I wasn’t sure which was worse. Quietly slipping into my deer stand in the dark for an early morning hunt or coming out in the dark after an afternoon hunt. Either way, being in the location of this deer stand after dark gave me chill bumps, but the prize I sought amortized my uncomfortable feeling.
The prize was a most magnificent whitetail stag, the place – a most mysterious house deep in the forest.
Let me tell you about the house first. In September of 1983, I purchased a small tract of heavily forested land in Georgia for the purpose of hunting deer,turkey and wood ducks. In addition to the property, I also leased 300 acres of adjoining woodland from a local paper company.
I had yet to explore every nook and cranny of the leased land and because deer season was approaching, I decided to spend a Sunday afternoon carefully scouting the property. There were no roads or fields on the place and the forest was close to climax, with large stands of oak, hickory, and mature pine.
I was close to the center of the property when I discovered an area of about two acres that was quite different from the rest of the area. It was more open,and had lots of trumpet and crepe myrtle vines and impenetrable catclaw briars.
It was evident that this was an old homesite and I assumed that the foundation or some other remains of the houses till would be present.The heaviest deer trails I had seen yet meandered toward the center of the thicket. Following these trails, I found more and more buck activity. had forgotten about the old house and was
reading the sign of what had to be an enormous buck when I suddenly realized that I was staring through a sixpane
window behind a wall of trumpet vine. Almost completely hidden by vines and privet hedge was the unpainted weatherboard wall of an old house. I followed the wall around several corners, pushing my way through the vines, until I came to a door that was standing ajar. Pushing it open I stepped in.
I found myself standing in the middle of a kitchen. There was a table and chairs in the center of the room and a stove, refrigerator and pie safe against the walls. All items were of 1940-1950 vintage. I walked over to a cabinet door that was standing open and peered inside. There were several cans of food, but most of the labels had been eaten by rats and roaches. I opened the refrigerator and discovered old scraps of food that had shriveled and turned black many years ago. As I walked past the pie safe, I could see a wren’s nest on the top shelf snuggled between several pieces of old china. In the pie safe drawer were several green-handled pieces of kitchenware of the type I remembered my mother having many years ago. The next room was a living or family room complete with couch, chairs and an old round-top trunk.
Suddenly it hit me. An uneasy feeling had been building rapidly and now I realized what was wrong. Everything was here! This five-room house contained everything one would expect to find in a home – except people! And even more bizarre. there had been no people for a long time. It was as if everyone suddenly had walked out 40 years ago and never came back.
Clothes were hanging in the closets, but were so eaten by moths that the slightest disturbance would cause them to disintegrate. On an old oak dresser in one of the bedrooms was a folded newspaper, yellowed with age – October 24,1954. Now I had a date. Was this when everyone left? The style of the clothes and the furniture indicated that period of time. But why did they leave? And why didn’t they take their possessions with them? And why had no one else stolen them long ago, before the house became totally hidden and overgrown with vines and the yard became a part of the forest?
As I left to seek answers to these questions, I found another whitetail rub on a cedar tree beside the house. At least one living creature had made this place its home and I intended to focus more attention on that one, very soon.
I drove to the office of the timber company’s land superintendent, who had leased me property. He knew nothing of the house and suggested I talk to the village postmistress.Post office people usually know everyone in an area and Mrs. Williams was no exception. She remembered the previous owners of the property and remembered how they had talked about the last family to have lived in the house – a family of four, plus the sister of the matron. Jealousy erupted between the two sisters over the husband and disharmony continued for several years. One day, the family returned to find the sister sitting in her chair quite dead. She was buried the next day and that evening the family left town, leaving all their possessions behind. They were never heard from again.
Although I found this story bizarre, I soon discovered in conversations with other locals that this behavior was not altogether uncommon among some of the low-country inhabitants. When death would come to a family member in their home, the survivors often would abandon the home soon after the burial.
I returned several times over the next few weeks to prowl around in the house and try to determine the best strategy for hunting the buck that was marking everything in the area.Late one afternoon, about a week before the season opened,I slipped back through the woods to the old house to see if I could spot any deer activity. As I approached,I heard a noise much like the rubbing of a limb against the side of the house. It was coming from the far side, and as I eased through the vines, straining for a glimpse of whatever was producing the noise, it stopped. There was no movement in sight. It was getting late and I suddenly experienced an uncomfortable feeling as though I shouldn’t be there. As I turned toward the house, I noticed something tall and white reflecting in the window. Goose bumps were growing on the back of my neck as I stared at the window, trying to determine what I was seeing. At that moment, a crashing sound behind me almost gave me a stroke. I jumped around in time to see a magnificent buck disappear into the brush and vines. It had a wide and thick-beamed rack and was everything I had imagined it to be. As it disappeared, I looked back at the window but the reflection was gone. As I walked out through the woods, I’ll readily admit that I looked over my shoulder a few times. My friends laughed at me for constantly talking about “my” deer, and they dubbed it the “spook house buck.”
Finally opening day came and as evening approached I strapped on my portable stand and moved through the forest toward the pine tree I had selected. With high expectations, I climbed the tree two hours before dark and settled in. The first hour passed uneventfully, but as the sun dipped below the treeline I heard a rustling in the leaves behind me. I was as tight as a bowstring, but I slowly turned in the direction of the noise. Nothing appeared.
At that moment, a deer snorted in the brush and my hopes wilted. Some vagrant breeze had exposed my presence and there was nothing to do now but get the hell out of there before dark. I climbed down from the tree and hadn’t gone ten steps when I heard the rustling again. This time it was in front of me. I froze. A doe crossed my path 30 yards ahead. More rustling told me another deer was coming. With the tree stand still strapped on my back,I raised my .35 Marlin just as the huge buck stepped into the clearing. It was almost dark but I could make out the animal clearly in the Redfield 2.75X scope. I touched the trigger just as the buck moved across the path. I could hear it crashing through the brush for quite a distance, but I felt good about the shot.
I dropped the tree stand and dug a flashlight out of my pack. As soon as I reached the place where the deer had crossed, I found blood. It was dark now, but the blood trail was heavy and easy to see in the light beam as I pushed my way through the vines. The buck was heading toward the house, down the same path where it had startled me a week earlier. When I reached the spot where I had first seen it, the blood disappeared.
I t was then that I remembered the reflection in the window.
I didn’t want to look, but I had to. Feeling goose bumps crawl up my neck, I directed the beam of light toward the window. There it was. A tall, white reflection in the window. Determined to put an end to this, I moved to the door and stepped inside. My light instantly came to rest on the white plates leaning against he back of the shelves on the pie safe. Seen through the vines and the window panes, they had produced a white reflection- and a magnum set of goose bumps! I was laughing to myself when a rustling noise came from outside the window in the back of the room. The bumps reappeared instantaneously. I moved to the window and directed my flashlight outside. There on the ground in a tangle of vines was my buck. It had fallen within three feet of the house and with a few more kicks had passed from this life.
I rested my elbows on the window sill for a few moments and studied my spook house buck. I was alone again – the only living creature in this scene.–Lloyd Newberry