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This song was inspiration for the piece:
Back when I was a child I lived in Erwin, North Carolina. Whenever my parents needed to go on vacation to spend alone time together, they would drop me off at my grandparents' house in Sampson County. It was a very rural area, the kind of place where the nearest house over sat across acres of tobacco fields and the closest place to obtain food was a Piggly Wiggly ten miles away.
My grandparents lived in an isolated farmhouse. Most of the time I spent there consisted of riding my grandfather's Massey Furgeson tractor and helping my grandmother hang linen on the clothesline. There was no TV, just an old radio that played gospel songs from the fifties. Imagination seemed to be my only escape for the weekend.
I would climb trees, sing loudly and ride an old bike that use to belong to my grandmother down old dirt paths. To many people, this sounds like the worst kind of vacation, but in all honesty I loved it and oftentimes I find myself reminiscing about the simpler times in 1995. However, there is one memory that I wish I could block out, erase and have enough strength to suppress.
It was a humid, summer night. My grandparents had gone to bed early, because, well, that's what elderly people do. In the spare bedroom, my childish mind stayed awake and I wanted something to do. So I quietly put on my tennis shoes, grabbed a flashlight and snuck out of the farmhouse. After carefully sneaking out of the house, I made sure to shut the screen door gently so I didn't wake my grandparents from their slumber.
Into the night I ventured, skipping across the cotton fields to the surrounding woods. When I entered the woods, the only sound that could be heard were crickets and twigs snapping beneath my feet. I remember singing the theme song from Thomas the Tank Engine under my breath.
After journeying through the dark woods, I noticed a clear opening that was illuminated by what looked like torches. In a circle stood these hooded figures and in the center was a wooden cross. I turned my flashlight off, kneeled behind a bush and carefully listened as they were chanting what sounded like a ritual. In wicked harmony they sang:
"God to son, son to the people, the people to love, love to hate, hate to nails, nails to the crucifix, the crucifix to blood, blood to the devil, to the devil, to the devil."
They repeated this over and over again, and it was then I noticed that someone -- or something -- had been tied to the cross. It was a man, naked, and wearing what appeared to be a rubber goat mask. His body squirmed and beneath the mask one could hear muffled sounds of agony.
And at first I didn't notice it, but the hooded people that stood around this ungodly sight were naked. They would throw their arms up and move their bodies in a seductive manner, passing around a bowl filled with blood. The people would dip their fingers in and smear crimson on each other's chests.
In sheer terror, I watched them beneath the pale moonlight chanting that same chant over and over again.
I wanted to run, but it seemed as if my feet had been super glued to the Earth and my eyes couldn't look away. I had never seen naked people before, and I certainly had never witnessed such unsettling malice. This was all new to my virgin eyes.
Suddenly, I felt the urge to sneeze. I tried to hold it back, but it came out anyway. It was then the hooded figures stopped what they were doing and looked in the direction of the bush I had been hiding behind. I gasped and quickly scurried away. Through the woods I ran, sweating hot bullets and the blood pumping through my veins felt like battery acid. My throat burned from deep, panicked breaths.
I darted across the field, occasionally tripping over cotton plants, and raced inside my grandparents' farmhouse. Instead of heading back to the spare bedroom where I had originally slept on my visits, I jumped onto my grandma and grandpa's bed and curled up between them.
This woke my grandmother and she asked, "James, what in the world is the matter?"
I didn't want to talk about what I witnessed in the woods, nor did I want to admit that I had snuck out. I simply told her that I had a nightmare. She wrapped her arms around me, gave me a kiss and sweetly coaxed, "Now, now, it was all just a bad dream. Just close your eyes. I'm here to protect you."
But I knew it wasn't just a bad dream, it had really happened. I tried to block out the scary man on the cross and his goat mask. I didn't dare open my eyes because I feared he would be standing at the edge of the bed with those naked people and their horrifying hoods.
"Just go to sleep," my grandmother whispered. "Try and think about Jesus and the angels that are watching over you."
Nevertheless, it felt like there was no God in Sampson County, but fallen angels that danced around in the darkness. Eventually I fell asleep in my grandmother's gentle embrace.
Twenty years later, I woke from a nightmare. I dreamed that the man in the goat mask was chasing me in the woods, howling like a demon. My boyfriend put his arms on my shoulders and, with grave concern, asked, "James, are you alright?"
I wrapped around him like a shaking child and replied, "No, Gavin. I'm not alright."
After calming down and bringing myself back to reality, I stepped on the balcony of our apartment in Raleigh and lit a cigarette. In only my briefs, I shuttered and tried to push the experience back into a box in my mind. Gavin came up from behind and hugged me. "It was that goat man again, wasn't it?"
I nodded my head and took a drag of my cigarette.
"You know, we've been together for almost two and half years," he said, in a caring tone, "and at least once a month you have the same nightmare." He paused for a moment and added, "Maybe you need to talk to a therapist about it."
I finished my cigarette and replied, "Therapy is bullshit. The only thing it's good for is people who have issues dealing with the real world." I took a small break, and swallowing the anxious anvil in my throat, added, "The only way to face my fears is if I go back."
