THE BALLAD OF DAN McGOO
I offer you this cautionary tale of woe. It concerns a man whose life suddenly and mysteriously becomes intertwined with an age-old story. This should give one pause.
Dan McGoo was a stranger here in Rapid City, just passing through on his way home from a town in western Saskatchewan. It was a trip filled with more drama than he ever expected in a lifetime. But he wasn’t all too eager to get back to Omaha, as that was the origin of the drama. So when TripAdviser suggested a visit to The Museum of American Literature Dan eagerly boarded a city bus and made his way across town.
He found the museum in the middle of an industrial neighborhood, the facade looking badly in need of structural repair. It didn’t matter to him. Counting the loose change in his pocket for the price of admission, but finding he was short a penny, he very politely asked the ticket seller if he could please be allowed to enter anyway. Thanking her for her kindness, Dan headed first to the Mark Twain exhibit. There a mechanical Tom Sawyer greeted him, offering to let him whitewash his fence in exchange for an apple. He continued on. Atticus Finch lectured him on the moral obligations of the law, Ishmael taught him about whaling, Willy Loman reminded him of his father, and so on as he made his way through the exhibits.
But what Dan McGoo eagerly wanted to experience was the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit, as Poe was his favorite author. Walking through several rooms that depicted Poe’s many short stories, he soon found himself in The Pit And The Pendulum. It was so remarkably lifelike and very much as he had imagined, having read the story so often.
Dan instantly relived the awful horror of the story. He absorbed all the details, all the threats of torture, the fear, the nightmare of it all, as well as the language and cadence unique to Poe. He wished that he had more time to experience this more intimately but he knew he needed to be on his way soon to continue his journey home.
Home… where his own nightmare began, and the reason he had undertaken this trip. He had been deceived and lied to by the one he most trusted, and was led to believe he was on a mission to correct a wrong, to exact revenge against a transgressor. As his thoughts labored on the recent tragic events of his life, Dan’s anger quickly grew and metastasized throughout his body, until he acutely felt the pain and torment for which the pendulum was intended.
But then… at the peak of his seething anger, as he felt the need to leave and continue his quest for the truth, to understand what had happened, he heard something wonderful. Music! Was it a harp? A lyre? The sound emanated from the pit. Sweet music. Maybe a mandolin. Music so lovely and tender that it lulled his mood. Quieted his anger. He felt a calmness overcoming him.
Soon there was the sound of a woman’s voice, humming the tune as she played the stringed instrument. Dan could hear it clearly. It was so beautiful, angelic, the tune gliding on air like a feather in the wind, and he knew he could not spoil the experience by further descending into the depths of his own terrible misfortune. Alone in the room, he sat quietly at the edge of the pit, closed his eyes and listened blissfully.
Then suddenly the unimaginable happened. Not a believer in the occult or things mystical or magical, Dan was shocked to the full measure of his being as he heard the lyrics that the beautiful voice began to sing. For the song told of his own traumatic story — the reason for his traveling, the reason his life had been upturned, the reason he felt anger and hatred towards himself and the world. How could this voice have known this of him? And how did it know the answers to questions he didn’t yet know to even ask! What power, divine or evil, gave the voice his story to sing so sweetly, and why did the lunacy of his miserable life become part of The Pit And The Pendulum?
The woman sang:
A pretty girl, with hair of curls,
Sang in a bed of clovers,
a tune so sad, it made her glad
to be without her lovers.
For Jess had fled her carnal bed,
in panic and in haste,
for he had heard her warning words —
“My husband is in chase!”
So Dan took flight to pick a fight
to save his woman’s honor.
But bear in mind, he was inclined
to make that man a goner.
Though as he ran, he lost the man,
and then bent over breathless.
To set upon that vile Don Juan,
would really be too reckless.
When Dan returned, what he had learned
was certainly not useful.
He was so stupid that he concluded
to believe what wasn’t truthful…
“We only kissed,” she would insist,
“and only for the money.
You are my man, O handsome Dan,
my one and only honey.
One kiss I gave to that poor knave,
I told him that was plenty.
He spoke of love, I gave a shove,
and charged him Five and Twenty.”
“It best be true,” said Dan McGoo
“or else it weren’t funny.
So show it here, my darling dear,
his satchel full of money.
For all I do, you know it’s true
I’m always short a penny.
So if he kissed my darling Miss,
it’s worth a Five and Twenty.”
“Well, let me see, O mercy me!
it seems that it has gone!
He did the theft and then he left
for old Saskatchewan!”
Handsome Dan the Married Man,
trusts all that people say.
And at this time, he said that “I’m
to get revenge this day!
If that’s the case, describe his face
His eyes are brown or blue?
And dare I say, is his hair gray,
or is he balding too?”
She looked at him, and with a grin
cried, “O my silly Dan!
Do not pursue the man that who,
is Vicar of the land.”
(So you should know, the girl was so
caught up in all her lies.
It was much quicker, to name the Vicar,
the one to be despised.
‘Twas JesseLee (no Vicar he!),
the man who flew her bed.
A friend of Dan!!! He up and ran,
instead of being dead.)
“A Man of God! To be so flawed!”
said Dan to his surprise.
“Ain’t he the beast that was the priest
‘twas our son he baptized?”
She said the Vicar was full of liquor,
as she kept rambling on.
“And then he ran,” she lied to Dan,
“back to Saskatchewan.”
“I’m off!” cried Dan. “I know I can
retrieve that thieving Vicar.
And in a sack, I’ll bring him back
To meet the old grave digger!”