The Witch in My Window
“WITCHES DON'T EXIST!”
My gran’s words echoed around my head as the horrific visage grinned at me through my bedroom window. I threw my curtains closed, and I leaned against the wall, panting.
“Witches don’t exist. Witches don’t exist. Witches don’t exist.” I repeated it three times, with my eyes closed and moisture beading on my forehead.
Three times was the magic charm. Gran had always said so, and I desperately wanted to do anything that would wipe that vision in the glass from my eyes.
Moving to my dresser (one of three), I lighted three candles, and of course, I used three different matches, sort of. This being the 21st century, I used pocket lighters, one in red, another yellow, and the third navy blue. There wasn’t any sense in being too traditional.
Opening my closet (also one of three, custom built, in cedar, oak, and walnut), I perused through my clothing choices. Three of everything, of course, though in different materials. One likes variety, even if it is limited to only three.
My hauberks were, of necessity, chain mail. There was nothing to be done about that. The interlinked and interwoven metal gave a level of protection nothing else could. I’d ordered each set in a distinctive style, one done in carbon steel, for strength in battle situations. Another was of a copper-beryllium alloy, to prevent sparks when struck by steel. I didn’t want to be set alight next to an off-gassing, putrefying and flammable vat of fumes. The third was for my softer side, rose-colored gold. Useless, of course, for warfare, but silken to the touch.
I chose the gold, as I wanted to be beautiful tonight. It shimmered as I slipped it over my head, flowing like liquid as it settled around my shoulders.
My gloves were all function. One was tipped with steel, so that I could strike with my fist and tear though the toughest of armor. My leather set was for flexibility, so that I could climb, if necessary, and manipulate all manner of tools. I did find the use of a computer keyboard to come in handy from time to time, and as a nod to being a modern woman, my phone is always at my side.
Dragon scales were my choice tonight. The scales were layered, one over another, and they sparkled and gleamed. I would be magnificent when I passed by, and my hands would dance in the light.
My kilts were of identical construction, in a knobby tartan and leather weave, although the patterns were different. They represented the power I’d assumed from those I’d battled with. Nairn Clan. Arbuthnot Ancient. And my favorite, Wallace Hunting. I was hunting tonight, and I slipped it around my waist.
My shoulder pads always seemed a vanity thing. Yet, I accepted their practicality. Worked up under my hauberk, they both absorbed the impact of a sword and kept the metal from chafing. They were heavily stitched, with ancient designs that spoke of an ancestry that went back nearly a thousand years. My choices were thin, thick, and fat. The rose-gold mail was heavy but flexed with my movements, and I chose the thin. I didn’t expect a battle tonight, at least not one that involved swords and impacts.
My helm was my final item of clothing. This was where I had put my attention and resources. Mine were of the finest manufacture. They had to be beautiful, and that didn’t come cheap. Then, none of my regalia did. This, though. There was no choice in what I would wear tonight.
I lifted a gleaming silver and gold helmet from within a velveteen case, ignoring the other two. It was worked as adroitly as an Egyptian mummy casing, and had been crafted by the same artisans. The silver had been burnished to a stunning glow, and the joints were studded with rubies and emeralds. The eyes were blackened into simpering slits, as feminine in their beaten metal as a young girl’s eyes in her initial burst of love. I dflkja;lkj;jklsdfjklsdfjkl
My shoes were of no account, as I could go barefoot or in steel-toed boots. My magic wasn’t there. I took no swords or knives, as my fingers and my spells were deadlier than metal could ever be. A lightning bolt thrown just right, or a chain of lava bursts were my forte against any foe. There were none I’d ever feared to face.
I opened my door, turning the knob three times. The first was to warn my enemies to beware. The second to place a ward around my walls, and the third to actually open the door. I stepped through to a landing with three spindles, revealing a bannister that followed three flights of stairs to the ground floor. The third floor was always the safest, for a woman of power like mine. Threes, remember. Always do things in threes. It was what my gran always said.
