5,800 Words

Author’s Note: The story of Rawhead and Bloody Bones originated in Europe but migrated to the American South and underwent a local transformation. The definitive folklore version is likely S. E. Schlosser’s and is very much worth reading on its own.


There was a witch who lived up in the mountains, and I never heard but that she was a good one.

Some people will tell you she was old, but I don’t think she was. She just had one of those faces full of lines. With a face like that, you look a lot older than everybody else, but as time goes on, they all look older and you don’t, and you end up looking younger than everybody else by the time you die.

And you do learn early on not to get by on your looks, so there’s that.

I never did learn who her people were or if she had any. A whole lot of people wound up in the mountains—Lumbee and Cherokee and escaped slaves and the grandkids of people who lit off into the hills for one thing or another. Little bitty scraps of this group and that, all of ’em living together and having kids. Leftover people.

She was one of those. Most of us were, one way or another.

The witch had a couple of names, depending who you ask, but everybody in town called her “Sal.” She wasn’t the only witch there, I’ll tell you right now, but she was the best of the lot.

If you went south and east from town, you got into the sandhills, where the rain runs down through the dirt without ever stopping, and there was a witch out there named Elizabeth Gray. Her heart was as dry as the sand and things ran through it without ever stopping. She couldn’t be moved by pity or anger, and she only dealt in cash.

If you went north, you’d run into the river, and there was a shack down on the riverbank and an old woman lived in it who was madder than a shoe. She’d have had to come a long way to just be senile. She believed she was a witch and she’d cast a curse for a slug of whiskey and a couple of cigarettes, but whether the curses did anything much, I couldn’t tell you.

(They do say that the sheriff riled her up and she cursed him and that’s why he took a nail in the foot and got sepsis and his daughter ran off with a horse-thief. If you ask me, though, the nail was bad luck, and his daughter was fixing to run off with the first person who looked at her twice. But I don’t know, maybe it was the woman from down on the mudflats.)

Sal, though … Sal was good. She never promised what she couldn’t deliver, and she wouldn’t ill-wish somebody just on a customer’s say-so. She wouldn’t brew up a love potion, but she’d cook up a charm to make a girl look a bit better or to give a bit of fire back to a man who was down to the last of the coals, if you understand what I’m saying.

And if somebody got a little too much fire in their belly, well, Sal knew how to make some unexpected surprises go away, too. That didn’t put her in good order with the preacher, but preachers aren’t traditionally fond of witches anyhow, so she didn’t lose much by it. You didn’t get so many girls in our town going to visit relatives for a year and turning back up with a baby and a tale of a dead husband, either.

Now, you’d think that somebody who provided this sort of community service would live in the middle of town in a house with glass windows, but you’d be wrong. Sal lived halfway up a mountain in a tumbledown house with a porch like a cow’s hipbones. It was a long trek out to see her, and that was the way she liked it. She didn’t have many friends to be inconvenienced by the walk. People want a witch when they need one, but they don’t much like them. It was a little too easy, when you saw Sal go by, to remember what all she knew about you.

She didn’t make it easy for anybody, either. She’d catch your eye and smile a little, and you’d remember that little matter she took care of for you and know that she was remembering it, too.

She was a good witch and a decent person, but decent people aren’t always easy to live with.

So at the end of the day, Sal’s best friend was a razorback hog.

He was a damn big animal, size of a pony. Some idiot over by Graham got the bright idea to bring in boars for rich people to hunt, thinking he’d keep them fenced up in a park, and of course there were boars on either side of the fence before you could say “Well, that’s a stupid goddamn idea, isn’t it?” So this razorback’s granddaddy was a boar from the old country. Sal used to say he could see the fairies and liked to dig up their nests and gulp ’em down whole.

She called him “Rawhead.” If you’ve ever seen the hogs down at the butcher shop, before they make headcheese, you know what she was talking about. They take the skin right off and what you’ve got left is a bloody skull with teeth like tent pegs.

Rawhead turned up one day in the garden and started rooting around in her compost heap. He had a taste for magic and there was plenty of it there, alongside the eggshells and the wishing melon rinds. (I never met a witch worth her salt who didn’t love her garden more than any mortal soul.)

