Her Warm Smile

In the fall of 1996, I experienced something I have since refused, until now, to speak of. Something I have struggled to comprehend, and grappled mentally with, to understand.

I was eight years old and more excited for the quickly approaching Halloween than I had ever been. For the last month, my parents had been slaving away creating a Spook Alley. My dad, an amateur makeup artist, had spent countless hours making monsters, grim reapers, witches, and mummies. My mom had, for days, been using bed sheets and spray paint to make set pieces and backdrops.

Come Halloween night all the neighborhood would visit our garage, wind through four terrifying rooms, and exit into the backyard. My job would be to escort guests from the backyard, around the side of the house, and back to the front yard to finally collect the fabulous fee of a single piece of candy. While a week still remained before Halloween, my heart swelled with excitement.

The day, which would forever scar my mind, was in almost every aspect mundane. It was a Tuesday, the sun was high in the western sky and a slight chill had descended over our small town. The bell had just finished ringing, commencing the end of the day and the school yard was filled with the sounds of cheery children. My friends and I, as we had every day, walked together, parting ways along the path as we each made it home.

We were three blocks from my house, my friend Kyle and I, when we saw her. She wasn’t terribly tall, but clearly an adult by her figure. She was fair skinned, pale even, and beautiful. Even at eight, I knew she was gorgeous. I stopped.

Kyle, who had also seen the woman, but whose actions were the opposite of mine, tugged at my arm. I was staring, my mouth slightly agape at the vision before me.

The woman smiled. Her soft lips parted ever so, revealing a row of gleaming perfect teeth.

“Come on!” Kyle said into my ear. “Let’s go!”

Hesitantly, and reluctantly I allowed myself to be pulled away. All the while looking back at the beautiful woman outside her home. When we had rounded the corner Kyle turned to face me.

“What’s wrong with you?” Kyle asked.

“What!?” I exclaimed.

“What were you doing?” Kyle accused, shoving me.

“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything!”

“Do you know who lives in that house?”

I stared at Kyle, confused. “Who, that woman? I don’t know! What’s your problem?”

Kyle’s eyes grew wide as he spoke. “That’s the witch’s house!”

“A witch!” I shouted. “Are you stupid?”

“My brother said a witch lives in that house, and she tricks kids to come inside and then she eats them!”

Angrily I began walking again, headed toward home. “Brad also said the woods behind your house are haunted. Your brother is stupid, and so are you if you believe him! That woman wasn’t even old! Aren’t witch’s supposed to be old?”

Kyle followed behind me as we walked. Rarely if ever did Kyle and I disagree on things, and rarer still did we ever argue. This, however, would be one of our worst and most trying arguments as children.

“The woods behind my house are haunted! Brad saw a ghost back there one time! He told me so!”

“Whatever, but she wasn’t a witch!” I said with a sense of finality.

For the remainder of our walk, neither of us said a word. Eventually, Kyle and I parted ways, grumbling our goodbyes to each other as we each walked up the driveways of our side by side houses.

That afternoon, as I did my homework and completed my chores, the beautiful woman stayed fresh on my adolescent brain. I knew witches weren’t real. The closest thing I had seen to a real witch sat in my garage, made from plastic bags and cheesy masks.

The woman, that beautiful woman I’d seen standing on her front porch, she was anything but a witch. That I knew.

Finished with my chores I made my way to the garage to help my parents with the final preparations for our Spook Alley. I exited the house and entered a forest. I was surrounded by a thicket of artificial trees and the backdrop of a haunted looking woods. Standing before me, propped up with fishing line and string, was a flannel-clad wolfman. His wireframe face sculpted into a grimace. In his hands, the bloodied remains of a paper mache corpse.

Beyond, the gruesome scene, my father stood putting together a mummy, a tangle of cloth wrappings at his feet. I offered to help, eager to participate in the design of something so frightening. Busy, my father waved me and told me to go play.

Only minimally disappointed, I found myself wandering outside to the front yard. Though I wasn’t allowed to help in the garage, I was still free to play, and with that I was content. The sun hadn’t quite yet set, and likely wouldn’t for another hour or more.

The car, which Kyle’s family drove, was gone from their driveway informing me that my friend was not home. So alone, I played in the yard. I was a soldier, dodging explosives. I dashed and darted, shooting invisible bullets at invisible enemies. A grenade landed nearby and I dove, somersaulting across the lawn to avoid the make-believe shrapnel.

As I came up, the world spinning and whirling, something caught my eye. It was the woman. She was standing, silently watching me. She smiled gently and turned back the other way. She neared the corner, looking back to me only once. She raised her slender feminine hand and beckoned me. Then she was gone, walking up the street, out of sight, her long black dress flowing in the cool autumn breeze.

She had beckoned me. With her thin delicate finger, she had called me to her. Whether it was a child’s fascination with a curvaceous, attractive woman older than he, or something more I’ll never know, and it is a question I fear I shall ask for the rest of my life.

