I WON AND THE LEGEND LIVES ON…PART 9
I am back and have so much more that I want to share but also other things by the dozens I would like to tell…but one step at a time and I often move a little slow so here I go again…..
I told about the wonderful class that I attended at ASU. At the end of the class we received a notice or invitation to enter a short story in competition. People from all over the nation could enter and 10 to 15 would be chosen. The winners would be allowed to attend as special function there at ASU and part of it included a workshop/critique with Cary Holladay there in person.
My instructor encouraged me to enter. I had never entered any short story or writing competition but did decide to submit one of my stories. When I wrote The Legend Lives On I wanted to write something special that could involve the reader in the story. The instructor said that he loved the story but wanted me to try to re-write it and explain it in a more traditional way so it would not confuse the reader. He was afraid as I had written it might be something most readers would miss or not fully understand.
Most readers? He might be right. I think he might underestimate people but did as he asked. I did not like it that way so when I entered the competition I submitted my version and thought that the chances I would win would be small considering how many people might enter.
I was shocked and surprised when I received the notice that I had won and was invited to attend the event. I actually won.
I arrived there early and as the other people began to appear I was amazed that I was the only one from here and some had paid transportation and expenses to stay and attend from all over the country.
The excitement and anticipation grew as the time neared for the event to begin. We were led to the area and beautiful refreshments were served. The whole thing seemed unreal to me. ASU had done a wonderful job of creating a welcoming and warm atmosphere for the writers.
Cary Holladay was delightful, inspirational, and so talented. I can not say enough to describe what an honor it was to participate and meet such a person. She has been so encouraging to me and even kept in contact and answered any questions I have had to this day. She commented on my story to the whole group and loved my version. People like here not only write wonderful stories and books, teach others to do and be more, but are an inspiration in themselves.
Halloween will soon be here and I want to take the time to share this story. It is not exactly a Halloween story but if you think of a haunted church…..I hope you like it and can not wait to hear what you think. Here it is….The Legend Lives On………
* The Legend Lives On *
The historic church sat among giant, old oak trees, towering proudly with their twisted and gnarled limbs swaying in the breeze. These trees were some of the oldest in the area and still stood proudly in the decades of passing time. Storm clouds had gathered making the evening hour gloomy, with thunder rumbling in the distance. The wind swept currents of leaves, fluttering and whispering along the stone paths that wound between the old church and behind, to the historic cemetery nestled amid the growth of bushes and more trees.
As far as the eye could see in all directions that secluded spot was surrounded by highways, buildings, and more people. This one small area stood protected from the growth of civilization near
It had been built long before St. Louis Mo. was a city, and still stood stout of timber with every stone in place surviving the ravages of time. Saint Louis
Darkness was not far away as a small group of children gathered on the stone steps leading into the church. A fourteen year old girl named Jenny, glowed with enthusiasm as she found the door unlocked, and no one but them in sight. She paused before entering, as if considering some troubling thought, before she spoke softly to the other children gathered closely on the weathered steps.
“I know you all know the real story of this old church,…. but every time I come here,….. it comes to my mind so strongly,….. I can just see it, ….as if it were happening
all over again….. I can’t imagine the horror of what it must have been like, way back then. The modern church never admits to what really happened, because they’re afraid of scaring away tourist and making their church look bad. You’ll never hear them mention or even admit it was possible, they had a haunted church, but considering what happened on this very spot,……. who knows what could be?” The other four children listened intently, and moved to stand even closer. Silence prevailed as each of them gazed at the dark wooden beams and stones of the walls before them. One small voice of the ten year old brother of Jenny, tentatively found the courage
to speak, barely above a whisper.
“How come I never heard anything about the old church being haunted or bad things happening here? You’re making it all up, just to scare us.” He was more than a head shorter than Jenny and had his hair cut short for the summer with ears sticking out on each side of his round little face.
Jenny glared at him and shook her head. “Of course you’ve never heard anything about it. You’ve always been such a baby; Mom and Dad probably figure you’d keep them up all night having night mares, if you heard even part of it. I know you’ve grown
up a lot now, so we won’t tell them I let you know about it or came with us here to see it.
After all, you’re my brother and we’re all good friends that grew up together. I can’t believe you guys didn’t know. Grown ups never tell us the good stuff. This old church is in books and a historical registry, so it‘s easier for them to just ignore it all and pretend it never really happened. They even named this silly town with some Indian name.
