysterious house. Instead they made up a story:  Ethan was traveling from Virginia with his parents, when they were beset-upon by Indians, who killed his parents, stripped him naked, and held him captive for ten days, torturing him as they pleased.  Eventually he managed to escape.   He was wandering through the woods, delirious with pain and grief, when Hiram found him.

Ethan stayed with Preacher Aulse, and eventually became a preacher himself.  He and Hiram lived together happily for many years, and never told anyone about the mysterious house.

I heard this story from Uncle El during our visit to Kentucky, but added the nudity to make it more interesting.   He said he heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from his grandfather, Hiram Hicks.

There's a real  Hiram Hicks in my ancestry:  son of Aulse "Preacher" Hicks, born in Russell County,Virginia in 1783, moved to Prestonburg, Kentucky (then called Preston's Station) about 1797, died there in 1840.   There is no Ethan living with him in the 1830 census.


  1. *minor copyedit* in the text, the name of the town keeps changing from preston to prater to parker -'s station?

  2. btw; how did they manage the escape in the original story then, if it wasn't about clothing?



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