Tag Archives: October

Ghost Story, October 9, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

Y’all, grad school is…an experience, to be sure. Some classes are ridiculously easy…like, to the point I’m suspicious of it…and others are crushingly, crushingly difficult (to the point that the term “identity moratorium” is taking on an unexpectedly personal meaning).

There have been…a lot of late nights. Memorizing, conceptualizing, possibly overdosing on caffeine but being too preoccupied to notice the physiological symptoms. I live on campus, and between the hours of midnight and two a.m. you’re likely to find me downstairs in my building’s common room, hunched over a laptop and occasionally typing notes in Google Docs.

Anyhow, a couple weeks back, just as the fall air was beginning to blow cold here in Tennessee, I was downstairs at around one in the morning, wrapped up in a hoodie and flannel pajamas. I was absorbed in the differential diagnoses for schizophreniform disorder, and I as I busily made flash cards I nearly jumped out of my chair as someone pounded on the window about a foot to my right.

The blinds were closed, slanted downward, so whoever was outside likely couldn’t see me. But I could see their form well enough. I saw them hover for a minute, then walk over to the other window, pause, and walk back over to the window by me. I expected someone to call out asking that I let them in – which, hell with that, I ain’t looking to get robbed – and then they walked off. A moment later I heard the double doors rattle, as though someone was trying to shake them open. Then the figure passed my window again, paused, and walked off.

Again the doors rattled.

I got spooked, gathered my things, and made my way upstairs. Before leaving I turned my head as the doors stopped rattling. I couldn’t see anyone who might have been outside.

The next day as I made my way to and from class, I passed the front desk on the way to my room. I heard a resident talking about the portrait of the elderly lady in the lobby – our building’s namesake – and how when she dozed off on the sofa she had been surprised by how the painting seemed to be staring at her.

“Yeah,” the desk clerk said, “people say they get unnerved by that painting.

“So funny,” the woman said. “I mean what’s a painting really gonna do, right?”

“I dunno,” I heard the clerk say before I made my way up the stairs, “People say the doors shake sometimes…”

Maybe I was being inhospitable. But if so, I think I’m comfortable with that.


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October 4, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

Somehow I’d managed to avoid tornadoes until I moved to Nashville. I didn’t realize they sounded like revving diesel engines until I woke up one night thinking some asshole was was trying to flex outside my apartment. It wasn’t till I took a look out the window that I could see the neighbor’s plastic porch chairs tumbling across the parking lot.

Some December, a few days before Christmas, the weather had been unseasonably hot and humid all day. Sure, it gets hot and stays hot here in the south, and humidity is just a fact of life down here, but this was springtime weather conditions in the depth of winter. Air pressure had been threatening to bottom out all day, and a constant, steady breeze stirred quietly enough to let everyone know things were going to get loud sooner rather than later.

The weather forecast told us that things likely wouldn’t get too heavy until a little after six, and after spending my day at the kitchen table wrapping gifts I (stupidly, I know) put on my Asics and left for a run.

Something I find really unique about the Nashville area is the surprising number of random graves you find as you go about your business. I’m not talkin’ fresh graves, mind you, dug by some brazen mafioso; hundreds of old graves, dug by settlers, dot the surrounding countryside. You see them all over, but half the time you don’t even realize it; often I would be caught by surprise upon finding out that what I assumed was a nondescript rock was actually an engraved and weathered tombstone. It’s not very unusual in the more rural areas to see a neighborhood stop sign casually erected beside an antebellum grave marker.

So as I ran I noticed the wind picking up, substantially. It was well past sunset, but the sky was almost a glowing purple color. I could feel the air pressure dropping as time ticked by, and I knew I needed to head back as quickly as I could manage. I crossed the street, to a side less dense with overhanging tree branches, and made my way back up the mountain road that led to my apartment.

I was coming up on a pile of rocks, a marker I would usually rely on when coming home from work to let me know the turn to my driveway was coming up. Beside them there was a woman with a gray shawl wrapped around her. Strangely the shawl didn’t seem affected by the wind. She seemed to be looking past me down the road, and I could hear what sounded like the rumble of an engine. By that time, I knew that twisters sounded like revving engines.

I looked over my shoulder, my blood running cold as I did, but luckily it really was an engine I heard. She’d just been waiting to cross the road. The truck passed me by, and while my heart slowed back down to normal I noticed that the lady ahead of me was gone. Probably crossed already.

I slowed as I passed the rocks. Growing nearer, I could see that something was carved into it. Erosion had eaten too much away to make any sense of it, but I could definitely make out numbers. “1846-1868”

For whatever reason I felt compelled to look over my shoulder, and when I did I saw the lady with the shawl again, for just a moment. Then my attention was pulled away by another engine sound – another pickup – and when I looked back, she was gone to…wherever she was heading.

The tornado came about half an hour later, whipping sideways rain across the hillside and rocking cars on their suspension. When things began to quiet down I risked a look through the window, and for an instant I thought I saw a figure in a gray shawl, standing oddly still in the violent storm. But I must have been seeing things, because when I blinked she was gone.

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October 3, 2018

So here’s my scary story.

I used to live in the town of Goodlettsville, a bedroom community just north of Nashville. It was a pretty typical stretch of suburbia but I was impressed with the local park, which had been carved out of an abandoned plantation and army camp, and the ruins of an exploratory fort. Both still exist after extensive reconstruction, and in addition to public use the space operates as something of a continuous museum, complete with tours and educational events. I fell into the habit of going on runs on the extensive creekside trail that encircled the area.

My favorite time to run was in the evenings come fall and winter, when it would get dark and cold and most people had gone home. A few groundspeople and a patrolman stayed until closing (10:00 PM) but the park sprawled, and sections of the trail branched off into unlit brush. Go deep enough past most of the lights, and you would smell deer musk, and hear distant coyote cries.

One night in late October I didn’t reach the park until a little after nine, so when I ran I did so at a faster clip than usual to make sure I could get back to my car before they locked the gates. A mist from the burbling creek added a chill to the already frosty, and through the trees I could make out bright and garish Halloween decorations. I could hear bats chirping around the special rookeries set up for them by the local Lions Club. It was a great night for a run, and I felt energized.

I had intended to keep it short, and turn back at the halfway point before I reached the unlit stretch the dipped into the woods. But I’d had a long day and wanted to wind down, so I kept running, onto the section of the trail without electric lights.

Sometimes I ran with music, other times I didn’t. It was windy that night though, and I enjoyed the sound of it through the trees. And while I ran I could hear the branches creaking as they swayed and knocked against one another. A storm was coming but it was not yet here.

As I ran I could hear the branches crashing even harder against each other, and after a beat I thought I heard something heavy hit the ground. Assuming a bough had broken, I ignored it, but then there came another heavy thud. And then a few beats later, another heavy sound of impact. And grunting, like a buck would grunt, except…heavier, somehow.

And for whatever reason, I got scared. I generally like the nighttime, and while I’d rather not be in the dark it usually doesn’t bother me. But I started increasing my speed, and my heartrate started going up. I turned down a fork I knew would take me back to the main section of the park, and I ran at top speed. I had no reason to think it but for whatever reason I knew that something. Was. Following. Me.

I let myself slow down once I got within sight of my car, and further away I could see a parked cruiser, near the entrance gate. I was panting when I got to my car, and I let myself calm down before I hopped in for home. I turned to the trees, chuckling softly at how silly I’d been.

The half-leafless trees were perfectly silhouetted by the glowing, cloudy night. I could them swaying against one another, and could hear the scraping of gnarled branches. And I blinked, because where there had been darkness in a distant section of the trees, there was now open space, as though something massive had moved on.

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October 1, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

My family owns a house and some property out in Alabama. It’s an old place, not some cabin in the mountains or a cottage by the Gulf. It’s a farmhouse, built by hand by poor people who ate what they grew, and spent little because there wasn’t really anything to spend. The house is almost a century old. My great-grandmother raised nine kids and outlived two husbands there. What she couldn’t afford to buy, she often made by hand. Despite the hard work her life entailed she often dressed in a long white dress and wore a white straw hat. Even in her final years she enjoyed sitting in the sun beside her extensive garden, shelling peas while bees buzzed about the flowers by her hem. When she passed in the mid-seventies my grandmother dreamed about seeing her sitting outside, brilliant and white, until her mother stood without a word and walked around the corner of the house. My grandmother said she woke up calling after her, and could swear she saw her mother’s white frame pass by in the hall as she sat up. But of course her mother wasn’t there.

Our family reunions are held here, and my pops is usually one of the main organizers. Ours is a sprawling, country clan, and a little over four hundred people usually show up. It’s…a lot of work, and my parents usually arrive days early to prepare, with my sister and I in tow. Nowadays she and I do most of the grunt work, setting the time and hauling the necessary furniture from various churches, but back then we pretty much just loafed around while they adults did everything.

When I was about sixteen I was chilling in the bedroom I normally slept in when we stayed there. I was reading on the bed when my sister popped her head in to tell me our folks wanted us to drive some tables over from our uncle’s church. She then asked if I needed to use the bathroom, cuz she was gonna use the shower, and I told her no and thanked her. She closed the door as she left.

A couple minutes later I heard the doorknob turn. I didn’t think anything of it because most of the towels are stuffed in one of the closets in the room I tend to claim – I figured it was my sister grabbing one before heading down the hall. But then the knob turned again. And again. And then it started rattling. Which was weird, because the lock for that door had been broken longer than I’d been alive.

