Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Finding Mrs. Goodwitch?

I have always loved Halloween. In fact, when I was young, it ranked even higher than Christmas on my list of favorite holidays — mainly because it involved large quantities of stomachache-inducing free candy.

But one Halloween in particular, back when I was about 8, still stands out in my mind. It wasn’t because everyone handed out full-sized candy bars that year; it was because I finally got up the courage to meet the Witch Sisters.

I grew up on Manchester’s West Side, next door to West High School. Nestled among my block’s rows of apartment buildings was a conspicuously out-of-place mansion, complete with a tower and gables. It was dark and spooky looking, and — according to my grammar school’s most reliable sources — haunted.

Even spookier were the two elderly sisters who lived there. For some reason, they came out only after dark and hid in the shadows. They even mowed their lawn at night. This, of course, spurred rumors that they either were vampires or witches.

Every time I walked past the mansion, the lace curtains in one of the windows would move. I knew I was being watched, and it gave me the shivers. I was certain that the witches had singled me out because I was plump. After all, I reasoned, unlike Hansel and Gretel, I wouldn’t have to be fattened up for the kill.

So, even to this day, I still cannot explain why one Halloween night when I was in the third grade, I decided to go trick-or-treating at the mansion.

No lights were visible from within as I, along with my cousins Carla and Eddie, approached the house. It was obvious that the witches/vampires didn’t want to be disturbed by a bunch of kids begging for candy, but I wasn’t about to let that deter me. I took a deep breath, stood on my tiptoes, clasped the brass ring on the doorknocker and knocked hard. Long minutes passed before the door finally creaked open a crack.

“What do you want?” a shaky, very witchlike female voice asked. Only her nose was visible, but I was relieved to see that it wasn’t long and pointed, and it

didn’t have a wart on the end of it.

“Trick or treat!” I squeaked.

The door opened wider. The woman critically eyed the three of us, then invited us to step inside.

Fear made Carla, Eddie and me wedge together so tightly, we looked like a three-headed person as we entered the dark, musty mansion. Our hostess then fired questions at us about our names, schools, ages, hobbies.

We answered politely, nervously, all the while wondering why she was subjecting us to the third degree (Carla later said she’d thought it was to gather information for our obituaries).

As I answered the questions, I stared at the woman and couldn’t help but feel a great sense of disappointment. She was … well … ordinary looking. Her thin, wrinkled face and short gray hair did not even come close to the Medusa-like snakes and glowing red eyes I’d imagined she’d have. Even worse, she told us that she and her sister were retired grammar-school teachers. I’d hoped for something much more exciting, like cleaver-wielding butcher’s assistants.

“Well,” the woman finally said, sighing, “Seeing that you came all the way over here for a treat, I suppose it’s only polite to see if I can ‘dig up’ something for you.”

“If she grabs a shovel,” Carla whispered, “I’m outta here!” The woman disappeared into the other room and returned with three graham crackers. They were stale.

Then, very abruptly, she dismissed us.

Did I tell the kids at school that the witches were nothing but retired schoolteachers who looked normal and handed out stale graham crackers? Not exactly. Let’s just say that somehow, a rumor about snake-haired, glowing-eyed, cleaver-wielding witches who passed out poisoned apples to trick-or-treaters mysteriously made its way around my school the next day.