The drive from Hattiesburg to Mobile is usually boring, but not last week. I can’t begin to tell you why I turned around and went back to that carport. You’ve all seen them. You know the type. Stuck off behind a little asbestos-shingled house, it didn’t look like anyting special, with stacks of stuff where a car should be and a closed storage area at the back.
But for whatever reason, I turned around and went back to it. A narrow asphalt road took me to the house, and for a minute, I just sat there on the road, looking. I’d gone that far, so I pulled up into the driveway. The house looked empty, and I hoped it was because I couldn’t think of any reason for me to be there. I had no idea what I’d say if somebody came along.
I got out of the car and stood there with the door open for a minute, then took the keys from the ignition and tossed them onto the driver’s seat and closed the door. Still, it would have been easy to leave, but I couldn’t. There I was, June in Mississippi, but for some reason I felt cold, and the closer I got to the carport, the colder I got. Shaking and by then nauseated, I reached out for the rusted door knob. It turned easily in my hand, too easily, and the door inched open.
Nothing but darkness. I couldn’t see a thing, and at first I thought the scream must have come from inside the storeroom, but then I turned in time to see its source fly down the steps of the house and bear down on me, all the while screaming in frenzied pitch. The old woman’s face had contorted with rage, and her hands pumped in anger. I tried to run, but it was too late. Bony fingers bit into my arms, and the harder I struggled, the tighter she held me.
“What are you doin’ with my boy?’ Shaking me, she screamed, “Git away from my boy.”
“Please let me go,” I pled. “I’ll leave. Just let me go.”
Her grip relaxed, and a calm passed over her face as she looked past me, into the darkened storeroom. I turned, following her gaze. At first, I didn’t see much, but as my eyes adjusted, the image came into focus. A scream now came from my gut, and I tried to pull away from her, but vacant eyes still watched me from the depths of the storeroom.
Releasing me, she entered the storeroom. “Hush, now baby. Mamma’s here. Mamma will take care of you,” she said lifting the mummified corpse from its high chair. “Hush, now.”
I made a run for it, but when I got to the car, the keys were missing, and in their place, vacant eyes stared back at me again. I spiraled backward onto a thorny bush, tearing skin in my fall.
I didn’t know which way to go, but I had to get out of there. Too terrified to look back at the carport, I picked myself up. There, on the front seat lay my car keys, right where I’d left them. In a single motion, I started the car and sped backward from the driveway. As I turned onto the asphalt road, I dared one last glance. The woman, once a raging lunatic, now rocked back and forth on her feet as she cradled empty air.
I didn’t stop until I got to New Augusta. I chose a truck stop and went inside, grateful for the noise and the people. After a while, I started to feel normal and picked up a pack of crackers and a drink and went to pay.
The woman behind the counter looked friendly enough. I asked, “Do you know who lives in that gray house a bit back?”
She gave me a blank stare, so I added, “You know. The one with the carport. It’s about five miles back toward Hattiesburg, on the left.”
This time she smiled and nodded. ”Oh, sure. I know the one you’re talkin’ about. And that’s really odd.”
“Odd?” I asked, afraid to know. “What’s odd about it?”
“Oh, nothing odd about the house. Leastwise that I know about. But you’re the third lady that’s asked about it this week.”
As cold fingers wrapped around my throat, I asked, “Other people have asked about it?”
Again she nodded. “Yeah, sure ’nuff. But it’s like I told ‘em all. Nobody’s lived in that house for a long time. The woman there killed her baby and left it in the storeroom. Now the family can’t sell that house for love or money. It’s a shame, too. Used to be such a nice place.”
This story, a departure from my usual blog content, was written for a book launch for my friend and wonderful writer Carolyn Haines. Unfortunately, I injured my foot falling from a bicycle and I didn’t get to make the trip to Natchez. If you like good stories and excellent writing, I strongly recommend Carolyn’s work. She’s the best!
Part Three of Carrie’s Cup
“Mother!” She yelled, racing to the kitchen.
Mother turned around from her place at the sink, holding a dripping piece of lettuce.
“What is it, Carrie?”
“Where’s my cup?”
Mother turned to the sink and laid down the lettuce. “Sit down,” she told Carrie and followed her to the table. “Didn’t I tell you not to put water in that thing?”
