Some Dark Things

Morgen Knight

When Terry Gold tossed his cigarette onto the ground with a simple flick of his middle finger, Calib had no idea it would be the last cigarette his friend would ever smoke. The Marlboro lay on the edge of the back porch, pale smoke wafting from the end like a thin string. They were out back, by the pool, the music Terry’s sister was listening to inside was so loud that Calib could sing along if he wanted to. If he listened to things like Mariah Carey or Ace of Base. His collection was full of Nirvana and Green Day. The kind of shit that’d make Janet cringe.

The sun started to drag itself away for the evening; long shadows, like disrupted dreams, extended their dark bodies in corners and bushes and behind walls. The water in the pool still spangled a glitzy glare off its skin. Every time Calib looked in that direction, toward Wilhelm Lane, and down at Tom’s house, a globular afterimage ruined his eyes. Right now, Terry’s head was an indistinct button of black hair pulled into a loose ponytail.

“I’ve got something to see tonight,” Terry said, while he picked at a spot on his chest. He was tall and skinny, though not awkward. One thing about Terry you could count on: he always had something to sell—speakers, weed, tickets, friendship, stories. Terry was fun, and if you couldn’t find anything to do, he could whip up an idea faster than Tom’s sister could rip off her top. He drew people to him.

Once, between sixth and seventh grade, some of the guys from the neighborhood had followed Terry to the football field by the high school, where they had set up tents in two rows, like a small invading army. There had been a football game. A large campfire, stories about girls—mainly who had seen what and who was the most reliable source.

Yeah, Terry used to be cool as hell. Plus he had a pool. And a beautiful sister, Calib had caught swimming topless one night a few years ago when he’d stayed over…a moment he’d kept to himself.

Now, he was a little weird. Still cool, in his way, but if they hadn’t been friends when they were little, Calib didn’t think he’d be here.

“Did you hear me? Terry asked, looking up from his narrow chest.

“Huh?”

“I said that I’ve got something going on tonight. I don’t think that it’s your thing, but if you want to hang out, you can.”

Calib hadn’t planned on staying much longer. With the sun falling, a purple-pink coat shading the horizon, it was already getting cooler.

What else was there to do? He looked at the back sliding glass door. A water painting of ghost reflections laid upon it. Janet walked by, headed to the kitchen. She was seventeen, two years older than him, and well put together.

“I might, yeah,” Calib said returning to the reflecting pool. The glare, like a trapped soul, had drastically faded. In it’s place the water incorporated the impassioned colors of dusk.

The back door slid open, Janet strolled out with a tall glass of iced tea in her left hand. She had on a blue bikini top that hugged her breasts and jean shorts unbuttoned and unzipped, the flaps spread to reveal her bikini bottoms. The only thing keeping her shorts on was the gentle way they hugged her hips.

She took the chair Terry stood behind, bringing one knee up over the other. Her glass went on the table.

“Least it’s cooling down,” she said to no one in particular. Terry’s Marlboro pack sat at the center of the round white table. There were a few dots on the cardboard lid where Terry’s wet fingers had touched it. She grabbed the pack. “Do you smoke, too?”

“No,” Calib said. “Never got the taste for it.”

“Good,” She took out a cigarette with two fingers, then tossed the pack back onto the table. “Girls hate kissing a guy with a mouth that tastes like ashes.”

“What if she smokes?” Terry asked. He snatched his green oxford shirt off  his sister’s chair and slipped it on, not minding the buttons.

Janet picked up a blue lighter from the table and flicked the wheel. An infant flame swooned drunkenly from the tip, and lit the cigarette in her mouth. “She’s the girl! You better kiss good and act like she tastes fine if you want to get anywhere.

To me she asked “You hitting the pool?”

“Maybe,” Calib answered.

“Before she drowns you, I wanna show you something,” Terry said. He pushed open the backdoor then went in. Calib stood. He put on his t-shirt and walked over to the cigarette Terry had thrown. There wasn’t any obvious smoke rising anymore; it probably burnt out. Still, he stepped on it with his sandal briefly before following. As he shut the door, Janet glanced at him teasingly and smiled.

