She sits across from us — hair pinned up tightly in an aggravated bun. I have my hands on my lap. I am centered in my chair — immovable. She invites us in for tea, this will calm our nerves, she says. We sit quietly. She gathers the good china, readies the table, and prepares some Earl Grey. He spies me looking at her precariously. I give him a cautious wink — I nod slowly. He knows something is wrong. He says nothing.
“Your sugar cubes . . . One lump or two, Dears?” We look at each other before speaking. We both shout in unison, “Two, please!” She plasters a fake smile on her face then offers us a drink we’re scared to consume.
afraid to drink tea something’s not right with our host but we can’t be rude
We sip our tea slowly — breathing in and out as we swallow. She eyes us nosily. I sit back in my chair — rock steadily. The air in the room wolfs around us — strangles us into silence. She seems nice. She seems sweet as pie — sweet as honey — sweet as sugar. But she’s not. We know she’s not. We just can’t put our fingers on it. He takes a few more sips then his head lands on the table with a loud thud. “Teddy! Baby, wake up! Wake up!” I look at her, she’s still smiling — the same fake one from earlier. What has she done?
host for evening tea is a killer in disguise we both die that night
Robbie slips away from the bushes at first light, his hands are contorted and shaped into demon’s wings, he cuffs his blade tightly to his chest. In front of their door lovingly displayed is a mat that says, “Love is all you need.” He wipes the muddy gunk from the soles of his shoes on it, twists the edge of the blade into the keyhole, slides another in between the door jamb and the knob, and shifts the door silently. It opens. He listens for every breath in their home–Jaimie’s, her mom’s, her older brother’s, and her dad’s. He sniffs at the air, pulls in scents from days past, and bites down on his bottom lip.
Towards the stairs, he creeps. His not-quite-right wings are tucked in slightly behind his back as he maneuvers up each step, careful of creaking floorboards. Slowly he makes his way down the hall. Jaimie’s door is a dead giveaway–white door with pinks flowers and unicorn stickers don it from every angle. He pushes his way through the door and gently closes it behind him. His fangs protrude, salty saliva drips from the edges. Jaimie, sleeping peacefully with her teddy bear cupped tightly in her little hands, does not hear a thing.
Quickly, before anyone can wake up to Robbie’s presence, he leans closer to the sleeping girl, breathes into her ear, licks the tip of its top, and bites down hard, ripping her flesh in one, swift tug. To quiet Jaimie’s screams, his talon-like palm thrashes against her mouth. In one gulp, her head is devoured.
Lemuel’s eyes are fixed on the broken sky. His big sister Cassie is planning to sneak out again tonight. This will be the fifth night in a row. Lemuel is not a snitch, but he’s been itching to get Cassie into trouble since she ratted him out for eating the last thin crust pizza, their Mom’s favorite. This behavior is not what he expects from Cassie, she’s never jumped ship on a “babysitting” gig before. Although Lemuel was thirteen and could practically fend for himself, he was blind. Their parents depended on Cassie to make sure Lemuel’s well-being was positively maintained.
“I’ll be back. I put some leftover barbecue chicken in the oven for you. The timer is set for thirty minutes. I’ve heated up the mashed potatoes and the spinach only needs two minutes in the microwave. Don’t forget to take the aluminum cover off this time, Lemuel. For God’s sake, just don’t.”
Lemuel nodded in his sister’s direction and did not utter a word. The timer dinged, signifying the sweet morsels of honey-glazed barbecue chicken and Lemuel skirted his way into the kitchen. In the dark, dank, confines of the tiny space, he could hear soft whispers,
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel ignored the whispers, surely he needed rest. He devoured his dinner, remembering to remove the aluminum cover on the spinach. Before he could swallow the last bite, he heard the chant once more. This time, it filled the walls and filled the cracks in the floor. Lemuel’s parents came barging in the door, one after the other. Lemuel couldn’t wait to let them know about Cassie leaving every night this week when she was supposed to be overseeing his care.
The voices grew louder and louder. Lemuel’s parents gazed at the boy, finally believing his days were numbered. “Cassie isn’t here. I don’t know where she is. And, she’s been leaving every night this week.” He felt a sense of pride revealing his sister’s secret.
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel pointed to nowhere in particular as the voices grew louder and louder. He smiled in his parents’ direction and bit down lightly on his tongue before opening his mouth.
“Cassie, she’s been…”
Thunder roared, the floor in their kitchen shook, and hands erupted from beneath Lemuel and his legs were the first to disappear. The souls pulled Lemuel under while his parents watched him sink in a fiery heap.
At that very moment, Cassie walked in. The only thing she could think to say was,
She presses the steamy pot into a hole in the ground outside her log cabin. There are canned tongues, eyeballs, and lips curing inside. Opal has been waiting for this day to come.
The Day of the Big Feast.
Her goal is to devour ten children in less than three days.
