Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts - a short story

While attending college in Monroe, my friend Larry and I decided to hitchhike to the small Webster Parish town of Cotton Valley, Louisiana. Larry’s grandparents lived in the former oil and gas boom town and had invited us down for the weekend.
The trip there was non-eventful, the trip home a story in itself. I’ll save that account for another time and tell you instead about our encounter with a ghost in the Cotton Valley cemetery.
Larry had a twin sister named Leeann that was also visiting her grandparents for the weekend. Her girlfriend Cindy had a car and don’t ask me why we hitchhiked to Cotton Valley instead of riding with them but it had something to do with sibling rivalry.
Larry’s grandparents, I’ll call them the Bloomers, had a large wood-framed house with many rooms that they had once rented to itinerant oil field workers. By the sixties Cotton Valley had a population less than two thousand. Still an oil town it was no longer a boom town. All of the Bloomer’s extra rooms were empty and Larry and I had our pick of the lot.
Like her brother Larry, Leeann was tall and dark. That’s where their appearances diverged. Leeann had the looks of a young starlet along with a Jayne Mansfield body. Tiny Cindy was as pretty as Leeann but was blonde, svelte and had a deep and lusty voice that belied her size.
In my teens, the girls could have both been homely as sin and I would still have had visions of a potential weekend liaison. Leeann and Larry, as I mentioned, had unresolved family differences and my daydreams squelched shortly after the girls arrived. I got my first clue when she and Cindy took rooms as far away as they could get from us on the other side of the large house.
Friday night and most of Saturday passed without seeing much of Cindy and Leeann as they were off in the car and we were on foot. Cotton Valley had neither a movie house nor any other form of recreation at the time and Larry and I soon grew bored. I managed to stem my own boredom somewhat by keeping a running journal written in ink on a sheet of paper that I kept in my shirt pocket
The seclusion Larry and I felt had apparently also worked on Leeann and Cindy because shortly after a sit-down dinner with the grandparents they asked us to go for a spin with them in the car. We quickly agreed.
We drove away from the grandparent’s house after dinner, Larry and I in the back seat of Cindy’s Fairlane. As I glanced over the bench at the half-hidden riches beneath Leeann’s plunging blouse and Cindy’s short skirt hiked high on her tanned thighs my daydreams quickly reemerged. They needn’t have.
We soon stopped at a house on the far edge of town and picked up Jim. Cindy and Jim, it seemed, had met the prior semester at Northeast Louisiana. After flunking out, he had moved back to Cotton Valley to work in the oil patch.
Cindy’s beau was a tall handsome fellow with a Cancun lifeguard’s tan. When Leeann climbed into the backseat with Larry and me and told me to push over to the middle of the bench seat, all my sexual fantasies flew out the car’s open window and I could tell by her frown that I should keep my hands to myself. I thought so when she crossed her legs and pointed them away from me toward the door and knew for sure when she wrapped her arms tightly around her ample bosom
It was just beginning to grow dark as we drove away from Jim’s house—a good thing as I had trouble keeping my gaze away from Leeann’s ample body. Miniskirts were the vogue at the time and the short garment barely qualified her as fully clothed. Feeling Larry’s cold stare over my shoulder I somehow wrested my gaze from her gorgeous legs and luscious breasts—except for an occasional stolen glance.
There isn’t much to do in Cotton Valley and we were soon headed out of town on a stretch of lonely blacktop. By now it was pitch dark, except for the stars and light of a full yellow moon. Jim and Cindy apparently had a bit of a tiff earlier in the day. We didn’t know it at the time but their relationship was near an end. Luckily for the rest of us, they remained cordial the remainder of the evening and Jim covered up their quarrel skillfully by becoming our local tour guide.
“Slow down and I’ll show you the hanging tree.” Cindy touched the brakes and pulled over as Jim pointed at a large oak tree on the side of the blacktop. A single large branch stretched across the road. Jim told us the tragic story of the rape of a white girl by a local black boy and the resultant retribution performed by an element of the town’s white population. ‘They buried his body in the cemetery up the road and he supposedly still haunts it, especially on a full moon like tonight.”