Well, she busted out of the door shouting at this half-grown hog in her compost heap. He’d been trampling down the pumpkin vines, so she put a curse on him that turned his tail straight. He staggered off and Sal thought she’d seen the last of him, but the very next day he was rooting off in the compost again.

She put a curse on him that time that turned his ears inside out. He staggered off again, his hooves going opposite directions, and took down one of the bean teepees in the process. Sal wanted to scream, but you can’t stop pigs being pigs, so she grabbed her broom and shooed him out by the garden gate.

“Get gone!” she yelled. “You come back, I’ll haul you down to the butcher and you’ll be a raw head and bones by nightfall!”

Third day, she comes out on the porch and there Rawhead is, in the compost heap, with his tail straight, his ears inside out, and a rotten tomato sliding down his chin.

“You don’t learn, do you?” says Sal.

No, ma’am, says Rawhead, and takes another bite of tomato.

You would have had to be a witch to hear him, but it’s not all that surprising. Pigs aren’t that far off from talking, most of them, and it doesn’t take more than a few wishing melons to tip them right over the edge.

Well, things that talk are people, however they look, and you don’t throw people out of the garden without offering them some hospitality. She invited Rawhead up to the porch and gave him a bucket full of water and yesterday’s leftovers, and he sat next to her rocker and thumped his straight tail on the boards.

“How’s that taste, then?”

Tastes good, ma’am.

“I see your momma raised you to be respectful,” said Sal, rocking.

Have to be, ma’am. If you aren’t, she rolls over on you and squashes you flat.

“Huh!” Sal rocked harder. “Not a bad notion. Know a few people who could’ve used a good squashing back in the day.”

It does make you think before you speak, ma’am. He rolled a beady little boar eye up at her. You cook good cornbread, ma’am. Can I stay with you a little while?

“Huh!” said Sal again, and after that, you couldn’t have found a closer pair than Sal and Rawhead the hog.

People tend not to mess with a witch, but there’s always some damn fool who sees a woman living alone and gets thoughts in his head.

The next time someone tried, he got a tusk in his behind and went off yelling.

So word went out that Sal had a razorback hog as her familiar, and that did nothing but good for her reputation.

Well, stories always grow in the telling. Before long, they were saying Rawhead could talk, and after that they said he walked upright and sat in a rocking chair, same as a person.

Couple of people said some other things, too, about Sal and Rawhead, but there are people who say any damn thing.

The truth of the matter, as near as I ever learned it, was that Sal went on and Rawhead went on, and two days out of three, he slept on the porch at her feet and ate her leftovers. A razorback hog is a good friend to have in zucchini season, when the vines get huge and start throwing out zucchinis as big as your thigh. Useful for cleaning up yellow cucumbers, too.


Now, the way I always heard it, Silas the hunter had been one of those men who came sniffing around Sal when she was living alone, and it was Rawhead who broke him of that habit. But I’ve also heard that he was one of those folk who come up and try to give you charity you don’t want. There was a lot of that going on up there, and nobody gets mad like a do-gooder if you won’t hold still and let ’em do good on you.

Maybe he had a bit of a fancy for Sal, not in a marrying way, but thinking that somebody plain and lonely ought to be grateful for any attention. Maybe he thought that having a witch be grateful would be worth some trouble, or maybe he thought that a witch as good as Sal had a box full of money around the place.

But maybe those are just ways to make the story tidy again. The hunter could have just been one of those people who thinks he owns anything that doesn’t have somebody else’s name stamped on it. Lord knows, there’s enough of them around.

One way or the other, a day came along when Rawhead didn’t show up, and then another day, and then Sal started to get worried.

It wasn’t like Rawhead to go away for more than a day at a time. His territory was the mountaintop, and he didn’t leave it often. But pigs are social, same as human people, and they like each other’s company. So Sal let two days pass, then three, and then she heaved herself out of her rocking chair and said some words I won’t repeat in company.

She rummaged in her pantry ’til she found a good saucer, then she laid it on the table and filled it up with water and a drop of ink. The ink melted into the water and turned it black, and she breathed a witch’s breath onto it.

Then she tapped her nail on the water’s surface, and it rang like a bell.

