Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Swamp Spirit, a Halloween excerpt from Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse

By Usher, John, Jr. -- Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So, here we are just a week away from Halloween! I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, in which Rose Martin tells us of a ghost story she heard at a village celebration on Halloween Night, 1899. The teller of the tale is her dear friend, Jenny, the local mid-wife who lived in Rawlings, Massachusetts since her escape from slavery in South Carolina many years before.

Jenny raised her gray head and opened her eyes. She lifted her hand, pointing a long finger toward the people facing her. Her black eyes reflected the pumpkin light as she silently turned a complete circle, her pointing finger slowly passing over everyone in turn. I felt an involuntary shiver as her finger pointed my way. Complete silence fell upon us—even the stifled laughter and clearing of throats ceased.
“You,” she began, her voice sounding a note of authority I’d never heard before, “must hear the tale I tell tonight.”
We were all under her control—all gladly relinquishing our own will to fall under the spell of this old woman, this former slave. 
“It happened a long time ago, back when I was a young’n, hiding out in a South Carolina swamp. There came a moon mist— one of those nights when the moon is full and bright and the mist rises thick above the water. Everything glows milky-white and you can’t tell east from west or south from north. It’s on a night of the moon mist that spirits, lost in the swamp, return to look for their way home, or search for whatever it was they couldn’t find when they were living. Something (I never knew what it was,) woke me in the middle of the night and I got up from my cot and looked outside. The camp was floating in moonlight. I pulled a shawl ‘round my shoulders and stepped just outside my door. I knew I shouldn’t go out in the moon mist, but it was so beautiful and strange, all at the same time. I had to get a little closer to it. That’s when I heard a soft shuffling near by. I stepped back into my doorway and peered through the swirling mist. It was Jimmy! I wondered what Jimmy was up to. He was about nineteen, just a few years older than me, and I kind of fancied him.
By Love Krittaya (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I whispered.
“He didn’t answer.
“ ‘Jimmy! What are you doin’ out there?’
“I saw his dark shape swim by in the whiteness.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I whispered as loud as I could.
“He paid me no mind. I looked back inside my hut and then outside at the moon mist. Foolish child that I was, I pulled my shawl tighter ‘round me and walked out.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I called a little louder. ‘Where’d you go?’
“A rustling in the bushes caught my ear and I walked toward it. Just ahead, I could make out Jimmy’s shape moving before me. I knew for sure it was him, ‘cause he walked with a limp—something he’d got from the overseer who’d broke his ankle the first time he tried to run away.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I called out loud this time, but my voice was buried in that moist cottony air.
“I followed his lop-sided gait, until I came to the edge of a lagoon. He was nowhere to be seen. I walked around the water’s edge, shivering every time a finger of Spanish moss draped over my shoulder. Here and there, cypress knees tripped me as I wandered about. 
“ ‘Jimmy! Where are you?’ I cried out.
“Then, out of the soup, I heard an owl hooting.
“ ‘Who—who, who, who?’ it asked.
“I couldn’t make out where it was. I turned in a circle and it sounded like it was coming from all sides of me at once. I was getting pretty scared by that time! Then, I heard a soft lapping sound out in the water and saw a greenish light glowing through the mist. The sound and the light grew closer and I stood, planted like a tree, on the bank. I tried to run but my legs wouldn’t move!

"Ramona" by F.L. Harper
“As it grew near, I could see a paddle dipping into the water just behind the light. The light was coming from inside a canoe, though I couldn’t see any kind of lantern. I stood frozen as it came within a few feet of me. Then, I could see what it was that held the paddle. It was a beautiful woman—long, black braids hanging down, a necklace of shells circling her neck, and colored beads sewn onto her tan leather dress. As she came closer, I saw some white feathers stuck here and there in her braids. The light from her canoe cleared a space in the mist and I could see her real plain. There came a sloshing noise and I saw Jimmy, on the other side of the lagoon, wading through the water toward her.
“ ‘Jimmy! What you doin?’ I called to him.
“He didn’t look my way—just kept his eyes on the Indian woman.
“ ‘Jimmy! Get yourself on back here!’ I cried.
“Jimmy was knee-deep in the water, and only a couple feet from the canoe.
“ ‘Jimmy! Don’t you know she’s a swamp spirit? Get away!’ I screamed.
“The woman placed her paddles in the canoe and reached her hand out to him.
“ ‘No!’ I hollered, but my voice sounded puny even to my own ears.
“Jimmy took her hand and climbed into the canoe. The light went out and I couldn’t see anything at all in the moon mist. A flapping sound came from the direction of the canoe and a snow-white owl swooped over me.
By David Syzdek (Snowy Owls (4 of 22)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons (digital enhancement by KLWood)
“I started running but I had no idea where I was or where the camp was anymore. Every time I stopped to catch my breath, that owl flew at me, pushing me ahead. Then I stumbled into camp. That bird herded me all the way home! I ran into my hut and jumped into bed, pulling the covers tight over my head.
“Next morning, when folks were up and about, word spread Jimmy was gone. I was scared to tell anybody what I’d seen and I’d have thought maybe I’d dreamed it up except when I went to make up my bed, I saw something glowing white under my blanket. I pulled back the covers and this is what I found.”
Jenny reached into her pocket and withdrew a large, white feather and held it before her. Lantern light danced across its snowy surface and the whole room gasped as one body. 
“We never heard a word from Jimmy again but, later on, folks said they’d seen two white owls flying around the swamp when the mist was thick and the moon was bright.” 

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!



Bevan Wasserman said...

Oh, how I love a great spooky tale!

Kathryn Louise Wood said...

Thanks Bevan! Me too!