Their daughter came home with cuts on her arms. The girl was a gentle and friendly soul. No one would mean her harm.
“Who would do this to you?”
“The little girl that plays with me in the field.”
“What little girl? What’s her name?”
“She doesn’t know her name.”
“The girl doesn't know her own name? Where does she live?”
“Under the porch.”
“Well, when your little friend comes back, I want to have a word with her.”
“She can’t speak, mama.”
Her parents became more concerned than they intended after that conversation. They watched the next day when their girl was expected back from the fields to see if they could spy their daughter with her new friend. Sure enough, their daughter was sitting under the old oak by the road with a little girl that neither parent had seen before. A little younger, a little paler, she didn't speak, yet she got along fine with their little girl, so the parents’ minds were eased for a spell, until the sun was almost set. Just as the last rays faded from the sky, the unknown child pulled out a bone from her dress pocket, swiped their daughter’s arm, and then jumped away from their daughter, seemingly struck with fear from harming her friend. Then she crawled across the dirt patches in the yard and scurried underneath their very own porch.
“Git back out here right now, ‘fore I call your mama!”
No one answered.
No one was there.
Their daughter didn't seem nearly as shaken as they were. Though, she did tell warn how the interaction between herself and the other child was going to play out. The next day, her parents repeated their actions, hiding in the same place, spying the same child getting along well with their daughter. This time, just as soon as they saw the sun leaving the sky, knowing the little one would reach into her pocket at any moment, the parents leapt out from behind the house and called to the girl, “What do you think you're doin? Where’s your mama?” The little one flashed up on her feet and stared the mother down with the dark and telling shadows where her eyes surely should have been. The child rushed at the mother all at once, on hands and feet, not enough human, and too innocent to be called creature. Right before the mother’s eyes, it whipped out the bone from her pocket and swiped it cleanly across her arm. The fear she expected to wash over her never rolled in, she only worried for the child, not of herself. Following closely as the little one scampered back to the porch, gnawing and scratching to reach the underbelly of the wood slats, the mother raced for the toolshed. Returning with a crowbar and a shovel, she handed one to her husband.
“Help the poor child.”
She pulled up the boards and the father dug until he saw her. Hands around her face, shoulders curled to one side, both feet tucked under her hips, the little girl’s bones lay, finally found, ready for rest.
Serpent Tales is a series of folktales from around the South that I have been researching, writing, and reconfiguring for a while. We share stories to strengthen the ties that hold us to each other, to those that came before us, to the roots from which our best tomorrows can grow. The original pointillism artwork for this story pictured above was created by Sean Herman and can be purchased at the Serpents Store in downtown Mobile, Alabama.
We Are The Serpents of Bienville
We birthed from ancient bogs where fog concealed marauder’s scorchings
left from the fires of freedom, and loss thereof its spoil.
The wicked soils birthed nourishment, shores lined themselves in feast.
No heed to Iberville omen, the harbinger of bones in the harbor just back.
And now we revel with the saints and haints rekindled year again,
and jubilee on in holy shallows knowing each of us shall join them
under the oak once more with only wampus to guard our souls.
Keep treasure Mauvila in your heart, they knew what we forget.
Brand the surface with what you will, it still passes with master to grave.
It wasn’t only Creek that saw our slither boding.
We are Bienville’s serpents.