“Come back, Tommy!”
from the seer’s house...
“Don’t go, Tommy!”
to the haunted mansion...
“Tooooommy, cooome baaack!”
she’ll suck your life...
That new voice, a crystal’s song, he carried in his dreams. When had she arrived? He longed to return as much as he longed to prove himself, now even more.
A bet was a bet. Onward he trudged, his robe suddenly too long, every step a cliff overcome.
He stopped to draw air in, to peek back over his shoulder. They seemed far behind already and awfully tiny as seen at the bottom of that narrow flight of stone steps, and Tom wasn’t even halfway through the stairway. He looked up in the foaming darkness at which bony branches slashed to the rhythm of the unseen wind. The house stood darker than the night, its stones like tar, only its high windows inflamed with dancing shadows, as if huge fires licked the glass. He looked down again at his friends, twelve-year olds Ghost, Elf, and Death, standing with their jack-o’-lanterns and their bags for candy on the orange-lit pavement as if they were on a far-off stage and he was watching them from the gallery, right under the theatre’s roof. A Witch had joined them and Tom could’ve told who she was even from that distance, even if he hadn’t heard her voice calling him – she had a witch’s hair, no need for wigs, copper curls flowing to her waist.
He pulled at his costume, a silver skeleton painted on black velvet. The wind flapped the robe against his legs, furiously. His white mask felt too tight. There was no going back, especially now.
He turned and climbed again. Soon their shouts were eaten by the wind’s, their silhouettes erased by swaying branches.
He almost bumped into a black oak door, his nose one inch away from an iron gargoyle, perched on an iron ring. For a second, the gargoyle seemed to twitch its tiny nose, winked at him with evil glaring eyes. Just a reflection of the Moon’s, finding its way through the battered trees. Nothing else. Tom swallowed hard, then grabbed the gargoyle and knocked.
The door opened.
As if someone had been waiting for him right behind the door. That someone stood in front of him, but he couldn’t tell if it was a real person or just a trick of the shadows. He blinked at the cold sweat coating now his mask.
Behind him, the winds barked, mewed, moaned.
“Trick or treat?” he managed in a shaky voice, not his own at all.
A pale face, featureless, floated in the doorway, in a hypnotic pattern of afterimages.
“This is something for you to decide...”
He strained to see if it was the woman who sat in the fortune-teller’s booth when the carnival came to town; the boys said it was her, that she only left her house for that, that she didn’t follow the carnival, but the carnival returned to her, but how could she be, how could she be. The soothsayer was an ancient midget, a dried Incan mummy, so tiny that it could fit inside the small glass booth bathed in an orange light, and never spoke, only somehow made a note to appear with the answer to your question.
“I’ll show you...”
He was compelled to follow the invitation in the cold voice. He took a step.
Behind him, the trees weaved an ever unravelling canvas.
In front of him, a corridor receded towards a pale radiance. He followed a rustling, a darkness, a crackling, to a stone room, to a table.
In the heights of the towering vault, giant flames danced an angry saraband. He found himself seated, staring at a globe in which milky forms undulated. On the other side of it, a white skull mask, much like his own, as if he was looking at himself in a mirror.
“Do you have a wish?” the mask spoke.
The forms in the globe stirred, darkened, took the shape of the Witch, with her red hair, with her floating cape.
“Do you have a wish?” the skull spoke.
In the glass globe, the Witch swirled, waltzed, her eyes closed, her lips in a timid smile.
To see those cherub lips form the words, to hear her voice.
“Is it really going to happen?”
I love you, Tommy, I love you, Tommy
“Every wish fulfilled comes with a price. How much do you want it?”
He was sure now. He had never been so sure.
“I’d give anything to hear her say that,” he said boldly.
He closed his eyes, dreaming. When he opened them, he saw the street lights, he saw the Elf, the Ghost, Death, he roared with laughter as he felt them throwing mock punches at him, as he heard them laughing, shouting.
“You did it, man!”
“What did you see?”
“What happened there?”
He felt drunk with a tingling happiness. Nora watched him, smiled to him.
They went to all the doorsteps, the four of them, till their bags of candy and their feet grew too heavy. It was time to go home.
What happened to my wish, seer?
He didn’t see the telltale headlights of the car taking the tight corner, didn’t hear the virulent spitting of the mad engine. Only the Witch, the Ghost, the Elf, and Death waving frantically, shouting, screaming. Only the wind howling its howl of rabid wolf.
“Tommy, watch out!”
“Watch out, Tommy!”
How beautiful the Witch was. How much he was in love with her. At what were they playing?
The hit threw him high in the air, made him tumble like an acrobat, like a bag of old clothes.
Harsh concrete came to meet him, offering a hard bed. He was tired. He had to rest. Somebody took off his mask. The wind kissed his face.
The sky had cleared, revealing a tapestry of stars.
In the general confusion, Nora held him, spoke to him. He longed to hear her, strained to hear her. At last he understood.
“I love you,” she was saying, rivulets of tears from her green eyes eroding her green make-up. “I love you, Tommy.”
Darling Witch... Yes, he would’ve given anything for that…
I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy
Until he heard no more.