The thing about Virginia is that it’s old. There is history here, more than in most places, and that history isn’t confined to places like Williamsburg and Jamestown. It spreads westward too, over the piedmont and the mountains, right to my proverbial backyard.
Some say that our history is still alive in one way or another. I guess the story Jeff Jackson told me a few weeks ago could be classified as “another.”
Jeff and his father, Larry, are hunters. Big time hunters. The sort of Virginia boys who elevate it from sport to near religion.
Always looking for an edge as to where the best game is, Larry heard through the redneck grapevine there was a section of the mountains full of the biggest bucks anyone had ever seen. There was, however, one small problem—those woods were haunted.
Superstitions run deep in the mountains here. Larry and Jeff knew that. They also knew many of those superstitions were tales spun by moonshiners to keep prying eyes away from their stills. Besides, both of them had been in those woods before, and both had never seen anything other than squirrels, snakes, and the decaying foundation of an ancient cabin.
So they went. Hiked in one Saturday morning just before sunup. Jeff left his father under a stout oak on top of a ridge and then made his way another mile down the mountain. Walkie-talkies would keep them in contact, the woods would keep them at peace, and the prospect of a trophy buck would keep them watchful.
Larry sipped coffee while the mountain threw off its dark blanket and began the morning. The rising sun brought the woods to life slow and easy. Birds sang and critters scurried for breakfast. The cool wind was enough to keep him alert but not cold.
And then it all stopped. Everything. The birds, the critters, the wind. Life one moment, not-life the next.
Larry exchanged his thermos for his rifle, thinking that maybe the sudden stop in activity meant a bear or mountain lion was making its way through the area. But he heard and saw nothing.
Then from the corner of his eye Larry saw movement through the trees. He peeked from behind the oak and fingered the trigger.
Then he went numb.
There, no more than twenty yards away, was a woman. Not a big deal, usually. Plenty of women hiked the mountains. But two things set this particular woman apart from the rest. One was that she was wearing a wedding dress. The other was that there was empty space from her waist down.
Larry couldn’t move. Couldn’t talk, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t breathe. All he could do was stare as the legless bride floated past him and disappeared into the woods.
The silence remained behind like a whoosh of air after a car has passed. Then a cardinal sang from far away, a signal that all was safe. Other birds joined in. Critters went back to scurrying. The breeze returned.
And Larry discovered he could talk again.
“GIT UP HERE BOY NOW!!” he screamed into the radio.
Jeff, one mile down the ridge, had been oblivious to everything that had happened. All he knew was that his father was screaming for help, which to him meant Larry had either been shot or was in the process of being eaten.
“What’s wrong?!” he said through the radio. “DAD? WHAT’S WRO—”
“—Git. HERE. NOW!!”
He found Larry still peering from behind that oak tree. All his father would say was, “We gotta get the heck outta here, boy.”
A year has passed. Larry’s spent the majority of that time obsessed with what he saw. He’s researched and read, spoken with writers and professors. All to find some sense of what happened. He thinks he has.
According to Larry, the decaying foundation he and Jeff found was once the home of the Walker family in the late 1700s. Father, mother, son, and a daughter named Abigail, who just so happened to be hopelessly in love and engaged. But war came to the colonies. Abigail’s love joined Washington’s army. He never returned.
Larry’s convinced it was Abigail he saw that day, destined to forever roam the mountains in search of the man she lost and to be dressed for a wedding she’ll never have. There are some who snicker when he says that. And there are more than some who think that rather than stumbling upon a ghost, Larry stumbled upon a still and got sauced.
Me, I’m not so sure. I think Larry just might be telling the truth. Because there is ecstasy in finding true love, and there is torment in losing it.