Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fun fiction and fanciful "fotos" to frighten friends and family

Only fools and innocents wander alone when darkness falls on South Louisiana. When the sun goes down, uneasy spirits rise and roam the land, and almost everybody who lives around here knows it.

There are plenty of haunted places in these parts, patches of land tucked between snake-infested swamps and fields of sugarcane, many of them situated near the levee that strains daily to hold back the mighty Mississippi River.

Vast plantations used to stand in these places, and so many human spirits were crushed there in the name of commerce that it’s no wonder those ancient souls don’t rest in peace.

Most of the old plantation houses have been reduced by time to weed-covered rubble, but some have been restored to their original splendor, their cash crops tourists now instead of sugarcane. It doesn’t matter. Either way, the spirits have staked their claim to the property and don’t mind letting us know that in the dark of night it belongs to them.

At one time I didn’t give much credence to stories about local hauntings, and I felt completely safe, especially in the daylight, to walk the grounds of one of those restored plantation houses. To tell the truth, it felt wonderful to stroll through the gardens in the fresh, autumn air.  I took dozens of photographs of flowers, trees, fountains, and statues.

And if the Spanish moss hanging from hundred-year-old oak trees did remind me of cobwebs, well, it didn’t make the atmosphere feel oppressive.

Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed so late. If I’d gone home earlier, those good feelings would have gone with me and I'd have them now. But you know how it is. I kept wanting to take “just one more shot,” and time slipped away.

As late-afternoon shadows started to fall, a subtle uneasiness began to settle on my shoulders. The oak trees that had looked so stately earlier in the day began to seem threatening somehow. When I looked at them through my camera lens and saw limbs hanging so low they almost touched the ground, my nervousness increased. The limbs stretched across the manicured lawn like long, thick arms, and I could easily imagine one of them reaching out to grab some unsuspecting tourist.

Don't be silly, I chuckled to myself at the same moment I decided it was past time to head toward the parking lot.

I'd gone about halfway back down the path when I came upon a scene I’d passed earlier in the day. Before, in the bright sunlight, I’d thought it beautiful. A stone bathtub was nestled there amid flowers and lush greenery, all of it under an enormous, overhanging tree branch.  When I stood there the first time, I imagined a young child playing in the tub, and I could have sworn I heard the laughter of the child and the songs of birds perched high in the treetop.

Now, though, in long, late-day shadows, I saw the scene in a different, ominous light. I still imagined the child in the bathtub, but now, as the child splashed happily, I saw the heavy tree branch begin to move. It dropped slowly, menacingly, lower and lower, inching its way closer to the tub and the child inside it, and in my mind I heard the child's terrified screams as the branch descended on him and pushed him under the water.

A big shiver ran down my spine. I shook my head to clear the gruesome thoughts, admonished myself to stop being so stupid, and started back along the path. Only a couple of steps later, I stopped again, startled, unable to move forward after my eyes fell near the base of the tree trunk and registered the screaming face trapped there in the bark.

Fortunately, my feet gained their good sense before the rest of me did, and I almost ran the rest of the way to the parking lot. Once in the car, I drove away as fast as the blind curves of River Road would allow. Despite my love of photography, and despite the beauty and peacefulness of those magnificent gardens in the bright sunlight of day, I’ve never returned.

Except in my head. I’ve gone over and over that experience in my mind, trying to understand what happened. I don't think about it as often anymore, but the memory and the feelings that accompany it are especially strong at this time of year, when Halloween is near and ghost stories are passed around like candy corn. It still gives me goosebumps. I still wonder what was real.

Was the dreadful drowning I envisioned in that shadowy place entirely a product of my own twisted imagination? Or did a young boy’s spirit, captured for eternity in a screaming tree, tell me his story that day?

I don’t know. I don’t think I even want to know.

Happy Halloween, folks!


  1. great story! Those places aren't good for those of us with overactive imaginations.

  2. Oh, I loved this! You've made me want to go and visit those old, haunted places I've read so much about. Your photos are fantastic and do much to make this story real. And the face in the tree!! Perfect.

    I think the young boy and the tree and bathtub was an old story that had to be told. And you were there to receive it. Great story and stunning photos, Velvet!

  3. Janet, actually, I'd go back in a heartbeat. It is SO beautiful and peaceful there. But at night? No, probably not, but only because I couldn't see the beautiful gardens then.

    Marion, I didn't notice the face in the tree when my daughter and I visited the plantation house, but I spotted it when I got home and looked at all the photos of our day's adventure. As soon as I saw it, I knew it would be part of a Halloween story someday. Then, recently, I read an article about the old oaks ("The Gentlemen") on the property:

    That gave me the key to my plot.

  4. Excellent! Love this story and all the pics!

  5. Love the story; love the pics even more. AND, the feeling of the hair on the back of my neck standing up. ;-)

  6. Holly and Alison, thanks much!


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