Ambry Silverstrings and Walkin’ Pete
by Dana Beehr
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6
Ambry started right off with the funniest song she knew, “Whirlwind Thelma and Lightfoot Larry,” and her bow just about danced as she sang the story about the wild mountain woman and the light-hearted rogue gambler. ’Twas one of her favorite songs, for ’twas so comical that every time Ambry played it she could barely keep from laughing herself.
And seemed as she weren’t the only one, for the trees in the cypress ring began to laugh too, or at least to tremble as if they were in a stiff breeze. The water was rippling just like the belly of a fat man or woman, and even the earth under her feet began to shake. And with all that merriment going on, turned out the Witch began to laugh, too!
That gigantic, mountainous figure laughed and howled till she were quivering like river mud, which were what Ambry had been hoping for. But just as Ambry were about to try and make a move, she stopped short, for she were downright kerfluffled by what was happenin’.
As the Witch of the Blue Bayou laughed, she just started breaking apart! Chunks were falling off her and instead of splashing into the water, they vanished and left nothing behind — no bones, muscles, innards, nothing. It was as if her flesh were no more than air, peeling away like pieces of eggshell off a hardboiled egg. And she kept laughing and laughing, and chunks of her kept falling away, until finally the last piece went, and underneath was — and I give you my solemn word ’twas true — a gator!
The gator were about the size of a man or woman, and more ‘n a mite pleasingly plump, as they say. Her scales were brown-tan-green, just like the river water, and her claws and teeth were bright gleaming white. She were rolling and thrashing around, with her tail beating the ground and her body all twisted up, and Ambry lowered her fiddle and stared in surprise.
“Well!” said Ambry. “This certainly weren’t what I were expectin’!” She didn’t know what she rightly had been expecting, but for that monstrous giant to break up and become an alligator surely weren’t it.
At last the gator calmed down and sat up, still wiping tears from her eyes. “By the Triune! I do declare, I haven’t laughed like that in centuries at least! Your song’s done me a power of good all right!” And she flicked another tear with one long claw. “What’d you say yer name was, fiddle-girl?”
“Ambry Silverstrings,” said Ambry. “The Ambry Silverstrings, point o’ fact. And who might you be?” On account of, you see, Ambry wasn’t sure just what she were looking at.
“Witch o’ the Blue Bayou, at your service,” the gator replied. She grinned, and if you haven’t seen a grinning gator, well, it’s quite a sight. Ambry were a mite unnerved at the sight of so many sharp, shiny, pointy teeth. “Why, weren’t you expectin’ me?”
“Well, to be honest, I must say you look... a bit different than you did just now,” Ambry said politely.
“An illusion, child,” said the Witch. “Showin’ people somethin’ as grand as they expect saves me a whole heap o’ trouble and keeps people from wastin’ my time. Same with those two serpents guardin’ the entrance to my tree ring. Did you like them?”
“’Twere most convincin’,” Ambry said, for it were. “I must say, I haven’t never seen anyone do illusions as good as that, not even that flashy magician as came downstream on the River Princess a piece back. With tricks like that, you might have been a stage performer!”
“Well, thank you, child,” the Witch said, and looked mighty pleased with herself.
Ambry frowned now. “Say, I believe you do look somewhat familiar. Not as if I’d met you before, but as if I might ha’ met someone related to you. Do you know the Gator King?”
“The Gator King?” snorted the Witch. “Why, yes, I do and, in fact, he’s my worthless brother. A ne’er-do-well if there ever was one. Oh, don’t worry, Miss Silverstrings, I heard all about your doin’s with him. I must say, you gave that good-for-nothin’ what he deserved. Drinkin’ down the entire river! I never heerd o’ such nonsense. Oh well,” she sighed. “I s’pose there’s one in every family. Didn’t I laugh when I heard he got what was comin’ to him, though!” And she chuckled again at the memory. “So, Miss Silverstrings, what brings you here today? You certainly have taken a lot o’ trouble to see me.”
