Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins

She didn’t want to confess to her grandchildren that her house was actually haunted, but things were starting to get out of control. She, therefore, invited them over to spend the night again tonight so she could tell them the God’s honest truth

Last week, they were all bundled up in a pillow fort as high as the living room ceiling. They were all laughing and having fun until they all heard a sharp, hardnosed cackle from outside the living room window, and then the fort ripped open from the top down.

This scared them so much that they almost didn’t want to come back, but they still loved their grandmother too much to refuse her invitation.

Tonight is the night, the grandmother reasoned within herself, as the children built another pillow fort around her, that these babies learn about our curse.

“You see, kids,” she started, “my papa wasn’t exactly a pillar of society.” One of the little ones asked why society needed a pillow, and an older one snarked back by hitting the first child with a pillow. Grandmother snapped her fingers, shushed them both, and continued with her story. “He was the best and only blacksmith in Beauregard County, but he was an awful drunk.”

She then had to pause to explain what “an awful drunk” meant, but only because her teetotaling daughter-in-law refused to let the kids know anything about alcohol. The grandmother didn’t think the kids, no matter how small they were, needed to be shielded from the truth, and they thankfully understood how dangerous such intoxication could be. Believing, then, that she had successfully deterred them from imbibing until at least their legal age, she continued her tale by introducing the figure that haunted them presently.

“Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins,” she sighed as the sunset beamed its way into the house through the oakwood muntins. She briefly paused in tremulous thought before continuing. People around town said she was a witch, and she didn’t give them any reason not to believe it.”

“She almost always stayed in her two-story Victorian house with all the windows boarded twice over, even in the summer before we had air conditioning. And whenever she did come out, she emerged from her porch in a heavy black dress with dusty sleeves. She would scrounge around the square, digging through the trash cans and waste piles, looking for Lord knows what, and then scurry back home before the sun went down.”

She noticed the kids glance momentarily out the window at the setting sun, probably wondering what was wrong with this woman (Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins, not the grandmother, of course).

“Well, one afternoon,” she continued, “Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins came into my papa’s shop; one of the legs on her cast iron Dutch oven had chipped off, and…well, she needed that night for something.” She felt the need to explain to the kids that Dutch ovens are only used with the coals from a fire that had already been burning for a while, but she was getting to the good part, so she pressed on.

“Papa took the pot right then and there and got to work because he didn’t want her to be in his shop any longer than necessary. The only problem, though, was that Papa had already been drinking that morning, and he was already in rare form, so as he rushed around his shop with the pot in his hands, he accidentally tripped over a wrench that he had left in the floor from another job.”

“The pot flew out of his hands and landed right on the nose of his anvil, which caused it to crack even more.” She could see that the kids were biting their nails at this moment. Being the great storyteller that she was, she did not want to let them down now.

“Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins let out a sharp, hardnosed cackle and cursed my papa while he was still laying on the ground, saying that she would never forgive him and he and his family would never forget her.”

The children stirred on the floor now mesmerized by their grandmother’s horrific yarn.

“Now, I don’t know if this part is true or not, but Papa said that she then started whispering some foreign tongue, and the broken pot, clear over on the other side of the shop, levitated over him to get back to her. He said it even smelled like sulfur as it floated by him. She then took her pot and the lid and left him where he lay.” Her own heart raced then, because, by this time, it was completely black outside and in the house, except for the pale orange hall light.

“So build your fort, children, and take comfort in it, because tonight, Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins will probably return.”

The grandmother then got up from her chair, walked down the hall and into her room, and closed the door behind her. But not before the children heard that familiar sharp, hardnosed cackle from outside.

This story has been edited from the original first published in the October 21, 2015 edition of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. You can read that version by clicking here.

My Month at Regent

“Instructions for living life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver

Last month, I attended Regent University’s three-week theatre residency program. Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM was the Acting class, and Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM was the Directing class. I was one of eight students in the program, and we are all stuck together during those three weeks. The training was intense – at times, abrasive and even sharpening – but looking back on it now, I am so glad I went.

The brightest point for me was getting to meet the professors. Both were (and still are) working professionals in the field, and both have let their love for God instruct their paths. April Poland (Acting) has been a professional actor in Seattle since 2003 and has somehow found the time to teach theatre at the College of William and Mary during the academic year in addition to teaching at Regent for the summer.

BUT! There’s also Dr. Gillette Elvgren, Jr. (Directing), who has been doing his playwright and directing across the world for the past thirty years, and even though he’s technically retired from teaching full-time, he still makes time to help out Regent whenever he’s called upon. It was a blessing to experiment under their tutelage, and I’m thankful for them.

