Let me say that just because stories are born, live and survive in one's heart or mind doesn't mean they are any less real than those that actually happen. Remember that as you read this spooky tale. I won't clarify which this story is, a product of an active imagination or a true story. I will let you, the reader, decide.
In the late '50s, early '60s, my father-in-law joined a deer hunting camp near Strong, Arkansas. My husband was a child at that time and began deer hunting when he was something like 9 years old. Our grandchildren, who are teens now, hunt with their Paw-paw at that same camp. The old camp stood until around 15 years ago when a tornado took it down. The members built a new camp. Joe and I stayed there on the visits we made two or three times a years. Eventually, an older member of the camp who had built a cabin next to the big camp decided he could no longer hunt because of his age and sold us the cabin. We bought much more than a cabin, unbeknownst to us at the time.
We had been staying in the cabin on our trips, which have become more frequent since I sold my business, for almost two years when I first began to question what exactly was happening there. I found some papers there on the visit previous to the one I will describe and had put them away. I folded them and put them in a cigar box, then put the box under one of the bunk beds. I simply didn't understand the papers and wanted time to talk to some of the older camp members and try to figure out what they were about. One was a map, the others seemed to be deeds of some sort. After we had been there a day or so, I pulled out the cigar box and opened it, thinking I'd catch Sam, one of the older members, and ask him about what the papers meant. They were gone. I searched everywhere in the area where the box had been. Nothing. They were gone.
Now, we don't have locks on the cabin windows. When they built it years ago, they never put any and we never have either. It just isn't necessary. One of the camp members lives on the road to the cabin and there is almost always someone home at his house. In the 50-some-odd years that this camp and the old one were built, no one has ever bothered a thing. But now the papers are gone! I keep turning the box upside down, as though they are going to fall out when they aren't there to start with.
Although I didn't mention the papers to Joe before, I tell him about them now and that somebody has been in the camp and taken them. His answer is "I doubt that. You probably moved them and forgot doing it." I was sure that wasn't the case but didn't argue. "The deeds are probably where Dad and Karl and Luke bought the land for the camp. No idea what the map was, probably a fishing spot." After these statements, I could tell he was done with the whole subject.
Gardian of the Property
The second sign that anything was unusual was when it had been almost two months since we had visited the cabin. It was during the period when hunting had ended for the year and it was not quite time for bream fishing, which is what we enjoy. We left for the camp the early part of February, partly to avoid Mardi Gras, which we simply got tired of after many years of beads and booze, and partly to enjoy the quiet and peace of the cabin without the traffic noise, sirens, etc., that are a way of life during Mardi Gras where we live outside New Orleans.
As we drove down the dirt road from the highway to the camp, Joe stopped at the only house on the road. His friend and fellow camp member Jamie was in the yard. Jamie walked over to talk. After talking about what fish were biting, how high the river was, how cold it had been, how much rain they'd had, the usual conversations country folks have, Jamie mentioned something a bit bizarre.
"Joe, I think someone is staying in that cabin when you're not up here. I drove my four-wheeler down to the creek and when I passed the cabin, I saw lights in there and saw people moving around." This was past creepy. I was ready to go home. Joe thought that probably a transient had used the cabin overnight on his way through the area.
When we got to the cabin, it was dark, cold, and I saw no indication that anyone had been inside. I looked through the kitchen. Everything was in order. The bathroom was as we left it. The toilet still had the stick in it that we leave to prevent the water freezing. Nothing was disturbed at all.
Something made me think of the papers that had disappeared. I went to the bunk bed, knelt down and opened the cigar box that had been empty the last time I had been there. When I opened it, I jumped back and screamed. Lying in the box was a dead blue jay. Joe came running when he heard me scream. We sat on the porch for a few minutes, trying to figure it all out. We decided someone was playing morbid jokes on us. Joe was convinced. I was not. I still am not.
We buried the blue jay in back of the cabin. I was reading a book a few days later and remembered it. I jumped up, grabbed the shovel off the porch where we left it and dug up the bird. We had put it in a plastic bag before burying it. When I lifted the bag out of the hole, there was the bird. The bird had been buried for at least four days and yet it looked as though it had just died. Joe said it was because it was in a plastic bag. Maybe. I felt nervous, edgy, as though something was coming and I wasn't sure I was going to like it!