I made my way down the steps, counting each one in a pattern of threes. Naming them. The Bronte sisters. The Three Stooges. The bones in the ear. Three French hens. (Yes, I’d named them.) The Hanson brothers. The articles of clothing in a three-piece suit. The top three songs from 2012. My three favorite books. The three blind mice, three little kittens, and each of Cerberus’s heads.
I even counted the three feet in a yard.
Before I exited the building, I spoke one last chant, repeating it three times. “Witches don’t exist. Witches don’t exist. Witches don’t exist.”
I knew it wasn’t true, however. The one I’d seen in my window glass had been me.
OUT ON THE rocks . . . a moose?
Was it waving at him? George shook his head and blinked several times. The voice of an eagle screeched in the distance, and he shivered.
The sky was still groggy with night, and the water was a thick soup. Wisps of fog stroked the shore like a lover’s caress, and clouds obscured the distant mountains. Keeping watch at the side of the ship, he’d known for several hours he was tiring. His duty each night consisted of constantly searching the horizon, and in the dark, it was easy to see things that weren’t there.
But this? His eyes had begun playing tricks on him. There was no other explanation.
“George, ready for some relief?” Raphe, his mate onboard the vessel, rested his elbows on the railing at George’s side. He talked around a cigarette, setting it quivering in front of his face. He pulled it from his mouth and blew a long tail of smoke into the freshening breeze, only to watch it dissipate into the moody morning sky, leaving an acrid smell to taint the damp air. The dampened fag in his fingertips glowed against the brightening horizon. Scattered, lumpy rocks broke the surface of the Maine shore like tailings of coal scattered across a blackened landscape.
“Yeah, maybe. Been awake too long, I know that.” George laughed. What he’d seen . . . what he’d thought he’d seen, seemed less real with a living, breathing human to talk to.
“You’re from these parts, right?” Raphe looked sideways at him, his eyes narrowed, as he put the end of his cigarette between his lips and drew in deeply. The cigarette glowed brightly, like a one-eyed demon skulking against the distant shore.
“Indian Nation, yeah. Haven’t lived here for better’n eight years.” George pulled his collar tighter. He already had it standing. Maine, even in summer, could be cold at night, and he felt it probing chill fingers down his back.
“Don’t know that I would’ve left. Beats Florida. Nothing but swamp rats and snakes there. Course, that’s why I skedaddled. Put me here on the Morgan with you, my friend. The Charles W. is as good a home as I’ve ever known.” Raphe held the remains of his glowing fag between his fingers, as if deciding if he could make another draw on it, before flicking it into the black water, when it glowed brightly for a brief moment before going dark.
“Swamp rats and snakes.” George chuckled, and he looked at his feet. Black shoes, polished every evening and scuffed every morning. He liked to rest his arms on the rail—like Raphe was doing just now—and work the toes of his shoes on the deck. It was hard on them, but he’d never managed to break the habit.
So, he bought extra polish and worked it in every day to cover the damage he’d done during the night.
It wasn’t his shoes that had his attention. Snakes and rats. The image from the shore. Waving. Yeah, waving at him. It was like his grandfather’s glass-plate images from his attic. It’d been one of the first cameras owned by the Penobscot Nation, acquired to record the people and their lifestyle before the white man wiped it away, and as the tribal leader, his grandfather, the sagama, had volunteered to learn to use it.
Sagama Tamakwe had taken pictures of everything. Rocks. Birchbark wigwams. Families huddled around cooking fires. In his mind, George could still see the blurred images of flames etched in the glass plates, more effervescent than solid, but telling of the flames that kept his ancestors warm during the brutal Maine winters.
One, though, had been wrapped more carefully than the rest. He’d quizzed his grandfather about it, only to have the old man sit beside him in front of the old rock fireplace in his rustic mountain cabin and tell him a story.
