Is it true? Is the old house haunted. Was the old hag really a witch?
| Chris pushed the door open; rusty metal grated and squealed. Joe had an eager expression on his face, like saying, “Hurry up! Let’s go!” Pete, though, he looked dubious. He looked scared. Chris felt his fear. The creaking door drove that fear up their spines with a shiver.
“Stop here or keep going?” Chris whispered.
“I say keep going,” Joe answered. “I want to see if it’s true.”
“What do you think, Pete?”
“I don’t know. Go on I guess,” Pete whispered.
Chris pushed the door open further and stepped inside. The house smelled like old boiled cabbage dinners and a musty basement. It was dark in the light of the gray October day and the dirty windows did little to brighten the hallway. At their feet was a four by four ornate grate.
“What’s this thing?” Pete asked, pointing to the iron grate.
“Oh, that’s a hot air duct,” Joe said. Old lady. Lemke up the street has one. Her furnace blows hot air instead of making steam for the radiators.”
As if on cue, the furnace below rumbled to life and cold air blew up through the grate. The air slowly warmed as the boys stood frozen.
“Jeez, if old lady Morrison died years ago, why’s the furnace still running?” Chris asked. He was visibly shaken in the half light, his eyes huge and darting around the hall.
“I don’t know,” Pete said.
There was a rattling sound and two dry leaves blew up out of the grate. Joe stepped back, looked at his friends.
“I want to go on,” he said. “But only if you guys want to, too.”
Chris nodded and Pete shrugged. Without a word, they moved further down the hall. On the left, a double door opened into the living room. The walls were dark with a deep red paper and windows were covered with sheer curtains, reducing light further. The couch and chairs were old and high backed, the wear evident. Pete pointed to the walls.
“The wallpaper looks like blood,” he said in a hushed voice. “Man, this place is spooky.”
“You ain’t kidding,” Chris said.
Joe walked toward a far corner, stood looking up to a weathered face of a woman. “What the heck is this thing?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe one of those ship’s figureheads that used to put on old sailboats?” Pete walked over next him to gaze at the weathered and agonized face.
“Yeah, but what’s this over here?” Chris asked as horror crept in his voice. He stood looking just inside the doorway from the hall at what I thought was like dried flower bunches. Looking closer, we could make out misshapen faces in what looked an awful lot like shrunken heads.
“Oh my Goobs,” Joe said. “I thought this lady was a librarian?” He was goggle-eyed and shaking. Pete squinted at the hanging. Three heads shrunken and shivelled stared blankly back at him. Then he took a step closer and took a whiff.
“Dried apples guys. They’re just dried apples.”
“Ohhh! Like potpourri!” Chris looked totally relieved.
“Yes, but this is the real deal, boys!”
The three boys whirled in place to the sound of a rasping voice. Behind them stood old lady Morrison, looking more dead than alive, with knotted gray hair, cold, pale wrinkled skin and a hooded black cloak. She looked like one of the three witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In her hands she held a skull, a human skull. Dried skin covered parts of it, sunken flesh dried in the eye sockets.
“Here!” she said and tossed the skull to them.
All three boys screamed and just about killed each other trying to get out the door first. Old lady Morrison chuckled to herself as she watched them hightail it down the street. She squeezed the rubber skull and smiled.
“Gets them every time,” she said.