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SOUTHERN-FRIED FAIRY TALES by Billy Alfred Friedel Fuldner Smith Yup yup.

Contents Prissy and the Grit The Frog who would be Prince 7 The Night Darcy Brown Found a Goober in his Drawers 18 Three Little Big Pigs 26 A Dream of Okra with the Great Big Hair 29

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Prissy and the Grit Now this all happened way back when, back when Coca-Cola was dope and all the dope fiends hung out at the beauty parlor. Back then there was this girl living hereabouts who got herself engaged to a feller from New York City. He come down here on some kind of government grant to study the ways of the hillfolks, and it didn’t take him too awful long to settle in just like he was to the half-moon house born his own self. Had some kin blood in him somewheres, I reckon. Anyhow, he met Pristeen at a chili fixin over at Mount Hope Baptist, and next thing anybody knew them two was hitched up good and proper. Them hill girls can do that to a feller, just you watch and see. Well, he took Prissy back up to New York with him, and she wasn’t there long at all afore she got right homesick.She wrote her mum all kinds of awful stuff about life in the big town; the crowds and the noise and the food was like nothing she’d ever seen nor heard nor ate in her life, nor woulda if she had her way. They made donuts out of bread up there tough as cowhide and then slopped meat, cheese, and for gosh sakes onions in them, didn’t even bother picking the seeds out of sourdough, and slathered everything with great big gobs of sour cabbage. Worser than any of that though, was there wasn’t no grits nowhere. She could handle the rest of it, no matter how bad, if only she could arrange to get her morning grits. Now her Ma was sore clear down to her heartbone to hear her little girl was suffering so, and she reckoned she was getting those grits to her if she had to send them up the coast by submarine. She got together with her quilting and gossip circle, and in just a couple of days there they had six great big old quilts just stuffed full of grits and ready to go. That’s right, stuffed. See, Priss had done said in one of her letters as to how anytime she asked for grits, no matter whether she was in a fancy restaurant or the

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lunch counter at the five and dime, folks would all give her the hairy eyeball and scooch about as far away from her as they could get, trying to pretend like maybe she wasn’t there. Why, one waitress even asked her was she sure they were legal, and of course Prissy wasn’t, so that’s why the girls decided they’d best sneak them grits up north to her inside them quilts. They ain’t no knowing what kind of idiot rules there might be about food in a place where folks eat clabber for ice cream. So then the ladies went looking for a way to send them quilts that wouldn’t look too suspicious. It so come out that Prissy’s Aunt Taylor was engaged to a truck driving man handled C.B. out of Kansas, and he was set to make a trip up New York way with a great big chunk of Georgia boulder what some millionaire name of Grump or Gump or Tramp or something had bought for his new wife he got from down here. Just a little piece of home for her to wrap a driveway around. Anyway, this feller wanted that rock treated extra nice, and he was paying good for it, so they loaded that thing up on C.B.’s trailer with big old temple ropes from Japan instead of chains, and they put so much padding around it that a small twister got sucked up in it and lost. And of course stuck away on a small ledge about halfway up was them six quilts, packed full of grits and ready to move. The plan was for C.B. to drop off the rock and then, just as a personal favor to Aunt Taylor, to make a swing by Prissy’s and deliver the quilts all surprisy-like. That was the plan anyway, and it went off just fine all the way to Baltimore, where C.B. met this cute little truck stop girl who hadn’t never in her life slept on a genuine Georgia mountain before. C.B. allowed as to how there wasn’t no finer sleeping to be had nowhere, what with the owls all hooty and the wind all piney, so they yanked on their climbing gear and up they went. They must have made pretty good time, really, because they were almost halfway up when they pitched camp that evening. There would have been some mighty fine sleeping going on too, if C.B. hadn’ta lit on the idea of laying them quilts on the tent floor to try to soften that Georgia granite a bit. As it was, the two of them slept just fine up until maybe a little after midnight when they both heard a whole bunch of somethings

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scratching around in the tent and ripping their mattress out from under them. C.B. grabbed him up the flashlight, and there the two of them was looking up the backsides of a family of skunks. Now, usually when you see the backside of a skunk, it’s high time for you to be somewhere else. But when the skunk is between you and the door, it’s time for a new door. And when there’s a whole family, Ma and Pa Polecat and the year’s litter too, you might as well just give up and move the house. That’s what C.B. and that girl tried to do, just ripped that tent up out of the ground and run off with tarp and ropes and pegs and quilts and grits just flapping all around them every which a way. Well sir, that didn’t work too terribly good, because for one thing they soon found themselves all wrapped up in the tent and for another that tarp and everything else had done been wetted down right good with skunk spray. So by the time they rolled all the way down that rock and dropped down onto the parking lot, not only was they bruised and banged up considerable, they had a stink on them so bad as to bite anybody who got closer than the county line. When the police got there, C.B. found out he was in a heap of law trouble on top of everything else. Seems there was a law against transporting unregistered vermin, which was what them skunks were. It wasn’t all that big a deal really, just a fine, but it was going to end up costing C.B. everything this trip was worth and then some. And then there was the matter of this great big stinking old whatever it was on the back of his trailer. Just what in Our Sainted Mother’s bloomers was it anyway, the policeman wanted to know, hollering halfway across the parking lot. C.B. was maybe a little crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew right good that if they had laws up here against unregistered Southern vermin, like there was any other kind, they’d probably lock him away under the jailhouse was he to tell them outright he was moving a big chunk of Georgia up into New York. Why, they might think it was part of a rebel plot to move everything under the Mason-Dixon line north one piece at a time. So he needed to think up something pretty quick, and knowing that non-perishable food items are almost always legal, he came up with the most persistently non-perishable

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thing this side of a Bit-O-Honey he could think of. “It’s a grit!” he yelled back. “A grit?” says the cop, scratching up behind his ears. “Yeah,” says C.B. “A grit, a real southern delicacy. Ain’t you never heard of grits?” Well, of course he’d heard of them, sure and begotten, he just hadn’t never actually seen one before. Still, so far as he could recollect, there wasn’t no law said a feller couldn’t haul one on a truck if he’d a mind to. “Well, where are you going with it?” he asked C.B., moving in a little closer now that the wind had shifted some. “Taking it up to New York,” C.B. tells him. “Some rich feller up there bought it for his wife. Reckon he must be planning to keep her in the kitchen a while.” They both had them a good laugh over that one, and then the fire department showed up to wash off C.B. and the girl. The washing helped a little, maybe, but not much. The two of them were still fairly ripe, and it was sort of decided all around that maybe it would just be better for everybody concerned was they to get the truck out onto the highway with all the windows open so as everything could get a good airing-out, and let’s just forget about the fine and having to go to City Hall and all that.Which is what they did, got in the truck and hauled out of Baltimore before anybody had time to change the old noggin. They did make the newspapers though, which plumb mortified Aunt Taylor when she heard about it. She put an end to the engagement right then and there, and sent word up through the truckers’ grapevine that C.B. had best not let nothing but his mudflaps be seen this side of the Smokies. But that’s another story. Well, C.B. and the girl got to New York all right, but they still stunk ten miles against the wind. When they finally come to that millionaire’s house, he got one whuff of the aroma coming off that rock and declared that he didn’t care how much it cost him, nothing that stank like that was going in his yard, no sir and thank you, but just take it on out of here. He signed the boulder over to C.B., just taking a copy of the forms for his taxes, but of course C.B. didn’t have no use for the thing. Far as he was concerned it was just a worthless hunk of Georgia. He couldn’t take it back home, uh-uh, not with Aunt Taylor and half of everybody who ever ate possum out looking for him.

