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Part 4 of 4
I heard Tyrone gulp in the dark. “We should go back to my place and watch scary movies.”
“Yeah . . . ,” Jimmy began. That’s when we heard the roar of trucks and shrill war cries in the distance. At the end of the block, a pair of shadows slunk between crepe myrtle bushes.
Half crouching, half running, we hurried up the sidewalk, looking for cover.
Randy Tillman’s flaming dragon of a truck sped around the corner. The two shadows sprang up, shrieking bloody murder, and flung little white bombs as it passed. The eggs shattered on the side panels, some sailed through the open windows, and whoever rode inside flung eggs right back, hollering for revenge. Neither Jimmy, Tyrone, nor myself dared throw eggs at our archenemies. We ducked behind the trees lining the street and waited for the truck to disappear. We could hear it roaring for several blocks, so we knew when we were safe. We tore after the shadows who fled into the night.
Ranch Avenue, we stopped and stared at the math teacher’s house. Every tree and bush in Mr. Jamison’s front lawn was draped in toilet paper. “Math sucks,” written in whipped cream, slipped down the large front windows.
Tyrone cried out. “Something hit me!”
An egg sailed past my head. Across the street, a voice cried, “Get ‘em! Smear the little shits!”
I palmed an egg and lobbed it at the shadows running toward us. In the light from the streetlamp I watched it strike home. The shadow doubled over, squealing and grabbing his forehead. His fingers strung with egg yoke. Jimmy tugged my sleeve and off we ran, stopping every few feet to lob eggs at our pursuers. God, it was fun. Just like a war film.
Eventually, we joined forces with a gang of eighth graders and a couple of Freshmen. They weren’t exactly the cool kids, but we weren’t in a position to be choosy. The major drawback was that Rebecca Duckett lurked on the outskirts of the group. Though she was a Junior, only the younger kids would let her tag along. She wore a gray sweatshirt instead of black and appeared to be everyone’s favorite target. Her matted hair was wet with egg, and yoke smeared her clothes. She didn’t carry a single egg to defend herself, but followed us around with a scowl on her face and her arms crossed over her copious chest. Her presence was a threat to our budding reputations, so we stayed as far from her as possible without sacrificing our safety inside the crowd. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if Selsie had suffered the same sort of ostracizing when she was in school and finally offered Rebecca an egg. After that she stuck to me like a wad of gum on my shoe.
When I rolled my eyes in Jimmy’s direction, he chuckled and said, “You shoulda known better. Feed the cat and it keeps coming around.”
I was about to suggest we ditch this party, when an old blue sedan pulled around the block, paused in the street and revved up, challenging us. “Hey, that’s full of cheerleaders!” Tyrone cried. “Get ‘em!”
. What were the chances? The windows lowered and eggs started flying. Rebecca ducked behind me like I was her knight in shining armor. I gave her a shove. “Go pick on somebody else!” I shouted. Then, as I turned back to the battle, hands full of ammunition, an egg caught me under the left eye. I dropped like a stone. For a minute I didn’t know which way was up, which was down. I feared my eye had burst out of the socket, but it was only yoke I scraped off my face. Groaning, I rolled over on the pavement and for a moment I was sure I was dreaming: Elizabeth McDuffy leaned over me, red curls tumbling from under a black stocking cap. “You okay?” she asked. Elizabeth
“Yeah,” I grunted, sat up, and declared more exuberantly, “Yeah!”
“Sorry,” she said, squeezed my arm, then jumped back into the sedan. It sped off, taking my heart with it.
I was so enraptured that I’d forgotten the love potion. Nor did I hear the growl of Tillman’s dragon approaching. Tires squealed, rubber burned, and those headlights chased us down. Jimmy dragged me to my feet and we dived clear. Eggs smashed all around us, so we returned fire. “Brisby!” I heard as the truck roared past. The driver hit the brakes.
“Shit! Here they come,” shouted Jimmy. We scattered, but Trev Reynolds was our best running back. I stood no chance. In an instant he had the hood of my sweatshirt, and my collar jerked tight as a noose. I kicked and swatted just like those cats under the bridge. Trev dragged me back toward the truck where Joey Osborn and Randy Tillman had collected a handful of others and were smashing eggs over their heads. Rebecca Duckett took the abuse in stoic silence. Jimmy and Tyrone were not among them. I feared they’d abandoned me until eggs flew from around the nearest oak. Randy and Joey hurried after them.
“Pat ‘em down!” Trev ordered. “Don’t you little girls know it’s dangerous out here?” Joey confiscated our eggs, while Randy gathered the candy from Tyrone’s paper bag and added it to their stash in the truck. How many other kids had they robbed tonight?
Trev searched my pockets. Clucking his tongue, he broke every egg he found over my head. With slime dripping down my face, I vowed to cheer for every football team but ours.
“Hey, what’s this?” He held up the love potion.
