Short Story
                              The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog
                                                                                By Gregory Cioffi


      Once upon a mid-autumn’s day, deep within secluded woodland known as Woodbrock, existed a lone
inhabitant.  Some say she was the lone inhabitant because Woodbrock was nothing but wet, spongy
ground with soil composed of decayed vegetable matter making cultivation impossible, thus there was no
reason for anyone to live there. Others, however, say she was the lone inhabitant because any human
being would be aghast to live anywhere near her. The cause apparently had nothing to do with the rumors
that she practiced witchcraft either. You see, this lone inhabitant was no ordinary crone but rather, she was
dead.

      People have claimed to catch a glimpse of her over the years and they all say roughly the same thing.
She would come out of her shack, be it morning or afternoon, dressed in a long-sleeve black blouse, at the
end of the sleeves rested apricot ruffles. A long three-tiered orange skirt hung over her feet and dusted the
ground when she walked. A matching scarf wrapped around her neck and a black pointed hat adorned her
head. Her hands and face were the only parts uncovered and that is what scared most away, for the last
vestiges of soft tissue her corpse once displayed had decayed, leaving only her skeletal underpinnings.

      People often said she would come out with a broom, its handle black, and she would sweep around
her home, pushing any leaves or what-not into the swamps that surrounded her. Those who reported what
they saw dubbed her The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog.

      A fellow who once saw the beldam, curiously traveled to the nearest village to learn her story. He, of
course, was first met with dismissal but after some insisting and pressing learned the alleged legend. He
said, to his friends back home, that The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog had once been a beautiful young
woman married to a strapping youth. Their love was genuine and true. The beautiful woman was indeed an
herbalist and thusly many labeled her a witch, which she honestly did not mind nor care.

      Soon, however, her husband became deathly ill. After repeated attempts to heal him proved fruitless,
she traveled far to an elder that had taught her everything she knew. She told the elder that she was in love
and that she wanted an immortality potion so that the two could live in the bog, eternally uninterrupted, in
peace.  The elder, seeing that her love was indeed true gave her the concoction immediately. The witch
headed back towards her home and found her husband on his last leg but still alive. They drank the brew
together and waited. The next day the husband died.

      Livid, the woman went back to the elder and demanded an explanation. The elder told her that she
made no mention of her husband’s sickness and thus she assumed they were in good health. It was then
that she revealed that the potion did not take into account pre-existing conditions. The elder begged the
woman to understand that if she simply mentioned this fact that she would have given her a different elixir
all together.

      The woman left heartbroken and alone and returned to her home. She buried her husband and lost all
aspiration. Eventually the woman aged like anyone else, her skin becoming wrinkled and spotted. And
soon it could no longer support her body and withered all together: but she did not die. The concoction had
worked in cruelest of ways and she was destined to live forever, abandoned and forlorn, in Woodbrock
Bog.

      For many years, this is where the story ended, which I must admit is not exactly the happiest of
endings we all have come to desire and wish for. But now, it seems, even if only for the briefest of time,
The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog found some purpose.

      And so, on that mid-autumn day, The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog came out of her shack once
again to sweep. Her life was marred by useless efforts and unending frustration; she served no purpose in
the world. Why she even bothered to sweep puzzled many; maybe it was ritual; maybe it was just
something to do.

      But on this day, she indeed found something to do. She first heard the voices in the morning. They
were youthful in spirit and cacophonous in sound. They were the voices of boys, the rebel-rousers of the
world. She paid no attention; such a thing was not uncommon, even if she hadn’t heard such sounds in her
swamp for decades on end. She chalked it up to curiosity, as she was, after all, aware of her own
infamous status.

      Sweeping was not the only traditional event of her existence. Everyday, right before dusk, she would
walk about half a mile and visit her husband’s grave. His stone was placed on solid ground surrounded by
swamp in the location that he had proposed to her years before. It was a spot they often sat on side-by-
side and simply listened to the forest, the singing birds, the frogs, the owls, and the crickets.

      But on that day, when she approached the spot, what she found was a desecrated headstone. It had
been cracked and broken and was no longer erect as it rested limply on its side, half of it sinking in to the
swamplands. The sand had been dug up and his remains were carelessly scattered.

      In that moment, The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog felt something, which was truly astonishing, as
she hadn’t felt a thing in ages. Emotions came about like the flick of a switch and all of a sudden she was
overcome with purpose.

