A cedar fencepost is kind of a hairy thing in a way, maybe eight or so inches in diameter, approximately four feet above ground and two feet below, with long strips, or strands, of the bark still clinging to it: unless of course, it has been peeled or cleaned and weather treated- which these posts had not. So JT and the boy, both recognized right off the bat, that there was something not quite right when they walked up to the one that had been placed in the hole in the ground from which they had earlier pillaged Isaiah Juke Jackson’s bones. It appeared that the strands of bark, once dangling off the post, like the tiny fine hairs off the leg of a spider, had been burnt away.
They were muddled for a second, staring at the singed cedar post in the bright light of the big chrome flashlight JT had carried with them. He’d also brought along a twenty-two caliber, six shot revolver in case they encountered a snake or stray dog or coyote or whatever.
“It’s burned...” the boy said.
“Son, it had to be like that when we put it in the ground...” JT said back to him, “and we just didn’t notice it.”
“What are you two doing out here?” Tru Henderson said, walking up behind the two who were unaware that he’d followed them down.
JT swung the flashlight around as well as the revolver.
“We were...” JT said, “...he thought he saw something down here.”
The boy’s mother came trailing up behind Tru, just then, dressed in an off-white slip, the hem of which stopped several inches above her knees. Her skin was pale and vaguely lit by the light of the waning gibbous moon and she had goose bumps from the chill in the air; and her arms were crossed across her breasts.
“It’s burned!” the boy said.
“Yeah...” Tru Henderson said. “I burned the fuzz off it.” He was holding a double barrel shotgun which was pointed in the general direction of the boy and his father. “So what?”
Tru Henderson still had relatives in the remote regions of the Appalachians and by association perhaps and traditions, had lingering in him yet some old-school, back woodsy Hillbilly, superstitious stuff. And that was one of the other things that Tru’s great grandpappy Hack had had in common with Isaiah Juke Johnson; only, Juke was from the Louisiana swamp- bayou magic and hoodoo and the summoning and even raising of the dead,
“Why?” the boy’s father asked.
One of Tru’s female cousins, who still practiced... some of the old ways... had suggested that he burn the bark off the cedar post and bury it in the hole on top of a pound of salt and a handful of sage to remove the evil from it, lest it rise again and blight the farm animals and the land. “Because I felt like it.” Tru barked not wanting to tell them the real reason. “And because it’s my fencepost! On my land!”
The end of the double barrel shotgun drifted upward a bit in an inadvertent reaction to Tru’s tensing posture. It was a short shotgun- what some folks called a ‘coach gun’ on account of stagecoach drivers carried them back in the stagecoach days. Tru claimed it had belonged to an ancestor of his who’d driven a stagecoach or at least rode shotgun, and it did appear old enough.
“Did you burn it over here?” the boy asked. He had stepped off a couple of feet away from his father and uncle and was pointing at a patch of trampled Johnson grass that looked like it’d had had a blow torch taken to it.
“What?” Tru said.
“The grass over here.” the boy said.
The boy’s father shined his flashlight on the patch of grass where the boy stood, and sure enough, it looked to be scorched.
“And here...” the boy said. “And here! There is a trail.”
JT moved the beam of the flashlight again where his son pointed, and again the boy was correct; it did seem that a trail had been blistered through the Johnson grass and brush. Even the tips of the branches of the mesquite trees had been seared off, cauterized, like maybe a giant fire worm or something equally as unfathomable had slithered through... or... a flaming skeleton.
Tru seemed to either blatantly ignore or at least want to ignore the new trail that had been “blazed” from his fence line into the woods.
The boy peered out, almost expecting to see the glow of a fire ripening somewhere, back in there somewhere, beyond the dark chaos of scrub and trees.
Then without warning, Hector began to bark.
The tiny dog had gotten out the screen door behind Vera without her being aware of it and followed her down. He was standing a couple of feet away from her by then and looking back in the direction of the house, from whence they all had come... and barking like Hell.
“Ba wa wa wa wa wa wa!”
“Jesus!” Tru exclaimed. “What the fuck is he yapping at?!” He reflexively swung around and pointed the shotgun in Hector’s general direction.
“Don’t shoot my dog! Don’t shoot my dog!” I said.
“I’m not going to shoot your dog. Just shut him up!” Tru said. “What the hell is it barking at anyway?”
“He must see something.” My mother said who was closest to Hector.
My little asthma dog was practically apoplectic- frozen in place by that point, facing the darkness and barking relentless “Ba wa wa wa wa wa wa!”
“There’s a dog out there.” I said.
“I don’t see anything.” Tru said staring into the darkness.
