Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday Tales: A Lack of Familarity by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Welcome to Tuesday Tales and my stop along the way.  This week, I have a strange little story about a woman whose neighbor believes to be a witch.   Is she or isn't she? Are the things that she says lies or truth?

You decide.

                    A Lack of Familiarity

                  by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
     If the black dog was her familiar like she said then she was a witch but it could be more of her lies.  That was basic and he wasn’t surprised.  The way she dabbled in herbs and those bright colorful skirts that swirled around her chigger bitten ankles were not normal and neither were the dangling earrings she wore.  He had never liked the way she wore her hair long and loose, falling down her back in an autumn hued curtain of curls. 

            Long ago, he realized that witches didn’t have to wear tall cone shaped hats or black robes and he did not believe that she went out into the fields to kiss the devil’s ass.  However, he did think that she might commune with spirits and that she might speak spells that conjured up strange things or made something happen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Such things were wrong and Frank knew it very well.  As pastor of an independent faith based church, it was his duty as a Christian to speak out against witches.  Whether or not he could suffer the witch to live was something else; he was not violent and didn’t watch to do anything he might regret.  For now, he thought he would watch and wait. After all, Halloween, that devil’s holiday was coming.

            Last year she burned a bonfire because he watched her; seen the flames dancing in the darkness and smelled the wood smoke carried on the breeze.  Anita had been alone; if she belonged to a coven, then the others had been absent but he still thought he heard the sound of her voice that night.   Whether she had been making spells or doing mischief, he couldn’t say but he had watched in hopes she might take off on her O’Cedar broom into the sky.

            That broom came from the True Value hardware store on the Square in town.  He saw her buy it last September, the month when he first began to suspect that his neighbor across the road might be playing with hell fire.

            Still, it was his opinion that such things went against the Bible so going to such a parody of church would be what he would expect of a witch.  Now if he could lead her to salvation, wouldn’t Jesus be proud?  No telling where such a witness could lead – since he was single and she had no man, they might end up together in the Lord’s army.  He liked that thought, liked it a lot.

            Of course, she might have put some kind of spell on him to make him lust.   When he first moved in, she brought over some kind of cherry bread as a welcome gift.  Son! That sweet, dark bread had been better than most gal’s cake and it sure wasn’t Betty Crocker.  Now he wondered if she hadn’t added some of those herbs she grew in her garden and enchanted him.
            Since she got that dog, she brought it daily to the mailbox on a leash.  It was part Lab and black as sin, big as a calf.   She called it “Dumbledore”, a wizard’s name from those awful Harry Potter books.  He had heard plenty about those books at church, how they glamorized Satan and his works.  He tried to tell her that, just out of a neighborly concern for her eternal soul yesterday and that was when Anita had laughed.  Her eyes crinkled and her lips slanted upward as she leaned forward to whisper.

            “He’s not really a dog; he’s my familiar but don’t tell.”

            She put one finger to her lips but he could not speak, shocked that she would admit what he had long suspected.  His neighbor, Anita, was a card-carrying witch and when he dashed for home, her laughter floated in the air after him to linger in his mind like strong perfume.

            He prayed for her; that was his first response.  Then he selected a few tracts from his witness box and read his Bible until suppertime.  With a last plea for strength from the Lord of hosts, he marched down the drive, crossed the road, and knocked on her door.

            The aroma of something tasty hit him when she opened the door but he steeled himself to think of nothing but her immortal soul but that was difficult when her hair hung loose over a low cut blouse that revealed part of her bosom.

            “Frank.” Her voice rose to combine greeting with an unspoken question.

            “Anita.” He cleared his throat; the words he had chosen with such care had vanished.  “I brought you something to read.”

            He thrust the tracts toward her but she did not reach for them. 

            “Are those tracts?” She sounded amused but he nodded.

            “Yes, they are.  I thought you might want to read them.”

            “Really?” Without accepting any of the pamphlets, she scanned the titles and read them aloud. “The Wages of Sin, Witch Watch, and Satan: The Soul Thief.”

