Who is the crazy local gal wandering around a Louisiana gas station asking customers about her missing mother? Find out in this Louisiana ghost story from Sabrina Alipate.
Tilly couldn’t stand the heat. She cranked up the air-conditioning in the car and prayed for the remainder of the day to go by faster. The sooner she was out of Houma, Louisiana the better. She’d only agreed to bring her mother to her kin’s party out of guilt; her mother hadn’t been back to Louisiana in over a decade. Tilly was in her thirties and she’d never stepped foot in Houma. Her roots were in New York and no matter what her mother tried to tell her, she would never consider the south part of her pedigree. Tilly had been guilted into coming down south, but it was her mother’s fault if she now regretted asking her daughter to bring her.
“Did you have to be so awful?” her mother asked.
“They just weren’t used to hearing the truth. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t speaking the truth, mama,” Tilly said.
The argument in question was about the family get-together. Some of the family members, though overjoyed to see Eloise back home, didn’t take a liking to Tilly. They found her standoffish and just a wee bit full of herself. Tilly did nothing to change their minds. Before the birthday cake had even been cut she was dragging her mother out of the hall towards the car. No one stopped her. They just ran to kiss Eloise and tell her how nice it was to see her, no one said goodbye to Tilly.
“What else were we going to do there, mama?”
“It just would have been nice if I had gotten more time with them,” her mother replied.
“I’ll tell you what, our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. Think about who from that God-awful party you actually liked spending time with and we can invite them to breakfast at the hotel tomorrow morning before we leave.”
“Do you mean it?” Her mother smiled at her from the passenger seat.
“Absolutely. So long as they keep the ignorant-speak to a minimum, I don’t mind treating a half dozen country kin to the buffet at the hotel.” Tilly laughed.
“You’re not a mean girl, but you talk like it a sure lot. You’re the perfect woman, you just have to work on your mouth and that temper of yours,” her mother said.
“Mama, where exactly is the turn off to your place?” Tilly asked completely ignoring her mother’s advice.
Eloise took notice of the road they were on. It seemed like they had been driving on route 113 for far too long. “It was always just five minutes from town. You drive so fast I can’t tell where we are and there’s so much more here than there was when I was here last.”
“Basically, we’re lost. I’m pulling off on the next road for directions.”
“Be careful, Tilly. Some of these windy roads seem short, but they can go on forever and I don’t want us to get out too far.”
Tilly took a turn off of route 113 and headed down a broken road that probably hadn’t been repaved, ever. The rickety road led to a small gas station and small shop that had no right existing. Both the shop and the two small gas pumps looked like they would fall down if it got too windy.
“Don’t worry, mama. There’s a gas station up ahead. I’m sure they’ll know how to speak English.”
Tilly pulled up to the pump and honked her horn. No one came out, so she rightly assumed it was a self-serve type of establishment.
“Mama, I’m going inside. Would you like anything?”
“A coke, please.”
“You got it. I’m going to leave the car running so the air-conditioning will stay on.”
“Thank you, dear.” Her mother smiled at her and Tilly remembered in that moment why she had taken the time to come down south. She made a mental note to apologize for her behavior at the party when she returned to the car.
Walking into the store felt like walking onto a movie set. Everything around Tilly looked like a real store, but it was so stereotypically a small gas station store in the Deep South that she wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d learned it had been built only the day before for a film production. As she approached the counter she was given honest proof that it was indeed authentic. There was a table in the corner with a plate of uncooked chicken parts. Tilly couldn’t decipher what part of the chicken it was, but the plate was attracting flies and her interest in directions to her mother’s childhood home was lessening with every minute she had to stand in that store.
“You need something?” A large black woman asked Tilly. She now stood behind the cash register and was looking at Tilly like she was taking up space she shouldn’t. Tilly was a tall woman herself and in Manhattan she always felt like she was the bigger one of her group of girlfriends. Here in her mother’s town, she sometimes felt downright waifish.
