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The Witch's Ride
(A mostly honest retelling of an American "hills" folklore story)
Tobe was worried about his younger brother, Thomas. They lived with their parents on a farm in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The year was 1913, and the Tennessee hills were like a different world. Things were a lot simpler then - but the two boys had a lot of hard chores to do on the farm. Poor Thomas was always acting so tired and weak, his older brother was beginning to be worried about him. Tobe asked Thomas what was happening a few times, but never got any decent answers, Thomas wouldn't talk about it.
Finally, Tobe got his brother away from their parents and sat him down. "Thomas," Tobe asked, "I want to know what's wrong, and I won't take anything but the truth for an answer!"
Thomas tried to put his brother off, tried to say it was nothing, but Tobe was having none of it. Finally Thomas looked at his brother with haunted eyes, "Well... do you PROMISE not to tell anyone else?"
Tobe nodded his head, "of course! What's wrong with you?"
Thomas sighed, "it... it's a witch Tobe. She comes to my bed every night now. I... I tried to fight her to start with but... but I just don't have the strength any more."
Tobe nodded when his brother stopped. They both knew there were witch-women in the hills. Some were good, and some were plumb evil, but they both knew they were real. "What happened then?" Tobe asked with a worried look. Witches were, after all, capable of almost anything if they put their minds to it.
Thomas looked down, "Well, every time since has been like that first time. She puts a hex or something on the rest of ya'll, cause you never wake up. She slips beside my bed and before I know what's happened, she's slipped a bridle over my head, popped a bit in my mouth. Before I know it, I get all furry, my hands and feet turn into hooves, my face pushes out and I'm a horse!"
Tobe stares at his brother, eyes wide, "You mean she's in the same room as me? And I didn't even wake up?" He looks all upset at this - he's used to taking up for his little brother and he let him down!
Thomas shakes his head, "Tain't nothing you can do about it Tobe - she's a witch I tell ya! I fought her something fierce that first night - I held my mouth against the bit and hit at her, but she was STRONG. Afore I knew what happened, she'd pinched my jaws just like you would old Jenny out there (pointing to their mule) and popped that bit in. She buckled the bridle up smart as could be, and that was all for me. I changed into a horse too quick to do anything - and she just led me outside easy as you please."
Thomas looked down, "Then... well, she hopped up on my back and kicked me in the ribs... and I had to take off!" He looked up at his brother, "Tobe, she kicked me and yanked that ole bit in my mouth all night! She rode me solid all night - I was so tired when we got back, just before dawn, I could barely stand on four legs! She brought me into our room and slipped that bridle and bit off of me - watched me change back, and just pushed me into bed. All the fight was out of me by then - I was asleep before my head hit the pillow."
He sighed then, "and that's happened nearly every night since then Tobe!"
Tobe looked so strange right then - scared and mad and worried... he grabbed his brother's shoulders and said, "well, you've had her do that to you for the last time! Tonight, I'll be in your bed when she comes - and I'll have my walking stick with me!" Tobe picked up his stick - good strong Ash wood, which everybody knows is pure trouble to witches.
Thomas grabs at his brother, "Tobe no! You can't fight her - she's some powerful strong! I couldn't do nothing to her, and you know I'm nearly as strong as you!"
Tobe nodded, "yeah, but this time I'll be ready for her!" and he wouldn't listen to his brother say anything else.
That night, they swapped beds, Thomas looking worried, but he was so tired that he fell asleep in minutes. Tobe arranged himself to look as much like his brother asleep as he could, but he kept that stick in his hand as he tried not to go to sleep. After what seemed like an hour, he began to get a little tired, thinking that maybe she wasn't going to show up. That's when he suddenly realized there was someone beside his bed!
He jerked up and tried to swing the stick, he knew he had to get the witch quick! But he didn't count on the stick getting caught in the blanket! The witch was on him in a second, already slipping the bridle around his head before he could do anything. He hit her as hard as he could - and moaned, it felt like hitting a rock! She clung to him with near inhuman strength, her hands moving the bit around his face. He was scared now, kicking at her and fighting her hard - but Tobe knew he was in a world of trouble.
