Cynthia: The North Carolina Witch Who Cursed My Family - Part 1
Updated: Oct 23
"Cynthia" Photos: Photo of old woman by ©Christian Newman on Unsplash. Photo of a forest by ©Simon Berger on Unsplash. (Altered photo by Deb Trotter)
My Great-Great Grandmother Margaret swore this was true - and she was there.
She was known in Mortimer, North Carolina and thereabouts, as Cynthia - though the towns folk called her Witch behind her back.
No one knew Cynthia's age, where she came from, or even her last name. No one was brave enough to ask, though it was said that Cynthia had been in Mortimer for well over one hundred years. She always dressed in black and was accompanied by her pet crow, Mayro, who liked to perch on her right shoulder or arm.
The only other thing the town folk knew about Cynthia was that on the third Saturday of every month, she held a secret ritual at night, in the thick woods behind her house. A young man from a nearby town claimed to have hidden in the woods and watched during one of Cynthia's rituals. He said she'd cut her hair with a knife, moaned and fell to the ground naked, with Mayo flying about and screeching like some kind of wild animal.
The next day, after the young man shared what he had seen, he disappeared. No mention was ever made of his demise or what he had seen. Nobody wanted to know, and on the third Saturday of every month the residents of Mortimer began to stay at home at night and lock their doors.
Cynthia was a skilled herbalist and healer like a Granny Witch, and as fine a spell-caster as any Conjure Woman in the near vicinity. Local mountain folk called her "dangersome," for Cynthia had a fiery temper and was capable of causing chaos and heartbreak in the little mountain community where she lived, especially if she did not get her way.
In spite of her unpredictable temperament, the residents of Mortimer often called on Cynthia to help with their problems. She might be needed to cure a sick child, make a poultice to heal a bad cut and keep it from festering, or even caste a love spell for a daughter who, at eighteen, was way past marrying age and might soon become an old maid - a terrible fate for a young woman isolated in the deep Appalachian Mountains.
The town folk paid Cynthia with whatever they could spare. Eggs, milk, honey, and sacks of flour. Cast off capes and clothes, hand-knit sweaters, or bolts of cloth made by Mortimer women. Sometimes they would offer Cynthia chickens, so that she could cook the hens for dinner or keep them so she would have her own fresh eggs.
For the most part, Cynthia and the town folk got along well enough, but every now and then there were disputes. Bad feelings. And terrible endings. Most of the bad arguments resulted in a Mortimer resident and their family leaving town after having been threatened by Cynthia. Those who didn't move away simply disappeared, and no one wanted to guess what dreadful thing may have happened to them.
One such problem arose with the Cook family (my father's maternal ancestors), as witnessed by my Great-Great-Grandmother, Margaret.
Cynthia passed by the Cook home every time she went to the Mortimer Mill to trade with the men who worked there. One dark, chilly day, on her way back home in the late afternoon, she knocked on the door of the Cook house to ask a favor. My Great-Great-Great Grandmother (whom I'll refer to as Cora from now on) was inside, making biscuits. When Cora heard the knock on the door she wiped her fingers on her apron, grabbed her rolling pin in one hand (better safe than sorry), and answered the door.
"Hello, Missus," Cynthia said, stepping inside, "We has a favor."
"We'd best mull on it outside," Cora said, as she quickly stepped out on the porch, nodding for Cynthia to follow. Everyone knew it was bad luck to invite a Conjure Woman (much less a witch) into your house, and Cora wasn't taking any chances.
"What favor were ye needin'?" Cora said, one hand on her hip and the other brandishing the rolling pin.
"Needin' to borrow Todd. Needin' a strong one to help move things."
Todd was the Cook's middle son - tall, wirey, and especially fit for a nine-year-old. Todd was Cora's favorite of their three sons. Not only was he strong, but he had a kind heart, and gentle disposition. Cynthia seemed to have taken to Todd lately, and Cora didn't like it.
Cora backed up against the door, "When would ye want Todd?" she said.
"Tomorrow. Daytime 'til night," Cynthia said, grinning. Her two front teeth were black with rot, her breath so rank it sent a chill up Cora's spine. It was always like this with Cynthia - no matter how many times Cora spoke with her, she sensed a darkness, a strange foulness in the old wioman she couldn't explain. It was like watching a cloud cover the moon while pulling Cora's soul from her body. Cynthia frightened her, and Cora was normally not the kind of woman to be afraid of anything.
"Oh, Cynthia. I can't spare him that long. I'm sorry." Cora said, wondering to herself what Cynthia could possibly need moving that would take all day. "You can have Benjamen if he's not busy tomorrow. Or, If you can wait 'til the weekend, when the men aren't working at the mill, perhaps they could help you."
Cynthia's smile disappeared and she took a step towards Cora. "Why not?' she demanded, "What you needs Todd fer?"
Cora's throat tightened and she gripped her rolling pin until her fingers ached. She took a deep breath, "He's my son," she said, as calmly as she could "and I don't have to tell you anything about why I need him." She regretted showing her anger to Cynthia, but that woman seemed to bring out the worst in her.
THE FIRST SPELL
Cynthia frowned and lifted her right arm, pointing her finger in Cora's face, "You'll be sorry," she said softly. "You'll be real, real sorry." And with that, Cynthia turned and stepped off the porch. She raised her right arm for Mayro to light on, and the two of them disappeared into the mist of late afternoon..
Cora told her husband, William, what had happened after he got home from the mill that night, "I'm a little worried," she admitted, "What could she mean by 'You'll be sorry.?" But William said there was no sense worrying, not until they really knew what Cynthia meant.
Early the next morning, they found out.
It was still dark when Cora sent Margaret to the hen house to gather the eggs. Margaret returned and set the basket full of eggs on the kitchen table. "Something's wrong mamma," Margaret said, peering into the egg basket. "The chickens are nervous. They're all puffed up, jumping around and flapping their wings. And the eggs - well, they ain't right."
"What do you mean? They look fine to me," Cora said, reaching for the egg basket. She pulled a bowl from a nearby shelf, set it down, and cracked one of the eggs against it.
Cora jumped back from the bowl and screamed.
"What is it, Mamma?" cried Margaret.
But Cora didn't answer, Instead, she chose another egg from the basket and cracked it against the bowl. Then, with trembling hands, she picked up the bowl and held it out to Margaret. Margaret gasped and jumped away from the bowl.
A minute later, both of them had cracked every egg and dropped the insides into the bowl until there were none of them left.
It was true. Every egg yolk was nothing but slime and blood, the yolk as red as an Autumn Blood Moon.
"This is it," Cora said, dropping into a chair by the old wood table, "this is what Cynthia meant when she said I'd be sorry."
To Be Continued Friday, October 23 2020. Come and join us for Part 2