“No!” I cried, grabbing for it.
He tossed it to Randy. “I think it’s fake blood. We can make good use of that.”
“Nah, man,” said Randy, holding the bottle up to the streetlamp and gazing through the ruby liquid. “It’s that syrupy stuff little kids like. I used to drink this stuff all the time and gross out my sisters.” To prove it, he popped the cork and swallowed every last drop.
“Oh, no, no, no,” I whimpered.
Tillman started staggering around, groaning, and blinking like he couldn’t see straight. “What the hell was that stuff, Brisby?”
I threw my arm over my face, and who should Randy Tillman clap eyes on first but poor Rebecca Duckett. He swept her up and laid one on her. She shoved him away, but he caught her again in a way that made me think of Pepé Le Pew.
Trev Reynolds dropped me flat and seized Randy by the arm. “Don’t make me barf, man. What the hell you doin’?”
Randy just grinned, all doe-eyed, and hugged Rebecca around the neck. “This is my girl. Hey, don’t look at her like that! I’ll bust your face in.”
Trev and Joey exchanged a confounded expression, then looked at me. “What the hell’d you give him?” Trev shouted.
“I didn’t give him nothing! You stole it, douche-bag.”
He grabbed my collar and raised a fist. “What was it?”
Jimmy picked up the bottle, turned it over, examining it. “The witch give you this?”
Why, Jimmy? Why didn’t you keep your mouth shut?
“Witch?” asked Joey Osborn. “Ain’t no such thing.”
Trev watched his best friend necking on the school skank and said, “That crazy lady who lives on Mistletoe?”
“She’s not a witch!” I cried.
“Like hell! Look at ‘em! Is that where you got it?”
I shook my head.
“Lyin’ sack of shit. Joey, she’s gotta be the real thing. Go get the boys.”
“No! You leave her alone!”
Trev pushed me so hard I fell on my backside. He and Joey dragged Randy into the truck and sped off, leaving rubber for half the block. Rebecca ran after them, calling, “Wait!”
“Oh, shit,” I kept saying, turning in a panicked circle. “We have to warn her. C’mon.” I didn’t wait to see if Jimmy and Tyrone followed. I doubt either could keep up with me, even if they had. Reaching home, I dragged my bike out of the garage. Dad called from the kitchen, but there was no time. Randy’s dragon could be there already. I peddled so fast I thought my heart would burst. The house on
Mistletoe Lane was dark but for one dim light in the living room window. “Selsie!” I called, running up the walk, then remembered shouting was useless. I banged on the door, on the window, waved my hands like a maniac. Selsie glanced up from the novel she was reading and leapt from the old armchair. Did I even look like myself, with shoe polish on my face and egg soaking my hair? I jabbed my fingers back toward town, made sure my expression was appropriately desperate, and finally she unlocked the door.
“Selsie, they’re coming!” I said.
She read my lips but failed to understand my meaning.
“Trev Reynolds and his bullies are coming.” I tried to speak slowly, shape the words clearly, but I was panting hard, and I was so scared of what they meant to do. “They found the love potion. They think you’re a witch and they’re coming here!”
“Who?” she asked. “Police?”
“No! Boys from school. Mean boys. You have to leave. Come to my house.”
She backed away, shaking her head. How long since she’d left her house? How did she get groceries and cat food if she never left? “You have to! Please!” Grabbing her wrist, I tried hauling her toward the door, but Selsie squealed like my hands were made of fire. I’d never seen such a freak out, not even when my sister got her Barbies taken away from her. It scared me so bad I released her and damn near started crying.
A roar down the street. The dragon was coming. I ran to the window, peered through the grime. Randy Tillman’s truck pulled up outside the gate, and the biggest boys in High School bailed out of the back. Trev climbed out of the driver’s seat and called toward the house, “We know you’re in there, witch! We’ve seen what you can do, and we don’t like it. We’ll give you till the count of three to show yourself, then we start firing.”
Firing? With bullets? Surely not with eggs. Someone clicked a lighter and lit a cigarette. Trev started the countdown, “One!”
Selsie had stopped freaking out and hovered over my shoulder, staring out the window. “What are they saying?”
I gave her a nudge toward the kitchen. “Back door. Run. I’ll stall ‘em.”
Sure I was going to get the crap beaten out of me, I hopped across the rotten porch and hurried down the sidewalk. “Y’all leave Selsie alone! She ain’t hurting nobody.”
“Brisby! I knew it,” said Trev.
“Selsie can’t hear you anyway. She’s deaf. Please! Leave her alone.”
“Grab that little turd and make him shut up.”
One of the team linemen was built just like a gorilla. He jumped the fence, nabbed me by the sleeve, and pinched me in a headlock till I thought my brains would burst.
“She’s a witch, deaf or not,” said Trev. “Three!”
