Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
The story follows a woman named Beth and describes a strange incident involving her husband, Casey—an incident that has continued to haunt Casey, resulting in his increased consumption of alcohol. When the story begins, Beth is outside her neighbor Lil's house listening to a drunken Casey. He's been inebriated for two weeks straight this time. Beth barges in to retrieve Casey, and she and Lil get into a knock-down drag-out fight. Initially, they only insult one another, but eventually they come to blows. Beth seems to think that Lil was trying to "bushwhack" Casey and seduce him in his drunken state.
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Beth wins the fight, and she and Casey get in the truck. Casey falls asleep during the drive and bumps into Beth, causing her to lose control of the vehicle. It plunges into the creek. While Casey sleeps, Beth heads home to get what she needs to pull her husband from the water.
As Beth walks home, the story transitions into a flashback. Casey's first wife died the day after their wedding thirty years ago; a broken branch pierced her brain through her eye. His next wife evidently fell off a cliff. When Casey began courting Beth, Beth's mother, Nomey, warned her that Casey was cursed and gave her a charm to wear.
On their first night as a married couple, Beth sees someone in the woods near their home, so she follows the figure, which turns out to be a small old woman who crawls into a hollow log and disappears. When Beth tells Casey about the woman, he recounts a strange story: twenty years earlier, Casey was playing hide and seek with a friend. He thought he saw the friend's arm hanging out of a hollow tree, and he—just to be funny—slipped his own ring onto one of the fingers and said, "I take you as my wife . . . til death do us part." When the "little dried-woman, old as the hills" popped out, Casey panicked and ran.
Beth then went to Nomey with the tale, and Nomey told her that the old woman, Granny Lith, used to be a midwife in town. She advises Beth and Casey to leave food for the old woman and be nice to her. Nomey makes Casey promise to do whatever she and Beth tell him. Time passes, Beth gets pregnant, and they begin to smell the pipe smoke with which Granny is associated. It is time, then, to take other measures to protect their family.
Beth goes to the log, which hides the opening to Granny's cave, and she says that she will send Casey to the old woman for one night and no more. Beth also finds Casey's old ring at the log; Granny Lith has kept it all this time. She tells him that he must go to Granny's cave, take off all his clothes, and sleep with her. When Casey returns, he is injured and "dark clots clung to his chest." He falls ill and is feverish for two weeks. When he finally regains consciousness, he confesses that Granny Lith slept with him and then begged him to kill her. Casey then bursts into tears.
Back in the present, Beth has the mule haul Casey out of the truck and up the hill. She recognizes that the night with Granny Lith "had broken a part of Casey and graveled him up pretty bad." However, Beth still feels it was the right thing to do, as she and Casey have four healthy, grown-up daughters now. Casey is still a little drunk by the time they reach home, and Beth reassures him that he is a good husband. The story ends with them sleeping together.