Georgia, United States 1927:
“They gone Flossy?” Granny Flo called from the back room window.
“Yes Ma’am.” The girl called back reluctantly. She had up until then been enjoying the reprieve a cool noon breeze offered from the cloying Georgia heat.
She’d been tasked by Granny to keep an eye on the two girls who’d been boarding with them and had been amusing herself by creeping about after them all morning. They seemed a nice enough pair, she enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations, and listening in on their scathing gossip. Now they were away, gone to a church luncheon they had said, but with rouged lips and hair done up in a marcel wave, Flossy doubted that very much. Still, she was in no hurry to go back into that stifling old house and boil in her own sweat, no thank you!
How those two girls tolerated living in the back room she’d never know. There wasn’t a time during the day where that God forsaken hovel wasn’t absolutely sweltering. It was as Granny had so aptly put it “Hotter than the fires of Damnation.”
“Good!” Granny laughed in her wry way. “You get in here and help me give this room a good scrubbing!”
Flossy shuffled her feet, taking the smallest steps she could manage back to that awful old room. What was the point in scrubbing it down? It was so hot in that torrid pit that the paint on the walls bubbled and peeled away not two days after being laid down. It had just been last year that Granny gave up on trying to put a coat of varnish on the wooden floors. Without fail, the stuff boiled where it lay, frothing up and never drying beyond a gummy sap paste, that captured shoes and swallowed fallen earrings and buttons into it’s mire. In the end, the filth had to be scraped up from the floorboards, and that was a day Flossy would have been all too happy to have wiped from her recollection.
The room always had an ugly smell to it, somewhere between rotting eggs and the scent of a match just after it’s been struck. The smell got so thick in there sometimes that it sent Flossy running to the window to make sick. She could only hope those girls living back there had at some point lost their sense of smell.
When the girl had finally inched her way to the room, Granny was waiting with a bucket of suds and two mops. She didn’t say a word to the stubborn girl, instead, she cocked her one good eye in such a way that Flossy withered with guilt, and quickly snatched up a mop in her hands. The two got to work scrubbing down the floors.
As Flossy slopped the mop about, she soon realized that there was no soap in this wash. It had an pungent, spicy smell to it and a muddy, dishwater color. As if reading the girl’s mind, Granny laughed out loud at her bewilderment.
“Goodness, took you that long to notice a thing like that?” The old woman chuckled. “No, it’s not soap, not soap at all!” She crowed.
“What is it?” Flossy wondered aloud, though with Granny, words were seldom necessary. They’d become so adept at reading one another’s faces that to outsiders, their conversations might have seemed preternatural.
“Mostly salt.” Granny said, her scouring taking on a frenetic pace. “Salt, some sage, ground chicken bones, snake sheds and a bit of graveyard dirt…some other things too, you sort of change the recipe to suit the situation.”
“Granny that’s Devil talk!” Flossy cried, tossing the mop away from herself. Her Granny snorted with laughter.
“No, no it isn’t honey.” The old woman insisted, pointing an equally insistent finger at the fallen mop which Flossy quickly righted. “We’re using the ingredients the Lord provides to cast the Devil out of this place.”
Flossy bit her lip, letting her gaze drift down to the threads of her mop as she wound it in concentric circles. The idea of such dealings made her stomach squirm. Still, she’d learned not to question Granny’s wisdom. The woman had traveled the world in her day, seeing the sites of Venice, Morocco, even Paris. In her travels she had earned a wisdom that was rare, even among others who might boast as many years behind them as Granny could.
“Did you watch those women at dinner last night?” Granny needled the girl, a wily grin canvasing her face. “They didn’t put one grain of salt on their food, none the night before neither! The Devil and his kin hate salt!”
Flossy shrugged her shoulders and rolled the mop head about on the ground, wringing the tainted elixir out in a dingy puddle.
“I know, I know you thought they seemed nice.” Granny said with more than a blush of mockery in her tone. “Big city girls like that, probably set your head spinning, but you and I both know that the chickens haven’t given eggs, and the cows haven’t given a lick of milk since they settled down here!”
That much was true, but Flossy had blamed that on the heat, never on witchcraft. Anyway, why would a witch put a spell like that on her own boarder?
“Well Baby, if I’m wrong all we’ve done is give the room a wash,” Granny consoled her “but if I’m right, and you’ll see that I am, those girls will pick up stakes and be out of here by morning.”
Flossy wrinkled her nose, mulling the thought over. Finally, she nodded and helped Granny scrub down the floors and wipe down the walls and furniture. Granny finished the cleaning off by sprinkling a bit of salt in a pair of the girls’ high heeled shoes which they’d left in a clumsy tumble on the floor.
That night, Granny sang old hymnals at the top of her lungs while she prepared dinner, cackling now and then to herself. Flossy heard the girls voices down the hall, but she hadn’t seen them come in. They seemed to be arguing, shouting violently at one another, but Flossy couldn’t make out just what they were saying.
She snuck down the hallway, yet the closer she got, the fainter their voices seemed. When she approached the girls room, the door stood wide open, yet she couldn’t see anyone inside. The voices, that had been so boisterous had now been silenced. Flossy looked through the closets and drawers and found they all had been emptied. The only thing left in the room was the pair of high heeled shoes Granny had sprinkled with salt.
The Devil and his kin hate salt.
I don’t particularly like salt myself, though I cannot in honesty claim kinship to the Devil. Every culture has an explanation for my kind, a name for what I am, I myself prefer to go by Marco. In my long life I have had many brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews with whom I have shared my stories. Now, I wish to share them with you. While I cannot wholly explain my kind any better than one man might do the lot of humanity, I can regale you with the scattered tales of my existence to date. Perhaps from there we might better understand one another.
-Marco A. Shatter