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The Witch Pool

Drown all your witches

By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
The Witch Pool
Photo by John Wilson on Unsplash

Maman walked for miles to see that body. She was angry, real ugly angry about it, too. She let her shoulders hunch like the weight of the anger was drawing her down into the earth. Her footsteps were a harsh stomp and her mouth tugged down at the corners into a nasty scowl. When the wind whipped, long strings of gray hair escaped the chignon and tore about her like a storm. It was an ugly sight when my mother was mad, everyone said so. Especially me.

Maman used to be pretty. I mean really, everyone said so. When her hair was shiny black and her skin was supple smooth, she used to get all kinds of compliments. Marriage proposals even, like I said she was just a true beauty. I could remember seeing her on Sunday mornings in her fine hats and silky scarves, just thinking wow, would I ever look like that? Yeah, she got a lot of compliments on her looks. But no one ever said Maman was kind. Because she wasn’t.

You could almost see the steam rising off her skin, boiling mad then, when she stomped up to the fountain in the middle of the square. There was a crude sign, recently erected and carved up like someone didn’t quite know how to work the wood. Sloppily inscribed were the words:


I wouldn’t call it a pool, just a few dirty inches in a once grand fountain with tiers and spickets now run dry. Maman crouched low like she was inspecting the water, and her knees cracked loudly with the effort. Usually, Maman could see things I couldn’t, but this we both saw. A dark, sticky puddle, starting on the foot-high ridge of the fountain, and dripping long tacky lines down onto the cement floor. Like someone had cracked their head wide open and laid there a while.

“Close your eyes,” she snapped at me then, and even with them closed, I knew what she was doing. She swiped one long finger into the thickened bloodstain, and then popped that same finger into her mouth. Tasted it. I shivered.

If the fountain was once grand, then the church to its rear was an even match. Could have been a nice building, large with opulent stained-glass windows. But the building sagged with age and there was an even coating of dust and grime obscuring the glass. Maman marched us up to the church, her steps loud, mean, intimidating to my quieter shadow. Past the dilapidated dish of Holy Water, past the pews, my stomach started to growl when we walked by the alter. Maman always knew where to find the wafers and the wine. Sometimes when we were on the road, we might pass the bitter bottle between the two of us and giggle at the sacrilege. This didn’t seem like one of those times.

She led us into a back room, dimly lit with a few nubby candles. Maybe someone had told her where to look. Otherwise, it seemed strange that Maman would know exactly which of the many rooms held the body. Strange, but not unlikely. I got a glimpse a white sheet shrouding a person-sized lump lying on the table before Maman started opening cupboards and doors. She ushered me to a cupboard, opening the door like she expected me to climb inside.

“Get inside,” she growled, and I knew better than to disobey. The space was cramped, and I felt my backside tip over of few glass jars, but so smushed was I inside the cupboard that nothing made a sound. There was a dirty clear pane in the center of the cupboard door, just clear enough that I could see out. I didn’t think Maman could quite see me inside. For some reason, that gave me a warm flicker of comfort. I waited for my mother’s next phrase, her eternal refrain of stay hidden, stay safe, but this time she had already stomped away. I saw her face pinch, regarding the sheet-covered lump with a cool disgust. After a moment, she ripped it away, letting the shroud crumple in an unceremonious heap.

It was a woman’s body, pale and puffy, with a cascade of honey blonde curls tumbling off the table and nearly touching the floor. She was stripped bare and, in the candlelight, I could see a mottled constellation of purple bruising at her throat, hips, and thighs. Maman trembled with rage. She let her hands trace over the corpse, first picking through her hair, then down her bloated face and neck. Her face was close, nose nearly touching as she worked her way down from face to feet. She muttered under her breath in French. I had always thought she sounded very Creole when she spoke English. When she spoke French though, it sounded like a song.

