Finally, the sunrise. The light awakens me. It permeates the cracks of the blinds. It stabs my blackout curtains with prison shanks. I hear the neighbor's rooster. The birds begin to squawk outside my window. The cardinals peck the fallen holly bush seeds. The morning doves perch the ground around my feeders. Cars zoom by on the road, a road that used to be dirt, rock, and mud. When I was younger, I wanted it paved. Now that I am older, sometimes I regret thinking that. Tractor trailers rumble by and eat at the asphalt. The seasons are changing. I love turning the clock back. I love it being dark at five in the evening. Winter sunsets are more peaceful. Winter campfires breathe life into me. Now that I'm awake, I miss the silence already. The void of nothingness. The shroud that every hallowed eve brings. When everything goes to sleep. When everything hides. When everything goes back to where it came from. Well, almost everything. I sit in a quiet house. I turn on a box fan. The front door pops. It is closed. The chairs at the kitchen table creak. They are pushed under. Invisibles sit down to eat breakfast. I hear footsteps walking on my hardwood floors. I am alone. A tractor passes by on the road. Next follows a combine. I remember when no one drove on the road. Now, it is an interstate highway. The farmers pick their corn. Their machines hold up ten cars behind them. I wonder why I was born here. A pair of hands scrape the attic walls. I ignore it. I hear a blade dragging the hard countertops. These ghosts think they are clever. I know their endgame, the sounds that is. They will not win. You cannot haunt something that haunts himself. They are wasting their time with me. I have voiced this to them, but they do not care, so why should I? They enjoy the company. Me, I exist. There is comfort in isolation. Some people are scared of ghosts. Of shadows. Of themselves. Of the unknown. Of the beyond. Me, I shrug. Me, I roll my eyes. Me, I me. I remind myself of my rules to living. I stick to them. I stray from time to time. This is my plane, not theirs. This is my world. I let them live in it. I am not scared. I am used to these occurrences. I am used to their rattle. Their malfeasance is a petty misdemeanor. They know who I am and respect it. They know their place, as do I. I am their familiar. I am their owner. I am their master. I am their voice. I am their restless diary. Some behave. Others give up and leave. I am a constant babysitter. Death is a part of Southern living. All kinds of death. Normal. Gruesome. Morbid. Family cemeteries litter the rotating fields, a crop of ancient headstones, built on native lands. I see the remnants of an old moonshine still. I walk inside a dilapidated tobacco barn. Life here is being erased, slowly, with the passing of every season. I see old farm equipment aging, rusting, falling apart. Empty stables. Vacant pastures. Broken fences. Mangled chicken wire. Something dark catches the corner of my eye. It moves fast. It dissolves. Its cloak is tattered. It knows I saw it. It wanted me to. Just so I would know it existed. There's more of them at night. That is when they awaken. That is when they come to life. That is when they are better suited to hide. We all come to life when we want to. Some of us never do. Some of us are born ghosts. Some of us pretend to be specters. Find a white sheet and cover yourself, not in a KKK kind of way, but in a Halloween slash ghost kind of way. Cover your soul while you still can. Trees surround my house. In some places, they are thick, so thick that light cannot enter. Briars protect these nests. Devil's walking sticks. I see a beaten trail leading into their realm. I think about walking down it. What else is there to do around here? Drink cheap beer and wear camouflage? I approach their walkway. I see something glowing. I stare even harder. That something stares back with scared eyes. It pierces my soul, only because I allow it. There is hesitation between us. I know what is looking back. The eyes slowly fade and shut. The branches shake. The trees rub together and moan. The wailing passes from sycamore to oak. From pine to gum. From birch to maple. From hickory to dogwood. Nightfall is coming soon. It knows that as do I. I'm not scared, still. If anything, I'm lethargic. Melancholy. Mundanely, I exist. A lady recently passed away. The estate owner asked me to clean out her house. Why me? I know why. Because it is part of the process. Because I am a barrier. Because I am protected. Because I respect these situations. Because I can be trusted. I handle it with grace. Dignity. Honor. Remembrance. It helps me more than I it. She was a devout Catholic, living in a Baptist bloodbath. Every room had a hanging Jesus crucifix. A proud mother Mary standing with arms spread out. Angels with wings in flight. Beautifully colored and decorative rosaries. Scattered bottles of holy water. Ten nativity scenes still in boxes. Her house is, or was, a vampire's nightmare. Her home felt protected. Shielded. Peace floats in the dusty air. A different kind of silence lingers here. The surrounding farm land does not fit the scene. The scenery does not fit the situation. The loneliness of hard living. The land of hypocrites. Is this really God's country? Or is it just another wilderness? They say a prophet is rejected in his homeland. Her house was something more, and I'm the one who was hired to take it apart. Her heart was full of charity. All I can do is sneeze. My time is tangled in this process. I work in a sunken ship. Leaves are falling from the trees. Their stem is but so strong. My bluetooth speaker fills the air with music. I do not know where to begin this endeavor. Creedance Clearwater Revival plays. Hmm, what do I do? The Doors. I chuckle out loud. Otis Redding. I round a couple of mirrored curio cabinets too fast, and I startle myself. Tommy James and the Shondells. She knows I am here to close her book. She has written it perfectly. She allows me this privilege. Elvis Presley. I revere the place she used to call home. Her grandfather clock chimes the hour. It makes me freeze in motion. The Youngbloods. How many times did she listen to the tolling bell? The Zombies. It finally stops. The Beach Boys. I am a stranger here. I am her ghost. I am a visible invisible. Not in this house, but