My cat, who has since died at 16 1/2 years old, was also nervous and edgy and snarled at us even more than usual, constantly lingering by the front door, scratching at it to be let out. He is not allowed outside at all and this was unusual behavior for him. We loved him terribly, but he was not a nice cat and I'm thinking that our "visitors" might be kindred souls to our "devil cat."
Roots of the past
Spirits Among Us
My father-in-law, who hunted the woods where our cabin was for many years, often spoke of an old woman who lived somewhere around the area. I never understood where and don't think he did either. He said she sold "potions" to the people in that rural neighborhood: potions to make a man love his wife, potions to cause illness, to cure illness, etc. He said he always told his wife, who I never met, not to "mess with that old woman," that she was bad news. He said, "She's like that old beagle I had that was sweet and loved to be petted, but if you made a loud noise or spoke in the wrong way, he would turn into a devil"
I asked him if she lived on the highway or down in the woods and he said from what he'd heard, down in the woods. This made sense to me because whenever I would wander too far in the woods, I would have a sense that someone/something wasn't happy. I never told Joe because I figured one of the local kids did it, but the words "Get Out" were written in the sand directly in my path one day when I was out exploring and had gone farther than usual.
General continued to pace and occasionally moan deep in his throat. He was no longer comfortable in a spot where he used to sleep in the sun and dream of who knows what.
Goodnight and Goodbye
The last night we were to stay at the cabin, I could not fall asleep no matter how I tried. I finally was able to doze off around 2:30. I had one foot in both sides, I suppose because I know I wasn't sound asleep. Something told me to open my eyes, and sitting beside my bed in a chair pulled from the table was an old woman with fingernails so long they curled under and a slight smile on her withered lips. General, our cat, was hissing like crazy and moaning deep in his throat, the hair on his back literally standing straight up as he stood in front of her. I screamed so loud Joe jumped completely out of the bed. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
He didn't see her and never truly believed I did. All I knew was that I was getting out of there. I got up and began throwing things in bags and taking them to the truck. Driving back, Joe wanted to know what I was going to do. He pointed out that I had always enjoyed the cabin and it's a shame to stop coming. I knew he was right and I had developed a plan while he drove. I would come back alone in a week or so. The six-hour drive would give me time to think. I would bring smudge sticks and burn one several times to rid the house of whatever was in it. I felt good about the plan. Joe was just glad I hadn't abandoned the cabin for good.
Three and a half weeks later, I set out on my journey. I got in around 11, having left the house in Louisiana very early. I took out my smudge stick, lit it and began to invite anyone or anything inhabiting the cabin to please leave. I began to feel more peaceful as time passed and by the time I finished the tiny cabin, I knew whatever was there had left. The atmosphere changed drastically, from one of anxiety and doom to one of peace. General was quietly sleeping on one of the bunk beds, pawing the air now and then at figments of his dreams. I walked out to sit on the porch for a bit to let the smoke do its work and escape the smell. When I sat, a blue jay flew down, slapped my face with its wing, then flew away, as though saying good-bye.
That night, I slept like I always did before the ghosty stuff, even deep in the woods with no one but Jamie around and sure that he and his family were also sound asleep. I smudged the house again before I left for home. I locked the slide lock and the padlock on the front door. I thought about the fact that we were going to get locks for the windows and dismissed it. Locks couldn't keep out the kind of visitors we had. This all happened six years ago. We have been back to the cabin probably 25 times since and have had no indication that anything but the usual wasps and bees and flies have been inside.
Before the incidents I've described, the cabin always smelled musty and stuffy. Now when we open it up, it smells lovely, like lilacs. I think perhaps the old woman left us with that reminder. I think she was likely kind-spirited. I simply did not want her sitting beside my bed while I slept.
I described the papers I found, the ones that disappeared, to Jamie. One of them described some property that I was sure was located close to what we call "High Mound." High Mound is a raised area that most of the camp members believe was an Indian burial ground. Jamie said I was right, that it described High Mound. He also said an old woman lived there for years and finally just disappeared. They never found her body or any sign of foul play. At some point, she just wasn't there. He laughingly told us of buying a "potion" from her to stop the coyotes from attacking his cattle. My question was, "Did it work?"
His answer, "Well, now that I think about it, it did work. Yes, it did."