Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Curious Occurrences Along Jaybird Creek"

“I saw it I tell ya! Looked like a man, sorta, but with big, red eyes! John S. you know I don't lie, 'specially about spooks...never woulda believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes!”

Chunk and I had just walked into the Ward's hamburger joint where my grand dad drank coffee every morning, all the while, solving the world's problems with a bunch of other men. My dad called them the “Prentiss Posse”, tongue firmly in cheek, of course.

“Now, what exactly happened Henry? You say you saw a “thing” down at Buzzard Bar, which I won't even get into why you were own mine and Harold's property, and this thing scared ya did it?” Gran Gran seemed a bit amused and slightly irritated that someone was on his property. He and Mr. Harold (Buff Magic and Chunk's daddy) owned property on either side of the banks, and it seemed every fall and spring we had to deal with folks trespassing, fishing deep holes for bass. Wasn't a big deal so long as no one threw out any trash.

“John S. it ran at me with all these arms going ever' whichaway, and it was hollering and howling too. It seemed like the whole bottom was yelling and howling at me. Of course I didn't get a great look at it, being it was almost dark and I took off running, but somethings down there. Something...unnatural.” Mr. Henry Polk, a man firmly in his 60's, owner of a country grocery store and upstanding member of the town, looked plum sick. His face was white and his voice was trembling. Clearly, to me and Chunk at least, the old timer had seen something.

“Now, Hen, honestly how much snort did you have while you were fishing? I know you had that flask with ya. How much?” Gran Gran had a knowing look on his face.

“A little, but I wasn't snookered enough to see things! I'm telling you, the legends true! I never believed it before, but I do now. Ya'll can all call me crazy, but I'm telling you I saw what I say I saw!” Out the door Mr. Henry stormed, danged near tearing it off the hinges as he went.

“John S. you know Henry wouldn't make that up,” said Mr. H.C. rather matter of factly.

“Yeah, H.C. I know. I'm sure he saw something, but come on, a ghost? Just because that place is said to be haunted doesn't mean it is, and it sure doesn't mean grown men outta be proliferating the stories. That's campfire stuff at best.”

After a few more grumblings and disagreements concerning society, Gran Gran was ready to go home. We put my bike in his old Buick station wagon as I was going to ride with him to his house, bike to my mom's office and hitch a ride with her home. After loading it Chunk waved his goodbye and told me he'd give me a call later.

On the way to his house I asked, “Gran Gran, what do you think happened down there on that creek bank?”

Quizzically he looked at me, crooked an understanding eye and explained, “Oh, I think Mr. Henry saw something. I think he heard something too. But, woods can get to a man at dark. Sounds you hear everyday can take on a harmony found on another planet. Rain drops off oak leaves can sound like tin cans clanging together if you listen hard enough. Even when it's quiet, so quiet not another sound is heard, the pressure of it can build in your ears, and it can actually sound like a humming that can drive you crazy. The trees are strange and too much for some people to stand at night.”

“But the legend says 'the bar' is an old Indian battle ground.” I pushed.

Raising a finger as if to admonish, “an old French and Indian battle ground Justin.”

“Yes sir, an old French and Indian battle that took place right there. Then, the family that lived there later, supposedly went crazy and died. You told us about all that on a camp out one time.”

“Justin, you do remember that was a night around the camp fire – your first if memory serves? We pulled out all the stops that night. But still, stories, every last one of them. It's just what grandparents do...we get you riled up, bouncing all over the place, then hand you back to your parents grinning,” the last bit he said almost laughing, completely killing the mood. “What does your daddy do with Sebron every night? He wrestles with him, gets him wound up, he gets in trouble with your momma, and your daddy grins all night – it's just what we do!”

I couldn't argue, and didn't. Once at his house I pulled my bike out but before I left I told him what I already knew was going to happen, “Gran Gran, Chunks gonna go down the to 'the bar' this weekend, and I think he's gonna ask me to go.” He seemed to study me for quite some time, his crystal blue eyes narrowing at what I could only assume as the thought, and then relaxing as if to give in. Those same blue eyes that I have been told I have, stared a hole in me for several seconds and then almost whimsically he chortled, “Sure go on, you gotta figure it out for yourself. Just remember, nothing in the woods is what it seems in the dark.”

