There was HattieHattie was an ageless tiny black lady with snow white wooly hair cut short all over. Blue gray eyes of a long dead fish on ice peered from a leathery wrinkled face the dark brown color of a well handled buckeye. Eyes that gave you a vague unsettled feeling when she fixed them on you, seeming to look over you, through you, into you, like you were some curious specimen opened for dissection.
At the base of her skull was a birth mark that resembled an eye peeking out from under the semi-permanent bandana. Some said it was a third eye, mark of juju
She lived alone in a shotgun house, a little separate from the others that lined the edge of the Pumpkin Bottom cemetery. Even though her clapboard house, paint graying and peeling, was shielded from the others view by overgrown shrubs and sat only feet from the start of the graves, no one would have dared mess with her, not even the Pumpkin Bottom Haints.
Hattie was well known on the banks of the Chattahoochee River for her amazing strings of catfish she caught on a long cane pole, with bait dipped in one of her secret bait enhancers. Using her cane pole as a walking stick to keep her balance, she waded the narrow chutes of water between the dirt encrusted rocks amid the rushing torrent released by the Georgia Power dam to the north. She would cross back to the Alabama bank, just ahead of the rising waters, trailing the hem of her calico shift and an impressive stringer of fish in the muddy waters.
Mikie and I often watched her, from the safety of one our forts along the edge of Pumpkin Bottom Cemetery, picking plants in the graveyard for her potions while muttering and gesturing to herself or to the spirits who assisted her. Everybody knows that plants from a cemetery have powerful properties being fertilized by the dead. Many times she would stop, turn toward where we were secreted and fix the spot with her troubling stare, moving her hands, no doubt starting a spell to cast on Mikie and me for spying. We would hit the ground running for the safety of our yard. We never saw the small smile as she turned back to gathering her ingredients, satisfied that her vanishing spell was successful once again. Mikie and I had vanished.
Many wanted her bait enhancers and her other secret potions. There were no truth in labeling laws, no ingredient list. She sold you what she sold you and you used it on faith. She sold various potions to buyers who stood, hat in hand, on her top step beseeching her help in matters of finance, luck, heart, the fishing arts or as was most likely, a type of depression only cured by a potion she sold in quart jars.
Even though Mikie and I coveted her bait enhancers, our financial state and tender age, (even juju ladies had their standards,) not to mention our fear of the unknown precluded us from making a purchase.
“You das’t make a deal with witches and such, because you knew she would try to trick you and even if you got what you thought you wanted how could you be sure that she didn’t trick you into what you thought you wanted.”
Or so our deep philosophical thoughts told Mikie and me.
Heck, even 2 would get green with envy when Grubby would parcel out his bait enhancer while bragging that Hattie had shared her secret with him. 2 would accuse Grubby of letting her escape justice to serve his own ends. Grubby would laugh, “Whatever works”
Grubby’s supervisors called him into the office one fine October day for a bootlegging bust, a bust that Grubby didn’t want to make. “Hattie’s a bootlegger“, the chief said to Grubby. Grubby’s protestations of Hattie’s innocence as a Juju lady were brushed aside by the impatient chief. “Those potions of hers are sold in quart mayonnaise jars and are over 50% alcohol.”
Grubby told 2 later, “I didn’t want to, but I did. Course, I don’t believe in haints and that Juju stuff. It’s just that I had got my secret recipe for my fish bait from Hattie.” 2 nodded at “The recipe”. Grubby was exceedingly stingy with it, never revealing how it was made, only doling it out in a miserly fashion as 2 could attest to. “Let me tell you though she was hopping mad.” Grubby continued uneasily. Said that my potion would never work for me again, that another would learn.
Mikie and I were eavesdropping when my mouth got the better of me. “I’ll bet she put a hex on you. “ I blurted out. Grubby jerked around and said “oh it’s you little Chuckie, I thought you might have been one of those haints” he laughed.
“She put spell on Mikie and me once and the chain came off Mikie’s bike while I was on the back going down suicide hill. We almost ended up in the Chattahoochee cept we kissed a tree on the way down”
“Well, that chain is always coming off Mikie’s bike. I told ya’ll to get it fixed before it kills you. But, yeah, she was powerful mad, Said that I would suffer terrible til she was set free. It was a terrible curse, it was”
The next morning Hattie had a visit at the local lockup. And a deal was struck, not for a pair of souls as Grubby would have believed, but for items of value in exchange for services rendered.
