A short story based on a real ghost legend from East Tennessee.
| In the mountains of East Tennessee there lies a small hollow called Dismal Creek. Nowadays there is nothing left there but trees and the old cemetery. The wind whistles through the trees, and it stays dark as twilight even at noon. The most recent date in the cemetery is 1897. No one has lived there in a very long time. There is a lonesome and tainted feel to the place. Back when I was young and crazy, I used to like to go there, even though I had heard the stories. The darkness and loneliness of the place seemed to fit the state of my soul. |
Dismal Creek wasn't always such a deserted place. There used to be a happy community there. People farmed, traded, went to church, drank and sinned just like everywhere else.
Things started to go bad when Lydia McLeod came to Dismal Creek. Her father bought the old Johnson place and began to farm. Lydia helped her father, and helped herself to the sins that were available. The young men, and sometimes the old ones too, liked her long red hair and lean frame. They were glad to give her a drink of shine or a little money in exchange for her company. Lydia wasn't the marrying kind. She enjoyed her freedom and her sins too much to become an honest woman. This arrangement suited Lydia and her men friends till people started to get sick. Nobody cared when Jase Campbell got sick. He was just a drunk. But then Billy, old man Brown's boy, got sick. Then old man Brown. Preacher Wright, and then his wife came down with the illness. Soon more than half the men and way too many of the women were ill. Doctor Murphy said that it was syphilis.
The women got to talking and decided that something had to be done. It didn't take much for them to figure out that Lydia was at the center of the epidemic. These women were nothing if not vindictive, and were very good at talking their husbands and sons into doing what they wanted.
A mob showed up at Mr. McLeod's farm and dragged Lydia off into the woods. They beat her and kicked her repeatedly. They pulled her hair out, and knocked her teeth out of her head. They whipped her with a bull whip till her dress hung off of her in tatters. Finally, Tommy Woods couldn't take watching this anymore and put her out of her misery with a rock to the back of her head. They dragged her body deeper into the woods and buried her. They covered her grave with leaves and went back to their lives, trying to forget that Lydia McLeod had ever come to Dismal Creek.
It was then that the darkness began to creep in. The people's guilt stayed with them. After all, God knew what they had done. Nobody was happy anymore. Some of them began to hear Lydia's screams during the night. Was it her spirit, or just guilty consciences? Nobody got any decent sleep anymore. Everybody was grouchy and on edge. The only person who was still happy was old man George Smith, the moonshiner. He was making a killing. Folks began to drink more to ease their guilt. Fights broke out over nothing. A couple more people got killed. As the darkness grew and the screams continued, people began to move away, trying to escape their guilt. In 1897 the last family buried their dead mother and left.
Some of the innocent people stayed nearby in other, happier hollows and passed the story down. As the years went by, the houses rotted away. The forest overtook everything. The story passed into legend. By the time I was a teenager, Dismal Creek was a well-known ghost tale. The story is that if you go up there you can hear Lydia scream. They say that if there are any women in the group, Lydia will reveal herself and seek revenge because she knows that women were behind her murder.
I went to Dismal Creek for the first time because I was curious. Though I felt the heaviness of the atmosphere, I didn't hear anything but the wind. I kept going back because it seemed to fit with whatever darkness was in my soul. I would get a pint of liquor or a six pack and just hang out on Dismal Creek by myself, thinking heavy thoughts.
It wasn't until years later, after I got engaged, that I experienced anything. I talked my fiancée, Elizabeth, into going up there, much to my regret. Having a woman with me made an immediate difference in the feel of the place. I felt very depressed, scared and nervous. I looked at Elizabeth. I could see the fear on her face. She wanted to go back home. I was a little crazy and too brave for my own good, I talked her into going on. I wanted to show her the old cemetery. As we walked up the road, all the emotions increased. We got jumpier. We began to bicker. By the time we got to the cemetery it was hard to put one foot in front of the other.
We walked around, checking out the dates on the tombstones. We lost track of time. Soon the permanent twilight darkened into full night. I realized we were in trouble. We were very scared by this time. Suddenly we heard the screams. They started out low and then got louder and louder. The pain in the screams cut through our souls. We started to run, but did not get far.
My vision melted down and reformed. I was in front of a cabin. A fire was burning in the yard. It was the same place, but looked as it had years ago. There were several men drinking in the yard. As I looked back at the cabin, a tall red-haired woman came out. She walked with a seductive sway. Her blue eyes caught mine, and mesmerized me. She took my hand and led me into the cabin.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the cemetery. I felt thick headed and disoriented. I tried to shake the cobwebs out of my head and looked around. I saw Elizabeth lying there very still. I shook her shoulder. She didn't move. I looked at my hand, and saw blood. It was then that I saw the bloody rock beside her. I looked at Elizabeth again and finally saw that the back of her head was bashed in. I knew that I had not done this. I tried to explain what had happened to the police, but it did no good. Police and judges do not believe in such things.
I am sitting in my cell thinking heavy thoughts. At the top of my mind is the question: 'can the soul catch syphilis from a spirit'?