My dad is the first writer I ever knew, and he loves to tell stories. He’s a huge Teddy Roosevelt fan, so it’s no wonder our twenty-sixth president makes an appearance in his book, Tom Horn: Killer of Men and Monsters. He also enjoys tales of the supernatural. Although his novel is a nod to history, it features an otherworldly twist involving a shape-shifter.
Like my grandmother, my father told me scary stories, and I loved hearing them. He too had a ghostly encounter at the house where they lived when he was young.
When his family was moving out of the house, his mother asked him if he remembered to shut the front door. He hadn’t, so he got out of the car and hurried back up the front walk to close the door, before he and his parents drove away.
As he reached for the doorknob, he noticed a stray piece of newspaper, left behind from packing boxes. Suddenly, the paper rose up to stand on its edge, almost as though it had been lifted by a breeze. There was no wind.
Then the front door slammed shut. And in the front window, he could see a pair of eyes, staring out at him. He ran full-tilt for the car, and never looked back.
Another story my father told me was about the old hag. One night, as my dad was tucking me into bed, he asked, “Do you know why people have messy hair when they wake up?”
I thought about it. “Mom says I have a rat’s nest on my head when she combs my hair.” I had long hair that tangled easily, especially after playing outside all day. It was always a wreck in the morning.
He laughed. “Some people think the reason we have messy hair is the old hag sits on our heads at night.”
“What’s a hag?” I asked.
“A hag is a witch. She climbs in your window, sits on your head, and rides it like a hobby horse all night, gripping your hair like she’s holding the reins.”
This was a messed-up thing to say to a kid. Naturally, I wanted to know how to protect myself from being smothered by a witch’s buttocks. “How do I stop her from doing that?”
“Well, there are two ways to stop a hag. You could gather a handful of straw and put it by your bedside,” he answered.
We lived out in the country and had hay for our horse, but at nine years old, I wasn’t sure if hay was the same thing as straw and what effect substituting it might have. I felt it was really important to get this right. I did not want a hag to use my head as a rocking horse. “What’s the other way?”
“You could also pile some sand on your nightstand. The witch will be compelled to count it, and she’ll forget about you entirely.”
Sand I could do—I’d just grab some from our sandbox. But something troubled me. “What if she runs out of sand to count?”
“Ah.” He chuckled. “Witches are easily distracted, you see. She’ll lose count, and then she’ll have to start over, again and again. You’ll be able to catch her at first morning’s light, and she’ll never bother you again.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d do once I caught a witch, but I tried putting sand next to my bed. It must have helped, because even though I still had messy hair, I never woke to find the old hag sitting on my head.
The story, however, found its way into my own writing. It became the inspiration for the Wasteland in the Solas Beir Trilogy.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015