Saturday, September 29, 2012
Samedi: Ghost Stories
This story originated somewhere in the southeastern United States. Often claimed by the Gullah coast of Georgia, that claim is just as often contested by the bayous south of New Orleans. It plays on the ancient belief that dogs can see supernatural beings in general and ghosts in particular. I tell it in my own voice, imagining myself back on the old homestead down Rigolets way when I was a teenager. The place was my father's Aunt Bette's house, rickety and creaky and full of it's own spirits no doubt. It's gone now, but I remember the two short summers I spent there every time I tell these stories.
My Aunt once told me, when I was just fourteen, that dogs can see ghosts. I didn't think much of it at first, but she would often point to her big mutt when he jumped or barked or howled for no apparent reason and say: "There; Gator sees a spirit." It did get me wondering about it when I went back home to California.
Two summers later, I was back at Aunt Bette's and I asked her to tell me more about dogs seeing ghosts.
"Oh, people can too," she told me. "How," I asked. "All you do is run your finger over a dog's eyelashes and then run that wet finger over your eye," she made the motion as she spoke, smearing her thick eyeliner a bit. "Y'all will see all the spirits round this bayou. But be warned." My Aunt paused here, and looked at me with a serious stare. "Some of 'em ain't that pretty."
A few nights later, after supper, I was on the porch with Gator. He was snapping at a fly that got through the screens and then all of a sudden he stopped, looked straight out into the dark and howled. The sound was high pitched, like a hurricane wind through broken glass. The hair on my neck stood up; the hair on Gator's did too. I don't know what came over me but before I could think I wiped my finger over Gator's one good eye and then swiped it over both of mine.
I turned my eyes back to the dark. "Any spooks out there," I called. "Cause my dog and I can see you all."
I didn't see a thing except dark beyond the porch light. The only noise was the song of frogs.
Standing up, and still quite without thinking, I opened the porch screen and stepped down to the ground. Gator came with me, his one good eye still peering out toward the water and his tail between his legs.
"You spirits out there?" My bravado was more for myself now. The dark was thick and I could spy a mist rising from the dead cypress trees in the water. "I can see you. Show yourselves."
As we watched, Gator and I, that mist took form. Rising up before us, like a reanimated corpse coming straight out of its tomb, was the white incarnation of a dead woman. She wore old fashioned clothes that were dripping with water and moss. Her face was like a skull and as we watched her right arm raised up from her side and her bony finger pointed straight to us. Her jaw dropped and a scream, so piercing I thought my eardrums exploded, emanated from her open mouth.
Where a moment before we had been glued to the ground, Gator and I sprang into action at the same time. We jumped back up onto the porch, ran into the house and dove under the afghan that always hung over the back of it. There we huddled together, shivering even though it was 90 degrees outside.
My Dad and my Aunt, who had been in the kitchen having a little after supper something, heard the screen door slam and came into the front room. When Aunt Bette saw Gator and me quivering under her blue and white afghan, she must have known what was going on. "Just leave 'em, Jack," she said when my Dad starts asking what we're up to. "I think I scared your girl with my ghost stories."
Dad went back in the kitchen but Aunt Bette turned back the afghan and whispered: "You better wash your face well tonight. Especially those green eyes. Gator and I can tell you, there's a lot more gruesome specters in the corners of this old place."
Aunt Bette went back to the kitchen and I ran upstairs, my eyes closed until I reached the bathroom. I scrubbed my eyes with soap, and that's no lie. They were red for a week, but it was better than ever, ever seeing a ghost again.
Header: Danse Macabre via Gutenberg online