That’s when a strange thing happened

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Set your story during a drought.... view prompt

4 comments

Historical Fiction American Western

The first time I ever saw a Witch was on the first day of school in September of 1931. It was a day of adjustments; being the new child at a one room school house and all.

That Witch, was standing in her doorway with a broom, cackling at us. In the words of Mr. Baum, ‘that's when a strange thing happened.’

You see, my brother Arnie and I had just made friends with some of the other children here in our new home of Cheyenne Wells, Colorado; they told us she was a Witch. Just saying the word ‘Witch‘ gave me entrance to their conversation. At ten years old, I felt I was a connoisseur of witch-hood as I had read Mr. Baum's books bout Witches and Wizards at least ten times over. 

As the old witch slammed her garden gate closed, she cackled as if she was real mean, “You children keep off my property, you hear me!” 

 Hazel Brown said with 12-year-old authority. “Don’t mind her none. That’s the ole widow Langley.” Then lowering her voice to a near whisper, “It’s her dogs; you have got to fear she has a whole pack of em’.”

“Yeah,” said little Charlie Smith. He was six years old and dressed in his hand-me-down Sailor Suit. As he put his finger against his lips and tried to whisper without his front teeth, hissing all along, “She has herself some wolvesss’. They look like it anyways; they isss’ big and hairy with giant white teeth. Them thingsss’ give me the bad dreamss.’”


“Wicked Witches in the West always have themselves a pack of Wolves. They use them to eat their enemies”, I said with my book-smart authority. 


The group of us children walked a little faster. But just as soon as we got near the end of her property, the canines came running at us, growling and barking as loud as they could. The brown one in the front had drool hanging from his teeth as he snarled at us. I'd say there was fifteen of em’, but the way they was’ jumping and bounding, it was hard to count. 


When we arrived at the schoolhouse, I got my copy of Mr. Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, out and hugged it against my chest. On the inside of the cover, Paw wrote, “To my wonderful daughter Agnese on her tenth birthday, I give my most cherished childhood book. May you learn that you, too, have the power within you to overcome ‘any and all’ adversities. I love you.”


Closing my eyes, I remembered his kiss on my cheek. Just like the one Dorothy Gale’s Mother gave her before she got orphaned and had to move in with her stern Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, I bet. Gee, that was on my 10th birthday way back in April. I think that was my last happy day. After that, Paw lost his job at the Dodge City Mercantile, and the bank foreclosed on our beautiful little house in Kansas. 


It was hot for September in 1931 here in Cheyenne Wells; my Mama told me so. Me and Arnie didn’t know nothin’ bout, Colorado before we moved here. As far as I can see, it’s as hot and dry as Kansas. We saw the mountains in a picture book our paw showed us, but we ain’t seen hide nor hair of mountain greenery around this old town.


After School, I told the others, “All children should know that Wicked Witches are afraid of getting wet.” As I showed them my book, I pointed to an illustration of the Wicked Witch of the West, “Mr. Baum wrote it in his book as it's just their way. Their evilness must be kept dry for them to be powerful.”  

My brother Arnie asked, “Old Widow Langley is a wicked witch who lives in the west; must she keep herself dry? Is that why we have this powerful drought?”

Hazel gasped when she looked at the illustration, “that there looks just like Mrs. Langley. She wears that exact same black dress and has an eye patch.” 

Shy Henry Watson spoke up with his hands in his overall pockets and his Oliver Twist-style cap on his head. His voice was crackly, low, and then high, so he was hard to hear as he always was sucking on a blade of grass hay. “My paw said she hurt her eye in a wagon accident when she settled here with her husband and family way back in the day. He said an Indian shot it clean through with an arrow.” 

Henry was eleven years old and only came to school with us part-time as he had to help on his folk's ranch most of the time. 


Henry was with us on the day the old Witch Langley threatened us. He got me and Arnie into some fearsome trouble when we followed him inside the witch's house. However, this house was more like a cabin. It was very rustic and had no indoor plumbing nor electricity. I found it odd that she had a Philco radio that sat silently in the corner. 

