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This isn’t a story like other stories. This is something I know from personal experience. This is something that happened to me. It was the late sixties, I was down south in the little town of Rosedale, MS. visiting my Grandparents for the family reunion. My mother told me that Rosedale was near the crossroads where Robert Johnson was suppose to have sold his soul to the devil. My Grandfather was a sharecropper on a little plantation, they lived in a shotgun style house, it was called a shotgun house because if you fired a shotgun through the front door it’d go all the way through the house to the backdoor.
Grandma always insisted on us taking a bath before bedtime, which was unfortunate for me because I was the youngest, it meant I had to go first. They didn’t have indoor plumbing, they had running water in the kitchen but that was all. In order to take a bath you had to boil water in the kitchen and pour it into the wash basin that doubled as Grandma’s wash tub. Maybe being first wasn’t the worst thing, the next person had to use the dirty bath water.
Grandma had this big brass bed, I had to step up on the bed-frame to get in. She would turn down the sheets before I got in to check for snakes. Grandma said that the snakes would climb right up and into bed with you to get warm, I’m glad she checked. It reminded me of that old song we used to sing in church Bringing In The Sheaves. I always sang Bringing In The Sheets because I didn’t know what a sheave was. They were as white as new fallen snow, then she would sprinkle them with baby powder. She had this big goose down mattress that was so soft it was like sleeping on a cloud, and then she’d cover you up in those big home made quilts. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep, but sleep was just the beginning.
I had this dream; something was chasing me and I was running and running. I started out running in the city, then I was running through the tall cotton, it was tearing at my clothes and scratching my flesh. I could hear the baying hounds on my heals.
I woke with a start, my eyes were open but I couldn’t move. I was drenched in sweat and there was this heavy weight pressing down on my chest like someone was sitting on me. I couldn’t move and I could barely breath. I lay there for what seemed an eternity unable to move, and barely able to breath, until the cock crowed and the rays of the morning sun released me from my prison.
The weight lift from my chest, I could breathe again and my limbs were my own. I breathed a sigh of relief as the smell of Grandma’s fresh bacon wafted in from the kitchen. She was up at first light fixing breakfast for Grandpa who was getting ready for another day of sharecropping.
“Did I wake you, Honey-pot?” Grandma asked as I tipped in.
“No, Grandma.” I said, taking a seat at the table. “I had a bad dream.” I told Grandma about my dream, she gasped when I told her about running through the high cotton, and the hounds baying. Then I told her about waking up and being unable to move.
“Did it feel like you had a weight pressing on your chest like something was a’ sittin’ on you?”
“Yeah! How did you know?” I looked at my Grandma and she had this strange look on her face like someone had just walked across her grave.
“You was ridin’ the witch.”
“Ridin’ the what?”
“Ridin’ the witch. You and me’s got work to do before the sun goes down.”
I was getting ready to ask what kind of work when she put a finger to her lips as Grandpa came into the room. He was dressed in his customary overalls. He had his socks on, he didn’t put his work boots on until he was outside. He mumbled something in his Hillbilly Bear voice that I didn’t understand. I guess Grandma figured I didn’t understand because she answered for me.
“No, he ain’t ate yet. It’s not time for him, he ain’t suppose to be up yet. Don’t worry,” she told him, “there’s a’ plenty.” It was my Grandfather’s habit not to eat until everybody in the house had eaten, except for breakfast. He usually ate before everyone else got up and he’d be out on his tractor before we were out of bed good.
Grandmother told me that one time along time ago, when my mother’s brothers were small, Grandpa had come in from the cotton fields and had worked up an appetite. My Grandma and the children were out so he fixed himself something to eat. When he had finished he had eaten up most of the food in the house and there wasn’t enough left for her or the children. Fortunately, she had been out to the store and came home with a load of groceries, otherwise Grandma and the children would’ve went hungry. From then on he vowed that everyone in his house would eat their fill before he would take a bite, he kept that until the day he died, driving that tractor in his overalls.
Grandma finished cooking breakfast for Grandpa, and then for everyone else, allthewhile she kept a close eye on me. After she had cleaned up and set everyone to doing their chores she told me to come with her.
“Where we going?” I asked.
“To get that witch offen ya’.”
“How we gonna’ do that?”
“We gotta go see Ms. Rudolph. She’ll know how.” Grandpa had a ‘57 Chevy Bel Air that he kept in a garage that wasn’t as big as his chicken coop and only drove on Sundays. We drove for what seemed to be all day. We drove till the tall cotton came to an end and drove some more. We drove till the pave road ended, Grandma turned down this old dirt road and drove some more. She drove till the moss that hung from the trees blotted out the sun and drove on till the dirt road ended, and drove some more - but not much more than that.
