"Awright, haul that lumber in and bring'er up! Faster, I tell ya! What are ya, mollasses from Natchez?"
"Now you take that back, Jim Bob, My momma's from Natchez. And my poppa's from Natchez, and my grandmomma's from Natchez."
"Aw, Zeke, you're a Natchez Man? No wonder you work so slow."
"By God, I are a Natchez man, and if you don't take them words back, Jim Bob, I swear —"




Jesus christ my head!

"That was your fault, Jim Bob, and let me tell you what I meant. Now, i didn't mean for you to hit your head, but whenever you insult Natchez, well, you invite the Curse of Madame Zerbona and the Hollerhog.

Let me tell you about Madame Zerbona. She were a fine witchy woman from way east. Naw, not Jackson, I mean farther than that. Anyway, she say she come here a long time ago. I couldn't figure, she looked young enough to be my momma. My momma always changed the subject when I asked about that. Anyway, Madame Zerbona, she say she remember the Natchez Trace, what was supposed to link the Cumberland and the Mississippi. Worked well enough for a while. Dang near everybody who wanted to get to the Mississippi in those days had to take the Trace. Which meant a lot of people with Money. And a heap of people looking to steal that money. You get what I mean? It weren't never safe to take the Trace. Old Andrew Jackson, he could walk it blindfolded, because everyone knew he could shoot ten pistols blindfolded and kill ten men. But you get someone like the lady Zerbona, a woman alone on the Trace with a fancy trunk and one old mule, and she looks like easy pickings.

Well, maybe she were easy picking then then. Too easy. The bandits took her trunk and let her off. But oh, Madame Zerbona. She had one other thing to her name. She had connections. She knew a fellow, who knew a fellow, who knew a fellow, who had him some contacts from the cold country. The old country. The old cold country. And she had one other thing to her name, hidden in her heart: she had a coin from the old country. A big old coin, a big gold coin, and on one side was a picture of a snake, and on the other side was a picture of an eagle, and she said, the coin was minted in spain by a man from Mexico, and it made its way to her great-grandmother in a card game, and since then it was handed down daughter to daughter when the daughter could win against her mother in a game of poker. And each mother warned their dughter, never to spend that coin until the time came, and though their family suffered many slings and arrows, no daughter ever spent the coin before it was time.

And it was time at last to spend that coin. So Madame Zerbona, she called upon the man she knew, a man named Erik, who knew a man named Leif, who knew a man named Snorri, who knew some fellows from the Old Cold Country. And she sat there up on her mule, and she told Erik that she wanted a favor. And she showed him the coin, and Erik asked what kind of coin it was. And Madame Zerbona said that it was a coin made of the blood of the old world and the new world, and blessed by many mothers. And Erik asked what the favor was. And Madame Zerbona said that she wanted someone to help clean up the Natchez Trace, the whole Natchez Trace. And Erik asked her if she knew what she as asking for, and she said, surely the Old Cold Country could figure it out.

Now, Madame Zerbona never told me if she did know what she were asking for, but I think, if she were asking for help from the Old Cold Country, she knew what she would get. Maybe she only acted surprised when a bunch of short hairy fellows showed up at her door in Natchez and asked her for strange things. They wanted the sound of her footfalls, and they wanted a memory of when her momma hit her, and they wanted a scratch from a cat. They wanted the gleam of sunlight on her little mirror and they wanted the feet off her iron stove. And then they left.

And late that night, the whole town heard it -- the holler of a big old hog out in the woods. The Natchez Trace, it were travelled well enough that the big old hogs kept away from it, but now and then you'd see a big one on the road, and you would have to hope your guns were enough, and sometimes they weren't, and you'd have to hope you could find a good tree to climb. Big old hogs, and this one sounded like the biggest one, and oh, nobody slept that night.

And in the morning, atop the hill just outside of town, gleaming in the sunlight, there stood a big old golden boar. Twenty feet tall, it was, with glittering golden bristles, and silver tusks, and steel feet, and ruby eyes. It made not a sound. And then, it lifted its head, and hollered, louder than any hog had ever done.

Dang near everyone hid inside, hoping that the boar wouldn't just smash their door down. Only Madame Zerbona was willing to approach the thing. And when she did, she saw that on the boar's forehead was inscribed the words: fear not. And she told the boar to kneel, and it knelt. And she told the boar to sit, and it sat. And she told the boar to let her climb on, and it picked her up with a tusk and flipped her onto its back. And she told the boar to walk forward, and it walked forward. 

