Butter Witch: Irish folklore in Appalachia(Happy St. Patty’s)

Within A Forest Dark

temporalata witch hut 1, flickr temporalata, witch hut 1, flickr

On Saturdays, Mama set me down in front of the churn. On summer days, she set me on the porch to look out upon the woods, to look for fairies and woodsprite, to keep the woodland green at bay, she said, lest it overtake the house and we be lost. On winter days, I set inside not far from the stove but far enough that a witch’s spell that come down through the flue would not frustrate my efforts. The spell would come on account of Ms. Maybre, Mama would say, the spinster, who casts spells such as that of the butter witch. On account of that happening, we gotta stick the poker from the fire in the butter and break the witch’s back and get the butter going again.

I always wondered if she meant Ms. Maybre would have a broken back. But Ms…

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A date palm&bird by llee_wu, flicker

A date palm&bird by llee_wu, flickr

It is a late hazy morning. I step out of my air conditioned apartment. A mild winter Florida wind plays with my hair and skirt, kisses my cheek. Beyond the breezeway, a groundskeeper addresses the low growing date palm with pruning sheers and gloved hands, his large scissors eating green flesh, crunching through briskly. There is little movement, only the highway beyond and a distant city shocked by contagion. How I have longed for this man’s work without knowing what it is I wanted. The fronds fall together, discarded like written pages or crisp sheets, collapsing to the ground, spent. He walks around the cluster of long green feathers, tending each outgrowth. I thank the morning. I feel on the other side of a long burning anger. What I sense now are simple, quiet tasks.

Boy on the Bridge


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Life on the Prairie by David Kingham, flickr

Life on the Prairie by David Kingham, flickr

That summer was ablaze. Moira had left me and I was alone in the unairconditioned house we had so carefully chosen a couple of years before. I had never noticed how, at night on the plains, the wind whips through all those blades of grass so that for the person alone, the sound it makes can deafen ears that are not otherwise distracted by a loving presence.

Moira and I had both spent our nights reading and playing board games and drawing pictures. When I would sit down to my work, there was never a moment I did not sense my wife doing her work in the kitchen, or simply, breathing, turning pages, shifting in her chair. I am an indexer, responsible for filing away in categories the hundreds of pieces of minutia someone reading a source might find relevant. When I was at work at home, I always felt myself giving way calmly and steadily to my tasks in the glow of what I experienced to be our love for each other.

I wish I had recorded the sounds of Moira. Had I known she were leaving, I would have scattered tiny recording devices in various places so that I could replay them on continuous loops once she dropped out of my existence, as quietly as the sun dipped beneath the curve of the earth.

One night after she had gone I needed groceries. I hadn’t exactly kept up with anything. The house was a wreck, I needed a bath, the yard was overgrown. I showered and showed up at the grocery as a slightly more improved man than the man of a few hours hence. I picked up things we would have both picked up. I had decided to make dishes we had made together or that Moira made me. I couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything new. I managed to pay for my groceries, but funds were getting low. I had to work again or I would have to sell the house. It was all that I had of Moira. I could still smell her. In fact, sometimes, when I returned home, I thought she was there.

On my way home, I was headed over a bridge when a boy appeared in my headlights. He was waving me down. I stopped the car. He seemed harmless enough and anyone who was trying that hard could easily sway me to do their bidding. I felt barely alive and could just as easily die at a stranger’s hands than live.

“I need help,” said the boy, who appeared to be almost a man, but there was something quite young about him still. “My mother has fallen into the ravine. Our car broke down a mile or so away.”

It was a damp night, easy to imagine someone falling if they took a wrong step off the narrow shoulder of the road.

I followed the boy down through the trees and undergrowth. I spotted a woman there beside the river, her left leg splayed slightly. She wore a dress and the t-strap shoes my mother used to wear when my brother and I were boys, in the days my parents ran a farm. She looked like my mother, in fact. As I approached, she fixed on me with her intense gaze. She pointed at me. “Boy!” she addressed her son. “I told you to bring help. Who is this man?”

