A revenge book placed in a haunted mortuary, peopled with a psychic child and an old woman the town call "The Witch"
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Taylor Street Books
AVAILABLE IN BOTH EBOOK AND PRINTED FORMATS, this book tells the secrets of a woman forced by guilt to live out her life in a creepy old, disturbingly haunted, mortuary. Her only friend is Emily, a psychically gifted child she befriends one Holloween night.
When the girl returns to town a fully grown woman, she takes on the task as caregiver for Ada, the reclusive old lady. Over time the old woman unburdens her soul to Emily with her reasons for staying in the old building. The story Ada tells is tragic as well as engrossing. It leaves Emily with a disturbing delimna.. Should she tell what she knows to the authorities? Or let the old lady live out her days in peace.
THE MORTICIAN'S WIFE
It has been a very long time since I have walked down this street in the darkness of a winter night. Hearing the echoes of my footsteps and smelling the scent of snow that is sure to arrive before the night is over takes me back to a night of fear and guilt, and the awakening of compassion.
It was Halloween night and the first time my mom let me go trick-or-treating with my friends from school. We’d moved to Newkirk a couple of years earlier, when Dad started working for the railroad. The first two Halloweens Dad had been home so he’d taken me around town while Mom stayed at home to hand out the candy. But this year he was off on a run, so Mom had to decide whether to walk with me, risking the house being “tricked”, or to let me go off with the other kids.
“Emily, I’m not comfortable about you going off alone, tonight of all nights.”
“But Mom,” I begged, “I won’t be alone. There’ll be six of us.” I pleaded some more and finally she caved in. “Seeing as young Billy Shaw’s with you, I’ll allow it,” she said. Her eyes glistened a little, as if she was about to cry.
“My little girl’s first step toward independence.” She turned away for a moment and then hugged me.
But before she let me out of her sight, she’d made me promise to stay with the others and to keep away from Riverview Drive. I’d responded to both directives with a typical nine-year-old’s “yes, mother”, using a tone of voice that clearly indicated how dumb she must be to even suggest I might commit either transgression. After all, it was going to be dark, right?
Did she think I was crazy enough to go wandering around town alone at night? As for going down to Riverview Drive, well…it was Riverview Drive! Everyone knew it was the very worst street a kid could go on, what with all the bars and who knew what else.
Actually, it was the “who knew what else” part of Riverview that grabbed my curiosity. I’d heard all kinds of rumors about the sort of things that went on down there, most of which included ladies doing things that proper ladies never did. But even if I was curious, I was sensible enough to stay away from it.
So off I’d gone with the coolest kids I knew. I was dressed up like a gypsy, which was the only costume Mom could make me that was both inexpensive and easy to put together. Plus, with my mop of curly black hair and dark complexion, I pretty much looked like a gypsy anyway. I’d felt a kinship with gypsies ever since I’d read that some of them actually could read fortunes – something that I felt pretty sure I could do too.
The very best part of it is that I got to wear a whole lot of make-up and Mom wouldn’t tell me to “go wash that goop off your face, young lady.” At least not ‘till I got back home with a bag full of candy that I’d share with her.
At first, we did just like we were supposed to. We went up and down all the “respectable” streets on the south side of town, then had a lengthy discussion about whether we had time to do the north end or not. We lived in a little mountain town that was laid out along a deep canyon with the river dividing the north end from the south. Because of the bridge and all, it was nearly a mile from the houses on one end of town to the other.
I was really glad when Billy said he didn’t want to go that far. He was quick to point out that by the time we got there we’d hardly have any time left at all before we’d have to turn around and walk all that way back again.
“I’ve got a better idea, anyway,” he said. “A real honest-to-goodness Halloween idea!”
The “honest-to-goodness Halloween” part of his idea sent a little shiver of dread shooting up my spine. Or maybe it was one of those weird premonition feelings I sometimes felt. Billy was a couple of years older than me and, from what I’d heard from the other kids, a bit on the wild side. A sixth sense told me that any idea of Billy’s was likely to get us all in trouble. But, being as I was one of the youngest, I kept my big mouth shut. So, when the thought that maybe it would be a good time for us all to call it a night came to mind, I kept it to myself.
