They Only Come Out At Dusk
Peggy Butler, FL, USA
It was an event so riveting I can still recall it scene for scene, decades after it happened. But just how it began remains a mystery. No, that is not true. For it began suddenly and ended with a frightful crescendo of which I have yet to recover. So how shall I initiate this story? Should I start in the middle and leave out the gruesome details? Or start at the beginning and tell the story as my grandmother and I experienced it 70 years ago? Yes, that is what I will do, I will start at Lancaster Road and the little house in the woods. And from there we will meet in the middle.
My grandmother was without a doubt the world's greatest storyteller. Her tales of romance and adventure were teeming with intrigue. However, it was her mystery stories, which created the greatest impact. For example, growing up in rural Alabama, our house, a two-room shack consisting of wood and clapboard stood across from a cemetery known as Tucker Hill. Reportedly, the most corrupt folks to inhabit Alabama were buried there. Which explains why whenever I misbehaved, my grandmother chided me with the warning "If you don't stop acting up, I'm going to take you to Tucker Hill and throw you on the grave of one of those mean hants." That was all I needed to get back on the right track. Of course I didn't believe her, but all that changed one night in April of 1933.
On that night the sky was clear, with the stars radiating in their furnace. Also, there was a slight wind, and if you listened closely you could hear the trees rustling. As I recall, my grandmother and I were sitting outside when we saw an elderly man pass by. The man was stooped over and dressed in a gray suit with a black tie. The moon, clear and brilliant spotlighted each feature of his rugged face. Raising my hand to wave, my grandmother caught my hand in midair. "Why did you do that grandma?" I asked, feeling as if I had done something wrong. But grandma didn't answer. Peering at her, I noticed a strange look on her face. It was a look I'd seen many times before, only this was more frightening. Clutching my hand, my grandmother cautioned me to be quiet.
Visibly frightened, I watched as another man passed by dressed in the same style as the man before. But he was younger, and covered with a beard that hung to his chest. "Grandma, who's that?" I asked nervously. "I told you to be quiet," she screamed. "Now don't ask any more questions ya hear?" "Yes mam," I nodded. As we sat there, we counted 10 people in all. Watching the men, I noticed that they were all headed to the same place, Tucker Hill Cemetery. At that moment I refused to let my imagination run amuck, and convinced myself that the men were mere travelers. Suddenly, I heard a thump, and turned around to see my grandmother staring at me. Not surprisingly, the look on her face terrified me more than any ghost could ever do. Her face, which was usually glowing with warmth, was screwed into a frown, and sweat trickled from her forehead. At that point I turned to go into the house. Then, my grandmother's hand touched my shoulder, where it rested; cold and devoid of all flesh. Before I could say anything, the woman with the protruding elbows laughed and went into her Satan persona. "Gal you better get out of here." The strange words coming from her mouth terrified me, causing my hair to stand on edge. Even more frightening was the blue foam oozing from grandma's mouth.
As she moved closer, I detected an odor that could only be described as rotten flesh. At this point I realized that this was something evil, something not of this world, an oddity of grotesque proportions. Turning around, I noticed my grandmother's teeth, gaping and unusually long. Moving toward me with outstretched arms, my first instinct was to run toward her. But common sense sank in and I ran into the house, where as luck would have it, the door was locked. As my grandmother moved toward me, I reached out my arm to ward off whatever blows I thought would occur. Then just as suddenly as the odyssey began, it ended. "What's wrong with you gal?" "Nothing grandma" I said trembling. "Remember child, no matter what happens I will never leave you," said Grandma smiling once again.
Two weeks later my grandmother died in a fire. At the funeral I was the only grandchild in attendance. As everyone stood in line to view the body, my mother picked me up so that I could peer into the wooden box containing her body. Straining to get a final look, I thought I saw grandma's right eye twitched. "No, that can't be," I thought. It was just my imagination.
Following the funeral we returned to Grandma's house, where I along with my three cousins sat around the kitchen table reminiscing. However, since their stories seemed normal in comparison to mine, how could I tell them about the night grandma became one of the living dead. Getting up from the table, my eyes were suddenly drawn to the kitchen window. As I looked up, I saw what appeared to be grandma. Oh yea I know the mind can fool you, especially the imaginative mind of a child, but it was her. Looking directly at me, she smiled and quickly disappeared. Pointing at the window, I told the others that I saw grandma. My oldest cousin, who was all of 18, said it was "just a hant," the term grandma used to described ghosts. Shaking, I said, "But what did she come back for?" "I don't know, my cousin uttered. "But be ware, he said "for those who see the faces of hants are forever unlucky." Those words haunted me then, and they haunt me now.
Now nearing 80 my life has been a series of bad luck and ill-fated incidents that go bump in the night. Some people have even said that I'm cursed. C-u-r-s-e-d. Somehow the words don't seem so funny. For I have seen things that would drive the average person to seek refuge in the nearest psychiatric ward. Case in point: I?ve seen a curio cabinet topple to the floor without anyone touching it, and mysteriously slide across the room. So what would you call that? A supernatural flash or merely an accident waiting to happen? You be the judge. To add more thrills, I've been described as an individual so strange; I actually make people feel uncomfortable, or so I've been told.
As to whether I'm really unlucky, I don't know. However, curiosity regarding my unusual personality intrigues me to the point where I often wonder if I'm a phantom dwelling among the living. Speculating on my life, the sound of lightning pulls me back into the future. Staring into the mirror, the reflection swirls between fantasy and reality. Then as the mirror grows more distant, I am seemingly aware of a presence. Realizing that if I turn around, I will be lulled into another mysterious quagmire, I maintain my composure. But curiosity gets the best of me, and as I turn, the image comes into focus. The face is old and wrinkled and the smile belies the terror behind it. Suddenly my fear vanishes and is replaced by laughter. The image now moving toward me at warped speed smolders in the back ground. I try to speak, but the words are frozen in my throat. Yet, somehow I must find the strength to communicate with this vision. Now, I am calm and my voice is returning. Turning around I watch the shadowy figure move toward me once again. "No grandma," I scream. As expected, the screams become louder and quickly dissipate. Now all that's left is silence, as my grandmother and I are transported back to 1933 and to Tucker Hill Cemetery, to take our rightful place among the ghosts and other ghastly creatures who only come out at dusk.
Dedicated to my grandmother, Mrs. Janie Thigpen (1919-1987) the world's greatest storyteller.