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´╗┐Title: The White Feather Hex
Author: Peterson, Don
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The White Feather Hex" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



The White Feather Hex

_BY DON PETERSON_

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Weird Tales March 1951.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed.]

Heading by the Author

[Illustration: You waited till the feather turned red.]


It all started with a Dutchman, a Pennsylvania Dutchman named Peter
Scheinberger, who tilled a weather beaten farm back in the hills.

A strong, wiry man he was--his arms were knotted sections of solid
hickory forming themselves into gnarled hands and twisted stubs of
fingers. His furrowed brow, dried by the sun and cracked in a million
places by the wind was well irrigated by long rivulets of sweat. When he
went forth in the fields behind his horse and plow, it wasn't long
before his hair was plastered down firmly to his scalp. The salty water
poured out of the deep rings in his ruddy neck and ran down his dark
brown back. As he grew older the skin peeled and grew loose. It hung on
him in folds like the brittle hide of a rhino.

It seemed that the more years he spent in his fields behind the plow
horse, the more he slipped back into the timeless tradition of his
forefathers. He was a proud descendant of a long line of staunch German
settlers commonly known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. He grew up in his
fundamental, religious sect having never known any other environment. He
was exposed to the sun, soil, and wind from the early days of his
childhood, and along with the elements he also was exposed to the evils
of the _hexerei_. The _hexerei_, or witchcraft, was something that was
never doubted or scoffed at by his people. Then why should he, a good
Pennsylvania Dutchman, doubt or scoff at such tradition?

Perhaps, had he moved away from his ancestral lands and had been
cultured in modern communities, been educated and raised in other
schools, he might have matured. But having no time for any other
diversions than might be found on his rustic homestead, he grew up
behind the plow horse, tramping in the dark, stony pasture land, eking
out his meager existence from the black fields of Pennsylvania.

Now, Peter's life could have gone on unnoticed among these forgotten
hills, except for the strange visit of Martin G. Mirestone, student of
German history.

It was a cold night when Peter met Mirestone. Peter had been sitting up
rather late pondering over an old, yellowed book by the light of a
kerosene lamp. The pale flame flickered about the walls sending shadows
scurrying back and forth creating all types of weird shapes and designs.
Peter huddled over the withered pages, every now and then glancing up at
the walls to watch the fantastic games that light and dark were playing.
Then putting his book aside for the night he prepared to go to bed.

He went over to the window to draw the shutters, stopping for an instant
to peer out into the gloom along the stony path that ran from his house
to an old foot-bridge about fifty feet away. Curling up from the gorge,
mist seemed to play among the rotted planks; it rose and fell in great
billowing blankets, sometimes concealing the structure from view.

       *       *       *       *       *

Peter was about to latch the shutter and leave when his attention was
focused upon a figure that seemed to emerge from the fog--sort of fading
in from nowhere. It made its way across the narrow span like some
ghostly apparition. The mist enveloped his legs and clouded his
features. Peter drew back in terror, for the mere appearance of the man
coming out of the darkness was enough to fill his infant brain with
visions of death and _hexerei_.

As the figure drew closer Peter saw that it was wearing a cloak. All the
more ghostly it appeared with the cloak sailing behind him in the wind
like some devil's banner. Peter just stood transfixed as he watched the
stranger come up the winding road to his house.

Slamming the shutter he hurriedly fastened it and then turned to the
door to bolt that also. Too late. The door was thrown open revealing a
tall man clothed in black. His face was wreathed in a wide grin--a grin
that seemed to make fun of the grayish pallor of his face and the
ominous appearance of his wild garb. Before the man stepped inside,
Peter made a mental image of the scene, for it was to be firmly imbedded
in his mind so that he would never forget the slightest detail for the
rest of his life--the wind blowing about the fierce visage, tossing up
the long strands of hair; the massive, veined hand that clutched the
wrought iron thumb-latch, and the way that the lamp struck his face,
highlighting the thin, ridged nose and high cheekbones.

