THE CRAGG WITCH
The witch, walks along the shoreline, her tattered dress hem dragging over the sharp rocks and seaweed. Her bare feet cold and pale finding their way over the jagged stones. With no missteps, she makes her way to the cliff and stares out over the desolate foggy harbour…her sea green eyes hold a secret. She carries inside her a secret that will forever change life in Bolton Cragg and its inhabitants, a secret that will unleash a power on this village that has not been seen upon the earth for some two thousand years…. Aye, the witch holds a secret that will make the evil one flesh.
She tilts her head back, her mist soaked hair falling freely down the back of her damp dress. Her lips part and break into a wide grin. The witch looks skyward, and whispers in a cold maniacal voice, “forgive me father, for I have sinned, and sinned and now I carry the secret of your undoing!”
The witch let forth a cold vengeful laugh, and a bolt of lightning arced across the sky.
“So it begins!”, she whispered, and turned to begin her journey back to Bolton Cragg…..
RavensCragg house stood tall and dark in Cragg field, Its front facade consisting to three upper dormers painted black, each with a single window staring out like some blind eye over the overgrown field and fence. Two lower windows flanking a large keyhole style door in the center. No curtains or draperies could be seen through the dirty glass of the windows, and nothing of the exterior gave any feeling of warmth or coziness. Its flower beds near the house were neglected, overgrown with weeds and vines. Cold and frigid looking it rose out of the field, with only the heavy dark smoke rising from the flu to give any hint it was even inhabited. Some, who had seen and reported it to me said it looked ominous, and I suppose on that first day as I stood at the gate and looked up I should have agreed. Agreed, if anyone had been there just then to make such comment. However, I was alone, and long I stood staring at those dark dormers. No light from a lamp to be seen in those dark dim glass panes. No warm face from behind a lace curtain, as curious about I, as I should be about them. Not a bit of cheer to be emitted whatsoever.
Was this house to be some forbearance to what life in Bolton Cragg should be like for me. No cheerfulness, no friendliness, no warmth. Just cold barren houses, cold barren people? What if the entire village, of yet I had not seen any, was like this cold bleak house. RavensCragg, as it was named, is the first cottage, though more house than cottage, on the one road leading into Bolton Cragg, and if it stood as a welcome post to the rest of the village, I guessed that most would run screaming, instead of venturing further.
It’s owner, one Josiah Cragg, was as I understood from Father Cleary, one of the village leaders. Owner of the local general store and a fish buyer, it is to him that most in the village look for guidance, and it was to he, that I was to pay my first call upon. Father Cleary assured me that Mr. Cragg, while very direct and almost harsh in his correspondence, had assured that he would see me settled into the rectory and that necessary provisions would be arranged to last me a few days until I had chance to settle after my journey. I wondered at some length as I stared at the house, what a man such as Mr. Cragg would deem necessary provisions. His own home seeming to be in a state of disrepair and ill use.
Had they perhaps forgot my arrival? Surely not, the correspondence had been most clear. I would travel on the Dufferin from Halifax to Sheet Harbor, and from there be brought by horse and wagon by the kindly Mr. Horton and his nag Nellie, where on September 29th, I should be dropped at this gate to be greeted by none other than Josiah Cragg. All had happened just so, and here I stood at the gate, on September 29th, bag in hand, and no Josiah Cragg to be seen. Well, thought I, I am after all only the new local clergy come from the college with many fresh new ideas to rescue this small seaside village from its backward ways and bring them and their church to some semblance of Christianity. Perhaps, my mind continued, some malady had befallen the entire Cragg family, perhaps it was all a jest, some evil prank played by my fellows at school. Yes, I was trying to invent some reason to not step across into the yard and knock upon that darkly painted door. Yes, I was suddenly very afraid, and yes….
By God! Was that a face at the center window, surely it was. I looked ever more closely and stared with all my might into those dark panes. My eyes returning the proof of reality, dark just as before. And with that, the door flew open with a crack and a short stubby woman stepped out into the dimming light.
“You plan to stand out there all day Reverend? Or might you pick up those feet and come into RavensCragg?”
Her voice grated on my ears, it was one of those voices that makes one cringe like the scrape of chalk on a blackboard. I immediately lifted my left foot and then the right and began the short walk across the front field toward that ominous doorway and the scary little woman standing just outside it. She eyed me up and down as I approached. Her skirt and apron covered in soot, her blouse in an equal state, and a dirty dust cap upon her head. Her hands were weathered and pudgy, and her face reminded me of the apple dolls my grandmother used to make for my sisters. Very wrinkled and dark, with an almost varnished look to the skin. She carped a few more phrases just to ensure that every bit of my skin would be crawling.
“From the college eh? Not sure what all that book larnin would do ye for religion, but I guesses they do whats they do in them there places….You’re a thin one I’ll give ya that”
“Madam, my name is Reverend Cartmill, might you tell me…” was I really asking her to speak more?? “if Mr. Cragg is at home? I was to meet him here, I believe”
“Aye, he’s about, but yer late, and he had business to attend at the wharf.” She turned on her heel and entered the room beyond the door “…leave it to da clergy to expect a body to have nothing to do but stand about waitin for them”
“I assure you I had no such intentions Madam, I simply meant to ask…”
“I know I know,” she hissed “well…you comin in or ain’t ya?”
