Holiday Arts
and Writings

October 2020

 

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Oil painting "Examination of a witch" by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1853) (Public Domain)

 

The Witch of New Mexico Road

One year in the 1880s, several farmers in Island Brook were perplexed. Their entire herds of cows had gone dry. But why? The farmers laid a trap in a cattle barn, and caught a large white rabbit. They suspected supernatural foul play, and put several notches in its ears before setting it free.

Soon after that, an old Irish farmer’s wife named Peggy Green died. The farmers noticed her ears were notched, just like the rabbit’s. They had found their witch! They buried her in the Irish cemetery on New Mexico Road, but the cows still did not give milk. So they walled-in her grave to contain the ghost. Only then did the curse lift, and the cows began to produce milk normally. So the story goes.

In Ghost Stories of Canada, John Robert Colombo wrote that “the U-shaped walled-in area may be seen to this day.”

Old-timers, he wrote, shun the cemetery by night, and believe that “if, on the night of a full moon, you take the bones of a black chicken to the crossroads, you will see the devil.”

I’ve explored the Thompson Cemetery on New Mexico Road a number of times. It contains some old gravestones, but we saw none bearing the name of “Green” and we saw no U-shaped wall.

But we did see remnants of a stone wall reinforcing the roadside embankment fronting the cemetery, as if to prevent the underground residents from sliding down the bank into the road. Strange...

As for the Devil, as for the Divine: Seek, and ye shall find.

- R.A. Garber

Oil painting "Examination of a witch" by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1853) (Public Domain)


La sorcière du chemin New-Mexico

Dans les années 1880, les fermiers d'Island Brook étaient perplexes car des troupeaux entiers de vaches ne donnaient plus de lait. Les fermiers ont tendu un piège, ont attrapé un gros lapin blanc et ont entaillé ses oreilles avant de le libérer.

Peu de temps après, Peggy Green, la femme d’un vieux fermier irlandais, est décédée. Les fermiers ont remarqué que ses oreilles étaient entaillées, tout comme celles du lapin. Ils avaient donc trouvé leur sorcière ! Les fermiers l'ont enterrée dans le cimetière irlandais du chemin New-Mexico, mais les vaches ne donnaient toujours pas de lait. Alors ils ont construit un mur en forme de U autour de sa tombe pour contenir le fantôme. Ce n'est qu'alors que la malédiction fut levée et les vaches ont commencé à produire du lait normalement. Ainsi va l’histoire.

Dans Ghost Stories of Canada, John Robert Colombo écrit que « la zone murée en forme de U peut être vue à ce jour. »

« Si, dans la nuit de la pleine lune vous emportez les os d'un poulet noir au carrefour, vous verrez le diable. »

Au cimetière Thompson du chemin New-Mexico, nous n'avons vu aucun mur en forme de U. Toutefois, nous avons vu les restes d'un mur de pierre renforçant le remblai du bord de la route donnant sur le cimetière, empêchant peut-être tous ses habitants de glisser dans la route.

Quant au diable et quant au divin : cherchez, et vous trouverez !

- R.A. Garber

 

Ol' Tom
The White Orb

by John Mackley

 

As the sun disappeared behind the Angus hills, Tom turned his horse “Maple,” named for her dark amber maple syrup coat, onto Brooks Road. The days had grown short and twilight “lasts less time than it takes to turn around treee times,” Tom muttered to himself. The trees were mostly bare, save the scattered yellow poplar leaves hanging stubbornly to the uppermost branches. Even the brilliant yellow Tamarack needles were beginning to drop in the breeze. It had already snowed twice, a week earlier, but all but a few patches in the shady parts of the roadside ditches had melted away.

 

October was all but spent, and a decided chill on the breeze cut through Tom’s jacket. He tightened it around himself and fumbled for his gloves in the saddle bag as Maple trotted along the dirt road.

 

He smiled when his hand landed on the bag of bon-bons he had bought at the General Store as a Halloween treat for Trina.

 

By the time they got to Hardwood Flats Road, darkness was fast upon them. He was grateful Maple knew the way by heart. The others would have finished supper and probably the dishes too, by the time he got there. He just hoped Papa George and Mama Lydia wouldn’t have put Trina to bed before he arrived.