"Peter Scheinberger, heh?" the man spoke in perfect German. "Peter
Scheinberger, the last of your clan here in America."

It was several seconds before Peter could muster up enough courage to
answer him. Drawing back slowly he braced himself against the table, and
in a thick, guttural German asked, "Who are you?"

The stranger shut the door and drew the bolt. He crossed the room and,
with an air of one who was accustomed to having his own way wherever he
went, scanned the shelves of Peter's larder with a practiced eye.

Peter watched him closely as he drew down a bottle of wine, broke the
neck against a beam above him, and settled down in Peter's easy chair.
He poured a glass full and shoved it across the table towards the
anxious Peter, and then poured another glass for himself.

"Mirestone," the stranger finally answered, "Martin G. Mirestone." Then,
draining his glass, he added, "Student of German history."

All this was beyond Peter's comprehension. No one ever had the audacity
to walk into his house and help himself to whatever he wanted--he was
indeed unheard of in his tiny social world.

"Well, what are you staring at?" Mirestone boomed out. "Take my cloak,
please, then be seated. We'll talk."

Taking the cloak and draping it over a wooden peg in the wall, Peter
moved cautiously around the foreboding character that monopolized his
small house. Carefully seating himself opposite the man, he moved the
table so that it set between them as a protective barrier.

"I'll make myself clear to you," Mirestone explained, "For I want my
stay to be as brief as possible."

He poured himself another glass of wine, then settled back in the chair,
half closing his eyes. "You see, I am a student, you might say, of
German history or folklore. I am in the process of writing a collective
history of the Pennsylvania Dutch folk, their habits, beliefs, and--" he
broke off for an instant as he leaned forward across the table, staring
into the frightened eyes of Peter "--and their superstitions."

Shifting his chair around in order to get benefit from the heat of the
fireplace, Mirestone went on. "Now I want facts, Scheinberger, authentic
facts. I am prepared to pay you well for your trouble, but I insist on
information that is backed up with sound, accurate truth."

Peter became more relaxed but still slightly uneasy. He didn't like the
attitude of this man, Mirestone. He was too sure of himself--altogether
too cocky. But then on the other hand he had said there would be a
financial gain from any business that he could transact with him. Money
was something that Peter knew he needed in order to keep his farm going,
and any income, however small it may be, would be welcomed gratefully.
Yes, he decided that he had better endure the rudeness of this man.

For a few seconds, however, the tall stranger seemed to lose all of his
cockiness, and a somber look crept over his jovial features. "Have you
ever heard of the hex of the white feather?"

Peter thought a moment before he replied. "Yes. I have heard of it."
Then nervously he fingered his glass of wine that he had not as yet
touched. Raising it up to his lips he sipped it slowly as he stared at
Mirestone over the rim of the glass. "Yes. I have heard of it," he
repeated.

"Good, good. You have heard of it. Now, you will tell me about it, of
course. I want to know all about it--how it is practiced, the results,
and so forth."

"Is that why you came here? Only to learn of the white feather hex?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mirestone climbed to his feet and paced the room. "Yes," he said. Peter
noted a sad tone in his voice, and he waited for him to say more.

"Yes," Mirestone continued. "I have, like you, heard of the hex of the
white feather. I have traced it down to several families, but none could
tell me anything about it that was factual. Half of the stupid fools
made up stories as they went along--some concocting the biggest bunch of
asinine tales that I've ever heard. But you, Peter, are a descendant of
the Scheinbergers. I know for a fact that Otto Scheinberger practiced
the white feather hex and passed the power on down to your father. From
there it stopped. However, there must be some record of it in your
family. You are in possession of the books of your grandfather, aren't
you?"

"I have several of his books. Some of them I have read."

"Well," Mirestone waited. "Did you come across anything about the hex?"

"Yes," answered Peter. "I read about that which you mention."