“There’s a dog! There’s a dog!” I said. “It’s big like a... a rockweiler.”
“A rockweiler?” Tru said. “You mean a Rottweiler?”
“I guess,” I said. I didn’t know exactly how to say it but I could see it- a big Rottweiler mutt sort of dog, cloaked in the darkness, barely discernable from shadow. I could see only the glint of my father’s flashlight off its eyes.
“Shut that dog up!” Tru said just as I reached down to snatch Hector up. “Or I might just consider blasting it!”
He stopped barking immediately but continued a low throated growl and to stare in the direction that he and I had seen the Rockweiler... which seemed now to have been ingested into the darkness.
“So what were you doing down here?” Tru said turning abruptly toward my father.
My father didn’t really think that Tru Henderson was actually pointing the shotgun at him, but realized that the situation was becoming increasingly more tenuous at best. They were both armed, and neither particularly fond of the other. Tru felt like me and my father and mother were freeloaders. And my father resented taking the handout. And the sights on the short barreled coach gun were, whether by accident or intent that night, becoming uncomfortably too keenly focused on him.
“He thought he saw something down here.” my father said.
“The witch boy...” Tru said deliberately condescending. “What?”
“Don’t call him that, Tru.” my mother said defending me. That’s what mother’s do right! “There’s no need.”
Tru Henderson was aware of what the “shrink” friend of my family had said about my dreams- that it was all some sleeping disorder thing. But he knew better.... about everything. Tru always knew better. Dreams and divination and interaction with haints and all that went hand in hand with certain types of folks born a certain way with certain inclinations. It wasn’t all sheepskins and mortarboard hats and what the head doctors say just because it was the 1960s and modern times with television sets and educational programming and all like that.
“Well, what did he see?”
“Nothing... He didn’t see anything.”my father said.
“I saw bones on fire climb out of the burn barrel and walk back here.” I said, still holding Hector clutched to my chest.
“Right...” Tru scoffed in an unsuccessful attempt to sound as if he put no credence in what the boy saw. “This never would’ve happened if he hadn’t been standing right there with us when we were digging that fencepost hole.”
“You’re gonna try and claim somehow he’s to blame...”
“Some folks draws ’em... like water draws a witching stick!”I could see my mother squeezed her arms across her chest a little tighter and clenched down on her jaws a bit to keep her teeth from chattering.
“Don’t blame the boy because we dug up a skeleton that clearly was put in the ground by...” my father said but then stopped.
“Who?” Tru said. “By who?”
“Nobody.” my father said, thinking better of his words, considering our situation and all. “Nobody.”
“That’s right” Tru said “best keep in mind whose roof you’re sleeping under. And who’s putting food in yer belly!”
“C’mon.” my father said catching my mother just a bit too tightly by the upper arm. I would see faint bluish imprints of fingers on her bicep the next morning.
“Why did you come out here like that?!” he muttered to her almost under his breath but definitely loudly and clearly enough for her to hear.
Sometime between 3 AM and half past, in the witching hour as it is sometimes referred to, or the Devil’s hour, once again everybody in the house was asleep when the boy, that would be me, after slumber that had been irresolute, spotty at best, woke with a start. It was like... my eyelids just rolled up like venetian blinds on a really tight spring... or like a cartoon character’s in a Saturday morning cartoon. The shorthairs on the back of my neck were already standing straight up.
I turned my head so that I could see the window.
There, pressed against the outside of the wire mesh screen- or crawling thereon- was the shadowy shape of a large, disembodied hand. Or what certainly appeared disembodied since I could not see a shadowy wrist or arm or body to which it belonged... assuming it was actually a hand. But the way the fingers were stretched out, it also alternatively could actually have been a giant spider- a big assed spider considering the size of the large, inky arachnoid impression. And conversely, if it was the impression of a hand, then it would have had to have been the hand of a grown ass man.
I thought perhaps, either my uncle or father had gone outside to take a whizz and had his anteater proboscis of a tallywacker out and pointed downward and was himself leaning forward with his hand against the house for support but then actually had accidentally placed it on the screen. But then I remembered: I was sleeping in a bedroom on the second floor.
I immediately pulled the bed covers up over his head.
“Is there somebody on the roof?” I thought. I wanted to cry out but could not rally a sound. Then slowly, after what seemed like an hour, but was only a minute or so, I lowered the comforter and to my utter bewilderment saw a barrel suspended in the center of the room... an old wood staved barrel, suspended horizontal, end to end, spinning slowly.
I whipped the bedcover over my face again.
Hector whined a little and fidgeted in his warm spot next to me.