***

Unlike the rest of the house, Terry’s room was a mess. Well, most of it. The floor was relatively clear, save a corner packed with a clothes heap that looked like a glob of melted wax. All of the shelves were overrun with cups, a few movies, one baseball trophy, and books, none of it tidy or even. Everything was angled or overlapping, a few items ready to fall off with a gentle bump. The same theme applied with his posters, taped cockeyed to the walls.

Calib pulled the chair away from the desk, moved two books from the seat, put them on the top of the model kit box on the desk, and sat. Terry retrieved a thick book with a cover the color of rich blood and handed it to his friend. The book felt heavy to Calib. The paperback bent limply over as he held it by the thick binding.

Dark Things?” Calib said curiously, reading the title. “I don’t read fiction. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t kill myself with this kind of pulp abracadabra crud.”

“Crack it open, read a page before you burn it, fascist,” Terry said. “Be sides, it ain’t fiction.” He changed from swim shorts to baggy jean shorts. His black hair fell over his face. With one hand, he pulled it back; the other slapped on a ball cap. When dressed, he sat on the edge of his unkempt bed, and waited.

“Okay.” Calib shrugged. The book had to be close to a thousand pages. He had math books that were slimmer. He fanned through the work until it stopped on its own. There was a crude bookmark, a piece of notebook paper folded over a couple of times with hasty notes jotted on it, buried in the middle.

Witches and Forever” Calib read the title of the chapter aloud. “What is this about?”

“I know it looks funny, but there’s tons of crazy things all around us. I’m serious. I believe in this book–”

“Where did you get this?” He closed the book and placed it on his thighs. The room had a pinched odor to it. Looking around, he noticed that there was a small dish, like an ashtray, over by two candles, with burn marks climbing up the sides.

“The book was given to me,” Terry said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe ghosts aren’t real and UFO’s are the whimsical imaginings of idle minds. I’m willing to say that. Yet will you say that they could be real?”

“No.” Calib started. “Okay, maybe. Something sometimes could be.”

“Good,” Terry took the book off of Calib’s leg and, blindly tossed it at the bed. “Because I know where a witch lives.”

“Is that where you got the book?”

“What I want to do is…see her. A simple thing. I don’t know why I’m so scared. I know where she is, if I could see her…”

Calib straightened up. “Basically, you want me to go with you witch hunting?”

“I don’t want to go alone. I…couldn’t do it last night. Two blocks away, I turned around and went down to the park until almost nine.”

So we go and peek at some woman in black robes and a pointy hat? A besom in her hand? It was odd, for sure, but it was quintessential Terry. And what the hell, right? A laugh on a summer night.

“You think I could crash down here for the night?” Calib asked. “When we get back we can watch a movie or something. Got any new computer games?”

Terry shook his head, but he was smiling. The way his lips pulled back and his teeth shown, it was vulpine.

***

Calib spat on the dark bushes he passed while they walked down the sidewalk. Terry was beside him. Contemplative, it seemed. Since they left the house, he hadn’t said much more than “turn here” or “no, this way.” Calib’s questions bounced off like bar darts thrown at a tank.

It was dark out. Stars barely shown between the bubbles of street light. Wherever this witch was, it felt far. If he had to guess, Calib figured they’d been walking an hour. What time did that make it? A few digits after nine at least.

“Okay,” Terry stopped abruptly. They were on a narrow street that turned right not far ahead. Across from them, lay a small ranch house that looked abandoned. Both of the front windows had been busted out. No lights lit the house. The lawn was a jungle of weeds and trash that had grown high enough to hide a body.

“What a piece of crap!” Calib said.

“Ready?” Terry sounded afraid.

Before Calib could answer, Terry started across the street. Calib had to speed up to catch him. They stopped in the blanket gloom with the insistent chirrup of crickets and the dull glow of fireflies around them. Instead of staying out front, Terry moved to the side of the house, closer to its neighbor. The light here was better, gleaned from bright porch light behind them, throwing their shadows into the mix.

“Guess it’s a no-go, huh? Nobody lives here,” Calib said confidently.

Terry walked forward. There was a small window, level with his head. All Calib could see was the same dark nothing. Witches! Craziness.

