Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mississippi Scaredy Cat

On our second trip to the scary town that was my fearful youth we have to get on I-40, head to Jackson, turn south on Hwy 18 journeying through Medon and Bolivar, take Hwy 125 where we'll flash by Middleton before we cross the state line into Mississippi where the road becomes Hwy 15, and now with my young heart picking up its beat we slow down for Walnut, Falkner, and Tiplersville until we reach the end in Ripley, Mississippi where I lived briefly between kindergarten and 1st grade and the place I would visit every year after moving back to Murfreesboro until the age of 21. Now if that sentence wasn't convoluted enough to scare you away I'll proceed with the tale of the devil's eye.

We were living next to a shoe factory in a clapboard house which was across the street from a few other clapboard houses; paint peeling, screen doors broken, no trees, little grass, lots of red clay, and a junkyard which was next door to the diner my folks were running at the corner of our dead end street and Hwy 15. There was a field beside our house by the shoe factory and it was filled with debris and discharge from the factory. So between this area and the junkyard full of old rusting cars that harbored snakes and rats I chose to spend most of my time in the diner.

I could have my pick of songs on the jukebox or eat my fill of hamburgers and fries. I could also avoid the kids that lived across the street from us. They were evil, mean, and nasty things; a couple of boys, one older than me and one younger, and their sister who was my age who loved to torment me when they weren't too busy tormenting each other. My parents probably worried that I preferred to spend my time in the restaurant around adults instead of playing with those kids, but they never got to see their bad sides.

They liked to throw my toys into the shoe factory field. They liked to spit and curse at me when the grown ups turned their head. If one of them struck me and I dared to fight back they all jumped on me at once. They were straight out of Lord Of The Flies. So I spent as much time away from them as I could even though the promise of gettting to play with one of their new toys, or get free candy was often enough to make me forget about their past transgressions. It was like that with the devil's eye.

They had done something to really make me mad and I had avoided them for weeks. I would ignore them when they invited me over to watch Popeye or come see their new pet dog. But I couldn't ignore them when they said they had seen the devil's eye staring up at them from a hole in the ground beside their house. It couldn't be true. That's what I told them as I crossed the street to their yard. It is so they all sqawked like angry baby parrots.

They took me around to the side of their house which put me on edge. This was one of the places where they could pummel me without their parents seeing. They coaxed me on like a little puppy until I was standing beside a small hole in the dirt. It was almost a perfect circle just big enough to look into with one eye. "That's where the devil lives," they said with what appeared to be sincerity - a new concept for them. They told me to look, but I wasn't going to.

The chants of scaredy cat rang out with sing song repetition, but I wasn't scared of the devil. I was much more scared of them leaping onto my back when I bent down to peer into the hole. The little girl who was my age and usually the most sympathetic of the bunch finally convinced me to do it. I dropped to my knees and stared into the hole. At first I saw nothing. It was just a gray blankness. I started to get up, but the older kid pushed me down. "You've got to give it some time," he said.

A minute maybe passed and then it happened. The inky gray depths began to sparkle slightly. A moment later and a blinking eye was staring up at mine. I didn't know what the word incredulous meant back then, but that word best describes it as long as you ladle on copious amounts of sheer terror. I jumped to my feet and ran out of their yard in such haste I barely heard their laughter and cries of "We told you so."

Do I believe I actually saw the devil's eye? I did then, but the years have a way of rationalizing things. It had to just be groundwater or an old septic tank reflecting my own eye back to me. At first you couldn't see into the hole, but after awhile I grew used to the amount of light and my eye would stare back at me. Except there is the one part that's unexplainable (cue the spooky music) to me and its this: if it was my own eye reflected back at me; how come I saw it blink?

No comments: