Prompt Day #289: Reveal a horrifying disfigurement behind a woman’s veil.
This little ghost story was planned out early this morning when the whole idea hit me all at once, but then something else hit me: Prince was found dead at the age of 57. Prince supplied the soundtrack to my teens and his death symbolizes the death of part of my past. So, while it isn’t much, please note my humble homage to the Purple One’s unexpected and untimely death.
The Woman in the Purple Veil
Beware the woman in the purple veil
Should she come to call
For if you see beneath her shroud
You’ll be dead before night falls
Stony Pointe, Mass. 1690: The midwife arrived in Stony Point in the spring of the year of our Lord sixteen hundred ninety. She was twenty that year and hoping to find welcome and purpose in the small New England village. Trained by both her mother and grandmother, she was well versed in the use of herbs and in the art of child delivery. The village itself was young and families were growing. The midwife settled into a small cottage and found her abilities sought after such that she never worried for want of firewood or meat.
Stony Point, Mass. 2016: I was eight years old when my father died and my mother sent me to live with my grandparents here in Stony Point. This would have been back in 1934 or so. Mind you in those days, school houses were one room and filled with kids of all ages. The young’uns took me in right away. Back in those days, if you had a handful of marbles, you were good enough for the gang. The older ones looked after the littles and acted as older siblings to the rest of us.
I remember the day I saw the woman in the purple veil for the first time. My grandpap would give me a shiny penny every Monday, and I would stop at the little fruit stand on my way to school to buy some apples or oranges for my lunch that week. I was picking through the apple barrel when she brushed past me. I looked up and saw her. She wore an old fashioned wool shift with a white apron over top. It was the 1930’s, no clothes, no matter how old fashioned were looked down on, we were all poor in those days, but that’s what made the dark purple veil she wore covering her face all the more bizarre.
She didn’t stop, she didn’t acknowledge me or apologize for bumping into me. She just kept walking. I was still new to the town and hadn’t heard any of the local stories, so I thought nothing of asking my buddies about her when I got to the school house. Well, their eyes got wide and they looked at each other. “You saw the woman in the purple veil?” They asked in awe. Suddenly I was the school celebrity. I’d seen the town’s most infamous resident. “What did she look like?” and “Did she speak to you?”
Finally, one of the older boys came to me and pulled me aside. First he warned me that if I was pulling their legs, this was my one and only chance to come clean. I swore on my grandmother’s life that I had indeed seen a woman wearing a purple veil walk through the town square. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye. “Did she show you her face?” he asked. There was real fear in his eyes and I found I was no longer thrilled with my new found fame. “No sir.” I said. He stared hard, searching for a sign I was lying. Finally he nodded. “Good for you then.”
Stony Point, Mass. 1690: The midwife found herself caring for the expectant mothers and catering to the neglected fathers-to-be. The first time it happened, the man forced himself upon her, threatening to kill her if she told. But she had been trained well, and from then on, it was she who offered her “other” services, she who kept the secrets, she who held power over the men. She knew the herbs to use to keep her from catching the same condition from which their wives were suffering. For a full year, she held the reigns of the village in her young but skillful hands.
And then, fate turned on her. First a babe died shortly after delivery and then its mother. Followed by two more women and another babe. All shortly after she’d delivered them. By this time, the men of the village had had their share of her and were no longer enthralled by the pretty young witch. And Witch was the title bestowed upon her. She was accused of using the evil eye to first stun and then steal the breath of the women and children. She was accused of beguiling their husbands and fathers and she was found guilty by six men who only months before had visited her bed and willingly spilled their seed within her.
Stony Point, Mass. 2016: On my way home from school that day, there was a frenzy of activity around the little fruit stand where I had seen the woman in the purple veil just that morning. I stopped to listen into the adult conversations. The man who owned the stand had been found dead. It wasn’t long before word got out that I had seen the woman in that very location.
My grandpap took my fishing about a week or so after that. “So I hear you saw the village specter” he said conversationally, but I could tell he was nervous and uptight even discussing the woman. I told him I had, and then he asked me the same thing the older boy had asked. I said no, I had not seen her face. She never even acknowledged me. His shoulders slumped in relief. “Who is she?” I asked him.
“Never you mind.” He said and ruffled my hair. “It’s a tale for when you’re older.”