There came a commotion from the door, and standing in the entryway was a young man, sloppily dressed in the black clothing of a priest. He looked quite shaken at my mother’s presence and by the exposed body on the table, but Maman barely offered him a glance.

“Madame Eulalie.” He let my mother’s name fall out of his mouth like a stone. His face was that of a boy, but his voice was raspy and harsh like that of someone much older. He didn’t sound like Louisiana either. His words were short and clipped like a wind up north. Maman snorted her reply.


He paused awkwardly, like he wasn’t sure if he should let Maman finish her inspection. He stooped, picking up the white sheet, and tried to drape it back over the girl’s body. When Maman grabbed his wrist, the priest yanked back with a noise that sounded like a hiss.

“Eulalie, we weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.” I noticed how quickly he had dropped the title. The people had given it to her. Looking at her tattered clothes and weathered face, it was clear she was no lady. But most, even priests still deigned to use the name out of respect. Maman started scratching at something under the girl’s fingernails, making a show of not looking at him.

“And yet, this girl were killed yesterday.”

The priest didn’t look surprised by the accusation, not particularly, but he did bristle. He cast a more pointed glance over Maman, taking in her ragged clothes and shawl. He must have had a problem with the word killed because he made a point to correct her:

“She was put to death for crimes against the church.” He went on when Maman didn’t offer a reply. “Witchcraft.”

That made Maman snort, sucking snot from her lungs into her sinuses and coating her voice in a layer of raspy phlegm.

“No witch.”

Now the priest wore his agitation like one of his long black robes. The cool facade on his face shattered and he wrung his hands.

“No witch,” he repeated, mocking the Creole intonation. “Yes, absolutely witch! She has been a nuisance to her neighbors since my arrival. And she failed our little experiment in the courtyard. Or didn’t you see our tribute to Salem’s successes?” The reference made me shudder, though I kept care not to disturb the glass propped against my body in the cupboard. Witches, according to the lore, rejected the holy baptismal waters, and would therefore float to the surface. Innocent girls drowned. I’d always wondered whether the religious folk in Salem went fishing for those innocent girls after.

Maman shocked me by poking a long, crooked finger in the Father’s chest.

“This isn’t Salem,” she snarled. “And there weren’t but an inch of water in that forsaken Witch Pool!”

The priest had the nerve to look indignantly down at my mother’s accusatory finger bearing into his chest.

“The rain has been scarce these weeks,” he said as an excuse.

This time I almost snorted, even if it meant giving away my position. This was Louisiana. Scarce rain was the rarity itself. Maman had a theory about drought, especially here in the south, and what it meant to anger spirits down here. Rain could be both blessing and punishment. I thought she might give him the long-winded version of this lecture, but she poked him again, hard this time, edging closer. The priest took a step back.

“I heard of you, boy. I heard of you coming down from Salem and starting your damned witch hunt. You come down through Kentucky and scared a bunch of ladies up there too! Flashing your piety around like it was something shiny and new. I bet not a single one of them girls was a witch. They probably just didn’t like you,” she spat that last word and for a minute I worried she would hock something foul up from her throat and spit it on the young priest. She probably thought about it, at least. She continued though, gaining traction with her anger, uglier than before. She stepped forward. The priest stepped back.

“Father Cunningham would never try to pull this witch hunt foolishness. All witches was tried by me. I am Madame Eulalie. I smell out the witches and I deliver the condemnation for crimes against neighbors. Not no crimes against your woman fearing church.”

“Father Cunningham was hugely unpopular among the priesthood,” he stammered back. “Consulting voodoo women, allowing witches to infiltrate his pews.” Now the priest was gaining speed, just like Maman. This time when she took a step forward, he held his ground, removing his hand from his chest like it was something ridden with infection.

“Don’t seem like you’re too popular with your flock,” was her nasty retort. They were standing awfully close now. Maman’s head barely reached the broad swatch of black fabric stretched over his shoulders. She looked small to me, neck extended and pointing her quivering chin to meet his gaze. There was venom in her dark eyes, contested with the similar look of hatred mirrored in the shallow blue of the priest.

