Careful what you ask the local witch for. Your debt must be paid. Creepy Georgia witch story by Kayla Bolton.
I’m from a little town in the South called Rosebud. It’s a small town, filled with tons of humidity in the long summer months and slow-talking people year-round. There’s a Confederate Monument standing in front of the old brick courthouse, a block away from a bed and breakfast that was built when I was a young lady. This is the town I grew up in, and it is the only home I’ve ever known.
The Leightons are the oldest family in town. They descend from Samuel Leighton, the founder of Rosebud. This influential and close-knit family consists of Randall Leighton, my husband, and his two brothers and one sister. We Leightons have a passel of children and grandchildren running amok in the world, as well. There’s so many of them that, for the life of me, I can’t remember all their names.
I have one ingrate child, whom I happen to love only slightly less than I love her beautiful children and grandchildren. I say ungrateful only half-seriously. I’m old, not dead, and I remember the busy days of my younger years, with all the schedules to adhere to and tasks to finish.
I just miss seeing her, visiting with her, being an active part of her life.
Perhaps it’s my old age or something more sinister, whispering to me that I don’t have much time left; warning me that if I’ve got anything left undone, I had better get to it.
I don’t expect to be absolved, but there’s something freeing in admitting secrets, secrets that have clawed at you for decades. This is a confession-my confession.
In 1932, I was a poor girl born into a sharecropping family. We didn’t live in the town back then, but rather on the outskirts, in the “country” part. I was ten and clever, but not nearly so clever as I thought. I lived with my baby sister, Abby Lou, my mama, Ruby, and my daddy, who went by Cricket. Mama got sick that year, and the doctor was clueless as to what was causing it. It was his belief that we should get on our knees and praise God for everyday our mama still lived because whatever the mystery illness was, it was killing her.
Instead, I cursed God. God was no friend of mine. If He was, my mama would never have become sick to begin with.
Day after day, she was put up in bed, growing progressively weaker. Daddy was unhappy because the love of his life’s fire was extinguishing, and he was helpless. Abby and I were unhappy because Mama was dying, and Daddy had gone from a mostly cheerful man (more cheerful than he ought to have been, as poor as we were) to a short-fused shell of a person.
I knew that Daddy would be telling me to quit school any day. Mama couldn’t work in her condition, and Abby was the baby, so he wouldn’t go to her first. It would be me so that I could take on Mama’s workload on top of my own. I ate from the rotten fruit of bitterness, angry that I’d have to quit. I loved school, and I had the foresight to know that I’d be locked in poverty forever if I didn’t finish.
Randall and I were classmates, and I loathed him. He was a hateful child, full of cruel jokes and jests. I despised him and his siblings, but one day, as I listened to him torment some of the younger kids, a thought peeked out of the shadows of my mind. It was just a fleeting thought, but I snatched at it, and that was the spark that ignited the fire.
‘Lord, I hate that boy, but it’d sure be nice to be his sister, then I wouldn’t have to quit school, and I’d have all the best dresses a girl could want. Too bad we ain-too bad we aren’t older, I could marry him, and Mama and Daddy and Abby and me’d all be rich, too.’
A childish plan hatched in me at the close of that thought, and when I kissed Mama goodnight that evening, I silently swore to her that I’d take care of us all, and she’d get better.
We kids all knew about Dixie Tanner, the rumored witch who lived in a shack in the woods outside of town. We also knew that spells and curses weren’t the only things Dixie sold; she took money for use of her female anatomy, too.
My plan was simple: I’d go to her and ask her if she could make my mama better. If she said no, I was going to ask her to make me a love potion to give to Randall. Without a love potion, the snobby brat would never look twice at the daughter of a sharecropper, a girl in ratty, dirty clothes.
My ten-year old mind rationalized that if he’d fall in love with me, his parents would end up loving me, too, and they’d want to help my family out. All our problems would be solved. I had no qualms about sacrificing myself on the altar of money, if it meant a better life for me and my family. My juvenile, naïve thought process didn’t yet understand words like charity, dignity, and pride, so I really believed this would work.
I’d been to Dixie’s once before, when my friends and I were dared by some older girls to go up to the door and knock. We didn’t have the gall to approach the place; instead, we saw it from a distance and ran for our dear lives when a rabbit disturbed the bushes a couple of feet from where we were crouched. I was certain I could find my way again.
The next night, I sneaked out of the house after everyone had fallen asleep and picked my way through the dark underbrush of the woods, moonbeams shining down on the imposing trees, lighting my way. The woods were creepy that night because they were so damn quiet. To this day, I’ve never been in woods so noiseless.
The trek to Dixie’s felt like it would never end. At one point, I thought I was lost, but then I heard a creek bubbling, and I knew I was almost there.
