A Poisson d’Avril Story
GENOT “WINTER ELK” PICOR for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
Jonah Ulknudel had become quite a fixture in the little village about the straits. He was known as the local “farceur (prankster),” and no one, with the exception of local law enforcement, was above his deviousness. Usually, Jonah would watch from a distance as his unsuspecting victim or victims fell prey to his mischief. On several occasions, people reported hearing a “cackling” after his prank had been sprung, but no ever positively eyeballed his presence in the general vicinity.
Who put salt in the sugar bowls at the local diner? No one could say for sure. Who left what appeared to be a neatly wrapped box of fresh pastries from Osbourne’s bakery sitting on the sidewalk bench? People had their suspicions. An unsuspecting passerby removed the string only to find four “road apples” contained therein instead of confectionaries.
Jonah and Genot Elan D’Hiver were acquaintances. They worked at Mr. Parent’s livery stable. Both boys were around the same age, maybe twelve or thirteen at the time this event took place. One evening, after Genot Elan D’Hiver had stabled the horses for the night, he emerged from the barn into the cold March air. Hiding behind the barn door was Jonah, who jumped out from the shadows and scared Genot half-out of his wits.
“Oh-ho!” shouted Jonah. “You should have seen the look on your face!”
For someone with Jonah’s skill, the prank was rather unimaginative, but it produced the intended result. Genot caught his breath. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t even raise his voice.
“Mon Dieu, I thought you were ‘Le Bonhomme Sept-Heures,’” replied Genot.
Jonah’s renowned cackling ceased.
“Who’s Boonome Setter?’” asked Jonah, who did not speak French.
“My Pipi told me this story some time ago after I came to live with them. Le Bonhomme Sept-Heures is the “Seven O’clock Man.” He will sneak into your home, and if you aren’t asleep by 7:00, he’ll stuff you into the sack he carries with him and take you away. What’s worse, if you’re out and about past 7:00, he’ll kidnap you, and no one will see him steal you away. Why do you think I try to finish my chores before 7:00 and go straight to bed?”
Jonah was stunned.
“What does he look like?” he asked.
“You will know him by his heavy woolen capote (coat) and a black-brimmed hat pulled down over his ears. He wraps a chain with locks over his shoulder. This is how he enslaves the children he steals. I don’t think anyone has ever seen his face, and if they did, they never lived to tell about it. If you’re alone and awake past 7:00, you’ll hear thumps and knocks in the floor and walls, and if he means to kidnap you, he’ll slap you with a fish! We’d best get inside now. It’s getting close to 7:00.”
The thought of Seven O’clock Man lingered with Jonah for a few days. He was undecided if Genot’s story was fact or fancy. There were many times Jonah had stayed outside past 7:00. Why had he not seen this man? As the month of March gradually gave way to April, the thought of the “Seven O’clock Man” had completely disappeared from Jonah’s thoughts.
The date was Monday, April 1, 1935. Mr. Parent was away on business. He asked Jonah to stay at his house to tend to his horses. Most of the village was quiet that night. An evangelical revival was being held at the local Missionary Baptist Church and Jonah could hear the distant, muffled sounds of the organ and the choir. He settled back into Mr. Parent’s favorite chair and curled up to read The Dark Frigate, his favorite book. Mr. Parent’s clock chimed eight times.
Not long thereafter, Jonah heard one sharp knock coming from the bedroom. The sound startled him at first, but he soon returned reading to his book. THUMP! There it was again. Jonah folded his book and rose slowly from the chair. He crept into the bedroom. The floorboards creaked under his weight. In the corner of the room rested Mr. Parent’s ceremonial Knights of Columbus sword. Jonah withdrew it from its sheath, giving way to the scraping sound of metal against metal. Closer now to the closet door, Jonah gripped the glass doorknob and gave it a twist.
No sooner had the handle turned, the door burst open. A slimy carp flew out from the darkness and slapped Jonah square in the face. Looming in front of Jonah was a tall demonic figure clothed in a heavy woolen capote with a black brimmed hat pulled over his ears! A sack was slung over his shoulder. His chains rattled in the blackness. It was the Seven O’clock Man! Jonah threw himself backwards as the hellish demon lurched forward.
Still gripping the sword in one hand, Jonah scurried out of the room, sliding along the floor on his bottom as fast as his legs could push him away from the impending danger. Never once did he turn his back on the demon. Jonah’s voice shrieked with terror, for indeed, if this was the Seven O’clock Man, he surely intended to have Jonah as his captive. Jonah finally rose to his feet and swung the sword wildly about in all directions. He slashed pictures from the wall and decapitated a lamp, all the while screaming for his life.
As Jonah rushed out from the house, he tripped over several open cans of red shellac, which now covered him from head to toe. Scarcely comprehending what had just happened, Jonah rushed straight-away to the barn, whaling like a banshee and still gripping the sword. His terror startled the dozing horses.
Once inside the barn, Jonah mounted Mr. Parent’s swayback horse Nellie and away they dashed toward the only refuge he could find; the Missionary Baptist Church. As luck or fate would have it, the congregants were exiting the church at that very moment, uplifted in the Holy Spirit.
Without the thunderous sound of heavenly trumpets to announce his arrival, there emerged from the shadows a galloping red rider, waving a sword above his head. The congregants were aghast with fear! Was this the prophesized red rider from the Book of Revelations? Had the apocalypse come to the little village above the straits?
Jonah’s mouth was bone-dry, brought on by his own personal terror of what he had seen. His words could not be clearly understood. Was he shouting “Boonome Setter?” or “Be gone sinners?” No one was taking any chances. Most people fell to their knees, shouting out heavenly praises, affirming their divine salvation. Pastor Williams of the church immediately recognized the hysterical red rider as Jonah Ulknudel, and peace was soon restored.
As scripture tells us in the book of Galatians 6: 7-10, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Everyone in the village had long suspected Jonah as being the culprit of several tricks and hoaxes and now he had received his “come-up-ins.” Genot Elan D’Hiver owned up to the incident as payback for the earlier prank Jonah had played on him. In Mr. Parent’s closet lay the capote, black-brimmed hat, a sack and chains and the wooden box upon which Genot had stood.
Pastor Williams, Sheriff McCauley, Mr. Parent and Genot had to coax Jonah into the house so that he could see for himself. Both boys had to work without pay for a month to repair the damage done to Mr. Parent’s home.
It took several days and numerous applications of turpentine to remove the red shellac from Jonah’s sticky body. But the story doesn’t end there…no sir, for this story has a positive outcome! Pastor Williams went so far as to thank Genot for his deed. The good reverend claimed that on that night, young Jonah Ulknudel, the red rider on the swayback horse waving about a ceremonial sword led more people to Jesus than at any other time he could recall!
For more information on “Poisson d’Avril: French traditions of April Fool’s Day” and “The Seven O’clock Man,” please visit https://www.francetravelguide.com/april-fools-day-in-france-le-poisson-davril.html and http://www.strangenewengland.com/2015/07/18/7-oclock-man-bogeyman-maine/ respectively.
Le Bonhomme Sept-Heures (The French Canadian Boogeyman) as told by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor, from “Stories that Mimi and Pipi Told” © Genot Picor, 2018. Printed with Permission