5/27/2017

The Witches of East Tennessee







Today we are pleased to have Jeremiah Holkins guest posting on the Paranormal/Supernatural topic.  Mr. Holkins is originally from the eastern part of Tennessee.  He now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife of 5 years, Margie, his two sons, Bartlett, age 4 and Jackson, age 18 months.   A Structural Engineer,  Jeremiah works for the county's water works department, where he has been employed for the past six years.  A proud graduate of the University of Central Florida, Jeremiah is an active alum of the national chapter.  His hobbies consist of coaching junior league baseball teams,  fishing, boating, and doing small engine repair in his workshop.


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Back in 1998, I was all of 11 years old.  Like many kids that age, I felt I was invincible and I would live forever.  Nothing bad could ever happen to me, my family or any of my friends.  When you are that young, you think of one second to the next.  Nothing else matters but your having as much fun as you possibly can.  Damn the consequences, full speed ahead.  So, it was with that mindset that caused me to get in trouble which haunts me to this day in my boyhood home near Morristown, Tennessee.   You see, when you are a kid, you don't think much about danger.  I can't tell you how many times I wish I had just stayed home that hot July day in 1998.  I so wish I had just stayed home and canned peaches with my grandma like she had asked me to the previous night.  I loved my grandma.  I loved her as much or maybe even more than my own parents.  She was always taking my side in conflicts.  Grandma got me out of a many an ass whipping when I was a youngster.  But, summers fly by when you are young.  It will be time to go back to school before you know it.  So, off to the day's adventures I went.  Grandma saw me going out the back door.  "Jeremiah, didn't you tell Grandma you were going to stay here with me today and can them peaches?" Grandma asked.  "I'll stay tomorrow, Grandma.  Me, Mic and Vic are headed to the mountain to look for blackberries," I said (while knowing there were no blackberries there)"Okay, but you stay away from those damn witches and all those damn cats.  Some of them might have rabies," Grandma said.  I hated cats anyway.  So, that was no problem.

I knew exactly what she meant.  The Witch's Lair, as locals called it, was a ramshackle cabin all by itself out remotely near "The Mountain" as we fondly called it.  There were three women who lived there.  All three would rarely go into town.  Mostly, their shopping consisted of fruits and seasonings, spices, pickled pigs feet, just the usual stuff that witches need to cast their spells and so forth.   Well, that was the rumor that went around as the three women made their way around town.  You never saw them in or even within a mile of a church.  I noticed they would go out of their way to stay away.  That was enough to give one pause about this trio.  They all wore the same dark clothing even in the heat of July.  Every time I ever saw them, I never saw them sweat like everybody else in the heat of July.  During the winter months, they never came to town.  Don't ask me how they survived during Winter.  I have no idea.  Well, that's not exactly true.  If they were truly witches, I suppose they could find a way to make it through the harsh winters. Lots of people complained to the sheriff about these women.  But, Sheriff Lynch just up and told everybody as long as they obey the law, there's nothing he could do.  Furthermore, he said he felt everybody made much ado about nothing with these "witches" anyway.  They were just unusual and he stated he would have to lock up over half the people in the county if being unusual was the criteria.  If Sheriff Lynch was trying to placate folks, he failed miserably.

There were more pressing problems for the sheriff.  Like people just up and disappearing around town.  That was a problem that had been going on before Sheriff Lynch had even been elected.  The first unusual disappearance was when I was 6 years old.  Now, the witches had appeared in town about twice that long ago, according to my dad.  Things seemed to go downhill just a bit when the witches moved in that cabin just out of town.  Unemployment spiked upward, merchants went out of business and the pews at local churches were less filled than before.  It was just natural that folks would start accusing the witching trio of placing curses on the town.  No one had any idea why they would do such a thing (even if they could).   But, when you act differently, dress differently and look differently, people are going to make you the scapegoat.  My dad always said it was and is total nonsense since there was no such thing as a witch.  But, back to that first disappearance when I was six years old....that was Theodore Oneid, a man who had few friends and family.  In fact, my dad said Theodore could name all his friends on one finger and it was usually the middle finger that he would use to count.  Theodore was a man who was a creature of habit.  He would be among the first to be at the town cafe when it opened up at 6AM, Monday-Saturday.  He would linger around at the cafe until he figured he would walk across to the post office that was adjacent to the courthouse.  He'd pick up his mail and head on to the fruit market to pick up a few things.  He did this every day except on Sunday.  Oh, he wasn't a church going, man.  It was just the one cafe in town and of course, no delivery of mail on Sunday.

