Chapter Thirty-Five: You Can Wash Your Feet and Spend the Night and Then Go On Your Way Early In the Morning

Editor’s Note: Margaret Clitherow should not have been notable in Vine. The daughter of Tom Clitherow, of Clitherow’s Wholesale (which sold ‘imported’ goods from the rest of the U.S. to Polk’s General Store and Vance’s Auto Dealership), Margaret was born into a pre-outbreak fortune and was poised to do what other girls her age and status did: marry an Elder’s kid or another Captain of Industry’s kid and spend her days preparing for the Church Chili Cook-Off or the Vine Best Garden Contest while a carousel of nannies raised her children. Sure enough, that’s what she did, eventually becoming Margaret Clitherow Ruth and winning Vine Best Garden 1964 and 1966. 

It was how she became involved with the Ruth family that intrigued me. Jeannie Wallace gave me this letter, with instructions: read between the lines. 

Dear Jeannie, 

I am writing so that someone may know the truth. I believe the only one I can trust with the truth is you. I do not believe I will see the next sunrise. 

Editor’s note: not a promising start for whomever is writing, especially since this letter is from a folder Jeannie had marked “Butler House Papers.” A reminder: the Butler House has been officially empty since the Congressman’s death, but was likely a witches’s coven, the coven beginning either 50 years prior to the Butler House’s construction or at the time of Butler’s death.

Friday last was a shuddering-bones cold but I had gone up the mountains regardless. By the cave where the blue rocks glow there are the seven-leaf nettles, as I’m sure you know. I had finished my shift at ClearView around 4 and gone up after then.

Editor’s Note: I’m certain she’s talking about one of the unholy places in the mountains. I have seen a cave where red rocks glow, and have seen the cave above the Butler House. It would make sense that witches’ ingredients grew near these places. 

Jeannie, my mother—no relief finds her. It is as though she has stones in her joints and searing fire on her feet. I only needed the nettles, and The Book Of Common Healing Knowledge.

Editor’s Note: I still have not tracked down The Book of Common Healing Knowledge. Yes, I have looked in the Butler House. 

Descending thistle-ridden mountainside toward the House, I sensed a presence in the wind. Perhaps foolish, I registered but did not acknowledge the presence, because I did not see another human soul, and thought my business at the House did not have any bearing on another entity’s business. Into the kitchen I went—stock pot of broth Agnes had left in the icebox, cardamom seeds roasting on the skillet, The Book Of Common Healing Knowledge pulled from its place on the shelf.

It was then I saw the girls’ faces.

Editor’s Note: it was rumored, and I learned while researching Mary’s story, that the Butler House had protective spells that irrevocably altered a person’s face, scrambling it into an unrecognizable fuzz. In my admittedly limited research, I have not heard tell of someone surviving the spell. I’m pausing here, because it’s making me nauseous to imagine reading on. 

They had not seen me, and I rejoiced, for I held a brief hope that they were simply strolling the mountains, not searching for kicks at the famous House. To my horror, my hopes were dashed, as the two young women continued a determined path towards the front door. 

Forgive me, Jeannie—I could not bear to see what the protective spells would do. Confronted with the thought of watching their faces—I had to intervene, Jeannie. 

Editor’s Note: this is something that I have experienced in my life but is not present in the Elders’ and Preachers’ narratives: witches—or at least the people in my life I suspect are witches but will not admit to it—are decent, kind, and offer aid to those who seek it. Just a personal note. 

Walking closer to them, I could see it was Karen Ruth and Margaret Clitherow. We knew each other, the same year in school, though you can imagine how close a friendship the daughter of an Elder and the daughter of a Captain of Industry might have with a girl like me. Still, my heart was moved to compassion, and—perhaps unwisely, I invited them inside the House, removing the spell with the intention of casting again when Karen and Margaret left. 

The pot was simmering, the cardamom seeds toasted. I added the seeds and nettles to the pot, then prepared the kettle to make Karen and Margaret tea. They were suspicious of my presence here, I told him the only lie I could imagine: that my mother’s illness resulted in fitful, sleepness nights for both of us, and that a kind Hermit had shown me to the House so that I may sleep.

