AS A CHILD, I SPENT MORE TIME WITH Hannah and Stella than I did with my parents. With that in mind, I decided to take a second look at both of them. Three things stand out in my mind about them.
First, I don’t remember my mother ever visiting the Williams house. Although we sometimes spent entire days visiting other people in Lathan and Tensaw, I never saw her visit them. Thinking back, I find this strange considering, with the exception of Ms. Liza, Helen Williams was the only other woman nearby. But if she had something against her, she never let on, to us, and she always seemed to welcome Stella and Hannah’s visits. I never heard her speak a harsh word to either one of them.
Secondly, Hannah was two years younger than me and played mostly with my sister, Precious. Hannah was as sweet and innocent as the virgin snow. She was the spitting imagine of her mother. She was short, plump, and happy. Looking at a young Hannah, one could tell what had drawn Sam to her mother, Helen.
And finally there was Stella. She and I were close friends and always hung out together until the day she and I were playing in the woods and came across some pretty colored crystals buried in the red Alabama clay between our two houses.
We found some blue rocks, red rocks, brownish yellow rocks, and some very pretty dark green rocks. They were pretty like the marbles you bought at the store, except they had funny shapes to them. Some were long and jagged, others were flat, and some were round. We played with the pretty rocks for a while and when we were finished, we agreed to leave them there so we could play with them later.
But we I went back the next day, eager to play with the pretty rocks, they were gone.
A few weeks later, the Williams began building a new house. During the building of their new house, Stella and I did not play together. In fact, I did not see her again, even at school, until after the new house was built.
Sam Williams, Stella’s father, had walked down the road to our place and had invited my mother and father to come up and see the new house. I remember he was all smiles and my mother had this perplexed look on her face. I could almost hear her thinking, “How could this man afford to build a new house?”
A few days after our tour of the new house, Hannah, Stella, and their brother Robert came down to our house to play.
What can I say about Robert Williams? He was there but not there. For me, he didn’t exist outside of Hannah and Stella. He was younger, and shorter than me, and he dogged at my heels all the time. He was one of those boys who’s always there, but you never notice him until you’ve exhausted all your other resources. At the time, I know Robert had a crush on me. And that made him perfect as my whipping boy to vent my anger about the new house and the disappearance of the pretty rocks.
One day, all of us, Hannah, Stella, Robert, my sister Precious, and I, were all in the front yard playing on a tree that grew right outside my parent’s bedroom window.
I climbed up on the tree and Robert followed me up. The other kids standing on the ground below the tree, started singing. “Sis and Robert sitting in the tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g.”
To Robert’s shock and surprise, I deliberately pushed him out of the tree. I jumped down, almost landing on top of him, and started pounding him with my fists until blood was running down his forehead. After I’d finished beating him, I took great personal delight in kicking that fine white sand that surrounded out house all over him as he sat there crying. Poor thing, he never raised a hand to stop me, or even asked me why I was beating him with everything I had in me.
I was mad, totally. But not about being teased by the other kids for kissing Robert. I was mad about the pretty rocks. Somehow, I just knew Stella had given the pretty rocks to her day and they had built the new house with the money they’d made selling them.
I felt betrayed because I had trusted her, and she had cheated me. I could have taken my share of the pretty rocks and given them to my dad and we could have had a new house too.
But here’s the thing that made me take an extra hard look at the Williams family. Every night for months after the incident with Robert, I was haunted, in my dreams, by the image of him sitting on the ground crying covered with dirt. I would hear a voice calling my name softly from the direction of the tree outside my parent’s bedroom.
I never remembered actually getting out of bed, but in the dream, I went into my parent’s room. The room was dark and my parents were gone. At first I was confused. What was I doing in here? I knew better. I was not allowed to play in mom and dad’s room when they were not home. And then I remembered – there was someone calling me — calling me from the tree.
Curious about who was in our front yard this late at night, I went over to the window which was covered by sheer pink voile curtains, to take a peek outside. A gentle breeze lifts the curtains, and they play gently against my bare legs, wrapping themselves around me – loosely at first and then tighter and tighter to the point where I’m struggling to free myself.
When I finally succeed in getting free, I find myself facing windows which have taken on an eerie blackness void of any reflection. A blackness that seemed to extend out beyond the window and into the yard.
I try looking through the blackness, intent on seeing who’s outside in the yard, I can hear “The Voices’ on the other side of the darkness calling to me. “Sis, come out and play.” I wake up in a sweat, shivering with fear.
In another version of the dream, I remember being provoked into climbing all the way to the top of the tree, which stood a good ten feet or higher and jumping. Mercifully, I woke up just before hitting the ground.
In version number three of the dream, Robert is sitting on the ground covered with dirt and crying softly. But when he looks up and sees me standing in the tree, his face changes into that of a sinister clown, with the features drawn in blood.
In my efforts at getting away from him, I start climbing the tree again. Right before my eyes, Robert undergoes a spectacular change. Gone is the innocent young boy in love. He is replaced by a lethal menacing creature with long sharp teeth. The creature surges up the tree behind me, trying with all its strength to grab my leg and pull me out of the tree. I climb and climb until there is nowhere else to go but out on a thin branch. I hold onto the branch for dear life while Robert claws away at my ankles. I remember screaming for my parents because I know if Robert succeeds in pulling me out of the tree, he’s going to kill me.
Yet, oddly enough, I don’t think the Williams were the source of the Shadow Creature or the dreams. But I do think they allowed themselves to be used as a focal point for suspicion and doubt.
(Never, ever doubt that regular people will allow themselves to be used by these ‘beings’ in return for their own safety, a glimpse at what the future holds, or for monetary gain.)