One day, Theodore got into a verbal altercation with one of the witches over God knows what.  It was a heated argument.  No one knew for sure which woman it was  (at the time) since they all three looked alike.  We didn't even know their names. They could have been sisters for all we knew.  They weren't exactly sociable, which made this argument with Theodore all the more unusual.  Whatever caused the argument is still subject to debate.  It might have been caused by Theodore's penchant for starting trouble.  He was well known for starting arguments over the most ridiculous things, my dad would later say.  The woman finally pointed her finger at Theodore, smiled and walked away.   The next morning, there was no Theodore at the cafe.  Nor the next morning or the next.  He has not been seen since that argument.  Perhaps he just up and left his home for other places.  But, most people let others know they are leaving.  Or at least take some of their belongings with them.  Of course, Sheriff Lynch investigated.  But, there was no evidence of wrongdoing.  Since that time, and for the next 5 years, at least eight more people disappeared.  Which brings me to my adventure that long ago day with Mic and Vic.

Mic and Vic, as I liked to call them, were your traditional 11-year-old playmates.  You never have friends like the friends you have before you become a teen.  For the most part, you each go your separate ways in life.  That's just the way it is.  But, we all three vowed we would be friends for life.  No matter the circumstances, we would stick together as lifelong friends.  I think we all knew that was not likely to happen.  But, we decided if we could believe it, it could happen.  As I met up with Mic and Vic, we were trying to decide what to do on this hot July day.  Of course, Mic wanted to go down to the creek and spend the day.  Vic had other ideas.  Both boys had their own set of personalities.  Mic was the more practical of us all.  He never wanted trouble and would make up excuses not to go near the "Witch's Lair" as we were about to do this day.  Vic, on the other hand, was the daredevil.  You dare him to do something, he most likely would do it as long as you are willing to fork over money, candy or something else valuable to an 11-year-old boy.  Vic got teased a lot at school because of the birthmark on his forehead.  It looked like a crow had dive-bombed him with bird dropping after eating red berries.  The birthmark looked just like a red bird splatter on your car.  So, naturally, his nickname at school was "Bird Shit." "Hey, Bird Shit!  Why don't you wipe that crap off your forehead," the kids would say.  It hurt him deeply. He was ready to fight if called that.  It was something he had to live with, unfortunately.  Kids are said to be the cruelest of the cruel.  I have to agree with that.

We decided to live dangerously that day.  So, off to the Witch's Lair, we went.  The only thing about going there was that the witches had an "early warning system."   There were at least 50 stray cats living in and around that cabin on the mountain.  They see somebody, they started a chain reaction of meowing.  Our objective was to get some tomatoes out of their garden.  It wasn't that we loved tomatoes.  I could take them or leave them.  It was just knowing we had done something that would irritate the witching trio that lived in the cabin.  Others had done this before.  The witches could tell when something, even one tomato, was taken out of their garden.  They would complain to Sheriff Lynch all the time.  Sheriff Lynch would tell them he had better things to do than track down a tomato thief.  Sheriff Lynch noted whenever he was going to make a report, they would refuse to give their names to him.  That ended the police report right there.  This really pissed off the witches.  Of course, the witches knew it was kids stealing out of their garden.  But, there wasn't a helluva lot they could do.  Nobody liked them in town.

