If I sent out a survey to determine how many local folks have had a close personal encounter with the infamous Surrency ghost or any other ghost for that matter, I’d bet that the results would be quite interesting. I’ve never gone looking for this vaporous being myself, nor do I intend to, but students for the last twenty-six years have given me much information about it.
“He shows up every night at midnight,” one student assured me. “Come to town tonight go with us; we’ll show you.”
The only place I go at midnight, barring illness of course, is my bed. I declined that offer as well as many more. I don’t hunt ghosts. If I ever encounter one, it will find me. However, I love the ghostly tales that accompany Halloween every year. They are part of the fun.
Mama told us stories of ghosts that haunted her neck of Jeff Davis County back in her girlhood days (circa 1920). The Hayes family lived about eleven miles out in the country.
“We’d sit out on the front porch shelling peas or just resting from gathering whatever was in season,” Mama told us on many occasions, “and we’d hear voices approaching on the dirt road in front of the house. The voices would get louder and louder until the speakers should have appeared right in front of us, but no one ever did. Then the voices would trail away as if people had walked on by. We never saw any one. It was a little bit unnerving, but we got used to it. It happened often, but we never saw anybody.”
Daddy had a ghost story for us, too. His father had let him take Old Jack and the wagon to go courting. On the way back, Daddy had pretty much given Jack free rein. The mule knew the way home. They had just crossed the wooden bridge by the Carter place when Jack began to speed up. Maybe he was ready to get to the barn and his supper. Whatever the reason, he decided to hurry. Just on the home side of the bridge, Daddy felt something tap him on the back. A chill raced down his spine as he turned his head. Nothing there. Then the tapping came again. Three sharp, light taps on his right shoulder. He jerked his head around. Still nothing. Now he encouraged Jack to speed up even more. Again the tapping, more forceful now, came to his shoulder. Tap, tap, tap.
“Who are you and what do you want? I ain’t never done nothing to you, so you let me be.” Daddy yelled into the darkness around the lump in his throat. His mother had always told him that if he’d just speak to a ghost, the ghost would not bother him. “I don’t know what you want, but I’m sure it ain’t me or Old Jack.”
Finally in desperation, he prayed, bowing his head and closing his eyes. “Lord, please keep us safe. You know we’re only a mile or two from home. Help me, your servant Luther, and Old Jack. He’s a good old mule. He ain’t never hurt a flea. And Lord, I know I’ve done some sinning in my time. I’m awful sorry. Please forgive me. And I promise not to kiss Nellie no more until I marry her, Lord, if you’ll just save me. I do plan to marry her real soon, Lord. I really do.”
Raising his head from praying, he noticed his tie. No longer hanging in front, it had blown over his right shoulder. He grabbed it and pulled it back into place. The tapping stopped. He tucked the silky fabric securely into his shirt. No more tapping and no more ghosts disturbed his trip home.
We Americans do love our horror stories. Nobody’s outdone Edgar Allan Poe yet, but Stephen King and a few others have joined him. If you are looking for a new scary story for this Halloween, let me recommend Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel, The Night Strangers. Carole told me not to read it just before going to bed, but when did I ever listen to Carole? It gave me nightmares most of last week. I wish each of you a scary Halloween, and please share a fun ghost story with the children in your life.