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Friday, October 7, 2011

Going Bump #2: The Phantom of the Yocona River

When asked, I usually tell people that I've never seen anything I can point to and say 'I believe that was a ghost.'  And that's true.  Try as I might, I just can't sneak up on a Class IV Free-Floating Vapor, or catch a poltergeist lounging in front of a TV.

Which is not to say I've never seen anything I can't explain.  I have, and since this is October it's time to spill the beans.  Maybe some of you will have insights into the matter, because after pondering this for some thirty-three years I still don't have a clue.

I was, I believe, 15.  And let me preface this entire recounting by noting that no alcohol or other recreational substances were at all involved.  Honest.  I know that may sound unlikely, but it's the truth.

So, I was 15, and the snake-infested banks of the Yocona River beckoned.  The Yocona is a slow, muddy river which winds its way through the hilly woods of north Mississippi, and as a wild and dangerous place it was a natural magnet for all the kids who lived near it.

One fine August evening my good friend John Redmond and I decided to camp out on the River.  We spent a lot of time on the River, and knew its perils well.  So we loaded his pickup with supplies and an aluminum boat and set out.

We pitched camp on a sand bar not far from what everyone simply called The Structure.  The Structure was actually a concrete waterfall built by the Corps of Engineers to halt the Yocona's erosion of the fields on its borders.  I can still hear the roar of the water rushing over it today, on still nights.

But on that night, John  Redmond and I saw something neither of us can explain.

It started sometime after midnight.  We both saw a light of sorts playing among the boughs of an enormous old water oak about two hundred yards upstream.  It towered up above the outline of The Structure and was silhouetted against the night sky.

We sat and watched, considering the source of the light.  Our first thought was a flashlight.  We quickly rejected that, as it became obvious that what we were watching wasn't merely a projected beam of light being played amid the branches, but a glowing, moving mass that spun about the tree as though tethered somehow to the trunk.

Swamp gas, we decided.  Even though the tree stood on high, dry ground.  But as we kept watching, we rejected that too, because the light, whatever it was, grew brighter and began to change shape and color.

This is where it gets weird.

And let me remind you again that no drugs or alcohol were involved.

The glowing thing began to morph into recognizable shapes.  Faces.  Outlines.  Now a perfect yellow sphere.  Then a scowling red face.  A half-moon.  A flying man, arms outstretched.

No noise.  Just the light, changing, moving, orbiting that oak for purposes unknown.

Were we frightened?

Um, yes.  We're on a sand bar miles from anywhere.  It's far too dark to risk a panicked flight through the water moccasins and the copperheads and the tangles and the snags.  We're observing an inexplicable light show which, for all we know, is both being presented for us and is the preamble to something more sinister.

So we do what any reasonable pair of fifteen year olds would do -- we turn the boat on its side as a shield, arm ourselves with clubs and knives, and hunker down until sunrise.

That glowing thing, whatever it was, danced and flew all night.

We darted out briefly, now and then, to replenish our campfire with driftwood.  And we watched the clouds sail past while the lazy sun took his time in rising.

When the skies did finally begin to lighten, our visitor dimmed, made a final blurred circuit from the bottom of the tree to the top, and then simply shot up into the sky, where it vanished.

We stamped out our fire as soon as it was light and made haste in getting out of there and we never ever camped on the Yocona again.

As far as I know, nothing like what we saw was seen before or since.  There's nothing particularly sinister about the spot.  No old murders, no hangings, no drama of any kind.  It was just an oak tree.

So, what did I see, that night more than three decades ago?

I have no idea.

As I said, I can still hear the River pouring over the lip of the Structure on still nights.  Sometimes I listen to the dull distant roar and wonder if a certain old oak tree is being lit by a whirling, changing light, or if what we saw was meant only for John Redmond and I, and only appeared that night.

If so, what did it mean?  What did it want?  What were we supposed to take away from there, aside from mosquito bites and sand in our britches?

Still don't know.  Probably never will.

So that's my tale of the Yocona River, and the flying light.

What's your story?

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