“I heard only witches live here,” Karen Ruth said. “Is that what you are? Maybe you’re a Miracle Baby turned witch, weren’t you born without a father?”

Jeannie, there was spider’s venom in her voice. The daughter of an Elder—I knew her heart to be prejudiced even before it was formed in her mother’s womb, and I was afraid. 

A glance to Margaret Clitherow assured me I would not find relief from suspicion in her mind. “I am not a witch,” I said. “A kind Hermit showed me this House. He spoke, saying: ‘you can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’ Words from Scripture, though I confess I do not remember chapter and verse. Since I am here, I extend the same kindness to you: stay with me as long as you wish. There is stew prepared that I could heat on the stove.”

“Is that what this is?” Karen Ruth asked, walking towards the medicine I was preparing. “It smells rancid, like a coop of sick chickens.” My mother’s medicine. “No thanks.” She prepared herself to spit in the pot. “I think you’re a witch.” She reared her head back. 

Jeannie, when I say that there was not a purposeful thought in my head. Jeannie, neither soul nor body was aware of what my mind was doing. 

Jeannie, I cast the protective spell on the pot. On my mother’s medicine, Jeannie. 

Editor’s Note: okay, pausing again, because I’m remembering this story. Something I saw in the Vine Bulletin around 1958. I knew Karen Ruth died young, but it’s not really talked about. There wasn’t much in the paper, if memory serves—hiking accident or something. If this is Karen Ruth’s death story, if that spellcasting does her in like I think it’s going to, well. Doesn’t change what I said earlier about witches being kind and decent. 

Slowly it happened: Karen Ruth’s body froze where she was standing, her shoulders back, her claw-like nose aimed downward to the stock pot, her spine as though she was a dog yanked on a leash. Then her face began to alter. Her skin began to thin and bubble, like sauteing squash, until her whole face was fuzzy and indistinguishable from spilled paint. 

Quickly it happened: Margaret Clitherow was out the door, sprinting towards Vine, undoubtedly to Elder Ruth and the other Elders. 

Editor’s Note: this letter probably won’t be explicit, but I can fill in the gaps here: the Elders are coming to kill whomever is writing this. In all likelihood, she won’t have a spot in the Holy Funeral Plot—her body will be taken to one of the unholy places in the mountains and left for scavenging animals, and it will be because Margaret Clitherow, soon to join the Ruth family, blew the whistle after watching her friend, Karen Ruth, have her face turned to apricot preserves in the crumbling house of a dead man. 

Jeannie, I knew I could not stay there, and I knew I could not get home. There was not time to run to my mother. I covered the stock pot, and placed it in the icebox. Jeannie, it is my sincerest hope you will find this note in time, and take the medicine to my mother. 

Editor’s Note: by the time I read this letter, Jeannie Wallace had left Vine. There was no follow-up. No indication if Jeannie got the medicine to the girl’s mother. How many people died because of an accidental spell, cast in fear, combined with the cruelty of the Elders’ punishment? Not to mention Karen’s implication that our letter-writer was a Miracle Baby, which—let’s take that at face value, and assume that this was a girl who grew up in the shadows, a victim of the hypocrisy of the Preachers, and—you know, I haven’t actually been drinking tonight, but this is the time Jonah or Christine would tell me I’m getting carried away.  

I cannot stay here. Jeannie, I can hear them coming. Looking into the vile night—yes, I can see Elder Ruth, and Elder Wilkinson next to him, and there is Elder Sherman—Jeannie, I am going into the mountains. Oh Jeannie, perhaps I can hide through the night, and run to my mother’s aid in the morning—oh Jeannie, please find this letter in time. I can hear them coming.  

Editor’s Note: where a signature would be is only smudging. Jeannie Wallace leaves this note: ‘does it matter, this girl’s name? Her story is unique, but there are dozens of others like her, nameless and faceless victims of the Elders’ fear and zealous prejudice, for the Elders’ night-cloaked war on witches never ended. And they, the keepers of knowledge, used their own kind of magic to erase countless stories like these from Vine’s memory.’

Yet here I am, knowing off the top of my head, that Margaret Clitherow Ruth won Vine Best Garden 1964 and 1966. 

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