Holland Island Ghost Walk

by Sarah Ann Winn

The last house on the northern end of Holland Island has fallen into the Chesapeake Bay.
Kim Hairston, “Chesapeake Bay Island Vanishes.”
Baltimore Sun October 21, 2010

Take the boat from the gray dock. Dive down when you reach the appointed place. Still a shoreline property, now a many viewed terrace. Landlocked, islanded, surrounded by tangled treetops. The key is in a lock box drifting from the upstairs window. Lower the stepladder from the attic, climb into the sewing room. A person could find their way to the front door without encountering a soul.

Or stay and meet the actors in white,
with their shifting bodies, and the gray
dancers with their razor teeth, who might
follow you from room to room. Blood
in the water, they sing. They dance
blood under water, under skin, blood beneath
blood, in stone blooded badlands,
a dry run play in a deep lightless blue.

Swim next door to a house made of bottles, a sea glass swarm,
a rose colored bedroom, a mint and teal fixer upper, a periwinkle
kitchen whose sharded floor would cut your feet, except you took a tail
from the sea witch hostess, handing out scales from a box
by the door. When the monsters come out of every bottle,
they fly straight towards you in convincing 3D.

Now, shoreward, where visitors can waver as long as they like in hundreds of rooms thick with ferns the size of wedding canopies, where the light filters down in dapples, but the ceiling is invisible, where a rabbit might scuttle through, or a stoned caterpillar could inch his barrel-body in your direction, peer at you, question what you are doing there, and you can answer:

I bought the ticket.
I am not an actor.
I am not Alice.
This is not my house.

Sarah Ann Winn’s poems, flash fiction and hybrid works have appeared or will appear soon in Five Points, Massachusetts Review, and Passages North among others. Her chapbooks include Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive (forthcoming Essay Press, 2016), Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (forthcoming Porkbelly Press, 2016), and Portage (Sundress Publications, 2015). She’s currently a free-range librarian in Manassas, Virginia. Visit her at http://bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Holland Island Ghost Walk”?

I’ve been working on a series of pieces about the real life news item since I first heard about Holland Island’s plight on the local news. The island’s history was the jumping off point for me, but I couldn’t stop obsessing over what happened to the last house. A local man bought the property, and spend thousands and thousands of dollars trying to save it, by shoring it up with sandbags, and ferrying over a bulldozer to try to create a breaker to stop the erosive waves, but in the end the house had the same outcome that one man against the tides always faces. I’ve dreamed about the house a number of times, and feel almost as if its ghost was haunting me. When I read about Sleep No More, the immersive theater mystery production in New York City, I started thinking about what a haunted tour would be like in the Last House. It didn’t seem enough to stay with that house, so I expanded it into the kind of eerie beauty I’d like to encounter on a hauntings tour.


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