“I wonder what the story is about having a radio without no electricity,” Henry said as he walked by.


  He said it just as I was thinking it. I thought to myself, “great minds do think alike.” I also thought Henry sure does look swell in that blue cap. It matches his blue eyes. I think I was smitten. 


Just then, the old Widow Langley barged in the back door. “What the hell is you youngins doing inside my house!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.

 Henry grabbed mine and Arnie's hands, and we ran for it out the front door. But the Witch was powerful and conjured up a large murder of crows to fly after us. She threatened to have the crows peck our eyes out.

When we arrived at the school, we told all the children what happened, about us getting our eyes pecked and all. That's when we children made our plan to dose the witch with a bucket of water and get rid of her. 


Then a stranger thing happened on the day the old witch Mrs. Langley met us children face to face. She started at us with her one good eye. I bet she had a powerful charm in that there eye as she just kept staring at us when Henry and Hazel started yelling, “Die Witch Die.”

Charlie, Arnie, and myself taunted her the same, “Die Witch Die, we chanted. Some of the other school children joined in; the twins Charlotte and Martha Martin and gawky Mable Eubank threw some rocks. 

“You little monsters say I’m a Witch do ya? Well, I’ll show you what I can do! I will cast a spell on the lot of you” then she lifted her broom and told us, children, I vows you and those you love will be the ones to die before me!”


Then crash bang, lightning struck, and the heavens opened up with a flood of rain and the worse stinging hail I had ever felt. “Run for cover,” Hazel Brown yelled. 

We all gathered under the protection of an old lean-to where low and behold; we ran smack dab into a bee hive. As the bees took after us, we ran, but we never looked for the Witch, figuring she must have dissolved, as all of us was soaking wet. 


Now, none of us children noticed that the sky had grown caliginous by the time we left the school that fateful day. The cloud cover reminded me of the Witch's house, always dark and obscure, even on a sunny day. We didn't know that the horrible drought could bring on a terrible rainstorm at a moment's notice. This one was bad, flooding out all the farms. 

Unbeknownst to me, As we was taunting the Witch my Father was out trying to save our chickens, Our chicken house became home to about 130 chickens. We evidently had good laying hens as we had plenty of eggs for the family, as well as many to sell, so it was important. But he caught the pneumonia and died three weeks later. 

“The old which had spoke the spell, I heard’ it with my own ears”, Henry said as he put his arm around me at my father's funeral. “If she is still here, I think we should get even. Don't you?”


When we finally all got back to school, Charlie caused a horrid commotion by yelling at the top of his whistle like voice, Mrsss. Langley, I mean the old Witchss is outside the window!”


We all ran over to see, but our Teacher Miss Hamble made us take our seats.

“What is all this talk about witches?” she asked but then didn't wait for an answer, “I forbid any of you to mention it again,” she said as she confiscated my Wonderful Wizard of Oz book. “You will have to earn this back, Agnes; I expect you to stay after school and help me clean for the next week. And I expect an apology from you to nice Mrs. Langley for all the trouble you’ve caused.”

“Oh, you can't,” I begged not wanting to walk home alone. “That’s it, no further mention of it, or I will expel you instead.” 

I knew my recently widowed mother was in terrible shape and could not handle me being expelled, so I complied but not with the apology right off. 


Then the strangest of all things happened in the second week of October 1931. 

First, Hazel Brown said, “The old witch, she ain’t dead! I seen her in an old horse-drawn buggy traveling to the schoolhouse on Saturday. I then seen her traveling in the opposite direction about ten minutes later. She had a big ugly smile on her face.”

Mabel Eubank then said, “Me and my Paw saw the craziest sight, that there witch was up in a tall tree spying on us. I think it was her, but I didn’t get a good look at her face, but they was dressed all in black.” 