“Yes, directions and two cold sodas and I’ll be out of your hair. I’m looking for this address.” Tilly handed her a piece of paper with the address of her mother’s childhood home.
“That’s just down the road here. You’re not far at all.”
“What came into town today? Cocoa butter perfection!” A loud voice boomed from the back of the store. A man in his late sixties wearing a comical, multicolored business suit stood against the wall. He had a striking face; his smooth skin was as dark as midnight, in contrast to his green eyes and white beard. He looked at Tilly the way that old men that should know better looked at beautiful women. Tilly rolled her eyes and paid for her sodas.
“Wow, more of the local culture. Today’s just been filled with quaint little reasons for one to never want to come back to this place.” Tilly did her best to give him one of her coldest smiles. The kind of smile that told the person it was directed at that they better tread lightly.
“Miss, you just might find something you love around here and stay forever.”
“Leave her alone, she didn’t mean nothing, she’s just getting directions.” The woman behind the cash register stuck up for her.
Tilly didn’t need anyone to fight her battles and she sure didn’t need help cutting down some slick-talking senior citizen in a dinky little gas station quick mart. “Sir, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.”
“Secret? I love secrets. Tell it.” Even though he hadn’t moved, it seemed to Tilly that he was somehow closer to her than he was when they first started talking. She wavered for a moment, and then thought it must be a trick of the lighting.
“The secret is that I would usually be riled being verbally accosted in public by someone such as yourself, but after the slew of people I’ve come in contact with today, some allegedly even sharing blood with me, I understand that your mannerisms and habits are no fault of your own.” Tilly gestured around the store. “You’re just a product of what you have around you and well, how can you help it?” Tilly finished her talking down with another cold smile and walked towards the exit. She turned back to the cashier. “Thank you for the directions.”
The man walked over to the small table by the cash register and sat down. He reached for a knife and fork then proceeded to slice off a piece of the uncooked meat, popping it into his mouth. Tilly’s stomach churned and she held both sodas in one hand as she reached for the door.
“You’re going to say sorry before you walk out that door, little girl.” He had his back to her so she couldn’t see if he was joking. The tone in his voice told her that he was serious, but how could he be? “Pride is an awful thing, it leads to awful things. Especially in those as young as yourself.” He continued to eat his plate of food with his back to her.
Tilly had not been spoken to in that manner since she was a little girl and she was pretty sure she hadn’t stood for it back then either. “Mister, if you’re looking for an apology, you’ll be waiting here a long time.” Tilly wanted to think of a better comeback, but she was actually starting to get angry and she didn’t want to spend another minute in that store. She turned to the car to see her mother waiting patiently. Eloise caught her daughter looking and she smiled and waved. Tilly smiled at her mother, threw one last cold stare at the back of the man at the table and walked out of the shop.
Tilly got back into the car and slammed the door shut. She placed both drinks in the cup holders and put her seatbelt on. “You would not believe what kind of moron I ran into in there, mama.” Tilly turned to see that the passenger seat was empty. “Mama?” She looked around and her mother was nowhere to be seen. Tilly hurried out of the car and headed back into the shop.
The old man was gone and the shop was empty. The cashier walked out from the back of the shop. “Can I help you?”
“Did my mother come in here? Is your bathroom in the back?”
“Sorry, ma’am, no one’s come in here.”
“That’s so weird. She was sitting in the car just a moment ago.” Tilly looked over to the small table. It had been cleaned. “Where’s the old man?”
“He’s already gone.” The cashier made to leave.
“I’m sorry, we’re not done here. My mother is missing and if you can’t help me, would you be so kind as to call the authorities? Something very weird is going on here.” A sinking feeling began to form in Tilly’s heart. Her mother was missing and she was in unfamiliar territory. On top of being angry and tired, she had to admit that she was a little bit scared. It was the kind of scared where she was starting to think that her mother’s disappearance had something to do with her.