Despite everything he could do, he felt her slide that bit into his mouth as he was panting for breath, never stopping wrestling her. Tobe knew if she got the bridle buckled, it was all over for him. He flailed around, and his hand suddenly grabbed onto the ash staff - he swung it around with all his strength. The witch let out a shriek as it caught her in the side. She rolled off of Tobe and lay gasping on the ground, obviously not proof against the good solid wood.
Tobe yanked the bridle from his head, pulling the bit from his mouth. He felt a little funny, almost prickly. He looked down and felt a cold chill run through his veins as he held the bridle. His arms had patches of dark fur, just like that of a horse. He looked at himself carefully, but he didn't see any other signs - and when he looked back at his arms, they were almost back to normal skin. He sighed - it had been that close a thing.
Before the witch could get her breath back, Tobe reached down and slipped the bridle around her head. As he slipped the bit into her gasping mouth he told the woman, "Here's your wickedness back on you - let's see how YOU like it!" With that said and the bit in place, he buckled the bridle on her, and stood back in amazement.
Her body bucked and trembled - then he watched as fur began to grow everywhere. Her arms grew much longer, and her legs changed shape. Her middle barreled out, her face shoved forward, filling the bridle properly. In moments, there was a chestnut mare standing in front of him. He grabbed her reins and led her outside. She seemed to be trying to fight him, but he guessed it was part of the magic of the bridle that she had to obey him. He hopped on her back and gave her a powerful kick in the ribs, "HYHAA!" he yelled as she jumped forward.
Tobe rode that witch all night - up and down the roads, in and out of pastures. He could hear her panting and groaning beneath him, but he had no more mercy to him than she had shown to his brother. He kicked and smacked her every inch of the way. Finally, when he made it pretty near dawn, he rode her to the blacksmith in town. He went up to the Smith, who Tobe knew was always there well before dawn and began the rest of his vengance on the evil witch.
After talking with the Smith for a little while, he left, whistling. He had just enough time to make it home before dawn. He slipped into their room just as Thomas was waking up. Thomas looked at him with huge eyes, "Did... did she..." he started.
Tobe nodded, "she came ... and I got her! We fought back and forth - it was a near thing Thomas! But I got her, and put her own bridle on her! I rode her all night, just like she rode you!"
Thomas listened to the entire story, amazed and so proud of his brother, "So where is she? Did you leave her like that?"
Tobe grinned and nodded, "That I did - I left her in town... for her just desserts!" And he wouldn't say anything more about it.
Several days later, one of the townsfolk came by for some eggs. She had a big story to tell and the entire family gathered around her. She said, "Seems the Mayor's wife had disappeared a few days back. The mayor waited a day, worried to death, then went out looking for her - staying out all night he was! My husband and several of his friends were heading out to the fields when they heard something at the Mayor's back door. Knowing he was still out looking for his wife, they went back to investigate. You won't believe it - but they saw her standing at the back door!"
"The Mayor's wife?" their mom asked, amazed.
The lady nodded, "Yes! and what's more... she was totally naked! The only thing she had on was a horse's bit and bridle on her head." She almost whispered that and paused dramatically.
Thomas jumped in again, "But... why didn't she take it off?" a glimmber of suspicion in his voice. Tobe just smiled and listened.
The lady was clearly enjoying this particularly juicy gossip. She lowered her voice and said, "My husband ran up to her, and he saw it all. She couldn't get the bridle and bit off, nor turn to doorknob to get into the house... because nailed into each hand and foot were horseshoes! And my husband even saw the brand of the local stables on her butt! It seems the Mayor's own wife was a witch - who got caught! The Mayor got home right after that, took one look at her and disavowed anything to do with her. She ran off and we haven't seen her since!"
Tobe and Thomas moved away as the lady moved on to more gossip. Thomas looked at Tobe and whispered, "Did... did you...?" he couldn't even ask. Tobe just smiled and winked, "No one messes with my little brother!"
The Witch's Ride copyright 1996 by Pony.
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