I stepped through the door, which was quickly pulled shut behind me. As my eyes adjusted, I looked about to discover that the room in which I stood was more of a hall than a room. A long wood staircase rose up into the darkness on the right, the wood if not painted black, was as dark a color as I had seen. The wallpaper, one of those hideous floral prints, that seem all the rage, was cracked, torn and blackened with soot and in many places the plaster showed through. The hallway reeked of lamp oil, smoke and sweat. To my left two doors both shut to view, gave an odd appearance that I could not put my finger on, and one at the foot of the stair also shut tight, The oil lamp on a side table had a crack in the shade which would once have been a beautiful piece. As it spit and flickered from the opening and closing of the door it tossed evil looking arcs of light and shadow over the room and across the leering face of Missus Mack. I felt Missus Mack‘s hand upon my back as she directed me down the hall toward the kitchen at the back of the house. The air felt warm and tight to my throat and body, and my mind screamed at me to be anyplace in all Christ’s creation except here in this hall with this dreadful, leprechaun of a woman.
“Step this way preacher…” She barked.
We made the few steps into the small kitchen, which for want of a better word, was hotter than hellfire, and smelled just as evil. One small window against the back wall let in what was left of the failing light of the day through a thick layer of grime and soot. As I had noted from outside this window too bore no curtain, not even a piece of sack cloth. Bare from top to bottom. Obviously whatever the leprechaun‘s occupation was it was not that of a housekeeper. The stove (and I usually love stoves) roared to the side against a large brick flu. A large iron pot, bubbled and burbled some concoction that I felt certain would be horrendous to the palette. A kettle of some noted and dented use hissed and spurted, and for the first time since my arrival my body hinted it would be glad of a cup of tea if one could be had. Though the thoughts of drinking anything brewed here was not overly appealing. The woman, who still had yet to make a proper acquaintance seemed to catch my thought and selected a chipped china cup from the sideboard and made her way across the room to begin preparing some form of a tea. As her small squat frame lumbered across the floor she nodded to a hard wooden chair and gave it a slight kick with her foot, directing me to have a seat upon it.
“Thank you Madam,” I mumbled. Surely, this little creature was without doubt the most hateful being I had encountered in some time, and did not appear to have one saving grace. I immediately reprimanded myself in silence for being uncharitable and unchristian, but she had made it an easy sport with her manner.
“Preacher, I ain’t no madam!”, she said after some moments. “I’m just plain ol Missus Mack, same as I always been. Every soul livin and all whats dead and buried in the fields of Bolton Cragg calls me dat, and I don’t see no reason here…or up there..” she nodded with a roll of the eyes to the ceiling, “to call me nuthin else”
“Missus Mack, then,” I said trying to sound apologetic, and sounding far more sarcastic than I’d like. “Might I ask how long Mr. Cragg might be at the wharf, I should like very much to reach the rectory before it is too dark to see to proper arrangements for the night”
“Rectory? What Rectory Preacher?”, she said with a half laugh and half disgusted snort. “Ain’t no rectory or any other preacher house in these parts. This here to be where you stay as I knows it!”
“But surely you jest?” I looked about this vile dirty kitchen thinking there surely could be no way humanly possible that this would be my accommodation for the next 18 months. The woman was clearly impaired of the mind in some way, perhaps Mr. Horton, had accidentally dropped me at the wrong house, and maybe just maybe Bolton Cragg has its own mental asylum.
“Jest not!”, she retorted with a snort “but if’n you can’t abide Mr. Cragg’s hospitality, the Crouse cottage just up the lane has a pig sty you could make use of, if you don’t mind sharing with Tilley”, she gave me a sarcastic wicked look and let forth a peal of laughter as she added “if the pig don’t mind a preacher, I don’t see why the preacher should mind the pig”
“Then this is Cragg house?”, I questioned, not wanting to believe all what she was sharing with me.
“Lawd preacher, you do go on…”, she said as she sat the tea-cup, down hard on the table. No saucer, spoon or napkin was I handed, and as far as I could see, no sugar bowl or creamer. The cup was as I had thought chipped and cracked, and gulping hard, I noticed it was not altogether clean as a greasy finger print streaked the side. My want of a cupper subsided quickly, and I left it set upon the table.
“Missus Mack,” I continued, “My understanding from Father Cleary was that a rectory house was to be provided for me to live, as well as proper provisions. Are you saying this is not the case, and that the expectation is that I will reside here? For I must say that such would not abide me well for handling church affairs”
“You best speak with Mr. Cragg then preacher and see to it that if Cragg house does not meet your fancy needs, that you surely find another door to be behind before dark.”
“Why before dark?”
“I just telling you preacher…” she glowered at me “Bolton Cragg is not a place you want to find yourself outside after that sun sets.”