“Good,” she said. “Good. Now, show me the front porch.” (Never ask to see something important right off. Water’s tricky, even with ink to gentle it.)

The water showed her the front porch, with the empty rocking chair and the faded mat by the door. A wren flew up to the railing and looked around for something, then flew away again when it didn’t find it.

“Good,” said Sal. “Now, show me the sheriff’s daughter, who ran off with the horse-thief.”

The water swirled—though the surface didn’t change—and Sal was looking at a girl wearing a clean apron, with a light in her eyes.

“Huh!” said Sal, pleased. “Glad it came out all right for her. Now, show me that razorback friend of mine.”

The water darkened.

Under the table, where the water couldn’t see it, Sal clenched her fist.

Then the water got light again—just a little—

And there was Rawhead.

She knew him right away, even though he was lying dead with three other hogs, in the back of a wagon moving down the road. She knew him just fine, and when the driver turned his head, she knew him, too.

Sal jerked back from the table and the water boiled away into steam.

She sat there for a minute, breathing through her nose, then she stood up. She picked up the saucer, because it was a good saucer with a little ink stained on it, and she washed it up careful, because a lifetime’s habits die hard.

Her head ached and her heart ached, but she folded up the dish towel and set it back on its loop. She would have cried, but she didn’t dare start.

“Somebody killed him,” she said out loud. It felt like a knife, and she stabbed herself with it again—“Somebody went and killed my Rawhead.”

That was better. If she said Rawhead’s dead, she was going to fold right up like a broken leaf, but if she said Somebody killed him—well, then, that Somebody was going to have to pay.

The core of being a witch is that you don’t fall down while there’s work to be done. Sometimes that means you invent work to keep yourself standing upright.

She went to the coffee can in her bedroom and took it down. There was eighty-seven dollars stuffed into it, and Sal took the money out. It was all she had, and not a bad amount, but she didn’t think she’d need it much longer.

Sal’s nearest neighbor was a woman named Madeline, who had a hard life and stayed cheerful for it. People like that are a blessing and occasionally an affliction.

Even Madeline was a little surprised when Sal showed up while she was hanging out laundry on the line. She pinned up a sheet and turned around, and there was Sal, not five feet away.

Madeline yelped. “Lord, Sal, you about scared the life out of me!”

“Right,” said Sal. “Came about the chickens.”

Madeline wasn’t quite done yet. “Seeing you right there like that! My heart’s pounding, so it is. Let me sit down a minute. You can kill a body if you scare ’em too hard, you know.”

“Don’t have much time,” said Sal bluntly. “It’s my chickens. I’d appreciate it if you’d look in on ’em tonight and make sure they’re in and fed.”

“Sure, Sal,” said Madeline. And then, though it wasn’t the sort of thing to say to a witch, “You all right, hon? You’re looking hard.”

“Hard times,” said Sal. “Take care of my chickens. If I don’t come back by tomorrow, they’re all yours. Watch for the rooster, he’s a devil.”

She turned away.

Madeline, moved by some spirit, called “You be careful, Sal!” and Sal’s shoulder twitched, but she didn’t make any reply.

She walked into town without talking to anybody. She watched for a certain wagon out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t see it, and she was glad.

“I’ll fix him,” she muttered. “I’ll fix him good for this. But I got to figure out a way.”

That’s the real problem being a good witch all your life. Time comes when you need to do something real bad, and you don’t have the knack for it. If she’d seen the man who murdered Rawhead walking down the street, what would she do?

She didn’t have the sort of magic that made people drop dead. Hardly anybody did.

“I’d yell at him like a crazy old woman,” muttered Sal, “and that’d be the end of me. Just some senile old woman yelling in the street.”

But the wagon wasn’t there, and she was still a witch.

So she walked on south for an hour, into the sandhills, looking for Elizabeth Gray.


Sal found her sitting on the front porch, looking over the sundew pool. Sundews are little devil plants, covered in sticky hairs, and when a bug lands on them, the sundew sticks it tight and eats it from the inside out.

Elizabeth Gray found their company congenial.

Sal came up on the porch with her heart in her eyes, and there were two chairs there, and a second cup of tea set out.

