Savannah Kept

Savannah Kept

A Story by Marissa M.
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This is a retelling of a ghost story from Savannah, Georgia.

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A body often knows a place is haunted before the eyes ever see evidence. It crawls beneath the skin, a primitive instinct sensing the unseen, climbing behind the neck to rest unwanted at the base of the skull. The fear screams through your veins in silence and adrenaline. Get out, go, get away from this unnatural place. But since your eyes see nothing and the adult that has matured in your mind has no faith in the unseen, you stay and your skin shakes and your blood screams with the nightmares of childhood.

A house haunted takes on a character of its own out of some unknown, beyond the brick and stone and mortar, seeming a spirit more than a building. In Savannah, Georgia there is a particular house that has, over the last hundred years, gained a reputation for its unsettling history and the pervading, ugly aura that reaches out from its bare foundation to snake disreputable tendrils around the hearts of passersby.

The house itself was rather plain by the standards of its day, and even now, it seems, that with another history in another town, it might fold into itself and become invisible among the beautiful houses that surround it. Number 432 Abercorn stood without iron scrollwork or twisted metal railings, it had no canopied balcony from which bright ladies would sip their afternoon tea and coffee while gossiping and complaining about the heat; its façade was not painted white every summer by servant boys or pieced together with fashionable stone imported from Europe.

The masonry is a dull grey, made greyer every year it sits untouched, and seeming to one the color of refuse and neglect. There is a staircase, short and winding, curving downwards to the street side walk beneath which a large round porthole exists to peer in to the dark basement. A hexagonal dormer is awkwardly positioned over the doorway, its wainscoting painted white and clashing disturbingly with the atmosphere of the house, remaining to this day its only feature of decoration, surely added by a later owner. Facing the western side of Calhoun square, the large rectangular windows fitted with dark clapboard shutters always seem to be clean and gleaming despite the fact that no one has lived here in years. The windows are unsettling and appear to garishly watch tourists and passersby, and in turn allow outsiders in to see shadows of life, of a face half unseen within the glass’s enigmatic glare.

432’s original owner and constructor, a severe man in his own right, was one General Benjamin Wilson, formerly of the disbanded Confederate army. His heritage was of mild nobility, growing up among stately plantations and being lord and master above his family’s many slaves. But the slaves were now gone, only a few remained in his employ under the title of ‘servants,’ and it seemed to him a punishment on the aristocracy, a demotion of status and superiority.

He was a man of middling stature, his large head covered in snow-white hair that lead across his jowls menacingly, giving him the appearance of a rabid dog foaming at the mouth. In the army he began in high standing and proved his worth by forcing men into battle despite odds and outcomes, rising to the award of general soon before the war’s end. He became even more ruthless in his gaining age, resolute and domineering in his authority and Southern idealism. The world around him was twisting and changing, growing markedly more disloyal and insolent, and it burned in his very being. The new generation was failing as quickly as it had begun, and his daughter would not be one to break the mold his father’s father worked so diligently to place about the South.

The General’s daughter, whose name is lost in the fathomless depths of missing records, will be resurrected within these lines in the name of Miss Helen Wilson. Her mother died of yellow fever soon after she was born, leaving her father and several maid-servants to raise the precocious child. She was a restless girl, bound by her father to associate only with those of her own standing and finding none to suit nearby, she relieved her boredom against his wishes, come what may. Beyond her father’s control, Helen became a free spirit, open and welcoming to any who were kind; but she was lonely and ignored. A few blocks down Abercorn Street lay the Massey public school and it proved a greater temptation than the girl could resist.

 

Helen stirred in her boredom, being locked away inside her father's dreary house on a beautiful summer day. There was nothing to do save read (which she would not do unless forced), play one-sided games (which are never fun), or wile away the time watching the disturbingly large spiders weave their translucent webs in the room's corners. She felt as if she were caught up in a web, unbreakable and suffocating. Her restless blood bubbled again as she heard the Massey children coming up on the square after being released from school. Impetuous childish desire drove her from her prison out into the summer's light and ran her thin, stocking-covered legs across the street to Calhoun square where the children played. Of course, she was welcomed handsomely with smiles and cheers despite the fact that most of them knew her only by her father's reputation.