Can you believe that, after what happened to begin with?
Cahokia’s an Indian word.”
Terry and Sherry stepped forward together, with heads held high. They wore matching yellow shorts and tops, with matching hair styles, matching shoes, and matching mirror images of one another. The twelve year old twins even had the habit of finishing each other’s sentences. Only family members of the girls, and close friends could tell them apart.
“We’re not afraid of any old ghost….”Sherry boldly stated.
“….or afraid to go in this old church.” Both of them nodded their heads in agreement as first one, then the other finished what they had to say. Thunder rumbled in the distance with a low resounding growl, a little closer then it had before. All heads turned, looking at the slowly churning and ominous clouds building in the evening sky. They shivered slightly in the damp and chilly breeze as it rustled and whispered through the trees and fallen leaves. A whispering sound was heard as the breeze swept the densely vegetated area. It wasn’t a sound they heard often growing up in the crowded
subdivisions of houses near by, with one tree per yard if they were lucky.
Kathy and Jenny had been school mates and friends for as long as either of them
could remember. Kathy moved from the side of the group to stand next to Jenny. A basic part of the relationship between Kathy and Jenny, involved a constant rivalry, making it impossible for Kathy to allow Jenny to know something she had not known first.
“I think I do remember something about this old church….. It‘s been so long ago, I just can’t quite remember all of the details.” Kathy wanted to make sure the whole group knew there was nothing Jenny knew, that she didn‘t know.
Another clap of thunder startled the group, as Jenny slowly pulled the heavy wooden door open on the rusted thick metal hinges and brackets. The door made an eerie creaking sound and hollow groan.
“We’d better go inside before it starts to get dark, or we won’t be able to see at all. There’s no electric lights inside,….. and I want to be able to see in every corner when I go in. …..That is, if you are all sure we want to do this?…… I can tell you all the details inside, for the ones who don’t know what really happen, on this very spot so long ago and Kathy can fill in on any thing I forget or leave out,….. when we get inside.”
Slowly the five children entered the dark and shadowy interior of the old building. The moment they entered, the door swung closed behind them. Four of the five children stared in apprehension as if unseen hands had pushed it closed. The dank musky smell of
the ancient structure was thick in the air. The entry had a low wooden ceiling of big heavy timbers, making them feel close and confined. The ceiling of the entry was actually the floor of the narrow choir loft above. The darkened heavy wooden timbers that supported the choir loft framed the walkway entering the worship area.
Taking slow and cautious steps they moved as a group into the interior of the small historic church. Jenny stopped in the lead, and cleared her throat as she gazed warily all around at the rows of pews on each side of the isle, behind them, up into the shadowed recesses of the choir loft, and the narrow steep steps that led up into the recess above nestled under the main ceiling of wooden timbers high above the group.
Slowly she turned facing the altar. Alcoves flanked each side of the altar. A sculptured figure of Mother Mary stood in the one on the left, staring blankly with outstretched hands, dressed in a flowing blue robe looking worn and faded with small chipped areas about the edges. The other alcove held rows of small candles each held in ruby colored glasses. An arched doorway was nestled behind the alcove with Mother Mary that exited from the side of the altar area leading to the priest’s area. It was only a niche in size that held a small desk, chair, three shelves mounted to the wall over the desk and a row of pegs to hang coats or robes nest to the arched doorway. The small desk stood with its roll top closed and locked. A tiny door from the priest’s area exited the back, into the cemetery they had seen behind the church as they had walked up earlier.
Each of the children peered intently, following Jenny’s gaze of their surroundings as they stood in the center of the rows of pews in the church. What light there was filtered in multicolored rays through stained glass windows in recessed areas of the thick walls. Tall narrow windows fashioned scenes in vibrant colors. Seen in the ruby, emerald, golden and azure streams of light, small leather bound books sat neatly in their places with their fragile yellowed pages still intact, resting neatly in the wooden racks on the back of each pew.
As Jenny began to speak, her voice had a strange hollow sound under the high ceiling and thick walls surrounding them in the dim and shadowy interior. It was not quite an echo, but held a timber not normally heard. “I almost feel like I’ve walked into the past,……. and am waiting for them to come back here, where they belong….. It was so long ago, but this is the way it happened…….
