The Hattie McGee Hole By Wadin' Boot I- Hattie McGee The way folks tell it round here Hattie McGee rests at the bottom of the finest fishing hole in P--- county. She’s trapped in a car, and right next to her is Lauren Rotis, the psycho who got them there in the first place. The two of them are probably skeletons now, maybe even less, what with all the floods these past few years. In any case everyone round here knows the Hattie McGee hole and legend says it’s haunted with big evil fish. I don’t quite see it that way and I’ll spell out why. My Papa is responsible for some of those legends. He knew a lot more about Hattie McGee than most of us, on account of him being, in his wild youth, up to mischiefs and fond of substances that would, in local talk, fuck you up some. Chief among them crystal meth. Back then he was all skinny, full of lies, rotten promises, his body strung together with sinews and ripped jeans. The man was nothing but chumugly, a shiny bald dome, jack-o-lantern eyes, and mutton-toothed jaw just chiseled with a mite of stubble. He went through a long streak of breaking into folks homes, even friend’s places, and stealing what he could, at least before spending time in the big house. One of those cabins he busted into was Hattie McGee’s. If you trust the words of a convict turned to Jesus, then hear what my Papa said. (All of this is from memory now so if I mess it up some, and you got another, better version, forgive me.) Crosses his heart before he says it, and if you looked close on at him, his eyes are wide when he speaks of this. Hattie McGee practiced black arts. Witchcraft and magic, voodoo and curses. Said she had a big cauldron, had books with recipes for stuff but none for food, and kept a goat head in her icebox. Said there were drying racks for skins stretched tight. Skins of animals he couldn’t recognize. Lotions and salves too. “Ointments.” He said that one all on its own, paused long before saying it, said it while nodding, staring me deep in the eye and made it seem like it should mean something to me. I never knew what to make of it. Ointments indeed. He might as well as said flesh-fly. Papa told of a house with kid photos in those postcard-bright yellows, greens and blues, framed up all nice, but with heads missing. Said there was a back room with newspapers piled high, and a small path for Hattie McGee to get back through ‘em to a big wooden door that opened into a dark room, painted midnight black, and filled with animals. Cats and strays, that fled with the brighter light he unleashed on ‘em and that ran at the smell of a stranger. Said it was a room full of hisses and darkness and twinkling eyes, strange reflections and even amped up on meth, he knew this couldn’t be good. He never stuck round long enough to find her treasures, the man had instincts for stuff to fence, and there was nothing Hattie McGee had to grab. The whole place creeped him out, and he made his way backwards, stumbling on debris, the way he had came. The Curse Why would he strike up so scared in telling all this though? Surely a man fond of meth and knowing the indignities and liberties that come with its use, surely he wouldn’t fright so easy? Well true, but here’s the reason that finally spilled out from my Papa’s lips along with his smoke and voice cut with fear. (Picture him leaning forward, taking a long tremulous draw from a straw jammed in a silver-capped puck of institutional-grade reconstituted fruit juices). Hattie McGee put a curse on him. Said that when he backed out of that house with his empty duffel and stocking cap pulled low he heard a voice from up in the rafters. Said the voice froze him just like you’d expect, like a man in a death ray, and held him. “Lauren Rotis, you come here to my place looking for things to steal?” My old man couldn’t answer her, said his tongue was mangled like when you lick a 9-volt to see if you can get more time out of it. “Answer me boy.” “Mmmhuh.” “I’m gonna put a spell on you. I’m gonna curse you like you never been done before, and nothing Lauren Rotis, nothing you can do is gonna change it.” Said he couldn’t move while he saw some cracks of light above where the voice came from, and like on a Jesus in July postcard, those rays of light caught some dusts and came down like swords towards him. And here’s the weirdest part he says, leaning forward close now to me, the noise up above him, presumably Hattie McGee, was moving, attic rafters creaking and moaning, more dusts falling from the cracks as masses shifted, and those rays first moved like they should, like spokes of light from one central source but then they began to bend, maybe ten of them or more, and focused right on him, right on his head, right between his eyes. “like she drew a cursed bead on Lauren Rotis.” As if I didn’t get it, he pointed his nicotine yellowed, long-nailed index right at his head and repeated his full name, nodding while he did it. The next house he broke into was his last, got caught trying to crowbar out a wired wall safe. Despite the illumination from Hattie McGee’s curse, My Papa was none too bright. Maybe you’d see