William M. O'Brien, Jr.
Eleanor Hemsford stood on a corner and looked down Stafford Avenue toward the old Benton house three doors from her own. As far as she knew, in all her thirteen years on Hemsford street, the Benton house had never been occupied. But now it was. A young woman had moved in, and as far as she could tell, the woman was alone. Very odd, she thought. A single woman in the largest house on Stafford Avenue.
Eleanor, or simply Ellie, was a genuine presence on Stafford Avenue. She and her little group were all over the street practically every day.
The more she thought about it, the more Ellie wondered about the single woman in the huge house. She thought she might go to the house, knock on the door, and introduce herself and welcome the woman to the neighborhood.
But the woman looked just a little too formidable to her. Dealing with strangers was not one of Ellie’s fortes after all. She decided to gather her group around her and discuss this odd newcomer.
Chief among her little group were twelve-year-old Michelina, called Micky, and her twin brother Todd. These two were Ellie’s constant companions in the neighborhood. Micky and Todd, two notoriously precocious children, always joined Ellie’s adventures, no matter what they were. And they were always ready to add input.
One late Autumn evening found Ellie and her two followers in the bushes outside the front window of the Benton house. The electric light, they noticed, was not in use, but two large candles lit up the front room. Apparently Tuddy Moore, the newcomer, was not in the room, as three sets of eyes appeared above the windowsill of the front window.
“I don’t hear anything, so she must not be in this room,” Ellie whispered to her accompanists. “Let’s go in the back and see what she has back there.”
In the back of the house, the three found a large outdoor cooker made from an old oil barrel, a locked garage/back apartment and a Ford truck parked before the garage. The three kids were examining the locked garage when a dark figure appeared suddenly in a lighted upstairs window.
Quickly the three figures dived behind the truck.
“Shit!” Ellie whispered to her two cohorts. “That must be her.”
While the three stared at the window, the figure turned and walked away from the window. The lighted room suddenly appeared dark as apparently the figure left the room.
All three kids quickly rose and ran from the backyard driveway and headed off the property and up the alley toward Ellie’s house. There the three landed in the large family room at the back of the house.
“God, that woman even looks weird,” Micky, out of breath, said to the other two.
“We’re lucky to be out of there,’ Todd added, plopping down in a large, easy chair before the TV.
Mara, Ellie’s sixteen-year-old sister, appeared from out of nowhere. “Now, what have you three worms been up to?” she asked, and laughed.
“For your information, we were checking out the new neighbor down the street.” Ellie rose from her chair and confronted her sister. “We think she’s a witch.”
“She probably is,” Mara retorted. “And when she catches you, she’ll turn you into something stinky, like a skunk.”
“She’ll turn you into a shit-bug.”
“Oh, oh, oh,” Mara feigned shock. “Now, you’re going to have to put another quarter in the cuss-can.” She laughed out loud.
“You ought to rattle the cuss-can yourself,” Micky exclaimed. “You cuss like a short- changed whore.
“Why don’t you go someplace and spread your legs,” Todd added.
Mara turned toward the boy and walked up to him. “One of these days, you little turd, I’m going to put a knot on your head that will put Mt McKinley to shame.”
“The woman is just plain weird, Mara,” Ellie remarked. “She burns candles instead of electric lights.”
“So. We burn candles, too.” Mara crossed her arms over her chest. “remember Halloween.” She turned toward the door. “Now, my show is coming on. Don’t any of you dare interrupt me while I’m watching it.”
As Mara left the room, Ellie and Micky both made faces at her behind her back.
“I wonder if that woman is really by herself or does she have somebody in the house with her,” Ellie said, in a quiet but mysterious voice.
“In that huge house, you know she does,” Micky answered in the same tone of voice.
“Let’s go over there after school tomorrow,” Ellie offered. “We can look around down there. She’ll probably not be there.”
“Do you supposed she works,” Todd asked.
“Sure. How do you think she pays for that big house,” Micky answered her brother.
“I don’t know whether she does or not, but we’ll be careful just in case she is there.” Ellie smiled.
The little group broke up for the night and Ellie went upstairs to her room to wait for supper. In her room she consulted her lap top computer again on the subject of “witches,” but she found nothing she hadn’t already seen.
The next afternoon, the little group assembled in a wooded vacant lot four houses away and on the next street from the “witch’s house” as they had begun to call it. Joining the group was Julie Berg, another one of Ellie’s common companions, a large but shapely friend known for her strength in P.E. class.