There’d been a second there when he could’ve believed, but now the idea was restored to its former lunacy.  Life was defined by thick lines that you can’t cross, he thought. Witches and magic don’t exist.

Calib felt still and disappointed in himself. Watching Terry examine the window with his face against it, hands cupping the sides of his eyes to reject the peripheral intrusion of light, the fell amusement he’d expected proved unreliable. Inside his heart wasn’t laughter, but pity. He actually felt the fatal rift rend between him and the quirky man in front of him. It was strange to accept so easily that tonight would be the last night he would call Terry friend. They were strangers.

“She’s there!” Terry said quickly. His hands shook.

He
moved away from the glass, picked up a nearby rock the size of a woman’s fist, then slung it through the window. It shattered, sending a dog down the street on a barking fit.

“What the hell are you doing?” Calib yelled. He spun around to look at the houses across the street. None of their lights blinked on. He expected that or a front door to fly open and a burly man to come running out with a bat in hand. Terry found a fallen branch in the deep grass and used it to clear a fair number of the jagged edges of glass from the frame, then threw it aside.

Calib grabbed his friend by the front of his shirt. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“She’s in there!” Terry eyes were wide and wonder-struck.

“Look at that place! It’s empty and run down. Full of roaches and rats, most likely.”

“I have to kill her. The book said that if you kill a witch—a real witch—then you can live forever. It said it, Calib. Forever.” He pulled his hand up from his pocket. There was a fold-up knife in his fist—the kind with a blade that locks in place.

Calib let go. He moved away. “You’re crazy.”

Terry ignored him jumped to the window, and pulled himself up just as the front door to the house behind Calib opened. The noise made them turn around. An elderly woman in a blue smock top watched them while Terry climbed in the window, vanishing in the shroud of lightless abandon.

“What’s going on?” she demanded.

Calib, unsure of what to say—witches and knives and all—did what teenagers do best, as though by trade. “He lost his cat earlier,” Calib lied. “He thought he saw it inside. I think it’s stupid to go through all of that for an animal that craps in a box then covers it with sand, some people, you know?”

Whether she did or didn’t, believe him, she turned and went inside. Calib thought he should go. A smarter man would walk off, forgetting Terry and his sister. He even walked as far as the front yard, but there he stopped and examined the house. It was bleak and midnight inside, like a blacksmith’s anvil. Still, he thought he could see Terry moving through the wretched shadows.

***

Calib might not have seen anything significant, but Terry did. From the outside it had been a flicker in the darkness, teasing his eyes. What had the book said about glamour? A witch could hide behind a spell. Such a good one, too—a vacant house. Seeing through it had been almost luck. He walked forward cautiously. The man with eyes like a thunder cloud—the man who had given him the book—had been right about her being real. If there’d ever been a doubt in his mind about the credentials of this witch, it’d been obliterated as soon as he’d pulled himself through the broken window, cutting his palm on a menacing shard the branch had missed, his blood trundling down the outer wall in a thin rill.

Inside the house had changed. The darkness was gone, given to lights. He walked past the first room, peeking in it. A lamp shed it’s radiance on a wide mattress. The smell of ginger wafted at his nostrils at the doorway. There was glass in the window with thick purple curtains. He could see Calib in the front yard. Terry continued along the hall. Faint music played ahead, from a record. It had some eerie, popping quality.

Down the hall, closer, was the front room. The place was suffused in pink light that softened the blue walls. It made the walls dreamy, like you could push your hand through, he thought.

The knife was tight in his fist, the hard blade ready. Could he really do this? The tempting allure of power had been so strong that he hadn’t paused to consider this. Could he really cut this woman’s heart out, take it home to burn, mix the ashes in beasting milk, and drink it?

Eternal life, the book had said. Not on golden streets or with the help of a savior, but here in this land. What could he become in two-hundred years? Vague figments of wealth hatched in his imagination like a spider’s egg, releasing myriads of the tiny desires. Of Power.  Abuse.

When the witch walked across the front of the hall, Terry hurried forward.