      The next morning the voices reverberated throughout the bog once more as three boys skipped and
cavorted about. On this day however, they worked up enough courage to traverse further into the swamp to
catch a glimpse of the skeletonized old hag and her house.

      The three boys squatted behind a grand cypress tree and peeped towards the shack. It appeared
vacant as the witch could be neither seen nor heard. The rambunctious youths agreed to creep in towards
the hut to attempt to see her and maybe even ridicule her a tad.

      The boys reached the house, remaining close to the ground so that they could not be seen. The tallest
boy, who considered himself the de facto leader of their little gang, rose up to peer through a window and
into the shack. He looked inside but saw nothing of interest. The boys came to the conclusion that the
witch was not around and decided instead to enter her home and snoop about.

      All three walked inside to behold many jars and bottles containing all sorts of herbs and liquids. One of
the boys went over to a hanging cauldron and looked inside: there was still stew in it and although it was
not scolding hot, it was indeed still warm.  The boys started going through the witch’s things - letters,
trinkets, souvenirs, it made no difference to them.

      As they were all huddled around a box, a lit torch suddenly landed behind them. The torch was
strategically thrown onto the only rug in the hut and thus did not make a noise but very quickly caught the
shack on fire.  The boys, beginning to smell something, looked back to see everything ablaze. In a panic,
they darted up, found their bearing and located the door, which was open.

      As they made their first motion towards the exit, a chunk of stone flew through the window and
bludgeoned one of the boys in the head. The other two watched as the knocked out boy fell back, landing
in the flames. The slab of stone bounced back towards them so that they could see it was a piece of the
grave they had defiled the day before.

      As the two boys ran out of the door, one was met with the end of a broomstick. The Dead Witch of
Woodbrock Bog has struck him directly through his pupil. She clutched the end of the black handle in such
a rage that her strength pushed the broom through his face and out to the backside of his head. With the
same fury she pulled her broomstick back until it was solely in her possession.

      She looked over to see the last boy, who was the tallest, starting to make his way into the swamp; he
was splashing about, barely able to run. She thought to herself that she would let him go so that he would
tell all others what had happened here and ensure that no one would ever bother her again. Then she
decided against it.

      The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog dashed into the marsh and jumped from one small patch of solid
ground to another. Her speed was uncanny and her focus unyielding; she was going to catch this debaser.

      He could hear her coming and could even see her deathly black and fiery orange outfit waver in the
wind through his peripheral vision.

      She jumped into the air and came crashing down onto the last boy. His body gave out and he found
himself plunging head first into the swamp. He felt the witch grab the back of his head with her cold bony
hand, clutching his hair in her grasp. His head was catapulted up, the muddy water dripping off of his face,
and he immediately knew where he was: he beheld what was left of the desecrated grave. He knew in that
moment that was the last image he would ever see.

      Some say the very next second his head was plunged into the swamp water for the final time. Others
say he remained there awaiting his demise until he realized his head was no longer being clutched and
turned around to see absolutely no one there. Whether he died in that moment or not, no one ever heard
from the boy again and no one knows what happened to him.

      I take great pleasure in transcribing the last part of this story because I always hated the old ending.
For the witch to be lost in the purposeless existence of life was tragic, and if I dare say so, depressing.
This way, however, the tale becomes a redemption story! And best of all she was able to honor the
memory of her late love. The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog found a reason to live again, not succumbing
to the easy, depressive path to utter passivity.

      And it is not as if this was the last of her activity, as she no doubt found further purpose in re-building
her home, re-burying her husband, and creating a new headstone. I find it a charming tale that proves that
you are never too old to reinvent yourself.

      I often smirk at the image of The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog sweeping once again soon after
reassembling her life. I envision her content for the first time in a long time and just as she thinks she is
finished with her chore, she comes across a small bulbous object that she must have missed. She looks
down to see what it is and smiles the first genuine smile since her husband’s passing. It’s the eyeball that
was ripped from its socket.

      The Dead Witch of Woodbrock Bog sweeps the eye off with her broom and watches it sink into the
swamp before once again returning into her tranquil home.
About Gregory Cioffi

Gregory Cioffi (SAG-
AFTRA, AEA) is a
professional actor and a
published writer. His
stories have been
published in The Feral
Press, Mystery Weekly
Magazine, Blood Moon
Rising Magazine,
Aphelion, and Allegory
Ridge. Greg’s first film,
The Museum of Lost
Things, just recently won
awards at both The Long
Island International Film
Expo and The Madrid
International Film Festival.
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