He stared at me for a moment, and with an inquisitive face, asked, "Go where?"
After about five seconds of silence I told him, "Sampson County."
The following day I cranked my Jeep and prepared for the three hour drive back to the country. I didn't want to bring Gavin along with me. He didn't like this at first, but after explaining that I needed to face my fears alone, he finally gave in. "You're right," he said to me. "I just wish I could do something to help."
Through the Jeep window, I kissed him and said, "Baby, you are helping me."
He smiled and asked, "Do you have your cell phone?"
"Yes," I informed him.
"Alright. Call me when you get there, okay?"
When I drove off, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw him wave goodbye. This is it, I told myself. It's time to face what's been haunting you for all these years.
When I arrived at my grandparents' old house, familiar haunts came rushing back. The farm had been foreclosed by the state in 2007 after they passed away, so without anyone to keep up the property grass grew freely. I noticed on the boarded up windows that vandals had spray painted obscene words. It angered my inner child to see the place I used to love go to shit. But at the same time there was this feeling of terror that creeped up my spine.
In a couple of hours it would be nightfall, so I didn't waste any time exploring the farm and started retracing my steps to the wooded area I'd explored two decades ago. As I crossed the cotton field, a voice inside told me to go back.
Don't go into the woods, it told me.
But I ignored this voice and continued anyway. Before entering the woods, I grabbed a large branch at the entrance in case, well, a goat man would jump out and attack me. Sounds silly, I know; however, the child's heart in my chest raced like a horse on speed.
As I walked through the forest I kept telling myself that it happened twenty years ago, and that nobody would be out there. The opening crept closer and my feet started to turn cold. But, of course, when I reached the opening it was vacant.
No crucifix, no hooded figures, and certainly no man wearing a goat mask. Beneath the warm and reassuring sunlight, I let my nerves calm down. See? my grownup voice said inside me. Everything is fine.
Then, in the middle of facing my fears, came a sound from the opposite side of the woods. It sounded like a small grunt and heavy breathing. My heart stopped and I gripped the branch in my hand tighter.
"Show yourself!" I yelled.
And at the moment, a naked man wearing a goat mask stepped out from the trees in broad daylight and revealed himself, but it looked more like the mask had been morphed with his flesh. And his eyes, those small glazers were yellow and two black slits for pupils, stared at me.
At first I thought I'd gone crazy, because I couldn't believe what was standing before me. Its feet looked like a cross between hooves and human toes and its arms were freakishly long. Sharp nails grew from its fingers, and it snorted and growled.
This isn't happening, I told myself, but when it let a harrowing roar I realized this was all too real. I immediately turned paper white, did a one-eighty and ran as fast as my feet would allow me to go. Dodging tree trunks, I could hear the beast charging behind me. My mind, body and soul were scattered in all different directions.
When I arrived back to the Jeep, I realized that I had locked my keys in the car. After banging on the window and exclaiming the word fuck loudly, the beast let out a nearby roar. So I raced to the dilapidated tobacco barn located behind my grandparents' house and hid.
Inside the barn, my cellphone vibrated in my pocket. The name on the screen read: Gavin.
I answered the call and, in a frantic voice, whispered, "Oh my God, oh my God, it's after me. Gavin, it's after me." After hyperventilating I added, "I locked my keys in the car and it exists and I don't know what I'm going to do and it's going to get me and--"
"Woah, woah, woah, slow down," Gavin interrupted, trying to process all this information. "What's after you?"
"The goat man!" I exclaimed, trying to keep my voice down.
After a brief silence, Gavin let out an annoyed sigh and said, "Really, James? Are you even listening to yourself right now?" I could see him crossing his arms and that belittling look written all over his face.
"I know it sounds crazy," I told him, kneeling behind an old, dusty crate, "but you have to believe me."
"Well, I don't," he replied in a condescending tone. "This whole goat man story is bullshit. You had a bad dream when you were little and now you've officially gone crazy."
"IT DID HAPPEN!" I snapped back. "And I swear to you this is happening."
"Yeah, okay, and I'm Santa Claus," Gavin shot back, sarcastically. "You really expect me to believe--"
There was then a sudden bang on the barn door and a loud roar that made me almost drop the phone. The goat creature's nails scraped the wood, followed with a sharp cry.
"What the fuck is that?!" Gavin yelled.
"I gotta go," I told him. "Baby, please know that if I don't make it that I love you. I love you more than anything in this whole world and--"
The door to the tobacco barn then broke in and standing before me was the creature. My cellphone dropped to the ground and I let out a horrified scream. It charged at me, but I jumped out of the way. Adrenaline kicked in and I sped out the barn back to my Jeep.
I quickly looked to the ground and at my feet was a stone. I picked it up and smashed the car window in. After unlocking the door, I hopped inside, cranked the automobile and threw it in reverse. The goat monster ran towards the Jeep, howling like a creation that had just escaped Hell.
I put the Jeep in drive, gave it some gas and ran the beast over. I backed the car up and gave the monster another taste of rubber before speeding off from the farm.
My heart raced as I couldn't believe what I had just experienced. Nevertheless, the creature was dead and could no longer harm me. Well, I can only hope so, because I never, ever returned back to Sampson County.