This week’s post is Chapter three as we go through our book. We begin to notice each boy’s personality and watch as their relationship develops. Mark, the class bully, also begins to take his place in our tale. You may also notice a subtle Christian overtone has begun to develop; as a former pastor, I tend to weave Faith in all my work, including the short stories.
In this chapter, “Stick” tells the boys of the Legend of the Witch, and we see each of them react differently.
As you read, try to put yourself in their place; think back to your childhood and the politics of the lunchroom. Note the drone of voices and noise of a busy kitchen. If you try hard enough, you may even catch a faint whiff of food.
I had very much hoped for your feedback, so please let me know what you think. Where can it be improved, what works and what doesn’t? It’s a short read, and I would truly appreciate it.
“Who is this witch that you speak of?”
As soon as we opened the lunchroom door, we met a deafening racket. The large room was, as usual, crammed wall to wall with people. Countless voices stacked one on top of the other, clamoring for food and attention, masses coming and going—all this noise accompanied by the clinking and clanking of pots and pans and utensils banging against trays.
The line was huge, wrapping along the wall and ending at the door. From the back, we heard, “Make a hole, make a hole,” as Mark and his crew came shovin’ their way through the line. Those who didn’t move outta the way were unceremoniously shoved to the side. As he walks past me, he makes sure to plant a sharp slap to the back of my head, hard enough to make my ears ring. Gotta be quick, Miller.
I didn’t even get the courtesy of a sideways glance.
“Cool!” Yelled Stick. “Chicken over cornbread! That’s it, no trades.” He was quick to point the “no trades” clause out.
“That’s fine with me,” I muttered as I rubbed the new knot growin’ on the back of my head.
“I like it good enough,” said David, “But the white beans are the best in my book.”
“Oh dude,” whined Chucky, “Peaches again? I hate those things, they’re all slimy and crap—cain’t even cut ‘em without ‘em jumpin’ off the tray.”
“I’d be glad to take ‘em off yer hands friend,” David spoke up, laying claim to the peaches before Chucky finished his sentence, ensuring he didn’t have a chance to rethink his comment.
At the head of the line sat Mrs. Tuttle, her neck bent and glarin’ at her ledger like Scrooge over numbers. She looked up but just briefly as each kid filed by, making certain to give each tray a thorough examination. All this and never speaking a word. She didn’t have to. She knew each kid by name, including address and phone number.
You can always spot the ones with money. They usually strut through the lunchroom, extra milks proudly on display. Some have as many as three or four stacked on their trays. Once all that food gets gobbled down, and all that milk guzzled, they prance about the room once again, ice cream proudly stuffed into their gapin’ maws.
Ice cream is expensive, a luxury reserved exclusively for the absolute elite. They’re out of reach of normal kids at fifty cents apiece. Most are content with simply watchin’ this spectacle, all the while hoping that daing ice cream hits the floor.
Once we have our trays, we each scan the room for seats. You gotta be careful here as well. Certain groups sit in certain areas; that’s just the way it is.
Without a word, Dave bows his big ol’ head and begins Grace. I’ve never seen him put a bite of food in his mouth without blessin’ it first. The rest of us follow suit, just in case the ol’ boy knows something that we don’t. Quick as amens were said, he raised his head and leaned over to grab Chuckie’s peaches.
Chucky raised his hand, stopping those big sausage fingers. “Slow down, Tonto, you’re gonna get ‘em. You’re gonna get ‘em.”
Dave looks at him, confused, and mumbles, “Well, I don’t want you gittin’ any of yer slobbers on ‘em. Might ruin the flavor.”
“Let me tell you somethin’,” replied Chucky, “I can promise you that these peaches were rernt long before they was set on this plate.”
Stick stopped eating for a second and looked up from his tray. “I’ve tried to get mom to fix this at home. She said it sounds nasty; the only thing that should go on cornbread is butter.”
“Not at my house,” I pointed out. “Papaw eats his with milk and molasses says it’s the only way to go.”
Chucky looked up with wonder in his eye. He flipped his spoon around, using it as a pointer. “Have you ever wondered what they do with the rest of that mole?”
David looked up, confused. “Mole? What mole?”
“You know, the rest of the mole, the mole. When they make a jar of mole-asses, what do they do with the rest of the mole?”
Big David stopped mid-chew, almost like he blew a fuse.
“Oh…I git it. That’s a good one friend!”
There it is. This time, I was sure I saw teeth in that smile. Stick and I both shook our heads. Some stuff was simply too stupid to waste a good comment on.
Stick’s not one to give up the floor once he gits yer attention.
“Did yun’z hear about what happened to Scott Porter’s big brother?”