Her father; she thought of him only briefly now, realizing he would be angry if she was seen, but then shrugged her shoulders. Her recurring punishment had been to sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour or two with nothing to do but wait and let her aching back complain of the injustice. How much harm could it do, really? She never obeyed the punishments anyway, for as soon as the parlor door closed she was up and walking around the rug covered floors on tip-toes only to rush back to her horrible throne as soon as she heard noises outside her prison gate. Her father caught her once or twice, and it had earned her a slap; her disobedience was a mark on the family, he had said. Helen didn't quite care for such unbending loyalty, she was only twelve and, according to her father, must have more impatient, unruly Irish blood in her veins than he. Helen's father was a figure of great importance, a stoic idol of the fallen Confederacy, and he had a reputation to uphold. But he wasn't her idol and she had no use for the Confederacy except in playing Civil War with the more daring children (and when they did, the South always won). No, she would much rather play with her new friends and make the most of her summer and face the horrid chair later than to sit inside all day without any chance of fun. Her fun was, however, short-lived.

In a fit of rage the General stormed from the house, his hands clenched to his side, his face red and blustering. Across Calhoun square he flew amid startled cries of prim ladies who brandished white parasols at him in indignation. He heard nothing but the pounding disobedience in his head; she never listens, she never obeys.

Helen had not yet noticed him as she played menial child games with the other boys and girls, gaily laughing as a little boy purposefully tripped on his shoes for giggles. It wasn’t until her father’s large hand encircled her frail arm that she realized she had been caught. Squeezing her arm as a vice she let out a little cry against all better judgment, making him see past the red haze and recognize where he was and that the whole square had their beady eyes trained on their intimate scene. Without a word he strode back towards his plain-faced house dragging the insolent girl behind him.

For a moment she looked backwards at her friends and saw on their faces a frightened farewell and then resumed their play, absorbing her absence as if she had never been there.

General Wilson shoved the girl inside the house, pushing passed servants as they scrambled to get out of his way. They moved along the halls passed dining and powder rooms up to the second floor parlor. She had never liked the room, perhaps because her father made frequent use of it for punishment. It was dark and close despite the large window in the room’s center. Light never seemed to touch its corners and she wondered fretfully, in a child’s mind, what bogeyman lay hiding. Like the rest of the house the floors were of dark wooden planks kept meticulously clean and shining, covered with heirloom rugs of dark faded colors and detailed with trampled, time-worn tassels. The walls were lined with dark bookshelves which held not a single children’s book or popular novel, accompanied by armchairs that tricked one into sitting for its false plush look only to spring the fool upwards with its trampoline bottom. But she was not even allowed these falsely cushioned chairs. An old wooden chair frame sat positioned directly in front of the window overlooking the square and this was where he deposited her.

Helen squirmed in the seat and rubbed the arm he had held so tightly, looking up at him with impatient resignation. Her feet dangled off the edge of the chair, the tips of her toes swung back and forth along the floor making a scraping sound that irritated her father. He stood by the chair, his face still an angry red striped with the foam-white of his beard. She expected him to order her to stay in the chair until dinner but instead he crossed the room, ordered for Jonathon, their man servant, to bring in rope from the shed and then stood once again at the edge of her chair.

"I'm sorry, papa," Helen said with wide brown eyes and the voice of an innocent caught astray. "It won't happen again, papa, I promise."

He trained his steel-grey combat eyes on her little frame. "You are lying." He said with a frightening calm that disturbed her. Did she think he was a fool? He was no fool and he would make sure that she would never disobey him again. Harsh punishments for harsh disobedience.

Jonathon entered the room with a small knock, his great dark head bowed, with hemp ropes looped in his arms. Helen peered round the edge of her chair in curiosity. What were the ropes for?

"Tie her up," the General said to his servant, motioning towards the girl.

Jonathon hesitated for half of a second before complying and then knelt on the floor to weave the ropes around Helen's thin ankles. The hemp was damp, having soaked in the previous night’s rain from a leak in the backyard shed and the wetness saturated through Helen’s stockings. Her skin quickly became irritated from the coarse, wiry, wet twine and itched fiercely. She wriggled involuntarily against the bindings.

“Papa?” Helen was confused, thinking this must be some kind of test or odd game. “Papa, why are you tying me up?”

