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Halloween Tales :Eulogy For A Witch--Chapter 2
Snakes, Preachers, and Faith
During this time period--the 1880’s--religion was strong in the area, even stronger than it is today, believe it or not. And besides the usual Baptist and Methodist churches scattered throughout the tiny hamlets, as well as those located in the more isolated parts of the countryside, there were also some religious cults which went to extremes in their beliefs.
Unfortunately for the twins, they lived very near to such a small church. It’s members kept to themselves for the most part while the other churches barely tolerated it’s presence. The Sweet Bay Church of God was a tiny structure and was built--like it’s name suggested--on the edge of another nearby Carolina Bay.
Though not as vast as McCall’s great bay, and perhaps closer in size to Taylor's Dread, it was still substantial enough to furnish enough water to power a small grist mill. The owner of the mill--known locally as Brother Lang-- was also the pastor of the church, and had been since he founded it 30 years before.
It was here the twins came with their father to get corn ground for making cornbread and grits. The latter being one of the most mentioned staples by those having visited the southern parts of the Eastern US. Although they did business regularly, neither of the parties had little more than begrudging respect for the other.
This mutually tolerated relationship would have probably continued unchanged had not the little Hawkins boy not been bitten by a rattlesnake. No, he didn’t step on the deadly creature while playing in the woods, nor was he tormenting the snake either. He was struck by the venomous fangs of the huge pit viper while seated on an old pine pew at the Sweet Bay Church of God.
According to Brother Lang, the child--10 years old at the time--apparently didn’t have enough faith in God to protect him from the reptile’s poison. Yep, that’s what he said the problem was.
Saving A young Soul
But even with all of the congregation praying together the child fell comatose as his arm swelled to three times the normal size where the rattler had buried its fangs. Desperate, the mother of the child called on the twins to help save her child’s life and they did indeed rush over to her home.
While Sarah made everyone leave the house Brother Lang protested vehemently, saying “You’re interfering in the Lord’s work ladies, if the boy dies it’s merely God’s will that it happens. You’re not needed here”! Even Sarah, the meeker of the twins, could not hold her tongue when the preacher made that statement.
The only distinguishing mark between the two sisters was a small mole located next to the left side of Sarah’s upper lip. It was this mole which my great grandfather had said attracted him to her. “A beauty mark,” he said “as if she wasn’t already pretty enough as it was.” On the rare occasions when Sarah got angry, her mole seemed to dance around as she gave whoever she was angry with what-for.
But it was Tara who cursed the ignorant old preacher, cursed him in the manner of men, some said. Her green eyes seemed to glow, according to those present at the time. “You are nothing but a parasite,” Tara said “if this child dies I will see you pay for it, you old fraud! Giving children dangerous snakes to handle, I’ve never heard of such stupidity in a human being”!
Brother Lang, still dressed in his Sunday black suit, his long gray hair curling at his collar, held his Bible to the heavens and cried, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live”. He then led his flock away from the home of the stricken child and the twins thought it would be the end of it. Of course it wasn’t. The child lived, despite the length of time it took to get the sisters there to help him. Satan had saved the child, the preacher would claim, not God’s will.
The Reverend's Revenge
A few weeks later when the rest of the twin’s family had gone to attend a fish fry--an overnight affair at a relative’s home on the other side of the bay--the local Klan came calling. According to my great grandmother, she escaped out the backdoor of the house, but the men had caught her sister as she was returning from the well by the front porch.
When she heard the voice of Brother Lang shout, “This is the one I want anyway, she’s the one who laid the curse on me,” my great grandmother turned around to go help her sister as fast as she could. She never saw the oak tree in the darkness and ran into it at full speed. When she finally regained consciousness, it was all over.
According to my mother they had hanged Tara first, then burned her body until it resembled nothing human at all. Even though my grandmother had said she’d recognized Brother Lang’s voice in the darkness, she had no one to back her up and no one was ever arrested for the crime.
My great-grandfather immediately married the surviving twin and took her deep into the depths of McCall’s Bay to live on what is now known as the Witches island. There she recovered from her heartbreak and from her own superficial face wounds caused by her encounter with the oak tree. And there on the hidden isle deep in the swamp, the witch began her revenge.
The Witch's Turn
Although they were safe now, my great grandmother and her new spouse never seemed quite as happy as they were before the recent tragedy. I suppose it was understandable, but my Mother said her grandfather and the witch seemed to become more distanced from each other the longer they lived together.
After my grandfather was born there were no more children to be raised on the isle. Some said the witch knew secrets to keep from having children. Others suggested the witches husband was afraid of her too much to raise the issue of having more offspring. No matter the reason, the witch bore my grandfather who carried on the witches bloodline and apparently, so did Mom and I.
But long before the witch’s only child was born, her revenge for her sister’s death was complete. Of the six men who wore the dreaded white Klan uniforms that night, not one would live long enough to hear of my grandfather’s birth. The first to go was the businessman/preacher/klansman, Brother Lang.
Apparently he tripped and fell into the grinding wheels of the grist mill while no one was around to keep them from slowly abrading away most of his head. Shortly afterwards the church unexpectedly burned to the ground with its entire membership scattering to the winds. There was little mention of the former pastor's name in these parts again.
The other five members of the night riders met equally horrible deaths by some means or other. Whether they were killed and eaten by an angry mother gator, or bitten by cottonmouth moccasins while swimming in the river, all suffered extremely painful deaths. The witch was never threatened again by anyone near McCall’s Swamp. Not within anyone’s hearing, at any rate.
The Life Of A Spell Maker
My great grandfather didn’t live nearly as long as the witch. At only 50 years of age, he died during an especially violent thunderstorm when a lightening bolt struck the tree he had moored his boat to while trying to ride out the sudden deluge. The witch, along with her companion Black Hannah, buried him on the island in a gated, fenced in spot where I once got to visit his grave. It seemed such a sad place.
To lie alone under the Spanish moss draped trees while life teems all around you must be difficult to bear. But perhaps great grandad wanted just that. I like to think so, anyway. Even when Grandpa left the island and married my grandmother, the witch and Black Rachel stayed on the island alone, except that is, for the crows and gators to keep them company with their raucous cries and warnings.
But every so often there would appear at my grandfather’s house someone who needed more help than could be found in the outside world. He would take them out into the swamp--but only at night--to see if the witch would deign to see them or their sick children. Only if the two fires were burning brightly by the dock would he land them on the island. Very seldom were they dark, though.
What? Black Hannah? Oh yes, I forgot to tell you about her, didn’t I? Hannah was born a slave, but was too young to remember this part of her life. Her mother was a witch woman of sorts too back in Africa, according to my mother. There’s no doubt they shared secrets with each other, but the witch was still the most powerful of the two.
Hannah would tell you this herself if asked. But folks didn’t have to ask, nor would they dare to do so even if tempted. Even mother didn’t press the witch for answers, nor did her sister who had lived near the swamps longer than mom did. They would tell of the mole above her lip, and how it would still dance around when she became irritated about something or other. They both loved and feared her, much as their own father did in his younger days.
There was supreme admiration for the old crone, though. To live such a life deserved nothing less. To help so many people deserves much more than this, but the witch had all she wanted in life. Or so it seemed. Chapter 3