When I was little there was a series of child abductions around my hometown, or anyway that’s what the local news and papers called it. Truth is I was from a small county where there wasn’t much news to report. What would probably be an average amount of kids disappearing or running away became a headlining story of a killing spree across the countryside. Not to say it wasn’t frightening. It was shocking when those kids went missing.

First it was a little boy a couple towns over. He was two or three years old. It wasn’t even publicized until the next two kids went missing in the following months: another little boy in my own neighborhood, around my age, and a little baby girl taken from a large acre property off the highway between [deleted] and [deleted].

Once the baby girl disappeared there was a huge panic in the surrounding towns. They said on the news that the abductions were suspected to be related. They set an early curfew on minors and organized search parties but they never found anything.

I wasn’t really afraid. Maybe it was just that I didn’t understand what the disappearances implied. But I asked my mom about it one night. She was a young, single parent and liked to joke with me a lot. Scare the shit out of me, really. I loved her.

But I had come home from school one day with a pamphlet they distributed to all the kids in the district. I had to get my mom to sign it and return it. It was information on the location of the abductions and tips on keeping one’s children out of danger. Walk home in groups, don’t talk to strangers. The basics.

She read it over with me at dinner. I agreed to walk home with the neighbor girl and her older brother and to lock all the doors and windows when I got home from school if she was working a night shift that day.

She came in my room to tuck me in later that night. She kissed my cheek and turned off the light.

“You know… I wonder if it’s the witch from the backwoods?” She raised an eyebrow at me, peeking back around the doorway. I pulled my legs up from the edge of the bed. “What witch?” my voice cracked. “Never mind, I shouldn’t have brought it up.” She started to walk back down the hall. “MOM!” I called. She walked back in my room with a sly grin and sat at the edge of my bed. “Did I scare you?” she laughed. “No! I just never heard of a witch from the woods,” I pouted. “Oh, I see. Do you want to hear about her?” I nodded and pulled my covers tighter around me. “Well they say there’s a witch that lives in the woods near the [deleted] river.

She wasn’t always a witch. She actually used to be a young, very beautiful girl.

She had a boy who was in love with her and they were even going to get married. But her love had to go make a living in the city before he could buy her a house and a ring. So he went away while she waited in her father’s house in the backwoods.

“Is the house still there? The police should go check it,” I squirmed. My mom shushed me. “The girl waited and waited and in a little while she realized she had a baby growing in her belly.” My mom smiled. “She had a baby on the way, so she wrote a letter to the boy she loved to tell him all about the good news and she started sewing clothes and blankets and toys for when it came.

She was happy. She always wanted a baby of her own.” “But why did she turn evil, though?” I wondered. “Well,” my mother’s face fell blank, “She got a letter back from the boy she loved. But it was not what she expected. The boy she loved had met another girl in the city. He fell in love with her and decided he would stay there and marry her instead.” “But what about the baby?” “The boy denied it. He called the girl a liar and said the baby in her belly didn’t belong to him.” “Well, was it?” “Yes, the baby did belong to him. But the boy was not coming back, plain and simple. And it broke the girl’s heart and turned it into a black witch’s heart.” “What did she do?” “She got sick. She was in so much pain and heartache that she couldn’t eat or drink and eventually the sickness took her baby from her.” “That’s not even scary. That’s only sad.” “The story isn’t over,” she whispered and crept her fingers up my arm. “She wanted her baby so bad and it was taken from her. But she had a witch’s heart now and it poisoned her. It urged her to do terrible things. It urged her to go out into the night and climb into a town person’s window and steal a new baby for herself.

She took the baby back to her house by the river.

She was so happy. She finally had her own baby to love. And she could forget about the boy. And she could make use of all the clothes and blankets and toys she made.

But there was something she didn’t know about having a witch’s heart. She didn’t know that when her heart turned black and poisoned her, that the poison was really a curse.” My mom looked toward the light coming from the hall.

“She loved her stolen baby dearly, but something inside of her had changed.” “Her heart,” I offered. “Her heart. The same way it urged her to steal the new baby, it now urged her to kill that baby. Maybe because it wasn’t truly hers. Or maybe it was because it reminded her of the heartache that took her baby away. But at the same time that she loved that stolen boy, she wanted to take him into the river and drown him.” “Did she kill him? Did she kill the baby?” “No. She didn’t kill the stolen boy.

Instead she went back out into the night and took another child.

She took another child and drowned that baby in the river.

It broke her heart again to do it, but it eased the curse. And when she went back inside to her stolen boy, she didn’t have the urge to drown him anymore.

She cried and cried, she was so happy. But she couldn’t let anyone find out what she did. She would have to stay at that river house until the boy grew and the town forgot about the missing babies.

She didn’t leave for years. She only slipped away into town to bring milk for her baby and food for herself. She spent the rest of the time raising the stolen boy and sewing him toys from scraps of the drowned baby’s clothes.

