“…got Texas people’re talkin ‘bout war wi’ them Mexicans.”
Horris had jumped in his seat like a flea and had made wild gestures with his hands. He had even spit a little. It was the excitement not about the news he was telling the stranger, but about the stranger himself, his open ear. Horris’s mouth was dry from speaking. He glanced at the half empty bottle that stood on the stranger’s side of the little round table and licked his lips.
“You are thirsty?”
Horris nodded eagerly.
“Stop harassin’ my PAYING customers, Horris!” It was the repugnant voice of Clarence Ulster that came rushing at him together with the speaker himself who came out from behind the bar with wide strides and a dirty towel hanging from his left shoulder. “You still owe me two dollars – I’m sorry Mr – scram you old bastard!”
Horris would have never admitted it, but tall and slender Clay the barkeep scared him in this slur of time for that was how long this moment appeared to him. Clay’s long arms whirled like tentacles trying to catch him or slap him at least while this giant of a man grew until he bend over the table and poor old Horris with crazy eyes. Damn he needed a drink!
“I’m sorry Mr. How ‘bout a drink on the house?” said Clay apologetically.
The stranger smiled without showing his teeth as if he had something to hide. “He is not bothering me, and my bottle is only half empty why would I need a free drink when I can have one I already payed for?”
Clay had the same dumb look on his face he used to have in school when his teacher, Mr. Bishop, had asked him to resolve a math equation. But he had gotten better with math since then and that meant there was still hope for him.
“Bring my friend a glass.”
Clay glanced at Horris whose wrinkles on his forehead and around his almost every tooth missing mouth showed his satisfaction. The barkeep brought a second glass that had not been washed since it was used the last time. Horris scratched his scruffy chin and watched with sparkling eyes the brown liquid being poured into his glass. It was a beautiful waterfall filling a crystal goblet. Merry Christmas, Horris thought.
In the dim light of the saloon Horris and his new friend saluted each other. The whisky burned delightfully as it ran down his throat and Horris seemed to see the world a bit clearer. Not many men had found their way through snow and night to the saloon this late evening. There were two farmers who had defied all danger that was seething in the western mountains. They shook a little, either because of the coldness that was still in their bones or because of the stories they murmured with their heads put together. At another table there sat four middle aged men over a game of poker. Clay looked at them every once in a while not because he expected any trouble, not from Chester Hill, Nigel Douran, Little Jack, and Bill Willcock, but more because he wanted to know who would win and from whom he could take the most money.
And that was it. And not even one went up to the rooms on the second floor.
“Doesn’t it sound like the ghastly howl of a woman?” Horris said looking at the stranger sensing a new opportunity to spill his questionable knowledge.
The stranger listened to the wind that found its way through cracks and holes. It sounded as if a storm was coming. “A tormented woman maybe”, said the stranger with his raspy voice.
Horris looked about himself leaned on the table and said almost whispering “It’s them witches.”
The stranger did not react the way Horris had hoped he would instead the stranger held his gaze. His eyes flashed like a predator’s under the brim of his hat.
“People thought they was gone after them witch trials in Salem, but they was wrong. The witches left New England and travelled west. And every time that frontier moves we get closer to them. Oh and we’re close!”
He took the bottle gulped another drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Back in Salem there was a witch by the name o’ Sally Anderson and she was – is – their leader. Some says she’s over five hunned years old, some even says a thousand! But I dunno ‘bout that. Some says she comes from a circle of witches in England and was banished by them for trying to become their leader and killing the old.” Horris pretended to cut his throat with his finger. “Some says she was a normal woman until she came to this country and was captured by Injuns. And while living with them brutes their medicine-man taught her a few things, showed her how to summon demons… and even the devil himself! But I dunno ‘bout that. All I know is that she has long red hair in which spiders live and that her skin is so white like she has never seen the sun before. Now many people say witches’re the ugliest creatures on earth with warts and hunchbacks and that their skin turns green when they reveal their true self, but that isn’t the case. Witches’re beautiful. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. And that makes them even more dangerous. They don’t need to brew some elixir they just look at you and you’re dead.”
Horris nodded knowingly.
“Gunslingers and headhunners hun’em sometimes, but most don’t find their hiding places and those who do never come back or when they do they’ve lost their minds.”
Horris bend over the table and used his pointer finger to pull down the skin under his right eye.
“When you look close enough you can see an image of the witch he had faced burnt into the black of his eye. Oh it’s hurrible.”
“Does this town have problems with witches?” the stranger asked.
Horris hesitated and rubbed his hands.
“It happened ‘bout half a year ago. They came in the night a stormy one like this, a man and a woman. No one noticed it. But the next mornin’ their wagon stood right in the middle of the only crossroads this town has. People started gatherin’ round it ‘cause it looked very peculiar. It had paintings on the sides of unearthly beasts with yellow eyes and enormous fangs. There were skulls and pigeons in a grayish white, but the pigeons had red dots on their heads. And there were odd symbols that made you dizzy when you looked at them for too long. It looked like one of those wagons of travelin’ folk you know.
Sheriff van Dijk demanded whoever was in that wagon ‘shall come fore and explain their selves’. The wagon was big and the backdoor almost as tall as the man who came out of it. He walked down the stairs and stopped in front of the Sheriff. ‘Who else is in there?’ the Sheriff asked, but the man wouldn’t answer so he asked again, louder, and then the woman came out… a NIGRESS!”
Horris had yelled the last word a little bit too loud and got a dirty look from Clay. The stranger poured him another drink.