Grubby might have been inclined to blow off the curse that Hattie had placed on him, but powerful forces were at work under the new moon this close to Halloween … juju, black magic, envy.
Normally, Grubby would suspect Mikie and me for any of the tricks leading up to Halloween night. This year was no exception as most years weren’t.
On the first day of the curse, when Grubby went into his shed to get some fishing bait, a long quavering screech followed. 2 raced to the rescue only to find Grubby holding a handkerchief to his head while staring at his bait freezer where he stored the catalpas worms. Instead of rows of catalpas, there lay, on the sheet of old cardboard, a small straw doll that had the remarkably rotund shape of Grubby and painted to resemble a police officers uniform complete with a little badge. The head was bandaged and the legs and arms bent at inhuman angles. Next to it laid a pecan painted to look like an eye. It was the third eye of the Juju. “I hit my head on the freezer door when I saw that.” he said to explain the red stain on his handkerchief while pointing at the voodoo doll and the third eye.
“2, I think Chuck and Mike are up to their old Halloween tricks”
“Maybe, but Chuck spent the night at Mikie’s house.” 2 replied.
“You don’t think that Hattie” 2 added before letting the thought trail off.
“No. You know I sweep the dirt every evening. See, no tracks in my swirls. Don’t nobody know about this. Except maybe Chuck and Mikie, they spy on just about everything. Besides Hattie is still at the jailhouse.”
2 told Grubby, “Your right about them watching, but he was over at Mikie‘s last night. And you know that Mikie’s dad watches them like a hawk, especially since last fall when they built that catapult.”
“They the ones?“ Grubby asked as his eyes narrowed.
“Er, well, he thought they might have been. But you never know, you know?” 2 replied hedging leaving a few loopholes for Mikie and me.
On the second day, a screech was heard from Grubby as he opened the door of his patrol car that morning. 2 ran to the car to help Grubby only to see the head of a catfish with the third eye in its mouth staring back at him. He was holding his hand. “I mashed my fingers when I slammed the door.”
2 said “But I don’t see how it could be Chuck and Mike, they ain‘t been fishing in over a week. Hattie still in jail?”
“Yes she refuses to take bail.”
Grubby’s nerves slowly began to fray at the already ragged edges. Day after day, little accidents and strange things happened around him, he confided to 2. For each new course of action that Grubby would propose, suggestions from 2 would follow.
His logic told him that it “Had” to be us though he couldn’t catch us. He began to drink his strong brewed coffee into the evenings trying to stay more alert. Nothing like having the nervous jitters while on a caffeine jag.
We would be working on some project of ours and one of us would say “we need something to hold it in place while we bend it” and a hand, Grubby’s would appear out of a bush like magic. Mikie and I became somewhat worried. We definitely needed our privacy if the Pumpkin Bottom Haints were to make a repeat appearance on Halloween night.
On the fifth day, Grubby finally acknowledged it couldn’t have been me and Mikie. Hobbling on his crutches that he needed since falling off the back porch when he let his over revved nerves get the better of him. An unseen 2 had reached out and touched Grubby on the shoulder.
As Halloween night approached Grubby was jumpy. So jumpy, it was a good thing he wasn’t on duty cause he might have shot someone. The curtains in his house constantly pulled back as he peered out into the darkness.
Six grades, six classrooms, the school was located a block away from the East side of Pumpkin Bottom Cemetery. And it was time for the Fall Festival, Halloween to you pagans. Each room was set up with a different theme. The first grade room was the cake walk room. The cake walk was an opportunity for the wives (yes it was a sexist society where all had their roles and they played them with relish)
Ms. Jackson, Grubby’s wife was in a hurry to get her famous creamed pecan cake down to the school when 2 stopped her for just a minute. 2 graciously helped Ms Jackson by carrying the cake to the car for her. He placed the cake on a shelf in the carport and helped her with the car door. 2 wasn’t nothing except a gentleman. He then went around and closed the rear door. A small smile appeared on his face as he watched Mrs. Jackson hurriedly backing the car out of the drive unknowing of the cake still in the carport.