When nobody could think of anything else, it just seemed natural that we should follow Billy. We walked past the closed downtown stores and headed along Manzanita St., toward the railroad yard, where my mom had told me not to go. Riverview Drive.
I didn’t know what to do. I had two choices: go where she’d told me not to, or leave the others and walk home in the dark all by myself. I was stuck. No matter what I did now, if Mom found out, I’d be toast. In the end, I decided it would be safer to stay with the gang and brave the dreaded “bad” street.
I learned that night that some things grown-ups think of as bad are just plain boring to kids. None of the businesses down there were anything much to look at. There wasn’t one that didn’t seem like a good wind would bring it down. And each time we passed a bar with the swinging doors, I just wanted to hold my nose and cover my ears. Those places stank! And the noise! Juke boxes blared, people laughed so loud as if they’d just heard the best joke ever, and on top of all that it sounded like everyone was talking and nobody was listening.
So, I was glad Billy and the others kids kept walking right past all those places without slowing down a step. I did wonder why he wanted to go down there in the first place. Just being there made me feel uncomfortable. I was quite happy to stay close to the others as we left the bars and “not nice” places behind us.
Billy led us south, which suited me fine since my house was in that direction. By this time, I could hardly wait to get home. Now we walked past more closed businesses. There were no street lights down there so I really couldn’t see much, but I could tell that the stores on that street weren’t doing as well as those up on Main.
When we passed the store by a small parking lot, I felt my chest constrict and found it hard to breathe. I prayed Billy would pick up speed so we could get by the building on the other side of the lot in record time. My fingers and toes tingled, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. I knew that place, at least I knew about it and what I knew made it the one building in town I did not want to be at on any night, and most especially, not on Halloween!
It was the old mortuary—where the crazy old lady lived—the one the kids liked to call the “witch.” It was the absolute scariest place in the whole town! And Billy had stopped right smack dab in front of it.
I stood at Billy’s side, staring up at the imposing old building. It looked like something out of one of those old horror movies I watched on TV when Mom wasn’t home to stop me. The best word to describe it would be “gloomy.” It was built of weathered siding that had probably been painted brown at one time, but had aged into some dull, nameless color. Big, ornate stained glass windows on the first story level should have made the place beautiful but instead made it scary. The place was really huge; three stories tall, four if the basement was counted. And, from what I’d heard about it, the basement really had to be counted because that’s where all the grisly stuff was done to all those dead bodies. The story was that everything they used on the corpses back when the place was still in business was still down there; the metal tables where they cut people up and all the chemicals they used to embalm them.
One of the older boys at school had actually snuck in there and he said that there were rows and rows of caskets, some of them little child sized. Someone had painted over the basement windows so nobody knew if what that guy said was true, but it sounded real enough.
Broad stone steps led up to the main door. Billy told us that was where they held the funerals. Judging by the fancy drapes that hung behind the stained glass windows on that floor, I always figured it would be real pretty in there, in a spooky kind of way. It was the kind of place that would have suited the Addams family, which just happened to be my favorite TV show at the time.
Two more floors towered above the main story. I’d been told that when people worked at the mortuary, they lived up there, which I thought was really creepy. Would I be able to sleep knowing there might be dead people right beneath my bed.? I don’t think so.
As far as I knew, there wasn’t anyone living there now – except that crazy lady. The idea of her living up there all alone made the place even scarier than it already was. In my imagination, I pictured her walking in the dark through all those rooms, more like a ghost than a real living person. Mom said I had a good imagination. It scared me sometimes.
What scared me was that things sometimes happen to me that I know for a fact are not part of my imagination. It’s not “imagination” when I know what someone’s going to say before they say it. Or when I see what people are really like, deep down inside and nobody else sees it. And I’ve been seeing auras for as long as I can remember.
