Read an Excerpt
The Ghost Who Would Not Die
A Runaway Slave, A Brutal Murder, A Mysterious Haunting
By Linda Alice Dewey
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Linda Alice Dewey
All rights reserved.
I feel I owe it to those left behind to let you know what you got to look forward to if you don't tend to yourself where you are right now.
You never know what's gonna happen when you die till you get there. For some, it's a smooth ride. For others, it's a dark tunnel to the White Light. For someone like me, it was an empty corner of the universe.
Now, I don't want to scare nobody. You gots to know things will all work out. It's just that sometimes you gotta wait for the good ending.
For me, one minute I'm a-saying goodbye to the stars, and the next I'm a-floating in a sea of nothing. Wasn't dark, wasn't light. More like what you see on a cloudy day with a bit of a glow. I could move my arms and legs, but there wasn't no place to go and nothing to do—not even to scratch myself, cause I didn't itch. I could feel my outsides all right, yes I could. And I was still in my clothes.
At first, I thought it was a dream I couldn't get out of. Know how some dreams seem so real? Like you wake up but you're still dreaming? This was even more real than that.
In dreams, though, something's always going on. Here, with no sun to tell me the time and no clocks a-ticking, I can't tell you how long it took me finally to believe that this was, in fact, real. And it was just me here. Nothing else. Nobody else. Just me, wide-awake, hanging around in this-here Space.
After a while, The Space got to be like a thing to me, and I started talking to it like it was separate from me.
"So, what's going on?" I asked The Space.
Course, nothing answered.
I floated around for I-don't-know-how-long and got fidgety and restless.
Still, nothing happened.
I closed my eyes, thoughts rolling around inside my head, like, Maybe I'm lost.
When you lose something, you go over what you were doing just before you lost it. Well, I started going over what I done just before I got here....
Me and Old Tom, it was, over by the railroad tracks. A train rumbling by ...
My thoughts came back to this Space. It's so damned quiet, I thought. No sounds except for ones I make. No smells either. Weird. This place is weird.
I just plum forgot a whole space of time between saying goodbye to the stars and waking up in this-here Space!
Like a dream coming back, bits and pieces return to my memory. Someone running, footsteps fading, a train whistle.
Raising my dizzy head, I see ...
Darkness. Darkness all around, like looking through black glass. I remember now. Through that darkness, I seen Old Tom in the distance, running for all get-out. Dark firelight—trash burning in the railroad yard. I couldn't really see the street lamp over this way too good. Everything was so dark!
Maybe I hit my head when I fell. Or maybe ... I touched my eyes, then looked at my hands. I could hardly see them.
My spectacles! They must have gotten knocked off in the fight. Where were they? I looked all around me. Oh Lordy, what will I do without my spectacles?
I looked up at the sky. Where were the stars? I used to be able to see them without my spectacles. Now I couldn't see them at all.
Oh, Mama, I'm going blind!
I got up real careful and limped back to the camp to find my woman. She'd help me. Then I remembered I didn't have a woman no more. In fact, I'd been getting together with Old Tom's woman. That's how this whole thing started.
Who could I go to for help?
Old Mammy. She loved everybody and everybody loved her. Through the darkness, I hitched off to her shack, rolling past tents and tarpaulins. There she sat like always, on a stool in front of her place, a-talking to a neighbor lady. Old Mammy didn't get around too good. Her frame just couldn't take her bulk no more, but she was laughing as usual.
"Geraldine! You got to be funning me."
Pulling myself to her, I cried out, "Mammy!"
Skinny old Geraldine sitting next to Mammy, laughed right along with her. "I tell you, every word's the truth!"
"Mammy," I said, "I'm going blind!"
Geraldine and Old Mammy watched the shenanigans over by the warming fire. Suddenly, their faces screwed up in pain.
"Wonder what was in that supper Joe fixed tonight," Mammy said, rubbing her belly. "It ain't setting all that well."
"Owww!" wailed Geraldine as she rubbed the back of her neck. She looked at Mammy and said, "Can bad food hurt your neck?"
They slapped their knees and laughed again.
My eyes fixed on the fire—it was so dark! "My eyes, my eyes!" I howled, rubbing them. Again I looked at the fire, but it was still dark.
"Don't know about them two," said Geraldine, nodding at a couple sitting by the fire, their backs to us, his arm across her shoulders. Dark firelight flickered on their faces as they turned to each other.
"Me neither," said Old Mammy, shaking her head at the couple. "Mm, mm, mmm!"
"He too young for her."
I knelt in front of Mammy and put my hands on her knees. "Mammy! For God's sake, look at me!"
"My goodness!" Mammy put her hands on her belly. "I'm a-hurting tonight."
Geraldine looked her up and down. "Girl, ain't you done childbearing?"
They broke up all over again, then went back to holding in their aches and pains.