“Have a seat,” said Elizabeth Gray.

Neither one of them saw fit to comment on the fact that Sal had been expected. They were both witches, and they knew how things were done. Sal took a sip of her tea and it was still hot, like it had just been poured a moment before.

She let out her breath, and her throat ached from not crying.

“Got a problem, I see,” said Elizabeth Gray.

“It’s my hog,” said Sal. “My friend. That hunter shot him—Paul Silas did it, and he knows full well that was my Rawhead.”

“Silas,” said Elizabeth Gray thoughtfully. “Didn’t his mother come from over by Bynum?”

“That’s him. She wasn’t a bad woman.” Sal took another slug of tea. “Good thing she’s dead. No mother ought to see what I aim to do to him.”

Elizabeth grinned. “Listen to you,” she said. “A white witch and all. What are you planning?”

“Don’t know,” said Sal honestly. “Had a thought, that’s all.”

And then she took a deep breath and said the words that witches hate to say, even to each other. “Need your help.”

The porch creaked as Elizabeth rocked in her chair. Down by the sundew pool, the plants rippled.

“What’s in it for me?” she asked. “That I ought to help you, who never did give me the time of day?”

“That ain’t fair,” said Sal. “You had your spot and I had mine. You ever asked, I’d have come. You know that.”

Elizabeth Gray knew it, even if she didn’t like to admit it. She tilted her head one way and another, and her neck bones popped and creaked like an old man’s knuckles. “It’s so. And you’re in my spot now.”

“I’ve got eighty-seven dollars,” said Sal, and laid it out on the table between the teacups.

“You should’ve said,” said Elizabeth Gray, all business. “Now, what is it you’re looking to do?”

Sal told her.

The sun moved a little bit in the sky before anyone spoke again.

“Listen,” said Elizabeth Gray, “listen close. You’re asking me to bring him back, and I can’t do that. Nobody can. You walk through that door and there’s no walking back through. You know that, Sal, you’re a witch to your teeth. You ever hear of anybody coming back for good?”

Sal stared into her empty teacup. “Thought you might have,” she said quietly. “Figured maybe there was a way.”

Elizabeth Gray shook her head, and that was truth, because witches don’t lie to each other.

Sal stood up. She went down the steps and made three paces.

Then she sank down by the pool filled with sundews and put her bony hands over her face, because her friend was dead.

Elizabeth Gray’s face didn’t change. Her heart was still like sand and triumph ran through and pity ran through and neither one sank in.

But things do grow on sand, complicated things like sundews, and something grew now in the witch’s heart that I wouldn’t try to put a name to.

“I can’t bring him back,” said Elizabeth Gray. “But if you’re willing, I can open the door.”

Sal looked up, her face streaked with an old woman’s tears.

“It’ll take your life,” said Gray, as if a witch’s life wasn’t any big thing. “Somebody’s got to shove their foot in the door. He’s all the way dead and you’re all the way alive, and if you’re willing, I can take you both halfway. I don’t swear you won’t wind up in one skin together, but it’s the best I can do.”

Sal thought about it. She thought about it hard, the way you do when every word in your head has an echo and you slam it down on the floor of your skull. She sat by the sundew pool and she thought, and Elizabeth Gray brought her another cup of tea, but all of it was second-guessing. She’d known what she was going to say as soon as Gray had made her offer.

“Do it,” Sal said.


I’m not going to tell you what the spell was like. You think I want that sort of thing being common knowledge? You need a silver spoon to see by and a half-handful of rabbit tobacco, among other things, but that’s as much as you’re going to hear. Some stuff doesn’t need to go any farther. You want to know details, go ask Elizabeth Gray.

She did the spell, anyhow. People say it was a hard spell, but I think that’s because most people don’t understand magic. It was easy, the way dying’s easy or birthing’s easy. It’s not hard, it just hurts a whole hell of a lot.

Sal sat in the sand, because it was easier that way. Her hip joints ached getting her down, and she didn’t think she’d be able to stand back up, but that didn’t matter, because she figured she wouldn’t be standing up again. Not in this life, anyhow.

The moon came up. It reflected in the pool, and Sal watched the sundews thrash and dance in a way that they don’t do by daylight. Tiny little things they were, but they moved more like mice than plants, and they leaned toward Elizabeth Gray.

She was still watching the sundews when Elizabeth came up behind her with the big hog-killing knife and slit her throat from ear to ear.


Sal woke up with a scream and a gasp, in a body that wasn’t hers.

She was hung upside down by her heels, and her whole body bucked when she moved and threw her sideways. It turned out to be a blessing, because she’d been hung up with a hook through her legs and she would have been hard pressed to free herself, but the convulsion knocked her right off the hook and onto the floor.

It was a fair bit of luck, witch’s luck, but she was in no position to appreciate it.

It hurt.

It hurt more than anything ever had, more than she thought anything ever could. She’d been dead and now she was alive, and bodies don’t much like that. When you’re dead, all your muscles go limp, even the little ones that hold tense their entire lives. They didn’t take kindly to being told to wake up and work again.

Her heart was the worst. Her heart tried to beat and there was stuff inside it that didn’t want to move. It folded up like a fist around a knife blade and sprang open again.

Sal would have given her hope of heaven to stop that heart from beating, but the magic was in it now and wouldn’t let it rest. It squeezed and opened, squeezed and opened, and inside the clotted heart, the blood broke up like ice on a river and began to flow again.

She had no idea how long she laid on the ground. It could have been hours. It felt like her entire life. But the dead body around her came back to life, slow as slow, and finally she opened her eyes and realized she was in the body of the dead razorback hog.

Ma’am? said a tiny little voice. That you?

If she’d been human, she would have cried, but hogs don’t. She made a little whimpering squealing sound and scraped her trotters along the floorboards.

“Rawhead?” (It wasn’t quite talking aloud, but he got the sense of it.)

Yes, ma’am. What happened?

“Think we’ve been dead, hon.” Sal considered. “Well, you’ve been dead, and my body probably ain’t alive if Elizabeth Gray did proper work with the knife.”

She scrabbled her feet again, trying to get up.

Let me, said Rawhead, and the ungainly body was suddenly graceful, rolling to its feet and shaking all over.

“So that’s the trick of it,” said Sal. “Lord. Not used to being down here on four legs.”

It’s easier than two.

It did seem to be. Her vision wasn’t so good, but things smelled strong, and the smells sort of worked with her eyes in a way she hadn’t expected.

“We’re in a barn, aren’t we?”

Think so, ma’am. Rawhead turned in a circle and then looked up.

There were three dead hogs hanging from hooks overhead, their throats opened up to drain into a gutter in the floor. A fourth hook hung empty.

“Huh!” Sal stared at them. “Surprised there was any blood left in us. Must be the magic. I’ll give her this, Elizabeth Gray’s no slouch with the knife.”

Those three were my friends, said Rawhead. We ran around the mountain together.

“I’m sorry,” said Sal, suddenly shamed. “I didn’t think. I’m sorry for your friends.”

It’s all right. They’ll go on. We all go on. He dropped her—their—head, startling Sal again. I’ll miss them.

There was nothing that a human could add to that eulogy. She didn’t try.

The hog’s body was huge and powerful. Sal tried moving it, walking unsteadily toward the door.

It was exhausting. It moved more or less as she asked—it worked better if she didn’t concentrate too much on how the legs were moving—but the beating of their dead heart did nothing to revive her.

She got them around the corner of the barn. It was dim and noisy with crickets. She could smell turned earth and blood.

Their legs started to shake, and she had to sit down.

This was madness, she thought, trying to keep her thoughts away from Rawhead and not sure if she was succeeding. I’ve trapped us both in this dead body, and for what? Revenge?

A witch should have known better. Now what? Even if I kill that bastard hunter, what then? Lay down and rot until there’s not enough left of the body to hold us here?

It was not a pleasant thought. Even less pleasant was the thought that the hog’s body might rot away and their souls would be left chained to its bones.

Witches generally feel that there’s plenty of work to be done here and now, but I never met one that wasn’t secretly hoping to put their feet up for a while in the afterlife.

Now, though …

Poor sort of friend I am. Silas only killed his body, but I may have made him into a ghost.

You’re a good friend, ma’am, said Rawhead staunchly. Sal realized that he’d been listening to her think the whole time. It would have been embarrassing if he was anybody else. She scuffled their trotters in the dirt.

“Did I hold you back from heaven, Rawhead?”

Doesn’t work like that for us, ma’am. We just go on to the next thing.

“What’s the next thing?” asked Sal. She was exhausted and felt like dying again.

Oh, you know. We go around again. Think I was going to be a bird this time, said Rawhead. All curled up in an egg, with someone tap-tap-tapping on my shell. I like being a bird. It’s good to fly.

Sal wished that she could weep. Their mouth gaped open in distress. “What happened to that bird?”

Won’t hatch, I guess. It happens, ma’am. Don’t worry. It was hard to comfort herself in only one body. Hogs would normally go shoulder to shoulder, lean on one another, but with only one body between them, Rawhead had to settle for leaning against the barn wall and rubbing their jowls against their forelegs. I don’t mind coming back. We’ll die again sooner or later, and I’ll be a different bird.

He paused and added generously, You can come be a bird with me if you like, ma’am. I wouldn’t mind.

Humans are different from hogs in that kindness can break their hearts. Sal moaned through the dead razorback’s throat.

“What the hell is that racket?” yelled a voice from inside the barn.

The boar’s body jerked itself up and made a short bark of surprise before Sal quite realized what she was doing.

It was Paul Silas. Well, who else would it be?

“Damn it,” she muttered, and “Damn it!” said Silas. She heard the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked. It was practically under her ear, on the other side of the wall.

Rawhead wisely took over at this point, backing them into the thicket of dog fennel and Queen Anne’s lace that surrounded the barn. A beam of light came out of the barn, jangling crazily as the hunter carried the lantern. Sal saw the green gleam of spider eyes in the grass as the light moved over it, and a red flash from a whippoorwill blinking in the ditch.

“Who’s there?” shouted Silas. “Who’s sneaking around my—ah, goddamn!”

“Found we were gone,” said Sal silently.

Rawhead sank more deeply into the thicket. The light went flashing by, through the cracks between boards, and lit up the pebbles at the dead hog’s feet.

Silas’s footsteps paused by the empty hook, and then he walked to the mouth of the barn. The whippoorwill flew up and away into the trees.

“You a bear?” asked Silas. “You a bear out there, taking my meat? Or you a man?” He turned in a circle, and Sal saw the rifle outlined against the lantern light.


There’s a whole story people tell when they’re telling the story of Rawhead and Sal. It’s a little bit like Little Red Riding Hood—the hunter says, “My, what big eyes you got!” And Rawhead supposedly says, “The better to see your grave.” And the hunter says, “What a bushy tail you got.” And Rawhead says, “The better to sweep your grave.”

Well, a talking hog is one thing, but I never heard of a hog with a bushy tail. They say he took it off a dead raccoon, but if you can tell me why a boar would need a rotten raccoon tail to kill someone with, I’d dearly love to hear it.

No, what happened was that Silas stood in the circle of lantern light, holding his gun, looking for a bear or a thief, and Sal looked at him and heard his whining voice, and she remembered why she was mad.

That bastard killed Rawhead. He’d killed Rawhead’s friends. In a roundabout way, he’d killed Sal herself.

And Sal remembered other things—the way Silas had treated a woman living alone, the way he’d come sniffing around like a dog after a bone, offering charity and more than charity, even when she’d made it clear she wasn’t interested in the likes of him. She remembered a couple conversations on the porch that she’d rather not have had.

She thought of how those conversations might have gone if she’d been only a woman alone and not a witch. She remembered how they’d almost gone anyway, and a couple of nights spent with the door barred and her own rifle across her lap.

“I believe that man needs killing, Rawhead,” she said.

Yes, ma’am, said Rawhead.

He moved.

The dead heart hammered in their chest, and Sal threw herself on the pain and took it all. When Rawhead charged, he was as quick on his hooves as a living razorback, and that is very quick indeed.

Silas heard the charge and turned. He got the gun halfway to his shoulder and fired.

The impact knocked the dead boar back a step—but only a step. He did not get time for another shot.

Their jaws closed over his thigh. Silas screamed, but not for very long. Humans die easy compared to hogs.

