Georgia folktale and creature story of two young girls who ignore their Grandma’s warning about the monster of the “Gongetcha Woods.” Written and told by Veroncia Byrd.
Nellie-Belle and Jean LaRue were sisters. Besides being sisters, they were the best of friends. Now each girl had other friends, but they enjoyed each other’s company more than anyone else.
One of their favorite things to do during the hot South Georgia summer months, was to go swimming down at the old swimming hole and pick scuppernongs along the way. For those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up ’round here, scuppernongs are large yellowish-green seeded grapes that grow down here in the South.
Well, it happened on one of those hot, and humid days that the girls could not cool off for anything. They tried going down to the well and splashing their faces with cool water, eating little chips of ice, and they even tried standing in front of the small oscillating fan that their Mama kept in the living room window – but nothing worked. That was when they both decided that the only way to cool off was to go down to the swimming hole.
That’s when their adventure began…
Nellie, who was the oldest, put on her pink swimsuit with purple polka dots, and Jean (the more practical of the two), her basic blue with red trim. The girls quietly closed the door to their bedroom, tiptoed to the kitchen, got their pails from the shelf under the sink and oh-so quietly made their way to the back door. You see, they were trying to stay as quiet as possible so as not to awaken Grandma Matilda, who had a room in the back of the house.
Just as Jean put her hand on the door knob and turned it, “Jean, Nellie — Y’all trying to sneak past me? Come here, I got something to tell you ‘fore you go.” The girls looked at each other, and with a sigh of disgust, they shuffled towards Gra’ma Matilda’s room; for they know that they were in store for the usual lecture. “Y’all stick together. Don’t wander too far off the road, you might get lost,” she’d say. Or, “Don’t let darkness catch you on that old dirt road, make sure you’re back before nightfall.” Or her all time favorite, “stay out of the Gongetcha Woods at all costs. Strange things are known to happen in those woods.”
But on this particular day, Ma’Tilda (that’s what the girls called her) seemed even more eager to give the girls their usual lecture. She sat them both down on her bed and looked them straight in the eyes and said the strangest thing, “If you hear a chain rattling on a tree nearby, be careful ’cause it might just be a plat-eye.” Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out two smelly little pieces of burlap, each tied into a tight knot. She handed each girl a bundle and told them, “Keep this with you at all times today. Make sure it’s always in your pocket, no matter what happens.”
The girls took the bags, out of respect for their grandma, gave her a kiss and bounded out of the room. But before they could clear the doorway she blurted out “……and make sure you stay out of those Gongetcha Woods! Strange things have been known to happen there.”
Once the girls were out of Ma ‘Tilda’s earshot, they laughed and giggled about the silly things their Grandma had hold them. They thought it was awful strange, her telling them to carry those smelly little bags in their pockets, and rambling on and on about chains, trees, plat-eyes (whatever they were) and the Gongetcha Woods; but they dismissed it as the babbling of a half senile old woman. They grabbed their towels, dropped the burlap bags on the table and headed for the ever beckoning coolness of the swimming hole.
As they walked along the winding dusty road toward the swimming hole, they picked scuppernongs, admired all the beautiful wildflowers, and talked about how much fun they were going to have at the church picnic on Sunday. The 20-minute walk seemed to take no time at all; and before they know it they were there….. THE SWIMMING HOLE!!!!! They dropped their towels and pails and jumped straight into the water, what they had been waiting for all day. WHEW!!! They were finally cool.
The girls splashed around and played in the water for hours. They played so much that they were exhausted. So they got out of the water, ate a few scuppernongs, talked a bit, and before they know it, they had both drifted off to sleep.
Jean was the first to awaken. Once she realized where she was, she looked around and saw the sun was setting and the warm summer day was giving way to the coolness of evening. She quickly awakened her sister, they grabbed their towels and pails and started back down the ever-darkening, winding dirt road.
They had walked about five minutes when Nellie remembered what Ma ‘Tilda had said, “Don’t let darkness catch you on that dirt road. Make sure you’re home before nightfall.” There was no way they would make it back before nightfall if they kept on the dirt road. Nellie had an idea, “Jean, let’s cut through these woods. That way we’ll be sure to get home way before dark, so we won’t have to listen to one of Ma’ Tilda’s silly old lectures.”
Like I told you, Jean was the more practical of the two, “We can’t go through those woods, we might get lost. Besides those are the Gongetcha Woods that Ma’Tilda warned us not to go into.”
