Ghost story from Athens, Georgia of a mysterious cemetery and (of course) a Georgia bulldog. Written by K.E. Schmidt.
“Why…” I groan with a futile pound on the dashboard. My fickle Honda has refused to start again, and on Halloween of all nights. It is my first year in Athens and all I’ve heard about is this awesome “Wild Rumpus” event, and I can’t even make it down town. I don’t feel like I know anyone well enough to call for a ride, and I live just decently on the outskirts to make it a nuisance to come fetch me. With a disappointed sigh, I step from the car and stare out at the misty autumn night.
Might as well take a walk. Maybe there will be some cute trick or treaters I can admire. I trudge up the walk and back into my house for a quick shoe change. A soft canine whine greets me. “Sorry, pal, not this time” I mutter as I pass UGLA, nestled in his crate. Acquired recently after the move from New Orleans, I’d named my bulldog with the convergence of old and new towns in mind. He’s a good dog, but tonight I opt to avoid the chance he might try to break away and chase after a princess-clad toddler. I head out to ramble and my thoughts do the same. I feel a twinge of detachment as I compare the atmosphere of Athens with the rich culture and folklore of Louisiana. I miss the odd stories, voodoo rumors, and mysterious sightings. All this college town has is a “haunted” sorority, and even that is said to bring marital fortune. Some story.
Suddenly, I see an impossible figure: UGLA. How could the dog have managed to get out of the house, or even out of his crate? And where is he going? I look ahead to his large shadow and catch an eerie gleam of his eyes through the darkness. I take off after the dog, who ignores my shouts and trots ahead. I break into a jog as I approach the woods behind our neighborhood, and the bulldog glances back with an uncharacteristic howl as he bounds into the trees. I can’t help but think, as I trudge over the uneven dirt, how very much like a graveyard this back lot seems. But I focus on UGLA.
The trees rustle to my left and I veer swiftly, shocked when I see not the dog but a man, ornately dressed in antebellum garb, his head topped with a velvet hat trimmed smartly in scarlet. I marvel at the detail of his costume as I gaze back at the African-American gentleman, wondering if he is fresh from a party or maybe a product of my imagination.
“Best be careful in these parts, unless you aim to help the cause,” drawls the man. Something seems strange. The hairs at the back of my scalp begin to prickle. I manage to stutter, “the….cause?” It seems the man hardly blinks as he answers: “Those that lie here struggle to properly rest. Ain’t no coincidence all them raised dirt patches. Full of souls forgotten, deprived of respectable burial. Too long they’ve been silent.” He almost chuckles with a wry grin. “Someone’s gotta speak up. Spread the word out there. Get some right titles here. Otherwise, well…anything might happen.” My mouth has suddenly turned to cotton, but I nod as agreeably as possible, hoping I can convince the stranger that I will heed his warning. I glance at the ground, half-expecting a skeletal hand to emerge. What should I say now? Could it truly be an old forgotten burial site in need of discovery? Is this guy crazy? I force my head back up to ask more.
He is gone. I take several steps in each direction, straining my eyes for a glimpse of the red hat. Not a sign. With a dismaying shudder I realize that I have also lost track of UGLA. I know that I will only get disoriented if I attempt to traipse deeper into the trees. Biting back tears, I head back toward the dimly glowing street lights, trying to console myself with hope of a morning search or some neighborhood posters.
It hasn’t been my ideal Halloween, and it’s with a heavy heart that I creak open the door and shuffle through my kitchen, prepared to face the empty crate. But the crate isn’t empty. There, snoozing as pleasantly as you please, is my dog. And perched above is a scarlet-trimmed, debonair velvet hat.