“Mr. Allen?” She asked. I agreed that I was Mr. Allen. “I’m Tanya White. Well, I’m not white, obviously, but that’s my name. That’s a joke, sir.” She paused. I didn’t laugh. “Okay, well, the maps. It’s strange. But I think I’ve figured it out. All the maps drawn by locals appear to have the same error. But if you look at these maps, made by national interests, there’s the bluff and there’s the river, right where they should be.”
“Why would that be done?” I asked. But I was already shuddering under a creeping sense of dread. Maybe most in Gallatin did not now think the house was haunted, but perhaps they had feared it once.
“You know, when I was in grad school, we’d sometimes do stuff like this to hide the locations of significant archaeological sites,” she smiled at me. “Maybe you’ve got an Indian site up there?”
“The house might be built on an Indian burial ground?” I asked.
“Oh, no, really, I doubt it,” she said, “They’ve all been pretty well-documented. But you’ve got something out there folks wanted to keep hidden. Gold, maybe?” I could see that she was teasing me, but I couldn’t match her light-hearted mood.
“My ancestor, Elias Allen?” I asked, somewhat morosely. I pointed to the genealogy book on the table. “He also appears to have been erased from history.”
“Oh, my god,” she smiled again, “We used to have the creepiest little jump-rope rhyme we’d sing. Uncle Elias, comment allez-vous? Uncle Elias is coming for you. Jump down, turn around. He’s gonna get you. How soon will he steal your breath? Run away or it’ll be your death. Then you’d have to see how many jumps you could do in a row and that was how long you had to live, I guess. It’s kind of stupid, but wow, I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.”
I was, I’m sure, as white as a sheet. “You sang that as a child, here?” She took my arm and guided me into a hard wooden chair.
“Are you all right?” She asked.
“Here?” I asked again.
“Yeah, all the kids in my neighborhood knew it. My mom said they used to sing just the first part when she was a kid,” Tanya said. “She lived out… oh… down Odom’s Bend road.”
“Of course she did,” I sank as best I could into the uncomfortable chair. Here was my forgotten ancestor, the bogey-man in a children’s nursery rhyme. And here was another mention of French. And was it too much to draw a connection between the stealing of one’s breath and the wasting mentioned in my family records? It seemed to fit. I wondered if the unburdened Allens had been the ones to compose the ditty.