That was it. I had had enough, as I was thouroly convinced that the Witch caused the flooding and my father's death. 


That’s when us students ramshackled Miss Hambles library looking to get my Oz book back but instead found a book about armor. After Henry and I read it over, we found it urgent to design anti-witch armor for all the children to wear. We would be safe anyway. 


Who knew our cardboard armor would protect us all when a freak October blizzard hit? The blizzard was so powerful that our tiny one-room schoolhouse began to shake. I thought we might be blown away. 

“Everyone under their desk!”Miss Bamble shouted as the window glass blew out because of the intense wind. She thought about powering up the truck her Fiancé had turned makeshift school bus that he wanted her to use in case of an emergency. She could drive all us children home to get away from the bad weather. 


I don’t know about the others, but my armor gave me the confidence to take charge when Miss Bamble went out to start the bus. Little did we realize we children would be trapped alone in a tiny room for 24 hours. 


It was frigid cold when the snow blew in through the broken windows and piled high on the floor. None of us was dressed for such an event. It had been warm, at least 60 degrees, when we left for school that morning, so nobody wore a coat. 


Little Charlie Smith just sat at his desk with snow covering his tiny body. Henry went to him. “Get up, Charlie! What are you doing? Don’t scare me like that!” He pushed on the boy, and he fell over dead. 


The Martin twins were dressed in matching plaid gingham lightweight linen. They was crying on each other and shivering with all their might. Only when they lay together on the floor did they become quiet. They died wrapped in each other’s arms.  Come to think of it, all three children who died said they didn’t believe in the armor. 

“I was five years old when we were forced to relocate,” Henry said. “I became very sick with whooping cough and suffered very much, and it was difficult to breathe. But I did it anyway without no damn anti-witch armor. Now get up, everybody, and move yourself.”


Our October 29th, 1931 was exactly two years past Paw’s dilemma of Black Tuesday when he faced the most significant deprivation he had ever known; he used his ingenuity and discovered inner resources that helped them to survive. I would do the same now. 


I told Hazel and the older girls to get all the newspaper funnies Miss Hamble had saved back for our reading lesson and to paste them as good as they could over the open windows. I told Henry to grab the shelf where we kept our school board games and break it apart to build a fire. “Should I throw in Lexico?” He asked, and I nodded yes, even though it was our favorite board game. 

Arnie and I was lucky as Mother made our fall outfits out of Crompton's "Cravenette" finished corduroy, a cloth that repels moisture. We wore our cardboard armor underneath, so if you think about it, our anti-witch armor saved us and Henry and Hazel Brown, too, along with six other children. Mrs. Langley found Miss Hamble near, frozen and unconscious in the old truck. She took her back to her house and treated her injuries. As daylight broke, old widow Langley rescued us schoolchildren crying as she watched Henry carry out our dead. From that day forward, I had called a truce with Witches. As I earnestly apologized to Mrs. Langley, I reminded myself that Witches could be good. 



August 25, 2022 22:12

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

Graham Kinross
06:16 Sep 02, 2022

This is excellent. You put me in the world and now I just want to read more about your characters.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ian Matonti
14:18 Sep 01, 2022

Connie, this is great. I enjoyed the world you created in such a short space. I think my only real issue is the length, meaning you could easily write an entire book based on these characters. You created a rich world that is fun and engaging. Great work!

Reply

Connie Elstun
23:24 Sep 01, 2022

Thank you for your positivity. Your kind words mean a lot to me. When I taught American history to middle school students the Great Depression was my favorite subject matter. I can see myself writing more storylines for these characters. I feel like I know them; happy you felt a connection too!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Connie Elstun
17:31 Aug 30, 2022

My family migrated to Colorado with the Spanish expeditions in 1590. Records indicate there was a drought on the southern prairie then, and there still is drought now. Our high plains have been a hot dry area for centuries. There are two Colorado’s really; the lush green mountains and the drought stricken prairies.

Reply

Show 0 replies