So, I’m gonna talk about haints and panthers real quick because they’re not familiar to most of my readers. Haints are ghosts and spirits of the Appalachian region (there are references to the term being used in other parts of the United States), though simply calling them “ghosts” is more common these days, the genre of haint tales is a bit broader than that. Nashville is not even remotely part of Appalachia, and I didn’t grow up on these stories, but they are an interesting part of American folk belief, and it’s not unfathomable that spirits that exist in other parts of the south can travel to the Nashville area.
The talking cat that appeared in Eve is inspired by one version of a haint tale, stories of malevolent cats or cat spirits which often speak to their victim and even threaten to eat them but seem to never really do more than that. This seems similar to me to King of Cats stories, so in Within and Without, the two are somewhat tied. Cats in this story are shown to be fairly sentient, as demonstrated by P.G.’s cat Neville in Cleveland Keith.
In Cleveland Keith, we get more than just that, however. The ghost at the log cabin is meant to resemble another sort of haint tale, familiar in other forms of ghost stories in a wide range of areas. This is the ghost that haunts an abandoned home and offers wealth in exchange for helping put his killer away. Some of the dialogue is purposefully similar to Jim Edmond’s story in Boogers, Witches, and Haints: Appalachian Ghost Stories. This is how so many people were able to be tricked by the ghost; it’s a very familiar story. Cleveland Keith also contains implications that the spirit’s identity and responses were shaped by the hundreds of people that visited the cabin, likely expecting that sort of ghost.
Combined with this story is a painter tale, which some consider within the genre of haint tales. Like mad dog stories, though, it’s based on something far more mundane. “Painters” are actually panthers; this regional pronunciation lead to misspelling and occasional misconstruction as an entirely different and more supernatural creature. The “panthers” of the Southeastern United States are almost assuredly bobcats. Contrary to popular belief, bobcats are still a fairly common occurrence. Sometimes you hear stories of wildcats larger than bobcats, and their witnesses are very adamant they are definitely not bobcats. However, these are usually seen at a distance and are never substantiated. That said, larger wildcats may possibly exist in Florida, and it not completely unfathomable that they could travel, though it is unlikely.
Anyway, there are many stories of painters and panthers stalking strangers, especially the weak, wounded, and inebriated, as well as hiding in the rooms and chimneys of abandoned houses, such as the cabin that appeared in Cleveland Keith, as wild animals are known to do.
I find it quite interesting to explore the suggestible identities of some spirits and inherent miscommunication, and this is probably not the last time you’ll see that theme.
[Bonus notes since this is late: Wendy & Vicky and Cleveland Keith both contain references to an upcoming character.]