We knew the best way to avoid the cats was to follow the creek that flowed down behind their cabin.  We got to the cabin about 1 PM as I remember now.  We stayed in the bushes hidden so we could not be seen.  Suddenly,  the front door opened and out came two of the witches.  By the looks of things, two were going into town and the other was coming toward us with a bucket.  We were stunned.  What to do?  "Let's stay put.  Maybe she won't see us," whispered Vic.  We really had no choice.  All we could hope for was that the one single witch would be so occupied with getting water, she wouldn't notice us.  Thankfully, the bushes were thick.  We laid as low as we could.  She was filling up her water bucket.  But, as luck would have it, the damn cats started coming up behind her.  Now, we were in a helluva fix.  As if on cue, the cats started meowing.  Our attention was on the witch.  She still had not given any indication she saw us.  The witch had filled up the water bucket and was about to head back up the hill to the cabin.  The cats were going crazy with the meowing.  "I see them my treasures.  I see them.  Why don't you boys come out of the bushes and have a cool sip of water with me?  Hmmmm?" asked the witch!

Now discovered and knowing the jig was up, we all three slowly rose from the bushes that we thought had hidden our presence.   "We were just looking for blackberries.  That's all.  We weren't trying to scare you," Said Vic.  "Oh, you silly boys!  You think you can fool this old woman with that nonsense?  There are no blackberries along this creek or anywhere around this mountain.  We would have found them by now.  I want you to join me for a cool drink of water....in our cabin.  I won't accept no for an answer, dear children!," Said the giggling witch.  I was getting nervous.  So, time for me to speak up.  "Just the same, we need to be going.  Maybe some other time," I said.  So, I think Mic and Vic took my cue and we made a mad dash up the creek to get out of there.  I guess we had been running for about 5 seconds, maybe even less when we realized we weren't running away from the witch.  Instead, we found ourselves halfway up the hill....to the cabin!  The damn witch was laughing hysterically at us.  "What's wrong, boys?  Don't you know which way is toward your homes with mommy and daddy?  Hahahahahahaha!!!!!"  This damn witch was beside herself with glee.  We made another attempt to run up the creek toward our home.  We found ourselves within 50 feet of the cabin by doing so.  Don't ask me how she was able to do this.  I just knew one thing for certain now;  there were no more questions if these women were witches.  Vic, Mic and I knew they were witches.  And we were all in big, big trouble. 

We became resigned to our fate.  No telling what she was going to do to us now.  She might just escort us straight to hell for all we knew.  We slowly walked the remaining distance to her cabin.  There was no sense in running now.  I still don't know how she was able to make us change direction.  But, here we were at the steps leading to her front porch.  "Just go right on in the house, boys.  Don't look so glum, chums!  I just want to spend some time getting to know you children.  That's what neighbors do, right?  Hehehehe!" Said this she-devil from hell.  Vic opened the door and turned around to both Mic and me, "I'm sorry guys.  This is all my fault.  I should never have pushed toward coming here to get some damn tomatoes.  I'll get you guys out of this somehow, some way.  I promise," Said the remorseful Vic.  I almost felt sorry for Vic.  Almost.  He was the one always pressing us to come down to the Witch's Lair to steal tomatoes out of their garden.  But, he didn't put a gun to our heads and make us come.  We were all equally at fault for the predicament we presently found ourselves.  As we came into the cabin, it didn't seem anything out of the ordinary.  There were strange and pungent odors, to be sure.  The witch came in behind the three of us and closed the door.  At the time, I figured that would be the last time I see sunshine.  Now, that I could see her plainly, she appeared shorter than the other two.  She was at least six inches shorter, in fact.  But, this is the one who appeared meaner and the one Sheriff Lynch said was in an argument with Theodore Oneid,  She was always the one who walked as the lead when the witches came into town.  " Sit down, take a seat.  Rest your weary bones, boys," Said Shorty the Witch.  We all just looked at each other, not knowing what to do.  "I SAID SIT DOWN YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Screamed the witch.

