Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jonesborough - A wonderful night to be dead

(Halloween in coming, and Jonesborough days are haunting me...)

I was lying on the grass, with hands behind my head, looking up at the sky and searching for the first star to appear. All around me, hundreds of people were doing the same, filling the dusk with a deep murmur of joy and anticipation. The wind was tiptoeing among the willow trees; the pavilion was glowing with a strange green light, and the fact that it was empty made the eerie harp music more... well, eerie. Saturday evening - time for the Ghost Story Concert.
I never really liked ghost stories, or any kind of "scary stuff" for that matter. I especially hate jump tales. We don't have Halloween. But I knew for sure that, once at the Storytelling Festival, I can't miss a chance to have a taste... of horror. After all, I thought, how scary can it be with such a crowd around me? Sure enough, there was not a free piece of ground from one end of the park to the other. And, as all good ghost stories begin, it was getting darker... and darker... and darker still...
"What a wonderful night to be dead!" the emcee's cheerful voice made me jump. Whoa, what a creepy way to be happy. Again, with Halloween missing from the family's medical history, the only experience I could rely on consisted of some late-night visits to the candle-lit cemetery, and some fire-lit storytellings in the summer camp... but everyone around me seemed to be familiar with this sudden morbid mood, so I pulled my knees to my chin and tried to settle in.
I was happy to hear a familiar, strong voice filled with music ringing out into the night: Heather Forest was on stage, I'd seen her before, and immediately put her on the list of my favorites. She could be scary, yeah, she could - in the summer sunshine of the afternoon before she froze the blood in me with the curse of the fairy queen on Tamlin. She was the one to open the night of horror. The Boy Who Drew Cats - a familiar story, I smiled, and let the music and the voice carry me. And then she announced that the next story was from Hungary. And I sat bolt upright again. She called it the Ghost's Gold, and though not by this title, but I knew the story, and caught my breath, not because of fear, but because of curiosity... I've never heard any foreign teller telling a Hungarian tale before. And. She. Was. Good. I started to realize how strong a story can be, if combined with music or song, and I rested my chin on my knee and smiled and listened and watched and relaxed and then she screamed and I nearly bit off my tongue. So much about jump tales.
While I was tasting my own blood, Bobby Norfolk came on stage, and, as usual, he was moving and telling and acting and playing and he looked like he enjoyed the tale as much as we did. Some children giggled in the background - I always knew kids were bloodthirsty and evil and best friends with all kind of creepy creatures, but I can imagine how much it would confuse me if I was telling the tale... and I giggled myself. After Taleypo, he came up with "the real stuff", the Florida legend of Uncle Monday, and I was struck again (without jumping, this time).
The Storycrafters gave a twist to the evening: they came with a tale of bittersweet love and sorrow so deep they made the audience let their tears fall without noticing... and the quiet song is still in my head after all these weeks, sometimes I catch myself humming it while walking back to the dorm after dinner, and it always make me feel... uncomfortable, to say the least... and when I meet all the colorful and happy Halloween decoration, I just smile. In addition, they came up with a hilariously funny rap version of the Golden Arm, and I've never thought that so many sayings concerning death can be crammed into such a short piece...
The sound of the evening train and its strong lights dancing behind the trees made a wonderful background, and a ten-minute break. The Ghost Train came and went, huge black monster in our horror-filled night, and, as usual, the Jonesborough crowd welcomed it as an old friend...
Gene Tagaban was already sitting between light and darkness while the others were telling; now he walked on stage with his drum, and seemed quite comfortable in the night filled with spirits and strange creatures. Actually, he sang for them, and because he is who he is (a very special storyteller), we all believed what he told us... (with his deep voice, the drum, and the usual nice sense of humor, of course). We clapped with our fingers, creating a strange low noise in the darkness, like something walking or dancing around, on the palms of hundreds of people... it was fascinating.
And it was Lyn Ford who was left, with the task to chill our blood for the rest of the night and the long way home. And she did. She told the ghost story, and she sang, in the nice and kind voice of dead girls who scare the hell out of everyone all the time... and again, the song remained, and I can't get it out of my head.
When I was back in my safe and silent room, I caught myself glancing towards the mirror, time to time. Yeah, I'd had nights with ghost stories before, stories which made the guys go everywhere together for several days... but I'd never been on the "receiving end" of the horror story business, never, let alone in a place like Jonesborough, where the "very best", the elite of scariness and creepiness and eeriness tell the tales under the willow trees and the green pavilion, and the Ghost Train haunts the night of whisper and sudden scream...

1 comment:

  1. I haven't been to Jonesborough in 14 years, but the Ghost Story concert remains one of my favorite memories. Funnily enough, that night in 1993 also featured Heather Forest (and she did tell "The Boy Who Drew Cats" that night).
    Thanks for capturing the feeling so well!