"Splendid, now we are getting somewhere. Can you find me the book that
tells of it?"

Peter finished drinking his wine and setting the glass upon the table,
he slowly rose and faced Mirestone with a look of superiority playing
about his rustic features. "No, I am afraid not. You see, I have burned
the book."

Mirestone's face went white. "You burned it?"

"Yes," said Peter. "I don't wish to have anything to do with such black
magic. It is better burned."

"But you must remember the hex. Although the book is destroyed you still
have the information in your head, _nein_?"

"I could never forget it if I wanted to," replied Peter reluctantly. "If
I could burn my memory also it would be better."

Mirestone went back to the fireplace and placed several chunks of wood
on the blaze. A bright orange glow leaped out from the hearth and danced
mockingly over his pallid brow, hiding his lank jowls in the shadows
cast by the cheekbones. Like some grim spectre he rose up, towering
above the little Dutchman. Peter had only to look into his eyes to see
the imperative request that lingered behind the hollowed sockets.

       *       *       *       *       *

Throughout the remainder of the night Peter, almost in spite of himself,
wracked his brain to bring back to mind everything that was mentioned in
the book about the hex of the white feather. The idea was clear enough,
but the minute details, the infinite possibilities for mistake, and the
exacting specifications concerning the experiment were blurred in his
memory. He knew that with time he could bring back everything that he
had read, but it would take deep concentration and, perhaps, many days
of trial and error to determine the right path that they must follow in
order to have success.

Mirestone, realizing that any distraction would break Peter's train of
thought, sat quietly in the corner finishing off the Dutchman's supply
of wine. He watched Peter closely through his slitted eyes, and it
seemed that his compelling stare was the only force that could drive the
frightened Peter on. Every so often Peter would glance up and see
Mirestone leaning back in the corner half concealed by the deep
shadows--only his partially opened eyes could be seen flickering in the
fiery glow of the hearth. Then he would cover his face with his large,
knotted hands, work the twisted fingers through his hair, and try to
bring back to mind the evil recipe.

The glow from the fireplace gradually died down to make room for the
streams of morning dawn. Peter blinked sleepily and got up to stretch a
bit. Outside the dull morning light worked its way over Peter's
farm--clouds of mist still poured up from the gorge, circling the bridge
and creeping up the bank across the fields. Peter unlatched the heavy
oaken door and went outside to the outbuildings.

Meanwhile, Mirestone had started a fire in the stove and was placing
slabs of bacon in the pan. "Nothing like a good old-fashioned peasant's
breakfast," he laughed as Peter came in the door several minutes later.
"So, you brought a goat, heh?" he noticed. "Are you figuring on starting
in soon?"

Peter set a small kid on the floor and watched it scamper about the
room, looking for an exit. "Yes, we might as well. I don't like this
business at all. I wish to get it over with as soon as possible,
and----" Peter eyed Mirestone squarely. "I expect to be paid well for my
trouble." He was trying to make himself believe that that was his only
reason for complying with Mirestone's demands. Actually he was not so
sure....

       *       *       *       *       *

As the heat of the noon day sun blasted down on their backs, Mirestone
watched Peter pass a feather, freshly plucked from a white Leghorn,
under the nose of the bleating kid. Mirestone listened carefully to what
Peter was telling him. The breath of the victim had to be spread over
the feather before anything further could be done.

"Tie him," commanded Peter. Mirestone held the goat by the scruff of his
neck and fastened a halter about him. The other end was secured to a
stake allowing the kid to run about in a circle of ten feet or so in
diameter.

"We will leave him for awhile," said Peter as he walked back to the
kitchen.

Mirestone followed in the Dutchman's footsteps, and when they were
inside, he listened intently as Peter recited a monosyllabic chant over
the feather. "The chant is easy enough to learn," Peter assured him.
"You will master it quickly."

"I understand so far," Mirestone said.