When I got to the front door, I almost lost my nerve. I felt incredibly vulnerable, numb with fear and doubt. What would happen if she chose to kidnap me and do black magic on me? Or she could simply refuse to help; either route was daunting.
I took a deep breath and raised a fist to knock. Before my balled up hand-made contact with the wooden door, it flew open, and there was Dixie. I’d seen her a couple of times in town, but she didn’t come much, and when she did, I steered as far from her as possible, just like other folks did, even as I was about dying of curiosity for a good gander.
This was the closest I had ever been to her. She was very pretty, in a wild way. Her hair was greasy, but it was long, dark, and wavy. A ribbon held it out of her face. Many necklaces were layered around her neck, some beaded and some woven. She stared boldly down at me, and I got the idea that she’d been expecting me.
“What do you want?” she asked, her thick lips stretching into a smirk.
“Can’t ya talk?”
“Yes…ma’am.” I wasn’t sure if she deserved a “ma’am,” being that she was a prostitute, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
“Damn, girl, just come inside.” She backed up, holding the door open for me.
Timidly, I entered the shack.
Candles were lit everywhere that met the eye. Strange statues of creatures I’d never seen before were placed in various places, dusty books were stacked on makeshift tables, and there was an odor of sage on the stagnant air. Her bed was pushed against a far wall, and my cheeks colored when I thought about the things that were done there.
“What you come here for, girl?” she asked as she shut the door.
I rubbed my hands together and summoned some courage.
“My mama. She’s real sick.”
“She dying?” She fluttered a hand over a chair and I sat. She took her seat in a rocking chair across from me.
“Uhn. I can’t help her.”
I jumped up from my seat.
“But you don’t know that! You haven’t even tried!”
“Don’t need to. I ain’t God, girl. There are limits, yes.”
I smoothed my nightgown under my bottom and sat again.
“Alright. Can you make me a potion or cast a spell?”
“I already said, I can’t help your mama.”
“It’s not for…I need a boy to love me.”
“Ahh. That is in my reach. How much money you got?”
Of all the things, I’d forgotten money.
“None,” I answered meekly.
She touched her necklaces and scoffed.
“Get outta here, child. Ain’t nothing in this world free. Spend what time your mama got left with her.”
“No.” I heard myself utter the word and cringed at this newfound spirit.
Her thick brows raised, and she clucked her tongue. I swallowed.
“No, I got no money, but isn’t there something else? Anything!”
Her expression became stony as she reflected on my desperation.
“Yeah, there’s somethin’. I’ll do it, but you got to agree to somethin’. And there ain’t no going back after you agree, ya hear? It’s sealed when you accept.”
“I’ll agree to anything, ma’am, anything you want!”
“I’ll be comin’. I’ll visit you every night for four nights, each time taking something valuable to you. Ain’t nothing you can do will stop me. You sure you want to pay that price?”
“I’ll pay it,” I agreed.
Her hair whipped around like a gust had hit it, but the air in that shack was still. She threw her head back and gleefully laughed. It reminded me of tinkling bells, that laugh.
“All too eager.” She got up and took a scarf off a nail in the wall, draping it over her head.
Without warning, she latched onto my hands with an icy grip and asked, “What’s the boy’s name?”
“Randall,” I whispered.
She closed her eyes tightly and began mumbling words that I’ve never been able to recall, words that sounded both delightful and deadly and made my stomach do flips. I caught Randall’s name a couple of times as she chanted her enigmatic spell, her fingers constricting my hands until I almost couldn’t feel them anymore. Just when I thought I was on the edge of madness, listening to her incantation, she stopped and released me.
“Done.” She grinned. “Remember, four nights. Now, go on-get out of here! And don’t come back!”
I leaped out of the chair and took off running, wanting to escape her big, malevolent eyes.
At school the next day, it felt like my visit with Dixie had been nothing more than a nightmare. When Randall came up from behind and yanked on a strand of my hair, I was sure that Dixie had tricked me. When he relentlessly started calling me ugly and plain, I knew I’d been ripped off. After school, he followed me as I walked home, kicking rocks and whistling a few feet back. I knew he had no reason to go this way; his family lived in a big house in town.
Aggravated and emotionally drained from the night before and the sting of his insults today, I turned and marched up to him.
“What do you think you’re doing? Why are you following me after you’ve been nothin’ but hateful all day?”
He crinkled his freckled nose.
“I-I’m sorry, Augusta. I didn’t mean it, I swear. Let me walk you home?”
I could’ve been no more stunned if he’d socked me in the eye.
When we neared my house, off a dirt road in the middle of a cotton field, he gently took my hand in his.
Dixie had done right by me.
At bedtime, as Abby said her prayers, I pretended to give thanks to God and pray for my loved ones, but all the while I gave thanks to Dixie, and whatever was the source of her power. I expected she’d be visiting that night, so I kissed my only doll-baby goodbye, sure she’d take her first, since she was the item I held most dearly to me.