“Because you will not stay in this chair even if I command it.” She protested. “So I will make sure you will remain here until I believe your punishment has been sufficient.” He leaned down close over her and she could smell the peppermint oil on his skin and the rough tobacco on his breath. It burned in her nostrils. “You need to learn the value of your station " by any means necessary.”

Jonathon looped the remaining bits of rope around her wrists and chest, leaving it all rather loose. As with most of the household staff, Jonathon quite liked Miss Wilson and she was kind to him in turn. Helen sat strung to the chair, a dispiriting sight in her grass stained white pinafore and matching stockings; the blue bow in her hair had come undone and slid past her ears, drooping languidly, impotently.

The General bent to check her bindings and finding them too loose, grunted and tightened them himself. Helen cried in response to the pull against her skin as the ropes scraped and scratched. With the final bits of rope he made a loop around her neck to secure her head, making certain she would see the children in the park without her. She coughed and choked loudly so that he may loosen the knot but he ignored her altogether, pretending she was a dog protesting against a new collar. He made a rough gesture of dismissal to Jonathon and the man backed quickly out of the room, closing the door behind him. Quiet tears began to roll down Helen’s cheeks. The General moved around behind the chair and with a great shove and grating noise the chair was positioned better in front of the large window so that she may watch the children play without being allowed to join in; a slow and cruel torture. Her father left without another word and Helen began to sob.

 

Hours drew on, the sun grew lower, the children in the square were called home to dinner and Helen was left completely alone in the dark parlor. No one had come to release her, no one had come to give her water or food. The tears had long since stopped and left hardened dry streaks down her red and pale cheeks. Alternating between misery and anger she would scream as only a prepubescent girl can, shaking the house into a frenzy of anxiety, calling out to the humanity in any who could hear, and the sound surely tore over a great distance. Helen yelled and shook in her chair until she was plagued with a debilitating fit of coughing and her head swam. Outside the servants paced worriedly, wanting to release the poor girl but not quite daring to.

A few concerned souls noticed the girl tied in the window and heard the screams of a child and complained, drawn by a moral, or perhaps a parental, obligation. But her father sent them away with insensitive assertions of his right to punish as he chose. He knew what was best, no permanent harm would come to her, he said. Really, it was ridiculous to him that these people should think his Helen could be damaged from sitting in a chair for a few hours.

He never opened the door to check on Helen.

Helen was, at first, in the early minutes and hours of her capture, incredibly, furiously angry with her father. How dare he string her to a chair like some prisoner? She swore she would never forgive him and screamed again. It was a slow torture that she hadn't foreseen. And then, in response, she became devastatingly heartbroken. Never had she been close with her father but she thought that he loved her, in his own way. Increasingly the ache that plagued her lower back and neck circulated into her brain and her head felt as if it would burst, her eyes swelling in their sockets and she had no more energy to curse her father.

Throughout the day, and the one following, she watched as children played games in the square, as ladies crossed to each other's houses for tea and coffee, as servants moved quickly to and from destinations, carrying baskets and brown paper packages. Helen passed her time, as best she could, rocking back and forth on the chair's shorter leg, pulling her limbs against the ropes until they bled, playing through childish fantasies in her head. 

The stubbornness that ran through her veins as it did her father's eventually dissipated and she was left with nothing more than the ache in her back and the frog in her throat.

The ropes that were bound to her arms and neck were the worst. As the day grew on and the hemp dried in the suffocating heat of the room they constricted against her skin, pulling her in, pinching the thin skin at her throat. At first, it was merely more inconvenience, but as the day became night it started to worry her. The constriction knew no bounds.

The parlor room became stifling in the summer heat and without an open window, Helen felt as if she would suffocate. Sweat gathered on her brow, shoulders, and back and all in harmony began to trickle with infuriating slowness down her skin to gradually re-saturate the ropes. Her throat started to close, and she screamed for water many times though none ever came. The ropes soon claimed her voice. The heat began to go to her head and twisted the fragile bearing of her mind into odd shapes and fearful imaginings. She began to giggle; first quietly from the despair and agony of her situation, and then stronger, hysterically, in madness. Even while she did so she realized that she shouldn’t, and then more wild amusement bubbled up from her heat-stricken mind; insanity wasn’t proper. This was her punishment for being naughty.