No I’m not leaving this house tonight, Grubby told his frantic wife over the telephone. Dang it, woman, don’t you know that Hattie has set the haint’s agin me?
But Grubby’s protestations went for naught. When a choice was presented to Ms Jackson of either not having her cake at the cake walk or Grubby getting set on by the haints, Grubby lost hands down.
Pulling up to Summerville school, Grubby had to navigate between the cars parallel parked down the narrow streets that lined three sides of the school before parking in the unlit dirt lot across from the school. Even here, cars lined the front leaving only a few places at the end, near the dark pine woods that bordered the east side of the cemetery.
Carrying the cake in front of him like an offering, Grubby started across the red clay lot. Two set of eyes watched Grubby as he walked across the parking lot, one human and one inhuman.
Now ol bullet was Grubby’s blue tick hound and loved Grubby to death. This time almost figuratively.. Bullet had a reputation among the neighborhood kids for incredibly smelly farts, enormous ticks and episodes with Mizz Jacobs’s bulldog that had the kids reaching for a bucket of water. One episode had yielded some very homely offspring.
A low rumble, followed by a steady whine reached Grubby’s ears. Then a stench, so vile it could only come from the walking dead, or maybe ol Bullet, drifted on the chilly October night air. No, not Bullet, he was safely chained to his run in the back yard.
He held the cake in one hand and let the other drift towards his holster. The comforting feel of the gun butt didn’t come. Grubby had left his gun at home the better to not shoot one of the pint sized neighborhood terrors wearing one of their mother’s old sheets while his already highly caffeinated mental state was at level “red”.
Grubby’s pace toward the low laughter and the comforting yellow lights of the school picked up.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jackson having drawn the fortune teller duties for the evening, had saw Grubby’s car pass by the window where she was getting made up. She was in a hurry to put her prized cake on display with the others, so she went to meet Grubby looking decidedly unlike Grubby’s bride with a her new hunch back, blackened teeth and fright hair peeking out from under the bandana she wore. As she walked across the lot towards Grubby, the hump made from half a basketball slipped, digging into her back. She groaned as she tried to reposition the shifting hump while holding out her hands to get the cake from Grubby.
It was at this time that the leash was slipped from ol Bullets collar.
Grubby hearing the groaning and whines saw a dark beast bounding at him from the woods and turned to run from the were- hound. Immediately in front of him, only yards away, the grotesque hunchback figure groaning, holding it’s hands out as it came towards Grubby. Grubby didn’t hesitate, sprinting forward he used the only weapon at his disposal, the cake. He slammed it into the face as he passed by sprinting for the safety of the school pursued by the hound from hell. Some later said he was screaming for help like a school girl as he burst through the door. Grubby said he was shouting a warning to the others. As he explained the situation of juju Hattie the werehound , Mrs. Grubby came in the door, bandana missing the hump adding to her already ample derrière and bits of cake and icing on her face. She made straight for Grubby.
Mercifully for Grubby’s sake, we’ll close on the remainder of this scene, leaving it to the reader imagination and pick up the story the next day
How do you plead to the bootlegging charges, Miss Hattie?” the judge asked respectfully the following morning while eyeing Grubby, bandaged and crutch propped next to him. The judge had heard of all the “accidents that Grubby had had since he had arrested Hattie.
“I’m innocent, Judge.“ Hattie pleaded in her singsong fashion. “All it is a bit of water mixed in with my potions.”
“What do you say, Grubby?”
“Judge, if Miss Hattie says it’s just water, I’d believe her if I was you.”
“Let me see one of those bottles.” the judge said. Taking one of the quart jars he took and shook the jar watching the fine beads float to the surface of the almost pure grain alcohol. He took the top off and took a delicate sniff before dipping in a finger and licking the liquid off.
“Innocent of all charges. You may go Miss Hattie.”
“Judge, those bottles have lost their juju would you dispose of them for me?” Hattie asked.
With pleasure, bailiff take the evidence and put it in the trunk of my car.”
People have often wondered how 2 caught such amazing strings of catfish. Actually, it was just a secret recipe and a little juju from a grateful lady.
(C) 2005 LCM3