[CW: child death]
This is a story from the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the streams are fast and rocky and the soil is as dark as coffee grounds.
There, in the old hills, there is a roofless cabin with crumbling walls. Soot stains the gaping windows. A doll’s burned head sit propped against a rusted bed frame, staring vacantly through the empty front door.
Though those woods are so thick with mountain laurel that even the deer can’t pass, nothing grows inside the ruin of the house. Even the leaves the wind blows in run scared, skittering across the cracked concrete.
They say she left the mountain to get milk. Her children were sick with fever.
An ember blown from the wood stove caught the old straw mat.
The children did not wake. They slept like bees under the blue grey wool of smoke. They were dead before the fire even reached them.
The shattered remains of a milk bottle still litter the flagstone path.
They say she ran straight into the flames.
She never made it to her children. The smoke and fire overtook her just inside the door, and she died where she fell. She never found her babies’ bodies, still tucked into their beds.
But they say she is still looking. They say that children who sleep in those woods sometimes wake with milk in their hair. They also say that if you find a path between the laurels on a cold clear night, you might glimpse her walking the ridge in her milk-white dress, wailing the names of her children into a wind that smells of smoke.
If you ever hear her cries, you should turn away. Retreat into the laurel bushes and follow your feet until you hear children’s laughter in the rush of a stream.
Because if you meet the white lady on that ridge, the last sound you’ll ever hear is her glass milk bottle, shattering.