Somewhere between Michigan and West Virginia, when I was nearly eleven and my brother was almost nine, we moved into a small brick house near a huge cornfield. The first day there, my brother Bob and I went exploring. As we carefully trod (like Indians) along the road’s shoulder, we reached a spot where that cornfield began. A cloud of birds flew raucously up into the sky, terrified of human beings.
“Witch!” Bob shouted. “Let’s get kids to pay five cents to see the witch.”
“You mean I lead the way and—“
“Just as we reach this Exact spot” Bob put his tennis shoe on the place we’d stepped when the quail flew up, “I whisper, ‘go witch go’ and you–”
“I’ll raise up my arms and yell, ‘Fly, birds, fly!”
Bob and I were on the same wavelength.
“Here, let’s build a cairn so you know when you’ve reached the place.”
Dad had taught us about cairns for marking our way in forests, in case we got lost. A cairn every fifty steps would show the way back to our car or tent.
We gathered little rocks and piled them up as a marker.
The next day in school, my brother, like the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum, hustled up some customers during recess. He pocketed a bunch of milk money, promising a Real Witch Show after school let out.
I kept away from the group. Not just because I didn’t trust people, but the witch had to stay secret until the last minute.
At last, the final bell rang. Children ran out of the building, screaming as if to escape Godzilla.
My brother assembled the curious group near the flagpole. He led them toward our house, a few blocks away, chanting “A witch you will see! Her power is to make wild birds flee!”
I’d run home on fast feet. Waited in the ditch near our house. I smeared mud on my face and wove weeds into my always-tangled hair. When I heard my brother approaching, his voice low so as not to frighten the quail prematurely, I stood up as tall as I could. I made my hands into claws and, eyes wide, teeth bared, hissed:
“Who goes there?”
Bob whispered, “Witch, may we pass?”
I crooked a finger and said quietly, “Follow me.”
The kids bunched up together, holding hands, uncertain what might happen.
I crouched into a witchy creep and stepped forward carefully, kids following, Bob at the back, face in a serious scowl. I turned toward the group and hissed,
“Fly birds, Fly!” Then stomped a foot right next to the pile of rocks.
Thunderclap of wings and hundreds of quail rushed into the blue sky.
Terrified kids screamed “Mommy!” and ran toward their safe homes.
Bob divvied up the money, both of us laughing our heads off.
We indeed were the inheritors of our ancestors’ genes, people who’d been gaoled on the Isle of Wight for “thievery, sedition against the King and the practicing of witch-craft.”