Best Tales of Texas Ghosts
Docia Shultz Williams
Republic of Texas Press
Night. South Texas. A La Quinta hotel room. Circa 2007.
I have never been so terrified of the ceiling. My mother and sister are sleeping in the room, but that doesn’t comfort this twelve-year-old at all. A streetlight shines through the cracks in the curtain, reflecting a pale pool of light onto the ceiling. Shadows lurk at the edges of the pool, draping down to cover the bathroom door.
And it’s all my fault.
Because I read this book knowing it would scare the living daylights out of me:
Best Tales of Texas Ghosts is a compendium of Mrs. Williams’s numerous other books of Texas folklore, with what the jacket promises as an additional “hundred pages of new ghostly tales from the Piney Woods of East Texas and from North Central Texas, including the Dallas area.”
I came across the book in a hotel gift shop in Ft. Davis, in West Texas, on a family camping trip. Being the morbidly curious kid I was, I wanted it. And despite both of us knowing that anything supernatural scared (and still scares) the bejeezus out of me, my mom bought it for me.
So I binge-read Williams’s friendly, plain-spoken prose. The nearly 400 pages of tales are so chilling because she does not rely on heavy foreboding or literary ‘jump-scares.’ You never know when the specters will appear.
And that’s how I ended up wide awake on the floor of a La Quinta in Uvalde, Texas, at 3 AM.
The book so terrified me that I gave it away several years later. I couldn’t keep away, though, and I bought it again on a later family trip to Ft. Davis, in 2014, along with another book by Williams.
And as a grown woman working towards a college degree, it still scared the you-know-what out of me.
Williams traveled across Texas to visit most, if not all, of the sites featured in the stories she collects. And “collects” is the right word–she interviews owners of haunted houses, visits eerie Spanish missions, and ventures out to the famous haunted locales of distant folklore. Her photographs feature throughout the book, as do her poems.
In a true-crime crossover, Williams appeared on an episode of Dr. G: Medical Examiner to discuss a Bexar County railroad track allegedly haunted by school children and where a number of murder victims have been dumped since the bus-train collision that killed the students.
The ‘realness’ her research brings to Best Tales also makes the tales frightening–because they are believable.
Inveterate skeptics (and those, like me, who would rather not believe ghosts are real) will enjoy Best Tales of Texas Ghosts as a good piece of storytelling and an excellent Texas travelogue.
Now, pardon me while I re-read it and prepare to stay up with all the lights on tonight.
4/5 Stars: It’s haunted me for 12 years. It’s not high literature, but it will hang onto you and never let go.
5/5 ‘Fraidy cats: Yes, I am a big ‘fraidy cat. You read this in a dark RV in the mountains and come back and brag about how brave you are then, ok?
2/5 Ick Factor: A few gruesome details, but they’re not the scariest part.