Long ago and far away, there lived an old witch in a bedraggled shack deep in the woods near Doleman’s Creek. She lived all alone having never been educated in any sort of school system private or otherwise. Folks talked about her being raised by an ole black woman who found her crying near the creek one day. No one knows for sure just how she came to be there. Many stories had been circulated about her mother and father being hanged by some farmers for stealing meat from a smokehouse. They didn’t take kindly to stealing and made it apparent by hanging all who committed the crime.
Eliza Blanchard, a black voodoo priestess had taken her for her own, teaching her all about magic in secret, or so the story went. The child grew up living secluded from the towns people and only visiting each month for needed supplies. Eliza had made her living selling her herbs and teas for healing. She was keeping her mother and father’s practice alive having never married. She had taught Loriza well and the business continued. People had heard stories about Loriza and her brews far and wide but few had ever seen her. Hunters had seen her many cats climbing in and out when they passed by scouting for winters meat Over the years Loriza had collected hundreds of cats of all kinds and colors. At midnight the woods were filled with their child like cries. The stench of cat feces literally burned your nose if you got too close according to the hunters who didn’t consider for a moment stopping to pay a visit.
No one dared to go near the old hag for fear she would mumble some of her gibberish and they’d be turned into a frog or worse. It had been done, so the towns folk said. People who found themselves in her company by mistake had never been right in the head from then on. Lost in the woods, a young man hunting for deer had stumbled across her shack. The story was Loriza was so pleased to have company she kept him in a cage in her house for years before he finally escaped. The magic was in her boots he had told the town’s folk. In her tall black knee high boots. She would sit at night and rub them with some greasy gook she had conjured up. She would cackle, grin a little and then just disappear in a blue fog. Where she went or what she did no one knew. People could not really believe all the poor man told them because his mind was so messed up from the potions she had used on him. He just kept telling the story over and over about how the witch was going to have his baby one day. Then he would shake his head, let out a wild sort of scream and take off running like a wild bore hog as fast as he could go.
The town’s folk locked their doors and windows religiously every day just before dark. Outside things were gathered and taken inside the barns. Children had to be asleep long before the witching hour. Nothing left outside was safe; not even the clothes hanging on the clothes line. Dresses and all sorts of women’s accessories were reported missing by most of the town’s women. It was weird because no clothes were ever taken from the poorer women, only the wealthier women who could afford to purchase more. Coincidence? I think not!
Loriza wore her hair all bunched up on the top of her head in what looked like a hornets nest and tied with strips of colored cloth. She was petite and wore long dresses with lots of aprons of various styles. She’d cackle like a setting hen when she put on a new frock just thinking of how upset the towns women would be when they discovered their dresses picked clean as a whistle from their clotheslines. She had become quite good at stealing the things she needed and seldom had to spend her herb money on things to wear. Speaking of wearing, I must mention her tall black boots. Folks had seen her wearing them now and then but had no idea where she got them. Women had searched the catalogs but could never find any matching Loriza’s. She laced them from the toe clear up to the knee and the heels made her appear to be two inches taller. She would click the heels together, tap the toes on the floor like a tap dancer and commence to “cut a mean rug”.
It didn’t matter if she wore them at night or in the bright sunlight, they glistened like diamonds on a show room floor. They were her prized possession and she never took them off except to shine them up a bit. She didn’t mind the house being dirty or her clothes a mess just never her precious boots.
This brings us to Jerome Widdlesom the towns gopher. If anyone needed anything outside of town, Jerome was the one to go get it and he was no stranger to Loriza. He sold bottles of herbs and tonics to the sick and needy. You got it! Loriza was the one who conjured up the potions and Widdlesom did the selling. No fear of Jerome not being honest, Loriza made sure he knew this up front. All she had to do was mention her cage and how she’d love to have a caller anytime. Jerome may not have had a head full of marbles but the few he did have were solid as a rock.
Folk near Doleman’s Creek were mostly farmers. The men tilled the soil and the women kept the house while caring for the children. They believed in large families so eight children per family was the norm. Of course there were always exceptions like the widow Barnsbee. Wilbur Barnsbee had been killed soon after they were married and they only had two children which was just fine by his widow. Dewella, the youngest girl had been born with a deformed leg. She could not walk normally but hopped around with a stick of sorts. The little white church at the edge of town prayed for Dewella every Sunday night. They felt guilty because all the other children could run and play. Dewalla just watched from her swing. All the families pitched in and supported the widow Barnsbee. They believed this was what God called them to do and they were going to do their best to see all were taken care of.
Now this brings us to Dewalla’s healing and the tall black boots.
It happened one Sunday night as the church service was about to end. Preacher Jeremiah Johnston was calling down the thunder preaching hell’s fire and brimstone. It was pitch dark outside and the sound of rain on the tin roof made a sleepy sound. Jeremiah wiped the sweat from his brow with his red handkerchief never missing a word. Small children covered their ears when he raised his voice even louder to be sure everyone was paying attention. His face was red like he had been plowing in the sun all day. Then,out of nowhere there came a sound like no one had ever heard before or since. It rolled like thunder and cracked like lightning striking with a blue vaporizing mist. Women clutched their babies tightly and men grabbed the other children. It was then Widow Barnsbee let out a spine chilling scream. Dewalla was standing on the wooden bench beside her mother wearing tall black glistening boots with laces tied from the toe to the knees. She clicked her heels together and began tap dancing down the bench. She grinned a bit and cackled with laughter. Women fainted from the site. Men swallowed their chews of tobacco and preacher Jeremiah was so shocked by the happening he fell off the platform and never preached another sermon. Was it witchery or the hand of God? Maybe the answer lies in the tall black shining boots laced from toe to knee.
Written by Sybil Shearin 2-2011
Copyrighted All Rights Reserved.
Question for children. Where did the witch get her clothes?