“This is help, Mama.”

“I need someone who can lift me, a stretcher.”

I managed to get the woman back up to my car with the help of her son who supported her on the opposite side. I lowered her into the back seat. I was convinced now this was my mother and the boy my brother who had died in a farming accident. I got into the driver’s seat. What else was one to do but behave as one always does? I started the engine and when I turned to speak to my passengers, realized I was alone.

At home, I found a note I had somehow missed, something Moira had written, a good bye:

“No one ever leaves anyone. We live on in memories and dreams. I’m sorry I have to leave you, James, but I will see you at night when I close my eyes. Please forgive me.”

I forgave her. I said it out loud, but I was also saying it to my mother. She had always loved my older brother more than she loved me – my older brother, the boy on the bridge. And it had always hurt. But now I experienced love for them both. And love for Moira.

I wasn’t quite sure what I had experienced on the bridge and in the ravine. It was the loneliness and grief perhaps that had caused me to have such a strange hallucination. I hadn’t slept well for weeks. I needed to get back to work, to some sort of normalcy.

I turned on the television for its friendly sound, a kind of atavistic pleasure and took my comfort that there would be less silence in the house from now on even without this bright distraction. I felt the presence of those I loved even though they were absent. I began making dinner.



Amica the Christmas Tree


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Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington Christmas Tree Farm

Washington Christmas Tree Farm, Washington State Department of Agriculture, flickr

It was the time of year in Orlando when evergreen trees were brought in from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Washington to be sold to loving families who would decorate their arms with lights and chains of beads, glass ornaments, homely and sentimental ornaments, ornaments collected from trips and black Friday sales and school and church craft shows, regifted gift ornaments, white elephant ornaments, grandmother’s ornaments, Christmas wedding shower ornaments, estate and garage sale ornaments, ornaments from the Winter Park Art Festival, the Orlando Museum of Art, Disney, the flea market.

Valentine Halle was a prominent socialite in town who, every year, could make several trees last for almost an eternity, until the end of February, ignoring all pleas of her husband and family to strip the trees bare and put them on the curb already. But according to Valentine, to do it too soon would be a little like prematurely putting old family members out to pasture. Almost every year she just couldn’t bring herself to do it until at last her family lured her away on false pretenses and arranged for someone to bring the holiday to a close.

Trees were not much different from people in that they wanted to live a long life. Only a few people seemed to care about a tree’s desires and one of them was Valentine. If we were to understand trees a bit more, however, they may have one limitation: The tendency to impute purely unselfish motives to people. Yet their faith was born fully formed and never died, continuing even beyond the cutting at Christmas as trees stood in stands of water, beneath skirts. And that was the real reason people wanted trees as decorations in their homes – the faith the trees had in humans – though most people did not realize this, only felt it somehow, like feeling the effect of a dream but not being able to recall what it was upon waking.

It was thanks to migrating mockingbirds, gossipy chatterboxes, that trees further north on tree farms came to know of Valentine’s reputation. Charlie, Jamal, Tina, Fiona – Balsam and Fraser firs – had been spied standing in the cool shadows of the living room, front entry, children’s nursery, and those were just a few of their numbers known to have lived at Valentine’s house. Furthermore, Valentine’s reputation as an excellent cook and hostess were reported upon by mockingbirds, keen little buggers, who could smell delicious fragrances from the kitchen and who spied well coiffed ladies and gentlemen and their children streaming in and out of the house. In fact, as far as Christmas trees were concerned, Valentine’s home was considered one of the best ways to finish out one’s life.

How long the people of earth have relied on them, the trees said, conferring about this together on the farm, the older, taller trees teaching the younger ones, all of them growing together. They would all be cut down for varying purposes and at various times, and yet they shared their history and the meaning of it: For as long as the winter solstice was celebrated all over the world, the deep green boughs were brought into homes. And as time went on, the custom transferred into a way to celebrate the life of a religious figure. Entire trees were cut down and brought inside. These legends were passed down through communities of trees so all would know their noble and sacrificial purpose.