"Then that is all," Peter finished, "except that you can hang the
feather up and watch it grow red."

"Red?"

"Yes," Peter explained, "That is the only way you can tell if the hex
has worked."

Peter went to a chest at the foot of his bed and drew out a small box of
sewing utensils. He broke off a piece of black thread and replaced the
box in the chest. "Now I'll show you what I mean," Peter spoke wearily
as he tied the feather with the thread and suspended it from one of the
rafters in the room. "Just sit and watch."

It was not many minutes before a light red tint crept up the feather's
quill, spreading slowly outwards towards the fringed edges. Deeper and
deeper grew the intensity of the color until it reached a pure blood
red.

"Hurry outside," cried Peter. "You can see the goat in its last seconds
of life."

Mirestone hurried after the Dutchman. Jerking at the halter the goat
bleated in agony, prancing up and down frantically. Its eyes grew
horribly bloodshot and finally closed. With a feeble, choking sigh, the
animal dropped over on its side, its legs still twitching spasmodically.
Mirestone bent over the hairy form and examined the head, now wet with
perspiration.

"Nothing can be done for the beast?"

"No." Peter looked on with a touch of pity in his eyes, "Nothing can be
done once the feather has turned red."

As if the death of the kid was their cue, masses of thick thunderheads
turned over with a deep rumbling thunder. The sky became crystal clear,
and a greenish glow could be seen working its way across the horizon.
The sky darkened as the glistening thunderheads now taking on an ominous
coloring warned the farmers of the impending storm.

It was later that evening. Rain drummed against the slate roof of
Peter's house and reverberated through the rooms to where Mirestone and
the Dutchman sat by the fire in silence. Mirestone broke the still
atmosphere by putting forth a question that Peter somehow knew would be
coming sooner or later.

"I wonder how the hex would react on a human being?"

Peter hoped to end the topic by answering him quickly and not beating
around the bush trying to evade the question. "It would kill him
eventually. Maybe not so quick as the goat, but it would kill him."

"What do you mean not as quickly as the goat--do you think it would take
more time on a human?"

"Perhaps. I have heard of cases in which the hex, once it was started,
dragged on for many days."

"I see." Mirestone sat back again thinking to himself.

Peter didn't like this. He wanted to get rid of Mirestone. "Well, you
have your information. I showed you how the hex works. So, why not pay
me and leave?"

Mirestone got up and laughed in the Dutchman's face. Crossing to the
larder, he brought down a bottle, cracking the neck on the beam above,
just as he had done the night before. A wave of apprehension overcame
Peter as he realized the old flip attitude of Mirestone's was coming
back. That meant definite trouble, and Peter began to fear the
consequences.

"So, why not pay me and leave?" he again ventured. "Or do you want
something else?" Peter knew that he didn't need to ask that last
question, for already he realized the grim experiment that was playing
about in Mirestone's head.

"Yes. I just told you what I wanted. I want to see the hex on a human
before I go."

"Why? You have your information. Why do you want to see it work on a
man?"

"My stupid, little peasant friend, do I look like a student of history?"

For the first time Peter actually looked at Mirestone and saw him for
what he was. Of course, he couldn't be a student. No student would act
as he did, or even look as he did. The words jammed in his throat as he
was about to voice a reply.

"Ha--Martin G. Mirestone, student of history, student of German history.
No my little oxen friend. I am no more a student of history than you
are, but I need the hex for other reasons which do not concern you."
Then as if he were contemplating a great new joke he continued. "But on
the other hand, maybe the future of the white feather hex does concern
you."

Mirestone's voice was drowned out by a heavy rumbling of thunder and the
increased splashing of rain on the windows. But somehow Peter seemed not
to notice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Somewhat later Mirestone stepped quietly over to the sleeping form of
his host. Peter had been over twenty-four hours now without sleep, and
although the old Dutchman had tried desperately to fight off the
drowsiness that overcame him, the recent excitement of the day had
finally taken its toll. Lightning struck near by followed with an ear
splitting blast that shook the house to its rocky foundations. Pieces of
slate flew off the roof and were carried away into the night. The rain
poured down in a great deluge, blurring the window, making it impossible
to see in or out.

