The town’s collective memory is forever scarred by one event which happened some time ago before the Great Depression, before our modern era of enlightenment and social freedoms, but much later than has been seen elsewhere in the world. There was a case of mass hysteria in the town which ended tragically, and looms over the town like a great shadow. There are still some alive who, though very young at the time, still remember the event well into their advanced years.
There was one woman named Carolyn Walt, a young woman with a sweet smile, curly short blonde hair and an enchanting way about her. She walked with utmost grace and dignity, yet her beauty and charm still aroused the lusts of youthful onlookers and provoked the envy and suspicion of her competitors. One night a young suitor named John Good, a handsome man from a well to do family, conceived the idea to ask Carolyn on a date. John was respected by the town for his potential, and highly sought after by women for his good looks and swaggering, confident way about him, despite the fact that he had a drinking problem and was known to at times be a rabble rouser and womanizer.
Well, it was no shock then when John worked up the nerve to ask Carolyn out one night, an offer he was sure she couldn’t refuse. A seemingly harmless proposal that would lead to one of the most gruesome events in all of Redland. She did accept, and the two went out dancing, and, inevitably, drinking. Carolyn did not indulge herself with drink as did John, and as the night grew old she grew tired of John’s increasingly bold advances toward her and his rough, crude manner. She would only court with a gentleman. At some point during the date, she asked to be taken home. John walked her back to her place, a nice little upperscale apartment complex on the side of town, loudly singing drunken tunes the entire way as she hurried along. At the doorway, he leaned in to kiss her and was flatly rejected with an exasperated, “Goodnight, Mr. Good,” as Carolyn closed the door in his puckered face. Infuriated, he began to pound on the door and demanded to be let in, yelling out obscenities and insults that woke the entire neighborhood, among them calling her a witch and a tease, one who put young men under her spell just to take their souls away and leave them high and dry.
Soon, several local busybodies awoke from their slumber and ambled out of the buildings to see what was the matter, and joined in John’s fury. And whether it was because of the town’s deep superstition, the women’s envy and insecurities, the men’s entitlement and outrage over having been rejected themselves by the young Carolyn, or mass hysteria fueled by gossip and religious phobias, soon it was concluded amidst the choir of accusations being hurled against her that she really was indeed a witch guilty of hexing the men of Redland by diabolic means and must be dispatched immediately to protect their families. The door was soon broken down and Carolyn dragged from her home. She was beaten senseless by the frenzied mob as she lie bleeding in the street as a small crowd of witnesses gathered. They then tore her body apart and sealed it in a whiskey barrel. Their good deed done for the night, her murderers silently returned to their homes.
Years passed, and Carolyn’s name became a byword and synonym for evil, and was memorialized in drunken hymns chanted in downtown bars and alleys, perhaps first originating with and perpetuated by John Good himself, now entirely given over to his addiction. Despite his initial potential, John had long since given up making anything of himself and was now merely known as the local drunk, a perpetual bachelor whose longest standing job was going downtown every night to numb his mind with alcohol. His once bright smile and young face replaced by worry lines and a 6 o’clock shadow, the town had fallen out of love with their favorite and now only looked upon him with pity, disgust, or at the best indifference.
One night, John decided to relate the glorious tale of the night they slew the cruel witch of Redland to his nephew Matthew. It was a tale that was retold countless times by those who could not forget that night, each time told with more ardent zeal, fantastic detail, and feverish enthusiasm, as if by twisting the facts and telling it excitedly enough they could persuade their own burdened consciences of the rightness of their actions. His young nephew of about 14 years of age, impressed by his dramatization and wanting a good fright for the night, asked his uncle to take him to the spot where she was killed so he could recount it there. This he did, and at Matthew’s request he re-enacted the spooky story.
“…and how did her body lay? I am finding it hard to envision it as you have said,” said the boy.
“Her body… lay… right here, like this,” said John, laying down in a dark spot on the asphalt sidewalk and curling into the fetal position to mimic Carolyn’s last moments. That is when the sweet intoxication of denial wore off and he was faced with reality. O Carolyn, sweet Carolyn! How long he had admired her ways from afar, longing to hold her in his arms and caress her beautiful face. Rather than her knight in shining armor, he had been the cause of her untimely demise. John silently wept as he lingered at her grave. From inside their dens, the other residents noted the two strange figures wandering the streets at midnight, one of them lying prostrate on the ground in the place where young Carolyn’s body once lay in a pool of blood. What were they doing? Conducting some sick ritual? They muttered amongst themselves. The familiar shape triggered paranoia mingled with guilt to arise out of their troubled hearts and protest this strange scene. They set out to interpret this sign, and amidst concerned debate they decided to think back and try to remember if there was anybody they had missed, anybody who might possibly be involved with Carolyn that seemed suspect. Two young girls not older than 12 volunteered to recount what they had seen.
“Well, there was a lot of yelling, and… we all went out to see what was the matter, and we saw Mr. Good pounding on the door of Miss Carolyn, and everybody started yelling…”
“Yes, and then people started saying she was a witch and needed to be killed, and they knocked the door down and grabbed her and started kicking her! And we were so scared, and we started asking you to stop, we wanted it to stop,” stammered the girls through broken sobs.
“And then when the beating was over, you cut into her body and it all just sort of came undone. And you picked up the pieces and stuck it in a barrel, and nobody knew what ta do with it. But her second cousin came and claimed the body a few days later.”
The participants silently listened to the unglorified recounting of that brutal night. The children they had been trying to protect had been forever traumatized by the event. The only noble act was the one done by the second cousin of Carolyn, who came and gave her an honorable burial when she didn’t even know her well. Yet her own neighbors who she lived amongst for safety’s sake had viciously turned against her. Whether it was because they were too concerned by their own burdened consciences to notice the telling looks on the faces of the others, or because they simply refused to acknowledge it for fear that it would shatter their collective delusion and incur guilt on themselves, the group would not admit to the remorse they felt over that night’s turn of events, but instead began to desperately seek to reinforce their mass hysteria and cover up their doubts with added bloodshed, as if by making another sacrifice they could confirm their version of reality and convince themselves of their own lies.
“Ok let’s think about this. Who isn’t here with us right now?” said a nosy midaged woman with a big nose, slanted forehead, and dark dull hair pulled back in a bun. She peered around the block through all the windows, and noticed one apartment with lights on, but nobody home.
The mob marched down the street in their renewed purpose, intent on seeing justice done. Not much later, they lynched John Good for witchcraft.