Sunday, October 31, 2010
Every kid has that place in their home, their yard, the neighborhood where they stopped in their tracks and refused to go any further. Sometimes, it was the smell, the lack of lighting, or some scary urban legend. My childhood estate, Aspen Grove, didn't just harbor Civil War ghosts, it also harbored many such places that seemed to scream "Don't go in there!" So, of course, being the way I am--I had to explore!
The creek meandered through our property and into the darkest woods imagineable. If I followed it through blackberry brambles and came to the sound of a small waterfall, I would be arriving at "Witch's Hollow." We name it that because it was so very devoid of light and the banks of the creek were such spongy moss that it felt like walking on a trampoline. The trees had so many big thick lichens on them, they looked like twisted deformed elephant men. The short slate cliffs around the creek provided even more shade and the water was deep, dark, like melting caramel and earth. Leaves got caught in the whirling surface from the waterfall and if one sat there long enough, you could occasionally hear a witch-like cackling sound.
There was a part of the woods that went from our stables to the elementary school. It was the short cut for us kids to get to school. The other option was climbing a chainlink fence, crossing a suburbanite's yard and walking through a whole neighborhood to get to it. So, we braved the woods. It was a beautiful hike, crossing the meandering creek. The only problem was the legend of the whistler man. Supposedly, a man had a cabin in the woods and was lonely for company. If you walked silently through the woods, he would take you and make you his companion. He was lonely, but he hated talking and conversation. So, if you walked through the woods and whistled, he wouldn't take you. I think I was still doing that when I hit my adolescence. Just in case.
Nobody used the closet in the end bedroom. The small bedroom was on the corner of the house above the long wisteria arbor. The scents from the open windows were heavenly, but this room had a dark secret; the closet. The little closet was icy cold year-round in a home with no air-conditioning. Anyone who was unlucky enough to have the room would put their clothing out and not retrieve it in the morning before school or it would be too cold to put on. It wasn't just the temperature, either. People had seen a dark man-shaped figure head down the hall and enter the room. When I had the bedroom for a miserable period of time, I would turn away from the closet because a few times I saw a dark man shape cross the room and go right through the closet door.
The basement was musty, dark, concrete and filled with mysterious heavy tools and old paintings that were cracked and staring back at the visitor from their stacked piles against the wall. The moldy smell of it, the silt on the ground from the last rain flooding it and the dark hole that led to the crawlspace and wafted icy air to the gazer all combined to make the low-ceilinged room horrifying. Drafty, dusty, dark and dank, it was the most forbidden place in the entire mansion.
Some nights as a kid, I would race barefoot in my flannel nightie through the boxwood maze in the full moon's light. I would wander through the thicket where the sour cherry trees stood amongst such thick undergrowth it was nearly impassable, catching the fabric of my gown and tearing at it like the claws of an angry cat. I would slowly stalk the stand of hickory trees in a strange dark corridor that always held the most lightning bugs and the strangest whispering voices. I would swing open the doors of the big old barn and listen to the boards sigh as I stepped inside to smell the lingering sweet scent of hay and the persistent hooting of the owl that lived within. On my way back to the mansion, I would zig-zag through the apple orchard and under the tunnel of the arbor where the grapes overripened on the vines. Once I came back to the mansion, something dark would peer at me from the window up above and I would know that my journey had been watched by one of the unseen guardians of the home who waited until the last family member was home and asleep before resting as sentinel.
Happy Halloween ya'all!
at 2:00 PM