The authorities arrived and they were of no help to Tilly. No one had seen her arrive with anyone and the cashier hadn’t known that her mother was in the car. As for the old man that had been bothering Tilly in the store? The cashier quickly stated that he was a regular customer and that he had left before Tilly had walked in asking about her mother.
The authorities were able to contact members of Tilly’s family. What they learned changed the missing persons investigation.
“Ma’am, can we have a word with you?” One of the officers asked Tilly.
“Just a sec.” Tilly hung up her cellphone and walked over to the police officer. They were still standing in the gas station shop. “Is there any progress?”
“Ma’am, we just spoke with your aunt.” The officer was nervous, as if he didn’t know what to say. “Well, she informed us that they were all with you earlier today.”
“Obviously. I attended a birthday party with my mother earlier today. We were just making a quick stop to see her childhood home before we returned to the hotel. We’ve gone over this already.” Tilly was growing impatient.
“Ma’am, your kin are saying that you all buried your mother today. At her childhood home in fact.” The officer couldn’t look her in the eye. The cashier crossed and uncrossed her arms clearly taken aback by what she’d overheard.
“What did you just say?” Tilly was too overwhelmed to be angry.
There was no more exchange of words. The officers helped Tilly into the police car and they took a drive to Eloise’s childhood home. Tilly stumbled out of the car onto the front yard of a home she had never been before. She fell to her knees in front of a new tombstone. The tombstone had her mother’s name on it. The date of death was just a week earlier than the present day. Tilly couldn’t process what she was seeing. She just began to cry.
The officers couldn’t rightly leave her at the house. It was a shell of a home that looked as if no one had lived in it in over a decade. It wasn’t peculiar for townspeople to choose to be buried on their own property, but it was a little curious that an out-of-towner would choose to do so on a property that had clearly been neglected for some time. It was no one’s business but their own, so the officers kept their opinions to themselves. The only problem they faced was the crying woman before them. When they were finally able to get her off the ground they drove her back to her car.
Arriving at the gas station acted as a splash of cold water in Tilly’s face. She grabbed for her purse. “Officer, there’s something going on here and I know someone that can shed some light on the situation.” Tilly dialed her assistant’s number back in New York. “My assistant will be able to prove to you that there’s a conspiracy going on here. Pam, it’s me, look on my calendar and tell me what you have blocked off for me this week.”
Tilly waited for her assistant’s answer. “Oh my, Tilly, I’m so sorry, we didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what? Just tell me what you blocked off on my calendar!”
Tilly’s assistant was sniffling on the other end. “Tilly, it just reads, mama’s burial.”
Tilly didn’t answer her; she simply hung up the phone.
“We understand how trying these times are, ma’am.” The officer tried to console her. They dropped Tilly off at her car and left. The gas station and shop were closed at this point.
Tilly went back to her hotel and just sat there staring at the ceiling. There was no one to help her. Her relatives were no help. Her coworkers in New York had the wrong idea. The only person she had to count on was her mother and she was gone. There was a tombstone with her mother’s name on it in front of her childhood home. “What’s going on here? This can’t be.”
It was nearly midnight when Tilly got into her rental car and drove to her mother’s childhood home. The only light in the front yard was from her headlights. There was a shovel leaning against the side of the house that she grabbed. “I know the truth and this is not the truth.”
Tilly spent the next two hours digging up the fresh grave. Her clothes were covered in dirt and she had at least half a dozen welts and splinters in the palms of her hands. Six feet down and Tilly was vindicated, but also more afraid than she’d ever been in her life. The grave was empty, no coffin, and no body. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make her believe that her mother was dead.
“I told you you were going to have to apologize to me before you left.” The man in the suit was standing by the car. He smiled a devilish smile and waited for her reply.
“Where is my mama?”
“Are you going to apologize?” He moved forward and the headlights of the car cast his shadow across Eloise’s empty grave.
Tilly was tired. It had been a long day filled with bad memories she wanted to put behind her. She wanted her mother back and she wanted to get the hell out of this town. She also realized she wasn’t dealing with your average crazy person.
