Saturday, September 29, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

There's a chill in the air and the smell of smoke. Night comes earlier and creatures great and small are preparing for the bleak months ahead. Hallowe'en is in the offing; that can only mean one thing: it's time for Saturday ghost stories. Gather round and let me tell you of the things that go bump in the night. And so we shall honor those whose day it is, the King and Queen of the Dead, Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte.

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


Jeff Coyle said...

Great story. I'm from South Mississippi and my Mother was from the New Orleans area. I've heard lots of stories but never the one about how to see spirits. Thanks for sharing it!

Pauline said...

Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate you taking the time to drop me a line.

My Aunt told this story, particularly on nights when the power went out and we had a combination of Coleman and kerosine lanterns on the porch. I always stayed away from wiping Gator's eye just in case it might be true...

Undine said...

I'll have to pass this one on to my mother. She's always said how much she'd like to see a ghost for herself. Even if they ain't that pretty.

Yeah, I know. My family gets odd ideas for entertainment.

Undine said...

P.S. I emailed your post to my mother, and she's quite excited. Tonight, she's going to try and talk to James Dean. Seriously. She adored Dean, and has never gotten over the fact that he died on her birthday. (Today!) So, that's how she and her Saint will be celebrating the day. Ghost-hunting.

The maternal unit makes me look like Shirley Temple.

Pauline said...

Oh just awesome, Undine. Please let me know how your Mom's adventure turns out. And Happy Birthday to her as well. She must be a wonderful lady to have raised someone as wonderful as you are :)

Timmy! said...

Cool story, Pauline!

And we already have our first snow...

Pauline said...

It's the first snow thing that bugs me. Let's hold off on that for a while, eh...

Charles L. Wallace said...

What a wonderful story!! Do ya ever get a hankerin' to rub eyes, up in the great white north?

Snow.... geeze! Still balmy here, although the local swimming pools have closed. It's after Labor Day, of course (smirk). Thankfully, all of the fleet exercise areas are to the south.... tends to break up the winter rather nicely (too bad I never get invited to the Bahamas, but no worries :-)

My comment about rubbing dog's eyes up north got me a-thinkin".... what sort of spooks and spectres frequent Alaska?

Cheerio, and thanks again for the awesome story.

Undine said...

Well, apparently the ghost-seeking was a bit of a bust. She emailed me that the dog fell asleep on her and the cats didn't take much interest, either. She also realized that if something supernatural took place, she'd scarcely notice the difference around there. She'll still work on it, though.

By the way, she was reading through your blog and wants me to tell you that she thinks it's the coolest thing she's ever read. She's always been one to practice hoodoo on a sort of amateur level, so I get the impression that she's going into the archives and taking notes. You have no idea of what you've just unleashed. :)

Pauline said...

Wally: Yep; we woke up to "sudden winter" on Saturday. It kind of messes with us all since most Alaskans have a "fall routine" (get the snow tires on the cars, mulch, run the gas out of the lawnmower, take down the screens, etc.)so to be hit all of a sudden is a bit jarring.

And no; I let my St. Bernard's eyes be. I've been experiencing a bit more paranormal activity personally since my cancer diagnosis and that's plenty for me!

Undine: Ah well; perhaps next time? I hope you Mom had a great birthday, though, and that my scribbling doesn't cause too much trouble.

Undine said...

Thanks! I think she did. An excellent variety of red wine played an honorable role in the day. Even though she's now insisting that she's officially part of Ancient History.

And, quite honestly, she thinks you've done an amazing job with this blog. I think it's just what she's been looking for.