The Devils Christmas Tree
This story begins in a time when the area that became North Carolina was almost unknown to white explorers. When people had to fend for themselves and make due with what they could. This is a tale of one Christmas night when a man, by mistake, found the Devils Christmas Tree and paid the price for it.
In what is now Tyrrell County about 40 miles east of Roanoke Island is Lake Phelps, where our story begins. On the shore of the lake lived a hermit named Hercules Mann. Hercules was known as a strange fellow by the few who knew him. He lived off of the land as much as he could, fashioning much of what he needed from what he found in the forest or around the lake. The few things he could not scavenge or build himself he bought on his trip to Col. Thomas Henry's Indian Trading Post.
Being a hermit, Hercules' only true companion was his dog. The two would team up regularly venture out in a hand made canoe across the lake to the far shore to hunt whatever they felt like having for dinner that day. Since the dog was an excellent trail hound, it was a rare trip that they came home empty handed.
One bitterly cold Christmas Eve, the hermit decided he would like fresh venison to go with his vegetables so he called his dog and out they set across the lake. Once they reached the middle of the lake though, the weather took a turn for the worst. The waves chopped against the canoe and the wind blew into the old man's face. When they reached the other side of the lake, it had begun to snow. Hercules considered turning back, but instead let the dog loose to find prey.
It wasn't too long before he heard the dogs bark and knew he had found a deer. Hiding in the brush, Hercules waited for the animal to appear. After a minute, a huge deer came into a clearing. The animal was completely white from nose to tail. Hercules took aim with his gun and fired from point blank range.
The deer stopped an looked at Hercules. The old man couldn't believe it. He'd missed. The deer took a couple of menacing steps towards the hunter, and then ran off into the brush. He hermit thought about what just occurred, then decided to try again. After a while, Hercules had bagged a large red deer and with the day light fading fast, set out for home with his dog and his kill.
Upon reaching his little cabin by the shore, Hercules quickly went in and built a fire. After preparing his tools to clean the deer, he went outside to get the animal. However, once he reached the canoe, his deer and dog had vanished. Hercules knew his dog would've barked had something happened but he heard nothing. There was no footprints around the area except his own. The only hint was a small trail of blood leading into the forest.
Following the trail into the woods, Hercules came upon a large cypress tree bathed in an eerie blue light. Dancing around the tree were the spirits of the swamp moaning and shouting "He shot the white deer. The Devil will have him". At the top of the tree, a grin creasing his face was the devil himself looking down upon Hercules.
Not wanting to see more, the old man ran from the woods, scrambling to get home. Once there he jumped into his canoe and as cold as it was, made his way to the trading post. Once there he rambled his story to the Col. all the while Thomas was trying to get the hermit's wet clothes off and get him warm. After much excitement and more than a little rum, Hercules fell asleep by the fire.
The next day, Thomas tried to get the hermit to stay another day to regain his strength, but Hercules would not listen. Anxious to find out about his dog the old man started off for home, telling Thomas he would be back later to tell him what he'd found out.
After Hercules didn't come back that day, Thomas went to his shack hoping to find the hermit there. All he found was a cold room. He followed foot prints he'd found outside the shack leading into the woods. There, kneeling in the snow, gazing at a cypress tree and frozen to death was Hercules. The number "666" burned into his forehead as if by branding.
Thomas gave the old man a Christian burial. One would think that's the end of the story. But some of the old timers near the area say that on Christmas eve, if you look to the sky, and listen you'll see the blue light and hear the moans of souls. But don't dare go in search of the light, you might find yourself with a brand on YOUR forehead.