This story, after a few false starts, was published in my self-published collection, Hair Baby and Other Weird Tales and now I'm sharing it here for you. I hope you enjoy!
The Witches in the Walls
Copyright 2013 Carey Burns
Vernon Davies sat on the floor of the darkened living room, a flashlight shining up under his chin. His normally kind, smiling eyes appeared grotesque and sinister in the shadows.
“See those swirls and patterns in that old wall paneling?” He arched the light over one spot in the wall that looked like a contorted face screaming from the wood. “That’s Eastern Hemlock from trees that lived five hundred years ago. There’s a story about that wood, but you probably don’t want to hear it.”
His children, Dawn Marie; Roy; Sam; and Jimmy sat in a half-circle, staring up at their father. His last story about the Wilson family’s gruesome murder already had them spooked, but they were curious.
“Tell it, Daddy.” Roy, the bravest of the bunch, coaxed.
He studied his children, unsure if the youngest, Dawn Marie, was old enough to hear it. She was sweet and sensitive, the very likeness of her mother right down to her mess of curly brown hair.
Jimmy Boy, only a year older was nowhere near as brave as his older brothers. He was quiet and shy and looked a lot like Vernon, especially his long, dark eyelashes.
Vernon knew Roy and Sam would handle the scary story okay though. Sam was smart and loved to read. He didn’t believe in ghosts or anything supernatural while Roy was just cocky, like Vernon. He was almost thirteen and couldn’t stand being treated like a kid anymore.
With a smile Vernon shifted a little, his legs cramping up on him. He couldn’t resist trying to scare them. “The year was 1690 and our little village of Templeton Cross was just starting to grow. There was an ale house, a grain mill, a blacksmith forge, and a small church. Back then, there were mostly farmhouses and the people that lived here were very religious. They believed that the Devil was among them every day, trying to lead them astray, away from God’s graces.
“It just so happened that there was a woman named Mary Brown who lived in Templeton Cross. She never married and she was known as a wise woman, someone that knew the medicinal value of plants. The people of the village all sought her aid when they were sick and she was midwife to nearly every child born in Templeton Cross.
“It was autumn of 1690 that something terrible happened to one of the leaders of the town. James Templeton fell into a fit of hysteria and convulsions, repeating over and over that he was bewitched by Mary Brown.”
The children leaned in closer, fear widening their eyes in the darkness.
“At first they dismissed his accusation but more and more people began to have similar fits. The town elders conferred and decided to take Mary into custody.
“Mary proclaimed her innocence, but several women in town began spreading rumors of other supernatural events that Mary Brown had been linked to. Soon the entire village was convinced that Mary was a witch.”
Vernon spoke softer, a frown curling his lips and making his face resemble a tragedy mask. “They held a trial in the old meeting hall and numerous people accused her of bewitching their livestock and causing illness. In their fervor, they began accusing more people of witchcraft.
“The judge, Jonathan Davies, proclaimed four other women guilty: Anne Simons, Mercy Proctor, Elizabeth Goode, and Nancy Tuttle.”
“Are we related to the judge?” Sam wondered.
“Yep. He was your great-great-great-great-great grandfather.” He held up a finger on his left hand for each ‘great’ for emphasis.
Roy asked, “Did they hang them like they did over in Salem, Daddy?”
“No, they didn’t do that. It would have been more merciful if they had. They took those poor women and tied them to trees that lined the trail from Boston to Templeton Cross as a warning to other witches. The women suffered for days, starved, and exposed to the elements. After they died the villagers let their corpses rot until all that was left were piles of bones.”
Vernon shifted the flashlight, deepening the shadows around his eyes. “Some say, the forest around Templeton Cross is haunted by those poor witches’ souls, doomed to stay in the trees forever. Others say the trees absorbed the souls of the dead witches, holding them in until they can get enough strength to come back to life and seek revenge on the kin of their murderers.”
Jimmy Boy gulped and whispered. “Are the trees still there, Daddy?”
Vernon frowned deeper and cleared his throat. “No. As years went by and the families of Templeton Cross grew, they cut down a lot of the trees and used them for building houses.”
He paused, ready to tell the last of the family’s tales. “Legend has it that Thomas Davies, your great-great-great grandfather had those very trees milled into paneling for this house.
“You know, when you look at that old paneling, you can almost see the faces of the tortured women. Don’t you think?” He flashed the light to another section of the wall, revealing the squinted eyes and open mouth of a person screaming in agony.