 

The darkness was total by the time they rounded the curve on Tambs Road and began the descent toward the dam. Tom almost lost his grip when Maple stopped short and froze. He righted himself in the saddle and held his breath. Peering into the inky darkness he strained to hear any sound that might explain why his steed had chosen to stop so abruptly.

 

The moments that followed felt like minutes, and the first few minutes seemed like hours, as Maple stood stock still. Tom was unable to perceive anything other than the slightest rustling of the remaining poplar leaves in the treetops, so he tried to coax Maple to proceed homeward.

 

But the horse wouldn’t budge. Tom was not the nervous type and had never been afraid of the dark. “T’aint nutt’n in da dark dat won’ hurt ya in da day.”

 

But as Maple continued to refuse to budge, Tom’s anxiety began to mount. It started deep down in his shoes, creeping up his legs to his knees and tingling as it worked up toward his waist.

 

Tom’s eyes had fully adjusted to the gloom, but he could see only blackness. The overcast sky was just opaque enough to block the starlight, but not low enough to reflect the glow of any nearby house lights.

 

After what seemed an eternity, Tom gave up trying to drive Maple forward and dismounted. He intended to lead her the rest of the way home if he had to.

 

It took all he could do, talking softly, pulling gently on the reins at first, then more firmly, to get her to budge. Step by step they descended the hill. As they approached the curve that passed the dam, Tom could begin to make out the sheen of the lake water, calm and smooth as glass. With so little to focus on, he found it hard to clearly make out the outline of the dam and the treeline. So when he thought he perceived a movement over the small island in the middle of the reservoir, he wasn’t really sure if he had seen anything at all.

 

A sharp jerk on the reins and a mournful whine from deep within Maple’s chest convinced Tom that the movement was not his imagination. Maple quivered and shook, then began to twist and rear up on her hind legs. Before Tom could get a better grip on the reins, she ripped them painfully through his fingers and out of his grip.

 

Maple turned and galloped back up the dark road. Her dark form rapidly shrank and faded from view. Then she rounded the curve and was gone. Tom stood, puzzled, alone and shivering.

 

He was shivering partly from fear, partly from the cold. He turned slowly back to face the lake. He scanned the surface of the water and the small island for any signs of whatever had so spooked Maple, leaving him in this predicament.

 

And then he saw it. Round and white, glowing in the inky blackness. Even with no moon or starlight, something white will stand out in stark contrast to the blue-gray blackness of night.

 

Tom did not know whether to run up the road after Maple, feel around for a broken branch with which to defend himself, or stand and stare. He chose, mostly out of default, the later.

 

With a slight bobbing motion, the glowing white form slowly rose above the grassy knoll of the little island. Then it disappeared once again, silent and foreboding. Tom strained all the harder, trying to make out what he now could not see at all.

 

Then it was there again, somewhat round, definitely white and undulating. Tom, without consciously realizing it, began to creep carefully forward to get a better view.

 

When the orb vanished once again, he tiptoed quietly down the embankment and across the grass to relative safety behind the crest of the dam, downstream from the reservoir and island.

 

He lay down on the dead grass and pulling himself up and forward, he peered gingerly over the top of the dam. And waited. His curiosity had gotten the best of his fear.

 

And there it was again: The glowing white orb, rising up from the island, higher this time, the reflection of its undulating form shimmering in the glassy surface of the lake.

 

As the orb rose higher and higher, it became a form. Suddenly Tom became aware of a presence beside him, then a nudge on his shoulder. He jumped! Maple had overcome her fear, and had quietly returned to peer into the darkness at his side. Tom patted the side of her snout and turned his attention back to the unfolding vision before them.

 

The white orb descended and vanished once again, but only momentarily. This time when it rose, it rose higher, growing taller and wider. Then a large set of wide white wings appeared out-stretched on either side. For the first time Tom could make out a set of huge black eyes peering directly at the spot where he and Maple were hiding. The two crouched lower in unison.

 

The being before them seemed to perceive their presence. It lowered its head and eyes once again below the crest of the island and came back up with what looked for all the world like a large snowshoe hare in its golden beak.

 

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National Poetry Month
Canada April 2020

Happy Poetry Month! Here are 30 daily poems by
Townships women writers, for your enjoyment.
(thanks to Angela Leuck for organizing this plan!):
click here / cliquez ici

 

 

 

 

 

©2020 John Mackley & R.A. Garber