“They been writing me,” she went on. “Begging. Pleading for Madame Eulalie to save them from this madman cleric. Only Madame Eulalie can see the witches, only Madame Eulalie can issue deliverance, only Madame—”

Why did the Father carry a blade? Days, months, years could pass me by, whisk me away across continents and oceans, and never would I not feel the burden of this question, a constant weight on my mind. Why did the Father carry a blade?

I remember how they faced one another, close, nearly touching, eyes lit with malice. Maman’s maddening speech, pressured as the rage boiled inside her, the priest likewise growing in his dissent. Then Maman stopped talking. The room grew silent. She let out a long hiss, the same sound the priest had made when she touched him the very first time. A release of the steamed juxtaposition between them. That’s when I saw the blade, the handle a shoddy-made wooden thing, and the blood pooling through Maman’s clothes and beginning a slow drippy trickle onto the floor.

The Father let out a soft, “oh” like he surprised himself too. Frozen in fear, I made not a sound, let myself sink further into the cupboard like it could envelop me in one last tender, maternal embrace. The Father pulled the blade out. More blood poured from Maman. The room was darkened in the advancing twilight, and the blood looked black and brackish, nothing like the sticky, tacky red the blonde girl’s head had made when it cracked open on the Witch Pool concrete. Maman took a step. Her body sagged against the Father. It could have been an intimate gesture, her old face buried into the younger man’s robes. This time when he stepped back, Maman fell to the floor.

Quick shuffles led him to the door. He found the knob with his back, then made an ungraceful pivot to exit. He was gone, the blade still in his hand, and stained with blood. He left the blonde’s body uncovered, with Maman’s facedown in parallel on the floor. They were sisters now. Light and dark. Young and Old. Dead.

I made a sound like a caged animal, springing free from my hiding place and letting the glassware tumble out in a crash behind me. It took less than a second to reach Maman’s body, warm and soft, like if I really wanted to, I could convince myself she was only sleeping. I found the strength to turn her over, so that I was cradling her head in my lap. The ink spot of blood swelled into a pool around us, and that unforgettable stink of copper singed the inside of my nose.

Réveille-toi, Maman,” I whispered. A child-like fantasy. She would not wake from this. I think I let several minutes pass, holding her head, stroking back the grays in her hair. No one ever said my Maman was kind. She wasn’t. She was fierce, unnervingly so. Strong and beautiful, and every bit of the Madame Eulalie the people needed when they cried out for their wives and daughters.

I retrieved the white sheet from the crumple on the floor, cloaked Maman like preparing her for burial. I didn’t think the little blonde on the table would mind sharing her shroud.

A noise interrupted my preparations. There, standing in the door frame was the Father. If he had hidden the blade, then he had done nothing to cover up the stains on his chest and hands, caking up in a way that made me think of the phrase, “caught red-handed.” He stood there for a long second, his mouth twisting up into a gruesome expression of fright.

I saw myself then as he must have seen me. Maman’s body was tucked neatly in the shroud, obscured from sight. I saw my hair a shiny black, my skin smooth and supple. A twinned image to how Maman might have looked in her youth. He didn’t know I had been hiding away, didn’t know I had already covered my mother’s body. He looked afraid, really and truly afraid of me standing there, the reincarnate of Madame Eulalie.

His voice was low and tremulous when he said it, a word that coincided with a crack of thunder that lit up the sky.



Then came the rain, an unexpected downpour. The sky was suddenly dark, the clouds had moved in to bury even the moon. Silently, we both moved to the window, synchronous for once in our desire to watch the rain fall. We saw it fill up the fountain. It was alive again, bubbling, spouting, full enough to be deemed a pool, and overflowing. A shiver passed between us because in that instant we both knew:

Maman had brought the rain.


About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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    Claudia NeavesWritten by Claudia Neaves

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