First day of class, I thought April was a student, and then this five-foot-something ball of fire starts stretching and warming up. She began each class with a round of warm-ups; everything from stretching the facial muscles and vocal chords to rolling down the spine. April’s mission then was to get us to understand the difference between “action” and “tactics” and “being present in the moment” and “remembering to take time to be astonished in those moments” and that one of the harshest and cruelest things an actor can do to an audience is to expect them to overlook his or her not being in that moment.

To be honest, I think a lot of her words went over my head while I was there, but I think that now – since I’m a couple of weeks removed from the whole thing – it’s all starting to click. Then again, I can say that sitting down, but I won’t know until I get back up and start practicing what she preached. I want to play.

(One thing I think I’ve realized about myself during this month is that whenever I “learn” something new, I have to play it out without being enraptured within a flux in order to fully grasp it. Sixteen-week courses being crunched down into three-week courses – for me, at least – creates a flux. It’s an intense pressure…like the middle part of an hourglass – a bottleneck, if you will – and, again, for me, it’s difficult to soak in the knowledge without it being distorted by the time constraint.

BUT! That’s just me. Not making excuses, just giving the reason.)

TBB - Directing

Gil began each class with a Bible reading and a prayer. Then, it’s off on the Gil Train. Careful now, though: if you ain’t in the right car, you’re gonna get steamrolled. For my personal example, I thought I had a good concept for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Well, it may have been decent enough for the scene I was assigned, but it would have not nor would it have ever been good for the rest of the play. Gil quickly told me to nix it and come up with something else. At the time, it hurt, yes, but I knew that Gil knew better than I did, so I trusted in him, and I actually came up with something that I personally think was better – more workable, more playable.

Gil’s got a certain quality, though, for encouraging what works and dousing what doesn’t. And whenever he saw something that did work on the whole but still needed some tinkering, he would gracefully explain what did work and why, then exclaim “BUT!”, and then proceed to mold and craft and elevate the scenes to new places. He’s an older gentleman, but that didn’t stop the gleam in his eye and the fire within him when he saw a good idea that needing prodding or a bad idea that needed quenching – when he saw something that “really cooked” and something that…well, didn’t.

Second best part was getting to know the classmates. Like I said earlier, there were only eight of us students in the program, and we all spent a lot of time together – class time during the day and self-disciplined rehearsal at night. Some I had already known (kinda-sorta) through the online classes I took in the Spring, and some I had met for the first time while there. For the ones I already *knew* from the online courses, it was nice to finally put a living face and a beating heart to those entities behind the discussion board posts.

And these fellow students hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. A stage director and a collegiate technical director came from Mississippi, a high school theatre teacher of twenty years came from Georgia, a recently made high school theatre teacher and a professional Michael Chekhov actor came from Florida, another high-school-age theatre teacher came all the way from Arizona, and a practitioner fresh out of Regent’s undergrad program. We were all strangers in the beginning, and now…well, we’re all Facebook friends…BUT! I know what while we were there, we were a family, and it was so refreshing to have all of them there.

To say that the whole experience was anything shy of a blessing would be a lie. I know I consider myself blessed and encouraged and even provoked to use these new storytelling skills and start implementing them whenever I can. And no, I still don’t know what form that will take, but I do know – now, with certainty – that I am closer to meeting that goal because of my month at Regent.

This is an image of a graveyard with a blue tint.

Hold Your Breath

Old Lady Dour was reputedly known as a poor, begging recluse who only appeared at nighttime, and even then only when the moon was out. Whenever she made her rare ingressions, she donned an outfit of tattered and torn black clothing. Her eyes were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

“…and I’m telling you,” Dougie bravely affronted as he and April approached the cemetery gate, “I bet I can sit on her grave for half an hour and not run away.”

“Just make sure you hold your breath when you do,” April meekly reminded him, “so you don’t take her with you.” She was alluding to the belief that if one breathes while nearby a freshly dug and recently occupied grave, one could accidentally inhale a restless spirit that hadn’t yet accepted death.

On this night, Dougie was there at the city graveyard to challenge that superstition as well as show April how brave he was; what better way for Dougie to prove himself to April than to fight off any evil spirits that would try to possess him.

Dougie took the first step inside the hallowed space, but April wouldn’t move. Dougie then reached back and offered her his hand. She hesitated for a brief moment, and then at last reciprocated his grip. To him, her hand was soft and warm, and he felt lucky enough to catch her eyes at the same time her eyes caught his. She then joined Dougie inside, and the couple set off into the night.

The cemetery looked sullen enough. Old and new headstones for the dead glistened in the moon’s pallid hue. Dougie felt a reverent fear as the two of them tepidly trod over granite and grass. Autumn’s leaves crunched underfoot as the two made their way through the nocturnal necropolis to find Old Lady Dour’s grave – wherever it was.

“Do you even know what her headstone looks like?” April asked.