The screen door banged, and Selsie emerged. Just like when she ran to scoop up the wounded cat, she ran at the lineman holding me hostage. She loosed that horrifying, strangled scream of outrage and raked her nails across his face. The lineman let me go and staggered back into the fence, breaking a big gap in it with his meaty ass. His teammates dragged him to safety. “Let’s get out of here!” some cried. Others demanded, “Burn it up, Trev. C’mon!”
“Read my lips, witch,” said Trev, pointing at his mouth. “We don’t want you here. Saint Claire is our town, and we mean to keep it safe.”
Whether she got the message or not, her fingers started flying with God knows what kind of curses, obscenities, and warnings.
“What are you gonna do? Cast a spell on us?” Trev taunted, mocking her with his fingers. “You gonna leave town, or do we have to get serious?”
I planted myself in front of Selsie, preparing to plead some more. She clenched my shoulders and together we started backing for the house.
“Light it up, Curtis,” Trev ordered.
The idiot with the lighter set fire to a strip of fabric tucked into the mouth of a beer bottle. Trev seized it and hurled it like a football. The bottle sailed high, snagged in one of the arborvitaes, dropped straight down and burst under the porch. Fire exploded. The stink of burning gasoline wafted past on the wind.
“Stop!” I shouted. With her mouth open in silent horror, Selsie watched the flame lick up the porch railing.
Three more bottles sailed across the yard. One busted on the roof. Another through the second story window. The last bounced off the arborvitae and set flame to the jungle of weeds in the front lawn.
“Burn the witch! Burn the witch!” The chant filled the night as the fire spread. But the brave jocks didn’t dare cross the fence to actually lay hands on Selsie. Burning her house satisfied them just fine.
Selsie turned me, shook me by the shoulders. “Cat!” she cried. “Cat!”
“They’ll run out,” I said, but the fire had nearly engulfed the house already. All those stacks of books and the old dry wood provided an ample feast.
“Cat!” she screamed and ran for the house.
“No, Selsie!” I chased her as far as the porch. She hopscotched over the flames and rotten planks and disappeared inside.
The frenzied chant withered; the jocks watched the house just as I did, waiting. Afraid. I could see it on their faces. They realized the weight of what they’d done. “Do something!” I shouted. “Call somebody!”
Randy Tillman started his truck. The lineman with the scratched face bellowed, “I’m getting outta here!” Some fled on foot. Some vaulted into the bed of the truck just before it sped off. Trev Reynolds missed his chance, so did three others. They cursed Randy for leaving them behind. When sirens wailed in the distance, they took off, disappearing down one street or another. I ran, too, afraid the cops would pin the fire on me. In the empty, overgrown lot across the street, I collapsed behind a boxwood, crying, and watched Saint Claire’s only fire engine go to work. The bright stream of water seemed to turn to steam before it hit the house. Police Chief Wade arrived amid flashing lights and screaming siren. I heard him tell the fire chief, “ ‘Bout time that old place gave up the ghost.”
“How long’s it been empty?” asked the chief.
“I don’t think it was. Crazy woman lived there.”
“Damn. Nobody could survive that inferno. When it’s out, we’ll look for bodies.”
They found bodies, all right. Lots of them. Eight cats, in fact, charred to the bone. But they never found Selsie. I like to think she snatched her black cat and her broom on the way out the back door and flew through the night, all the way to
, where she lives to this day in her sister’s posh apartment. But who’s to say? Strange, lonely creature like that might well have turned into a beam of moonlight and escaped all our hatred and suspicion, and so much the better for her. Dallas
The love potion wore off eventually, but only after Randy and Rebecca had eloped. She came home, brokenhearted and crying, a few weeks later, and Randy lost his status as “one of the good ol’ boys,” not because he’d married Rebecca, but because he kicked her out. Nobody but Jimmy Harden and me believed Randy’s story about being ensorcelled, and we never said a word. So maybe there’s a little justice to be found in Saint Claire, after all.
Five years later, I left for college in
without once landing a date with Elizabeth McDuffy. By then, she was married anyway and running a beauty shop on St. Louis Main Street. Me? I had to get out. Saint Claire had become stifling, as most small towns do for most boys. I have traveled half the country, and England , but everywhere I go, there is something to remind me of home, and of Selsie. I still get cravings for peanut butter cookies, but none equal hers. I have followed countless cats, hoping they would lead me to her. And the site of trick-or-treaters and the clatter of dry leaves along the sidewalk bring her to mind every October. So who knows? Maybe Jimmy was right. Maybe Selsie ensorcelled me, too. No. Enchanted, and the spell has yet to diminish. France
"The Witch of Mistletoe Lane" copyright 2011 by Court Ellyn. No part of the story may be copied or reproduced without written permission of the author.
"The Witch of Mistletoe Lane" copyright 2011 by Court Ellyn. No part of the story may be copied or reproduced without written permission of the author.