that as luck, as some kind of divine intervention, some justice for a life poorly led. That’s how I saw it back then, that authorities would school my Papa in ways he couldn’t do for himself. I told him it was Jesus working his ways, trying to show him the lights of salvation. I didn’t buy it myself but I figured those words might be comforting to him. But that was back before I knew about Hattie McGee and her curse. See Lauren Rotis’ life never got much better in Jail. He was beaten and bullied and through the first weeks, took a hard wean from amphetamines. Hallucinations and so on, that after a while, even with Jail Doc’s drugs, wouldn’t melt away. I went to visit him, he plumped up but whatever he said I couldn’t tell you if it was true or not. Including all this about Hattie McGee. In any case, things soon declared themselves, and the Jail folks knew he was in the wrong place. They sent him to the State Hospital, to the locked wards, a place that houses no solace. His thoughts became more bizarre, rambling and incoherent. He too spoke of Jesus coming for him. But there was one idea he stuck on, mentioned it more than once to me... The Valiant and the Fishing Hole He told me all this in the solarium, poseyed up on a Cadillac chair. He said he was going to escape, steal a Valiant (again a whole pause and big deal about that one word, just like “ointment” maybe it’s a phoneme thing, that hard “t” sound) and hunt down Hattie McGee and rid himself of her curse once a for all. Said that he had studied up in jail on the internets and set a curse of his own guided by God’s hand. A right-back-at-ya all ribboned and bowed in blood and bile for “that lime-kiln hill-country witch Hattie McGee.” I fish the Hattie McGee hole just one month a year, if the ice permits it, and you know when that is, yeah that's right, January, 'cos on the 16th of that month in the year 19— was the last day anyone ever saw either of them alive. That’s the day they think that car bust through the lover’s leap guardrail and arced out over the limestone bluffs into the river below. Sheriff’s deputy, name escapes me, called me in February, said they probably died instantly, said a diver confirmed the bodies were down there, but that on account of the river ice and the temperature, and that the diver was an older guy who didn’t have a drysuit and wasn’t about to borrow one, that they’d recover the bodies when conditions permitted. Said he didn’t know when that would be and that given I was the only relative they could trace, and that the coroner was none too concerned about the case, if I needed them to recover faster, they’d make some calls. I had no issue with the dead, with the paranoid and crazed, or those that live alone or in houses full of cats and newspapers. I have no superstitions concerning Hattie McGee or Lauren Rotis. I told them to leave the Valiant alone, let the bodies rot, nothing we could do now about it anyways. January just so coincides with a solid run of fish moving in from the big waters for their spawning run. Doesn’t matter what kind of fish, so long as you know this, I fish for the transients, the ones moving through, I don’t mess with the fish that call that place home. The Valiant is still down there, if you fish a sink line, and maybe a heavy pattern, lets say a big sculpin-ugly cone-headed thing, bump it off the bottom, you can feel a metallic tap when it passes over that coffin. And when it draws tight like you might have caught bottom, or nudged some bigger stones you wonder for a fraction of a second or so, if you pull it hard, whether or not you’ll pull up a part. Maybe a leg, maybe something that could snag you up easy like handbones. A couple of moments like that will quit your fishing for creatures that hang deep there. So I fish bright, flashy, where the riffles are, sometimes sight fishing, to those fish moving through and up to someplace new. The time is well spent, something about the hole concentrates up those fish, makes them skittish and prone to snapping. I like to think of it as a nervous anger, like a twilight shadow that scratches out noises behind you when there should be none. Good thing too, what’s an angry fish to do but strike at or eat what provokes them? Thank god for this piscine bulimia. It means my respects to Hattie McGee and my father are filled with reels running, rod bowed, quick movements in knee deep water and a net used well. It is far from frightening, my version of the curse of Hattie McGee is fun. I pay them my respects, I put in my grave time. What son can say that twenty years on? Some years the sun busts out over those clouds and bluffs and lights up everything right down deep into the water. So deep that as you sway on your double haul, you’ll catch the light reflected in what’s left of the Valiant’s rotting chrome, and it will take you by surprise. Maybe there’s a giant fish you think, turning in the shards of light that get down to that box, but then reason trumps you. There’s no evil monster down there lurking, just the sad spirits of Lauren Rotis and Hattie McGee, slowly crumbling, reminding us they were once alive.