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News & Features » July 2019 » “The Road You Take” by Jean Wolfersteig

“The Road You Take” by Jean Wolfersteig

Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.

This week, Gramoon has some tall tales to tell—and one of them might be true.

The Road You Take
by Jean Wolfersteig
Cow Foot Woman, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

I suppose I should’ve listened to my Gramoon when she scolded me with her old sayings.

“Pearl,” she’d say, “remember, the road you take to escape the bogeyman may be the same road he takes to find you.”

The bogeyman she hinted at back then was the Noss Negler, being she was German and lived in New York. In case you don’t know, the Noss Negler sews up shivering children’s butt cheeks in the winter when they misbehave. According to Gramoon, wandering into the swamp “full of copperheads” or ice skating on the “bottomless” Devil’s Lake counted as misbehaving.

The way I figured it, adults will tell you any creepy tale that pops into their limited minds to keep you in line. Ergo, you don’t have to pay much attention to them.

But it’s only fair to say my Gramoon was not your normal run-of-the-mill grandmother. She thought children were fine, except you should walk a mile before you see one. And her given name was Luna, as in “moon.” Especially “full moon” when she’d go into worrisome trances, like she was psychic or something.

I didn’t mess with her.

Except when I shoved her housedress under her girdle while she washed dishes.

Anyway, this is what happened. A few years ago, Gramoon came with us on our usual winter break to Tortola. And, don’t you know, tout de suite, she heard about Bomba’s full moon parties—and the Cow Foot Woman.

“Pearl,” she said, “don’t go near those full moon parties. The Cow Foot Woman will get you. She stands like a human, but she has the thighs and hooves of a cow, and she drags a chain behind her.”

Uh huh.

“Her legs were cut off in a meatpacking plant accident, so she had the legs of a cow sewn on.”

Of course, she did.

“She hates children because they stare and laugh at her.”


“She kidnaps them when they wander into the woods or . . . strange places.”

Like Bomba’s full moon parties. “And?”    

“Eats them alive.”

Oy. It just goes to show you adults everywhere make up stories to panic kids.

Naturally, I went to the next full moon party. The Bomba Shack was a plywood wreck on the ocean covered with shifty signs and women’s underwear, where you could buy mugs for psilocybin mushroom tea. I told the man I needed a mug for my Gramoon, thinking that’ll get her. He sold me a mug and pointed to the back of the lot where they brewed and served the tea from a big tub.

I went to the tub, held out my mug—for my Gramoon—and another man ladled my tea. I downed it before I lost my nerve. Then, I wandered through the crowd, swaying to the music, watching people dance.

The moon slipped in and out of rainbow-colored clouds. Palm trees vibrated like they were breathing. People had halos around them. I ran to the beach to get away from the crowd and closed my eyes, listening to the waves, until the scraping of metal startled me. And there she was, the Cow Foot Woman, with her bovine thighs and hooves and a chain trailing behind her.

I was a goner. My heart took off in a race.

“Remember, the road you take to escape your fear might be the same road something wonderful takes to find you,” she said. “The road runs both ways.”

Not what I expected from a kid cannibal.

I looked her in the eye, and, I swear, beneath the dreadlocks and rows of beads, she looked like Gramoon.

The Cow Foot Woman had a point, but I knew not to be taken in by her. Sometimes, running from the bogeywoman is exactly what you need to do. I tore home with the sound of her hooves clattering behind me. When I threw open the door, Gramoon was standing right there, slightly breathless. She never said a word. She just held my head while I vomited through the night. That’s when it came to me. She might be the bogeywoman, but Gramoon was something wonderful.

The Bomba Shack is gone now, pitched into the sea during the hurricane. So is Gramoon. At least, I think she is. You can never be sure with that one. But you can bet I’ll warn my children that misbehaving is bound to bring the Cow Foot Woman around.


JEAN WOLFERSTEIG retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband and has spent many winters in Tortola.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Duppy Thursday flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jul 18, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Duppy Thursday | Tags: , , , , , , , ,