When we got to our bikes, Mark and Ajay yelled at us, asking what took so long. We got on and pedaled back to my house, where we burst through the front door, shouting out theories over what the sounds might have been – trolls eating a neighborhood toddler, gremlins playing hot potato with baby rabbits, or maybe the witch herself slicing off her own big toe for some evil concoction.
As we were yelling out our theories, Scarlet, our black house cat, ran through the living room, and Adam shouted, “Ah, it followed us!” We joined in with a chorus of theatrical cries of terror. Mom told us we were being ridiculous.
Dad walked in from the kitchen. “If only you knew the truth about the witch,” he said. He paused until one of us asked, “Well, what’s the truth?”
“Every summer . . . .” He leaned in. “At the fourth of July . . . .” He looked from Mark to Ajay to Adam to me. “She grills . . . .” His eyes grew wide. “Little boys!” He made an evil laugh and came after me.
I grabbed a pillow off the couch and threw it at him, causing an eruption of pillow tossing, until Mom shouted, “Hey! Boys!” We stopped. “Act your age,” she shouted. My friends were kind of shocked. They weren’t sure if she was serious. “Oh wait,” she added, pointing at us, “I guess you four 11 year-olds are acting your age.” She flashed my father an evil glare, but she was smiling at the same time. “Take it outside,” she said, and we kids piled through the sliding doors to the back yard.
“Your parents are pretty cool,” Adam said later.
“Yeah?” I wasn’t sure if he was being serious. Mark and Ajay nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, they’re pretty cool.” I felt pretty cool myself.
The next morning, Adam’s dad called and said he should come home. He didn’t tell him then, but he had discovered their cat Remi dead. Later, when we learned they found the cat in the witch’s yard, we realized we may have heard Adam’s cat that night. As we were biking through the cool, dark streets and then pillow-fighting each other, Adam’s cat was dying. Maybe being murdered. It was a chilling revelation. It seemed a crime to have been enjoying ourselves while this tragedy was unfolding so close. Later, we wouldn’t admit that we had fun that night. And so it would be forgotten that my parents – and thus I – were cool.
Privately, Mark announced a theory to me. “I think that anything or anyone who goes into the witch’s yard ends up dead.”
“But I was in the yard,” I said.
He stared back at me and didn’t respond.
I wondered if it was possible. Could I have been cursed?
Mom assured me I wasn’t cursed and called Mark insecure. “He’s like Yertle the Turtle, building himself up by stepping on others. Some people need to hurt others to feel good about themselves.”
I hated Mark for making me go on the property in the first place and then for coming up with his stupid theory, which he shared with everyone. I tried proposing different theories that might level the field: What if everyone who sets eyes on the property ends up dead? What if everyone she sets eyes on ends up dead? But no one else wanted to share my curse.