Every October, I stumble upon this charming little site which is full of American spooky tales, and I have to say, it’s quite inspiring. I’m going to summarize (and maybe embellish a little bit) on one of the stories, and I hope you’ll follow the link and check out the other offerings.
Anyway, there was a conjuring woman out in the Ozarks named Old Betty, and she was one of the best there was. She was a little old woman who helped the neighbors with midwiving and taking off curses and helping the animals, but like a lot of magic workers, she kept herself to herself.
Old Betty had a razorback hog named Raw Head and Raw Head had a great fondness for the compost pile where Old Betty threw out her old potions. It didn’t happen all at once, but over time, Raw Head started grunting in a meaningful manner, listened to Old Betty with a great deal of seriousness, and even started walking around like a human man. Some say he even learned to speak human tongue, but some people will say anything. (And wouldn’t the adventures of Old Betty and Raw Head make a great short story? But today, we’re talking about the end of their relationship, not the beginning. It’ll have to keep for another day.)
Anyway, one day Raw Head went missing, and even when Old Betty asked everyone in town, nobody had seen him. Old Betty went home and pulled out her ink well, and dropped seven drops into a bowl of water, and whispered, “Black well, black well, show me well. Where is Raw Head, oh do tell.” She must have chanted it a hundred times. Out of the shadows and light reflected from flickering candles came a series of images. Her good-for-nothing neighbor, Kenneth, was rounding up a bunch of feral hogs and herding them toward Hog-Scald Hollow. And right there was Raw Head! Next, the black pool showed Kenneth and all of his cousins slaughtering the pigs and loading them up on a wagon. Raw Head’s severed head was on the top of the heap. The next picture showed a pile of bones and skulls in the butcher’s shop, scraped clean.
Old Betty always did white magic, but her granny had taught her a thing or two about the black. When Old Betty saw the horrible end that had come to her friend, she changed her chant. “Raw Head, here’s your chance. Bloody bones, get up and dance!” After a half an hour or so of this chanting, a new image showed in the pool of ink. Some bones had wiggled out of the pile, come together and then went searching through the pile of skulls. The ghastly spectre apparently found what it was looking for, because it took one, and placed it firmly on its shoulders. Raw Head walked out of the shop.
But still, Old Betty chanted. It was a long hour before the image changed again, but change it did. Raw Head walked around Kenneth’s cabin, where he and the boys were drinking up booze that they’d bought with the money that they traded the pigs for. Kenneth heard Raw Head first, and thinking it was some kid scraping at the door, he went out onto the porch, and saw Raw Head’s glowing eyes. “Why, landsakes, why you got them big eyes, boy,” he said.
“To see your grave,” Raw Head said.
“Ha-ha,” Kenneth said, and raised the lantern a little higher, when he saw the huge tusks on Raw Head’s face. “Why, landsakes, why you got them big tusks, boy?”
“To dig your grave,” Raw Head said.
Kenneth thought maybe it was the whisky playing tricks, but he went back to get his cousins. “Boys, there’s something strange out there!” They all piled out onto the porch, but nothing was there. “Gosh,” Kenneth said. “It’s probably some dumb kid. Let’s find him!” And so they split up their own ways and went looking for whatever it was that had spooked Kenneth.
Kenneth was creeping behind the outhouse when he heard a swish-swish behind him. He jumped and looked, and saw Raw Head, with his tail whipping back and forth angrily. “Why, landsakes, why you got that big tail?”
“To sweep your grave, Kenneth!”
Kenneth took off running, but it was too late. He’d just passed the woodshed, when there was Raw Head, in front of him, his eyes glowing an uncanny yellow, and his teeth gleaming in the moonlight.
“Why, landsakes, why . . . why you got them big teeth?”
“To EAT YOU UP!” And that was the end of Kenneth, and one by one, his thieving cousins got the same treatment.
Old Betty collapsed back in her chair, drained. With her one friend gone, they say she died from heartbreak during the cold winter. But they also say, when the harvest moon comes again, Raw Head and Old Betty take a walk down the blue-lit lane at midnight, chatting up a storm all night long. And everybody knows that you never, never mess with the wild hogs around Hog-Scald Hollow.
(Based on an Appalachian folktale retold by S. E. Schlosser, and now retold by me. See first paragraph for the link.)
(Also, check out “The Yellow Ribbon” from the same site. I talk about it on this blog on October 18, 2013.)