Wednesday, February 5, 2014
NIGHTMARES IN THE WITCH HOUSE
NIGHTMARES IN THE WITCH HOUSE
John Ross never fancied himself as anything special. He was just another blue collar slob who appreciated a cold beer, enjoying watching mind-numbing sitcoms, and indulged in copious amounts of junk food.
He never fathomed that something as paltry as a dead car battery would drastically alter the course of his future. But it goes to show you never can tell.
John had left the office late that crisp October evening. Of course, John didn’t really work in the office. He worked in one of the many studios located behind the office. But when he got to his car and turned the key in the ignition, the Plymouth wouldn’t start. The headlights were dead, and the lights inside the car were dead too.
He didn’t have any jumper cables handy, so he caught up with one of his coworkers in the parking lot. Nino didn’t have any cables either, but he was nice enough to offer John a lift home. They just had to drop Simon Cantwell off first.
Simon and Nino worked together in one of the studios adjacent to the studio that John occupied, and they often carpooled to work. John didn’t mind though, even if it meant cramming in the back of Nino’s tiny Trans Am, at least he had a ride home.
“There’s just one little detour,” Nino informed John as he started the Trans Am and the engine vibrated. “Simon’s been hounding me all day to swing by the witch house on our way home.”
“Witch house?” John asked curiously as they pulled out of the lot.
“Yeah, you never heard of it?” Simon said from the shotgun seat. John shook his head. “How long have you lived in Eden Harbor?”
“Not long enough apparently,” John shrugged.
“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of the place,” Simon said. “Well, you’ll see it when we get there.”
John’s heavy eyes fluttered and if it wasn’t for the cylinder misfires causing the car to shake every time Nino stepped on the accelerator, he would’ve curled up on that backseat and called it a night.
“You look like deep-fried shit.” Nino said from behind the wheel. It wasn’t eloquently stated, but it was an apt description. John hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep in five days. His eyes, dark and unfocused, were crying out for rest. The reoccurring nightmares of his own fiery demise were enough to induce many sleepless nights.
In some nightmares, the accident occurred during the day, sometimes at night. But the outcome was always the same; John died.
The accidents always occurred while John driving his Plymouth alone. That’s why he actually felt relieved riding in Nino’s shaky Trans Am. He recalled most of them vividly. He’d wake up in a cold sweat, remembering how it felt when the steering wheel slipped from his hands and the Plymouth would careen off the road, crashing into a ditch or over the side of a bridge. In one nightmare, his car rammed head-on into a utility pole. He could feel the impact as his Plymouth collided with the pole and burst into flames suddenly, giving him no chance to escape the burning wreckage.
“I haven’t been sleeping too well,” John muttered.
“You should try Xanax,” Nino suggested. “Knocks me right out. I take it whenever I need a quick nap.”
Nino grew up in Brooklyn, as if his accent wasn’t any indication. It really showed when using particular phrases For example, instead of saying “you guys” in reference to John and Simon, he would say “youse guys”. It was an annoying habit, but it was a habit that John could tolerate.
What he couldn’t tolerate was Simon constantly referring to himself in the third person. “Simon says this”, “Simon says that”. It’s funny and clever the first few times you hear it, and then after the tenth time you hear it you want to knock his frigging lights out.
Nino had John’s respect. He was a talented artist who dedicated all his time to his work. Simon was another story.
A rich kid in his mid-twenties, Simon didn’t need to draw comics for a living. He had a trust fund that could buy a private island and he’d still have cash to spare. While Nino was doing most of the work, Simon was busy partying and fooling around on his sailboat half the time.
John had worked at a marina for a brief period in his teens. They had a special term down at the docks for sail-boaters. WAFI–Wind Assisted Fucking Idiots.
“So where is this place?” Nino asked Simon, the only one who knew the directions by heart.
“Simon says turn left on Oak Street.”
Nino stopped at the end of the block and cut the wheel to the left, turning sharply onto Oak Street. “Now what?”