However, before they could set out from the vacant lot, an unforeseen thunder storm broke over the area driving the little group into a shallow cave in a rock outcrop at the back of the lot.
Soon the rain began to let up and Todd, who didn’t mind getting soaked, left his three female companions cursing and took off up the alley toward the Benton house four houses away. As the so-called leader of the group, Ellie quickly took off after him.
Together they arrived at a large hedge bordering the Benton property. Climbing into the bushes they moved leaves and branches out of the way to see a sight that shocked them, even though it was in keeping to what they had expected.
Below the back steps of her house, Ms. Moore, stark naked, stood, in the rain, with her hands raised to the sky.
“Damn Ellie, she’s crazy as shit,” Todd exclaimed in a high whisper.
“She’s a witch, you knucklehead,” Ellie retorted.
Suddenly Tuddie Moore laughed out loud and pointed straight at the two kids in the bush. Then she screamed something the kids could not hear.
Terrified, the two darted out of the bushes and back down the alley toward their still sheltering comrades.
When they reached the rock shelter, the other two were waiting for them.
“Did you see her?” Micky asked, stepping out into the rain which had slackened.
“Yeah, she’s naked as hell,” Todd shouted at his sister.
“She’s up there, naked, with her hands raised carrying on some kind of ritual,” Ellie explained, breathlessly. “She pointed at us and yelled.”
“I think the rain’s going to start again in a minute.” Julie Berg stepped up to the others. “We better get out of here.”
“Yeah, what if she comes down here after us.” Todd, still standing in what rain there was, turned and looked toward the alley they had just run down.
The little group headed up to the end of the block and down Stafford street to return to their homes.
Ellie headed home to retire upstairs to her computer to look up, again, “witches.”
Of course, there was nothing new but she couldn’t get Ms. Moore out of her mind.
After supper that night she watched TV with her family and then retired for the night. She didn’t say a word about what had happened that day.
Toward morning she had a dream where Tuddie Moore confronted her in her back yard. Naked, Moore advanced slowly toward her and raise her hands. Before she could make any move, the woman was on her, choking her with hands that were hard and strong. Choking and coughing, Elle awoke with a sharp pain in her neck.
The girl quickly turned on her bedside light, rose and walked to the hall mirror just outside her door.
When she turned on the hall light, she stared, in horror, at her neck which showed distinct bruises.
Ellie did not return to sleep. Instead, she lay in bed and listened intently to any noise that she could hear.
She wondered if the witch was somewhere nearby.
The next day, Ellie ran into Micky at school and told her about her dream.
“It was absolutely weird,” she explained. “It was like she was actually there. I could feel her.”
“She wasn’t there,” Micky replied. “it was just a dream.”
“I had bruises on my neck. There’s something weird going on here,” Ellie said almost in a whisper.
“We’ve got to find out what it is.”
After school, Ellie, Micky and Todd hid behind some bushes and watched the front of the Moore house for something strange to happen.
“We can’t stay here,” Micky whispered to Ellie. “I think it’s going to rain again.”
“I want to see if anything strange happens over there.” Ellie moved through the bushes to get a better look at the house.
“I want to see her naked again,” Todd whispered.
“You nasty little bubblehead,” Micky shot back.
“Shhh, look!” Ellie pointed, making sure that her outstretched hand remained under cover.
Tuddie Moore stood on her front porch, hands on hips, and looked up and down her street.
After taking in the whole street, the woman abruptly turned her gaze down the street straight at the bushes in which the three kids were hiding. Then she stood, perfectly still, and grinned broadly at the kids in their hiding place.
After a few minutes, she moved her right arm up and pointed a forefinger at the them.
Abruptly, the bushes and shrubs around them began to move. Slowly, at first, then elevating into a frenzied movement to and fro.
“Holy, shit!” Ellie exclaimed.
“let’s get out of here!” Micky rose and, followed by Todd, headed up a driveway straight toward the alley behind the two houses. Ellie followed quickly
In the alley behind a large neighbor of Ms. Moore, the three stopped, squatted down, and waited for anything else to happen.
“That…all that stuff…was moving,” Todd stuttered to the two girls.
“We’ve got to stay away from her,” Micky stated in a stage whisper.
“She knows who we are,” Ellie added. “That dream I had, remember. She was in it. If she can get into your dreams, she can do anything to us.”
The three took off for home in two different directions with Ellie wary of being watched as she had to pass the Moore house on her way home. Even though she was three houses away down the alley, she could see the Moore house plainly when she passed by on her way home.
