Johnny, bored by the journey, maintains a running commentary on his environment and the passing scenery, but his mother pays little attention to him. Other passengers only annoy him with their condescending joviality towards him.
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Johnny departs from the commentary to inform his mother that he sees a witch. Just then, an elderly man wearing a blue suit enters the coach. The boy greets him and tells the man about the witch as well. The man asks Johnny his age, to which Johnny lies extravagantly.
Suddenly, the man tells Johnny that he murdered his sister and chopped her into small pieces. The man continues to finish his story about how he decapitates his sister and feeds her head to a bear.
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Johnny, however, expresses little shock or horror at the story. He remains matter-of-fact and simply relays the information to his mother when she berates the man and orders him to leave.
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As the man leaves, he and Johnny share a laugh. The mother attempts to impress upon Johnny that the man was only joking. Johnny is not wholly convinced, and he wonders aloud whether the man is a witch. The protagonist, Johnny, on a more youthful and less extreme scale, demonstrates what happens to Jackson's middle-aged characters who are unhappy with their lives. Boredom leads to the concoction of fantasies, which can lead to real experiences with the sinister, the fantastic, or both. Bored on the train coach, Johnny attempts to entertain himself by describing the reality of his environment as they cross over rivers, are on bridges, and so on.
However, his mother pays little attention to him, so Johnny resorts to making up a witch, which has sinister connotations. This parallels, on a smaller scale, the experience of the titular character in "Elizabeth": that young woman is bored and unhappy with her life, so she seeks solace in a fantasy of her potential future with James Harris.
The Witch and other stories
Likewise, Johnny's fantasies lead him to witches, then to the old man, who enters the train coach directly after Johnny mentions witches. The old man, however, with his murderous story under a seemingly harmless exterior, is as evil as a witch. The old man knocks Johnny and his mother out of their complacency, which the mother finds horrific but Johnny finds entertaining. In many of Jackson's stories, children are much less ensconced in social conventions than are their parents or other surrounding adult figures see "Afternoon in Linen" or "After You, My Dear Alphonse".
The mother is deeply upset, but Johnny is only entertained. Social values require that the mother react negatively to anyone's murder, let alone the murder of one's younger sister, but Johnny is not constrained by such values.
Thus, he can derive amusement from the old man's depiction of how he murdered his own young sister. Jackson characterizes Johnny's mother as a rather apathetic, if not outright lazy parent, up to that point. Her baby is not correctly strapped to her seat, which results in the baby constantly falling out of the seat and requiring attention.
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The Witch and Other Stories
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