Witch's Head on the Tracks

Witch’s Head on the Tracks

            Mr. Wibbly Wob was born eating right out of the Dust Bowl.

            He fought in two wars, the second of which made his legs jut inwards like a bowlegged flamingo. He had no interest in killing. Mr. Wibbly Wob lived his life to collect.

            Collect what?

            Well, when he was thirty, he bought a train. Not so he could make money with it like his old man wanted, but because he wanted a mobile collection of strange and peculiar kids.

            The train was all bright colors painted poorly on a once shiny black surface. Mr. Wibbly Wob had painted his face at the head of the train, and it had become as decrepit and worn as his real face was. Sometimes, me and the rest of the collection took bets on when he’d kick the bucket, but no one was sure if anything could kill the old man. One kid had even dared suggest his name might actually be ‘Billy Bob’, but he shut up pretty quickly when someone threw a knife an inch past his ear.

            Mr. Wibbly Wob had survived kids that put the rest of us to shame – deformed, half-crazed, wolf-bred savages. The Dust Bowl hadn’t starved him. The war had only made him wobble. A kid that, according to legend, breathed fire just made him laugh; maybe Mr. Wibbly Wob was some crazy vampire who collected crazy kids.

Those has been the big performers. Our group mostly just sat on a stage and let the Church families gawk and tap us with their Bibles. Parents liked us the most. We made them feel better about their own parenting. We also liked to take bets on whether we’d ever see their wide-eyed mongrels on the train with us.

            I always came back no matter how many times I boarded that train at Station 22, Nowhere Louisiana. That train loved the swamps. It loved the Deep South where misery bled from every tree. I always came back with my one worn bag. That’s why they called me Fade.

I didn’t know all of the group this year, but I did recognize some of the longstanding customers.

Parker was a boy with skin like the softest chocolate, and was much too pretty to be with the rest of us. He wore a soft blue football jacket and jeans that had seen better days. If you asked him why he was with us, he wouldn’t say, but the collection knew.

You see, Parker always carried a small shoe box with him. If you could get him to open it, you’d see the bones of about three or four rats: two adults, one or two babies, depending on the light. Tommy told me that Parker used to live in a big, gorgeous mansion with well-to-do parents. One day, his parents had let his rats go in the forest area behind their home simply because they didn’t like them. A snake had made short work of the rat family.

Their son had made equally short work of his parents, depending on who you believed. Some kids said that he showed them the bones of his rats and then pushed them down the stairs of their big, fancy home. Others said he had wielded the guilty snake like a whip and caught his mother and father in the throat with its hungry fangs.

Parker himself wouldn’t say.

            The one time he did talk it was to tell me not to mind the baby rats squirming.

            I did mind, but they’d bitten my neck enough times that I knew better. I felt those little buggers every night in my hair, my pajamas, even in my teeth. They’d sort of grown on me, though.

            Oh, and of course there was Tommy.

            Tommy was a weird case, because Tommy had an imaginary demon in his closet.

            That’s why his parents had told him he couldn’t play in the closet anymore. When they told him that, legend has it that that mean old demon sprung right out of Tommy’s closet and slashed them to bits.

            Mr. Wibbly Wob had been nice enough to give the poor kid a closet in his tiny room. That demon didn’t like being outside of it for long, and that’s where Tommy would sleep at night, wrapped in a pile of clothes that were far too big for him. Some liked to call him Scarecrow, but never to his face.

You’d look at Tommy and think of a lamb, I think. He’s got a baby face full of freckles, tufts of ginger curls on his head and wide blue eyes – sweetest kid you could ever meet.

            His demon, from what I had seen, stood seven feet tall and looked like a man made of black barbed wire. He had little wicked white eyes and a crooked white smile, but always looked dashing in his crooked top hat with a single loose band aid on the brim. The collection and I had learned from Tommy that the demon liked to be called Mr. Stokes – so that’s what we called him.

            The last familiar face was Helen.

            Helen was the human embodiment of gluttony, I thought. At least when it came to the spotlight.

            That prim ten-year-old had golden curls that could make a Vaudeville actress blush, and big honeyed eyes. She knew the exact pitch to wail in, the exact whine level to get attention, and all the right moves to have the crowds gather around her, cooing and awing.

            I’d told her she was full of it exactly one time, and she’d screamed like a banshee until Mr. Wibbly Wob hobbled down from his office in the caboose and whacked me with his cane.

            No one was a big fan of hers inside the train.

            Those were the faces I was familiar with, and the exact ones squinting at cards when the train suddenly pulled to a stop.

            We could all hear Mr. Wibbly Wob cursing from the conductor’s chair before a buzzing speaker blared, “SHORT STOP! BACK IN THREE HOURS!”

            Tommy, Parker and I all jumped at the chance to get out on land.

            Helen started to stand but I held my hand up, “No way. I don’t care how much you bitch to Wibbly Wob, we’re not taking you along again.”

            The pout started but the boys and I hopped out before her face could light up like an explosion in the sunset.

            The three of us hopped down into dirt that was half dust and half mud. No one knew why, but Mr. Wibbly Wob loved to coast the train all around the swampy areas of the Deep South.

            We’d agreed, under the cover of blankets and an old oil lamp, it was because of the Hat Men – the solemn spirits in all black with wide-brimmed black hats that haunted the swamps. They carried fishing nets with them to collect souls for the God of the Lost, who ate up any lost people in any form that he could.

