The White Feather Hex
BY DON PETERSON
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
"Yes," Peter explained, "That is the
only way you can tell if the hex has
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
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
"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
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
"I wonder how the hex would react on a
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
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
"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
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
"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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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