by Alex Sydorenko
We pulled up
in the car and parked on Main Street. The old timers stood on the front
porch of the cafe. It was hot. The red Dr. Pepper thermometer nailed to
the wooden post read 95 degrees. She and I got out of the car and the old
timers didn't take their eyes off us. One of them looked at her and his
cigarette missed his mouth.
Can you tell us where that road goes? I asked
It ain't never been goin anywhere since I've been here, one of the old timers said.
Is that right?
Sure thing. Where ya'll from?
Is that right?
We went inside the Dew-Drop Inn Cafe and sat down and ordered some coffee.
The waitress asked us Where ya'll from?
Is that right?
What brings ya'll out to Senath?
We've come to see the lights
Go back a quarter of a mile down Highway 412 and turn left at the cotton gin
Thanks we said and finished drinking our coffee and went back out to the car.
The old timers were still standing there. We got in the car and Lorelei turned on the ignition, and we drove off down Hwy 412.
The old timers just stood there watching us.
Ain't much happenin out at Senath, Mo. Just some abnormal telekinetic paranormal atmospheric happenings. Rumors abounded. Some said the lights were the ghost of a black Haitian slave hung at the crossroads by the Ku Klux Klan; others claimed them to be the spirit of a Confederate widow who drowned herself when her husband died in a Civil War battle. Still, others attested the lights were marsh gas, being that Senath was on a bayou between the St. Francis and Mississippi rivers, whereas others simply attributed the phenomena to car headlights on Hwy 412. Eyewitnesses claimed the lights first hugged the ground then suddenly sprang up, airborne, in Ouija-like gravitation. So what was going on in Senath?
Will-o-the-wisps? Electrically-charged fields? Atmospherically charged space? When Lorelei heard about it, she was convinced that Senath was another Roswell Army Base Field or something similar. She wouldn't let it rest until we checked it out. Why the curiousity? Suffice it to say that when she was growing up in the Delta, she was the type of girl whose parents never left the porch light on for her when she came home at night. Growing up she must have at least wanted to see the lights once, but it never happened. So this Saturday we've driven up from Smithsboro, Arkansas and crossed into Senath, Missouri, and here we are, turning left at the cotton gin and driving down the backroad. It's dusk and the land's flat and bare with an occasional fringe of cottonwood trees.
There were some folks parked at the crossroads. They were sitting on the hoods of their cars.
Whatch ya'll waitin for? we asked.
Whatch ya'll waitin for? they asked right back.
We're lookin for the lights.
We heard there's some lights out here to be seen.
None of them said anything. They just shrugged their shoulders and stared at us. Their disinclination to talk got us back on the backroad. We drove on past them until it got dark, then we turned around, afraid we'd get lost. We came back to where the folks had been standing but they had all got into their cars and driven off, nowhere to be seen.
Where'd they all go? asked Lorelei. That got her
We drove around and everything was dark and quiet, but then we turned a bend and she suddenly hit the brakes.
Do you see what I see? Lorelei asked
I sure did. Patches of bright white were hovering beside the road. But it proved only to be a washline by somebody's farmhouse, their white laundry flapping in the wind.
We sure felt stupid.
We drove around some more but couldnt find anything. We decided to head back the way we came. We got back to Senath, so quiet and lonesome.
Where's everybody at? Lorelei asked. This town's dead.
We just had to hear something (some stirring of life) so we parked by the white clapboard church and got out of the car and went up to the church bell on the front lawn and we rang it. The bell rang through the dark, quiet Delta night. The sound stirred up somebody sitting in their car on Main Street, because they turned on the ignition and lights and revved up the motor and came speeding toward us. Whoever was driving was mad as hell we were ringing the town bell. When we saw what was coming, we got into the car and did a 90-degree turn and reconnected with the backroad. The car was chasing us. She was driving so fast, we ran over a racoon crossing the road. Looks like you got yourself a new mink coat, I said.
But she wasn't laughing. She pressed her foot to the pedal and turned off the lights. She didnt want us getting caught. We eventually evaded the car but not without consequences.
Ever get lost in the backroads of the Delta? We sure did.
I think we're lost, Lorelei said.
I think you're right. Wish we had an Arkansas-Missouri roadmap.
We ended up somewhere by the Mississippi River, its dark banks, not a soul in sight.
Then we saw a lit window in a small shack. We pulled up, but the sound of our tires on the gravel must have quite a disquieting sound because it stirred the resident, an old river worm of a man out of his shack, wearing his shirt-tail pajamas and holding a shotgun which he pointed at us while yelling:
"What you all doin on my land! Get outta here before I shoot You-all!" He shot the gun anyway, scattering buckshot and scaring the hell out of us. You never saw somebody peel out as quickly as we did. We drove a few miles until the tire deflated and the car got stuck in the road's muck. We had to ditch the car and get out and start walking down the dark road. Senath, Missouri wasn't being all too friendly with us around now and we were kinda hankering to get back to Arkansas.
The irony of it all was that by dawn she and I walked into Senath. Dawn was flickering across the Delta's cotton fields. Light so bright and thick as molasses. Over by the white clapboard church the congregation was standing outside. The pastor was standing with them, Bible in hand. Everyone was dressed nicely, smiling, socializing. They were some of the same people we saw sitting on the hoods of their cars last night presumably looking for lights.
The marque on the church's wall read "Sunday Meeting."
We went over to the church. She and I must have been quite a sight: we hadn't slept all night and our clothes were all muddy. Everyone was watching us.
How y'all doing? the pastor asked, smiling beatifically like southern preachers do.
Tell me brother and sister, have you seen the light? the pastor asked.
We were just going to ask you we said.
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