That night, Chunk called.

“Look man, we're goin' – you, me and anyone else that'll go,” in his voice was a certainty I could tell had been there awhile. “Think about it Nige! We go down there and prove there ain't no such thing, at worst. Best case is we talk about 'the night' the rest of our lives. Hell man, for all we know there could be a whole tribe of forgotten Choctaw.....”

“Natchez Indians, Chunk. You remember, they basically just disappeared,” I interjected.

“Ahh, yeah, Natchez Indians, whatever...whole tribe of them could be down there. Or at least the ghost of a family that just disappeared, and don't forget Mr. Wilfred several years ago. He said he was gonna check it out one night and was gone the next..............FOREVER!”

If a grownup would have heard us, they would have taken us straight to a meeting. Truth be known, we were growing up in the days of the “Goonies” and “Indiana Jones” looking for our own pirates map to take us on the adventure of all adventures. Who knew, this may just be it. Later we found out Buff Magic couldn't on account of a date he was going on, and Skillet and Iffee were both out due to various other things so it would be just me and Chunk. I should add that Chunk and Buff (who both had their licenses) where the only two I was able to go to town with on the weekends, so they tried their best to include me when possible. But, this was different. This was a mission.

The plan was simple. It was the first of March, so good creek fishing was eminent, and we needed to get down to 'the bar' to listen for turkeys. Our plan was to stop off at the bridge crossing at the old Lipsey place and walk in to the bar from there. I didn't get out of school until close to three and it would be close to five before we could leave most likely. By stopping the car (Chunk's old Grand Am) there, we could walk down the road for a mile or so until it dead ended, and then pick our way through the ever thickening privet hedges and oak flats to the 'the bar'. That night we'd eat skillet fried deer loin and deer sausage over an open fire while watching the sun melt behind the horizon.

If you've ever been apart of a carefully laid plan, you know how easily things can change. We left earlier than we thought and made the long trek to 'the bar' in record time. While the days were getting hotter, the morning and evenings were still cool. Along the road to 'the bar' we heard crows cawing, and were stopped several times by deer snorting and running through the timber. As we got deeper into the woods, the sky was blotted out, only becoming readily apparent in minute openings caused by grand old oaks succumbing to father time. At times we came within a mere few hundred yards of the 'Atheist graveyard' which was the supposed scene of the Indian battle hundreds of years before. It was also the home of the family, the strange family, that seems to be the owners of the tombstones situated right beside the house. Thankfully we stayed clear, crossing diagonally to 'the bar'. As we drew closer to 'the bar' the woods thinned and we were in sight of the old sand bar we had forever called 'Buzzard Bar'. Supposedly the battle between the French settlers and the outcast Natchez Indians was so fierce that the buzzards ate flesh from bone for weeks afterwards.

Our camp was the usual one: tent with a mosquito net, campfire set on sand, a skillet, and a back pack full of beer that cooled in the creek. Considering we got there almost an hour earlier than we planned, setting long lines baited with chicken gizzards allowed only a momentary reprieve from the question Chunk wanted to ask most. If only the catfish would have started biting immediately.

“You wanna go look at the house and graves?”

Stunned, but not surprised, I answered, “No.”

“C'mon man.” And without looking back, he took off in the direction of the “Atheist graveyard” and house that sat thereon, which I could just barely see the roof of.

“Chunk, don't do that man. Hey!!! Come back............dammit!” Off I took after my bud, shaking my head as I went.