It was February of the year Amicia the Fraser fir had found a place in the home of Valentine Halle. And it was time for Amicia to come down. She had been chosen for a special place beside the fire in the living though not so close her needles became dry. It was a cherished position though each tree had its function: Ichiyo the twelve foot Douglas greeted visitors in the entry, Livia the Noble entertained the now grown children in the nursery, adult children who continued the tradition of sleeping there Christmas Eve, except now they drank wine and spoke of their friends and colleges and days past.

In the living room where Valentine and Thomas each sat in their own chair, silent in the evenings after all the parties, Amicia observed their quiet dynamic before the fire, Thomas with his paper and his pipe, Valentine with her embroidery, the grandfather clock against the wall by the entryway a silent father, approving and dozing until it startled to life and sputtered the passing of time on the quarter hour.

Valentine’s reputation had held through Amicia’s experience and true to everyone’s word, Amicia had lasted beautifully for three months with few needles dropped to her skirt beneath.

Alone after Thomas had gone to bed, Valentine pulled her chair up to Amicia. She spoke to her then in a language Amicia had quickly absorbed.

“Thomas is taking me away for my birthday tomorrow,” she said. She held an ornament in her fingers that was dangling from a branch, a Lenox figurine, a bottle of champagne in a bucket signifying the turning of the New Year. Tears fell down her cheeks. “I know when I come back, you will no longer be here. Our daughter will take down everything. But I struggle. Time goes on. My children have grown and are leaving me. Holidays remind me of what was but also what is no more.” And she looked into the fire, her face wet with tears.

Amicia knew what it was like to lose family to their purpose. Ever so gently she shifted so she could reach the top of Valentine’s head with a branch. She stroked it gently, reassuringly, until Valentine had calmed.

Thomas came into the room, having changed into his pajamas, robe and slippers.

Amicia straightened, not letting on she had made an exception to the rule of remaining impartial to human suffering.

“It’s time for bed, my dear,” Thomas said gently to his wife, helping bring her to her feet.

When Amicia was thrown to the curb the next day, crushed by the garbage truck, then thrown into the city dump, she dreamt of Valentine.

She thought proudly as her branches and trunk disintegrated in the mound of waste that she had served her purpose.

The one mystery of course is that she had crossed the divide.

As she felt herself disappearing, she felt an animal, a bird or a squirrel, pick a cone from her decayed branches.

And as she felt grateful the world would know the compassion and faith of her progeny, she felt able to let go.

Fortune Plango Vulnera




Nightpalms by Roman Boed, flickr

We always went to Sanford, but it was never quite right. At the last brewery, the waitress actually said their stout was better than Guinness. That is actually what she said. It was water. She had a sizable figure though, something I watched you take in while you spoke to her, about on the edge of a conversation, though remembering my expressed hurt of this kind of thing, you pulled back. Almost a full conversation. The outside metal umbrella table rocked slightly on the brick. A bit like me, off center. Promise to myself, a plan, that if I sit alone while you talk I will call a car service and leave you. Delicious fantasy.

Last year was better at Christmastime in Sanford. We hit a downtown restaurant and brewery on a Saturday. It was just past the time I had been strongly suspecting Saturdays were your nights for other dates. That night, I drank a holiday spiced milk stout. You marveled I like such deep brews when you only liked lighter ales. You were probably laughing. When we went back to the car, you made fun of a bike bedecked with Christmas lights. I had made note of how great it was. It was so Florida I said. You said nothing. You held my hand.

