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The Tale of the White Witch

Back in the 1970s, my best friend at University told me that he had met a 'white witch' and was seeing her regularly. We both lived in the University’s Hall of Residence, along with a couple of hundred other students, most of whom were in their late teens or early twenties. It turned out that this witch lady also lived in the Hall, but was a ‘mature age student’ — i.e. an older lady, maybe in her early thirties, who was attending University at a later stage in her life than the rest of us. I was introduced to her: she was a tall, rather majestic-looking brunette with the look of something Indian about her — softly spoken, with that mysterious glint in her eye which you see with some people as though they are seeing more than they are saying, or having a private joke to which you don’t know the punchline.

At that time, I was going through a difficult ‘teenage angst’ period, which looking back was actually depression and what they used to call a ‘nervous breakdown’. I was extremely nervous around people and very anxious most of the time, for no apparent reason — neurotic, really. I hadn’t yet grasped any real idea of who I was or wanted to be. So I was a little overawed by this woman and didn’t initiate much conversation. But there was a brief period where a small group of us would visit her room on occasion and listen to what she had to say.

One of the first stories she told was to do with the Hall itself. This was built in a hillside and her first room was on the ground floor, next to one of the entrances. She explained that she had had to move to an upstairs room because of two things that had occurred: the first was that another student, coming back to his room late and finding the entrance locked, had attempted to enter the building through her window. What made this story interesting was that the student had apparently freaked out when she had risen from bed with her eyes shining like torches. He screamed and ran.

The other reason was an ongoing incident which she said kept happening, which was bugging her. Almost every night, she claimed, an image of a woman pushing a pram would appear through her wall, cross her room, and disappear through the opposite wall. This was, she surmised, an image of something that had happened before the building was built — a woman pushing a pram up the hillside. It was just that the image was lingering and repeating for some reason… and keeping a witch (whose senses were obviously more sensitive to such things) awake. So she moved upstairs, to the room in which we occasionally met with her.

One evening, a group of about four of us congregated in her room to hear what she had to say about Life. I forget most of it now - it was over 40 years ago - but the gist was that there would soon be a Third World War (she said), a war which would make all other wars look like picnics by comparison. From the ruins of that conflict, humanity would finally get together and produce a unified race, a mix of white, black and Asian races, which would be called the Tan Race. There would be a period of peace.

Now, while she was telling us this, I have to explain what was happening around us at that time. University Hall rooms were quite small — think of a very small bedroom, just enough room for a bed and a desk — and the corridors linking them were very narrow. The group of us sat more or less huddled on the witch’s bed; she sat in the desk chair, telling us all this. About halfway through the discussion, which was taking place late at night or early the next morning, maybe 2:00 am, we all heard a faint scraping noise down the outside wall of her room in the corridor. We didn’t give it much thought, but continued to listen to her tales of the way the universe was structured, of human auras, or what happens when people die, etc. etc. — fascinating topics. No other noises were heard.

At about 4:00 in the morning, we decided that we had better get some sleep, and so she opened the door to her room and we stepped outside. There, lying in the corridor, was a large street sign, about ten feet tall, saying ‘Bumpy Road Ahead’, with fresh mud on its base. We all looked at each other: there was no way that that sign could have been brought into that narrow corridor without a great deal of fuss. Students were known even then for pranks, but to smuggle such an object in without any noise whatsoever — except for that faint scraping sound on the wall which we all now recalled — seemed beyond credibility. And ‘Bumpy Road Ahead’, when we had been talking about the future of the world…? We looked at her — my friend asked ‘Is this your doing?’ She just smiled, cryptically, and bid us good night. One by one, we clambered over the sign and made our frightened way back to our beds…

The sign was gone in the morning.

I’m still not sure what happened there.


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