And then there was quiet.

After awhile the crickets started in again. The fireflies spread themselves out under the trees. The lantern guttered and went out.

Sal sighed. She felt ancient. The bullet in the dead boar’s neck burned and she had no way to pick it out.

“Well,” she said. “Well. I guess that’s that.”

Yes, ma’am.


The story that got around was a ghost story, so there’s a proper ghost story end to it. They say Rawhead still rides around on the hunter’s horse, and sometimes his head comes off and he holds it up to scare people with. They say he’s still haunting these hills to this day, one more leftover thing from the old days, like the foundations you find in the woods sometimes, or the bits of barbed wire that turned up rusted in the fields.

But it wasn’t like that, not in the end.

Sal and Rawhead walked. They walked clear back to her house, and that was a long and weary way. Rawhead heaved that dead body up on the porch for the last time and laid it down on the boards.

“Well,” said Sal. She didn’t have any regrets about Silas. She was so tired that regret couldn’t get much foothold. It was more like a list in her head, checking off boxes—die, tick, take revenge, tick, come home, tick.

She felt like she was seeing the world from a long way away. Only Rawhead’s voice was clear in her mind, as if he was standing right at her shoulder. “I … I don’t know what to do now.”

Come with me, suggested Rawhead. We’ll go be birds together.

It sounded good to Sal.

They died again, on the porch. Rawhead knew the way. The dead heart, which had beaten so faithfully for so long, shuddered into stillness.

Madeline found the body the next day, and she knew enough about witches to cry over it. But Sal and Rawhead were long gone.

There’s people who say that witches don’t go to heaven. That sort of person acts like they’re in charge of who goes in and out, though, and I don’t know if God holds with that sort of thing. Maybe Sal did, maybe she didn’t. It’s not for me to say.

But me, I like to think that they found themselves curled up warm in an egg together, to sleep and dream of flying.

Ursula Vernon is the author of the Hugo-award winning comic Digger, as well as multiple children’s book series. She writes for adults under the name T. Kingfisher. Her work has won the Nebula, Mythopoeic, Coyotl, and WSFA Awards. She lives in North Carolina. You can find more of her short stories and novels at Tkingfisher.com.


  1. I need to learn not to read Ursula Vernon while I’m at work. Sometimes she makes me laugh, sometimes cry, sometimes both… and none of that’s good when one is sitting at the front of a classroom, on break, and not wanting to explain to a bunch of students.

    Thanks for another beautiful story… (and excuse me while I get the dust from my eye…)

  2. Beautiful and heartwrenching.

  3. I love your witch stories.

  4. Oh, beautiful! Those last few sentences….*melts*

  5. Thank you.

  6. It got awful dusty in here all of a sudden.

  7. That was just lovely. It made me cry.

  8. A gosh-darned good read! You probably already know you’ve got a way with words and I’ll agree, but also that the substance of those words didn’t come easy or neat, and there was probably some hard work involved and enough time to make it right. That’s enough to make it a rare treat but there’s more and it’s your heart in it that shines so bright.

  9. Okay, shedding some tears here. I’m from the Deep South, and I knew something of this one; I like your ending far better than the one in the ballad.

    If ever you want to try your hand at a take on another oddball and ancient (maybe *very* ancient indeed) ballad, look up something called ‘The Rolling of the Stones.’ Very weird, made its way from Europe to the Appalachians and has a flavor of something from the flint days to it.


  1. Who Doesn’t Want a Story about a Witch? | Tiny Cat Pants - […] I knew what was coming. I still cried when we got there. Simply amazing. […]
  2. Weekend Links: January 30, 2016 | SF Bluestocking - […] Apex Magazine, “Razorback” by Ursula Vernon (with accompanying interview with the […]
  3. What I’m Reading – February 5, 2016 – Damien Angelica Walters - […] here are several fantastic short stories I’ve recently read: “Razorback” by Ursula Vernon in Apex Magazine “The Fifth Gable”…
  4. Wednesdays: Razorback by Ursula Vernon | Violin in a Void - […] favourite was ‘Razorback’ by Ursula Vernon, in issue 80 of Apex Magazine. It’s a retelling of a folk story…

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