Dawn Marie jumped, startled by the horrible face that had been lurking in the walls of their house.
Roy laughed. “You’re such a baby!”
The boys chanted ‘baby’ over and over until Dawn Marie’s ears were red with anger.
“Okay, time for bed.” Called a voice from the kitchen.
“Aww, Mom!” They all groaned, Vernon’s voice the loudest.
Wanda Davies flicked on the lights, making everyone wince as their dilated pupils shrank down. “Vernon, if you keep these kids up late tonight and they’re up late tomorrow night from all the Trick-or-Treat candy, you’re getting them up for school on Monday.
Vernon grinned. “Aw, just one more story?”
Seeing him with the kids, having such fun she couldn’t resist. “Okay, but nothing too scary. There will be no children sleeping with us tonight.” She waggled a finger at them before turning the lights out and retreating to the kitchen to finish her famous caramel apples.
Vernon repositioned the flashlight and tried to look more ominous. “If those stories about the witches are true, you kids need to be careful tomorrow.” He warned, looking from child to child.
“Why, Daddy?” Jimmy whispered.
“Because, it’s Halloween, Jimmy Boy. That’s when the wall that separates the living from the dead is weakest and the dead can come back.”
“Really? There’s a wall?” Dawn Marie clutched her arms around her knees, eyes wide as she stared up at him.
He nodded. “You could call it that. It is what keeps ghosts out of our world and in theirs. They don’t always come back on Halloween, but they can, especially if they have unfinished business with the living.” He lowered his voice. “But, if you guys wear your costumes, you’ll fool them into thinking that you’re spirits too and they’ll leave you alone.”
Jimmy squirmed. “Do you think it’d be alright if I put my costume on now, Daddy?”
“Chicken…” Roy poked him in the side, he knew his daddy was just fooling them.
“Hey.” Vernon scowled at Roy and shook his head. “Jimmy, that would be a very smart thing to do, considering Halloween starts in just a couple hours. Just don’t go ruining your costume, your mother worked hard on it for you.”
“Daddy?” Dawn Marie hid her eyes behind her knees. “What would those witches do to you if they did see you were just a person pretending to be a ghost?”
He thought on it. “You know Angel, I don’t really know. I never thought to ask my daddy such a good question. I bet you’ll be alright though, nobody would want to hurt a pretty little girl like you.”
She frowned, worry creasing her brow.
“Well, you all should get to bed before your mother comes back in here and gives me an earful. Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” He hugged and kissed each kid as they scurried upstairs to their rooms.
He listened for the last door to close and flicked on the light as he crept into the kitchen. Before he could reach out to spook her, Wanda turned around.
“Did you scare the pants off them this year?” She eyed the army of caramel apples that had invaded the counter and the kitchen table and sighed, tucking a stray curl behind her ear.
“Dawn Marie and Jimmy Boy seem a little skittish, but you know how brave Roy and Sam are. Poor Jimmy wanted to sleep in his costume and I told him it’d be okay. That alright?” He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her forehead.
“Sure.” She breathed in the sticky sweetness of the apples and smiled. “I just love Halloween. All those spooky legends and getting to roam around after dark…makes me wish I was a kid again.” Her thoughts wandered and a pout settled on her mouth. “They’re growing up so fast, Vernon. I wish we could keep them this age forever. Next year Roy will be too old for all this and Sam will want to go out with his friends.” Her pout bloomed into a smile as he kissed the tip of her nose.
Vernon held her tighter. “Come on, Mommy, let’s go to bed.”
“Okay, but don’t forget to turn off the porch light…”
“Nah. There’s probably kids out causing mischief tonight. Best to leave it on.” He laced his fingers with hers and guided her up the stairs to their room.
As they dressed for bed, Wanda chuckled. “You know, when I told you about how those faces in the wall scared me, I didn’t think you’d go scaring the kids with some crazy story.”
He smiled. “It’s just a story. Besides, it’s healthy to have a good scare once in a while. Gets the heart pumping.”
“Well, you scared me. When I think of all the people that have died in this house over the years and then you go and tell a whopper of a story like that…” She sat on the bed, wringing her hands. “I just hope it isn’t true and that you didn’t make them mad.”
He rubbed her shoulders and smiled. “Honey, those people were either old, sick, or died in their sleep. Don’t worry.”