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So that’s how Prissy ended up with the biggest chunk of new real estate had been seen in New York since the Great Bead Swap, sitting there right off the end of the pier at Coney Island, and it made her one mighty rich girl. She runs a bed and breakfast up there now, complete with a busy little diner called Pristeen’s Grit Shack, sort of a downhomey theme, with C.B. and his truck stop wife there to look after things. And of course they cook up their grits New York style, with some of the godawfullest stinkinest cheese, you could grow mushrooms on it. But it takes Prissy’s own special blend of all them cheeses to get it to taste like that first batch did, the grits that came out of those quilts after the skunk juice got baked in. Folks up there just went crazy for them, don’t ask me why, but what can you expect of people who got special forks to eat snails with anyway?

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The Frog Who Would Be Prince

This all happened way back when, before Elvis started putting on weight. Back then, there was a county judge who had three daughters. There was the eldest, Olivia, who was as skinny and bony a thing as ever you saw, always and forever on some new diet or other. There was the middle daughter, Netta, who was maybe a little bigger than she should’ve been. You know how some girls wear their jeans so tight folks say they must had to been poured into them? Well, Netta wore hers like that, only more like she’d been put in with a piledriver and shoehorn. And then there was the youngest daughter, Princess she was called. She was as pretty a little blond-haired s’urn girl as ever was, and that’s all there is to say about that. Now all these girls had done reached marrying age; in fact, Olivia and Netta were past it and still unclaimed, without much in the way of prospects. Princess, on the other hand, had herself plenty of prospects. Hey, she had boys hanging around the house day and night, calling to her from behind the trees and out in the hills like a whole flock of lonesome whipporwills. But our Princess, she didn’t care nothing for marrying. She would just as soon live in the big house all her life and play games in the garden with her sisters, while the three of them kept their sweet little thumbs knuckle-deep into everything that went on in the county by getting their father elected to Congress. Not that Princess was entirely immune to boys, mind. She had her heart set on a feller all right, only he wasn’t nobody local. No sir, the only one for her was the Man hisself, the King, Mr. Elvis double-Aron Presley. She had every last one of his records to date, she had her bedroom wallpapered with his pictures and movie posters, and she had a little shrine on her dressertop complete with one of the very leis the King wore in Blue Hawaii and a real actual G string he once busted onstage. She was crazy for that man, she was, and there wasn’t a boy up or down the muddy Mississippi could measure

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up to him in her eyes. So what if he was married already? There was still lots more Elvis to go around. Anyways, as mentioned aforehand, there was a garden in back of the big house, and being as how it was enclosed with a wall inside of which a very large dog of the half German Shepherd and half silverback grizzly variety kept watch, it was the one place outside the house where Princess could play shut of them hormonically challenged local spudpuppies. So it was in the garden that she and her sisters were playing one fine day, the older two tossing back and forth a genuine gold-plated 45 of “All Shook Up,” trying to keep it away from Princess and the dog, whose name, by the way, was Elmer. There they were, just sailing that record back and forth and cutting up and giggling the way girls do, and what do you think happened but that Olivia up and shot that record right past Princess and into the bottom side of a roof over an old stone well. It banged off the roof and rolled around the rim of the bucket, then teetered for a second as Netta made a grab for it and missed, knocking it off the bucket, and then down it went, clattering off the walls all the way down to the water. Princess let out such a squeal as you’d think she’d fallen down in that cold slimy water herself. “What?” shot back Olivia, and got that nanabooboo thing in her voice. “Is there some problem, Miss Princess?” “Yeah, what’s with ee-you?” asked Netta over a cocked-up shoulder with her eyebrows raised funny. “But, that was my record,” blubbered Princess. “It was my gold 45 of “All Shook Up,” and it’s the only one I got.” “Well, you can always ask Daddy for another one,” said Olivia. “You know he always gets his little Princessy everything she wants.” “Yeah,” agreed Netta. “And besides, it never would a gone down there if you’d a caught it like you was supposed to.” By this time Princess had run up to the well and looked in, but there was nothing to see down there but worn stone walls and shadows, with just a glimmer of something she couldn’t tell was it water or gold way way down. She screeched and banged her

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little fists on the stones, then stepped back and gave that well such a kick as near about broke her toes. Olivia and Netta were just howling by then, with that fool Netta bouncing on the lawn like Jello in a earthquake. Just then, Princess heard a tiny little voice peep out from underneath a patch of azalea bushes. It was such a teeny tiny little voice that she might’ve missed it altogether but she had her ears blowed out from sniffling. “Perhaps, maybe, I could help, possibly, perhaps,” peeped that wee bitty voice. “Say what?” asked Princess, looking all around her every whichaway. “Who said that?” “It- it was only me,” said the itty bitty voice, adding, “I, uh, I didn’t really mean anything by it. I was just offering to help, sorta, if you wouldn’t mind too terribly.” This time Princess was definitely able to locate the voice, and she had no doubt it was coming from somewhere inside those bushes. “I could go down and get your record back,” the voice continued. “That is, I mean, if you’d let me.” Now Princess wasn’t about to let her sisters see her talking to no bush, uh-uh, especially when they was already fit to bust their guts from laughing. So she throwed herself down on the ground and took to beating the dirt and wailing and kicking like she was having a conniption, and all the while she was ooching herself over closer to them bushes, ooch by ooch. Her sisters even held up their happies for a moment, thinking maybe they had done pushed her just a bit too far this time. That was when Princess tightened up her fists and shoulders, took a long, deep, rattling, sobby breath, and screamed bloody murder, such a scream as scared the little jimmy dickens out of those other two and sent them running into the house to hide from the judge, in case he should hear all the fuss and come out looking. Once she was alone with the voice, Princess sat up and brushed herself off, then asked it could it really get her record back. “Oh, I’d be so happy to,” said the voice under the bush. “I know how to get into the spring that feeds the well, and I could easy swim down there and bring it back up, if you wouldn’t mind, that is.” “Course I wouldn’t mind,” Princess sniffed. “Why, I’d be ever so pleased, I’d do