But one day, she woke up and she looked at her stolen boy and she cried again. The curse was back. She thought she had cured it but she felt it again, now, even stronger than before.

She realized then that curses don’t fade. You feed them and they sleep. Until they grow hungry again.”

My mom turned to me. I had my blanket tight at my throat. She laughed and pulled it a little higher.

“How does it end?” “How does it end?” my mother repeated. “Those babies that just went missing, if the witch is the one that has been stealing them, the story isn’t over yet.” I glanced at my window then my closet. There were so many places a witch could be lurking. I asked my mom if I could sleep with her and she agreed. “Just tonight, though,” she scolded. “Tomorrow I work late and you’ll have to go to bed before I get back.”

I regretted asking about the witch with a groan.

One more boy went missing that summer and then the abductions stopped.

Over the years, whenever a kid disappeared everybody jumped at the opportunity to blame the serial abductor of my childhood. No bodies were every found. Or sometimes the kid would just come home and it turned out that they had just run away.

When I was in high school I learned the truth about what people thought took those kids every few years in the surrounding area. People said it was some pervert taking babies and kids and breaking their little bodies.

I guess I believed it too, after a while. Chester the Molester. Every town had one and kids went missing all the time, everywhere.

To tell the truth I never thought too much about it. But the night my mom told me that story, well I’ll never forget it. She had a way with words. She used to scare the hell out of me all the time and I loved it. It was our thing. Without a dad around, I didn’t have the typical male figure to teach me to be fearless and strong. But my mom did it well enough. I think her stories were her own way of teaching me to be brave and to keep my eyes wide even when I’m terrified. It was her own way of teaching me to be a man.

My mother is dead now. She killed herself.

She had developed a drinking problem as I got older and when I left for college it just got worse, without me there to care for her. And then one day, a few years after I moved to [deleted], I got a call from a lawyer back in [deleted]. About my inheritance.

She left everything to me, which wasn’t really much: a dingy old car, a small savings that I spent on the funeral and a home that belonged to a grandfather I had never met, upstate. The funeral was small. A couple I didn’t recognize came and I introduced myself. The man explained that he was an old friend of my mom’s from high school. I thanked him for coming and they left. There was something familiar about him but I didn’t think too hard about it. I decided to take a few more days leave and drive out to my grandpa’s old house. My house. It was hard to find but I eventually came to it. It was a beautiful old cabin that must have been at least 100 years old. And it was totally secluded down a long private road. Right on the water. I thought about bringing the girl I was seeing down here for a weekend before the end of the summer.

I parked and walked up the dark wood porch. The key resisted the lock at first, maybe it had rusted over the years, but I managed to fit it and I went inside.

Old furniture fuzzy with dust, a stack of vinyl in the corner next to a turntable. It was a pretty small house, overall; a small kitchen, the living room, one bathroom and two small bedrooms. I scoped out the master bedroom, opening desk drawers and wall cabinets. Nothing really remarkable. Dust.

I went into the smaller room and realized it was a girl’s room. My mom’s? There were books stacked high on the shelves, slippers on the floor and an old leather jacket in the closet.

I huffed. My mom always hinted at a wilder side, before I came along. I realized I hadn’t even seen her in a year. And I would never get the chance to again. I decided it was a good time to leave. I would come back some other time and clean the place out. Bring someone along, maybe.

I turned to look the place over once more before locking it back up when I saw another doorknob peeking out from behind a heavy curtain on the wall. I pulled it aside and opened the door. It was a basement. I took my cell phone out and lit the stairs. It was fully cemented and really small. Maybe it was meant to be a pantry or wine cellar.

I got to the bottom and looked around the small space. There was an armchair in the corner next to an end table and a bigger piece of furniture under a sheet. I opened the end table and pulled out a stack of papers and mail. An envelope addressed to my mother postmarked from [deleted]. I thumbed my mother’s name before putting the stack back down. I lifted my cell to the blanketed thing occupying most of the space down there. I lifted the sheet off and tossed it aside.

It was a bassinet.

I lifted the little crumpled bundle inside. A small, moth-eaten blanket unfolded spilling a couple little stuffed animals. I picked one up and held my light to it. It was a tiny patchwork bear. I looked closer at it. It was made up of shreds of fabric. A pattern of little trains cross-stitched to another pattern of pink flowers and another of little frogs.

I set it down and turned around. I looked toward the light coming from the top of the stairs. A crib in a cellar behind a hidden door. Patchwork toys. I picked up the letter from the stack of papers on the end table. I reread the address, the same one the lawyer had written down for me. It didn’t occur to me before then, but I knew about this house all along.

Backwood LN.

I shined my light back to the bassinet, and the little stuffed animals inside: patchwork toys sewn from shreds of baby clothes. Fiction

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