A burnt-out witch is up to no good
|Something Horror This Way Comes|
The Old Witch giggled and hummed an insane melody as she sat squat upon a large boulder. Her arms hung between her legs, her back was hunched forward, her grease soaked hair dangled like knotted twine. The air about her was frigid and the little puffs of her tragic breath became something . . . surreal.
She sat sentinel for hours, thinking her long, lunatic thoughts, and then shaking her head, stood stiffly, her aroma drifting on every cold downdraft of air. It was an oily, sardonic odor, as bitter to the nose as the aroma of something long since dead and ripe.
Wiping the spittle from the corner of her wrinkled and scarred mouth, she shuffled back to her dilapidated hut making nefarious plans. “The thirsty ones shall be first,” she cackled, “and they shall all pass from this time.” Then lifting the latch to her moss-ridden door, and hearing the familiar sound of wood scraping against wood, she entered the hut.
Once inside, the heat of the room exploded against her chilled skin as she breathed in the poison atmosphere of smoke, filth, and the sourness of unwashed flesh. She stoked the fire beneath her giant cauldron, and then stirred the pot with a thick black-stained ladle. When she scooped up some of its yellowish paste bubbling inside, she blew on it, then gave it a taste.
Her stomach instantly became a lead ball that seemed to expand until it filled her from crotch to throat. Her eyes pulsed in their sockets. Her mouth tasted like excrement. Her gut lurched and her body ached.
The lead in her belly liquefied and gurgled. She slid from the pot and landed on her knees, hanging her gaping mouth over the floor boards. At first there was nothing. Then everything clenched and she ejected what looked like a gallon of yellow phlegm.
Instead of dying, she threw up again. A pint instead of a gallon this time, but it burned something terrible. The next one was a dry heave. Wait, not completely dry; thick streams of mucus hung from her lips like cobwebs, swinging back and forth. She brushed them away, and weakly stood upon wobbling legs.
"That's pretty good," she clucked, "but it still needs a little more kick."
Stumbling over to an open cupboard, she searched its shelves. "Aha!" she exclaimed, latching onto what looked like a jar of rotted frog floating in its own juices. Dumping the hideous mess into the cauldron she cackled again. "That outta do it," she said. "I'll just let that steep overnight."
She slept heavily.
As the darkest part of the night crept into the room, the Old Witch awoke from a dream worse than bad. In the dream she had looked into her cauldron to find it full of black widow spiders, thousands of them, all entwined and gorged with poison and pulsing in the moonlight. They came streaming out, pouring over her hands and scurrying up her arms. "Oh," she exclaimed, pressing her hand to her breast to calm her beating heart. "What a thrilling dream!"
She readied herself for the trip into town, filling a large bottle with her tasty mixture. Besides, it was Halloween and she did a crazy-dance down the hill with the darkness as her partner.
Dylan Thomas also awoke from a terrifying dream. Shortly past three o'clock in the morning, he thrashed awake, sat straight up in bed, and heard himself whisper, "She'll kill us all."
The house was dressed in gloom.
He fumbled for the lamp, switched it on.
He had the bizarre but unshakable feeling that something hideous and horrifying had been hovering nearby. Trembling, he got out of bed, switched off the light and went to the window. The night was silent, deep, and peaceful. If something had been out there, it was gone now.
The feel of the dream was still with him. It was as if something unspeakable still squirmed along the back of his neck, writhing within his skull, a horrifying parasite that had chosen him for a host, worming its way into him, and laying its eggs in his brain.
He entered the bathroom and got another glass of water; he'd been drinking water all night and each time it had a pungent smell and burned going down. Then he heard the sound of something knocking on glass. At first he thought it was the window, until he heard it again come from the bathroom mirror.
He flipped on the light.
The mirror was sweating, glistening. As he reached to touch it, the entire wall bulged toward him, as if it were a membrane against which a great and terrible mass was pressing insistently. It throbbed repulsively, like an enormous internal organ in the exposed and steaming guts of a prehistoric monster.
He ran from the room.
Dylan scrambled over the edge of hysteria. He ran for the front door assured that whatever was coming out of the wall was sure to be right behind. As he jerked the door open something was filling the doorway, bigger than he was, something beyond human experience. It was simultaneously insectile and arachnoid, squirming yet jittering, a tangled mass of spider legs and roachlike mandibles with fangs and claws and multifaceted eyes, a thousand nightmares rolled into one. It burst through the door, seized him, pain exploding from his sides where its talons tore at him --
-- a night breeze.
That was the only thing coming through the open door.
Dylan stood in the doorway, shuddering and gasping for breath, his entire body as cold as a corpse.
The creature that had attacked him was gone as if it had never existed. It had not scuttled away or scurried up some web; it had simply evaporated in an instant.
