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Growing up as a boy in a small area of Ohio, often referred to as Helltown, I recall hearing the urban legend of the Witch of Helltown.
Legend was she lived out by the now-defunct lock that ran through the town of Peninsula before it became a hot tourist district. She was rarely seen in the daytime and even then she hid her face from others under a large floppy straw hat that seemed to keep her long stringy white hair from flying in the wind. She spent her time walking around the local forest areas collecting wild mushrooms and herbs. She kept her basket always by her side and the aged hands that carried them, covered in liver spots, were twisted at the bones like old tree trunks. Her gray wrinkled skin bore the markings of someone that held a dark past and whether it was done to her or by her was anyone’s guess.
The townspeople would often sneak away to visit the old woman. Among those late-night shadows that hovered above them in the streets and all along the cobblestone beneath their feet, by the call of midnight, they came, seeking their fortunes and potions for their love spells and medicine to cure the sick and sometimes they were one in the same. One of those men that came called himself Big Sam. He would often ask the old woman to give him information about the other townspeople in exchange he would pay her handsomely and allow her to keep her house just at the edge of the waterway. He would use information he obtained from the Helltown Witch against the people and blackmail them into giving him their riches and their land. Big Sam swindled money out of these townsfolk causing his farm to get more massive and more vast every year.
One of the animals that lived on that farm was a Snow-White goat that was Big Sam’s prized Buck. Big Sam pampered it and took such care of that animal that rumor was he would often be heard talking to that goat and telling that goat all his troubles. The old witch knew this and when Big Sam came calling for his fortunes, in a manner of speaking, she would often distract him by asking about his goat. The old witch wasn’t stupid, she knew that if she gave Big Sam too much information about the people in the town, she would lose her place and her quiet life. The discussion about Big Sam’s Goat would often take up the hour that Big Sam paid the witch for to swindle the information out of her. He was often under the influence after coming back from the local tavern and soon the hour would be over and Big Sam would forget why he had visited in the first-place handing over a small bag of money to the old woman.
Eventually Big Sam figured out what the Witch was doing and so one night he came calling on the witch beating down the door and demanded to know every secret she had kept from him about the people in the town.
“I won’t help you anymore. You have taken and taken and drained these townspeople of their wealth and you have enough to pass down to a hundred and fifty sons.”
Big Sam only became angered by this. “Alright old witch! Mark my words you will regret refusing me this!”
By the next morning the old woman was dragged into the center of town and in front of every one of those townspeople forced to take off her ragged black clothes and her old straw hat. The old woman’s body bore scars of what looked like burn marks all over her body. The audience that Big Sam had afforded stared at this creature in awe. Every one of them too afraid of what Big Sam would do if they stepped in to help her.
“Witches burn! But as you can see by these scars this one lives! In Exodus 22:18 God says never permit a sorceress to live! Perhaps water will do with fire could not!”
Then Big Sam had the woman tied to the back of his horse and buggy and he forced her to walk to the old water lock. As he forced her to walk in her bare feet he looked back to see the prideful face of the old woman. She did not scream or cry she only watched the back of Big Sam’s head.
When they finally reached the edge of the river he had his men tie large rocks to her old feet and as he readied himself to lower her into the body of water he stopped to look at her one last time.
“Do you have any last words witch?”
She only smiled up at him with a wide crooked grin. He noticed her eyes were clouded and milky and almost resembled silver spoons.
“I regret nothing, you will see me again, sir. You will see these eyes staring back at yours some fine evening. If you do then you will know I have come for you and from that moment on I will not leave your side until you are dead. So, bury me hard and bury me fast for only lightning can strike to set me free.”
Big Sam’s patience was not vast and all at once full of anger he kicked her into the water with his giant black boot and watched her drown. When she was pronounced dead, he had her put in the local cemetery with the tallest headstone marker. It would be placed there to be a constant reminder that Big Sam was the man in charge and not to cross him or dig your own grave.
This tribute to the witch’s pride only worked against Big Sam for over the next three years lightning struck that grave time and time again because it was the tallest thing in that graveyard. Each time lightning struck the headstone it created a crack in the structure and getting closer to cracking the stone beneath it that covered the old woman’s grave. There was a nasty storm the night the cemetery plot finally broke open, and the gravedigger that was witness to the final stroke of lightning saw the large headstone shift and slide down to the earth causing a crack in the very soil where the witch was laid to rest.
That same night Big Sam awoke startled from a nightmare in which the old witch rose from her grave and dragged him into the water and he felt the air leave his lungs as he rose from his bed. Restless, Big Sam put on his robe and boots, heading out to the barn where he kept his pet goat. Big Sam sat down on a stool next to the goat’s pen where the buck lived in the lap of luxury, lit a match and began smoking his pipe. He sighed petting the goat’s head and looked up at the night sky. The horned beast chewed on some grass while Big Sam stroked his pet’s head as he began to tell the goat about his lousy dream and as he did the goat stopped eating and looked up at the man. The goat just stared at him for a moment before Big Sam met his gaze locking eyes.
When he looked down at the goat looking back at him were eyes that looked like silver spoons the same as the witch bore the day he murdered her. Big Sam who now was suffering in shock clutched at his chest falling onto ground to his death.
Legend has it that the old witch’s spirit still haunts that cemetery but when you see her apparition it is one of a solid white goat.