Friday, October 15, 2010

countdown to Halloween: prob'ly he was a witch

Hans Baldung Grien (c. 1484–1545), Witches' Sabbath, 1510. Chiaroscuro woodcut, 14 7/8 x 10 1/4 in.

Below is an excerpt from The Witch, a short story by Shirley Jackson (1916 - 1965). In the story, Johnny, a four year old boy, is traveling on a train with his mother and baby sister. An elderly man wearing a blue suit* enters the coach, sits down next to Johnny and begins a conversation with the little boy:

""Listen," the man said, "shall I tell you about my little sister?'

The mother, who had looked up anxiously when the man sat down next to her little boy, went peacefully back to her book.

"Tell me about your sister," the little boy said. "Was she a witch?"

"Maybe," the man said.

The little boy laughed excitedly, and the man leaned back and puffed at his cigar. "Once upon a time," he began, "I had a little sister, just like yours." The little boy looked up at the man, nodding at every word. "My little sister," the man went on, "was so pretty and so nice that I loved her more than anything else in the world. So shall I tell you what I did?"

The little boy nodded more vehemently, and the mother lifted her eyes from her book and smiled, listening.

"I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops," the man said, "and then I took her and I put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead."

Kym Hepworth, detail, The Ballad of James Harris, 2009, mixed media, 8 1/2 x 10 5/8 x 6 ½ in.

The little boy gasped and the mother turned around, her smile fading. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again as the man went on, "And then I took and I cut her head off and I took her head--"

"Did you cut her all in pieces?" the little boy asked breathlessly.

"I cut off her head and her hands and her feet and her hair and her nose," the man said, "and I hit her with a stick and I killed her."

"Wait a minute," the mother said, but the baby fell over sideways just at that minute and by the time the mother had set her up again the man was going on.

"And I took her head and I pulled out all her hair and--"

"Your little sister?" the little boy prompted eagerly.

"My little sister," the man said firmly. "And I put her head in a cage with a bear and the bear ate it all up."

"Ate her head all up?" the little boy asked.

The mother put her book down and came across the aisle. She stood next to the man and said, "Just what do you think you're doing?" The man looked up courteously and she said, "Get out of here."

"Did I frighten you?" the man said. He looked down at the little boy and nudged him with an elbow and he and the little boy laughed."
(*James Harris, the Daemon Lover - for more click here)

Hans Baldung Grien (c. 1484–1545), The Bewitched Groom, 1544, Woodcut, 13 1/2 x 7 7/8 in.

(source for Shirley Jackson quote: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, The Noonday Press, New York ©1991. Source for Hans Baldung Grien images: Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, The Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575 by James Snyder, published by Prentice Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ, and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY © 1985 )

Frank Sinatra - Witchcraft

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