We all collapsed into every available chair.  That's probably as close as I've come to shitting my pants since I was about a year old.  The witch stood looking at us with a bemused look on her face.  She was softly giggling like a little school girl.  I was scared.  But, now I was getting pissed off.  "If you are going to send us to hell, then do it.  Stop wasting our time.  Either do something to us or let us go!" I yelled at the old hag.   "Do something to you?  What gives you the idea I would or could do anything to you, dear boy?" the witch asked me.  "I just want to get to know you, to give you some cool, refreshing water from the creek.  Hehehehe....do something to you?  Dear child, you can leave anytime you desire.  Why you can leave now!" said the witch.   At that moment, we all three got up to go out the door.  As I went to grab the doorknob, I was stopped by some unseen force.  I was within about 3 inches of grasping the doorknob.  But, something prevented me from grabbing it.  Vic and Mic also tried.  But, they too were stopped.  This amused the witch even more.  "Hehehehehehe!!!  Now, I thought you boys wanted to leave this old, smelly cabin.  Guess not, huh?" Said the witch.  "Here's the deal, you dirty little shits!  My kindred spirits and I have had enough of you and others like you stealing from our garden.  We've had enough of the stares and looks we get from you local rubes every time we come into town.  It seems no matter what we do, we are treated like filth.  No matter how we punish you, you continue to make our lives miserable.  Well, it seems it is time for another punishment.  Maybe this one will make your local trash treat us better!," Said the now enraged witch.  I wasn't certain what she meant when she said they had punished townsfolk for their perceived slights toward them.  But, I know now.  "Two of you can leave without any form of punishment or harm coming to you.  But, one of you will have to stay behind to pay the piper for your friends and family insulting us.  The one left behind will pay the price.  Choose which one!  You don't have all day," Said the witch.

We were faced with an impossible proposition.  How do you send your friend to hell or whatever type of punishment this damn witch had in mind?  I decided it was time for me to speak up again. "Ma'am, we meant no disrespect to you or the other women here.  Please don't do anything to us because of what people in town have said or done to you.  We're just kids on a hot summer day wanting to have fun before school starts up in a couple of months.  Just let us all go and I promise you will never see any of us near your cabin again." I said.  The old witch looked at me quizzically as if surprised by my plea.  Looking back now, I did manage to put at least one complete sentence together that sounded sincere.  "Your name is Jeremiah, isn't it?  Yeah, I thought so.  Your mother must be one of those church-going hypocrites I see each Sunday in their cheap Sears-bought dresses.  Jeremiah....the so-called weeping prophet in the Bible.  Well, your mother isn't here and the Bible isn't going to help you now," Said the witch.  She grabbed me by my arm with amazing quickness and strength.  I couldn't believe how strong this little 4'10, maybe 90lbs (at most) woman could be.  I felt like I had my arm in a vise and someone was slowly twisting the screws at each end.  I started screaming.  It was as if she was deaf to my screams.  The old witch opened the door and yelled, "Get out while you still can, mommy's little shits!  Or you will suffer the same fate as Jeremiah!  Now GET!!!  Mic went flying out the door and toward the creek.  I couldn't blame him.  We were all scared to death.  But, Vic stayed behind, unwilling to leave me.  The witch slowly turned toward Vic, while releasing her grip on me just a bit to break away and stand with Vic to face her.  "So, do I have two to deal with now?" Said the witch.

Vic and I stood shoulder to shoulder facing her.  I started to speak up again when Vic told me to stop.  "It's all my fault that we're here today.  I have always pressured them to come pick tomatoes out of your garden because I thought it was funny.  If anyone should face punishment, it should be me.  I'm the reason and cause of all your problems in the garden.  And, yes, I'm one of those people in town who make fun of you and who laugh at you as you go from store to store like little rats.  I don't know why you suddenly chose Jeremiah on your own.  Maybe it's because he has a name in the Bible like you said.  But, let him go and I promise you won't have any problems from me like you will with him.  Jeremiah will fight you tooth and nail for whatever you have in mind for him.  So, let him go and let's get on with it.  I'm sick of you now.  So do what you are going to do," Said the bravest kid I ever met, Vic.  I started immediately protesting and screaming at Vic to leave, to let me deal with her.  The old witch was smiling from ear to ear upon listening to Vic.  "It appears I was a bit too hasty in my choice.  Yes, I think you will do.  I definitely think you will do. You!  Get the hell out before I change my mind!" Said the witch as she pointed her finger at me.  I wasn't going anywhere without Vic.  But, the old witch grabbed my arm again, opened the door and threw me (yes, threw me) out the door, clearing the front porch by a good five yards.  I came back to the door and was beating on it and screaming as loud as I could.  But, there was nothing but silence inside.  I decided the best thing for me to do, at that point, was to run into town and get Sheriff Lynch.