That Christmas, last year, I could not get you to meet me out for rides by Full Sail. Or watch the choirs who sang beside Tiffany windows in Winter Park. I could not get you to go with me to see the opera Hansel and Gretel. You could make me laugh but you are staid. Maybe I laugh because you are staid and not like me. You are Greek and your face reminds me of an icon, eyes lined, down turned slightly at the edges, a calm, disinterested expression. And yet you laugh and smile too. That had been the chemistry: The light breaking through the godlike impassivity.

The watered down stout was hard to take this year, a year worn down by what you say you cannot give to me. I only thought an icon was a passage to something, not the finality of an object without transformative potential.

I feel only the coldness of being in Sanford on a Sunday this Christmas season night when almost all of the pubs and restaurants are closed at an ungenerous hour. The ones that are open mock the good times of Fridays and Saturdays, their doors hanging open like open maws, rock spewing forth, Third Eye Blind from one, Ozzy from another, songs I like except when something like death lingers. Down the street is a dark lake we don’t visit. And a bar I half suspect you’ve taken another woman for beers you prefer, Belgian.

And there is no garishly bedecked bicycle. I am no longer foolishly believing we will be holding hands at an opera or tipping over the apex of a ferris wheel, University of Central Florida below as well as waitresses and future diners and bars.

That last Christmastime night in Sanford, I feel my body aching from the drug I take to prevent cancer recurrence. You don’t hold my hand like you did before though I could break apart now more than ever. I had done something to annoy you. Gods and their punishments. Even to death. That night I did not have you inside my home but made up some excuse, I became a backslider. I kissed you only like a nominal orthodox kisses an icon. I said in my heart my beliefs are not giving back to me and I thanked you for my evening. I stepped into my home alone, a nominal Presbyterian.



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flying mind by Charlie arts, DeviantArt

Do not let bitterness build up within you. Let it flow out in your tears, flowing out of you and down and around, becoming lakes and ponds, rivers meeting with the sea and supporting creatures, evaporating and feeding life, becoming rain that quenches fire and thirst, renewing, refreshing, sustaining, gentling.

the rose room


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casual, comfy pink living area by catnipbones, flickr

There is a place you can go when you are feeling tired and sad. It’s a place for people struggling with cancer. But, really, we welcome anyone. The only requirement is that you are feeling a bit on the downward slope of life and you just need a place of rest.

There is no struggle here, for anything. No struggle to talk, to look good. You don’t have to smile or say encouraging things. If you don’t want to read or meditate, you don’t have to, but if you want to, that’s ok too. You don’t have to sign up for support groups or wear a ribbon.

Come, sit down on a sofa or lounge. Walls are a deep rose, there are no sharp edges. You may simply stare at the middle distance or close your eyes and listen to silence. Or if you want to smile at someone, you can, or walk the grounds and breathe deep the air.

If you want to bring a book or eat a cookie, it’s ok. We just thought everyone might want to be together like this, existing in the same space as humans, no one talking necessarily, and not doing much, not having a goal necessarily, but feeling the sense of others living a similar reality.

There is no religion here, only if you want to express something to yourself.

We are not dead. Yet. But sometimes we are not quite alive. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you want to be with people like that. We want you to know it’s ok. And we want you to know there is a place for you and that you are not alone.

Come here anytime in your mind and sit with me. I love these massive floor pillows but I’m afraid the drugs see my knees a bit creaky so that I can’t get down there on the floor, or even if I did manage to get down there I am not getting up again. Maybe we should put the floor pillows in our laps.

Let’s hold hands over our pillows and close our eyes. Let’s imagine something deep and real between us – a friendship, a romance – but something we’ve lost the energy to act upon. It’s enough now just to imagine it.

Come back here anytime and hold my hand. I’ll be here, waiting for you, in the rose room.




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Underwater Thanksgiving at Rainbow Springs, FL, Florida Memory, flickr

Underwater Thanksgiving at Rainbow Springs, FL, Florida Memory, flickr

I will miss Aunt Maureen’s Thanksgiving oilcloths, wreaths of fake fall leaves, tablescapes of pilgrims and Indians sitting down to carve a huge, disproportionate, anachronistic cranberry jelly complete with the rings of the can. She forgot to wear a bra last year and we had to resort to plan b.



