“Have ya heard it, Mama?”
“The sound of tha’ dead lady a screamin’ at night. The one they killed way down in th’ holler, a long time ago. They say you can hear her scream at the top uh her lungs. Relivin’ th’ moment th’ knife went in her back.”
“Who been fillin’ yo head full ah tha’ nonsense? Tellin’ you those spook tales? You ought not be a listenin’ to ’em! Folks like to tell spooky stories. That’s all dey is. Jus’ stories. Dey ain’t real. Now git on out thar and do yo’ chores ‘fore suppah time, ya hear?”
“Yes’m. I didn’t know if it wuz true or not. I know I never hear…”
“Go on! Git on out yonder and do those chores. They ain’t gonna do themselves. You still got ya school lessons to attend to, after suppah.”
Little Mary Hogan ran outside to take care of her daily homestead assignments. In the back of her mind, she still wondered how much of the gruesome tale was true. Her Mama had a way of shielding her from the darker aspects of life. The harder she tried to convince her that it was a completely made up story, the more Mary figured there must be some truth to it. Her Mama would first deny something. Then she would try to evade talking about it. When she did that, Mary could tell.
“I wonder why someone would make up such a terrible thing, if it wasn’t true?”; She remarked within earshot. At first, Mama pretended she didn’t even hear the question. That was a pretty good sign. Then she acted aggravated that Mary dared to bring it up again. Eventually she drew a full breath and prepared to have a serious talk with her curious daughter.
“About twenty years ago there was a man and his wife that lived deep in th’ holler. He was very cruel to her all th’ time. He drank moonshine from dawn ta dusk an beat her black an blue. One day she’d had enough an decided to fight him back. When he wasn’t lookin’, she walloped him with a cast iron skillet. He was so drunk he didn’t even feel it. Instead, he grabbed up a butcher knife and stabbed her dead as 4 o’clock. Once he sobered up the next mornin’ and saw what he done, he turned himself in to the sheriff. He’s still in prison to this day and damn lucky he didn’t get a rope from her grievin’ Pa. Now, drop this, ya hear?”
Mary nodded slowly. Finally hearing the truth from her Mama was startling but also a relief. At last she saw her as grown-up enough to be completely truthful with. While she felt very bad for the dead lady, it made her feel good to be confided in about adult matters. Regardless, it failed to explain the source of the vocal screams in the woods at night. There had to be something that inspired the dark legend. She elected to inquire one more time about it while the sensitive topic was still fresh in the air. It was always easier when the dialogue was open.
“So, if there are no ghosts, then who’s that a screamin’ at night? I’ve hear it, Mama. I heard blood curdlin’ screams just a couple nights ago.”
Mama looked pained again. Her baby was growin’ up before her eyes but she wasn’t quite ready to have ‘the talk’ with her just yet. She had hoped for at least one more summer of innocence before opening her eyes to the wicked ways of the world. Judging from the direction of the conversation, Mary was going to be relentless until the full truth came out. Mama took another deep breath.
“Have ya eva’ heard them ol’ Tom cats a fighin’ at night, child? They’s a fightin’ ta see who gets to make kittens with the female cats in the neighborhood. They snarl and hiss at each other while they decide who’s the meanest Tomcat around. Once they duke it out, the winning male an’ female try to make kittens; and that gets very noisy.”
Mary objected immediately. “I’ve heard the cats a fightin’ in the past Mama but that is totally different from what I heard a few nights ago. This was no female cat, Mama. It was definitely a woman screaming at the top o’ her lungs. It sounded just like she was a being stabbed with a long knife. I swear.”
“Dear heart. Sometimes people also make noises when they is a makin’ babies. It was me ya heard a couple nights ago. I was screamin’ but yo daddy wasn’t hurtin’ me, I promise.”
Mama smiled in embarrassment and left the room before Mary had time to realize what she really meant. She also made a mental note to close her windows the next time she was being ‘stabbed’.