“Simon says drive four blocks and make a right on Fur Street.”
“Are you going to do that the whole ride?”
“Yup,” Simon said and chuckled obnoxiously.
“So what is this place?” John inquired.
“They call it the witch house,” Nino explained. “It’s on Rosemary Lane. People say the old bat who owns the place is one hundred years old. I can’t say for sure but one thing is a guarantee; she always has candles burning in the window. People say the candles represent the number of people driving in the car. For example, Simon and I have passed the place ten times. Every time we pass it, there are always two candles in the window. But the one night I passed the place by myself, there was one candle in the window.”
“What if two cars are driving by in different directions?”
“It’s different for everyone. People have reported seeing two different sets of candles with two different amounts. If a car of three passes, they’ll see three candles. If a car of five passes, they’ll see five. Even if they pass at the same time.”
“Freaky,” John said, trying to play along. But he grew more convinced when Nino pulled up along the curb of Rosemary Lane and he saw three candles glowing in the window.
“What did we tell you?” Simon said, motioning with his head toward the gleaming candles.
“How… How is it possible for her to know?” John asked, baffled.
“That’s why they call it the witch house,” Nino remarked, peering out at the gothic structure. Everywhere he glanced, the house showed signs of rust, rot, and decay. Even through the night’s gloominess, the signs of neglect were evident. It was almost as if the owner went out of their way to neglect the property and make visitors feel unwelcome. “I’ve always wanted to go inside.”
“Maybe if we knock and ask politely she’ll charge us five bucks and give us the grand tour,” Simon laughed, then stopped abruptly as if he had reached a sudden epiphany. “You know what, fuck it. What have we got to lose? We’re here. There’s no shame in trying.”
“I don’t know youse guys,” Nino shook his head. “This house gives me a bad vibe.”
“Come on,” Simon egged him on. “Don’t be a chicken. Besides, we got John here. We’ll make him knock.”
“What?” John said, sounding groggy.
“Yeah,” Simon said. “Nino was nice enough to give you a lift. The least you can do is knock.”
“I don’t see you volunteering,” Nino pointed out.
“Fine you bunch of wimps. Let’s all three of us go up together and knock. Ok?”
“Sounds alright with me,” John shrugged. “Like you said, what have we got to lose? What’s she going to cast a spell on us?”
Nino sighed and looked uneasy as the three exited his white Trans Am with his bumper sticker that read ASS, ASS, OR ASS. NOBODY RIDES FOR FREE. And John was hoping that sticker wasn’t literal.
In the center of the wooden door was a brass ring that dangled from the mouth of a metallic lions head. After some slight harassment from Simon, John gripped the ring and rapped on the door several times.
A voice boomed from the speaker of the intercom beside the door. They hadn’t even bothered to take note of it because they were all too distracted by the candles. And secretly, the three of them were all a little spooked. The house gave off an unsettling vibe.
“What do you want?” was all the raspy female voice asked.
“Ma’am,” Simon spoke, trying to feign politeness. “My friends and I were hoping to speak with you. We had a few questions we wanted to ask you.”
“Are you a reporter?”
“You with the police?”
“Well, come in if you’re coming in. The doors unlocked. It’s always unlocked… when I want it to be.”
“You can do the honors,” Nino nodded to Simon. “It was your bright idea.” Simon twisted the loose knob and the door pushed forward.
The house was dark and difficult to navigate their way through. The floorboards chirped and screeched with every step. The curtains and fixtures were stained yellow with nicotine. They could smell the stale cigarette smoke as soon as they walked in. The whole house reeked like VFW Hall.
They found her waiting in the dining room, arms crossed in front of her.
The skin of her face was drawn back tightly. Purple veins jutted from her dense forehead. Her wrinkled palms were like strips of sandpaper. She looked like a caricature of a Francisco Goya painting.
“Are you a witch?” Simon asked and Nino’s palm grazed the back of his head for being such a dope.