“When our people first came to the Place Where the Rocks Open Out, we never climbed the tallest mountains. Then, one day, my grandfather became desperate. It had been a hard winter, and he climbed to hunt a moose said to live in a cave on Katahdin mountain. Instead, he chased a half-man, half-eagle creature with the head of a moose from the cave.
“It became a hard time for the Penobscot Nation. He had awakened the bird spirit Pamola, who is the god of Thunder and the protector of the mountain. He was very angry.
“Now I will show you the image. It’s Pamola. He’s in the glass.”
His grandfather unwrapped the glass plate very gingerly, and sure enough, in the plate was a man-like creature with the head of a moose, the body of a man, and the wings and feet of an eagle.
“A god let you take a picture of him?” The boy, George, had been amazed, certain it was a man dressed in a costume.
“No, my grandson. I captured Pamola in the glass with the white man’s box, and our mountain has been at peace ever since. We’re safe as long as his bird spirit remains inside. Take care, though. Whoever releases Pamola from the glass will know his wrath for all time.”
George’s grandfather died some years later, and his old cabin was abandoned. As a teen, full of angst and often drinking too much, George made his way to his grandfather’s unused cabin for a weekend free from his parents.
He found the old image of Pamola, and not believing his grandfather’s story except as the words of a misguided although much-loved fool, in a moment of alcohol-infused carelessness, he dropped it and broke it. That night a storm hit the mountain, toppling trees and pulling the roof off the old cabin.
Now George sailed the seas, and he refused to place his black-polished shoes on Maine soil. If he did, Pamola would know he had returned.
Rain began to pelt the deck of the ship, as thunder rumbled along the shoreline. George clapped Raphe on the shoulder and headed inside. He shook his head. A moose on the rocks, with the wings of an eagle, waving at him like a man.
He wondered if Pamola knew he was here.
THE TWO COINS in Rudy Dolan’s pocket clinked.
It was an odd musical accompaniment as he stumbled down the cold pavement, the holes in his shoes turning his feet into blocks of ice. The temperatures during the long night had fallen far below freezing, and he’d huddled for unendurable hours beneath layers of newsprint trying to stay warm.
It hadn’t worked.
Instead he’d spent the time working on his plans to climb back up the economic and social ladder to where he belonged. He wasn’t a gutter rat. He didn’t belong in the alleyways of the city. He missed . . . he missed . . . most of all he missed warm butter over a good steak, medium rare, always medium rare.
And a good bottle of wine, and a soft bed at the Club. It had all been yanked from him. The day was seared in his memory forever.
October 29th, a day to live in infamy for all time.
Jerrold McGowan had worked in the adjoining office, a fine broker by anyone’s standards, but a risk-taker in the Market. Bigger risks facilitated bigger gains, Jerrold always said. It was a motto he’d lived by, and, well, maybe, died by, too. The Market had been off for a week, and good ole’ Jer had snapped up the plunging stocks, certain that a rebound was on the way.
It never happened, and when Rudy showed up for work that morning, Jer had been pasty and in rumpled clothing. He was at his ticker, and when Rudy greeted him, Jer smiled wanly, pulled out the keys to his Pierce-Arrow Series 33 Runabout, and held them out.
“Want to buy a car, old man?”
“What?” Rudy was taken aback. He’d never done as well in the Market as Jerrold, and while he lived okay, he took taxis. Cars were expensive to own.
“C’mon, take me up on it. It’s a deal you can’t refuse.” He jangled the keys to make his point.
“That’s the keys to your Runabout. You love that car.” Rudy laughed off his offer. His accounts were down, too, and he didn’t have the cash to spare, no matter how cheap it was.
“Well, you can’t take it with you.” He took a deep breath, like a man who was tired and knew he’d never sleep again. “I think I might need some fresh air. Give me a minute, won’t you, old man?”
“Sure, Jer. We’ll get together at noon for an early drink. How about that?”
“Noon’s a plan.” He smiled, an empty expression that looked more a grimace than an actual grin.