At home she found the front door locked; so she headed around the house for the back door.
On the driveway at the side of the house, she encountered a large, shaggy dog which stood perfectly still, watching her move toward him.
Ellie had never seen the dog before and wondered if the animal belonged to the new neighbors who had moved in the house behind three weeks ago.
“Hey, boy,” she said, and patted her knees.
The animal just stood and stared straight at her.
Then, it began to rain.
Slowly, keeping her eyes on the dog, she started to walk, sideways, around the dog, wanting to get out of the rain but at the same time not wanting to stir up the animal as she was afraid of getting bit.
But the dog kept his eye on her, turning toward her as she moved around him.
Now Ellie became scared. When she got to the other side of the animal, she began walking slowly backward away from him.
Suddenly, the dog barked, loud and menacing; Ellie began running as fast as she could, around to the back of the house and up to the porch.
The back door unlocked, she entered and ran to a window on the driveway. But the driveway was empty. In only a few seconds, the animal had disappeared.
“That mutt is fast,” she said to herself. But she didn’t really believe it. Where had the dog gone?
Now the rain was pouring and Ellie wondered if the dog had gotten out of the rain.
“Ah, so there you are.” Sister Mara stood in the door, hands on hips. “Mom wants you to come clean up that mess you made in the dining room.”
“That cut-out mess you left.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Ellie turned again to the window. “Did you see that big dog that was on our driveway?”
“What dog?” Mara advanced to the window. “I didn’t see any dog.”
“There was a big dog on our driveway just now.”
“Little Sis. I’ve been staring out of windows ever since this damned rain started again and I haven’t seen any dog anywhere.”
“I tell you there was a big dog on our driveway, just now.”
“If there was, it probably belongs to the Osmands, our new neighbors across the alley.”
“And he was weird looking, too.”
“You’re weird looking. Get your little butt to the dining room before you get into some real trouble.”
Mara turned abruptly and left the room.
That night found Ellie outside looking for any sign of the dog she had seen. The rain had stopped and she was scouring the driveway looking for possible footprints or any other sign that the dog had been there.
But after an hour, she had found none.
She even walked to the sidewalk and alley, trying to see up and down the street, any sign of the mysterious dog.
At a late supper, Ellie brought up the subject of the dog she had earlier seen.
“Mama,” she said, her mouth half full of mashed potatoes. “Do our new neighbors across the alley have a big dog?”
“Nope,” Susan Hemsford answered, setting a full pitcher of iced tea on the table. “From what I can see from our upstairs windows they have two small dogs. I think they’re dachshunds, one toy and one regular size.” She passed a platter of ham over to Mara. “They let them out in their back yard during the day.”
“Ellie thinks she saw a big dog in our driveway earlier today,” Mara intervened. “Both of them got rained on.” The girl giggled into her fist.
“I saw a dog out there today, Mara. A great big one.” Ellie’s voice was slow and deliberate.
“Mom, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, our little girl here and her little buddies think the new neighbor down the street is a witch.” Mara giggled again, this time without the fist. “And this dog must be her familiar.”
Ellie, incensed, rose from the table. “I’ll have you know, Mara Katherine Hemsford, that we have seen enough of that woman to prove she is just damn weird.”
“Ellie, sit down and finish your meal. You are not excused.” Susan looked from Ellie to Mara, then back to Ellie. “And you can put a quarter in the cuss can for that swear word.”
That night Ellie lay in bed afraid of a repeat of the dream she had had previously of Tuddie Moore. Now she connected the dog with the woman and she wondered what would come next. Even though worried, however she fell into an uneasy sleep until morning.
“That’s somebody’s mutt from up the street,” whispered Micky across the aisle to Ellie in English class the next day.
“It just disappeared, Micky,” Ellie whispered back. “Into thin air. Nobody but me saw it.”
After school, Ellie showed Micky and her brother where the animal had been.
“I saw the thing right here.” She pointed at the middle of the driveway. “And then right after nobody, my sister or anyone else in my family, told me, they hadn’t seen anything.”
Micky turned to Todd. “Todd and I are going over to watch football practice at Newland,” she turned to Ellie and said. “You want to come.”
“No. I don’t feel like it.”
Ellie stood and watched Todd and Micky take off down the street toward Newland High School.
“I will bring this subject up again,” Ellie said to herself. “I’m not finished yet.”
She had just finished this thought when she felt two sets of long fingers land on her shoulders. Quickly there was a squeezing sensation that brought a loud shout from Ellie.
