Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Story: Eliza is a Witch

Our parents had been told that Eliza Belmont was a witch. It was a Wednesday evening and the PTA had decided to go en masse to the nearest bar for a drink to smooth over any disagreements after their bi-monthly meeting. I don't know what Eliza Belmont was doign there, but she decided to take the opportunity to tell everybody. She tapped a spoon on her wine glass and waited until everyone was quiet, cleared her throat, and spoke louder and clearer than anyone had heard he speak before. She told the assembled adults that she was a witch. Dad told me that there had been an awkward pause after she’d spoken, then a couple of laughs. The laughter spread. Then Bobby Creed’s stepfather had slid into the booth alongside her.

“If you’re a witch,” he said, “let’s see some magic.”

Dad said she didn’t even blink. She just lifted her hand off the table and clicked her fingers. Bobby Creed’s uncle’s head dropped straight onto the table with a smack. He didn’t ever lift it again. She pushed him out of her booth and stood up. Everyone took a step back. Eliza closed her eyes and every glass in the place shattered. There was all kind of screaming and yelling. Shards of broken glass were stuck in people’s hands, and Shirley the barmaid suffered a hailstorm from the broken beer mugs that had been hanging over the bar.

“Quiet,” said Eliza, and everybody was. Dad said he didn’t feel like he had a choice. Neither did anyone else.

“I said I’m a witch,” she said. “I’m telling you this for your own good. I’m telling you this so you’ll know to leave me alone. There won’t be another warning. This is as clear as I can make it.”

And with that she turned and walked out. She left a twenty dollar bill on the bar for Shirley.

I was still awake when Mom and Dad got home. They usually came in to say goodnight. But that night I heard them climb the stairs, go straight to their room, and close the door. I heard their hushed voices coming through the wall but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

The next morning they told my brother Jason and I about it over breakfast.

“You boys know Eliza Belmont? Young lady who lives down on Foxwood Street?”

We nodded.

“You boys need to stay clear of her. Understand?”

“Why?” asked my brother. At thirteen he was four years older than me, always a little readier to challenge my parents on whichever issue happened to present itself.

“She’s a witch,” Mom said simply. Dad turned to look at her and she shrugged. “What? It’s better that they know. We agreed. They need to know.” She turned to us and I could see in her eyes that she meant to be heard. “You keep away from her.”

Before we could ask any more questions we were ushered out of the house and onto the school bus. The bus was quiet that day. The bus had never been quiet, not a day that I’d ridden it.

It wasn’t until after school that I heard the name mentioned again. I was looking for Jason to see if I could hang around with him and his friends after school. He usually let me, as long as I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone what they got up to. That afternoon I found him behind the library, talking to Mike and Eddie. Eddie was tall, a little round, and decent to me, but Mike was short, skinny, and mean. Whenever Jason let me tag along Mike made it clear that I wasn’t welcome. Most of the time he’d tell me so. It was Mike that spotted me first.

“What the hell do you want?” he asked, and Jason turned round.

“What are you doing here, Ollie?” The surprise in his voice told me that they were planning something. Something they didn’t want anyone to know about.

“Just seeing what you guys were doing,” I said, as casually as I could.

“Bring him along,” said Eddie. “We could use a look-out.” Mike hawked a glob of phlegm at the ground and Jason nodded.

“Fine. Come on, squirt.” I tried not to let them see how happy this made me.

As they walked down the street I stayed about a foot behind them. That was very important. Any closer and they’d lower their voices and stare at me until I retreated. I heard Eliza Belmont’s name mentioned several times. If I’d had any sense I would have run home, or tried to convince them that they should let it go. But that wouldn't have made any difference. It might have made them more determined to do it.

We made a left turn onto Foxwood Street, walked past three or four houses and then stopped. I knew whose house we were looking at. It looked just like all the others. The only thing different about it was that the curtains were drawn. We could see that the front door was firmly closed behind the screen door.

“What do you think?” asked Eddie. Jason scratched his chin.

“If she’s home, we leave. If she’s not, we go inside, take a look.” He turned and put both hands on my shoulders. “If you see her, you fuckin’ yell. Understand?” I nodded. “Good. Let’s go.”

Mike smirked at me. He liked that I was staying behind. I watched them creep carefully around the side of the house and out of sight. I stood there, shifting my weight from leg to leg. I waited for what seemed like forever. After a while I realised that I desperately needed to pee. If they didn’t get back soon I’d have to abandon my post or piss myself. As I looked around to see if there was anywhere I could go I heard a whoop. The three boys were running towards me, each with big grins plastered on their faces.

“Did you go inside?” I asked. Jason ruffled my hair.

“Sure did, squirt,” he said. “Hey, I got something for you.” He handed me a small silver clock. I turned it over in my hands. The back of the clock was engraved, quite simply. To my Eliza. I smiled up at my big brother. I knew what he’d done was wrong, but what was I going to tell him?

