The First Time We Met
Her time was over...was mine just starting?
The woman is younger than me. Much. At least 20 or more years. But her eyes are old. Old, tired and brown. She is dressed like one of those proto-hippie, ren-fest types. Loose clothes, frumpy looking, her nose is pierced. A ring in the right nostril. Her ears are also pierced multiple times – in fact, a lot. Her hair is straight, straight and brown. She is not pretty. Nor is she ugly, just…plain. She smells. A bitter spicy smell, mixed with human stink. I do not like it. She is a witch. I do not know HOW I know this, but I do know it, it is almost like I feel it at an instinctual level. Not in the hipster Wicca sense, I mean the real McCoy. I also know that she is scared…no, not scared. Terrified. I do not know HOW I know this, but I do know it. Maybe that is what I smell on her? The stink of fear?
“It started so small at first.” She says to me, a young plain woman, with a shockingly old hag’s raspy voice.
“Small? I don’t understand. Who are you?” I ask.
“My mother had powers. As did my grandmother. In fact I think all the women in my line all the way back, at least on my mother’s side, did. But mine are greater…or so I thought. Honestly? Maybe it was just my ambition. My pride.” She spoke softly. As much to herself as to me. “That was when I found it.” She continued.
“It? I don’t under-“ I tried to say, but she interrupted me in a sudden rage.
“The grimoire! The dark book. I learned so much! TOO much. It allowed me to be THERE.” She replied bitterly, her eyes focused somewhere – and somewhen – else.
I am confused. I look around. How did I get here? It’s cold. Cold and damp. We are in the deep woods. The trees – I see the leaves have turned and they are starting to fall. I can only guess at the month – mid to late November? To my right there is an old house – small one story, run down, worn-out even.
“There? Where is there? In fact, where is here? And who are you?” I stammer out quickly.
She looks at me. REALLY looks at me with those too old and mud brown eyes. “You don’t know, do you?” She steps close to me. Almost intimate.
I take a step back. I don’t know why, but this young woman who I do not know repulses me. It is not just her smell, but her very presence is a feeling of wrong. It radiates from her, a taint. This disgusting unnatural feeling of wrongness.
She notices my revulsion and smiles at me sadly. “THERE is the places between places.”
My breath stops, as my mind stirs…I knew that…how did I know that? How could I?
“Oh I see” she smiles grimly. “You know something after all, don’t you? Have you seen them?” She grabs my jacket with both hands pulling me close to her. No, not my jacket…it is only now that I began to ‘realize’ myself. I am not wearing a jacket, I am wearing a long leather coat, dull brown, like I have seen cowboys wear…I think it is called a duster? I have new jeans, dark blue. I have boots on my feet, new work boots. And a black t-shirt, with a hand holding a razor with the words “British Steel” on it. I feel different, younger, and somehow newer. “No. You haven’t seen the places between places, but you’ve seen something from there, haven’t you? What was it?”
Again I stammered, I tried to look away, but this repulsive woman, maybe 5’3” and less than a hundred pounds grabs my face with her right hand – her grip is iron – and holds my duster with her left. “NO! You look at me! Look at ME!” I did, and then I noticed her teeth are blackened and decayed. Her breath is like a charnel pit. They weren’t like that before. “Tell me what did you see? Why are you here?”
“I don’t know why I am here!” I nearly weep in fear. “I don’t know where here even is! And it was a cat! A four-eyed cat! It smiled at me…” I felt the hot tears running down my face.
“One of the takers?” She sounds puzzled. “Why didn’t it take you?” She seems to ask herself and not me.
I reply hoarsely: “My father.”
“What? What about your father?”
“I saw it the night my father died. He told me a story as a kid. About the ‘ghulahans’ and the places between places…” I blurted out.
“Did he? Now THAT is interesting” says the Witch. “What did he know, I wonder? I do not know why you are here, foolish man. But it must be for a purpose...so I will use you. You see, I have been to the places between places. I have seen their beauty…and their horror. I also met…Him…and others like Him. I foolishly made a pact, a pact with Him, and now my time is up. My fate comes for me. So you must know.” She says to me with a fearful look in her eyes.
“Know what?” I answer bewildered. And then it happens, I assume she means to kiss me, a thought that makes my stomach turn, but instead as she pulls my head toward hers a light, a force? A tendril? Attach us together by the eyes and mouth. I scream as she pours into me. And thankfully everything goes black.
I awake standing with a start, how could I be standing? I look around. I am in a basement. How did I get down here? There is light spilling in through the dirty broken windows. My mind reels…what did she do to me? There is something in my mind…images, feelings…memories? Then they start to fade, to hide within my subconscious. I am now left with the dawning realization that I will never be the same man again.
I hear a noise outside. I walk to the windows and I look out of them. I see the Witch…she is alone in the overgrown yard…no that’s not right. She is not alone. There is something with her. A presence. A crushing pressure. An impression of power. Even in the house, I can feel…it. She falls to her knees and covers her face with both hands…I believe she is sobbing.
“I am sorry! So sorry.” I heard her say through her tears. And then I hear it. A sound like none I have heard or would ever wish to hear again. A voice of such power and darkness that it causes me to fall backwards, trembling…I didn’t even understand what the voice said…and again for the second time in a day I mercifully fall senseless…
This time when I wake it is nearly dark and I am laying down. Under me there is broken junk. I cannot move and I am cold. “Hello?” I shout. There is no answer. I lay there for a time. How long? I cannot be sure. My mind is racing but at the same time I am numb. I try to make sense of what has happened. I think of the repulsive young woman with the old woman’s voice…the Witch…I know that I will never see her again. In fact no one will ever see her again. I hear a noise to my left. I immediately think of rats…
“Hello?” I bleat plaintively. Someone approaches me. It is a small, balding man in a faded black sweatshirt and dark pants. I begin to ask for his help and stop…as he takes notice of me, I see his eyes…beetle black holes in his face. He reaches for me, which makes no sense, because he doesn’t even bend down. He grabs me and then…
…again I wake up with a start. I am in a bed, the lights are dim, and I hear beeping. It is difficult to breathe. I realize that there are tubes in my nose. I go to pull them out and see that my arms are restrained. I am wearing mittens? No, not mittens. But white bags on my hand. Where the hell am I? Someone comes into my room. I expect the horror I have just seen and try to steel myself for it.
A short woman in nurse’s clothes walks in quickly…she looks at me and seems annoyed. She is Asian, maybe Chinese and wears glasses. “Sir. I have told you before: you need to rest.”
Another woman follows her in, pretty with dark hair, and speaks with a Latina’s accent. “Did he pull his tubes again?”
“No. But we have had to restrain him” answers the first. Then in the dim light, I see him in the corner. The man…the Small Man…the nurses do not seem to notice him. He stands watching them, watching ME. And then without a word or even a change of expression walks from the room.
That was the first time we met the Small Man and me. I would see him in my room, in the hallway, and when I went…elsewhere…I still dream of him and his light eating, beetle black eyes. He is the most mundane yet horrifying thing I saw when I was gone. And I know he is waiting for me when I go back.