HAPPY HALLOWEEN POU!
We continue our look at African-American Ghost Stories.
From The Moonlit Road:
Like many other Southern folktales, the “plat-eye” stories were brought over by African-Americans who had been sold into slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are especially prevalent in the coastal Gullah communities of Georgia and South Carolina. In these tales, the plat-eye is typically an evil spirit who has not been properly buried, and now stands guard over buried treasure deep in a forest or swamp.
Plat-eye stories became especially prevalent after the Civil War, when rumors thrived that plantation owners had buried their Confederate money to keep it away from the Union army. In some of these stories, a slave was beheaded and buried with the treasure. His restless spirit would then become the guardian of the loot.
The plat-eye originally had one eye that dangled from the center of its forehead. But in later stories, the plat-eye took on many different forms, such as the strange creatures in our version.
An excerpt from “The Plat-Eye”:
Two young girls ignore their Grandma’s warning about the monster of the Gongetcha Woods. Written by Veroncia Byrd.
Nellie-Belle and Jean LaRue were sisters. Besides being sisters, they were the best of friends. Now each girl had other friends, but they enjoyed each other’s company more than anyone else.
One of their favorite things to do during the hot South Georgia summer months, was to go swimming down at the old swimming hole and pick scuppernongs along the way. For those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up ’round here, scuppernongs are large yellowish-green seeded grapes that grow down here in the South.
Well, it happened on one of those hot, and humid days that the girls could not cool off for anything. They tried going down to the well and splashing their faces with cool water, eating little chips of ice, and they even tried standing in front of the small oscillating fan that their Mama kept in the living room window – but nothing worked. That was when they both decided that the only way to cool off was to go down to the swimming hole.
That’s when their adventure began…
Nellie, who was the oldest, put on her pink swimsuit with purple polka dots, and Jean (the more practical of the two), her basic blue with red trim. The girls quietly closed the door to their bedroom, tiptoed to the kitchen, got their pails from the shelf under the sink and oh-so quietly made their way to the back door. You see, they were trying to stay as quiet as possible so as not to awaken Grandma Matilda, who had a room in the back of the house.
Just as Jean put her hand on the door knob and turned it, “Jean, Nellie — Y’all trying to sneak past me? Come here, I got something to tell you ‘fore you go.” The girls looked at each other, and with a sigh of disgust, they shuffled towards Gra’ma Matilda’s room; for they know that they were in store for the usual lecture. “Y’all stick together. Don’t wander too far off the road, you might get lost,” she’d say. Or, “Don’t let darkness catch you on that old dirt road, make sure you’re back before nightfall.” Or her all time favorite, “stay out of the Gongetcha Woods at all costs. Strange things are known to happen in those woods.”
But on this particular day, Ma’Tilda (that’s what the girls called her) seemed even more eager to give the girls their usual lecture. She sat them both down on her bed and looked them straight in the eyes and said the strangest thing, “If you hear a chain rattling on a tree nearby, be careful ’cause it might just be a plat-eye.” Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out two smelly little pieces of burlap, each tied into a tight knot. She handed each girl a bundle and told them, “Keep this with you at all times today. Make sure it’s always in your pocket, no matter what happens.”
The girls took the bags, out of respect for their grandma, gave her a kiss and bounded out of the room. But before they could clear the doorway she blurted out “……and make sure you stay out of those Gongetcha Woods! Strange things have been known to happen there.”
Once the girls were out of Ma ‘Tilda’s earshot, they laughed and giggled about the silly things their Grandma had hold them. They thought it was awful strange, her telling them to carry those smelly little bags in their pockets, and rambling on and on about chains, trees, plat-eyes (whatever they were) and the Gongetcha Woods; but they dismissed it as the babbling of a half senile old woman. They grabbed their towels, dropped the burlap bags on the table and headed for the ever beckoning coolness of the swimming hole.
As they walked along the winding dusty road toward the swimming hole, they picked scuppernongs, admired all the beautiful wildflowers, and talked about how much fun they were going to have at the church picnic on Sunday. The 20-minute walk seemed to take no time at all; and before they know it they were there….. THE SWIMMING HOLE!!!!! They dropped their towels and pails and jumped straight into the water, what they had been waiting for all day. WHEW!!! They were finally cool.
The girls splashed around and played in the water for hours. They played so much that they were exhausted. So they got out of the water, ate a few scuppernongs, talked a bit, and before they know it, they had both drifted off to sleep.
Jean was the first to awaken. Once she realized where she was, she looked around and saw the sun was setting and the warm summer day was giving way to the coolness of evening. She quickly awakened her sister, they grabbed their towels and pails and started back down the ever-darkening, winding dirt road.
They had walked about five minutes when Nellie remembered what Ma ‘Tilda had said, “Don’t let darkness catch you on that dirt road. Make sure you’re home before nightfall.” There was no way they would make it back before nightfall if they kept on the dirt road. Nellie had an idea, “Jean, let’s cut through these woods. That way we’ll be sure to get home way before dark, so we won’t have to listen to one of Ma’ Tilda’s silly old lectures.”
Like I told you, Jean was the more practical of the two, “We can’t go through those woods, we might get lost. Besides those are the Gongetcha Woods that Ma’Tilda warned us not to go into.”
“Don’t be silly,” Nellie protested. “Ma’Tilda just made that up to scare us. Ain’t no such thing as the Gongetcha Woods. Come on girl!”
Well, with nothing more than getting home before dark on their minds, they started through the woods. At first, the path through the trees was quite visible; but the deeper they got into the woods, the denser the leaves on the trees became, making it harder to see where they were going. Jean was really having second thoughts about the short cut. She wanted to turn around and go back down the dirt road. But once again, Nellie quickly convinced her little sister that through the woods was indeed the fastest way.
The girls made their way as best they could, through the barrage of tangled weeds and vines, towards what they thought was home. They were doing just fine until they heard an unusual noise coming from behind them, or was it in front of them? They really couldn’t tell. They stopped, and so did the noise. So they continued on. But there it was again. “What is that? I’ve never heard anything like that before.” Nellie whispered.
And as if to answer her question, a large black cat jumped out right in front of them. This put both of their minds at ease, for there was nothing at all scary about a cat. Nellie and Jean walked up to the cat to pet him when they let out a loud scream. For you see, the closer they got to the cat they saw that it had two front legs, but it had four back legs and his eyes glowed in the dark. What in the world?!
Read the rest of The Plat-Eye here.