retold by S.E. Schlosser
You know how they say some folks are lucky at cards and some are lucky at love? Well, that fit Bobby Hansen to a ‘T’. He was the best poker player in the county, but somehow he couldn’t find himself a bride. Oh, he proposed to several girls, and even got accepted by a few. But they always got cold feet a day or two before the wedding, and it was bye-bye Bobby.
After the third time, Bobby was mighty discouraged, and his Pa felt real sore for him. They worked together in the family grocery store, and Bobby would sometimes sit on top of the pickle barrel and tell his Pa all his woes. And his Pa told him to hang in there, because a nice lady was on her way. Neither of them believed it, but it made both of them feel better to hear it said. Well, the day after their latest talk, the old woman who poled her barge through the swamp to deliver milk and eggs to the grocery store had a long talk with Bobby’s Pa. Seems she had this daughter who was hankering after a husband with a good steady job, and the old woman thought Bobby would do the job nicely. She suggested they introduce the pair at the next dance, and Bobby’s Pa agreed.
The night of the dance, Bobby’s Pa insisted that his son dress in his best. Bobby was dragging his feet a little, remembering all those women who played him false and not wanting to go, but his Pa dragged him out anyway. Well, the moment Bobby clapped eyes on the dark-eyed, red-lipped girl from the swamp, he was head over heels in love. Her eyes sparkled like the sunlight on the bay. Her skin was as creamy as new milk. Her voice was low and sweet.
The pair cuddled and cooed and waltzed the whole night long, and come sunrise Bobby was all for bringing his new love before the visiting priest who delivered his sermons in the grocery store (since there weren’t no church in that vicinity) and getting married right away. Well the girl was willing to get married, but not by a priest.
“Let’s just go to Beaumont and have the judge marry us,” she said to Bobby, and he was so smitten he agreed, though it would have been quicker and easier to just walk a mile down the road to see the priest.
By the next evening they were wed, and Bobby brought his pretty bride to the nice little cottage he rented just down the road from the family grocery. It had a nice front porch with a swing, a big bedroom on the second floor and a big attic with a window that could be made up into a second guestroom should his new mother-in-law care to visit from her home in the swamp.
After fixing him a nice dinner, Bobby’s new bride sat awhile in the rocking chair near their bed while Bobby yawned and watched her fondly. She cuddled under the blanket and knitted and hummed, and Bobby’s eyes grew heavy. He didn’t wake up until early morning, when his new bride crept into bed all hot and sweaty and fell asleep at once. When he asked her where she’d been, she wouldn’t answer him. Bobby was mighty sore that his bride had snuck out on him on their wedding night, but when she got snappish and her eyes blazed like they did when he questioned her, he grew frightened and backed down.
Life took on an odd pattern for Bobby. During the day, everything was perfect. His wife was sweet and pretty and loving. She kept the house sparkling clean and cooked him wonderful meals. But each night she refused to come to bed after supper. Like their wedding night, she sat up singing and rocking and knitting until he was asleep and did not come to bed til just afore dawn. She was always sweaty and cranky when she came to bed, and went to sleep before Bobby could question her.
Bobby was very confused and upset by this behavior, and finally confided in his Pa one morning after opening up the grocery store. Bobby’s Pa was awful worried. The visiting priest had gone on to his next parish, and there was no one they could consult but the local conjure woman. So he sent Bobby to her with a couple of chickens as a gift.
The conjure woman knew all about hoodoo magic and was an excellent herbalist. Local folks went to her when they were sick, on account of the doctor lived nigh on twenty miles away. When she heard Bobby’s story, she told him to pretend to go to sleep that night and watch what his new bride did. Then he was to come back and tell her everything. Bobby agreed.
The next evening, he pretended to fall asleep while his bride rocked and sang in her chair. Then he followed her up to the attic and watched through the crack in the open door as she sat down at the spinning wheel and spun off her skin, leaving only pulsing red muscles and blue veins. She was a terrifying sight and she sprang through the window and flew away into the night. Bobby ran out to the privy and was sick after he saw her. Who, what was this monster he had married? He was still trembling and in shock when his bride, looking like a normal person again, crept into bed at dawn, and he had trouble behaving normally at breakfast.
As soon as he could get away, Bobby ran to the home of the conjure woman and told her about the spinning wheel and the terrible skinless creature who flew away from his attic. “A boo-hag,” the conjure woman said at once. “You’ve married a boo-hag.”
“What’s a boo-hag?” asked Bobby. “A Boo Hag is a witch and a shape-shifter,” said the conjure woman. “She lures men into her trap and then delivers them to her Boo-Daddy, who eats their flesh and gnaws their bones. And that’s what she’ll do to you if you don’t get rid of her first.”
The conjure woman told Bobby to get himself some blue paint. As soon as the boo-hag left the house that night, he was to spread blue paint on every window frame and every door frame and make sure it was two coats thick. A boo-hag couldn’t fly through a window or door that was painted blue. And if she didn’t get back into her skin before dawn, she would be trapped without it, and be revealed for the monster she was. So he was to leave one tiny window unpainted, and keep it open a sliver so the boo-hag could squeeze through. Then he was to fill up her skin with salt and pepper, which would burn her up from the inside out. And Bobby promised to do exactly as the conjure woman said.
That night, Bobby lingered over his dinner, looking with sad eyes at the pretty woman sitting opposite him. He knew she was really a monster inside, but it was so nice to have a little wife in his home. He hated like anything to see her go. But he didn’t want to get eaten by a Boo-Daddy, and that was his fate if she stayed. So he went up to their bedroom and pretended to fall asleep while she rocked and sang and knitted. Then he followed her quietly upstairs and put salt and pepper into her skin after her ugly red-muscled blue-veined figure had flown out the window to her Boo-Daddy. He spent the rest of the night painting over every door and window frame with blue paint, leaving only one small unpainted window open in the cellar. He nailed it up so that it would open no further than a crack, just as the conjure woman instructed him. Then he hid himself behind a large chest of drawers up in the attic to wait for the boo-hag.
Just before dawn, the boo-hag came flying up to the attic window. As soon as she touched the blue frame, she gave a shriek of pain and rage. Bobby listened as she flew around the house, testing each window and door and howling like a banshee when it burned her skinless hands. Then she found the little window in the cellar, and he heard the thump as she landed beside it, followed by a painful whimpering sound as she squeezed and squeezed herself through the narrow opening, her skinless red muscles and blue veins tearing painfully against the rough wood.
The boo-hag ran up three flights of stairs into the attic and squeezed and squeezed into her skin as fast as she could. She just barely got it on when the first light of dawn shone over the horizon. And that was when the salt and pepper did their work, burning the boo-hags body from the inside out. With a scream of agony, she flung herself out the attic window. The glass shattered everywhere as she tried to fly away, tearing at the skin to get it off. But it was too late. She exploded into tiny pieces right over the swamp, and the alligators had them a mighty feast of cooked boo-hag for breakfast that morning.
So Bobby was once again without a wife. But bachelorhood looked much better to him after that, and he never went looking for a wife again. ‘Course, after he made a pile of money in oil, the girls started chasing him. But that’s another story!
You can read more North Carolina ghost stories in Spooky North Carolina by S.E. Schlosser.