The following story is based on an actual account that has passed from memory. It is said to have occurred inside St. Thomas. Many have laughed when told the legend of Tom Flower and the power of the curse. But of those who have laughed you can be sure very few are courageous enough to test the rhyme itself.
(NOTE: The term Tom Zombie, which came into use in the 1960s, replaces Tom Flower in this reading, if only so you don`t accidently draw the ire of the curse while telling the story.)
One night, not long ago...
...a group of teenagers sat laughing and joking sitting around an open campfire. Camped on a hillside, next to a meadow and a crystalline stream; surrounded with old growth maples, oak and pine they had every reason to feel at ease.
Of course, they had all heard of the Legend of Tom Zombie, but, like so many before them they didn’t believe it. One of the boys, a tall blond lad named Steve, even went so far as to say it was a bunch of bull. The other kids laughed.
``Sure, its bull, but what is the legend?” asked Josh. Josh, Steve’s younger brother, we always the butt of a lot of jokes within this group.
“Simple,” Steve replied, looking to all of them with wide eyes and then a wider smile, as if recognizing an opportunity. ”The story goes that if three people intentionally each say Tom Zombie in a row Tom Zombie will get them.”
Everyone was quiet,
“So, who’s going to say it first?” Steve followed.
Rustling leaves, whistling wind, no one said a word. John, Steve’s best friend and someone who had been smiling the whole time, suddenly said, “Tom Zombie!”
Steve laughed as he drank a big gulp from his cup and then half belched the words, “Tom Zombie!” His voice echoed through the valleys surrounding their little perch. In the distance a bell began ringing ever so quietly.
Ding… ding… ding…
It lasted only a few seconds.
“Stop it Steve!” Sally crowed, slapping his arm, “I heard a bell!” Sally was Steve`s girlfriend and usually braver then he was. Not this time. She looked petrified.
“Me too, this is getting creepy!” said Janet. Janet was a long-time neighbour and friend. She seemed more annoyed than scared.
Randal, the real clown of the group was the natural person to follow the pair but even he looked worried; his eyes, two specs of bouncing orange across the fire.
Josh stared out into the tree line; red yellow, slivers of light dancing around the brush from their fire. If something was out there, no one would be able to see it, and with all of them laughing and talking, no one would hear anything either, least not until it was too late.
“Please no one say it,” squeaked Josh, now huddling deep under his blanket so that only his eyes and nose were visible. He knew the instant he said it that it would have the opposite effect.
“C’mon Randal say it!” John crowed half laughing “Or are you scared too?” he said as a mother might console a child. Randal, Josh knew, had his pride and little else.
Randal looked up to the stars, “Fine,” he said then bellowed, “Tom Zombie!”
Everyone and everything went dead quiet. The wind stopped, the forest seemed devoid of even insects or birds. Only the crackling fire kept the night time silence from engulfing them all.
After long fearful moments Steve finally started to laugh. “You guys are such pansies!” he said smirking.
The tension broke and the group followed in kind. John and Randal clapped their hands together; Steve gave Randal a friendly slap on the cheek as Randal smiled and nodded. Josh poked his little head out from his blanket and even the girls began to chuckle nervously.
“It’s just a silly story,” Steve said.
It didn’t take long for the group to forget what they had done and begin talking about other less consequential things.
What they couldn’t know, because the knowledge had been lost in legend, was that, though it was true that Tom Zombie couldn’t awaken to sow his wraith upon them, the curse allowed for the nearest dead to where they sat to do just that and people had been living and dying in these woods for generations.
In fact, not months before, a cabin just over the next hill from where they camped, had burned to the ground. Most of the poor family who had lived there had been burned to ash, but two, a mother and her teenage son, had made it out only to die in the leaves and mud outside. Their bones and rotting flesh had all but been taken by hungry animals and carrion worms. Enough remained however to hear the ringing of the bell and a relentless call back to the land of the living.
The kids laughed around their fire, whimsical in their disregard for the evil they had awakened. It was Steve who heard the shambling first; mixed with the wind and the crackling fire. When he said “Quiet!” to the group they thought it another joke and just laughed louder.
Then they all heard a stick CRACK from the dark…
… and a hollow GROAN mixed in with a stiff and suddenly cold wind.
`Whose having a piss` Steve asked, about to blame Randal, but sure enough Randal was still sitting just behind him; his eyes wide and his skin pale like snow. They realized quickly everyone was accounted for.
Then who was out there?
Suddenly, sickly acrid, skinless bodies scurried from the underbrush; eyes on fire and innards glistening like wet roots in a ballistic charge.
In the distance, we hear children screaming.
Of the six who went camping that night only two returned. Steve, John, Randal and Josh never came home.
The horror of the surviving two made both girls mute for many years; neither girl ever fully recovered.
Their story was buried by calls of madness; just kids traumatized by a serial murderer or a freak animal attack. But, though there was plenty of blood to be found, the bodies of the four lost boys were never recovered. For years the rumors of a tie to the dreaded Tom Zombie curse persisted along with sightings of undead children roaming the countryside.
The parents of the brothers, Steve and Josh, were among the very few who believed the survivors story. Its said they made a pact and upon death they were secretly interred on that same hillside in shallow graves. Their last words before falling forever quite from the taste of simple poison:
There we will wait for the day our children return to us or the children of all those who didn`t believe come to camp themselves. Having never been warned, never been told of the power of the legend and the curse, let them too fall victum. Let their parents grieve as the souls of their children are forever devoured by the dark sanction of the Tom Zombie curse. And let our own flesh drapped bones do the deed.
This, legend within a legend, is based on a short poem written by Toby Ten, an African American Poet who died in 1848. This short verse explains a small fraction of the workings of the curse:
The words ‘Tom Flower’ from one,
Is just a little bit of fun.
The words ‘Tom Flower’ from two,
Delivers a clue.
The words ‘Tom Flower’ from three,
Well that sets hell free.
They say that Tom is cursed by love,
That he can`t see the veil,
They say the dead hear him standing above,
And from encrusted crypts they rail.
(An excerpt from a British infantry marching manual dated 1812)