The hard wooden rungs of the chair’s backing bit angrily into her bony spine, sending sharp and nagging pain upwards to her neck, radiating uncomfortably into every extremity. What she wanted more than anything was to roll her shoulders and release the dreadful devil that had taken up residence between her shoulder blades. As the hours snaked on every ache became dully intensified and made her small body shake, she had no more resistance or strength. Helen twisted her neck around trying to loosen the rope’s hold and only scratched more, her skin felt as thin as tissue paper. Her wrists became red and bled from trying to escape, and were now caked in a thin sheet of crackled burgundy that looked black in the dying light. The uncomfortable sensation of the rope’s jagged, coarseness had faded into the plethora of the situation’s horridness, just one more awful aspect that she had to endure. But she wasn’t sure how long she could endure.

Through the night her consciousness began to fade, being burned from an interior heat that threatened to overwhelm her senses. The shadows in the room’s corners seemed to elongate and stretch into life, and though she could not turn her head to see them grow fingers like night-black vines and the glowing eyes of demons, her shattered imagination supplemented and she was plagued with half-waking nightmares. Emanations of a similarly fevered house rose out of the shadows, unthreaded themselves from the tapestries, stretching their unnatural lengths from keyholes and windowpanes, making to welcome the girl. These bogeymen played with her hair, stroked her fevered brow, and laughed in her ear. They were childhood enemies, and they were companions. They snaked their shadowy fingers along the lines of the ropes at her neck, hissing in her ear as they pulled the hemp even tighter, giggling as she struggled to breathe. There was no escaping. Helen twisted in and out of awareness, occasionally fainting only to wake choking having sunk her head across the rope. Futility gained her and she relented. It was so pointless to do anything but wait. She felt as if she were being crucified.

By the time the sun rose a second time she was near death from exhaustion and dehydration. The roof of her mouth had been dry for hours and cracked like the arid desert floor. Even her sweat had ceased, leaving her as an empty shell upon the carcass of a chair. And still her father didn’t come.  It did not matter, the longer she sat the less she was aware. Seconds, minutes, hours passed by in a haze of pain that seemed to Helen at once an eternity and as quick as lightning. Distantly she was aware of the sun peeking above the houses opposite Calhoun square as one is aware of a soft noise calling to one from the far side of a dream.

Breathing was difficult, the air she could inhale, against the hemp’s will, felt thick as cold molasses and would not absorb into her lungs as it should. Repulsive rings of red lined her throat, wrists, and ankles, striped with dried blood and the memory of sweat. She thought her throat had caved inward at some point; the bogeyman’s smoky fingers drew the ropes tighter and tighter as if he wanted them to end up on her insides. Helen had long forgotten the pain in her wrists as they were numb, dead to her, she could not even move her head against the ropes to look down upon their pale, bent bones. Helen had given up screaming for help, or pleading quietly in repentance, and instead gave her last ounces of strength into pulling another labored breath through her skeletal frame.

Hours after the second sun had set the General decided her punishment had run its course and sent Jonathon to bring her around. Instead of being met with tears or angry screams he found the lifeless body of his young mistress.

 

Helen died of dehydration, exposure, and most probably asphyxiation, being subjected to the magnifying glare of the parlor window and the constricting hemp ropes for two or more days. The General, being of fairly high social standing and being a veteran, was not investigated nor convicted of murder. It was most likely ruled “accidental.” The General died years later from natural causes, living in the same house in which his daughter perished.

The house on Abercorn Street has been sold and rented nearly a dozen times since the General’s death, nearly all have experienced horrendous events, one being a grisly triple-homicide involving three young girls, a case that remains unsolved. Today, 432 is left untenanted, the owner wanting to spiritually purge the house of its negative energy. It is the subject of many ghost tours and paranormal investigations, earning high regard among Georgia tourists.

Even now, standing outside the house, a figure of a little girl in a white dress can still be seen in the second floor parlor window.    


© 2013 Marissa M.



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Added on December 2, 2013
Last Updated on December 2, 2013
Tags: horror, torture, child abuse, punishment, Georgia, ghost, haunted

Author

Marissa M.
Marissa M.

MO



About
As a general rule of thumb, I don't like displaying my personal history to strangers...no offense. But, if you should like to know, I am currently a student at University in the Midwest, working to ea.. more..

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A Story by Marissa M.