The house which supposedly belonged to the family that disappeared some many years ago was surrounded by an immense jungle of privet hedges. There were times when you had to get down on your knees to move closer and other times, it felt like you were walking on a path that someone meant to be there. Finally after several minutes of crawling we broke through the privet hedges and made the yard. I'll be the first to admit, seeing those tombstones for the first time was a bit unnerving. They were white marble and had angels on top whose eyes seemed to follow you as you walked. A lone, other worldly looking magnolia stood sentinel in the middle of the three headstones. As silently as possible we crept to the house under the angels watchful eyes. Low stooped, ready to hit the ground at any minute, we crept one behind the other. I remember being unsure if it was Chunk's breathing I was hearing or my own heartbeat pounding in my ears as we approached the window. Under the window seal we sat in silence, both a bit apprehensive for what we were about to see. Straight away Chunk looked at me with as serious a look as any I had ever seen, giving a curt nod. I responded in kind and with a singular move, both of us drew a breath of air – surely our last – and peered in the room. To our astonishment, our eyes met...nothing. No furniture, a wall had been knocked out making the kitchen plainly visible, pots, pans and glassware that were left behind were strewn about as if someone left quickly. Several of the other windows had been knocked out as well. The only thing that looked out of place in this abandoned house was a rug. Not so much it's being there, as it had probably a half inch of dirt and dust resting on it, but something seemed strange about it's placement. I didn't get time to think about it though as Chunk, who was always on the move, said “Damn man, this sucks, let's go back.” I could tell he was thoroughly deflated. Just one time we wanted a pirates map and an “X marks the spot”.

That night after a few beers augmented some undercooked deer meat, Chunk headed for the woods armed with some paper towels. I had my back to the creek and faced the old houses roof. That old house, out in the middle of no where, that which had ghost stories circling it for decades was really nothing more than dormitory for rats and spiders. As I thought about the first time I heard about that house, I found myself staring into the campfire's dying embers. It was right here among the overgrown privet hedges and oak trees Gran Gran had first told us about the great Indian battle that happened here. It was the first time I heard about that family that died and the tombstones no one remembers placing. The first time I met ol' Cajun Jim's drunken self. And, as the crickets sung that camp fire began to beat. As the embers rose and fell with the nights air, I could feel my heart beating the same tune. It was becoming one with the fire. My eyes were getting heavy, I needed sleep. As I slumped against the oak I was leaning against, I saw a light bobbing in the night, coming down the hill to the house. I thought I was dreaming and almost succumbed the the numbness of sleep when it dawned on me that Chunk was in the opposite direction. I couldn't move for a second or two, but the first thing I thought of was dowsing the fire. As I laid on the sand next to a drenched fire staring at the light that had made the house disappearing behind the door, Chunk landed on me.

“What in the hell are you doin' man? We need this fire!”

“Chunk, I saw something. I ain't sure what it was but it was carrying a light through the trees and then just disappeared", I said w/ a gulp.

“Dude, quit. You ain't scaring me. Help me get this fire started back,” as he started dragging some limbs up. As soon as the lighter fluid was opened my revelry broke and I grabbed his hand, “Chunk, I'm telling you somethings up there.” The look in my eyes must have convinced him because all he said was, “Okay man, you wanna check it out?”

I nodded that I definitely did NOT. He smiled, and we started inching toward the house. After several minutes of climbing back up the hill toward the house we came to the privet hedge thicket. It wasn't something I particularly wanted to do, but Chunk wanted to split up and approach the house from different angles. Chunk went south and was going to skirt the house until he was directly opposite my position, I was going to give him 10 minutes and start crawling toward the house through the thicket. The minutes ticked by like molasses on a cold morning, and apprehensive as I may have been, I started easing toward the house. The cover was such that you literally had to get on your hands and knees to move but before long the shadows of the house came into view. Nearly as soon as I saw the outline of the house I saw the light flicker, and for the first time I knew it was real. I knew something was out there. Laying on the ground like I was trying to hug the earth, I moved forward. After a couple of slithering steps, the howling started. The whole of the woods felt as if its heart was beating. It literally felt angry at my presence. Frozen, not ten yards from the clearings edge and within view of the house, I felt as if a demon had jumped on my back. I looked around and saw nothing, just heard howling. Then out in front of me, I saw the light. It couldn't have been more than 15 yards in front of me. I broke. I unhinged. I forgot about everything except running, and the only direction I knew was down hill through the thicket. Out of my periphery I could see the light coming, I could feel the hedges ripping my skin. Forgetting to crawl, I finally got hung up in the hedges and undergrowth. Struggling to free myself and trying to gather my breath, I looked over my shoulder only to see the light bobbing maniacally, running straight at me, yelling. I turned again, away from the on-coming spook and took off running straight at the creek. It was so dark when I hit the tree crossing the creek, chicken-horsing it to the other side, I almost didn't realize it when I fell. The last thing I remember feeling were limbs slapping my face and the cold darkness of Jaybird creek.