Mirestone held out a glistening white feather in his long spidery
fingers. He placed it within a few inches of Peter's nose and watched
the delicate edges riffle in the Dutchman's breath. Crossing to the
table, he leaned over the white fluff and breathed the short German
incantation over it. How it glistened in the firelight! He bent closer
and closer as he whispered the magic words that Peter had taught him,
his breath ruffling the feather, playing about in the fringed softness.
He hung up the feather by a thread and watched it hop back and forth in
the center of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Peter awakened and saw Mirestone sitting by the fire noting every
movement of the feather. "What are you doing, heh?"

Mirestone swung around and glared at the bleary eyed Dutchman. "Sit
down," he commanded. "Sit down and watch the feather turn red."

Peter didn't need to be told that it was his feather. He knew by the
merciless eyes of Mirestone that everything was over. "So, you were
determined to find out what would happen if the hex were tried on a
man?"

Peter was surprised at how easily he took his fate. There was no need of
excitement--this was his end and there was no changing it.

"Yes, I had to know, for I can't leave until I have a complete record of
all the results." Mirestone certainly was not cocky now. He looked
almost ashamed of himself as he sat there nervously watching a man's
fate swing by a silken thread. "I'm sorry, Peter, my friend, but that is
how it must be. You are a stepping stone to a glorious reckoning that
will soon take place. The hex of the white feather--I can hardly believe
that I have at last tracked it down. And you, Peter, are the last
witness, the last link in the chain of those who know the secret, and
how can it better end than by your becoming a part of the secret?"

Peter realized that he had not much longer to live and nothing he could
do to Mirestone would change his fate. Perhaps he could save others,
though.

"What is this glorious reckoning you were speaking about?"

"As soon as I see how your case ends, I'll be able to go ahead and
release my vengeance on those stupid, bungling fools who have thwarted
my progress in the black arts. They claim to speak in the name of
humanity, no less!"

"In that case," exclaimed Peter, "I won't let myself be a foothold for
your damned work--it is of the devil and I'll have no part of it."

"Shut up, fool. You are a part of it already."

"Not if my body is destroyed before you can get hold of it."

Peter played his trump card. He quickly sprang back and slipped out the
door into the storm. Mirestone jumped up after him, but it was too late.
He peered out into the raging tempest making out the figure of Peter
struggling with the hatch on the horse barn. He pulled his cloak about
him and started towards Peter to stop him. The rain beat his face,
blinding him momentarily, and before he could see clearly a dark mass
pounded by, swift hoofs spattering mud all over him.

Down the road sped Peter on the horse--down the road and towards the
foot-bridge. Mirestone ran a few steps and halted. He heard the hollow
staccato of horse's hoofs on the planks for an instant, followed by a
splintering crash that rumbled up from the gorge. A long, guttural cry
pierced the black gloom as man and horse plunged down to the seething
death awaiting them.

Cursing savagely, Milestone trudged back through the rain to the house.
He slammed the door shut and threw his cloak on Peter's bed. There was
one more bottle on the shelf; he smashed the neck and poured a glass. If
one could see him bent over the table sending silent curses into his
wine, he could readily imagine the feeling of defeat that had spread
over Mirestone's countenance. The idiot of a Dutchman who had to play
the hero's part and save other lives by ending his own made Mirestone
fairly sick. However, all was not over. So the Dutchman had died; the
hex had worked--a lot sooner than he had expected though. Now he
certainly would be delayed in his progress, for he had counted on
examining the body for any traces left that would suggest something out
of the ordinary. One thing, however, he had learned was that the hex at
least worked on humans. The mangled body that was being washed over the
rocks would be enough proof on that score.

