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Frank doesn’t want to say anything right away. The group is expecting him to. They are left, have been left, with the image of a fat sweaty man telling them curtly and perhaps unbelievingly, Thank You. The man had been sitting on a chair in the hot swampy sun. His sweaty face overwhelmed tiny sunglasses. He offered Ghost Tours for $5 off and his bright neon yellow shirt that says "GHOST TOURS" is too loud for anyone to hear a thing. He told the familes to wait until 8 under the cover of the market.They’ll be quiet at first glance at their young tour guide. How long would they be quiet? How long would you?

People always ask me if I make stuff up. As if tours would be so easy. As if you could assign dates and names as quickly as you can assign significance to their place in the story. Like it matters that 1954 was the year Zoe St. Amand died in her home and that 1976 was the year the haunted restaurant Poogan's Porch opened. Like it’s ten times better to say that 5,000 people died in the Great Fire of 1861 instead of 500. But I can’t do that. And I won’t. And if you point to a graveyard and declare from me some knowledgable history I will not turn to you and say that’s where Mary Lou Baker buried her dog with her bare hands and stood in the rain and was struck by lightning suddenly. I have enough lies as it is.

The stories anyways, the best ones, the true ones, they’re all just talk in themselves. The one where Colonial Moultrie becomes the first American commander to beat the British army with nothing but sand and palmetto trees and even shot the pants off of Peter Parker is too good to be true. I just read it in a book, which claims other people told the author bits of information, and as such it is no better than a random young stranger who presents himself to you and asks if he may be Frank.

He studies at the College of Charleston because it is much like downtown and it is filled with beautiful women and stories and books and history. And in that history you find a town bent on vainglorious revolution and extravangant, elegant leisure and women of quantity and dress unbelievable. And you stroll around the campus today and you will see that many things have not changed.

We get campus wide notices when students die. Not all become ghosts. There’s the ghost of my brother, whose rumpus in the newly built tower of the McCallister Freshmen dorm instilled the discretion of the Residence Assistance staff to never again assign boys to the two floors so isolated and deplete of some vague regulation. He told me to watch out for the floors so not to catch a disease. When his roommate held a knife to some soccer jock’s throat his ghost did a good thing and reacted strongly and created a stigma against blades. In the town ghosts die and live like any other. And all others follow similar rules:

Their presence is traceable, at best. They demand double takes. They inspire disbelief in their flightiness. If they could be captured or controlled, they would be terrifying and real. But they are easily dismissable. And yet, they do not go away. Their presence cannot be erased. They appear and reappear and then reappear again beyond normal coincidental relief. Their stories get told again and again until years compound and eventually strangers can be assimilated before their burial grounds and the strangers will see them yet and know that their spirit is there. Somewhere in the dark.

This city was a shining star on the country’s east coast. It was the wealthiest of the new world and it shone brighter through its victories and perseverance through the American Revolution and it shone brighter with the glow of white cotton and it burned in the Civil War and perished and sank miserable and damp and ruined by earthquake and hurricanes, eight of them, and in the 1920s Charleston pulled it head up and adandoned the dreams of profit farming and remembered its history. A woman named Dorothy Porcher Legge painted Rainbow Row its colors and created myths. Bands of young men like me walked the well beaten city not for blood or revolution or patriotism, but to recall the stories of the old ones and tell them once again.

thank you

For all that I do not have to load bales of cotton or indigo or rice or manufactured cars. Instead I get to tell ghost stories. This city lives on past dreams, wild hopes, the joy and dance forseeing a night on the town, forgetting the frightening walk home alone.

 

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