Wednesday, December 14, 2016

MYTHS OF THE WEIRD WEST: Bride of the Demonslayer



Salt Witch of Nebraska is a hell of a thing. One of those legends to explain a given phenomena. Some rock formation or a twisted tree. Or, this case, a pillar of salt out on the plains. It's gone now, so no need to tell about where it came from. But, this being the Weird West, we should try and remember it. Charles Skinner told the story in his book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, 1896. Good story, but it needs a little something.

I'm gonna take it for a spin.


   There was a tribe long past who lived at the junction of two rivers, a fearsome clan of lean warriors and dark-eyed beauties. Their children were playful and bright, learning at the knee or yelping among the tents and fires. Game was plentiful and tall crops yielded a lush bounty. The world was a vibrant place then and life was simple.
   The Chief of this tribe was a bloody and storied warrior. Much loved, despite his furious and savage nature. None among his people could withstand these tempers save his wife, his every equal in whim and will. Upon her death, the world might have ended, such was the Chief's sorrow. His soul was the deepest pit, into which he cast all good things.
   So he shut himself within his lodge and refused to be seen. In day, his people could scarcely bear the roaring of his vile curses. At night, though none would ever speak of it, the sounds of their mighty leader's weeping was unmistakable. There came talk among the elders that a new chief must be chosen.
   This, the Chief must have learned, for a morning soon after he filled the entrance of his lodge once more, a great war bonnet of eagle feathers upon his head. His broad chest was slashed in paint and his eyes glinted behind the stripes on his cheeks and jaw. With his spear and tomahawk, he strode from the camp and set out across the plain.
   Several nights into his travels, the Chief lay upon the ground, staring at the moon. He mused upon its rifts and craters and imagined he saw his wife there, smiling within the faded blue lines of its bright surface. Then a scream and the warrior sprang boldly up, weapons at the ready. There, awash in pale moonlight was a young maiden upon her knees, gripping the wrist of a hellish old woman strangling her with one withered claw. The other was held high above, ready to strike with a tomahawk.
   The Chief charged forward and hurled his spear. It grazed the hag's arm with a spray of blood and thudded deep into the ground behind. She released her grip on the maiden, though she wound her other hand in the girl's hair and twisted her toward the bold warrior. Tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes flashing in fear, it was none other than his beloved.
   With a bellow, he closed the distance and leapt high, his stone tomahawk clashing against the witch's own blade. As the ground began to tremble, they fought, sparks singing with blow after blow. But the War Chief was crazed and without a mind for his many cuts or the blood that spattered upon the shivering grass. Seeing his chance, he struck, and cleaved the skull of that horrible fiend.
   Then the ground itself split and threw the Chief to his knees. The witch was but a phantom now, swirling in tatters about his wife until she too, became indistinct. With a wail of sorrow, the pair of specters fled within the fissure. When the ragged seam slammed shut once more, a spray of stinging salt went up and covered the mighty champion. He shut his eyes for the pain and seethed, silently, letting each grain eat its way into his wounds.
   When he opened his eyes, there loomed a pillar of salt, the only testament to what he'd witnessed. The Chief gathered up his spear and tomahawk and set out into the darkness. For years afterward he led his tribe to the pillar, this place of the Salt Witch, where they would chop off pieces for use with their bread and hides. Then they would chant and beat their warclubs upon the ground, that she might never rise and work her evil again.

Anyone interested in reading the original story, click HERE.
If you'd like to grab a free e-copy of Skinner's entire book, click HERE.

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