Saturday, November 01, 2008
The Legend of Shotgun Sally and One Dirty Rat
I hope everyone had a marvelous Halloween/Samhain. It was a gorgeous night in New England for tricks, treats, and wandering along the lines of the veil as it thinned beneath a bright autumn moon.
This week everyone here at Fictionistas shared stories of past All Hallows Eves. Mostly costumes, which leaves me in a bit of a spot, since I go as myself. I am known affectionately (I hope) as Green Harbor's very own Swamp Witch. So most Hallowed Eves I was wandering bogs and such, doing appropriately mysterious but really quite regular stuff. I have, however, a few good memories of childhood romps.
There was this house... yes, THAT house... there, all in black and white and lovely spookiness. I grew up loving that house. I wanted it. It was known to every kid in Green Harbor-- in fact, most of Marshfield-- as Shotgun Sally's. Legend went that Shotgun Sally's was owned by a horrible old woman who shot at anything that moved on her property. This included postmen, census takers, animals of all kinds, and kids. Virtually everyone in our town could tell you the tale, and one or two horror stories of a personal nature. And though Sally had been dead for many years, discovered in bed with her shotgun, the place was still haunted by her angry ghost.
My own impression was marinated in scepticism. I walked past Sally's regularly, right through the yard, and had never seen the spectral image of Sally in the broken out windows. It was a gorgeous piece of property, dotted with huge old nut and fruit trees. The house was a falling-down American Foursquare from the late 1800's. It had beautiful bones even as they broke down there among the towering maples, with a gigantic chestnut out front that shed white petals when it flowered, so heavy it was like snow. I used to gather them up to make stain. I used to gather walnuts and chestnuts and roast them. I used to sit and dream in the shadows of that old house. I never saw, felt, or worried about a ghost, though I am an absolute believer in them. My own house has always been haunted.
If Sally existed at one time she was gone. And being a bit of a wandery-wistful kid who cared little for much more than her notebooks, horse, dog, and whatever critter was following her at the time, the old house was one of my favorite places to sit, sulk, and write poetry about how nobody understood me. Yeah, I was that kind of kid. Weirdly, though, I did have friends. Most are still around or at least bump into me at the pharmacy every now and again. And I've been thinking about a few of them, and Halloween, and one night at Shotgun Sally's when a dare went pretty hysterically wrong.
It was known that I was witchy. I was reading decks of playing cards, and even an old tarot deck, before I was out of grade school. And lots of kids knew I dared the borders of Shotgun Sally's cursed property without fear. So one Hallow's Eve, when I was somewhere between 12 and 14, a few friends came up with the idea to take a side trip from trick-or-treating to Sally's for a card reading. It was my first "professional" reading; I was paid in candy. Four pieces from each bag, my choice. We're talking good stuff-- Reesee's and Milky Ways, not the cheap crap.
While I was aware that the house had become structurally unsound, I figured it was worth the risk. Plus I knew the other kids would be scared half to death, and that had "fun" written all over it. So after making the rounds about Atwell Circle and a few other prime candy circuits, we headed for Sally's. I had an old deck of cards, some candles, matches, and a cloth. Payments made, we crawled in through a broken window and sat in the middle of the floor. I began an evening of mystical endeavors.
Except that Katie, one of my friends, started asking questions in her reading involving Sally, her past, and why she hated kids. I indulged her. But the house was old and creaky and fate has a sense of humor. No sooner had Katie begun her questioning as I flipped the cards than a rat-- not a mouse-- fell from one of the ceiling beams and, so-help-me, landed on Katie's shoulder.
I swear I had nothing to do with that. The place was kind of crawling with every manner of nasty.
I recall screams, four early teen-aged bodies flying over my head, and peering through that broken window to see several pairs of Converse All-Star souls making haste toward the woods.
I snuffed the candles. You don't leave candles burning in a house that is pretty much a stack of kindling anyway. The rat vanished into one of the candy sacks and was welcome to it. Mine survived, and the others apparently fled with their owners.
The following morning broke with four stories (I never did give anyone an accounting) that included full-body specters with long white hair and claws, clear voices growling "get out or I'll shoot you," and a rabid rat attack that nearly claimed a life. Much like Sally, the legend was far greater than the truth. Though I must admit... a rat falling from the rafters mid-reading is pretty good. I don't even think my friends lied. I think they remembered it that way, in their fear. So I never lied, either. When asked I changed the subject if necessary. "It was really scary" seemed to imply my affirmation.
But I still loved the house, and my one glimpse of its interior broke my heart. Dark as it was the mantle was solid hardwood, carved with oak leaves and acorns. The staircase was elegant and beckoning, though I'm sure it would have swallowed me had I dared set foot on it. And about 20 years ago they tore the place down, cut some of the trees, and put a few family homes up where one stately foursquare once stood. I still dislike driving by that spot. Those houses, perfectly attractive and surely home to very nice families, feel wrong to me.
Petie, one of my oldest and closest friends, was there that night and just yesterday became outraged at the notion that nothing paranormal happened that evening. He may be right. Sally or whomever owned that old house may have tossed that rat with perfect precision. But I never saw anything but a rat who lost his footing and was rewarded with a diabetic feast. For me the chill-to-the-bone has a different tone.
I suppose one's definition of "haunted" can vary.