“It’s open,” I called out, and then the rattling stopped. I waited a beat, then shrugged and kept reading.

A half hour later I stepped into the kitchen to get some water, and I passed my sister.

“Hey, is everybody gone now?” she asked me.

“Who?” I figured she meant our parents, who had left hours ago to visit some cousins at their farm across the county. “Yeah, they’ve been gone since five. Why?”

My sister looked down the hall. “Anyone else come by?” Relatives often stopped by to say hey before the reunion proper, but no one had shown up that evening. I would have seen them coming up through the big bay window by my bed, and I told her as much.

“So who was that lady?” she asked.

“What lady?”

“The one I saw thirty minutes ago in the hall. The one in the white dress, with the hat.”

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Hello, October

Willow in Alabama

The choir of crickets and tree frogs is so loud I would have to raise my voice if I wanted to say anything. There’s no one here to speak to though, except the coyotes resting in the field. I turn a lever, and the work light by the barn dims and goes out. Stars twinkle around the black mass of the clouds.

I smoke a cigarette and enjoy the cooling air. Summers in South Alabama have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome. Out here we’re close enough to the Gulf so that we get all of the humidity, but far enough away so that we get none of the breeze. It’s great country for gardens and mosquitoes. You can’t pick between one or the other, however.

But tonight the air is cooling fast, despite the obstinate, burning sun before. The only light I see comes from a pumpkin I carved an hour ago. I cut it and a dozen others from the patch out back, and couldn’t help myself from carving at least one. Tomorrow I’ll load up my cousin’s truck and drive them to the stand his dad sets up shop in. It’s never been anything more than a way to pass the time, but rituals must be kept.

Peanuts boil over in one of the old smoke shacks. No one’s left to tend the garden, but enough still grow on their own that we can supply my uncle with a good month’s supply. Those are always big sellers, those and the pie pumpkins he grows himself. Most people in this part of the country do their shopping in their yards.

I don’t really belong out here. I don’t fit in, though I don’t feel ostracized. My family is all over the county, and they love me, but it’s obvious to everyone that I was never going to live here one day. It’s enough that my family has roots here, where generations of dirt poor people labored so their kids would have just a little more than they did. Half the churches in town are headed by uncles and cousins of mine. Two miles behind the house is an old whiskey still my uncle, the Good Reverend Johnny, operated to supplement his services’ meager collection plates.

The light from the pumpkin shines a skull’s face upon the blueberry patch out front. The coyotes stir and begin to howl. Somewhere past the trees, other coyotes answer.

A tin bucket of green apples sits by my feet. There are about five more inside. I hate green apples but I pick them anyway. I’ll give them away to various aunts, who’ll make tons of pie and cobbler, and make sure I get a head start on packing on my winter weight.

I hear squealing grunts, and wild pigs make their way into the field where the coyotes are. The coyotes, to their credit, know better than to truck with wild pigs, and they hop to their feet and trot away. The pigs snuffle around the apple tree, gnawing the ones I tossed away from worms or spots. I think they have piglets with them, but I can’t be sure.

In the corner of the living room there are two tin washtubs overflowing with pecans. The tree is still shedding them, actually, and they crack against the roof like small hammers when they fall. Occasionally one will hit the house’s propane tank, and the empty steel will ring like a bell. Owls hoot whenever this happens.

The pecans will disappear faster than the apples. There will be the occasional pie, but mostly they will be eaten on chilly porches, while old folks with dirt under their nails watch the fading afternoon.

The fire from the smoke shack wafts through the night. In a few weeks some hogs from a farm in the next county will be brought over, butchered, and roasted. I’ll dig a pit for the bones, but there will be very little that will have to be thrown out. The feet will be pickled, and the horror that is chitluns will be prepared by somebody, for sure. The carcasses will be pried open and smoked for the better part of a day and night. The meat will be served freely at various church gatherings, and come November the process will start again for Thanksgiving. At that time, though, my cousins will charge by the pound. We always sell the heads to old people across the county, who I guess use them for headcheese. I’ve never really bothered to ask. We’re too far north for any of the Voodoo that leaks out of Mobile.

My cigarette burns out, and I decide I don’t want another. I drop the butt in the Mason jar I use for an ashtray. I sip tea from a glass that my great-grandmother bought, though back when she bought it, it contained baking soda. No one bought anything in those days thinking they would only use it once. The house is a little over a century old. The jars holding peppers in the cupboard are even older than the shelves they sit upon.

The tree frogs sing in harmony with the crickets. The pigs are long gone. My hands smell of the oil I used to clean the outside of the peanut kettle. The empty gas tank rings as a pecan strikes it. An owl hoots in the cool darkness of the trees.

Hello, October.


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