“Have you ever seen the ghost?” Leeann asked.
There was swagger in Jim’s voice when he said, “Lots of times. Once it waved a knife at a friend and me.”
“Did it scare you?” Larry asked.
“No way,” Jim said
As we sat on the side of the road, listening to Jim’s story, a gentle summer breeze wafted the large tree’s leaves and branches causing shadows to dance across warm blacktop. None of us commented as Cindy applied the gas and started away toward the cemetery.
As I recall the short ride to the suspected rapist’s place of internment, I realize that Jim probably had visions of mending fences with Cindy, and perhaps a romantic connection induced by her anxiety at possibly seeing a ghost. When we reached the cemetery, I’m sure the visualization we soon saw caused his thoughts of romance to disappear out the open window, along with his phony boldness.
The little cemetery lay just off the blacktop and had a small dirt parking lot. Cindy pulled into the lot and turned off the car’s lights. The night was moon bright and it took only a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. A fence of wrought iron surrounded the cemetery stretching before us like a silent metropolis of the lifeless.
“Hear it?” Jim asked. “The dead boy’s soul is calling out to us.”
I couldn’t hear anything except semis passing on a distant highway along with a chorus of crickets and tree frogs. Still, Jim’s words evoked a certain anxiety. Cindy also felt it as she slid toward the center of the car and closer to Jim. Leeann uncrossed her legs and grabbed my hand in a firm clasp. I couldn’t see Larry’s eyes but I knew he must be frowning. We had all just noticed something that none of us could explain.
Leeann clutched my hand even tighter when Cindy said, “Oh my God! What is that?”
Before us, an eerie blue light rose straight up from the center of the little cemetery, stretching like the creepy luminescent beam of an ethereal spotlight pointing high into the sky. A slight breeze caused the beam to vacillate like the luminous arms of a ghostly hula dancer.
We all sat in silence, waiting for the image to disappear so our minds could promptly deny what we all had seen. It didn’t happen that way.
Talk of the ghost had elicited Jim’s desired effect on Cindy. By now she was practically sitting in his lap, her arms clutched desperately around his neck. Jim didn’t seem to notice as his eyes in the reflected moonlight were big as proverbial saucers, his own arms gripping Cindy as tightly as she held him.
They weren’t the only ones caught up in the spooky moment. Leeann clamped my right hand with both of her own. She couldn’t have drawn any closer without occupying the space where I sat. What Larry was thinking about the situation briefly crossed my mind.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Leeann finally said.
Larry was having none of it. “No way, we need to find out what’s causing that light. I don’t believe for one minute it’s a ghost.”
When no one responded to his statement, Larry opened the back door and started for the cemetery gate. I was more interested in Leeann’s pressing warmth and tender softness than the ghost was but it quickly returned to my attention when the door slammed behind him. Concerned for her brother, Leeann released her grip and pushed me toward the door.
“You’re his friend. You go with him.”
When I glanced at Big Jim, his wide-open stare quickly told me he would be of no help. Leeann’s frown and folded arms had returned so I opened the back door and followed my friend into the night.
“Larry, where are you?” I called.
“In front of you,” he said in a whisper. “The light is coming from over that rise.”
The little country cemetery was well kept, grass trimmed around the tombs. Some of the headstones were large and ornate but most were old and crumbling, many no more than wooden crosses and rectangles of worn concrete. We had no flashlight but didn’t need one as there were few trees to block star light and bright glow of the full moon. A graveled path led up the hill toward the gleaming blue light.
Larry and I were in ROTC and both already experienced in night maneuvers. The ghostly light that continued to beam from the center of the cemetery apparently didn’t frighten my large companion and I was feeling more elated anticipation than fear. As we crested the slight rise we both saw the origin of the eerie light.
