Author's Note: This is not an original piece by VL Sheridan. "Jack Tales" are Appalachian folklore, passed down in an oral tradition as oppossed to a written one. When I was in grade school one hundred years ago, the school librarian, Mrs. Martin, would read this story to us. It has a special place in my heart; I hope you enjoy it too.
Jack come at it with his knife, syas, "I done told you not to sop your doll in there. You try it one more time now, and I'll sure whack it off."
The old cat drawed back, set on there switchin' its tail. Them other cats stirred a little, one or two of 'em sort of meowled.
Then that cat fopped its foot right smack in Jack's gravy, says, "Sop! Doll-ll-ll!"
Jack came down with his knife right quick and cut the cat's paw plumb off. The old cat jumped for a window and all twelve of 'em went,
"Whar-r-r-r-r!" and were gone from there 'for Jack could turn to look.
Well, Jack went to throw that meat in the fire, and instead of a cat's paw hit was a woman's hand layin' there in the skillet, had a ring on one finger.
Jack took the hand out and wropped it in some paper, put it up on the fireboard. Then he washed and scoured his skillet, cooked him some more meat, and a pone of bread. Got done eatin' and went on to bed.
The next mornin'the man that owned the mill got up real early, says, "Old lady, you better get up and cook me some breakfaxt. I reckon I'll have to make arrange-ments about buryin' that boy today."
His lady sort of scrouged around in the bed, said she was sick and couldn't get up. So the man fixed fimself some breakfast and pulled on down to the mill.
There was Jack, just a-grindin' right on.
The man got in to where Jack was, hollered to him, says, "Well! I wasn't expectin' to see you alive, Jack. Thought I'd be buryin' you today."
Jack hollered back at him, says, "When you get that turn ground out, shut the mill down. I got to talk to ye, right now."
So directly Jack went and pulled the water-gate so's the mill racket 'uld stop and him and that man could talk.
Says, "Now, Jack, you tell me what happened last night." Jack related to him about all them black cats and he told about the old man givin' him that silver knife.
The man says, "I see through the whole thing now. Hit's a witch gang. They wanted to have their lodge meetin's here in the mill. And when that cat sopped in the grease she pizened it someway or other."
Jack said he had an idea that was how it was. Said that was why he scoured the skillet. The man said hit was a good thing he done that. Then Jack told him about the cat's paw turnin' into a woman's hand, says, "You might not believe that, but I've got it right here to show ye." Got that woman's hand and unwroped it.
The man took it, looked it over, looked at the ring on it, says, "Now, I declare! Well, I'd 'a never thought it!" Says, "Now, Jack, you lock the mill up and come on back home with me. We got to tend to this right now. Hit's a good thing that knife was made out of silver. You can't hurt a witch with a knife, or a bullet even, unless it's silver."
So they went back to the house and the man's old woman was still in the bed. He asked her if she felt any better. She said No, said she'd not get up for a little while longer.
So the man says to her, says, "You want me to send for the doctor?"
She said No, said for him to send for some of the neighbor women. He asked her what women folks she wanted to come and she named out eleven women in the settle-ment. So the man sent word to 'em, and 'fore any of 'em got there he says to his wife, says, "Let me see your right hand."
The old woman sort of twisted around, poked out her left hand.
"No," says the old man, "hit's your right hand I want to see."
So she twisted and turned, poked out her left hand again. Then he reached over and pulled out her right arm and there wasn't no hand on it.
Well, the women folks came readily as soon as they got the word.
The man says to Jack, says, "I been suspectin' my old woman was mixed up with that gang of witches, but I'd 'a never 'lowed she was the head of it."
Jack says, "Oh, surely not."
Man says, "Yes, I knowed hit was her hand time I saw the ring on it."
Well, when the last of them eleven women got in with his old lady, that man shut the door on 'em and fired the house. Them twelve witches started crackin' and poppin', and ever' one of 'em was burnt plumb up.
So Jack made an end of the witch gang in that settle-ment. And that man never did have no more trouble about his mill.
The Jack Tales, by Richard Chase. copyright 1971.