“All right then, Danny Boyd is it,” Mayor Hamilton announced, drawing a small piece of paper out of a hat and reading the name on it.
“Danny is four years old,” his father objected.
“Donny,” Mayor Hamilton said, slowly, as if he were explaining both for the benefit of the father and the son, “you know that everyone in Adams is eligible to be the Bell Witch. Everyone’s name goes into the hat. Everyone has an equal chance of serving. And, hey, he gets it out of the way now. Look at what happened to Jackie Gardener—got it when she was in college. Her parents had to fly her back here once a month for a whole year to fulfill her duties and she was at Princeton. Danny isn’t even in Kindergarten.”
Donny felt like arguing, but the townsfolks all knew it could be worse. If someone didn’t do it, she might come back and do it herself. If you had a choice between having a good Baptist man hide in a cave and make whispering noises in the dark as you walked by, wasn’t that preferable to having some ancient evil messing with you? That’s what the people of Adams thought. That was the deal they’d made.
“Okay, son, you’re the witch,” Donny explained to him. Danny took this in remarkable stride. He insisted on a broad brimmed black hat, a black robe, and a broom, which he wore to church every Sunday because those were his “work clothes, like the preacher wears.” He also wanted to be allowed to bring frogs into the bathroom even though Donny’s girlfriend thought they were gross, and that was agreed to. And then, he went around town being the Bell Witch.
The thing that surprised everyone is that Danny was great at it. He hid in the cave and giggled when the tourists were listening for ghostly voices. He jumped out at them right as they were coming out of the cave and everyone screamed and then laughed and took their pictures with him. He had a spot he liked to stand at right on the bluff overlooking the Red River where he could be seen by passing tourists in canoes. He would wave at them when they went by and then always be sure to keep waving as they passed, as if there were another canoe or two behind them. Of course, there wasn’t, but this was sufficient for giving them the willies. But his best known trick was to stand in front of the old boarded up church downtown, glaring at the passing cars, as if he could see into the soul of each driver.
“You’re an excellent witch,” Mayor Hamilton told Danny one day after church.
“I know,” Danny said, nodding his head with the confidence of the young.
“How do you come up with so many good ideas?” Mayor Hamilton asked. “Does your dad help you?”
“No,” Danny said, “I like to think of things and Miss Kate helps me.”
“Is that your dad’s friend?” Mayor Hamilton asked.
“No,” said a distinctly female voice, which seemed to come out of nowhere.
“That’s her,” Danny said. Donny was livid. How could the town require him to let that phantom menace have access to his son?
“Well, what are you going to do, Donny?” Mayor Hamilton asked. “Christy Clark moved away when she got it and look what happened to her. Sucked right into the mirror. You want that for Danny? You don’t have a problem no one else has had. If there’s something to be tried, someone’s tried it. The best thing, for all our sakes, is for you to keep your mouth shut and to let Danny do his thing.”
And so the year went by and Danny’s term came to an end. Everyone gathered in the town hall, all names were placed into a hat, and Mayor Hamilton drew. “Danny Boyd. Wait. Danny Boyd? No, his name doesn’t go in any more. He’s done his service.” Mayor Hamilton drew again. The name on the next slip of paper was also “Danny Boyd.” And the next and the next.
“Screw you guys,” Donny said. “Put your own god damn names in the hat!”
“We did,” Mayor Hamilton said, his voice trembling.
“I want Danny to do it,” that disembodied voice said.
“You can’t have my son,” Donny yelled.
“Stop me,” the witch said. But no one knew how.
Danny Boyd is still the witch, year after year after year. It’s always his name that comes out of the hat. And he still does a fine job of being the Bell Witch. But the scariest figure in town is Donny Boyd, all gaunt, and hollow, and defeated. As empty and hopeless as that three block abandoned downtown.
“What good is a father who can’t protect his child from the likes of her?” He asks, often. But the only person who could answer was old John Bell, dead as can be. And he isn’t talking.