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just about anything to show my gratitude.” And she made her eyes all big and round and soft the way she did when she wanted to get something out of the judge. “You would?” squeaked the voice. Just about then Elmer came over and stuck his nose under the bush, snuffling and snorting and making all kinds of a general fuss. Princess grabbed his collar and dragged him off, then tied him to the handrail on the back stairs. When she got back, whatever it was under the bush that she’d been talking to was nowhere to be found, even though she turned over every last leaf looking for it. “Well, dang that stupid dog!” said Princess, standing there with her hands on her hips and giving the ground one last good lookover. “I guess I won’t never get my genuine gold record back now.” “I’m over hyyerre!” came that itsy little voice again, and this time it was coming from behind her, out from under a pile of rocks up against the well. “Oh, so that’s where you got off to,” Princess said as she stepped up and hunkered down next to the rockpile. “Why don’t you come out where I can see you?” she asked real nice. “I got old Elmer tied up so’s you needn’t worry about him.” “Waaill, okay, I guess, if you say so,” said the voice, and then out from under them rocks came just about the biggest bullfrog anybody ever laid eyes on. I mean, this frog was big; he would’ve made more than a mouthful even for Elmer and put up a heck of a good fight first, he was that big. Princess near about jumped out of her freckles when she seen him, but then this frog had been talking to her, so she was already kind of primed for something different. And so there they were face to face, Princess and the bullfrog, and now what do you reckon that frog said first thing to her? “Right pleased to make your acquaintance, miss,” he might’ve said, but he didn’t. Or maybe just a pleasant “Pleased to meet you,” but no. That nasty old frog raised up on his front legs and stuck his chin way up and said to that poor little distressed girl who only wanted her record back, “Gimme a great big kiss,” that’s what he said. I ain’t lying. Princess like to died right then and there, but she held her wits together enough to drop down her eyelids a bit and give that frog such a look as should’ve dried him up

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on the spot. “You have got to be kidding,” she said, her voice dead level and downright disdainful. The frog swallowed real hard and looked plumb discomfortable. “Well, I just, you know, I thought you said you’d give anything to get your record back, and that’s all I wants is just a kiss, a really good one I can go back and tell all my friends about.” “You’re gonna tell your friends?!” Princess fairly screeched. Now, if a frog can actually duck his head down between his shoulders, that’s what this one did. “Well, I mean, they’re just frogs, you know.” “Oh,” says Princess. She had to think about this. After all, this frog here, weird as he was, might be the only chance she had to get her gold 45 back. And wouldn’t it be something to come skipping back into the house with it right in front of her two snitty sisters? Besides, this was one special frog all right, but there wasn’t no way she was kissing him no matter what, so there. “Tell you what,” Princess said sweet as sugar nips. “If you get me my record back, then I’ll give you a kiss. But only one, and you gotta promise never to ask for no more.” That frog wasn’t as stupid as he looked. He cocked his head sideways for a minute there, just looking at her like he was trying to figure out what she might be up to, then he nodded his head a couple of times. “Oooo, that sounds gooood,” he oozed, his voice not so squeaky now. “Only one thing, though. If I bring you back your record, and you still don’t kiss me, then I get to spend three nights with you. In your bed. Deal?” Princess shrugged. “Deal,” she said, and spit in her hands to seal it. She knew good and well he was not getting that kiss, and there was no way come hounds or high water the judge was gonna let anybody, much less some frog however smart he was, spend even one night in her bed, uh-uh. So why not? Well sir, that frog climbed up them rocks and jumped him down into that well, and the instant he splashed into the water Princess run up to the house and unsnapped Elmer’s leash, then back she went. Maybe a minute or two later here come that frog out from under the rocks with her gold record clamped in his mouth. She reached down and

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snatched that record up, and what do you know but that frog came with it. She tried shaking him off, she tried pulling him off, she even banged him against the well a couple of times, but that frog had some powerful jaws on him and he wasn’t letting go. Finally she set him down on the rim of the well, got down on her knees so as to get eye to eye with him, and asked him just what in the jimdandy was it he wanted. And that slimy old frog, still holding the record tight in his jaws, winked, puckered up his lips at her and made this sloppy wet smacking sound. Twice. Princess screwed up her face something awful, but then she rolled her eyes and sighed and nodded her head all agreeable-like, like she was actually going to do it, gonna kiss that frog. So she reached up and took a hold of that record, then leaned close with her eyes almost shut and stuck her lips out as far as they would go, but the moment that frog loosened up his hold the least bit she snatched the record away, jumped back, and yelled “Elllmmerr!” loud enough to put shame to a banshee. That had to be the most disappointed frog ever. His jaw dropped down between his knees and he looked for all the world like his last bone had turned to mush. Then he saw that dog come bounding across the yard like a hairy thundercloud with teeth, and his eyes got as big around and white as two peeled taters, and he done him the finest backflip one and a half double gainer you ever did see, off the rim and smack down the middle of that wellhole until kasplash! Into the water he went. Princess bent over the well and looked long and hard, but the most she could make out was the shadows of some ripples waving on the round walls, and that was quite enough, thank you. “Well, old Fudd,” said she, giving the dog’s slobbery jowls a shake, “I reckon that’s the last we’re gone see of that nasty old toad, huh?” She was wrong, of course. That very evening, as the three sisters and the judge were setting to their dinner, come a wee little voice singing at the front door: Princess dear, do open the door, it’s chilly out here on this stone cold floor. I bumped up the steps til my bottom is sore

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to ask for what’s mine, and not never no more. The judge, who was in the process of saying grace, looked up from his plate and just as calm as a storm in the next county asked “What is that?” The judge, you see, held as a general rule that one never raised one’s voice, for the simple reason that there was no one no where on this whole round world worth raising one’s voice to. Princess sat there a moment, looking down at her plate with her lower lip between her teeth, until the judge said, “Princess, you know we don’t leave people waiting at the door in this house.” “I know, Daddy,” she replied with an offhanded shrug. “But it’s probably just that frog I met this afternoon.” “Ah,” said the judge. “A frog.” Olivia and Netta were looking funny at each other now, both wondering if maybe their little game this afternoon had done drove their poor little sister wobbly. Then there came a sound of something slapping at the door, and again that wee little voice. Three nights with you, that’s what I’m paid up for. Three nights with you, and I’ll be round no more. “Paid up?” asked the judge just as cool. “Well, see, my record, my gold one, you know,” Princess began, twirling her hair and looking all wronged and misunderstood, and the judge nodded patiently. “It fell down the well, and this frog, he got it out for me, but first he made me promise to kiss him, like I would, and then. . .” “Kiss a frog? Oooeee!” squealed Netta, throwing up her hands and jumping around like something on her plate had growed wings and spit at her. “Kiss whut?” yelped Olivia, leaning halfway across the table. “Girl, you cain’t be

