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Bite Size Memoir No. 3

Mountain Ghosts & Water Babies

Avoiding Water Babies
Lake Tahoe had no fairies, but Water Babies prowled its depths. I know because both grandfathers of K. and L. told me so. One man was Washo, the other Apache—both Native American—and they knew. Later, when showing K.’s grandfather a tiny pink arrowhead I found, he squinted, held it between his big thumb and forefinger, and named it a bird-point. It’s an arrowhead for shooting waterfowl. Then he asked me where I found it. I was always scrounging such things, gawking for them from the back of my bay horse, Captain. When I told him where—above the spit of forested, boulder-strewn land between two mountain creeks—he shook his head and warned me to be careful there. That’s where the Water Babies live. I remember feeling afraid and avoiding the dangerous currents that melded as the two creeks combined. He knew people had drowned there. And I was never one of them.


I Remember Mountain Ghosts:

  1. The girl buried in the old cemetery overgrown with gnarly sagebrush that hid toppled markers.
  2. The black cat crouched on top of a white marker the night C. and I crept up to the cemetery with her dad’s flashlight that died when we arrived.
  3. The Tommy Knockers who still noisily mined the shafts they had blasted from bedrock despite the fact they had died long ago beneath the granite, their bodies never recovered.
  4. The couple who died in their car that careened over Cadillac Curve where the car now rusts.
  5. Crazy old Mrs. Chalmers who drove her wagon to town every day the stage arrived, seeking her Englishman who never returned to her or the remote mountain mansion he built her.
  6. Jake Marklee who was shot for his land or maybe his toll-bridge or for many other imagined reason that still haunt my imagination.
  7. The unknown Washo elders buried in unmarked, sunken graves in a patch of forest fenced off with barbed wire so old the Jeffry pines had buried the wire deep in the bark.
  8. The two blind Washo sisters who lived in a wikiup above town and hoarded old buttons that scattered down the rocky hillside as a century of snows came and went.
  9. The man who gave name to Hangman’s Bridge over the turbulent East Fork of the Carson River.
  10. The phantom buildings of Silver Mountain City that I could see if I squinted just right even though it was nothing but an empty flat of sagebrush and Jeffry pines to adult eyes.


Join the flash fun at Lisa Reiter’s “Bite Size Memoir” challenge. Already she is onto challenge number three. Reading other flash memories niggles at buried memories of my own. And this surprises me. It’s like word associations–Lisa writes about faeries and I think about water babies; she writes about magic and I think of old ghosts. I like the detail dredging that is going on in my memory bog, but it takes reading as much as writing to pull it off. What will my memories remind you of?



  1. Ruthi says:

    Good to hear you weren’t one of them that drowned, otherwise I’d be reading a real ghost story as told by a ghost of a storyteller!

  2. Lisa Reiter says:

    I love this Charlie! The things that haunt us, but also the sense of the land and its history that these memories convey. Fantastic.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I always imagined water babies to be wicked little water faeries, thus I was afraid of faeries! Silly, huh? Yes, I agree, these memories lend a sense of regional history. It fun reading all the others, too.

      • Sarah Brentyn says:

        In many cultures, fairy folk aren’t just little Tinkerbell-types. You know? 😉 Not silly at all.

        Never heard of “water babies” but that image is CREEPING me out. Thanks for the late-night read. I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Then we’re even Sarah because I’m having nightmares about that foot under the bed!

      • Sarah Brentyn says:

        Hahaha! Sorry.

  3. Norah says:

    I really enjoyed reading this beautiful writing Charli. It gives a sense of timelessness, of belonging to and melding with the past. There is so much history in your stories, in you – herstory. Your ghost memories add impact to the prose. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Norah! History was always a part of where I grew up and these Bite Size Memoir prompts are giving me that opportunity to reflect.

      • Norah says:

        When I read them, it encourages me to reflect also. The opportunity is not for the writers alone, but for the readers also. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Beautifully written Charli! Reminds me of all the campfire ghost stories I grew up with. Terrifying!!!

  5. Charli Mills says:

    I always loved those campfire ghost stories and especially the ones that were about my area where I grew up!

  6. Annecdotist says:

    Nice one, Charli, and love those last two sentences: seemingly straightforward but with great depth. Going off on a tangent, as one does, Washo was a chimpanzee raised as a human child and taught American sign language. Shame on me, but I didn’t know until now the name was “borrowed” from a Native American language.

  7. […] Charli Mills – USA – I Remember Mountain Ghosts […]

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