“Don’t be silly,” Nellie protested. “Ma’Tilda just made that up to scare us. Ain’t no such thing as the Gongetcha Woods. Come on girl!”
Well, with nothing more than getting home before dark on their minds, they started through the woods. At first, the path through the trees was quite visible; but the deeper they got into the woods, the denser the leaves on the trees became, making it harder to see where they were going. Jean was really having second thoughts about the short cut. She wanted to turn around and go back down the dirt road. But once again, Nellie quickly convinced her little sister that through the woods was indeed the fastest way.
The girls made their way as best they could, through the barrage of tangled weeds and vines, towards what they thought was home. They were doing just fine until they heard an unusual noise coming from behind them, or was it in front of them? They really couldn’t tell. They stopped, and so did the noise. So they continued on. But there it was again. “What is that? I’ve never heard anything like that before.” Nellie whispered.
And as if to answer her question, a large black cat jumped out right in front of them. This put both of their minds at ease, for there was nothing at all scary about a cat. Nellie and Jean walked up to the cat to pet him when they let out a loud scream. For you see, the closer they got to the cat they saw that it had two front legs, but it had four back legs and his eyes glowed in the dark. What in the world?!
There was that strange sound again. What was that, and where is it coming from? The girls gave each other that look, and there was no need for words. They both knew that they needed to go back to the dirt road and take the long way home.
They turned around and tried to figure out which way was out. Everything looked the same, they weren’t sure which way they had come from. Jean grabbed her sister’s hand and darted as fast as they could to what they thought was the way out of the woods. The occasional eerie beams of what was now moonlight streaming through the leaves of the trees, confused the girls even more. They were moving as fast as they could when they heard the sound again. “What’s that?” Nellie said. “Let’s get outta here!”
They had only taken a few steps, when they saw a large shadowy figure in front of them. They turned on their heels and started away from this ominous thing, but there seemed to be shadowy things everywhere they looked. As if out of nowhere, a large dog with wiry hair and big bloodshot eyes walked directly in front of them. He had a hole in his side exposing all of his innards, which dragged along the ground as he walked. The girls let out a bloodcurdling scream. The dog screamed back, mimicking their voices! The girls were completely beside themselves with fear by this point. They knew if they could make it back to the dirt road, they could at least see where they were going.
They were blindly running in who knows what direction, when that odd sound seemed to be coming from everywhere. “It sounds like, like a chain or something. Like a chain… rattlin’… against… a… TREE!!” At that moment they remembered what Ma’Tilda had told them before they left: “If you hear a chain rattlin’ on a tree nearby, be careful ’cause it just may be a plat-eye.” They didn’t know what a plat-eye was, and after seeing that dog and cat, they weren’t sticking around to find out.
They ran blindly in one direction and then another, the sound growing louder and louder with every step. It seemed to be all round them.
They thought they were almost out of the woods, when there was an awful stench that permeated the entire area. And floating down through the trees was what appeared to be a large hunch back hog, both eyeballs hanging from their sockets, dripping blood on the girls, and making the most horrifying noise. Nellie and Jean screamed as loud as they could and instinctively ran in the same direction.
They ran as fast as they could until they made it back to the dirt road. Once on the road, they could see exactly where they were going; but this was no reason for them to slow down. Nellie and Jean ran all the way home as fast as they could. They didn’t stop until they collapsed, exhausted on their front porch.
When they caught their breath, they looked up, and standing in front of them with arms folded was — Ma’Tilda. Best they could, they tried to tell her about all the spooky things they had seen while they were in the woods. Ma’Tilda let the girls finish telling of their adventure. Then she calmly pulled out the small burlap bags from her pocket and told them how they could have avoided seeing all of this if they had obeyed her and carried those bags with them. For you see, the bags contained sulfur and gunpowder, a surefire way to ward off plat-eyes.
Ma’Tilda has long gone on to meet her maker. But from that day ’til this, my sister and I make sure that we always carry a small burlap bag filled with sulfur and gunpowder in our pocketbooks just in case there are any plat-eyes hiding out in these modern day woods.
Oh, I forgot to tell you — my name is Nellie-Belle. It was my sister Jean and I that learned this lesson first hand. And oh what a lesson it was. So next time you dismiss those things your elders tell you as just mumblings of “silly old folks,” you’d better think again. Sometimes old folks know what they’re talking about. And don’t forget — stay outta those Gongetcha Woods at night. Strange things have been known to happen there.
– THE END –
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