“He tried to take his ol’ lady up to the Leech Cemetery.”
We all stopped; a collective “What?” filled the group.
“Yep, I reckon he was gonna try and impress her or somethin’.”
Ok. He had me. “What happened?” I asked.
“What do you think happened? Both of ‘em came runnin’ out, screamin’ to beat all hell! That’s what happened.”
“Yeah, right,” I scoffed. “Mr. and Mrs. Cool scared of a graveyard? Yer dreamin’.”
“That’s just what I heard,” he replied.
“Ain’t nobody that dumb,” replied Chucky. “Everybody knows to stay outta there at night. Besides, what’s the point in takin’ a dumb ol’ girl up to a graveyard in the middle of the night anyways? All that fuss, just so you can stick your head into an old headstone and ask some stupid question? I don’t think so.”
“To get an answer, I s‘pose,” answered Stick.
“Answer to what man? And why? Just sounds stupid to me, that’s all.”
David looked up from his peaches. “What are yun’z talkin’ about anyways, all this graveyard and headstone nonsense?”
Even though we had all four grew up hearing the story. Stick was only too happy to tell us all again, with a good bit of himself added in for good measure.
“The way I heard, it goes like this. You see, back nearly a hundred years or so, there was this old woman who lived up around Sinkin’ Creek. I don’t think nobody knew her name for sure. Most folk just called her Wilmide. She lived in the opening of an old spent mine shaft, along with an old one-eyed dog.
“Folks said she s’posed to wear clothes she wove from the hair of whatever animals she ate. She even wore a hat made from chicken feathers and stuff like that. And a necklace that had chicken feet tied to it to boot. Papaw said that if you wanted a love potion, or maybe somebody had wronged you, or even a hex, or somethin’ like that, she was the one to go see. But she wasn’t gonna do it fer free.”
David couldn’t stand this silliness any longer, finally blurting out, “If she didn’t have no use fer foldin’ money, what did a body pay her with then?”
Stick raised his hand, putting him in his place before continuing, “I’m gittin’ there; I’m gittin’ there. Hold ye horses.”
“Papaw said you could bring her anythin’ from dead chickens to dead goats. The deader, the better. What kind depended on what you were askin’ her to do. The bigger the hex, the bigger the price.
“Then came a nasty cold winter, cold like folk around here never seen before. Snow so deep, they say a horse’s belly would rub raw against it. It was durin’ such a winter as this a young lady came to pay the ol’ witch a visit, there she told her story, a truly sad story.
“She said, her ol’ man worked the hooty owl over at the Blue Diamond. At least that’s what he told her he was doin.’ But he was lyin’, ya see. He went and had himself a woman on the side. Nobody knows for sure who she was. Some folk say the mayor’s wife or maybe the sheriff’s; it was anybody’s guess. To make matters even worse, he went and had himself a baby with that woman, whoever she was.
“If that weren’t bad enough, his wife had a baby of her own to tend to, a little baby at that. Well, he was stayin’ gone all the time, sayin’ he was at that mine, workin’ and such. But, even ‘workin’’ as much as he said he was, he wasn’t takin’ proper care and providin’ for his family. Blamed it on the hours at the mine, I reckon.
“One night, it got cold, I mean icy cold, in that ol’ cabin. There weren’t no coal for heat, so that poor little baby up and froze to death. Of course, this drove the wife nuttier than a squirrel turd. Somehow, she had heard through the grapevine about Ol’ Wilmide, and in her terrible grief, took a mind to go see her.
“She wanted revenge on her husband in the worst kinda way, no matter the cost. And she wanted double for the woman he was seein’ as well. She felt she deserved that woman’s baby to make up for the one who died ‘cause of the cold. But old Wilmide asked for a hefty price; she wanted that baby fer herself.
“Why an old woman would want a baby, nobody knows. But the woman was so mad and so wild with grief, she agreed to the old woman’s terms. So, hands were shook, and the deal was done.
“Wasn’t long after that there was a massive cave-in at the Blue Diamond. Twenty-three men lost their lives in that horrible disaster, includin’ the woman’s husband. Mine explosion, they said. Some died right away; them was the lucky ones. The others lingered for some time, days even, until finally, the air ran out. A few even managed to scribble death letters to their families.
“The man’s girlfriend went crazy with grief. I reckon she couldn’t live with his dyin’ and all. So, one cold dark night, she went and jumped to her death over at the bluffs. That same night, the man’s wife found that little baby sittin’ there on her front porch, near froze to death, no note nor nothin’.”
Big David interrupted, “I thought you said the ol’ woman was gonna git that baby.”
“I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there,” Replied Stick.
