The Granny Woman and the Devil
It is a story that is told a lot up here in the mountains. In all my years as a country preacher I never heard anything like it. Let me move over there to the fireplace with you so we will both be warm.
So these people sent out the call to get the Granny woman over there to see to this young girl, who was near her time any hour now to bring a baby. Now you know I am just an old man and maybe I don’t know all the best words to tell about this business of bringing a baby. But I have heard this story for years and I can tell it pretty well.
Of course it was a terrible dark and stormy night. It always is in these stories, but this time it was more than true. No moon, a hard rain, and strong wind. It was hard for the Granny Woman to keep the lantern lit and hold it out to show the way for the horse, the horse she rode on these calls all around the country. She was on a trail, not a road of any kind. The Granny Woman had been up on that ridge many times with different people so she knew the way. But not in weather this bad. It was the Fall of the year and the leaves near dead, hanging down soaking wet like they get right before they drop off.
None of this bothered the Granny Woman. She had done this for years and years, for only a thank you, and once in a while a dollar or two. Dollar bills maybe hid in a tin can in the back room for many years. There was just no money up there in the country since the Depression came on. More likely the people would let her have a jar of berries, or preserves cooked down from berries. It was all they had and the people were proud of them. Always knowing the Granny Woman would bring back the empty jar some time since they were so valuable and meant to last a long time.
The young boy sent to bring the Granny Woman had run up ahead to tell the people she was coming. The Granny Woman at first could see him up the hillside, but then she thought she heard a scream, some yelling. It sounded like a wildcat scream coming down the mountain, more than a young boy, but she could tell it was words of some kind. She put it out of her mind and went on.
It was a poor house she came to. The Granny Woman had passed by this place many times but had never been called to go in. Slab wood walls, left over at the saw mill as the rounded edge of the log was cut off, usually just thrown over the hill to rot, and rough wooden shingles for a roof. Sitting in a small clearing cut out of the woods, with no garden space.
The girl’s Father met her on the porch and said, “I am glad you are here. This is not going good. But we won’t be able to pay you much.” Inside the house, it was not much more than a rough cabin, with a fireplace and a couple of chairs, a homemade table, and cornshuck beds in two back corners.
“I don’t expect a thing. I am just glad to help a neighbor,” the Granny Woman told him. She knew him from the post office store. She had never seen him with much to say, and thought he did not seem to have the gumption to get along in these hard times.
The girl’s mother came over to the Granny Woman and called her by her name, “Aunt Mary, I am glad you got here so fast. She is having a hard time. She is young and this is her first time. And we don’t know a thing about how this happened. Except for out the ridge to the school she has never been anywhere.”
The young girl was in terrible pain, and called out to the Granny Woman, “What can you do make the pain go away,” and kept repeating, “Please Aunt Mary, help me stop the pain.” Her face was white and pale, and her whole body was shaking. She was a small girl, very thin, like she had never had enough food. She was not healthy enough to be having a baby, the Granny Woman thought. Delivering a thousand babies over the years, and losing only one Mother and never a baby lost, had showed her the signs of trouble.
The Granny Woman got ready to bring the baby. She used the clean rags she brought with her to clean the girl as best she could, already wet all down the legs and into the bed. There was no water in the house, so the girl’s Father went halfway down the hill to the nearest spring to bring fresh, clean water. The Granny Woman brought a bar of Ivory soap with her on all these calls since she knew most of the people had only rough homemade lye soap in the house.
The mother in the house kept going to the door to look out for the son who had been sent to fetch the Granny Woman. Once she jumped back at something she saw outside, but did not say anything, with all the excitement going on in the house.
Bringing the baby seemed to take a long time, even for a young girl like this. As the Granny Woman cleaned the baby, a man appeared in the room directly beside them. Not a sound as he entered, just appearing it seemed. It was the country school teacher, who had been run off by the local people some time back.
“The baby is mine,” he said, “and I am here to take it away to a better life than it can have here. To my house in the town where I am from”.
The young girl, the new Mother, starting yelling “Get him away from me, get him out of here.” By this time the girl’s Mother was near crazy, yelling and shaking her fist at the teacher. The girl’s Father seemed to be confused, and said “Maybe that would be alright,” but was right away shut up by the young girl and her Mother. The young girl kept yelling, “Get him out of here.”
The Granny Woman saw just complete evil in the man, with his smooth words and strange smile, and his face seemed to turn into an unnatural mask right in front or her, and took on a peculiar light as if it was coming from inside him.
And right then the Granny Woman knew there was no way she would give up this perfect little being with its unstained pure breath, no matter how it came to be in this world, to this evil standing before her, demanding it as his claimed possession.
The Granny Woman whirled around and picked up the shovel from the stove and started beating this Devil man around the head and shoulders and every hit of the shovel seemed to ease her pain of so many years of seeing poor and desperate people hanging onto almost anything. A little woman, standing up and beating this Devil man as he backed toward the door, with the girl’s Mother screaming, “Get out, I told you to never come back around here,”
The Devil man got to the door, and ran off to the woods. Just as he started into the woods he seemed to just disappear in a mist, as they watched him running away.
The house quieted down, except for the girl’s mother over in the far corner who was still whimpering over all the commotion. The girl’s Father did not seem to know what to say. The Granny Woman sat in a chair near the bed with the young girl, holding her hand. The baby was wrapped in one of the big clean rags the Granny Woman brought and laying quiet beside the young girl. The Granny Woman rested a few minutes before getting ready to go.
You know the strange part is the young boy sent to fetch the Granny Woman was never seen or heard from again, and the story is, if you are up there in the mountains of a night, you can hear a young boy yelling out, “Granny Woman, Granny Woman, where are you?” But he was never seen again.
Now as I told you this was a hard story, and I hope I didn’t get too wound up telling it to you and mess it up for you. But there is a lot to think about here.
Jerry Mullins grew up in central West Virginia, and has lived in the Washington, DC suburbs in recent years. His work has recently been published in or is forthcoming from Columbia University Journal-Catch and Release, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Broadkill Review, Tower Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, Newfound Journal, Foliate Oak, Literary Yard, and internationally in Nazar-Look (Romania) and Southern Cross Review (Argentina).