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As I backed away from the tree and stared at the mouth shaped wound on the trunk I realized that what looks like drool was actually just resin seeping out of a wound that had never fully closed. The damage to bark was probably caused by another tree being blown over in storm. As the bark healed over it formed the lips of the mouth. That had to be it. No other explanations were logical. As I continued to ponder on the strange looking tree and it’s drooling mouth. My concentration was broken by another round of giggles that seemed to echo from all over and then there was a shushing sound that came from above my head. I spun around and looked up through the branches. But saw nothing. “Maybe I’ve accidentally inhaled hallucinogenic mushroom spores.” I mumbled to myself while searching for the source of noise. I glanced back to the truck and noticed that the fog was pooling in the road so thick that I could no longer see the truck.
The top of the hill was still fairly clear and I decided that if I used the fob I could just follow the beeping horn to find it again. I cautiously moved around the hillside looking for a sign of the invisible giggler. I noticed something laying in leaves. The light color of oiled wood standing out amid the rusty brown leaves. The smooth texture told me that the wood had been worked. I walked over and used my stick to rake back the leaves to find a doll. The head was made of a polished wood bead and had a simple face of faded paint. The body was fashioned from burlap sewn up with hemp twine and stuffed with scraps of rags. The doll’s dress was also made from scraps of cloth and sewn in a quilting pattern. The doll was made with simple materials but someone had put a lot of love and effort into it creation. I reached down to pick it up for a better look when a small voice screamed a blood curdling NO! The small voice struck me like a stone and I dropped the doll imeadiatly as frightened birds burst out of their branches. A small girl came rushing out of a hollow tree where she had been curled up in a little ball.
She had to be no older than 5 years and small for her age. Her quilted dress matched the doll’s dress. She embraced the doll tightly and I heard her whisper “I almost lost you.” I was stunned by her sudden appearance. After a few moments of watching her hug the doll and whisper into its ear I asked for her name. She just tightened her grip on the doll and refused to speak. Knowing that there wasn’t any houses close by I asked her “Where’s your mommy?” “Don’t talk to strangers.” She said in low voice. I wondered what I could do. I wasn’t really keen on the idea of leaving her there by herself but she seemed to be stressed that I was there. Finally I asked “Are you lost?” I saw a tear drop roll down her cheek as she slowly shook her head yes and mumbled that she was playing hide and seek and they left without finding her. I knelt down to her level and said. ” I have an idea. Maybe it’s just their turn to hide and we need to go find them. I have a friend in the police department who can help us.” I stood up and took a few steps back towards my truck. The small footsteps in the leaves behind me let me know that she was following me. To my relief we made it back to the truck without any issues. I opened the door and sat her in the passenger side with the doll strapped in between us. As soon as I got enough bars I called the police department and told them that was bringing her to them. As we drove she didn’t speak. She only looked out of window and pointed to different things that we passed while whispering to the doll. Everything was as normal as stumbling upon a lost child in the forest could be if it were normal. Until we got to the police station. I walked in with the little girl in tow and sat her on a chair in the lobby while I looked for the officer that I’d spoken to on the phone. When we came back to the lobby the little girl was gone and only the doll was there sitting upright in the chair. Except, the quilted dress that matched the little girl’s dress was dirty and looked old. The paint on the wooden head was faded. My friend who was the officer gave me a confused look and we imeadiatly ran outside thinking that the little girl had wondered off again. We searched the rest of the day but found nothing and nobody else had seen her. We went back inside and decided that the best thing to do would be to look through the missing child reports and try to at least figure out her name. The doll was unique and should be something that would be in a report. The internet had nothing that fit the description of the child or the doll. So we began to search through a file cabinet. The officer pulled out an arm load of folders and one slipped out of his grip and scattered on the floor. As we gathered the lose papers he spotted something. The edge of a paper sticking out from under the file cabinet. He managed to slide it out to find a newspaper clipping. His face went as white as a sheet and he held it out for me to see a story about a missing child. The little girl in the black and white photo was holding the doll which was still sitting in the chair out in the lobby and the headline was from 1929. We agreed to pretend that it never happened and I decided to head back home. But as I passed by the opening of the road up through Panther Mountain I saw movement in the trees. I stopped the truck in the middle of the highway and watched as a young woman approached a tree and the little girl in the quilted dress ran into her waiting arms. Then they were covered by a thick fog and disappeared into the mists.
The Ghost Girl is a traditional Appalachian folk tale that has taken on several versions. Most of the time the girl is a teenager who hitches a ride and barrows coat. When the driver tries to retrieve the coat he learns that the girl had passed away long ago. The origin of the tale is not known to me but Incident On Panther Mountain has been my take on it. I have taken quite a bit of creative liberty with the plot to make it fit with the images that I had on file and if course, it needed to fit Halloween and have have a happy ending.
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