She fasted all Winter, storing up more than enough fat in Autumn to be able to excel accordingly for this challenge. Hazel, her nemesis, is the only witch in Gutter Way who has eaten nine children in two days. Opal knows that in order to be Top Witch, she must beat Hazel. In the pot is a blend of lizard toenails, butterfly wings, owl eyes, vinegar, seaweed, bear jawbones, water, and wasabi. Not only will she beat Hazel this year, she will beat her for years to come.
Or so, she thinks…
Opal summons the forces of the ancestors before her, casting a spell that only she could reverse. Her intent? Poison Hazel and gather all of her spells while garnering a vast reward from the Witching Panel. The stew stews, sending a luring cloud of steam into the direction of Hazel’s cabin. Before it finally reaches her door she opens it and counters Opal’s attempt with a secret MASTER reverse spell.
“Gutter Way, beware. Witches drenched in jealousy will fall to their own spells.”
Hazel blows the cloud back to Opal’s cabin, spits another spell behind its steam, and closes her door. On her table lay a plump, little boy with his mouth stuffed with an apple and his belly glazed in pig fat. He is Hazel’s fourth meal of the day. Opal stirs her pot some more and tosses a set of twin toddlers into the stew. The ancestors toil and bubble. In the girls are the souls of Hazel’s Aunts–popular witches of Gutter Way from two hundred years ago. They awaken as soon as the bodies touch the heat.
“Your life is on the line. Our blood will carry on. Of this, you can be certain.”
Opal stirs the stew, sips it heartily, then begins to lose her balance. Her eyes bleed, her tongue splits down its middle, and her hair catches fire. In less than two minutes, ashes lay near the stewing pot. In the quietness of the fields of Gutter Way, Hazel can be heard agreeing with the Ancient Aunts,
“Our blood will carry on. Of this, you can be certain.”
Dilan raced on all fours, leaping toward the Summit’s House, trying to out dodge the dawn. His hair, swaying in the evening breeze, a cloud of smoke trailing him. Moments ago, he snatched Mr. Noble’s throat in only three seconds — veiny mounds of flesh staining his beard, his teeth pulling in a pool of blood. Mr. Noble died whispering the combination to the company safe, but Dilan was already miles away.
The day started out like any other. Dilan was working the third shift at Noble’s Warehouse. He decided that today would be the day he’d ask Mr. Noble for a raise. Thirteen years as a lowly Entry Level Clerk weighed on Dilan. He had dreams, ambitions. He wanted to travel to amazing places and spend unnecessary amounts of cash that he did not have. He wanted to do what Mr. Noble did, be privileged. He tortured himself day and night. He had the courage, but whenever he thought to ask Mr. Noble, the crushing blows from his past crept into his bloodstream. He knew it would be best to wait.
And before Dilan knew it, thirteen years to the day had arrived. He shrugged his shoulders, tucked in his previous lives, and mumbled a few words of motivation before approaching Mr. Noble.
“This is your day. You can do this. Noble owes you. Noble owes you. It’s yours. If he doesn’t give it to you. Take it.”
The sound of his past lives’ grumbling marked his ears and pushed fear into his soul.
“It’s yours… Take it.”
Dilan approached Mr. Noble. He fumbled with his words at first, but soon, he found stability and spewed out a number of truths about his work ethic and spotlighted his strengths too. Mr. Noble sat in his tiny chair, in his tiny office, twiddling his tiny thumbs, and spoke in a tiny voice, acknowledging Dilan’s presence, but ignoring his words. He is a shrewd creation of a man who smells like buttered cabbage stew and cured ham. His words spilled out of him, flowing without measure as Dilan patiently waited for his response.
“Now, Dilan. Ain’t no way in the Devil’s Hell you can have a raise. I can barely keep the lights on in this joint. Look around. Open those beady eyes of yours. Do you see any glimpse of glamour hanging on these walls? Hell, I can’t even upgrade the fax machine. So, that’s what I got on your raise, buddy. Nothing. Not a dime.”
Dilan began to fade. His arms bloated at his sides. His eyes inflated, poking out of their sockets. His teeth began to protrude, each enamel-laced protrusion now layered with saliva. He tried to subdue the past lives, keep them at bay, but each one gathered up, measuring thirteen years of waiting for happiness. The weight of this was heavy. Dilan’s legs grew three sizes bigger and he began to sprout up like a tree. Mr. Noble sat in amazement, unable to speak. A beast growing before him would soon have its feast.
A moment passed and before Mr. Noble could speak, Dilan exploded toward him, bit down on his neck, and pulled his throat from its rightful place. The past lives warned Dilan. They charged him to run — get away. Far away. Mr. Noble laid quiet at his tiny desk. His tiny thumbs rolling over paperwork. The tiny room shrinking in on him.
Mr. Noble died whispering the combination to the company safe, but Dilan was already miles away.
The past lives urged Dilan to continue, to get to the Summit’s House where a commoner’s throat would make a person two million dollars richer. Louder, the voices became. Louder and Louder. Dilan ran, his mouth slowly shifting to human form, his legs losing their tenacity, his arms, squaring off into their previous formation. Inside his demented head, the only words that remained were: