Brown Mountain Lights

Burke County, North Carolina

DIRECTIONS: In North Carolina, drive on Highway 181 west of Morganton about twelve miles through the Pisgah National Forest to the overlook at milepost 20.

Look low, towards the valley of boulders before Brown Mountain: the lights begin in the trees here, as great basketballs of fire. Flaring and creeping along the long, low mountain ridge, they appear pale pink on occasion, or halogen yellow, or sometimes a brilliant, blinding blue-white. Look quickly: they flit in and out of the trees and shoot up horizontally into the sky in a matter of seconds, disappearing into the night sky, their trails a dull match-tip red.

According to an account in the Charlotte Observer in 1913: “Many have scoffed at this ‘spooky’ thing, and those members of the Morganton Fishing Club who first saw it more than two years ago were laughed at and accused of ‘seeing things at night’ as a result of a common human frailty.” In 1962, the Observer reported that a witness to the lights was struck with an overwhelming sensation of dizziness as the ball of light appeared to approach him. It made a sizzling sound, he said.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Rebecca Bengal

Rebecca Bengal has new fiction in the Southwest Review. She wrote about an abandoned motel, Lake Fun, in the February 2004 Believer.

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