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The Old Woman Who Eats Kids

Old Woman Story Image

I

started a myth today. I told my friend Elwood about the old house you can find if you walk up the hill and out of our town and keep walking for a few miles, where, on the right-hand side, along a line of trees, you’ll see an old house next to an overgrown orchard. If you walk there, you find a lake amongst the trees, with a sluice that is nothing but corroded machinery, and the house itself which has empty windows, and doors, and is full of tumbled plaster; and the orchard, where damsons grow, yellow and sweet, if you care to harvest them as summer turns to autumn.

I drew the house – it was similar to one I discovered next to my own home village – and I gave Elwood the picture.

He asked, “Who is the old woman in the window?”

I pretended to be surprised, and said, “Eh? What woman?”

Of course, he pointed, and we both looked together – both, it would seem to him, for the first time.

There is a definite old woman in the far window. She is a blue smear, but she is there.

Elwood is thrilled by this ghost in the picture, and shivers. “That’s amazing! That old woman just appeared in your picture! We should give it to a museum or call Ghost Busters or something.”

I downplay this, a little, saying that there is a curse attached to the old place, and maybe that applies to the picture. “You aren’t supposed to go there, and you’re not supposed to take photographs.”

“But your picture is drawn in crayons,” points out Elwood.

“Yes, but, the old woman is there, isn’t she – in the picture.”

This circular logic is self evident and Elwood agrees to keep the mysterious apparition quiet; just between us. We don’t want to annoy the old lady; make her curse us. That would be really, really bad, we decide.

The next day, Laura asks me about the picture. Her best friend, Clara, was talking to Rachel, who got it from Neil, that Elwood said I had a haunted picture.

I sigh dramatically, and say I cannot show her the picture on account of the curse.

“Curse?” she says, eyes wide, nervously – but excitedly – turning the ball in her hands.

I tell her what I say Elwood told me. “At first, I didn’t believe it either.”

“Oh,” she says, looking around nervously, head bobbing, as if the old lady will come to school right there and then and take her away.

I am intrigued by this idea, so I tell her this happened at another school with a similar picture of the house: that a kid who looked at it – just like her – got kidnapped by the old lady.

Laura is too scared now to look at the picture. Faced with my theatrical fumbling at my satchel to find it, she screams and runs away.

She comes back five minutes later.

“Who drew it?” she asks, her head touching mine, as she examines the picture I have reluctantly produced – having had it ready all morning, waiting impatiently for someone to ask.

“I don’t know. Some boy I think; from another school.”

“The one who disappeared? The one who got taken by the old woman?”

“Maybe. That’s probably right.” I shake my head and bite my lip. “It would make sense.”

There is a picture, which, if you look at it, an old woman will come and take you away. The fruit in her garden is children’s heads – those are in the picture too.

My yellow damsons look a little like heads, I guess. Because that is what Laura tells Clara.

Some bigger boys come to ask me about the picture in the afternoon break, saying they think I made it all up; that stupid, magic pictures with ghosts in them don’t really exist. But they are furtive and keen to look.

I realize these older boys won’t believe the story if they see the picture. It is not powerful enough.

I tell them that the picture has vanished. I mean that I lost it. This is greeted with derision. One of them wants to search my bag, another to punch my face in, so I offer to tell them the story instead; of the old woman, as it was told to me by another boy. Not me.

This is met with immediate interest. I tell them they can’t tell anyone. They have to promise. They solemnly swear this, crossing hearts and hoping to die.

There is a woman who lives in an old house, on the outside of town, who has a garden of children’s heads and whenever one is ripe, she plucks it and eats it. And that same day, a boy or girl will be taken from school – kidnapped – but not one of the younger kids; one of the older ones, if they are naughty or punch faces.

“Kids just like you have already vanished,” I say. “Nobody knows where. She’s a cannibal…”

A boy one year down from me left to go to another school, but some kids think it was the old woman.

There is no picture now; she doesn’t need a picture.

Five kids came up to me today and said, they heard this story which is totally true about this old woman who comes to schools and takes children away and has a garden with kid’s heads in it, and she eats them! “We even found her house!”

When a new girl – Trinny – starts the same afternoon, she confirms this, saying that it totally happened at her old school, and two kids have already gone missing. “All they found were wet footprints – from the lake.”

20 comments

1 V.R. Leavitt { 12.03.10 at 9:01 pm }

Amazing how stories take on a life of their own, isn’t it? Well done. 🙂

2 Stephen Hewitt { 12.04.10 at 11:14 pm }

Thanks V.R for taking the plunge in pole commenting position. 🙂

3 Steve Green { 12.04.10 at 3:12 pm }

Oh, this is quite brilliant, and exactly how urban myths start. We all know someone who knows someone else who heard a scary story, which they swear is absolutely true.

4 Stephen Hewitt { 12.04.10 at 11:22 pm }

Thanks Steve. The little buggers do like to escape. 😉

5 @rikg73 { 12.04.10 at 7:03 pm }

Hi Stephen. I really enjoyed “The Old Woman Who Eats Kids”. I thought it was very well paced and thought out. I particularly liked the opening paragraphs, which were perfectly (and evocatively) described, and the overall style (it develops a little like a modern-day nursery rhyme). Look forward to reading more of your work 🙂

6 Stephen Hewitt { 12.04.10 at 11:33 pm }

Thanks Richard for reading through and your kind comments. More will be on its way… after I take dictation from some more kids. lol.

7 Joan { 12.05.10 at 7:06 pm }

Clever, the way the story evolves. I had to read it through a few times to see how it actually did – I mean the story within your story – interesting that it started with a picture and then, as it took on a life of its own, became a story without the necessity of the picture.