She turned to try to see who her attacker was, but there was no one there.
“Oh my God!” she screamed, and tried to squirm out of the clasp.
The grip tightened on her shoulders, but now Ellie panicked and tried to scream, but no sound came from her mouth. Frightened almost out of her mind and unable to help herself, she saturated her underwear and school uniform skirt.
Again she tried to squirm out of the grip she couldn’t see, but to no avail.
Then a tremendous force flung her to the ground, skinning both of her knees.
She turned on her back immediately and tried to see her attacker, but all she could see was a hazy outline quickly fading away. A hissing sound followed the disappearance of her attacker.
She lay on the ground, crying, and stared at where her attacker had disappeared. She knew in an instant who it was who had attacked her, but she also knew no one, even among her friends, would believe her.
Now, she realized, she was alone. Slowly, she walked to her backdoor, unlocked it with a hidden key, and then took the back stairs up to her room. She hadn’t need to as no one was home.
She changed her clothes and doctored her knees in the bathroom, keeping aware that her enemy could be around, even in her own house.
Lying on her bed in the gathering darkness, she realized for the first time that Ms. Moore actually was a witch. Now she decided she would stay away from her.
And she did the next day. She walked on the other side of the street from her house, avoiding the alley behind her house altogether. At school, she tried to avoid any conversation concerning Ms. Moore. But this, she could not do.
“Do you think she really turned herself into a dog?” Micky asked at lunch.
“I don’t know if it was her or not,” Ellie replied. “But that mutt disappeared really fast.” She thought about her last encountered with the witch and shivered. “I’m just going to stay away from her.
“But the dog had to come from somewhere.”
“There’s a new family across the alley.” Ellie rose to take her tray to the disposal window. “The dog might have come from there.”
Walking home with Micky and Todd, Ellie informed the twins of her plan again.
“I’m going to completely avoid her and her house,” she said at the corner of her street. “I’m not even going down the alley past her house anymore.”
Why not?” Todd asked. “She’s a fine- looking woman.”
“She’s a witch, dumb butt.” Micky stopped and turned to her brother.
“Who says. I want to see her naked again.” Todd stopped on the corner as well.
“You idiot. Haven’t you heard anything Ellie’s been sayin’” Micky turned now to Ellie. “He’s remembering that woman in the nude. I think it was his first time.” She giggled and turned back to her brother.
“Oh yeah. I know guys who are twelve who have done it.” He stepped up to his sister. “Willis Ward screwed his little sister’s baby sitter.”
“Willis Ward is a liar and you are a shitbrain for believing him.”
Her back to Micky, Ellie did not hear the argument behind her. She was concentrating on a large shaggy cat sitting in the yard of the Holloway house on the corner.
Now Micky turned back to Ellie. “Do you hear this bullshit, El,” she said, and laughed. “It probably comes from that crap they get to read at Bob’s used…What are you looking at?”
“That’s a Maine Coon cat in that yard over there,” Ellie said just above a whisper.
“Damn, he’s huge.” Micky took a step forward. “He doesn’t have a collar. Probably a feral.”
“It doesn’t belong to the Holloways, I know that.” Slowly, Ellie, followed by Micky and Todd, started across the street toward the yard in question.
The cat, watching the three walking toward him, suddenly turned and headed, quickly down the street toward the alley.
On the corner where the cat had been, Ellie stopped. “I wonder where that critter belongs?” she said softly.
“He’s probably a feral,” Micky replied. “There’s a number of them in the neighborhood.”
“I know. But did you see how big he was?” Ellie turned toward the twins. “I think this is just plain weird. First the dog and now this strange cat. I’ve never seen either of them before.”
“Yeah? Strange animals. We ought to call the pound.” Micky looked around to her brother.
“I bet that dog belongs to Al Austin,” the boy said. “He takes dogs hunting with him all the time.”
“That could be.” Micky turned to Ellie. “Did you hear that. He said that Al…”
“No. No. I know Al Austin’s dogs. That dog I saw does not belong to him.”
The cat had disappeared. Ellie couldn’t get the idea that the cat was one more manifestation of the witch out of her mind.
She followed the animal’s path to the entrance to the alley and then debated whether she should follow it down the alley. She turned to her two friends who had followed her to the alley.
“That’s the biggest cat I’ve ever seen,” she said to them, and then looked back down the alley.
“He might belong to someone down on the other street,” Micky asserted. She pointed at the rear of the corner house, the back gate of which was slightly open. “I bet that critter went in there.”
