(This photo does not show the old church of my story. The one pictured here is actually bigger and brighter. If you read on, you'll discover why I didn't post a picture of the actual church.)
I intended to write this post yesterday, but because that didn't happen, you get to read about turkey surprise as well as an incident that not only spooked me, but three big, strong Bahlmann men. (Or Bahlmenn, as the case may be.)
It was sunny July in South Dakota on our family vacation. We drove along a wooded road one bright afternoon, our truck rolling over asphalt dappled with warm sunshine until a small sign came into view. It read, "Church in the woods."
Someone asked, "What does a church in the woods look like?"
I wondered the same thing. Since I was driving, we turned off the asphalt onto a single vehicle wide dirt road to see for ourselves. After a few bumpy yards of travel, the dirt road forked. With no sign of the correct path to take, I veered left. Around a curve, up a hill, between the trees, we drove for nearly a mile before we saw a state campground sign. Deciding there wouldn't be a church located on state land, I executed an interesting 5-point turn and we headed back. This time, I veered right. Down through a muddy trickle of water crossing the road, turning to follow a left bend, trees branches growing thicker overhead, we found the turn-off to the church about a quarter mile past the fork.
Steering left, I pulled into a small clearing beneath a shaded canopy of dark green leaves. Everyone in the car fell silent as we crept past a square building. It was made of rough horizontal boards weathered to the color of graveyard dirt. A single short board that had to have been nailed to the wall over a hundred years ago read "nunnery." It seemed as if a cold breeze blew through our open windows, because I shivered. There was no movement, no sign of life in the clearing. In the deadly quiet of that place, a small warning crept down my back.
Pressing my foot on the brake, I let the truck slow to a stop, idling between the grim nunnery and a second square, dark building. Sliding my gaze over the dark strips of weathered wood gave me the creeps. Three fourths of the way up the wall was a continuous row of screened windows. Discolored, it seemed impossible for the old screen to hold back the weight of the row of dented pans and lids leaning against it, pressed up so close it was as if they were desperate to break free of the dark room behind them. There was no sign on this building. What was in there? Were the pans a clue? They didn't look to be in very good shape for cooking, but how could anyone really tell through the dirty screen? Maybe they weren't for cooking food. What else could they cook? My fingers felt cold where they gripped the steering wheel. Adding to the unreality of the situations was a long carport along one side of the clearing that had three cars parked beneath its uneven roof.
"Where's the church?" my son asked in a subdued voice.
"Maybe it's that building with the screens," I answered doubtfully.
"It's over there," my husband said, pointing to a building set further back in the trees. From our vantage point, it was located in the center of the two buildings lurking beside us. It was as if we perched in the center of a gigantic forehead within a forest of hair, looking past two square eyeballs to a nose that supported a small dark rectangle of a chapel. A slight rise on one end of the roof wasn't a steeple. It looked like a steeple that didn't make it.
A sense of oppression glided into the truck windows, wrapping us all in silence. If we spoke, what might look our way? I suddenly didn't want to draw any attention to us. I glanced at the cars again. Where were the people who'd driven them here? The cars were dusty, but not rusted. They appeared to be driveable. Did the people they belonged to know we were here? Why weren't they showing themselves? Wasn't it human nature to come out and ask what we wanted? Were they standing inside the dark interiors of the buildings staring out at us?
I glanced around the small, shaded clearing. There was still no movement. It was as if a dark, unseen force had closed itself around those three buildings and anything near them. Like us.
My son's voice startled me. "This is creepy."
"I don't like it here," the other son said. "Can we go?"
I hesitated. So far, I'd made an impression by saying, "Take a picture!" so often that it had become our vacation catch phrase. This was certainly a place like nothing we'd ever seen before. But something held me back from taking a picture of any of the dark, brooding buildings. Since I have an impetuous nature, this was an oddity in itself.
As I glanced again at the dark nunnery, the thought drifted into my brain, "If you take a picture, it will follow you home."
Chilled to the bone, I didn't bother asking what "It" was, but backed the truck around and managed to escape with a simple three-point turn. I didn't even look in my rear view mirror as I rolled out onto the sunny dirt road and headed back to the highway.
That was four months ago. Even though the thought crossed my mind that it might have been nice to have a picture of that place to put on my blog for you to see, I dismissed it without regret. That's because if I put that picture here for you to see, then it might follow you home, too.
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You've heard of yard gnomes? This morning I heard a strange sound in my backyard. When I went out to investigate, I found a turkey strutting around on my frost-nipped grass. As soon as I walked outside, it darted along the fence line, trying to stuff itself through the little square wire holes. Turkeys aren't square, so it didn't work. (Its high, warbling gobble didn't help it fit, either.) Tonight it's roosting in our tree house. I found it highly ironic that a turkey would show up in our yard on the first day of November to serve as our Yard Turkey. Gobble, gobble!