Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, book people!

In recognition of the season, here is a family story that I would like to share. Make of it what you will.

My grandfather grew up in the foothills of Alabama. One of his favorite stories that he liked to share with us kids during the Halloween season involved an event that occurred in the small town where he grew up in rural Alabama. The event occurred during the nineteen twenties, when he was just a boy himself, and took place sometime around late October.

There had been an early snow the night before. Granddad recalled that by the time he had gotten up to do his morning chores—early—there was already some talk going on with the neighbors about some queer animal tracks that people were noticing around town. He said that he didn’t have any idea as to what the commotion was about, until one of his neighbors, a farmer who lived just down the road from his house, came to fetch his own father to have a look at these tracks.

Granddad said that he saw the neighbor come up the road and head into the yard around in the front of the house. So, naturally, granddad said that he walked around front to say “hey”. His father, my great grandfather, was already standing in the yard, out in the snow, looking down at the ground, “studying somethin’”, as granddad put it.

“Well, I guess you found ‘em, too?” the neighbor said to great granddaddy. “What do you make of those?”

These were men who hunted on a regular basis, and knew the animals that inhabited the surrounding country quite well. And the tracks, at first, didn’t really strike a person as being all that odd.

The tracks that came into granddad’s yard looked like those of a small animal, maybe a deer. “They weren’t some Bigfoot tracks or that kind of foolishness,” granddad would always assure us.

Still, the tracks, which always seemed to be going in a straight line, and never backtracked over themselves, appeared to do some very strange things.

“Well, first of all, they came right up on the front porch. And whatever it was, it walked down the whole front of the house.” Granddad went on, “And what was really strange is that, once we started looking, we could see that whatever this thing was, it had walked in a circle all the way around the house. And the thing was, that the tracks would come right up to the house whenever they came to a window, like whatever it was might have been looking inside for something.”

Granddad went on to say that things took a real turn on the scary side when people all over town started to notice the tracks doing the same thing on their property. It wasn’t a big town by any means, but including the surrounding farms that more or less circled the town square, it was a relatively large area.

“Whatever it was, it sure was getting along in a hurry,” Granddad would add. “And it didn’t miss a single house.” The only place that no one recalled seeing any of the tracks was around the Baptist or Methodist churches. Granddad said that he’d heard his father laughing with several of the other men in town about the critter, whatever it was, not having any religion cause it hadn’t walked around in either of the church yards in town.

“Folks didn’t laugh long, though.” Granddad would always lead into the last part of his story with that line.

“NO, Sir. People started getting pretty scared when the whole picture started coming together.” He would go on, “The snow from the night before was pretty thick, so the tracks were pretty easy to see, especially once everybody got all excited about them.”

“Those track were everywhere. People found them where they would go right up to a ten foot haystack,” and then, after a loaded pause, “and they just kept right on going on the other side like whatever it was hadn’t even slowed down a lick.” He said that people swore that they’d even found the tracks on their roofs.

“Those tracks just kept on going, like whatever it was was just on some moonlit stroll and wasn’t going to be interrupted.”

The tracks had come into town from a deep woods on one end of town, and exited into the same at the other end of town after crossing through a large pasture. As the day wore on and the temperature began to go up, the melting snow began to create big gaps in the tracks and made them impossible to follow.

As we got older, Granddad would add the parts to the story that he had chosen not to tell us when we were younger. “I didn’t want to give you kids nightmares, or anything.”

He told us about how one of his neighbors, a man named Herschel, had set several coon dogs on the tracks. “They went off into the woods, in the direction that the tracks went away from town. Them dogs never did come back and Hershcel never did find no bodies, either.”

But I was in college when granddad finally gave me the final bit of detail about the mysterious tracks. I was home from school for the weekend, during fall semester. I asked him to tell me the story again. When he got to the end, he said, “Well, you heard all of that before.”

Then he got a slightly more serious look on his face. “You know what the real strange part about those tracks was?”

I asked him to tell me. He looked me square in the face, and raised his eyebrows.

“Well, they were just little hoof prints, like maybe a doe or even a goat. Some people even thought they looked a little like a pig, maybe a wild hog.”

He considered a moment, and gave what seemed just a tad bit like a shudder, before he finally finished the whole story.

“But that just didn’t make sense. You see, those tracks hadn’t been side by side, like an animal walking on all fours. Them tracks had been one right in front of the other. Whatever made them tracks that night walked upright. Like a man.”

Be Safe Trick-or-Treaters!

Recommended: Savannah Spectres and Other Strange Tales by Margaret Wayt DeBolt. Some of the best ghost stories from Savannah, America's most haunted city.

RMR Ghost Stories

Where do you get your books?

The joy that I experience in bookshops has nothing to do with their size. I like them all.

-Lawrence Clark Powell

Highly recommended: Patience & Fortitude by Nicholas A. Basbanes (and anything else by this book person's book person).