Salted Hide: A Virginia Witch Tale - The Weekly Holler #22

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September 18 · Issue #22 · View online
American Mythology
Welcome to The Weekly Holler. This newsletter is published by Luke Bauserman. Luke grew up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. As a young adult, he worked in a nursing home while studying history in college. During this time, he made friends with and heard many stories from the old-timers of his community. Shortly before graduating, Luke won the Randolph Stone Award for Historical Writing from Ohio University. Luke is working on his first novel, a mix of Appalachian folklore and history (updates forthcoming). 

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Salted Hide: A Virginia Witch Tale
This story was collected by Cornelia Berry in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on May 7, 1939: 
Rindy Sue Gose was a dried-up, snaggle-toothed, peculiar old woman with stringy white hair and eyes like a snake. She lived over near Indian Rock Creek with her husband, Gary Ben Gose, in a dirty, dark log cabin.
One night, during the dark of the moon, in the dog-days of summer, Clint Hill and Jeff Thorn were out in the woods hunting and they treed a coon. The weather turned bad, and it took them quite a spell to get the coon out of the tree. It was late, near midnight, and they were on their way home when they met Rindy Sue Gose. 
“We mighty nigh run smack dab into her,” Clint said, “she was joggin’ along so fast with her head in the clouds. She didn’t see us, so me and Jeff sneaked right quiet like behindst her through the woods. She went way back on Wolf’s Head Ridge. When she come to a stoopin’ birch tree, she stopped, picked up a stick, and drawed a big ring on the ground ‘round that tree. Then, she made a cross in the ring, said some mumble jumble such as we never heard afore, and started to dance. She danced for 'bout five minutes and then made a beeline towards her cabin.
"Now, me and Jeff had heard that if'n a woman wants to be a witch, she goes to a birch tree and dances, and the Devil would come and dance too, and he’d make her into a witch. We allowed somethin’ was in the wind, so we figured we’d watch her. Well, for twelve nights, she come to that very same tree, danced for a spell, then went back to her place. 
"On the thirteenth night, she came and danced, but she didn’t go home. She brung a black hen with her, and after the dance, she slit the hen’s neck, and let the blood spurt against the tree trunk. Then, she throwed the hen as far back in the woods as she could. When it landed, the Devil stepped out from behind the tree! Neither me nor Jeff had ever seen the Devil afore, and we couldn’t believe our eyes! He had horns just above his ears, his feet had hoofs like a deer, he had a long tail like a cow, and fiery eyes that looked like two boiled eggs. Jeff and me was scared stiff, we was a-shakin’ in our boots! But, we stayed there, to see what was a-goin’ on. 
"First, Rindy Sue cut her finger with a knife, and when it started to bleed, she opened a little Bible and wrote somethin’ in it with the blood from her finger. The Devil then nipped her on the left shoulder, to give her a witchmark. Rindy Sue swore to give her soul to the Devil, and to work for him for the rest of her born days. The Devil danced with her, and then went into the woods behindst that tree. Rindy Sue headed home.
"Well, three days after this happened, Old Jonas Sperky, the most ornery, wicked old codger that ever lived ‘round here, died. Bless my soul, if Rindy Sue Gose wasn’t the first to show up for his wake! She was carryin’ a little medicine bottle in her hand, and she wouldn’t let nobody see what was in it. Now, we’d been told that if'n somebody got to be a witch, the most wicked person in town would die in three days’ time. Then, his soul would go into a frog, a rat, a cat or beetle, and this varmint with the wicked soul would be the witch’s familiar. 
"After Jonas’s funeral, Rindy Sue got to goin’ from one place to another to borrow somethin’. She borrowed some spice from Grannie Bond, and right away Grannie’s hens all stopped a-layin’. Then, she borrowed some soap from Lil Coleman, and after that, Lil couldn’t get her butter to come when she churned. Sy Weems lent her his corn knife, and then his gun wouldn’t shoot straight.
"Old Rindy Sue come to my place and asked my old woman to borrow some meal, but I’d told her not to lend Rindy Sue nothin’. When she told Rindy Sue she couldn’t have no meal, Rindy asked if'n she could look at my hogs. Since my old woman was afeared of her, she took her to the barn lot to see the hogs, and then she went home. The very next morning, all of them hogs was stone dead!
"Now, this made me mad as a hornet, and I went over to Jeff Thorn’s place to talk to him ‘bout it. He told me that Rindy Sue’d been there and borrowed some wool cards and after that, all his cows went dry. We grumbled and cussed up a blue streak, and allowed that we’d just have to have it out with her, come hell or high water! So, we went over to Gary Ben Gose’s place and told him what his old woman had been a-doin’. We swore to him if'n he didn’t do somethin’ ‘bout her, we’d do it ourselves!
"Old Gary Ben was a triflin’ sort of feller who always acted like he wasn’t ‘zactly right in the head, but he never had no bone to pick with nobody. So, he swore to us, if'n we’d leave it to him, he’d find out for certain if'n Rindy Sue was a witch, and if'n she was, he’d take care of her. We didn’t put much stock in his promise, but we allowed it was 'bout all we could do, so we waited.
"Gary Ben told us later what happened. That very night, he started to watch Rindy Sue, and when it come time to bed down, he locked the cabin door and hid the key. Then, he got into bed, closed his eyes and started snorin’ real loud. Afore too long, Rindy Sue sneaked out of the bed, and made a beeline towards her trunk in the corner. Gary Ben opened his eyes just wide enough to get a look-see. 
"Rindy Sue pulled a little crock out of the trunk and took off all her clothes, and rubbed some black stuff on herself. Then, she peeled off her skin, folded it, and put it in the trunk! She poured some awful, stinkin’ stuff out of another bottle, and rubbed it on her hands and waved them in the air. Lo and behold, she started drawin’ up, and in no time at all, she was ‘bout the size of a beetle! She sailed across the room and disappeared through the keyhole. 
"Now, old Gary Ben had never seen no monkey shines like this afore! He was so flabbergasted, he couldn’t move for a long spell. Then, when he did get his sense back, he started thinkin’ on what he seen, and what he could do ‘bout it. He made up a scheme to head her off.
"He got up, took her skin out of the trunk, unfolded it, and rubbed salt on the inside. Then, he folded it back and put it in the trunk, just like he’d found it, and went back to bed. Twarn’t long afore Rindy Sue come a-creepin’ through the keyhole, and Gary Ben started a-snorin’ again, but kept watchin’ her. 
"Rindy Sue opened the trunk, took out a bottle of green stuff, rubbed it on herself, and grew until she was her natural size again. Then, she got her skin out of that trunk and tried to put it back on. But, bless my soul, that salt had made Rindy Sue’s skin draw up and it was too little for her!
"Besides drawin’ up her skin, the salt burned and stung her, made her mad as a swarm of bees. She throwed a fit, dancin’ and a-screamin’ and a-cussin’. She kicked the window open, jumped through it, and run off. 
"Gary Ben paid me for my hogs, and nobody saw hide nor hair of Rindy Sue after that.”
Notes:
This story was adapted from a version printed in “The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories” edited by Hubert J. Davis, and published by Johnathan David Publishers Incorporated 68-22 Eliot Avenue Middle Village, NY 11379. It is used here with the publisher’s permission.
Did you enjoy this issue? Let Luke know at madaboz@icloud.com.
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