On the walk back they talked about how easy it had been, how the house hadn’t been creepy at all. They talked about what they would have done if Eliza had been home. I did notice that we were walking a little fast than we had on the way there. Then Eddie and Mike left and I walked home with my big brother alone. The rest of the evening couldn’t have been more normal. We had dinner, we were asked about school, we watched a little TV, then we went to bed.

I was woken up by my mother shouting. I thought that I might have missed the bus, but the clock told me that there was more than enough time. Dad stormed into my room, ran to me and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“Where’s Jason?” he asked. I told him I didn’t know. The telephone rang and my mother answered it. Seconds later she was calling to my father, saying that Mike’s parents didn’t know where he was. Then Eddie’s mom rang asking if we knew where Eddie was.

I stayed in my room while all this was happening. I sat on my bed. I knew what had happened. By the look on Dad’s face when he came back into my room, I could tell that he did too.

“Get dressed,” he said.

I’ve never felt shame like I did standing outside Eliza Belmont’s screen door while my Dad rang the doorbell. She answered it quickly. She’d been expecting us. I thought I could see just the tiniest trace of a smile. She spoke before Dad could open his mouth.

“They’re gone, Mr. Deakin. Where they’ve gone they can’t get back from. You should be grateful I left you with this one. I did tell you. I told all of you. Mr. Deakin, I only told you last night.”

She looked down at me. When I’ve dreamt about that moment I’ve remembered her eyes as being furious, or tearful, or gleeful. But the simple fact is that it was patience that I saw. And I’m sure that in her opinion she’d done me a tremendous favour.

“Now, you have something of mine, don’t you, Oliver?”

I’d brought it with me. I reached into my coat pocket and took out the small silver clock. She took it from me and turned it over in her hands, looking at the inscription. The smile grew, then disappeared completely.

“Thank you, Oliver. Goodbye, Mr. Deakin.”

She closed the door. I could hear Dad starting to cry as we walked home.

That night, when I couldn’t hear my parents arguing anymore, I got out of bed, put on my jacket and my sneakers, and crept out of the window. I walked quickly and quietly. I knew where I was going. I knocked on Eliza Belmont's door. After a moment or two it opened.

“Hello, Oliver.”

She came out onto the porch dressed in a long black coat. As she looked down at me I could see that she was wondering what to do with me. After a moment or two she took a step forward and closed the door behind her.

“I was just going out for a walk, you can join me if you like.”

I nodded. We walked in silence for a couple of minutes. I was a little surprised when she finally asked me a question.

“Did you come to ask for your brother back?”

I nodded.

“I can’t do that. I couldn’t do that. Not even if I wanted to. Would you like to know why you’re still here.”

She didn’t wait for me to nod.

“If I took you as well, who would be left to tell people what I can do, what happens? I told your parents. You know that, don’t you? I told everyone.”

She gestured at the houses that lined the street. Not a single house had a light on. I wondered how many people were actually sleeping. As if on cue I saw an upstairs curtain twitch in number 41.

“They were all told. But this still happened. So now, you can tell them. Because you know what I’m capable of. Here we are.”

I saw that I was standing in front of my house.

“Go to bed,” she said. “And tell people what happened to your brother.”

I told people. I didn’t have to, everybody new. But I told people anyway. Our family packed up and moved away about three weeks later. As far as I know, Eliza Belmont is still there. I hope she’s been left alone.



So, here's another one. This was a bit of a Comfort Zone story. People who've read my stuff before will know that I write about witches quite a lot. Well, I like writing about witches. And while I've got a lot of time for evil witches and ethereal witches, I really like witches who just get on with it. Admittedly this story isn't my most original work, but I was quite taken with the idea of a witch who told everyone who and what she was.

There's also the matter of the American setting. It's been a while since I tried this. I apologise for anything that doesn't ring true, but it just sounded American in my head. Or what I think American sounds like. If any Americans are reading this, it's set in an area that you don't know very well. It's a small town in....that area. You know the one. They sound a bit like Brits there.

Eliza Belmont may return, or be transplanted to THE NOVEL IN PROGRESS. I like her no-nonsense-ness. I also like her name.

Just a quick note about names. I'm not good at making up names for my characters. They're quite a useful procrastination tool ("Look, I can't do any more writing until I figure out what he's called!"). In the past I used to just cull names from my CD collection, now I've resorted to cribbing surnames from characters in era or area appropriate films. However, Eliza comes from not one, but two songs (Myla Goldberg by The Decemberists and Where the Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), and Belmont is one of the roads I grew up on. Eddie and Mike just seem like the names archetypal American teenage kids would have if they weren't going to make it to the end of the story/film/whatehaveyou.

That being said, every now and again a character will spring to life with a full and decent name. Doesn't happen very often, but it's nice when it does.

Hope you liked the story.

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