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kissing no frog! You got any idea what they do with their tongues?” “Hush, the both of you,” said the judge in his courthouse voice. “We will have some semblance of order here.” The elder sisters set back down and went to smirking and cutting their eyes this way and that, but the judge ignored them and turned to Princess. “Now, my dear, about this frog?” “But, Daddy, he was so tacky!” Princess fussed. “Soon as I had my record back, I sicced Elmer on him. And it served him right too, the way he carried on.” “Ah,” said the judge. He deliberated a moment, and then some. Then he nodded his head real thoughtful, and pondered a bit. “I take it, however,” he began, after careful considering, “that there was some provision made regarding measures to be taken should you renege on your promise?” Upon which Princess reared back and blinked her eyes a few times, confused. “The three nights, being paid up?” the judge quizzed. “Oh,” Princess said, adding, “Oh my.” The judge turned to Olivia. “Do go and open the door for our guest,” he told her, and up she got, almost making it to the dining room door before she busted out laughing. “A nasty old bug sucky frog!” she whooped. And at this Netta had to run for the hallway herself, from which for the next minute or so came such a howl of giggles, with them two scritching and sliding down the walls and rolling on the floor, as was probably just this side of toxic. “So,” the judge said to Princess, setting a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “You agreed to allow this, umm, frog person to spend three nights here?” Princess nodded. “In your bed?” “Ah,” the judge said. “Do you have to be in the aforesaid bed at the time?” Now, you got to give the girl credit. Her head might’ve been empty as a bad luck horseshoe, but she didn’t lie to her Pappy. Fact is, I don’t think that man ever heard a lie in his life. Just one look from him, and even the most hardest type criminals went to confession. She just nodded her head, enough as to say she reckoned maybe it was so. Just then the front door creaked open, and a fresh fit of foolishness blew up from

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the foyer. “Why, froggy’s come acourtin’!” yelped Olivia, and then here come that frog waddling into the dining room, with Olivia and Netta behind him in the hall with their teeth in their arms and snorting like horses. The judge and that frog regarded each other for a very long moment indeed. At last the judge set down his fork and turned sidewise in his chair. “One would think,” he began in his best across the bench voice, “you would at least have the decency to bring pajamas for a sleepover.” That frog didn’t even blink, just sat there like he was some sort of doorstop. “Ah, said the judge, making a little roof of his fingers and staring through them for a minute. Then he leaned forward, his hands on his legs. “You are aware, are you not, that my daughter as a minor is not legally liable to honor a contract, especially one entered into under a state of emotional duress?” That frog just shrugged like all that big talk didn’t impress him in the least. Princess, however, sat back up in her chair and snooted her nose at him like she’d smelled something unmentionable. “Of course,” the judge continued, “Princess, as my daughter, is very much aware of the supreme importance I place upon the necessity of keeping one’s promises. To further impress that upon her, therefore, it is the judgment of this court, for so I consider our little gathering, that she must hold up her end of this sordid little bargain. She must either kiss this frog person, hereupon entered into the record as plaintiff. . . By the way, how should one refer to you?” Princess’s face near about dropped into her plate, she was that put out. The frog, with a sly little sneer and a wink, spoke up now in a breathy sort of voice that simpered and sniggered at the same time. “Well, I was at one time very well known as Prince, but that was evolutions ago and quite another person entirely. My name now is, well, I’ve really gone beyond having a name. What I am is quite unpronounceable, and I’m afraid there’s just no way the court could enter it into the record. You’d need a whole new alphabet.” “Ah.” The judge thought about this for a moment, sucking at a hollow tooth like he

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was sipping hot soup up a straw, then declared his earlier judgment in favor of the plaintiff null and void. “For,” he continued, “if there is no means of identifying the plaintiff, the court can in no wise be certain exactly who is receiving the award. Any old frog could walk in here claiming to be you and sleep with my daughter,is that not so?” “Technicality!” yelled the frog formerly known as Prince. “It will never hold up on appeal. None of my frog friends could claim to be me, for the simple reason that none of them can speak. So there!” “Ah,” said the judge with a sly wink to his daughter. “But how does the court know that?” At the frog’s confused look, he explained: “One cannot prove a negative, sir.” Oh, but that frog was some kind of furious. He blustered, he gnashed his gums, he stomped his little webbed feet, he rolled on the floor and waved his legs in the air, and then he started sucking up real deep breaths and holding them, swelling up bigger and bigger until his eyes were all red and popped out and his skin starting to curl off his bones. And then, kabang! That nasty old thing blew up into about a million pieces going all over. “Oh yuck!” yelped Olivia and Netta, thoroughly slimed. “Daddy!” squealed Princess, and wiped the stuff out of her eyes and there, in the middle of the floor, right where that frog was before, was just the cutest little feller she’d ever seen, wearing nothing but his jockeys and a simple stud earring. Immediately she saw him Princess’s cold cold heart set fire, and she knew that even if he wasn’t the King he was a Prince, and that was a start. Now this young man had done set his heart on Princess a long time before. In fact, that was why he’d got him a witch to turn him into a frog in the first place, so’s he could get into the garden and trick his way into Princess’s bed. The plan was that he would change back into his real self that first night, of course, only the old witch wasn’t no match for the judge’s sharp legal mind. Anyway, the slime got cleaned up, and Princess and her young feller was married soon after. They lived right nice as man and wife, except for sometimes now and again when he missed the simple joys of his former amphibivalous ways. But

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Princess would just cook him up a mess of grits and crickets, and that fixed him up right quick.

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The Night Darcy Brown Found a Goober in His Drawers Now this all happened way back when, in the days when bootleggers and bank robbers were all the role models a growing boy needed. Back then there was a young feller in these parts name of Darcy Brown, and he was strapping big, tall and lanky and loose as a willow tree. He was likeable enough, though; had a heart on him that stretched from sun-up to midnight and filled all the sky inbetween. Couldn’t nobody say nothing bad about Darcy, nor would anybody ever have wanted to, he was just that nice. And work, hooee! he could work. He could wear through a pair of new denims in just one day, he worked so hard. He was prime number-one grade A good old boy, and everybody knew it. So when he come of age and got to looking round at the girls, it wasn’t terrible long before he found one looking back. She was a sweet little thing named Sadie Doogle, one of them farm-raised Doogles from down Terrapin way, just as cute as the first bloom off a crabapple. She turned up one wild night down at the Smokehouse, a night when the fiddles caught fire and whirled up devils of sawdust. She had sassy red hair that flew all over, and she could dance any ordinary man into a puddle of bony mash. Darcy Brown wasn’t no way ordinary, but still he got one look at that girl and knew he was in a mess of trouble. Now Sadie took a liking to Darcy right off too, no problem there. Trouble was, she’d come to the fiddling that night with another boy, a bit of a fancy pants known abouts as Buzz Booker. Buzz was come down to the holler for a bit of slumming from his own stomping grounds over by Nobby Hill, where he’d done spent a whole lot of money getting Sadie dressed and trained up proper to take home to his folks. He only agreed to come to the Smokehouse that night because he figured that once Sadie had her chance to compare him to the local boys, why then she’d see what a good catch he was and forget all her backwoods ways. That was his plan anyway, but it all fell apart when she got her a gander at Darcy doing his jig to the old Wildwood Flower. A few

