A rotating fan was buzzing nearby, gracing me with air on its way back, each time gently ruffling my white-flowered yellow dress. I sat in a wooden grey padded chair in the small DMV waiting room. The decrepit red interior brick matched with the rest of the sleepy town and the grey chairs melted into the grey carpet. Outside, the spring humidity began to take its toll, but it wasn’t unbearable quite yet, for me at least. In the corner across from me, a full green plant waved happily, rustling occasionally from the fan. The ratio of chairs to people seemed to be about ten to one, and I had a square of seats all to myself. Only a handful of people sat scattered before me in the grey chairs, all congregating on the other side of the room. I chose to sit here alone.
Since I moved here, I have realized that everything takes longer than it should. But I don’t mind. I managed to get a job at the newspaper as an editor here in Tigard, a place exploding with life like I have never experienced out in the desert. I feel a joy here, a drawing that I have never felt before. I don’t mind that things are slow. I brought my book to pass the time. Just another day.
The little brass bell tied to the door went off like an alarm. Then, Mrs. Putter’s shrieking voice followed.
“Of course those boys would do something like that!” she said on her phone as she threw the door open. Behind Mrs. Putter trailed her blonde, eight-year-old devil daughter Sarah. My theory is that if you don’t look into Sarah’s eyes, she will leave you alone. I often see them at the grocery store. Once I had caught Sarah stealing candy and alerted her mother to it. She looked me up and down with a raised eyebrow and a face that said excuse me then turned her back toward me and continued talking on the phone. It’s like she’s attached to it. Sarah looked me in the eye and unwrapped her candy, chewed it, spit it in her hand, then threw it at me.
Mrs. Putter is the town’s gossip queen, and lately there has been a lot of that going around. She thinks it’s her duty to pull everyone aside and whisper rumors into their ears. Maybe it’s a control thing, or a popularity thing. I don’t really care to know. Apparently, there were some bones that were found hanging in the woods. Mrs. Putter thinks it’s those teenage boys, the ones who got in trouble last Halloween for egging people’s houses. A lot of kids have gone missing, too, but no one talks about that, not even her. I secretly wish Sarah was one of those kids. I raised my book to hide my face from the mean little girl who was coming my way, and Mrs. Putter’s cackling voice faded as she left to the other side of the building.
I was shaken from the enchanting world of my book by Sarah’s bratty, high-pitched voice yelling, “Hey! You can’t sit there. That’s my chair!” I slightly lowered my book and peered over the brim to see who her victim was now. In front of her appeared a slender woman in a black dress. I was stunned. It was as if I was looking at death. Her sleeves traveled down the length of her arms and at the tip of her pale fingers were long black nails. Her sharp shoulders were covered, but her chest was exposed with a long chain dripping from her neck and swallowed back up from the dress that reached to the floor. Her hair was long and black, and when the light hit it, it became a cherry red. Her face was covered by a huge black hat that flopped down in a few places. All I could see of her face was the line of her jaw.
She was perched adjacently from me, her back slightly toward me, and she was elegantly electric. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. When had she entered? She turned her body towards Sarah, claws on the arms of the chair, one long leg crossed over the other, and lifted her head slightly, eyes still covered by the large hat.
“Would you like to hear a story?” said the woman. Her voice gave me chills; it was soft, low, and clung to the walls like droplets of water. Sarah glared at the woman with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.
“There is a beautiful witch that lives in these woods who dresses in black to match with the night.” The woman’s hands began to move on the arm rests, her nails lightly dragging on the wood. “She is called the witch of demons, but her beauty comes with consequences.” Her slow, melodic voice escaped hypnotizingly between deep velvet lips.
“Every full moon, she sends her demons to fetch her a child.” Her nails began tapping.
“She drains and consumes the child’s youthful blood and feeds its flesh to her demons.” Sarah, unphased, must have thought that the woman was either crazy or that her story was stupid, and she turned her back toward her, arms still crossed. Directly in front of Sarah on the other side of the room was a missing children board. I think she must have looked at it because her demeanor quickly became more serious.
“She hangs the bones in the woods to dry and uses them to make a magical ash.” The woman’s hand released the arm rest and moved to her chest. She slowly reached for her long necklace, pulling the chain from beneath her dress. A small jar with a cork top wrapped in silver vines hung on the end. Sarah’s face became pale and she mindlessly turned back and dropped her arms, her head slightly swaying as she did. The woman emptied a bit of white powder into her hand and held it level to her face.
“Once the ash touches the skin, the demons begin to stir.” She took a breath and gently blew the ash at Sarah, “anxious to take the next.”
They were the only two that existed, trapped in a spell of lips and eyes. The ash still lingered in the air, sparkling, hovering around Sarah. The woman lifted the brim of her hat with her wispy hand, revealing mesmeric glowing orbs and leaned closer into Sarah’s ear and whispered, “My demons will not rest until they find you.”
“Number 74.” I couldn’t look away from her, her presence made my skin tingle in a magnificent way. She was powerfully magnetic, and it pulled at me. She stood and suddenly existed to everyone else. Instantaneously, all eyes fell on her, trapped in her like puppets.
“Number 74!” My trance was broken, and I glanced at the counter. I immediately looked back not more than a second later, but she had vanished. As I looked around at the others, they seemed unphased, like they had never seen her. Like they weren’t all trapped in her for a moment. Like it was a dream.
In the woman’s place was Sarah sitting at the edge of the chair, bouncing a leg and nervously fidgeting with her thumbs. Her eyes were locked on the missing children board, then they jolted toward me with tears nearly spilling over. Strangely though, it was as if she wasn’t looking at me but through me. She got up and began to run to her mother.
“Sarah!” I called out behind her, but she didn’t answer.
“Last call for number 74!” I was confounded. Come on Piper, snap out of it, that’s your number, go! I sloppily gathered my things and headed to the counter. As I did I stared at every person I passed, hoping to read on someone’s face that yes, they saw it too, and no, I’m not crazy. One read his newspaper. A couple was laughing. She covered her mouth and he slapped his knee. An old woman lifted her head, met my eyes and gave me a smile. Just another day.