My first installement of the Blind Pig & The Acorn’s Spooky October comes from Glimmer.
An Old Friend
This story definitely belongs in News of the Weird. I don’t know what to make of it and never did. I feel strange telling it even now, but I said I would, so here goes.
My father built a house for us in the middle of a north Alabama cotton field. He endured a long commute into the city so we could grow up in the middle of nowhere, like he did. There were woods across the dirt road and woods in the back. The woods in the back were the best part. A swamp stretched for acres in the middle, perfect for hiding. The crumbling remains of fireplaces from long-gone houses were strewn about, delapidated wells, some still with frayed rope attached. The whole canvas slashed with other-worldly flowers I’ve not seen since.
We snacked off blackberries plucked from thickets and plums from bushes. A few muscadines here and there. A tree with a strange, gnarled middle hid bees and their honeycomb, ripe for the stealing with long thin bamboo sticks (wait until the bees get “sleepy,” be really calm, and move slowly and deliberately, like Tai Chi — but you didn’t hear that from me).
I did my best to live in those woods for years (“you were raised like a wolf,” said one incredulous friend). And at night I managed to stay close. The windows were open in our house many nights, thanks to my father’s distaste for air conditioning. So my bedroom was perfect for cross breezes. On most nights, the wind rushed with huge energy through the tall trees, funneled into the bathroom, then swept across the hall before swelling into my room, then out the window beside my bed. The sound wasn’t a soft rustling, more like a river.
My dreams were incredible, in technicolor.
Which is why my mother reacted the way she did to the following. I think.
One early morning, just before daybreak, I woke to a sound piping through the bathroom screen. My house was perfectly still. I stole into the bathroom and looked out the window, into the dark woods. Nothing. The sound continued. It was like singing, but wasn’t. A woman’s voice? High pitched. From a distance. I thought it was coming from the direction of the old haunted house, what I called the Gable House. But that was so far away. And this sound was so close.
I was young, a preteen. The woods were full of magic and I was half asleep, so nothing about this struck me as peculiar. I stumbled back to bed.
This “singing” happened several more times, before the first rays of the sun burst forth. Sometimes I stayed in bed listening. But one day I got up again, curious. Who was it, what was it. I stood in the bathroom at the window, listening, straining to see.
And then my mother came into the bathroom.
She wanted to know what I was doing up so early. “Someone is singing in the woods.” She was suddenly quite angry, which was not like her. She slammed down the window, told me I was dreaming, ordered me back to bed. That window was shut the next night and for a good while.
I grew up. I forgot all about the episodes, the singing, whatever it was. The windows were thrown open again and I went to sleep to that rushing wind. But there was no more singing from the woods.
Decades later, I was living in D.C., going to yoga class. The teacher asked us to stay for a meditation session after. She had a special guest that night, a Cherokee teacher who would demonstrate ancient chants handed down by generations of Native American women.
I was curious, so I went. The teacher explained about chants that deal with opening the chakras, something I wasn’t and still am not all that clear about, to be honest. I imitated the meditation pose, cross-legged and hands upside down on my knees, thumb and forefinger tips touching. And went over some lists in my head.
Then I heard her say something about the heart chakra. And she began to hum or chant or sing. And the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was something I had not heard in decades. It was the sound I had heard from the woods on those pre-dawn mornings as a little girl. It was exactly that sound.
My mind scrambled. I was skeptical. How could that be? The first time I heard the sound, it came from the direction of the old haunted house that legend said was built on an old Indian burial mound. But who said that, well everybody said, it was in some books we read in school. Were they Cherokee? Members of that tribe had lived in that area, in fact my mother always said we had a few drops of Cherokee blood from her side, from her grandfather.
But this line of thought was insane. No one in the very early ’60s was out in that dark scary woods in the middle of the night chanting a heart chakra or whatever beside an old burial mound. Or were they?
People do funny things. My own straight-laced mother took us into the sage once and demonstrated how Native Americans used to smoke “rabbit tobacco.” She actually gathered these dried leaves, rolled them in a paper torn from a brown paper sack like a fat cigarette, lit it and puffed a bit. I swear she let us try it too (causing us to cough raucously). Maybe she was trying to keep us from trying cigarettes later. But she insisted she was simply demonstrating ceremonies from our country’s past and that of our own distant ancestors. A history-cultural lesson.
I mean, I can’t believe she did that.
So maybe someone was trying to break the curse on the old Gable House, with the legends of murdered husbands, the many tenants, an eventual unhappy fate. Or this was their idea of soothing the dead. It was a mystery then and it still is today.
By the time I left the meditation class, I had calmed down. And I was strangely happy, buoyant even. I did not understand what had happened exactly. I still did not know the identity of the mystery “singer” in the woods, or if there even was one. But I knew one thing.
I had found an old friend, at least in my heart, one I won’t lose again.
Did you get chill bumps? I did!