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shots of strawberry moonshine, and Buzz Booker and all his nobs might as well of been on the moon’s behind end for all she cared. Next thing he knew, Sadie and Darcy was dancing themselves a cozy little corner in the middle of the room. Anybody with a half a pair of eyeballs could see from the gitgo that them two were right for each other, and the Good Lord Harry help anyone who got in their way. But that Buzz had a bit of a blind spot, and he was bounden and determined that if nothing else that girl was going home with him that night. So he bided his time, waiting along the wall until Darcy went off for a minute, then he reminded Sadie who her dad was expecting to be bringing her home. Sadie just laughed and allowed as to how her pa had probably drunk hisself to sleep already, and even if he hadn’t he wouldn’t remember who all she left the house with. Well now, that shot that rich boy down in a mighty bad way, and he was fit to get even somehow or other. The night went on, wild as all get-out, with Darcy and Sadie both of them just agettin it while Buzz sulked at a back table with a bag of roasted peanuts for company. Everybody was either dancing or watching Sadie and Darcy, and even them that was dancing circled around them two like haloes on a foxfire. Darcy had done took his shirt off, he was that hot, and sweat was still rolling off him. He was wearing one of those sleeveless undershirts, and let me tell you all the women in that place had their eyes on him. So did Buzz, and finally once when Darcy got turned with his back to him, Buzz saw his chance. See, there wasn’t much at all Buzz was good for, but he did have him a talent: the man coud flip peanuts off his thumb and catch them in his mouth or land them just about anywhere he wanted. That he was mighty good at. Well, when Darcy got to dancing so wild with his back turned to Buzz, his shirt rode up and his pants slid down, and that rich boy found hisself looking at a buttcrack that just begged for somebody with his particular gift to come along and pop something into it. Yessir, Darcy bounced this a way and Darcy bounced that a way, but pretty soon Buzz had the rhythm of it, and he set him a peanut down on his thumbnail, holding it out till everybody had seen him, and then, with a slight leading of his target, he shot it up in the air ever so pretty and it

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dropped just as nice as you please smack down into the dark between Darcy’s cheeks. Well sir, that just broke everybody up. The music stopped dead as the band fell apart all over the stage, and everybody was either rolling on the floor or grabbing at tables to keep upright. Everybody, that is, except Darcy, who had no idea what was going on but could see they were all laughing and pointing at him. Even Sadie, who had done a dosie-do around to his side when Buzz let loose, was sprawled all over a rail across the front of the stage, screeching like a bobcat with ticklebugs. And poor Darcy just standing there with his mouth open and his eyes all confused just made them laugh that much harder, and try as they might couldn’t nobody stop long enough to tell him nothing. The upshot of it all being that Darcy slowly backed out the door, and then ran for his truck and flew down Old Sawmill Road like half the furies in hell was on him already and the other half closing fast. And of course everyone back at the Smokehouse was still howling, the last thing they saw of him being them big round scared eyes slipping back in the shadows behind the door. Darcy got home, still shaking and sweaty, and took to hisself a bottle of corn hooch and swallowed durn near a third of it in one big slug, then figgered to crawl into bed with the rest and drink his way to sleep. It was in the process of getting undressed that he found the peanut in his drawers, and it didn’t take him but just a moment then to cipher out what all the fuss back at the Smokehouse was about. He climbed back into his truck, the shine by now rattling away in his head, cranked it up, and was well out of the state by morning, rolling along the interstate headed for sunny California. The truck finally give out somewhere around Bakersfield, and Darcy sold it to a junkyard for just enough money to put him up in a fancy hotel for a couple of days. Now when the hotel manager saw Darcy moping around the poolside in his raggedy old jeans, he took a notion to throw him out, sending one of his security men down to do the deed. Darcy still had enough whiskey and heartache in him to pick that feller up and give him a good dunking, then chase him out of the water and clear across the parking lot. There was a whole mess of rich folks around the pool, and when they saw how Darcy run that boy off they took a shine to him right away. One good old boy in

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particular took Darcy downtown, dressed him up in some right spiffy clothes, greased up his hair, and took him up along the coat to work on his yachtboat. Darcy liked working on the boat just fine, especially when his boss held these wild parties and all Darcy had to do to make big money was just stand around and look mean. And he liked too going out to sea, where they’d stop sometimes at islands and places so pretty his big old heart would swell up just looking at them. But all good things got to come to an end, and one day out in the Gulf a hurricane swamped the boat, and Darcy woke up from a hard night to find hisself adrift in the wide open sea with nothing but a plank and a hangover. He washed up on a tiny island with plenty of wild game and fruit and fresh water, and was a year or two living the life of Riley there all by his lonesome. It was in the first year, maybe four or five months after he washed up, that Darcy found the old ship slumped over on its side just under the water in a lagoon. It was all full up with gold coins and gaudy jewels and all kinds of silverware and whatnot, enough that it kept Darcy busy for a season or two just hauling it all up on the beach, fighting off sharks and big old eels, like they had some use for it. Anyways, when finally a ship came along and picked him off the island, he brought just enough of the treasure with him to buy a boat and go back after the rest. With all his newfound money, he bought hisself his own yachtboat and went to sailing from here to there, country after country, learning the ways of country folks all over. It wasn’t too long either before he married him a right pretty girl and they had them some right pretty kids. And all the while Darcy was putting all his extra money in the stock market, letting it grow more money just like he’d put it in the ground with a load of fertilizer. Then one day this slick feller came to him with a plan to take some of that money and make a movie about his days on the island, and Darcy thought that sounded like a right nice notion. So that old boy went out and hired up a mess of writers and directors and caterers and actors and special effects people, and pretty soon they ran through all Darcy’s set aside money like chiggers through old underdrawers, and still didn’t have no movie to show for it. Next thing that happened was that the bottom fell out of all Darcy’s stocks when his broker bet it all on some newfangled washable paper

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hankies what never quite caught on. So there Darcy was, just as broke as when he first left home--well heck, even broker, seeing as how he didn’t have no truck to sell this time. He still had his family though, that is, until his wife’s father hired a dandy smooth lawyer who not only got her the fastest divorce in all Mexico, but also got everything else Darcy had clear down to his dog plus custody plus a minor fortune in alimony. So Darcy did the onliest thing he could do: he got in touch with an oil baron friend of his in Arabia and took a job as the sheik’s bodyguard. It didn’t pay much, but it got him out to where even that lawyer couldn’t get at him. Things went just fine for a couple of years there. Darcy worked his way up through the ranks and the harem to become one of the sheik’s trusted lieutenants, lording it over a company of soldiers whose job it was to ride the fences around the sheik’s oil fields and fight off the neighbors. Darcy and his troops lots of times found themselves facing overwhelming odds as the whooping sons of the desert came crashing over the dunes, their scimitars just a-blazin, but his boys always came out bloodied and triumphant. Until one day, that is, when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a thousand yodeling banshees rising up out of the very sand itself. Darcy’s entire squad was slayed to a man right there on the spot, all except Darcy, who put up such a scrap as to win over the hard hearts of his foes. They took him prisoner and dragged him off to their sultan’s palace, where they threw him into a dungeon and left him to rot. Lying there bleeding from his wounds and with rats snatching nibbles from his toes, Darcy overheard some of his guards talking about a plan the sultan had to attack his rebellious sheik’s palace with a huge army. With Darcy out of the way, there was a much better chance of routing the sheik’s troops and then prying him up out of his underground bunker once the palace was taken. Darcy listened closely to everything they said, going over the plans again and again in his mind until he had them committed to memory, then he killed the guard who brought his food, changed clothes with him, and slipped out the back gate of the palace. It took him almost a week to make his way back across the desert to the sheik’s