Mirestone poured another drink. He leaned back in the chair and placed
the glass to his lips. He was tilted so far back that as he raised the
wine to a drinking position, it blocked his view of the room. As he
slowly sipped it, however, the room began to come into view--the ceiling
first and slowly the wall. His eyes focused on a piece of thread hanging
from the ceiling, and as the wine sank lower and lower in the glass, the
thread grew longer and longer until in one last swallow he was able to
see the end of the line.

Mirestone's hand went stiff as he looked at the thread, for on the end
of it was a pure white feather.

       *       *       *       *       *

In an instant Mirestone realized that the hex had not worked. Peter's
death at the bridge had been a grotesque coincidence. Had the untimely
plunge in the rapids been the result of the hex the feather would have
long since been red, therefore, the tragedy was no more than an accident
and Mirestone's hands were innocent of the Dutchman's blood. That
realization, of course, didn't bother him, for he was not concerned
whether or not he was responsible for Peter's death, but he was
genuinely worried in the failure of the hex. He wondered if he had done
something wrong. If he had, the last link, that could have corrected him
was broken. From here on in he was on his own.

He calmed himself and began to think. He retraced everything that he had
done to see if he couldn't have found some margin in which error could
have crept in. He remembered how carefully he had bent over the feather
reciting the exact words taught him by Peter. He especially remembered
that part of the hex, for hadn't the feather been ruffled by his breath
when he spoke....

Gradually the truth began to dawn on Mirestone. His own breath must have
released Peter from the hex. The last person's breath that touched the
feather would feel the sting of the power. Mirestone sat back
dumbfounded. He was to be his own guinea pig. What ghastly horror was he
in for? Would he die quickly like the goat or would his death be
prolonged over a period of days like Peter had suggested. He gripped
himself. It wouldn't do to lose control of his senses. There must be a
way out of the predicament. But Peter said that as soon as the feather
turned red there was no turning back. Ah--there's the answer. The
feather is still white ... there's still a chance.

Mirestone grabbed his cloak and raced for the door. He must get an
animal--another goat, perhaps, and expose the feather to its breath. He
must hurry lest the spell will start working.

The slippery mud dragged him back and impeded his progress, but he
struggled on through the blinding storm towards the barn. It was so
black outside that he could hardly make out the buildings. All at once
he saw the barn looming ahead of him. Which door? Every second counted;
he would try the first one he came to. Wait--what's this holding his
cloak? Mirestone turned and fumbled with some barbed wire fencing. It
had snagged him in the dark, and he soon became hopelessly entangled in
it. Crying and shrieking, he tore the cloak from his shoulders and ran
on in his shirt sleeves. He wrenched open a door and sprawled in the
barn head first. On his hands and knees he scurried across the mealy
floor to the goat stall. The kids sprang in terror as he lurched in
drunkenly, grabbing about in the dark for one of them. Catching one by
the hind leg, he groped his way out again.

Thrusting his shoulders forward he slid through the gripping mud,
tearing his way through the engulfing rain with his free hand. His leg
left numb from the wound inflicted by the barbed wire, and a trickle of
blood was running down his shins. Without thinking he reached down to
rub the wound, but quickly yanked his hand up again. What was that
horrible sensation he felt as he passed his hand over the fleshy sore?
He couldn't see in the rain, but his leg told him that it was something
hairy, almost bristly.

He ran on towards the house, stumbling in the treacherous mud. Once he
fell completely down in the slime. Wiping the dripping earth from his
face, he was told again that something was wrong. His cheeks verified
his shin's story of a rough, jagged caress.

Holding his hand in front of his face he saw, amidst a flash of
lightning, a curling, black claw, bristling with long, ragged hairs.
Screaming hysterically he dropped the kid and fell forward into the door
of the house. The latch gave way with his weight and he tumbled into the
cottage.

Dancing madly on the end of a thread was a blood red feather.





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