His groans bounced off the ceiling and back to Bernadette as he attempted to stand. “No, don’t move,” she instructed. “I’ll call for help.” After thumbing her phone on, she happened to glance up briefly. Standing at the top of the staircase was a figure, staring at her, red eyes ablaze, pointed hat drooping, emerald face twisted, stock-still, waiting, watching, analyzing. “What the fuck,” Bernadette sounded. She rarely cursed, but she didn’t hear herself.
From the floor, Bill groaned and grasped the banister, pulling himself up. He retrieved his shoe and said, “I’m fine,” slipping his foot inside. “I don’t know what happened,” he added, after rotating his shoulder and cracking his back. “
Bernadette snapped her focus away from the witch and looked at Bill. “You don’t seem fine. I should call an ambulance.”
“Just keep it outside.”
As she flashed her screen on, Bill reached out and palmed it. “I said I was fine. There’s no need for that.” He leaned against the railing and smiled, adding, “That was a close one, huh?” And he lumbered away, leaving his wife at the bottom of the steps with a direct view of the top staircase. The location where the witch stood was empty, forging hot denial inside Bernadette.
She dropped her phone.
She couldn’t move.
She couldn’t breathe.
After a moment, Bill’s footfalls sounded behind her, but she couldn’t turn. His voice spoke, but she couldn’t hear. The ringing in her ears increased, and his words echoed as if transmitting from inside an iron lung. “Where did it go?” she shot back, turning to him. Bill held the witch in his arms.
“Where did what go?” he replied, glancing down. “You mean this? It was in the dining room, and that reminds me. Why is it in the house? Didn’t I ask you to please leave it outside?”
“No, it was standing at the top of the stairs.”
“Maybe you’re the one who hit their head instead of me,” Bill said, and he motioned to the front door. “I’m taking this thing back.” He didn’t wait for a response and strode outside with the witch under his arm. Bernadette watched in silence.
Bill parked in front of a suburban home; its white fence pale like a frosty windshield, its lawn florescent green—even in October. The yard was empty, not like the day before when its resident displayed books and trinkets for sale. As he walked to the small enclosed porch, a green light pulsed through the downstairs windows with a thrum of energy. A sticker to the right of the doorbell read: Never mind the dog, beware of owner.
He knocked three times on the glass door, skipping the doorbell. He knew it hadn’t worked in years. A dark silhouette appeared inside and twisted the knob. She stood for a moment staring at Bill and the witch under his arm, the same witch she’d sold to a familiar woman the day before. He glanced down into its deep crimson eyes, then back to the woman and said, “Can I come in?” Connie stepped aside.
Bill followed her to a table in the middle of her living room. They sat, and he rested the witch on his knee. “It’s good to see you, Bonnie,” Connie said after a stretch of silence, “even if it’s not in your usual form. But what were you thinking?”
“It was an accident. I didn’t mean for him to fall. The nosy husband was interfering, and I saw no other way but to act while he was upstairs.”
“I understand,” Connie sounded, “but what if he had died? You’d have no host. Bernadette saw your empty shell at the top of the stairs. She’s getting suspicious, and we only have one shot at this. You can’t inhabit a male body past Halloween. If we fail, back in the witch you go.”
“It was tough,” Bill explained, “being in my old home, watching them inhabit my walls, viewing everything through the eyes of a fucking doll. I’m tired of being dead.” He sat the witch on the table and stared. “I can’t go back. I want things the way they were.”
“And you’ll have it. We’ll have it. I’d been watching this Bernadette woman since she moved in. She’s exactly what we wanted. And I told her what she needed to hear yesterday to get the doll in her possession.”
“And here I thought you were trying to sell me for four-hundred bucks,” Bill said, smiling.
“Nonsense. I knew what I was doing.” Connie stood and disappeared into another room. She returned with a book with a pentagram on the cover and flipped the pages to the middle. The floor spat a sharp cloud of green. “This is where I left off when you arrived. Shall we proceed together?”