A small group of French Settlers viewed the peaceful little valley beside the
Mississippi River, and determined they could build homes for them and their generations to come. The area abounded with trees and natural resources to provide all they needed. They began to carve out an area in a well chosen spot, this very spot we stand on now, using the huge trees cleared to build sturdy homes for the winter to come. The determination of the group was unparalleled in history.
They built a church with large hand cut timbers, fashioned to endure through
generations of worship, they imagined to be their future…… If only they could have known what that future would be.
“We studied about all of this in school. Most of them were fur traders and stuff like that. They were French.” Kathy proudly related the facts she knew. “Our books say they got along great with the Indians.”
Jenny smiled and agreed with Kathy as she silently wished Kathy would stay out of her story. She tried not to let her irritation show at the interruption as she responded. “That’s very true. Most of the settlers and the French settlements got along fine, but what the books don’t tell are the rare times small bands of renegade and hostile Indians passed through and what really happened then. History books don’t tell everything. There is a lot the books leave out…..Like what happened right here.”
Jenny’s little brother had big blue eyes that seemed even larger than usual. He had been silently listening as he moved closer to Jenny. “Go on and tell us what happened.”
“All right. This is how it was. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, when they had
gathered from all around the area, where each family had settled and built their own homes. The richest family sat in the first pew and was proud of the mansion they built not far from the church and all of the land they claimed and owned. The old mansion still stands down the road we walked down to get here, and they say it’s just as haunted or more than this old church. There are a lot of stories about them, and all that went on there with the old family and the way they treated their slaves, and everything else for all the years after, that went on in that place. The foundation is still in the ground behind the mansion where the slave quarters were, but that building fell down a long time ago.
Sherry interrupted Jenny in telling the story, and asked a question that as usual was finished by her sister Terry. “This isn’t way down South……..”
“So how come they had slaves?” As Terry finished the question, the whole group waited for Jenny to explain.
“This area was known as a border state. A lot of people didn’t want slavery but a lot did. They even held slave auctions on the old court house steps. They also had an underground railway to help slaves escape to farther up North. That’s a whole other story. This bunch here, had brought their slaves with them. If you’ve got servants that don’t get paid, then that makes them slaves in my book. Do you want to know about this old church, or not?”
Jenny’s little brother Dave wanted to hear what he had been to little to know before. He was always being told he was too little for something. “This place gives me the creeps, but I want to know. Tell us.”
“All right. I’ll tell it….. They thought they had it made. They never saw it coming. All the people from miles around had gathered together to worship. A lot of the people there lived farther out and only saw each other on Sundays… They never saw it
coming….. The doors flew open…… The windows were forced open…… A tide of rampaging Indians swarmed the church, just as the choir was softly singing a special song, featuring a duet of the only twin girls in the settlement.”
Jenny paused and stared blankly at the rafters in the high ceiling above, inhaling the dank, musty smell of the past. No sounds issued from the others in the group, but the twins gazed into the choir loft, as if they could see the twins of long ago. A low rolling growl of thunder from the storm approaching seemed to rumble and echo in the church.
“There were twins that lived that long ago…” Sherry half asked
“That sang in the choir?” Terry finished asking
Jenny turned her attention to Sherry and Terry. “They not only sang in the choir, but sang the special duet that started each church service. They were two of the three children of that rich family that lived down the road. Their Mother, Father, little brother and Grandparents sat right there in that first pew. The twins were trapped up there in that choir loft you can see above us.” Jenny stood pointing to the empty choir loft shrouded in deep shadows above them as she continued her story.
“The screams echoed from the roof top, as the Indians swiftly massacred the entire congregation. The people lay dieing and bloody as friends, family, and people they loved, lay gruesomely dieing along side them, in the church they had lovingly built. One of the twins screamed as she tried to fight before being thrown from the choir loft, and the other died quickly as the savages tore through the people. None of them even had a chance. Even the priest was slaughtered right here on the altar. They say he fell to his knees, held up his hands and begged the savages. He pleaded but it did no good, because here is the very spot he died,…… none the less.”
Jenny advanced to the front of the church and reached out toward the beautiful altar, edged in bronze with a large life like image of Christ on the cross behind. It had blood shown flowing from the side, and on his head, and hands and feet. The Christ like image hung staring blankly toward the children. The others gathered around her silently looking and listening, with every fiber of their being. The darkness and shadows
had increased with the dimming light outside. Some areas inside were almost totally dark in shadows. The air hung heavy with the odor of the ancient place, as well as with the tension and fear of the children as they visualized the past.