Rudy slipped into his office, his own ticker tape stock machine bonkers with activity, as it clattered away. He glanced at the tape and back at the door, with its frosted glass emblazoned with Jer’s name and title. This explained a lot. He picked up the phone to make a call to see if the Market drop was affecting everyone, only to get the operator.
“This is Marcie. Is that you, Mr. Dolan?”
“Yes, Marcie. Is Mr. Fleckenstein in? If so, I’d like to be connected.” Fleckenstein was the company chairman, and he’d know if anyone would.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Dolan, but Mr. Fleckenstein is no longer with us. I can connect you with Barry in Legal, if that would help.” She smacked her gum, just audible over the line.
“Not with us? Sam was fired?” He was surprised. Fleckenstein was one of the original partners. With the falling stock prices, well, someone had to take the blame.
“Pills, I heard. So sad. Barry?”
Before he could answer, he heard a scream, and then a wet whump. He rushed to the window and threw it open. A crowd was gathering on the street. In the center was Jerrold. His head was a bloody mess, and he still held the keys to his Runabout in his hand.
Jerrold had been secretive about the business side of his life, not letting anyone in on his tricks of the trade. Still, Rudy had seen the safe behind the painting—every office in the building had one—but it wasn’t the safe that was important. Jerrold had received a recent promotion, and the glass on his door was being updated. The painter had wiped solvent on the frosted glass, and for a minute it was nearly clear. Jerrold had been loading a cash box with bonds, annuities, and cash, lots of it.
And Jerrold’s private stash of stocks, hand-picked and guaranteed to go sky high.
Rudy thrust himself through the door and swung the picture wide. He checked to see if the combination was written near the safe, and finding nothing, searched the back of the picture. He noticed a torn spot in the paper backing on the painting, and lifting it, there it was.
He pulled out the cash box and laid it on Jerrold’s desk, to the accompaniment of the ticker clattering away in the background. Sirens were coming in the window. The police would arrive soon, and he had to get this over and done with.
There. Container Corporation of America. Truax Traer Coal. Bulova. Zenith. Minneapolis Honeywell, and Douglass Aircraft, among others.
Rudy slammed the safe and shoved the cash box under his arm. He reentered his office just as the police invaded Jerrold’s. With his heart pounding, he knew he had to stash the box somewhere safe. Grand Central. He could get a storage locker there, just until things settled, and he could figure out what Jerrold’s stuff was worth.
It turned out it was worth about zero in the current state of things, and over the next couple of years, things went even further south. Rudy kept the box squirreled away, though, even as he was let go, evicted, and had nothing left but the suit on his back. Sleeping on the streets, he’d dreamed of those names, but no longer had access to how they had fared in the market.
Until daylight, when one of the news rags he was underneath was the financial section, and he’d gotten to reading the top stock performers. Container Corporation of America. Truax Traer Coal. Bulova. Zenith. Minneapolis Honeywell, and Douglass Aircraft. He let his mind dream . . . warm butter over a good steak, medium rare, always medium rare.
And a good bottle of wine, and a soft bed at the Club. His heart warmed in the knowledge that he was rich.
THE PHONE RANG. “Hello,” I said. “Hello.”
The line was silent for a few moments. I don’t know why I continued to listen. No one was there. Then it clicked, and the dial tone started as I hung up.
All the lights went out, like someone had hit a switch.
I picked up the phone to call the electric company, and the lights came back on. Weird, I thought.
I hung up the phone, at first thinking it was just a coincidence. You know, like when you lift the receiver to call someone, and before you can dial, they’re already there. They tell you it never rang, and they’re right, because it didn’t. It’s only a chance thing, though, that you picked up exactly as they were dialing. I mean, what are the odds?
When I hung up, the lights went out again.
I tried it a few times, off and on, to see if it kept up. I even did the S.O.S. pattern, just for fun, until one of the times it was down, the phone rang again.