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oasis, fighting lions and ghouls and bandits, thirst and hunger, and all the time the sun boiling his brains in their own stew, but he made it all the same, just barely alive. His captors hadn’t even bothered chasing after him, so sure they were that the desert would do him in. Immediately he was taken to the sheik, where he spelled out the sultan’s plans word for word, just as the guards had told them to each other. The sheik ordered the palace evacuated, sending everybody but himself and Darcy on a train to his summer home in Damascus. Then the two of them hunkered down in a room under a false floor in the minaret and waited for the sultan’s attack. They didn’t wait long. On the morning of the second day, the desert sun rose through a storm of dust rising from the hooves of a thousand horses. The sultan’s army swooped down on the palace screaming for blood, but all they found were a few camels and some plenty upset goats bawling in the streets. They went everywhere, kicking over booths in the market, ripping tapestries off the walls, diving into wells wet and dry, looking for the entrance to the bunker. At last the sultan himself came inside the walls, terrifying in his majesty, swords gleaming around him on a thousand arms, riding a foaming blue roan with its teeth filed to fangs. He burst through the doors of the throne room, jumped from his steed, strode over to the throne, and with one little kick of a leopard-skin boot upended the throne and its pedestal to reveal the stairs beneath. He ordered his troops to search every tunnel, to leave no hidden doorways or secret passages unexplored. It was then, when Darcy and the sheik saw the sultan enter the throne room, that they came out of the minaret wearing the burnooses, cloaks, and boots of the lowest rank of soldiers. They made their way across the courtyard, shouting that they had a message for the sultan, ran up the palace steps, and were stopped in the entryway by a burly guard with one eye and a necklace of dried ears. If they had a message for the sultan, they would have to go through him to deliver it, he told them. Darcy must have agreed with him, cause he upped with his sword from out of nowhere and split the poor boy smack up the middle. Then the sheik took a key out of his pinky ring and slipped it into a little hole at the base of a torch-holder beside the

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door, turned it, and yanked the torch down hard. There come such a rumbling and groaning as could be heard clear to the Red Sea, and next thing anybody knew the whole marble ceiling of the throne room came crashing down, squishing the throne and the sultan flatter than Imogene’s biscuits and trapping those men in the tunnels under about half a mountain of solid hard stone. Now that was a neat little trick. Darcy and the sheik together soon made short work of the few troops left, them that didn’t surrender. The sheik then had hisself declared the new sultan, and he was all set to make Darcy the new sheik, but Darcy was gotten a mite homesick by that time and told his boss that really all he wanted to do was go back and visit the home folks a free man. So the sheik ended up paying off Darcy’s ex instead, which actually cost him more but he didn’t mind none. Darcy sailed off for America in a new boat, putting in finally at Charleston and first thing going into town and buying him a bunch of flannel shirts and a couple pairs of jeans, then heading off to the car store and getting a beat-up old truck wouldn’t nobody down home notice. He drove for two days, stopping at little motels and eating at truck stops and suchlike where nobody paid strangers much mind, and he kept his eyes and ears open so as to learn how to blend in quiet-like, and he only had to kill two men along the way. Finally he made it past Nobby Hill and through Terrapin, where not much of nothing had changed, and come a Thursday evening he was going down Old Sawmill Road on his way to the Smokehouse. It was still the same old place he remembered, only now there was a jukebox instead of a band and the stage had these poles all over it for girls to dance on. But Thursday was family night, so the stage only had a few extra tables set on it with little candles for a more romantical ambience. Darcy took a seat in the downstage section, set well back in the shadows where he could watch everything and not be seen watching. He ordered a huge meal of chicken pot pie and a monster burrito, washing some of the burrito down with a pitcher of iced tea, then sat there and let the rest get cold while he watched and listened. He listened hard, hoping to catch some news about Sadie, and watched even

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harder, hoping to see her before she saw him, but it seemed all anybody had to talk about was television shows and Paris somebody. He searched every girl who came in, giving them the lookover from head to toe, hoping to see one flip her hip the way he remembered Sadie doing, or toss her hair just right to show a glint of red, but no, the evening wore along and there was no Sadie nowhere in sight. Darcy was just about to give up altogether when this little slip of a girl, maybe nine or ten, somewhere around there, came bouncing up to the table beside his and whined at her mother. “Mamaa,” says she, “they got a machine up there that’ll tell my fortune for a quarter, but I got to punch in my birthday. So what day was it I was borned?” “Why child, you know perfectly well better than to ask that,” says her ma back to her, all exasperated. “You was born the night Darcy Brown got a goober in his drawers, and so we ain’t never needed to know the date. Your birthday comes on Gooberfest.” When he heard that, Darcy Brown got up from his table and paid his bill, leaving a generous tip, got back in his truck, and drove nonstop back to Charleston a sad and broken man. He set sail for all seven seas, and only the Good Lord knows what happened to him. But if you ever get down to the Smokehouse around about late November, when the peanuts are free and everybody takes turns flipping them at the girls, well, that’s Gooberfest. And all over town mothers are putting their babies to sleep with the story of how Sadie Doogle kicked Buzz Booker clear across the Smokehouse and off the porch and then went out into the wide world hunting for that boy Darcy, and whether she found him or not, she ain’t never been back to tell.

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Three Little Big Pigs Now this all happened way back when, before Scarlett got her comeuppance. Back then there was these three sorry little pigs, runts really, but ambitious as all get out, which is more or less the usual way with runts. Anyways, these three pigs contrived to drive off the feller whose farm it was they lived on, after which they and the other animals run things on their own for a while, but that’s all in a book and you can look it up. This story takes up where that one leaves off, after them three little pigs declared themselves more equal than all the other animals combined and sold them all. They lived right fine off the profits for a while, but then the money started to run out and they went looking for something else to sell. That didn’t take long. There were big pine woods all over the farm, tall longneedle pines that were just right for being made into masts for ships. And if there’s one thing a pig ain’t got a whole lot of use for, it’s a tree that don’t put out but skimpy shade, and that a long ways off. So they lit on the idea to sell all them trees, and they made enough off that to buy more land with more trees, and even more after that, until pretty soon they had title to just about every square inch hereabouts, and there wasn’t a longneedle pine left standing nowhere ‘cept on the ocean. So they sold all the other trees too, till a body could stand on a bump on a log and see clear to the ocean from just about anywhere in the flatlands, if you could find a log. When the trees were all gone, there was another problem. Without tree roots to hold the soil together and break up the rush of the water, even little rains can make a heck of a mess, washing away the soil and making red clay mudslides out of the hills. When a big rain come along,

