Where You Can Find It
Sinister Tales, vol. 4.2, print magazine, by Darkness Productions, 2009.
I started working on a themed anthology ten years ago, but put it aside. The theme was “Southern Ghost Stories.” Having lived in Virginia and West Virginia for ten years, I had heard a ton of scary, backwoods tales, and I wanted to bring that feeling to an anthology.
I wrote “Ardie Sue” in 2008. It required a ton of research. The town in which Ardie lives is Money, Mississippi. Back in 1955, a boy named Emmett Till came to Money to visit relatives. Being from the big city of Chicago, he wasn’t versed in the behavioral restrictions of the South, and he made the mistake of joking with a white woman. A group of white men snatched him, did unspeakable things to him, and then dumped him in the Tallahatchie River.
The more I researched, the more I was horrified.
This story could have gone a very different direction. I chose not to fully explore lynching. After all, it’s a ghost story, not just a tale of torture and murder. I focused instead on a young black woman, named Ardie Sue, and her family.
I chose to place the story in the 1970s for flavor, but also because racial tensions were still prevalent back then.
Eighteen-year-old Ardie has numerous problems, including the fact that she’s got a crush on a white boy. The energy of this relationship is drawing ghosts from the late 1800s as well as criticism from his family and hers.
Everything comes to a stormy conclusion in which Ardie must make a drastic decision in order to save her sister’s life.
He took his time before he began, eyelids closed, nodding as if he could hear the words forming in his head. When he spoke, his voice had a low timbre, and the words rolled from his tongue, as if he’d spoken them a thousand times.
“It started so long ago that only the eldest grand-folks remember the days. The last of the generals from both sides of the Civil War were old and dying off, one right after the other. Times were hard, back then. There weren’t no money in anybody’s pockets. People were stealing bread just to get by—whites and blacks both.
“Folks were poor and gettin’ poorer. They were angry at something they couldn’t do nothin’ about, so they started turning on each other. Back then, it took nothin’ more than a bad-cast eye to get a white man angry, and they were runnin’ in packs like starvin’ wolves. They’d descend on a poor black soul and have him torn to shreds in no time at all.”
Sissy bounced a little. “Tell us about the beautiful voodoo priestess.”