Chasing Tall Tales

A week ago my mom bought a booklet of local ghost stories a thrift store for a quarter. Just twenty-two pages long, bound with staples and orange card stock, it really doesn’t look like much. However, the first story in this book has been driving me to distraction. Short enough to be considered flash fiction, the story is only two paragraphs long and is a reprint of something that appeared in a local paper nearly 20 years ago.

Roughly it states that, while working on widening a rural road, a road crew dug up a body of an adult woman. She was buried in the middle of the road with a wooded stake through her heart. Both the stake and the body had been petrified.

The lack of information immediately intrigued my curiosity. I am well aware that this a toothless gifwork of fiction. Sort of a local legend. It’s the kind of thing my older cousins used to make up to scare me when we took walks in the woods near my grandparents house. However, whatever it is inside that makes me a writer started whispering, “What if?”

It is plausible that a woman could have been killed and buried in an unmarked grave. Depending on when she was buried, maybe there wasn’t a road there at the time. Or maybe it was the only convenient spot. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It claimed to have happened less than thirty minutes away, so I began digging. (Figuratively. I am pretty sure I would be writing this on the walls of the local jail if I actually tried digging up the road.)

Armed with just the name of the road I searched and found out that they did widen the road back in 1917. I also discover there has been precedence set for the petrification of human remains, if under the right conditions. The part of the road were the story claims the woman was buried runs close to the Hiwassee river. This is important because not only would the soil need the right minerals but it would also need the right amount of moisture.

In 1867 there was a great flood that decimated the area. It took out bridges and caused a train wreck where many died. There are even claims that the streets of Chattanooga were so flooded, that a man living on Lookout Mountain watched bodies float down them.

background-313572_1280So if the mythical woman had been killed and buried before the flood, then it is even plausible that she could have been petrified. If she existed. But if so, what happened to the body? Why was she buried in the road? Did whomever it was that killed her think they were slaying a vampire or a witch?

These are questions I don’t have answers to yet. I did find a similar story in a book called The Granny Curse and Other legends from East Tennessee by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett. It is about a chair haunted by the ghost of a vampire. (I didn’t know vampires could have ghosts but stranger things have become local legends.)

I am still investigating. Some people will probably laugh at me for chasing ghost stories and say I am on a snipe hunt or a wild goose chase. Just because it may not turn out to be true, doesn’t mean it isn’t teaching me a lot about the past. I had no knowledge of the flood of 1867 or of body petrification until now. I am sure it will end up being useful at some point, even if it is only in fiction.

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“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

I think my computer problems have been solved.  I am going to try writing this post and see what happens.

So,

Once Upon a Time, when I was a kid…

I lived in the middle of nowhere. We had trees on three sides and my grandmother and the family church were on the other.  My cousins lived behind us.  We had a small trail worn granny and papawthrough the patch of trees that separated our houses.  There was a proper path but it led past my granny’s house, down a hill and over the trickle of a stream.  Cutting through the woods was faster and more fun.

Two of my cousins were years younger than me and between them and my brother I had my very own minions.  My other cousin, John, George-The-Sheriff-of-Nottingham-the-sheriff-of-nottingham-7270307-440-685was just a month younger than me and always bigger.  He was my mortal enemy.  (Unless there were adults watching or something good was on T.V.)  He was the villain to my hero, the Sheriff of Nottingham to my Robin Hood. (Really.  If I read a book it wasn’t long before we were playing it.)

We fought constantly.  We traded bruises.  Well…I collected bruises and tried to return the favor.  Things were simple.  If John was going to do something then I automatically knew it was a bad idea.  That didn’t always stop me, but at least I knew going in that it probably would end in tears.  (I fell into the creek sooo many times…)

I miss my cousin John.  He was killed years ago in a motorcycle accident.  We had managed to come to some silent mutual understanding during our late teen years and didn’t fight so much.  (We didn’t interact much.)

Back then I knew what trouble looked like. It mostly wore my cousin’s face.  Today stressproblems are more faceless.  Bills, Stress, Work…nouns without faces attached, though we sometimes add faces.  We look for people to attach blame for those things to.  We need our villains and our anti-heroes.  If we can’t find them, then we become them.

I think that is why we love/hate the bad guys so much.  Loki, Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch, The Nothing.  They all bring vivid images to our minds and fill a need. Without villains, there would be no heroes.  That is why they are so important in life and in fiction.