The oak limbs seemed to latch onto me, the current seemed to rage not allowing me to surface. With every movement toward the surface, I seemed to be carried back down into the murky water deeper. I was exhausted, I couldn't kick anymore, and then something warm wrapped around my chest and squeezed, pulling me out of the creek.

“Nigel.....Nigel, speak to me boy. Yo' daddy's gonna kill me Nigel!!!”

Coughing and gagging I opened my eyes to face none other than Cajun Jim. My daddy's constant companion and my grand daddy's constant pain in the butt.

“Nige', I been tryin' to stop you for sense you was runned from de house! What de hell you doin' out here?”

“Jim, where's Chunk. Chunk was with me, where's Chunk?”

“Relax, he's at de house. You awright? C'mon den, you need to see this I suppose.”

Helping me up I followed him back to the house that everyone feared, feeling rather bewildered. To my great surprise we walked right up to it and through the front door. Chunk was standing there looking as scared as I was.

“Look, this is something we' been doin' a while now....Chunk, stand back, I gotta move this rug.”

And then it hit me. What bothered me so about the rug was that I could make out faint drag marks in the floor where the rug had been moved.

Under the rug was a door, much like you may find heading up to the attic, only this one headed down to a basement. Cajun waved us down into the pitch black basement, and the further we crept, the more significant a smell became. I couldn't place it but I think Chunk started understanding.

“Jim, turn the lights on please,” Chunk was hardly able to contain his excitement.

Out of the darkness something sounded like a lawnmower cranking, a quick flick of the lights and the interior of the basement was lit. Cajun quickly closed the door, and I was able to take full stock of my surroundings. Dr. Frankenstein didn't have it better. Big copper pots being heating by propane tanks. Some sort of clear liquid dripped from copper tubing into old Mason jars. On the walls were shelves containing more jars and sacks of what looked to be corn.

“Boys this is me...........”

“Still,” Chunk finished for him. “Cajun, I've heard about apricot and persimmon shine some people are lucky enough to get their hands on. Everyone seems to have it at Christmas parties but no one knows who makes's you isn't it?”

Cajun nodded and with a look at the shelves stated, “that third jar is some apricot from last years party at the mayors house if you want a snort.”


I knew that throat clearing sound...that was daddy. Out of the shadows of the basement, both Gran Gran and Daddy stepped. My jaw hit the floor.

That night Chunk and I were given the grand tour. I learned more about moonshine in 2 hours than any 10 people know in their collective lives. I was told how to make it and how it's made right – very different. Per Jim, there was a considerable difference in making moonshine and making good moonshine. Obviously, he made the later.

“This is cool and all, but what about all the howling and other noises we heard tonight?” I still wasn't ready to give up on the hauntings surrounding the 'atheist graveyard'.

“Well, dat is purdy easy once considered. I runs a tape deck off the generator, and have some megaphones wired to it. They hidden in the privet hedges and trees what surround de house here. De privet hedges so tough to deal with too. Sometimes you have to crawls, sometimes not. Me and ya'lls daddy's know how to get 'round, no one else,” stated Jim as colloquially as if he was explaining how to pour peanuts into RC cola.

Because of the sensitive nature surrounding shine, we were given strict instructions that only Buff, Skillet and Iffee should hear about this. Considering their daddies were also “invested” in the outcome, it was only a matter of time before they knew anyhow.

Finally sometime in the middle of the night, Chunk and I were dismissed to our campsite with full knowledge of the curious occurrences along Jaybird creek. Sometime before daylight Daddy came down to visit. Over the fire, warming up some leftover deer meat, Daddy expounded on how we shouldn't get any ideas and he better not catch us in Jim's stash. At the precise moment I was feeling thoroughly deflated by his admonishments, he got up and excused himself saying he needed to get home to momma. But, before he stepped away from the fire he gave me an account number at the CO-OP telling me Cajun needed 100 lbs of corn back at the house in two days. It seems my own modest moon shining career had just begun.

With a wink, he set off...and the atheist graveyard was no more but at the same time, it was everything – at least to us.

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