As I stared at her, my mind trying to decide if she was trying to scare me, or if it was a warning, I heard a creaking of the floor behind me. Turning quickly and nearly spilling the tea, I came face to face with an elderly man, who tho he startled me was a welcome relief.
“Reverend Cartmill I presume” his voice boomed at me. He extended his large hand and continued “I am Josiah Cragg, and I welcome you to RavensCragg”
“A fine pleasure Mr. Cragg, and a thank you from Father Cleary I’m to extend for all your assistance in preparing my journey here.”
The man withdrew his hand from mine and stepped more fully in the light. I let forth a slight gasp as I took in his features. A high forehead, and well weathered, was disfigured by a nasty looking scar running from the hairline just to the bridge of his nose. Two steely grey eyes peered out at me from under bushy grey brows and while his nose was long and narrow, it seemed out of place with his small thin mouth and then dipping into a long chin. Fortunately his face was the worst of his look, for he stood tall and broad and his clothes, while clearly well-worn from use, were clean and in good repair. Perhaps Missus Leprechaun was not completely useless about the house.
I hope you find the house suitable Reverend?” he asked with a smile revealing yellow sharp teeth that showed a fair bit of decay.
“Ahhh, umm well Mr. Cragg,” I stammered not wanting to offend. “Missus Lep…Mack what just explaining to me that I am to stay here at Ravenscragg, and that has left me somewhat confused. Father Cleary at the college.” What I wouldn’t give to be at the college right now… “seemed to understand that there was a rectory house of some form or other here, and that you would set it up to live at least short-term”
Josiah Cragg glared at me with a harsh look upon his face. I felt the coldness of him and Missus Mack upon me, and I blinked uncontrollably as I waited for him to give some account of an answer.
“As I said Reverend,” he replied most matter of fact. “I hope you will find the house suitable. Missus Mack will show you to your room.”
He brushed past me with this and took a seat at the other end of the table and began to read through some papers that were scattered about the table. I had never been so dismissed before, and I stood there mouth hanging open, trying to find words that I could bring to my lips, but none seemed to come. Could he possibly think that I would not post a letter to Father Cleary asking for some resolution to this most deplorable situation? What manner of person just dismisses clergy in such a miserable way. Further, if he and this troll of a housekeeper thought for one moment that I would remain one night under this roof, then they were both sorely mistaken.
“Come along then preacher!” the harpy chirped. “Let’s get ye settled to your room, shall we”
I stared in disbelief as Mr. Cragg continued to read over his papers with not so much as a glance towards me. No inquiries as to how my journey was, no concern if I might be hungry, though the smell of the pot upon the stove was enough to whisk away any need for food I might currently have otherwise had. Most appalling of all, a complete disregard for the confusion regarding my accommodation in Bolton Cragg. In my mind, I felt the battle had for this evening been lost. But still I had to make one final plea for my case.
“Mr. Cragg,” I began as boldly as I might. “ I shall wish to discuss this confusion over the rectory in the morning as it is convenient for you.”
He didn’t look up, and had we not spoke words at his arrival in the kitchen I would have thought the man complete mute. Frustrated and with no word from him to further the discussion, I turned on my heel to follow the woman back into the hall. As I reached the door, his voice boomed from behind me.
“Reverend, a small word to you, before you retire to your room.”
I turned to see his eyes drilling in to me.
“You will do well in Bolton Cragg and more importantly within this household, to settle yourself quickly and with little fuss to the way things are here. I have little time for uppity ways of the clergy, and having opened my home to you, and this village…well..I expect a reasonable amount of respect and peacefulness from you. On that I am afraid I must insist, and encourage you to resign yourself to your place before you rise tomorrow.”
I was outraged, and with my face burning red, I opened my mouth to speak, however was immediately cut off by his dismissive response…
“Good night Reverend!” he practically screamed at me.
Before I knew, or could gather my thoughts, the leprechaun was literally pushing me and my belongings up the dark staircase to the second floor. Down the short dark hall she flew, and almost ripped the door at the end from the hinges as she flung it open. I was bustled into a small dark room and while dark, it seemed much cooler than the rooms below. With the strike of a match the lamp was lit and I could see my surrounds.
“Reverend,” She carped, “This is to be your room, the bed has been fresh changed, and you may use this writing desk and chair as needs be. There is hooks here for your clothes, and a chamber pot under the bed if needs be for that. But mind ye empties yer own. This stand holds your ewer and wash basin. You carry ye own water from the well too.”, with that said she went out and slammed the door.
I peered about the room trying to take in the events of the past few moments. Small room, fresh made bed, and a chipped desk and chair with a lamp. No pictures upon the wall and no drapes upon the window. Cold like everything else here. Could they, had they really shipped me off like a child to this room with no semblance of an evening meal, no offer of even some tea and cake. Nothing. Surely she would return in a few minutes with a tray perhaps. She did not.
I was left for the remainder of that long evening to sit and pace about the room. I did not unpack and would not, for first thing in the daylight, I should be making other arrangements or more accurately, making my plans to leave this hellish place.