Mic had already gone to the sheriff.  I met both Mic and Sheriff Lynch coming out of his office.  Sheriff Lynch told us both to go sit in his office with Mrs. Howard (Sheriff Lynch's secretary and secret lover).  Our parents were on their way to pick us up.  Sheriff Lynch met the other two witches as they were on their way back to their cabin.  Sheriff Lynch put both in one of his deputies cars as they rode to the cabin.  Sheriff Lynch and his deputies searched all over the cabin and the surrounding area while all three witches were screaming about their rights being violated.  As I recall now, the sheriff didn't need a subpoena if he had a reasonable suspicion a crime was about to be committed or had been committed upon a child under 12 years old.  The little short witch, the one that had confronted us, told the sheriff she had not seen any of those three little bastards all day.  Sheriff Lynch knew she was lying.  He knew we wouldn't make up a wild story like Mic had told him without some semblance of truth being involved.  The sheriff was able to hold all three because he found quite a few marijuana plants in her basement and in the far end of her property.  It was enough there to make arrests for distribution.  They not only were evil but drug pushers as well.  Sheriff Lynch didn't yet have enough to charge them for the disappearance of Vic.  But, he was still trying.   All three were able to make bail on the MJ charges.  But, they all never made their court appearance as required.  They were never seen or heard from again.  They wound up on some posters in post offices throughout the South.  But, no trace of them was ever found after skipping bail.  The only thing that could be connected to the witches were those dozens of cats they left behind.   But, it wasn't them that myself and everybody in town was concerned about.  It was Vic.

The old cabin was torn down and the basement completely unearthed by heavy equipment.  Cadaver dogs were brought in to sniff out the entire basement and the surrounding area.  Nothing was found.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no way she could have gotten rid of Vic that quickly.  Well, maybe a witch could do it.  Maybe she took Vic to hell.  It's hard to imagine a scenario like that.  But, no one has heard from Vic.  It's as if he vanished from the face of the earth.  I'd like to think that someday I will get a call on my cell phone and Vic telling me that it's him, after all these years.  I'm still waiting on that call.  I'd like to say Vic's parents were still waiting on that call.  But, both parents died sooner than they should have.  I don't think I will ever get that call though.  There's a good reason I feel that way.

After law enforcement authorities gathered all the evidence they could from the cabin, the question arose as what to do with all the cats that still made their home near where the cabin once stood.  The animal shelter tried to adopt the cats out.  But, there were no takers.  Nobody wanted any part of those cats that belonged to those witches.  When the day came to capture all the cats, Mic and I went to the Witch's Lair cabin to watch the animal shelter employees cast nets at the cats, set traps and cajole them with food.  Those cats had gone completely feral by that time.  They would all have to be put down.  There was one gray and white cat that they had caught in a net that was giving them hell.  Mic and I looked at each other and started screaming at them to let the gray and white cat go.  They put the gray and white cat, snarling and hissing, in a cage all by himself.  I remember crying, pleading with them to let that one cat go.  They told us we needed to go see a child psychologist and pushed us away.  That one gray and white cat was still hissing and sticking his paws out the cage toward us as we ran after the animal shelter truck.  We were still screaming at the animal control truck to please stop,  as it took all those cats to their ultimate fate at the animal shelter.  The gray and white cat, we so desperately pleaded be released........had a reddish bird shit splatter on top of his head.

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