And so Madame Zerbona paraded through the streets of Natchez, telling everyone to fear not, for she would clean up the Natchez Trace. She would escort anyone who wanted to pay her a nickel, and she would charge a nickle for any distance, even if it were all the way to Cumberland. One nickel per person, mind you, not per group.

And so Madame Zerbona began to make a pretty penny while she had her way with the Trace. She would take folks this way and that way, and the bandit and the scoundrel she would trample beneath the feet of the boar, and soon enough the Trace was a lot quieter than it had been. The big hogs didn't back off, but they followed in the wake of the golden boar. And when the golden boar did holler, all the wild hogs around would come running. So they called it the Hollerhog. And Madame Zerbona would ride into town leading hundreds of people and many wild hogs.

Things began to go sour after a while. Folks got pretty scared of the Hollerhog, and of everyone who followed in its wake, because it meant they had nickels and you didn't, and anyway those big hogs looked pretty mean, and didn't that lady up there on the boar think she was better than us. And people began to say about the Golden boar that it were a real tyrant, yes sir, and wouldn't it be better if we were all free of the boar. Oh, and they began to say things about Madame Zerbona. Horrible things. Awful things. They whispered that she were Colored and she were supposed to be a slave. And when the golden boar passed through towns, people looked at Madame Zerbona like she werent worth a plugged nickel, even when she were up on that boar.

It were only the folks from Natchez who stuck by her, as everyone else got mad. Folks from Natchez escorted Madame Zerbona whenever she went anywhere without the boar, which weren't all that often out of doors, but indoors you can't fit a boar, and slave-catchers can fit indoors.

It got to the point where Madame Zerbona couldn't get a meal from any town outside of Natchez, and she had to get folks from Natchez to buy food for her, or else she had to get the boars to catch some food for her, when she were out on the trail, and it got to the point where folks outside of Natchez wouldn't sell to folks from Natchez because they thought it was going to Madame Zerbona and her Hollerhog. But Natchez stuck by her even then.

And Madame Zerbona got real mad at everyone, and she decided to do what she had sworn never to do, because it would hurt Natchez as much as any other place, and because she had been told time and again that it would condemn her to hell: let the slaves run. She told the Hollerhog to tell the wild hogs to escort whatever slaves ran away. And so the negroes began to escape north along the Trace, in numbers greater than they had ever managed. And she told the folks from Natchez what she had done, and they weeped, and they wailed, and they cursed Madame Zerbona, but not real curses, because she was still their Madame Zerbona. They stopped buying supplies for her, they stopped talking to her, but she was still their Madame Zerbona, and in Natchez, at the very least, she could walk without fear, even if she was shunned.

Maybe she shouldn't have told anyone what she had done. 'Cause that were the last straw for everyone who wanted to drag her off that old Hollerhog. One day, when she were a-ridin' through Cumberland County, a sherrif and a posse came riding up to meet her and the boar, and they waved their guns at her and told her to get down. Told her no Octaroon was going to tell them what to do anymore, and they were going to find her a proper master. Well, she wouldn't have that, and she told the boar to kill. But one of the fellows in the posse must have had an itchy trigger finger. A shot rang out, and a bullet struck the boar right in the forehead, right where it said "not". So now the boar's forehead just said "fear".

That there was the moment where the Natchez Trace ended. 'Cause that boar up and trampled the whole possse, and then it smashed through the town, and then it kept going south along the trace, trampling innocent people and flattening towns as it went, uprooting crops and goring dogs and cattle. And so it went all along the way, a path of devestation nobody would see again until General Sherman came marchin' through Georgia. And Madame Zerbona was on its back, holding on for dear life, 'cause that was the safest place to be on the entire road from Natchex to Cumberland. The worst place to be was in front of the boar, and he let people know it, lots of people.

And when it came to Natchez, there were lots of people who threw themselves right at the boar to stop it, and never mind being trampled if they could get in one good shot, if they could help lure the boar into the net, if they could hold the net down while other people tried to climb the Hollerhog, that was a worthy sacrifice, and there were many such. But such sacrifice paid off when someone managed to re-inscribe the beast's forehead, and it said "fear not" once more.

And Madame Zerbona told Natchez that the Hollerhog was too dangerous after all. She said that she would have to go away somewhere and take the boar with her, far away from crowds of people. But as she departed she gave this blessing to Natchez and this curse to everyone else: that any who insulted Natchez would have something heavy fall on their head. And the wild hogs have laid their own curse: if anyone insults Natchez or the Hollerhog then they'll know it, and they'll be out there in the woods waiting to gore and trample.

Nobody knows exactly where she went with the Hollerhog, but if you're in the mountains way out west, and you're up at dawn, you might see beast in the distance that glows golden as the sunlight hits it."

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