‘ … started a myth’ – I like that. As I was reading it, I thought, ‘Does the narrator mean he/she told a lie?’ But then there is ‘I pretended to be surprised …’ (at the picture of the woman in the window) – so, the narrator has put that picture there. Elwood is gullible – without gullible people ‘myths’ can’t be made.

It’s only when I get to the Laura bit that I suspect the narrator may be a kid – even though he’s done the drawing in crayon. The narrator is ‘theatrical’ – not sure why, but by this point, I think the narrator is probably a boy.

Earlier, also, he has told Elwood the old lady will curse them it they tell. It becomes apparent that Elwood has told – (the appearance of Laura) – therefore the curse – it becomes a fact. Circular logic in action.

It’s like Chinese Whispers – Laura probably thinks the damsons in the picture look like children’s heads because that is what she tells Clare.

‘Some bigger boys …’ – confirmation, probably, that the narrator is a boy.

Clever – the bigger boys think magic pictures don’t exist, but it is already in their minds that the picture must be magic.

The narrator is really rather a clever boy. He realizes his picture is not ‘powerful enough’. Not ‘not good enough’ – powerful. Again – the bigger boys have imbued the picture with a power that the narrator himself didn’t necessarily give it. Clever boy – the picture has ‘vanished’. Later, boys ‘vanish’. But only the older ones.

It is interesting to see how the myth is growing – with values other kids give it – values all tied in with their own fears. The myth may have started off as a lie – that is open to question – but it is not definitely a myth. (The reader thinks.)

But then there’s a new girl who starts at the school that afternoon – and she says the same thing happened at her old school – kids disappearing – all that was left were the footprints from the lake.

At this point, I had to go back to the beginning of the story, and I found there had been a lake in the original story the narrator had told Elwood. This aspect of the story has not been mentioned since. Now then – has the new girl somehow heard this part of the story the narrator began – or …

I’ve more or less given you what I was thinking as I read it – how the story built up for me. The narrator is very knowing, very controlling, in fact – but the story seems to run away and take on a reality of its own by the end of the story.

Writing is always open to interpretation, of course, but this is how I saw it.

Well done. Yes – your art work is good.

8 Stephen Hewitt { 12.05.10 at 7:40 pm }

Big thanks Joan for your in-depth interpretation. Glad you got so much out of it. A lot of what you say is spot on. I was keen to create a feeling of evolution each time the story was told, and really, once a myth ‘escapes’, I’d say it’s an expression of the people telling it that determines which parts survive. I began to imagine that Trinny – the girl at the end – may be building on what she’s being told at her new school, or it’s already a rumour at her old one… Once you start something like that, I’d expect it to come back verified from other sources; bootstrapping itself into existence, if you like. Glad you liked the artwork too. 🙂

9 Aidan Fritz { 12.05.10 at 7:11 pm }

I wonder where you got the photograph. It is perfectly with the story. I enjoyed the opening line “I started a myth today” because it perfectly applies to the story and makes me want to read more. I like how the story/myth grows with time each telling.

10 Stephen Hewitt { 12.05.10 at 7:46 pm }

Hi there Aidan – the photograph is my own creation, purpose-made for the story.

Glad you like the starting line and the growing of the tale. I’d have loved to keep layering more of that growth on there, to see where the story was going to go next – I was getting intrigued myself – but I wanted to keep things short and figured I’d gotten enough of the idea across to give the right impression. 😉

11 Harry B. Sanderford { 12.06.10 at 1:56 pm }

Very nicely done Stephen!

12 Stephen Hewitt { 12.06.10 at 4:34 pm }

Hi there Harry – thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

13 ganymeder { 12.06.10 at 5:32 pm }

That was awesomely executed. I loved it.

14 Stephen Hewitt { 12.06.10 at 5:48 pm }

Thanks Catherine – much appreciated 🙂

15 Rebecca Emin { 12.06.10 at 6:51 pm }

I loved the story, and the picture.
Then I read down and saw you created the artwork yourself.
Wow, you are *so* talented.
A huge welcome to #fridayflash.

16 Stephen Hewitt { 12.06.10 at 9:33 pm }

Hi there Rebecca – I’m glad you liked the story and picture. You’ll make me blush. Thanks for your comments and the warm welcome to #fridayflash.

17 Deanna Schrayer { 12.07.10 at 6:42 pm }

Very fun, and in-depth story Stephen. Like Joan, I didn’t realize the narrator was a kid until Laura is introduced, everything before that sounds more mature, (though still a kid, maybe a teenager).

And your artwork is fabulous! Welcome to #fridayflash!

18 Stephen Hewitt { 12.07.10 at 8:01 pm }

Hi there Deanna – thanks for your comments on the story; I’m glad you liked it. Both you and Joan have a good point about the age of the child; the kind of thing I’ll look to express more clearly in future stories. It made me laugh a little – as a person I can tend towards being a teeny bit ‘formal’ and that can sneak out into my writing on occasion. I may have been a bit like that child in my early years. Glad you liked the picture and thanks for the warm welcome to #fridayflash.

19 Gloria Bostic { 12.12.10 at 3:40 am }

Well done Stephen, and much enjoyed. Having taught in the city schools, I was familiar with a myth about at Hannah Penn Middle School that involved its namesake. I wonder if the stories of the sitings of Hannah Penn had similar origins. This made me smile.

20 Stephen Hewitt { 12.12.10 at 10:43 am }

Hi there Gloria – I’m really glad you enjoyed the story and good to have a teacher swing by. The origins of your own myth could be surprisingly similar: the sightings of Hannah Penn may have been slightly exaggerated, but then there were those sooty footprints down in the boiler room… 🙂 Thanks for leaving a comment.

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