“Hello?” I said, not expecting anyone to be there.
“Gerry, have you been watching this?”
It was Franklin, the only person who ever calls me, unless it’s a business call or a telemarketer.
“Watching what?” I’d been busy playing with my phone. I hadn’t had time for anything else.
“The city, you fool! Don’t you pay attention to anything? Look outside your window. I’ll hold.”
I laid my phone down, leaving the handset to rock on its side, and I walked across the room. I tilted the blinds and looked out. I was on the fourteenth floor, so I had a good view. There was the barbecue place, neon lights glaring, and I watched the streetlight at the corner blink from green to red. No cars were coming, so that was odd. It blinked back to green almost immediately, and that was odder. The other direction I looked for Jerry’s Hole Shop, a donut eatery that also serves burgers and salads. The lights were on, but I couldn’t see anyone inside. It was usually crowded this time of night.
Then I realized there was no one on the street. Light pooled beneath the streetlights, but no one was home.
I moved back to the phone and picked it up, saying, “Looks like a quiet night, my friend. What am I looking for?”
“Are the lights on?” Franklin seemed perturbed I wasn’t panicked like him. Then, that was Franklin for you.
“Just like every night. That’s a silly question. Now if you want to know about my apartment—”
“I don’t care about your apartment. The whole city’s been having problems the last thirty minutes. Losing power like crazy. Radios are warning everyone not to go outside.”
“I’d say we’ve got some compliant people in our city.” I laughed. “Ain’t nobody outside here. I’m hanging up now, Franklin.”
I set the phone in the receiver, forgetting about the light thing. Every bulb in the room went dark as soon as I released the phone.
Then the phone rang again, and as soon as I picked it up, the lights were back on.
“Gerry?” The voice was tinny as I didn’t have the phone to my ear, but it was Franklin.
“Yeah?” I lifted the phone so I could talk.
“It did it again here. The lights went out, and now they’re on again. How about at your place? Got electricity?”
“For now, thanks.”
“What about outside?”
“Don’t know. I’m not at the window. I’m talking with you on the phone.”
“Check and see.” Franklin sounded kinda miffed.
“Sure.” I returned and reported, “Yeah, they’re still on. You guys must be having transformer trouble. This side of town’s got all the juice we can use.”
I was about tired of my phone by that time. I’ve never been much of a talker, and hardly ever on the phone. I told Gerry I’d see him at work in the morning, and I was hanging up.
The lights went dead when I did.
Maybe the building super could figure it out. Probably a short or something, maybe even easy to fix. Before I could lift the phone to call, the uneven glass in the window caught my eye, and like a seagoing vessel in a west wind, I was drawn forward.
It was like precivilization out there. Total darkness, only lighted by the moon overhead. I lifted the window to discover silence, except for the occasional barking of a frightened dog. No air conditioners, no car horns, and not even the rumble of the subway, which I can feel when it goes under my building.
I decided my first call would be to Franklin to find out if it was lights out again at his place. As soon as I picked up the phone, the power came back on.
That’s when I figured it out. Outside my window, the power returned there, also. My phone was the key. I dialed Franklin to tell him I’d resolved the power problem for the city. We had power as long as I was on the phone.
“Well, don’t hang it up, fool,” he chided, with a laugh. “See you in the morning.”
This time I laid the handset on the table so the power would stay on. That worked for about three minutes, just long enough for the dial tone to break the connection and begin beeping. There I stood in the darkness, the room silent, except for the beeping of the phone.
Now I have a schedule on my door where people can sign up to talk, twenty-four hours a day. Every day. As soon as someone hangs up, the next person must be ready to place a call. It’s the only way to keep the power on across the entire city. It’s not so bad, except when I get up in the middle of the night to get a drink. I have to remember to put on a robe before I walk through the living room. I never know who might be on my phone, talking to their grandmother in Cincinnati.
People do like to talk. It wouldn’t do to become the talk of the town, now, would it? No, siree. Not me.