            In her husky, amber voice, the titles sounded ludicrous, like B movie titles but he pulled himself up straight like an arrow of God.

            “Yes.”

            “Thank you for thinking of me but I can’t accept these, Frank.  Maybe you’ll find someone who needs them more than I do.  I was about to put my dinner on the table so I need to go but thanks.”

            Before he could argue, before he could quote a verse or two of Scripture, the door shut with a soft sound and he alone on the porch.   Without thought, he shoved the tracts between the screen and storm doors then retreated.

            Muttering aloud as he lamented his failure, he did not see the snake until he almost stepped on it. A full two feet long, the copperhead lay across Anita’s drive stretching from one side to the other.  Brown, copper-tinted bands alternated with cream and he thought it was a lovely thing just as it coiled and struck.  Pain seared his ankle and to his shame he did not call on the Lord but screamed.

            With his hands, he tore the writhing serpent from his flesh and dashed it against a sturdy oak until the head was nothing but mangled pulp.  His heart knocked and his breath came hard but he limped home, favoring the injured leg.

            She had summoned the serpent from the very pits of hell.  He knew it.  The snake had not been there when he came down the drive so he knew she called it up with some spell after she shut the door.  Aware now of her evil, he scanned the weeds and brush for signs of another snake but it was not until he stepped onto the concrete slab that served as his back porch that he saw the second serpent.

            Larger than the first, the snake lay behind a pot of begonias and with a cry, Frank reached down to seize it so that he could kill it before it bit.  He was not quick enough – it turned and latched its open mouth onto his hand.  As if needles pierced his skin pain rushed into his hand then shot up his arm.   Venom from the first bite had begun to affect his body and he felt strange.  Unable to remove the snake from his hand he dragged himself through the back door and called his music minister.

            Ol’ Jim called 911 but everything faded to black as he heard the first sirens approach.  The next Frank knew he was prone in a hospital bed with tubes in his nose and arms.  Jim and two other brothers from church stood over his bed.  As if from a great distance, he heard their voices rise in prayer and struggled to speak, to add his amen to their heavenward petitions.

            “Amen!” He succeeded and Tim Tyler shouted so loud that a nurse rushed into the room.   Eyes dark with disapproval, she took his vitals and urged him to rest.

            “Praise the Lord.” Brother Jim said, with a smile.  “I knew that no devil’s serpent could take your life.”

            Now was the time to tell the truth and he did.

            “My neighbor woman is a witch.” He used the controls to raise the bed so he was sitting upright. “She admitted it to me and I went to witness to her, to offer her some tracts to save her soul for Jesus.  She wouldn’t take them and she called up those snakes to bite me.”

            They did not believe him; he saw it in the exchanged look among the men so the words that Brother Jim spoke next were expected.

            “Now, I wouldn’t get too worked up about it.  You need to rest so we’ll go for now.”

            Alone he plotted and planned.  Although the Bible was specific that it wasn’t right to let a witch live, he was foxed on how to end Anita’s evil life.   Burning was a tried and true method but it would be difficult.  The woman – the witch – was stubborn as well as strong.  In order to capture, subdue, bind her to a stake, and set fire to her,

he would need great strength.  The process would be arduous at the very least and hard to conceal. 

           

.           First thing, though, was to heal and to seek God in prayer.  Maybe through prayer he would find an answer to the problem of the witch.

            Lacking a clear-cut answer from the Almighty, things became complicated when he came home to find an apple pie and some kind of casserole on his table, gifts from the witch.  Although the pie smelled delicious, he didn’t dare eat it.  Lord knows what herbs or even poisons she might have included as an ingredient.  That casserole, though, was some kind of beef and noodle thing, still warm from her oven.

