I peered through my peephole, ever so mindful of the random home invasion or -- even worse -- religious types offering me the sweet salvation of whatever deity they believed in.
It wasn't a thug with a shotgun or someone clutching tracts. It was a witch. Well, to be fair, I didn't know if she was a real witch, but she looked like you'd expect one who shows up at your door unannounced to look like. A thin dusting of facial hair on the chin. Strange eyes that looked ahead three minutes into the future. A head the shape of a wide pumpkin. Hair cut close to her scalp. She was dressed in a heavy coat. It wasn't that cold out.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"I was having trouble opening your gate."
"Yeah. It's tough."
She indicated to her left. "Do you know if anyone lives next door?"
"Yes." I had no idea where this was going, but it felt surreal. I had half the notion she was going to tell me something very dark and very sinister. Something about how the walls wept blood and things in the walls made slithering sounds whenever the moon went behind clouds.
"They had a yard sale."
I nodded. "Yes they did."
"They were selling furniture."
I nodded again.
"I don't think anyone is home."
"They may not be. I don't know."
"I bought some furniture from them. A young woman. She gave me her cell number. I've been calling, but nobody is answering." Now she sounded indignant.
"I can't speak to that," I told her.
She looked over toward the house and then back at me. "I don't think they're home."
"I don't know their schedule." Now I was a little irritated. This was taking up my writing time. I wanted to get the first draft of the review done while it was still fresh.
"I thought maybe they don't live there."
"I thought maybe they didn't."
"Well, they do. I don't know if they are home. I don't know why she doesn't answer. Do you want me to take your number."
Now she got upset. "She has it! She isn't answering. I've left my number several times."
If there is one thing my love of horror has taught me it is this: Don't piss off old women who look like witches. They'll shout something at you in Romanian and spit in your eye. Next thing you know your testicles start to turn to fluid and people start forgetting your name. Not cool, witch ladies. Not cool.
"I don't know what to tell you," I said, making my way to my door.
She looked at me one last time and then made her way down the sidewalk. I wrote my review ... and then she came back.
I heard the gate being pulled again. Wood screaming as the witch tried to pry it open.
I opened the front door. "Can I help you?"
She could barely see over the top of the gate. "I keep calling! She doesn't answer!" Her eyes are about twice their normal size with anger. "She's not answering."
"What?" I ask. I'm annoyed and it shows. Fluid testicles or not, this woman has now ticked me off.
"She's not answering her phone!"
I get that older people relish the phone. Every call was a cherished event when they were growing up. Grandpa was coming. The first lightning bugs of the season are out. There's a dead whore down by the creek and Bobby's got a stick. Whatever. I get that every phone call was eagerly awaited and just as eagerly answered. What the witch apparently didn't realize is that not everyone answers their damn phone. Maybe my neighbor stays off the phone when the kids are up. Maybe the battery was charging. Maybe she forgot it at work. I have no clue. To this woman, however, none of that mattered. All that mattered is that the phone wasn't being answered, and this was some kind of personal slight that I had to somehow rectify. So I did the only thing I could think of doing.
I said, "Maybe they're dead."
The proverbial "they" states that a picture is worth a thousand words. If I could've taken a picture of the witch (impossible, as they don't show up on film), this one would've only been worth seven. "Oh shit, I didn't think of that." That's what the caption would've been. That would've said it all.
She straightened herself out, the wind gone from her wicked, ancient sales. She gave me one last glare, apparently forgetting the Romanian curse that would turn my testes to watered down pudding, and then turned away and slowly made her exit down the sidewalk toward the street.
I can pretty much guarantee that the family's death was not the answer she was expecting to hear. I would go so far as to say she did not probably try to call them again. But ... when they finally get ahold of her, I bet the witch's heart jumps a bit. Are ghosts coming to call? Is the furniture she purchased haunted? Did I even exist?
I may or may not be an asshole. I'll leave that up to others to decide. I will admit, however, to taking a certain bit of pleasure out of screwing with people's perceptions of reality. Anyone who has hung out with me a bit knows I do it often and do it fairly well. I get people to accept some of the most interesting things. (The post office lady, for example, believes I get packages and phone calls from my dead mother and order DVDs of Oprah's private bathroom moments.) It's like performance art, only I'm the only one who gets any enjoyment out of it or knows what the hell is going on. This witch may have been ignorant to what I was doing, but I guarantee she won't forget that moment, and I'd like to think she'll never be that eager for someone to answer their phone again.