"Well," Mammy sighed, standing, "I better get to bed. It's been a long day."
I reached out to her, but then the most awful thing happened. I fell right through her to the ground! In shock, I rolled onto my back and looked up at the two women.
Geraldine was up and walking away. "'Night," she said with a lazy smile, still massaging her neck.
"Good night." Old Mammy held her belly with one hand and shut her door with the other, leaving me looking up at stars I couldn't see.
"Good night," I said and closed my eyes.
I opened them to see a group of people looking at me real funny. A dark shape—maybe air—surrounded each.
"He's one of us, all right," said a big white man.
"I ... I can't hardly see," I said.
"Then you'se one of us for sure," said a black woman with a cloud around her so dark there was no telling where it ended and she began.
"You ain't going blind, if that's what you're wondering," whispered an old white man in overalls. "We all think that at first."
Looking from one to the other, I asked, "Who are you?"
"We're Shadows," said the big woman. "That's what they call us. You got one around you too."
"Why's everything so dark?"
In an instant, she got real mad. "I done told you," she spat. "Looking through your shadow makes everything darker."
"Then my eyes—they're all right?"
The farmer in overalls coughed. "Well," he said, "there ain't nothing about you that's all right."
I stood. "What do you mean?"
The big white man spoke up. "You ain't really a person no more. You're a Shadow now, like us."
"You're people. You all got something strange going on around you, but you're people. I can see that much."
"Well," said the farmer, "you coming or not?"
"Wait a minute," said I. "Are you telling me I can't see, cause I got black around me like you-all?"
I held out my arm. The air close to it was real dark, then faded a foot or so away. Moving my arm up, the dark shape curved in along my body and moved with my arm, like a shirt stretching for me to get into it.
A kid with blond hair down to his eyebrows shook his head. "You got a lot to learn. Come on," he said to the others.
They moved off.
"Hey," I called, but they were gone.
Butter Ned and Sammie—the couple by the fire—leaned against each other, drunk as all get-out as they lurched towards me now.
Butter Ned mumbled something under his breath and laughed.
Sammie giggled. "Shhhh," she warned. But she tripped and screeched as she lost her balance. Butter Ned tried to grab her, missed, and laughed as she stumbled, heading right for me. I tried to get out of the way, but she fell right through me just like I went through Old Mammy! I didn't feel it then and I didn't feel it now.
Squealing, Sammie pushed herself off Mammy's shack and back up through me. Reeling, she said, "Shee-it. I better get to bed."
He gave her a nasty smile. "We getting there, girl."
Their laughter died away. Then it was just me sitting there again.
Folks I never seen before stayed at the fire all night, drinking and carousing so loud you'd think Old Mammy would yell at them to shut up. But she didn't and they didn't.
What with the noise outside and the spinning inside my head, I didn't get no sleep at all. Just before dawn, the bandits I used to hang out with returned, their loot under their coats. They skulked by without a "hey" or a "hi"—like they didn't see me. Cause they couldn't.
They couldn't see me.
I spent a long time thinking about that and the ones that could see me. "Shadows," they called us. What did it mean anyway— all this darkness around me? If I wasn't blind, what was I?
Morning came and still I sat by Old Mammy's shack. With daylight, the darkness around me showed up even better. When I looked down at my hands or body or held out my arm, the cloud looked darker than everywhere else. It wasn't my eyes after all. They were right—I looked through a darkness that stuck to me.
I had a whole lot of new questions. Did this-here darkness keep people from seeing me? How could Sammie fall through me, and me fall through Old Mammy? Answers I didn't want waited, but I was bound to stay blind to them long as I could.
Doors opened. Tent flaps flipped up. Women carried slop to the river. Men threw logs on the fire. Fish sizzled.
Behind me, Mammy's door opened. Poking her head out, she sniffed, then smiled—eyes closed, soaking in the scent. "Mmm-MM! Sure do smell good!"
"I don't smell nothing," I muttered.
Her eyes clouded over. She put her hand to her belly and closed the door.
Geraldine's door flew open and her skimpy shape dashed through it. "Who caught fish and didn't tell me?" She thought herself the best fish-fryer around. "Queen of the Fry," I used to call her.
Everybody except me headed to the fire.
You-all don't even know I'm here, I thought.
A shout over by the train tracks. More calls, then a scream. A rush to see what it was. I got up and limped over behind them. The crowd was so thick, I had to stand on my tippy-toes and stretch to see. Up I went, moving above—no, over—them. And then I seen what all the excitement was about.
Jesus. It was me down there on the ground, a big old stab wound under my ribs, blood everywhere, my open eyes looking up at ... at me!
Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy. I floated above, weeping and staring at my dead face down below.