I don’t know what time it was when I opened my eyes. The wind screeched angrily outside mine and Abby’s window and thunder rumbled deeply in the tumultuous sky. Purple lightning flashed, exposing a figure running away from our house and into the cotton fields. The violent lightning flashed again, briefly illuminating long hair blowing in the wind.
As promised, Dixie had come.
I got out of bed before the sun was up, same as every morning. Abby and I dressed as rain pattered down on the roof. When I picked up my worn down leather shoe off the hardwood floor, I saw her-my most prized possession, the doll, was sitting where I’d left her. I briefly wondered why Dixie hadn’t taken her.
Daddy walked into the room, his eyes bloodshot and glazed, just like they were when he drank whiskey.
“Girls, your mama…” He released a sob. “She passed away about an hour ago.”
We stayed home from school and went in to see her after my aunt and uncle showed up. I loved my mama, but seeing her pale corpse lying there…it wasn’t that she looked like a rotting body, but…I was spooked nonetheless. Daddy had the sense to shut her eyes, at least.
While the doctor went in to take a look at her, I fell silent as I wrestled with the idea that Dixie had taken Mama’s life. That couldn’t be it, though, right? Dixie didn’t say she’d kill someone…right?
Daddy and our uncle were to bury Mama in the family plot the next day. Daddy didn’t want to have a viewing. He thought such a practice was obscene and wanted to spare Mama the indignity of having a house full of people stare at her lifeless body.
Daddy went to town to request a coffin be built, and my aunt and uncle were sitting in his and Mama’s room with her shrouded body. My cousins played in the rain like wild children, slipping and sliding in the mud.
In our bed, I held Abby as she cried. My conscience continued to trouble me. This couldn’t be because of the love spell, it just couldn’t. Besides, Mama had been sick. Even the doctor expected her to pass sooner or later.
“Sissy?” Abby mumbled, hiccupping as soon as the word was out of her.
“I don’t feel very good.”
“I s’pose not. None of us do.” I felt her forehead with the back of my hand, the way Mama used to do. “You do feel a little warm.”
“Am I getting a sickness like Mama?”
“What? No. That is just plain crazy. Mama didn’t have a fever, anyway.”
Abby plopped a thumb in her mouth, an old habit of hers that had long ago died, but was now resurrected. Her eyelids drooped until her eyes shut out the world around her, and she was sound asleep.
That night, my cousins slept in mine and Abby’s room, my aunt cooked and sang softly as my uncle dozed, and Daddy sat with Mama. I tossed and turned, not able to turn my mind off. For the first time in my life, I knew what grief and guilt felt like.
As I attempted to sleep, Dixie came again. I noticed a shift in the shadows outside that had to be her, creeping by our window. I was seized by the sudden feeling of needing to make a trip to the privy. I squeezed my eyes closed.
Rays of sunshine poured into my room the next morning. My cousins’ loud banter landed on my ears as I stirred awake. I poked Abby’s back as I yawned.
“Get up, Abby. We slept late today.”
She didn’t move.
“Abby Lou, I mean it. We gotta see if there’s anything Daddy wants us to do.”
She pretended not to hear me. Agitated, I rolled her over. Glassy, lifeless brown eyes stared past me, into the void.
The doctor came a couple of hours later.
“I don’t know what it is, Cricket, but there’s a sickness in this house. You’d best be getting you and Augusta out of here,” he said.
Daddy didn’t seem to hear him. He looked blank. This time, it was my uncle who went to town to request another coffin.
Randall showed up at our front door after the doctor had gone. Judging by the red dust covering his church shoes, he’d walked all the way to my house in his Sunday best. He passed me flowers and softly told me that he was sorry for my loss. Even with his soothing presence, I was suffocating indoors. Daddy was so stricken with grief, that he was openly weeping in front of us, so I led Randall out back, and we climbed a tree. He held my hand after we’d situated ourselves on a sturdy limb, and I let my tears flow freely.
It was starting to sink in. I’d murdered my mama and baby sister.
We buried Mama that day, but had to wait for Abby’s coffin to bury her. We went to spend the night at my aunt and uncle’s house after the funeral.
Too emotionally wrecked to sleep, I crept through the house and sat down on the front porch. I prayed to God, begging Him to give me a sign, to reassure me that the deaths of my mama and sister weren’t related to my contract with the witch.
From my spot on the porch, I hadn’t noticed Dixie slinking around, but that morning, when I heard shrill crying, I knew she’d come. This time it was Daddy who was found dead. The doctor again blamed it on the mysterious sickness.
The fourth night, as I started out the front door of my aunt and uncle’s, a voice called to me from the darkness.
“Augusta-where are you going?”
For a second, I thought it was the witch. A lump rose in my throat before I realized it was Randall, hiding in the cover of night.