She remembered his deep green eyes, but tonight they were different. She couldn’t tell if it was the trick of the headlights, but his eyes were a bright cat-like yellow. She didn’t feel safe standing there, but she was filled with anger.
“I’m going to get that apology now and this will all be over.” Tilly shivered. It was as if he had been standing right behind her, whispering the words into her ear. He stood at the same spot by the car she first saw him, even though moments earlier it had seemed like he had been standing right next to her. “Your apology.”
Tilly was trying to put that temper of hers in check. He moved closer to her, his smile growing with every step he took.
Tilly understood that he was an evil, manipulative trickster and she was angry. The humiliation, uncertainty, and pain she had dealt with that day were more than she had experienced in her entire life.
When the man in the suit was within arm’s reach, before she could make sense of the situation, the shovel still in her hand swung out and hit him on the side of the head. Blood began to pour from the wound and the man fell to his knees. His yellow eyes flashed bright amber, and then they dimmed to a light green before turning onyx black. The man stared up at her with a look of complete shock.
Tilly finally realized what she had done. She dropped the shovel and rushed over to the man. “Tell me where to find my mother. Please!”
The man, now crumpled on the floor, looked up at her and tried to form words, but then he rested his head down and said nothing more.
Tilly sat there on the floor by her car for almost an hour unmoving. She was in a town she didn’t know with her mother’s empty grave and a dead body. There was no way the situation could be worse.
Not wanting to spend the rest of her life behind bars, Tilly made use of the empty grave. When she was finished, she sat on the ground, exhausted. She knew she had to get out of there soon before the battery of her car died. Her head was throbbing as well. Since it was close to dawn, she might as well stay a while; maybe her mother would show up. Tilly turned off the car and headed into the house.
The next morning she walked to the gas station to ask questions. Wearing the same clothes she had the day before, minus shoes, Tilly didn’t look her usual self. The cashier still didn’t have any answers, but she also looked at Tilly differently. Tilly didn’t notice, her main priority was finding her mother and getting her home, what people thought about her didn’t matter. Tilly followed this same regime for a few days, which turned into weeks, which stretched even longer.
Every morning she would get up and walk to the gas station to ask questions about her mother. Sometimes, she even ordered a plate of food, usually some undercooked dish, and had lunch at the shop.
On one ordinary afternoon, a couple showed up at the gas station lost and needing directions.
“Ma’am, would you happen to know how to get to this section of Houma from 113?” The man asked Tilly, pointing at a map of Louisiana he had in his hand.
Tilly was sipping on a soda, sitting on the front porch of the shop. “Have you seen my mama, mister?” She didn’t even look at the man when she asked.
The man walked past her into the shop where he got directions from the cashier. “There’s a strange woman sitting in the front of your shop,” he informed the cashier.
The man exited the shop with the cashier behind him. “Sorry, sir, don’t mind her. She’s just a local girl that’s just a bit off.”
“Don’t go disrespecting me now!” Tilly yelled at both them.
“Tilly, go home now. There’s nothing for you here,” the cashier said.
The man quickly got into his car after thanking the cashier for the directions. Tilly watched him drive away and she cried when she saw her mama sitting in the backseat smiling and waving at her. It was the same for her every time. Every car that drove into the gas station would have her mother sitting inside, smiling and waving. Most of the time Tilly was harmless, but sometimes the authorities would be called to drag her back to her house.
Tilly never got into trouble for her antics. The locals took care of each other in this town. Tilly’s story spread across the entire parish and some say the entire state. She was the Houma girl not quite right in the head who thought she saw her long dead mother sitting in every car that stopped at the gas station not far from her house. Some folks would even swear that they sometimes saw Eloise sitting in a few cars travelling through town too. No one would mention it to Tilly; there was no need to upset her needlessly. Everyone in town knew she had a temper that seemed to light up her cat-like yellow eyes. No, it was best just to leave her be.