***

Outside, Calib saw the neighbor come back out of her house. Not long after that, a police car arrived. Two different officers exited their vehicle, spoke to the woman, then headed toward him. Then the screaming started.

***

The witch was short, dumpy, with dark hair that looked unwashed and confusingly tangled. When she’d turned and saw Terry standing with a knife in his hand, a surprised humor lingered in her eyes, as if she knew the devil’s secret wish.

He stabbed her. His hand buried the knife in her throat to the knuckles. Blood shot down the side of her neck.

Her hand clawed across his face with fingernails that felt razor–tipped. Terry screamed and stumbled, dragging the knife with him. A wet slurp burped as the blade fell free from her skin. “Bitch! I’m going to kill you!” he screamed.

The wound he’d struck her was vicious. Her blood gushed down the side of her neck, ruining the blue, cotton dress she wore. She didn’t cover the wound with a meaty hand or scream for help. Those would be natural reactions. With them, Terry might have moved right in for the kill.

What the witch did was run out the front door. He couldn’t let her get away. In his mind, he’d already gulped down the bittersweet concoction her filthy ashes would make. He raced after her.

Terry was halfway across the front lawn before he realized he didn’t see her. The witch was gone. In her place were police officers. Calib was over by the neighbor’s house. There was barely time to register all of this, still moving in stride toward the tall cop holding the flashlight so it shined in his eyes. He wanted to stop, to sort things out, but he had taken too many steps.

He was shot twice, dropping him instantly, the knife flying out of his hand and into the growth ruining the yard. Suddenly, his breaths weren’t so easy. The pain was intense. But before it was the last, he looked over at the house, its broken windows, lightless interior, and its open door.

***

Eleven years had passed. Calib was twenty-six now, living a state over with a wife and a three year old son. He worked with computers. A normal life.

He parked his car on the side of the narrow road and, got out. This was as close as he wanted to get. He didn’t exactly understand why he was here…where his friend Terry died in front of him.

He’d dreamt of this place on and off over the years, usually when stressed, like exams at college, or when Wendy once had complications with the pregnancy. It looked different. Painted. Cut grass. Glass in the windows. Yet still empty. A FOR SALE sign was staked near the curb. Even in the sun, though, there was something disconcerting about the house. Of course, he realized that it might be his imagination.

He thought he remembered most of what had happened. He thought he remembered having a crush on Terry’s sister and that was why he’d been here. But he couldn’t tell you how the two were related. Too long, too much in-between. There was a book, he recalled, that Terry had read, with a red cover. After, he’d told Terry’s mom how things had happened at the supposed witch’s house, they’d been unable to find it in his room…

A voice asked, “You thinkin’ a buyin’?”

Calib turned to see a shirtless man who’d been mowing his lawn, and switched off his mower.

“Not really,” Calib said.

“I’ll tell you something your agent won’t. That place is haunted. I’ve seen four families move in, then out in the last eight years. All of them say the same thing about a guy chasing a woman around with a knife in his hand. I looked it up. Some kid was killed in the front yard. Few years before that, a woman hung herself in the living room.” He paused. “Some nights you hear him screamin’ how he’s gonna kill her.”

Goose bumps ran up his body despite the heat. He felt cold. “I’m not buying,” was all Calib could think to say. Was it only the house he was talking about? The man nodded as though he thought this was a good idea. In fact, bulldozing the place would be an even better one. Then he walked away, back to his mower.

Calib opened the car door. He’d had enough of memory lane. The route was sour. All he could think of now was Terry’s ghost climbing in that end window and chasing himself around an empty house time after time, into eternity.

He started the car, but before he pulled away, there was a movement at the house. Inside. Calib couldn’t believe what he saw. It was Terry, standing on the other side of the glass, looking out at him. He looked as real as the grass or the for sale sign. Calib didn’t understand any of it—why, how, what had caused Terry to do it. He’d never know. Yet one thing he’d never forget were the words he read off Terry’s lips before he lurched away, tires squealing. He heard the words as clearly as if they’d been spoken.

“I was tricked,” Terry said.

Then he turned his scratched face away—a detail Calib had forgotten until that moment—and vanished. Behind him stood a woman, a hand clamped to her neck. She smiled.

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