Larry halted in his tracks and held up his hand for me to stop. Moonlight was shining directly on a large piece of blue foil once used to wrap a flower pot. The light was reflecting off the foil and onto the polished marble surface of a headstone. The resultant glow shone like the beam of a spotlight, straight up into the sky.
The light wasn’t all we saw. In the darkness, just beyond the spot where the little hill began to drop in elevation, an almost indistinguishable shadowy figure came into view. It remained a moment in one spot before continuing slowly toward us, its amorphous shape wafting in the gentle summer breeze. Larry took a step forward to investigate but a shout from behind caused us to turn and look.
“Larry, where are you?” It was Leeann. Worried about her brother, she had followed us. We watched as she picked her way up the little hill. Just as she reached us she froze in place, put her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh my God!”
A vivid flash of summer lightning accompanied Leeann’s exclamation followed quickly by a clap of thunder that seemed as if it were right on top of us. Leeann didn’t appear to notice. She was staring at a spot behind us, still grasping her open mouth with her left hand as she pointed straight ahead with her right. Need I add how wide her eyes had grown?
Another flash of lightning lit the sky as Larry and I turned to see at what she was pointing. A sudden summer rainstorm had moved quickly overhead, already covering the stars and moon with dark puffy clouds. As lightning dissipated, only gloom remained, but not until Larry and I saw a shadowy nimbus floating up the hill toward us.
Before either of us could react, Leeann grabbed me from behind and screamed, trying, it seemed to squeeze the breath out of me. As she did clouds began unloading with large heavy drops of warm precipitation that lasted for no more than a minute. Dark clouds passed with the rain, again revealing clear sky complete with stars and full moonlight. Whatever we thought we had witnessed had disappeared along with the momentary storm.
“Did you see it?” Leeann asked, her long arms still wrapped tightly around my chest.
“I saw something but don’t know what it was,” I answered.
Leeann gave me an incredulous look when Larry said, “It was just a low-lying cloud.”
“My ass!” Leeann said. “It was shaped like a man and it was coming up the hill after us. You saw it didn’t you Eric?”
“I saw something but I didn’t get a good look. We turned away just as you called to us.”
“Trust me, it was nothing but a cloud,” Larry said as he led us back to the Fairlane.
Leeann had already begun to disbelieve her eyes as she followed her brother down the hill. I didn’t know what to believe but I was already missing the warmth of her breasts against my back. We had to bang on the car door for Jim and Cindy to open it.
“Did you see it?” Cindy asked.
“Yes, just before the rain started.” Leeann said.
“What rain?” Jim asked. “It’s been clear as a bell ever since you left the car.”
“Well it sure as hell rained on us, didn’t it Larry?”
“For a minute or so,” he said.
Cindy and Jim stared at him, and then at me. “You don’t look wet. Are you guys pulling our legs?”
My shirt and pants were almost dry and I could do little more than shrug my shoulders. By the time we dropped Jim off at his house, talk of the ghost had ended.
Cindy and Leeann were already gone next morning before Larry and I ate breakfast. Larry didn’t want to talk about the ghost except to say it was “bullshit” and I never spoke to either Leeann or Cindy again.
The mind plays tricks and sometimes what you think you see is nothing more than an invention of your imagination. Still, as Larry and I waited on the edge of I-20, trying to thumb a ride, I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out the remains of my scribbled journal. My shirt. We were out of clean clothes and I was wearing the same shirt and blue jeans as the previous night was damp from sweat, crumpled paper equally moist. Something prompted me to unfold the soggy journal and look at it and I got quite a shock when I did.

Either rain or sweat had caused the blue ink to bleed on the paper and render my scribbling indecipherable—except for one word. In large blurry letters, it spelled out WRAITH.

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Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

1 comment:

Ravyne said...

What a wonderful well-written ghost story, very detailed with an great twist at the end. Enjoyed this very much!