We didn’t speak of her again until my tenth birthday when my mother came back and announced she had met someone and they were to be married. She said she had come to take me home to New York where she had been trying to break into vaudeville. I hadn’t seen my mother in two years. I wasn’t exactly excited. That night, we all sat on the front porch of my grandparents’ home, sipping sun tea and catching up.
I saw the woman. She stood at the end of the yard. I watched as the adults talked, trying to determine if any of them could see her. I noticed my mother glancing in the woman’s direction several times. That night, my mother woke us all with her screams. She said she’d had a terrible nightmare and couldn’t stay there another minute. She promised she would be back for me in a week. I never saw her again. We received word a few weeks later that she’d been found beaten to death in an alley behind the apartment she’d planned to move me to.
I asked my grandfather to tell me the story of the woman in the purple veil the day we got the letter and a small box of my mother’s things. He asked if I had seen her again. I couldn’t lie. I told him I had the night my mother left. He nodded but said nothing.
Stony Point, Mass. 1690: The midwife was dragged to the center of town where a bed of red hot coals had been prepared. She was forced to her knees. “Elizabeth Goodwin Brown, you have been charged and found guilty of the crime of witchcraft. You have used such deviltry to take the lives of three women and two children. You have brought death to those who look upon your face. For this crime, your punishment will be to smite the very evil eyes and countenance with which you have committed your sins.” She was grabbed by the back of the head and her face forced upon the hot coals. Her screams were consumed by the flames that licked at her face with scalding tongues until nothing was left of the once beautiful face.
Stony Point, Mass. 2016: I saw the woman in the purple veil twice more before my grandfather told me the tale of a young woman who had suffered for the sins of an entire village. I was twenty, the same age she had been when my own ancestors, my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfathers burned her face off, leaving her blinded and hideous. He told me the story as we sat beside my grandmother’s coffin. The woman in the purple veil had come to visit our house yet again.
“How can I see her but nothing has ever happened to me?” I asked him; a question I’d pondered many times over the last twelve years.
“Beware the woman in the purple veil, should she come to call. For if you see beneath her shroud, you’ll be dead before night falls.” He said. He told me that was a rhyme he and his friends used to sing when he was a kid. “It’s true. She’s never lifted her veil to show you the horror of her face. There is nothing left of it. A scared blank canvas with milky white eyes behind strands of skin melted over them. It’s enough to scare you to death they say.”
Stony Point, Mass. 1690: They left her for dead, but that night, beneath the light of a full harvest moon, she drug herself home. Here she learned to use her other senses; smell, taste, and feel to prepare poultices for her face and eyes. When she had exhausted every remedy she knew, she called upon the dark arts and summoned the Devil. “Give to me your soul and I will restore your beauty, your youth, your eyesight.” He promised her.
“No. I don’t want them back.” She told her new master. Her soul filled with nothing but hate. “They told me my face brought death to their wives and children. My eyes shone evil and cursed them. Now, I ask that you make this truth. I ask for a long life so that I may show my face to their children and their children’s children and on and on. Once my face meant new life was on its way, now I want all who have the misfortune to lay their eyes upon me to know death has come. Give me this, and I am yours.” She said.
The contract was signed in blood. And a veil of royal purple, a color fit for kings of the underworld and their queens, was bestowed upon her.
Stony Point, Mass. 2016: In the eighty-two years since the first time I saw the woman in the purple veil, she has appeared to me more times than I’d like to recall. A man doesn’t live to be ninety without becoming well acquainted with death. I’m telling you this story, though, because my grandfather found the strength to tell it to me when I was your age. There’s naught to do if you should have the misfortune of seeing her veiled ghost. Naught but to hold those you love close and don’t ever once leave them without telling them what they mean to you. We’re all cursed here in Stony Point, son for as long as her contract with the Devil stands. So, don’t you hold back when you want to say something or do something. Kiss the girl, buy the dog, have children and live. It’s all we can do.
I saw the woman in the purple veil this morning as I was brewing my daily cup of half-caff. This time, she lifted her shroud. I won’t tell you what I saw underneath it. That’s a memory I will take to my grave. But I saw her. She came to me like a bride, lifting her veil, she kissed me. It won’t be long now, boy. So give your grand-dad a hug and let me tell you one last time that I love you and I’m proud of you. Now, go on; an old man dying ain’t nothing for a young man to have to see. There’s a whole life out there, boy, just promise me you’ll beware the woman in the purple veil.