Whatever the answer, whatever the reason, I followed. Walking on short legs I moved up the sidewalk, around the corner to where she was waiting. Again she flashed me her warm smile and extended a hand. Without a word I took it and together we walked back to her home, side by side. I looked up into her soft features and fell into her her bottomless blue eyes. She was humming. It was a sweet and melodic tune. Comforting. Calming.

Before I knew it, we were in her home, standing in the living room. The carpet was soft beneath my bare feet. I hadn’t even remembered removing my shoes. Warm air caressed my bare chest. A fire crackled in the fireplace.

The woman, still humming her sweet lullaby stepped beside me. Slowly she reached behind her and unzipped her dress.

In a mix of pure fear and wild excitement, I watched as her clothing slipped from her body and fell to the floor. I stared wide-eyed and trembling at the sight of her milky white skin. The curve of her hips and breasts. The slender lines of her neck and collar. The utter beauty of her face, framed by her ebony hair in the dim firelight. I was entranced.

She smiled and a strange feeling stirred in my stomach. She moved, stepping behind me. I shuddered as her small soft hands pressed against the bare skin of my back. Gently she ushered me forward, carefully pressing me toward the hearth.

The heat of the flames was powerful. I turned my face away from the immense warmth. I glanced back at the woman over my shoulder. Her skin so close, the warmth of her breasts against my back, the soft brush of her nipples touching me lightly as we walked. Again I trembled with fear and excitement, recognizing the mixture of emotions as they traveled between my gut and my groin.

Still, she led me toward the fire. The heat now so very intense, it was nearly unbearable. Then she stopped, placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me toward her. The flames in the fireplace licked at my back. I grimaced with pain.

The woman stepped away from me, backing up slowly toward the center of the room in the full light of the fire. Still, she smiled.

Then, ever so slowly, ever so subtly, she began to change. As the light flickered and faded, light, then dark, then light again, she began to alter. It was slow at first, nearly unnoticeable until finally, she was no longer a beautiful young woman.

Now standing before me, hunched over a feeble bent spine, with mottled spotted skin was a decrepit old hag. Where once there were soft round features, there were now bony sharp angles. Her supple round breasts now sagged low over her torso. Her raven black hair faded, and now where there were once thick locks, thin stringy strands of silvery hair clung to a bulbous bare scalp.

Her white gleaming smile was now a crooked and haggard maw, stained yellow and brown.

And her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes had dulled, and now in their place, staring at me with a look of malice, were two large white pupilless orbs.

She stepped forward onto a gnarled bony foot and smiled an evil grin. I was petrified in place, unable to move as the aged hag came toward me, smacking her lips.

Frantically I looked around the room, searching for someone or something to save me, but I was alone.

Closer she loomed.

Still standing by the hearth, flames licking at my back, I screamed the shrill and piercing scream of a child. The woman laughed a sickening cackle.

Two claw-like hands, bent and knobby with arthritis, grasped me by the shoulders and tossed me into the fire.

Pain wracking my body, the scent of burning flesh filling my nostrils, I scrambled to escape my doom. Panicked, I kicked my feet, letting loose several coals from the fire. From inside the hearth, I watched as infant flames began to grow on the carpet, spreading rapidly through the room.

The hideous old woman hissed and stepped away, moving to deal with the fire which now began to climb the walls of her dark house. Without hesitation, I jumped free of the flames and fled. The hag slid sideways, stopping me in my tracks. There was no escape. I coward as the hag hovered over me, leaning in to do with me, whatever dastardly deeds she intended to do.

Then, just as all hope left my tiny burnt and broken body, as the devil incarnate descended upon me, a ceiling beam, all ablaze, slipped down and toppled on top of the monster.

Choking on the thick black smoke that now filled the room, I dashed to the front door and struggled to open it. I turned the knob, pulled hard, and grinned as it gave way. The door swung open wide as a gust of cold autumn air rushed in to greet me. The flames feasting upon the ceiling beam, which had pinned the hag beneath it, swelled as oxygen entered her lair.

I glanced back only once before I ran, watching as the flickering flashes of fire consumed the howling hideous hag.

For two months I stayed in the intensive care unit at Lakeview Hospital, healing from the burns and wounds that not only physically deformed me but would follow me mentally for the remainder of my life.

It was known that I had been at the woman’s house when the “accident” occurred. But no one knew why I’d been there in the first place, or what had caused the fire which had led to the woman’s death and my injuries.

I feigned amnesia, too afraid to tell the truth, and too smart to know that if I had, I wouldn’t have been believed. I was also aware, that I myself couldn’t believe what I had experienced, often falling into stretches of doubt and depression. Had I truly experienced those horrors; or was my imagination filling in the gaps for some worse memory my brain had intentionally forgotten?

I never got the chance that year, to celebrate Halloween, and in retrospect, it was for the best. These days I avoid the holiday entirely, knowing full well what memories it will bring with it. And on nights when the cool autumn wind blows through the trees and the full moon rises in the starlit sky, I stay inside, safe behind my locked door. And if ever a beautiful woman smiles at me from her front porch or window, I know to veer away.

 

Written By Rick Bishop