She continued telling her story. “Word got out about what had happened to the settlement, and all the people. You can look in the history books to see how things went,…. but I can tell you what really happened,….. right here in this very spot where we stand….. The main church was so grieved by what the Indians had done, that they buried the old priest right here under this very altar as a testament to the sacrifice he had made.”……In some ways it feels like they are all still here waiting to start their church service, in their church…..caught in time and waiting……It feels like this is their place and they are still here………..waiting.
Several of the children stepped back away from the altar with looks of surprise and shock. The twins looked back down the isle to the shadowy area of the door and then above the door to the empty choir loft. Jenny walked forward and tightly pressed her fingers tips to the altar and closed her eyes.
“The body of the long dead priest lays right below where I stand.” The strengthening wind outside howled and wined. A swift gust rattled the windows and made whispering and wining sounds of tress and limbs outside. Jenny spoke almost in a whispered voice, as if in reverence. “If you listen closely, you can almost hear the soft high voices of the twins singing the last song, of their young lives. They stood side by side there above us. They say if you press your fingers to the altar like this, you can some times feel the heartbeat of the dead priest. Try it, unless you’re afraid to.”
Kathy boldly stepped up and pressed her finger tips tightly to the altar, as did one by one, each of the others. A look of shock and surprise blazed across each young face as they too felt the beating of a heart. The lightening cracked above the tiny church as if it were going to split the sky and open the heavens. Thunder roared, and the flash of light lit the dim recesses in the tiny church flashing in vibrant colors through the stained glass windows. A stream of crimson color flooded the alter area in it’s momentary glow.
Fear filled their faces as the beating heart pulsed in their finger tips. Dark shadows surrounded. The air felt too thick to breath. Four of the five children pulled their hands back from the altar, and turned running down the narrow isle between the mutely empty rows of pews. Jenny removed her hands from the altar last and followed, walking swiftly as her brother and friends ran in near panic out the door and down the road to their homes. Huge rain drops were beginning to fall, and the night would be remembered by each and every one of them, for as long as they lived.
Thirty-five years had past since that time so long ago, with the small group of friends gathered in a time of their youth. Kathy and Jenny happened to reunite at their high school class reunion and reminisced about the old days, and all of the things done and shared. Kathy had invited Jenny to come to her home and meet her family.
Kathy’s grown daughter came into the room with her own daughter. The little girl reminded Jenny of how her friend Kathy had looked in their youth. The little girl had the same dark hair and russet brown eyes Kathy had had in her younger days. Kathy lovingly put her arm around the child as she ran to her grandmother smiling with a dimple on each side of her rosy cheeks.
The little girl looked at her mother and eagerly asked, “Is this the lady that was with grandma when they felt the dead priest’s heart, beating through the altar? A bunch of us at school were talking about the history of the old church the other day.”
Kathy lovingly put her arm a little tighter around her grand-daughter and smiled as she thought back through the years. “It sure is, and it’s a day I’ll always remember. The legend of the old church….” She paused deep in thought. “To this very day the church denies it ever happened, but everyone who grows up here knows the legend.”
Jenny was smiling at all three of them in secrete amusement all her own. She had her own memories of that time. She found humor that the legend lives on. Jenny’s
memory of the time at the haunted church varied from the memory of the others.
Since I’ve told you the story of all that happened back then, I’ll stop here to tell you a little about myself. I was a mischievous child, in the days long ago. I had learned something new to me, and believed you should try to use the new things you learn. I was also aggravated with my little brother always tagging along everywhere I wanted to go. My best friend had a way of always trying to be the best, and in the process could be demeaning and even snotty at times. Did I mention, I can at times have a warped sense of humor? I learned if you press you finger tips tightly to any hard surface you will feel your own heartbeat. There should be some use for new things learned.
I can understand the children believing the ghosts of the past, on an evening in a spooky old building, thunder rolling and all. I can’t believe that three generations later the legend of the massacre at the old church is still told and believed. I was just being ornery and having fun, seeing if I could scare the willies out of the other kids. Everyone loves a good ghost story. I could think up some good ones. I think the heartbeat with the finger tips pressed tightly against the brass edge of the altar really helped. I could try to tell Kathy the truth, but she would never believe me………. after all of these years, she still knows everything.
My name is Jenny.
Linda (Williams, Brown) Nance
I hope that you liked it. I will be back soon to share some more things old and new.