            In turn, we each patted the side of the train for good luck, right on the first ‘W’ of the painted: MR. WIBBLY WOB’S PHANTASMIC PAIN TRAIN.

            Then, it was off down the Northern side of the tracks.

            We chatted about nothing and everything, watching the lightning bugs begin to blink like a grand parade throughout the swamp. The smell of gaseous ooze and vernal pools mixed with the fading heat of the sun prevailed; we were all drenched in sweat in two minutes.

            Tommy stopped and held his hand up, shirt sliding down and exposing his frail shoulder, “Look at that!”

            Parker and I looked.

            There was a squat, semi-round object in a white sack on the train tracks. Someone’s laundry blown out off a swamp tour boat, I thought at first, but then I noticed the blood. It was seeping out of one side of the bag only, and a trail of it slowly faded off into the waters.

            “Hat Men?” Tommy asked, eyes wide.

            Parker said nothing.

            “Nah,” I murmured and approached it, “It’s a witch’s head.”

            Tommy gasped as I rolled it over with my foot, “That witch’ll come back with a vengeance!”

            “Nah. If you cut off their heads, they don’t come back.” I told him and knelt down. The head was wrapped in plain white cloth and tied loosely with a faded rubber band.

            “Don’t more grow back?” The ginger asked.

            “That’s a devil-snake,” I told him.

            Parker added nothing.

            The innards were sticky and stained like rust. The skin of the witch felt almost like plastic as I pulled it out.

            That was a witch alright. “Hello, Marta.”

            The other two approached, though Tommy was noticeably behind Parker. “Marta?”

            Slowly, I turned the head around in the fading sunlight. “This here is Marta Dean Wilson. She was one of Mr. Wibbly Wob’s original collectibles back in 1950.”

            The years hadn’t been kind to the once fiery red-head. I recognized her from the portrait that rattled and shook in the dining hall. She had a bright yellow bow in her hair and one Hell of a scowl compared to the boy with a humpback on her right. Now, Marta Dean Wilson’s fire had turned gray and the green eyes that once held disdain for the whole world had become sullen and glassy.

            “Do you reckon we hit her?” Tommy asked.

            “Nah. There was no bump and the train was behind us. She must’ve lied on the tracks with her neck on the rail and waited for another train. Must’ve used her witchcraft to make sure it was a clean cut, otherwise her head would be squashed.”

            I held it up like a sacrifice to the swamp. “Ashes to ashes, Ms. Wilson.”

            Parker tugged on my sleeve and cradled his shoe box.

            “Her story?” I glanced around and found an old stump sat on the side of the tracks. Perching her head there, I turned to my audience and cleared my throat: “Marta Dean Wilson once put ants in Mr. Wibbly Wob’s tea. She was born to two broke farmers in the 1950s who left her with a cracker shack that looked like a doll house. Some say she once shook hands with the president at the time and then farted on him – on purpose. Marta Dean Wilson loved to eat food that was too spicy and then blow in people’s faces. She was a right witch, true and true.”

            “Amen,” Tommy mumbled.

            “When I reckon she was about thirty, some man showed interest in her and they got hitched. Back then, there was a small town around these parts, and the townspeople would murmur about Marta and her man. They said she was a loon that talked to the despicable creatures and crawlers from the swamp like they were her babies. She couldn’t have a human one, they said, so she was trying to trick some poor animal into acting like she’d given birth to it. After a few years of that, her husband turned into a mean drunk. Never hit her – man knew better than to hit a witch – but was dumb enough to leave her for some red-shoe wearing businesswoman who passed on through. They say she put a wicked curse on him and the man was found dead before he could even change his will, so she got all of his money to spend on her critters and spells.”

            I stopped and rested my hand on Marta’s crown. She still had that look of malice in her eyes, but it was the malice of a cornered animal. Some spirit or angry demon had come to take her soul and she’d died farting in even its face by lying on the tracks.

            “Let’s get her on home,” I suggested.

            The other two didn’t like it, I could tell, but they weren’t about to question me on not upsetting dead witches, demons and swamps.

            We bundled her head back up and trudged through the hardening mud until we found her cottage.

            It was a right sight: the windows were blocked with yellowed papers and books, and the lawn had grown nearly as tall as us. Yet, the little rows of flowerbeds around the white picket fence were immaculate.

            So, we decided to bury her with her violets.

            After we replaced the flowers over her eyes, the three of us joined hands under the moonlight.

            “To a fellow collectible,” we muttered in unison. “May you board the train once again and haunt Helen until her curls turn white.”

            With that, we turned back towards Mr. Wibbly Wob’s Phantasmic Pain Train and watched for any Hat Men that might come take our souls.

            When we were back onboard, I took a favorite leaky pen from my coat and crossed out Marta’s angry face in the portrait. For a moment or two, I thought our eyes met in that black and white time capsule.

            There was no time to think of the witch’s head on the tracks. We had a show to do.          

Amber E. Colyer


Amber E. Colyer is an aspiring novelist who loves all things horror, fantasy and science-fiction. She has been writing since the age of eleven and is currently writing about an action story about witches fighting in giant robots. Any spare time she isn't writing, at work or in school is dedicated towards music, video games and daydreaming.

My writing portfolio is: http://www.amberecolyer.journoportfolio.com

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