It was dark by the time Bill drove home. The spear-cut moon had morphed into a full ball of light as their spell concluded. He watched it as he turned onto Blackwood Drive.
Bernadette was surprised to see him walk through the front door, still holding the witch in his arms. He’d been gone much longer than she expected, and in those hours, Bernadette spent half of that time on the sofa massaging her wrist. She had to put baking on hold because of the biting pain that coursed down her arm. The discomfort appeared to have also moved to the other arm and then up her right leg.
She winced in pain and popped an Advil. “I thought you were taking it back?”
“Oh yeah, well,” Bill replied, standing the witch next to the couch, “the woman confirmed your story. Look, I know you already mentioned buying it for a dollar.” He shuffled over to Bernadette and sat down next to her, placing a hand on her leg. “I apologize for doubting you. But Connie was very adamant about keeping it indoors, so I think that’s what we’ll have to do.” Bill noticed the green tint on Bernadette’s hand and arms and smiled.
The evening wore on. Bernadette resumed her baking; Bill paced the house, periodically analyzing the witch’s features. Its left hand had transformed from green to pale milky flesh, and other extremities had begun to change. Its facial features had shifted; the nose shrinking, the eyes morphing blue, the jutting chin retracting. Bill then heard a shriek from the kitchen, followed by the sound of a cookie pan dropped to the floor. And he waited.
Bernadette began to sob as she darted to the living room. “Look at my arms!” she screeched.
Bill shot an unconvincing frown and pretended to examine her discolored arm with intensity, occasionally mumbling things like, “Interesting,” and “I see,” and “holy shit.”
“What the hell is going on here?” she added while instinctively attempting to scrape the green away with a fingernail.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Bill said, standing and offering his spot. “Or better yet, maybe you should go upstairs and take a nap. You look tired.”
Bernadette held her hand to her head. “I am, and I have an onset headache.”
“Go on up to bed. I’ll bring you some tea.”
She took his advice and climbed under the covers. Bill kept his word and brought her tea, but she was sleeping soundly. He placed it on the nightstand and checked his watch. It was ten o’clock, so he returned downstairs and lifted the witch, laying it comfortably on the sofa. It was the perfect place to awake in the morning, hopefully as Bonnie in the permanent vessel.
He glared down at the witch. The transformation had progressed to where its face began to resemble Bernadette. Bill slid a blanket over its body and went to bed, lying next to someone that looked more monster than female.
The early Halloween sun speared through the living room windows, casting a warm glow on the face of a beautiful woman. She squinted at the light and sat up, admiring her delicate flesh-colored arms and fiery red nail polish. She also noted the pointy hat which still rested on her head and the witch costume she wore. Bonnie then caught her reflection in the window behind the couch. She smiled.
The upstairs was quiet—not even the sound of breathing could be heard, and she took it as a positive sign. Sunlight engulfed Bill and Bernadette’s bedroom. The curtains moved in the cool breeze, the ceiling fan spun sluggishly, and the married couple rested on the bed silently. Bonnie moved closer and stood over them, examining what used to be Bernadette, still in her old clothing. Bill’s complexion had run blue, his lips purple and cloudy eyes staring back. Neither one would ever awake, and Bonnie knew the house was once again hers.
About The Author
Phil Thomas is an author and screenwriter from the suburbs of Philadelphia. He is a member of the “International Association of Professional Writers & Editors” and is the co-host of “What Are You Afraid Of?” a weekly horror and paranormal show, available on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Stitcher, and airs on Para-X radio on Friday evenings at 9:00 pm.
He is featured in Monsterthology 2 collection, released in October 2019 by Zombie Works Publications with his story, Tinfoil Bullet. His short story, Teddy Bear Kill! Kill! will be featured in the upcoming anthology, Nightside: Tales of Outré Noir, released by Close to the Bone Publishing on October 30, 2020. His short story collection, Dinner, Drinks and Ectoplasm will be available in November 2020, and his novel, The Poe Predicament, will be published by Foundations Books in 2021