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half the country got dragged into the Gulf, and some folks got mighty upset. Mexicans, mostly, seeing as how their beaches got all smeared. You gotta hand it to them, those three pigs had a brain between them. One of them got a hold of some kudzu, and they figured out right soon that not only did it make good eating, for pigs, it also did a dandy job of holding soil. It wasn’t too terrible long before there was kudzu everywhere you looked, just as green and flowing like a river, and you’d best not stand in it too long neither. Fact is, there was so darn much of the stuff folks got downright sick of it, and even the pigs got to where they couldn’t stomach no more of it. So, what to do now? You can’t get rid of kudzu; heck, there’s a kudzu nebula out in space that eats planets whole. The only way you can control kudzu is to box it in by building roads around it, so that’s what them pigs hit on this time. They already had plenty of experience building roads out to where the trees used to be, so it wasn’t no big deal to start connecting them together. Soon they had all kinds of roads going every which a way, roads that started nowhere, roads that went nowhere, roads that started nowhere and went nowhere, and nowhere that didn’t have a road. At first this worked just great. The roads broke all that kudzu up into nice little islands that folks could deal with, and after a bit there were even a few clearings without kudzu where a spot of vittles and suchlike coud be growed provided a feller had enough family to keep the kudzu at bay. But as there got to be more and more roads, there got to be less and less people driving on them. That was another problem. See, kudzu can clog up a four-lane road overnight if ain’t nobody driving on it. So then it was up to them pigs to put their heads together one more time and come up with some reason why folks would want to get on the roads and drive. That didn’t take long either. They formed them a

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corporation, went public, and started in to building huge monster buildings and filling them with cheap junk to sell. Folks are crazy to buy junk, and they’ll drive clear across the country if they think somebody somewhere is getting their junk cheaper. Soon there was PigMarts everywhere you looked, at this end of every road and that end and scattered higgledy piggledy up and down the road. And that sure enough took care of the kudzu, allright. Anytime it starts to be a problem again somewhere, all the PigMarts for miles around start advertising sales, and that green stuff gets chopped back before you can say Elvis has left the building, you bet. So now them three little pigs ain’t quite so little no more. They all of them got jobs teaching at bidness schools, and got all kinds of awards and ribbons and medals, never mind that they was all given by people who work for them which is just about everybody, and the whole country’s starting to look like a root hog’s junkyard dream. In that other book I told you about, the story ended when the pigs turned into people, but it didn’t really work quite like that. It was more the other way around, until a body can’t tell pigs from people and people from pigs anymore, and that’s the truth. Say what? A wolf? Child, this story don’t need no wolf.

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A Dream of Okra with the Great Big Hair Now this all happened way back when, even before Alabama and Auburn first played each other in a cow pasture down the way. Back then there was a feller and his wife who, even though they’d been married quite a while, were expecting their first child soon. The wife, like ladies in such condition do, had cravings for all manner of strange food, and sometimes cooked up messes of stuff the likes of which you wonder how she ate it. She mixed up collard greens and rice in a cheese sauce one time, she fried green tomatoes and poured onion dip all over them; why, for a while there she took to drinking vinegar and garlic cocktails after reading a headline about them at the PigMart. She was forever sending her poor old helpmate off over here to get some of this, or off over there to get some of that. One day she mixed her up a salad of red lettuce with white scallions and carrots and rampion and who knows what-all, then told her fella that there was just one thing missing, and if she didn’t get some raw okra in it she’d likely drop dead right there in the kitchen. Now, she hadn’t never eat okra raw, not never, but that didn’t matter none to her. She had to have it, and she had to have it raw, and she had to have it right then, and she had to have it fresh pulled from the garden, or she was just gonna up and die, no two ways about it. Now, these folks lived quite a ways out in the back county, and it would take the poor man half the day to make a special trip to the market and back just to get her okra, but he knew there wasn’t no arguing with her. So off he climbed into his pickemup truck and headed to town, but then just down the road a bit he noticed some fine-looking okra growing in a garden back up from the road, behind a little shack of slapped-up old barn boards and cinder blocks. Up he went on the porch and knocked on the door, and pretty soon here come a downright nasty old crone with hardly a tooth in her jaws and crooked as two state houses. She was right snappish, asking him just what in blue blazes was it

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he wanted after living down the road all this time and never once coming by even just to introduce hisself. He apologized for his unneighborly ways, then explained to her about how his wife was and all, and asked could he pick maybe two or three okras out of her garden, just enough to put in a salad. “I suppose, if your wife’s in as bad a way as you say, I could spare her a okra or two,” said the old woman. “But only this once, and you better not ever darken my door again. Old Meg knows good and well what happens when you start feeding folks, oh yes. They comes back around again and again, until a body has to run them off with double-ought buckshot.” And she reached behind the door and come up quick and spry with a rusty old double-barrel she stuck slap up in his face. “And don’t think I won’t use this, neither.” There was big chunks of rust all over those barrels, and that gun looked for all the world like it had been in the ground from before the Druids up till yesterday, and was more liable to go off by accident than otherwise. The man put his hands up around his head and allowed as to how he really and truly did believe she meant it, and if it was all the same to her he’d just as soon go on to town and leave her okra in the field, if she didn’t mind. “Say whut, now my okra ain’t good enough fer ye?” she cackled, peering up the barrels real wicked like. So he got that okra, then jumped back in his truck and lit out home like his overalls were full of fire ants. His wife was surprised to see him back so soon, but she was even more took by that okra. Even raw, she declared it the best she ever had, bar none. Even after he told her about all the trouble he had getting it, she still said it didn’t matter, that okra was worth it. Late that night, she woke up with a powerful craving for some more of that okra. It didn’t matter what her husband said, she had to have it or she’d just die. If he really loved her, if he really really loved her, no old woman with a rusted gun that was probably more dangerous to her than to anyone else would stop him, oh no, but only if he really cared enough that he didn’t want to see her dead and buried in the grave. Besides, it was night, and that old biddy’s house wasn’t all that close to the garden, and

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she’d be asleep anyway. If he was going to get her some, then he’d better be up and doing before the roosters; that is, if he really really really loved her like he said he did. What could the poor fellow do? He threw him on some clothes and went out, driving down the road with his lights off until he came up alongside the field, then snuck up to the okra patch and commenced to stealing. He got himself a good armful of okra and was headed back towards the road when a dark shadow passed in front of him, between him and the truck. It give out with a low growl, and there in front of him was two yellow cat’s eyes glowing steady as planets. And behind them all the night seemed to bunch up its muscles and twitch like a fever. He dropped that okra and fell to his knees just apraying for all he was worth, but then he heard that old woman’s cackle, looked up, and there she was, standing over him with that rusty old shotgun pointed right between his eyes. “I told you not to come back here,” she said. “I told you what was gonna happen if you did too, didn’t I? Well, some folks just gotta learn the hard way, I guess.” She cocked back them hammers and shoved the barrels of that gun right up in his face. He begged her not to shoot him, told her how his wife was back at the house hurting for this okra, told her how much he wanted to live just long enough to see his baby born, and then fell to Oh-Lordying and pleading fit to bust. Finally she took the gun off him and put the hammers down slow, then leaned on it and stood there a minute, studying on him. “I tell you what,” she said at last. “You bring me your newborned daughter to raise as my own, and I’ll let you go. Heck, I’ll even let your wife have all the okra she can eat till then.” He looked up at her, his eyes all puzzled, and she nodded her head. “Yeah, it’ll be a girl,” she told him. “Now, we got a deal, or what?” And she raised up that gun again and took a step toward him. The baby was born soon after, and it sure enough was a girl. She was as pretty a little thing as ever spit up milk, and her ma insisted on naming her Okra, saying it was all that good okra she ate that made her so pretty. Well, Okra’s daddy wasn’t none too happy with that name, being as how every time he heard it reminded him of the deal