We were deep in bayou country when Grandma came to a stop. She pulled up to this little gray, ramshackle place where the swamp met the solid ground. It was up on stilts, and had a porch that ran the length of it, the whole house hadn’t seen a lick of paint since paint was invented. There was an enormous ‘gator between us an the front steps. It gapped its jaws wide and I could swear I could see something moving inside, and let out an evil hiss.
“’O’ don‘t pay him no never mind,” Grandma said, she gave a toot of the horn before she jumped out the car, “that’s ol’ Daddy Monday.” She shewed him away with a “scat” and a flap of her apron. “I used to wrestle that ol’ rascal when I was a girl.” Daddy Monday closed his mouth, whatever was inside said its last goodbye’s to the light of day, he turned and slid off in to the swamp. Grandma gave another toot of the horn before Ms. Rudolph came out. I had always thought my Grandma was a big woman, and she was - strong too, but Ms. Rudolph was a ‘Great Big Woman’. She was so big she had fat rolls over her eyes and bags to catch them in under. The amount of flesh hanging off this woman’s arms was bigger than a ten year old child, and a big one, too. There was nothing small about this woman, she made the cabin look smaller than it already did. I remember thinking ‘That place must be sturdier than it looks!’.
“Hey there Ms. Rudolph.” Grandma waved, but the Great Big Woman didn’t wave back, I didn’t think she could lift her arms.
“Wha’ chu’ doin’ ou ‘cher?”
“I come to see ya’. My Grandson’s been ridin’ the witch.” That got her eyes open.
“Come ‘ere, boy.” I got out of the car, looking for Daddy Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. “Hurry up. Tain’t nottin’ gonna’ eacha, yet. Least ways not till’s I tells it so. Follow me.” Grandma and I walked up the stairs together and followed Ms. Rudolph into the house. I could smell the house from outside, it smelled of mold, mildew and a healthy mix of swamp gas. She had a three-legged spider monkeys that ran. It jumped on my back, screeched in my ear, like to scare me to death, then stuck its finger in my ear.
“Get outta cher, Mr. B.A.!” Later Grandma told me that B.A. stood for Bad Ass. The monkeys name was Mr. Bad Ass, and you could here Ms. Rudolph all up-and-down the countryside chasing that monkey: “Bring yo’ self ova’ cher Mr. Bad Ass, and when I catch’s up to ou’ Mr. Bad Ass. She cupped me under the chin with one of her meat hooks and looked deep into my eyes. Oh my God, did that great big woman smell awful! She smell rancid pork chops on a hot summer day. I was trying not to wrinkle up from the smell of her breath, I could see the uneaten meat in her teeth, when she pronounced:
“You been ‘ere b’fo’.”
“What’ca mean?” Grandma asked.
“He come back from de’ udder side, seen too much, know too much. Dat’ be why he be ridin’ the witch an’ de’ hounds be after ‘im.
“What we gonna’ do?”
“Two tings we gan’ do,” she held up two fat little fingers that were the size of new born babes, “he go back with the Ferry Man, …”
[4-size]“Oh my God, NO!” Grandma’s outburst sent a shiver up my spine.
“Or, maybe, … just maybe de’ Ferry Man to call off de’ dogs and let him stay.”
“Well, how’s we gowin’ gets de’ Ferry Man to let ‘im stay?” Grandma’s accent was getting as thick as Ms. Rudolph’s.
Dunno,” said the big woman with a shrug of her shoulders, “up to de’ Ferry Man. I tells’ ya’ dis: De’ Ferry Man, ‘im ‘as a sweet tooth, ‘im partial to sweet potato pie.”
“Com’ yung ‘un.” Grandma snatched me up by the arm, “Weez gots werk to do, lotsa’ werk.” Even though Grandma was dead tired when she got back she commenced to baking. She baked everything in the house including Grandpa’s dinner. Grandpa took one look at the baked chicken, shrugged his shoulders and commenced to eating. Grandma baked; she baked pies and she baked cakes. She baked banana bread, pecan pie, and rhubarb pie. She baked every thing in the house that she could and then started in on the garden, but no sweet potato pie: yams, you see, were out of season.
Most people think of midnight as the ‘witching hour’ but it’s not: it’s three a.m. It’s called the souls midnight. More people die between three a.m. and four a.m. than all other times of the day, combined. That’s when the Ferry Man comes round.[/size]