            He meant to fast but the danged thing smelled so good he cut a piece and devoured it.  Every bite melted in his mouth.  The beef was tender and seasoned with a rich hand; the noodles were homemade.   Although he pitched the rest, he regretted his action when he woke with a bellyache that night.  That strengthened his resolve to do something about the witch and he vowed he would not eat until he had handled the problem.

            After three days of fasting, he was hungry.  His stomach whined with hunger and pained him with a dull, continuous ache.  The small amount of water he allowed himself did little to ease his parched mouth and he hadn’t had a bowel movement since he got out of the hospital.

            His head ached but he had made his decision.  Armed with a hammer, his daddy’s .22 rifle, and the Bible that had been his grandfather’s, he marched down the drive with purpose.   After poking a long branch through the weeds to look for stray copperheads, he settled into a hiding place to wait for the mail delivery.

            After the familiar car filled the mailboxes, he sat up straight.  Once the task was finished, he could eat.  A T-bone steak waited in the refrigerator and he planned to bake a huge potato.  The butter and sour cream for the ‘tater had been bought; so had a chocolate bakery cake for dessert.

            Beneath his bony buttocks the ground was hard and cold but he settled into place, certain his wait would not be long.  It wasn’t.  Within fifteen minutes of the mail

delivery, Anita appeared, marching with her no-nonsense stride down the long lane, colorful skirts swirling to the rhythm of her steps.   He raised the rifle to his shoulder; the weight was nothing and sighted.  Her chest, encased in a bright colored sweater, filled the scope and he moved his finger to the trigger.

            Before he could move it, however something that sparkled and glittered in the sunshine blinded his eyes. He put down the rifle and squinted.  Something small and gold bounced between her breasts and he could make out a fine chain about her neck.   Was it a cross? He wasn’t sure but since he knew that no witch would dare hang the cross of his Lord and Savior around her devilish neck, it could not be.  Must be a locket, he decided, or just some evil amulet.  He had heard of such things.  

            When she moved beneath the low branches near the end of the drive, he aimed and fired.   He heard nothing over the soft wind that rustled a few leaves and the whine of approaching tires far down the road, nothing until a faint ringing sound.   Frank waited for a red blood rose to blossom across her bosom and for the witch to fall but she did not.  

            Anita staggered slightly and her mouth opened, lips drooping in a most unflattering way.   He saw her eyes cut down to her chest and chuckled just as a bee flew at him.  His ears filled with the whine of its’ busy wings and he saw the small body hurtling through the air.  Until the bullet burrowed into his flesh beneath his right shoulder

and pain exploded with a searing fire that made him scream he didn’t realize it was not a bee but his own bullet.

            Ricochet! He tried to shout the word but could not.  Blood, tasting of nasty metal and heat, filled his mouth and he spat, his own blood scarlet against the fallen leaves.  The dizzy, slow motion quality of a dream tempered his vision and he saw Anita’s face loom over him, eyes slanted with concern, mouth quirked with some emotion he couldn’t read.

            “You shot at me!” Her lips said but he could not hear the words.  “The bullet hit my necklace and bounced off.”

            “Help.” His voice was faint and choked; he tried to shout but could just whisper.

            “I’ll go call 911.”

            His blood puddled in the leaves around him and he felt so faint by the time that EMTs arrived that it was a struggle to talk.  He couldn’t warn them about the witch but he heard their words echo in his ears.

            “Crazy son-of-a-bitch was trying to shoot her but he shot himself.”
            “How?”

            “The bullet ricocheted off her necklace; a big cross that she said was her grandmother’s.  That heirloom saved her life.”
            His lips tried to form “No” but could not.  They must be wrong; it could not be a cross unless she used a spell to change the form because she was a witch, a true witch and she had killed him with her evil witch ways.  He could feel each beat of his heart as he prepared to meet Jesus who would surely welcome him with a crown for doing his best to kill a witch, the way that the Bible instructed.

Be sure to visit all the other Tuesday Tales - and start here, at the home base!!http://tuesdaytales1.blogspot.com
Thanks to Jean Joachim who conceived this idea and keeps it going!

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