When I lowered the comforter again, the barrel was gone, but there was a huge dog standing in the center of the room on an old oval shaped area rug. It looked like a Rockweiler mutt or something like that; most likely the one Hector and I had seen earlier outside lurking in the shadows but not really gotten a good look at. Hector had his head out from under the covers by then and was staring intently at the big dog and growling in as threatening a manner as a seven pound dog can growl. Hector was large for his breed.
Frozen in place with the covers snugly up under my chin, I watched the dog for a long time waiting to see what it was going to do; but it did nothing- just stand perfectly silent and perfectly still. I didn’t know at that time in my young life what a holographic image is, but now looking back, that is almost how the dog seemed- like a hologram.
There are those who speculate that the Universe we live in may itself be a hologram- only two dimensions though we see it as three. So how many dimensions does that make a ghost?
I heard something outside the farmhouse again... or thought I did... I don’t see how I could’ve- the dead walk softly- but I tossed the covers back, which made Hector nervous because of the Rockweiler still standing in the center of the room like a discarnate sculpture. I had begun to sense that the mongrel was not real and when I put my bare feet to the cold wooden floor, the big metaphysical mutt... kind of dissipated and then vanished... sort of like a flock of birds that appears solid until all the individual birds select to separate and scatter to the four corners of the wind. That’s how the dog disintegrated- like a flock of thumb sized birds to the four corners of the dusky room.
When I looked out the window, there on a flat stretch of ground between the back of the house and the woods was a women or girl or female of some age at least twice that of mine, who didn’t seem quite... solid. She was wearing a white slip like I had seen my mother and cousins wear sometimes. And she was walking, or perhaps floating, just at the surface of the ground and going nowhere it seemed but with purpose. And then a boy appeared near her and somehow joined to her... but not... and also semi-transparent and blooded.
The woman disappeared from my line of sight, under the edge of the roof at the back of the house. And then I heard a soft... knocking. Hector heard it as well and sat up in the bed and stared toward the door to the room, which lead out into the hall and the stairs that descended to the kitchen a second hall and the kitchen. My small but fierce canine was uneasy and growled in the back of his throat. I heard the soft knocking again.
I wanted to jump back into bed and throw the covers over my head again but I didn’t. I don’t really know why I didn’t just retreat and swaddle myself in the comfort of the patchwork quilt that my grandmother had sewn by hand. But I didn’t. I got out of bed, sans Hector, though he wanted to come with me. I tiptoed through the door and down the hallway and stairs and then through the ground floor hallway until I came to the door to the kitchen. I hesitated there for a couple of seconds and stared into the darkness that filled the room like... black goose down in an overstuffed pillow.
There was another soft knock at the kitchen door, which was the back door into and out of the house... and then I saw her.
The door itself had been left open, and only the screen door was shut, keeping her out- preventing her from freely perambulating into the house... or floating in... or however it is exactly that the deceased mosey. I should’ve turned back then but I didn’t.
The young female specter or wraith or whatever, raised her hand and instead on knocking- this time scratched at the screen, not so much like she was trying to tear it but sort of play it, may be, like one would play a harp. Chills shot up my spine at the raspy sound and raised goosebumps the size of porcupine quills, or so it seemed. The tips of her fingers were blackish blue and the fingernails jagged and torn and crusted with blood and dirt. There was a rust colored stain, the shape of a starfish, in her soiled white slip just below her solar plexus. I should’ve turned away from the impassive phantom then, back to safety upstairs in my room- but like I’ve already said- the boy didn’t turn back.
“What are you doing down here?”
I almost jumped out of my skin. I jerked around. All I could see was a large dark shape behind me, almost as black as the room itself. “You know that there is no snacking allowed in this house between meals and after supper!”
It was my aunt. She had heard me tiptoe through the hallway despite my best effort to slip through the house undetected.
“I wasn’t.” I said... “I didn’t...” but then immediately realized that the wrong words had just flown out of my mouth- like chickens flying out a coop. And anyone who has ever chickens fly, knows that they aren’t the most articulate birds in the air.
“Then what were you doing?”
I didn’t want to say that I had “seen a ghost” after previously telling everybody I’d seen a burning skeleton climb out of the burn barrel and walk into the woods. I knew that everybody already thought there was something wrong with me or- that I was “not quite right”; and that my Uncle Tru didn’t really want me and my mother and father in their home. I didn’t want to be the reason we were asked to leave and... It was just easier to blame my accepted sleep disorder.
I looked back at the screen door.
The woman in white was no longer there.“I...” the boy said. “I... was sleep walking again... I guess.”