Eight Inspirations for “The Witch of Osborne Park”

by Stephanie Feldman

  1. In Pennsylvania, barns and homes are often decorated with “hex signs,” or decorative symbols with Pennsylvania Dutch symbolism. Stars are especially popular. You can buy them at Home Depot. “Hex” can also refer to witchcraft. The two types of hex-craft are not related, but what if they were? What if witchcraft charms were available at big box stores?
  2. In mammals, fetal cells migrate into the mother’s body. The maternal immune system eliminates many of these cells, but some integrate into the host tissue, where they may remain for decades, or even permanently. This makes mothers “micro chimeras,” organisms with distinct sets of genetic material. Little is known about the impact on mothers, or the evolutionary value of such a phenomenon.
  3. Horror relies on the uncanny or “unheimlich”—the unhomely—when the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The haunted house may be a metaphor for society or the family, which contains a traumatic and irrepressible secret. Or the haunted house may be a metaphor for the mind itself: the ghosts come from the basement, or the attic, the murky places inside you where things grow undisturbed.
  4. One morning I found a trail of white, kidney-bean shaped prints on my driveway. They were the size of a child’s shoe and had appeared overnight. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone small and invisible was circling me—footprints on the asphalt, footprints invisible in the ivy.
  5. In The Crucible, Goody Osborne is one of the first to be accused of witchcraft. She served as Mrs. Putnam’s midwife, and delivered three stillborn babies. Mrs. Putnam is certain that Goody Osborne—not nature, not God, not herself—is to blame.
  6. If you arrive in our suburban town by train, you will pass a planned townhouse community under construction. If you continue further, you will also find eighteenth-century farmhouses, a preserved wetland, several chain pharmacies, and an estate that was once a station on the Underground Railroad. The signs for the developments and stores are large and bright. The date plaques and historical markers are smaller, paler. The past is there—it’s right there—and yet somehow your eye slips over it.
  7. On a lark, I decided to smudge my new house. I lit a bundle of stage on the gas stovetop, and my four-year-old put her hands on my wrists as we waved it around the house. “Tell the bad things to go,” I said. It was a game. The sage extinguished on the top floor landing, again and again, though I couldn’t detect a draft.
  8. Our neighborhood has a Halloween children’s parade. The kids assemble in their superhero and princess costumes and walk two blocks together. At the end we have pizza. It’s not very scary at all. I am always disappointed.

My Face 1 STEPHANIE FELDMAN.jpgStephanie Feldman is the author of the novel The Angel of Losses (Ecco), a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, and is the co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s, Electric Literature, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Maine Review, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

 

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