Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Of Churches & Ghoulies & Ghosties & Things That go Bump in the Night

“Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale…”

Oh, please do. Come to the church by the wildwood. The one that sits in the wildwood off Highway 96 in my home county. It’s a really old church. Lots of history there. Lots of legend too. And not all of it is particularly complimentary to the concept of brotherly love. That spot – it has legends of blood. Torture. Death. Are they true? Most legends have their beginnings somewhere, after all.

That church, though, well, that church serves up Halloween all year long for any sensitive soul who cares to partake. It’s got a name, but I’m not brave enough to use it. Not its real one. Don’t tempt the devil by inviting him in. So I’ll use a fictional name here. The name used for it by a certain writer who shall be nameless (Gail Roughton Branan) in a certain novel that shall be untitled (Down Home), to be published by a certain e-publisher that shall be anonymous (MuseItUp Publishing) on an unspecified date (September, 2012). In that untitled novel, there’s an old church with an unsavory reputation christened Clayton Chapel by that unnamed writer. So for the purposes of this little missive, let’s humor that unnamed author and refer to this wondrous, eerie, spine-tingling locale as Clayton Chapel. I’ve been told that should you be in the vicinity at twilight, the windows of the old back house have eyes. They follow you. And figures have been sighted in those windows, figures not of our time. Figures of little girls in banana curls.

For the teenagers of Twiggs County, Clayton Chapel serves as a rite-of-passage. On the night of the first day a newly legal driver acquires that magic license, it is incumbent upon said recipient to drive down the driveway of Clayton Chapel. Alone. To shut off the engine. To darken any source of light. To silence any sounds of music. To sit, alone, in darkness. For as looooong as they can. Which usually clocks out at about two minutes. Not being a native county native, but merely a transplanted one, I didn’t learn of this ritual until my daughter was in her early twenties. It’s one of those things I could have cheerfully gone to my grave without knowing, too, that my daughter’d sat out alone in the back of beyond in a deserted, haunted churchyard at midnight.

This shining beacon of other-worldly lure sends its beams far beyond my home county boundary lines. I received proof of that the night my friend Natalie texted me at 9:00 p.m. Natalie is a magnet for teenagers. Headed towards the later forties, she looks thirty. Maybe. She and her husband have six kids between them though only two are still at home, a minimum of four or five foster children at any one time (they find her – few of them are actually placed; she’s just a magnet for kids in need, and those kids are never turned away), frequently some foreign exchange students. At least one or two of her grandchildren are usually in the house, and I’m surprised her home town doesn’t make her purchase a business license as a teenage clubhouse because that’s always where a substantial number of totally non-related teenagers are every night. For those of you who don’t think angels walk among us, let me introduce you to one. Meet my friend Natalie.

“On 96 headed to twiggs co”, read the text. “u no old anson house?” Well, no, I didn’t. Translating the text shorthand to mean that she was en route to some old house in Twiggs County, I figured an explanation would take a lot of texting. So I called.

“You’re doing what headed where?” I asked.

“The kids know this old house; they call it the Anson House. Apparently, groups of ’em go over there all the time, they talked me into it. So I’m on Highway 96 heading over towards you. It’s supposed to be haunted, got lights and figures and noises, and a cemetery in the yard. You ever heard of it?”

“Nope, only place I know with that reputation’s Clayton Chapel. Where exactly are you?”

A low moan came over the phone. Natalie’s one of my Beta readers, back in the days before I knew what Alpha and Beta readers were or that I had any, before anything I ever wrote had been submitted to anyone who’d accepted it. She’d loved Down Home and was fully cognizant of the real identity and reputation of Clayton Chapel. “I was afraid you’d say that. I was on 96 but we turned left at the four-way and got on Cochran Short Route and now we’re turning right onto some side road that’s running for freakin’ ever. You know what’s down there?”

“No,” I said, “but I know who does. Call you back.” I hung up and hit my son-in-law’s speed dial. As a Deputy Sheriff, there wasn’t a back, side or front road in the county he didn’t know.

I explained my friend’s mission. “So,” I asked, “you know where she’s heading?”

“Well, never heard it called that, but from the description she’s heading toward Clayton Chapel. The old back house.”

“From the Cochran Short Route?”

“Yeah, back way in. Other way’s to go up to the Interstate and turn down the side road runs by the Huddle House and then take a left.”

Great. Natalie was going to love this. I thanked him and called her back. “Jason says he’s pretty sure you’re heading to Clayton Chapel,” I advised. “Don’t let the kids separate and call me back when y’all are ready to leave.”

Low moans. “Great. Just great. Well, on the bright side – I’m gonna tell ’em all about it before we get there and maybe they’ll be scared to go close.” Her voice brightened. “And if we run into trouble, I know how to get a Deputy quick.”

Great plan, but it didn’t work. The kids did get close and while no phenomena was actually observed, nor did I have to call Jason for reinforcements, Natalie advised as she and her teenage adventurers drove home that Clayton Chapel was “the spookiest place I have ever been in my entire life!” I flatter myself that possibly my skill at story telling had a bit to do with that; Down Home gave Natalie a good build-up which she generously shared with her teenage cohorts to scare the bejesus out of ’em before they ever got there. And thereby gave me the privilege of claiming “(Writer’s) Mission Accomplished!”

So for anyone who feels adventuresome –

“Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale…”


Roseanne Dowell said...

I love this, Gail, actually ran chills up my spine.

Unknown said...

Spookey is an understatement. Secretly? I have a love/hate relationship with these types of things. Ever visited the Winchester House in northern California? Scary. Your chapel has some definite similarities and your story telling stirs up some mighty-fine frightening elements as well. Great post Darling. Love your writing!

Lin said...

The tales Gail Roughton Branan brings to bone chattering life harken me back to some of the events from my own childhood events growing up in my own country landscape.

I must admit I think youb ahve topped mine. All we did was play Hide 'N' Seek in the Funeral Home.

Trick or Treat?

Well done Gail.

gail roughton branan said...

Thanks, guys! Love you all!

Jolie said...

I can just imagine those words in a spooky sing song voice *Shiver*

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