“Not really,” Dougie honestly replied. “I’m surprised she even had enough money for a real headstone.”

They looked and looked, but they found nothing. Neither one of them thought to bring a flashlight, and even with the moon giving all the light it could, it was still hard reading the names on all the different grave markers.

After half an hour or so of bending over at the right angle only to find the wrong names, they agreed that they needed a break. Dougie found an old, smooth tree stump and laid his jacket on it for April to sit, and she gladly accepted his chivalrous gesture.

Dougie stepped back to give April her space, and it was then when he realized that the earth around the stump was really soft, as if it had been freshly dug. A tremor in his blood began to race through him. He slowly crept around to the other side of the stump and froze as he saw the name DOUR carved into the bark.

He couldn’t blink as he then saw the apparition of Old Lady Dour herself hovering over April, her lithium eyes piercing the black shrouds that fluttered around her. April then, too, realized that the stump on which she was sitting was the “headstone” they had been looking for.

“Hold your breath,” Dougie managed to mutter before following his own advice. The ghost remained over April and the tree stump as Dougie’s cheeks inflated with the expired breath that desperately needed to release and replenish itself. He felt a heaviness on his chest, and he began losing his focus on reality as he thought he saw the spirit get ever closer to April…

…then Dougie fainted to the ground.

He woke up a few minutes later, still a little dizzy from holding his breath for that long. Still on the ground, he quickly patted himself all around to make sure nothing about him had changed. Dougie then let out a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been possessed.

Wanting to leave, he got up and quickly grabbed April’s hand just as she grabbed his before, but he stopped walking and his heart sank when he felt that her hand was no longer soft and warm like it was before; it had turned cold and despondent – even lifeless. He lifted his head to look into April’s eyes only to find that they weren’t April’s eyes anymore; instead, they were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

The Gray Lady

“Dave, are you up there?” Katie called as she opened the front door to the house. The lights in the house were a sharp contrast to the nighttime atmosphere outside.

The couple had bought the house just a few months earlier, and they were still getting acquainted with it and the town. Katie had a day job as a clerk in a dress store on the square, and her husband Dave was a counselor and youth minister at one of the churches in town. She usually came home first, but occasionally he would be in the attic shuffling some boxes around. They had a relatively small amount of items from their previous quarters, but the attic of this new house was so small that it was already almost full with them.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a second,” a familiar voice from the ceiling replied.

Katie walked into the kitchen and set her things down on the table. She turned around and started walking toward the refrigerator to relieve a day long hunger, but stopped when she heard Dave enter the kitchen. He placed a musty old wooden jewelry box beside her black leather purse.

“Okay,” Dave said. “Open it.”

Katie opened it and found a circular golden locket with the image of a bird engraved on the top and a keyhole on the right side. “Oh, wow,” she said after a few seconds of gazing at it silently. “Where did you get this?”

“I found it in the attic,” Dave answered. “It must have belonged to the lady before us, some widow. She probably lost it and eventually forgot about it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Katie said as she took the locket out of the box and proceeded to fasten the golden chain around her neck.

“I thought you’d like it,” Dave said smoothly.

Suddenly, the lights in the house flickered and then shut off completely, turning everything black. Katie heard footsteps, a drawer open, and then she was blinded by a flashlight.

“Don’t worry,” Dave said, “I’ll go to the garage and check the fuse box.” After he stopped talking, the two both turned to the staircase, where they heard a horrible screeching sound. Dave shined the light at the stairs, and they both gasped as they saw an old lady.

The old lady had messy white hair that settled around her neck. Everything else about her was gray, except her angry eyes, which were more like white circles with little, black dots for pupils. She wore a tattered shawl that came down to where her knees should have been, but she didn’t have any. No knees, no legs, nothing below the frazzled ends of her shawl. She hovered silently still at the bottom of the staircase for a moment, and then she lifted a withered right arm and pointed a decrepit finger at the couple, still in the kitchen.

Dave got in front of Katie, protecting her. “What do you want?”

The spirit slowly moved through the living room, finger still outstretched toward the couple. As it got closer, however, her focus became clearer; she was pointing at Katie, who was now clinging to Dave’s arm.

“Why do you want her?” Dave asked, shaking with nervous apprehension.

The spirit didn’t respond. It moved closer to Katie, and the couple then realized that it was pointing at the locket. Katie quickly handed it to the figure. The woman took it and as soon as the locket touched her hand, she started to transform. Waves of light pulsated from the locket, and starting with the hand, the woman started to radiate a beautiful gold aura. Her decayed finger became healthy, and the health soon took over the arm, the shoulders, the head, and in seconds she was a kind-looking older woman with beautiful black and gray hair flowing in the air. She opened the locket with a key and showed the inside to Katie, who began to cry. After this, the woman vanished and the lights came back on.

“What did she show you?” Dave asked.

“It was a picture,” Katie weakly replied, “of her and her husband.”

This is an image of a typical suburban crossroads. It is a bright, sunny day, and a traffic light hangs over the intersection.

The Parable of the Content Man

Once upon a time, there were three men.

The first man was rich man. He only ate the richest food and wore the richest clothes, and he lived in the richest mansion in the richest neighborhood just outside the city. He often asked, “God? Who is he, and why do I need him?” He lived luxuriously, and he wanted to have it every other way.

The second man was a poor man. He only ate the poorest food and the wore the poorest clothes, and he lived in the poorest cardboard shack in the poorest neighborhood just inside the city. He often asked, “God? Where are you, and why don’t you help me?” He lived desperately, and he wanted to have it any other way.

The third man was a content man. He only ate the food and wore the clothes that the Lord had provided for him, and he lived in a modest house that the Lord had provided for him. He often asked…no, he prayed, “God, I love you, and I thank you. Work on me, and work through me.” He lived contently, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

On one day, the rich man was coming down the steps of one of the finer restaurants in the city; he had food in his belly and more food in his hands.

When the poor man saw the rich man, he ran to the rich man’s feet. “Please sir,” he said as he reached out with his dirty hands, “you have enough food in your hands for plenty of people. Will you help me?”

“No,” said the rich man as he looked down his nose at the poor man. “If you want food, you have to work it, you lazy bum.” At this, the poor man sat and wept. The rich man then got in his car and sped away.

But as the rich man pulled away, another car pulled to a stop; it was the content man. He got out of his car, ran to the poor man, and explained that he had just been shopping for groceries for himself. He then invited the poor man to his house so he could feed him. The poor man so moved that he couldn’t say, “No,” so he said, “Yes,” and the two men went on their way.

On another day, the rich man was coming down the steps of one of the finer clothiers in the city; he was wearing a new suit, and he had more clothes in his hands.

When the poor man saw the rich man, he ran to the rich man’s feet. “Please sir,” he said as he reached out with his dirty hands, “you have enough clothes in your hands for plenty of people. Will you help me?”

“No,” said the rich man as he looked down his nose at the poor man. “If you want clothing, you have to work it, you lazy bum.” At this, the poor man sat and wept. The rich man then got in his car and sped away.

But as the rich man pulled away, another car pulled to a stop; it was the content man. He got out of his car, ran to the poor man, and explained that he had just been shopping for clothes for himself. He then invited the poor man to his house so he could clothe him. The poor man so moved that he couldn’t say, “No,” so he said, “Yes,” and the two men went on their way.

On a third day, a violent storm was blowing through the city, and everyone wanted to get home or at least somewhere safe until the storm had passed. As everyone was in such a hurry, this caused an influx of traffic on the road, which then became a traffic jam.  And the rich man was stuck in the middle of it all.

When the poor man saw the rich man, he ran to the rich man’s window. “Please sir,” he said as he reached out with his dirty hands, “you have enough room in your house for plenty of people. Will you help me?”

“No,” said the rich man as he looked down his nose at the poor man. “If you want a place to live, you have to work it, you lazy bum.” At this, the poor man sat and wept. The rich man then got in his car and left.

Well…the rich man tried to leave, but he couldn’t because the poor man had actually seated himself down in the middle of the road and in front of the rich man’s car.

Not being able to move around the poor man on either side because other cars, the rich man was stuck even more so than before. He honked his horn, but the poor man wouldn’t move. He revved his engine, but the poor man still wouldn’t move. Finally, the rich man got out of his car and dragged the poor man off the road. The rich man then got in his car and sped away…

…right into the driver’s side of another car. It was the content man who was turning around to pick up the poor man. The rich man was safe and lived, but the content man wasn’t so lucky; he died on impact.

The time then came for the content man’s funeral. Among friends and family were the rich man and the poor man, but each sat opposite of each other and alone.

As the rich man was alone, he asked…no, he prayed, “God, I’m sorry that my attitude has cost this man his life. I am no longer fit to live as I once did. From here on out, I’ll live my life serving my fellow man, and I should be content with that. God, I love you, and I thank you. Work on me, and work through me.”

At the same time, as the poor man was alone, he asked…no, he prayed, “God, I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to experience this man’s giving and content nature. From here on out, I know that You’ll give me what I need, and I should be content with that. God, I love you, and I thank you. Work on me, and work through me.”

After the funeral, as family and friends were leaving, the parlor became empty except for the rich man and the poor man.

But this time, the rich man ran to the poor man’s feet. “Please sir,” he said as he reached out with his clean hands, “I now have enough room in my heart for plenty of people. Will you let me help you?”

And the poor man so moved that he couldn’t say, “No,” so he said, “Yes,” and the two men went on their way.