The Old Weird South, p.1Tim Westover
The Old Weird South
Edited by Tim Westover
Copyright 2013 by QW Publishers, LLC
Table of Contents
"Ghost Dog of Georgia" by Camille Alexa
"To Gnaw the Bones of the Wolf-Mother" by Sean Taylor
"Yalobusha County, 1862" by Ken Teutsch
"Yankees in Georgia: Chasing Ghosts and the General along the Old W&A Railroad" by Lewis Powell IV
"A Hunnerd Dollars, Gold" by Peter Mehren
"The South, Rise Again" by DL Thurston
"The Dragon and the Shark" by David Boop
"Matty and the Grey Man" by Lara Ek
"Railroad Bill" by Janice Croom
"Passage" by Daniel Powell
"The Devil at the Crossroads" by Wenonah Lyon
"A Busy Day for the Bayou Banshee" by Herb Shallcross
"The Spook Light" by Jay Rogers
"That Damned Game" by Kristina R. Mosley
"Tennessee Ghosts" by Stephen Newton
"The Gift of Understanding" by Sherry Fasano
"Bradford House" by Laura Haddock
"Storm Fronts" by Michael Hodges
"The Healer" by Josh Strnad
"A True Story about the Devil and Jamie's Shoes" by Megan Engelhardt
"Murdock" by Chris Dezarn
"Underwater" by Erin Mundy
"The End of Grace" by Meriah Lysistrata Crawford
"Florida Natural" by Ben Bowlin
In the modern South, we are not generally a superstitious lot. The ways of the world have crowded out the daily doings of haints and spooks, and we don’t ascribe much power or agency to the forces that once were integral to the worldview of our forebearers.
But we still know ghosts.
My mother remembers a rocking chair that moved on its own—it should have been a reassuring presence, symbolizing for her a connection to her grandmother, but it still sent an icy shiver through her.
Two of my friends encountered one of St. Augustine’s old specters on their wedding night. When they mentioned her at checkout, the clerk brushed it off as a regular occurrence, just one of the hazards (or perks) of staying at a historic hotel.
The cute tea shop in Lawrenceville, Georgia, has its own resident phantom, the shade of a little girl that must have somehow been connected to the time when Honest Alley was a mule market with a tough reputation. This ghostly girl was never much trouble for anyone; her footsteps and her otherworldly laughter were only curiosities.
I don’t myself hold with the existence of ghosts—I’ve never seen or felt one—but I couldn’t stay late at the tea shop, as the Earl Grey cooled and the candles sputtered, without ... wondering.
I think, though, that we are not haunted by ghosts as much as we are haunted by the past. Something greater and grander used to be here, but also something darker—something that I would not wish to return to.
For all its antebellum romance and natural beauty, the South has known more suffering than most places in the United States. There is blood on the land—the victims were Native Americans, slaves and freedom fighters, soldiers North and South, modern martyrs for civil rights and equality. Perhaps these two currents—the noble past and the tumultuous past—mix and swirl and clash like storm fronts, and the lightning and thunder reveal the ghosts in our shadows and stories.
This anthology is not a collection of real-life happenings, but it intends to show the broader role of the supernatural in Southern storytelling. I’ve selected original stories that approach the supernatural in a variety of ways. Campfire stories that are meant for a scare. Family stories that preserve a particular incident or oddity through the generations. A few nonfiction pieces that call out moments of Southern history and the supernatural fingers that intertwine with it: the hijacking of the General, the murder of Grand Ole Opry star Stringbean, and the drownings in Atlanta’s Lake Lanier, where speedboats float above old farms and fence posts. Some stories included here take a folk idiom, like the devil at the crossroads, and give it a clever spin. And there are, of course, literary tales. The South’s great writers have never shied away from the ghosts of the past.
While most of the stories are set in the Deep South (and in particular, Georgia, which is my home state), I’ve reached further afield, selecting stories from Florida, Missouri, and even Oklahoma, whose Southern connection is bolstered by its Cherokee population. They are arranged roughly chronologically, beginning with Cherokee-inspired tales, then moving to the Civil War and up to the present day. It’s been my honor to work with these twenty-four different authors—many of them Southern, but some hailing from as far away as Canada, the UK, and China.
Ghost Dog of Georgia
The dog smells burning.
The dog has caught whiffs of ash and smoke all morning, but a shift in the wind over the top of the ridge makes it seem suddenly very close. He’s accustomed to the fires of the people with whom he travels. Together, he and the people wander the meandering river valley and the flat meadow plains, once even touching the ocean, vast and briny, scented like salt and sex and the color blue. Where there are humans, there’s always fire, always: they use it to harden bone and wood and shard to fashion the weapons they toss at larger prey; they use it to dry the scraped-clean hides they wear slung low around their middles; they use it to bake clay and they sear animal innards with it, and afterward they toss the dog the bones; and when it’s cold they huddle near the fire and invite the dog to join. They use fire so often, it’s as much a part of the dog’s coexistence with them as is the warm feeling low under his ribs when they bend to pat his shaggy haunch in passing or gently stroke the thick ruff around his neck.
Some nights the dog lies awake listening to the howls of others more like himself, swiveling his pointed ears to catch the eerie wailing under the round white moon, wails of loss and challenge and joy over unknowable things which the dog can’t know because he chooses instead to live with humans.
Two toddlers, each half his size, roll toward him across the flattened yellow morning grass. They’re so bare and small, so vulnerable without fur. The dog lies still as they climb over him, their soft, feeble limbs pummeling his thick coat in play. Warm in the sun, he closes his eyes and is able to forget his unease over the scent of distant ash as the child-people laugh and tug his ears and finally curl up against him to fall asleep, skin pressed to fur pressed to skin.
The dog wakes to pandemonium. The toddlers have been snatched from his sides, the rough motion of their departure and their keening wails of protest adding to the panic in the meadow. People cry out to each other in shrill, shallow voices, grabbing with panicked carelessness their children and the small essentials they carry from camp to camp, from forest to field to swamp. Burning clogs the dog’s nose and coats the back of his throat as the meadow’s dry yellow grasses crackle, flaring up on all sides at once. The scent had increased so gradually and had been so familiar, the dog is caught as much by surprise as are the people around him.
He chooses one of his favorites among the people, a slender human female taller than many of the men in her pack, and trots alongside her as she stumbles, coughing, past a burning clump of brush higher than her head, one of his afternoon-nap companions wailing under each of her arms. The sling she usually carries the infants in is gone, lost in the thickening smoke which stings the dog’s eyes and makes his tongue thicken in his mouth as he pants against the gusting heat.
Soon, the dog is leading the woman rather than the other way around. The smoke is too thick to see through, too thick almost to breathe. No sooner does the dog decide on the safest
The coughing woman at his heels staggers and drops to her knees. The toddlers clutched under her arms are motionless, eyes closed and tiny mouths slack. The dog barks at the humans. Barking, barking. He will save them. He will.
When the woman slumps completely to the ground, the dog clamps his teeth on her wrist and drags.
The last thing the dog knows is the tang of the woman’s blood in his mouth, the first human blood he has ever tasted, saturated with the flavor of his own failure to save her from the flames roaring in his ears, blinding him, searing his lungs from the inside with each burning breath he draws.
The Old Weird South by Tim Westover / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes