A Killer Witch. A Colonial town is stalked by a monster. Adult 2,400
Something or someone is killing residents of 18th century Johnstown, Pa. His family wiped out, Peter Clampett sets out to find a serial killer, witch or human.
Three-year-old Samantha Clampett played with a homemade cloth doll. She sat between the stone hearth and an outer wall. The child was trying to keep warm on a cool October night in Johnstown. It was in the year 1731 and one of the few settlements in what would later be Vermont.
Wind whistled through cracks in mortar between logs of her crudely-built home. The lone window was shuttered, that opening also covered with furs to keep out the cold; glass being far too expensive for her family. Peter, her father, was over at the meeting house. Her mother, Abigail, sat across the room while spinning wool into yarn.
Samantha liked to sit between the fire and cold. That way, she could turn her body one way, enjoying warmth on one side and coolness on the other. When one side became too warm, she'd turn the other way. That particular spot had a hole in the mortar large enough to see through. It was nice to be able to sit with her face pressed between logs and see outside, eye cold from a small breeze coming through. She was careful not to let her parents know about the hole. They would just stuff a rag in it or something. Then she wouldn't be able to watch the muddy street at night.
The girl heard a dog barking outside. Looking through her hole, Samantha saw someone coming toward the house and thought it must be one of her mother's friends. A feeling of expectation filled her breast. Visitors meant a rare cup of sassafras tea, maybe even a cookie or piece of cake if the visitor brought a gift.
Samantha waited, and waited some more, but nobody knocked on the door. She peered out again. While she watched, someone passed by her hole. It was very quick and they were too close for her to see well. A couple of minutes later, while talking to Alice, her doll, she noticed that air from outside wasn't blowing on the side of her face anymore. Looking over, she saw an eye looking back at her ... from out there. Samantha forgot her secret, screaming in shock and fear.
"Mama! Mama. Someone's outside. I can see them." In sudden horror, she backed away from the hole. Before her mother could answer, the door slammed open on leather hinges.
"Who could have done this? How could anyone have done it?" Reverend Fletcher held Abigail's bloody head in his lap. He was sitting on the floor, covered with red from handling her body, the fluid still steaming in cold air coming through the open door.
Townspeople peered in the doorway, hesitant to come come closer to what they considered the devil's work. Satan had certainly been in that home, and might still be standing among them, gloating.
The woman had been stripped, raped, and stabbed multiple times. Both her breasts had been cut clean off, and were nowhere in sight. A large swatch of once beautiful blonde hair was also missing, cut or torn off the head.
Peter, her husband, sat on the floor at the farthest end of the room. He was in shock, sitting in a fetal position, visibly shaking, wide-eyed with head clasped between his legs.
Samantha had been hurriedly taken out of the cabin by one of the ladies. The girl had been screaming something about a witch, an ugly evil witch. She'd also been naked and obviously sexually molested. The child had been covered with blood. No one inside the cabin knew yet if it were hers or her mother's.
Jebediah Johnson stood outside, watching activity down the street. He'd been working at his home business. It was the only shoe shop in the town of about three-hundred people, also being one of the few with a real glass window to show off his wares.
His business was sporadic. Being a real shoemaker himself, Jeb sold his own creations and fixed them when needed. Sometimes he would have little business and need to find part-time work on local farms. Other times, he worked late. That night he was working late.
The town employed no constable or police force. In fact there was no dedicated police force anywhere in the colonies. Town elders and concerned citizens took care of such matters themselves. In cases like the recent native uprising, where Reverend Adams had been killed, they would send for British troops. As far as Jeb was concerned, the less they had to do with the Lobsterbacks, the better he liked it.
Of course they were British citizens, and had no trouble with the Old Country people. It was only with the troops themselves. They would try to lord it over colonists, stealing goods and services with only empty promises to pay.
The last time a military troop came through town, Jeb had been forced to sell them a half-dozen pairs of shoes. He never did get paid, receiving only handwritten paper he couldn't read. When he finally made it to Boston, six months later, to purchase supplies, he found the chits he'd been given were only good for three months. How the hell could he afford going all that way to cash in papers for the price of a half-dozen pair of shoes? he thought.
When he saw activity around Peter Clampett's house, he was curious. Seeing three people carrying a body out, he knew something was very wrong.
Such an act was unheard of. The word was that it was a woman that did it. That the child spoke of a witch. But a witch couldn't rape, could it? Jeb didn't know all that much about them, but didn't think so. Weren't they at least part-women? In any case, he hadn't seen any women walking around alone that night. But then, he'd been busy repairing shoes.
When Jeb came in to open his shop the next morning, he made his customary pot of tea and started work. Reverend Fletcher, his best friend, was late. By the time the Reverend arrived, hurrying to close the front door, the tea had already simmered down to almost the consistency of molasses while sitting in a corner of the hearth near the fire.
"How's the child?" Jeb asked as Fletcher poured himself a cup, then added hot water from another jug. "And you better watch that stuff, it's pretty strong."
"Not very well this morning. I think it's only now starting to sink into her," Fletcher told him. "She had her mother killed in front of her, then the monster started in on her. I can only pray she outgrows it. It's the Lord's will. Though, I admit, I don't see the sense of it; such a young girl." Sighing, he reached into his pocket, bringing out an empty hand.
"Now my watch is gone. I had it last night when I went to bed. Come to think of it, I've lost quite a few things recently. Maybe I should start locking my door? I want to set an example for the others, that the Lord protects this town. I can't do it if a thief keeps stealing from me."
"Times are changing, Jeff. More people, more leisure, more stealing," Jeb informed him. "If Peter and Samantha need a place to stay for a while, I have a warm supply room. I talked to Sally last night. She'd be glad to have them."
"I'll bring it up to Peter. He might not want to use his cabin for awhile, and I wouldn't blame him."
Reverend Fletcher returned to the large brick and plank building that housed his local church. He only serviced about a hundred parishioners, the number being somewhat limited by distance. In inclement weather, people tended to walk to the nearest - not necessarily their favorite - house of worship.
The town actually consisted of a composite of several smaller ones, each with its own church and business districts. They had been originally formed around the first three successful settlers in the area, later being joined as the towns extended.
Most residents walked, since there were few horses available - most of them owned by the wealthier farmers and business people.
The reverend found young Samantha lying on a cot at the rear of the church, talking to the Jefferson girl - about the same age. Mrs. Jefferson and his assistant minister, an older man named Norman Fry, were working on the church's expense books. Probably on next month's supplies, Fletcher figured.
Peter Clampett sat slumped over on a chair in the corner, appearing half asleep with head hanging downward. He jerked upright at Fletcher's entrance. Cold air coming in the door must have revived him, Fletcher thought.
"Did you find out anything, Reverend?" Peter asked in a small shaky voice. He had recovered enough to calm down, holding in his grief. Though not often of that horrific variety, death was common on the frontier, native attacks being a constant threat.
"Only what we've already heard. The latest could be gossip, so it's not necessarily true. While on the way back from his outhouse, Joshua Albrill thought he saw a woman dressed in black lurking around the buildings. In a hurry to get warm, he didn't pay much attention. No one else noticed anything unusual.
"It was probably a man, but since no male juices were found on your wife's privates it could have been a woman. There are ways women pleasure each other..."
"The hell there are! My wife is ... was a God fearing woman. She would never do that." He found himself on his feet facing the preacher.
"I didn't say she did, or she was," Fletcher said, backing up a pace, hands up in supplication, "I was only pointing out that a woman could have done it. Or a demon, for that matter."
They stood silent, thinking about the last statement. Everyone knew there were such things. Nobody had seen them, but all knew for a fact demons existed.
"Or even a witch, Jeff." Fry looked up from his account book. "There have been sightings recently, only two villages south of here. The poor child said it was a very ugly woman. If the killer was from around here Samantha would probably have seen her before and be able to identify the witch."
"pro'ly a man, Norm," Jeff Fletcher replied.
"Not a woman, never," from Peter, still angry from the mere suggestion.
"Oh, another thing, Peter," the Reverend Fletcher told him, "Jeb said he would like for you to stay with him, you and Samantha, until you feel better." Fletcher looked over at Peter, who had returned to his seat, "If you want, I can send someone to tell him to expect you in a little while?"
"Maybe I should, for Samantha's sake? She's afraid to go back to the house," Peter reflected. "Can you arrange it? And see she gets over to Jeb's? I want to try to find out who did this vile act and ... and clean the house."
"I'll see to it," Reverend Fry said with a gentle voice.
Peter left for his home to study the scene and clean the blood as much as he could before it became too dry to wipe up. As sad as he found himself, he knew life had to go on. After he left, Mrs. Jefferson and Reverend Fry took Samantha over to Jeb's home in the rear of his shop.
Peter found no footprints, none identifiable at least. The area, both in and outside his home, had been trampled by half the town long before he'd even gotten back the night before, mud from the street mixed with copious blood. His door had been left open, so he decided to start a fire in the hearth before he did anything else. At least the cold had frozen the blood pretty well. If he hurried, he could scrape most of it off and maybe wipe the rest when it melted a bit.
The hardest part was knowing it was Abigail's. He could only hurry to get it over with before the task broke him down again. It was all that remained of her, the last he would ever see except in his mind ... memories.
He had never gotten around to having a portrait done. It would have cost money. Now, he regretted the decision. He promised himself to get one of himself and Samantha as soon as possible. He didn't know any artists, personally, so it couldn't include Abby from the painter's memory.
Drying unbidden tears, he set resolutely to work, scraping frozen blood free from the floor and furniture until the room heated up and he could scrub it off instead. He kept an eye out for anything unusual in the cabin, or anything missing. He didn't notice either, nothing except furniture knocked over during a struggle … and a strange object lying under the spinning wheel.
It was a piece of intestine looking like it was from a pig or calf. Peter was a handyman type, not much of a farmer, but had helped on more than a few butchering chores. Not enough to recognize which animal, though. And for all he knew, it might have been something Abigail brought home.
One end was tied together with thread and it contained a white substance, which seemed strange. What could Abigail have used it for? Maybe his wife had been learning to stuff sausages or something? In that case, there should be a lot more of the damned things around. Nobody stuffed ONE six-inch sausage. You did it by the dozens. He would ask Jim the butcher about it. Maybe the killer dropped the thing? he thought. Maybe the killer recently butchered some animal? If so, he might be able to find out who been slaughtering lately?
The cleaning took Peter the rest of the day. He hated to leave the fire to go out by itself so he watered it down a bit, then damped it with a cracked pewter bowl saved for that purpose. That should at least keep the cabin above freezing, he thought.
As the room cooled again, he sat in a homemade wooden chair, looking around at familiar items and thinking of his wife. In the silence, tears flowed freely and Peter thought of what he could do to find the killer. He could always call British troops in, but they wouldn't do anything. The bastard would probably be long gone by then, someone traveling through town. Peter had an idea, wondering whether Fletcher had found any strangers walking around, or if anyone had heard of recent travelers? He would ask them.
Jumping up and going back to the church, Peter asked not only Fletcher but everyone he could find. His next stops were at a few of his immediate neighbors. Mr. Parker, on the left, wasn't home. He found Mrs. Trent, across the street, chopping firewood out back. After commiserations, he questioned her.
"My Harry told me he saw a large woman walking around behind our house. When he greeted her, she saw him and hurried around the side, as if she had been surprised or something, Harry said. Since nothing was missing, he almost forgot about it - until he heard about poor Abby."
Mr. Jacobs, on the right of Peter's house, said something about a woman. He didn't notice her size or anything. Wearing black didn't mean anything, since it was a favorite color around there.
"I really didn't pay any attention, Peter. I was working on my tool shed, the flash of black just caught my attention was all. I looked over, then went back to work." John Jacobs then offered, "If you want, I'll keep an eye on your property? I can keep the fire going a little bit, enough to keep things from freezing at night?"
"I'd appreciate it, John. Like I said, I'll be staying at the shoemaker's for a while, me and Samantha. I can't face going home right now, sleeping in that bed alone without Abby." He turned away and left, not trusting himself to hold together.
As Peter walked away, John Jacobs frowned, seemingly lost deep in thought.
His next stop was at the butcher's. He remembered to take the somewhat strange piece of gut with him. Mr. Tupper would know what kind of animal it came from. Peter knew Jim Tupper well, having helped the man at several butchering sessions in the past.
"Hey, Peter, sorry to hear the bad news. You want to buy something?" Jim was cutting on an unidentified piece of animal lying on a cutting block. A huge knife flashed in the reflected glare of the fireplace.
Peter idly wondered how easy it would be to cut a person apart. Probably no harder than Jim was working right then. He had to shudder at the thought.
"Hello, Jim." Peter stood near the fire, all that walking around outside had chilled him - with a lot more cold walking to come. "I wanted to know if you saw an ugly woman dressed in black, or anything else strange last night?"
"No. Like I told the Reverend Fry. I didn't see anything at all. I had an entire beef to cut up. This is the last of it, and I was busy most of the night. Didn't go out for anything but the toilet."
They talked a few minutes. As Peter started out, he remembered the intestine in his pocket. He pulled it out and laid it on the worktable.
"Hey, get that damned thing off there." Jim swept it off onto the floor with the side of his hand, then wiped his fingers with a clean towel. "You should know better."
"What's wrong? I only wanted to know what it came from?" Peter was shocked at Jim's violent reaction.
"You mean recently, or originally?" Jim laughed, sensing that Peter really didn't know what they were talking about. "Originally, it belonged in a sheep's stomach. Recently it was in some woman. I have a couple at home. Hey! I'm a bachelor. You put it over your member, the thing in your trousers, before making love. Don't tell the preacher or he might kick me out of church, but it keeps the woman from having a baby."
It took Peter a few seconds to catch on, looking at the intestine on the floor, then back at Jim, a blush eventually coming to his wind-browned face. He'd never used them with other women, or his wife for that matter, but had heard there were such things.
Trusting his wife completely, Peter realized that it must have come from the killer. At least it proved it wasn't a woman that did it. Thanking Jim, he picked the thing up again, that time more gingerly, and returned it to his pocket. Now for his last questioning for the day, he thought, the nearest farmers.
Both the Simpsons were home on their land, about a half-mile past the end of Peter's street. The street turned into a country trail by that point, wide enough for few carriages and fit for only horse or oxen. The Simpsons farmed one side of the dirt road just past the town limits, the Turners had the other.
"Didn't see nothing," Jake Simpson told him. "Don't pay no attention to people walking by. I got too much work to do and don't let my kids pay no attention neither."
Jake was known to be a very serious individual. He had also been a militia officer in not one, but two campaigns against the natives. He would as soon shoot one of them as look at the bastard. Jake wasn't very sociable and kept to his own family.
Across the street and a hundred yards distant stood a large rough-cut-plank and brick house belonging to Sam Turner, the wealthiest man in the territory. Affable Sam hired over a dozen people to help him during planting and harvesting seasons, keeping several of them the year around. Sam was unmarried and the direct opposite of Jake.
The well-to-do owner did little farm work himself, preferring to work on his still, the source of much of his wealth. After dark, which it was by that time, you could normally find Sam with his cronies, all taste-testing his product. His hired help would probably be doing the same in a smaller cabin out by one of the three barns.
"Peter Clampett! Come on in. I got some new stuff. You'll like it." He ushered Peter into another section of the five-room cabin. "Sorry about Abb ... your wife. I heard this morning. If you need anything, you let me know, you hear? We been neighbors a long way back." He grinned. "Make yourself at home. You know John, James, Joey, and another Peter, your namesake?"
After introductions, and more condolences, Peter poured himself a drink in a clay mug. He then asked them all what they had seen the night before. He wasn't at all surprised to find it was nothing. In the cold weather, they would have all been in this cabin, drinking, the night before.
Peter realized he'd subconsciously been saving this place for last, anticipating the drink. He sat back and listened to laughter and absorbed a friendly atmosphere. That and alcohol helped soothe his soul.
After a spate of conversation, Peter was pretty much ignored as Sam told tales of mayhem and killing to his audience. Peter easily blocked his neighbor's voice, immersing himself in pleasant memories of sunny days and gentle nights with his wife. Alcohol and exhaustion can be a great smoother of emotions – especially on a cold dreary night. Drink enough and you no longer care about anything, even lose yourself in the past. Pleasant company, warmth and drink after drink of home-brew helped hide recent memories.
Peter finally had to pry himself away, say goodbye to his host, and return to town and the shoe shop. He knew that they, deep in their own familiar presence, hardly missed his.
A week later another woman, Alma Jeffers, was killed in the same manner. Much of her face, including nose and ears, were cut off. A passerby saw a woman walking by him on the road just before it happened. The witness didn't recognize the person. He had taken one glance at a particularly ugly face and looked away.
Alma had been a member of Peter and Fletcher's church. It hit the reverend especially hard, knowing her well. A reclusive lady, Alma had lived alone, making a meager living as a seamstress for her neighbors.
Village women, merely apprehensive before, became terrified to walk, or to even be alone. They were never seen in less than threes, and you could bet none of them slept alone. Men patrolled the streets at night, watching for strangers, especially ugly ones. They carried any weapons they could get their hands on. The few strangers that did come into town were carefully watched and escorted, never left out of sight.
Large single men like Sam Turner - not very religious and constantly horny - were in great demand by the single women. Men stayed home at night with their wives and never, ever, left those mates alone. Packs of older children ranged far and wide, looking for suspicious outsiders.
"Nice night tonight, clear but cold," Jeb commented. He and Peter were patrolling the streets. "At least the snow stopped, and most of the wind." They were standing in shelter formed by two cabins, built side by side. The buildings were new, made of lumber from a sawmill started a few years before.
The newer-style homes were not as warm as a log cabin, at least one well plastered. Peter planned to tighten his walls with fresh moss and mortar, but never seemed to get around to it. In the summer they didn't need it, and he'd a lot of work to do in the winter. Peter and other young men were hired to shovel streets. He often thought about a thin wood paneling inside to help keep out the wind.
"Hey, look over there?" Peter's wandering eye had caught a movement across from them. He knew the street, but not anyone who lived on it. It was near the town limits, with nothing but a stone quarry on the other side.
They stood looking for a few minutes, finally being rewarded by shifting shadows near a house. A woman dressed in black stepped out from behind a tree, walking quickly away from them and toward the quarry.
"Hey. Stop!" Peter yelled. The dark-clad figure never looked back, only hurried faster.
Hefting wooden clubs, hastily picked from the curb, the two men started after her. She must have heard or sensed them, although they made little noise in the snow-covered street. After looking back, she quickened the pace. So did they, and soon the three were running full out, leaving the town behind. The woman, witch, or demon ran into a wooded space at the edge of town and was out of sight. Just then the wind chose to pick up in intensity.
Peter and Jeb, breathing hard and faltering, followed a lessening trail in the snow. Jeb, out of shape, had to be helped up twice when he fell, tripping over buried objects such as stones and roots.
The stiff wind covered most of her tracks but a few were still visible on the leeward side of trees. Also, their quarry had knocked fresh snow off branches. They could see where the displaced snow had scraped fresh, angular, paths when it fell.
The trail was faint and they had to hurry before the wind covered it completely. Running hard and keeping a sharp eye, they followed what might be a killer. As they ran into the quarry, the easier it became to stay on course. High natural stone walls broke the wind, keeping the prints fresher.
There were several shacks, no smoke from the chimneys. The two men circled each, noting snow piled in front of doors, undisturbed. The quarry people stopped work when the ground froze.
The chase ended at a doorway, a scrap-wood and plank door set deep inside the mouth of a cave. They could see where snow had been recently scraped back by the opening door.
"Uh, wait a minute, Peter. Please," Jeb begged, leaning against a side of the cave, out of the wind, "I have to catch my breath."
Although Peter was ready to jerk the door off its leather hinges, he realized two of them might be needed inside. Snorting like a rabid bull, he waited for his companion. With Jeb's coarse breathing, Peter couldn't hear any sounds but felt the woman or whatever must be trapped inside.
Finally, Jeb stood straight, jerked the door open himself, and the two men entered.
They found themselves in a cold and damp corridor. It led to the cave proper, set up as a makeshift living quarters. A bed occupied one corner of a roughly twelve-by-ten-foot enclosure.
A roughly-hewn cabinet, open with clothing thrown around inside, sat in another corner. Against the far wall sat a clay pot made by natives, complete with lid, while an equally large metal pot stood beside it. A fire burned slowly in a depression of the stone floor, smoke being pulled out somehow. The cave was chilly, but far above freezing.
A bulky figure with long scraggly hair squatted, back toward them, in front of the clay pot, holding a wooden lid up with one hand, its attention on the contents.
As they watched, she pulled something out. She'd obviously not heard them enter. In her hand, she held a white object that looked like a hand, child-size. She dropped it in again and turned around in alarm.
"Now!" Jeb yelled, causing the figure to freeze in shock.
The two men jumped the witch, bringing her to the ground. During the ensuing struggle, they saw her more clearly. It was the ugliest face either had ever seen, completely unrecognizable, with dead white skin and a floppy disjointed nose.
"Hold her tight, Peter." Jeb panted in exertion, looking around. He saw a pile of half-inch hemp rope lying on top of the cabinet.
While Peter held the witch down, Jeb sat on its head and tied her hands and feet. By the time they finished, both were silently retching from a vile, inhuman odor hovering around the pottery.
The two picked the witch up and sat her on the bed. While they did so the mask, which was what it was - a mask made from treated skin peeled from a human face - came off. They had found their killer. Not only that but they recognized him.
A table in back of the church meeting room was half-covered with clothing and personal articles, most belonging to Reverend Fletcher. The reverend was sitting at the table, face a mixture of shock and surprise.
"I never would have guessed ... not in a million years." Elder Jamison shook his head, looking at the prisoner.
Assistant Reverend Fry sat, dejectedly, at the other end of the table. Nobody had bothered to untie his hands.
"So, that's what happened. Fry admitted it to us back at the cave." Jeb looked at the prisoner with disgust. "He killed Reverend Adams, making it look like the natives did it because he expected to advance to the good reverend's job. The church sent for a replacement instead, Reverend Fletcher, a much younger man.
"Knowing that if he did it again he would be suspect, and that Fletcher was likely to outlive him, Fry came up with another way to get the job. He enjoyed killing Adams. Thinking he might as well have more fun, he turned to killing women and children."
Reverend Fry looked up, nodding with tears in his eyes. He tried to wipe them on his shoulder, with no success - hands tied behind himself.
"Can you untie me. Please? I can't go anywhere?" he begged. The others only glared back. Fry found no sympathy in that room.
"Fry planted the items he stole from Reverend Fletcher in the cave. Later he would have pretended to find them and the cooked body parts. It would be all the proof needed to hang Fletcher." Peter continued, finishing with, "Fletcher's personal items, like the watch and Fry's grisly trophies." Peter looked like he was going to attack the prisoner, forcing Jeb to stand in his way.
"Fry would have been a local hero," Jeb said, raising his arms to protect Fry, "certain to get the top preaching position."
"I only want one thing, elder." Peter glared at the killer of his wife and rapist of his child. "Please, please, let me do the hanging. I'll make damn sure he dies slowly." Peter turned and stormed out of the room, trying to hide moisture forming in his eyes.
Hvysmker – Charlie