“But the Wilsons were descended from the man that accused Nancy Tuttle and look what happened to them.” Her troubled voice was a husky whisper.
Vernon scoffed. “Yeah, Nancy Tuttle’s specter came into their house in the middle of the night and strangled them all in their sleep and now, after all these years of living here I’ve made them mad by telling the story to the kids.”
Her scowl turned into a smile as she heard how ridiculous she must have sounded. “You’re right. I’m just scaring myself.”
They settled into bed and were just on the cusp of sleep when the hall clock struck midnight. “Happy Halloween, Vernon.” She sighed into her pillow.
The house creaked and groaned, settling in for the night as the Davies family slumbered. Dawn Marie lay snuggled with her teddy bear while Roy and Sam snored in almost-too-small beds. Jimmy had put his pilgrim costume on as soon as he got upstairs; hoping if the faces came to life, they’d think he was a ghost too.
Inside Vernon and Wanda’s room, a board screeched, waking them both.
“Vernon, did you hear that?” She whispered, her heart pounding against her ribs.
He was silent a moment. “Yeah. It must just be this old house settling…” Another board groaned, this time longer, as if it was being bent to the point of splintering.
Squinting in the dark, Wanda spied something. “What’s that?”
The paneled wall by the door bowed out as if pressed on from behind. Little by little, a human form seemed to ooze from the wood.
Vernon clutched his trembling wife in his arms, his pulse racing out of control as the thing drew closer to the bed. Just as Wanda opened her mouth to scream, it hefted a heavy crystal vase in its hand and smashed it down onto her head over and over until her skull shattered.
Vernon cried out as her blood sprayed his cheek. He crawled free from her body and dashed to the door, only to find another shadow monster blocking his escape. “Oh God…I didn’t think it was true…” He whimpered as it looped a rope around his neck and squeezed the last drop of life from his body. Vernon crumpled to the floor and the two spirits sank back into the walls, leaving the room in silence.
Down the hall in Roy and Sam’s room, two more spirits squeezed out of the wall and stood over the sleeping boys. Quiet as a prayer, they strangled the boys just before slipping back into the paneling.
Jimmy Boy woke and padded barefoot down the hall, his pace in time with the tick-tick of the clock. He had bad dreams and needed the comfort and safety of his parents’ bed to block out the scary thoughts his mind was conjuring.
He turned the doorknob and pushed the door as quiet as he could. As he crept toward the bed, his foot kicked into something soft. He ducked down closer and recognized his daddy’s pajama shirt. “Daddy, you sleeping on the floor?” He whispered, but got no reply. “Daddy?” He shook Vernon’s shoulder, but he didn’t move.
An acidy lump burned Jimmy’s throat as he slinked over to the bed. His lower lip quivered and he wished he was still dreaming. “Momma?” He reached out to her, but when he saw the dark stains on the white bedding, he knew it was blood and that she was dead too.
Jimmy heard a board creak behind him and slowly turned around. There before him was an inky shadow of a woman staring at him. Trembling, he lifted his right hand and in a half-whisper he spoke, “Mary?”
The shadowy figure stopped and tilted her head as she studied the boy, unsure what to make of his familiar dress. She drifted closer to him, touching the brim of his hat and circling around him as she scrutinized his entire costume. She backed away and had nearly slipped back into the wall when Jimmy Boy spoke again.
“I’m sorry about what happened to you, Mary.” Big tears welled up in his eyes and dripped from his long lashes.
As soon as she saw the tears she swept toward him, her shadowy hands held before her like talons. In a flash, she struck out, slashing Jimmy’s throat with a piece of the broken vase. Blood cascaded down the front of his costume like a crimson waterfall. As he stumbled forward, gasping for air, the woman nodded.
In the hallway, the clock chimed.
“You got ‘em all, just like you wanted, Mary.” Dawn Marie stood in the doorway and took a bite of her caramel apple, the sticky juice dribbling down her chin. “I was worried Jimmy Boy might fool you with his costume, but you’re too clever for that nonsense.”
The shadow patted Dawn Marie’s hair and cradled her face in her hands.
“It makes me angry what your brother did to you, Mary. Just because you had a different mommy doesn’t mean you aren’t family. You’re a Davies, like me, and I’m gonna make sure everyone knows.” Her gaze fell on Jimmy Boy’s corpse and she scowled. “Brothers can be such monsters.”