Sunday, October 30, 2005

(Not) another Nashville ghost story

I had just turned 12 when I spent my first Halloween in Nashville. This would also be, by my own edict, the first year I would decline trick or treating. Despite the excellent neighborhood filled with kids and the promise of lots of treats, I felt that the ripe old age of 12 was too old for such childish nonsense, and so I stayed at home, helping my parents answering the door and imitating all the comments adults had made to me over the years.

Into my teens, Halloween became a time of parties and scary movies, and by the time I was in college, the celebrations had become rather sordid affairs, filled with beer, frivolity, and pranks. My desire for ghostly sightings had increased, and not having had the satisfaction of my encounter with Adelicia Acklen’s ghost as of yet, my friends and I set out one Halloween to test the theory that souls gather at graveyard crossroads at midnight on Halloween.

This myth seemed to hold the same mystique as the suggestion that all animals speak at midnight on Christmas Eve, although try as I might, I have not heretofore been able to get one of my three cats to utter a word at midnight on Christmas Eve, and I am never sure if this is a true sign that the myth is debunked or that my cats are trying to vex me. In my naïve state, however, I felt certain that it was possible for souls to meet at the crossroads, because November 1st was All Soul’s Day. So my friends and I delayed our presence at the designated party and decided to head to the oldest graveyard we knew of in Nashville, which I think was somewhere on 4th Avenue, although I am not certain. Details such as locations seem to leave my mind quicker than other memories, so I am afraid the exact location has been forgotten. At any rate, it was a graveyard fitting for our venture, as it was ancient by American standards, and not in the style of the newfangled McCemeteries that were popping up all over the place.

The night was warm and pleasant, and one of my friends was dressed as a vampire, which caused him some difficulty in climbing over the cemetery fence. Ours was a small party, only five of us, and two of our number decided they would prefer to examine headstones rather than pursue the fatuity of meeting souls at the crossroads. So the three of us ventured forth, and happened upon the perfect, four-way crossroads somewhere in the middle of the graveyard. It was still a few minutes until midnight, so we explored the tombstones and crypts that were in the area. As we walked around, we noticed a slight temperature drop, most certainly owing to the lateness of the hour, and a thick, wispy fog began to appear, surely the effect of the cooler temperatures meeting the warmer ones that had preceded.

As we approached the crossroads at midnight, our fantasy-filled minds began to see shapes in the smoky fog: skeletal fingers, ghostlike faces, headless bodies. The thing about shenanigans such as this is that one never discusses what exactly you plan to do in the event that you do see spirits at the crossroads, which in our case the plan was apparently to get the hell out of there. After about a minute of staring at the foggy shapes around us, the three of us turned simultaneously and ran as if we were being followed by demons. As always, climbing over the fence proved more difficult on the way out than on the way in, but we made our way back to the car panting, out of breath, and laughing our asses off at how ridiculous we were. We surmised that the shapes we saw were akin to seeing figures in the clouds, and laughed off our folly. At the time, I made an observation that apparently didn’t quite sink in to my conscious mind, because we were quickly joined by our other two friends and made our way to the Halloween party.

It wasn’t until later, after I recovered from the bacchanalia of Halloween night, that I recalled what I had observed at the car. The fog we had seen did not seem to venture forth beyond the cemetery gates, as we were not surrounded by it at the car, which was not parked terribly far from the graveyard. Had we actually seen the spirits of the dead gathered at their yearly meeting place or had our eager minds simply created the visions?

Either way, I suppose it does not matter. At the very least, we gave a few sullen souls great amusement, as fear is always more hilarious from the other side.

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