A couple weeks ago, Charles, Zoe and I drove home from my sister-in-law's house through rural North and South Carolina back roads. We saw ancient shacks reclaimed by sprawling forests, Main Streets boarded up and falling down. Farms. Swamps. Vast collections of rusted out cars in front yards.
I loved it. I found it inspiring. I wanted to remember every bit for future writing.
But I didn't have a camera with me.
But I didn't have a camera with me.
Still, I came up with a plan to write a short story collection inspired by these items. Nature, abandoned towns, falling-down buildings, all things old and decrepit.
In my last week at home by myself, before my homeschooling project with Zoe, I asked my dad to take a ride with me, so I could take some pictures. There are lots of swamps and forests nearby. I hoped to find inspiration.
I planned to take an hour, maybe two. I should know - adventures with my father take longer than that. It's one of the reasons I enjoy them so much.
I picked him up and he told me about a dream of a well he's seen at an old plantation called Botany Bay. In the dream, we set out to explore inside the well, and we never came back out.
I had to see it.
So off we went.
I pulled my Jeep to the side of the road outside an antique store, where a face from an old ship stood watch.
I felt weird taking pictures, so when the owner of the shop came out and said hello, I requested permission to photograph it.
"Of course," he said, leading us inside. "Photographers love my store."
It was easy to see why. Crammed to the brim with oddities in all hues of brown, gray and dusty, it's a collector's dream. Old chairs, old electronic equipment, old anything you could ever imagine. Nothing looked organized except for a handful of chairs, hanging from one corner of the ceiling.
As we followed him, I explained I was a writer and not a photographer. When he found out I wrote horror, his face lit up. "Well, I've got all kinds of stuff to show you then," he said in a sleepy southern drawl.
And show me, he did.
Sitting haphazardly on his desk was a certificate from the 1800s granting permission for a person to transport a dead body. A mourning medallion in which was woven the hair of a man nicknamed Indian Killer prior to the Civil War. A Currier and Ives lithography called The Tree of Death. Old dolls. Ancient toys.
We stayed nearly forty minutes, peeking in corners and stirring up dust. We left, empty handed but for the memories.
I am dying to go back.
Our next stop was an old church, the idyllic kind with white clapboards and a tall steeple. A sinking graveyard sat beside it.
It had rained here for almost two weeks straight. The ground everywhere was soft and soggy and starting to collapse (they don't call us the Low Country for nothing). Nowhere was this more evident than in that graveyard.
Graves were indents in the ground capped by battered headstones. Water pooled around burned out wood and fallen down trees. The ground was loose, soft, and the sky was steely gray and ominous.
Had a gnarled hand pushed its way through the soil and reached out from a rotten casket, I would not have been surprised.
Terrified, but not surprised.
"Well, that's sad," my father said, his voice gruff.
A lone gravestone stood in the middle of a sprawling puddle. The earth had shifted, forming a small lake in which the coffin drowned while the stone stood silent vigil.
We drove down bumpy, pockmarked dirt roads to get into Botany Bay. I drove the Jeep (purposely sometimes) through puddles and potholes. I almost got stuck, but didn't.
On the plantation property, we signed in and got a visitor's packet. As I drove, my father read about the local bird life and the old slave quarters. Outside, warbling birds warbled and dive-bombed our car.
Finally, we reached the well.
We drove on, at least until we reached the deer hunting checkpoint. Then we had a little fun, hanging from the deer hooks. Because we're totally normal.
We ate lunch at a little seafood shack on Edisto Beach, one of the only open places for miles. The decor was palm trees and colorful drink coozies. The sweet tea was sweet, and the fish was fried.
I don't know that I got exactly what pictures I needed for my vision of a short story collection.
I don't care.
Because I found a lot more.