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Cowboy boots by Kulani Odum, flickr

I had no truck with Granny’s warning fairy tale of the red shoes. I insisted on wearing the fire red cowgirl boots to church, danced in the narthex, stood up when the congregation sat down, rolled up my bulletin and pretended to smoke. Daddy preached while Mama ’bout died.



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IMG_5958 by Gloria Williams

IMG_5958 by Gloria Williams, flickr

The onset of bipolar was that night in her dorm room, a split from all of the slow sad suicidal days before until that moment she heard a voice she thought was God. Next day: euphoria, religious elation, creativity. She graduated, went home, told her parents. “Take Benadryl” they advised.



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Porcini by Nikita, flickr

Jacinda and her tiny people lived in the mushrooms of Muir Woods. It was very dry. Her house was decaying prematurely. When she came home from foraging she tried to slam the door to show her frustration but the dehydrated stalk meant the nice arched door no longer fit.



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Drying Oranges

Drying Oranges, Library of Congress, flickr

You have to be a girl living on the southside of Orlando, a preacher’s kid, to understand walking home from the bus stop with your sister, the smell of the Bluebird Orange factory in the air – sweet, cloying, inescapable, like fate, like dread, like death.


red sweater flashnano day 1


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Photo by Sara Darcaj on Unsplash

My ghost is wearing my red sweater. After papers were signed and locks were changed, I realized I left behind the sweater as well as a French cookbook. Would she try to cook from it? I’m telling you now she will suck. She doesn’t have the finesse that comes only with age. And a lot of cooking.

She is straddling the stadium seat and laughing hard at something my ex is saying. Her hair falls down beneath the hem of the sweater, something I’m sure pleases him. Men pass by and stare at her backside.

She attends a funeral of a family member of my ex’s, someone I knew for over twenty years. We were close. But I was not invited. I text my ex, force my way in. She is there beside him.

“What is she wearing?” I hiss to my sister. She wears a short strapless dress and summer sandals. I have gone full-on Jackie O.

“You are just like Mom,” she says.

I bring a flowering rose bush over Christmas Eve. I feel a little guilty for the grief I may have caused.

My son is there. I say hi. She takes the bush and doesn’t thank me. She’s wearing my red sweater.

The moon kisses my head through the open sunroof on my way to midnight mass.

I don’t care anymore.

I just had to see my sweater one more time.



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Pittsburgh, Thirty-first of October, Two thousand and seven, Mike + Tiffy, flickr

Pittsburgh, Halloween, night sky ink-ripened, having relinquished the sun, sees the sisters to the party. Cars careen over brick streets, sending flecks of ancient coal dust into the air. The witch sisters bring early winter solstice gifts to the host.



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Hotel Clelia, by Nico Cavallotto, flickr

She caught the infant in the hotel’s pool light, an over-sized kidney bean. The mysterious guest had told her, with a gleam, “Nothing ever dies.” It was her Emaline, her dream, a miscarriage but alive! How to explain? Her heart reeled. She held the bundle and rang the concierge: “Diapers?”



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Birdman by BlondeWatchmaker, flickr

Clinical Lycanthropy: Injured patient Edward Hocs believes he is a giant bird who will swoop down on criminals and rapists and peck their brains out. Under observation for thirty days: Only manifestation of hallucination is attempt to perch on bed frame, curled toes, but, failure. Hence, evil continues its reign.



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Nature is a Haunted House, Nicholas Erwin, flickr

Lady death’s dark coat is long and ragged, dragging in its train the stillborn, accident deaths, junkies, the weak and infirm, victims of famine, disease, and war, dead bones clinking and clanking, the reek of flesh. Souls are not her purview, only death’s physicality, its inevitability, our commonality with animals.