“Ah, thankya. Now where was I? Out of the wagon stepped this queen of savages for that was what she looked like. She was colorfully dressed and wore a turban with a black feather. The Sheriff knew immediately that somethin’ was wrong. The woman introduced herself said her name was Violette and that she has no last name anymore. When asked what her intentions were she looked at the people and then said that she was lookin’ for a place to settle down. The murmur of the people rose and Sheriff van Dijk told her she couldn’t leave her wagon on the street she’d have to drive it to the outskirts of town. She agreed, but what the people didn’t notice was that there were no horses in front of the wagon.
They stayed for ‘bout a month. No one treated them well especially not the nigress. And the man – who was white – he served her and was under her spell some folks said. Norman the butcher once said that the world is getting queerer and queerer. Now the real terrible things started at the end of the first week. Every day she walked through town and everyone wondered what she was doin’. Helena Keaton said ‘maybe she wants to open up a shop and is lookin’ for a good location’, but that wasn’t it. No sir.
She was doin’ her black magic.
Almost every man in this town looked at her lustfully at the end of the week and the women noticed it. So they came for her. They burnt down the wagon and scratched her and bit her and beat her and tore her dress apart, but the man – her servant, he was white – saved her and fled with her into the woods. Chester Hill said there was a cave somewhere and they pro’bly were hidin’ out there ‘cause this wasn’t the end of her doin’s.
When the women had fought her like wild cats she too had used her claws. She had pulled out their hair. As if the magic of them Injuns isn’t enough them black folks brought their voodoo magic from Africa. During the following weeks some women got sick. Their skin turned white then ashen gray and they sweated as if they had worked on the fields all day while the sun smiled down at them, but they had only lain in bed. And they bled. It just wouldn’t stop!
So Sheriff van Dijk led a posse into that wood where the witch was hidin’. The Sheriff found that cave Chester Hill was talkin’ ‘bout, but no one wanned to go inside. Bob Seaman, the deputy, later said that they had felt a dark presence in that cave. And a whisper was comin’ out of it, but no one could understand what that voice was sayin’. ‘Twasn’t even English! Now how do you get a wild beast out of its cave? You smoke it out. And that’s what they did. But then, then the storm came and with the storm came ol’ Sally.
The sky was angry and loud. Thunder roared and lightening spread over them clouds like a fishnet. The horses got scared and threw most of their riders out of their saddles. But not the Sheriff, no sir. He drew is gun and fired when the nigress and her servant came runnin’ out and he got that poor bastard. ‘Twasn’t his fault you know he was under her spell. That voodoo witch though escaped. Sally came rushin’ down from her mountains, flying she can do that just lift up in the air.” Horris wiggled his fingers. “Trees started to fall and burn and the men fled. The Sheriff still fired his gun round after round and he got that witch that was terrorizin’ our town in the shoulder, but then Sally swooped down ‘n’ grabbed her. She looked at the Sheriff before she took off.
Little flashes came out of her eyes. Blue veins were pulsin’ all over her body. Her red hair with the cobweb protruded. The wind was tearing at her. I told you witches are beautiful well they ain’t when they is angry.”
“She stretched out her hand and a dark energy shot towards the Sheriff. Hit him right on his forehead. Now he has a scar. And that’s the end of it. Sally and that other witch weren’t seen since then and Sheriff van Dijk doesn’t wanna lead another posse out there. People are tellin’ stories ‘bout demons and monsters livin’ between here and the mountains. Humbug I says, but them witches they is out there.”
Horris leaned back pleased with his tale and good for the night.
The stranger kept looking at Horris for a few seconds without showing any reaction to what he had just heard. He was calculating how much of it could be true. His eyes moved abruptly.
Horris followed his glance. At the top of the stairs stood a young woman, with a faded shawl around her shoulders and greasy black hair. She was probably bored thought Horris that’s why she came out of her room lookin’ for customers. She frowned at the stranger and rubbed her arms.
Horris turned back around with a smile. “Long time wi’outit, eh?”
“Ever wondered if one of them was a witch?” The stranger’s eyes fixated on Horris who began to feel a bit uncomfortable.
“W-where are ye from if I’m allowed to ask?”
“The West”, the stranger said.
“Oh. So you’ve been in Texas!”
The wrinkles on Horris’ forehead told that he did not understand. That old brain of his rumbled and came to a shocking conclusion.
“You travelled the Wild Lands! The No-Man’s-Land!”
“No-Man’s-Land? That is not what it is.” The stranger kicked back his chair and stood up. He was almost as tall as Clay and definitively scarier. All this time his Harpers Ferry Model 1841 – which would later be nicknamed Mississippi Rifle – had been on his lap. Now he was holding it in front of his chest ready to go to war. His cold blue eyes were piercing an enemy he would face in the future. “I’ve killed vam-pires, I’ve killed were-wolves, I’ve killed ghoouls… and I will kill this fucking witch!”
Now, when Horris was retelling his encounter with the stranger in the following weeks he could not recall if the stranger had said ‘witch’ or ‘bitch’, it amounted to the same thing for him.
The stranger had left town before dawn and Horris never saw him again which does not mean that he did not come back. But when he did it was only brief and Horris was sleeping it off. Bill Willcock told him that the stranger had carried a wooden box and in that box was the voodoo witch’s head. Others said it was only her tongue. Still others said it were her eyes, or hands, or her tits, or even her private parts. It did not really matter what part it was they are all able to cast a spell of some sorts. Sheriff van Dijk said he did not look inside, but the people speculated that he did. And after a while they stopped caring. That was at the onset of the war with Mexico.