"I was a-looking at the stars ... ," I said, dazed. "Last thing them eyes seen...." I touched the eyes I had now. I couldn't cotton it. "If them's my eyes down there, what am I seeing with now?" I asked. My arms and legs flailed around above the mob. "What are these?" Sailing above the crowd as they carried my body back to the camp, I pointed to the body I wore now and asked, "What is this?"
What am I? is a question I didn't want to ask.
Back at Old Mammy's, I sat down but felt out of place. If I had my own home, I'd go there, I thought. I used to laugh about it with the fellow I bunked with that first year.
"Why do I need a place? I got one with my woman."
"Yep," laughed Joe. "And when you're done with that one, what you gonna do?"
"Find me another," I said. "I got nothing to worry about."
Now I wished I had a home of my own.
"You don't need a home." A little girl sitting next to me jolted me out of my doldrums—pretty little thing, her hair all done up in pigtails.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Jessie who?" When she didn't answer, I looked hard at her. "I don't remember seeing you round here."
"I was here before you."
"What you talking about?" I looked at her real good now— pinafore over an old dress, everything dirty. Couldn't be older than eleven at most. I tried to count back the winters....
"I remember the day you got here."
Pointing to the ground, I asked, "Here?"
"To this-here camp." She smiled. "You were so happy to find a place filled with folk just like you."
This was craziness. "You ain't old enough to remember that."
"Oh, I remember," she smiled. "You wore a dirty old blue shirt, brown pants, and black shoes. And you had a big old straw hat on your head."
I nearly forgot. They gave me them clothes at the nun's house. "How you know that?"
"Seen you come in," she said.
"Honey, you weren't even born then. Your mama tell you that?"
"My mama didn't tell me nothing 'bout it. Seen it myself."
Something else came to my mind. "How ... how come you're talking to me?"
She got up to go. "I ... I thought you wanted company."
"I do!" I took her hand. "Honey-child, you can see me? And hear me?"
"I'm talking to you, ain't I?"
I tightened my grip on her little hand, looking at it. I'm holding her hand! "But honey, how come you can see me and—"
She tried to pull away.
I dropped her hand. "Sorry."
She closed her eyes and passed her hand across her forehead. "I ... I don't feel so good."
I studied her further. "You're the first person I been able to touch since ... since ..."
"Since you died?"
I stood. "You know for sure that I'm dead?"
"Yep," she nodded, then pointed to Old Tom coming our way with Nancy. "That man, he done it."
Flash of Old Tom when he came into his tent unexpected, me and Nancy covering ourselves, her voice cutting through the night. "You supposed to be out looting."
"Guess you thought wrong," he said, and came at me, but I got away.
Now I looked down at this little thing next to me. "How you know all this?"
"Seen it," she answered.
"You seen the fight?"
"Seen him chase and fight and kill you."
"How come you weren't home, asleep in your bed?"
I shook my head. "Your mama let you prowl and spy on people at night?"
"Mama don't know I'm around."
"What? Why not?"
"Cause I'm dead like you."CHAPTER 2
There's a time for me and a time for you and for all God's children.
We watched the others clean up around the fire, then scatter to their homes. A few with nothing better to do stayed to chat.
Got me to thinking. "Say," I said, "you see them folks round the fire last night after everybody went off to sleep?"
She sniffed. "Oh, them? They got nothing better to do."
"Who are they? I never seen them before."
"Oh," she said, "they're sort of like you and me."
"You mean ... they're dead too?"
"Yeah." She thought a moment. "They're more like me than you, though."
I had so many questions. "You talk to them?"
"A little, but they ain't interested in children."
"How you know that?"
"If they liked kids, they'd have some."
"But you could ask them for help."
She turned, her face a blank. "Now how they gonna help me?"
What would make a little thing like this be so empty, like she had no insides?
"I don't know. Maybe they could tell you what to do."
She laughed, without smiling. "What they gonna say? Turn left at the next corner and you'll be home?"
I didn't know what I was talking about. Even if the place looked the same, it was a whole new sit-yation. "So. What are we supposed to do?"
"Do?" She smiled a smile too old for this little girl. "There ain't nothing to do."
"So we just wait?"
"Wait for what? Ain't nothing gonna happen."
"What you mean? Don't they come and, like, take you across or something?"
"Who?" she asked. "Who's gonna do that?"
I looked around, then shrugged. "I don't know. Angels or something. Somebody."
She stood up and stretched. "Nah," she said in the middle of a yawn, then cringed and held her tummy. "Nobody comes here except folks like the ones that stopped by to see you last night. And them folks round the fire. They're here a lot." She waved. "See you later."
Lying back against Mammy's shed, I said, "Think I'll take a little nap."
"Good luck with that." She disappeared down the path and into the woods.
Excerpted from The Ghost Who Would Not Die by Linda Alice Dewey. Copyright © 2008 Linda Alice Dewey. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.