Chapter Forty-Seven: Correspondence With the Dead Part Two

Editor’s Note: not long after the Hayes murders, Joan Wallace disappeared. Vanished, not a trace, worried mother. The double blow of tragedy took a toll on Vine. Below are letters given to me by Jeannie Wallace, as well as some reporting by me from interviews done in the course of researching the Hayes murders. 

For Those Who Have Devoted Themselves To Satan Shall Not Escape The Lord’s Wrath

“Say it. I want to hear you say it,” the Detective said. “Say that the night was blacker than dog shit on shining mountain snow. Say that under cover of Satan’s own darkness and possessed by the demon of bloodlust you walked that blackest night. Say that a night soon to be stained with the cacophony of human entrails and misery was all along a night of symphonic harmony in your heart. Say you walked with divine assurance about your little ritual. Say that what you did to them boys Hayes boys gave you courage of your convictions. Then: say what exactly it was you did to poor Joan Wallace. And say where her body is.”

The boy said: “I don’t know Joan Wallace. Or the Hayes boys.”

So it was that the Detective could feel God’s justice leaving the world of Vine. While the Vine Militia circled the square in their trucks and search parties got thinner and thinner and interrogations with suspects got more and more fruitless. 

Letter From Joan Wallace, Not Stamped By Vine Post Office, Dated July 4, 1981

Dear Mother, 

As I mentioned before, I have found happiness. In this house we are poor and there is little furniture and Deidra said something the other day about “squatter’s rights,” which I still need to look up what that means. Yet: happiness. I share a bed with Magdalena, who has introduced me to the wonders of something called “punk” music and a masa-based food called “tamales” and Mother, I believe you would love both. Mother, I am with artists and musicians and vegetarians and sometimes it feels like how the books describe the purity of the covens of older times and though I have yet to meet one person who will reveal themselves to me as a witch I believe, Mother, I believe the moment is coming soon. 

Is this place one of the places of magic that still manages to exist in the world? Mother, the city has grabbed hold of me and will not release its grip. To the east, a vast lake, as big as ocean. The very street I live on, an intersection of two trails first used by Indigenous people to access the water. The smell of wild leeks—one of the first ways our line that Vine would be a place of magic. Mother, can you not join me here? Will the day never come that we may live together in the fullness of our bond again? 

I understand the necessity for me to have grown up so sheltered. I understand Vine’s Flaming Sword of self-isolation, I understand how it fortified the Elders’ iron fist against us. But Mother, the joys out here! More music than I thought possible! The city lights at night! A lake more vast and marvelous than the one in Vine, one that connects to a river, which connects to the ocean! Mother, I live openly as a lesbian. How could these joys be kept secret from so many? Mother, how could the joys of the world be hidden from the people of Vine? 

With the love of the ages, 


And The Judgment From The Lord Shall Be Decisive

Now in those days, the Vine Militia was enjoying its greatest numbers, with weekly meetings and the general assumption that with enough sustained vigilance, evil could be driven from Vine. The battle may be difficult, but the end result was all but assured. 

It was generally assumed by most in Vine that the witches had been driven from the land long ago. However when George Dietrich argued that there were still sites that had been historically associated with accused witches or even known covens, and those should be purged from Vine, there was agreement. And when Bill Jennings said there were many shadowy organizations out there—the United States government, to name but one—that had evil designs on the world and he wouldn’t put it past one of them to secretly infiltrate Vine with new witches, there was agreement. And when John Hofsteder reminded that the old Butler House had been used by a coven and not only that but State Rep. Roderick J. Butler had taken Hofsteder’s granddaddy’s farm back in the day and he was obligated by blood honor to take some sort of revenge even if Butler’s line had died with him, there was agreement. 

So it was that the Militia of Vine burned three abandoned barns where there had been rumors of covens dating back to the 1910s. Alice Rollins ripped up all the parsley from her garden and made that as an offering to burn because parsley had been associated with witches in before times, Bill Jennings said. They burned aloe plants they found in their own homes and by the side of shops, piled them in a bonfire and lit the night sky with blaze. 

And so it was that the Butler House—residence of the only member of Vine to hold political office, a man and a place whose belonging to Vine had been hotly debated for decades, a place with credible rumors of witch covens—so it was that the Butler House was burned to the ground.

Letter From Jeannie Wallace, Not Stamped by Vine Post Office, Dated July 11, 1981

My dearest Joan,

It brings me such joy to hear of your happiness. You are right that your powers will diminish away from Vine. However it is not Vine that gives you power. Pockets of magic exist throughout the world. You may seek them if you wish. It is my curse to have been born in Vine and to have not been able to leave Vine and to have read just enough of the witches’ life outside of Vine to know that I am missing out. I guess when the townspeople say I am an old woman trying to drown her sorrows? I guess sometimes they are right.

It is getting worse here in Vine. This silly Militia is running around—well, they don’t actually do much. Some burnings last week, spaces where witches were rumored to be. O Joanie, it should bring me sorrow, but it doesn’t. The Militia are silly old men playing dress up and stupid women baking blackberry pies for them. There are no more witches in Vine nor will there ever be. How can I prove it, but I believe this town is headed for disaster. I do not believe that Vine will live much longer than me. 

It is perhaps good that people view me as a drunk old woman. Loneliness and sorrow encircle me in your absence, but knowledge of your happiness is a balm. Without them bothering me, without people like Alice Rollins knocking on my door with those flavorless blueberry muffins of hers, and I can garden and read and drink in peace. What a cliché, that the old witch shall die alone with her cats! In practice, I love it. 

With the love of the ages, 


For It Is Better That You Lose One Eye Than Your Whole Body Lost To Gehenna

The town of Vine looks over its shoulders and turns its collar against the night. The town of Vine greets daytime with bravura and boisterous displays of piety but huddles under blankets at night with revolvers on their end tables. The town of Vine has lived with itself for nearly two centuries and still refuses to understand its own body. The town of Vine has been defining itself for nearly two centuries and still has not made an assertion that would hold up to peer review.

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