“Is that what people say about me?” she laughed; the laughter turning in a fit of coughing. Simon nodded. When the coughing ceased, she added, “Then I guess it must be true. And is this what you came here to ask me?”
“I guess we came here out of curiosity,” Nino shrugged.
“You know what they say about curiosity,” she said with that raspy tone. She never finished her thought but they all knew the last part.
“I’m Nino,” he said, trying to be formal. “This is Simon and that’s John. And you might be?”
“Call me Sabrina.”
“Like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch?” Simon chuckled.
“Do I look like a fucking teenager to you?” she chided and that seemed to shut Simon up. It also brought a grin to John’s face.
“What’s the deal with the candles?” Nino asked.
“Whatever do you mean?” Sabrina asked and smiled peculiarly. It wasn’t a benevolent smile. It was the way a child smiles when they know something you don’t.
“The candles in the window,” Nino continued. “What’s the deal?”
“There’s no story behind them,” Sabrina said. “I just like to use candles. Better than wasting electricity, don’t you agree?”
“Stop jerking us around,” Simon said, growing impatient. “You know damn well what my friend is talking about. You’ve been playing mind games with this whole town for years.”
“Don’t play coy. Every time we pass here together, there are two candles in the window. Tonight, John is with us and just coincidentally there happens to be three candles in your window? I’m not buying it.”
“People see what they want to see,” Sabrina shrugged.
“This bitch is getting on my nerves,” Simon said directly to Nino.
“I’d watch it if I were you,” Sabrina said, her arms unfolding as if preparing for some ugly confrontation.
“And I’d appreciate it if you stopped jerking me around like a Thai hooker. Now tell us the truth.”
“Careful what you wish for,” she warned. John could see her getting angrier, hear it in her voice.
“I know what you are. I’ll expose you. I’ll drive you right out of this town. Do you know who I am? Do you know who my parents were?”
“I know you might be joining them soon.”
“Is that a threat?” Simon said, the tone of his voice rising. John was ten seconds away from punching this WAFI in the face to shut him up for good. “You don’t know who you’re messing with. I’ll burn this place to the ground.”
John was the first to the door. Nino had to pry Simon away, who was still trying to stand his ground.
As they drove away, John saw only one candle remained glistening on the windowsill. “Fuck is that about?”
“She’s just trying to screw with us,” Nino said, his voice cracking.
John saw it before Simon or Nino did, just as he had time and time again in his nightmares. He saw the high beams flashing in the distance, heard the wail of the horn as the truck jammed on its brakes and slid across the wet pavement.
Nino tried to cut the wheel, but there was no time. The truck and Nino’s car went head to head. The front of Nino’s Trans Am was folded like an accordion. Broken glass, twisted steel, and other debris littered the street. The airbags were deployed, but not much good it did when the front of the car was so smashed in that Nino was crushed between the seat and the steering wheel.
Simon had neglected to buck his seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle upon impact. Cops found his body fifty feet from the wreck, his spine twisted like an oversized pretzel.
John’s life was spared by his seatbelt and the fact that he was in the backseat. He walked away with a sprained ankle, a few minor lacerations from the shattered windshield, and a dull ache in his back.
He lost a good friend in Nino. He didn’t miss Simon half as much. The way John saw it, if Simon hadn’t gone shooting off his mouth, Nino might still be alive. The WAFI had sailed off into the sunset, and John found himself relieved. And he even published a new comic out of the whole ordeal. He called it Nightmares in the Witch House.
John never crossed paths with Sabrina again. He went out of his way to avoid driving past the witch house.
But two months later when John attended the office Christmas party with his girlfriend, a surly coworker named Pittman tried to spoil the fun. He even attempted to put the moves on John’s girlfriend when he was preoccupied with other guests. John spent the next morning writing a flattering letter addressed to Sabrina in Pittman’s name.
Pittman was rushed to the hospital two days later. Not dead. He had stuffed both of his hands down the garbage disposal and chopped his fingertips to the bone.