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Lugubrious spanish moss burdens sturdy oaks along red brick sidewalks. The paths run straight, the trail is flat. The grid is broken every few blocks by twenty-two verdant city squares.
Although the city began as one of the oldest colonies in America, it seems to have arrived fully formed in perfect geometric symmetry and architectural harmony. The houses that line the streets were not built, rather they materialized one day on the shores of the Savannah River complete with wrought iron balustrades, lush gardens, crystal chandeliers, ornamental molding, and pretentious doors. We spent the great portion of the day wandering the tree-lined avenues, with no plan or design. Somehow, spontaneity came easily in a place with a rigid map, filled with such meticulously crafted structures.
Savannah boasts that it is the most haunted city in America. We had heard it was essential to attend a “Ghost Tour” while in the city. After thorough research, I selected a company with a reputation for solemn story-telling. No one would launch at us out of the bushes wearing greasepaint and a black robe. When we arrived, at 9:30 PM, we were greeted by a couple from Atlanta and their precocious son. The boy later confided in Emily that his favorite horror movie was “Phantasm.”* “My shoes squeak,” He warned us.
Our tour guide, an enthusiastic Ohio transplant with an encyclopedic knowledge of Savannah history, took us first to one of the most terrifying-looking houses I have ever seen in my life. The thing reminded me of the first lines of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” (reproduced below for your pleasure). A man apparently killed his daughter in the mansion, and today some will glimpse her looking out of the window. The current owner has left it abandoned. A black streak of soot runs along the houses’s wall in the shape of a tornado. At the margin of the dirt, a stain that resembles a screaming human face appeared one day. The boy clutched his mother’s hand, in fright. I dared to peek into the windows and through the open mail slot. Nothing but an old rocking chair with a white sheet flung across it. Water stained walls and a torn mattress on the floor. The house had materialized fully formed, but what else did it bring with it? And from where did it materialize? Another dimension? Hell? And is hell really this nice?
*What a badass kid.
Glorious food provided by lovely B&B hosts: Sherry and brownies!
Opening Lines of “The Haunting of Hill House”: No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
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