“I have something to do. You can come with me, if you promise not to tattle.”
He promised, and we set off to Dixie’s shack.
She waited at her door, as if expecting us.
“I told you, girl, ain’t no takin’ it back.”
“You never said you’d take my family!” I shouted.
Randall glared at her.
“We should leave, Augusta. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know this woman is bad.”
“Scared, Randall?” Dixie taunted.
He balled his fists up and puffed his chest out.
Using the element of surprise, I shoved the witch backward with all my emotional might. Stunned as she was, I managed to knock her down to the floor. She landed on her back right inside the shack.
I had spotted it as Randall and I approached the witch, and presently I pulled it out of the tree stump it was lodged in, walking back to her sprawled out body.
“You going to kill me?” she asked quietly, her eyes trained on the weapon I wielded.
I lifted the heavy ax over my head and swung as Randall belted out loud, terror-filled protests. My arms shook with the effort as the blade plunged into the soft flesh of her belly. Blood sprayed and gushed out of the deep wound, and Dixie howled and wailed, writhing on the ground.
“Bitch! I curse you, you little bitch! Hear me? I curse you!” As she lobbed her threats my way, blood bubbled out of her mouth and drizzled down her chin. In the darkness, it could’ve been chocolate or gravy.
Randall pushed me away from her and wriggled the ax free. He lifted it and planted it in her face. She ceased moving and grew silent.
“Your secret’s safe with me, Augusta,” he reassured me as he straightened back up to his full height.
We left Dixie dead on the floor and went to the creek. Randall told me to get rid of my gown as he ditched his own clothes. He instructed me to bathe in the water, then he told me he’d be right back.
“Don’t worry, I just have to get something,” he said with a smile.
I washed the blood from my body and waited for his return. He came back with a shovel that he said he got from Dixie’s and dug a deep hole. He flung our clothes into it and buried them. After we dropped the shovel back off at Dixie’s, we walked back to my aunt and uncle’s, naked and changed forever.
I relive that night a lot, but to write it down, in detail…it’s as if strangers swung that ax, a long time ago-not me, not me, and not my Randall, either.
In the light of the new day, only the witch had perished, but I think a part of Randall and me died with her.
Randall had only to ask his parents to allow me to live with them; they granted his wish almost immediately. My aunt and uncle were relieved to have the burden of another mouth to feed off their backs, so in the end, everyone was pleased with the arrangement.
The Leightons took real good care of me, even if they couldn’t understand how or why Randall was so smitten. I had my own bedroom and the best dresses. I took piano lessons, learned French, traveled, finished school, and completed an English degree. When we were 22 years old, Randall and I were married in the little white Baptist church my mama had occasionally managed to drag Daddy, Abby, and me to for the Sunday morning service.
Randall and I still live at home, with an around the clock aide. We also have a nurse who pops in daily to check our vitals and whatnot, though the Lord knows why. I think my daughter believes we’re going to live forever.
I am not as spry as I was even a couple of years ago, but I am not in near as bad health as my Randall. Alzheimer’s claimed his mind some years back, and my husband has not been himself for a while now. Every morning, I expect whatever aide is working the day shift to rush in and tell me he isn’t with us anymore.
Earlier I mentioned maybe it’s something more sinister pushing me to spill my guts about Dixie. Well, the something more sinister is Randall.
His behavior gets queerer all the time. Every night for the past week, I wake up to see him leaning over me, his face mere inches from mine, watching me like a cat watches a mouse. He’s even taken to whispering inaudible words to me, and I may not know what it is he’s saying, but I know it makes my hairs stand on end. The wonder of it all is that he has to have assistance dressing and ambulating and taking a shit, for Christ’s sake, but he can go for a midnight stroll into my room all on his own.
Today I heard him crying in his room. When I went in to console him, he bellowed, “Get away from me, you conniving whore!”
Then he added, in hushed tones, “Remember Dixie, Augusta? I see her, honey, see her all the time. She talks to me sometimes, says she’s coming to collect.”
It could be the Alzheimer’s, but I’m certain it’s not. He gazes upon me with knowing, condemning eyes. I think his illness has annihilated the love spell, even if he doesn’t talk about it. I took his free will from him. He’s been my puppet since we were children, so I’ll put up with any abuse he dishes out.
I have something coming to me, and I can live with that. I’m the reason my family was put six feet under. But my child and grandkids? They don’t deserve the punishment that I’ve evaded all these years.
I worry so for them.
Dixie never got her fourth night. There’s no taking it back, she said. She has a debt to settle, a long overdue one. I don’t think she’ll stop at my daughter-I believe she’ll run through all my descendants, picking them off one by one. Somehow, I’m sure of that.
I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess of things. Please, God, don’t let my daughter and grandkids pay for my sins.