The three returned to Stafford street and headed up to Ellie’s house, but Ellie still worried about the cat.
Two mysterious animals in only three days, she thought. “I think the cat and the dog are connected,” she allowed, the three kids standing in front of Ellie’s house.
“How do you mean? They belong to the same family?” Micky turned from Todd to Ellie.
“No. They belong to the witch.” Ellie stopped in front of her house. “You ever heard of witch’s familiars?”
“Ha!” Todd laughed. “That’s usually a black cat. What we saw was somebody’s shaggy lap cat.”
The twins took off down the street, leaving Ellie on her front sidewalk.
That night at supper, Ellie informed her father, mother, and sister about the cat she had seen that afternoon.
After supper, Gerald, the father, excused himself to the living room to watch a newscast, leaving Ellie and her sister at the table while their mother cleaned up.
“Ha. A weird dog and now a big cat,” Mara sneered across the table and then took a bite of sherbet.
“What’s next, a wild horse or some tiger loose from the circus.”
“I just told you what I saw,” Ellie remarked steadily. You can take it for what it is.”
“I’m taking it as your overactive, juvenal imagination.” Mara took another bite of sherbet and laughed.
“Not to mention the crap you read.”
“How about the crap you watch on TV!” Ellie, incensed, rose from the table.
Mara laughed. “I don’t pay any real attention to what I watch on TV. It’s just a pastime.”
“I’ve just about had it with you,” Ellie hissed. “I oughta kick your ass.” She bent over the table, fists doubled up.
“You can try any time, sweetie.” Mara made a kissing motion with her lips, which infuriated Ellie all the more.
“Girls. Girls. Stop it!” Susan stood over the table, hands on hips. “Now if you’re both finished, you may be excused, and Ellie, you need to drop a quarter in the cuss can on your way upstairs.”
“Mom, that word means a donkey.” Ellie, still standing, protested.
“No, you’re sitting on it, Sugar-buns.” Mara laughed out loud.
Ellie doubled both fists and grimaced across the table at her sister.
Later that evening, Ellie, still angry, soaked in a deep hot bath.
“I could shoot that bitch,” she muttered to herself.
She slid down the back of the tub into the water to submerge her head and hair. When she rose up she immediately became aware she was not alone.
Sitting on its haunches five feet from the tub, the Maine Coon cat she had seen that afternoon was licking itself. Suddenly, she finished licking and looked up to stare at Ellie in the tub.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Ellie asked aloud. “How did you get in here?”
While she stared at the cat, it started changing, quickly, into the body of a tall woman. In only a minute, Tuddie Moore, naked, stood staring straight at Ellie in the bathtub. She put both hands on her hips and approached the tub.
Ellie, terrified, tried to scream, but she couldn’t. She opened her mouth but nothing came out.
In one quick motion, the woman reached down and grabbed Ellie by both ankles with a hand much larger than the rest of her body. Then she lifted the girl straight up, out of the bathtub, dangling her headfirst over the water.
“I could squeeze you so tight” she said softly, lifting Ellie even higher over the tub. “All this rain would wash your blood away. ”Slowly, she let the girl back down into the water and moved her head close to Ellie’s.
When the girl settled in the water, Tuddie moved across the edge of the tub, her head next to Tuddie’s.
There she suddenly bit the girl on the ear.
Again, Ellie tried to scream, but again no sound issued from her mouth. Panicking she started squirming away from the woman to the other side of the tub. Now, she started to cry.
The woman’s face now moved across the tub to where it was less than an inch from Ellie’s.
“You stay away from me,” Tuddie said, quietly. “And you keep your friends away from me or next time I will tear your hair out.”
As quickly as she had appeared, the woman disappeared, leaving Ellie breathing heavily and sobbing in the bathtub.
Ellie didn’t tell anyone, not even her family and especially her father, to whom she told everything, about her confrontation with the witch. She did, however, do what the witch said.
She stayed clear away from the house three houses down on her street and she told her friends that she had figured out that the witch was dangerous and that they should stay away as well.
Everything settled down in the neighborhood until a week later when people began to notice that the house on Stafford Avenue no longer showed anyone living there. No lights at night and no woman moving around inside or in the backyard.
No one paid it any attention. In fact, nothing out of the ordinary occurred in the neighborhood at this time except for one incident two days after Ellie’s bathtub confrontation. On another residential street close by Stafford Avenue, a pickup truck, recklessly speeding through the neighborhood, struck and killed an extraordinarily large dog.