“Hey, Emily, I bet you can’t throw a rock all the way up to those top windows!” Billy taunted me.
“Bet I could,” slipped out of my mouth before I even knew it was in there. Me throw rocks at the mortuary? No way!
“Here,” Jimmy Matthews said as he handed me a rock about the size of a baseball. “Let’s see ya do it.”
I just stood there looking at the others, not knowing what I was going to do. I sure as heck did not want to throw anything at the old building. But, on the other hand, I didn’t want everyone else to think I was too chicken to try.
A whole lot of thoughts raced through my mind at that moment. I wasn’t the kind of kid that went around throwing things at other people’s houses even if they were just regular people. Why would I want to do something stupid like that? But I’d never been challenged like this before either.
And, even if I was that kind of kid, I sure as heck wouldn’t have picked this house as my target. Even forgetting the ghost that people said lived here, there was still the crazy old lady to think about. Why would I want to go and get her riled at me? Didn’t I have enough problems already? Wasn’t it enough that I’d disobeyed of my Mom’s rule? And if she ever found out, she’d tan my hide for sure!
“Oh, heck,” Angie Romero said, “she’s too scared to throw it. I knew she wouldn’t do it.” She snatched the rock out of my hand, and with a “Here’s how you do it, scaredy cat,” she let it fly. The sound of breaking glass told us all we needed to know. If we didn’t get out of there fast we’d all be in big trouble.
At the sound of breaking glass every single kid I’d gone trick-or-treating with scattered into the night. All, except for me. I’m the kind of person who freezes with fear.
When the rock shattered the window on the floor just above the funeral hall level a strong blast of nasty, hateful air gushed out of the broken window and headed right at me. It was so horrible knowing that each breath I took carried that awful stuff into my body. I gagged and threw my arms around like crazy, like if I tried hard enough I could make that disgusting scent go away.
That’s when I saw the old lady at the window. I really, really wanted to run away then but my body still wouldn’t let me go. Against my will, I gazed up at the woman. She was carrying what looked like an old fashioned oil lamp in one hand and what I figured was a piece of board, or maybe cardboard, in her other. She placed the lamp on a table, and then quickly set the board inside the window, covering up the hole the rock had created. The moment the board covered the broken glass the putrid odor disappeared. A huge surge of relief coursed through me and once again the air smelled of dry leaves and sweet evergreens.
“I didn’t do it!” I called, knowing in my heart that even if she heard me, she wouldn’t believe me. But still, I had to try.
Yes, dear, I believe you.
I didn’t actually hear her words—they just seemed to pop into my mind all on their own. It should have seemed odd, but things like that had happened to me before so I pretty much took it for granted. What did startle me (removed “though” and a comma) was that she didn’t seem angry at me.
With the only light coming from the kerosene lamp behind her, I can’t honestly say I could see that much of her face. Yet, I suddenly felt her sorrow. For the briefest of moments, I was inside of her, feeling the agony of her loneliness. I sensed a sadness too deep for a child of my age to fully comprehend.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
I know, dear, her gentle words came into my mind.
This was really something new to me. All my life I’d heard other people’s thoughts, but this was the first time someone else heard mine! I’d only whispered that I was sorry. There was no way she could have actually heard my words. And I was fairly certain it was way too dark on the street for her to read my lips.
Very gradually, the last semblance of fear left my body. The nasty air had cleared away completely now.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and, apparently, she couldn’t stop looking down at me. The two of us stood there for the longest time, although it probably wasn’t as long as it seemed. Our gazes seemed locked until she finally broke the spell.
"You should go home now, little gypsy girl, her soft voice whispered into my mind. It’s late and your friends have left you all alone."
I started to run then, but I’d gone only a few feet before I stopped, turned and ran back. Reaching down into my heavy trick-or-treat bag, I grabbed a handful of candy. She was still at the window watching when I opened her mailbox and dropped the candy in. I gave her a farewell wave then headed home in earnest.
I had a few more Halloweens in my hometown, but I never spent any of them throwing rocks at the old mortuary’s windows.