He eased the door shut, and leaned against it, as all the strength went out of his legs.
Dylan hugged himself and shivered so hard, his teeth chattered.
He threw up in the toilet, twice, then rinsed his mouth. The face in the mirror was the most horrible he had ever seen.
"What is happening to me?" he whispered. "It's gotta be just a dream."
But it had not been just a dream. The nightmare had followed him into the waking world.
Dylan remembered reading somewhere that madness favored darkness, but light was the kingdom of reason.
He turned on every light in the house.
The Old Witch wasn't just angry. She was seething.
Once, long ago, the people of this town had burnt her alive for nothing -- a minor infraction -- just the death of one small and insignificant little child, delicious, but barely a mouthful, and hardly a good enough reason to get all bent-out-of-shape.
It had been a painful burning, as most burning's are, but she took it in stride, died screaming in sheer agony, and then magically reappeared again seventy-five years later. How and why, she didn't know. It just happened. She felt as if something or someone was giving her a second chance to get even, and by the devil, that's exactly what she planned to do.
She had been so young and beautiful then, not like now -- old and hideous, charred from the flames, skin drawn tight and scarred over ninety percent of her body.
It had happened so long ago, she didn't even recognize the village. There were lights and paved roads, metal machines with wheels. But there was still the large pond -- an Artesian well. No matter how much water you pumped out of it, the pond magically refilled itself.
The witch poured her concoction into it with a throaty chuckle. The water clouded as if from disturbed silt, resembling blood, and that vile stain spread rapidly through the pool. "Welcome to my nightmare, you bastards, guaranteed to scare you to death."
Dylan sat on his bed listening to the movement in the walls and looking at the wallpaper. It moved in mysterious ways, swirling, churning at the point of center, and then blending all the colors into a turbulent whirlpool. Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice kept telling him that this couldn't be happening because he never had wallpaper.
He went outside to clear his head in the cool evening breeze.
In the distance, he could hear several people screaming in terror. He wanted to help, but his hallucinations were so intense he could barely walk. He held onto the side of an old brick building. He wasn't sure, but he felt it was his house. He moved forward, sliding his hand across its rough surface but never letting go; it was the only solid thing that he felt anchored his mind to the here and now.
He noticed the breeze carried the sound of someone humming and singing.
Dylan instinctively followed the sound -- never releasing the brick wall -- to the opposite side of his home.
On the other side of the street, which appeared to be like a flowing black river, Dylan saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that shimmered as if filled with sunlight, and her long golden hair danced like an animation of seaweed above the ocean's floor.
He couldn't see her face, but he knew she must be lovely. Without thinking, he released the building and stumbled across the street toward her.
The Old Witch was giddy. As the people ran screaming every-which-way through the towns square, she laughed and danced. Her silvery singing came and went, creepier each time it arose as she celebrated her revenge.
From behind her, a young man approached and took her in his arms.
"I love you," he said overly loud. "Will you marry me?"
So startled was she, that she lost her balance and fell against him.
He took that moment to give her a good long kiss.
She pushed him away looking as if she had smelled something bad. "What the . . . ?" Never before had she been kissed like that, and it reminded her of when she was young and beautiful with her whole life before her. As she looked into his swimming eyes, she could see that he was under the influence of her magic potion.
"Do you really see me as pretty?" she asked.
"Yes," he breathed huskily, "the most beautiful thing in the whole world."
The witch's unfamiliar smile looked as if her lips had been sewn into an arc. "Then come with me," she said, and Dylan followed.
She led him to the outskirts of town near an old gas station that shone beneath a rising full moon. Although the witch knew the moon was ancient, its silver shine looked newly minted just for her this Halloween night, and in the distance, on a nearby street, she heard someone howling like a crazed wolf.
Dylan appeared startled by the sound but the Old Witch smiled that peculiar smile with which she was slowly becoming familiar.
A car with its headlights off, veered directly toward them. Dylan, still overwhelmed by the potion, slowly turned to see it.
Without thinking, the witch shoved him out of the way of the careening vehicle, and took the full force of the car at the waist, smashing her into a gas pump and pinning her there.
The driver of the car stumbled out and continued down the street as if lost in a nightmare.
Dylan staggered to his feet, his head clearing, and saw an old haggard woman bashed against the leaking gas pump. He grabbed her hand and tried to free her just as the car's engine began to smoke.
"It's gonna catch fire!" he yelled. "We gotta get away!"
The Old Witch looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you," she whispered, "for my first kiss."
Dylan was not sure what she was talking about, but he saw a spark from under the car's hood and turned to run.
In a flash, the entire gas station erupted in flame, and Dylan heard the old woman say, "Ah hell, not again . . . "