January 3, 2024

Creative Fiction: A Thread Runs Through It (Folklore)

 This piece is creative fiction inspired by folklore. Specifically about witches as folk saw them to be. I wrote this for Creative Writing class at Columbus State. Someday I'd like to consider getting it published. I really love this piece...

A Thread Runs Through It

The early settlers of Ohio lived in mortal terror of the superstitions they brought from their home countries. It was especially so in the southern Ohio valley, where only stretches of hilly, fertile farmland connected one neighbor with the next. A place where the fog came in early and stayed far too late, as if to shroud both man and beast for an early grave. From that fear and loneliness sprung tales of peculiar warning. This is one such tale.

The day started out well enough. The animals had been fed, eggs collected and the cow milked before the fog was as thin as the stew. It was a time of sweat and blood. Good luck was uncommon but often sought. So when good luck happened upon the Bowen family farm, there was a celebration to be had. 

The morning chores were interrupted with a gasp from Mrs Bowen when she peered into the barn stall. She had kept close watch on the mare for weeks but in the usual hustle of the morning she had missed the foaling. Or should we say foalings? For to her chagrin, there was not one foal but two nursing on their attentive and bright-eyed mother.

Twin foals. Twin foals! What luck that would mean for the Bowen farm. Surely there would be a bountiful harvest and fair weather with no drought or blight. Possibly a healthier flock of chickens, unlike times before.

Mrs Bowen had done her duty to ensure the household was protected from bad luck. She had readied many a ward to keep away the evil spirits, the purveyors of bad luck. There was a horseshoe hung over the barn door. Spilled salt was often thrown over shoulders. And in her pocket, she carried a luck bone, worn thin in the middle from chronic fondling. Maybe it was the luck bone that had done the trick.

The farm was abuzz with the new little lives. The foals and their mother were quickly cared for. A stall was laid with fresh straw for comfort as they got acquainted. Fresh corn and grain were heaped in the trough. Mrs Bowen even caught herself gazing adoringly at the trio before she made her way back to the homestead. 

The stew would not be thin this day. It would not be translucent and weak. No. This day would be for celebration. Her family would eat well. She scoured the root cellar and garden for morsels and scraps. Then to the loft to scrape together enough flour to make dumplings. It would be a fine stew this day.

On the horizon, far enough away that the road was like thread stitched into the hills, a figure approached. A dark and slow-moving shape, just out of focus.

In these times, visitors on foot were not a rare sight. They would come bearing stories to tell or wares to sell. Often welcomed with a cup of coffee and a seat in the shade, because the valley was lonely after all. Although it’s important to note that their stay was only long enough to share a tale and to catch their breath.

Mrs Bowen toiled away in the kitchen. She chopped and peeled and scooped until a not-quite-thick, not-quite-thin stew filled the pot over the hearth. She returned to the porch to rest while it warmed and perfumed the air. The rocking of her chair slowed as she noticed the approaching figure.

It was a woman, clad in black, the wrinkles in her forehead as deep as the wrinkles in her skirt, with a mop of black hair  gathered atop her head like a nest. She approached the homestead with unusual vigor and purpose which not so much as unsettled Mrs Bowen as it did surprise her.

Another surprise this day?

The visitor was a palmist. Able to decipher meanings from the intricate lines in the palm of one hand. She could see into the future and the heart of an individual by ogling the crisscrossing creases and crevices. She offered her skill to Mrs Bowen as the smell of the stew wafted out onto the porch. The smell was surely tantalizing, especially for a weary traveler such as her.

I’ll have a dumpling in exchange for a glimpse of your future, the old woman declared. She held her knotted hand out to Mrs Bowen, palm up. Waiting.

The young woman, possibly tempted by the hope of more good luck in her near future, reached out but hesitated before she fully revealed her palm. The woman got to work, gazing right through the skin, ligaments and bone into the fortune beyond.

As Mrs Bowen’s palm was being studied, she lamented that there was only enough dumplings for her family. There is not enough to share, she confessed quietly. And then in lighter voice pleading for a better deal she offered tea to the woman.

Very well then, the old woman said as she seized Mrs Bowen’s wrist instead, then you shall not either. Her curse was punctuated with spit and spite. Then she laughed a laugh that rattled her ribs, gathered her skirts and left. Puffs of dust rose up behind her on the road as she scurried on.

Mrs Bowen pushed the curse spoken over her from her mind. It was a good day after all. This was just a selfish and greedy visitor, nothing else. There could be no power in her words. The delicious smell hanging in the air convinced her of that. She went back inside and got to work setting the table and tending the stew. 

Soon thereafter the whole family gathered and sat down for their meal. Mr Bowen was beaming with pride at the good fortune upon them that day. He had spent his day in the fields tending the crop, his skin still glowed with the touch of sun. Their child sat with eager anticipation, hands freshly scrubbed after a day’s play. The family was gathered and ready for dinner and Mrs Bowen felt a swelling pride in the meal she’d prepared.

Stew was sploshed in each bowl, then a dumpling carefully fished out and placed in the center. The steam rose and twirled in their nostrils. Mr Bowen sliced into his dumpling first. Delicate and spoon tender. He stiffened staring into the bowl. Then Mrs Bowen dug into her bowl. Her jaw dropped. Simultaneously the child screamed in horror as a mass of black hair, tangled and matted, bloomed in the broth. It wound threads over and under and through the vegetables and bits of dumpling, expanding and overtaking each bowl.

“What sort of madness is this?” Mr Bowen exclaimed.

Just then a high-pitched squeal of panic carried in the house from outside. Mr Bowen rose so fast that his chair toppled over onto the floor. The foals! Scuffling and clawing and pawing thundered within the barn. The family rushed to the sound.

Just as Mr Bowen laid his hand on the barn door, silence fell suddenly. The door creaked open, revealing the wide-eyed mare, her twin foals lying dead on the stall floor. Scrapes and scuffs were grooved into every wall, as if the tiny beasts had tried to claw their way out.

Mr Bowen discovered black threads protruding from the foals’ mouths and nostrils. Then upon further inspection, it was revealed that wads of black hair filled the throats and airways of each foal.

And so that day, there were no good fortunes told and no good meals shared.

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