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with the old witch woman. But after several nights passed without any sign of the old hag, he started to think that maybe things were going to work out after all. Things did, of course, only not the way he wanted. It was sometime in the second week, the first full moon after Okra’s coming, and the couple had just got her to sleep when there came a terrible racket at the front door, like big claws raking down the boards. A moment later something huge started pacing back and forth on the porch, and then a gurgling scream rattled the windows. A cold, wet wind flapped out of the fireplace, all the lights went out, and then they heard Okra’s wail going through the house, along the hallway and passing them in the living room, carried along on that cold, wet, leathery wind, at last shooshing up through the chimney and fading into the night. The lights come back on again, but little Okra was long gone. The witch took Okra far away, so far back in the swamps that tree bark and gator meat was all they could find to eat, and black water was all they had to drink, and she put the poor child to working for her even before she could walk, making her scrub the floor while she crawled. She kept her like that ever so long, telling her all manner of awful stuff about folk out in the big world, and how lucky she was to be so far from towns and men, and to have someone looking after her all the time like she did. So Okra grew up never knowing nothing about her real folks or much of anything else, just figuring that she’d always been there in those woods with that raggedy old woman and always would be. One gray, chilly fall day, when Okra was a little past twelve years old, the witch saw her admiring herself in the swamp water and realized that in fact the girl really was commencing to bloom into a fine young lady underneath all that matted-up hair and dirt. This got her so riled that she snatched Okra up and flew with her to an eagle’s nest, long abandoned, way up in the topmost branches of a huge cypress. She left her there for the rest of that fall, and the winter, through the new year and the the year after, only bringing her scraps of gator hide and rotten bark once a day. But no matter how she starved or how the weather tore at her, the poor girl couldn’t help but grow more and more beautiful from one day to the next, which only made old Meg madder every time

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she saw her. Little Okra stayed up there in that tree year after year, knowing nothing about nothing and with nothing to do in all the world but grow her hair, so that’s what she did, just sat there and grew more hair on top of the hair she’d grown yesterday. Sometimes, when the sun was out and there’d been some good rains, she could sit up there and listen to it grow. She didn’t like stepping on it, though, and she especially didn’t like getting it tangled in the nest and branches, so she took to piling it up on her head, throwing it up in these big loops that got higher and higher until she had to wring the clouds out of it twice a day. Now, the old witch saw this and figured to save herself the trouble of flying up to the nest every day, since she wasn’t getting any younger and the rheumatism was starting to set in her wingbones. Come time for her visit, she’d stand a ways off and holler up at Okra: Okra, my dear, I brung you some meat, All spicy with swamp mud smothered in peat, Skeeter stings and nettles to give it some heat, And rubbed through with fly poop for a real tasty treat. So bend your head and let down your hair, Cause Meg’s got too old to be flying up there. And of a sudden all that hair would come tumbling down out of the sky, crashing through the branches with a noise like a small avalanche and piling up around the old witch’s feet. It was so thick and matted by then that she’d just walk right up it like it was the side of a hill. Afterwards she’d walk back down, and Okra would spend the rest of the day pulling it up strand by strand and getting it set back on her head. In time that hair of hers got so big and high that folks living around the edge of the swamp started to notice it. They thought it was smoke, and since some of them knew of old Meg from tales handed down from way back when, they figured she was likely boiling up a great big pot of trouble. Soon the story went round that she was dumping poisonous brews in the swamp, boiling up a new batch every afternoon, then

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tending it all night until the next day, when she’d dump it and start over. This got some folks with the government riled up something fierce, and they sent this young environmental agent fellow out to have a look around. He didn’t have a whole lot of trouble finding his way to Okra’s tree, seeing as how it was the biggest thing this side of the Ozarks. He got snakebit a couple of times and had to leave one of his boots in the mud, but that just slowed him down some. He got there just as the witch was calling Okra’s hair down, and so he hunkered him down in a briar patch and watched the whole business. After the old hag had been gone for about an hour, he came out of them briars and commenced to climbing up that wall of hair whilst Okra was still getting started on her coiffuring. He was plumb wore out by the time he found her, but the sight of sweet little Okra sitting there amongst all that swirl of hair perked him up like a gallon of chewy coffee, I guarantee. She was sure enough a right pretty thing, and that boy knew pretty when he saw it. But when Okra saw him, oh my! She about jumped out of that tree, she was that skittery. He soon had her calmed down, though, and it wasn’t too terribly long before they were both of them hopelessly tangled in her hair and each other. And that’s enough said about that. He told her all about the big world outside the swamp and begged her to come away with him, but Okra simply could not conceive of how she was ever gonna get down out of that tree. “It’s easy enough for you, all right,” she pointed out. “But now you tell me, city boy, just how am I supposed to climb down my own hair? And what about that old witch? She’ll come after me no matter where we go.” That poor fellow thought about this a long time, pacing back and forth across the nest and muttering half to hisself. “Maybe if we get. . . No, that won’t work,” he said. Or, “I’ve got it! Uh, wait. No, not that either.” All this while Okra kept pulling and piling at her hair, throwing it up higher and higher until the moon rose behind it full and white. The sun was long gone when he suddenly stopped his pacing and ran over to the edge of the nest. He asked Okra to point out to him the exact spot where old Meg stood every day when she called her. Okra showed him. “And has she been standing there all

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the time since she put you up here?” he asked. “Well, no,” Okra replied, brushing some hair aside with her feet. “She used to stand closer, but she keeps moving back cause I grow more hair.” He nodded, grinning real sly like, then grabbed her by the arms and whirled her to him. There was just one thing he wanted to know, he said. “How fast can you grow your hair?” Okra shrugged. “I can grow hair faster’n most anybody, I reckon so,” she told him. He winked. “Well, that’s just what I want you to do,” he came back. “I want you to grow more hair tonight than you’ve ever growed. I want you to work hard on that hair.” And that’s just what Okra did, stayed up all that night and grew hair like nobody’s business, so much hair that the mountain winds whipped it into tatters. Shooting stars got tangled in it, and still Okra screwed up her face and pushed out hair until the moon had to go the long way round. All that night and most of the next morning that girl grew her hair, and all the while her new feller teased it over to the side of the nest away from the witch’s standing spot. Next day, same time as usual, old Meg come out to the tree, stood there on her spot, and called up her little rhyme to Okra. Only this time that young man gave all that new hair such a push as it came crackling down out of the sky like chain lightning dragging a mountain behind it. The old hag didn’t even have a chance to duck before she was buried deep as dinosaur doo, and for all anyone knows she’s still in there somewhere trying to claw her way out. By that time, of course, none of that hair was still attached to Okra. It wore a government issue knife down to a nub to do it, but they’d done cut off all but just enough to make a decent train for her wedding gown. Cleaned up and braided, it did right nice too. Child, I don’t care if you don’t believe it. Go dig around on your Aunt Inez’s head sometime; she got a whole cemetery in there, tombs and skeletons and all. If I’m lying I’m dying.

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And that’s it. Tain’t no more. Yit.

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