“I didn’t. Honest, I didn’t.”
“Well then, how did water get on your dresser and leave a big ring?”
Carrie shook her head, remembering how she had hurried to get the cup back before Mother opened the door. Again she asked, “But where is it?”
Mother gave her a look that said you’re just a child. “Honey, I took it to the antique shop with some other stuff we didn’t need any more.” She got up, went to the counter, and took the lid off the jar where she kept her secret money, took out several bills, and placed them on the table in front of Carrie.
“Look at all that money. It’s yours, and you can buy whatever you want with it.”
Carrie’s eyes clouded over like the water in her cup as she asked, “You sold my cup?”
“Baby, you found a treasure. I had no idea that thing was so valuable.”
“But I loved my cup. Why did you sell it?”
Losing patience, Mother said, “That old thing made a mess. Isn’t there something you’d like to buy now for school?”
“School? You already bought me what I need for school.”
“You can always use something cute to wear. What do you say we go shopping this afternoon? I’ll replace your shoes, and you can use this money for whatever you want.”
“Can we go to the antique store and get my cup back?”
“No, baby. I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Mrs. Perry said she already has a buyer for it. A nice lady who collects ladles. It wouldn’t be fair of us to ask for it back now, would it?”
“I guess not,” Carrie said, lowering her eyes to her feet.
“Well then, why don’t we go look for those new shoes?”
“No thanks. My school shoes are fine. If you don’t mind, I’d rather go to the creek.”
“But Carrie, you can’t go to that creek by yourself.”
“Then I’ll ask Gary to go with me.”
“Remember what happened the last time you went down there with him?”
“It won’t happen again. I promise.”
Mother shook her head and sighed, the way she always did when she didn’t understand. “Okay,” she conceded. “If that’s what you really want.”
She called for Gary and turned back to her daughter. ” Carrie, baby, I’m sorry for selling your ladle. I thought you’d be happy. I guess I didn’t know it meant that much to you.”
“It’s okay, Mother. I understand now,” Carrie said, rising from the table. “I really do. But can I just go play at the creek?”
Gary waited for her at the fence, and he even held the barbed wire apart for her. When she’d squeezed through, he gave her one of those superior brother looks.
“What’s so important about going to the creek?”
“I just want to go there. It’s fun.”
“Well, hurry up then. We don’t have long before dark.”
His long legs took him to the creek before Carrie could get there, and by the time she arrived, he was half way up the big oak tree. Feet dangling from a limb that spread out over the creek, Gary appeared caught up in his own world of adventure. After all, he was only there because Mother had made him go.
Carrie approached the creek and gazed into its coppery, clear water. The rush of a few days before had subsided, and what had been a near-torrent now glided gently by. She took off her school shoes, tucked her socks inside them, and set both at the base of the oak. Then she returned to the bank and sat down on the grass. Pushing off with her hands, Carrie slid downward until her feet rested on the sandy bottom.
First she walked upstream, sliding her feet along and watching tiny pebbles cascade over each other while stirred-up sand swirled into magical shapes. After a few minutes, she turned around and walked the other way. Making a game of it, she lifted one foot high into the air, then placed it down only a few inches ahead while she sang her favorite song.
It was one she’d heard in the movie that Mother took her to see. Although Carrie didn’t know all the words, she did know some because Daddy had taught her to wish on a star. Her voice rose with each step until she suddenly stopped. The water cleared, and there, half-hidden in the sand, lay her cup.
She squealed and reached down to touch it. Assured that it was real, she found a stick and freed it from the creek’s bottom. That done, she rubbed away the sand and silt, dipped it back into the water, and filled it to the brim. This time, when she drew it upward, the water inside glistened as if a thousand stars twinkled from within.
Carrie momentarily forced her eyes away from the cup to search the tree. She caught a glimpse of Gary as he scooted higher, and she knew he wasn’t paying any attention to her. She also knew that he’d tell on her since she’d gotten him into trouble aftter their last visit to the creek, but this time would be different. Carrie gazed back into the star-filled water, and, once again humming her favorite tune, lifted the cup to her lips.
Please join me next Friday at Encounters of the Southern Kind
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