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.
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!