“Well, ma’am, as I were sayin’, ’twas a friend o’ mine — he goes by the name o’ Pete, or Walkin’ Pete. I met him walkin’ along the river bank not two weeks ago, and he allowed as he’d had a run-in with you. Said he paid a visit to your Bayou a few weeks ago—”
“Yes, I remember now — he were after the gold from the Grasslands War. He weren’t the first and won’t be the last.” And the witch growled in a right ornery way. “I weren’t in the best temper right along then... I had a touch of indigestion, and he weren’t one to put my guts right, that’s for sure.”
“Well,” says Ambry, “accordin’ to him, you put some kind o’ curse on him.”
“A curse?” And here the Witch widened her gleaming yellow eyes and looked surprised. “Oh, yes. Yes, indeed,” she said. “Did he tell you what sort o’ curse?” she asked, looking as smug and pleased with herself as a cat eyeing a tasty mouse.
Well, something about that look were a touch unnerving to Ambry, but she continued on boldly. “Well, ma’am,” she said, “he told me you cursed him to walk up an’ down the Great Serpent River forever an’ ever, so’s he could never rest nor turn aside, but must keep on walkin’ all his days.”
At this, the Witch started chuckling again. “So it worked, did it? Yes, it did.” She looked at Ambry, more serious-like. “I never put no curse on him, little fiddle-girl.”
“You never put no — ” Ambry stopped, looking very surprised. “But he said you did!”
“I made him think I did,” the Witch said. “The most powerful magic of all lies in the mind. I growled an’ howled, an’ made a few big explosions and spit a lot o’ twisted words at him, and he — why he got all scared and believed I’d cursed him, so it’s the same thing, isn’t it?”
Seeing Ambry’s confusion, the Witch o’ the Blue Bayou laughed and laughed, showing all her white, pointy teeth. “Like the serpents, that turned out just to be bobbin’ trees? Or how I looked like a giant at first, and then turned out to be me? Illusion,” she said, sitting back on her tail and looking pleased with herself as a canary. “Illusion can be the greatest weapon there is, little fiddle-girl, and don’t you forget it.”
Ambry was taking all this in, and said slowly, “So you’re tellin’ me that there ain’t no curse on my friend Walkin’ Pete and never was?”
“That’s right,” said the Witch, still chuckling and still looking pleased with herself.
“Well, I’ll be a catfish’s aunt!” Ambry cried. “I told Walkin’ Pete that I’d come here an’ try and get the curse off’n him, but if you never put no curse on him then there’s nothin’ to take off! Now what am I goin’ to do?”
“Well, that shouldn’t be no problem,” said the Witch. “Just go back an’ tell him that there ain’t no curse on him and never was. That should fix him up just fine.”
Then Ambry saw a little golden gleam of hunger in the Witch’s eyes. “If, that is, you live to get out’n here. ’Cause I’ll tell you now, little fiddle-girl, I’m gettin’ a mite hungry, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had somethin’ that looks as tender and tasty as you.”
And here the Witch of the Blue Bayou put out her tongue and licked all around between her teeth and snapped her jaws together like thunder.
At that, Ambry reckoned she’d overstayed her welcome; she swung her little canoe around and paddled out of that there cypress ring just as fast as you please. She paddled and paddled, and she didn’t never stop until she shot right on out of the Bayou into a strong current down the center of the river, and then, seeing as how she were safe, she sat back and took a breather.
“I reckon I ain’t never heerd no such crazy things in all my life!” she cried, for she were still a might amazed at it all. “The curse on Walkin’ Pete not bein’ a curse at all! Who woulda thought? An’ the Witch o’ Blue Bayou bein’ a gator — and sister to the Gator King at that! Well, thunder’n tarnation!”
By and by, Ambry reckoned she needed to get back to Walkin’ Pete, so’s she could tell him what the Witch had said. It were actually making her a sight eager, for she couldn’t wait to see how Pete would take it when she told him. So she turned her little canoe agin the current and started in on her fiddle, so’s she could play herself along. And as she fiddled, she chuckled to herself: “Won’t Walkin’ Pete be surprised!”
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Copyright © 2017 by Dana Beehr