“Well, word got out amongst the townfolk, and like it usually does, gossip turned to panic. They just knew it was Ol’ Wilmide’s hex that killed all those brave men. The town leaders put a hangin’ mob together, and they took off up the mountain to git the old witch.
“There they found her, sittin’ in that ol’ mine, the one-eyed dog by her side. I reckon she knew they was comin’ cause all’s she said was, ‘Come on in boys and warm ye’self over by the fire a spell.’ When they made their way over to the warm fire, one of ‘em heard the faint cry of a baby. There by the fire, they found an old basket. In that basket lay that ladies’ baby, wrapped in animal skins.”
The excitement was getting to Chucky, “What did they do, what did they do?”
“I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there, hold your horses.”
“First, they grabbed the ol’ witch, bound her, hand and foot, with iron cuffs, ‘cause everybody knows a witch cain’t escape from iron bindins. Then they went over to the hearth to gather up that baby. Lo and behold, they was no baby there, but over to the side, they seen that ol’ basket held tight in the jaws of that one-eyed dog. They tried to catch it, but it went runnin’ up the holler. Search parties looked high and low, but the baby and the ol’ dog was nowhere to be found.
“They tied that ol’ woman behind a couple of horses and dragged her all the way into town. That’s where the men beat her to the point of death, even tortured her with hot brandin’ irons and everything. Still, she wouldn’t tell ‘em where the dog or the baby was, not even if her hex was to blame for the cave-in.
“It didn’t matter how much they beat her; she just laid there, laughin’ at ‘em. Through all that torture, she never uttered a single solitary word.
“They built a hangin’ post right then and there, and that’s where they hung her, right smack in the middle of town. Some folk say she never stopped laughin’, even as she hung there, swingin’ in the wind. But at the stroke of midnight, she went silent and limp as a carp.
“Now, everybody knows, you cain’t bury a witch on holy ground, so, they picked a spot way out back of Leech Cemetery. Just outside the fence so’s not to be sinful. Then they sealed her body in an iron box so’s she couldn’t escape and buried her there with nary a single marker.
“Some folk say they seen a big dog standin’ on the next ridge, watchin’ the whole burial. And when the first shovel of dirt fell, that dog began to howl, eerie and ghostly. That howl was said to have been heard for miles up and down the hollers.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” scoffed David, “You said there weren’t no headstone.”
“That’s the scary part,” said Stick. “You see, a number of years later, a gravestone mysteriously appeared, almost outta nowhere. No writtin,’ no drawin,’ no nothin,’ just a blank headstone.
“Many folks have tried to knock it down, but it’s always back up the next day. The best anyone could do was knock a hole in the back of it. That’s right. It’s holler. And that hole is said to go down, way down. To what? Nobody knows.
“A lot of folk think it was the child and the dog that put that stone up. If so, they’d have to be as old and gnarled as the ol’ witch herself by now. It’s said they keep it up to this day. Nobody knows for sure.
“Rumor is, if you go there, just at the stroke of midnight, the Witchin’ hour, and drop a dead animal into the hole, she’ll answer a question for you. But be careful; you might not like the answer. If you ask a question and not give her payment, they say that one-eyed dog will come for ya…and yer soul.”
‘Bout that time, a large hand landed hard on my right shoulder, scared the livin’ daylights right outta me. I turned with a jerk, panic in my eyes, to see Burton standing behind me.
“Miller looks like it’s your turn in the washroom next week, don’t forget, OK?”
“Yes sir,” The words came out as a pitiful squeak.
“Oh…and don’t believe all those stories you hear, Okay?” He gave me a wink and went on his way.
It took a second for my heart to regain its rhythm. Chucky was holdin’ his belly he was laughin’ so hard.
“Man, he flat out scared the water outta you! I thought you was gonna fall over there for a second.”
“Ha-ha, Chuck! Why don’t you try shuttin’ up for a while?”
“I don’t believe none of that mess,” barked David. “Just ain’t Christian. All this devil and witch nonsense. Just goes to show a body’s raisin’ is what it does. Shoulda spent more time in the Lord’s house and less time gossipin’.’’
He got up in a huff and walked to the washroom without so much as a backward glance.
The rest of the day was a strange kind of a blur. Visions of Mark pounding me while my Papaw whipped the tar outta me were all I could think about. Stick’s story made things all the worse. Add a witch into the mess, and you got yourself, well, an even bigger mess.
Snitchin’ was out of the question; a crime of that magnitude was sure to be deadly; every kid knows that. I had only two options. I was gonna get a beatin’ either way, if not by Mark, then from Papaw. I wasn’t sure which one was worse. Right about now, I just wanted to die, or at least disappear entirely.
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