Tall Tales: Bathsheba Walburn
The old woman was the boss, and this was her pack. She was the meanest, toughest, sharpest one in the bunch. And as she sorted out her kin, Joe realized that she would come to him before long.
“‘Get back here you gol’ durn thieving sonofabitch!’” Mrs. Shaw whooped and ran a circuit about the table with her skirts hitched up in a most unwomanly manner, aping the old crone of my father’s tale to the mad delight of Mrs. Floyd’s borders. I was stunned by the wanton display, and dazed as I was, the rest of the story seemed to come tumbling out of my open mouth.
“The woods opened up without warning, and Joe could see a crude hovel before him, looking for all the world like it had been wrought of sticks and mud by a cunning bird. Still clutching his coin, Joe pounded on the door until the leather hinges gave way with a thunderous snap. “Inside were a dozen or more folk just like the old hag chasing Joe, all piled up like a pack of dogs. Fat ones, thin ones, some with hair all over like a bear, some with the great drooping brows of a wild ape.” Sammy shot up from his chair and twisted his face into a simian scowl. He waved his arms about, grunting like an animal. I began to feel sick, and yet Joe’s words spilled from my lips while my fellow diners laughed and drank and jeered, and the walls rang with their wild abandon, echoing through the streets of Amblinton.
The diners roared at my profanity and Sammy grabbed his neighbor in a headlock, spilling a mug of beer halfway across the table. “The old crone prowled along the outside of the pen, eyes glaring like a hawk, searching for Joe and fingering a butcher knife as long as her arm.” Mrs. Floyd thrust a wooden fork into her petticoats and jerked her hips, screaming, “As long as Joe’s cock!”
“Joe was crawling around the pen, scared for his life,” I said, “trying to keep out of the old crone’s sight when his hand came down on a giant pile of pig shit. Thinking quick, Joe hucked a lump at one of the brutes when he wasn’t looking and soon, the whole lot of them were fighting with each other like a pack of wild dogs. The mud was getting slung everywhere, the pen was being ripped apart, the pigs were scurrying free, and Joe made a run for it. But as soon as he sprang to his feet the old hag shrieked like a mountain lion sighting on prey.”
As the words fell from me in a rush, Sammy tossed a boiled potato across the room. It exploded on the dining room wall and Mrs. Floyd let out a blood-curdling yell. Everyone else laughed so hard the air seemed to thrum.
I continued as bits of potato slid down the wallpaper behind me. “Joe knew he has been spotted, and… and that old hag, she had him dead to rights. But instead of going in for the kill, went wading into the remains of the pigpen, laying about with a hickory switch. She glared down her bestial brood, one by one, and they flopped over in the mud, showing their bellies like wolves.” Mrs. Floyd set to beating Sammy with the wooden fork and he fell to the floor in a terror as the other guests howled.