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Ghosts, Jeffrey, flickr

It was in the dark that she, adopted, met her mother. Before becoming aware of her mother’s suicide, she had been only curious. Now, confronted with the sweet smell of rotting flesh, long ragged nails brushing back her hair, she wished to return to the ignorance of her childhood.

personal note


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photog_at 20130821-SU 1954 flickr

Thank you for reading my blog. Since its inception in August 2013, I have published over one hundred forty fiction pieces. Thank you for reading the month of October as I throw down with fellow flash writers for a micro challenge: One prompt based micro a day. I have tried to get into the spirit of Halloween with the theme and tone of each.

Next month is Nancy Stohlman’s annual FlashNano event in which flash fiction writers write one prompt based story per day for the month of November. Though I don’t always finish a full month of stories, I am happy to come up with some new material as well as participate with fellow writers.

When I started the blog in 2013 I was in the midst of treatment for her2 positive breast cancer as well as thyroid cancer. I am still in that fight with medication and continued tests. Some of you who read a previous blog of mine “How to be Alone” know I also struggle with bipolar disorder, a disorder that has become more pronounced with cancer treatment and medication.

Fiction is my outlet. What I say are things I need to say. Characters I meet through my imagination keep me company, give me hope or frighten me. Fictional villages, dystopias, fantastical circumstances, trials in some unspecified time are my ways of dealing with the news of the world. Empty nest mothers, the frightened Ms. Myska who faces her hysterectomy, the mourning romantic who misses his deceased wife, senior ladies in a retirement village remembering old times, fictional ghosts of lovers and children past rise up on the “page” of my screen.

Currently, I cannot seem to systematize the information to make a cohesive whole – a book, a project – though I have faith it will happen. Medication, aches and pains, moods leave me struggling some days so it is truly a triumph to create each day, but that I try to do or at least meet my outside quota of one story per week. I can’t relay how fantastic that makes me feel.

It is hard to be bipolar especially if there are other health challenges as well. Knowing I can write has saved me. And books and stories of others, handed down in books and recordings, save me too.

Maybe you can relate to what I am saying. Or maybe you have other challenges which make things hard. If you can relate, you are not alone. If you can find some simple thing to make you happy, do that one thing without apology.

We tend to turn everything into a contest. For example for writers it’s often this kind of thing: You have to be published certain places to be legit or have a book or win a prize or make a certain amount of money or be known by certain people, etc. The best part about practicing the humanities however is that “human” aspect. Let’s just do that humanities thing and keep on doing that until we allow nothing else to define us, until we become more human, until we become able to relate what that means.

Again, thank you for reading my blog. I am also always happy for such beautiful pictures like the one here and on other posts. I always document the photographer and artist. I hope you enjoy them too.







pocket of light

Pocket of light by Thomas Leth-Olsen, flickr

Halloween night, ill-lit lots and streets crawl with the malevolent seeking unencumbered females made dizzy with drink, the carelessness that comes from dressing up and going in disguise, an easier trust of strangers, a willingness to entertain novelty. Dead women are angels, witnesses; their protection, no match.




coffin and casket

Early 1900s snapshot of coffin and casket, Bat Country Books, LLC flickr

In my family, we had a death treasure, a collection of presents for the deceased’s coffin: jewelry, a child’s blanket, photos, candy. A death doula taught us this to prevent hauntings but we couldn’t get it right because the lonely dead still lurked about, looking to find what they craved.





Soaring over Lunar Mt. Hadley, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

What I discovered in my slingshot trip to the moon willed me by my secretively crazy rich ole Daddy, is that the far side of the moon is riddled with demons. None of the men will tell you. When they saw them they cried and called out for God.



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Wabbit by Twila Cheeseborough, flickr

It was in the wild, uncultivated woods beside the Veterans of Foreign War Memorial that a girl went missing one day after high school. The undergrowth, the twisting trunks of oaks, the Spanish moss did not give up their secrets. The girls’ parents appealed fruitlessly to the uncompromising green sameness.