in the region I call home. The windows are open. The cool breeze feels divine. The smell of fall is like ecstasy. The local farmers irrigating the fields, not so much. I feel guilty for un-decorating her house. For boxing away her religious relics. For boxing away her quilts and artwork. For boxing away her life. I take this job seriously. Like disarming a landmine. Like running a table saw. Like bare footing through a patch of sand spurs. A music box starts to sing inside a sealed cardboard box. I look at it and scoff. I did not wind it up. I say out loud, "now, now, I am just a passenger!" The sound speeds up. I say out loud, "not today! Nope! Not doing it!" It slowly stops playing the tune. It becomes sad. I become sad. I regret chastising it. Aretha Franklin plays. I take a deep breath. Percy Sledge. Another tractor passes by on the worn asphalt. Behind it, a beat up farm truck has its hazards on. The thought plagues my brain. Of all places, why was this woman here? It does not add up. Etta James. I continue on with my day. I load the trash bags into the back of my truck. The wind rustles the picked stalks of corn. I stack cardboard boxes inside her den. The air shuffles the curtains. I lock the door on my way out. The breeze rattles the soybeans together. I drive home, windows down. There's a dead opossum in the road. Buzzards are tearing at it and fly off when I get close. Something is coming. I can feel it. I shed my clothes at the back door. I take a shower. I hear a tap coming from the vanity. I ignore it. I see crucifixes everywhere. Mother Mary's. Angels. Enough sterling silverware to kill every werewolf on planet Earth. I watch the day swirl down into the drain. Is this what life is? Is this what life has become? An entire life being boxed away and forgotten? Or sold at a yard sale? I can feel nightfall approaching. There's a vibration in the air. This night is going to be different. I lean against the shower wall. My towel falls off the hook. Something makes a noise in the bedroom. I hear a thud in the attic. Out of nowhere, the tank on the toilet runs water through it. The shower water becomes hotter. I ignore the scolding scald. The lights flicker. The bathroom is foggy like a cemetery in a horror flick. The witching hours start to brew. I leave a couple of blinds open. I pull the curtains. I turn the front and back porch lights on. I watch the outside as it grows darker and darker. I light a couple of candles. I turn on some music. I shake the dusty air. The house continues to throb. Someone sits at the kitchen table. The invisibles are ready to eat dinner, or supper as the South calls it. The floorboards knock. Fingernails prick from inside the walls. Something bumps the doors. Something runs its claws down the sides of the house. I go to one of my blinds. I see nothing but darkness. Southern shadows gothic. Something crawls across the floors and up the walls. It goes from bedroom to bedroom. I see a silhouette dart from the corner of my eye. It disappears. I try to locate it. I give up. For now, it remains a mystery. An unknown that slowly becomes a bore. I turn the air conditioner down. I fix ice water and place it on my nightstand. I shed everything that makes me human. I lay in my bed with the tv on. I prop my head up. The room is dark except for a nightlight. The frequency lulls me. I set a sleep timer. I see something in the corners of my room, in the places where the tv's light cannot touch. It's curling into a ball, moving away from the light's edge. I forgot to close my closet door. It moves back and forth, slightly. The doorknob's bolt taps the latch. I know the airflow of the room is doing this, but all I see is the emptiness behind the cracked openness. I get up and shut it. By morning, I know it will be undone. If I wake up after the tv's sleep timer has gone off, I'll cover my head and leave nothing but my nose outside the sheets. Not because I'm scared. Not because I'm afraid. Not because the dark bothers me. But because I want to Rest In Peace without dying. But because I do not want to be these ghosts yet. But because I have things on my mind. The day is long. So is the night. As sleep drags me to a subconscious grave, I think about the lady's house. The more stuff I box away, the more the shadows start to appear where she used to live. The hanging relics I've taken down, their outline is framed on the painted walls. I'm forcing them into a cardboard darkness. I'm demoting them. I'm making them feel less significant. I'm closing the doors to their museum. I feel like a villain. I feel like a sinner. I feel like a heathen. I feel unclean. I want to get out of the bed, drive over there, and undo my actions. Lightning flashes through the blinds. I wait for the sound. Numerous seconds later, the thunder rumbles. The wind begins to beat against my house. A cold front is coming. God, what have I done? For now, I must rest. I let the shadows enjoy their darkness. Lightning flashes again. The thunder gets closer. The power flickers. The tv turns off. I cover my head with the comforter. I hear the closet door open. The dance begins. It will continue long after the sun returns. I uncover my head. I let the emptiness surround me. I absorb it. I wait for the eyes to reappear. I wait to hear that dreaded rooster crowing. That is, if I can make it through this night, on a land that would rather haunt us than be at peace. Everything is mad here! Everything! Everyone is alone here! Everyone! A cold sleep awaits me, in this foreign land, in the bony clutches of the South. Another tractor will rust away. Another tobacco barn will crumble, or be torn down. Another soul wanders toward God as another soul moves further away, both waiting until they are boxed away forever. The shadows remain even if we do not. The wind will scatter the ashes. Our tears will turn coarse dirt into soft mud. I remember living on a gravel road. Just as it, one day, all of us will be forgotten, and a price tag will be hung on our handle. Where will you go next, O soul? Where will you go? A cardboard coffin? Heaven? Hell? Or will you remain here? Haunted. Waiting to do the haunting. It's macabre! If you are quiet enough, you can hear them. Shh! Listen! Look over there! They are closer than you think.
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